Monday, August 15, 2011

Spirit-Led Parenting : Megan's Story

On Mondays at In The Backyard, the posts will be focused on this book project, from the heart behind the words to the process of bringing a dream to print.

Today, Megan shares her story!


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If I were to give you full access to my home, allowing you to open cupboard doors and sift through piles of books and paperwork and half-finished projects, you would call me a liar when I confessed this to you: I am a closet perfectionist.

On the surface, disorganization reigns in my personal affairs. My attempts at crafting betray sloppy execution, and more often than not, my children leave the house in wrinkled clothes that rarely match. But the truth is, for as long as I can remember, I've battled crippling perfectionism that demands a level of excellence in all that I do that far exceeds what another person would expect from me.

My husband Kyle and I were married for six years before I got pregnant with my oldest daughter, Dacey. That's plenty of time for a perfectionist like myself to both imagine all the ways I could fail horribly at parenting while at the same time researching remedies to the problems common to parenting. I had built an arsenal in my mind of weapons that I would utilize to defend myself and my family from becoming a case study in bad parenting choices.

A few years before Dacey was born, I was given a book that appealed to the part of me that desperately wanted to do things The Right Way for all things baby. Not only did this book offer assurance that it would protect and nurture the marriage through the tumultuous times of new parenting, it offered as a bonus the fact that following the plan laid forth in the book meant that baby will sleep through the night at 6 weeks! If not by 6 weeks than by 8 weeks, for sure! And so I became an evangelist for this book long before Dacey first danced for us on the ultrasound screen.

When our oldest daughter was born via emergency c-section, something in me shifted. Far from being concerned about The Right Way, I was just thankful that we had both it made it through alive. So that first night, I asked everyone to leave to go get sleep, but really, I just ached to have some alone time with my daughter. By the end of the first night, I had pulled Dacey into bed with me, and already I felt guilty for breaking one of the “rules.” Yet I already felt powerfully attached to her. My bonding with her was instant and fierce beyond what I had dreamed possible. In those moments as she slept peacefully beside me in that hospital bed, I knew deep inside that following the prescriptions of the book I had nearly memorized would be difficult.

Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe the internal conflict and turmoil of those first few months of parenting.

Dacey was an incredibly high-needs baby. She needed to be held, she needed to be rocked to sleep, she needed so much from me and I found myself sinking under the unexpected weight of mothering. After some initial struggles, breastfeeding went smoothly for us and I got her right on to the feeding schedule the book suggested.

When it came to the sleep schedule, however, we failed miserably. She would not go to sleep without being rocked. She would not sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time. She would not sleep through the night at six weeks (or at eight weeks or at twelve weeks). She would not self-soothe when left to cry on her own.

And I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave her to scream and cry herself to sleep, knowing all she wanted was me. I rescued her every time, and we rocked many miles in our rocking chair, tears streaming down my face as the words of that book played over and over in my mind, a voice accusing me of setting her up for failure in every area of her life.

These were the dark days, and thinking back, one low point is a memory of waking up one morning with a sense of dread and misery at the start of the day, knowing that all that lay ahead of me was more skirmishes in the great battle that was teaching her to sleep the way she should be sleeping.

Our story is complicated and has many layers, and so today I’m peeling back just the first layer to share with you. In the pages of the book, you’ll read much more about the reality of those days when I tried so desperately to fit my family into this perfect, orderly, predictable mold extoled by the book and the advice of others. You’ll read about the feedback I got from friends and mentors and I’ll share my breaking point and how God rescued me when I was crying myself to sleep.

In the midst of writing this, it was time for me to go wake Dacey up to get ready for school. I watched her stirring in those pre-alert moments, the same full checks and long lashes that I studied so intently when she was a new baby. She’s six now and those exhausting days of infancy are history. She has been sleeping so wonderfully for so long, you might think that I’ve long since forgotten those dark days, but I haven’t. Give the surface a scratch, and it’s all right there, and I feel it all again so acutely.

I want you to know a little of my story today because I need to assure you that, as Laura wrote last week, my starting place was messy and painful and it is soaked with tears and it beats with a broken heart. Through this book, God has called forth redemption, inviting me to share the bumps and bruises and occasional moments of sunlight piercing the clouds so that we might all focus on the only One who is perfect.

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We would love for this series of weekly posts to provide a climate of conversation and community.< Our desire is to foster safe and open discussion here, so we welcome your response regardless of whether you agree or disagree with our philosophies. Please feel free to offer feedback and to share your own thoughts and stories!

