Thunderbolt

I had a baby.

I’ve been aching to sit down and write about it. I want to detail my birth experience before I forget the details. I want to write about the thunderbolt of pure love that struck me upon seeing my new baby girl.

I want to write about nursing, how I am trying again, and succeeding (though it’s perhaps ‘success’ by my standards alone, as I will always struggle with low supply and supplement with formula). I want to write about our five days in the NICU, our heart-wrenching time there and the immeasurable kindness we were shown.

I want to write about the joy and gratitude in my heart when we were released to go home.

I want to write about my smart and hilarious toddler, who just hasn’t been herself since we all came home to live our new life. I want to plead for advice in easing this transition for everyone involved.

I want to memorialize my beloved friend and dog who passed away a week after our new baby girl was born.

I want to rejoice through words how, after seeing the chaos that is our life these days, my dad told me, “despite all of this, you are the happiest I’ve seen you in months.”

I want to sit down and write. I want to make an apple pie. I want to have some beers and go to bed tipsy and sleep until I wake up. I want the lawn mowed.

But I had a baby. So for now, I’ll carve out time for my toddler. I’ll kiss her and hug her and tell her that it’s going to be okay, that it’ll work out, that we love her as much – and more – than ever.

I’ll nurse my baby because I finally, finally can.

I’ll sneak in a shower. I’ll study tiny fingers and toes and beautiful new-baby lips. I’ll nuzzle a soft downy peach fuzz head. I’ll kiss tiny, soft, paper thin ears and a button nose.

I’ll try to take a mental snapshots of these early days as a family of four, for despite the chaos and confusion, I know I’ll remember these as some of the best days of my life.

I had a baby. Her name is Georgia.

– ALW

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Birth stories

I’m doing a call for birth stories from both women and men. Have an experience you’d like to share? You can get in touch with me at firstsmilesandtears [at] gmail [dot] com or post a comment below. Starting in June I’ll post stories. They can even be anonymous.

Miss Red at one week

Photo taken of Miss Red at one week by the amazing Anya Wait.

– MD

Mary, Did you Know?

The thing I remember most about Henrik’s first Christmas is that he was still screaming.  I don’t know if he was colicky, or if it was just his personality (I’d bet all my presents under the tree that it’s the latter).  Three months into my life as a mother, I all of a sudden was thrown into a new understanding of the story of Christmas.

For me, this sacred holiday became focused on Mary. Not her virginity, or her holiness – but her motherhood.   Mary was a new mom.  She gave birth (Labor!  Delivery!) to her beautiful baby in a barn full of stinky animals and hay and dirt.  And now she had this new baby that wanted to nurse throughout the day and night, that needed constant rocking, and probably some swaying or bouncing to calm his new worldly nerves.  That cradle wasn’t just designed for the pretty church nativities – she Needed that cradle to get him to fall asleep –  To soothe her screaming baby. And after the angels had gone, and everyone had brought their pretty gifts, the crying probably got worse.  And the everyday of motherhood became a stark reality.

Believe in Mary as Jesus’ mother, as the Virgin Mary, as the mother of the Savior, as a vital part of the Christmas story, as holy – or just another woman in the history of womankind –  there is something about her story that every mother can understand.  

Who of you has gotten your face so close to your babe’s that you could feel his breath, and hear her small movements?  Who has held him, swaddled, shhing her till you can see her little eyelashes come to complete stillness and feel your own heart slowed?  Who of you has stared into his eyes, and saw the Hope that she could bring to this world?  The love, the grace, the kindness, the care. Angels or just a starry sky, gifts of Myrrh or just an empty bag, Mary was a momma who knew her job was great.  Who knew her job was a gift, who knew that it would take sacrifice, sleepless nights, and worry beyond compare.  She shed tears, she loved deeper than she ever understood or would ever comprehend.  We all know how Mary must have felt that night, and those months, and years and year and years to come.

Oh, holy night.

You and me  – and Mary – we’re raising hope for the world, the feet on this earth, the ones that will bring in human form, in my understanding, God’s love to all.  They will make the decisions that help, strengthen, Give.

Moms all around the world, Peace, Love and Strength to you all this Christmas.  Shalom.

– EC

Fearless

In my year of writing for this blog, I’ve written about the worst of the worst.  I’ve shared some of the saddest things that have happened to me and my most intimate feelings.  I’ve put myself out there, laid myself bare.  

But for all that I’ve put out there, there is one painful thing that I’ve only mentioned in passing.  

Breastfeeding.  

I couldn’t do it.  I stopped trying.  I fed my daughter formula.    

