Category Archives: motherhood

And Now You Are Three

Dear Peter,

It was a beautiful September morning just like this one when you were born in our bedroom in the tiny one-bedroom apartment.

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I knew I would love you as soon as I saw you, but my pregnancy was full of worry. Unemployment, food stamps, job hunting: it seemed like the worst time for our family to grow. But there you were, growing in my belly.

I knew how patient and forgiving you would be. My easy child. My mild one. But it was hard for me to trust, with all the worry that filled our lives then.

Labor with you was hard. You were in some weird position. Not quite posterior, but not quite anterior either. I kept telling the midwife: “He’s stuck, right here,” pointing to the spot where I felt you not quite descending. But everyone reassured me that things were progressing normally.

The only way I could push you out was on all fours. No other position worked. As I lay there with my head in your dad’s lap, my first thought was: “I can’t do this.” My second thought was: “I don’t want to do this.” And then I realized that I simply had to. So I mustered up all the energy and vigor and strength I had even though I felt nothing but doubt and dread and fear. And I howled you out of my body.

I had to stop pushing for a second, though, as the midwife gently rotated your shoulder. I was right. You were a little bit stuck. But with one little tweak, you came flying out.

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The boy who taught me to trust in love. The boy who asks for so little and gives so much. The boy we needed at just the moment when we thought our world was falling apart.

And now you are three. And Daddy has the job. And we have just what we need. But most of all, we have you. And we are eternally grateful.

Thank you for coming just when we needed you most.

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Love,
Mommy

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My Problem with Similac’s #endmommywars Campaign

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Have you seen the #endmommywars hashtag floating all over social media lately? It’s becoming a pretty big thing.

On the one hand, it’s an important idea. No mother should ever be shamed for any parenting choice she makes. Period. Truly, it shouldn’t matter if you breastfed, formula fed, stayed home, sent your kids to daycare, whether you were labeled as a “helicopter” parent or “free-range.” Every mom is just doing her best, trying to find her way, and learning as she goes along. The most important thing is how you love your kids. And there is more than one way to provide a loving, secure family base for your child. I’m sorry that any mother has made another mother feel anything but supported in her choices, whatever they may be.

But I’m afraid this #endmommywars campaign is not as supportive as it seems, and in many ways is just pitting mothers against each other further. Are there judgmental mothers out there? Sure. I’ve met them (and I’ve seen loads of them on the internet!). But for the most part, I have seen a ton of kindness from the other mothers I encounter in my daily life. And I think we need to accentuate that aspect of motherhood MORE. Let’s talk about what we can do to support one another, not underline how some small number of moms are cruel to each another.

But most importantly, the campaign shuts down our ability to voice our opinions and debate civilly. Although I wholeheartedly support motherhood in all forms, I know that feeding babies breastmilk is the best thing for their developing bodies. As a lactation consultant (IBCLC) it is my job to support mothers who wish to reach those goals. Does that mean I don’t support formula feeding mothers? Of course not! I know that breastmilk is not an option for all mothers, and I know that in most cases their babies will do fine with formula. But I should be permitted to say that one infant food is, in many ways, better nutrition.

The same goes with other opinions I may have about parenting choices, like what I think is the best car seat, how I want to discipline my children, and whether I think it’s important or not to feed children organic fruits and vegetables. Can’t I voice these thoughts and opinions without somehow starting a war with someone else? Not every disagreement is a war!

Now, I have to walk on eggshells anytime I state an opinion in this current parenting climate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And #endmommywars only perpetuates the myth that there is some kind of huge divide between parents. Most of us all basically want the same sorts of things for our children, and listening to one another—hearing varied thoughts and opinions—can be truly enriching. In fact, I have learned a lot from talking to mothers who did things differently than me. If I couldn’t talk about things, I would never know what works for others, and how similar we are even when we look different from the outside.

And, of course, the biggest problem with the #endmommywars campaign is that it is entirely a marketing campaign from Similac! Yes, it is. Let me say it again: IT IS A MARKETING CAMPAIGN FOR FORMULA. If you do a search anywhere for the hashtag, you will see Similac’s name splashed right under it. Even if you like the campaign, you need to know that’s what it is. It’s a campaign whose aim is to get mothers to buy formula.

