The Little Scientist Effect

I just called Sarah, asking for a strategy.

I explained to her that my tiny terrorist kept asking me to play with him, and despite the need to get a bunch of laundry folded and put away, I actually decided to play instead. I don’t do this often.

I went upstairs to play with our “magnets” with him, and we were building cool things. Every time I would build something neat, he would knock it down, gleefully, but he would never let me knock his down. I asked him not to several times, telling him that it made me sad when he knocked down my cool stuff.  He continued to smash my magnets. Eventually, I got up and walked away, telling him that I didn’t want to play with someone who would keep breaking my toys.

I came downstairs and sat on the couch and realized that I was REALLY hurt that he was being so unkind to me while I was playing with him. I took it REALLY personally. So I called the Toddler Whisperer.

Sarah is right on top of it.  I told her what happened, and we talked a little bit about what to do in the future. She told me that as soon as he starts breaking down my (or someone else’s) magnets, he should be ‘interrupted’ – removed from the situation. I can choose to sit with him or leave him while he is understandably upset that he has been removed from playing, but once he is calm, I am to explain that it is not okay for him to break MY magnets. I shall tell him that he is free to crash his own as much as he likes, but only his own. He would then be allowed to play with the magnets again, so long as he followed those instructions. If he were to crash my (or anothers) magnets again, the magnets would be put away.

“It looks like you can’t play nicely with the magnets. We will have to put them away. We can try again tomorrow.”

There will likely be another period of upset while he protests that his magnets have been taken away, but sticking to the consequence is paramount.

It was then that Sarah dropped this parenting DIAMOND of advice upon me.

She said:

“Children are like little scientists. They are doing experiments to see what kinds of reactions they will get.”

(This, I was familiar with.)

“The thing is, every time they get a DIFFERENT reaction, it gives them more data to work with, which increases the length of the experiment. The more consistent you can be with your reactions, the less data they are given, the quicker they will move on.”

Mind = blown.

I mean, really, I knew that you want to be consistent, and I knew that you need to have firm boundaries. But the whole idea of making sure that you are giving them the same results every time? So that the experiment can be concluded and they can put that one to rest? I hadn’t heard it phrased in those terms before. It makes perfect sense.

So there you have it. I will be putting this into effect immediately, and see how quickly we can get some of these challenging behaviors to extinguish themselves.

Perhaps it would be helpful for mama to rearrange her thinking of Ryder as a “tiny Scientist” instead of a “tiny terrorist.”


Positive and Grateful

I’ve experienced such a huge change in the last several weeks. Not only in my parenting and my dealings with Ryder, but in the whole wholeness of my life. My outlook, my attitude, my experience of every single day has lightened.

What caused it? How did this happen?

I don’t really know. Perhaps one thing, perhaps a combination of many things. I can’t say for sure. I’ve changed enough things all at once and had such a fantastic result that I can’t pinpoint which one it was that made the difference or.. if it was the perfect combination of all of them. Believe me, I have tried so many things in the past, I would have told you that a change of this magnitude wasn’t possible.

So what did I change?

First, I started corralling my negative thoughts. I realized that once I had a single negative thought, I tended to dwell on it, and drive myself deeper and deeper into anger, frustration and negativity. It was like the negative energy multiplied itself within my mind. What I started doing was noticing every time I had a negative thought, or something bad happened I would acknowledge it, the negative thought or the bad thing, and then let it go. If it was a particularly stubborn thought or mood, I would physically visualize myself stepping off of a dark, negative path and walking back on a bright and positive one. The visulization seemed to really help. Don’t stay stuck in the negativity – go back to positive.

Next, my husband read me an article about the power of placebo, and how it has been proven that in most studies of anti-depressants, placebo was just as effective or more than the actual medicine. This was pretty astounding to me, and I thought about that – the power of placebo. I thought and thought about what that meant, and came to the conclusion that our belief that we will get better must be the actual impetus to get better. So I started making everything into a placebo. “Because I’m going to therapy, I will get better.” “Because I’m wearing this new necklace, I will get better.” “Because I’m yelling less, I will get better.”

Anything and everything I could imagine became a placebo. “This new almond milk coffee creamer is going to help me to get better.” The combination of banishing negativity and making everything into a placebo helped me to fend off any ideas of staying mentally unwell, even if I had momentary relapses into anger or yelling. Even if I had a terrible day.

I recently read the book “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown. What an eye opener on some really key points, for me. I don’t really feel like I’ve ‘fixed’ anything that she talks about – but I most definitely am more aware. She mentions that all human emotions must be felt and processed, and that instead we like to avoid them – to push them down or numb them. Our reaction to those unprocessed emotions can be, among other things, something called “chandeliering” – reacting to any sort of emotional stimuli as though it’s incredibly painful – so much so that you ‘jump as high as the chandelier.’ As soon as I read it, I recognized this as the perfect description for what happens when I ‘lose my shit’ at my kids. I don’t really know yet what it is that I have been pushing down and repressing. I haven’t gotten that far yet. Perhaps that’s a job for Therapy. But simply being aware that it is happening has helped.

