"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." (Aldo Leopold) Apparently, I cannot.


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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: I’m Back, Sort of

Although I’ve known I’d be writing this post for some time now, I’ve actually dreaded writing it. Not because I’m not 100% behind my decision, but because I kind of feel like I’ve failed in some way.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. When I first started blogging last February, I did so with the goal of sharing funny stories about my kiddos and lessons learned from the craziness raising kids brings to life. I didn’t do it to become a professional writer or to have any piece of my writing go viral. But I quickly got sucked into what I’ll call blog-mania.

I started a Facebook page for my blog. I started Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I started scouring the interwebs to see what online sites I could submit my writing to for more exposure. I started participating in blog hops and mixers. I started guest posting on other people’s blogs. I was invited to post on Scary Mommy (which I still can’t believe). I even managed to get my own space on HuffPost Parents. All in the name of getting my writing read.

I won’t go so far to say that I was spending more time writing about and getting people to read about my family than actually spending time with them, but I did become consumed with building an online presence for my writing. And this was on top of my responsibilities to my family and my freelance editing job.

In essence, I very quickly burned out. Writing posts for my blog became more of a chore (“Uggh, I have to write something tonight”) than the fun, lighthearted writing I was doing at the beginning. I looked at everything with an eye toward how I’d turn it into a blog post — what lesson could I share with others? What funny twist could I put on it? How could I write about it differently than the eleventy thousand other people who had already written about it?

And then a few months ago, I snapped out of it. I was forced to take a writing hiatus when my freelance work piled up on me and life got crazy busy (did you miss my announcement that Wild Thing #4 is on the way? lol). I barely had enough time in a day to take care of my family and work, let alone sit down for any meaningful writing. And you know what? I felt relieved.

Relieved that when I was finally able to sit down and breathe at the end of a long day I didn’t have to rack my brain for something to write about for the sake of publishing something, anything, because I didn’t publish something the day before. Or even the day before that. Relieved that I stopped trying so hard to see the blog post possibilities in everyday situations. Relieved that I wasn’t concerned with how many people were reading my post or, if the gods were smiling down on me that day, sharing it with others.

And I realized that these were all pressure that I put on myself. Nobody asked me to write a blog or start a Facebook page or Twitter account. No one pressured me into trying so hard to get people to read my posts. And certainly no one was keeping me tied to writing three of four posts a week. So why was I working so hard to add more pressure to my life?

And so, I have come to a decision to let my writing take a (rightful) back seat to my family and real life. I am not going to stop writing completely, but I am not going to impose any strict schedule for when I write. I’ll write when the mood strikes or when inspiration hits. Not simply for the sake of writing.

changes

With this new focus, I’ll be making some other changes as well. I am no longer going to be doing my weekly Too Tired to Try Tuesday posts (although fun, they took a lot of time to figure out and put together). Similarly, I won’t be doing regular “That’s What She/He Said” interviews. I will, however, keep doing my Shiny, Happy, Sparkly, Feel-Good Friday posts, but instead of doing them every week, I’m going to run them once a month. (And because I cannot stand the thought of deleting any of my writing, I’ve created a page on on the blog — Things I Used to Do (and Sometimes Still Do) — where everything will be kept safe and sound!)

And in terms of social media, I am going to keep my Facebook page, but I’m ditching my Pinterest account (which I never used anyway), and maybe even my Twitter account. It’s just too much to keep up with.

Part of me feels like a failure by making these changes — not a failure as a writer, but a failure at sticking with it. But then I look at the life around me, and I realize that participating in it is the real success.

So a huge thank you to those of you who have stuck with me and will continue to hang around. I truly appreciate the love and support!


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To Bus or Not to Bus: That is the Question (Again)

Ever since my oldest discovered the existence of school buses, she began asking me when exactly she’d be able to take one to school. “When can I wide one?” my innocent little 2-year-old would ask, full of awe and excitement. “Oh, when you’re older sweetie,” I’d say. And that answer held her for a little while, but then she started asking, “But when, mamma?! When will I be older?” And so then I switched my response to, “Probably when you’re 5 and go to kindergarten.” I really didn’t want to think about putting my baby on a school bus ever, even when she turned 5, and luckily, 3 years was a long way off.

And then it wasn’t. It was almost as if I sneezed and we were instantly transported into the future — just weeks before Belle was to start kindergarten, and there we were, faced with the decision I didn’t really want to make: To bus or not to bus?

bus

But as far as my daughter was concerned, the decision had already been made. I had told her she could ride the bus when she turned 5 and was going to kindergarten, and that was that. In fact, over the years, her constant questions asking when she could ride the bus simply turned into statements of fact: “I’m going to ride the bus when I go to kindergarten.” Clearly she did not pick up on the fact that I had initially said she could “probably” ride the bus when she turned 5, nor did she pick up on my own fear and hesitation for her to actually do so. (Which, btw, I was grateful for.)

My daughter was clearly excited about riding the bus — seriously, whenever anyone would ask her what she was looking forward to most about starting school, she’d say, “I get to ride the bus.” She’d even walk up to strangers in the grocery store or at the park and say, “I’m starting kindergarten soon, and I get to ride the bus.” I am not exaggerating when I say that the girl was obsessed with riding that damn bus. Bus, bus, bus, bus, bus — it’s all we heard about for weeks and weeks before school started.

