’tis the season…?

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My sister, Witty, and our “Christmas tree” circa sometime in the 1980s.

Thinking back on my childhood, I struggle to come up with something that I can consider a family tradition. Almost every Saturday night growing up, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant in Alhambra – a steakhouse run by a Burmese man who knew all of our orders by heart, only faltering when it came down to what flavor ice cream my sister and I wanted at the end of the meal. I remember years where we spent our Christmas break taking long weekends in either Las Vegas or Big Bear – one year spent amongst the neon lights and boardwalk games, the next riding a plastic sled saucer down a mound of snow. We did Thanksgiving dinners, but only once my sister and I were old enough to insist on it and took on the work of cooking it for our family, inevitably serving our dry, overcooked turkey at 9p. For Christmas, we got real trees most years, until our mom insisted we get an artificial tree because the real ones were so messy and wasteful. My sister and I would decorate it with plain red and green ornaments, hanging strings of silver tinsel and candy canes from the branches. We even convinced our dad to put up Christmas lights on the house for a few years, and subsequently died of embarrassment when he failed to take them down before March.

But eventually, we grew up and got busy. The Christmas vacations fell off the calendar, and even the Saturday night dinners became less frequent. My sister left for college and went on to spend holidays with her husband’s family in Wisconsin. And eventually, I got bored of decorating the Christmas tree on my own, until finally, both the tree and the coils of green and red lights stayed in the garage gathering dust.

For pretty much all of my childhood my parents worked hard and had long, impossible hours – my father’s face lit by the glow of his computer screens well into the early mornings, week in and week out. Despite this, I know they did everything they could to make our childhood fun and memorable. Maybe we didn’t have a house decked out in Christmas tchotchkes and presents overflowing from under our tree, but we did have annual passes to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm and received red envelopes with cash for every birthday and Christmas.

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The beginning of my life-long relationship with cake.

So, where exactly does that leave me – a first time mom and second-generation Taiwanese-American, married to a second-generation Chinese-American, both raised by parents that didn’t pay all that much attention to the American holidays that are so emphasized by the culture we grew up in? How do I reconcile my practical, immigrant upbringing with my desire to create feeling and meaning around the holidays for Emmy?

Ugh, I have no idea. And honestly, like most parenting-related things, the plethora of options is overwhelming. There are personalized stockings I could hang and fill, Elves on Shelves, advent calendars, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, deciding if we should pretend Santa is real, matching pajamas for Christmas Day…it goes on and on. So, instead of me obsessing as I usually do, we’ve decided to instead focus on a few basics this first year, and see where it takes us. After all, as I keep reminding myself, traditions take years and consistency to build – and at least in this instance, we have the luxury of time. There’s no rush for us to figure out exactly what we want to do every year for the rest of our lives, right this very minute (despite my innate desire to be “good” at Christmas NOW).

The year Alex and I got married, we hosted our annual Friendsmas at our apartment. We asked our friends to bring us ornaments for our Christmas tree since we had none that were meaningful. We have been married almost 5 years now, and it is still my greatest pleasure to hang them all, one by one, on our tree each Christmas. I had never understood how a simple ornament could be special until that year, and we hope to show Emmy how meaningful they can be too. This year, we will make an ornament from her hand print, and we hope that next year she will pick her own to place on the tree next to the tiny hand print she likely won’t register as her own until much later in life.

This year, I’ve also broken with my normal Christmas protocol with my parents and have requested an actual gift rather than the red envelope I would typically receive. I’ve asked for my own hot pot set. I don’t think we’ll ever be a spiral ham on Christmas kind of family, but I do think we could be the type of family that gathers around a communal hot pot, warmed by bubbling soup and each other’s company.

So, that’s where we’ll start. And I’m excited to watch Emmy experience the holidays as she grows, to see her look forward to the things we do as a family that will eventually shape her perspective of the holidays. Maybe someday she’ll even ask me for her own hot pot set – but, of course, that’s getting ahead of myself.

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It’s a Christmas miracle – we’re all looking in the same direction.
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is it too late to apologize?

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The me on the left (childless, circa 2010) says sorry to the me on the right and to all the other mamas out there for being judgy and not helpful.

