Last week the Evening Sun shared an interview they did with a few of our mamas. Shawna, Ahna, Ashley, and Sarah met with Lindsey from the Evening Sun to talk about the group and an upcoming fundraiser we’re doing for Carry the Future. To read or watch the interview, click the link or photo below!
Punk Mamas’ Hana RW has shared her story of becoming a mother with us, which is heartbreaking, frustrating, raw, and honest…but has a happy ending! This past Mother’s Day, our Punk Mamas Facebook group was made aware how hurtful holiday ads can be to adoptive mothers, as they tend to only target mothers who have physically given birth. And until it is pointed out to you, it’s not something you notice. We are very grateful that Hana has shared with us her journey of motherhood. It is important to us that we show there is more than one way to parent, there is more than one way to welcome a child into the world, and there is more than one way to be a mother. SC
My husband and I had been married for seven years before we felt like we were “ready” for a baby. This is really a different story, but it leads me to my birth story – so, here we go. After about six months of casually trying to conceive, I got pregnant; it was right around Mother’s Day. Along with the usual first trimester blahs, I was excited and nervous and we blissfully went to the first OB appointment with the intent of hearing our baby’s heartbeat. After an annoying amount of paperwork and questions and waiting, we both stared at the monitor waiting to see the little blob on the screen. I’d really been looking forward to getting the sonogram picture and was excited to tell all our friends and family about our new addition. Within seconds, I could see something was wrong on the doctor’s face. She had no poker face at all. Her mouth was taught; her eyebrows furrowed together. Her eyes squinted at the screen and she frantically moved the wand around. She didn’t speak and I didn’t breathe. It probably lasted fewer than thirty seconds, but it felt like thirty minutes. She said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I heard my husband inhale sharply, but I couldn’t take my eyes away. The doctor and nurse fumbled and someone said they needed to get another doctor to confirm. I thought, “oh good – go get another doctor, because clearly you’ve made a horrible mistake. You are wrong. I feel pregnant, so clearly you don’t know what you are doing.” The second doctor burst in there was more poking and face scrunching and screen staring. He took my hand and said, “I’m so sorry.” And then he walked away.
I can’t really describe what that’s like. It’s devastating. It’s isolating. Not many people knew about the baby we lost, so I felt like I had to put on a brave face and just act like everything was fine and normal. I had to go to work and move forward with my life when all I wanted to do was cry and scream. Those that did know, said things to me like, “just try again” or “this was god’s plan.” My mom patted me on the back and said, “maybe next time.” Maybe next time? These comments were hurtful; hearing them was horrible. Possibly the most unhelpful thing said to me was the nurse at the doctor’s office, who within minutes of being told that my baby had died said to me (as she was drawing blood or I may have punched her in the face), “this is nature’s way of saying the baby wasn’t healthy. It happens.” Thanks, nurse. It does happen. Needless to say, I never set foot in that doctor’s office again. Anyway, after two years of trying to conceive and one year of seeing fertility specialists and countless painful procedures, I threw the white flag up and said I had to stop. I literally couldn’t do it anymore and I had no interest in pursuing invasive procedures and putting myself and my body through any more.
Should we call this phase two? Phase two – adoption. My first thoughts on adoption were this: do some paperwork, blah blah, home study, blah blah, get a baby – pretty basic. I quickly learned, it’s anything BUT basic. It’s exhausting, time consuming, anxiety producing, stressful, and expensive. Adoption forces you to be a parent way, way before you are a parent. You have to jump with both feet, without looking, into the unknown, no matter what the outcome. You have to prove your worth to social workers, to an agency, to a judge, to a birth parent, birth parents, or birth family. You have to prove that you are healthy, financially stable, and mentally prepared. You have to go to counseling and have a social worker come to your home for an inspection. You have to convince many people that you deserve to be a parent, and that you are worthy, when you may be feeling the opposite of that deep down. I felt like a failure. And here I was, trying to put on a smile and convince everyone that my marriage is perfect, my home is perfect, my job is super flexible, and we are a stable family. It took nearly six months to get all of our paperwork in order, clearances done, physicals completed, and home study approved. We had three failed adoptions, before a successful one. Each one was a loss of its own. We lost those babies, though they were never truly ours.
On May 11, 2016 I got a call from our adoption social worker that a birth mom had found our profile on our agency’s website and out of hundreds of families, she wanted us. This being the fourth time we were matched, I was already tired, skeptical, and burnt out from loss. But in adoption, you have to be enthusiastic even when you are not. You have to be ready even though you are terrified. You have to be confident even though you know that this could fall through. Olive’s due date wasn’t until June, so we assumed we had six weeks to prepare. WRONG. Olive’s birth mother went in to labor less than two weeks later.
May 21, 2016 was a Saturday, and like most Saturdays, I was getting ready to go around the corner to our local farmer’s market for my weekly shopping trip. My phone rang around 9am and I saw the number and my heart skipped a few beats and I felt like puking. It was our adoption social worker notifying us that Olive’s birth mother was at the hospital and that we needed to get to Kansas today (we live in Pennsylvania). I panicked inside. I’m not a flexible person. I’m not spontaneous. I’m a planner and a scheduler and an organizer. This wasn’t the first time we were dropping everything to fly across the country, either. This was taking a toll on our bank account, our jobs, our emotions, and our life. I’ve never, ever packed like a hurricane before. I called people. Someone came and got our dog. Oh, and my packing job was terrible, but thanks, Target, for saving the day (I ended up boxing most of what I bought and shipped it home). We flew almost all day, and on our third flight, Olive was born, but she wasn’t Olive yet, and she wasn’t mine yet.