And my husband was all in on the bus idea, too. “But what if she gets scared?” I asked him. “How will she know what to do when she gets off the bus at school?” “What if she gets lost on the way to her classroom? It’s so far from the bus drop off!” “How will she find the right bus at the end of the day?” “What if she misses her stop?” “What if the older kids are mean to her?” “What if the bus gets a flat tire and the bus driver doesn’t have a phone on her to call for help and she’s stuck on the bus for hours and hours not knowing what’s going on and is scared and crying?” I threw all my fears at my husband in hopes of swaying him in the other direction. But my questions didn’t phase him. “Kids have been riding the bus for decades, they figure it out,” he said. And then he added, “I think it’s mommy who isn’t ready for the bus, not Belle.” Grrrrrrr.

But of course, he was right. I knew in my head that Belle would get the whole bus thing down within a day or two, and this was a part of tradition, of growing up, but my heart just wasn’t ready to let her go out into the big, scary world of elementary school on her own. I wasn’t ready for her to do this, but she was. And so, we decided she could take the bus.

And aside from some tears (mine, of course) on the first day of school, we got our whole bus routine down within a few days. Every day I put Belle on the bus, and every day — wouldn’t you know — she meets me at the end of our street, bounding off the bus to tell me about her day. She has never gotten lost getting from her bus to her class or from her class to her bus. She has never missed her stop. And she has never been stranded on the bus for hours due to a flat tire. Everything has seemed to be just peachy.

But? (Unfortunately, there is a but.) Just last week, Belle did something she shouldn’t have, and in the middle of me talking to her about it, she broke into tears and, completely off topic, starting telling me that there was a boy on the bus who had been mean to her and many of the other kids and that she didn’t want to ride the bus any more. She wanted me to start driving her. “I know I really wanted to ride the bus,” she sobbed (sobbed!) to me, “but I don’t want to ride a bus like that!”

My first thought was, “Who the hell is this kid? I will make sure he never bothers you again. And of course I will drive you to school.” I didn’t say this to her, of course. Instead I asked her how the boy was mean to her — because you know, sometimes kids say other kids are “mean” if they don’t want to play with them or if they don’t hear them say something and so then don’t respond. You know, pretty benign things. And my daughter can be really sensitive about that sort of stuff. But nope, Belle said the boy would try to throw water at her and some of the other younger kids, and he had even hit a neighbor of ours. And when I asked around, a few other neighbors mentioned they had heard similar stories from their kids about this little boy.

That was it. It was settled. Belle wouldn’t be riding the bus any more. I would make sure of it. But after discussing it with my husband, who also got riled up about someone being mean to his little girl, he made the valid point that if there really is a problem, we shouldn’t have to pull our daughter off the bus, rather the boy who is causing the problems should be pulled from the bus. And even more, our first step should probably be to speak with the bus driver before making any rash decisions.

Man, the husband was on a roll. Right again. And so, the next morning, just this past Friday, we headed to the bus again. Belle was hesitant, but I told her that I would speak to her bus driver, and we should see how the next few bus rides went. After getting all of the kids on the bus, I had a chat with the bus driver. I let her know what Belle and other kids in the neighborhood had told me and their parents, and I asked that she pay particular attention to this kid to make sure he didn’t continue with the questionable behavior. She didn’t respond with the concern I had expected, but she said very matter-of-factly that she’d take care of it. And so, I sent my baby on her way again, with a slight lump in the throat, I’ll admit, and prayed she’d have a good ride to and from school.

I was anxious to pick her up at the end of the day, but she seemed fine when she got off the bus. When I asked her if the little boy gave her or her friends any problems she said, “no,” and promptly ran to catch up with her friends so they could walk to the other end of the street together. Phew, I thought.

But of course (yes, another but) over this past weekend Belle was back to telling me she didn’t want to ride the bus any more. And so we’re back at the crossroads we found ourselves at the beginning of the school year: To bus or not to bus? That is the question. Again.

On the one hand, my husband and I feel that this is something Belle needs to work through and figure out how to deal with. Not everyone is going to be nice to her, and she can’t avoid things every time someone is mean to her. (I should note here that, although I have not witnessed anything first hand, I do not have the sense that this little boy is consciously bullying the other kids — he is also a kindergartener, and I think he may be just one of those kids who plays a little rough and doesn’t have a sense of when “fun” teasing crosses the line and when he should stop. I am in no way condoning his behavior or saying that my daughter doesn’t have a right to get upset by it, but I wanted to put out there that I don’t have the sense he is a physical threat or danger to the other kids. At this point, anyway, with all of the information I have.)

On the other hand, we recognize that Belle is only 5, and if she doesn’t want to ride the bus any more — for whatever reason — we want to help her feel as safe and comfortable as possible and remove all cause for anxiety or unhappiness, even if she has just changed her mind and decided she doesn’t like riding the bus.

Our solution as of today is to give this some time to see if things get better on the bus and if Belle starts to enjoy riding it again. We’ll see how the next few days go and re-evaluate after that.

Have you ever had a similar experience with your kids? If so, how did you handle it?


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One Breast, Two Breast, No Breast, Yes Breast: Part III

Today I’m sharing the final (for now, anyway) part of my breastfeeding journey. Last week I shared my daughter’s story, and earlier this week I shared my oldest son’s story. I was unable to breastfeed either one, but for very different reasons. Although devastating to me each time, I gave it another go with my youngest son. And this time, everything fell into place. 