It still hurts.

My story really isn’t that dramatic.  My milk didn’t come in, my baby started to lose weight.  I visited several lactation consultants, saw a specialist.  I pumped for literally hours a day to stimulate milk production.  After weeks of confusion and stress, I found out that I am among the 1-5% of women who were born with no or very few milk ducts. I will never have the option of exclusively breastfeeding my child.  

I will never forget our first (and former) pediatrician’s callous and blunt diagnosis that my baby was starving.  I will never forget the feeling of standing over my husband’s shoulder while he gave my daughter a bottle of formula her hunger was quenched for the first time.  I will never forget those early weeks when I would try to nurse my baby and we would both cry with frustration.  I will never forget the feeling of not being able to provide what I had always considered the most basic thing for my precious girl.  

I was told that if I took a hot shower my milk would come in.  My baby would cry in public and strangers would suggest that maybe she needed to nurse.  As a progressive person living in a progressive place, I had bought everything that was sold to me on the benefits of breastfeeding.  I was armed with a brand new freezer and a state-of-the-art pump.  

I felt left out.  Alone.  Embarrassed.  

I hung my head as I bought formula and felt guilty over the added and unplanned expense.  I avoided conversations about feeding – one of the hot topics among new moms.  I grew quiet when nursing inevitably came up.  I didn’t feel as if anyone really understood.  I felt judged.  

Yes, I probably got more sleep.  My husband and I were able to split the night shift.  I could drink whatever I wanted and take medication without a second thought.  But I would have given up any amount of extra sleep or forced sobriety to have experienced the stresses of a nursing mama.  

And to this day, I’m not sure I ever really got over it.  

Recently, I found The Fearless Formula Feeder.  Articles titled “I’m still working on forgiving myself” were a revelation.  I’d seen pro-formula articles before, but I’d never seen it put in terms that hit so close to home.  I am working on forgiving myself, too.  

And maybe, just maybe, I can be fearless.  

– ALW

SAHM

I never expected to be a stay-at-home mom, or SAHM, as I’ve learned to call it from the mommy blogs.  As a child my vision for myself was of a woman striding down shiny corridors in high-heeled shoes, the sound of which I associated with feminine power.  Instead, I wear this year’s Birkenstock sandals to the playground and wipe the sand and grit off my feet when I get home.

My right to claim SAHM status is limited. I was home full-time with my daughter for the first year of her life and then worked part-time (just twelve hours a week) for the next two. I’ll do the same with my son, born three months ago, and I don’t plan to work full-time until both are in school.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my decision to be primarily at home.  In retrospect, it seems that it wasn’t so much a decision as the path of least resistance; things seemed to flow in that direction and I didn’t do anything stop them.  It helped that I was in graduate school when my daughter was born and so could simply opt out of teaching for two semesters. A big reason I didn’t want to work was nursing-mother laziness; I flat out refuse to pump. Another is my belief that this is what’s best for my children, but I’ve known for some time that this cannot be my sole or even primary reason; this has to be what I want for myself. Likewise, I recognize that I cannot do this in expectation of some sort of future payoff; I cannot expect or hope that my children will be any smarter, kinder, or better adjusted than those who spent less time at home. The experience of this time has to be its own reward. In this regard, parenting has been one more teacher in what I have come to recognize as my personal life’s work: living in the present, staying in the moment.  As a dance instructor once said to me, I could enjoy the process more.

A friend told me recently that she could never stay home full-time and asked me how I do it.  I have asked myself this very question, and I find it difficult to answer because I don’t really feel that I am “doing” anything.  To me it feels similar to being pregnant: a relatively small amount of time devoted to a particular state of being.  Being pregnant, like taking care of small children, is often demanding and exhausting and tedious and frustrating, but we don’t ask ourselves how we “do it.”  We just do.

So I decided to interpret this question literally. 

Mommy's juice

Here, roughly in the order in which I employ them, is my list of things that get me through the day:   

  1. Coffee
  2. Twenty minutes of yoga or Pilates, subject to comments from three-year old and interruptions from baby
  3. NPR
  4. Out of the house from 10-1, preferably with mom friends *
  5. Nap with baby for one hour in the afternoon while non-napping three-year-old watches PBS **
  6. NPR
  7. Assign husband to three-year-old the minute he steps in the door
  8. Get into bed immediately after children are asleep
  9. Read New Yorker or novel for forty-five minutes
  10. Sleep ***

 *          Mom, or Dad, friends are the key to success.
**        Some people, including myself, consider this cheating, or at least bad form.
***     As much as possible with night-nursing baby.