We got to the hospital at around 1am on Sunday. The nurses at the hospital treated me like a threat. They whispered about me. When I entered the birthing ward, I had to say, “Hi. I’m the prospective Adoptive Parent for X-baby” (because that sounds totally fucking natural – it’s not invasive at all). Everyone knew who we were, and either completely ignored us or were very awkward with us. They acted like they had never seen an adoptive couple before, which felt really strange. The nurse walked us to a room as our social worker had arranged for us to have a hospital room just like mothers who birth have. She stood in the doorway and pointed to the bathroom and towels and asked us if we needed anything. Then she said, “let me see if I can get the baby.” In my head and my dreams, I have been wondering for years what this day is like. But after so many losses, I found it hard to be anything but scared. I didn’t want to bond to this baby, because what if like all the other babies – she wasn’t mine. After a few minutes, the nurse returned with Olive. She was swaddled in a little blanket and had a bow on her head. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t excited. I just did what I thought I should do. I picked her up and held her. The nurse gave me a bottle, so I fed her. Or I tried to. I either wasn’t good at it or she wasn’t hungry. I don’t know, I just assumed I wasn’t doing it right. The nurse didn’t offer any advice – in fact, she just walked away, which was unexpected. To be honest, I was so tired. I had traveled all day, and I wanted to take a shower, and I desperately needed sleep. The nurse soon came back and took Olive to the nursery so we could sleep, and I was glad for it. I didn’t want to be with her, because I was terrified of losing her. I was also doubting myself that anyone should trust me to take care of a newborn. My head began to fill with doubt and negative thoughts and self-defeating words…don’t attach…she will change her mind…protect yourself. My head was telling me that I should run away…this is too scary…you need to leave. I started to have a panic attack. And all night long, I didn’t sleep. The next two days were much of the same on repeat. I was absolutely TERRIFIED anytime my husband would leave me alone, even if it was only for fifteen minutes to run and get us food. And I mean, this was an intense feeling – the feeling that I was going to die. My anxiety had NEVER been so bad before. And the hospital was of absolutely no help to me. Nurses came in and out to check on Olive, but never offered any advice, let alone look me in the eye. Aside from being terrified, I worried about Olive. She was small and she wasn’t eating great from the bottle. She was gassy and I didn’t know how to burp her the right way. The nurses ran out of the room as soon as they were done checking on her, and I felt too tired and timid to chase after them to ask for help. I felt so defeated and scared that I was going to fuck up and not be able to care for this tiny human. Further, the hospital had only given me a wrist band that matched Olive. That meant that I had to be in the room with Olive at all times. Shawn (my husband) did not get a wrist band, so he could not be alone with Olive. I asked if he could have one and I was told that they only print three, and typically that is two for the parents and one for the baby. One was on Olive’s birth mom, one on me, and one on Olive. That’s it. Not only was I in limbo, but I was trapped. I couldn’t go for a walk. I couldn’t get fresh air. I couldn’t go to our hotel and unpack. I really, really felt like I needed to nest in our hotel. My instincts were calling to me to go to that hotel room and organize and control that environment because everything else was out of my control. But I could not. I was chained to the hospital room and my anxiety. No escape. I was away from all our family and friends, too. There was no one there to help. In between all the other thoughts, I thought of Olive’s birth parents and birth family. They were going to experience loss like I had. I cried for them and for Olive. I was glad that they had agreed to an open adoption, and I vowed to do everything I could to maintain those relationships.
On the third day, our room was filled with attorneys and social workers. This was THE day. The day that I would either become a parent or go home with nothing but a loss I was already well acquainted with. In between my horrible thoughts and anxiety, I had to smile. I had to meet Olive’s birth family and pretend I was over the moon in love, so ecstatic to have her, when what I was feeling was shame, fear, guilt, and remorse. I had to smile at social workers and attorneys. See my big smile? See how good I am doing? Olive’s birth mother is an amazing woman and she lovingly trusted us with her on that day and forever. With the stroke of a pen, the signature of an attorney, and the seal of a notary, we were given guardianship. A few days later, we had to go to court in front of a judge where we were granted temporary custody, and full custody pending we meet the obligations of our post placement visits back home – we would have full legal custody in a month. Although there was a huge burden lifted off of me, I didn’t get the relief that I expected I would from the successful adoption. It took me many, many months to bond and to feel comfortable and to feel ok with being called Olive’s mom.
We had to stay in Kansas for two more weeks in a hotel before all of our paperwork was cleared and we could return home.
Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Hana. We knew that Hana had started a Facebook support group for adoptive mothers, and we couldn’t turn down this chance to get it out there!
How has your confidence in being a mom changed over the last year, and were there any moments that made you stop and think about just how far you’ve come? Did your husband experience similar feelings in the beginning of parenthood as you did?
The first few months of being a new mom were really, really hard. I had a very hard time bonding with Olive. I really lacked confidence. But, I think the more I did things for her and found ways of being successful as a parent boosted my confidence. There were a lot of struggles; for instance, she was a car seat/car travel hater between the months of three to seven. She would scream and cry until she vomited in the car, and that really limited my ability to get out of the house and get shit done. It was also a really hot summer when she was born, so I felt like my outside time was very limited. I think by month seven or eight, I felt like I had really bonded with her. The ever changing schedule of a newborn and the inconsistency and lack of a routine for the first few months were difficult (as they are for any new parent). The sleep deprivation was the hardest. SO HARD. I didn’t feel like I had as much support from my family as I would have received if I had given birth. My perspective is that they assumed I didn’t need much help or assistance because I did not need to PHYSICALLY recover. I don’t think they understood the emotional toll that becoming a mother and caring for a newborn took on me, and my mental health was not in the best place. I think by month seven or eight, I was at Target shopping alone, and had a “holy shit!” moment – I was out with my kid, in public, doing fine and feeling confident. I often have anxiety about being out in public alone. I had anxiety that someone will catch me doing something wrong and call me out, or that Olive wwould have an epic meltdown in my favorite store (Target!) and I’d never be able to go back. But, the more and more that I went out, the less anxious and more confident I felt. Now, I feel totally fine about going out alone. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I feel much more in control and I know how to challenge my thoughts when that happens and I start to think irrational thoughts.
