Why I Absolutely Can’t Put My Kids Before My Husband

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“Are you and daddy getting divorced?”

I was 4-years-old, sitting on the bathroom floor and chatting with my mom while she soaked in the tub, when I blurted out this question. “No, of course not!” she immediately responded. “Why would you think that?” I don’t remember what I said next, but somehow we moved on to a new topic.

Later I heard her whispering on the phone about what I’d said. She must have been thinking, How did my little girl, the one with the stay-at-home mom and Catholic upbringing, know about divorce? It’s not like my parents were screaming and slamming doors all the time. Their unhappiness wasn’t supposed to be obvious, especially not to a little girl. But somehow, even at that young age, I could sense that my parents were deeply unhappy in their marriage.

Turns out they did get divorced—four years later, right around my eighth birthday. The quietly hostile relationship that my parents had when they were married bloomed into an outwardly hostile one during the split, and it stayed that way for years after the divorce papers were signed. By the time my sister and I were pre-teens, our dad had remarried and pretty much vanished from our lives.

The whole thing—the divorce, our father deciding to go his own separate way—was incredibly sad and unfortunate, but it taught me an important lesson: It’s almost impossible to have a happy childhood if you have miserable parents.
 At some point I decided that if I were ever to get married and have kids I would do everything I could to have a happy marriage that lasted for the long haul…and if that wasn’t possible, then at least I would do my best to forge a positive relationship with my ex-husband for the sake of my kids.

Years later, I met an amazing man. I got married and we celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary last June. We’re very happy, and because I want to stay happily married and give our 5-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter the kind of joyful home I didn’t have while I was growing up, I put my marriage first. That’s right. My husband comes before anyone else in my life, including my beloved children.

Before anyone calls me a selfish, terrible mother, please let me explain what I mean by that: I think you’ll see that it’s not as harsh as it sounds. And, in fact, the priorities that we’ve set benefit everyone involved.

Putting my marriage first means I’m protecting the relationship that’s central to my children’s happy childhood; I’m making sure that Chris and I coexist happily despite the changes that we experienced in our relationship after they were born, particularly in those first few months (from the way that we needed to divert our attention and, at times, affections to this new little person in our lives to the mind-boggling lack of sleep that lasted for months and made us argue about silly little things like who forgot to buy more coffee when the last bag ran out).

Putting my marriage first does not mean neglecting our kids; Chris and I are extremely involved parents. We both say constantly that Mason and Poppy are the love of our lives. They’re the greatest things we’ve ever done; we can’t imagine our lives without them. We love them infinity plus. So for our children’s sake (and for ours), here’s how we make our marriage our top priority:

1. We plan child-free couple vacations. This isn’t something my husband and I do every year; in fact, we’ve only done it once so far, but we plan on taking more trips alone in the future. Our first vacation a deux took place when our oldest child, Mason, was 6-months-old.

Too soon? No way. Chris and I needed to go somewhere and reconnect after my extremely difficult pregnancy (which included 30-weeks of morning sickness and extreme anxiety), so my mom graciously volunteered to come to New York to stay with him for five days. She insisted that we needed that time alone, even though I dreaded leaving the baby.

And you know what? She was right. Going on that trip was the best thing we could have done for our marriage. We had sex, we got some much-needed rest and we had wonderful dinners together. By the time we returned to New York, we were a stronger, happier couple—and ready to take on whatever Mason dished out. Bring on those sleepless nights, baby: we can handle it!

2. We present a united front. This means we always have each other’s back, no matter what. When Chris needed to take a job that would keep him in another city five days a week, I supported him. When I told Chris in September that I needed to leave my nightmare job and do something else, he supported me, no further explanation needed.

With our kids, it’s all about being on the same page at all times; we never try to become the favorite parent by caving in to what they want versus what we believe is right. For example, I feel strongly that our oldest child, Mason, needs to go to bed at 8 p.m. unless it’s a special occasion. Chris, on the other hand, would be fine with letting him stay up later…but he knows this issue is important to me, so he respects my wishes.

We’re being consistent with our messaging to Mason so that he doesn’t get confused and so that he feels secure with a consistent routine—but more importantly we’re showing him that we’re united in the decisions that we make, as well as demonstrating unequivocal support and respect for each other.