18 comments:

  1. I'm so excited to read the book….I think it will be an object of grace and healing for a lot of women. I struggled so much with guilt in the beginning that everything I wanted to do to parent was wrong and that I would "pay" for it later…I'm so glad I don't believe that now…(most days :) )

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  2. Thank you Megan for sharing just a part of your story here. I too had my own dark days in my children's infancy. I felt depressed much of my way through the early months of my first son's life. I was trying to do things the way the books said to do and what other people were telling me to do. Needless to say when baby boy number two came along I realized that I had to make decisions for myself and my health and couldn't just listen to what everyone else had to say. Thank you again for sharing

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  3. My daughter wasn't a good sleeper until more than a year old. I felt like a huge failure. I was "THAT MOM" whose baby didn't sleep because she "spoiled her" or "wasn't tough enough" to let her cry all night if necessary. To others I was also the mom who "was horrible enough to let her daughter cry." It depended on whose opinion you asked. I tried every method and book out there. At the same time my husband's clinical depression relapsed and our marriage was definitely on the rocks, due in no small part to the lack of sleep for more than 12 months. I pray more than anything that our next child sleeps or I fear for my marriage and sanity.

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  4. @ Jenn - thank you so much for your consistent support. One thing we have heard over and over is the amount of guilt many of us are carrying around, no matter what kind of parenting choices we make. Laura and I are praying that our words offer freedom for all of the guilt! (or most of it, anyway)

    @ Rhoda - Baby number two was definitely a different experience for me, too. So much confidence comes with a little experience!

    @ Laundry Lady - thank you for sharing so honestly about your family's struggle with the sleep issue in particular. When all of the advice pinpoints perceived flaws in your parenting, it's really hard to know what you are supposed to do. I can relate to what you wrote in so many ways.

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  5. Megan, Yeah! I cannot WAIT to read your book!! Owen didn't sleep through the night until he was 3 YEARS old. THREE. As in, years. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong, but that is just how he is. Now at 4, he is a GREAT sleeper. With baby #2 on the way, Owen taught me that with some things, I need to throw my ideas out the window and just go with the flow. Thank you for being such a positive, encouraging voice to all us mamas.

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  6. I too am looking forward to reading your book. I didn't read the same parenting book that haunted you, but I read a book that has been nagging at me ever since my son was born 10 months ago, 10 sleepless months ago that is. I've tried so hard to move on, and I wish I had never read the darn thing. How nice it would have been if I had read something that taught me about how "right" it is to focus on God throughout this parenting adventure. At least I have fond memories of rocking at 2am and thinking of what a privilege it is for God to have chosen me to raise this precious little boy. For baby #2 I crave more intimacy with God, not a parenting book.

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  7. You know, I feel exactly the same way and went through the same thing with a certain book telling me how to make my child sleep. I was an emotional wreck because of it and because of friends who could not believe that I would not follow the advice. Never again will I let anyone get in the way of my mama instinct!

    I can't wait for your book to come out!!!!

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  8. Megan,

    That sounds so much like our experience with our first. We took a Preparation for Parenting class (Ezzos) and when Jack arrived, all we could think was, were they talking about one of THESE? The child did not sleep--not ever, not never--unless we were holding him and bouncing him in three planes of motion.

    We finally figured out (at 15 months) that he had sensory processing issues, and figured out how to get a handle on that to stretch the sleep to 2 hours at a time (and we're talking around the clock).

    He finally slept through the night at age 5.

    When we had our second child, we finally understood: she was not an easy baby, but we described her as "possible." It was possible to get her to calm down, it was possible that she would nap, it was possible for her to sleep. We loved our first, for sure, but he was just plain impossible in those areas.

    It was so bad, that when our firstborn was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks shy of his 2nd birthday, wading through cancer treatment wasn't nearly as emotionally taxing as dealing with the sustained unhappiness, crankiness and sleep deprivation of his first two years.

    (He's 8 now. He's doing great.)

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  9. I'll let Megan respond too, but I just wanted to jump in here and say a huge THANK YOU for the encouragement about our book, and for the stories and experiences that have been shared here so far. It's incredibly motivating for both of us to know how many other families have struggled through the same things we did, and it reminds us in a fresh way why God has put this project in front of us. We appreciate every word of feedback we receive - more than you know!

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  10. I am new to Megan's blog (and have never been to In The Backyard), so I have never heard her story. But I love her story.

    First, Megan, as a recovering perfectionist myself, I can assure you that unfinished projects and chaos are normal "symptoms" of perfectionism. Mainly, because if we can't do something completely and perfectly, we don't do it. And so a lot gets left undone. Procrastination and Perfectionism go hand-in-hand.

    Second, I have four children and each one required me to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to parent them. Each one was/is so completely different from the other.

    1st-premie--needed to be held constantly, co-sleeper, short napper (died at 9 mos and am so thankful I rocked him to sleep every single day of his life)

    2nd--great nurser, but wanted to be put DOWN to sleep. Liked her independence. She's 12, and still does.

    3rd--adopted at birth. Needed to be held constantly and cried when put down. Only I couldn't hold him constantly because I had a 2-year-old. That was when I actually BOUGHT Baby Wise, and implemented some of the sleeping/eating schedule. It worked for him and me.

    4th--adopted at 13 mos--co-sleeper, needed constant reassurance that I wasn't going to leave her. So I attached her 25-pound pudgy body to me for 6-mos via the Ergo Carrier.

