Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stop Telling Parents to "Enjoy Every Moment"

Some days, this goes on for hours and hours.


Sam is 16 months old now. That's the same age Stella was that day I told Dave he had to take me to the ER because I was afraid of what I would do to myself if he left me alone.

I was drowning in post-partum depression and anxiety. Part of it was chemical or genetic or what have you. Depression and anxiety run in my family, and were definitely no strangers to me at that point in my life. Part of it was due to how freaking hard our New York City existence had become, living in a crappy apartment underneath the worst neighbor in history (who made ungodly amounts of noise in the middle of the night), schlepping my daughter a full mile to go to the nearest playground, feeling the crushing weight of loneliness because I knew exactly nobody in our mainly Russian immigrant neighborhood.

But, if I'm going to be honest with you, part of it was parenting a child at this really difficult age.

Sam, who's been basically the polar opposite of Stella since conception, is now very, very similar to Stella when she was this age. He is constantly running away from me. Today, for example, I took him to a local indoor play space at a mall. It was walled in, except for one little entrance, and perfectly age appropriate and fun. But Sam? That little bugger was obsessed with escaping through that entrance and running shoeless into the manicure/pedicure place across the way. (I guess it's possible he was really trying to get a nice pedicure.)

I laughed with my fellow parents, but I was pretty annoyed. There were other parents chilling out for one blessed second while their kids played, but I had to keep chasing my little stinker of a son. This happens everywhere we go. And if we don't follow close behind, he either bolts totally (and terrifyingly) out of sight or breaks something. He knocked over three of my mom's framed pictures a few days ago when I looked away for a second to answer a question. It. Is. Constant. And, while it's age appropriate, it's also extreme. I work at Sam's school and so I observe Sam's classmates and I can assure you that there are some 16 month old kids in the world who are capable of staying in one room and not hurting themselves for 10 minutes at a time.

And Stella was exactly the same way. We'd go to a local sing along and, instead of dancing and singing with the other kids, Stella would bolt for the door. She actually escaped out onto the Brooklyn street a few horrifying times. And now, with Sam, just like with Stella, I find myself reluctant to go anywhere. It sucks to stay home all the time, but at least we have two baby-proofed rooms where I don't have to worry about the state of Sam's safety for a little while.

16 months is a long time to go without decent sleep. Sam is a better sleeper than Stella, thank God. He goes down for reliable naps that are of a respectable length. Stella almost never napped, and was cranky because of it. He goes down pretty well at night, too, but he doesn't yet sleep through the night. And I'm 39 years old. And a fierce lover of sleep.

And Sam, like Stella, is tempestuous. Granted, the boy has basically had an ear infection since birth (he's getting tubes soon). And he spends grand chunks of every day being quite sweet and charming. But when he's in a rough mood, it is miserable. He just cries and cries and cries. He doesn't want to be held, he doesn't want me to put him down, he doesn't want to nurse, he doesn't want to eat, he doesn't know what he wants. The sound of his screaming grates on my brain. And, unlike Stella, his physical development is right on track and he is freakishly strong. He grabbed a chunk of my hair while angry the other day and wouldn't let it go for a very long time. I was in tears by the time we pried him away. Let me tell you, it HURT. Really.

Sam is also vehemently against diaper changes. The kid protests violently every time I try to change his diaper, flipping and kicking and screaming and trying to get his hands in the mess as much as possible. Stella was exactly the same way, but she didn't have the strength of 10 men. Tonight, poor Sam had to just sit in his filth for half an hour until his dad got home because I could not muster up the WWF strength to defeat him.

But it's different this time. I know this time is finite. I know this phase will end and Sam will, eventually, just like his sister, chill out a bit.

But mostly, I'm much better at validating my own negative feelings this time. On the tough days, I remind myself that this is really hard and that it would drive anyone a little crazy. I take breaks as often as I can, usually running away to catch my breath the moment Dave walks in the door. I remind myself that everyone we love - no matter who they are - gets on our nerves. It's OK to include our own kids on that list. And becoming a mother didn't mean that all my negative feelings were magically erased.