3. We keep the baby out of the bed. Chris and I made a conscious decision from the very beginning not to co-sleep (although both children were in a bassinet in our bedroom for months), because we wanted a space where we could have sex or cuddle without worrying about a baby sleeping between us. Now that they’re older, they may come into bed with us in the early morning hours, and we’re not going to kick them out; we’re more than happy (and grateful!) for that cuddle time. But when it’s time to go to sleep every night, it’s just the two of us, no exceptions. And since that’s always the way we’ve operated, we’ve never had an issue with them about it. They understand that this space is mommy’s and daddy’s special place, just like their room is theirs.

4. I respect my husband’s needs (and he does the same). Neither of us are morning people, so we take turns getting up with our youngest child, Poppy, at the crack of dawn every day. Sometimes she insists that mommy (or daddy) needs to be up, too, and we’re very clear that she gets the undivided attention of one parent every morning because mommy or daddy is tired and she/he needs some extra rest. Or sometimes mommy needs to go to the gym alone, or daddy needs a night out with friends. We protect the other partner’s needs out of love and respect. Those time-outs make us better parents—and better partners, too.

5. I recognize my husband’s greatness (and he returns the favor). I am Chris’ biggest fan (his publicist, even) and he’s mine. We praise each other to other people, as well as to our son. Every morning when I come out into the living room, dressed for work, Chris points to me and says to the kids, “Isn’t mommy beautiful?” When Chris cooks us one of his amazing dinners, I point to the food and say to them, “Isn’t daddy the best cook?” We compliment each other in front of our kids, both to build his respect and love for the other parent, as well as to show our love and appreciation for each other. It’s our way of keeping the other partner from feeling unimportant, unnoticed, or on the back burner.

*© Heather Morgan Shott, as first published on Your Tango.

To All the Other Moms Who Have Had a Miscarriage

miscarriagegrieving_sizedAugust 2012 marked a low point for me: I lost a baby boy at 10 weeks gestation. The baby had been a surprise, most likely conceived on our 10-year wedding anniversary, and we had been ecstatic. Now he was suddenly gone.

It was a Friday when we learned I had miscarried. We had an appointment with my ob-gyn for our first ultrasound, and we were so excited we both took the day off work. We planned to go out to lunch afterwards to celebrate. Instead, we left the doctor’s office with me sobbing behind huge sunglasses. There was no celebratory lunch, only an immediate appointment with a maternal-fetal specialist to confirm that the pregnancy was no longer viable; my ob-gyn hadn’t been able to find a heartbeat, even though the little baby on the screen looked perfect to us. Two hours later, with the awful news confirmed, I was scheduled to have a D&C (a procedure to remove the baby’s remains) the following morning. My doctor had told me that it could take a month for the baby to leave my body naturally, and I just couldn’t wait that long. I needed to let him go for my own sanity.

On my way out to dinner for my 36th birthday, I had no I was 3-weeks-pregnant. Sadly, that baby would pass away a few weeks later.

On my way to my birthday dinner; I had no idea I was 3-weeks-pregnant. Sadly, that baby would pass away a few weeks later.

 

The procedure itself wasn’t awful, I don’t think. I don’t remember much beyond feeling achingly empty afterwards. I was filled with grief so thick I felt like I was suffocating. I spent the weekend afterward in sweats, sobbing every time my then-3-year-old son wasn’t around, feeling empty and desperately alone. I wrote a letter to Angel Baby. I purchased a heart bracelet to wear in his honor. Groggy from the medication I was given during the procedure, I slept a lot.

The weeks after that were filled with ups and downs. I’d burst into tears at random times. I’d see a newborn out with his mom, or a pregnant lady would walk past me on the street, and I’d feel insanely jealous. My son would innocently say “I want a baby brother,” and I’d have to leave the room until I could pull myself together. I’d see on Facebook that yet another friend was pregnant, and I’d have to swallow feelings of self-pity for my own loss. I even endured some incredibly thoughtless comments from people (I was showing when I lost the baby and had been called out a few times) that left me angry and speechless. In a particularly unbelievable moment, one pregnant co-worker said (while rubbing her swollen belly), “You’re so lucky you can drink now! Hopefully the next one will be good.”

