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On Babies and Boobs

So, we’re right in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week and right at the beginning of National Breastfeeding Month.  Everything I’ve seen so far basically feels like it’s “International Pretend to Be Supportive But Actually Silently Judge All the Moms Month/Week.”  Like we need a specific week or month for that, right?

In any case, I’ve talked to a number of my mom friends, and I’ve heard the guilt about not breastfeeding, about how hard it is to pump once you go back to work, about the heartbreak of the choice to stop breastfeeding at or before 6 months because you just can’t keep up, etc., etc., etc.

Here’s my confession.

I Was Never in Love with the Idea of Breastfeeding

I know a good number of moms who adore breastfeeding their babies.  It’s their time to connect and bond with their children, and they take great pride (and rightly so) in nourishing them.

But I never felt the romance of it.  My own mother has told me I wasn’t a big fan of the breast as a baby, and after trying for a few months, eventually she gave me what I wanted, which was apparently a bottle.  So perhaps it’s just something in my nature.  And god bless my mom for trying.

My Kid Thought My Boobs Were Boring

But nonetheless, I was determined to make an effort at breastfeeding when the time came to feed Pip.  I’d seen the research (and the discounting of the research), and I wanted to at least give it a shot.  When people asked if I planned to breastfeed (and oh, did they ask), I told them, as long as everything went according to plan, I’d do it for a minimum 3 months.  If it was going OK, I’d go for 6 months, and beyond that, we’d see.

A sub-confession: What I rarely expressed was that my major motivator in wanting to breastfeed was financial rather than maternal.  Formula is expensive, and babies are expensive enough as is.

Tired Mom & Baby

I think my original caption to this was, “Tired but happy.” It wasn’t untrue, but other applicable adjectives included: “exhausted,” “on edge,” “worried sick,” and “constantly on the verge of tears.”

In the hours after Pippin was born, he latched like a pro, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can actually do this, and maybe I’ll even come to enjoy it like all those other moms.”  But that was the high point of my breastfeeding experience.  In the next two days, every time I tried to nurse, Pip would latch, take a couple of drinks, and then promptly fall asleep.  The nurse who came for our home visit had told me I’d need to feed him for 20 minutes on each side — 20 minutes of active feeding.  I was lucky to get 10 minutes total of active feeding within an hour.  Coupled with the insistence that I feed him every two hours — starting from the beginning of each feeding — it didn’t take long for me to lose my effing mind.

By Day 3, I was a total mess, and I could tell Pippin wasn’t eating enough.  His little lips were dry, and while he wasn’t unconscious, he wasn’t interested in really waking up for any length of time.  In a panic, I started pumping and managed to get a few ounces of colostrum — plenty to fill a newborn’s marble-sized stomach, despite what hospital nurses sometimes tell new moms — which I promptly spoonfed to my barely-awake infant.  Between bouts of crying, I managed to call the birth center, and they said to bring him on in.  Tyler’s parents came to visit that morning to meet their grandson, but I couldn’t pull myself together enough to join in the happy experience.  I was too worried about Pip and too weighed down by the guilt that I was failing at feeding my baby.

The Discovery of the “Third Option”

At the birth center, they confirmed what I knew — that Pippin was losing more weight than was ideal.  He was just past the 10 percent threshold.  They gave him an ounce of formula from a bottle, just to make sure his sucking reflex was working (it was).  Instead of feeling guilt, I just felt relief that my tiny guy was getting some food finally.  He didn’t have to work so hard to stay awake with the bottle; he could doze and eat much better than he could dose and nurse.  That sealed the deal for me.

I tried to nurse him only once more (same result) and gave him half a bottle of formula to tide him over while I pumped enough for him to eat.  My transitional milk came in quickly, and that started us down a new path: exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk.

Dad's First Feeding

Bottlefeeding Bonus: T getting to help feed Pip meant he got to have the same bonding experience as I did, which thrilled us both.