This is why I bristle when I hear people telling new moms to "enjoy every moment - even the tough ones." I know they mean well. When I look back at pictures of Stella at this age, my heart aches. She was so freaking adorable, and I spent so much of that time shrouded in misery. I wish I could go back for just a minute and snuggle the heck out of that sweet girl. But I don't resent myself for how I felt. I was sick. I was hurting. I needed (and finally got) help. I didn't savor every moment then, but now I'm able to enjoy most of them. And I'll settle for that.

But back then, when people would say those words, it crushed my soul. It made me feel so guilty and weak. Why couldn't I just enjoy this? All the moms around me seemed to. And when I snapped one day, yelling through my tears at the mom closest to me that I needed a damn break, she just blinked, stepped back from me as if I were a monster, and whispered, "Well, um, OK."

I wanted her to grab me and hug me and say, "I know, honey! This is so hard! You DO need a break, for God's sake!" Instead, she made me feel weird, made me feel shitty, made me want to end my life so my daughter wouldn't be raised like someone like me.

It's not her fault that I ended up in the ER on suicide watch, don't get me wrong. But the fact that she and most everyone around me just assumed that I should relish every moment of being a mom when, at that very moment, being a mom was killing me - well, it just really exacerbated an already bad situation.

So, my personal stance is don't give advice to new parents. They have enough of it, and they'll ask if there's something they want to know. But if you do want to give advice, please don't ever tell them to "enjoy every moment." You can remind them that it's finite, you can tell them "this, too, shall pass," you can offer to take over so they can shower or pee or drink a bottle of wine or go for a walk. You can get them professional help if they need it. But don't make them feel like they can't ever feel unhappy. Because your well-meaning words might just be the thing that will send someone over the edge.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Empathy

I'm not going to pretend that I know what it's like to be a person of color in America. I grew up white. I was poor and I was female, but I always had the privilege of being white on my side.

I didn't realize that I had privilege, simply due to the color of my skin, until I moved to Newark, NJ. Suddenly, I was the minority among my neighbors, and yet, still, I carried privilege. When my friend Kristi's car was broken into while visiting me there, the cops told us, very knowingly, that the people around there were "animals." They asked me what the hell I was doing living there. I wonder if they would have said that to me had I been a person of color.

Then I worked as a teacher at a school in the South Bronx. While most of the teachers there were incredible, hard-working folks, there was one embittered woman who continually threw around the term, "THESE kids" and "THESE parents." As in, "THESE kids can't do that kind of reading, because THESE parents have never picked up a book in their lives." And "Don't expect THESE parents to come to a conference; they're too busy doing drugs." When it was time for those parent-teacher conferences, she said, "Bring your grad school homework; none of THESE parents ever comes." I sent all my students' parents a note a week before offering extended hours, and asked them to give me their preferred times. I gave each of them one scheduled time, as opposed to the general conference window, and promised refreshments. Many of the parents had had negative experiences at conferences, and I wanted them to see that my conference would be different. And guess what? All of my parents showed up. My coworker didn't have the same luck.

Then there was the time I called the cops while living in a lower-income neighborhood in Brooklyn for a domestic disturbance I heard upstairs. They came to my apartment and asked me what I heard. I said I heard screaming in Spanish. The police officer actually said, "Well if it ain't English, it don't count." These big, beefy, all-white police officers combed through my stuff (without a warrant), asked what a girl like me was doing living here, then walked out, chuckling.

Oh, and what about that sweet elderly woman who lived above me in my little apartment in the West Village? I helped her carry in her groceries every time I saw her. Until, that is, that one day she cornered me and asked if I'd noticed the new "coloreds" that moved in, and expressed concern that they might steal from her.

I don't know what it's like to be eyed suspiciously as I walk down the road, to constantly have to answer for my actions. I don't know what it's like to be stopped by the police for a routine "stop and frisk" or while driving my car, when I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. I don't know what it's like to worry that I'll be killed if, after being pestered by police my whole life, I find that I have an attitude with them just one time. I don't know what it's like to not be able to hail a cab because of my skin color, or to be denied housing or a job for the same reason. I don't know what it's like to have people follow me around a story when I'm shopping.

I do know what it's like to be harassed on the street for being fat and female. I know what it's like to have people assume that, because I'm a woman, I'm weaker and less intelligent than they are. I know what it's like to be sexually abused. I know what it's like to have people assume I'm the same religion they are, and then ask ignorant and sometimes offensive questions when they find out I'm Jewish. I know what it's like to feel intimidated by those who've never experienced poverty. And I draw on these experiences to have empathy for others.