Formula is a really useful modern innovation, and many babies who have access to clean water and modern medicine do well on it (this is NOT the case in developing countries, and it is a dire problem). Many of my dear friends used it for various reasons, and I support them fully. I believe you can formula feed and be the most cuddly, loving mom. I know that.

But for a mother who really wants to nurse, is struggling, still finding her footing, getting criticism from left and right, and feeling entirely open and vulnerable, this campaign is potentially QUITE damaging–which is exactly Similac’s purpose.

Research has pointed out the power of formula advertising, and formula companies are quite stealthy in how they sneak their advertisements in. Have you gone into a pediatrician’s office recently? There will be pens with formula brands on them, and posters on the wall sponsored by formula companies. Our pediatrician gave us a little book to record shots and baby milestones that was made by Similac. And of course, there is the formula that is handed out left and right at hospitals, and sent to new mothers’ homes whether they request it or not.

I remember when a friend called me after her third baby was born. She had successfully breastfed her first two children, but her newborn was really fussy at the breast. She was exhausted, in tears. When babies fuss at your breast and you don’t know why, it’s hard to have faith that breastfeeding is going to work, no matter how many babies you have. She told me they’d been sent home with formula and were about to use some, but she thought she’d call me first. I gave her some tips to calm the baby down, helped her feel more normal, and things ended up going fine. But she told me had she not spoken to me, that bottle of formula seemed pretty damn tantalizing.

And it is, for many moms. Most moms don’t know what to do when their baby cries while nursing, when their nipples hurt, or when they aren’t sure if their baby is getting enough. They may not have a breastfeeding helper’s number to call, but they almost always have formula on hand, thanks to the generosity of companies like Similac. And quite often, one bottle of formula leads to another, and another, until breastfeeding is over. Obviously this is not the only way things unfold, but it is an altogether familiar scenario I encounter.

Thanks to formula companies, it is much easier to find formula than breastfeeding help. Thanks to formula companies, it is easier to say that women are at war than it is to find ways to unite them.

And I am sick and tired of it all. So, let’s END #endmommywars. And support one another by listening, questioning, thinking, loving, and listening some more.

EDITED TO ADD: Part of the publicity for #endthemommywars is that Similac is putting out a movie with that title. Click here to watch the trailer. I was actually asked to participate in this film a few weeks ago. More about that later…

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The Gift of A New Year

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Both of my parents are Jewish and were brought up with Jewish customs and culture. But they were atheists for most of my childhood, and we seldom celebrated Jewish holidays. We lit the menorah some years, and when we lived near my mother’s parents, we went to their house for the holidays. But that was about it.

I will admit that I really knew very little about Judaism growing up. I don’t think I even knew that Rosh Hashanah (the holiday currently being celebrated) is the Jewish New Year. I only learned that a few years ago!

My mother-in-law does all the major Jewish holidays at her house, but in a very loose way. We gather, eat Jewish food, and make merry. We’ve tried to do some kind of Seder during Passover, but it’s totally thrown together ourselves, with my two children acting out the parts of Moses (my younger son is baby Moses; my older son is Moses all grown up).

The point of all this is that this year, for the first time, I have been embracing this time of year as a new year, a kind of beginning. And it’s been wonderful to think of it that way. We all need new beginnings sometimes, and why not have more than one occasion to start over? The fact that the weather is cooling off, fruit is growing ripe and falling off trees, and a new school year is underway—this all seems fitting as well. In fact, I almost always think of the school year as a time to reframe my life,  especially since my husband is a teacher and my son is in elementary school.