This time, it all worked out.

This time, it all worked out.

They say “third time’s a charm,” and for me and breastfeeding, this was certainly true. Even though I was unable to breastfeed my daughter or my oldest son, I still wanted to give it a try with my youngest son, Eli. But, whereas I went into it with fierce determination the first two times around, this time I didn’t stress too much about it. Given my history, this time I was more laid back: “If it works out, great,” I’d tell myself. “If not, it won’t be the end of the world.” And I actually meant it. Whether this had something to do with my success the third time around, I don’t know. But I like to think so.

After Eli was born, I didn’t rush the medical staff to give me my baby so I could immediately put him to my breast. When the nurse placed Eli on my chest for the first time, breastfeeding wasn’t my first thought. Instead I was in awe of the cute little human I had just pushed out of my body, and I was totally and completely amazed that I now had three, THREE, children.

I’m not going to lie. When it was time to try feeding Eli that first time, I was hit with a little bit of anxiety. But wouldn’t you know, my littlest man latched on quickly and, like his brother at first, nursed like a champ! I wasn’t lulled into excitement just yet, however, because I knew things could change quickly, as they did with Saurus.

But things didn’t change the next feeding. Or the feeding after that. Or ever while we were in the hospital. Eli took well to nursing every single time. It took a few feedings for us to get in sync with each other (you know, figure out the best position and such), but after that, there was no fussing or whining or wailing — on either of our parts. Yes, yes, yes! I could hardly believe it was happening. I was actually breastfeeding!

I did get a little anxious again the day we had to leave the hospital. Even though Eli was my third baby, he was my first to really breastfeed. I was by no means an expert at breastfeeding, and I still felt very unsure of myself. But we made it through the first couple of days just fine.

But two days later when my milk came in, my anxiety came flooding back. Now that I was exclusively breastfeeding, I didn’t know what to do when I was so engorged that Eli couldn’t latch on. I didn’t really want to offer a bottle because things were going so well, and I was still afraid of nipple confusion. But when I couldn’t get relief, I turned to a bottle so as not to starve my little peanut. Thankfully, my fears about nipple confusion proved to be nothing but unneeded worry because, as it turned out, Eli was happy to nurse from anything and went right back to the boob when I was able to breastfeed him again. Phew.

I’d like to say that the remaining months that I breastfed Eli were 100% smooth sailing. But they weren’t. Breastfeeding — although a completely amazing experience and one I am so grateful and blessed to have been able to have — is a lot of work. A LOT. And for me, at least, it was not all glitter and unicorns.

It’s true that there are a ton of great things about breastfeeding! It’s an amazing bonding experience, it provides many health benefits for mommy and baby, and it can save you a ton of money. Oh, and you can never forget your boobs anywhere, so there’s that. (There’s also a rumor going around that breastfeeding can help you drop all that baby weight pretty quickly — soooo many people told me this would happen — but, of course, it didn’t for me. Waah waahh.)

But if I’m being completely honest, breastfeeding took a toll on me physically. Off and on the entire time I was breastfeeding, I dealt with milk blisters (yes, they really exist) and plugged ducts, in addition to chronic nipple spasms (yes, those also really exist, and feel as awful as you imagine) due to another health issue I have (Raynaud’s — a vasospactic circulatory disorder). As you can imagine, all of these issues made for painful nursing sessions. I probably singlehandedly kept the lanonlin and nursing pad companies in business that year. Not to mention various pharmaceutical companies for all of the antibiotics and creams I had to use.

I should also admit that I was wholly unprepared for the amount of time breastfeeding would take. Breastfed babies tend to nurse more frequently than formula-fed babies, and usually take longer to nurse than a baby with a bottle, and boy did Eli capitalize on this, especially early on. And even as he got older, unless he’d take an unusually long nap, we never really made it past 3-ish hours between feedings. This means that I had a baby on me like all the time for nearly one whole year. Not only did this leave me with little time for myself, but it also made it hard to spend a lot of quality time with my other two kids. (And oh the guilt!) This is nothing unusual or unique to my situation, but I wasn’t really prepared for this. Coming off of two bottle-fed babies, I was used to sharing feeding responsibilities with my husband. This was especially nice when we could divvy up nighttime feedings. With breastfeeding, I was the only one producing the milk, so . . . I was the only one feeding the baby. All the time. The bonding was great, but I won’t lie, I missed being able to share the responsibility every once in a while.

Another surprise? The amount of pumping I had to do even though I was breastfeeding. Contrary to what I thought was the case given my previous experiences, I actually produced a lot of breast milk. And for a while it was just way more than I actually needed. Which meant adding pumping sessions between nursing sessions so that my boobs wouldn’t explode. Or, if Eli slept exceptionally long and missed a usual feeding, and when he started sleeping through the night before my body adjusted my supply to meet his demand, I’d have to add in some pumping. Which was nice because I was able to build up a frozen milk stash for when we needed it, but it took more time. For a long time it felt like all I was doing was either breastfeeding or pumping. Breastfeeding, pumping, breastfeeding, pumping.

With all of this said, however . . . I wouldn’t trade my breastfeeding experience with Eli — blisters, plugged ducts, spasms, and all — for anything. Anything. The whole bonding thing and closeness that I felt with Eli was absolutely amazing. I am proud to have been able to breastfeed him for nearly his entire first year of life. And if my husband and I are blessed with any more children (we haven’t closed the door on that just yet), I will definitely give breastfeeding another go. Despite all of the issues we faced, I certainly consider my breastfeeding experience with Eli a success!