It was GLORIOUS.  Bottle-feeding meant the pressure was no longer solely on me to feed this little infant.

We could split the night shifts — and that meant I could SLEEP.  And sleep meant I could stop crying for half of every hour of every day.  (I still had to deal with the effects of post-partum depression, so there was still crying, but there was less.)  My co-parent, who had felt sidelined by his inability to do much of anything to help, was thrilled to be able to do something (though probably less thrilled at no longer getting all the sleep).  We were both able to get close to 8 hours of sleep a night (though I was still getting up every 3 to 4 hours to pump, in the beginning), and as new parents and probably especially new moms know, that is GOLD.

 A Pair of Boobs Without a Home

There were some dark nights of the soul around 2 months, when I was dealing with clogged ducts (pretty sure a mammogram will be no big deal now, thanks to that) every single day.  (Supplemental soy lecithin is what worked for me, if anyone else is dealing with that.)  Pumping time became “research how expensive/nutritious/good/bad formula is” time.  In the end, it was always the financial side of it that kept me pumping.

Now, about 4 and a half months in, I’m still exclusively pumping.  And because my boobs were trained to respond to the pump, my supply is great despite only pumping 3 times most days.  I’ve got more than 2,000 ounces of milk in a dedicated freezer, which would get my son just past 6 months if I stopped now.  So it’s been a good solution for us.

Bottlefeeding Pip

Our Life in Bottles

And I think it’s a wonderful middle ground that rarely gets mentioned.  Even at my incredibly supportive, wonderful birth center, I faced a tiny bit of resistance to my solution.  “It’s not too late,” was the refrain even at my 6-week follow-up appointment.

So now I find myself without much of a home when it comes to solidarity about feeding my baby.  I’m not breastfeeding, but I’m not formula-feeding.  When we first started, it felt like we were cheating the system — in a good way.  But a couple months down the line, I felt a little alone.  While I probably could have gone to La Leche League meetings, I would have felt like a poser.  And yet there wasn’t really much to discuss with formula-feeding moms either, since I couldn’t relate to the hassles of formula and they couldn’t relate to the annoyance of pumping, transferring milk from container to container (though I’m sure now we could definitely relate to feeling like we spend half our lives washing bottles).

The Most Important Thing is That Your Baby Gets Fed

But to be honest, I rarely give it much thought except when I encounter various breastfeeding internettery like I have the past week.  And it’s not like any of this hoopla is meant to shame formula-feeding (or exclusively pumping) moms, but that’s the unintended side effect a lot of the time.

Baby Playing Cards

Rarely mentioned developmental skill: learning to play cards.

But here’s the thing: my kid is getting food that helps him grow and develop.  So are breastfed babies.  So are formula-fed babies.  I know we’ve made the right choice (out of three right choices) because he’s growing like a weed (a much better saying that “sleeping like a baby,” I might add) and adding new skills every week.  That’s what we really need to be caring about.  While it would have been nice (and probably still would be nice) if there were more awareness of the “third option” or to have a support group for moms who made the same choice I did, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.

So, in celebration of this week and this month, let me just say to all the moms out there:

IF YOU ARE FEEDING YOUR BABY, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT.  GOOD JOB, MAMAS!

Blue Skies

It’s both hard to believe it’s already been two months and that it’s only been two months since I stopped being pregnant and started being a parent.

It’s also been six weeks since I wrote my post about postpartum depression.  And while I still have days or collections of days where it’s a harder fight than others, for the most part, things are definitely better.  I feel more like myself more days than I don’t, and I also can go several days without crying, which is AWESOME.  (I know that sounds super depressing, but if you’re going or have gone through it, you understand.)

The Sun Shines Through

How to Get Through Post-Partum Depression (or Any Depression Really)

If you or someone you know is struggling (this sounds like the beginning of a PSA for a helpline, but it’s not), here is the three-prong strategy that helped me (and continues to do so).