Then there is the therapy itself. It’s funny, because I continue to feel like I’m not DOING ANYTHING when I go to therapy. We talk, and we laugh, and I cry a little bit, and she says things that make a whole lot of sense… and then I leave feeling a little lighter, and a little happier. But that’s about it. Nothing earth shattering, no deep delving into my past or my childhood or my darkest fears. It’s really not like you see on TV at all – for me anyways. It’s kind of like sitting and talking to a buddy of mine over coffee (Oh! Next time I should bring coffee!) while we talk about how hard it is to be a mom. And she’s totally on my side.

Staying calm, and keeping my emotions out of the tantrums I face with my children. That seems to go hand in hand with feeling better, happier and less weighty. I don’t know if one causes the other, or if they are just so intermingled that they can’t be separated, but I don’t get sucked into the maw of crazy when my kids start to go nuts. I feel like a raft, floating on top of it. I feel like I’m able to pull them out when they calm. I feel like I am centering in the middle of their storm, and that is such a powerful feeling – it helps me to stay there.

Another big one? I stopped looking at my kids like blank bodies, faceless little people that needed, wanted, demanded and exhausted me. I started looking into their eyes again. I started drinking up their personalities and reminding myself all of the little things I love about them. I started telling them those things. I’ve been relishing in the joy that is being their mother, and the genuine gift it is to have children such as these. Even in their struggles, they are gifts.

In the end, I’m not really sure what did it, but it feels like this is a good plan: get positive. Get grateful. Get joyful and excited. Do whatever it takes to get that way. It doesn’t have to be big, or exhausting, or physical. It’s just a matter of putting your brain there over and over and over until you find what works. Exercise? Fresh air? Great music? Perhaps, like me, it’s therapy, and mental training, and new almond milk creamer. Perhaps it’s realizing that you ARE enough, you ARE good at this, and you WILL get better.

I feel so much better. I feel so much lighter. I feel shiny again. I want to help you feel that way too <3


A Beautiful Resolution.

It was 5:00pm. We had eaten an early dinner, and the kids were sitting on the couch watching Pete’s Dragon. Ryder was acting up and I knew it was because he was tired – he hadn’t had a nap, and his crazies were coming out.

After jumping on me several times, and hinting that he would like “boob-couch” – to nurse – I told him that he wasn’t going to get ‘boob’ again until it was bed time. He immediately went into urgent, melt-down mode, insisting that it WAS bed time, and he wanted boob-bed immediately.

Brock and I had a quick, hushed conversation about the dangers of letting him go to bed for the night when it was only 5 o’clock, and decided that it was too early. I told Ryder that he could have boob-bed in 30 minutes, and we could go to bed if he waited. The baby gate was blocking the upstairs, so he wasn’t able to just head up the stairs. I told him several times to play, or sit and watch the show until 5:30, and we would go upstairs together.

In traditional Ryder fashion, he decided to PUSH ALL OF THE BUTTONS. Because Rory was sleeping upstairs, I didn’t want to let him go up and play/jump around to pass the time. Instead of listening to my suggestion, he went and got a small chair and climbed over the baby gate. On his way up the stairs, he laughed tauntingly, “I over the baaaaaby gaaaaate.”

In order to keep Rory from being woken up, I went with him. At this point, it was probably 5:10. I kept reminded him that he only had x number of minutes until we could go to sleep.

I suppose, in retrospect, there was no harm in letting him go to bed early, but the principal of him getting to do something just because he throws a giant fit is really what we are trying to avoid here.

Upstairs, I sat by the entrance to his bedroom and told him I would come lay in bed with him as soon as it was 5:30. He was jumping around and acting like a maniac – well beyond any sort of normal level of maniac. He kept yelling at me, “I. WANT. BOOB. BED.” I ignored most of his behavior. Eventually, I went into the bedroom with him to keep the noise sequestered to his room (again, trying to stop him from waking Rory) and sat by the door. Jumping and flipping around in bed, it didn’t seem like it was should be that difficult to wait the remaining 7 minutes to 5:30.

I guess at that point, Ryder decided it was time to up his game again. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he demanded I give him boob-bed. I reminded him, calmly, that I don’t give him ANYTHING when he speaks to me that way, and that he needed to calm down. He took a deep breath, and assured me he was calm. I told him there were 5 more minutes before we could go to sleep… and he lost his shit. He picked up the fan that was sitting next to the bed, and threw it at me. In the very dim light of the bedroom, I didn’t see it coming, only heard it.