Ah, perspective. Don’t you just love it when it comes around to bite you in the ass? When one of my closest friends had a baby the year before we did, I was genuinely confused by her new mom attitude. I, of course, understood that having a newborn was hard, but didn’t things level off after awhile? After several failed attempts to get her out to different social events, I remember how hurt I felt when she said something to me along the lines of, “You just won’t get it until you’ve had a baby yourself.” Well folks, I’m reporting to you now from the trenches of early motherhood – no, I would not have gotten it, even if she had spent hours (not that any mother has that much extra time) explaining to me what she was going through.

To all of my friends who became mothers before me – I’m sorry for the not helpful (but well-intentioned) things childless me said and did. This post is for you. Thank you for still being my friend.

I’m sorry I said you should disrupt your baby’s napping schedule and routine because coming to our house to see us and all of our friends is important

No. In no world is coming to a house party worth disrupting baby’s nap and daily routine just as you’re starting to get into the swing of things. Nap schedules, I’ve learned, are part wishful thinking, part superstitious voodoo magic, and essentially up to whatever the baby feels like doing that day. If yesterday baby had the perfect nap day, you can bet that I am going to do everything exactly the same today in an attempt to replicate that one perfect day. And you know what I didn’t do yesterday? Go to a house party.

And yes, friends will always be important, but if you’re looking for me to just come out and say it – my priorities have changed. I will always love my friends, I will always lean on them and count on them for their support, but my world, at least for now, revolves almost entirely around the tiny human that holds my heart in her hands.

I’m also sorry that when you attempted to explain some version of the above to me, my response was to tell you (magnanimously, may I add) that baby could sleep in our guest room.

Nope, the baby is not going to just nod off to sleep without her blackout curtains, 2 sound machines, sleep sack, crib, lovey, and just right ambient temperature. Nice try though.

I’m sorry for all the times I was annoyed you couldn’t hold a normal conversation with me.

This used to be one of my pet peeves: I’d be talking to a mom friend and as I chattered on about this or that, I’d see her eyes slide away from mine and to her child. “Uh huh,” she’d say in response to whatever I’d just said, as she checked for the millionth time in a 5 minute span that her kid was okay.

Now I know that if my child is in the room, you should expect at worst 30% of my attention, at best 90%, because there will always be a part of me that isn’t paying attention to you and is instead focused in on my kid, no matter how juicy the gossip you’re sharing is. Now one of my favorite pastimes is trying to have a conversation with an equally distracted mom, both of us attempting to juggle a conversation, a glass of wine, and our squirming children.

I’m sorry I didn’t acknowledge and celebrate what an absolute BEAST and sheer force of power and strength you are each and every time I saw you.

No matter how you did it – medicated, unmedicated, c-section, in a tub in your living room – labor and delivery is hard, scary, and unpredictable. And before that, you gestated that baby in your womb and experienced the bizarre feeling of your body becoming distinctly not your own and unrecognizable to you. Then, when that baby finally came into the world, you operated on less sleep than you probably ever had in your entire life – not to mention the crazy levels of hormones coursing through your veins – and then likely attempted to suction that child onto your breast to provide sustenance for her with just your body. All while still recovering from the physical trauma of this little person’s exit from said body.

Why this level of badassary doesn’t get daily recognition and praise from the masses I’ll never understand.

I am deeply sorry and regretful that I secretly judged you when you expressed your desire to be a stay at home mom.

This is definitely one that I could not wrap my mind around before having a baby. Why would any feminist woman, highly educated, working on her career for practically a decade or more EVER want to give up (or even pause for a year or more) all that she’s built to stay at home with her baby? I am actually very ashamed that this used to be my attitude, and that I so discounted the value of the work a mother puts in when she is with her child full-time. As I’ve shared in the past, I still struggle from time to time with the label of SAHM, and a lot of it stems from my own misconception that work that pays monetarily has more value.

I get to be the main influence and caretaker in Emmy’s life. I am present for her 100% during such an incredible and fleeting time of her early life. I am beyond lucky that we are able to provide this for her – and for me, this has been the most fulfilling period I’ve ever experienced in my life. Also – this work is hard. Harder than any job I’ve ever held, with so much more at stake than a company or manager could ever inspire me to care about in the corporate world. I am so very sorry for ever thinking that making the decision to stay at home is anything less than an amazing opportunity for any woman or man.