– AC

The Dating Scene

I’ve  commented to friends that if I ever needed to enter the dating world again I would need to be sandblasted with diamonds. But that’s another story. I digress.

I’m finishing a weekend of solo parenting. For those of you who are single parents, or stay-at-home-moms or -dads, I applaud you. I always have, but it needs to be said again: “Bravo/a.”

How does one entertain a toddler without regular backup? Play dates.

Once you have a child play dates become more common, and in some cases, more desired that nights on the town with your beloved. Meeting for coffee when wee ones are little nubbins in car seats helps stave off loneliness and encourages basic hygiene. Later, as babies start to crawl, it’s fun to take them to others’ homes for them to chew on someone elses’ toys and again, get out of the house. In the first year play dates are more about the adult in the equation – sharing adult time where you can talk about anxieties, hopes and everything in between.

And now that I have a full-fledged toddler, each minute is about how to tire her out. I’m not an over-scheduler, but think of how to get her active and entertained so that she goes down for her afternoon nap and sleeps through the night. A surefire way to get this done is through play dates.

I’m fortunate that three other women were pregnant at the same time I was. We started by meeting for tea, newly pregnant and burping into warm cups. As we got bigger we shared ideas. And we overlapped on maternity leave, meeting weekly. Since then, we still meet monthly for Birthday Club, our toddlers born six weeks apart and two of them on the same day. Each month we take a photo of the four kids, smiling as they wiggle and waggle.

Birthday Buddies, Year 1!

Birthday Buddies, Year 2!

So on this weekend I did what I knew I could to tire out said toddler and keep us entertained: I scheduled three play dates, one for each day I was home alone. Lovely mamas and their children came over and we also went out to meet a little friend. We walked, talked, the kids stared and stole from one another. Tears were shed from minor spills and injustices, but kisses were blown and little hugs shared when they parted ways. For one or two hours, I was happy and content, and so was my two-year-old partner.

Frankly, it’s the best dating scene I’ve ever been a part of.

– MD

A Healing Birth

I’ve written here before about my first experience with natural childbirth, which was, though uncomplicated, for me a bit traumatic. I wanted to try to do it again, though, and I did.

I am not militantly pro natural childbirth. While I do believe it is the ideal birthing process for both mothers and babies, both times I told myself I would welcome drugs if I needed them. And frankly, I don’t know why and how I didn’t use them the first time.  Maybe at every moment I felt I had gone too far to turn back now.  Maybe I was completely out of my gourd. Or maybe my convictions run deeper than I think.

At any rate, I approached things very differently this time. I went with a midwives group and I worked with a doula, who, in my opinion, earned her entire fee just by being with me for the car ride to the hospital, not to mention seeing me through my contractions as I was shuffled from room to room and down hallways and on and off an elevator once we got there. And my labor itself was very different- I woke up one morning at three thirty and lay there listening when the birds started up at four, watching their dark shadows move outside our windows. My contractions started at five and, after only two hours in the hospital, my son was born at ten forty-five.

And it wasn’t that bad. Don’t get me wrong—for the last forty-five minutes I was asking for an epidural, but I hesitated (because I did NOT want to have to lie down on that bed!) and then it was time. And then J was born.

We don’t plan on having any more children, and I confess that my predominate thought throughout much of my labor and pregnancy was, “Thank God I don’t have to do this again.” I relay this with no small degree of guilt, since so many women, some of my friends among them, have not conceived and carried children with the ease that I have.  But there it is. 

But in the days after this baby’s birth I’ve been feeling differently about some things I will never do again. I will never have that moment of joy and—in my case, anyway—overriding relief the moment someone places my newborn child in my arms.  I will never have the surprise of first seeing their faces, and of knowing whether we made a boy or a girl.  I will never feel the bliss of holding my baby in my arms as I am wheeled through the cool hospital hallways to my room, feeling no pain, feeling nothing but happiness.

My doula says that there is something known as a healing birth: a positive birth experience which can ease and even heal the pain of a traumatic one, and I believe that this is what I have had.  She says that sometimes women even get pregnant with the specific aim of having such a birth, hoping to harness its power.  I don’t think I would go that far, but I am so grateful for this experience. When I think of my second childbirth experience, I feel nothing but joy, and now when I think of my first one I feel mostly pride.

– AC

The Name Game

What’s in a name? Well, everything. It seems that people either love or hate their name, spend time telling stories about their name or spelling it over the phone. In many circles today people vie to give a name that no one else has in the classroom. Granny names are trendy, but so are “you named your child what?” versions. Naming a child is political. And a big deal.

