Real Mama: Lori Wright

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I am a native San Franciscan, born and raised. I have six siblings: three that are adopted, two step, one half and a twin! I grew up a jock and a tomboy. I planned to become an engineer when I entered a prestigious, private tech arts high school. Upon graduation, I was headed to college as a music major in vocal performance! Talk about a 180! I completed both my undergraduate and graduate studies in voice and was a professional opera singer and voice teacher for 12 years.

During that time I reconnected with a former classmate, and then colleague, and after six years of dating we decided to tie the knot in a small destination wedding in Kauai, Hawaii, with just 21 guests. That was in September 2007. By the following spring we had both made plans to quit singing professionally and relocate to the Midwest so we could afford for my husband to go back to school to pursue a degree in nursing, settle down and buy a home.

Image by Morgan Street Studios

Where is home?

Home will always be the San Francisco Bay area, I think. But we currently live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We moved here over Memorial Day weekend in 2008 and I started my new job as the education manager for an international non-profit association for female singers that following week. We’re coming up on four years of living here and EVERYTHING has changed in that time… it’s absolutely mind-boggling when I think about it.

Please share your thoughts about relocating to a new city and state with your young family. What were your reasons for doing it? Your fears about it? What have been your challenges? What has pleasantly surprised you about the change?

When we arrived that last weekend in May 2008, it was just me and my husband, our two pug dogs and our tuxedo kitty. My entire immediate and most of my extended family lives on the West Coast. My mother-in-law and her husband, as well as her sister and husband, live about two hours southeast of us. One of the reasons we chose Tulsa was to be closer to them, especially as my husband’s parents have some life-threatening health issues.

That winter, I got baby-rabies almost overnight (something about turning 34 just hit me like a ton of bricks) and within months we were trying to conceive our first baby. At that time, my mom had been living in the Bay Area and was downsized in the economic downturn. She came to live with us a few months before I got pregnant with our daughter. She has lived with us since January 2009 and currently runs her own business as a licensed massage therapist while helping us take care of our kids while I am at work and my husband is at work or school.

When we first moved here, I was scared and excited at the same time.

As an opera singer, I had traveled the world and spent weeks on end living out of a suitcase. But, I always got to go home to where my friends and family were. This time, I was “home” every night, sleeping in my own bed, but it took a long time for me to feel like I was really at home in Tulsa. It’s something that I continue to work on, but since buying a house here last summer, it’s getting easier.

Growing up in San Francisco, I’ve always been keenly aware that almost anywhere else in the world will be more conservative. Nothing could be truer than living in the “Belt Buckle” of the Bible Belt! I live and work within a couple of miles of Oral Roberts University. For many reasons, including religious ones I suppose, it’s taken us a long time to connect with people here. Even after four years we still don’t have any of those 2 a.m.-please-take-my-call type of friends. But it’s a work in progress.

Big sister!

We love that we get four seasons here. Autumn is my favorite time of year and it’s absolutely gorgeous with all the of fall foliage. Spring is pretty too with everything freshly green and in bloom. The people here are fairly friendly (although sometimes it feels as if they’re just being nice just to be polite and in a very perfunctory way). We’ve recently begun to develop some deeper friendships now that we have children. There are pockets of like-minded folks here, some who are natives, but many more who are “transplants” just like us.

What are your secrets to balancing your life as a mama of two, loving wife and your full-time job?

I honestly don’t have much balance right now. Since T is only four months old, I am still learning how to mother a toddler and an infant. My husband and I work opposite hours (he works Wednesday-Sunday 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. and I work Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. most days), we’re like ships passing on most days — I get in the door and he’s heading out. So a lot of the time we’re parenting our children without the other partner being there.

We relish Saturday and Sunday mornings as well as Monday and Tuesday evenings when we can all be together as a family. We are lucky that my mom lives with us and lends a hand. But life right now for me is either work or kids.

I get about an hour a day to myself (after the kids are in bed, before I go to sleep) and I typically unwind by checking my personal email messages, Facebook and Pinterest. Sad, but true.

Some nights I try to wait up for my husband to get home, but often I am falling asleep myself by 11 p.m.

