Planning, Parenting, and Perfection
December 10, 2013 14 Comments
Welcome to the December 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Change . . .
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about life changes.
As a teenager, I went through several phases when I spent a lot of time daydreaming about my adult life. I “planned” which neighborhoods I would live in at each stage, chose homes from architecture books and decided where I would put all the furniture, and selected names and birthdates for my child(ren) and their father(s). Some of the details changed as I experimented with different possible futures–one child or two? Would I really be happy with just one man for decades?–but I was certain about a few things: I would become an architect, I would live in New York City, and I would give birth to a daughter within a few months of my 30th birthday.
Why 30? Well, my parents are 30 calendar years older than I am and 30 years ahead in school, and that’s really neat! It’s always been easy to figure out how old my parents are now, what year they were my age, and when they were in which grade. It just feels right. Also, 30 seemed to be a good age for parenthood: old enough to have experienced some adult adventures without kids, young enough to enjoy plenty of adventures with kids.
I was 20 when I admitted that I could not become an architect. I changed my major to psychology, finished college, worked at a few assorted jobs, and eventually became the data manager of a social science research study–a career I’d never heard of when I was in high school that turns out to be very well suited to me. Meanwhile, I’d decided not to move to New York, because I really love Pittsburgh–a city I’d never even considered visiting until Carnegie Mellon University sent me a recruiting brochure.
So I’d totally failed to meet my goals for my twenties, but I was very happy. Also, oddly enough, I’d managed to do something that my cynical, depressed ninth-grade self had discarded as a dream too painfully impossible even to think about: I had found That Guy with the red curly hair and the beard who actually loved me in all my weirdness and understood and agreed about the kind of relationship I wanted to have with a man! Daniel isn’t always in every way exactly what I wanted, but he’s much, much closer than I thought I would ever find.
We started trying to conceive shortly after I turned 29. I knew that, with my long and irregular cycles, it would probably take several months to get pregnant, but that was perfect: I would be 30 when our baby was born! It was all working out just as I’d planned!
But it didn’t. Months passed, and I got more and more agitated about tracking everything precisely, trying to make my body do what I desperately hoped it could do–what if it couldn’t? What if I could never be a mother, or if I could do it only with scary technologies that I wasn’t sure were really quite ethical in this crowded world? I diligently prayed for pregnancy and was rewarded by getting my period on my 30th birthday–gee, thanks a lot, God! I got more and more bitter and desperate. Finally we started getting the tests to determine just how infertile we were, and I gave up on conceiving naturally.
That lasted two months. Is it because I gave up control, or because the right time just was not quite when I thought it was? I was 31 years 7 months old when Nicholas was born; he is 32 years behind me in school. And he’s a boy.
Yet the timing was perfect! He was conceived on 04-04-04, obviously a lucky day, and then my baby boy emerged into the world on Christmas Eve! I was joyful and triumphant! I completely forgave God for all the delay and worry (it took me much longer to admit what a jerk I’d been about it and to forgive myself) and accepted that this was the child who was meant for me, arriving at the right time.
Within weeks, I’d even realized that having a little boy instead of a little girl was just fine with me. I had imagined having a girl because I was a girl, and in reproducing I planned to make someone like me. But I wouldn’t really want a child exactly like me, and Nicholas is like me in so many ways. He’s picked up lots of my habits and expressions. He likes many of the books from my childhood that I read to him. He likes to play a lot of the games I like. He was my little buddy, riding on my hip, seeing what I saw, hearing my explanations, learning my ways. His face looks a lot like mine–it’s been like seeing myself as a curly-haired little boy, and watching my face turn into a man’s face is going to be fascinating!