Me? I have a semi-complicated-for-America name. Not only do I have to repeat my name, I also have to spell every part of it – first, last and each part in between. So when my husband and I were deciding what to name our baby, I knew immediately that I wanted it to be not common, but not unusual. Something that people would smile at because it was harmonious, something that could last a lifetime. A name that would work well for a baby, toddler, teenager, mother, grandmother, lover. I’m also half Mexican (insert “which half” joke here. I’ll show you some time) and wanted a name that would sound nice if said in Spanish.

We didn’t know that we were having a girl at the time, but we both “knew.” For eight plus months in my mind I called the baby “Alma.” Alma. I loved the way it rolled off my tongue. I loved that it means “soul” in Spanish and fit all of my criteria for a name that would travel well over the years. “Alma,” I would say, holding my belly. “Alma.”

Then, at month one million, I was watching an interview with Michelle Williams as she talked about her role in Brokeback Mountain. Her character’s name? Alma. But when describing her character, she kept referring to her as “Alllll-muh.” What?! My heart raced. Allll-muh? Like in Al’s Mother? No way. No how. My heart skipped a beat and I almost started to cry. I couldn’t name my potential child a name that some people would butcher into something that sounded so terrible. Like my name, but worse.

Teary, I later told my husband the story. We had a second name on the list. He told me he liked it better anyway. We decided to meet the baby and see what she (or still he) looked like.

And who came out? A baby! A baby girl! And after one look we knew it wasn’t Alma. Alma has dark hair, is serious and slightly brooding. Alma is an old soul. Who came out was a fiery redhead. Someone, albeit sleepy from the journey, who looked around the room and knew where she was. Someone who had perfect ears. Who came was my heart. Mi corazon. Cora.

– MD

If You’re Happy and You Know It

From my earliest memories I was not a happy person. Nothing terrible to report or overly morose – part biology and part experience – and my adulthood is a blessed one.

But when I was preparing to become a parent for the first time what kept me up many nights were the painful thoughts that my child-to-be would be unhappy. I didn’t expect to create an environment of perfection; even I know that the many moves and challenging personalities I handled as a child made me the resilient person I am today. But what if my child was *born* unhappy? And I, by virtue of bringing them into this world had brought an unhappy person into, well, unhappiness.

While my launch into motherhood was marked with many difficult surprises – 44 Hours of Labor! A Baby Who Wouldn’t Nurse! A Visit to the Hospital to Cure Jaundice! A Biliblanket! – the moment she entered the world I experienced profound, earth-shattering, core-stabilizing and deep, deep Joy.

Who was this person that I launched into the world? This stranger that I could finally meet after months of deep-sea moves under my skin? Who emerged was a happy baby. A baby who loved looking and taking in different sights and sounds. Loved smiling as soon as she could, who loved learning. A person who just last week looked at me when I came home and said that she was “happy.”

As we drove home this afternoon from a visit at my mother-in-law’s, we had the kids’ version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” on repeat. Each time it started up again she would say “More happy!” It made me want to clap my hands, stomp my feet and shout “hooray!”

Happy!

– MD

It’s Over and Done With

I am so excited to welcome back guest Summer Pierre. You might remember her “I-can’t-believe-she-had-a-baby-in-a-cab” post. Go ahead and read it again. Her new book, The Artist in the Office, is doing extremely well and is a personal favorite in our house. Below is an account of her struggles with breastfeeding. I know I can relate, as someone who had a baby who either screamed or fell asleep when placed on my chest. – MD

What It Takes

So as some of you know, I’ve had some struggles with breastfeeding. One of those struggles was just grappling with the SHOCK that it could be so hard. I am still grappling with that shock–as it has been renewed again and again over the last 3 months with each twist and turn I’ve had to manage. The newest shock is that I’m throwing in the towel, that it actually never worked for us and won’t. This is perhaps the most painful shock of all.

I wrote a post about this issue after things had gone to utter shit and I visited with a lactation consultant. I was very hopeful then, clinging to my little plan with my knuckles going white. I was bound and DETERMINED to get this BALL ROLLING, dagnabbit. Give me a plan and I am ready for the fight! Friends and acquaintances came forward with their stories of breastfeeding triumphs over tragedies. I got some wonderful e-mails from some of you with your own stories of feedings gone wrong and right. My fragile spirit rose timidly. So we went ahead, trying to get my milk supply up and to fix Gus’ supposed sucking issue so I could get rid of the nipple shield. Little did I know, that at that moment things were as good as they ever were going to be and the only thing that was going to REALLY change was my attitude. I’m glad no one told me this it of information. I would have been a basket case.