Shawn, my husband, did not feel the same way. In fact, he really struggled to understand my anxiety about being a new parent. He really, really helped me so much and I attribute my abilities to get my shit together and parent to him. He would take Olive to another room and let me sleep all night. He would take her when she would start to scream and cry and I was overwhelmed. He really listened to me when I would tell him all the anxious and distorted thoughts in my head and tried to make sense of them, even though they didn’t make sense at all. He would help me ground myself back to reality and back to normal, rational thinking. He bonded with Olive instantly, and I still feel like they have a really solid relationship since the get-go.
For anyone reading this who may be having infertility issues, what are some resources (support group, website, book, etc.) you would recommend to help them navigate the process of deciding to go the route of adoption?
For anyone who is struggling with infertility or has experienced loss, I’m sorry that you are going through that. It has really been one of the hardest issues of my adult life to cope with. There are tons of Facebook support groups, and also in-person support groups for infertility and loss. Some are religious, some are not. I would encourage you to join a few and find one that you feel is a good fit for you. I’ve made some amazing “friends” through groups (I’m looking at you, Lindsay!). It was extremely helpful to me to be able to share my thoughts and have them reflected back to me. To hear that what I was thinking and feeling was normal and ok. I highly would recommend that if you are interested in adoption that you join a support group; that is one thing I didn’t do until after our adoption. Even if you are in the beginning stages or just thinking about it, people are very willing to answer questions and provide feedback or just show you support. Another suggestion is to take a class or training on transracial adoption, if you are pursuing the adoption of a child that is of a different race. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out an outpatient counselor who specializes in infertility and/or adoption – that was a really good choice for me!
If you are interested in joining a non-religious adoption support group, Lindsay PJ and I started one on Facebook that you can join here: Non-religious Adoption Support
What is the extent, if any, of the contact you have had with the birth family since the adoption?
We have an open adoption with Olive’s birth parents. That can mean different things to different families, but for our family we agreed to pictures and letters/emails and the possibility of in-person visits when Olive is older if that is what she chooses to do. Right now, I typically send emails to Olive’s birth parents and her paternal aunt weekly with a little update about what she’s been up to, what new skills she learned, etc. I print pictures and a letter and snail mail them twice a year.
Do you have any friends that have also adopted and is their experience similar to yours?
I do have several friends and family members who have adopted, but everyone’s experience is different! No adoption story is ever the same. Some of them did domestic infant adoption like I did, some did foster care adoption (or are still foster parents hoping to adopt) and some did international adoption. The different types of adoption offer vastly different perspectives and experiences, each unique to their own family.
If you knew someone that was planning to adopt, what one piece of advice would you give them? Is there one thing you wish you knew?
Find a core group of people who best support you and make sure you have that crucial support system set up from the start.
Thank you, Hana!
I know a lot of mothers consider the pros and cons of going back to school while raising children, and whether or not they can be successful in doing so, so I wanted to share my story of completing graduate school with a new son while it is fresh in my mind. But first, let’s start at the beginning…
I didn’t do the college thing after graduating high school in 2003 – in fact I had this naive attitude that I didn’t need school and I’d be better off without it. However, once I decided to move on from working at a Whole Foods Market in 2006 (who was a great employer, BTW), I had a tough time finding a job with the salary I felt I was worth. For the positions and salaries I was interested in, I didn’t meet one basic requirement: a Bachelor’s degree. I was living in San Francisco when I decided to give college a chance and started taking a class or two at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF). At this time, all of my roommates were either in school or recently graduated, so they (unknowingly) provided me with the inspiration to attend. One even took a psychology class with me at CCSF (if you see this Phil – thanks!)! I had an interest in early childcare and special education, so most of my first classes were on these subjects. For a couple of years, I was very casual about college, taking only a class here or there and only in subjects that I had interest in.
When I made the moved to Maryland in 2008 to live with my boyfriend (now husband), I was inspired by him to do better and to get more serious with regards to school. He was almost finished with his Bachelor’s degree and it suddenly seemed more important to start working towards an actual degree. I enrolled at Frederick Community College (FCC), in their General Studies program and was able to transfer all of my classes from CCSF as electives which was good, but also meant to get my Associate’s I would need to take all of the required courses which I may not have interest in. My math skills were rusty and I had to take additional math classes to get up to speed which was very discouraging. I chipped away at it, taking two classes each spring and fall semester and in December of 2011 I received my Associate of Arts in General Studies. I had also been accepted into the University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) English program. It felt like I was FINALLY moving along with this school thing!
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved reading, so studying English literature seemed like a safe bet for someone obsessed with Jane Austen and reading as much as I am. This program was completely online, and I enjoyed the classes I during the first semester. Prior to the start of my second semester, I decided to start going to school full-time, on top of working full-time. This was relatively easy to do as I enjoyed the subject matter, but I often procrastinated with writing papers and always felt rushed on Sunday nights when most of my assignments were due. Sunday night deadlines seem typical of online classes in my experience, but having a weekend to finish things up is helpful. During this time, my husband and I got married in 2012 and started discussing our plan to have kids, which was loosely schedule around the completion of my Bachelor’s degree, which was as far as I was planning to take my college experience. In May of 2014, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English from UMUC summa cum laude – with honors! During my time at UMUC, I realized exactly what I wanted to do as a career, and it made perfect sense! I wanted to be a librarian and help people fall in love with reading while providing essential services to the community. I applied for and was accepted into Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Information and Library Science (online) program.
