Everything is wet

When new parents ask for advice – which they seldom ever do – I offer that they should expect and accept that for the first few months, everything is wet. They look at me like, wtf is she talking about? And then they have a kid and get it in their heads to breastfeed and woah… then the WhatsApp messages commence! There are just so many liquids. Viscous. Oily. Watery. Dripping. Soaking. Clear. Milky. Yellowish. Red is the bad kind. I mean, and there’s the process of identifying the source, is it #1 or #2? Are you wet or did something (or someone) make you wet? How long will it take to dry? Do you have to put it in the washer OR will fresh air do the trick? Seriously. I never got so acquainted with the sensation of feeling wet as in those post-partum months, but it is a good lesson for parenthood.

I am no expert, but neither was Ali Wong or Jessica Grouse until the sh!t got real. And things got real for me when I had to call a lactation consultant a day after my son was born, because frankly, my boobs weren’t getting wet enough! And then I learned about nipple guards and skin-to-skin and La Leche League. All of which made it their primary focus to get my body to give this stranger, who had been kicking me from the inside, all the liquids he needed to live. And once they worked their magic, everything was wet. I was leaking. Bottles spilled. I cried when I spilled bottles of pumped milk (liquid gold!) all over the kitchen floor. He peed more. I was wet. He was wet. And we really didn’t take enough baths and showers to warrant how wet we were. But, somehow being wet was a sign that we were doing something right – maybe a lot of somethings. Parenting is really effing counterintuitive like that. The rules of adulting that you’ve been learning since you were a teenager go out the window when you become an adult newly responsible for a child.

For example, screaming is bad right? No. Actually, it means your kid is breathing. And if they’re screaming, it’s better than their silence, which could be an indication that they aren’t breathing or just deeply engrossed in coloring themselves red with a fresh new stick of “Lady Danger.” So, screaming is good. Screaming is very good.

Likewise, crying is also very good. You will cry. The baby will cry. There will be tears. And tears are good. You’re hydrated and signaling to the world that you need help – you probably need sleep, the baby maybe just needs a diaper change. And crying is your bodies’ way of ensuring that you both get that help, in spite of yourselves. Someone will hear you – a grandparent, a friend, someone who has a propensity to pick up a crying parent (I mean baby) and pitch in. Either way, liquids are our lizard brain’s way of saying things are working, maybe not smoothly, but they are working.

There’s no science behind any of this. But two years of field experience has shown that if things are dry, sh!t is going downhill. There’s too much powdered formula and no one has added the water to make the bottles. Dry hands have dirt, peanut butter, and unknown “outside” residue on them. Wet hands, my friend, are freshly washed. Frequently wet diapers are not nearly as scary as ones that have been dry for too long. And if you haven’t cried yet, new parent, trust me… you will…

So get used to all this backward thinking, because being a parent is like a really wet game of opposites. Go with the flow.

2019 where have you been all my life?

I look back on this year, and it’s hard to take stock of everything that’s happened. I moved my family from Angola to South Africa, worked with an amazing local team there, was mentored by peers and superiors worth their weight in gold, had a healthy natural birth, graduated with a doctorate degree, published a slew of articles, elevated my business, and fell in love with my family. On the other side of the coin, I have struggled with a toxic workplace and being on the receiving end of discrimination, individual and institutional. My body and my mind are still adjusting to being a mom of 2 very young kids. My spirit is learning what it really means to overcome and re-define priorities. To say this year has been a rollercoaster would be a gross oversimplification, but I’ve been tasked with figuring out why – on earth – it has been this hard. And I’ve come up with a few thoughts…

Being a working mother is hard. No matter how progressive your partner, being a working mother is exceptionally hard. I had no maternity leave, so I cobbled together vacation and sick leave for about 8 weeks to deal with birth, a breast abscess, and now chronic tailbone pain. I never recovered from birth. I have never been able to fully connect with my child, without the threat of work – its admin, financial and substantive demands – looming just hours or footsteps away. I underestimated how much my superiors would push me to overwork and be over-responsive, to “make up” for the time I wasn’t in their office OR to insinuate that I need to re-prove my ability to lead. It’s been punishingly unfair, but so many people – working moms included – feel the need to pass on the hazing they received. Mistreating and being mistreated this way is normalized and worn like a badge of honor. I work in a historically male-dominated field that waxes poetic about being female and family-friendly, but they really imagine families headed by men. I found that out after I had kids…

All change (even good change) is stressful. While ever my constant companion, change is starting to get on my nerves.With new dependents, routine makes life manageable. Change comes in and craps on the plans. All the plans. Every plan. It is hard to have so many variables in your life. Even when things change for “the better,” there are a gang of unknowns that can drive you mad. When we moved to South Africa, for example, we lived in an extended stay hotel. Lovely, you might say. It was a huge adjustment to have to live out of suitcases for months, when we had a perfectly set up home in Angola. The adjusting to having Uber and room service, functional internet and potable tap water – well that wasn’t so bad. But having to change childcare providers 4 times in 4 months, less so. On balance, constant change was no easy thing.

I expect a lot from myself. Much has been written about Black women’s strength and our work ethic, our tendency to outpace our peers in educational attainment but to be perpetually underpaid and underpromoted. While I can certainly think of a few who genuinely don’t deserve to move up, generally I think the tropes are true. I, for one, expect a lot of myself. Nothing I do is mediocre if my name is on it. No amount of bait & switches can change that. I’m not exactly a perfectionist, but I have high standards. And that – I’m realizing – is both something that I need to adjust (given my new priorities) and that others don’t share. I will always be my worst critic, my biggest competition, my own coach. I’m learning to have more empathy for myself, rather than pressuring myself to persevere through adversity.  Working hard, despite obstacles, is not the only option. Some adversity is just abuse, and you don’t go through it – you go around it or rise above it.

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2020 will, no doubt, be equally as full of adventure and new challenges, but 2019 takes the cake for its frenetic pace, its defining moments, and life-changing lessons. It has been professionally hard, but personally rewarding. I am learning that when you know what really matters, you also know what doesn’t matter at all. And in 2020, I hope to be less reticent to commit restorative energy to everything and everyone that truly matter. I feel strongly that this year was a break out year, the one where I put my stake in the ground and was required to become the woman I want to be for the rest of my life. Next year, I can’t wait to introduce her to you all.