I know being a police officer is tough, and I can't imagine what being a police officer is like in an impoverished and dangerous area. And we as a country haven't helped matters much by making military-style weapons widely available to the population. I can't imagine trying to keep citizens safe when people can now go grocery shopping with a semi-automatic weapon slung over their shoulder.

But cops, like the rest of us, need empathy. They need to stop being like that embittered teacher I worked with, stop looking at the people around them as "THOSE people." They need to be a part of their communities when times are good, to befriend the people there, to try, on some level, to understand where they're coming from. They need to see them as the humans they are.

Unfortunately for me, I've had too many bosses who swoop in, nit-pick everything I do, give a ton of negative feedback and make unreasonable requests. And I can tell you when I work for those bosses, I give as little as possible, take shortcuts, and have a bad attitude. It's human nature. But when I have a good boss - like the one I have now - one who compliments what I do right and offers support and as interested in my life - I find ways to go above and beyond.

Maybe police officers can try the same approach. Work with the citizens to make a place better. Treat them with respect. Think back to the times you've been treated as "less than" and use that to try to get it. And maybe the killing of unarmed black men can finally stop.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Transition

In childbirth, transition is often the most difficult part. This stage where the cervix goes from 8 to 10 centimeters dilated is challenging, sometimes causing a laboring mother to doubt herself and become negative. It is the darkness before the dawn.

Don't worry. This isn't going to a birthy post, all you non-birthy people.

I'm in transition in my life, and it is challenging. I'm going from my twelve-year career as a teacher to (hopefully) a full-time freelancing career as a birth and post-partum doula, birth instructor, storyteller, and teaching artist (yep - eclectic mix). Just like that laboring mom perseveres because she knows that on the other side of all that discomfort is the joy of holding her baby, I'm trying to hang in there because this life that I can imagine in my head seems just so perfect for me and my family.

But I'm not there yet. First off, I'm only trained to be a birth doula right now, and I don't have clients banging on my door just yet. Which isn't to say I don't have clients. It's happening - just very slowly. And the exciting part is that attending births confirms to me - more and more each time - how excited I am about this new path and how fulfilled this career makes me. I've felt this sense of intuition with my laboring moms - a sense of how far along they are in their labor, how far they have yet to go, what they might need to make them more comfortable. It brings me such a sense of satisfaction to see a woman and her loved ones on this incredibly important day, and to do what I can to help everyone feel respected, valued, and cared for. (Oh, and hey - if you want to refer some clients to me, or if you yourself are interested in working with me, feel free to check out my doula website.)

I'm also working part time at a local preschool. This is a pretty fabulous job to have for many reasons. First, I really love the people there, and there's so little drama (especially compared to the wonderful world of public school teaching in high-need areas). The kids are adorable and very sweet. My darling Sam attends my school, so I'm able to visit with him twice a day and nurse him on site. (Which means NO MORE PUMPING. Can I get an amen?) It gives me a regular salary and benefits while I pursue my doula business on the side.

Working part-time means I have more time to be there for both my kids - including Stella. I've been to her school to volunteer and eat lunch with her and I pick her up earlier than I was able to last year. It gives me more time to cook good food for us and keep our house relatively clean. And it gives me more time to balance work and family and spouse and me - that elaborate equation that, if done properly - can lead to a really harmonious life.

So, that's the good news. The bad news has almost everything to do with money. I earned my national boards last year, plus I had several years of teacher under my belt, which means my salary was pretty high (for a teacher, mind you). Doing what I do earns me less than half of that. Less than half. And our family of four is really starting to feel the pinch. We're not extravagant people. We don't eat out much. We don't buy a lot of clothes or download a lot of music. I don't get manicures, Dave doesn't buy guitar accessories. We're selling items we have that we no longer need, we're cutting expenses that we don't really use. We're really, really working, but it feels like an uphill battle.