This is where things start getting tricky…
As with UMUC, I wanted to test the waters with two classes at Clarion before attempting to go full-time in addition to working full-time. But, I learned after the first semester that two classes were my limit as the workload and subject matter took a lot more time for me to understand and complete. This meant that I would complete the program in three years instead of two, and committing to that amount of time seemed daunting. In spring of 2015 my husband and I tried and successfully became pregnant pretty much immediately, and two months into the semester I found myself battling near constant morning sickness. In fact, the week I found out I was pregnant I went on a school trip to DC where I had zero appetite and nausea spells, all while walking all around the city, going on tours, and getting to know classmates I had never met before! The rest of that semester I struggled with handing work in on time and concentrating. Working on school work at the end of a workday while I was nauseous was the last thing I wanted to do. When I feel sick, the only thing that seems to help is crawling into bed, falling asleep, and dreaming about non-stomachache things. Outside of work and school there was suddenly so much to do and plan for in my personal life – a baby on the way! I planned to read every parenting book under the sun (HA!). Luckily, throughout the semester I was able to pace myself and even request a few extended deadlines. When requesting an extended deadline, I always gave a reason why, told them exactly when I would have it turned in by, and acknowledged that I understand I would lose some points on the assignment – which seemed to work; I tried really hard not to do this often. My professors were always very understanding and one, who is also a mother, often would check in with me to see how everything was going, even after birth!
While I was still trying to figure out a plan of attack for the fall semester, as I would be having my son in November when classes would still be underway, my university made some changes and for the first time ever were offering seven-week condensed classes as an option! YES! Typical semester classes are 15 weeks long, so this meant I could take two condensed classes and be done in October and have all of November and December to concentrate on giving birth, recovering postpartum, enjoying the holidays, and getting to know my son. The only downside was that I’d be cramming TWO full courses in half the time – EEP! Luckily, morning sickness had passed and I had a relatively easy pregnancy. I was able to complete all my assignments and get most of my required reading completed, though, I couldn’t really enjoy myself on weekends as there was too much to do. I was open with my instructors about the pregnancy, on the off-chance my son came early or there were complications, but neither of those things were an issue. I finished my condensed semester in a blur and then my days leading up to my delivery crept by. You can read about my delivery here: Sarah’s birth story. It was SO nice to enjoy almost two months of no school AND no work after my son was born.
Mid-January I was due back to class and shortly after work as well. This was the semester where things got tricky! On work days, I would wake up at 5:30am after a night of a routine mid-night bottle feed and the occasional wakeful baby. My husband and I would get ready ourselves ready for work and get our son ready for daycare, which meant making bottles of formula as I wasn’t breastfeeding. We would drop him off at daycare and then carpool the hour drive to work. We would work 8 hours and then we’d go pick up our son from his grandparent’s house (his Grammie was spending a couple of hours with him each afternoon), and we’d all get home around 6pm. We would eat dinner, cuddle and hang out with our son, and put him to bed between 8:30pm and 9pm. At this time, I would try to get a little school work in if I felt up to it before bed, but I pretty much never felt up for it after a long workday. It was during this time that I felt a LOT of guilt that I was spending such little time with my son during the work week – only a few hours each day. The guilt that hits you as a mother is no joke, and I’m constantly trying to tell myself that I’m justified in what I’m doing that causes it. So maybe my son only gets a few hours with his parents each night, at least he’s at a trusted daycare, with grandparents who adore him, and he’ll have a highly educated mom in the near future, who will hopefully be able to provide him lots of opportunities in the future. Surely that’s a good tradeoff…right? During this period I felt like I had no “me time,” and the few times I decided to take “me time” I felt SO incredibly guilty. I felt guilty I should have been spending that time with my son, or my husband, or the dog, or cleaning the house, or doing homework. There was a lot of weight on my shoulders all the time, but I took each week as it came and counted down the 15 week semester. I don’t think my husband ever fully understood how much this weighed on me, as I don’t think he has ever felt this degree of guilt while away from home. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because society still places more responsibility of raising children on mothers than fathers? Anyway, my husband was very supportive and often took our son to his parents’ house on most Sundays so I could buckle down and get work completed and turned in. He offered help in many other ways, but again, I felt guilty asking too much of him. A few friends even offered occasionally, but again – the guilt. The semester passed surprisingly fast, which was a blessing because it was ROUGH. But I did it, and I knew it could be done, and I knew it wouldn’t be forever.
Summer break was fabulous and I felt like I could breathe again.
My 2016 fall semester was a little trickier, but I was also a little more relaxed and rested. By this time, our son was sleeping through the night and my husband and I felt like we got the hang of this baby thing (as much as anyone can). We also started putting our son to sleep a little earlier, so that was helpful for evenings I needed to get any kind of work in. But, he was also crawling at this point, and then walking, and eating solids, and still on formula, so all these things meant a little more physical work on our end as far as meeting his needs goes. I told myself that this semester I wouldn’t wait until last-minute to complete assignments, and that I would be happy earning a B and not working as hard to maintain a 4.0 if it meant more family time…but neither of those went as planned. I found I am incapable of turning in an assignment I am not 100% happy with, and that I work best under the pressure of having hours remaining to complete something! Procrastination is my best motivation! Much like last semester, my husband stepped up and allowed me quiet time to get work done and also offered “me time.” In case you’re wondering if the guilt got any better – nope, it didn’t, in fact, I think it was even worse because now I had the potential of missing milestones.
