Mom Exhaustion - that wasted, weary, sapped, beat, and bleary feeling

by Vanessa Wingerath
This piece originally appeared on  on November 11, 201

It’s 7:05 a.m. I have just crawled out of bed to answer the cries of my 14-month-old. The only thing I have done for myself is put on pants. My husband hands him to me as I sit down in the rocking chair to nurse. I am groggy and really thirsty and wish I could brush my teeth, but at least I am sitting. As soon as I lean back in the chair, my older son, who is 3-and-a-half, leans all of his weight on my right hip in an attempt to join his brother and me between the arms of the rocking chair. And this is not one of those chair-and-halfs. There is barely room for one adult and a nursing toddler. It should be cute, but at this point I have been awake for less than five minutes, and I already have two wriggly, writhing, kicking, and shimmying children on top of me… UGH.

I love my children immensely, of course. I love to be close with them. Cuddling, canoodling, squeezing, raspberry-ing, caressing, and especially breastfeeding fill me with giddy love. However, my babies are young, and the bodily contact they require can be overwhelming. I found this especially difficult after my second child was born. I was looking forward to breastfeeding the second time around, and I did enjoy it. But it came with a literal added “bonus” (aka “challenge”) because my older son often wants to lay on my chest or on his brother while we are nursing. This is adorable, of course, but it is also makes me feel suffocated. In fact, sometimes it makes me want to scream!

Babies are so luscious, buttery, soft, and cozy, and the touching is by far one of the best parts of them being so young. But there’s a downside, too: You often don’t have autonomy over your own body, even when you need it. All this touching/pulling/prodding pushes my patience to the brink of nonexistence more than any other aspect of parenting.

I play on the floor with my children many hours in the day, and sometimes my back gets sore, so I try to stealthily lay down on a the carpet for a minute or two. This maneuver almost never goes unnoticed. My youngest thinks it’s time to nurse when he sees me lie down, and even if my older son was playing completely independently, he will not miss out on the “hot dogging” as we’ve come to call it. He lunges onto my belly or legs and, suddenly, I’m in the most vulnerable position for horse play — being stabbed with heels, chafed with chins, and assaulted with giggles.

When I don’t have enough personal space, I experience a visceral urge to throw the baby at my husband as soon as he steps foot into the driveway. Or, I want to build a fortress of pillows around me so I can just close my eyes for two minutes without being poked. Being in my bedroom alone with the door closed, is the best vacation. I need some time when my limbs are not supporting anyone else’s weight.

This constant assault on my personal space leads to an exhaustion that is unlike any other I experienced before having children. It makes me want to melt into myself after the dishes are done and the kids are in bed. There should be a term for this kind of done-ness that explains how moms feel at the end of day caring for little children. I would describe it as over-mushed, squeezed silly, and sucked dry. Raggled and bedraggled. Poked and prodded to the point of peevishness. Which sometimes leaves me too prickly to connect with my husband when he comes home. Poor guy.

But poor me, too.


A Blessingway for Amy

by Vanessa Wingerath
This piece appeared on August 18, 2016



I love baby showers. The baby clothes, the delicious treats, the pregnant goddess sharing her glow, and, especially, the unique combination of anticipation, excitement, and nerves that soon-to-be parents often have. It feels special to share in that jittery and joyous energy.

However, I have always been attracted to traditions from other cultures, particularly ones that have symbolic, emotional, and spiritual weight. For example, the Maori people of New Zealand plant the baby’s placenta in the land of their ancestors as a way of tying generations together. In many Indian cultures, the mother’s belly is adorned with henna before and after her baby is born, and it’s believed that this practice prevents postpartum depression. These types of rituals offer more than just material gifts. They initiate a new mother into her tribe.

I grew up with minimal religion and barely any ethnic or familial customs, and I’ve always been envious of my friends who have rich traditions by which to mark and celebrate their lives. A connection to a culture helps us feel less alone. Pregnancy and motherhood changed me in such profound ways that I yearned for a meaningful ritual that would help me welcome my friends into the motherhood community. I wanted one with a slightly different focus than a traditional baby shower -- one that would bring together my circle of female friends and family members and make space for them to share their wisdom. One that would fully acknowledge both the transformation the expecting woman was about to embark upon and that she’d need more support than she probably ever has before.

I first heard about an ancient Navajo ritual called a “blessingway ceremony” in birth class when I was pregnant with my oldest. It spoke to me because it involved family and friends not only giving gifts but also pampering, adorning, blessing, encouraging, and uplifting an expecting woman with a deliberate, emotional purpose.

