4 0 2

402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

The Not-So-Magical Mom Milk

To paraphrase a dear, funny friend of mine, paraphrasing dear, funny author David Sedaris – you should write about something only once you think it’s funny.

I think it’s time to write about breastfeeding.

Lest I set you up improperly, this isn’t meant to be a gut-busting post. But the beauty of waiting until you think something is funny is that, at minimum, you aren’t going to set fire to your computer or get tear-salt stuck in your keys while you recount the experience.

So. Breastfeeding. Here’s what we know:

We’re told that breastfed children experience everything from fewer allergies to higher IQ. In reality, there’s very little evidence that breastfeeding improves long-term outcomes for children. When they’re babies, breastfed kids may have slightly less bouts of diarrhea and ear infections than non-breastfed kids, but we’re talking a single-digit reduction in likelihoods. And let’s be honest, when there’s a trail of poop from the car to the garage, through the backyard, into the house, and all the way to the bathtub, there’s not a huge difference between 12 diarrhea poops and 13.

There is real evidence that breastfeeding results in a sizable (20-30%) reduction in risk of breast cancer in women who do it for longer than 12 months.

(For citations and more on this topic, as well as some nice debunks of guilt trips around Sleep Training and Working Moms, see this NY Times piece on The Data All Guilt-Ridden Parents Need.)

But when Joe and I took a breastfeeding preparation class when I was pregnant, we left with the understanding that breastmilk is The Ultimate Magic Elixir. And that it would help cure our child of any daycare ailment whilst prepping her to be smart, strong, kind, caring, successful, and super-human in most ways.

As life progressed, we had to come to terms with the knowledge that breastmilk is one potential ingredient of many potential ingredients in the much larger recipe for helping a baby thrive.

And when I say “come to terms,” I mean come. to. terms. My brief but tortured experience with breastfeeding no longer feels like the single biggest failure of my life but – it’s up there.

(The “coming to terms” thing is an ongoing thing.)

I think it’s important to talk about this stuff, because I don’t think many of us anticipate how physically and emotionally complex it actually is. And it’s something a lot of women deal with on their own – in the middle of the night, attached to a machine, while exhaustedly poking, prodding, and coaxing what feels like bruised rocks out of their boobs.

My Mom Crew used to call that last part Boob Maintenance. Every mom’s experience with Boob Maintenance is different – but it may or may not include: heating, cooling, pressing, rubbing, and squeezing clogged ducts and milk blisters; making and applying custom ointments to your cracked, blistery nipples, comprised of all kinds of weird stuff you’re pretty sure your baby can’t put in their mouth; creating little tents in your shirts and bras to avoid any/all contact with fabric or – god forbid – water; and ongoing pumping sessions that simultaneously relieve built-up pressure and stimulate more pressure to build up.

And that doesn’t include actually feeding the babe.

I’m going to pause here and acknowledge a couple things:

1. I clearly tried to breastfeed. Many women don’t or can’t in the first place. Major, major props to the woman who stays tuned in with her own body, brain, and needs while helping a newborn thrive.

2. Breastfeeding is universally challenging, during at least some point in the process. I haven’t met a mom yet who disputes that. But many moms ultimately find it to be a beautiful and fulfilling experience that they can maintain for months or years.

My limited experience wasn’t beautiful.

Here’s the thing about my sweet, funny, stubborn, curious, ball-loving little boy – he tried to flip my nipples inside-out while he ate. It was freaking terrible.

When, at our lactation consultant’s advice, I begrudgingly paused breastfeeding after two weeks in order to let myself heal for a bit, I did it with the depressing realization that it was the end of the road for me. Over the following weeks, I tried keeping up with Mars by exclusively pumping – but Joe was back at school at that point, so Mars and I spent our days with me attached to the pump and him lying next to me, whimpering and waiting. When we hit a stage where I couldn’t hold him because my chest was in so much pain, I called it for good. It took another three weeks of periodic pumping and stuffing my bra with ice cold cabbage to fully wean (DM me and I will happily extol the virtues of cold cabbage to you).

I remember my (honestly amazing) husband telling me week five that he wanted Mars to have breastmilk for at least six months, and that if he were in my position, he would tough it out.

I remember a nurse on the other end of a help line asking me repeatedly if I was “sure I wanted to stop” when I called her, sobbing, asking for weaning advice.