When it hit me, I immediately went to level 10 rage. In a monumental demonstration of self control, I didn’t immediately beat the shit out of him, which was the very real, very physical urge. I stood up, and walked over to the bed, and sat down next to him. Voice cold as ice, I told him, “NOW, you will not be getting boob. It’s time to lie down and go to sleep.”

Not one to be dismissed, Ryder launched into a full on physical and auditory assault. He screamed, he punched, he flipped and kicked. He alternated between, “I WANT BOOB” and “I WANT TO GO BACK DOWNSTAIRS.”  He promised me, “I will not do that again!” and in the next breath told me, “I’M GOING TO BITE YOU.”

I was deeply entrenched in my rage, and not giving an inch. I held his hands and didn’t let him hit me. I stopped him from biting me. I resisted every urge to punish him physically, and sat stoically as he threw the most epic fit I have ever witnessed. I kept telling myself to hold space for his calm to come back, kept swallowing my rage and disgust.

At one point, when he became physically frightening, I pinned him down on the bed. He was screaming and throwing his body around, and I let the weight of my body keep him from hurting himself or me. It was a matter of minutes, but finally his screaming quieted and his breath slowed down. He was still demanding that I give him boob bed, or let him go back downstairs. I was still insisting that neither was going to happen, and we were embroiled in a full-on power-struggle.

I rolled off of him, resolute that he was NOT going to be leaving this room, NOR was he going to get to have boob, and it SERVES HIM RIGHT for being such a JACKASS.

He scrambled away from me, out of breath and talking harshly. I knew that he was talking, but I wasn’t really listening. I was still deep in my anger.


He said it through clenched teeth, and it didn’t immediately register what he was asking. And then it did.

For the last several weeks, I have been using the technique of escaping a power struggle that allows both of us to get what we want: when we are in the middle of a fight for something, I offer him the choice of ‘starting over.’  For example, when I am tired of waiting for him to get in his car seat, and I want to scream at him, instead I suggest, “Let’s go back to the beginning, and I will ask you to get in your car seat, then you can show me how you SHOULD get in your car seat, and everyone will be happy.”

He was asking for a do-over.

My rage was immediately gone, and I took a deep breath.

“You want to start over, Ryder? You want to try again?”

Real tears this time, instead of the angry rage tears. “Yes. I want to try again.”

So together, Ryder and I held hands and went downstairs. We sat on the couch for a minute, and I told him to ask again. He said, “Mama, may I have boob bed please?”

I nodded and said, “Okay buddy. Go upstairs and get in bed and I will come lay with you.”

He excitedly got up, ran upstairs and jumped into bed. He was smiling as he waited for me, and I laid down next to him. I let him nurse himself to sleep at 5:47pm, and it took mere minutes.

I honestly did not expect that beautiful resolution. I didn’t expect the solution to come from him. I have never been more proud. And I never, ever, cease to be amazed by what my children can teach me about being generous, forgiving, and kind.

The Changes I’ve Seen

I haven’t had a blow up in days.

When I feel myself get mad, I’m able to recognize it, and (sometimes) let it go.

My level of calm has been reflected in my kids.  I’ve seen fewer meltdowns, less yelling, and more patience with each other.

My level of calm has been able to diffuse situations when my husband is upset.

Upon finding that Ryder had destroyed a set of my bamboo double-pointed knitting needles, I was able to tell him calmly that damaging mama’s stuff hurts my heart. He put his hands on my cheeks and looked in my eyes and said, “I’m so sorry, mama.” and we hugged. There was no anger involved. I didn’t even feel the flash of it.

Last night, at bed time, I laid with my kids and talked to them. I told each of them, privately, my favorite things about them. I whispered secretly to them what I see as their greatest strengths, what I find beautiful. I loved to hear what they loved about themselves. And then they went to sleep – with no yelling, and no anger.

This morning, I was able to successfully tell my husband something he was doing that was bothering me, without making him upset. I communicated my emotions, and my needs, without making him feel blamed or at fault. It was fucking fantastic, and I felt heard.

Today, I had a realization based on a book that I am reading that asserts, “In general, everyone is doing the best that they can.” In the past, I have believed it to be true, and always think it about myself, but haven’t always applied it to others. Today, I applied it to Continue reading

To Lose It.

This morning, I was laying in bed after Brock and the kids had gotten up. Snuggled up against Rory, who was sound asleep, I was drifting back off for an extra hour of sleep provided by my generous husband.

I heard the growing thump, thump, thump of Ryder’s feet coming up the stairs. In his usual fashion, he busted into my bedroom and ran over to my side of the bed. Without modulating his voice, he asked, “Mama? I have boob bed?”

