Health · Parenthood

How I Overcame Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

As the title suggests, this article contains some possibly triggering subjects including depression, anxiety, miscarriage, surgery, and infertility. Please read with caution.

I’ve been putting off writing about this for a long time now because it is an incredibly difficult subject to write about. It’s hard to revisit the feelings and events. It’s hard to describe my experience accurately enough for others to grasp. It’s hard not to turn this into a 500 page novel because I want so badly to share every aspect of my experience if it means that one person can find helpful information in it. So here it goes.

My Origin Story

I’ll start by giving you a synopsis of my history and reproductive health. Middle school is a time for change and growth…and crazy bonkers hormones. In my case, my hormones were less focused on chasing boys and more focused on causing me a lifetime of physical issues. I wasn’t diagnosed with PCOS until I was an adult and found a doctor who would commit to the diagnosis, but I had been living with the symptoms since I hit puberty. Irregular periods, debilitating cramps, facial hair and acne (which is extra humiliating when you’re a school age kid), low sex drive (which is rough as an adult), and unpredictable PMS. And on top of that, moments when I thought I would die from the pain of a burst cyst.

Me at a high school dance. Already dealing with PCOS symptoms.

After dealing with PCOS for years, I asked my doctor about treatments. There were none. “Try these pills,” they said. A few miserable days later, I quit them cold turkey. I couldn’t live like that. I asked my doctor if I would be able to have kids. She said she wasn’t sure, but she was optimistic. Other doctors were not. I knew I wanted kids, regardless of how helpful my body would be. Once I finally got serious about trying to conceive, I found out that I had a cyst the size of a grapefruit that needed to be removed. The good news was that the cyst was non-cancerous; the bad news was that it had wrapped itself around the ovary it was attached to, and there was no way to remove the cyst without also removing the ovary. Are you kidding me? Now I’ll never get pregnant, I thought.

To make a long post shorter, I WAS able to have kids. I miscarried once but was able to get healthy, find a product to help me balance my hormones, and have a healthy pregnancy and a very healthy baby. Sleep during pregnancy wasn’t too much of a problem for me, and neither were cravings, constipation or hemorrhoids, or mood swings. Sounds like an easy pregnancy, huh? It definitely could have been worse. I still had plenty of other symptoms, but I was thankful for a fairly boring ride. Most of my struggles came later.

A Tiny Human Just Came Out of Me

I didn’t sleep for 72 hours when my son was born. It was the first time in my life when I dealt with serious sleep deprivation. It turns out, 72 hours without sleep piled on top of pushing a baby out of your body results in what feels like the most wicked hangover you can imagine. And I’m supposed to take care of a tiny, fragile, new human at the same time? What fresh hell is this parenting gig?! That’s most likely where my PPD and PPA began creeping in.

My first born and me immediately after a fast and hard labor. No sleep 24+ hours before AND after.

At my six-week checkup, my doctor’s office handed me a one page “survey” about my current feelings situation. I passed with flying colors, but the reason for that was that six weeks postpartum was probably the high point for me. I had been parenting long enough that I didn’t feel like a total failure. I had a little sleep under my belt. I had lost all of the weight I had gained while pregnant plus some! I was feeling pretty awesome. So I hadn’t lied on my survey. I really did feel good. No feelings of wanting to harm myself or my baby. No crying. No out-of-the-ordinary outbursts. My doctor literally said the words “I see no signs of postpartum depression in you. You’re good to go!” She asked the wrong questions at the wrong time. 

Early on in our new parent experience, we had a bit of extra help. My parents were living a mile away from us, and my mom was able to help out with some things. Soon after my six-week checkup, my parents began discussing the possibility of moving away…3 hours away. That may not sound like a lot for some people, but losing my best babysitter and some of my moral support so soon after becoming a mom was just the first ingredient in my stress stew.

Stress Levels Rising

At the time, my parents were living in a townhouse that we owned. It was my husband’s first house, and we rented it out to my parents when they needed a place to live. In order for my parents to have a nice place to live once they moved out of our townhouse, we offered to help them buy a house that we all approved of. This meant that we would have to sell the townhouse to be able to afford buying a different home for them. In order to sell the townhouse, we had to move my parents into our house temporarily, pack up and hide most of their belongings in the townhouse to be able to stage the home, clean it from top to bottom to make the house sellable, and then hope that the market was in our favor for the sake of our sanity. This process took several months and began when my son was only six weeks old.