So, to that end, here are some of the things I want to focus on this year (on the Jewish calendar we are entering 5776!):

  1. I want (no, I need!) to carve out more time for self-care. I have a tendency to want to do, do, do—for my kids, for my work—until I run myself ragged. It’s not good for anyone. So I want to remember to take things slow. My goal is to meditate five minutes a day (a little goes a long way), and give myself the gift of a solo run twice a week, even if that means doing it at 5pm when my husband gets home and it’s right smack in the middle of the dinner/homework rush. I’ll still walk/jog with my toddler in the jogging stroller and throw on the TV so I can do some yoga, but I want to find times to do things on my own, in my body, without kids, even if all I get is 30 minutes a few times a week.
  2. I want to spend more real time with my kids each day. Life is ridiculous sometimes. It feels like some days there is literally no time, even for my kids, who I spend every waking second with. We are either on our way somewhere, in the middle of one of our many meals, or transitioning to something else. Each evening, I spend one-on-one time with the kids when I put them to bed. I want to strive for more than just that. But on the days when that’s the best I can do, I want to be as present with them as I can. Listening, cuddling, inhaling their essence. Yes, please.
  3. I want to read. I read a lot. But it’s all online! This summer I read a few books and it was divine. It was so much more silent, delicious. I could focus on the words, the feel of the book in my hands. It’s tougher to find reading time during the school year because by the time the kids are asleep, I am too tired to do anything but check Facebook or watch TV. But reading actual books is so enriching, so I’m going to find time. My goal is to read one book each month (Book of the Month style!). I think that’s a reasonable goal, especially since I usually choose a slim book of poems.
  4. I want to make more time for my friends. A lot of my friends have moved away in recent years, but I have a few dear ones who live nearby. And yet, it’s so hard to make plans. We each have full lives and opposing schedules. But I’m going to do it. Now that my little one is older, I need to get out more. For real.
  5. I want to find ways to make work to fit into my life, not take over my life. With a little one still at home with me all day, it’s hard to find time for my writing and lactation business. But I do them because they are my passion (and I need to pay the bills!). It’s a constant balancing act to fit it all in, but I have gotten better at doing so. And yet, I know that as the school year advances, it’s going to be harder to do it all and stay sane. So I need to remember that it’s OK to say no to things. It’s OK to put my children and myself first. And that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders.

That’s it, I think! L’Shana Tova to all who celebrate.

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End of Summer Sorrow

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of the last week of summer vacation. Sigh.

It’s been a good summer in many ways. In July, my husband (who is a full-time teacher during the school year) worked part-time and the big kid had some day camp. We went to the pool a bit, played outside in the sprinklers some too.

In early August, we all took a trip to visit my dad and stepmom in California. It was really nice to see everyone, but traveling with little ones is far from relaxing. Still, the kids (especially the big one) remember it as an awesome time and are excited to travel again.

But now. This right here is my favorite thing in the world. No one has had work or other outside commitments for the past two weeks (and counting). It took me a few days to really relax into it, but oh my goodness, it’s good. I know that some people don’t love being home with no activities. And I have heard the words “I’m bored” uttered more times than I’d care to, but it doesn’t really matter when both parents are home to help (and our kids are finding stuff to do with a little nudge here and there).

I just love feeling this relaxed. I can feel each breath enter and exit my body. I can feel my heart beating slower. And I can enjoy the children—spend those few extra minutes inhaling their hair, watch the precise angle of their backs as they lean into the couch. I love the freedom of it all, not having to plan my day up to the minute so I can fit everything in and make everyone happy.

And sleeping. Taking turns sleeping in if the kids wake up too early (and dare I say that sometimes the kids are sleeping in themselves—wow!).

I know it will be impossible to bottle these feelings of slowness, solitude, and relaxation. But I hope the goodness we have been feeling—that feeling of all being together, in sync, loving on one another—will propel us forward into the busyness of September with a little more patience and understanding.

Let’s face it—the busyness of modern life can kind of suck sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful that my husband has a good job, that my kid goes to a school he likes, and I have the kind of flexible work schedule that allows me to be home for my kids pretty much all the time. I know new adventures await us all in the new school year, and I’m excited for them.

But I see this summer ending, and I feel a little sad. No, very sad. I just want to hold on a little longer. I like the nothingness of our days. But most of all, I like these people. They are pretty much the best thing I have in life. I am eternally grateful, and so in love.

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Family photo from the other day. The best we could get. Love the pile of junk next to us on the couch. Totally authentic.