I nursed EJ for 18.5 months and came home at every lunch hour to eat with the family and nurse her. Once she weaned, I started working through my lunch hour at work. Sometimes that would mean I’d leave by 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m., but more and more it just meant I was working a nine hour day rather than eight. Doing so helped me be able to take eight weeks maternity leave with T and not become too behind in my work.

I’ve been back to work since March 5 and we’ve been going under HUGE changes at the office. One of my goals in all of the restructuring is to get back to working only eight hours a day, so I’ll either start taking a full lunch hour (and finding some much needed “me” time) or working through lunch and getting home earlier so I can have some more quality “we” time with my hubby before he’s off to work.

What helps me right now is to remind myself that this is only temporary — mothering children under age three is super intense, and for now that has to be my main focus. I am also the primary contributor to my family’s income so I have to be sure that all is right on the work front too. I also know it won’t always be this way.

Once my husband is done with school and fully transitioned to his new career and my kids are in school, I know I’ll get back some downtime each day and be able to focus on things beyond being an employee and a mother.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I am quite inspired by my own mother. She’s overcome many challenges in life and I am often amazed at how far she’s been able to come. Things weren’t always perfect between us, but I can honestly say that she’s one of my best friends now that I am a grown woman. I am incredibly grateful to her to be helping us with our babies during these important first three years of their lives.

Because my husband and I didn’t marry until our early 30’s we knew we’d be in a time crunch to start a family. Ideally, we would have been able to wait until he finished school, but that would have put me at 38 and just getting started, so we consciously decided to have babies while he was in school and working part-time.

It was kismet, really, when my mom asked if she could come and stay with us, and so far it’s worked out well. She respects our boundaries as a couple and honors our parenting choices for our children. I love to see her interact with my kids, and I know that in many ways she’s enjoying this time with them in a way that she couldn’t have done with me and my brothers when we were little because she was just a young, single mother in survival mode. It still blows me away that when she was my age, I was off to college already, and yet here I am with a two-year-old and four-month-old.

I hope to be able to offer to my children the unconditional love my mom has always given me. She has always supported me in my goals and aspirations and made me believe that I could do or be anything that I set my mind on. She’s also always been extremely open and honest and even when I knew I might disappoint her, I always knew I could come to her with anything and she’d be there for me, no matter what.

It’s my hope that my kids will be able to say the same thing about me when they’re grown.

What has been the best advice you’ve received as a mama? What do you feel is the best advice, if any, you’ve given as a mama?

The best advice is, “Trust your instincts — nobody knows your child better than you. No doctor or family member or friend.” And it’s true. People try to offer their advice about how to do this or that with your kids, but I’ve found that as long as I tune into my instincts it’ll be the right thing to do.

I guess I give this same advice to those who might ask me. I always say, “Trust your instincts.” I also find that I say to my mama friends, “You’re not alone,” which isn’t exactly advice, but something that I know I need to hear from time to time too when I am struggling with a particular aspect of mothering.

Are you the kind of mama you thought you’d be?

I don’t know. One, I never really thought I’d ever be a mama, and for many years I was adamant that I would never have children. I even inquired about getting sterilized in my mid-20’s because I felt that I was absolutely certain that I never wanted to be pregnant. Because of my age, childless status and no medically necessary reason to prevent pregnancy permanently, no doctor would seriously entertain my request.

Once I was married and we decided to give up our Bohemian lifestyle as opera singers, parenthood seemed like an option. Then, as I turned 34, it was literally as if a light switch had flipped. I NEEDED A BABY NOW! No one was more shocked than me!

So, it’s a process. I am only two years into the journey (well, three if you count the pregnancy as the first foray into motherhood, which I do).

I will say that I am “crunchier” than I ever thought I’d be. I never thought I’d be “that mom” who bed-shared, breastfed beyond a year (and during the first four months of the second pregnancy), skipped the stroller in favor of the carrier, etc. But again, trusting my instincts, it just all made sense to me to keep my babies as close as possible, and for the first three to four months of each of my child’s lives that meant having them in my arms as much as possible.

Do you have a mama mantra? Or something you find yourself repeating over and over when times are tough?