My stress levels were rising. My mom was still recovering from multiple hip surgeries, my dad and husband both had to work full work days, and my brother had recently moved out of town. I was the only “able bodied” person who could drive the process and do most of the heavy lifting, literally AND figuratively. Plus, I was still trying to figure out how to be a mom. While my parents lived with us, my stresses were building as I struggled to coexist with my family and run my own home. I’ll spare you the details, but I will add that ice cream and carbs had become my “therapy.” My weight got out of control. I gained every pound back that I had lost before my six week check up. As my cortisol levels (stress hormone) spiked, my body began to feel like a fat, disgusting prison.

Cry Me a River

My husband was just as green to new parent life as I was. He didn’t know what signs to look for to recognize depression or anxiety. And even if he did, I’m not sure he would have known that I spent hours alone, cradling my new baby, struggling to feed him and crying my eyes out. Crying harder than I had in years. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried before I became a mother. I wish I could say I cried tears of love and joy when my son was born, but in reality, they were tears of relief. Relief that my son was healthy, relief that we had both survived, and relief that I was DONE being pregnant (at least for the time being).

My husband finally becoming Daddy. Also very low on the sleep levels. But I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

Tears were something that came easy after my son was born. Tears of frustration. Tears of anger. Tears of fear. I became scared of everything. Having this new human in my care meant that I instantly became paranoid that everything harmful in the world could and WOULD hurt my precious package. How could I possibly pile on that amount of responsibility to my already toppling tower of fear and stress? Easy. I had no choice. My brain ran constant terror scenarios of the worst case you can imagine. Things you only see in movies or read about in the most click-baity articles ever written.

Shut Up, Brain

At night, my brain lay awake in the short opportunities I had for actual sleep, thinking up all the best ways to prepare myself to defend my family and protect my tiny baby from the evils lurking around every corner. Being unprepared was not just a fear at that point but my legitimate reasoning for not leaving the house with my baby unless absolutely necessary. I would see social media posts from friends happily leaving the house with their new bundles of joy for a day in the city, a family trip to the zoo, or even just a coffee date with other mom friends. Mom friends? What was that? At that point, I was so afraid to leave the house unprepared that my friendships were suffering.

In solidarity for all the parents suffering.

During the day, I was irritable. But not like just easily annoyed. Like full on rage at the drop of a baby bottle. I tried so hard not to take it out on my husband, but in reality, he took the brunt of my rage like a boxer takes hits to the face. I could see some times when his immense amounts of patience began to wear thin. I could see that he was as confused by my anger and outbursts as I was, but he didn’t know that my outbursts were really cries for help. He didn’t know that I was confused. I was so afraid for my baby to want or suffer for more than a few seconds that I truly believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was the only person capable of caring for my infant child. I was the only one who knew what he needed and how to interpret his cries. 

My anxiety came to a peak one day when I had ventured out of the house on a simple errand. Driving my sweet baby around in the car, in his perfectly safe car seat, in one of the safest cars on the market. But at that point I wasn’t able to trust any other person enough to drive my son around. I’ve never doubted my driving abilities. I’m a very cautious driver without being overly cautious. But that day, my anxiety was in full swing and I was anticipating disaster around every turn. I was driving through a neighborhood I had driven many times, with a speed limit of 25mph and I was doing 20…15…10. When it hit me. Nothing. No one was around. No one behind me. Yet, I was approaching every intersection with a level of caution that was insanely paranoid. Looking both ways more times that necessary. Stopping at stop signs for ridiculous amounts of time. Because my brain had left me terrified of the hypothetical dangers. And then the full blown panic attack set in. Heart racing, trouble breathing, tunnel vision. I pulled over. And for the first time through this emotional rollercoaster of parenting, I heard my brain ask me WHY I was reacting this way.

It’s painful to think back on how I didn’t get to enjoy my son’s first year of life while I had undiagnosed PPD & PPA.

That was abnormal for me because I tend to be very self-aware. I spend a lot of mental and emotional energy every day being aware of why I do what I do and how I interact with my surroundings. As I sat in my car, I reflected on what I was experiencing and why that could be. After dealing with similar situations and breakdowns, outbursts and paranoia, I came to the conclusion that I had been suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety for almost a year. And I KNEW that I had to do something about it. 