Here’s something else I didn’t plan: My church and my faith have become major parts of my life. I started attending an Episcopal church when I was 14, and I planned to be an adult who went to church and took the kid(s) to church, but I had no idea that a church could be such a family and clubhouse and anchor of life, or that connecting with God could be such a daily necessity and experience of overwhelming love, to someone like me. This process had already started long before Nicholas was born, but teaching my child what I believe has deepened my own understanding, getting the kid to church has motivated me to make it a priority for myself, and being a mother has drawn me into the church family in new ways. It seems that most of the older people in my parish were among the few who believed in breastfeeding even in the 1950s, and the grandfathers as well as the grandmothers were supportive of my nursing in church and told me their fond memories of their own babies nursing. Nicholas has two official godparents and dozens of informal aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins in our church family, and we get to see them every week! In the season between babies, I served on the church vestry during what may have been the most turbulent 3 years our parish will experience for decades, and despite the stress it was an enormous blessing: I got to help us find our path into the future, I got to work in a group of very different people who all have amazing strengths, and I learned so much. Speak the truth even when your voice shakes is advice I forced myself to take many times, and every time I found that it was right, that my truth made a positive difference to someone. I used to be an unpopular kid who hoped that God loved me although most of my peers didn’t (many of them were quite vocal about believing that God was on their side) and had trouble feeling like a full-fledged member of groups because I was so shy and afraid people wouldn’t like me. I’m constantly awed by how strongly my church friends seem to believe that I am a valuable, important person and a wonderful mother and that Nicholas is a super-great, amazing, helpful kid! I never dared imagine being part of such a loving, welcoming, accepting community.
Daniel and I decided that Nicholas would be our only child. I felt that one was enough to fulfill me as a mother; I didn’t need more. Daniel is an only child himself and happy with that. We read Maybe One by Bill McKibben and learned that only children have many advantages and few disadvantages. Although we strive for an Earth-friendly lifestyle, we know that in any lifestyle the environmental impact of an extra person is greater than zero. When Nicholas was 2 and 3 years old, the age at which many kids get a younger sibling, Daniel and I felt so overwhelmed and stressed-out that another baby was out of the question. We had become so adept at the Fertility Awareness Method that we felt able to rely on it as our only means of pregnancy prevention, and for years we were completely successful.
I won’t give you Too Much Information about exactly how I misinterpreted my cycle and half-knowingly took a small risk we’d taken before without consequence, only to find that this time was consequential. The important thing is that this isn’t proof that FAM doesn’t work. Every method of contraception fails for some of its users, and FAM can be very effective when practiced perfectly. As I’ve been saying, I’m not always perfect.
Nicholas had just turned 7 years old when I realized I was pregnant again. It was a huge shock! But after a few minutes, I found that I was happy about it. I had taken the test in the morning on a work day, so I spent the whole day alternately thinking happy baby thoughts and dreading Daniel’s reaction. To my relief, he was happy about it, too: “I kind of thought maybe there should be more of us,” he said. When we told Nicholas, he was giddily thrilled: “I never thought I would get to be the big brother!!” Hooray, all three of us were excited about our new family member!
Then it turned out that it was not a new family member but a heartless embryo who died inside me and didn’t even bother sending the appropriate signals, so I had to feel pregnant and sick right up until the pregnancy was ended surgically. This threw me into a hormonal tailspin that lasted 4 months, off and on. The whole thing coincided with a horrible mouse invasion of our home, so Daniel was preoccupied and stressed dealing with all the mouse holes that had to be plugged up, food that had to be defended from mice, destroyed objects and mouse poop that had to be cleaned up, and nerve-wracking skittering and chewing noises all day and night. He didn’t have a lot of energy for me. I was in no condition to help him. It was a rough, dark, extremely depleting time in our lives.
The first ultrasound indicating something was probably wrong with that pregnancy was on Maundy Thursday, when we remember in church how Jesus prayed before his betrayal: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” My thoughts exactly! But what was my cup? Was I praying that God would take away the tragedy of a dead embryo and make it live and grow? Was I praying that God would lift the burden of nausea and years of responsibility for another child? I didn’t know what I really wanted! I threw myself sobbing at God’s feet–and it was the perfect day for that.
