Friday, February 20, 2015

Mothering and Morning Sickness . . . at the same time

Today's mailbag question is near and dear to my barfy little heart . . . 

illustration from Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever


Question:

Kendra, 
I know you're all pregnancy icky, so you're probably not the person to complain to, but I need some advice. I'm 10 weeks pregnant with baby 5, and my oldest is 6. We homeschool and they're always here. I don't have family nearby and my husband frequently works until they're in bed (at 7. I just can't with any later.) I'm getting along ok in the mornings, and doing school and getting supper in the crock pot sometimes, but after nap I'm just shot. I feel like death, if death is nauseated. There's nothing particular wrong, so I feel bad telling them I can't read to them, and I wish I wasn't just waiting for bedtime, but it's like they expect me to be emotionally available! I held on all morning, I don't know what to do the rest of the day.

I've just been feeling very guilty. There isn't anything ridiculously wrong with me (except I feel terrible) and I feel like I should push through, and then I can't. And I want them to leave me alone without giving them expectations.
I think it's possible the only solution to this problem is "wait 5 weeks," but I feel terrible - emotionally, I mean. (Physically too.) I'm only passively sick, and they're just little kids who love me, but the last month has just worn me out. Is there a way around this?

Thanks,
Amanda

Answer: 

Hey Amanda,

I'm just the person to complain to, believe me. I'm right here with you, unfortunately. That's how my "morning" sickness manifests as well. I'm usually better in the mornings and we get school done, then I need a nap, then I just hang in there through the afternoons and evenings. I either crash right after little kid bedtimes, or if I can stick it out, I start feeling better again around ten pm and can get a few things done before I go to bed.

It's not ideal, certainly.

But, it's for a good cause. There are three main ways we try to manage morning sickness with older siblings.

1. We Guide How They Experience These Changes

With some guidance, a sick mom can be an opportunity for even little kids to grow in empathy and self-reliance. My own pregnancies have really run the gauntlet, from almost no symptoms at all (Gus, Lulu), to manageable morning sickness (Jack, Betty, Bobby), to challenging nausea and fatigue (Anita, whoever this baby is), to six months of sickness and mental fog and days that I could hardly remember (Frankie). But ever since we've had kids old enough to listen, my husband has been really great about helping the kids to guide how they kids experience mom being sick.

I think the key is helping kids see it as an opportunity, rather than as a burden. My husband tells the kids, "The baby is making mommy feel sick and tired, and she needs YOUR help." My kids love stuff like that. Even the little ones like to feel important and necessary.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, but it's also the mother of responsibility. Your kids will become more responsible because they MUST. With some family rules in place, even kids six and under can learn to get snacks for themselves and entertain themselves for the couple of hours a day when you feel the worst.

2. We Plan Ahead if Necessary

We hit school hard in the mornings, because that's when I feel the best. Then I'm often MIA back in my room all afternoon because I feel terrible, I drag myself in to make and eat dinner, and then evenings are hit or miss for me. Sometimes I'm good, sometimes I'm bad. Things work better when I am on top of things in the morning, and don't waste those precious hours. So I try to know what I'm making for dinner, and (like you said) getting something made ahead of time is really brilliant. I try to have stuff available for the kids to do that they can manage themselves if I'm not fit for duty in the afternoons, like play dough or washable paints or sticker books. We have hard and fast rules governing the uses of those items. They only get one "special" thing out at a time, it has to be done at the kitchen counter, etc. That way, there are things to keep them occupied besides screens. Mostly, even with me feeling barfy, we don't do screens during the day.

BUT, really, I have that luxury because I have big kids who can help supervise the little kids. When my oldest was six, my kids watched a lot more TV than they do now. If that's where you are, I would NOT sweat it. I think moms should look at screens as a tool in the toolbox. Use it when you need it, just remember that YOU can stop it anytime you want. As soon as YOU don't need it, you can go back to regular kid afternoon activities like crafts and books and playing outside. Yes, your kids will be used to getting to watch a show in the afternoon. Yes, they will protest. But they'll get over it.

3. We Don't Make it a Bigger Deal Than it Is

Kids are really suggestible, I find. If you think they are being damaged by getting less of your attention and energy for a few months, they might pick up on that. But if you're not worried about it, they probably won't be either. That's how it's been at our house anyway. Say you don't read them ANY books at all for the next two months. Say they watch more movies than they usually would. And eat more macaroni and cheese. What then?

Probably nothing.

Because soon, you'll feel better and things will go back to normal and they won't even remember those few months when mom was sleepy and barfing a lot.

I had a really, really rough pregnancy with my sixth baby. I was in a fog of fatigue and nausea day and night for nearly six months. It was all I could do to sit at the school table with the kids in the morning and grunt at them. My other kids were 9, 8, 6, 4, and 2 at the time. And, ya know what, I don't think they remember it at all. Things went back to our normal, they got their regular mom back, we went back to our regular routine. I've mostly blocked it out myself. So I think the husband is the only one who remembers it, poor thing. :0) (Also, he proofread this for me, and says I have it all wrong on which babies made me the sickest, but I'm just going to figure it doesn't really matter and go to bed.)