But I do think that the whole “breast is best” movement should expand not only to educate families about all of the good that comes from breastfeeding but also to help better prepare breastfeeding mothers for the realities and struggles that can often occur, and are completely normal, even with “successful” experiences.

As happy and proud as I am to have breastfed my youngest, I do not feel in any way that this experience was superior to my other two . . . just different. Mommies, all mommies, whether they choose (or have no choice) to breast or bottle feed need to be supported and need to know that they are doing great. Whatever road they travel.

Nothing is supposed to come more naturally to a new mother than breastfeeding. At least that’s what I always thought until I actually had kids. And then this little thing called life sort of changed all of my plans. This series is about my ups and downs with breastfeeding with all three of my kids — my journey through anticipation; disappointment; overwhelming, debilitating guilt; and, eventually, success. I’m sharing this journey with you not to come down on one side or the other in the whole breast vs. bottle debate (because as you’ll see, I’ve fallen on both) — and by no means do I want to start a debate about it here (so please, let’s not go there) — I’d simply like to shine a light on the fact that many women, and for many, many different reasons, struggle with breastfeeding. If you have ever or are currently struggling, please know that you are not alone.


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One Breast, Two Breast, No Breast, Yes Breast: Part II

So last week I kicked off my breastfeeding series with my daughter’s story: The story of how there was never any question about breastfeeding her, until she was born 11 weeks early, and life laid out a different path before us. Today I’m sharing my oldest son’s story: The story about my re-determination to successfully breastfeed and the reality that life, once again, handed me. 

breastfeeding part 2

My oldest son, 5 days old, drinking his bottle . . . le sigh.

After the extreme letdown and guilt I felt over not being able to breastfeed my daughter, I was fiercely determined to breastfeed my son. From the moment I found out I was pregnant. Yet again, there was never any question whether or not I wanted to breastfeed. I did, I did, I did! The only hurdle I needed to get over was being able to carry this baby to term. If I could do that, I was sure the breastfeeding issues I had with my daughter wouldn’t be a problem.

And after a practically 37-week-long anxiety attack — being pregnant again after having a preemie so early was a terrifying and wholly nerve-wracking experience (not to mention the copious ultrasounds and progesterone shots in my bum) — my little man Saurus (reminder: this is a pseudonym he picked out) was born, happy and healthy. Three weeks early, but still considered full term! (And yes, I know I still need to write his birth story. Coming soon, I promise.) I was thrilled! I had a baby that would be leaving the hospital with me. And a baby that would be able to breastfeed! Yippeee.

From the second we got to the hospital, I had made it known to my doctor and all of the nurses that I would be breastfeeding. I can’t even describe how proud I felt when my nurse wrote “exclusively breastfeeding” on the white board in my room. So you can be sure that when the nurse brought Saurus to me to nurse for the first time, I was all over that. Or more accurately, he was all over that. Saurus latched on successfully on the very first try and nursed like a champ! I couldn’t have been happier.

Unfortunately, that first successful latch and nursing session was also our last. Not the last attempt, but the last successful, happiness-inducing nursing session. From that point on, attempting to feed Saurus was a struggle. Every time I’d attempt to breastfeed him, he’d get extremely fussy. The first few times after our initial session I was able to eventually get him to nurse after 20-30 minutes of coaxing and repositioning and repositioning again, but he’d never go for very long. And eventually, after the first three or four tries, Saurus had had enough. When I went to try to feed him, he screamed his little head off. And then he just continued to scream. And scream. And scream. And then I started crying because nothing I did was helping. He was clearly hungry but wouldn’t eat. Even my husband tried to help us, but to no avail.

Finally the nurse came in to try to help. And? Nothing but more screaming and me crying. At this point, we decided we were both just far too gone — the baby and me — and since Saurus hadn’t really had much to eat in nearly 8 hours, we’d try to give him a bottle of formula to fill his tummy and settle him down. So much for me “exclusively breastfeeding.” I was (again) devastated. I had read so much about nipple confusion and avoiding giving a breastfeeding baby a bottle for at least the first 3 months . . . I didn’t want to do anything to mess up breastfeeding this time around, and not yet 12 hours into his life, I was breaking two of the biggest rules out there.

But determined I was still. I wasn’t giving up that easily. No way. So we kept at it. The remainder of our stay in the hospital was simply a repeat of everything we’d been through the first day. A few very short nursing sessions after 20-30 minutes of fussing each time were followed by Saurus’s refusal to go near my boobs at all and a massive screaming fit until we’d give him a bottle. And then we’d start all over again.

Needless to say, I wasn’t getting much rest, and instead of being excited to go home with our new baby on discharge day, I was terrified. I had no idea how I was going to keep this up at home while also taking care of my nearly 2-year-old. Oh, and myself.

“Keep at it,” family and friends and the medical staff encouraged me. “Some babies take a while to get it down,” they said. And I knew this was true. I had family and friends who struggled with breastfeeding for a few weeks until suddenly everything just clicked. I hadn’t anticipated this happening to me, but I wanted this so badly, so keep at it I did.