#1: Know That Some Days are Simply There to Be Endured

This is especially hard to swallow if you are a bit Type A like I am.  I generally have a list of things I want and expect to get done, and when things start hitting the fan, it starts this spiral of guilt, frustration and ennui that’s hard to break out of.

For instance, there was one evening where I was on my own with Pip, during which I intended to get some freelance work done, fit in a workout and clean up the kitchen (while also fitting in at least one pumping session).  Pip slept long enough for me to pump, but he woke up crying literally 5 minutes into my workout.  Not just whimper-I’ll-put-myself-back-to-sleep-don’t-worry-Mom-crying, but full-on wailing.  I stared at the monitor for a few minutes to see if this was temporary, and then I went up, dutifully replaced his pacifier and calmed him down, and then went back to my workout.  A minute later, more wailing.  I tried to ignore it for a few minutes (please no lectures about cry-it-out), since I knew he was neither hungry nor needed a diaper change, but it was not to be.  He kept crying, and I couldn’t complete the strength moves because I was also crying and couldn’t pull enough energy to complete them, even though I knew I had enough muscle strength.  I retrieved Pip, who was not content to be anything but held, and we spent the rest of the evening watching Mad Men on Netflix.  And once I gave into the fact that that was going to be the extent of my achievements for the night — and forgave myself for it — I felt strangely better.

There will be days like this.  Forgive yourself for letting go of your to-do list on those days.  Even when those to-dos are imperative to accomplishing your big goals and/or lifelong dreams, they will keep.  The Universe is understanding.

#2: Give Yourself Things to Look Forward To

Whether it’s a date night with your significant other, a solo trip to a coffee shop with a book or a laptop, or an hour to get in just one focused workout, schedule things during the week — EVERY WEEK — to look forward to.  Preferably several times a week.  These events are absolutely necessary in my experience to surviving those Days That Must Be Endured.

I have an incredible network of support here (code name: Grandma & Grandpa with support from The Aunts) who love to babysit and have yet to turn down my frequent requests.  I know not everyone has a network like that, but it is very important that you still find a way.  Here are some quick ideas:

  • If you have a significant other, give him (or her) some bonding time with the kiddo.  They will both be fine (even if he or she experiences a few Hours That Must Be Endured).
  • Hire a babysitter.
  • If you cannot afford a babysitter, find a moms’ group and offer to trade.

#3: Tell Yourself a Different Story

I was reminded of this when I attended Jillian Michaels’ Maximize Your Life tour on Mother’s Day (an accidental but great gift to myself).  The ability to choose our own narrative is perhaps our greatest power as human beings.

Super Pip

Here are two ways to put this into practice.

  • Reframing: Wikipedia does a pretty great job of explaining the psychological concepts of cognitive reframing/restructuring, but in short, it’s the process of looking at a negative situation and reprocessing it into a neutral or positive one.  For instance, my Night of Defeat and Mad Men could be reframed from “my failure to get stuff done” to “my success in soothing my kiddo and catching up on Mad Men.”  Finding the humor in situations is also a fantastic use of reframing.
  • Look for small victories: Instead of focusing on the things that go wrong (or not according to plan — see the reframing in action?), look for the small victories — the super efficient diaper change, the spit-up you caught with the burp cloth before it landed on your clean shirt, the phone call you got through without the kiddo crying in the background.  I think it is probably always possible to find more small victories than defeats. Sometimes you just have to look for tinier victories.

Better Days Ahead — Really

Everyone always tells you that it gets better, and it does, but that doesn’t make the Now any easier to handle in any real way. Because the truth is, no one can really tell you when it will get better.  For someone you know, it may be six weeks.  For another, it might be six months.  For you, it could be even longer.  That’s why it’s important to find ways to endure right now.  Try the strategy above, but also, let me leave you with a little affirmation.