But, the thing I want to apologize most profusely for is this – it is absolutely none of my business, nor my place to have an opinion, about what works best for anyone’s family but my own.

For some women, working outside of the home makes them a better mother, or they wish they could stay home, but can’t. Some SAHMs knew since they were young that this is what they wanted to do, and some are like me, who hadn’t considered it before experiencing motherhood for themselves, but are so grateful to find themselves able to be with their kids full-time.

So, for all the badass mamas out there, you deserve daily hero worship for all that you’ve done and continue to do – whether you are juggling a desk job and your household, or spending your days running to doctor’s appointments and doing endless loads of laundry. The old, childless me sends a sincere apology for all of my past blunders and ignorance, of which there are many more instances than what I’ve written above. This work is hard, and it only gets harder when the people around us, intentionally or not, make us feel like less for doing what we know is best for our babies, or think, mistakenly, that they get to have an opinion about the decisions we’ve made for our families. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – we are exactly who and what our babies need. We just need to spend more time trusting and listening to the inner beast that birthed this baby into the world in the first place.

the day we met Emmy.

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Happy birth day, little one.

Emmy arrived two weeks early and an entirely different astrological sign than we had anticipated.

It was a little after 1am when I woke because I had apparently peed my pants. I was at that glorious point in pregnancy where I was getting up every hour or so to pee at night, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine my bladder had decided to skip the part where it woke me up. I went back to bed after cleaning myself up, only to be jolted back upright when I realized it was happening again – only I definitely did not need to pee. While our labor and delivery classes had assured us that water breaking would be nothing like how it’s depicted in the movies, what they hadn’t mentioned is it can be continuous small gushes, happening minutes apart. After a failed hope that maybe if I went back to sleep this would all be a dream, I poked Alex in the back and told him my water broke. “Are you kidding?,” he said.

It was about 2am when I felt my first contraction. Alex and I were throwing things into a suitcase (because we hadn’t packed our hospital bag yet), and I said to Alex, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad! I can totally handle contractions!” (#famouslastwords) We agreed to wait as long as possible before heading to the hospital, mostly because we didn’t want our first child (aka, our dog), Riley, to be left home alone in the middle of the night. So, we decided to go back to sleep for as long as we could. Alex fell asleep instantly. Seriously. One minute he was talking to me, the next he was snoring, so I did my best to follow suit. Around 4am the contractions were getting more intense and I started timing them. By 5am, I gave up on attempting sleep, and decided to send work emails in between increasingly intense contractions (the messages I got back from my colleagues are definitely some of my all time favorite email exchanges).

I’ll be honest, at this point, I was in pretty terrible pain. The contractions did not feel like anything I had imagined – it was like someone was trying to bend me backwards over their knee and break my spine in half. By 6am I was on my hands and knees in the kitchen, trying any position I could to attempt to alleviate some of the pain and pressure. But, I knew I had to hold out – our doggy daycare didn’t open until 7am.

An hour moves so slowly when it’s bisected by contractions. When the clock finally read 6:30a, I told Alex I was ready to head to the hospital. By 7:30a, we were admitted, and 3cm dilated. Our labor and delivery nurse, Jocelyn, took one look at me and asked if I would like to get an epidural. Now, I always knew I could never be a crunchy mom primarily because of my outlook on drugs – which is, yes please! (And if you don’t know what a crunchy mom is, good for you.) Before I knew what contractions felt like, I had written in my birth plan I would wait to get my epidural until I was at least 6cm dilated because they sometimes slow down the progression of labor. I told Jocelyn to screw my birth plan and to please put me in line for the drugs.

Oh, the sweet, sweet relief of that epidural! I have never held so still in my life as when they were inserting that needle into my spine, even as I felt the peak of a contraction rack my body. But 30 minutes later, with my entire bottom half numb, and a button in my hand to press whenever I wanted more drugs, I finally got some sleep.

