“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” --Guillaume Apollinaire

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rip Current Safety: A Survival Guide for New Moms

Hey mama, I see you.

I see the struggle and juggle that is your life today. I see your toddler clinging to you and crying for your attention while your infant needs to be fed. Everyone needs everything immediately, and you are the only one who can give it.

I see how hard you are working to smile through, to push from the surface those feelings of being overwhelmed, to put on the face that will allow me to think everything is okay. I can see your attempts to employ sheer will and quick blinks to keep your tears from falling, to hide the truth that all of this is more than you can handle in this moment.

As always, you look beautiful, yet I can see the signs of exhaustion on your sweet young face. I know the toll that night after night of constantly interrupted sleep can take on you physically, emotionally, and mentally. I know that even formulating a rational thought is a monumental task in this moment.

Do you feel like you are caught in a rip current of mothering tiny people? That all of these things, the sleep deprivation, the hungry baby, the needy toddler, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the endless cycle of nursing and diaper changes, not to mention the needs of your husband and the hundreds of other assorted obligations, are dragging you farther and farther away from shore? That you are struggling to keep your head above the water, or even to get a breath before the next wave hits and in your exhaustion you finally sink below the surface? Do you realize that your struggle to keep constantly moving toward the shore is adding to the exhaustion threatening to overwhelm you?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers these recommendations for swimmers who are caught in a rip current, and they might be useful for you as you attempt to survive the current that is your life right now.

“Keep calm. Don’t fight the rip current.”
If you participate at all in any kind of social media, you will be tempted to panic. Moms will blog about the nirvana that is mothering their happy, chubby babies. You will see perfect photos of perfect nurseries and perfect smiling families. You will see the Duchess of Cambridge rocking skinny jeans just six weeks after giving birth. You might panic because these images do not reflect the reality of your days. You might wonder what you are doing wrong because your baby is fussy or not gaining weight like the charts say she should. You might feel like a failure as a parent because your toddler points at your infant and says, “No baby! Go away, sissy,” instead of spending hours gazing at his new sibling with love-filled eyes. You might look at your skinny jeans and cry because you are still wearing the sweatpants that your bought when nothing else would fit. Take a deep breath and don’t give in to that panic. Realize that people post on social media only what they want to you to see. Of course your friend or coworker doesn’t post a picture of herself in ratty pajamas with hair that has not seen shampoo or a styling tool in two days holding a screaming baby who has blown out her diaper and now has poop up to her shoulders. She doesn’t want anyone to see that, but it happens to everyone. Even Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge blows out her nappy from time to time. Keep calm. Don’t fight the current that is your reality.

“To get out of the rip current, swim sideways, parallel to the beach. This will get you out of the rip current so you can swim back in with the waves helping you along.”
As a parent, you will be in a constant state of making choices for your child. Breast feed or bottle feed? Vaccinate or not? Co-sleep or crib? Sleep training? When to introduce solid foods? When to potty train? Will your kids participate in sports? Music? Dance? Public school? Private school? Home school? Friends, family, and sometimes complete strangers, will offer their their comments and often their criticism regarding your parenting choices. At times, you will be overwhelmed by doubt, wondering if you are really doing what is best for your child. Don’t get swept away. Don’t fight the criticism or try to justify your choices. Just get out of the current.

“When out of the rip current, swim at an angle away from the rip current and toward shore.”
Before you dove into this thing called motherhood, you had friendships, interests, hobbies and dreams. Those things are still there. They are the beacons that draw you back to shore, to who you were, to who you are now, to who you want to be. Perhaps more than any other experience in  life, motherhood reshapes who you are and and how you see the world. Suddenly the waters of your life can seem choppy and a little terrifying, but know that once you get out of the current, you can use those landmarks to get your bearings, to find your way back to the shore, and to put your feet back on solid ground.

“If you can’t escape this way, try to float or calmly tread water. Rip current strength eventually weakens offshore. When it does, swim away from the rip current toward shore.”
Mama, I know that the current is strong. I am here to tell you, it is okay to float. I am begging you to float; rest where you are and gather some strength to continue the struggle. There are going to be days where floating is all you can do. You want so badly to move forward, to get even one foot closer to the shore, to feel the firm ground and to have solid footing. Float today and rest: leave the dirty dishes in the sink, let that load of laundry sit in the dryer, and order a pizza for dinner. Hold your baby close, and smell her sweet tiny head. Take your toddler’s chubby, sticky little hand and let him lead you to the backyard for an adventure or to the floor to play with trains or dinosaurs. Just for today, use their nap time for your own nap. Give up that precious opportunity to fold those little onesies, pick up the toys, or mop the kitchen floor in favor of a few minutes of rest.

“If at any time you are unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.”
Sometimes the current is just too much for you to handle on your own. Even if you pride yourself on being a strong swimmer, one who can handle whatever comes your way, there is no shame in asking for help. Ask your husband. Ask your mom, your sister, your friend, your coworker, your in-laws. Be specific about your needs. Do you need someone to come hang out with your kids for an hour so you can sleep or take a walk with your husband? Do you need someone to come and rock your baby because she won’t….stop…screaming? Do you need advice? Do you need someone to commiserate? To problem solve? To take your toddler on an outing? To sit with your baby so you can devote your full attention to your toddler? Ask for help. That help might be just what allows you to survive.

One last fact about rip currents: while these currents are strong, they are relatively narrow, and they eventually weaken. In the oceans of motherhood and of your life, this rip current is such a narrow space, a tiny amount of time. The current will gradually weaken. Day by day, things will get easier, and you will once again have your feet on solid ground. Years from now when you look back on this time when your babies were small, you will not give a thought to the current that threatened to sweep you away; instead you will look back in awesome wonder at your time in the ocean.