And sometimes, when my faith and confidence and resolve are a bit weak, I feel totally selfish for dumping a relatively successful career to pursue this passion. True, I got to the point where I resented all the hoops I had to jump through, all the people I had to appease, all the soul-stripping standardized testing BS I had to employ, just to try to find some level of creativity to reach maybe one student that year. I was sick and tired of making my over a decade's worth of knowledge and expertise fit into some other mold created by someone who has less experience than I just because someone thought it "looked cooler." I was at wit's end with working countless hours to grade papers and plan lessons and fill out paperwork while much of the world envied me for "getting off work at 3." And I was really sick of squeezing in time to read everything I could get my hands on about birth, like it was some silly comic book I had to hide from my strict parents. I was sick of constantly running running running to get things done and barely seeing my kids. And speaking of my kids, I was tired of snapping at them every five seconds because I'd endured so much attitude and verbal abuse and sometimes even threats of physical abuse from my troubled students all day.

So, yeah. No matter what, I wasn't going to be able to stay at that job, even if it promised a middle class salary that would sure come in handy now.

I made this leap because I knew it was right. And I know this transitional period won't last forever. I'm going to get more and more doula clients as the months go on. I'm going to get trained to be a birth instructor and a post-partum doula, which is both very exciting and a future source of revenue. I'm going to put together a curriculum as a teaching artist who specializes in storytelling and slam poetry, and schools in my area are going to hire me to teach those almighty common core standards with a whole heap of creativity on the side. And maybe, just maybe, if I really wish upon a star, somebody might even want to pay me for my writing and storytelling some day, too.

A year from now, when people ask what I do, I'll get a glow in my eyes, and my lengthy answer will either bore, confuse, or intrigue them. And I - the woman who double majored in French and Drama and really wanted to major in maybe five other things, too - will finally live a life that incorporates all my professional passions and leaves me time to care for the family I adore as well. I just have to make it through this transition first.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I Care about C-Sections (Even Though I Never Had One)

First, a story about back problems. Around four years ago, I had terrible sciatica. I could barely walk and I was in excruciating pain. My general practitioner referred me to an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended an epidural shot. I tried this procedure twice with no luck. Then the doctor suggested spinal surgery to correct the bulging disc that was causing me so much pain.

I thought about it, and I was scared. Surgery on the spine is serious, and I wanted to make sure I explored all other options first. So, I went to a highly-revered chiropractor. After about a month of treatment, I was free of pain.

That's my story. But then I have a friend who's also had chronic back pain. She's tried the chiropractic route and the PT route, but she hasn't had the luck I've had. She opted for the surgery - a few of them actually - and she's finally living a relatively pain-free life.

I was terrified of surgery and wanted to do everything I could to avoid it; it was a godsend for her and exactly what she needed.

What's wonderful about this story was that there was never a point where either one of us was pressured to have surgery. We were given options, treated like rational, intelligent adults, and given time to figure out what was the right move. And, because our situations were different, the "right move" was different for each of us.

So, you probably get the analogy. C-sections: for some women, they are literally life saving - for either themselves or their babies. They are the only option that makes sense. For others, and this is the part that people find so controversial, they are unnecessary and can even be harmful.

According to the World Health Organization, mothers and babies fare best in places where the c-section rate is between 5-10%, with anything higher than 15% doing more harm than good. (Althabe and Belizan 2006) According to the CDC, America's c-section rate is currently 32.8%, more three times the recommended rate. That means we have a problem.

5 - 10% of women need a c-section due to any number of circumstances. Assuming those women are treated with dignity and respect, that c-section probably feels like the greatest invention since sliced bread.

As for the other 22.8%, their feelings toward c-sections vary. Enough of them feel upset by their experiences that there are support groups across the country to help them process their emotions. Many feel like they were unfairly coerced into having a c-section for reasons that are not evidence-based, such as having a big baby. Others are not sure whether their c-section was necessary or not, because they were never given clear explanations or any real autonomy over what was happening to them.

But some women, whether they feel good about their c-sections or not, want to attack women who support lower interventions in birth and fight against the c-section rate. They think women like me are nosy, judgmental, bossy. They are, quite frankly, missing the damn point.

I'm an advocate for women. And when 1/3 of women who labor in America have their babies via c-section, that's upsetting. That means that when a healthy woman with a healthy pregnancy seeks traditional hospital care to birth her baby, she's facing steep odds that she could be given a procedure that she might not need and it will definitely make her life more complicated.

