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

Tag: breastfeeding

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 sizeable (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 immediately 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.

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.

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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?

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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.