Spring 2017 was my final semester, and also the one where I had to figure out how I was going to manage parenting a toddler, maintaining a happy marriage, working full-time, commuting two hours each day, taking one graduate course, and logging 135 internship hours (wtf, right?). I planned ahead starting in December by arranging an internship with my place of work. My internship would be creating a website for the library I worked in, not something I was especially excited about, but something that would allow me to intern from home during hours that suited my schedule best. It averaged out to roughly nine hours a week, so I could knock a few out on select weeknight evenings, and the bulk of the week’s hours on a weekend day. Again, my husband was SO helpful, and even his parents helped out with the occasional weekend childcare while I logged my hours. I had a big reflection paper due at the end of my internship that I started working on early and each week added another page (why didn’t I start on large assignments early every other semester?!). The day my paper was due, I was about to read through it for the 100th time, but for the first time ever, I said “fuck it” and turned it in “early.” I was lucky that my final graduate course was on the easier end and wasn’t too time-consuming so I could really focus more of my time on my internship. Somehow, by counting down the weeks again, I made it! I’m the first person in my family to earn a Master’s degree, and all while maintaining a 4.0! And as silly as I feel sharing this, I’m going to: the only reason that I wanted to attend the commencement ceremony was so I could take pictures with my son afterwards and have the memory of him coming to my graduation with me!
Now that I am finally done with school (at least for the near future!), I need to find a way to shake that feeling of dread I get on Sunday mornings, when I knew I have hours’ worth of homework would need to be completed before I going to sleep. I need to remember that I no longer need to squeeze in family time, which I knew would heighten my homework anxiety and created a more serious time crunch for me in the evening. And, I also need to own up to my own forgetfulness now for not getting things done around the house or forgetting to call someone – “sorry, I’m swamped with school” is no longer a valid response! I can also ease back into doing things I enjoy, like reading fiction, or things I have put off, like knitting a blanket, because I felt guilty adopting a new hobby with so little time. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am for this summer – spending the evenings outside in the yard with my son chasing the dog and chickens, or making spontaneous stops on car drives on weekends to try a new ice cream spot. I am so incredibly happy to have time again – it is so precious.
If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I had a blast as a young adult and valued my freedom. I got to live where I wanted, travel where I wanted, and other than work, didn’t feel constrained by deadlines. As a mature adult (HA!), I feel I took college more seriously than I believe I would have right out of high school. I felt more comfortable making big decisions, like choosing a school or choosing a major, and a poor grade wouldn’t upset my parents (because they wouldn’t know!). College was and still is expensive, and I will be repaying loans for years to come, but paying for it myself made it that much more important to succeed. And as far as having a baby smack in the middle of graduate school – it was the best decision ever. My husband and I were both “ready” and our son has brought more joy to our lives than ANYTHING else could have. We KNEW it was the right time, and meeting our son on the day of his birth reaffirmed that. As guilty as I felt not spending time with my son so I could do school work, I don’t think he suffered one bit. He spent that time with people who loved and cared for him, and when we did spend time together, we made the most of it! He knows who is mama is!
So, my advice to anyone with children that may be considering going back to school is this: if it’s something you want to do, just do it!
Before starting, look into your different school options: is there somewhere nearby you can attend, or a program online? Make sure you consider how long the drive to and from school is beforehand, because that drive could be precious time. Evaluate your schedule: how much time do you have after your child goes to sleep and before you do? Do you have a lunch break at work you can take advantage of? Can you get an audio version of your text books to listen to in the car? Are there options for condensed semesters? Start with baby steps: after the first semester, consider your course load and adjust how many classes you will take next semester. Find support: do you have a partner at home who will support you and willing to take on extra duties? Discuss this with them and make sure you’re both on the same page. Do you have family nearby willing to help? Do you have someone you can call to babysit last-minute in case something falls through? Be ready for guilt: you’re going to be stretched for time and you’ll have to make sacrifices, but this will hurt you more than anyone else. I’d like to say to just ignore the guilt, but for me that was impossible. So, expect guilt, and learn to live with it. Remind yourself of all the ways you and your family will benefit from your education, and repeat them anytime you feel that guilt coming on. And lastly, take care of yourself: make sure you find time each day to have a special connection with your child. Make sure you get a little “me time” at least once a week – whether it’s reading a book, exercising, grabbing coffee with a friend – anything. And remember, it won’t last forever! It will be TOUGH, but it can totally be done!
Leaving the house as a first time mama was intimidating! Not only was I not used to having another human completely depending on me – but I had to figure out how to get around while having everything I could possibly need to take care of my little one. This meant having a car seat in my car, a stroller or carrier to hold my little one once I got to my destination, and then having everything on hand in case anything from a blow out to a fever happened! There is an art to packing diaper bags – you want to be prepared for anything, but you also can’t carry the entire nursery room with you. So, a few Punk Mamas have shared what is in their diaper bags to help any new mamas out there get a better sense of what to plan on toting around!
(Pictured above) “Wipes (we use the same wipes for everything), burp cloth, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, lip balm, dirty diaper bags, size two diapers, size four diapers, two cups with water, change of clothes for baby, changing pad, wallet. Usually I have some snacks in there, too.” – Erika B., mama to three: 5yo, 2yo, and 2mos.
(Pictured above) “A friend made this for me years ago, and it became my main diaper bag. I use a backpack too, but this bag is special to me. It doesn’t leak when I forget to close something tight enough, it’s roomy, matches my wardrobe, and there’s no way to mix it with someone else’s. Extra outfits for both kids, boogie wipes, butt wipes, burp towel, size four and size one diapers, scented plastic bags, and cream.” – Amelia P. M., mama to two.