And here’s how a typical feeding session went: Saurus would start showing signs that he was hungry, I would scoop him up and attempt to breastfeed him, he would fuss and wiggle and do anything he could to avoid latching on, I would reposition him and try again, he’d continue fussing and avoiding my boob, I’d offer my other boob, he’d begin screaming and wailing, I’d begin crying, and about an hour or so after the whole breastfeeding attempt started, I’d give in and give him a bottle. Or hand him to my husband or mom to give him a bottle so I could go cry in the bathroom.

This went on for a couple of days. And then my milk came in. And I was so engorged that Saurus couldn’t even latch on if he wanted to. Which added another whole barrier and even more frustration and screaming and crying to the mix. And pumping. And more bottles. I got to the point where I simply dreaded feeding time. Like if I was given the choice between what I was going through and having to eat off my own arm to save myself from starvation, I would have chosen the latter.

Things just were not going how I planned. And I didn’t understand what the problem was. Why didn’t this baby want to breastfeed? What was I doing wrong? What was wrong with me? After a week of being home and trying everything in the book (and on the web and suggested by everyone I knew) and still feeling like we weren’t making any progress, I called a lactation consultant. Surely she could help us get back on track.

And sure enough, after sitting with us for all of 10 minutes — and after some poking and pulling and whatnot — she had Saurus latched on and nursing. He’d pop off every few minutes, but every time the LC would pop him right back on and he’d continue feeding. “See,” she’d say, “you just need to relax and do [this] and [this] and [this] and he should do just fine.” After 30 more minutes of hand holding and helpful tips, the LC left, and I was feeling better about the whole thing.

That is, of course, until I went to feed Saurus the next time. I tried everything the LC had showed me — everything that she did just 2 hours earlier that had him breastfeeding — but he wasn’t having it. And his screaming began again. I felt like such a failure. All of the memories and feelings of disbelief, inadequacy, anger, and guilt that I felt with my daughter came flooding back. And I finally broke down. Like really broke down. I remember falling into my husband’s arms in our kitchen and sobbing. And I said something so completely ridiculous like how glad I was we weren’t living in an earlier time because I wouldn’t be able to keep our children alive.

In that moment, I think my husband realized just how much I was struggling, and just how much I was hurting. And in that moment, my husband became my hero. Because he looked at me with such love in his eyes and told me that I was in no way a failure and that if I wanted to stop breastfeeding he would fully support me. All that mattered, he said, was that the baby and I were happy. And if that meant bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding, so be it.

And with that, I felt absolved. I was released of my anger and frustration and guilt. Of course my husband was right. We needed to do what was best for Saurus. For me. For our family. It was the same lesson I learned with our daughter. But for some reason I just needed to relearn it. Maybe it was because I was trying so very hard to make up for the loss I felt with Belle. Maybe it was because I hadn’t really, truly gotten over it the first time.

From that moment forward, my little man was bottle fed. And our feeding sessions typically went something like this: Saurus would start showing signs that he was hungry, I would scoop him up and give him a bottle, and he would drink from the bottle happily. There was no more crying from either him or me. He was happy. I was happy.

And once we got this down, the rest of it just fell into place. I was no longer terrified every time Saurus cried. I no longer dreaded feeding time. And I was no longer spending every waking minute trying to feed him or figure out why I couldn’t feed him — instead, I was able to spend more time with both my daughter and my husband. I wasn’t consumed with the ins and outs and rights and wrongs of breastfeeding. Because of this decision, I was able to be the best mommy I could be. To both of my children.

And again, regardless of the road that got me there, in the end, that was all that mattered.

Nothing is supposed to come more naturally to a new mother than breastfeeding. At least that’s what I always thought until I actually had kids. And then this little thing called life sort of changed all of my plans. This series is about my ups and downs with breastfeeding with all three of my kids — my journey through anticipation; disappointment; overwhelming, debilitating guilt; and, eventually, success. I’m sharing this journey with you not to come down on one side or the other in the whole breast vs. bottle debate (because as you’ll see, I’ve fallen on both) — and by no means do I want to start a debate about it here (so please, let’s not go there) — I’d simply like to shine a light on the fact that many women, and for many, many different reasons, struggle with breastfeeding. If you have ever or are currently struggling, please know that you are not alone.


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One Breast, Two Breast, No Breast, Yes Breast: Part I

Nothing is supposed to come more naturally to a new mother than breastfeeding. At least that’s what I always thought until I actually had kids. And then this little thing called life sort of changed all of my plans. This series is about my ups and downs with breastfeeding with all three of my kids — my journey through anticipation; disappointment; overwhelming, debilitating guilt; and, eventually, success. I’m sharing this journey with you not to come down on one side or the other in the whole breast vs. bottle debate (because as you’ll see, I’ve fallen on both) — and by no means do I want to start a debate about it here (so please, let’s not go there) — I’d simply like to shine a light on the fact that many women, and for many, many different reasons, struggle with breastfeeding. If you have ever or are currently struggling, please know that you are not alone. (And yes, now I have that Michael Jackson song in my head, too. Sorry ’bout that.)

breastfeeding part 1

This is actually the very first time I attempted to breastfeed Belle. This beautiful moment was captured by her daddy, and I’m so grateful for it!

When I was pregnant with our daughter, Belle, there was never any question for me in the breast vs. bottle feeding decision. I was definitely going to breastfeed. I really didn’t think twice about it. But then life threw us a little curve ball: Our daughter was born 11 weeks premature. Her surprising and unexpected beginning brought many challenges, one of which being, you guessed it, feeding issues.