A blessingway ceremony dips into the spiritual realm, and is more focused on the new mom--and her transition into birth and motherhood--than on the baby. I planned one for my dear friend Amy, with the purpose of creating a visible circle of women who would be her community throughout her journey into motherhood. We each presented her with a flower that represented “mother” to us. For example, a bird of paradise flower was especially meaningful because, “the bird of paradise is always at the center of the bouquet and as a mother, you are always surrounded by your children” as one friend explained.

Then, some of us shared birth stories, poems, and personal reflections on family and motherhood. We reminded Amy of her strengths and personal fortitude to help banish any residual fears or doubts she had about birth and parenting. Amy’s mother recounted the story of Amy’s birth, which was a privilege to hear.

We didn’t have to reject the traditions we liked about baby showers to create a blessingway: We still showered Amy with baby gifts and the “oohs” and “awws” and pictures taken were part of the whole experience. But we also incorporated a variety of ancient rituals we knew she would find most meaningful. For us, those rituals included giving Amy a crown made out of flowers and tying strings around each other’s wrists to remind us of her impending life transformation as we went about our days. We removed the strings when we heard that she had given birth--which, in this case, was only two days after the blessingway!

Most important, the blessingway gave us all the opportunity to be emotionally vulnerable and open. Sometimes that felt uncomfortable: Even when people crave intimate connection--like when they are about to give birth -- it can be scary to feel emotionally exposed. There was crying at our blessingway and moments of discomfort, but the love and support that were acknowledged with words, symbols, and gifts brought us all closer.

With two young children of my own, I’ve learned that being a mother can be isolating. We often forget that there are so many women around us who understand, share in our experience, and have a lot to offer. Rituals like the blessingway and the baby shower are just some ways we acknowledge we are complicated beings who take on momentous challenges and we need one another’s love and support.


Keeping the Gender a Mystery

by Vanessa Wingerath
This piece originally appeared on What To Expect on Feb. 1, 2016

When I was pregnant with my second son, I was sure I was having a girl. I was wrong. I gave birth to my second, beautiful baby boy in August of last year. To be honest,  I was disappointed, but still joyous. I was also embarrassed because we never found out the sex before the baby arrived and I had told almost everyone that I was sure it was going to be a girl. However, before I had a chance to develop those feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, I had the incredible experience of pulling my baby up to my chest and lifting up one leg to discover for myself that he was a he.

We were told my first baby was a boy when he was 20 weeks in-utero. So, I have done it both ways: knowing as soon as possible and choosing to wait to find out the gender.  I preferred finding out the gender when I could see for myself, at the moment of meeting my baby, as opposed to learning from a technician while looking at a strange image. If I have a third baby, I will wait again.

I feel that pregnancy is a private experience that inevitably becomes public when you start showing. Once you pass a certain point, you cannot choose who knows what is going on inside your body. Everyone from your mother to the deli counter guy has something to say about your body, your baby, and your experience before you even have a chance to meet the baby. Keeping the gender a secret was one way I was able to maintain some privacy during the pregnancy. It allowed the baby to be a mystery for a bit longer. And it was an invitation to keep guessing, questioning, and dreaming. And to me, that is much more fun than knowing. Apply the jittery, excited energy that we associate with children on Christmas morning, multiply it by one hundred, and add a heaping portion of intimacy and exhilaration and that is something close to what it felt like to me when I delivered my baby and saw their body in the flesh as a completely new human. Having the added surprise of gender is just another layer of true discovery that I find irresistible.

And my final, and possibly controversial reason for waiting to find out the gender is driven by a bit of rebellion. We are in a cultural moment of expanding awareness around gender nonconformity and increased visibility of trans people. I cannot say I have more than a sliver of understanding of what it is like to question to your own gender and the expectations foisted upon you by your born anatomy. But, I do believe it is important to question why gender identity is an issue that makes so many (myself included) so uncomfortable. Throughout my second pregnancy, I did have an attitude that wanted to snap, "It doesn't matter!" when I was asked about the gender of my unborn child. Of course, I know why people ask. I do the same thing. But I felt the need to rebel against that urge to label and categorize and investigate. I wanted to see what it would be like to just let my child show himself to me when he was ready.

It is a personal choice and everyone has the option to know their baby's gender before birth. And I am so glad we have that choice because it gave me the opportunity try it both ways. To me, the question of anatomy of a creature still unmet and unjudged in every other way is unnecessary. This is my attempt to explain why I made the choices I made. But ultimately, aren't we lucky that if we want to, we can find out one small thing about our children when they're still completely protected inside? Because the real mystery is who they will become.