Next in our series on pregnancy, birth, and motherhood is Kelly. I sat next to Kelly at a mutual friend’s wedding and was very impressed when she got up during dinner to pump milk for her baby. Like Katrina, Kelly suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum throughout her pregnancy. In addition, her son was born 11 weeks premature. Here she discusses caring for a preemie, the virtues of joining and building supportive communities, and becoming the type of role model you would like your child to have.
How did you decide to become a mom when you did?
I have always wanted to be a mom.
My personal goal was before I turned 31 (somewhat arbitrary, but that’s how old my mom was when she had me). In hindsight I wish I hadn’t let myself feel so pressured by time, but that’s a different story.
My husband also always wanted children and we had been together 5 years when we became engaged, so, knowing we both wanted a family soon, we had a short 6-month engagement. Then, when we were 6 months in, we were feeling really happy and lovey at our friends’ wedding – there were a bunch of friends around, and their kids too. We decided then that we could work out whatever issues we still had and start trying. I got pregnant on our first try and then I delivered at 6 months. We are on the 6 month express plan 😉
What have been your greatest challenges in pregnancy, birth, and motherhood?
All of it.
I had a difficult pregnancy. I somehow always thought I would rock pregnancy–and for a while I did–keeping a vegan diet, eating a head of kale and a bowl of lentils every day, but as soon as I hit 6 weeks, I got hyperemesis gravidarum (‘morning’ sickness) that didn’t go away until I delivered.
When I delivered, I had postpartum depression and anxiety. Having a severely premature baby (my son was born at 28 weeks–11 weeks + 1 day early–and spent two months in the NICU) was fairly traumatic. I didn’t give myself a break because I wanted to be able to breastfeed. I had heard that if I didn’t pump and build up a milk supply (in my breasts, not in my freezer, but I did that too), then I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed, so I pumped around the clock, 8-12 times per day for ~30 minutes at a time, plus clean-up and set-up. Roughly every 2-3 hours start-to-start. I started skipping one overnight session just so I could get a 5-hour stretch of sleep. So when my baby came home, I was already sleep deprived. THEN we got to start the newborn sleeping patterns. This I don’t understand– how has our species not died out yet? How do humans survive such sleep deprivation without going insane or dropping??
My son was discharged from the NICU before he could really feed well, but he ended up being exclusively breastfed for one year after that, and at nearly 20 months now, he is still nursing! So I am really proud of myself. It’s HARD for preemie moms, and I made it happen.
Now with motherhood my biggest challenge is being the kind of mother I want to be, but I’m doing it! I have endless patience for my baby, and I really am trying to put to practice all I learned. At the end of the day sometimes I just hand the kid over to my husband and go crash. It’s exhausting being on from 6am ALL DAY EVERY DAY.
What has helped you overcome the challenges?
I read a ton. I have a reading list I can recommend of evidence- and research-based books.
I ask questions and talk with everyone, seeking advice from anyone who will give it. And everyone will give it. Other parents and even people who don’t have kids like to give advice. It sometimes comes off as them being super judgmental, but I remind myself that it’s always coming from a good place or from a sympathetic painful place– all moms need validation and sometimes giving advice and judging others is the only way a mom can get it.
I also joined a really wonderful breastfeeding Facebook group moderated by professional international board certified lactation consultants, so I know the information I’m getting is worthwhile.I went to La Leche League meetings. And I created a privacy list on Facebook that only includes my friends with babies, and we share experiences.
Lastly, for the first year I was never alone for more than 2 weeks at a time– I always had family or a friend staying at home with me.
A Roomba helps a lot too.
What do you love most about being a mom?
All of it.
I love watching my son develop his personality and character, knowing that I help him shape it. It’s a tremendous responsibility, but watching the outcome just makes my heart glow. My son is well-behaved, curious, funny, fun, interested, and very communicative. I just enjoy being with him.
What has surprised you the most?
That I haven’t yet died from sleep deprivation.
If you had 9 months remaining before getting pregnant for the first time, how would you spend that time? How would you prepare?
I would read all the books on my reading list before delivering. Things like breastfeeding, sleep hygiene, child development, and discipline.
I would start doing yoga and develop a good regular workout habit.
I would stock my freezer with prepared meals and prepped slow cooker ingredients.
And I would do the Gottman Institute’s Bringing Home Baby curriculum with my husband to strengthen and baby-proof our relationship, because sleep-deprivation and isolation really do a number on a relationship.
In what ways have you / your outlook / priorities changed since becoming a mom?
I have taken this as an opportunity to improve myself. I want to be the kind of person I want my son to have for a role model. I’m aware of what I don’t like about myself and am actively working to change it.
Thank you, Kelly, for sharing so thoroughly and thoughtfully your experience, advice, and incredible reading and resource lists (including this extensive list of tips for breastfeeding)! Your son is an inspiring testament to your attentiveness, care, and hard work. What a curious, sweet, and alert little boy! He is lucky to have such a strong, loving, and dedicated mama!