(Pictured above) “Diaper holder with mat, three diapers and Honest Co. wipes, extra clothes, sticky place mats (we use them at restaurant and stick them right on the table for him so he can eat food right off the surface and to clean up you just peel it right off!), Augie and Lola pouches with snacks, Tylenol, one book, one toy, face wipes, boogie wipes, sanitizer, sunblock, panty liner, tampon, and chapstick! Before leaving the house I may throw in a hoodie depending on the temperature and also a sippy cup with water.” – Sarah C., mama to a one: 15mos.
(Pictured left) “We have changing pad, wipes, diapers, extra clothes with light jacket in case it’s chilly, light blanket, small umbrella because weather in SoFla is crazy! Boogies wipes, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, small trash bags for diapers if were not by a trash can, portable charger for our cell phones, toys, lotion, sunscreen, teether, burp cloths/bibs, snacks and a spoon, and a bag with small first aid kit and Tylenol/thermometer.” – Laura T., mama to one: 8mos.
“My bag’s pretty minimal! We use a backpack. We don’t go out much yet; we pack diapers, wipes, changing pad, change of clothes, two flannel blankets, pacifier, spare nipple shield, burp cloth – I think that’s it!” “UPDATE! Mine grew since last post: diapers, wipes, Sani-wipes, hand sanitizer, changing pad, plastic bag for dirty whatever, soft blanket, burp cloth, winter hat, spring hat, car seat toy add ons, paci, nipple shield, Muslin swaddle for cover up if needed, 2 changes of clothes (one outfit and one sleeper).” – Ashley P., mama to one: 2mos.
“Never used one! Sometimes I had extra pants in the car and wipes just in case, but never carried any kind of baby supplies in a bag or anything like that. I’m a weirdo and we didn’t do diapers. [Elimination communication]” – Brooke A., mama to two.
(Pictured above) “I don’t even have a diaper bag! I carry a medium sized Vera Bradley quilted tote. I really should get a properdiaper bag and wet bag set. I parcel all of her solid food out into small glass mason jars. It’s easy to pack, easy to hold and easy to clean.” – Sarah H., mama to one: 9mos.
“I don’t really carry one! Just throw diapers, water, a change of clothes and a credit card into a bag! Good to go!” – Esther M., mama to two.
(Pictured right) “Diapers, wipes, extra clothes (the one time I forgot to bring extra ones she shit all over everything 🙃) toys, nail clippers because you never know when you’ll need them, bottle if we’re out for a long period of time, then I have stuff for me! Tea tree cream because I wash my hands so much they get so dry, snacks, phone charger! It’s usually a lot more organized.” – Cailah M., mama to one.
“Cloth diapers, a dirty diaper bag, a teether, wipes, hand sanitizer, a spit up rag, and 2 extra outfits.” – Melissa K., mama to one.
“So happy my girl is five and we now leave the house with a thermos and my wallet.” – Elisabeth N. W., mama to one; 5yo.
Reading birth stories was a big part of preparing myself for the birth of my son. The openness and honesty in each one helped me understand the process, let go of expectations, and boost my confidence. I hope sharing my own experience will help others in the same way.
My son was due on November 21st, but I was convinced throughout the pregnancy that he would arrive early. I believed this because I had originally been given a due date of two weeks earlier, so I figured he’d be born somewhere between the original due date and the “new” due date. On November 20th I found myself at a doctor’s appointment, still pregnant. At this 40 week appointment, the OBGYN started discussing plans for the following week which would involve an ultrasound and a potential induction. I let her know that I wanted to wait as long as possible before inducing, because I was set on having the most natural labor possible, and she said we could discuss further next week. My due date came and went.
I went to bed around 10pm on the 22nd, and a little after midnight I woke for one of my many nightly potty breaks and noticed I had lost my mucus plug in the toilet. I insisted my husband look at it to confirm it was a mucus plug and he suggested I call my doula. She told me on the phone, “losing a mucus plug means the baby is coming soon! It could be hours or it could be days. Just rest up and be patient!” I went back to bed, with my husband, and we began talking about how exciting it was that we were that much closer to meeting our baby. About 15 minutes after losing my mucus plug, and while lying in bed with my husband, I sneezed the biggest sneeze and felt a rush of fluid shoot out of me! I yelled in surprise that my water broke and ran to the bathroom to clean up as my husband cleaned the bed. We were both laughing hysterically at the fact that a sneeze broke my water (and drenched the bed)! I immediately started getting contractions that were about 5-6 minutes apart so I called my doula back to let her know. She suggested I rest and follow up with her when the contractions got closer and harder. My husband and I decided to sleep downstairs on the (dry!) couches and he held my hand through each contraction that night. Our doula came over in the morning and assisted with labor with the help of a birthing ball and warm baths. It was 1pm on the 23rd when we decided it was time to go to the hospital.
The nurse pushing me from the emergency room entrance to the maternity ward likely set a record for speed; my hair was blowing in the wind and my husband and our doula were barely keeping up. The hospital staff was not happy that I waited so long to come in – they had wanted me in immediately after my water broke. I was 6cm dilated, so after being monitored I labored in the tub, shower (my favorite!), standing up, sitting on a birthing ball, lying on my side with a peanut, etc. I eventually had to labor hooked up to the monitor because my son was having an irregular heartbeat. When I hit around 30 hours of laboring the midwife on duty began asking me if I had the urge to push, which I kept replying, “no, but I feel a lot of pressure.” After the same question a few more times, they decided to have me start pushing anyway since I was 10cm dilated. I pushed for two hours and NOTHING happened. I also suffered from horrible indigestion. My husband ate Chipotle and one of the nurses told him he should brush his teeth because the smell of a burrito may make me sick, but the first moment I caught a whiff of his hot, minty toothpaste breath, I got sick and everyone scrambled to get me one of those blue hospital puke bags! After that, most pushes were followed up with me losing more of the honey sticks, crackers, apple juice, and peanut butter that I had in my stomach from all of my snacking during labor. They gave me oral medicine to help with it, but it didn’t work. My doula and midwife would later tell me they never saw anything like it! The midwife, who seemed very impatient, told me that the baby was stuck in my pelvic bone and that I would need a C-section, so she called in the on-call doctor.