Then, two months after my miscarriage, something miraculous happened: I was pregnant again. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, but as excited as I was I was also terrified. My heart had broken so badly after the loss of my second son, I couldn’t imagine enduring that pain again. The holidays came and we shared our big news with our parents and grandparents, but no one else. I didn’t want the word to get out until after we received the results of our first trimester tests, since we lost our little boy due to a devastating genetic disease (Trisomy 18). I wore layers of clothing trying in vain to hide the little bump that seemed to appear within days of my positive pregnancy test.

Our first ultrasound with baby #3, which took place around 7 weeks, went beautifully. We saw the baby’s gorgeous heartbeat. We left my ob-gyn’s office — this time thrilled, a stark contrast to how we felt after our last ultrasound — and I counted down the days until our 11-week ultrasound. That ultrasound was even better; this time the baby waved at us and filled me with incredible happiness. I held my breath through our first trimester ultrasound and blood tests; once again, all went well. The tests were normal. To calm my anxious mind, we had one more genetic test: Materni21, the new blood test that screens for dozens of genetic diseases with 99 percent accuracy.

At 8 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, we got the best imaginable news: Our Materni21 results came back normal. And then the doctor delivered a huge surprise: We were having a little girl! We were elated and shocked. Elated because our test came back normal, which had been my biggest concern. Shocked because we were having a little girl — we had been convinced it was another boy. Of course we were delighted too; we didn’t care what our baby’s gender was, we just wanted a healthy baby.

It’s been two years since my miscarriage, and I can honestly say that getting pregnant again helped heal my heart more than anything else. It wasn’t that the baby I was carrying replaced the baby I lost; I’ll never forget him, he’ll always have a special place in my heart. It’s just that I had a much more profound appreciation for the miracle of life, and how delicate and fragile it really is. And I was so thankful for a third opportunity to become a mom again. (My daughter, Poppy Belle, was born healthy and happy in August 2014; she just turned 20-months-old!)

But here’s the thing: Those first six months, especially, were so difficult for me. I sobbed on February 27, 2014, the day that would have been my second son’s due date. I cried for the little boy I would never meet, and for his terrible fate — even as I celebrated the new life growing inside of me. I reached out to a close friend and told her how I was feeling, and in consoling me she said, “I’m happy that you won’t have to go through the day wondering if you’ll ever get pregnant again.”

Her words gave me perspective, and so have the words of other friends. Talking to moms who have had miscarriages has been especially helpful. If you’ve lost a baby recently, and you can stand to talk about it, I encourage you to reach out for support. I couldn’t have gotten through those first six months after my miscarriage without the phone calls, emails, and text messages that I’ve received from other women, some strangers, who have been in my shoes — and I’m trying to pay that support forward by writing about what I’ve been through and reaching out to other moms that I know who have lost a baby. My message today is that it does get better. There is hope, you will begin to heal. I promise.

© Heather Morgan Shott, as first published on Momtastic.com

Could You Fight Cancer While Pregnant? Or Win a Gold Medal?

I cover pregnancy here at Parents, and I heard two amazing stories about expectant moms today that I just had to share with you.

Meet Jessica Henriquez. She’s married to actor Josh Lucas, and she gave birth to their son Noah in June–while also battling cervical cancer (that’s the couple, pictured left).

The couple met and fell in love shortly after Henriquez was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer, at the age of 25, according to the Huffington Post. Six weeks after their chance encounter in a New York City dog park, they got engaged.

A few months later, after going through two courses of treatment that were unsuccessful, Henriquez’s doctor started talking to her about having a hysterectomy. And then she learned she was pregnant.

“I hadn’t thought about children,” she tells HuffPo. “It wasn’t my dream since I was a little girl to have a family. But when a doctor looks you in the eyes and takes that option off the table, it immediately sets something off in you — this motherhood gene.”

Henriquez then made an incredibly gutsy decision, in my opinion. She decided to discontinue  her cancer treatment, for fear she would miscarry, and focus on her pregnancy. Despite a rough go of it, she did it!

Unfortunately her cancer has progressed from stage 1A to 1B, but the good news is that it  hasn’t spread, according to the report. Here’s to hoping this brave mom gets through the treatment she’s starting again this fall with flying colors–and she can focus on motherhood once and for all.