I remember people I’m close with telling me they thought I’d “just chosen not to breastfeed” in ways that made me feel selfish and weak.

I remember looking at my beautiful, healthy, incredibly fast-growing boy, and thinking, “I thought I’d be able to do anything for you.”

The realization that you can’t live up to your own expectations of motherhood, let alone anyone else’s, is powerful. It socks you in the gut. It forces you to acknowledge your own humanness, which is counter to the “Mom as Superhero” myth you’ve been sold.

But “Mom as Human” is a far more interesting character. She’s compelling. She’s unpredictable. She’s experiencing some stuff. And her relationship with her kid isn’t defined by the kind of liquid he drinks.

So, whoever you are, if you have thoughts about breastfeeding and they’re anything other than, “It seems like one of many great options,” I encourage you to find another self-talk track. Because moms are hard enough on themselves to begin with.

image of my family

We’re doing just fine.

When a Baby Becomes a Person

Sometime between my world being rocked and right now, something shifted. I think it happened between weeks seven and nine of Mars’ life. He grew and grew and grew, and all of a sudden, he seems to enjoy his own existence. He’s not just turning milk into poop and vigorously dividing cells. He’s discovering. He’s emoting. He’s watching and listening and experimenting.

(For now) we aren’t making mindless bounce-laps around the kitchen table. We’re chatting with each other, we’re relaxing together, and we’re discovering what the world looks like when it’s never been seen before. When Mars kicks and swings and I ask him excitedly (like, really excitedly) if moving around is so much fun, he locks eyes with me and wiggles with even more gusto – as if to tell me that not only is it fun, he’s going to wiggle like a maniac if he thinks I’m into it, too.

Mars is a pretty careful observer. He takes in the world intently and doesn’t get distracted by the antics I try in order to tease out a smile. And as much as I love his smiles, I love his focus even more. He’s letting me get to know him and it’s had a profound effect on both of us. And now that I can see him as his own person, parts of me are returning as well. I went to a yoga class. I read a book. (Okay, fine – part of a book.) I finished crocheting the toy octopus I’ve been obsessing over since November.

For a year, Mars has been an ever-present part of my body – the ten months on the inside and two on the outside punctuated by delivery but eerily similar in their physical and emotional effort. But now, Mars is becoming his own body. Body with a capital B. As in, he has his own mind and spirit in addition to his own arms and legs.

My tears used to be spurred by exhaustion and confusion. Now, I cry because I want him to know how loved he is and how passionately his dad and I will always care for him. And in three weeks, I go back to work. My brain is getting ready for the challenges of my job but part me is aching to stay home and keep discovering things with this fascinating little kid.

So this is why moms get mom-nesia.

I know we’ll still have some major ups and downs and that plenty more sleepless nights are on their way. But I think I get it now.

IMG_5314.jpg

Mars, telling me all about his day.

 

Am I Doing This Right and Other Important Questions

Am I a bad mom? Before you answer, hear me out.

Points against: 1) We don’t breastfeed anymore.* 2) Joe and Mars visited family for the weekend without me and I reveled in it (I did have the stomach flu the whole time, so my revelry looked more like… er… death.). 3) I don’t love this tiny baby phase. I just don’t. I don’t know what he wants half the time and there are only so many bouncing-laps I can make around the kitchen table with him before going insane.

Points for: 1) Formula is nutritionally sound and he eats wonderfully. 2) When Joe and Mars walked in the door yesterday, both grunting to each other, it sounded like home to me. 3) He’s not lacking for stimulation, as I’m constantly waving new things at him to see if anything other than bounce-laps will entertain his growing brain.

IMG_5111.jpg

I mean, look at that brain!

So am I a bad mom or just a mom? Instagram tells me there are new moms out there who love being new moms. They embrace their new, softer bodies. Their enthusiasm for the role of MOM makes their eyes bright and their skin glow through their (presumed) tiredness. They put on cute stretch pants and make-up and go out for brunch with their babies, somehow overriding the internal voices that scream warnings about public spaces and influenza.

And, yes, my own Instagram feed isn’t exactly a peek into reality. Because when Mars is screeching and I feel like I’m going to pass out, it doesn’t occur to me to snap a pic.

