Mom of the Month: Merrill Durham

Hey mamas! Resident nanny Abby here! February’s mom of the month is very near and dear to my heart- my friend and {s}hero, Merrill Durham! I feel certain that she’ll be dear to you, too, in just a moment when you meet her. Merrill is a wife and mother of two, doula, small business owner, and is now headed to nursing school to become a Certified Nurse Midwife. We at Your Milk Shoppe love everything Merrill is doing and love the example she’s setting for her daughters that mama is hard working, gentle, thoughtful, and so so kind. We are all thrilled to share her heart and wisdom with you here. Enjoy a peek into Merrill’s life.

xo, AK & YMS

How do you juggle being a wife, mom of 2 young children, nursing student, and a small business owner?

It’s incredibly challenging. I might be a little crazy. Some days I feel like I am doing great and other days I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water.

Having a supportive husband is the only way this has worked. We made a long list of all my responsibilities and figured out if I could either delegate any to someone else or if there were any to not worry about. A clean home used to be priority for us but we’ve had to embrace the mess.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I need to be fully present with whatever I am doing. I have to set intentional time with my daughters, studying, and with work. Throughout my day I pause the emails, phone calls, and spreadsheets and I hang out with my girls. And then I go back to concentrated work time. Creating a detailed daily schedule is the only way it works for us!

What inspired you to become a doula?

It all started October 6th, 2010. I was invited to my first birth, a home birth. I was a newlywed and had never been exposed to birth before. That day I witnessed life enter this world in the most sacred, peaceful way. It is up there with my wedding vows in terms of the most important days in my life story. My worldview changed that day. I couldn’t stop learning about birth and how our bodies were designed. Watching a woman’s strength during childbirth and the moment they meet their baby will always be holy and awe-inspiring to me. It wasn’t until I had my first daughter in 2013 that I officially left my non-profit job to pursue a career as a doula.

When & how did your self-employed doula career switch to owning and managing a group of doulas in the Nashville area?

When I became pregnant with my second daughter, I knew that I could no longer be a solo-doula. Being a doula is hard work. It is very fulfilling job, but it is not as glamorous as it may seem. The burn out rate for a doula is about 2 years. You are on call 24/7, paid very little compared to the hours you may spend at a birth (some births last for days), and finding reliable back-up proved to be challenging. Now with two children, I couldn’t imagine the toll it would take on my family for me to be on call.

I am administratively gifted and business-minded and I knew that being a small business owner would be a great fit for me at this time in my life. And it has been wonderful! I still get to pursue my passions by being part of births and women’s journeys without having to be on call. It works because I have an incredible business partner and team of doulas, and I love our agency model. Every client is given two doulas, a primary and secondary, that work with the client during their pregnancy. If a back-up doula is needed, the client knows who will be at their birth. It gives the doulas peace of mind because they have built in support and our clients have access to the knowledge and care of two doulas. Our tagline is “Personal Connection, Professional Care”. Our company is passionate about helping women have a positive birth experience while providing them professional, quality care.

What do you love most about Nashville Doula Services?

I can’t pick one thing, so I’ll say these two: the heart of our team and the community it has created.

Our agency is about helping women birth on purpose and all our doulas have an authentic passion to serve women as they become empowered mothers. We desire to support women to have intentional births regardless of the events of their labor. Maybe baby is breech so she needs a caesarean or maybe she has high blood pressure and needs an induction. Because we don’t get to control what happens during childbirth, we instead ask our clients, “What do you want to remember about your birth? How do you want to remember feeling?” We then help make a plan to have a positive birth experience regardless of whether they are in the OR, at home, or in a tub at the birth center. Every doula at Nashville Doula Services has had babies ourselves and can hold the hand of the mother we are supporting with an empathetic depth that resonates with our clients. And that’s our heart – to look a woman in the eye at her most vulnerable and say, “You’ve got this!”

Also, the community! We could not have a better team of doulas. Our monthly meetings are my ‘girl’s nights’. It feels like a family and a sisterhood. We laugh until we cry and we have so much fun together. I have loved being able to process births, life as a mom, and the business over a glass of wine and a group of women committed to serving our community.

How has your relationship with Michael changed since having kids?

Our communication has increased tremendously. We have to be on the same page at all times. One of the things I love most about our relationship is that we make an incredible team. He is one of the most selfless people I know. He changes every diaper when he is home, he cooks breakfast and dinner, and he helps keep the house in order while I am working and studying. I really could not do it without him. Some days we stop and think how wonderful of roommates we make and how the days of it just being the two of us seem so far away. There is a little sadness with that loss, but we have no regrets. Parenting young children takes a lot of energy and time but we do our best to connect the two of us and remember who we were before babies. We give each other so much grace. He supports my dreams and I could not be more grateful. And we will be empty nesters in our 40’s, so we are already planning our next round of our adventures!

Summarize your mama-mantra in 3-5 words.

This is only a season.

Seriously though, this gets me through everything. Teething, sleepless nights, potty training, lack of connection with my husband and friends, it will all pass. Instead of feeling swallowed up by how hard it is, I embrace it. Babies will sleep, they will turn into toddlers, and they will become independent. It happens so fast. I was always trying to fix my baby the first time around and with my second, I just don’t even stress about it. And it’s so much easier the second time around because I know I’ll get through it!