Then there’s Kerri Walsh Jennings, who is inspiring me for completely different reasons. She apparently won the gold in London while she was five weeks pregnant. She told Matt Lauer this morning on the Today Show that she and her hubby Casey started trying for baby #3 just before the Olympics, but they never imagined it would happen so quickly. She figured it out shortly after arriving at the Olympics.

“I’m a pretty happy girl and I was unreasonably moody,” she explained. “At some point, you’re late and then you start feeling something. And I definitely started feeling something in London.”

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, told Today that competing at the games did not increase Walsh Jennings’ risk of pregnancy complications–so Walsh wasn’t being irresponsible.

When I was five weeks pregnant, I was puking my guts out–I can’t imagine being well enough to power walk, let alone run around in sand and dive for a volleyball. She pulled off growing a baby and winning yet another gold medal, at the same time. WOW!

Any other inspiring preggo stories to share?

Photo: Josh Lucas and Jessica Henriquez via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Working Mom Guilt: Who Needs It Anyway?

“I am the worst mom ever!” I said out loud yesterday afternoon, to no one in particular. My co-worker Jessica, who sits next to me, asked what was up. I explained that I had just asked Chris to pick Mason up from school because I was swamped and wasn’t going to be able to make it there on time. I felt a mixture of relief and misery when he said yes. I hate missing out on time with Mason.

“Today you’re a good worker and a bad mom. Some days you might be a good mom and a bad worker. Other days it’ll all go to h-ll. That’s just how it is,” she said. Truer words have never been spoken.

Jessica is a pro at this working mom thing (in my opinion, anyway). She has two kids (ages 6 and 9), a hubby with a super hectic work schedule, and a big job at American Baby (our sister mag), so she balances a lot. She was spot-on, but I still felt guilty as I shut my computer down at 7:15 and scrambled for the subway so I could at least give Mason hugs and kisses before he went to bed (luckily it all worked out).

At this point, I rarely indulge my working mom guilt. I try to acknowledge it and then move on before it starts to eat at me. In fact, I thought I was over the whole thing entirely until this afternoon when a co-worker sent me an ABC News report about a new study by Cornell University. Researchers found American moms with full-time jobs spend roughly three-and-half fewer hours a day than nonworking moms attending to their kids’ diet and exercise. The “news” hardly came as a surprising, but it definitely annoyed me.

Of course I feel guilty when an obligation takes me away from my kid. Researchers are comparing me to working moms and then reporting on my shortcomings!

What about the fact that when I’m not preparing Mason’s food, he’s eating organic meals with his friends? Or that he’s getting tons of exercise even though I’m not with him all day, by taking soccer, yoga, and dance lessons? What about the fact that I’m providing for my family?

I think my fellow blogger Jill Cordes sums it up nicely in her post on the same topic: “Whether you stay at home or work, just love your child, feed them nutritious meals, have whomever is watching them feed them nutritious meals, have them exercise—with or without you—and instill in them the importance of healthy living.”

And here’s an idea. Instead of fanning the flames of the mommy wars by comparing working moms to nonworking moms, why don’t these researchers redirect their efforts to curing cancer?

Anyone else with me on this one?

Would a Supersize Soda Ban Change Your Family’s Drinking Habits?

Mason has never had a soda, and I’m hoping to keep it that way for a long time. It’s not that I’m worried he’ll become obese if he drinks it–he’s still a tall string bean of a kid, even though he has a huge appetite–it’s a health issue. All that sugar is linked to Diabetes and heart disease. And since he loves milk and water, I don’t see any point in hooking him on a junk-drink.

And surely it’s my right as a parent to decide what my son will drink, including exactly how much of it he will consume, right?

Well, mostly.

A new law in New York City, where we live, now bans supersize non-diet soda, sweetened teas, and other high-calorie beverages (defined as anything larger than 16 ounces) from being sold in cafeterias, restaurants, theaters, and fast-food joints.

Although I’ve supported the gross-out ads that run on TV and are plastered on subway cars to encourage people to think twice before tossing back a sugary drink–Americans do drink too much soda–this ban annoys me for several reasons:

* Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken it upon himself to champion a law that tells New Yorkers what we can and cannot drink. (Remember, he’s also the one who decided to lock up formula in hospitals.) Why should he have that right?