“This too shall pass” and “someday this will be funny and make us laugh!” I’ve always had a great sense of humor but motherhood has definitely increased it. And it’s taught me patience like I’ve never had before in my life. I have many abilities, but patience has never been my strong suit —and boy oh boy is being a mother ever the test of patience! So I am learning and growing and I think that’s the true gift of becoming a mother — to learn as much from our children as they do from us.

Any plans or hopes to get back into professional singing?

Nope. I mean, never say never, but we have absolutely no plans whatsoever to return to singing professionally, and at this point, not even vocationally. I’ve toyed with the idea of auditioning to sing with the local symphonic chorus, but the time isn’t right since they rehearse for three hours on one of the two nights that we can all be together as a family.

The only singing we do these days are for the kids… lots of ABCs, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and You Are My Sunshine. That said, if I’ve had a particularly challenging day at work, I’ve been known to belt out an aria with high C’s during my ten minute drive home to relieve the stress! I make it my goal to use those ten minutes in the car to transition from “work mode” to “mommy mode” because I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling like I couldn’t leave work at work.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I’d like to have my MBA and be working as an executive director for a non-profit performing arts organization — preferably one with an educational component. Ideally, we’ll be living back in California. Right now that part seems like a distant dream, especially given the high cost of living there compared to here, but it is our goal to try and get back there. For a myriad of reasons, I think I’d prefer that EJ and T grow up on the West Coast rather than here. We shall see.

I’d also like to be in better physical shape and living a healthier lifestyle. This is actually one of my more immediate goals. I plan to get to my ideal shape by the time I am 40, which gives me 2.5 years to get there! Back-to-back pregnancies are hard on your body in the best of circumstances and being older and overweight to begin with, I have a further distance to travel. I am motivated though to do it… for myself and for my kids. I need to be able to keep up with them!

If you could have lunch with anyone famous (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

I’d love to do lunch with Oprah. Seriously, the woman fascinates me and is also an inspiration of how you can come from almost nothing and make your place in this world. Not just financially speaking, but in all ways that she’s made her mark and changed people’s lives for the better. I also resonate with the spiritual journey she’s taken as it is parallel in many ways to my own, I think.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I’d love to be able to control time… speed it up and slow it down at my whim. I’d definitely stretch out those precious moments with my kids and speed up those frustrating and annoying ones at work or at home that can just bog me down sometimes.

Family vacation in Alaska

Was the birth experience for both of your babies all that you hoped it would be? If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?

We had planned for an unmedicated, hospital birth with my daughter but that was completely derailed when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when I was 28 weeks pregnant with her. In a matter of days I went from having a completely uneventful and healthy pregnancy to needing insulin to keep my numbers in check. This put me in the “high risk” category and my OB scheduled my induction for 38 weeks. As we neared the date, I negotiated with her (the baby and I were doing just fine) and moved the induction to 39 weeks and 3 days. I hated that it was all scheduled and was sad that I had missed out on laboring at home with my husband. We hired our Bradley Birth Instructor to be our doula and hoped to avoid pain medication during my induction. I lasted 12 hours on Pitocin, laboring as naturally as I could given the IVs and constant fetal monitoring. I hadn’t progressed past 4 cm in those 12 hours and my body was literally seizing with each contractions because the Pitocin was cranked as high as it could go. I finally asked for the epidural, slept, and two hours later was ready to push. EJ popped out in just four pushes.

At the time, I was really disappointed that I had asked for the epidural, but in the end it was a good thing I did because I had a retained placenta that had to be manually removed during the third stage of delivery. Apparently, this can be one of the side effects of inducing labor with Pitocin. I had lost a lot of blood and my uterus wouldn’t clamp down. I had my OB and a nurse simultaneously scraping and massaging it from the inside. It was really awful. Had I not been anesthetized via the epidural, I would have been put under general and taken to the OR.

My OB told me afterwards that it WAS her goal was to save my uterus. It could have gotten to the point where I would have needed an emergency hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. Thankfully, it stopped and I really had no complications post-partum. Luckily my daughter was a great nurser and even though I had to manage issues in the early weeks (oversupply, forceful letdown and later, excess lipase in my expressed milk that I had stored) and I was able to be home with her for 16 weeks before returning to work.