Yes, there are insufferable natural birth enthusiasts. I was at a mom's group once where a woman mouthed off against c-sections in a way that made it clear to the whole of us (including a wonderful mama friend who birthed her baby via c-section) that she thought those moms were less than. However, even though I surround myself with very crunchy-type moms and I also travel in a circle of doulas (whom many assume - wrongly - think the only valid birth is one without interventions), this has only happened once. What I hear much more frequently is concern that women are not treated fairly in their prenatal and birth care.

So, honestly, I'm getting frustrated that while I'm standing up for a woman's right to have a birth that is safe, respectful, and evidence-based, I'm viewed as anti-woman. If a woman has a c-section and feels great about it, that makes me happy. If a woman has a c-section and feels terrible about it, that makes me upset. If a woman has a c-section and then wants to make fun of "natural birth freaks," that pisses me off. When women, like the author of this article, suggest that those of us who are unhappy with the current c-section rate are so into being "natural" that we'd rather have a baby die than succumb to a c-section, then I get RIGHTEOUSLY angry.

Look, ladies, c-sections matter to all of us. If, like back-surgery, they are used sparingly and when necessary, then I think we'll all feel positively toward them. But right now they are far more common than they should be, and I'm going to keep fighting against that until America's c-section rate falls below 10%. Because I care about women, whether they return that sentiment or not.


Resource I couldn't link to:
Althabe F, Belizan JF. Caesarean section: The paradox. The Lancet 2006;368:1472-3.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Check Out My Spiritual Side

I'm going to start blogging for My New Name is Mommy, a blog for moms with a spiritual twist. My first entry is a piece about how the Jewish High Holy Days cause me to reflect on my parenting. I hope, no matter what your religious views, you'll take a moment to check out my piece! And L'Shanah Tovah to any Members of the Tribe out there!

Monday, September 22, 2014

"Feminist Mom" is Not an Oxymoron

I found this cool symbol on this website.


It's nothing new for feminists to be at odds among each other. After all, we are a vast group of people who, in essence, share only anatomy and a desire for equality. What that equality looks like and is composed of is often a matter of heated debate.

And one of the biggest rifts in the community I've witnessed is child-free feminists vs. feminist moms.

Yes. There is such a thing as a feminist mom, by the way. The fact that my body housed, birthed, and fed two small humans does not mean that I suddenly lost my intelligence, my drive, my politics, or my passion. In fact, and you might be shocked to hear this, having children strengthened and reignited my feminism.

My two children - one boy and one girl - will inherit whatever world we leave them. And while there are many problems that need fixing - chief among them climate change and our alarming lack of gun sense in America - I feel that the embedded patriarchy and even misogyny in our culture is often the root of what ails us. I want to leave my kids a better world, and in order to do that I need to raise them to be good people. People who feel neither entitled nor defeated by their gender. People who feel a responsibility to others, not competition to be better than others at all times. People who know how to process their emotions in a healthy way so as to avoid the depression and rage that plagues us all too often.

But just because my feminism was strengthened by breeding doesn't mean that every woman's feminism would do the same. It's true, becoming a mother does make it hard to relate to your child-free friends on some level, especially in the beginning. I'd be lying if I pretended that weren't true. When the days are relentlessly hard and you feel like simply a pair of hands to pick up a kid and a pair of boobs to feed said kid - like anything that use to be you is as distant a memory as your most recent shower - it's hard to sympathize with your friend whose coworker's music is getting on her last nerve or who accidentally locked herself out of her apartment. And when those days are really, really, really hard, you might even find yourself resenting your friend for not making the choices you made. And that's when your treading on feminist territory.

Because to be a feminist means that you support a woman's choice to have the life that fulfills her, as long as it doesn't infringe on others' rights. It means realizing we all have struggles, often ones nobody sees or discusses, and nobody's life is more valuable nor more difficult than another's. It means not expecting a woman to breed nor refrain from breeding, because when we tell a woman what to do with her body and her life, then we are eclipsing that woman's rights.