Belle was born so early that she had not yet developed the suck/swallow reflex needed for nursing or even taking a bottle, so she was placed on a feeding tube for a few weeks. I was disappointed that I couldn’t breastfeed her right away, but the nurses suggested that I pump for her so that she’d at least be getting my breast milk.

So, pump I did. Every two to three hours around the clock, just as if I was actually breastfeeding. I wasn’t producing much those first few days, which is normal, and which was completely fine, because Belle was only taking a few milliliters of milk at a time through her feeding tube, so even the small amount I was producing early on was plenty for her.

I kept hearing, “Just wait a few more days until your milk comes in, then you’ll start getting a lot more.” But a few days came and went. And I wasn’t producing more. And a week later, I still wasn’t producing more. I’d sit in the pumping room in the NICU and marvel at the bottles and bottles other mommies were filling (in a totally non-creepy way, of course) while I couldn’t manage to fill even one. I’d sit at home and will my boobs to start spewing milk to fill bottle after bottle after bottle. But they didn’t.

And I tried everything under the sun to try to improve my supply. Ev-er-y-thing. But nothing worked. And we finally got to a point at which Belle’s demand for breast milk was more than what I could give her via pumping, and we had to start supplementing with formula. I was simply crushed. It got to the point where I would cry every time I pumped because I couldn’t do the most basic thing a mother is supposed to do for her child: I couldn’t even feed her. And this overwhelming disappointment turned into anxiety, which did nothing, as you can imagine, to help improve my supply.

But, I kept at it. And the nurses were very encouraging: “Every little bit helps!” they’d exclaim as I’d hand them my daily take. And I knew they were right, but I still felt like a failure. My husband, my family, my friends, they all cheered me on and were incredibly supportive, but I still felt like a failure. Belle was doing extremely well — thriving even — but I still felt like a failure.

And then one day when I stopped in for my morning visit with Belle, I realized her feeding tube had been removed. The nurse told me Belle had taken extremely well to the bottle overnight and asked if I wanted to try feeding her. As I was sitting there feeding her with a bottle for the first time, another nurse came up and asked if I’d like to try breastfeeding next time. I told her I’d love nothing more, but I had no idea how. So the nurse scheduled the lactation consultant to come in and help me during Belle’s next scheduled feeding.

My heart nearly exploded with happiness and anticipation and anxiety as I waited for the next feeding. I called my husband and shared the good news, and he made sure to get to the hospital in time to join us. Of course with new camera in hand. (He’s responsible for the beautiful photo at the beginning of this post!)

I won’t lie. Our first breastfeeding attempt was very awkward. I had no idea what I was doing, and I had some complete (albeit nice) stranger grabbing and poking and pulling on my boobs while maneuvering around all of Belle’s various tubes and wires, all in an attempt to get Belle to latch on. Which she did eventually. And then promptly fell asleep. (Preemies are notorious for sleeping at the boob. It’s really a lot of work for them.) “We’ll try again next time,” said the nurse.

It took a few more tries, but eventually we caught Belle at the right time and all the stars aligned — she was awake, she latched on quickly, and she seemed to be feeding incredibly well. And then? All of the alarms on her monitors started going off. And I freaked out. After calmly checking Belle and then her monitors, the nurse told me that Belle’s heartbeat had dropped pretty low (known as bradycardia), and that this was very common in preemies, especially when they were stressed or overstimulated. She explained that breastfeeding was a lot of work for a preemie, so we’d just have to take things slow. Ok, I could live with that.

Only it turns out, I couldn’t. Every single time I’d try to breastfeed Belle, her alarms would go off. And I would get stressed. Instead of enjoying some bonding time with Belle, I’d sit there watching her monitors for any sign of bradycardia. I was always on the verge of one massive anxiety attack. And sure enough, her alarms would go off. Every. Single. Time. So we made the executive decision to alternate feedings: we’d give a bottle at one feeding, and I’d attempt to breastfeed at the next.

And this is how it was when we left the hospital and made our way home. Bottle, attempt boob, bottle, attempt boob. All in the hopes that Belle would eventually be strong enough to start every meal on the boob, followed by a bottle if she was still hungry after exhausting my still-low milk supply.

My anxiety, however, only worsened after we got home. Belle was discharged from the NICU on an apnea and heart monitor, which of course went off every time I tried to breastfeed her. But when you’re in your own home with your preemie and the monitor alarms start going off, there are no nurses there to rush over and check her and reassure you that she is ok. Or tell you what to do. Which caused me to become a complete bundle of wreck. I just couldn’t handle it.

And so? After a few weeks, we decided to move Belle to bottle feedings 100% of the time. And again? I was devastated because I had so wanted to breastfeed. But, I knew it was the best choice for us. And for my sanity. Belle was really thriving, and I didn’t want to mess that up. Plus, I was still pumping, so I felt at least partially responsible for how well she was doing.

It wasn’t long, though, before Belle’s appetite completely overtook what my body could produce. Plus the constant pumping on top of all of the bottle feedings was getting to be too much. If I wasn’t feeding Belle a bottle, I was pumping. But for all of the hours each day and night I spent pumping, I was getting very little breast milk. So we decided it was time to stop pumping. Which meant Belle would be drinking formula from a bottle at every feeding. There would be no more breastfeeding. The thing I wanted to do most for my baby, the thing I never questioned doing, was now the thing that I was giving up.