I Need Help

I was ready to pursue therapy and medication if necessary. I began researching therapists in my area. At the same time, a company I trusted released a new product that caught my attention. It was a natural ingredient probiotic that was specially formulated to lower cortisol levels and help reduce feelings of stress. I figured, if nothing else, trying this could help me with my every-day mom stress. I was really skeptical that I would even notice a difference, but I was willing to give it a try as a first line of defense against my PPD and PPA. I was ready to try almost anything to have a chance at finally enjoying my son’s first year of life, even if I had nearly missed it.

Do it for you BECAUSE you do it for them.

I do my best to stay as healthy as possible, trying natural remedies before turning to other options. I tried the probiotic; I was skeptical, but I tried it. To my surprise, IT WORKED. Not only did it do what it promised, but I felt my PPD and PPA symptoms (that I was clearly aware of by this point) melt away within the first week of trying this natural method. I was shocked. I thought for sure that it was temporary, but I’ve been taking it for two years now, and I can say that I am a believer. If you’re interested in the product, please follow the link at the end of the article.

But Seriously…

Every person is different. Every momma needs something different in those most vulnerable moments. I’m not here to prescribe anything or tell you that this is the end-all method of treating PPD or PPA. I’m ONLY sharing what worked for me. I can’t tell you exactly why this method worked so well for me, but I continued to take this probiotic through my second pregnancy/birth, and it was a night and day difference in terms of mental health. Situations were different. Stress levels were different. Inevitably, hormones were different. But what I do know for sure is that I was able to enjoy my daughter’s birth and newborn stage in a completely different way than I did with my son. Even in my highest stress moments with my daughter, I was able to look down at her sweet face, take a deep breath, clear my mind, and even enjoy those times. It breaks my heart to think back to the first year of my son’s life and how miserable I was. I was so deeply entrenched in fear and doubt that I couldn’t enjoy those newborn moments with him.

If only I had known better the signs of PPD and PPA. If only I could have seen how abnormal my behavior was, or if only someone could have seen it in me. The best I can do is share a list of the behaviors I experienced during my difficult year to raise awareness. If you or someone you love is experiencing ANY of these symptoms or any behavior or feelings out of the ordinary, PLEASE contact your doctor and make them aware of EVERYTHING. The more your doctor knows about your experience, the better they can help you. Please do not suffer alone. Do not think that others will not understand. Thousands of women have had completely different experiences with PPD and PPA. There is no cookie cutter way to diagnose it. 

List of my symptoms:

  • Anger towards loved ones.
  • Extremely quick to frustration.
  • Paranoia of unrealistic situations.
  • Fear of leaving the house.
  • Fear of being unprepared.
  • Neglecting relationships.
  • Emotional outbursts.
  • Extreme PMS-like symptoms.
  • Heart racing with no stimulant.
  • Feeling the need to be overly cautious.
  • Questioning life choices.
  • Feeling like your baby is purposely inconveniencing you.
  • Constantly feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
  • Brain fog stronger than regular “Mom brain”.
  • Irrational fears driving your actions.
  • Abnormal nightmares.
  • Waking nightmares (visions of irrational fears).
  • “Lost time” moments when you realize you’re unaware of how you got somewhere or accomplished a task.
  • Inability to trust anyone with your baby.
  • Inability to trust anyone to help you.
  • Inability to connect with baby
  • Inability to see baby as anything other than a very important task list

For the Dads

Please also be aware that dads can experience the same or similar symptoms. They experience the birth of their children through different eyes than we moms do but can hurt just the same. Please watch your loved ones for behavior out of the ordinary, and make sure to check in on their mental health. The only way we can protect ourselves is to protect each other and to raise awareness of these struggles. Parents need to know that they are not failing when they have these feelings. There is help and they are NOT alone.

And Finally…

As promised, here is the LINK * to the probiotic that helped me. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper recommendation without a proper disclaimer:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Crafts · Parenthood · Tutorials

Teaching a Toddler to Hypothesize

I’m technically not a homeschool mom, but I never turn down an opportunity to learn and have fun at the same time. A couple months ago, I decided to make a colored rice bin for my toddler son to play in because one of his favorite activities is putting anything into anything else. He’ll spend large parts of his play time filling containers, baskets, nooks and crannies with his toys, and hiding every object he can find behind the couch cushions or in the dog kennels. He even has a large bin of random bottles we’ve collected from the recycle bin just for him to experiment with. He’s quite the up-cycler at two and a half years old.

