The Rhythm

We welcomed our sweet baby girl into our world almost four months ago already. I can hardly believe how fast the time is flying by.

I find myself living between worlds constantly in search of my rhythm, my family’s rhythm. As soon as I think I have found it, we are off embarking on a new chapter.

*   *   *   *   *
Pregnant. Summer off. Home with toddler. Moving. New baby. Toddler back to daycare. Working from home. At-work working mama.

Dressing. Feeding. Cleaning. Drop off. Pick up. Playing. Loving. Off to bed. Exhausted.

Running around all day being mindful that my “work” hours are actually my most restful. Finding myself missing out on the sweetness that are my children as I’m rushing and stressing trying to get by. Maybe even on time.

*   *   *   *   *
Between the tears of getting our shoes on right out of bed, I almost missed my boy singing jingle bells as we walked out the door.

Slowing down. Trying to do it all. Finding new ways to enjoy the moments.

Smelling the evergreens

*   *   *   *   *
I find myself unsettled. Balancing my work and my family, not to mention myself, precariously between each other. Never quite able to feel satisfied in any area.

I am so grateful to have a job that I adore for so many reasons. I am challenged. I am rewarded. I am granted the flexibility every working parent should have. I am able to do work that is meaningful to me. I am grateful. And yet.

I so long to spend the days being a mama to my kiddos, with my kiddos.

*   *   *   *   *
Crafting and snuggling.
Singing and exploring.
Learning and doing.

Enjoying the rhythm that I found so natural.
Enjoying every moment of each of my children growing up.
So fast.

*   *   *   *   *
It’s different for me after my first child. Returning after my first maternity leave left me longing to snuggle and stare at my baby. The second return to maternity leave is different. I am longing to be with both baby and toddler. My heart hurts that I am missing out. And yet.

I wish I would be satisfied and satiated, as well as able, to be a stay at home mama. I don’t think I would be, but I don’t know. I wish I could know if it would be enough for me. Then it may not be so hard to go to work.

*   *   *   *   *
Today is day four back in the office. I can’t say that it’s any easier than the first. Perhaps even harder as I can identify the rough spots in my rhythm. In our rhythm. Thinking of the moments I’m missing, even when I’m there.

I try to find comfort in remembering the rhythm will always be constantly changing.  As hard as it is with so much on our full, lush plate, all I can do is welcome and try to enjoy the flow.

– NVC

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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

What Still Makes Me Sad

I am not a religious person, but I know that I am blessed. I found a fantastic partner in CH, and through some type of cosmic luck of the draw, we ended up with a healthy, beautiful, funny and really, really smart little girl. My heart explodes as I type this.

Miss Red

But there are some things that I haven’t been able to let go of from Miss Red’s first months, even as she heads to birthday number three this summer. It’s something I was reminded of Tuesday night and wasn’t surprised at how raw I still feel about it inside.

At  yoga a woman commented that she and her nearly two-year-old were weaning. In her daughter’s cuteness, she was relaying this information to her stuffed animals, “No more nurse, it’s OK, it’s OK.” The other women crooned and smiled. The thought of how clear and conscious we are, even at two, was so grounding for me. But tears sprang into my eyes because Miss Red and I didn’t have that relationship.

Miss Red didn’t nurse. I’ve written about it here and here, but for those who don’t want to click, I did try everything and I have an amazing support system. Five lactation consultants, including hiring the best in town for unlimited home visits in addition to the help from my doula, syphon systems, you name it. I produced milk, but she never got the hang of it, so I spent the first six months of her life pumping, storing, and generally making our home a mini breast milk factory. I loved providing for her, but that closeness, that convenience, that extra snuggle and comfort we didn’t have.

More than two years since I packed up the pump, I am still sad about it. I am sad that I couldn’t have that relationship with her. I am sad that it was something I had wanted so dearly that I was driven to the edge, and it just didn’t happen. I was sad that I tasted some of the disappointments of parenting so soon after becoming one.

I know that other side of this story: the bonding she had with CH, and ultimately that she was taken care of. But that sadness, that longing, still hasn’t left me, even as time dances on with Miss Red leading the way.

– MD

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

Where My Girls At?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. I’m going to share with you what women talk about when they get together: Gravity. And specifically, what gravity does to our chests.

