Monday, November 28, 2011

What I've learned in a decade as a mom

Today marks a pretty major milestone. Today is my son's 10th birthday, and thusly my 10 year "mom-iversary."

I've thought a lot over the past month or so about what sort of blog I should write to commemorate the day; to pay tribute to my son and how profoundly he has changed my life. I considered many possibilities, but every time I really thought about it, I always thought about how I have changed as a person over the past 10 years, and how instrumental he, and being a mother, have been in that evolution of self.

When my son was born, like most new parents, I had no idea what I was doing. I had younger siblings, had worked in childcare centers, and had babysat a lot, but nothing prepared me for my own child. At the time, I thought I knew what I was doing, but let's face it, I was clueless.

My pregnancy with him wasn't ideal. Compared to my girls, I had less morning sickness, but that's about the only thing that was better about my pregnancy with him. About midway through my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Watching my diet and poking my finger 4 times a day was not my idea of a good time. I couldn't even eat cake at my own baby shower! I took that in stride, but then around 32 weeks, started showing signs of pre-eclampsia. And anemia.

I went in for my 36 week appointment on Monday, November 26. My midwife took my blood pressure, checked my sugar levels, and immediately sent me over to labor and delivery, stating that I wasn't leaving until I delivered my baby, and that we would be starting induction the following morning. But it ended up being nearly 48 hours before he was born, at 12:49 PM on November 28, 2001. I was rapidly getting sicker, and the only way to avoid potentially dangerous complications was to deliver him. The next thing I knew, I had an IV in, blood pressure-lowering medications started, constant fetal monitoring, and regular blood draws. Let's just say, I felt like a human pin cushion, and I got to know the nurses very well.

I wasn't prepared for that at all. I wasn't going to be delivering a preemie, but I did realize he was going to be early. I still didn't "get it" though. I had no idea that after birth his blood sugar levels and core temp were going to drop to concerning levels. I had no idea that he was going to be so groggy and "doped up" from all the meds. I had no idea his bilirubin was going to spike so high that they wanted to keep him under the lights after they had already discharged me. (Fortunately, my midwife fought the pediatricians like a pit bull and was able to get us a bili blanket to take home with us.) And I had no idea how much each of those things were going to put me in distress. I was completely unprepared for the protective instinct that kicks in when you become a mother. The love and concern that you have for this tiny, new person is greater than any emotion you've ever felt before. You love your parents and siblings, but its not the same. You love your spouse, but that's different, too. Nothing is like the moment you become a mother. Nothing. Nothing is like the subconscious realization that this person depends solely on you, and you will do anything - anything - to make sure no harm ever comes to them.

Throughout the first year and a half of his life, he had many (minor) health problems. Due to being almost a month early, his lungs were still a bit immature, so he was sick constantly. Within his first year, he had already had RSV, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis multiple times, and pneumonia once. We were at the doctor's office approximately every 2 weeks. He had to go to the ER 3 times for breathing problems. After a few months, we went ahead and purchased a nebulizer, since we had already rented one enough times that it just made sense. After a year with no concrete answers, a lot of "maybe" diagnosis, and a lot of trouble-shooting, the pediatrician then threw out the term "cystic fibrosis." She doubted that was the case, but recommended we take him to a specialist in Portland for an evaluation. Fortunately, he checked out just fine, but hearing that remote possibility was one of the scariest moments of my life. Here I had brought this child into the world, fallen in love with him harder and deeper than anyone I ever had before, and now I was having to have him tested for a devastating disease. It was gut-wrenching. I had to, somehow, accept that there were some things I couldn't protect him from, and that was a very terrifying and helpless feeling.

As he grew into a toddler, it took him a long time to walk. It was hard to see other babies his age getting up and running, while mine was still doing the army crawl. People began to make comments about the fact that, at 18 months, my child still wasn't walking. People kept implying that there was something "wrong" with my child. I never doubted he was absolutely perfect, but to hear everyone say that there was something "wrong" with him, even at times blaming me for it, was hard. Eventually we found out why he wasn't walking - he had two undetected hernias that, by the grace of God, were found and corrected during a surgery for something completely unrelated. Within two weeks of the hernia repair, he was up and walking like all his little play mates. I think that was the experience that made me realize that I had to be an advocate for my child. I couldn't let people judge him. I realized now that I not only had to protect his physical safety, but now his emotional safety, too. I had to protect him from the judgments and unkindness of others. And I wasn't someone who liked to stand up to people, so that wasn't easy for me.

I look back, and really my only regrets are experiences when I let others make my decisions regarding my children for me. When my son was little, I really let people walk all over me. I let other people's opinions mean too much, and my own intuition mean too little. I assumed that age and/or medical degrees meant that others knew more about what was best for my son than I did.

But I remember, after getting absolutely fed up with his pediatricians (that's a whole other blog), going to see a family nurse practitioner that a friend had recommended, and she said something that I think was one of the most empowering statements I've ever gotten as a mother, or a human being. I timidly asked her a question, and she asked me, "Well, what do you think? You know him best." I know my child best! Nobody had ever affirmed that for me before. And apparently I needed it affirmed, because realizing that has been life-changing.

Since about the time she told me that, I have developed a voice and a back bone. I don't sit silently while other people take verbal shots at my kids. I read, research, draw my own conclusions, and question the "experts" on pretty much everything now. (To the point I think it may annoy people.) I don't allow myself to be guilted or duped into agreeing to something that I don't feel is right or necessary. Plain and simple, I do know my kids best, and you don't have to like my decisions. As long as I am at peace with my own decisions, and with my own child(ren)'s development, health, and well-being, then what does it matter to anyone else anyway?

The things I've learned in a decade of being a mother are infinite. I've made mistakes, and I've had triumphs. I've had many situations in which I will freely admit I didn't have the foggiest idea exactly what I was doing. But in any given moment, I go with my gut. And that is, by far, the biggest and most life-changing thing I have learned in my first ten years of motherhood.

I've learned how to parent with conviction. I know what I believe is best, and why I raise them the way that I do. And I fight for my kids. I don't let people walk all over me anymore, and I don't let anyone walk all over them. They are my world, my life, my very breath, and I take that very seriously. I know I will continue to have moments of "failure" and moments of triumph, but I will always do what I feel is right. Because I am their mother, and I know them best.

And, finally, to my son... You are the reason I have come so far. You light up my life, and everyday you challenge me to be a better mother, and a better human being. Thank you for a wonderful first 10 years, and I look forward to everything I have yet to learn from you about love, life, and motherhood. (And please, go easy on me during the teenage years!)

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