The doctor came in and checked me and told me she was going to prep me for the C-section for a multiple reasons: 1) because the baby was stuck due to my body being so tense from a long labor, 2) because the baby’s heartbeat was irregular, 3) because my water had been broken for over 24 hours and the baby was at risk for infection, and 4) because my contractions were slowing down. I was exhausted at this point and honestly, while a C-section was not what I wanted or planned for, having an end in sight sounded marvelous; I was ready to meet my boy! Since I had not had any pain medication up until this point, my doula had an idea. She spoke up and asked the doctor if I could get an epidural, take a nap, and try pushing again rather than jump right in to a C-section. If our doula hadn’t of been there, my husband and I would have never known to to propose this idea! The doctor agreed that we could try, so I dropped my plans of going all natural and got an epidural, pitocin, and an intravenous heartburn medication, and took the best two hour nap that I had ever had. While I was waiting for my epidural, I finally understood what the midwife meant by “pushing contractions,” however, at this point my energy was zapped and I felt so defeated.
During my best nap ever, there was a shift change and the midwife I absolutely loved and wanted for my son’s birth came in with a doctor I hadn’t met before. When I woke up the doctor checked me and said I could try pushing again, but if there wasn’t progress he wouldn’t be able to use the vacuum on me and would need to do a C-section. I could tell by his tone he was doubtful I would be successful with a vaginal birth. Once he left the room, the midwife said “psssh…you got this!” and I was eager to start trying again! I pushed for the next two hours and watched with a mirror and saw that I was finally progressing! Using a mirror was SO helpful for me because it allowed me to see what I was actually doing with each push. Seeing the top of my son’s head was the best encouragement and motivation! In between pushing, the hospital staff and I discussed the best pizza in the area and it was shocking to me how much more comfortable I was pushing this time around – was it the staff change or the epidural?! My midwife was also very engaged in delivering this baby – in addition to pulling on the bar while I pushed, I also spent many contractions doing “tug-o-war” with my midwife and a bedsheet. My doula was great support though all of the pushing and helped remind me which areas I should focus on pushing from, and she would squeeze pressure points in my hands to (I assume) help alleviate pain. My husband was steady with the ice chips and a cold rag on my head. While I finally saw my baby’s entire head in the mirror, I was ecstatic, and one push later I delivered his whole body and he was immediately placed on my chest. He nursed right away and we waited until his cord stopped pulsing and before it was cut by my husband, who was told by the nurse it was “like cutting a piece of chicken.” We cried together while we looked our screaming boy over and fell in love with him as he held our fingers with his little hands! After the initial inspection of the “damage” down there, I was told I had a 3rd degree tear and received extensive stitching; however, the doctor later let me know it was actually a 2nd degree tear that was on the cusp of being 3rd degree. I was also told I had “very bad bruising” since my baby was stuck for such a long time.
Atticus was exactly 8 pounds and 20 inches at birth, and labor lasted a total of 36 hours of labor. His irregular heartbeat cleared up within two days and we were able to take him home on Thanksgiving day! My recovery took a little longer, but that is a whole other story!
Punk Mama Andrea M. is expecting her first baby in April and was kind enough to share her story surrounding her beautiful and powerful maternity shoots on the blog. As this blog was created to be a collaborative space, we look forward to hearing from other Punk Mamas in the future!
My very first thought after having a positive pregnancy test was, “Oh man, I cannot wait to get maternity photos done!” My secret baby Pinterest board was jam-packed full of reference maternity photos long before we ever even announced. So, once we received the good news, I immediately asked two photographers that I used for previous photo shoots – one of them even took our announcement photos. The process of having maternity photos done has been one of the highlights of my pregnancy, and I’m excited to share it with you today!
I am no stranger to the camera; I have modeled on and off for most of my life; paid, trade, and for fun. Needless to say, maternity photos were a personal and exciting way for me to celebrate my pregnancy. I chose to do two separate maternity shoots: an outdoor-woodsy type shoot, and a natural, more intimate studio shoot. I had so many ideas and styles of maternity photos that I loved that provided great reference material. I knew I needed Valerie Leatherman of Bunker Hill, WV to take my outdoor photos, and Charles (Chuck) Martin of Glen Burnie, MD to do my studio set.
While I had done dozens upon dozens of photo shoots before these, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for this experience. Pre-pregnancy, I would pride myself on being able to naturally transition from pose to pose. But while being pregnant, a giant, growing, and moving belly can get in the way and change things a bit! I found that I couldn’t quite move or position my body in the ways that I wanted to and was used to. Even when I thought I was posing exactly how I wanted, I would see the photos and notice a very natural but completely unflattering fold of skin, and have to completely reevaluate my posing game plan – not that a natural look is a bad thing, I was just going for something more polished. Surprisingly, the day before my first shoot (the outdoor set) I had a lot of anxiety because I had never done anything like this before. I reached out to some fellow Punk Mamas for advice, and Amber kindly shared with me a couple of infographics with flattering posing suggestions. Candyfield’s Photography’s Pregnancy and Maternity Photography Guide was an invaluable resource when learning which poses would best show off my baby bump while still looking flattering.