Making a rice bin is cheap and easy and has already provided us with hours of enjoyment. We use many different sized cups and containers in the bin. Plastic bugs to dig for, scoops, ping pong balls, etc. You could also use the rice bin as a cool digging quarry for small diggers and dump trucks. The whole project cost me around $10 to make with the plastic bin being the most expensive part. Here are the things you need to make one:

  • A decently sized plastic bin with a locking lid. I went for one that was about 9” x 12” and 7” tall.
  • One or two 5 lb bag(s) of white rice.
  • Liquid food coloring.
  • White vinegar (helps seal color into rice grains to prevent color bleeding).
  • Gallon ziplock bags for coloring rice. 1 for each color you want to make.

Easy Directions for Making Colored Rice

  1. Separate white rice into ziplock bags. One bag per color.
  2. Add several drops of food coloring to a bag of rice (do one bag at a time to ensure most even color absorption).
  3. Add one teaspoon of white vinegar to bag of rice.
  4. Zip bag closed.
  5. Massage rice bag to thoroughly mix color and vinegar into rice. (You can add more food coloring and repeat this step for brighter colored rice.)
  6. Repeat with each color/bag.
  7. Open bag zippers and leave bags open, sitting in a place where it won’t be disturbed for 24 hrs or longer. This allows the rice to dry and keep the color from transferring to hands or other surfaces. You can also spread the rice out in a cookie sheet or tray to help it dry faster. The rice will smell a little vinegary at first but this will air out over time.
  8. Once the rice is dry you can dump it all into your bin and enjoy!
Our original colored rice. It turned out great! Time to mix it up.

*A word of CAUTION: we learned the hard way that if you have dogs or other small animals who roam freely in your home, DO NOT leave the rice bin open and unattended. Our dog got into our rice bin and ate some of it. He was not hurt, but he did end up with an upset stomach and potty problems for a few days. Not fun for any of us. Plus, we had to throw away some of our rice that he got wet with drool. Now we’re diligent to not leave a single grain unattended.

Learning to Experiment and Hypothesize

The rice bin (or sand bin, or whatever medium you choose) is a great segue into learning the scientific method and fueling curiosity about the way things work. Free play with the rice bin will usually yield all sorts of creative experiments on its own. But if you have the time and want to introduce some new ideas to your kids, here are some ways you can do that. Of course, this is just a very small list of prompts to get you started but there really is no limit to the ways you can use this rice bin to learn. And don’t worry about your kid’s age. If they’re old enough to know not to eat the rice, then they’re old enough to begin to question the world around them.

Here are some examples of tools we used to enhance our rice bin learning experience (these items can be found around your home or purchased for cheap from the dollar store). These items are not necessary but can be fun additions. Get creative with what you have available:

My son, using a watering can, container lids, a tambourine, and a scoop to experiment with his rice bin.
Imaginations are the best tool!
  • Toilet paper tube
  • Scoops from baby formula containers
  • Ping pong ball
  • Small plastic cups and dishes
  • Plastic bugs
  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Empty pill bottles, caps, and lids

Helping a child learn to hypothesize is simply about asking the right questions. Hypothesizing is guessing an outcome to an action based on what information you have at that time. All of my son’s hypotheses were based on what experience he already had with the rice medium and how it works with other objects.

I started by standing a toilet paper tube up on end on top of the rice and then filling it to the top with more rice. I then asked,

“What do you think will happen to the rice if we lift the toilet paper tube straight up?”

My son looked at the current situation, considered the information he already had, and then guessed that the rice would spill out the bottom of the tube. He was right! We celebrated that. And I could tell he was curious to try something else. So I took the TP tube and placed it up on end inside a plastic cup. I then filled it back up with rice but took care to fill only the TP tube. Then I asked,

“When I lift this paper tube up, where do you think the rice will go?”

Again, my son studied the situation and made an educated guess. He guessed that the rice would spill out into the bin. He was wrong, but that was good! He was surprised to learn that when I lifted the paper tube, the rice only filled up the plastic cup. And I learned that the cup we chose held exactly the same amount of rice as the filled paper tube. We both learned something!