The rest of the late morning and early afternoon was just waiting, napping, and Alex visiting the hospital cafeteria and surfing Reddit on his phone. Jocelyn came in and out of the room, checking my progress and delivering giant pitchers of ice cold juice. I remember the stillness of our room, the soft hum of the medical equipment, the curtains drawn so I could nod in and out of sleep, Alex sitting just an arm’s length away. Our final moments as a family of two. Around 3p, Jocelyn checked on me and asked, “Are you having a sensation like you need to poo?” Apparently, I was fully dilated.

The delivery room unfolded like an origami crane – lights came down from the ceiling, a table materialized and nurses unpacked sheets and metal instruments. My OBGYN appeared by my side having just rushed from Northridge to be at my delivery. “It’s time to push,” she said. With my OBGYN holding one leg, and Alex holding the other, I wondered if there was some way to pump the brakes a little here. Could we rewind a few months? I was completely unprepared for this – for the moment I would be transformed into a mother.

My memory of actually delivering Emmy is spotty, coming in and out like scenes from an action movie trailer. I’m pushing, and then I’m waiting. I’m looking at a terrified Alex who is doing his best to smile encouragingly at me, alternating between holding my hand and my leg in between contractions. A nurse is asking me if I want to touch the baby’s head as she’s crowning (I said yes, and immediately regretted it because it was so much grosser than I thought it would be). And then suddenly – a release.

She’s here.

They put Emmy on my chest, she is mewling and wriggling, shocked by the sudden experience of life outside of my body. The nurses are suctioning gunk out of her mouth and nose, wiping her down on top of me. Alex and I both remember noticing with some alarm how much hair covered her arms and shoulders. I remember how slimy and tiny her body felt on my chest. Alex remembers cutting her umbilical cord and being surprised by how much pressure he needed to apply.

This is a day I thought was etched into my brain forever, but even 6 months down the line, I’m finding it harder and harder to recall the details of those first few moments of Emmy’s life. The older she gets, the more the little things from that day escape me, replaced now by new memories of her laughter, or the way her face lights up and her tongue sticks out when she smiles. But I know I’ll always remember meeting Alex’s eyes for the first time after Emmy’s birth, both of us still in disbelief and smiling from ear to ear, completely bonded and transformed forever by the new Aries in our lives.

to Emmy, at six months old

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Easy, breezy, beautiful baby girl.

Dear Emmy,

Today you have been in our world for six whole months. On one hand, I can’t believe I’ve only known you for six months, on the other – I can hardly remember how I lived my life before you. I won’t pretend that all of it has been it easy, but I can tell you that every challenge, every heartache, and every minute of lost sleep has been worth it to get to know you.

I wish I could put into words how much motherhood – how much you – have transformed me; how my life and priorities have rearranged themselves around you, how my view of the world has changed now that you are in it. Becoming your mother has made me feel stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life, but also incredibly exposed. I am constantly battling my insecurities, weaknesses, all of my faults and failings, striving to be the best mother I can be for you, and frequently feeling that I’m falling short. I’m working on that though, and I hope someday I can be the role model in self-confidence you will need when facing down your own doubts and fears.

In the mornings your dad gets you out of bed and feeds you your first bottle of the day. You two have these precious mornings to spend together until he leaves for work – both of us framed in the doorway, waving as he drives away. We spend our days together playing on your play mat, or running errands to get out of the house. Sometimes I put a blanket out in the backyard, and we soak in the sunshine while you work on your tummy time and Riley rolls around in the grass next to us. Our daily victories are small but mighty – like getting your pants on in the first try, or avoiding a diaper blow out. We end each day with bath time and songs, and your smile that lights up your face while we (you) splash water everywhere. Then after you’ve gone to bed, your dad and I look at photos of you on our phones, missing you already and looking forward to starting the next day with you. I feel lucky every day to be living this life, to be able to be so present in these first months of your life.

I think a lot lately about wanting to protect you, especially as you grow up and become more aware of the world. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll explain why there seems to be so much hate and anger at every turn, so much pain and disaster. And I wonder what event will shape your young view of the world the way that 9/11 shaped mine as a teenager. I’m thankful we have a few more years before you begin to ask and want to untangle these issues, because honestly, I’m pretty new at this mom thing still, and I’m still struggling to understand the “whys” of the world myself.