Surprisingly, my wardrobe selection may have been one of the most taxing parts of the process. I worried so much about picking the “perfect” dresses, getting it in the right size (which is nearly impossible to do when pregnant and ordering online!), and then learning to pose my body in each outfit. For my outdoor shoot, I looked for dresses that portrayed an aura of nature, elegance, purity, and power – like a goddess. I wanted to make sure that I looked and felt beautiful in it, and if I could wear it again, than that would be a bonus! I shopped online for a couple of options, which was a real hit or miss experience for me. I ordered one gown that I absolutely loved, but it ended up being way too small aka I couldn’t fit my arms and my boobs in at the same time. My last minute option was to head to the mall, and I surprisingly found a few options there. Selecting items to wear for my studio shoot was much easier. Since the studio shoot was going to be more simple and intimate, I was able to wear lingerie, delivery robes, and comfortable sweaters.
I had decided to do my maternity photo shoots around 28-30 weeks pregnant, that way I would be visibly pregnant but not physically miserable or uncomfortably large. I am due in late April, so this meant that my photo shoots would need to be scheduled for February. And yes, my outdoor shoot was before Maryland’s rare and unusual February heatwave! The day of my outdoor shoot ended up being around 40 degrees, but with the wind chill it felt well under 30 degrees! I was freezing and I think it shows on my face. But I also think I look fierce and powerful, so I love how they turned out.
My studio shoot was amazing and I was able to work with a talented group of people. Chuck has done tons of studio shoots for me as well as head shots for my makeup clients (Beauts by Dre). His lovely girlfriend Beth always tags along to help with posing and essentially is an extra set of eyes – she was my saving grace in this shoot as I was much more exposed and intimately posed. One thing I experienced as a result of these photos was the strong reactions they elicited. I received incredible responses from all – strangers, friends, and family. But I also received some very negative responses from some family about my studio shoot for it being “too revealing.” This was certainly not the first time I’ve gotten comments on how revealing or risqué a shoot I’ve done was, but it was definitely disappointing because I put a ton of work into making sure it was very tasteful, natural, elegant, and celebratory of the life I am nurturing. To be honest, disappointing is an understatement, I was very upset and hurt by it and had waves of strong emotions that ranged between wanting to cancel my baby shower to vowing to never leave my house again. Hormones had nothing to do with this…HA! I did end up removing the studio photos that I shared on Facebook to avoid any further negative comments on them, but I still post them on Instagram and in “safe spaces.” While these maternity photos were not everyone’s cup-o-tea, I am so pleased with how they turned out as well and I so happy that there are people out there that love these images as much as I do. In fact, my boyfriend’s reaction to my maternity photos may have been one of my favorite parts of this experience – his support and positive reactions made this experience that much more incredible.
When looking back on these images, I will remember what an intense and emotional process it was – a perfect reflection of pregnancy. There were moments that were difficult and taxing for me physically (the wind chill), and it was also draining on me mentally (dealing with unnecessary criticism from family members). Not to mention, the pressure I put on myself to have the perfect maternity photos to remember this beautiful period in my life. When I look back at these photos, I will remember the roller coaster ride they took me on, just as my pregnancy has. Every bump in the road, and every hiccup, means I am that much closer to the beauty that waits at the end.
If there is a “moral of the story” in this ridiculously long blog post, it is that maternity photos are personal, beautiful, and raw, and something every expecting mama should do if the opportunity arises. If I had the chance again, I would do it exactly the same and wouldn’t change a single thing. Do it for you and do it in a way that reflects this passing moment in your life. I love every single image that was taken, even the more unflattering ones that emanate honesty and sacrifice and love. Doing a maternity shoot, let alone two, was such an amazing and empowering experience for me and I’ve never felt more beautiful or strong as a woman.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses that are available to anyone, and are taught by top professors at leading universities all over the world. MOOCs are ideal for anyone who needs to learn on their own schedule; whether one wants to dip your toes into a field of interest, or just wants to learn new things. The classes often consist of weekly lectures, readings, discussions, and quizzes, but you can complete them as you see fit based on your schedule. Most MOOCs also offer the opportunity to earn a certificate – but this option usually runs around $50 and means that you MUST keep up with the weekly schedule and submit all assignments and pass all quizzes (again, the certificate cost is optional). There are a lot of great MOOCs pertaining to pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, child growth and development, etc., and we imagine these MOOCs will be especially useful to anyone who is or is interested in becoming a midwife assistant, doula, lactation consultant, mother, childcare provider, etc. If anyone takes a course from the list below and would like to share your experience, please leave us a comment below – we would love to hear from you!
If you know of any others that should be included in this list, please leave your suggestion below in a comment!
Punk Mamas started in early 2016 as “a private Facebook group where punk mamas can openly discuss pregnancy, childbirth, raising children, and motherhood!” Started as a small group of mothers within the hardcore scene, it has now become a group of 500 punk women in all stages of motherhood sharing encouraging stories and supporting one another. There are mothers on the west coast, east coast, overseas and everywhere in between; women trying to conceive, pregnant, first-time mothers, step-mothers, adoptive mothers – ALL mothers; those who stay home, those who are lawyers, teachers, librarians, tattoo artists, doulas, and everything in between. This diverse group has been a blessing for many who needed someone to turn with their pregnancy, parenting, and motherhood questions, a place to share those small parenting victories, or a place to let off a little steam in this crazy world.
With hopes of reaching and helping a larger audience, Punk Mamas will now expand as a collaborative blog. We are not sure how this will play out yet, but are hopeful Punk Mamas will come forward with their specific stories and their tried-and-true advice to share. If there is one thing that Punk Mamas have learned from the Facebook group, it is that there are a million different ways to be a good mother, and we hope this blog reflects that. There will be plenty of conflicting stories, so please keep in mind that we are all doing the best we can with the information and resources that we have as individuals; there is more than one “right” way to raise happy and healthy children! We hope others can find our stories inspiring, humorous, educational, and thought-provoking, but more than anything, we want you mamas out there to know that you are NOT alone in your journey!