    Had it not been for God's leading, I would have been clueless as to what my children needed to get through that first year of life. And honestly, as the kids grow into elementary and middle schools, I need God's guidance even MORE.

    So, the whole Spirit-Led Parenting concept?? I'm 100% on board!!!

    Blessings,
    Sandy

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  11. Megan, I know your story. I have followed you for some time, now, but reading it again, I just have tears streaming down. Tears.

    I can so. relate. I've wanted so badly to do it right, get it all right, but when I'm so focused on all of those things I "should" be doing, I'm listening to the wrong voices.

    "My starting place was messy and painful and it is soaked with tears and it beats with a broken heart." Mine, too. So thankful for grace and fresh starts and a God who cares for my children more deeply and understands them more intimately than I ever could. Astounds me every time.

    SO looking forward to your book. I know it will be the freedom and hope that so many young moms need.

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  12. Thanks so much for the open honest heart that beats through each post relating to your book!
    My husband and I were blessed with a good sleeper, a good eater and a content first child. We thought that either we had this parenting thing all figured out, or that God didn’t trust us to handle a high needs baby. I wanted to believe the former, but I have come to accept the latter. Our second child was a bit harder as a baby and continued to get harder and harder as her toddler years turned into pre-school years. She deals with some sensory issues and an auditory processing issue (that is getting better all the time). I felt like I had hit rock bottom when I had an honest conversation with our pre-school teacher about how I was choosing not to spend any time volunteering in her classroom, because I needed 4 hours a week away from my precious, God-given, beloved, pre-schooler. I needed my own space and time to decompress or I was afraid of what might happen to ME. I was not the one with sensory or processing issues. I can understand and cope with my surroundings. So, what was my big problem? I had a lot of guilt for making this about me. But God really did use that time to touch my heart, heal some of my hurts, and give me what I needed to parent this child He had placed in our family.
    It may be that newborn time when most parents start to need to be led by the Holy Spirit, but that need never goes away. Ya’ll might be on the fast track to a whole series of books for every stage of parenting. I think our need for God’s guidance and grace hits the ground running when our babies are born, but only grows as our children get older. Blessings to you as you undertake this project!!

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  13. I am so excited about reading your book! My story is almost identical. I read "a certain book," had great plans to follow it and then couldn't figure out what in the world was the matter with me for not being able to do it. I was in graduate school at the time so I kept telling myself that I needed to do it--I needed sleep, I needed consistency, and I needed my time, right? Well, my baby would NOT feed on a schedule, I didn't have the heart to let him cry to sleep, and I spent day after day crying and thinking I was a terrible mother. Finally, one day I thought, "I don't know how to tell if you're hungry or tired anymore! What is the matter with me?!?" I was also suffering from postpartum depression. I realized I had been trying to make my baby conform to "the book" rather than listening to him and learning from him. The words my mother told me just days before giving birth (also ended up in an emergency c-section), "Remember Amy, babies don't read books" kept coming to my mind. I abandoned "the book," learned to enjoy my baby, and found peace through attachment parenting. Not coincidentally, my postpartum depression also seemed to disappear. I strongly believe that God led me to attachment parenting because it just "fit." I love reading other mothers' journeys to find what fits for them. I'm so excited to read more of yours!

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  14. We have raised four children and about 35 foster babies. each one has been unique and responded differently to feeding schedules and sleep pattern. Prayer and sharing the load with your husband, neighbor, grandparent,etc..helps the drain of energy an infant brings plus nap when they do!
    Wendy J. Williams author of Empty Arms

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  15. Out of the ashes comes our beauty. I was the same crying mother that was so afraid to screw up her child that I would constantly let go of the instinct God had given me, for someone else's idea of mothering. I too can't wait to read yall's book. It will be fabulous! I know it!

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  16. @ Erin- thank you so much for your continual support, friend. It means more than you know.

    @ Carmen - your words "For baby #2 I crave more intimacy with God, not a parenting book." Wow. I know Laura and I will be holding that close to our hearts as we work.

    @ Allie - Laura and I are firm believers in the mama instinct. There will be no shortage of emphasis on that, I can assure you!

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  17. @ Anne and @ Sandy - thank you for such perfect illustrations of the fact that all babies are SO INDIVIDUAL! To suggest otherwise is so silly to me. Each of your stories bear testimony to the need to be open to different paths for each child.

    @ Erika - thank you for hearing our hearts and for all of your support!

    @ Anon - those processing issues can be so frustrating and isolating. Thank you for pointing out that sometimes the path of following after His Spirit gets harder after infancy. I know that holds true for many families.

    @ Amy - it is so helpful to know we aren't alone in our stories. I am hoping that one thing the book will bring to many is the knowledge that none of us are alone in this stuff. I'm so glad you had the nurturing words of your own mother to speak such truth over you!

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  18. @ Wendy - to have someone with SO much experience come alongside us with affirmation and confirmation - wow. Thank you for that.

    @ Brownie - thank you for your encouragement. I think it's a fear that all of us fall victim to! We pray that our message will bring peace and comfort.

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