Year 1.

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It’s been a year. How the hell has it been a year?

It’s all a blur really. I don’t remember a time she wasn’t here. With each new phase she grows and thrives and does amazing new things, and it’s as if she could always do them.

Once, she was nothing more than a lump. Then she was a lump who could bat at a toy. Soon she could hold her head up on her tummy, then sit, and roll, and stand. Next she was a baby who had teeth, and then seven. She started making deliberate sounds. She started being deliberately disobedient. She eats with her hands in a way that appears she’s always known how to do it, yet just a few short months ago I was feeding her breastmilk on a spoon. She has opinions. She has comedic timing. She shows love, she shows fear, she shows anger. She’s endlessly curious. She’s physically strong, and energetic. She’s a baby, but more days than not, she is now a kid.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to those early days. I’d get my do-over. I’d let myself relish the overwhelming joy I felt, and go through it all from a place of wisdom and zen. I’d be able to focus on the amazingness of a new human without all the panic and anxiety that comes from not having a clue what you’re doing. And though I can’t tell you the details of anything during that time, and can’t even remember the specific way something felt, good or bad, I feel wiser now.

 In no particular order, these are the things I’ve learned this year.
    1. You don’t always have to react. I spent so much time agonizing over the right thing to do – and inevitably whatever was happening would work itself out. Panicking does not help it improve faster.
    2. Find your village and don’t look back for the people who chose not to be there for you.
    3. Even when you find your kid to be the most amazing creature on earth and are offended when other people don’t seem to get that, you’ll still find other people’s kids annoying.
    4. No one’s baby sleeps. Babies are jerks.
    5. Breastfeeding is way harder than anyone will ever tell you. There’s nothing to prepare you for the scabs and blood and biting and tongue ties and poor latch and a sleepy baby who doesn’t want to eat and the internal battle you’ll have with yourself when you want to give up but can’t let go. It will destroy the confidence you thought you had.
    6. No matter how hard you want to be a French Mother, you will still end up with a kid who only eats bananas. I’m not ready to admit it is ok, but I may be ready to admit defeat.
    7. This really is the longest shortest time. Obsess over it. Treasure it. You don’t get it back.
    8. Each time your baby moves on to a new stage, it is both delightful and heartbreaking.
    9. When you’re sleeping upright on the couch with a baby on your chest you’ll never imagine that you’ll miss that moment. You will.
    10. Loving something this much is the best and the scariest thing in the world.
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My Body Is Not Enough

 

“Your baby is starving,” my midwife told me.

It was three days post-partum. My nipples had bled and scabbed over from a voracious baby with a poor latch frantically searching for food I couldn’t provide. Large at birth, Alice had lost 12% of her birth weight which made everyone panic. In my exhaustion and inexperience, and my concern for this tiny creature I immediately couldn’t imagine my life without, we did what we were told.

Every three hours, we woke the baby from her slumber and I nursed her while my husband Ryan tried to keep her awake long enough to take in some food – cold washcloths on her body, jiggling her arm, blowing on her neck. Then he’d tape a soft tube on his finger and feed her formula while I pumped meagre amounts of milk. When we were done, we’d collapse into bed to sleep for 60-90 minutes before the alarm rang to do it all again.

I studied YouTube videos about the best breastfeeding holds and maximizing milk output when pumping. There were tears – mine and the baby’s. One sleep deprived night, only 20 minutes after we’d gone to bed, I got up in a daze and started pumping again. After several minutes I awakened fully and realized I was on the wrong task.

In the second week, we visited a hospital breastfeeding clinic. “Your baby is starving,” they said. It’s not something any parent wants to hear once, but to hear it again is more than demoralizing, it’s downright terrifying.

“She needs to gain at least 20 grams a day. If she doesn’t gain by the end of this week she needs to see a pediatrician.”

I worried someone would take my baby away from me. Despite doing everything we were told, we had a baby who was more interested in sleeping than eating, and even when she ate, it just didn’t work that well.

At four weeks, she was diagnosed with a lip and tongue tie – both relatively common conditions where the tissue connecting the lip and tongue to the mouth is too tight and limits movement. I couldn’t bring myself to let the doctor cut her mouth with scissors.

“I’d rather give her bottles,” I told Ryan defiantly.

It was still early, when I thought our problems were short-term and would work themselves out. As the weeks wore on, and things didn’t get better, I began to second guess my decision. We finally went through with it when she was three months old.

I spent my pregnancy planning a beautiful, natural childbirth. I refused to be afraid of labour. When the baby was born, my husband would happily catch her, lift her to my chest, and she’d immediately feed. It never occurred to me that breastfeeding would be a problem. But it hadn’t occurred to me I’d end up with a C-section either.

