Category: Life With Baby

Becoming the Nursing Mom: What It’s Like to Take Turns

When we decided to get me pregnant, I was pretty excited about taking my turn as the lactating mom. Uno and Jaybird had a long nursing relationship, which I always supported, but which I was jealous of, too. I don’t think I’m the first NGP to envy that insta-bond, or the way that it soothed Jaybird like nothing else could. (I did develop my own expertise around comforting him, which in retrospect, was really important for us.) At the same time, I can appreciate, and now more than ever, the hard work on Uno’s part. The lack of sleep, the inability to be gone overnight, the annoyance of pumping. It’s not like it’s all wine and roses on this side of things! That said, I have enjoyed it. It has been satisfying and rewarding to breastfeed. I’m no evangelist, but I’m grateful for the experience.

Ever since I went back to full-time work this summer, right around Starling’s first birthday, our nursing relationship has changed a lot. I expected it, of course, but I’ve been surprised about how emotional it makes me. I find I’m really reluctant to give it up.

Starling has been an avid nurser, and I’ve had great supply, thankfully. The early months were more painful; I used a nipple shield, and then had to wean him off of it, which was hard for both of us. We did it, though, and we haven’t looked back. While I was teaching part-time I pumped and had plenty of frozen milk for bottles.

I mean, the end is not exactly imminent. We still nurse 3-5 times in a 24-hour period, and he’s not so much into sleeping through the night. Usually I just nurse him once in the night, which honestly, I don’t mind. Uno and I discuss night weaning, but I don’t feel ready, mostly because I don’t see him during the day that much. I recognize the hypocrisy, here. When Jaybird was a nursing toddler, I sometimes struggled with the arrangement.

The thing is, I’m starting to see that I could drop nursing more, and Starling would be fine. I recently stopped pumping — I was pumping once / day, but only getting a couple of ounces, and it just seemed silly to keep going. My frozen milk stash is gone, but Starling doesn’t really need bottles now. My MIL sometimes gives him one if he’s fussy in the afternoon, and he takes cow’s milk with no problems. I like to nurse him to sleep, but I don’t HAVE to; last night I had a work dinner, and Uno put him to bed with a bottle. All was well.

So, am I the one that’s clinging on to this? My cousin has 18 month-old twins she was thrilled to wean recently; she actively distracted them during their habitual nursing times, and after a few weeks they forgot. She told me that story and I nearly wept. Then she teased me about wanting to keep nursing Starling by saying something about how I just wanted to be his favorite, and what, am I going to nurse him till he’s 10?

As I type that out, I realize just how snarky it was. Ugh.

It got to me, though. She’s sorta right. I love the fact that Starling makes a beeline for me when I get home, doing the milk sign. I like cuddling him in the rocking chair. I like that nursing him gives us a special bond. I have an awesome bond with Jaybird, but, as I’ve talked about here, the kid is a Mommy’s boy. (And here and lots of other posts to the point of boring you all, I’m sure.)

Now, that’s not just about nursing. I think it’s a certain alchemy between them, related partly to their temperaments and to her parenting style. She’s more responsive than I am, and more likely to give him what he’s asking for – I don’t mean that she spoils him, but she’s more actively tuned in. I admit it. She spends time playing Lego Star Wars with him. Gah, I try, but I get so bored. I’m more businesslike, often trying to get (too many) things done, keep us moving along. I’m trying to be more aware of that and make time for unstructured play. 

And, Uno says that my anxiety contributes to this dynamic. Better said, that I’m hyper-aware and sensitive about Jaybird’s preferences. There’s truth to this. She IS right, a lot.

What of Starling? He’s less strong with his preferences than Jaybird was. He has a tight bond with my MIL, who watches him 3 hours/day, as well as with his nanny, and with Uno. That’s as it should be. He reaches for them plenty, seeks comfort or play from them, too. But if I’m around, he definitely has an eye on me. There’s that feeling of being the center of his world. I like it. Oh, man. That sounds egotistical. I bet you, though, that a lot of parents would cop to enjoying that feeling, now and again. If I stop nursing, will that connection go away? Obviously not, but secretly, I harbor that fear.

When I was struggling with Jaybird’s preference for Uno, it was painful. So I feel kind of like a jerk for being on this side of things. For enjoying it. Uno isn’t like me; she doesn’t mind. She takes both of their preferences as a matter of course, figuring that they’ll probably seek out bio-moms for comfort when they can, and that’s fine.

She’s unflappable, that wife of mine.

I better run. Point is: being the nursing mom comes with a lot of work, and also with a certain kind of privilege. I’m grappling with that reality. Like a lot of things about stepping into the bio-mom space.