* The ban isn’t very smart. People can just go to a place where free refills are offered and drink as much sugar as they wish. If there aren’t refills, they can purchase two sodas. Or, they can go to the store and buy a jumbo bottle of soda. If sugar is the real concern here, why not look at smart ways to better regulate sugar?

* If health is the key concern, why aren’t there limits on drinks with artificial sweeteners? A recent study showed that massive quantities of diet soda is linked to a higher risk of stroke and heart attack. Researchers also found that diet soda packs on the pounds, too.

Bottom line is that this law isn’t going to change what Mason drinks–or, frankly, what we drink in our household. We don’t drink mass quantities of soda, but if we wanted to, we would. I think it should be our choice what we consume, not the government’s decision.

Would a ban like this where you live influence how much soda your family drinks?

Photo: Glass of soda via uchschen/Shutterstock.com

Key Breast Milk Ingredient Synthesized: Exciting or Freaky?

I stopped breastfeeding Mason when he was five weeks old, for a variety of reasons, and I felt incredibly guilty about it for months–even though it was the right decision at the time. I gave Mason a formula that I (and our pediatrician) felt good about, and I focused on finding other ways to bond with him. But I still felt a little wistful when I watched friends nurse their babies.

Now there’s a new development in the works that could give formula-fed babies (and their moms) a boost. According to a report published in Science Daily, a microbial engineer at the University of Illinois has synthesized a sugar in human milk that is thought to protect babies from pathogens.

Of course the human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) is incredibly expensive: 1 milligram of 2FL (the shorthand scientists are using to describe it) costs $100 and a single study would require $1 million worth of HMO alone. Scientists will need to do a lot of testing before something like this could ever be released to market–who knows whether it’s really safe. And given the prohibitive cost, it’s hard to say when or how those studies will take place.

But despite the obstacles, I find the prospect of something like this to be very exciting. To be clear, I’m not saying formula with this HMO would be superior to breastmilk. I’m just saying that for moms who can’t breastfeed (think of my sister), or who just don’t want to, any advancements that would make formula more healthful would be awesome.

What do you think?

Photo: Bottle with milk via lorenzo_graph/Shutterstock.com

Getting Out the Door in the Morning: Am I Sabotaging Myself?

Around 8:15 each morning, I’m running between the bathroom and the kitchen, putting on my makeup, cleaning up the breakfast mess, and urging Mason to get a move on.

Mason, come on, it’s time to go play with your friends at school! Let’s put your shoes and socks on. Meanwhile, Mason continues to zoom around the apartment on his Bat Mobile, completely ignoring me (pictured, left).

Five minutes pass.

Boo boo, time to get your shoes and socks on! Let’s go! Now he’s crawling around on the kitchen floor with his buses, making zooming noises. He pauses, looks up and gives me a huge grin. Then he turns his attention right back to his toys.

Five more minutes pass.

Mason (voice pleading) we’re running late, c’mon, let’s go!

He starts inching toward the door where he shoes are, but his eyes are still glued to his toy cars.

Mason! Would you like a time out? Shoes! Now!

He hops over to the door, helps me put his shoes on, then runs down the hall to the elevator. I trudge behind him, schlepping the stroller and my bag, frustrated that we’re behind schedule once again.

Of course lots of moms have the same experience every day. I met up with a group of friends at a local Mexican restaurant last night–a rare mom’s night out–and we talked about our crazy mornings. One of the women mentioned that her son is starting preschool next week and she’s looking for some ways to simplify her morning routine to get everyone out the door on time.

I shared with her that I still hadn’t figured out any solutions, even though Mason’s been in school now for a year. Breakfast can take up to 45 minutes. If it’s the high chair that’s stressing you out, why don’t you just get rid of it in the morning? she said. Give him something he can eat on the go!

She had a good point. If breakfast is our biggest time suck, why aren’t I making changes to remedy the problem? This morning I pulled together something Mason could take on the train with us–cut up fruit and whole-grain cereal–and gave it to him. He looked at it, looked at me and then ran over to his high chair and said Toast! Apple!  So I fed him PB&J toast (his favorite) with some fruit and  milk. Twenty minutes later than I had hoped, we finally got out the door.

Did I make a mistake by scraping my plans and catering to his demands? Or did I do the right thing? Is it just a matter of changing my mindset and accepting that having a  crazed morning is part of being a mom?