After we tried a few more experiments learning about volume, I decided to try some experiments with movement and resistance. I used my hand to shape the rice in the bin into a tall slope. Using the ping pong ball, I then asked my son,

“What do you think will happen to this ball if I place it at the top of this slope?”

I was wondering if he would remember seeing an episode of Sesame Street where they experimented with whether or not different materials would slide down a slope. That might have been part of the information he pulled from when he formed his hypothesis. He guessed that the ball would roll down the slope. He was right again! Smart little guy.

We tried one last experiment. With this one, I gave him very little information to start with to see what he might come up with. Placing the ping pong ball on top the rice surface, I asked,

“What do you think will happen to the ball if I use my finger to push it down in the rice?”

This was the first time he looked genuinely confused, like he had no idea what would happen. More likely, he had no words to communicate what he thought would happen. So he just waited to see what happened next. I then used my finger to push the ball all the way under the rice until it was completely submerged. I loved his surprised face! Even though he didn’t have a hypothesis for this experiment, he learned the meaning of the word “bury.”

After we concluded our experiments, I left him to his free play. I could see him trying to replicate some of our experiments. This told me that not only did he enjoy what we had done, he also knew that he wanted to try to gather more information. Even if his brain wasn’t using those terms, specifically, he knew that he wanted to learn more. I’m so excited to find more ways to help him learn to hypothesize and test the world around him. It’s one thing to tell someone else the way things work, but if you ask them to make an educated guess and try the experiment out for themselves, they build many more mental connections and synaptic pathways in their brain than they would have otherwise.

The rice bin has been a great tool for learning already, and I know we’ve only scratched the surface with its teaching potential. I love when the cheapest toys are the most valuable!

Life Hacks · Parenthood

My 5 Favorite Potty Training Tricks

Let’s just get this out on the table now. Potty training sucks. It takes all the fun out of raising a tiny dictator and turns it into…well, poop. If you’re lucky. I used to be hopeful about potty training. My mom told me I potty trained in a night when I was my son’s age. She said all it took was me peeing my pants at night one time to motivate me enough to use the toilet. I’ve heard all sorts of similar stories from parents. In an online mom-group, I read a ton of success stories that filled me with confidence in that we’d be 100% potty trained in no time!

On the advice of MANY other moms, I read a highly recommended potty training book. This book was well written and suggested a method that aligned with my own thoughts and feelings about PT (potty training). Better yet, it made me believe that it would only take us a week to fully day train! I was willing to split up day and night training if we’d only need a week. That sounds great!

Me- genuinely wondering if we’ll ever be done with potty training.

When I first read the PT book, I was 8 months pregnant with our second kid. Looking forward to the future, I knew my toddler would be just about the right age to start PT when the baby arrived. My husband and I both read the book to make sure that we were on the same page with the training method. I read the book twice to make sure all the rules stuck in my mind. We schooled Grandma and Grandpa on our chosen method since we’d be living with them during this big life change. We bought the travel potty, the potty seats, flushable wipes, a couple of potty-related kid’s books, and enough puppy wee-wee pads to blanket the entire house multiple times.

We hid the entire living room floor in the wee-wee pads and covered the couch in towels. Potty training was upon us. But we knew we wanted to focus on it after the baby arrived. At the end of my pregnancy, I was so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be mobile enough to help my son to the potty over and over. We also knew that once I had the baby, my husband would be on paternity leave, giving us one more person to help. We were so hopeful. What was a week of our time to focus on such an important step in our lives?

As I write this, we’re over 6 months into our potty training journey. Yup. You read that right. 6 freaking months. And we’re still not done yet. I’m not writing this to tell you HOW to potty train. I’m not writing this to tell you which method is best. And I’m sure as heck not writing this to tell you that potty training is easy, fast, or terribly convenient. I’m writing this to tell you that potty training is freaking hard no matter which age you start or how smart your little genius is. But over the last six months, we’ve tried many different methods, tricks and hacks and I’m writing this to tell you which of those tricks worked for us.