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Q & A With Christine Organ, Author of OPEN BOXES

I am so pleased to introduce Christine Organ, a fabulous writer and friend!

What I love about Christine is how honest and genuine she is, both as a writer and as a person. As I read her beautiful book, Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life , I felt like I was being let into her mind. I watched her wrestle with questions of life, faith, parenting, marriage, and friendship. She goes deep. She says it all. And she does it with generosity and elegance. Her stories are relatable, but don’t shy away from brutal honesty. She writes about postpartum depression, eating disorders, anxiety, childhood pain, and finding herself as a writer. I really enjoyed this book, and I had the pleasure of asking Christine some questions about her writing process, and other fun stuff.

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Q&A With Christine Organ

Q: I am always fascinated with how parents (but mothers specifically, because I am one!) fit writing into their busy lives. What are your writing routines like? How did you manage to write an entire book while keeping two kids alive under your roof?

A: Finding the time and space – let alone the energy – to write is a constant challenge. While my specific routines have changed over time and vary depending on my children’s schedules, I generally try to write while they are at school or sleeping. I wrote my book over a 2-3 year period so it was written in short spurts. Thirty minutes here, a couple hours there.

During the school year, it is much easier to follow a general writing routine. My oldest son is in school all day and my youngest son is in preschool (soon to be kindergarten!) in the afternoon, so I block out that time in the afternoon for writing time. My mother-in-law also spends the morning with my younger son one day a week, which helps create a big chunk of time for tackling bigger projects.

This summer has presented a new challenge in that I am not only struggling to find time to write, but motivation. It’s hard to sit down at the computer when I would much rather be going to the pool or taking a trip to the lake. I do feel a bit antsy and eager to get back into a regular writing routine, but I am reminding myself that it’s okay to step back from my writing for a few months in order to enjoy this season of our lives. Come September I hope to hit the ground running again.

Q: I love how you cover such a broad range of subjects in the book, and the way that they all interact with each other to form a cohesive whole. Did you know you were writing the book as you completed each essay? How did you figure out the structure of the book?

A: Not at all! When I first started blogging, it was to create a platform for a very different book I had in mind. While that book never materialized, through blogging, I discovered my voice and the stories I really wanted to tell. Fairly quickly after I started blogging, I realized that I wanted to write a book about grace – the ways that it manifests itself and the profound impact that it can have on our lives. Over time, I noticed the common theme of openness and connection in several of the stories I wanted to tell. I also realized that wonder and the celebration of life’s little miracles were a big part of connection so I included those sections as well. With the theme of connection, the stories came together as one cohesive unit.

Q: You write about very personal subjects like postpartum depression and eating disorders. How do you feel about sharing these stories with the world?

A: It is definitely scary, but it gets easier over time. I am realizing that when we share the truth about ourselves, including the darker parts, we empower other people to accept their own truth as well. When we share our own war stories, so to speak, we are telling people that it’s okay that they accept their own war stories too. Not only that, but there is incredible freedom in owning the darker stories in our lives. By putting something out there, sharing these pieces of ourselves, we diffuse a bit of the power they hold over us.

That’s not to say that it stops being difficult. A few weeks ago, I shared an article on my Facebook page about eating disorders and I actually hesitated about posting it. I was scared to acknowledge that I have (and sometimes still do) deal with body image issues. What will people think of me?, I thought. Will people think less of me? And then I remembered all the things I wrote in “Open Boxes” about telling our stories and acknowledging our struggles. I wrote a whole chapter about eating disorders, for heaven’s sake! The cat’s out of the bag. And yet, there is a tendency to gloss over any lingering issues. I wanted to be able to say I beat this; it’s done. But life doesn’t work that way. I am a work in progress. I strive to live a life of authenticity and that means acknowledging the good and the bad, the beauty and the pain, the bitter and the sweet.

Q: What have been the biggest surprises since having the book published? What’s next for you?

