React with Love

Attachment parenting came to me in the form of a little bundle of joy named Gannon. In August of 2011 I found out I was pregnant. I started reading.

And reading and reading and reading.

I needed to read all of the things because I needed to know all of the answers because I had no idea what I was doing and I was scared and I needed comfort.

I have always found comfort in books.

At some point I came across attachment parenting when I was reading about baby wearing and breastfeeding and cloth diapering. I knew it was what I wanted and the more I read the more at home I felt in my oncoming role as mother. I had made a birth plan based on the information I had read. I had made a baby registry based on some things I had read. I dropped some serious dough on cloth diapers.

Even if I hadn’t found attachment parenting, Gannon would have made me an attachment parent anyway. He was a baby full of cries, especially if I tried to put him down at any point. He had to be held. For over three months, I sat up in bed all night long and held him so he could sleep. He cried often. Paul and I would alternate holding him for hours at a time, sometimes throughout the night. He slept through the night for the first time around the time he was night weaned at 15 months. By then, there was no need for a crib, he had been sharing a bed with us most of that time anyway.

When we were desperate for sleep, desperate for a break, desperate for normalcy, we tried to let him cry. For twenty minutes, we let him cry in his crib. He became so hysterical I was fearful that he was going to throw up. Every inch of my body was on fire. I felt the desire to go to him so strongly that I had started to feel physically ill. I sobbed. I couldn’t do it. WE couldn’t do it. We never did it again.

When Gannon was a baby and then a toddler, I never felt like I needed a break from him, even with all the crying, all the screaming, and the painful nursing. I never felt like I could get sick of him. I had no idea what other people were talking about. I didn’t understand why they needed to get away from their kids. I loved being with him. I had never felt more full of life, full of happiness. I knew that I was made to be his mother.

We would go on walks, read books, snuggle on the couch. I would push him on the swings. Bring him grocery shopping. I would color with him. As he got older he would help me wash dishes, hang out with me when I’d make dinner. We would nap together during the day, he would sleep beside me at night. It was a dream come true. I loved him so fiercely.

I wanted to have a homebirth with Waverly so I wouldn’t need to leave him when it was time for her birth. I wanted him to be part of it, I didn’t want to leave him with anyone else since he was really hard to get to sleep at night. I wanted to be there for him, or Paul to be there for him. We met with one midwife and it just wasn’t financially possible. We also didn’t know if we would be back in our own house. We had been living with Paul’s parents since the moment we came home from the hospital with Gannon and it didn’t seem that we would have enough done to be living in our home before her arrival.

When Waverly’s time to be born came Paul almost had to carry me out of the house. I was crying so hard. I did not want to leave Gannon. Writing this is bringing back all of the emotions I experienced then and I’m having trouble typing this with all the tears in my eyes. I was heartbroken. I was angry that I had to leave him. I am still angry, I think.

When Waverly was born, my attachment parenting lifestyle went out the window. I became dangerously sleep deprived and borderline insane. There was a time I remember throwing a bowl into our sink. Then a butter knife. I slammed a frying pan on the counter and, as they are sheet copper, made a nice imprint that will remind me of that day for years to come. I lost my mind. I wanted to be the same mother I was to Gannon before Waverly and I wanted to be the same mother to Waverly that I was to Gannon. I put so much pressure on myself to be a perfect parent that I was basically a pressure cooker of emotions; rage, love, hurt, shame. Between not knowing how to parent Waverly effectively and feeling like I was losing Gannon, (here come the tears again) I felt failure deep in my bones.

I remember this moment when I went to check on Gannon. He was sitting with Paul’s mom. I had a sleeping Waverly, just a few days old, in my arms. He told me to go away. He didn’t want me around him. It was the first time I had cried from parenthood heartbreak. He was so mad at me. He had so many feelings and emotions and I didn’t know how to be there for him like he needed. I didn’t know how to handle the transition either. It was so difficult on both of us.

I remember the day I looked at Waverly and finally felt a true connection with her. She was around two years old. I realized how much I loved this little girl sitting in from of me. Her smile, her laugh, her intensity. I loved her with all of me, just as I loved Gannon with all of me. I just didn’t allow myself to give myself over fully until that moment. I didn’t know how to accept someone so different from me. Her personality is so big. She is bold. She is wonderful.