Following our daily script, I told him, “No buddy. You have boob couch when Mama gets up. Please go back downstairs.”

On a typical day, Ryder would immediately run back out of the room and pound back down the stairs until I woke up… or until he got impatient again and we would repeat the entire ordeal.

Today, for some reason, he decided to shout, “NO!”

I stayed calm and told him that he doesn’t get boob bed in the mornings, but he can have boob when I get downstairs. It just so happens that I was sleeping shirtless and didn’t have my bra pulled up, so there was actually an exposed boob present. He crawled over to me on the bed and started begging, “Please mum. Please I want boob bed. Please?”

At this point, Rory was stirring. I told Ryder very firmly, “We don’t have boob bed in the morning. Go down to the couch.”

As I was speaking, he lowered his head down to my breast and latched on despite my words.

It was like touching a hot burner. Like when something sweet contacts a sore spot on a sick tooth. Like when you step on a lego. INSTANT. Without any sort of build up or warning, my brain went from tired and sleepy to MAD.

I immediately threw him off of me and yelled. There seems to be no self control, no regulation in this state of anger. I can’t convince myself that I’m waking the baby more, or hurting the feelings of the child that is acting like a child. There is no rationality and no moderation.


Ryder immediately starts crying, a mixture of sorrow and fear.  Some small part of my brain tells me to grow up, he’s two and he wants boob. But the angry part of my brain is louder and shouty-er. I tell him to stop crying and go downstairs.

“Mama, I just want a hug,” he sniffles through his big tears.

Empathy still can’t break through the anger. “I don’t want to hug you. I’m very mad.”

He leans over to me and hugs me anyways. “Mama,” his broken voice implores, “You’re breaking my heart.”

“Yeah well,” my anger snaps back, “mine’s already broken.”

Crack. The anger cracks. Finally, regular Mandy comes back and empathy is present. I hug him back, and smell his hair. I stroke his arm, and tell him I’m sorry.

“I shouldn’t have yelled, Ryder. I’m sorry I made you cry.”

“I just want you to be a nice mama,” he tells me sadly.

“I know buddy. I’m trying to be a nice mama.” Regret and sadness. Immediate painful remorse. “Please go downstairs,” I request sadly, “and we can have boob couch when I get up.”

Ryder struts back downstairs, seemingly none the worse for wear, but I can’t help it – I wonder if I have put yet another notch in the armor of his psyche. I wonder what small damage I have caused this time. I wonder how hard it’s going to be for him to recover from a childhood where his mother is like a live-wire, and the unpredictably of her response is a minefield.

That instant hot second, the one where the anger goes live and takes over… I need to find a way to interrupt that. To block it. To pause before the rage, and insert some compassion. Some peace. Some ANYTHING. Because I have to be better than this. I have to be bigger than this.

A birthing affirmation comes to mind about contractions – how they are not stronger than me because they ARE me? My anger is not stronger than me because it is me. My rage cannot control me because it IS me. I can fix this because I can. It is me. And I will.

Why this seems so hard.

You know, it is really difficult enough to deal with ONE child and his issues.  It is plenty challenging to keep yourself, the parent, calm long enough to get through one tantrum, or a single meltdown, or a lone momentary trouble.  It is more than hard enough to make this journey seem hard.  When the reality is so much harder.

The reality is the accumulation of every single problem coming at you from every single person along the whole course of the day, with no time to breathe.

The reality is that you don’t have a chance to have an unterrupted thought. That you can’t start something important (or even unimportant) and get to the end of it without being sidetracked. Every single chance you get to do something that needs to be done, there is another immediate emergency to tend to. Child-centered emergencies.  Do it right now emergencies.

Wipe someone’s butt.

Deal with peanut butter on the wall.

Change a diaper.

Feed a human.

Help look for a lost lovey.

Remind someone we don’t throw toys.

Break up an argument that has devolved into screaming.

Tidy up the mess that is driving you nuts.

Feed another human.

Ask a child to please leave the baby alone again.

Take a deep breath. Deeeeeep breath.

Tidy up again.

Advise a brave soul that the stool on top of the ladder is a poor idea.

Be ignored.

Swallow the resentment that you have to console a screaming child that chose to ignore your warning, as they are now hurt.

Wipe another butt.

Feed another human.

Remember that you need to feed yourself, and attempt that.

End up feeding half of your food to all of the other humans.

Check on the suspicious quiet.

Another deep breath, and try not to snap.

It’s so hard. Guys, it’s so damn hard. Because the peace can be there for SO long. And the patience is so loving. But eventually, even on my best days, I am just SO DRAINED of empathy and patience and peace and kindness. Eventually I just hit the WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU wall, because seriously – SERIOUSLY – how can this many things be this hard in one day?