The moms (with mom-nesia?) have told me to enjoy this phase before it’s gone and I’m trying faithfully to abide. I’m locking into my memory that sweet, waxy scent of his hair, the heaving sounds of his sighs, and way his warm body melts into my tummy when he relaxes in my lap. But I’m also hyper-aware of the pee (and, yeah, poop) running down the wall behind his dresser, the piercingly high octave of his “panic” cry, and the surprising sharpness of his nails when they claw at my chest.

Being home alone with him all day is a practice in presence, patience, and prioritization. Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I fail, as Mars and I have ups and downs together and half the laundry mysteriously ends up in the tub. The 1:1 adult-newborn ratio is some tricky math. (Special and enormous shout-out to my own mom, who – during one of my “fail” weeks – dropped her own life to fly out here and help me with mine.)

So when Mars and I are alone, I’ve taken to un-gritting my teeth and whispering “delight, delight, delight” to myself – because I truly want to take delight in all his milestones, even when they’re loud and squirmy. And I’m trying to remember that one day soon, he’ll express delight in something instead of angst, and I have a feeling it’s going to rock my world.

Until then, we’ll clock some more laps around the kitchen table and I’ll try not to muse too hard on what kind of mom I am. Because, honestly, we have more pressing questions to consider. Like, what is that new smell and where is it even coming from?

IMG_5097 2.jpg

Me, looking fly, thumbs-upping Joe during my weekend of revelry.

*Breastfeeding deserves its own post, I think.

The Longest Shortest Weeks

It’s been fifteen days since Mars came into the world. He arrived in a dimly lit room to the soft murmurings of a practiced nurse and the wide-eyed amazement of my husband, Joe. Mars’ actual birth was, for the most part, smooth and efficient. I pushed like I dance – specifically and brainily. Hyper-focused on the instructions and compliant with critique. Unaware of the tearing. Unaware of the bleeding. Only aware of the release and relief I felt as they slid my son onto my chest and Joe cried for the first time since I’ve known him.

In that moment, we blasted ourselves out of the quiet, restless limbo of a late-term pregnancy into the strangest time warp – where we’re rocketing through the days, barely blinking, but the minutes themselves are both beautifully and excruciatingly long.

It’s been a shock to every system.

Some of our parent friends tried to explain the newborn experience to us before Mars was born. They told us it would be amazing and tiring. They said things like, “Prepare to never sleep again lol” in that glib-but-I’m-serious way that made me uneasy. They gave us advice. And promptly told us to ignore their advice because babies are individuals and it’s impossible to predict what they’ll be like.

These last couple weeks have been HARD. Not hard like physical exertion or hard like grief, but there have been, honestly, elements of both. This hardness draws on aspects of every other hardness out there and then reaches straight into your center and pulls out a deep, aching love. It’s a love that feels like hope and terror and exhaustion all at once. This love physically intertwines two rapidly changing bodies – both of them in recovery and both struggling to keep up with life’s new demands.

I’m in awe of every mom who’s ever lived.

In the midst of the hardness, things that might seem small and insignificant are amazing and enormous. His first poopy diaper! His obsession with windows! My first post-partum bowel movement! (Real talk: pooping after birth is its own, special kind of labor.) I’m not kidding when I say that the first time we breastfed and I didn’t grimace and whisper curses into the night felt like the day I completed my graduate thesis. (FYI, we are back to cursing. This is an ongoing saga.) And some things are ridiculous and delightful, like when I catch Joe, covered in pee and laughing, congratulating Mars on a surprisingly strong spray.

We think everything Mars does is interesting. Every sigh. Every grimace. We’re proud of his new folds and rolls, tickled by his punches and kicks, and wrecked when we can’t calm his shuddering cries. He’s a mystery to us – but it’s our job to know him, so we keep waking up and trying our best. And the next time we see just a hint of a smile, love will come bubbling out of our throats and make the nighttime curses seem a little less potent.

 

Tips on Feeling Like a Human While Traveling, and That’s About It

There’s a lot to say lately. And way, way more to listen to.

And in the middle of all the listening and the saying and the thinking and the doing, other parts of life keep moving. Maybe one of your sisters has a baby and you spend at least 20 minutes every day scrolling through pictures of her because she is the cutest baby in the world. Undeniably. The strongest, too. And maybe your job feels extra important now, because it’s teaching you confidence and clarity every minute of every day – and these are things you’ll need if you want to fix problems and change worlds.