1- REWARD SYSTEM

The potty training method that I chose to follow expressly discourages a reward system. But hey, we’re a family of rebels and our parenting motto is “Whatever Works!” because we all get to a point sometimes when it’s more about just getting things done. We didn’t start out our training with a reward system in place. Again, we started this adventure as hopeful parents. Weeks into our PT journey when we were deep in discouragement, we decided to give rewards a try. We started PTing in the fall so we had tons of pre and post Halloween candy at our disposal. One of my favorites that I kept stocked in the house was candy corn. Love it or hate it, most kids don’t care. It’s a special, sweet treat. Our rule was one corn for a pee and two corn for a poop. For a time, it was a great motivator. You could substitute a different food treat in place of candy. I’ve also heard of people using potty charts with stickers given as a reward. If you’re not opposed to a reward system, test out the things that motivate your child.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

The last thing I want to mention about this method is that it did NOT completely ruin our PT results. This singular trick is not the reason we’re still struggling to get to 100% trained. The reward system worked well for our kid, for a time. We were actually able to quit the reward system cold turkey because we eventually ran out of candy corn when it went out of season. Thankfully, our toddler is pretty flexible to rule changes like that, and after asking multiple times finally gave up and accepted the fact that he didn’t need a reward to use the toilet. This method helped transition us from the little, portable potty to the big toilet. So, I consider it a small win in the long game.

2- BATH CRAYONS

These were an item that we already had laying around from bath time. Bath crayons are washable crayons that can be used on the walls of a shower or bath tub. We found that they work great on the glass doors of the shower in the bathroom we mainly use for PT. Many times we found ourselves stuck in the bathroom with a stubborn toddler parked on the potty waiting for results. We were spending anywhere between 10-30 minutes in the bathroom with our son who refused to go on command even when we knew he needed to. So, what do you do to pass the time? We’ve read books, watched videos with him on our phones, or just sat and memorized the back of the shampoo bottle. But once we figured out we could use the bath crayons, we opened a whole new world of bathroom entertainment.

These are the bath crayons we use. They’ve come in handy so many times in our PT journey.

We used the bathtime crayons to draw on the glass shower door immediately adjacent to the toilet. We worked on our ABC’s, colors, numbers, etc. But the most helpful was learning new words. I would write a new word on the door that was related to our training, regardless of how long the word was. Our favorite word was “COOPERATE” which was written above definitions like “to help” and “work together.” While my son sat, trapped and bored on the toilet, I would read the big word to him and give him a little explanation and story to define it. My son amazed me when we came back after only doing this a couple of times. He not only remembered all the words (not quite site reading but more memorization) and had a grasp of what those things meant. This helped us a lot in our journey because my son is BIG on communication.

I was also able to use the crayons to draw or write things my son was interested in and create stories around those to help him learn concepts like “focusing” thanks to something Cookie Monster once said, team members “obeying” the direction of the captain on a football team thanks to his love of the Seahawks, and I also fabricated a story about how Stormtroopers have to “communicate” to Darth Vader when they need to go potty. That one might not be canon, but it worked for us! You know your kid best. Use these tools to your advantage when helping them learn about the PT process. And if you don’t have a shower door to draw on you can always just use regular paper and tape it to a wall and use regular crayons or markers. Time to get creative in the bathroom!

The shower door is a great opportunity to learn new things since we spend so much time in the bathroom while potty training. Here, we learn words we commonly use plus new words that can help us in our PT journey. Right now our big word of the week is “communicate” which has been a big speed bump for us.

You can also use the bath crayons (or dry erase markers) to draw on the inside of the toilet seat. If your child is having a hard time focusing on staying on the toilet, you can flip them around backwards (facing the toilet seat) and let them draw on it to pass the time. This worked for us for a while and made for some interesting bathroom art to surprise the next unsuspecting toilet user. Click HERE for a link to the bath crayons we use. These ones work really well and also wipe off without a lot of effort. We found them for a few dollars at Walmart and I don’t make any money off this recommendation.

3- TALLY MARKS

While we’re on the subject of the bath crayons, I want to mention one of our latest tricks. We’ve started writing a tally mark on the shower door for every pee and poop made without an accident. Unfortunately, when there is an accident, we erase that line of tally marks and start over. We started this idea without a solid plan for it. We weren’t offering a specific reward or punishment. We just wanted to build into practice the idea that the tally marks hold value.

