I am very proud to share that this post was first published at Mothering Magazine earlier this week, when I guest blogged for my dear friend and fellow childbirth educator Lauren McClain of Better Birth Maryland.
We wear invisible badges of honor as parents. Or rather, we earn these measures of our strength and fortitude, and we earn them in ways that do not come up in typical daily conversation. Not everyone can get a badge for the same thing, because for one parent a milestone might be easy while for another it requires Herculean force. Our badges say things like “I survived going back to work at 6 weeks when my FMLA was up and sometimes I still feel guilty” or “No one in our house slept through the night until a month ago” or “3 years of fertility treatments”.
Not all our invisible accomplishments become badges. I don’t even think we wear badges for those things we cope with that make us feel like better people afterward. Those challenges that clearly benefited our relationships and our selves are absorbed into the body as new assets, glowing quietly within us. We feel proud when we think about those times, and can look back on our hardship with compassion, love, and gratitude for the experience. I feel this way about my husband’s deployment. It was hard, but we came out with so much insight and tenderness, I’m happy when I remember it. I don’t have to wear deployment as a badge.
Badges are for trials we haven’t quite recovered from yet. My badge says “Breastfeeding.”
Maybe it should really say “Breastfeeding with insufficient glandular tissue,” but I didn’t know that for sure while it was happening. Truly, I don’t even know that for sure now. But what I know, I know after nursing, syringe feeding, finger feeding, feeding with an SNS on the breast, paced bottle feeding, pumping, pumping after nursing, pumping after bottle feeding after nursing, cleaning bottles when I should have been sleeping, meeting with two International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, appointments with my doctor, my pediatrician, my midwife, and an endocrinologist, an invaluable but overwhelming online support group, and a battery of tests done in one day that included at least 10 blood draws (was it more like 14?) and that glucose drink everyone loves. In the end, there’s “nothing wrong with me”.
It was time for celebration, but perhaps moreso, grief. The irony was not lost on myself or my family—‘nothing wrong with me’ meant freedom from my struggle, it meant I had received my diagnosis of exclusion for IGT. It meant I had done all the right things. But it also meant that it was time to put the dog down and live with the fact that there was nothing more to do at this time. I did allow the numbers to affirm all the hard choices I have made in the last ten years to prioritize my health. I did soak in the confirmation of how much I had done during my pregnancy to care for myself and my baby. Those things glow within me, they travel with me invisibly on the inside.
But “Breastfeeding” still reads clearly on my badge. My badge is my yearning to tell my story, to honor my grief, to embrace my truth, to heal myself and those also affected by this thing that looking back, I don’t really know how I survived. But I did, one moment at a time. So, until I reveal my hurt in words so many times that the words stop hurting—until I glow instead of suffer—I will wear my badge. And I will try to listen closely, to see if you want to talk about your badge, too.
Hello! I just spent this week building a website for you. I told you all about Heartstrings, and my classes, and my qualifications, and how to contact me... and yet, we've hardly scratched the surface.
5 things that have (pretty much) nothing to do with my job(s)
1. I pretty much always have some song stuck in my head
I've been a musician for as long as I can remember--singing harmony in church with my mom, plunking pianos, learning a craft on violin, performing as a vocalist. I am never without music...even when sometimes I wish I could be! Hamilton is the musical du jour in our house, and it is stupendously catchy, so though we are starting to wonder if the 18-month-old will be learning the curse words, we frequently break out into song. However, this beats the Leapfrog toy songs that are even catchier (make a note, Lin Manuel!).
P.S. The title is a lyric from "Getting to Know You" from The King and I.
P.P.S. I love love love love Julie Andrews.
2. I love living in the Midwest again
As a military spouse, I have moved to 5 different areas in the 6 years of my marriage. I grew up in northern Illinois, though, and moving to southern Wisconsin in many ways feels like coming home. The rain smells right, the sunsets look right; the weather is predictably unpredictable, the traffic (and construction) is predictably predictable. Also, it is amazing to be living such a short drive away from my grandma, aunts and uncles, and nuclear family, not to mention many friends.
3. I didn't know how to cook anything except breakfast until I met my husband
My husband and I met in my tender learning-to-be-an-adult years, when I had been out of college for such a short time I was always concerned that the money was going to run out, even if it was unwarranted. I had learned to cook a mean breakfast long ago--my grandpa's awesome cheesey eggs, french toast, good maple breakfast sausage. I loved breakfast. I was confident at breakfast. But even chicken breasts seemed like far too expensive a thing to try to cook and screw up. And I had no idea what I was doing.
Luckily, hubby (boyfriend) was almost profligate in his use of spices, his willingness to try new recipes with his roommate, and his inclination to use me as his taste tester. Watching him and learning a few things (like chicken thighs are way harder to screw up and taste good in the oven with almost anything/nothing in terms of seasoning) slowly changed my mind about food prep. I started small, only tried things I really thought I'd like, and over time I have become a confident cook!
4. I do not know what I want to be when I grow up
There are some people that have a lightning bolt when they are relatively young, a "compass" moment that can guide them. Others grow into a deep love or passion for a certain craft, be it business or boating. Some don't have the kind of privilege and choice that I have had--they do the thing that is available, or the thing they're pretty good at, and that's that. I've been a lawn mower, a telephone interviewer, a data enterer, a small office jack-of-all-trades, the office manager at college admissions, a tutor, a retreat leader, a music minister, a substitute teacher, a choir director, a private voice/piano/Suzuki violin teacher, a PreK-8th grade general music teacher, a "baby" music teacher, and a childbirth educator. I've never gotten my lighting bolt, or my creeping passion, or my rut.
5. I love to dance
Zumba, contra dancing, country-western lines, musical theatre workshops, choreography of my own design when no one else is home--you name it, I love it. While I am trying to bloom as a non-perfectionist, there are a lot of things that if I can't win, I don't wanna play. But give me movement, be it yoga class or "Sweatin' to the Oldies" or bouncing my baby around the living room to "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, I'm there. The feeling of being in my body that fully, putting my attention on the present so completely, is not to be missed. Come dance with me.