I'm in the majority. Most women have children. It is what is expected of us, and I fulfilled those expectations. Add to that the fact that my genetics make me want the romantic company of a man and that I have white skin, and you've got one entitled lady. I realize this. And I realize that my feminist sisters who live child-free lives (either by choice or circumstance) face an avalanche of criticism and judgment and annoying "concern" from friends, family, and strangers on a daily basis.

So keep all that in mind when I say how sick and tired I am of listening to women criticize other women for their parenting choices. I. Am. Over. It.

Women who denounce "slut-shaming" (when people say that a woman "asked for" assault or rape based on her choice of clothing) are sometimes the same women who roll their eyes in disgust when a mom breastfeeds her child in public or continues to breastfeed a child into the toddler years (or beyond).

Women who would defend a woman's right to birth control make fun of the women who are fighting for more respectful, evidence-based birthing practices and dismiss us as "natural birth freaks."

Women who stand up for equal pay for women judge another woman for choosing to stay at home with her children.

Women who fight against domestic violence - not just physical but also emotional - rant on Facebook about a mom who spoke gently to her misbehaving kid rather than chewing his head off like our parents did.

These women are unwittingly a part of the patriarchal machine against which they rage. When you say breasts are OK when a woman is dressing that way but not OK to feed a child, you're suggesting that breasts are sexual in nature, not biological. When you say that a woman can prevent herself from becoming pregnant in the way that suits her but shouldn't have more autonomy over her actual birth, that's a pretty lopsided view of our reproductive rights. When you say it's not OK for a woman to choose to work as a full-time parent, you're limiting her opportunities. When you get on a woman for not being "tough" with her kids, you're suggesting the patriarchal way we were parented is ideal (i.e. the parent figure tells you what to do, no discussion or learning, and that way is often enforced with anger or even violence).

You may not understand another woman's choices. You don't have to. (This simple fact is one that also eludes the community of mothers who still often nit-pick at each other and fuel those ridiculous Mommy Wars.) But if that woman is fulfilled, then as feminists we need to work our butts off to support her.

This is how we will change the world. If I hear fellow moms criticize a child-free woman, calling her selfish or unfulfilled or spoiled (and yes, I'm sad to admit I've heard all of these from other moms), I vow to you that I will stand up for her. I'll remind those women that we are privileged to live in a time when women aren't considered mere vessels for procreation, and that children no longer have to be raised by reluctant and/or resentful parents. That living child-free doesn't necessarily mean sleeping in on the weekends and going out for drinks every night. But if a woman does both of those things then that's her prerogative, too.

But I ask that if you are a child-free feminist,  you take a moment to reevaluate your stance on moms. Maybe, like most of my friends, you are supportive and fantastic. Or maybe you find yourself sighing in disgust when you see a stroller coming your way, assuming the mom behind it has no life other than her kids and thinks she's superior to you for pushing a baby out of her hoo ha.

I promise to try to raise wonderful kids who'll turn the tide of this current climate if you promise to keep defying societal expectations brazenly and confidently. Together, we might actually be able to gain the equality for our gender we so heartily desire.

PS - One of my favorite women to follow on Facebook is the Feminist Breeder. She says a lot of what I tried to say here, but much more eloquently. She also has a website.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

One

 Stella, Age One

 Sam, Age One

Sam is one. I can't believe this sweet, brilliant, hilarious little man has already been in my life one year, and yet I can't imagine my life without him.

People don't talk much about one. Everyone talks about the Newborn Stage - nursing constantly, up every couple of hours, wanting to be held constantly. And everybody talks about the Terrible Twos which, if you read my blog, you know I actually quite enjoy.

But nobody talks about one.

One was my breaking point with Stella. It was when my post partum depression hit its peak and didn't relent for months. I had no clue that PPD could really affect a mother that long after giving birth, so I figured something was just wrong with me, that I was a bad person for not enjoying my emerging toddler, that surely I'd soon get over myself.

Now that I have Sam and am also mentally healthy, I see why one was the straw that broke my back. When Stella turned one, that was officially our anniversary of hellish sleep. Sam wakes around 1 - 4 times per night, but he usually just nurses and goes back to sleep. Believe it or not, that's really pretty manageable. Stella, on the other hand, woke anywhere from 4 - 8 times per night, wanting to nurse constantly but lacking the jaw and head strength to do so on her own, meaning that if I didn't want her to scream bloody murder and wake all our neighbors I had to hold my breast in place for her while she took half an hour to 45 minutes to nurse. And, unlike Sam, she refused to take a pacifier.