A: I think one of the biggest – and best – surprises to me has been the diversity of people who have read and appreciated Open Boxes. As a woman and a mother, many of the stories resonate with women and mothers, but several men and non-parents have also told me how much they enjoyed the book. People from a wide range of backgrounds and faith traditions have found resonance in the book. This means a lot to me because one of my primary goals in writing “Open Boxes” was to find commonalities in the human condition, to draw on the ways we are more alike than different (while still celebrating our differences), and the wide range of readers has reinforced this for me.

Another big surprise to me is the amount of work it takes to actually sell a book. The marketing and promotional work is never-ending! I still feel very uncomfortable marketing myself, which can make it difficult. But I’m getting better at it.

Right now I’m focused on spreading the word about “Open Boxes” – speaking, book events, etc. – and there is always the writing that I do on my own website and on other (larger) websites, but I’m starting to think about possibly dipping my toes back into the book writing process soon. I’ve got some ideas brewing that I need to flesh out, but I’m hoping to throw myself into a new book project soon.

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I highly recommend delving into Christine’s book yourself. You can order it here.

And here’s a bit more about Christine, including links to her blog and where else you can find her.

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Christine Organ is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life — a collection of stories that celebrate the human spirit.  She lives in Chicago with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. Her work has appeared on The New York Times, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, UU World, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Role Reboot, and Mamalode. She writes at www.christineorgan.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Is It Normal Not to Like Breastfeeding?

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Many mothers start off thinking of breastfeeding simply as a feeding method. In those first few weeks, they want to be sure they are doing it right—and, of course, that their baby is getting enough to eat. Sometimes the technicalities of nursing can wear a mother down, especially if she is having difficulties. Sore nipples, for instance, are among the top reasons that women give up breastfeeding (sore nipples that make nursing unbearable are not normal, and there are usually simple solutions out there to remedy them). Other mothers are trying to remedy low milk supplies. Another, lesser-known discomfort is a phenomenon known as D-MER, where mothers feel strong feelings of depression and agitation when their milk lets down (these feelings are linked to hormones, and disappear soon after letdown).

Even without challenges like these, new nursing moms are often bogged down with concerns about feeding schedules (is he really ready to eat again?), leaking breasts, sleep deprivation, self-doubt, body image issues—and just the huge, often startling transition into motherhood. My own first son had trouble latching on. For the first few weeks it took lots of tries, repositioning, and coaxing to get him to latch on and suck. Once he latched on things were fine (though I was still an exhausted, leaky mess), but nursing often felt tedious, technical, and stressful. By the time the latching got more seamless, the fussy evenings began, and my son would often cry at the breast until we could calm him down enough to nurse.

I had this image in my head of tranquil breastfeeding, mom and baby nestled together with beads of light surrounding them. I had some nice moments, but I didn’t seem to be there yet.

This is very common, especially for first-time mothers. Breastfeeding or not—having a newborn for the first time is difficult. Very difficult. And it doesn’t help that there is pressure from within and without to “enjoy every moment.” It doesn’t help that people think breastfeeding is supposed to be easy and perfect right away. It doesn’t help that there is a seemingly easier solution out there (bottles and formula), while there is very little accessible, compassionate, affordable breastfeeding help out there.

I have led a monthly breastfeeding support group for six years now, and I can’t tell you how relieved breastfeeding mothers are when they gather in a room together and realize that all those conflicted feelings are completely normal. It is such a relief to them to know they are not alone. They relax a little then. And that is often when they start to truly enjoy breastfeeding.

Almost every time, it does happen: breastfeeding becomes enjoyable, second nature, comfortable—often lovely. When it happens varies for each woman, depending on her circumstances, support, and baby. Usually it happens after a few weeks, when any initial soreness disappears, and mothers actually get to see their babies growing from the milk their body produces. (Even moms with true low milk supply often are able to reach a point of acceptance with whatever supplementation is necessary, and are able to find peace with the amount of breastmilk they are able to offer.)

I remember when I began to relax into nursing. I was sitting in the armchair in my living room. My son was born in winter, and now spring was just beginning to blossom—little buds waving on the branches of the tree outside our window. I had just nursed my son, and he popped off the breast, milk dribbling out of the side of his mouth, his eyes fluttering closed, and a giant grin splashed across his face. I had heard the phrase “milk drunk” before, and now I saw it. It was bliss, pure and utter happiness. And it was contagious. I felt so content there. I was so glad that I had persevered and gotten to where I was with breastfeeding.