I sometimes feel jealous of friends whose babies eat well, their chubby, well-fed bodies falling into deep, milk-drunk sleeps. Then I feel guilty for envying their success. It’s not that I don’t want it for them, I just want it more for me. We consulted five different lactation consultants. My milk never came in the way it was supposed to; I take 34 pills a day – a mix of herbs and prescription medication to increase supply. I still can’t make enough to breastfeed exclusively.

Our feedings have gradually improved, from supplementing or even replacing every meal with bottles, to making it through most days with just one or two bottles. But when she’s tired or grumpy, or going through a growth spurt that I can’t keep up with, the baby’s angry screams demand easier access to food. Even after all I’ve done, all the work I’ve put in, every time she rejects the breast an immense wave of failure washes over me. I think maybe this time is really it, maybe she’s giving up. But the next day is new again, she nurses as if nothing has happened, and I continue in limbo between bottle and breastfeeding.

I’ve wanted to quit so many times, but I can’t let go. I’ve set deadlines for myself. Just one more week. I just need to make it to two months, then I can quit. Just get to three months and that will be enough.

The anxiety caused by not being able to feed your child is tremendous. I pack more jars of formula than I know I will need on each outing because I never know if she’ll nurse. I fear getting stuck in an elevator or on the subway with a baby who won’t accept the food that is right in front of her, instead choosing to wail inconsolably like she has done so many times before. Though her weight gain is slow, but acceptable, I worry that she lives in a constant state of being a little bit hungry and I wonder if my determination to continue has been a selfish act.

“It’s just food” people tell me as a show of support. But it’s not just food. Nothing in parenting is that straightforward. It’s a cultural demonstration of “good parenting.” It’s the “natural” way to feed your child. And the pressure feels almost overwhelming.

As a recent Washington Post article perfectly put it: “The professional guidelines are based on good science. But for many new mothers, the recommendations carry the force of a threat: if I don’t breastfeed, my child is more likely to get sick; if I don’t breastfeed, my child won’t be as smart; if I don’t breastfeed, I’m not a good mother.”

Alice is five months old now and we’re still at it. She’s had the benefit of breast milk at least some of the time, and on a good day it is so satisfying to provide for her. But I’m not sure I’d do it again. I have no regrets, but breastfeeding added an enormous amount of stress in our lives at an already stressful time. Breast may be best, but some bodies just don’t do what they are supposed to.

She’s Not Making It Easy

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My fetus is a jerk. Incredibly stubborn, and not particularly concerned who she’s inconveniencing. It’s making some things challenging, but it’s what I like best about her. Her, an unborn creature that of course I can only project personality on to at this point.

And while I know I’m projecting, she’s working this stubborn thing pretty hard — hard enough that we’ve given her a twitter account just to amuse ourselves.

At my 20 week ultrasound — the one where they take a picture of every body part from every angle to make sure she’s not missing anything important — it took the tech at least 50% longer than planned to get the images. The tech jabbed me in the belly with her wand repeatedly, made me touch my toes, sent me to the bathroom twice, and had me flip-flopping all over the table in the hopes that the baby would roll over and expose what parts needed capturing. She did roll over briefly, but them immediately rolled back — as if to say “I know what you want, but I’m not going to give it to you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Once she finally started kicking with enough gusto to feel from the outside, I’d call Ryan over to feel. He’d put his hand on my belly and all movement would stop. He’d wait for a few minutes, hoping to get a sense of the madness that is this alien invasion inside me, but would get nothing. Then he’d take his hand away and she’d move again.

Finally, this week I went for another ultrasound and discovered she was breech — footling breech according to the report. She was just hanging out, head up and foot dangling down, not doing what she is supposed to. We were surprised, though I’m not really sure why. A breech baby almost definitely requires a c-section. Luckily, at 34 weeks, there is a procedure to turn the baby around. In an ECV, they quite literally grab hold of the pregnant belly (well, the lump of baby within), push hard, and turn. My awesome midwives did this successfully yesterday and I thought we were in the clear. Until this evening when my fetus, the jerk, seems to be hanging out on her side.

I hadn’t really thought all that much about what I want my daughter to be – although we’re likely grabbing on to the “I’m a girl who doesn’t take shit from anyone” for a reason. Yes, I want her to be smart and kind, and preferably be reasonably coordinated so she doesn’t have to spend all her school age years feeling out of place. But mostly I’d like her to be strong. I want her to be brave enough to stand up for things and not feel like she has to shape her personality to suit the world around her. I want her to be bossy. I want her to have opinions. I want her to be stubborn, even though it will likely get her in trouble. Ideally, she’ll find a mix of these things, and not let just one thing overwhelm her life. And maybe, if I’m lucky, she’ll cut us a little slack occasionally so we don’t spend the next 18 years in tears.

I’m ok with my fetus being a jerk. But for the next 6 weeks, would it kill her to just behave?

Photo: Korona Lacasse on flickr