One child is hard. One difficult child is really hard. Four children, each of whom considers him or herself to be the whole center of the universe, with immediacy and urgency and emergency behind EVERY need is absolutely exhausting.

So I sit and write it out, and then I try to re-set by focusing on gratitude.  I write a list of all of the things I am thankful for and that helps.  Now I’m going to knit for a minute, and drink coffee while my kids dance around to Pandora on the TV.   Maybe the baby will take a nap, and I can focus on micro-breaks.  Little re-sets.  A bit of respite.  Anything to help on days that just seem so hard.

Returning to Normal

Here we go.

What is this, and why am I sharing it?

It started out as the desire to change. Change me, change him, change our damaged relationship – we need to change the struggle between us.

So, I entered therapy. My therapist and I started talking about how the dynamic between me and Ryder right now is accepted as normal: we struggle because that is the pattern that has been set. Because of this pattern, it is normal for his two year old brain to expect his mother to yell, get mad, and hit. It’s NORMAL to him. That is his basic level of existence: a mean mom who yells at him. What I want to do is change that.

Every time we go a few hours or a day or two without any yelling, freaking out or hitting… he starts to feel like something is missing. His little psyche is expecting his normal mom, and she isn’t acting normal. Therein lies our problem – he wants to return his little world to normal. So he starts acting out! Negative attention seeking! Button pushing! BRING BACK MY NORMAL.

Every time I feel like I start to make headway with my emotional health, and my ability to maintain a calm, loving relationship… he tries to bring back his normal.

What is the goal? The goal is for me to maintain calm and loving and zen long enough to re-write his normal. And that means doing whatever I need to manage MY volatile and difficult emotions through and despite his meltdowns, remembering that the longer I stay calm, the more he’s going to up his ante to bring back his normal.

I enlisted the help of my friend Sarah, and my therapist, to give me strategies to deal with the worst of the meltdowns. One of the biggest pieces of advice from my therapist was to forego correction/discipline for a short time. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, if you don’t punish him, he’s going to turn into some sort of miscreant or hoodlum. It isn’t that he doesn’t know right from wrong – he knows. That’s why he’s doing it. Right now, it’s more important for you to /not react/ than it is to make sure he has learned some sort of lesson.”

I took a video of one of our meltdowns the other day, and engaged in a text-message conversation with Sarah for support. I could feel my brain going to the emotional, frustrated, angry side, and it was really important for me to snap out of that. The video is kind of hard to watch, but a really bold example of how bad the worst of Ryder’s meltdowns can get. (I think it’s also important for me to include that this meltdown occurred after many, many hours of calm, yell-free time and was much bigger than a typical eruption between us.) Immediately prior to the video, Ryder was watching a show on my phone. I had given him his five minute warning, and then took the phone away. The meltdown began because he wanted the phone back.

Untitled from TempestBeauty on Vimeo.

As soon as the meltdown started, I texted Sarah the video. Her response was immediate:

“Walk away now.”

Revelation. I have never just walked away from a tantrum before. When Ryder invites me to the table of his crazy, I always accept. This time, I declined the invitation. For the first time, I stood up and walked away.

I asked her what to do if he followed… because he did.

“Clean the house. Tidy with purpose!”

It made sense. I took all of my focus off of him and his tantrum. He followed me around, screaming at me. Yelling. Begging. Crying.  “I WANT YOUR PHONE BACK.”

Sarah tells me, “You have things to do. He can’t affect you.”

His tantrum wasn’t working because I just kept cleaning. I realized, very few minutes in, that my anger was GONE. Completely gone. Not only that, instead of finding his behavior enraging, I actually found it to be mildly humorous. The day before, Sarah and I had had a conversation about the value of allowing a child to begin, experience, and come out of a tantrum, to explore and learn the entire range of emotions, and be able to accept the lesson, “I can’t have what I want, and that is okay.”

As I walked around the kitchen, putting things away, I was okay with the fact that he was yelling at me. I was present to the fact that we were in a learning opportunity, and we were both going to be okay. He wasn’t being a small asshole, he was figuring things out. I told her, “Dude. When you frame it like this… it’s almost funny. I’m totally above it.”

Above it. That’s big. Above the tantrum instead of in it with him.

I was still cleaning, and screaming wasn’t working, so he started bargaining. “Please mom? Please just five minutes? Just one more show? Please? I won’t scream or yell! I won’t be bad! Please mum?”

Sarah reminds me, “Too much bargaining equals not calm. [He’s not ready to learn when he’s not calm.] Tell him, ‘That’s done, but we can talk about something else.'”

She instructs, “When he re-escalates, you respond ‘Oh! I thought you were ready! I am here when you are calm.”

