Today’s mailbag question is near and dear to my barfy little heart . . . 
illustration from Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever

Question:

Kendra, 

I know you’re all pregnancy icky, so you’re probably not the person to complain to, but I need some advice. I’m 10 weeks pregnant with baby 5, and my oldest is 6. We homeschool and they’re always here. I don’t have family nearby and my husband frequently works until they’re in bed (at 7. I just can’t with any later.) I’m getting along ok in the mornings, and doing school and getting supper in the crock pot sometimes, but after nap I’m just shot. I feel like death, if death is nauseated. There’s nothing particular wrong, so I feel bad telling them I can’t read to them, and I wish I wasn’t just waiting for bedtime, but it’s like they expect me to be emotionally available! I held on all morning, I don’t know what to do the rest of the day.

I’ve just been feeling very guilty. There isn’t anything ridiculously wrong with me (except I feel terrible) and I feel like I should push through, and then I can’t. And I want them to leave me alone without giving them expectations.

I think it’s possible the only solution to this problem is “wait 5 weeks,” but I feel terrible – emotionally, I mean. (Physically too.) I’m only passively sick, and they’re just little kids who love me, but the last month has just worn me out. Is there a way around this?


Thanks,
Amanda


Answer: 

Hey Amanda,

I’m just the person to complain to, believe me. I’m right here with you, unfortunately. That’s how my “morning” sickness manifests as well. I’m usually better in the mornings and we get school done, then I need a nap, then I just hang in there through the afternoons and evenings. I either crash right after little kid bedtimes, or if I can stick it out, I start feeling better again around ten pm and can get a few things done before I go to bed.

It’s not ideal, certainly.

But, it’s for a good cause. There are three main ways we try to manage morning sickness with older siblings.

1. We Guide How They Experience These Changes

With some guidance, a sick mom can be an opportunity for even little kids to grow in empathy and self-reliance. My own pregnancies have really run the gauntlet, from almost no symptoms at all (Gus, Lulu), to manageable morning sickness (Jack, Betty, Bobby), to challenging nausea and fatigue (Anita, whoever this baby is), to six months of sickness and mental fog and days that I could hardly remember (Frankie). But ever since we’ve had kids old enough to listen, my husband has been really great about helping the kids to guide how they kids experience mom being sick.

I think the key is helping kids see it as an opportunity, rather than as a burden. My husband tells the kids, “The baby is making mommy feel sick and tired, and she needs YOUR help.” My kids love stuff like that. Even the little ones like to feel important and necessary.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, but it’s also the mother of responsibility. Your kids will become more responsible because they MUST. With some family rules in place, even kids six and under can learn to get snacks for themselves and entertain themselves for the couple of hours a day when you feel the worst.

2. We Plan Ahead if Necessary

We hit school hard in the mornings, because that’s when I feel the best. Then I’m often MIA back in my room all afternoon because I feel terrible, I drag myself in to make and eat dinner, and then evenings are hit or miss for me. Sometimes I’m good, sometimes I’m bad. Things work better when I am on top of things in the morning, and don’t waste those precious hours. So I try to know what I’m making for dinner, and (like you said) getting something made ahead of time is really brilliant. I try to have stuff available for the kids to do that they can manage themselves if I’m not fit for duty in the afternoons, like play dough or washable paints or sticker books. We have hard and fast rules governing the uses of those items. They only get one “special” thing out at a time, it has to be done at the kitchen counter, etc. That way, there are things to keep them occupied besides screens. Mostly, even with me feeling barfy, we don’t do screens during the day.

BUT, really, I have that luxury because I have big kids who can help supervise the little kids. When my oldest was six, my kids watched a lot more TV than they do now. If that’s where you are, I would NOT sweat it. I think moms should look at screens as a tool in the toolbox. Use it when you need it, just remember that YOU can stop it anytime you want. As soon as YOU don’t need it, you can go back to regular kid afternoon activities like crafts and books and playing outside. Yes, your kids will be used to getting to watch a show in the afternoon. Yes, they will protest. But they’ll get over it.

3. We Don’t Make it a Bigger Deal Than it Is

Kids are really suggestible, I find. If you think they are being damaged by getting less of your attention and energy for a few months, they might pick up on that. But if you’re not worried about it, they probably won’t be either. That’s how it’s been at our house anyway. Say you don’t read them ANY books at all for the next two months. Say they watch more movies than they usually would. And eat more macaroni and cheese. What then?

Probably nothing.

Because soon, you’ll feel better and things will go back to normal and they won’t even remember those few months when mom was sleepy and barfing a lot.

I had a really, really rough pregnancy with my sixth baby. I was in a fog of fatigue and nausea day and night for nearly six months. It was all I could do to sit at the school table with the kids in the morning and grunt at them. My other kids were 9, 8, 6, 4, and 2 at the time. And, ya know what, I don’t think they remember it at all. Things went back to our normal, they got their regular mom back, we went back to our regular routine. I’ve mostly blocked it out myself. So I think the husband is the only one who remembers it, poor thing. :0) (Also, he proofread this for me, and says I have it all wrong on which babies made me the sickest, but I’m just going to figure it doesn’t really matter and go to bed.)

Anyway, people make sacrifices for things that are important. That’s what you’re doing, that’s what your kids are doing. Any lessening of the standard of mothering to which they have become accustomed that they might be experiencing right now, will be more than made up for by a childhood (and a lifetime) of having another sibling. They’ll also gain some self-reliance, and some empathy, which I think are good things too. And even if mom is unavailable for a time because of injury or surgery or illness that’s not related to a new baby, it’s still a chance for kids to grow, and to think of the needs of someone else.

So . . . mostly, I’d just say that you are doing the best you can in the accomplishment of something that is good and that will benefit your kids in the long term, so just try to cut yourself some slack and don’t feel guilty. Easier said than done, I know, but if you know intellectually that you shouldn’t feel guilty, and I think you do, then just keep reminding yourself of that, and hopefully your emotions will catch up at some point.

As for how to get the point across to your kids, I’d attack it in two ways. First, I do think this is particularly effective coming from dad, and being addressed to all the kids but to the oldest couple in particular. I think it’s worth asking your husband to help you with this. He can talk to the kids often, maybe even every morning as he’s leaving, or every night before they go to bed and remind them that since he’s not home during the day, he needs THEM to help mommy because she’s not feeling well right now because of the new baby.

Also (or if dad’s not available to help, just) remind them yourself. I tell my kids, “Once is telling me, twice is complaining.” So, ideally, I just tell them once, and not in a yelling, or whining, or threatening, or accusing way, just in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way, “Mommy does not feel well because of the baby. I have to take a rest. If you need something, you’ll have to ask your sister or brother.” I think the whining, accusing, yelling stuff comes in as a result of us feeling guilty and lashing out because of that. But if you can convince yourself that it’s okay for you to rest in the afternoons and not get people snacks, then you’ll be able to be firm about it in a non-defensive way. I have set rules about what afternoon snacks kids are allowed to have, they are in a place the kids can reach them, they know about reasonable serving sizes, and about asking a big kid for help. I mean what I say and am consistent, so they mostly understand that if I say I’m not available to help, then I’m really not. They do still come in to my room and wake me up with ridiculous tattles and requests sometimes, because they’re . . . kids. But, mostly, it works.

Hang in there. I hope you’ll be better very soon! And me. I hope I will also be all better soon. That would be great.

Cheers,
Kendra

p.s. I’m sure my lovely readers have some perspective/advice/battle-stories to share, so I look forward to reading the comments on this one.

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.