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


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Our Special Day

Today my daughter turns 6. And I turn 35. Yup, that’s right, we share a birthday. Here we are in one of our annual birthday selfies. (More from each year at the end of this post.)

February 20, 2014 -- 6 and 35!

February 20, 2014 — 6 and 35!

Things weren’t supposed to work out like this, but our feisty, little Ms. Independent had plans of her own. She didn’t want to wait until her May 3rd due date to make us a family of three. February 20th — 11 weeks before she was scheduled to arrive — suited her just fine. And so it was, after 3 days of trying to prevent her from coming so early, and during the final hours of my birthday in 2008, Belle was born. (If you somehow missed it the first few times I shared it and you’re interested in reading her birth story, you can find it here.)

My most vivid memory of my daughter’s birth isn’t of the frantic race to get my doctor to me before Belle arrived, or the pushing, or even the moments just after Belle was born when she was rushed to another room and all I could do was relish in the fierce cry I heard from behind closed doors. It’s actually of my husband. And him leaning down and whispering, “Happy birthday, hun. I’m so proud of you.”

Belle was indeed the best birthday gift I could ever imagine. Nothing else will top her arrival. EVER. (Although, babe, if you’re reading this, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try if you’re so inclined, lol.) To share a birthday with my little lady (ok, not-so-little-anymore lady, sniff, sniff) goes beyond words. It’s not my day any more. It’s our day. Our special day that we’ll have, literally, forever. (Not that we’ll live forever, but the fact that we share a birthday will be a part of our history forever.)

And as Belle gets older, I look forward to all of the things we’ll do together to celebrate our special day. I envision movie and dinner dates, shopping, manicures and pedicures, spa days, vegging out and eating ourselves silly . . . just me and my girl. And don’t worry, if we run into those I’d-rather-do-anything-other-than-hang-out-with-my-mother years, as so many mothers and daughters do, I’ll figure out how to work that angst into some type of celebration. ūüėČ (But please don’t get me thinking about years that we may be apart and unable to physically get together. I just can’t go there yet!)

So a big happy 6th birthday to my sweet little daughter! I’m so grateful that I get to spend the rest of my life celebrating this special day with her. And you can bet that wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, every year on February 20th at 10:05 pm, I’ll be telling her about that fateful day in 2008 when she made me a mom for the first time and became the greatest birthday gift of all time. Plus, we’ll be taking more pictures like these:

1

February 21, 2008 — the very first time I was able to visit you in the NICU, and our very first picture together (thanks to Daddy!)

2

February 20, 2009 — your 1st birthday, my 30th ¬†— and our very first birthday selfie

3

February 20, 2010 — 2 and 31

February 20, 2011 -- 3 and 32

February 20, 2011 — 3 and 32

February 20, 2012 -- 4 and 33

February 20, 2012 — 4 and 33

February 20, 2013 -- 5 and 34

February 20, 2013 — 5 and 34

So, happy birthday, Beany! Can’t wait to see what this next year brings. Love you to the moon and stars! xoxoxoxoxoxo

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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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Be Back in 15 Minutes

Ok, maybe not 15 minutes, but soon . . . For those of you who follow my blog, first off, thank you. I’ve been taking a little step back over the past several weeks, as life has left little time for me to focus on any sort of writing. I am not giving up on it, but I am in the process of re-evaluating some things and will most likely be cutting back on the amount of blogging I do moving forward. So, thank you for waiting out this little break. I appreciate everyone’s support, and I promise I’ll be back soon. Until then . . .

xoxoxoxo


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Keeping Our Kids in the Dark — For Now

keeping kids in the dark

Several weeks ago, the kids and I were settling into our usual after-school routine — they were raiding the refrigerator and cabinets for a snack, and I was going through their backpacks to see what they brought home for me to display proudly or for me to fill out and return to school the next day (there’s always something, it seems).

As I was reading through a page of notes my daughter’s teacher sent home, I nearly had a panic attack when I got to the part about the lock down drills they’d be having that coming week. My hands began shaking, and tears started streaming down my face.

I was instantly transported back to the day last winter when we all learned about the horrendous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I did not personally know anyone who worked at or had kids in the school, but my family and I lived 45 minutes away, and a very good friend of mine who grew up in Newtown did. My heart ached for her as she spent her morning trying to get any news she could.  And my heart ached for the families at Sandy Hook. I could not imagine such a tragedy happening to my family. Like so many others, I spent the day sobbing and trying to wrap my brain around the heinous news that kept unfolding.

When I realized how visibly upset I was after reading through my daughter’s class notes, I ran into the other room to try and calm myself down so that the kids wouldn’t see me. At 2 and 4 when the shooting occurred, we did not tell our kids anything about it. They were too young to understand, and we didn’t want to put that type of fear into their minds.

And now, nearly one year later, as I tried to pull myself together, I didn’t want to explain to my kids — my daughter now a kindergartner herself — why I was so upset. Why it made me sick to my stomach to think of anything like that happening at their schools. Why it made me weak in the knees thinking of them having to huddle in the bathroom with their teachers and classmates as practice in case anything like that actually happened. Why it made me want to throw up thinking that the world we live in is such these days that we even need these lock down drills. I didn’t want to explain to them that not everyone in the world is good and that some people just do terrible things. I don’t want them to know that world. Ever.

But I’m not naive. I know they will learn the realities of the world eventually — either through us, friends, or something they’ll see on the news. (And probably a lot sooner than I’d like.) We’ve already talked to them about what they should do, for example, if they ever find themselves lost when we’re away from home, what they should do if they are ever approached by strangers if we’re not around, or what they should do if faced with an emergency. But we’re not broaching the topic of someone walking into their school with a gun.

Because this horror is not something they need to know (or fear). Again, I’d argue ever. But realistically, at least not now. Not yet. At 3 and 5 years old, they’re just not ready. I’m not ready. So for now, we’re keeping our kids in the dark. (And, thankfully, my daughter’s school is of the same mindset, at least when it comes to the younger kids. As far as my daughter is concerned, she thinks they have these lock down drills in case a wild animal, like a skunk, gets into the school accidentally.)

I know a lot of families are more forthcoming with their kids, even at such young ages, and a lot of people probably think we’re doing our kids a disservice by keeping them in the dark. But this is our family, and this is what works for us. We know there will come a time when we’ll need to talk about this kind of stuff. But that time, for us, is not now. Again, not yet.

I’m curious, though, for those of you who have had these conversations with your kids, how old were they? And what prompted the conversation? How did you approach the conversation? And how did your kids react? I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation with our kids, but I’d like to be sure to go into it as prepared as I can, so I thank you for any insight and suggestions you’re willing to share.


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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.