He re-escalated, and started becoming dangerous to himself. Throwing his body around, and picking up items he threatened to throw. Just as I asked if it would be safe to put him in his room, (it was), he sat down.

Out of the blue, he said, “Mama, I am calm.”

I paused. “You’re calm now?”

“Yes,” he responded, and took a deep breath to show me how calm. “I not mad anymore.” Then we hugged.

At this point, I asked Sarah if we needed to talk about the tantrum, or if we just move forward?

“Move on!” she replied, “Brain forward!”

We hugged, and I thanked him for being calm. I asked him if there was something he would like to do together, and he said he would like to go lay in bed and cuddle. So we did. We chatted a little bit, and laid together and he fell asleep. We moved through his turbulence together, and I didn’t have to explode. I didn’t even feel the pressure to explode build up. It was a truly incredible experience.

I texted Sarah again,

“Huge win! Thank you so, so, so much. I would not have stayed calm without you.”

“Now you see success,” she texts back, “That was fast, too. He has the skills, he just needs the motivation to use them.”

And one GIANT success helps with MY motivation to continue down this path. From first meltdown until his proclamation of calm, 11 minutes elapsed.

Together, he and I will get through this – and my whole family will benefit in the end.

When I Become a Good Mom

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my life.

I have found myself parenting my four children in less than ideal ways.  I’m not the mom that I think I should be, nor the mother that I think my children need.

But instead of changing, I keep telling myself about the day when I will finally ‘become a good mom’.

I keep looking at my kids and thinking, “It will all be okay when I become a good mom.

When I don’t yell so much.

When I don’t cuss.

When I never spank.

When I am patient and kind and calm.

When I enjoy doing crafts and activities with my kids.”

I keep looking forward to this day, as some magical point in the future when I wont struggle so much, and being this great mom comes easily to me.  I keep looking at it like it’s just around the corner, and I just have to survive until we get to that day.

But shit.  There is no magical day that I become a good mom.  I am me, and this is the mom that I am.  My struggles and challenges are not going away.  Things are not getting easier.  No more diapers or less messes or fewer needs are not going to magically make me more patient, calm and kind.  My struggles will not go away until I address them, wholly and completely.  It has to happen today.  And every day.

If I don’t want to yell, I have to stop yelling NOW.

If I don’t want to spank, I have to stop spanking NOW.

If I want to be kind, I have to start being kind NOW.

No one can change this but me.  It is not on anyone but me.

The Homebirth of Rory Kai

—The pictures in this post are graphic. There are breasts and vaginas and moments of birth. If this offends you, you can choose not to read the story, or to not look at the images. Please do not complain about them, as you have been warned.—

{Incredible images credit goes to Kate Anderson Photography}


Rory is sleeping soundly across my belly, and he is nearly nine days old. Life has already changed to the point where I can’t imagine my existence without him. How he came to be here is another story.

I’m going to place a trigger warning here. My birth was, by many comparisons, not traumatic or violent. However, it also wasn’t peaceful and perfect. I would like mothers who have had a traumatic birth, or women who are pregnant and would not benefit from reading or hearing a difficult birth story to be able to choose to stop reading now. It will do you no good.

That being said: Onward!

My fourth pregnancy had been progressing like all the others that came before it. Tired and uncomfortable, but not at all unwilling to allow the full gestation period to elapse, I had been dealing with excessive contractions for weeks. Since this had been my experience in all of my prior pregnancies, I wasn’t terribly worried about it nor was my birth team. On Wednesday, June 24th, only two days past my due date, the contractions seemed to change. “Longer, stronger and closer together,” just like they always said in the baby books. I had a bit of bloody show and started losing mucus plug. I texted my midwife, tentatively excited that tonight might be the night, and started cleaning. When, a few hours later, they had calmed down, I went to bed – disappointed but determined to be patient.

I had a very poor nights sleep. Brock ended up taking Thursday off to help me out with the kids, let me get some rest, and to be around if things suddenly “got serious”. That was the big worry – that I would suddenly shift gears from prodromal labor to real, and everything would happen too quickly.

No action on Thursday. Lots of walking and resting. Not much sleep.

Friday, I contracted all day. We sent kids to their grandparents, and walked. Ate at a restaurant. Walked some more. Very powerful contractions 6-8mins apart all day. Texted with my midwife several times and she decided to come and check on me. Sprits rising. A baby is coming! Brock and I readied the house. Set out the birth pool. Prepared snacks and drinks. Started playing my birth music. My midwives showed up together around 7pm, and it was lovely and peaceful. We enjoyed chatting and laughing for several hours, while I contracted irregularly and yet had to focus and breathe through each. I asked to be checked and my cervix was a mere 2cm. My heart sank, but I was assured again that false alarms are more common with multiparous women – the contractions are just too powerful and consistent. It’s hard to truly tell when they switch to ‘the real thing’. I felt much better hearing that they would rather be called for several false alarms than miss the birth.