So, my darling Emmy, maybe someday you’ll read this letter and roll your eyes because I’m so corny and embarrassing. And then maybe later down the road, if you decide to become a mother yourself, you’ll go back and read it again. You’ll see how I describe myself at the beginning of motherhood and compare it to the mom that you know. Perhaps you’ll marvel at how this can be the same person, separated simply by time and experience. And then, I hope you will look at your own child and be struck with sudden understanding – this is how much I love you, this is how much you have shaped my life, this is how you made me the person I am today.

Love you forever,

Mom

formula, let me count the ways…

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Organizing is my favorite.

We are just about 5 and a half months into this motherhood thing, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized how much I’m still clinging onto the early disappointments we faced. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with how little time there really is to process emotions when you’re caught in the intricacies and chaos of life with an infant. Unfortunately, I think that makes a lot of us mamas tend to focus in on the heartaches and ways we haven’t lived up to our own expectations, rather than being able to see the bigger picture and all the ways we have overcome and are completely awesome. For me, when I take a step back and a moment to consider how far we’ve come, I am able to see how much I appreciate being a formula-feeding mama.

So today, in recognition of the mountains I’ve climbed and all of the victories, big and small, I’ve written a bit of a love list to formula – here are the top 5 reasons why formula feeding has been really, really great for us.

1. I have become an extreme couponer.
Okay, I get it, weird one to come out of the gate with and this doesn’t sound “awesome” at all – but I assure you it is. Have you ever felt the rush that comes with stacking manufacturer coupons, store discounts, and taking advantage of in-store bonuses (like, spend $100, get a $25 gift card – thanks Target!)? I hadn’t before, but now I feel like I get to stick it to the man on an almost bi-weekly basis (And I guess “the man” in this situation is Enfamil? Or Target? Take your pick.) My pediatrician encouraged me early on to buy any formula that was on sale, or generic. Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. While I didn’t go the European formula route, I was completely suckered by the formula claiming it is the “closest to breastmilk” that science can achieve – and that comes with a price tag of $39.99 a can. The Asian deal-seeker in me is proud to say that I’ve gone 5.5 months and have never purchased a can at full price.

2. I have control (or as much control as someone with an infant can have).
Emmy eats 30 ounces a day and I prepare all of her bottles in the morning, arrange them in a row in my fridge, and am ready for the rest of the day. There is no mystery, no doubts, no need to weigh her before and after a feed to determine milk transfer – and it is amazing what a relief it has been to eliminate at least that worry from my mind and know with precision that she is getting enough to eat every day.

3. I can eat and drink with abandon.
Well, kind of, I still have to worry about someday getting my pre-baby figure back. But, what I don’t have to worry about is whether the beans I’m eating with my enchiladas will cause Emmy terrible gas later on in the day, or if my fifth cup of coffee will keep her up all night. I also don’t need to worry about timing my glasses (yes, multiple! I deserve it!) of wine.

4. Freedom.
Right around the time I decided to stop pumping, my husband and I went to a wedding in Tahoe and left Emmy with my parents for a long weekend. I had extreme anxiety about being away from her, but I was able to take my first weekend “off” since she was born. I didn’t need to pump while I was away, and all I had to do was leave a can of formula with my mom and dad. I almost felt like pre-mom Evita – and it was nice to see her again. While being away from Emmy was terrifying, it was a reminder for me that my relationship with my husband is just as important as the one I have with my daughter. And, it was a truly glorious thing to have a few days away to enjoy myself without ever once needing to think about breastmilk.

5. My daughter is healthy and happy. I am healthy and happy.

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Just kidding, Emmy is my favorite.

The most important thing and really the only thing I need to say. My daughter is growing, smiling, playing, and chubbier than ever. And being a formula-feeding mama has enabled me to be more present and focused on Emmy, rather than obsessing about what she’s eating. Once upon a time, I worried that Emmy and I wouldn’t bond because we weren’t breastfeeding, and while I have no other experience to compare this to, I am confident that we are as bonded as a mother and daughter can be.

So for all my mamas out there – formula-feeding, breastfeeding, baby-led weaning or purees, whatever it is that is working for you and your families to keep those baby bellies full, I hope you take some time to celebrate and acknowledge all those mountains you’ve climbed that you didn’t think you could – especially if it’s something you never thought you would be celebrating when you first became a mom.

my life in ounces, aka my time as an exclusive pumper.