The changes that happen for women’s chests start for some early, others late, but is such a visible metamorphosis that the world witnesses each stage, from painful nubbins to grown-up nubbins or more. For some, each month also marks changes, as the cycles of our bodies dictate an ebb and flow.

Perhaps one of the largest – literally – changes my friends and I talk about is what happened to our chests during pregnancy, post pregnancy and beyond.

When we were pregnant one of the first signs of change to our bodies was the growth of our chests. After pregnancy, for those who are able to and chose to nurse had ever-changing fluctuations of milk. While producing milk, it isn’t uncommon to constantly manipulate your chest to feel which might be full, which might be empty, etc. This is as easy to explain in writing as what kissing feels like.

Then, the “after” stage, when the milk dries up. What happens is possibly more shocking than the growth or milk production, since the slackness that ensues is the remainder of the skin that grew and contracted. What’s left is, well, not much, as if all of the stuffing was removed. What’s left needs serious support to even mimic what existed before. I remember when I was pregnant friends who had already had children shared funny stores:

“You can just roll them up into a bra.” 

“They’re like two strips of bacon.” 

“I look like an orangutang.” 

And one of  my favorites, “They’re like flour sacks.”

Is this true? Well, yes.

So when sharing drinks with friends a few nights ago we spent a good amount of time discussing how gravity has effected our bodies post-baby. All in fun, we shared stories about pregnancy and delivery and easily slipped into the area that again, is the most visible: our chests. We cackled and guffawed and, yes, even hooted about the mighty, the fallen and the fruitful.

– 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

A Response to “Letters to My Nursing Child”

{Editor’s note: Years ago after EC’s first son, H, was born, someone was writing a book called Letters to My Nursing Child. What follows is a lovely follow-up to EC’s first post about nursing her first born.}

Dear H,

You are one year old now – I see the sparkle in your eyes of amazement with the way the world works, with chasing the balls across the floor, with watching fans spin and lights glimmer. I love you and your chubby little body, your spunky noises, and inquisitive hands and feet.

I’m thankful that you and I have been able to connect in a magical way – you grew because of me. And in so many ways I grew because of you.

I was committed to giving you as good of a start as was humanly possible – I was ready to go, full of knowledge and will, but it seems that you had some other ideas for me! Our nursing bond started off painful, and our first struggles together were over your tongue’s frenulum being too short! After we had that fixed, it was months before we had what most momma’s think of as a “normal” nursing relationship. But just a few months later, the damage that was done early on allowed for creepy crawly staph bacteria to seep in through my nipples – they liked momma’s milk as much as you did and refused to go away! Momma saw special doctors, took all kinds of special medicines with big names that I can hardly even pronounce. It hurt SO much to give you what you needed, and even more imporantly, what you wanted. And It made me hurt in my heart to think that we might have to stop because those staph wouldn’t leave.

But you loved our special time together so much it was worth all of the ickies and the ouches and the tears. I’ll never regret the months that we entered into this amazing space together – a place that transended the pain and was filled with both of our love for each other.

But finally, a moment came. None of the medicines had worked, and you, well, you became a big boy, and I knew that we were developing a new relationship, and that we both would be OK. As I write this, you are crawling across the floor, pulling your favorite toy with your teeth, and looking at me and giggling – look how strong you’ve become! I deeply miss those times together, but I know that all of our struggles only made our connection stronger. Onward we go!

– EC

First, Last

I knew that having a child would mean a lot of firsts. First smile. First tooth. First steps. First word.

But what I didn’t know was that it would also bring so many lasts.

Like the firsts, I never know when they will come. What’s different, though, is that I don’t recognize them until they are already long gone: The last time I held her in my arms and danced like mad until she finally fell asleep. The last time I lay her down in her crib, inch by inch, praying wildly that she wouldn’t wake up. The last time I nursed her. The last time I changed her diaper. The last time I helped her hop down from the slide. The last time I put her in her crib, instead of watching her climb by herself into her big girl bed. Some things she decided she didn’t want to do anymore, others I realized I could no longer do for her. I didn’t know, at the time, that these things would never happen again.

It makes me think of all the other lasts in my life that have passed me by in secret, large and small, important or of no real consequence.
I celebrate every new thing my daughter does, and I try to watch closely for the lasts.

– AC

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