Brock and I went to sleep disappointed again, and still pleasantly aware that it would be soon. We would be having a baby soon.

Saturday. June 27th. Contracted all day. 6-8 minutes apart. POWERFUL contractions. Stayed in touch with my midwife all day. All day. Called her off around 9pm when everything seemed to fizzle out. Again. I was beginning to feel defeated. And exhausted. Like I had been in labor for days and it was all a big joke.

Sunday started out with a 10am tearful text to my midwife:

“Contracted all night. Hardly slept. Strong contractions that woke me up over and over. Got up from 2-4 and no changes. Drank some magnesium to try to get sleep, and was still woken. Have been contracting since I got up and they are SO uncomfortable. I’m in tears.”

She suggested that perhaps the baby was trying to change positions, and recommended I try to knee chest for 20 minutes. By 10:30, the whole birth team was on their way again.

We sat around again.

We chatted again.

Powerful contractions that brought me to tears every time. But no progress. Nothing to speak of. Midwives suggested that I try to take a nap, and that they would go to lunch so I could get some rest. I tried. For several hours. No nap, no rest. Just contractions and frustration. More crying.

birth3Brock and I had lunch. While midwives were gone, I decided to try a ‘Spinning Babies’ engagement trick – Walcher’s technique. I laid on the edge of the bed and let my legs hang off the side, in a version of a back bend. The idea is to open the pelvic inlet as wide as possible to help the baby’s head engage in the birth canal, and hopefully get things moving. Boy, did it get things moving. Contractions immediately jumped to 3 minutes apart. Deep, intense contractions that required motion and moaning. I texted with midwife between contractions but didn’t want her to come back too soon – at this point I was deathly afraid of fizzling out again – but Brock took my phone and told her to “please come right now,” at 4pm.

birth2Midwives came back. Contractions were so close and so powerful…. and then we realized that the birth pool was leaking. We scrambled to drain it, patch it and refill it. The adrenaline, the urgency – it all but stopped my contractions completely. I felt like I had stalled out again. I broke down and sobbed. I was so defeated. My head was filled with shoulds and shouldnts and I couldn’t get away from them.

It shouldn’t be taking this long. I should be better at this. I shouldn’t be this uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be this hard with my fourth. I should have had the baby by now.

birth6It was destructive talk that I had to knock myself out of. I had to forget the should, and focus on the reality – I had to change my inner speak: THIS is my birth. This is how it IS. And since it can’t be any other way than it IS, I need to accept it and move on. It’s okay for me to have a long, difficult birth. It is okay.

At 7pm, my birth team went out for dinner, again with the recommendation of rest, food, walk… and possibly some sex? We tried all of the recommendations, took a shower, and then laid in Walcher’s again. I honestly didn’t believe that the contractions could get more powerful, but they did.

Here’s where the timeline starts to get fuzzy for me. It slows down and speeds up at the same time. At 8:30pm, my birth team returned. I labored. And labored. I moved in the pool and squatted by the stairs. I sat in knee-chest, and swayed in a squat. I danced, rocked, shimmied… I think there might have been some twerking. It was hard work. The contractions were strong and frequent and very intense. But in the moments between, there was chatter and laughter. It was comfortable and beautiful.


I remember at one point asking what time it was, and being told it was 10:30pm. I remember at another point asking for my cervix to be checked, and I was still only at 8cm. I remember feeling the defeat in my head, and deciding I had no choice but to push on.

birth8“Horsey lips. Horsey lips. No pushing. Breathe. Relax. Stay with it. Let the baby move down. This is the work. Your body is doing things. You ARE making progress.”


I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. It wasn’t reaching my brain. I just kept taking it one contraction at a time. For minutes. For hours. Forever.

Brock was beside me, behind me, with me for every single contraction. He would hold my hands and kiss my forehead. He told me over and over again how strong I was. He pushed back against me when I needed resistance. He stroked my cheek when I needed a rest. I remember asking him at one point if he needed to eat, or drink, or pee! He hadn’t left my side since noon.


In my mind, only minutes have passed. I cannot fathom the actual reality. I stop asking what time it is. I ask to be checked again. There is cervix there. My midwife asks if she can hold the cervix back through one contraction. I say yes, but my mind screams no. I’ve done this before. I know this pain. It is about to get really, really real.

I have a moment of peace. A moment of pure clarity, where everything comes into focus.

I can do this. I am powerful. I have the strength. I CAN push this baby out.

I hear a quote in my head, “She thought she could, and so she did.”