With my son, I got the birth I had hoped for with EJ. It felt like a dream. He was born at 39 weeks on the dot! I didn’t develop GD with him so I knew I was in the clear of being tagged “high risk” except for the fact that I was AMA (advanced maternal age). I did have low HGC levels at my 13 week quad screening, so I saw a perinatologist several times throughout the pregnancy to check T for growth (I guess low HGC can mean low birth weight or preterm birth) and everything was just fine.

My OB did say she didn’t want me to go much past my due date so I knew I was “on the clock” and hoped T would come on his own. Sure enough, he did! My water broke at 11:30 p.m., we called our doula and labored at home until 2 a.m., and then headed to the hospital. By the time I got into the labor room it was 2:30 a.m. and T was born exactly at 4 a.m. I had no medication and limited monitoring. Everything happened so fast! My doctor didn’t even get to the hospital in time for the delivery. It was clear to me that the staff at the hospital almost never assists a mama with a natural birth. One of the nurses was quite rough with me during an internal exam, she didn’t even wait until I was between contractions! I caved at that point and asked for the epidural because I felt that if the nurses were not going to work with me, I’d rather not feel the pain of them just doing their “routine business.” It was so obvious that they’re used to examining laboring mothers under anesthesia and dealing with planned, medicated births, not natural ones.

Anyway, it was too late for an epidural when I asked for it. I was already eight centimeters dilated. Within an hour, I was complete and my body just took over and started to push. It was incredible, actually. And my husband and doula were great. I really don’t remember feeling any pain.

It was all SO much easier than my daughter’s labor and delivery. I had a slight panicked feeling during stage three out of fear of what happened last time, but everything was text book. Within an hour of my son’s birth, we were transferred to the recovery room and resting. He latched on right away and has been a champion nursling ever since. I knew I was prone to oversupply, so I block fed him from day one and we’ve not had the same issues I had before with my daughter.

It’s funny — he’s a “text book” baby — very routine in his sleep and feeding needs. At 12 weeks exactly he started sleeping through the night. A 16 weeks he started putting himself to sleep on his own. It’s a marvel to my husband and me, especially after all that we went through with EJ in her first year or so, especially related to sleep. Even now, bedtime for her can be a challenge. T is just a mellow fellow and EJ is more emotionally intense… two perfectly different and lovable dispositions.

Check out EJ’s birth story and T’s birth story.

How has your mothering evolved since those early newborn days? Is there anything, thus far, in your approach to mothering that you swore “I’d never do…” and you are?

I swore I’d never bed-share. I even openly criticized my twin brother and his wife for doing it. Their daughter slept with them until age 3, and in their room in her own toddler bed for a year after that. So I ate a lot of crow when EJ was born. We bed-shared with her for almost a year. I fought the urge to have her in bed with us for about six weeks and then just realized how much better rested we all were by having her in bed with us.

With T, he was in our bed the day we came home from the hospital. We started napping him in his crib around six weeks and by eight weeks he was fully transitioned to his crib. At this point I never thought I’d have a newborn that’s in a crib in his own room. So again, you should never say never.

I’ve learned it’s best to keep an open mind and not get too set in doing things one way or the other, especially with more than one child. What worked for EJ doesn’t always work for T.

She LOVED the swing, he HATED it. She LOVED to be swaddled but couldn’t stand the sleepsacks, T is the opposite. T took to the bottle right away and never looked back, EJ had to be cup fed from 8 weeks old. Cloth diapers worked for EJ but not for T. In many ways, they are like exact opposites! So, we roll with it and keep learning!

I also never thought we’d be the family without a TV. We gave it up when EJ was seven months old and have no regrets except that we didn’t do it sooner! It’s benefited us all immensely and after the first month or so, we really didn’t miss it at all. Since EJ has turned two we’ve introduced movies, just small clips via YouTube, mostly. She LOVES Winnie-the-Pooh — we read the book often — so when she gets to see vignettes from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” by Disney, it’s fun to see her act it out and repeat the dialogue. That said, we’ll be keeping a tight rein on “screen time” for her and for T, when he’s introduced to it after age two.

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