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I love the imagery of the starfish hands. I would say that much too much pressure is placed on the perfect delivery, the perfect this and that, like all other aspects of motherhood. In reality, you take the good with the bad and try not to propagate the myth of motherhood nirvana that makes it harder on everyone else trying to live up to the hype. Truth is, birth is hard motherhood is hard the payoff is grand.

Great post! Love the starfish image. I'm a trimester away from labor and delivery--and I'll definitely try to keep JL's advice in mind. Problem is, if you don't have goals and expectations for delivery, the doctors/nurses/hospital will determine how it goes. I guess the trick is finding a balance... isn't that always the trick?

What a beautiful image!!

For what it's worth, here's my advice: Read the books and the articles – and then try to forget everything. So many of us were gestated by people who smoked and drank and ate cold cuts – oh my! It’s definitely best to eat take your vitamins, eat healthfully, and follow the guidelines, but it’s so easy to get obsessed. Besides being able to quote every food "do" and "don’t" during my pregnancy, I went a little nuts and used the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Database [http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/splash.php?URI=%2Findex.php ] to eliminate any beauty products from my routine that could be potentially harmful to my gestating kid. The result? Six months into my pregnancy, I had bad skin and frizzy hair and felt super grumpy! (The persistent puking didn’t help.) So, I made an executive decision in my last trimester and began sneaking some “taboo” products back into rotation. (Ok, I stuck with the Burt’s Bees moisturizer, and the whole “salicylic acid can make your baby’s brain bleed!” thing kept me away from my Neutrogena face wash. But I found an Olay one with witch hazel that did the trick.) The point is – moderation in all things. You’re not just a baby incubator – you are still a person. The more tenaciously you hold onto that idea during pregnancy, the more likely you are to retain a scrap of self-care when it’s REALLY difficult – in the craziness of new motherhood, when the boundaries of your normal life have been completely erased.

Speaking of which, here's something I’ve only been able to articulate recently, as I’ve been negotiating life with our strong-willed toddler. Having a child is like entering into an arranged marriage with a stranger. You will no longer live with just your husband, partner, or dogs. Suddenly, a half-pint person with his or her own agenda, STRONG personality, and tastes will be trying to run the show. For instance, I never get to go out to Indian restaurants because my husband hates the food (thank goodness for the frozen aisle!), but I’ve learned a heck of a lot about noir detective novels since I’ve met him. If he’d been a hiker or in any way athletic, I’m sure that’s how we’d spend our weekends. (Um, we’re more likely to veg on the couch, reading and watching good TV...or at least trying to.) Our daughter has burst onto the scene with her own likes and dislikes that now rule our world! Reading, running laps, climbing on furniture (even onto the windowsill), making friends with every stranger we meet = good. Sitting still, being indoors, being kissed (when she’s not in the mood), saying “yes,” getting her diaper changed, being treated like a baby (in her eyes), brushing her teeth, or not being allowed into the bathroom with mommy or dad (THAT’s a fun one) = bad.

Everyone knows that your life will change when you’re a parent – good-bye to those shelves of breakables and those late nights out! hello to stained clothing and SpongeBob (although my kid doesn’t really do TV yet, except an occasional High 5). But you could be signing up for years on the sidelines of gymnastics competitions...Bible camp plays...kabuki theater performances...mathlete competitions...or endless weekends of camping for that outdoorsy kid, even if merely leaving the mall gives you hives! The truth is, once you have that kid, you have another whole human being influencing the direction of your life.

Good luck preparing for that!

Thanks for the flattering descriptors, Sarah. It really was a wonderful visit - and, quite honestly, a nice break from the day-to-day of motherhood. I figured out that the one day I spent mostly by myself on this trip was the first time I'd been alone, awake, and plan-free for more than a four-hour stretch in over four years. For an introvert, that's astounding, and a little upsetting. Not the way to maintain that Zen-like composure with the littl'uns. Now, if I can just take my own sage advice and lighten up a bit...

Expectations... You know, that's hard. I have 2 sons. My older son was adopted, my younger came the more traditional route (no pun intended - seriously!). I didn't have a lot of expectations of how either process would go and so it was easy to just let it be what it was and go with it.

Now parenting is a different story. I don't have these carved in stone expectations of my kids because I'm having so much fun finding out who they are. But I have all these hidden expectations of myself and when things don't go well and I'm not perfect (hey, guess how often I'm not perfect!) I can be prone to falling into "I'm a terrible mother" territory. That's no more true than my illusion of expected perfection.

My older son has some learning disabilities and extra challenges and that gives me many extra opportunities to see where I could be more perfect. I am so blessed that some of his care providers and teachers occasionally stop and take time to say something kind about my parenting.

Anyway, enough about me! No expectations is a good way to go. And in terms of parenting itself, have standards, but also be as kind to yourself and cut yourself the same amount of slack that you would cut your kids when they feel like a failure. We're all just doing the best we can. As long as you do your best and you look for ways to make it better and you have a rollicking good time together in the process, then you are an amazing success.

I agree with everything that has been said, especially the part about the baby books. Do keep them around for later though, when your kid has a weird rash or won't eat.

I learned about managing expectations with the birth of #1. My carefully-considered and -written birthplan went out the window with sudden, severe pre-eclampsia. All that newborn bonding? Four weeks in the NICU, followed by six months of quarantine. Massive PPD that I didn't realize until 22 months later.

So I had a few more challenges. :)

Expect to be confused, expect to feel overwhelmed, expect to become the expert on another human being, expect to do at least some of the things you swore you NEVER would, expect to be surprised (mostly pleasantly and sometimes not) by the parent you become, and most of all, expect that your kid(s) are going to be the most amazing, beautiful, wonderful creatures ever created.

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My Books (with Elizabeth Craft)

  • 'Bass Ackwards and Belly Up' and 'Footfree and Fancyloose' tell the story of four best friends who commit the ultimate suburban sin: putting off college to pursue their dreams.

    Publisher's Weekly said: "Full of romance and adventure, laughter and tears, the story is a reminder that veering from the straight and narrow road doesn't always lead to a dead end."

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    What is Starfish Envy??

    • L.A. 2009. I’m stuck in traffic on the 101 freeway, listening to Isabella Rosselini on NPR. Isabella, for some reason, mentions that starfish are one of those rare species that can reproduce asexually, and I realize that if I could do that, I wouldn't have to worry about finding a boyfriend/husband. I wouldn’t have to internet date! I wouldn't have to figure out if I want to/can/should have a baby/adopt a baby/child on my own. I wouldn't have to stress about things like FSH levels, or weigh my feelings on in vitro versus adoption. I would just have a baby. Thus began my starfish envy.
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