And maybe part of that job involves a heckuva lot of travel. And thus – this post. A list of tips and tricks for staying healthy and sane while traveling. Particularly on those one-to-three day adventures, when you never fully settle in. Because whether you’re poised for a holiday immersion or a few last-minute work trips before the year ends, it never hurts to feel more like yourself.

9CCAE990-5718-406F-A996-9055295865B2.JPG

THE TIPS

  1. Know your habits.

Sleeping poorly is common “on the road.” But it can be mitigated with a little attention-paying. So, before you go to bed (and – you know – before you’ve actually left home), notice how you wind down. Do you wear cozy socks? Do you floss? (Please say yes.) Do you turn on a fan or humidifier? Do you read a couple pages of a Mary Higgins Clark murder mystery? Do you talk “roses and thorns” with your spouse or kids?

Make an actual list of your routines, so you’re aware of what’s become second nature. And then:

  1. Pick a couple of key habits or rituals, and pack accordingly.

Every night after I brush my teeth, I put a dab of Vaseline on my lips. (Is that weird? I’m not up to speed on the benefits of petroleum jelly.) When traveling, I used to sub whatever lip balm or Chapstick I could dig out of my backpack, but it’s just not the same. So now I pack a teeny tiny travel-size Vaseline in with my toothbrush. It’s not much, but it makes a huge difference.

When I’m at home, I also sleep with a fan running on low every night. I live in the city, and it helps dull the chatter of the after-bar crowd and the early-morning dog walkers. Hotels (and other people’s houses) are filled with a strange lack of noise. So I downloaded a free app that consists of eight hours of nothing but fan. On the road, I click it on every night and sleep like a baby.

  1. Create a travel-only ritual.

Sometimes, stress-free traveling requires more than just pretending you’re at home.

What’s a realistic but luxurious self-care ritual you usually skip at home and could easily do on the road? Maybe it’s a foot massage with that eucalyptus lotion someone gave you for your birthday. Or it’s using the expensive lavender wrinkle cream you definitely don’t need, but have 15 samples of anyway.  Especially if it’s a sample size, extra lotions or essential oils are easy to travel with.

My personal travel ritual consists of dabbing a drop of pure peppermint oil in the center of my palms, rubbing my palms together, and then gently massaging the peppermint on the base of my neck and upper shoulders every morning. Before I rinse the oil off my palms, I also vigorously rub them together and take a nice, deep inhale of the peppermint aroma. It’s refreshing and rejuvenating, especially when my body clock thinks it’s 4:30am, regardless of the actual time zone.

  1. Lay off the booze and sugar. And while you’re at it, find the veggies.

I know! Blasphemy! I’m not saying you have to skip cocktails and dessert entirely. But if you get knocked off your game by a couple of plane rides, weird-smelling Ubers, and/or a hotel shower that just. won’t. drain., do yourself a favor and try not to tax your system even further.

And whether you’re in cheesy carb heaven via your hotel menu or your family’s holiday gathering, there are probably some yummy raw fruits and veggies hiding somewhere nearby. (Pro tip: If you suspect there won’t be any particularly healthy items on the holiday buffet table, offer to bring one. Everybody loves a roasted beet salad, amirte?)

  1. Get some exercise.

No travel tip blog is complete without this one. But if it’s an overwhelming thought, just start simple. A 15-minute walk around the block takes literally 15 minutes. And you’ll get some fresh air at the same time, so that’s a bonus.

For more ambitious exercising without over-packing, check to see if your hotel chain offers cheap rentals on workout gear. Westin, for example, has a gear partnership with New Balance. For $5, you can rent shoes and clothing for your workout – which means you can pack that extra eucalyptus lotion and skip the yoga pants and sneakers.

  1. Take a minute to yourself.

FOMO is a temptress. It can be hard to resist joining every after-meeting dinner with your coworkers or every game of Scrabble with your brothers. But sometimes the best thing you can do for other people is reconnect with yourself and come back fresh.

Excuse yourself for 10 minutes to take a solo trip down Instagram lane – or, better yet, do some deep breathing with an app like Headspace.

And if after all this you’re still wiped out at the end of a good trip, don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s no shame in going to bed at 8pm in your own timezone.

IMG_0819.JPG