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Goodbye breastmilk.

Since I stopped pumping around Emmy’s 16th week, she has gotten one, precious, 4 ounce bag of breastmilk a day. Today, she will drink the last bag. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. It feels like there ought to be some kind of ceremony to commemorate the moment – like maybe it would finally be appropriate to light my breast pump on fire?

When it became clear that breastfeeding was not going to work out for us, I switched over to exclusively pumping breastmilk and stopped putting Emmy to the breast. In theory, I loved the idea – no more stressing out about whether or not the baby had eaten enough, or second-guessing whether her latch was correct – I would bottle feed my breastmilk and know exactly how much she was getting each time. The OCD side of me rejoiced. But, exclusive pumping is HARD WORK. You’re making a choice to become a human cow, attached to a machine for what amounts to a few hours of each day, staring, transfixed, at the weird shape your boobs become when they get pulled into the plastic flanges. Oh, also, you still have to take care of a newborn who, I assure you, does not care that it’s been four hours and you have to pump for 15-20 minutes to ensure the sanctity of your already tiny supply.

I was always an underproducer, and at my best, I was pumping about 12 ounces a day. But, in order to get those ounces, I was pumping every four hours, around the clock, day and night. Emmy already needed around 25 ounces at the time, her appetite increasing what felt like daily, but still, I continued pumping for those 12 ounces of liquid gold. Each day was a blur of zipping into my pumping bra, washing and washing endless pump parts, recording how many ounces I did or didn’t produce that day, and oftentimes holding Emmy in my arms above the working pump because she needed to be held and I needed to pump.

I knew at the volume I was producing it didn’t make sense to pump forever, so I decided to freeze a 4 ounce bag every day with the dream that maybe I could provide her this tiny amount of breastmilk daily until she was 6 months old. It was an arbitrary goal, but it became my obsession. I looked forward to bagging those 4 ounces at the end of each day, writing in the date and “4 OZ” where the bag asked for volume with an immense amount of pride.

When Emmy was about 12 weeks old, I was in bad shape. My breasts had been stinging and aching for a few weeks and I was desperately uncomfortable. I cringed every time I attached myself to the pump (which was a lot), but kept telling myself I needed to do this for Emmy. I convinced myself that pain was a totally normal part of exclusive pumping, and continued on, patting myself on the back for persevering. I finally admitted that something was wrong when my chest exploded into red, angry splotches. The doctor told me I had been suffering from either thrush (a yeast infection on your boobs) or a bacterial skin infection of some kind – likely a combo of the two, and why had I waited so long to come in? I was immediately put on medication and a healthy dose of reality.

What the hell was I doing?

From that point on, I stopped recording how many ounces I pumped in a day. I returned my hospital grade pump and shifted to only using my hand pump – a longer process, but definitely a less stressful experience for me mentally. I started skipping night pumps and letting myself sleep for 5-6 hour stretches that matched my baby’s sleep. I refocused on the reason why I stopped breastfeeding in the first place – a healthy mom is more important to my daughter’s wellbeing than a few extra ounces of breastmilk a day.

I made it as an exclusive pumper until Emmy was about 16 weeks old. I knew I didn’t have enough in the freezer to make it to Emmy’s 6 month, but it was time to put away the pump, and time to admit everything was going to be okay even if we didn’t make it to my arbitrary goal. I could tell my supply was dipping again and Emmy was so much more alert lately…The ounces just weren’t worth it anymore, I realized.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never know if Emmy getting 4 ounces of breastmilk a day for an additional 7 weeks will make a significant difference in her life. As I’m finding with a lot of aspects of parenting, ultimately this was more about me than it was about her. I felt, and sometimes still feel, shame in not being able to breastfeed her, so I put myself through hell to prove – what? That I love her? That I am enough? I’m still not quite sure, and I might need the distance of a few more months to really unpack that period and what I felt I needed to put myself through. But today, as I pour out her last bag of breastmilk, I can at least say that while this isn’t what I envisioned motherhood to look like, this is what it looks like for us, and we are better for it.