The contraction starts to mount and the clarity slips away. I begin to cry out in pain, and try to move away from the feeling. “Please stop, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this anymore. Please stop! I can’t do this! I want to stop! Let me stop!”

birth11The pain of holding my cervix back is so visceral – I feel it in my entire body, just like before.  Just like with Ryder, and with Ruby. At the end of the contraction, the urge to push is there. The real one. The pushing that makes a baby come out. I give in to it once, and my water breaks with a giant rush – it scares the shit out of me and I scream.

Rest. It feels like hours pass, and I’m mumbling to myself, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I hate this. I can’t do it. This sucks. Every single part of this sucks…” But in my head, the clarity has returned: I can do this. I have done this before. My baby is almost here. I can do this. A few more pushes.

Time passes, and the contraction mounts. Clarity slips away, and something else takes over. I’ve never felt this feeling before, and this is what makes this birth so different than my others; I feel like I’m surrounded, covered, buried in terror. I’m so afraid. Afraid of the pain and afraid to push. I start yelling in deep fear, “Please stop, please make it stop! I can’t, I can’t!  Let me stop!  Please let me stop!” Over and over. But the pushes can’t be stopped, and my baby is RIGHT THERE. Pain, ring of fire, crowning. I rip my hands away from Brock and put them on my perinum, around the head. I feel like I NEED to feel it, to protect it, to hold it, but I don’t know why. I try to pull my legs together. I try to move away from the pain. I’m still yelling, still crying, still begging to stop. Please, let me stop. My legs are held apart – the baby is coming out.


Time passes, and another contraction mounts. I feel my bottom relax and the head is delivered. I hear exclamations of excitement, that I’m doing it and my baby has hair, and it’s beautiful – but I don’t hear it. And I don’t see it. My eyes are closed so tightly, and I am surrounded by terror. I just want to stop.  Please, let me stop. Pressure. Contraction. Push. SURGE as the baby is fully delivered. It’s out. The baby is out.


My eyes are still closed and I am sobbing. I hear voices tell me, “Mandy, look at your baby!”  I feel my hands on the baby as it is placed onto my chest, and I can’t let go of the terror. I don’t want to open my eyes.

birth13But I do.

I open my eyes and the terror is gone. There is a beautiful, tiny, amazing human being in my hands and I am instantly so full of love and wonder and amazement and just so much love. The darkness is cut away by blazing light, and I am so in love. birth14Sobbing now, with tears of joy, I look around the room, and everyone is crying. Not just the tears of joy that a birth brings, but tears of those standing in the fire with someone they love, tears from watching unspeakable pain and feeling utterly helpless. I smile, I laugh, because for me the pain is gone, but it is still there in the room. I see it echoing in their eyes.birth15

I pull a tiny bottom closer to my chest and feel testicles! “It’s a boy!” I nearly shout. Lost in the depth of his eyes, I tell him, “You are so beautiful. And you are such a dick!”

It just kind of popped out. But everyone laughs, and I hear, “It’s nice to have you back, Mandy.”

At that moment, I break down crying again. Not just joy and wonder, but the full impact of what just happened hits me.  I remember all of it.  I remember the terror.

“That. Was. REALLY. Hard.”


And it was. It was really hard.

Our beautiful boy takes a few minutes to transition. As soon as he’s breathing well and the cord stops pulsing, it is cut so I can deliver the placenta, which comes out quickly and easily. I move from the pool to the couch and snuggle with my sweet, tiny new human, and wait for his first latch. My birth team bustles to get things together, helps to clean, prepares and inspects my placenta. And I am in a dreamy, gauzy, filmy haze of joy and exhaustion.


Newborn exam. Healthy baby. 7lbs 15oz, 20 inches and beautiful.


Everyone packs up. Everything is done. We are blanketed and pillowed and snuggled in for the night. I hug my beloved birth women goodbye and wave them out the door. The moment they are gone, my eyes lock into the eyes of my husband. His fill with tears, and he begs, “Please… Please don’t make me ever watch you go through that again.”

We cry together for a while.  We stare at our baby boy together for a while.  And then we sleep.

Rory Kai is here.



The Birth of Rory Kai from TempestBeauty on Vimeo.
{All photo credit – Kate Anderson Photography}


I just wrote another blog, hit submit and lost it.

I think I should probably stop doing that.

Anyways.  The content of this blog was about the purpose of writing about nothing, in order to be in the habit of writing when I need to write about SOMETHING.  As of today, there is no ‘something’ to write about.

Okay, well, yes.  There is lots.  But I don’t feel up to it.

My house is a mess.  My kids are fed and clothed and watching Sesame Street.  We are going to run some errands and then I’m going to get caught up on laundry.  This hardly justifies a whole blog post.  Sorry.