Everything was different with Egan. The transition was different but not easier. Waverly still very much needed me, Gannon too, and then a new little baby who needed all of me. The sleep deprivation was intense. I started yelling even more, screaming at times, shaming. I hated the mother I had become. I hated the person I had become.

I lost my way in attachment parenting. I felt like a failure because the connections I was trying so hard to make weren’t working. I was trying to be this vision of a mother instead of allowing motherhood to come to me once again. I was putting myself down each and every turn. I felt as if I couldn’t do anything right. I wanted to escape. For a long time, I didn’t want to be around any of my family. I wanted to run away. I wanted to be left alone.

I am still there a lot of days. I’m trying to find my way back. I have been yelling less frequently and less intensely. I’ve been in therapy. I am breathing more. I am a ball of anxiety and trying to manage it so I can enjoy my time with these children I grew inside of my body. I gave them life. Initially, I was given life too.

I have been thinking about why things were so different then. Gannon was very hard work but I had no desire to ever be away from him. I still had so much patience and we had such a strong bond. That bond is in the process of repair now and how it got broken isn’t a mystery to me. Things were different then because we were living with Paul’s parents. I had a constant source of help. His parents would hold him, push him in the stroller outside, be another set of hands. His mom made me three meals a day. She did the grocery shopping. She made it possible for me to do nothing but enjoy that baby. To rest. To connect. I took a lot of it for granted then, though I didn’t mean to. Things were different with Waverly. They started wintering in Florida and for half of the year, and it is just Paul to help me, to comfort me, to take over on my weakest days.

I’m constantly tired which is making me more anxious over even the most trivial things. I am burned out and not getting enough time to take care of me, to breathe, to be my own person. I think back about those days, living in someone else’s house, feeling so awkward at first. But those days are ones I will always cherish because they are the days that allowed me to be the mother I always dreamed of being. I can still feel the way the breeze felt, blowing in through an open window, as I lay beside a sleeping baby, with nothing else to do. No toys to pick up, no dogs to sweep up after, no dishes to clean, no laundry to fold. She did all of that too.

I’m trying to find my way back. I desperately want to be back. I am lost and confused and I’m so fucking sad that I now can’t stop crying. I am doing my best to get back there, but my best feels so small. I don’t yell as much. I apologize a lot. We talk a lot. I try to slow down and explain things to Waverly even when she is yelling in my face. I try not to get angry when Egan is feeling poorly and wants to nurse every thirty minutes. I try to tell myself they are not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time. They need me. I am the adult. And I am trying to remember to take a break if it’s what I need to be the best mom I can be. It isn’t always possible. But it is important to make time.

I want to be their friend. I want them to trust me. I don’t want them to look at me with fear, like they aren’t sure how I will react, if I will yell or laugh. I want to stop saying “no” all the damn time and say YES. YES you can play in that water. YES you can make baby food with all of my spices. YES you can be an individual person because I AM NOT HERE TO CONTROL YOU. I want to react with kindness, compassion. I want to react with love.

I want to react with LOVE. I want to be a hand to hold. I want to hug, to listen, to sit on the couch and read a story or play a game.

I NEED these things. But more importantly, they need them. There are no guarantees in life. I need to know that each day is a day I am grateful, that I am there for them, that I am there to guide them and not ridicule them. To explain and not shame. To listen to their reasoning or to read their cues. To always have time for them.

I need them to know that they are loved, more than anything, and that they are in a place of support. Even if it means the sink is clogged with toilet paper or there is marker all over the walls, water all over the floor, chocolate on the couch, or hair being cut with scissors. I need them to know it is okay to be just who they are and that they will be accepted no matter what. To give them the chance to learn from the mistakes they need the freedom to make.

Isn’t that all we ever want in life? To be accepted? Loved? Happy? To learn in our way?

Today is a new day. Tomorrow will be a new day. The day after that too. Each day I can choose the path I take that I’ll bring them along on. Some days I will still have moments of failure. I will yell in frustration when I am at the end of my rope. But I will apologize. I will tell them how I am feeling and ask for space if I need it. And when they need me? I will show up and give my all.

I will react with love.

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