It’s hard to get a good picture of it but this is our crude tally mark portion of the shower door. Obviously, we’ve had a recent set-back in the pee department.

Recently, after another big accident-related set back, I impulsively offered ice cream as a reward for accumulating 40 tally marks. In the past, my son has only hit 36 tally marks without an accident as his personal record, and he’s never had ice cream in his two and a half years on this planet. So, I’m not sure if it means a darn thing to him, but I’m willing to try it. For science! And for ice cream! Because we all know Momma Bear is going to get some of that ice cream too for her hard work.

Alternatively to the tally marks providing a reward, they can also provide a means of understanding hard work lost. When we have an “accident” (and, to be clear, these are hardly accidents at this point because my son knows the rules, knows our routines and still refuses to use the toilet without prompting) we erase all of the accumulated tally marks for either pee or poop depending on the accident type. When we do this, we make sure to stress that these tallies are valuable and that we’re disappointed to have to erase them. I do see that my son is starting to understand their value, and losing them finally has some significance to him. I am curious to see WHEN (because I remain hopeful) my son reaches 40 tally marks, if getting ice cream makes a positive impact on him in terms of motivations. Stay tuned in for an update!

4- TAKING SOMETHING SPECIAL

This trick came to me on a whim. We had been struggling for weeks to get my son into the bathroom at our prompting (based on his regular and predictable pee schedule), and every time we even mentioned the word “bathroom” it became a massive fight. It became increasingly difficult to keep our composure and creative a positive experience. At one point, before prompting for a bathroom break, I decided that I was not going to use my usual verbal prompt. Instead, I would ask him these words exactly: “What are we taking with us?” I didn’t give him any warning, or any context for the words’ meaning, but I would get up and start to suggest specific toys or items in the room to “take with us.” Then, once he had selected the items, we would carry them to the bathroom (without any resistance, surprisingly), and find a place for them on the bathroom counter while we did our business. It worked! And it still works!

Today’s “chosen” few consists of some magnet tiles, a horse, a spider, a dog toy, and Mommy’s hair clip. Whatever works.

Every time we use this method, we take something different. We’ve taken every toy, some more than once. We’ve taken really obscure objects from different rooms in the house. We’ve even taken random pieces of paper, ads from the mail, or small bits of (what I consider) trash. There have been very few items that I have said “no” to taking with us. Because remember, WHATEVER WORKS. Sometimes we take a specific toy to “show” it how we go potty like a big kid. Or we take a specific book to read. It’s really about the novelty of getting to choose (almost) anything to take with us. Most of the time my son puts the items on the counter and completely forgets about them while we’re taking care of business! This method is probably my favorite.

5- RESPONSIBILITIES

This PT trick has been an interesting one for us. We started working these responsibilities early into our routine. At first, we were having to help our toddler with every step because he was still in that physically awkward phase where things like pushing his pants down was too difficult for his little fingers. Slowly, over many MANY repetitions, he’s been able to take over the responsibility of moving his step-stool, putting up the toilet seat, placing the potty seat on top of the toilet seat, pushing down his own pants, sitting down on the potty seat without assistance, flushing the toilet, writing the tally mark on the shower door, and moving his step-stool to the sink for hand washing.

“Having these responsibilities has helped him understand better WHY we’re potty training.”

All of these things are steps towards his potty independence. All of these learned routines have saved me a lot of work. Having these responsibilities has helped him understand better why we’re potty training. The latest responsibility we’ve given him is to pee standing up. This one seems to be particularly special. For months, we offered it to him as an optional change but he kept refusing. We didn’t push it because we wanted him to feel ready. Thankfully, he found that peeing standing up “like Daddy” was a very special privilege, and it has been the most successful milestone we’ve had in months. I know this particular responsibility doesn’t work for girls, so once we get to the potty training age with my daughter, I’ll let you know what new methods we come up with.

Overall, potty training has been an uphill battle for us. We’re still not through it. But these 5 methods have helped get us through different stages and learn new things about what our toddler needs and how to communicate with him. I don’t expect anyone reading this to need or use all of these tricks. Hopefully, you’ll only need one or two. But I wanted to compile them all in one place so that you can keep them in your parenting “tool kit” and only use what you need. I’d love to hear about any other methods, tricks or hacks that have worked for your family. Please feel free to add a comment or two to this post and share your PT wins or struggles with the Average Momma Bear family.