And I knew in my head that this was the right decision. For me. For Belle. For my husband. But my heart? My heart was devastated. Sad. Angry. Defeated. Full of guilt. And envious. I’m not going to lie. It took a long, long time for me to see anyone else breastfeeding without mourning my inability to do so. (And it didn’t help that I occasionally had to defend our choices to perfect strangers!)

But the day did eventually come a few months later where I looked at my perfectly healthy, verging-on-chubby daughter and realized it truly didn’t matter that I wasn’t able to breastfeed her or give her breast milk from a bottle. Belle was thriving! She was caught up in size by the time she was 6 months and was doing better than anyone had expected. She was happy. We were happy. That was truly all that mattered. And in that moment, I was finally able to release myself from all of the guilt that had been building since the day Belle was born.


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My Husband Put a Ring on It, and then a Firefighter Cut if Off

Today’s post is actually something I wrote for my friend Michelle over at Miss Banana Pants a few months ago. But over the past few weeks, there have been some incidents that have left me needing a reminder about the lesson which prompted me to write the post in the first place. So, I figured it’d be a good time to re-read this and share it with you again. 

ring

So, this happened a few months ago:

broken ring

That is my wedding ring. And that is what it looked like after a fire fighter had to cut it off of my finger. There was no gnarly accident or trauma that required this happen. There was simply my own stupidity. Or stubbornness. We’ll go with stubbornness.

It all started about 7 months into my third pregnancy. My body started getting, how shall I say, extra puffy. It was summertime and I was retaining water like crazy. I was swelling up so badly that I had to remove my engagement and wedding rings. Not uncommon; I had to do it a few weeks before delivering my second, so I wasn’t surprised. And I assumed, just as with the first time, I’d have those puppies back on a week or so after having the baby. No biggie.

Fast forward to 8 months after having said baby, and those suckers still were not fitting on my finger. Every week or so I’d pull the rings out from my underwear drawer (because that is a good place to keep valuables) and try the get them back on. But nope. I was so perplexed. I weighed less than I did when I was able to get them back on after baby #2. What the heck?! Were my fingers just permanently obese after this third kid? Back in the drawer the rings went.

And then one day a few weeks later, I was feeling a little lighter around the fingers. Don’t ask me why, but I could just sense that my rings were going to fit that day. So I got them out, took a deep breath, and tried to get them on. And wouldn’t you know, my wedding band went on. It took just a little coaxing, but not much. “Phew! Finally,” I thought to myself. So then I went to get my engagement ring on. I should have stopped when I felt the initial resistance, but I was so determined to wear it again that I just kept pushing and twisting until it finally went on.

I realized almost immediately that I had just made a grave mistake. In no more than 30 seconds, my finger began to swell up all around my rings. Awww nuts! So down to the kitchen I went. Straight for the olive oil. I dumped nearly the whole bottle on my hand. And started twisting.

Nope. That wasn’t working. So I moved on to dish soap. I’d run my hand under frigid water for a few minutes, pour soap on it, and then twist. After about 45 minutes of this, and some extreme pain, I finally managed to free my engagement ring. Then it was on to my wedding band.

Nope again. After all of the trauma from getting my engagement ring off, my finger was so completely swollen that it looked like it might actually explode. And I started losing a little bit of feeling. So naturally, I started to panic.

After giving my finger a break and soaking it in an ice bath for like 30 minutes (that does not feel good, btw), I was back at it. And over the next few hours (yes, hours!), I tried everything I could think of or that I found on the internet to get that ring off my finger. Nothing was working.

I finally texted my husband at work to tell him what was going on and told him I thought I’d have to get my ring cut off. When he got home, he looked at my finger and agreed.

While searching the internet earlier in the day about how to remove rings from swollen fingers, I learned that most firehouses have the tools to cut them off. So I called our local firehouse to see, and sure enough, the guy I spoke with made it seem like they did that kind of stuff every day. “C’mon down,” he said. “We’ll take care of you.”

And so I went. It was around 8:30 at night, and instead of finding a quiet firehouse like I assumed I would, this night of all nights was a training night, so there were like 50 firefighters hanging around.

I was greeted by a friendly younger guy who said he’d have me outta there in 2 minutes. He already had the ring cutter tool ready and waiting. So he sat me down and went to work. And I’ll tell ya, the sound of metal on metal, the sound of my wedding band getting cut apart, made me cringe.

But you know what? I didn’t cry like I thought I would. In fact, looking back, I hadn’t cried once during the whole experience. And I’m a crier. Like big time. I cry at everything. The birth of my children, touching music, movies, commercials. EVERYTHING.

I shrugged it off and figured the waterworks would begin in the car on the way home when I was alone and didn’t have all of the firefighters staring at me. But no. I didn’t cry then, either. And I didn’t cry when I got home and showed my husband my ring, or anytime that night. Not even the next day. Or the next. My tears never came.

And then I realized why. Although my ring was a symbol of love between my husband and I—till death do us part and all of that—it was only a symbol. A thing. Never before had the words on this wall hanging that we’ve had since the very first place we ever lived together rang more true:

wall hanging

Our love itself…that, in fact, was not broken. All I had to do was look around to see it and the vows we took on our wedding day alive and well. In the home we made together. The children we made together. The life we made together. These are all shining examples of our love. And they are not broken. Far from it.

I may have lost a ring that day, but over the past 10 years, I have gained so much more. “Things” that truly are irreplaceable!