Why, God, why did you start to give us another baby but then yank it away? Of course I asked this question, and I still wonder about it. Really, though, I found God’s role in this pretty easy to accept, just not to understand. I thought a lot about the tale of Job: The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, and blessed be the name of the Lord. I do not know God’s workings and all God’s ways. I cannot see the big picture. I trust that God has wise reasons for the bad things as well as the good things that happen in my story–because without that trust, I’d be so much more adrift and miserable, I don’t know how I could go on. I did manage to see little blessings amid the horror. My church family saturated me with love, helping me in every way they could. My parents–whom I’d feared would criticize my sloppy unplanned pregnancy–were as loving and supportive as they could be long-distance. Spring came early, so that when I sobbingly stumbled home after the second ultrasound that confirmed the embryo’s death, my lilac bush was blooming on April 17! (Oh, I know, that’s really global climate change and very ominous and wrong–but just let me cherish my lilac moment, okay?)
After the mice were vanquished, after my brain chemistry got back to normal, in the late summer Daniel and I had a wonderful time of renewal and joy in our relationship, when we were able to drop a lot of resentments and let the love pour through and have hours of late-night conversation in which we told each other things we’d never revealed before and found that they brought us closer. It was the perfect time to unite in making another baby–and this time, I managed not to “try” to conceive but simply to be open to the possibility.
I was disappointed when it didn’t happen, but I wasn’t devastated. Maybe we really were too old to have another baby, after all. The heartless embryo’s role in our story might not have been to teach us that we wanted another child. Maybe we’d never know why it, or the mice, trespassed against us, but needed only to forgive them and move on. After 4 months, we went back to intending to avoid pregnancy.
This past summer, I went through an annoying series of medical procedures complicated by the question, “Could you possibly be pregnant?” and maybe that had some kind of effect on my subconscious mind, or maybe it just distracted me from being properly attentive to my cycle, but the end result was that I realized I had undergone a breast biopsy (which was benign!!) 5 days after conceiving. There’s no risk from that–it’s just ironic! I went from feeling like a 40-year-old woman fretting about cancer to feeling like an expectant mother, and although I’m still 40, I don’t feel any older than I did when I was pregnant with Nicholas. In fact, I feel a little better and healthier than I did then–especially now that I’m into the second trimester. I have to look at my silver hairs or my slightly age-spotted hands to remember how old I am.
Nicholas will be 9 years old by the time his sibling (currently nicknamed Thumper) is born. I’ll be 40, almost 41. I never would have planned it this way! Even though our excellent neighborhood school has grades K-8, there will never be a year when both my children are attending the same school. By the time Thumper is 9, Nicholas will be going away to college–but it’s kind of cool that they’ll get an equal number of years as the only child, at opposite ends of childhood. They won’t be peers who play together much; they’ll be practically in different generations–but what I’m hearing from people who have a big age gap between siblings is that the relationship between them can be a very interesting and rewarding one.
The clingy, demanding Nicholas who made the idea of a sibling so inconceivable when he was a preschooler has grown into a boy who can do a lot of things for himself. Now that we’ve finally reached that point, how can I stand to start all over again? Well, probably the biggest surprise in parenthood for me has been that I loved being the mother of a baby! I had thought, based on my babysitting experiences, that the infant stage was something to be endured until the baby turned into a person, and that preschoolers were my favorite. My own child, though, was fascinating and adorable as a baby, and despite the physical stresses of waking in the night and making milk and changing diapers, I thrived on the special role of nurturing a new person with my own body. I’m looking forward to doing it again!
Neither of my children will have been born at the time I planned, but almost all the things I plan to do with Thumper are the same things I planned to do with Nicholas before he was born. In that sense, a lot of my planning paid off almost perfectly! I’m glad I had time to read some good parenting books and do a lot of talking about parenting strategies with Daniel before we became parents, because we ended up feeling that we’d made the right decisions about most things, especially for the baby stage. We plan to have an unmedicated birth, use the same kind of cloth diapers and change them in bathrooms, breastfeed the baby even after I go back to work, co-sleep (although we’re planning to adjust some of the details), keep the kid away from television until two years old, do a lot of thinking out loud, make baby food out of the same food we eat, and use the POD Concept, because these are all things that worked well with Nicholas. Planning isn’t always a problem.
