I'm going to bounce all over the place here, from infertility to comparison to embracing my postpartum body and other stuff in between, so please bear with me.
Because I have been open about our infertility and the tough process we went through to have our twins, I've heard from many friends, acquaintances and even strangers who are walking a similar path. The internet has allowed me to be a sympathetic ear for these women, and it has been such a blessing for me personally.
Every time I share our story with others, I think about rejection. Specifically, I think about how poorly I handled rejection during our three year journey to start a family. Infertility is getting a big red NO stamped on your ovaries once a month. Your hopes go up every single month (even if you're trying to contain them), and then they come crashing down. It's hard. As a Christian, I knew what I was supposed to be feeling and I would nod in agreement when my friends would counsel me about the bigness of God's plan for our family. Yet I took those monthly rejections so personally, and they held so much power over my happiness.
Many times my big red N-O would coincide with a close friend or family member receiving a big green Y-E-S. It made our circumstances feel punitive, like God was kicking me while I was down. I remember praying, "I can handle You rejecting my prayers, but it hurts really bad when You rub it in!" And then I would immediately feel guilty for my selfish thoughts (after all, God never promised us a baby and certainly doesn't owe us anything) and the emotional roller coaster of those ongoing rejections would continue.
I couldn't see then what is so clear to me now: Each rejection was an integral piece of the story, a tiny part of the puzzle that eventually read Y-E-S when we got that positive blood test. Without those rejections, we would never have Hope or Evan -- and I can't imagine my life without Hope and Evan. They were worth every moment of heartbreak. "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5
To my friends who are struggling -- your joy is coming. I know it doesn't feel like it right now and my words sound really hollow, but when you're on the other side you'll have a new appreciation for your season of rejection. You'll be stronger for it.
The motherhood gig is hard, no doubt, And you know what makes it harder? Comparing your kid (or in my case, kids) to other kids. DON'T DO IT. But you will -- it's just so hard to avoid. What do you mean that kid is crawling before mine? Is my baby doomed to be a failure? Your 9 month old baby is speaking in sentences? Mine only drools. I'M A FAILURE AS A MOM.
I have struggled with this time and time again in my first year of motherhood. Our daycare teachers would casually say, "So-and-so moved up to the next class because they're crawling already. Can you believe it? She's two months younger than your twins!" And then I'd come home all stressed, worried that I wasn't helping our twins learn to crawl fast enough. I'd Google things and wrack my brain about how to be a better mom who could magically teach her twins to crawl, and I'd come to the same conclusion every time: You're being ridiculous. Calm down and let your babies do their thing.
I know this will only get harder as they get older, but I did come up with something that calms me down when I'm panicking that my mothering skills aren't good enough. I'll call it our parenting mission statement, and it's a very simple phrase that embodies the values we want to instill in our kids: Work hard and be kind.
When I find myself getting tangled up in the minutia of parenting two infants (worrying about how I'll convince them to switch to sippy cups, how soon they'll walk, whether their bowel movements are up to snuff, etc.), I remind myself that the end goal is simply to raise two children who have kind hearts and understand the value of hard work. It refreshes my mindset as a mother and helps me enjoy the daily moments more because I'm focused on what they are doing instead of what they aren't doing. That is, until tomorrow when I'm suddenly worried because their pincer grasp is lacking. I'm a work in progress.
One aspect of motherhood I was unprepared for was the isolation. Between the napping schedules and the early bedtimes, it is very difficult to have a social life. I clung to our babies' schedule like glue because I felt - and still feel - that the routine is the key to sanity when you have twin infants.
Still, I missed my friends. I used to get together with my girlfriends on a regular basis, and that girl time has always been restorative for me. One year into motherhood and I would say my social circle has shrunken dramatically. I'm still trying to make it a priority, but it's hard to align schedules when babies are the boss. Thank goodness for Facetime, Skype, text messaging, phone chats and anything else that allows us to have important (and not so important) conversations from a distance. Because complaining about nipple cream or husband woes or what celebrity did what is frivolous and delightful, and we all need a little bit of that even if it's over the phone.
The next time that one of the twins is teething and I feel like MY LIFE IS OVER AS I KNOW IT, please remind me that nothing is as dramatic as it feels. Every mom needs a "This too shall pass" sign posted above their kitchen sink to remind them that the tough stretches - teething, sickness, sleeping issues, washing one million bottle pieces - are temporary. When I'm in the throes of a bad phase, like we were a couple weeks ago when both babies were teething and showing signs of irrational toddler behavior, I desperately need this reminder. Instead of taking my own advice I usually feel really defeated by my current circumstances until the miraculous day when the babies return to normalcy and I suddenly think, "Meh, that wasn't so bad."