Even at your weakest, you have enough power to create moments where it feels better, at least for a little while.  When you start finding those moments more often, they will start finding you back.  Seek irony and laugh at it.  It takes a lot of effort, and some days you will fail.  That’s OK.  It’s not really failure.  It’s a test of endurance, and you are building strength for new challenges.  You have permission not to enjoy every moment.  You have permission not to miss every moment years down the road.  But do what you can to find those that you do enjoy and that you will miss, and cherish the heck out of them.  That’s enough, and so are you.

Baby Blues

Today I had my two-week follow-up with the birth center, which is basically just a screening for post-partum depression.  They have you fill out a little questionnaire, which then scores you for PPD risk.

And I basically failed — or “scored a little high,” as they so kindly put it.

Which was not a surprise to me.  The questions include things like, “Do you feel sad or miserable [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and “Do you feel so sad that you find yourself crying [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and so on.

Given my history with depression, I knew I’d have to be on the look-out for the symptoms.  Mine so far have included:

  • Increasingly frequent crying fits for the past two weeks
  • Lessened interest in most activities
  • Feeling directionless
  • Loss of appetite

Basically everything I dealt with before, though luckily not as severe and usually not all day.  It sucks, because Pip is, so far, a pretty easy baby.  He eats well (now that we’re pumping exclusively) and sleeps well — which means we get the chance to sleep pretty well, too, if in chunks rather than in 8-hour stretches (which I never really did anyway).  Whatever it is that tends to trigger my descents doesn’t seem to be related to any behavior of his, which is a relief.

Except that also means it’s harder to pinpoint.  Some days it’s me worrying about T getting to do the things he wants to do or being rested enough for work, etc.  Some days it’s fearing we won’t get to do the things we love to do, like travel or write or go on regular dates.  Other days, it’s guilt over not having written anything in ages — not because I don’t have the time (pumping forces me into 30 minutes of downtime several times a day) but because I just haven’t had any motivation or drive to do so.  It’s something I was already dealing with while pregnant, and it finally came to the surface again yesterday.

Sometimes I feel bad because I feel like T is either dealing with a crying baby or a crying me, but he continues to be a rockstar.  I honestly don’t know what I would do without him.  Yesterday, in the midst of me sobbing into his neck, he took my hand, put it on my mouse, and forced me to open a document.  He set a timer for 10 minutes and made me write whatever came out of my brain.

He also texted my mom to ask her if she could babysit while I went for a run.  Those two things combined helped the fog lift for the remainder of the night.

run

This morning, I was tired, which always makes my weepiness worse, but I actually felt a little better after my appointment.  I left with a plan, which always helps.  Here’s what’s on the docket for me:

  • Continuing to get exercise
  • Getting sunlight, preferably at least 30 minutes a day
  • 6000 mg Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • L-Tyrosine
  • Naps

There’s also some research that suggests caffeine can reduce the instance of depression in women, so, while I want to limit the amount because I’m pumping breastmilk, I think I’ll start adding that in during or right around my first pumping session of the day to keep most of it out of kiddo’s food.  It has the added bonus of being a nice little treat for me.

treat yoself

If I’m still struggling in a couple of weeks, the next step will be to cut out gluten for a while, which is what I did back in 2011.  I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that, because I sure do enjoy gluten-containing foods, but I enjoy actually being able to enjoy stuff more.

I’m also trying to get back into one of my old scripts.  At this point, it’s just reading through and taking stock of what’s there, what’s working and what’s not, but that’s the first step to the next draft.  And it feels good to be doing that.  And thanks to T, I’m also going to try to get back to writing some short stories in the meantime.

I’m lucky because I have an amazing support system.  My parents are only a few minutes away, and my mom is always thrilled to babysit.  T is my rock, my encourager, my comforter.

A lot of women don’t have such a solid support system. So this is the call to action. If you know a woman who just had a baby, reach out to her in those first few weeks and beyond.  If she needs a shoulder to cry on for a while, offer it.  If she needs a nap or to get out and just be herself instead of “mom” for a bit, watch the baby for an hour or two.  If she needs someone to deliver a cup of coffee and a brownie, make that happen.