Looking at old photos of Nicholas, rereading about past moments with him, I’ve been feeling sentimental for all those stages that have passed for him. I’m going to have another tiny fuzzy-wuzz! I’m going to have another little buddy on my hip! I’m going to have a four-year-old again! Once was enough, but getting to experience it again is a bonus. Each age was sweet in its own way. His current age has been difficult–he’s often very defiant, argumentative, and annoying–but last week, when he was hugging me and I looked down into his little face, I realized: I’ll get to have an eight-year-old again! Despite the bad times, I do like my eight-year-old, and after the next few weeks he won’t be eight ever, ever again. Having a nine-year-old will be another new chapter!
It won’t be perfect. But I think I’ve finally learned that making plans and sticking to all of them isn’t nearly as interesting as finding out what happens next in this story.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
- Mature Student — Amber Strocel is embarking on a new adventure in 2014, by returning to a space in her life she thought she’d left behind – that of being a university student.
- And then there were four — Jillian at Mommyhood learned how quickly love can grow when welcoming a second child to the family.
- Handling Change As A Mother (And Why That Takes Things To A
Different Level) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how she helps her young daughter navigate change and why it is so important, as a mother, to gauge her own reactions to change.
- Without Dad-One Year Later — Erica at ChildOrganics shares how her life has changed one year after losing her husband suddenly.
- Family Ties — Lori at TEACH through Love realized that her most significant, most painful wound paved the way for her to share her greatest gift.
- Rootless — After Dionna @ Code Name: Mama‘s parents packed up their home and moved to Florida this fall, she is feeling rootless and restless.
- A Letter to My Mama Self in the Swirl of Change — Sheila Pai of A Living Family shares a letter she wrote to herself to capture and remember the incredible changes from the year, and invites you to do the same and share!
- Junctions — sustainablemum explains how her family has dealt with a complete change of direction this year.
- Why First Grade Means Growing Up… for Both Me and My Daughter — Donna at Eco-Mothering discovers that her daughter’s transition into first grade is harder as a parent.
- First Year of Mothering — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot reflects on the quiet change that took her by surprise this year.
- Building the Community You Desire — A recent move has Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children working toward setting up a new support network.
- Slowing down in 2013 — A car fire and a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome made 2013 a very different year than the one Crunchy Con Mommy and family were expecting!
- Rebirth — Kellie of Our Mindful Life has found that each of her births leaves her a different person.
- When a Hobby Becomes a Business — This year, new doors opened for That Mama Gretchen‘s hobby of writing and blogging – it has turned into a side business. She’s sharing a bit about her journey and some helpful tips in case you’re interested in following the same path.
- 5 Tips for Embracing a Big Change in Your Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about a big change in her family and shares tips that have always helped her family embrace changes.
- Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes — Ana at Panda & Ananaso ruminates on how having a child changed her priorities.
- Homeostasis — Lauren at Hobo Mama is finding that even as elements shift in her life — in cosleeping, homeschooling, breastfeeding, & more — they mostly remain very familiar.
- Sally go round the sun — A new baby brings joy and unexpected sadness for Douglas at Friendly Encounters, as she is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition.
- Embrace it — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen muses about the changes in her family this year and how she can embrace them . . . as best she can anyway.
- Big Change; Seamless but Big — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how one of the biggest changes of her life was also a seamless transition.
- Celebrating Change — Change feeds Jaye Anne at Wide Awake, Half Asleep‘s soul. And all the work that seemed like monotonous nothingness finally pays off in a clear way.
Oh, and speaking of letting go of perfect planning: Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to learn about the 6 things you DON’T have to do this holiday season and what’s working for over 200 other people!