To see my original post — The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things — over on Miss Banana Pants, please click here


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What 16 Singing Preschoolers Taught Me About Being a Mom

This past Friday started out like any other day. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. It started even earlier than usual.

Ever since the sun starting rising at the ungodly hour of 5 am (ok, 5:36 am to be exact), our oldest has been rising shortly after. I think 5:50 has been the latest in the past few weeks. But she knows her mamma loves her sleep, so she’ll usually make her way downstairs to either “read” her books or watch tv. My husband is usually up and getting ready for work, so they get to have some quiet morning time together, just the two of them. And that’s cool with me.

Our 3-year-old is pretty unpredictable. Whether he wakes up with his sister or sleeps longer, though, he’ll usually just come crawl in bed with me and go back to sleep. That is also cool with me. Like I said, I love sleep.

And the baby, well, currently he’s waking up around 6 to nurse but will almost always go right back to sleep for at least another hour after he eats. Also? Cool with me.

So essentially what I’m saying is that on any given day, even if I’m up early to nurse the baby or get the 3-year-old snug as a bug in a rug after he wanders into our room, I can usually stay in bed until about 7:30 or so, with only a brief interruption of sleep.

But not Friday. Friday was one of those perfect storm mornings where all three kids managed to wake up at the same time and had no inclination to go back to sleep. Any of them. And as I sat in bed feeding the baby while the other two talked about the whats and whys of diarrhea (don’t ask, I have no idea why this was even a topic of discussion that early in the morning) and then started arguing about what to watch on tv, I realized I was not going back to sleep. Although I did get the baby back to sleep, it was a lost cause with the older two.

Turned out the early wake-up was good, though, because I had a Mother’s Day Brunch to go to at our daughter’s preschool that morning, and since it had been awhile since I showered and made myself look presentable, I figured I’d better do something about that. As I was trying to steam myself awake in the shower while lamenting about the extra lack of sleep that morning, I started longing for the days of teenagedom when my kids’ lazy asses will likely be sleeping until noon. (Because that means that my lazy ass will be sleeping until noon!) “Those will be the days,” I remember thinking. (And yes, I know those years come with their own difficulties, but seriously, I should be able to sleep, right?!)

Then, later that morning I stood in my daughter’s classroom beaming with pride with all the other mothers as we watched our children sing us a song at our Mother’s Day brunch. I cannot for the life of me remember the words that they were singing, but in that moment I started tearing up and began experiencing something I can only describe as being equivalent to a near-death experience. You know, where something happens and your entire life flashes before you. Except it wasn’t my life. It was my daughter’s.

Seriously. It was almost as if everyone in the room disappeared and all I could see was my daughter. And bits and pieces of her life over the past 5 years just started flooding my memory. The day we found out we were pregnant with her. Her early birth and weeks living in the NICU. Her first milestones. Her first birthday party. Her transition from only child to older sister. Twice. Her first day of school. Her broken elbow. How her eyes, her smile, her laughter have managed to stay the same over the years.

Because in that moment, I was struck by the realization that my  3-lb preemie had grown into the smart, adorable, precocious 5-year-old standing before me in no more than the blink of an eye. How the hell did the last 5 years go by so quickly? All I wanted to do was freeze time. You know like in that show from years ago when the girl had an alien for a father whom she talked to via a glowing rock on her nightstand. And she could freeze time by touching her two pointer fingers together. What was that show called? (Pause while I consult Google…) Oh yes, “Out of This World.” So yeah, I wanted to do that. Freeze time. (Sidenote: If you’ve never seen “Out of This World,” you should check it out. It’s pretty tremendous.)

And then the guilt set in. For all the times, like earlier that morning, when I openly wished for time to speed up. For my kids to outgrow whatever phase they were in at the time. “I can’t wait until they’re older and sleep in.” “I can’t wait until they’re older so that they stop throwing these god-awful tantrums.” “I can’t wait until they’re all out of diapers so I don’t have to deal with wiping butts anymore.” “I can’t wait for the days when they’re older and I don’t have to watch them every flippin second of every single day.” I can’t wait. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. Wait, what?! *Insert screeching tire sounds here (or a record needle cutting across the record, your choice).*

As I stood watching these 16 preschoolers singing–these 16 preschoolers who all were babies you know like 10 seconds ago–I realized I had been spending so much time wishing for my kids’ childhoods to move along that I wasn’t always appreciating them for who they are now. Right this minute.

I could hardly breathe as the kids finished their song and I was pulled away from my thoughts by all of the clapping. I stifled my urge to sob right then and there, but when my daughter came over to give me the card that she made me, I nearly hugged the life out of her.

And right then I made myself a promise to stop wishing away time. At least so much. Now I’m pretty smart. I know everything is not going to be sparkles and rainbows and unicorns all the time just because I’ve made this promise to really focus on the now. Because I know the now still includes tantrums, and not listening, and goldfish crackers ground into the carpet, and toys all over the house, and glasses and glasses of milk spilled all over the place, and butts to wipe (oh so many butts to wipe!), and never any time for me…And I know there are still going to be times where I’ll think how nice things will be when the kids are older. And those kids of mine in the future will be awesome. I have no doubt.

But really, I need to remember that they’re pretty awesome right now, too! So, a big thank you to the 16 singing preschoolers who helped me realize this. 🙂

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mammas out there! May your day be filled with happiness and love whatever you find yourself doing.

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