Above all, let her be honest.  Let her say that being a new mom is hard and that maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be at first.  Let her say that she wants more out of life than to stare at her infant in awe for 24 hours a day.  Let her say that, while she loves her baby, she’s not entirely comfortable with the role of “mother” yet — and doesn’t know when she will be.  Let her say that she misses the way her life used to be, and that she’s afraid it will never be what she hoped it might.

In the end, people keep having kids, they all keep telling us it’s worth it, so I think most of us new mothers believe (or at least hope) that these feelings will pass.  And for most mothers, they do seem to.  But knowing that doesn’t always help right now.  What might help is releasing the guilt of having those feelings.  We are complex, amazing beings, and we can wonder if we’ve made a huge mistake while still loving our children with infinite devotion.  It’s that complexity that makes us human, and that’s something to be embraced and celebrated.  Honesty and compassion is a good start toward that.

Juggling & Creative Juju

Lately I’ve been learning to juggle. {Maybe I should learn to actually juggle. That’d be a neat party trick. If I ever got invited to parties.}

Here are my balls. {Get your minds out of the gutters, you saucy sillies.}

  • I work your typical, 40-hours-a-week, non-creative, cubicle job. And full disclosure, it can be, well, emotionally challenging.
  • I recently took on what I think can be called a load of freelance writing work.
  • I’m still pursuing the whole crazy screenwriting dream.
  • I’m supposed to be finishing a short film.
  • I’m trying to keep in shape & to lose approximately 7 pounds in order to fit into the bridesmaid dress I ordered for my sister’s wedding because I’m silly & stubborn & demanded the size I thought I should have rather than the one I measured for post-holiday-binges-and-Melting-Pot.
  • I like to see movies and watch a handful of TV shows as well as read a variety of books, in my efforts to be culturally aware, artistically fulfilled, and to just effing relax from time to time.  Sometimes these activities are combined with one of my favorite pastimes of Hanging Out With My Boyfriend.
  • And then there’s the effort to maintain some semblance of a social life by seeing Other Human Beings in a non-work environment from time to time.

And what I’m finding is that’s quite a lot of balls. {Out. Of. Gutters!}

For a while, I was trying to make myself adhere to the brilliant GITS 1, 2, 7, 14 Method, but it just became too much, and I’d often find myself staring at my computer screen pretending to work but really accomplishing nothing or giving in and mainlining episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix Instant. Once I’m out from under the pressure of the major contest deadlines, I’d like to implement it again, either in its original form or in a modified-for-me version. But right now, it just wasn’t working.

So last week I finally gave in and gave myself permission to focus my creative endeavors on One Thing. And right now, that’s rewriting SoS until it’s in ship-shape for Nicholl and Austin.  The other script I’ve got in the pipeline will wait, an

Sometimes you just have to give yourself a break and take the pups for a walk.

d it will be better for it when I can throw all my creative juju at it instead of parceling it out.  Same goes on the short film. Once the contest deadlines are out of the way, I’ll be able to breathe and dedicate creative energy to finishing post-production and taking whatever next step I feel is appropriate when the product is final.

One thing I’m trying to do this year is to be more forgiving of myself. My mantra is, “Let it be.” I’m ambitious, and I push myself hard — and these are good things when you’re chasing big dreams. But I’m also human, and I deserve to be treated as such — especially by my own self.  Some days, you just need a break. And if you’re working consistently and putting in the effort every day, then allowing those days to be what they are is totally OK.  It’s tough to find the balance between taskmaster and pushover, but I’m working on it.

I’m also working on actually scheduling in downtime on a more regular basis, because when I’m doing that, the burnout days happen less often.  So even though my to-do list seems to grow every day instead of shrink, next week I’m taking a much-needed two days off from everything to go to St. Louis with the boyfriend. No agenda (except going up in the Arch, which is non-negotiable). Just fun. I’m pretty sure I can do that. And I’m also pretty certain my creative brain will be better for it, too.

So that’s what I’m doing. Or trying to do.

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