If you are at the beginning, know that chances are, you will eventually fall in love with breastfeeding (a small minority of women never enjoy breastfeeding, but most do). If things are so hard that you’re not sure how you’ll make it to the next feeding—just take it day by day, feeding by feeding, and you will get to the other side. Go to a breastfeeding support meeting. Meet other moms who are feeling as you are, and talk to other moms who made it through to the sweet spot of breastfeeding.

Even when you get there, know that it is normal to have rough days as your baby gets older. Teething, growth spurts, and other fussy phases can all drive a nursing mother mad! We have all been there. You have the right to complain. You have the right to vent. It’s all part of the cycle of life you are in with your baby, and with breastfeeding.

But all the difficult moments will be interspersed with the most delicious milky smiles, and the coziest snuggles. You’ll get there, in your own way, in your own time.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr

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A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

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If you are looking for breastfeeding help, you can contact a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant.  If you are interested in setting up a breastfeeding consultation with me, visit my website , or contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.  I do in-person consultations for mothers in Queens or Nassau County, NY, and I also offer phone/Skype/FaceTime consultations for mothers outside of my area. 

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

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It feels good to feel wanted. I have felt that these past few months. Awesome places want to publish my work (and, often, pay me for it). New mommies want my help and advice. And of course, my children with their endless wants and needs (and love).

I had always been a writer, but things slowed down a bit when my first child was born eight years ago (here’s a new piece I wrote about my firstborn). When the new year hit this year, I decided I was ready to “dive in” again. I have been blessed with words, and new places and people to share them with.

In addition to freelance writing, I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC. I get frequent emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls for help. I manage a Facebook discussion group, and I host a monthly breastfeeding support group. I have a part-time IBCLC business. I do consultations on weekday evenings and weekends. It is very part-time at this point, but I always have a mom or two I am working with in this capacity.

Let’s not forget (because I do so often) that I am a full-time mom. My own mom does come by to help a few hours a week, but it’s just me in charge of the house and the kids for 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I think I kinda forgot that. I thought I would do it all, all at once. I was wrong, as usual. It’s happened to me before.

I reached a breaking point last week. I had about four writing pieces out (including this one about breastfeeding older children that went kind of viral), which meant promoting them, getting and answering emails from fans, and just generally feeling full and overstimulated from it all. Plus, there were a few breastfeeding emergencies along the way, from both my volunteer work and paid work. And of course, kids, replete with tantrums, spills, nightwaking, early mornings, and sibling squabbles.

I don’t drink coffee (gives me terrible anxiety and tummy aches), but I eat bits of dark chocolate to power me through the day. I realize this is not a terrible thing if done in moderation. It started with a few squares here and there. But with all the endlessness of my days lately, I had been going through several bars of chocolate a week. Plus, I’d been exercising less, eating more crap, and just generally putting everyone else’s needs in front of my own. I don’t usually weigh myself, but I’d gained five pounds in about a month.

I felt the weight of it all, just everywhere.

So I did some things I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured out some ways to cut back on my volunteer work, and streamline some other aspects of my life.

And I made the intention—just like I did six months ago, when I decided to write in earnest again—that I would take care of myself. That’s it. Take care of myself: those four words. However it works, however it manifests.

It may be thrilling to “do it all.” I may be able to do to it all, in the sense that I can get it done. But it doesn’t always feel right. Something gets lost along the way. This time it was me. Sappy, yes. But true, 100%.

Just saying I need to do it has made a difference already. The days have felt simpler already, less encumbered. I have been taking more time for stillness. I have been putting my phone away. I have been eating my bits of chocolate, but savoring each small bite instead of stuffing in more. And I have been enjoying my babies more, taking the time to sit with them, read to them, cuddle with them, draw with them—all those good things.

I want all the other things to, and I can have them, but I just need to take it slower, say no to some of them, and say yes to the ones that matter most.

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