Sure, with night and day pumping, and herbs and oatmeal my milk supply eventually rose…for a time.  Then it dropped again for no apparent reason so I had to go back to supplementing and pumping and pumping some more.  I was panicked about the supplementing and would hate to give Gus any formula, freaking out every time I had to make him a bottle.  I Googled (read: BAD IDEA) breastfeeding stories and testimonies about milk supply, about how it is very rare to not  have enough milk while I pumped away night and day.  Then just like that, my milk supply would still drop on its own for no reason.  Gus also never NEVER wanted to nurse without the shield.  We’d try, he’d sometimes latch on feed for about two minutes until he realized what he was doing and he’d suddenly wake up, INSULTED, like I’d just fed him a HORRIBLE IMPOSTER and it was OBVIOUS that I didn’t love him at all, otherwise I wouldn’t be putting THIS thing in his mouth.  So back with the nipple shield, or what I like to call, the HATEFUL thing.

At the lactation consultant’s suggestion, I took Gus to see a craniosacral therapist.  The therapist took one look at Gus and said in his very even-tempered calm craniosacral way, “I think you’re the one who needs the therapy.”  He was right, of course.  I was ragged with stress over how this was still not working.  So I went.  Nothing improved.  The pediatrician did not agree with the lactation consultant on her belief that Gus had a sucking problem.  So it was me again.  And nothing improved.

After a tearful conversation with the lactation consultant (AGAIN) she gently asked, “Well, do you LIKE nursing?”

WHAT?  HUH?  What kind of crazy question is that?  The thought had never even occurred to me.  “Sometimes,” I answered, “when it works.”

“Well, why don’t you just feed him when it works?”

So that’s what I did, but it still required that I pump at least 3-4 times a day and sometimes my milk would drop anyway, but for about 2 weeks, it was okay.  Except for the mastitis.  That hurt like hell.  And also the breast that produced milk, when it uh, FELT like it, no matter if I pumped the hell out of it.  Sometimes it eked out milk, sometimes it just sputtered.  At its best, it was about 50/50 with the formula, but I thought, I’ll take what I can get.  Only, there was just one more problem:

The raging migraines that were starting to show up 3 times a week.

At first I didn’t equate them with the milk supply, but I started to notice that when I started a new dose of herbs and my milk supply went up, I’d be debilitated with violent migraines, the kind I used to get while on birth control pills.  And you know what happened when I had migraines?  I had to take medication, so it meant I had to PUMP and DUMP.  And after 4 straight days of this, with Gus barely able to feed, he decided to tell my boob and its INFERNAL SHIELD to take a hike.  He started to react as if I was offering a HOT POKER to his face instead of food.

Last week I had an appointment with my midwives, but for 3 days before I went off the herbs and I was curiously migraine free.  So I asked the midwives if this could at all be a possibility, because these are HERBS right?  Nature’s medicine!  It turns out that YES it is a total possibility, because they aren’t just tinkering with my supply, but my hormones–so there you have it.

So last weekend I started the slow process of weaning myself from breastfeeding and I am just going to say it, it’s been very very sad.  I had wanted in my heart of lowered expectations to make it to at least 6 months, but I can’ even do that.  I need to be healthy and happy for Gus, instead of forcing my supply on myself and him.  Having come from a breastfeeding culture, THE HIPPIES, I never in a million years thought this is the way it would go.  Also, as a result of being around people that have never had ongoing supply problems, I haven’t had a lot of empathy.  It’s been a lot of HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?  It’s possible, OKAY?

And while I’m on the subject I’d like to say to all the “experts” who write crap on web pages and in books about how RARE it is not to have enough milk, SHUT THE HELL UP.  Tell that to the women in THIS video.  Tell that to the woman who told me she got into a CAR ACCIDENT because she fell asleep at the wheel because she had been pumping throughout the night to get her supply up.  Tell that to the other woman who told me about sitting at a support group at the La Leche League, with a ROOM full of low milk suppliers, where a woman bragged that her two month old had finally started gaining weight and was SEVEN POUNDS.  A TWO MONTH OLD.  (Even the La Leche League leader a.k.a lactivist was like, “Lady, it’s time to give your baby some FRICKN FORMULA!”).

It’s weird, in a society that doesn’t supposedly support breastfeeding, I haven’t felt a lot of support around not breastfeeding or knowledge about why women don’t breastfeed (thank you to those who have reached out their non breastfeeding selves to me!).  It’s been a real eye opener–another in the long list that is under the title MOTHERHOOD.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go feed my healthy, thriving son.

– SP

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