 

5 ways I understand my parents differently since becoming a mom.

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My parents after their courthouse wedding looking all kinds of fresh! (Circa 1979)

I’ve pretty much always been close with my mom and my dad. I never really went through a notable rebellious phase in my teen years, and my mom has always described my personality as a kid as “xi nai,” or “adorably affectionate” in Taiwanese (I may be adding the “adorably” part). So, of course, I’ve always known that they love my sister and me. But, since having Emmy and experiencing how my heart comes close to exploding on a daily basis, I suddenly realized THIS is how my parents feel about US. Whoa, mind blown.

As I’ve been grappling to understand my identity in relation to new motherhood, I’ve found myself seeing my parents through a new lens and thinking a bit more about what it must have been like for them to become parents and watch us grow from babies to women, to having kids of our own. Here are five things I’ve realized about my parents since becoming a mother myself.

1. They used to be young.

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Newsflash, my mom was a total babe! And apparently did some moonlighting as a shampoo model.

My husband Alex and I were talking about how Emmy will always see us as “old,” but damn it, we’re still young(ish)! It lead me to think about my parents when my sister and I were babies, or kids even. My mom and dad had us young, in their early and mid-twenties, so it was startling for me to realize that in my earliest memories, my mother wasn’t even my age yet (32). They were really just kids having kids.

2. They had no idea what they were doing.
In my mind, my parents have always been all knowing and, prior to Google, my go to resource for random questions. How long should I boil this corn on the cob? Is there something wrong with my car? What is this rash on my arm? Honestly, I still call them with questions like these. But, let’s be real guys, when my parents became parents they were even younger than I am now AND they didn’t have Google, WebMD, Baby Center, iPhones, or lactation consultants to tell them what they were doing wrong. They were improvising and making up a lot of stuff along the way – and they did it free of the crippling fear we new mothers face today with the overabundance of information we have at our fingertips.

3. It hurts when they see us cry.
As I learned in the the first moments of Emmy’s life, as parents we are hardwired to respond when our babies cry and will go to great lengths to make sure they are happy and thriving. I am pretty certain that instinct doesn’t go away just because our babies grow into adults (or dramatic teenagers). I think back now to all those times my mom comforted me post-heartbreak, or how my parents must have felt when I absolutely fell apart when I didn’t make it into my top college choices. 
They assured me over and over again that everything would be fine, that I would survive this. But, when I didn’t come out of my deep blue funk, they pulled their ultimate trump card: since they had anticipated a private school tuition and I would be headed to a school with significantly lower cost, what if we used that extra tuition money for a new car? My parents are clever people.

4. It may be a little awful to be the firstborn child.
Since Emmy entered our lives, I’ve realized that the firstborn comes out of the womb carrying a world of expectations, unknowns, and all the new parent naivety, hope, and sheer wonder that subsequent children are maybe not expected to shoulder as much of. After all, your first child is the one that forged your new identity as a parent; prior to her, you were just some schmuck eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (or at least I was). I’m the youngest of two in my family and definitely noticed when we were younger that my parents could be a lot harder on my older sister than they were on me. As a kid, I figured it was because my sister was clearly the achiever and the brains between us two – there wasn’t a thing she wasn’t good at: she brought home top grades in super hard classes, she played piano, she could draw, write, dance, was popular in high school AND universally loved by every and any educator that met her. But, her achievements were always a given rather than recognized as something specific and special to her. It makes me wonder if your firstborn child, no matter what age they are, will always carry the weight of your expectations and wide-eyed hope from when you were a newly minted parent.

5. They have regrets.
My mom confided in me the other day that she regrets how much they worked when my sister and I were kids. My parents were immigrants in a new country, chasing the American Dream, so of course at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. At the heart of my mother’s regret is a simple thing though: if she could do it over, she would have made the time to be with us, ask more questions, and show more curiosity about our lives when we were younger. She didn’t realize how quickly those days would be gone. I’ve been struggling lately, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by putting my career on hold to take care of Emmy. While maybe I could take my mom’s regret as validation for the choice I’m making, I think what it actually means is that no matter what choice I make, there is no right answer. I will always have regrets, something will always have to give – but I’ll have amazing memories and experiences, no matter what road I pick.