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Mama Day

Today was a Mama Day. Not a Professor Day, or a Writer Day, or a Wife Day, or a Daughter Day. It was a day full of my kiddos, and I am feeling it in a mostly pleasant, worn out-but-satisfied way. It’s good to remember that I don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS all the time – that I can focus on one aspect of my life and self and that can be plenty. I meant to grade papers. I meant to plan my upcoming workshop. I meant to do laundry. Welp, no. Instead I nursed Starling off and on all morning, between eating breakfast in small increments and doing minor, minor housework. I tickled him and squeezed his chubby limbs. I took both boys all the way to meet Uno for lunch. And then we went to the park and played for two hours. Jaybird got muddy and desperately tried to join in a game of freeze tag with Big Kids. It was heartbreakingly adorable. Amidst this, there were diaper changes, potty accidents (Jaybird…regression…), games of chase, and naps (Starling…in the carrier…). I managed to make dinner and roast the pumpkin seeds that Uno removed from the jack o’lantern she and Jaybird carved. I’m exhausted. But a good day.

Jaybird and I had so much fun. He was easy and companionable, chattering at me from the backseat and inviting me to play in his room. This is all it takes: me relaxing into the day, letting it flow, not worrying about my to-do list. Paying attention to him. No screen time, too. (He’s easier on days without it.) Starling, meanwhile, is pretty darn content as long as he can nurse when he wants to. Do not withhold the milk! That is the cardinal rule with him. Well, that and he needs to sleep enough. Kid is a cat napper extraordinaire – doesn’t stay with it, or in it, very long at any one time. Nonetheless, he’s easy. He’s asleep right now, having crashed hard at 6:30 p.m. A pretty good bedtime, I’d say.

Tomorrow I teach, and it’s a whole different self, but today: Mama. Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine this kind of day, how tiring but fulfilling it can be, alternately mundane and joyful. It’s funny to try and think back to that person, before Mama-hood. She seems so far away. She is, I suppose. She is.

In The Thick of It

I’ve been missing in action around these parts, and want to remedy that, but here it is already time to pick up Jaybird from preschool. Oy vey. I will indulge in five minutes and be a little late. In no particular order:

-I’ve started teaching a few days a week. I’m at the helm of two sections of English 101. It’s familiar territory for me, and the students are the usual mix of delightful and frustrating. Already, I feel the rewards of the work, the connections made. So different than the corporate blah of the last year and a half. So that is wonderful. Not so wonderful is the 45 minute drive each way. I am trying to be on campus as little as possible, so I rush there, teach, rush home. A bit frantic. It’s mostly about nursing. I teach in the same classroom but only have ten minutes between courses, and by the time class #1 is done I need to pump. I shoo out the students, put a sign on the door, hide in a corner of the classroom and plug in. Totally awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it. Every time I pull up my shirt in that room, I’m convinced someone is going to come barging through the door. It doesn’t lock! That is, I can’t lock it manually. I have a student guard it, plus the sign…but still…

-Starling is home with my mother-in-law during those afternoons, and also with Uno for two of them. It’s working pretty well. I’m so grateful to not have to pay for childcare. That said my MIL is still learning his cues. He doesn’t sleep enough with her, she gives him a bottle just before I get home with a burning need to nurse. We just have to work out some kinks, I suppose.

-Starling is a chunk-a-monk of a happy guy. He’s so long! He’s outgrown many a onesie. He prefers to sleep while being held, just like his brother. He also nurses a lot in the night. I’m not sure about whether to “train” him (even a bit) or not. I’m jealous of friends with babies who sleep through the night already, but I don’t want to make him cry. He is twelve weeks, by the way. Twelve!

-We are still in divide-and-conquer mode with the kiddos, but Uno is getting more time with the baby now that I’m teaching, and I’m glad for that. Also, I have Jaybird two afternoons a week, and we have fun adventures to the park and such. It’s vital for us. We both need it, especially as I have to spend so much time nursing and baby-tending.

-Jaybird is so sassy! He loves to say things like “I know that,” or “You’re not the boss of me,” or “I already did that,” or what have you. He’s also snuggly and funny as ever. He’s super-short (6th percentile), not the greatest eater (some power struggles around food, sigh), and so curious and adventurous and bright-eyed. His farm / outdoor preschool remains awesome.

-My mom is still pretty sick and in-patient. It’s overwhelming, emotionally, so I avoid thinking about it most days. Heart breaker.

-We’ve had lots of visitors and our house is lively. It’s something I love for my kids. (Hello, Adela, we miss you…) I don’t love trying to keep the darn place clean and presentable.

-File under things I want to write about: the weird space between gestational and non-gestational parenthood. I have so much to say but my thoughts are scattered.

And now I had better run to scoop up my wiggly four year-old, who will no doubt be encrusted with mud.

Strange and stranger

Last night, my mom left her house and went missing. She’s been found, thank god, but she’s not well.