Health · Parenthood

How Video Games Saved Me as a New Mom

It’s been 2½ years since I became a mother. I’ve learned a lot in this time. I probably have an encyclopedia’s worth of material I could write in regards to that already. But when I look back to what my life was like shortly after having my son I make note of a few things. The first is that it’s easy to miss signs for postpartum depression and anxiety. I missed them for an entire year before I realized what was happening and got help. But that is a topic I will write on at length in another post because it deserves the acknowledgement.

The second thing I note is my coping methods for the stress of motherhood. Being a mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Being a new mom was like climbing Everest in scuba flippers. I’m not entirely sure how I survived it, but I can give you at least one tip on what helped keep me sane.

Video games. Now, I know video games aren’t for everyone, but please hear me out. I’ve never been a big reader. It’s not a matter of ignorance but rather interest. I get distracted too easily when I read unless I’m surrounded by complete silence. So even if, as a new mother, I had had a stack of riveting novels to spend my time on, it wouldn’t have done much but frustrate me because I can’t really get into a book when I have a kiddo crying to be strapped to my breast every 45 minutes. Cluster feeding is no joke.

My dad introduced me to video games at a young age. I was probably close to 8 years old when he and I went to Toys ‘R Us (God, rest its soul) to buy a brand new Sega Genesis. It was life changing. My dad and I spent quality time together flying fighter jets, saving damsels in distress, and racing around as a little, blue hedgehog. That’s probably where I developed my love for video games.

Although I’ve been a gamer since then, there was a dry spell in my video gaming career after events in my life allowed for some personal rediscovery before I met my husband. Years later, when I finally had the opportunity to become a mom, I found that I had some downtime while experiencing pretty severe pelvic pain in my first pregnancy. My husband supported me and enabled me to stay at home to ensure a healthy pregnancy. But while I was couch-ridden through most of my third trimester, I got back into video games. At the time, I felt it was probably my last chance to enjoy some gaming before becoming a mom. Little did I know there would be more than enough time to enjoy games after having my son.

When we first brought our son home from the hospital, we had a lot to figure out. What would our new schedule look like with a creature that wanted to eat every 45 minutes? Turns out momma just becomes a milk factory at that point. When your life revolves around feeding an insatiable creature who depends on you for all movement and care, you start to get really good at multitasking. Breastfeed and eat? Check. Breastfeed and update social media? Can do! Breastfeed and Google breastfeeding questions? Of course.

But when I started feeling more like a milking heifer and less like myself I knew that I needed to find a way to distract my brain while breastfeeding. Since I had learned a few new ways to hold and balance my feeding baby, I found that I could free both of my hands. So I plugged in my game of choice and started my video game therapy. Most of the time I kept the sound very low or off. My newborn son didn’t need to know Mommy was fighting dragons while he ate peacefully.

“Most of the time I kept the sound very low or off. My newborn son didn’t need to know Mommy was fighting dragons while he ate peacefully.”

Video games can be a great stress reliever. They can also cause stress, so you have to be careful which ones you choose to play while momming. Personally, I chose three open world role playing games to focus on throughout my new-mom-journey. I started with a game I had owned for years and never had a chance to play, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Oblivion is a game from Bethesda Game Studios, released back in 2006. A first person style dungeon crawler. For some (or most) of you, that may not sound like much fun, especially since the graphics are outdated by today’s standards. But this game was nostalgic for me and just what I needed to get back into gaming. Back in 2002 I played the previous game in this series for hours a day. It was my temporary obsession. So, playing Oblivion was a fun way to experience some of my favorite gaming elements. I ended up playing all the way through Oblivion, twice, before I realized I needed another game. So, I moved on to Skyrim and then onto Fallout 4. I spent months in these worlds, relaxing and enjoying my in-game freedom. Killing monsters, looting EVERYTHING, and making gobs of gold coins. The worlds were relatively quiet and beautiful. I was alone (other than NPCs) and free to explore at my pace. I was in introvert heaven!

In the end, I learned that it’s healthy to have an outlet for stress and anxiety. Video games worked for me, but every mom and her experience are completely unique. Find what works for you and enjoy it unapologetically. Don’t let it come between you and your children or spouse, but treat it as a self-preservation, mental health break. You deserve it.