One is the age where the child has specific wants, but she doesn't know how to express herself. Sam's new habit is screaming at the top of his longs - short rhythmic bursts that sound like a car alarm - until you get him a yogurt or change his diaper or fetch his paci or give him a hug. We're late to the game, but we're trying to teach him to sign so we can figure out what he wants before we all get headaches. It can be frustrating, but it's not as intense as Stella's earth-shattering fits. She would scream at the top of her lungs - one long burst that made you question if she actually needed to breathe oxygen. She would arch her back, try to jump out of my arms, smash her head on the concrete if I wasn't watching her. And, unlike Sam who's appeased the minute he gets what he wants, once Stella was in the Tantrum Zone, it was next to impossible to get her out. I remember days where the child screamed like that for hours on end. Hours. I was a wreck.

One is around the age where babies start to walk. Sam is pulling up on everything, standing up on his own, and has even taken the stray step here and there. This is incredibly exciting, of course, but it can also be frustrating. Because while you're waiting for the child to become mobile, they are reaching their maximum weight and need to be carried a lot. Sam is 22 pounds and I tote him in and out of daycare, in and out of stores (before I plop him in the shopping cart), up and down our stairs at home, and to and fro the car. My back is in extreme pain. But again, it was far more intense with Stella. She weighed a lot more than Sam, for one thing - almost 30 pounds at age one (that girl nursed like no child has ever nursed in the history of the world and yes - babies CAN get fat on breastmilk). And she hung out in this prewalking stage for months. I kept thinking, "Today has to be the day she will take her first step," but it never was. Months we waited, worried about developmental delays but not wanting to seem like neurotic parents. And whereas I get Sam in and out of a car, I was schlepping Stella either in an carrier or a stroller up and down subway steps. I remember sneaking in hot baths whenever possible and slapping Ben Gay all over myself.

One is the age when babies are into everything. We have baby gates that keep Sam contained within our first two rooms, which have outlet covers, no small toys, and nothing else that could hurt him (in theory, at least). The second one of us opens the gate to go to the kitchen, he bolts for it, crawling as quickly as his chubby thighs will take him, and we have to scramble. If we leave a stray piece of mail on our in table, it's ripped to shreds and partially eaten within minutes. If we leave a shoe by the door, it's in his mouth. He's pulled our dining room chairs on top of himself, and got his finger stuck in a cat toy. All in the "safe" rooms. And don't get me started on what it's like to take him to homes or businesses that are not baby proofed. I basically have to trail him, prying things out his hands and catching lamps before they fall down. If there's a doorway, that's where he wants to hang out, especially if it's in a busy establishment where he could get clobbered, like a doctor's office. In this regard, Stella was no different, but because she was such a late walker, this stage lasted forever. When toddlers learn to walk, they still get into things that could hurt them, but at least they are somewhat distracted by their mobility enough to give you a few minutes break here and there.

We didn't know it at the time, but Stella was exhibiting classic signs of her now diagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder. I just figured I was failing as a parent, and had no idea that there were actually programs and people that could have helped both her and me. So all the frustration of dealing with these issues combined with my guilt sent my mental health into a ravine, and it would take a long time and a lot of work to recover.

Sam is behaving like a run-of-the-mill one year old, and I'm mentally healthy, so now I just find this stage a bit challenging. It's filled with adorable moments - new words and snuggles and so much learning - and because I'm not in that dark place this time I can take a moment here and there to enjoy it. Also, since he's my second kid, I know this stage is finite - it'll be over before I know it - so I focus on the positive as much as possible, secure in the fact that soon he WILL walk and talk, and that will make life a lot easier.

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to direct you to some resources. First off, now matter how old your baby is, if you're feeling chronically sad, angry, or anxious, you might have PPD and there is definitely help out there. Please get the help you and your family deserve.

Secondly, if you suspect your baby or child might be delayed or be different, trust your gut. Yes, all babies are different and they don't look at clocks or calendars, but sometimes those differences indicate a condition that can be helped through early intervention. Check in your state to find out what resources are available. Here in Kentucky, we have the fantastic First Steps program!