When the twins were about 8 months old, I was feeling like our new life had stabilized a little bit and I could take on additional tasks. I had been in survival mode for a while, eating whatever was convenient and not carving out time to exercise. This was around the same time that the twins were really getting into eating solid food, and I wanted our entire family to have healthier eating habits so they would be getting proper nutrition.
I had a desire to exercise, but I couldn't figure out what would work for me, which goes back to the isolation problem above. Leaving the house to go to the gym wasn't really an option, so I needed something I could do quickly at home. I saw a Facebook post from a fellow twin mom who had successfully regained her postpartum body (she looked amazing!) and was offering to help fellow mommies do the same using a nutrition plan and at-home workouts. She was a Beachbody coach. I signed up and threw myself into it wholeheartedly in December. (Note to self: December is a really hard month to start dieting.)
I saw encouraging results in my body as I got stronger and more fit, and I'm still going. I'm below my pre-pregnancy weight, but my body isn't the same. I don't think it will ever be the same, but that's OK. My ribs are wider. My waist is bigger. My "twin skin" remains and I'm trying to embrace it, but some days are better than others. Regardless of my appearance, it feels great to make some time for myself. My self esteem has improved. The best part of the Beachbody program is that I've completely reformed our family's eating habits, and that is going to have long-term benefits for all four of us. We're eating so much healthier than before, incorporating all sorts of fruits and vegetables to our meals and cooking much more at home instead of picking up takeout. I feel really good about what I'm feeding the twins. And have you seen them lately? They clearly aren't missing a meal!
I'm not a Beachbody coach so I hope this doesn't come across as a sales pitch. There is nothing in it for me; this is just me sharing something that has worked for me as a new mom who needs fast workouts I can do at home. If you do want to try it and you're looking for a coach, I would highly recommend my girl Emily. We have never even met in real life (she lives in the Northwest, but I feel like she's a friend and she's been a huge encouragement to me as I've struggled to establish a work/life/health balance as a new mom. She shared her grocery lists, her favorite Costco products (speaking my language!) and even a spreadsheet for meal planning. Those were super helpful resources for me when I was starting out. Now I have this whole community of women on the Beachbody app that I touch base with about my workouts, recipes, etc. We vent about how hard the workouts are and make fun of ourselves. It gives me the vibe of going to group exercise classes at the gym without actually going, which is the best I can do right now. On the app I can post food and selfie pics without annoying the rest of the my friends on social media who could care less. I don't know any of these women in real life but it's still fun because we all have the same struggles and insecurities.
I think most new moms, myself included, go through a process of figuring out what works for them - little systems and tricks and coping mechanisms that allow us to survive long days with an infant (or two). Looking back on our first year as parents, here are the things I think completely saved our sanity:
- Sleep training: I bought the Moms on Call book and started following its principles and schedules when the twins were five weeks old (2 weeks adjusted). It was insanely helpful. I was totally clueless, and it gives sample schedules for bedtime and daytime naps that set us up for success.
- Early, consistent bedtime: Our twins are in their cribs at 7 p.m. every night. I have friends who don't have a specific bedtime for their babies, or they have no bedtime for them at all, and I have no idea how they survive! Scott and I really value the adult time we can look forward to every single night after 7. It has been wonderful for our mental health and our marriage. Highly recommend!
- Schedule fun: I've been in a stretch for a while here where I feel drop dead exhausted on Monday morning. Why? Because I spend all day on Saturday and Sunday with the twins, and whenever they are napping, I try to be ultra productive. I'm either cleaning, working out, grocery shopping, doing laundry, etc. None of that counts as fun. It's exhausting. By the time Monday comes around, I'm mentally drained and physically wiped out. Aren't weekends supposed to make you feel refreshed? Now I'm trying to allot specific time for an activity I consider fun - lunch with girlfriends, solo shopping time, a pedicure, reading a book on the back porch. It can be anything that feels like a luxury. It's worth doing, even if it's just a fleeting moment. Mental health is important!
- Coffee: Prior to the twins I was not a coffee person. I was a Coke person. Within a week of coming home from the hospital, we had invested in a fancy Ninja coffee machine and were fueling ourselves with that liquid joy every morning. Coffee has revived more than one terribly sleepless morning at this house. You have to do what you have to do!
- Walk it out: I'm not sure if we did anything special to end up with children who love being in the stroller, but thank goodness they do. If we are feeling stir crazy, we load them up and go. We go for long walks. We take them shopping. I have these big canvas bags that I keep in the bottom of our stroller, and I use those with some hooks on my stroller handle to load up the stroller with groceries. They love being out and about, and the stroller has saved me from some seriously fussy meltdowns. When in doubt, take a walk.
I feel like I have blabbered on long enough, but I could seriously talk about this forever. What are your survival tricks? How do you find joy in the midst of motherhood struggles? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Some of the best motherhood advice I've read has been in the comments sections of my favorite blogs.