Anyway, people make sacrifices for things that are important. That's what you're doing, that's what your kids are doing. Any lessening of the standard of mothering to which they have become accustomed that they might be experiencing right now, will be more than made up for by a childhood (and a lifetime) of having another sibling. They'll also gain some self-reliance, and some empathy, which I think are good things too. And even if mom is unavailable for a time because of injury or surgery or illness that's not related to a new baby, it's still a chance for kids to grow, and to think of the needs of someone else.


So . . . mostly, I'd just say that you are doing the best you can in the accomplishment of something that is good and that will benefit your kids in the long term, so just try to cut yourself some slack and don't feel guilty. Easier said than done, I know, but if you know intellectually that you shouldn't feel guilty, and I think you do, then just keep reminding yourself of that, and hopefully your emotions will catch up at some point.

As for how to get the point across to your kids, I'd attack it in two ways. First, I do think this is particularly effective coming from dad, and being addressed to all the kids but to the oldest couple in particular. I think it's worth asking your husband to help you with this. He can talk to the kids often, maybe even every morning as he's leaving, or every night before they go to bed and remind them that since he's not home during the day, he needs THEM to help mommy because she's not feeling well right now because of the new baby.

Also (or if dad's not available to help, just) remind them yourself. I tell my kids, "Once is telling me, twice is complaining." So, ideally, I just tell them once, and not in a yelling, or whining, or threatening, or accusing way, just in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way, "Mommy does not feel well because of the baby. I have to take a rest. If you need something, you'll have to ask your sister or brother." I think the whining, accusing, yelling stuff comes in as a result of us feeling guilty and lashing out because of that. But if you can convince yourself that it's okay for you to rest in the afternoons and not get people snacks, then you'll be able to be firm about it in a non-defensive way. I have set rules about what afternoon snacks kids are allowed to have, they are in a place the kids can reach them, they know about reasonable serving sizes, and about asking a big kid for help. I mean what I say and am consistent, so they mostly understand that if I say I'm not available to help, then I'm really not. They do still come in to my room and wake me up with ridiculous tattles and requests sometimes, because they're . . . kids. But, mostly, it works.

Hang in there. I hope you'll be better very soon! And me. I hope I will also be all better soon. That would be great.

Cheers,
Kendra

p.s. I'm sure my lovely readers have some perspective/advice/battle-stories to share, so I look forward to reading the comments on this one.


Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


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21 comments:

  1. Sharing this with my husband! I am postpartum with a premature baby, and pumping and feeding him round the clock has me flat-out exhausted. My oldest two are almost five and almost three. It's been really hard for them that Mommy just CAN'T. I've been feeling guilty and making myself do more than I really should. Thanks!

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  2. Yep. I've been so happy to see how much my kids get it that I can't do as much and how much they've stepped up to help. And having a husband on board and encouraging that is key. I totally agree with the point that sometimes when WE make something a big deal out of guilt, it turns what would have been nothing into something and encourages self-pity. Hope you're both feeling better soon!

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  3. This has made me feel so much better. I've let go of the guilt and everyone's better for it. But I'm going to get my husband to talk it up - they take him very seriously.

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  4. We do some similar adaptations when illness runs through the house. A few weekends ago, I stayed home from work on Friday because everyone in the house was puking. Except the baby - he got his puking out of the way on Wednesday. So he had plenty of energy! So that was a fun day. And by "fun" I mean "utterly exhausting."

    Thankfully, by the time I got sick and couldn't function, the two older girls were better. Because they are 11 and 9, my husband told them that we needed their help and they were on baby duty for the day. He told them they could do whatever they wanted with him and watch however many movies they wanted. So they all just hung out together, made food for themselves or the little guy when needed, and ended up sleeping together in our bed that night. They actually thought the break in the routine was kinda fun - SO much fun that I let them lobby for another day on "baby duty" while I returned to full strength.

    And then Monday came and it was back to work for ALL of us. :) Like you said, the break in routine just becomes a blip of distant memory.

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  5. Loved this answer! You are an inspiration! And I really, really needed the 'once is telling me, twice is complaining' line!

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  6. I am at the other end of pregnancy right now. Six weeks left-due on Easter Sunday. I've been hitting that 3rd trimester wall lately. I have been feeling so guilty because the kids have been watching a lot of TV lately. They are 3 and 1. I try to keep the TV time to less than two hours a day but some days in order for me to sit down at all I have to turn that TV on. It's so hard on days my husband works (24 hour shifts). So I get no help when he is working. I feel bad too because I know it's not going to get better when the baby comes. But at least it will get warmer soon which means outside! I can't wait until
    I can take the kids out and wear them out. TV during the summers is A LOT less than TV in the winter. Glad to know you used screens when you had littles. I'm trying to give myself a break but I still feel like a "bad" mom for letting them watch TV. Ugh. Great post Kendra. :)

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    Replies
    1. These last two winters have really upped our TV time. But who really wants to.outside with -9 or -33 degrees?

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    2. Agreed - honestly at that point it's just unsafe for more than a few minutes.