Before becoming a mom, what area of parenting did you feel most confident about? And, were you right?

Before becoming a mom I felt really confident about caring for a baby. I loved it. You just feed them, cuddle them, and make them smile. That first year is physically exhausting but I felt like I was good at being a mom to a baby. Once my firstborn became a toddler, everything changed. All of a sudden I had no clue what I was doing. Tantrums, food battles, sleep battles, and discipline became the topics I was trying to figure out. I kept thinking, where’s the parenting class everyone goes to after the first year? I was so out of my element. It was a very humbling experience for me. I realized that I made so many judgements about other mothers and how they raise their children. I kept thinking, “I would never do that…” or, “my child would never act that way.” I had a huge wake-up call once we entered toddlerhood. I now respect all moms and whatever they do! Because it is so hard. I do my own research and figure out what works specifically for our family and my daughters (and it’s always changing), but I now think parents are all just doing their best and I don’t judge anybody. Parents are brave and strong and we could all use a little more encouragement instead of judgement!

Are you the kind of mom you thought you would be?

Depends on the day. I thought gentle parenting would come easier. It’s amazing how quickly your children can make you flustered. I definitely thought I would be more patient, slow to anger, and more confident in my parenting decisions. Parenting has a way of illuminating parts of me that I didn’t know existed. It’s a very vulnerable experience. What I’ve come to realize is that moms need support, community, and self-care. Whether that support is a therapist or close friends, having someone to process all emotions and triggers parenting brings up is so helpful.

Also, I’ve noticed that mothers have a hard time doing things for themselves because we are so used to putting others’ needs above our own. Once I realized that I am such a kinder mom when I practice self-care, we started prioritizing that time. For me, that looks like getting acupuncture, my husband taking the girls to the playground so I can read a book or watch Netflix uninterrupted, indulging myself every once in a while in comfort food, and sending the girls to the grandparents so we can try and sleep through the night.

What has been the most surprising aspect about motherhood?

I didn’t know it would be so hard to simply be with my kids. I am a doer. I like tasks. I like to be productive. And stopping my work to play with Peppa Pig figurines was hard for me. There were days when I was jealous of my husband because he gets to go to an office, with a cup of coffee and silence, and get work done uninterrupted without children crawling on him. Or I would see moms posting on Facebook about how awesome it is to work from home. I totally disagree. I found myself becoming bitter towards my husband and frustrated with my kids and their need for my attention. I was full-time care giver and running a business and I knew I had to quickly change how I did things. With the help of family and Parents’ Day Out, I now do my work while the children are away. Compartmentalizing my responsibilities was a very healthy move for our family.

I’ve also embraced ‘the boring’ and learned to love my children in the way they receive it, which is quality time. So I get on the floor and I play Peppa Pig with them, because that’s what matters. I’ve learned that there will always be regrets in life, but I do not want my regrets to be my family. I’m not going to lie, at first I had to put “Play uninterrupted with Genevieve” on my to-do list, but the more time I spend with her, the easier and more rewarding it is to be fully present. I have amazing, hilarious, spunky kids. And I’ve come a long way in reprioritizing my life!

What was one of your fears about becoming a mom?

I was always afraid of “not doing it right”. In an age of social media, parenting is so hard and it is so easy to feel inadequate. You feel disappointed that you didn’t do xyz like the mom on Instagram did. Or you are scared of being judged. I remember telling my husband to never post a picture of the girls in their car seat because I guarantee that someone will send me a message about how I am not doing it right. Moms can be cruel to each other and there is a false idea of having it together because we can curate our own perfect world on Facebook or Instagram. These are things that our mothers did not have to deal with when raising us.

But mommy groups and blogs have been really helpful to bring light to the reality of parenting. In recent years, I feel like moms have had more platforms to be honest about raising children. It’s not always easy and joyful. It’s demanding, it’s full of so much poop, snot, and whining, but once I let go of trying to do it right, I’ve learned that the monotony makes it beautiful.

What was your recharge before kids, and what is it now?

Going to new restaurants with my husband was our favorite activity together. Nashville has new restaurants opening every month and being the foodies that we are, we love trying new places. That doesn’t happen so much anymore. Now I recharge by watching Netflix and folding my laundry in my room without children disturbing me. Seriously, if I can clean my house without children around, I feel like a new woman.

What two pieces of advice would you share with new mamas?

I would encourage moms to seek help when it gets tough. We aren’t meant to do this alone. And not sleeping for days isn’t good for anyone. Consider getting help from family, friends, postpartum doulas, or childcare – whatever it is that works for your family. We can’t be our best for our families 24/7. As moms, we need to practice more self-care and giving ourselves more grace and rest.

I would also tell new moms to not stress about the challenges babies bring. We try to control and fix everything. But parenting has a way of encouraging us to surrender. In those final weeks of pregnancy, you had to release control and anxiety about when the baby will come. And now as parents, you still have to surrender in this journey. We can certainly influence and shape our children, but ultimately we don’t get to control them, they are their own unique people. Do your best. Be present. Embrace the monotony. And know that every challenge will eventually pass.

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