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    3. I know! I feel so bad that with all the snow we got my 3 year old son has only been out in it twice! Poor kid wants to go out so bad. It's just not safe!

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  7. Mommy guilt. I don't think I ever imagined how much guilt I could carry around. Finally, my mother in law shook me one day and said, kids will always have a negative memory or two but they eventually learn that doing your best doesn't always please everyone, so the memory becomes more of lesson in how to handle things (and why to do it as awesome-sauce as possible).
    Thanks fo another great answer!

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  8. Favorite part: "Any lessening of the standard of mothering to which they have become accustomed that they might be experiencing right now, will be more than made up for by a childhood (and a lifetime) of having another sibling."

    I remember a friend telling me something like this back when I was just going from one to two and was all anxious about it. It made a huge difference for me. And its still true now, with our newest baby #4. :)

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  9. My first pregnancy was total barf-land up until week 13 or so. I threw up so many times in so many places (sidenote- if you throw up in a living potted plant in your office, the maintenance man WILL notice and shame you horribly) but it did go away after first trimester. My daughter-in-law who is due at the same time you are has had Princess Kate level morning sickness. I keep telling her it will get better and I hope I'm right! My subsequent pregnancies were much easier in the beginning but sucked at the end as I went into labor at 26 weeks with number two and 25 weeks with number three and spent the remainder of those pregnancies on bedrest. They both came at 38 weeks so I apparently am very good at resting in bed... which has come in handy lately. Anyways... I hope you feel better, I hope poor Amanda feels better and I hope my sweet daughter-in-law forgets the misery and wants to have a dozen more babies after this one! *hugs* Heather

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  10. I don't really have any better suggestions or ideas that what were shared here, but to Amanda, I want to say you have all my sympathy. We are in the same boat. I'm 28 weeks pregnant with #6, my oldest is 7 and we homeschool. While the nausea has mostly gone away, I'm exhausted all the time, so I know where you're coming from. I have felt the guilt of just counting down the minutes until bedtime or until my husband is done with work so I can hand things over to him. I'm glad to hear from Kendra that the kids will hopefully not remember this time as one where I just couldn't do things for them. i have given them more screen time than usual, sometimes just so I can put my feet up for 30 minutes. We'll get through this too. All you pregnant moms will be in my prayers this Lent!

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  11. Thank you so much for this post. It was a gift from God today. I've been going through really rough morning sickness (3rd baby) and needed to read this. I love your blog. You really nail it in all aspects of parenting! Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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  12. I needed this so bad!!!! Thank you for your wisdom. I am currently 7 weeks pregnant with baby number 6 and my other kids are about the same ages yours were when you were pregnant with number 6. I have been struggling something awful with getting anything accomplished with how nauseous I feel. I'm lucky if we get through spelling and math. this has been so helpful!!! I feel encouraged to start fresh on Monday :)

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  13. Both of you have my sympathy! I am always sick & useless in the afternoons/evenings too. Just got over it with #6. These are all great suggestions. I remember once feeling so bad that my pregnancy misery would discourage my own children from wanting to have children themselves. A friend suggested I reframe that imaginary scenario: assume instead that when my children grow up and become fathers and mothers, they will remember that I took care of myself when I was pregnant and so will give themselves or their wives permission to take it easy too (or else be an understanding priest in the confessional when dealing with a guilt-ridden pregnant mom (-:).

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  14. Thanks Kendra! I'm not currently pregnant but I do have the mommy guilt when I'm sick or like right now, recovering from surgery. This helps put things in perspective.

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  15. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/stay-at-home-moms-need-help
    It's ok to ask for help!

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  16. Thank you Kendra for all the great suggestions! I also have 3 under age 5, and one on the way, and have been feeling this way a lot lately. One thing I would add is that it's ok to ask for help! Can you hire a babysitter or mother's helper (cheaper) for a bit so you can rest? Can you send the kids to a friendly neighbor's house to play for a bit? Can your husband take a 'sick day' for family members once in a while? Can you put the kids in an activity to give you a little break? Do you have a mom friend with only 1 or 2 kids who could come visit and then let you nap for a while? Can any family come visit to help you? It's ok to ask for help. I don't think it's natural for moms to be alone with their kids 12+ hours a day. Jennifer Fulwiler has some good posts on this. You asked the internet for help, so my suggestion would be go ask people in real life for a little help:)

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  17. This is awesome and encouraging. One thing I try to bring up now (in between pregnancies, which to date have meant at least 6 months of constant nausea and daily sickness) is when my kids are feeling sick themselves, I try to connect with them through my experience of morning sickness. I.e., "I know it's so hard to feel sick. Do you remember when I was growing the baby and I felt so sick all the time, and you helped take care of me to feel better?" I think it's an opportunity to grow compassion and foster a sense of our family culture as the give and take of caring for each other.

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  18. Thank you so much for this! I am 8 weeks pregnant with #3 (the others are 2 and 4) and for some reason I really needed permission from someone besides my husband not to feel guilty about the amount of TV they are watching as I sit on the couch, exhausted and nursing my stomach. THANK. YOU.

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