This is my mom space, not really my daughter space, but I’m tangled up about the latter and it’ll be good to write. My mom has continued her slide into deep depression, and has been staying with us off and on, so I’ve been up close and personal with it. She has a good psychiatrist and a great therapist, and is on meds, but they clearly aren’t working well enough. She’s been having delusions about being evil, deserving of punishment, needing to be homeless, that her family doesn’t want her around (despite evidence to the contrary). It’s been so, so hard. She wandered off last night because she’s convinced she has to be homeless.

In the last few weeks she has told me she has a “cold, dark heart” and that she doesn’t love me. Well, that she’s somehow incapable of love. I know it’s the illness talking but it doesn’t make it less painful. I mean. Yeah. There are times when it feels like black comedy, like I’m living in a Woody Allen film. When she says she can’t do anything but wander around my house, says she’s a “mean baby,” says she is becoming an invalid who will “shrivel away for 50 years.” When she showed up in my room one morning asking that I drop her off on a street corner to be homeless, and I said something like “are you insane?” When she started shaking all over in Costco and said it was toxicity from her meds and I just tried to act like she wasn’t being bizarre. “Here Mom. Push the cart for me. Should we get peanut butter?”

I don’t even know. It’s like the universe is having a field day with my family. But we’re ok. I’m good at being strong, I suppose, though I weary of it. I clearly need to line up a therapist of my own. I start teaching on Monday. Might be a nice distraction, actually.

My mom is currently in an in-patient unit; we’re hoping to see her get stabilized ASAP. The recovery is a long road, though, in many ways. So much to sort out. This weekend I’m trying not to get involved. I’m taking care of myself, and of Starling. Uno and Jaybird are out of town for a few days and the house is so quiet. I splurged on the new Tana French book and am reading in bed between nursing sessions. I have to carve out space for myself or I will get so cranky and stressed that I’ll start yelling at everyone.

This little baby is powerfully sweet amidst it all. He’s an eater, weighs 13 lbs already!, hit the 93rd percentile for height. I could just devour him, I swear. My boys are the best.

And as for my mother, what to say? I’m sad and mad and sad again. The kind of sadness that has tired edges, that doesn’t bear repeating after a while. That is too worn out, usually, for tears. Or too jaded, or too pragmatic. If I really look straight at it, I get choked up on the unfairness, and I can’t stay there for long. She has struggled a long time but has been a good mother, too; she has had more than her fair share of trauma; she has to fight but I can’t teach her how. Nothing is black and white.

This Moment

Starling is asleep on me, his favorite position — that is, unless he’s nursing. My crazy mom is here for the week; I’m trying to stay sane as I help her navigate her Depression (capital D). We took a walk, had a muffin and tea, talked: it’s the little things. I keep telling her it’s about taking it one day at a time. Same for me. I want to enjoy this, though I’m tired and my nipples are always sore and Starling is fussy and I can’t get anything done and my mom is a mess and I have to fight with my insurance company and …

Oh, wait. Breathe. I do keep my sense of humor, as does Uno, our saving grace. Jaybird is easy, suddenly, turned a corner. Loves to wear fancy dresses and play in the dirt while wearing them.

I feel like I only have bits of myself to myself, but I want to cultivate even those small spaces. I won’t let myself be subsumed. Can’t. (Oh my MOTHER! Gah!!!)

Here’s this baby, sweaty and sweet, trusting his mama, getting bigger, unaware of trouble. He’s the best. He’s tiring. He’s a gift. He’s changing all the time…

Just a quick update. Whew.

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A Baby Summer

Almost a month in and I’m starting to think this is manageable. Changes! Oh, changes.

Starling is four weeks old, somehow, still small and floppy but growing bigger and more person-like every day. It’s as if he’s been here forever and yet no time at all. We’re still getting to know him. I feel like he’s such a mystery sometimes, like he just appeared to us from a dream. A good, sweet dream. He’s sleepy in the afternoons and eats every two hours. He has deep gray-blue eyes, one slightly bigger than the other, and a perfectly round face and a funny squawking cry. He often grunts or squeaks like a tiny piglet. I love to snuggle him. I am with him all.the.time. I am exhausted, yet I feel better each day: less random tearfulness, less discomfort. Hardest is juggling everything, namely our big boy with all his energy. I remember feeling like we were swimming underwater when Jaybird was born, and the feeling is similar now. But there are such differences.

I’m still wrapping my mind around the role-shifting, gestationally speaking. Nursing, for one thing. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, but also a little shocked by the full-time aspect, the way that it pins me to the couch for hours. The soreness, too, the physical toll and recovery from birth, just not feeling like myself. Uno is also adjusting. She’s said “it’s so strange not to have nursing this time.” I remember feeling left out by the intensity of her and Jaybird’s nursing relationship and I don’t want her to feel that way. Yet the reality is, Starling wants to nurse 90% of his waking life! (I’m lucky that my body can keep up. If anything I have too much milk and it leaks everywhere.) We will start pumping and try some bottles soon, but haven’t yet as I’ve been trying to get our latch just right. We had to start out with the nipple shield and are only just now weaning off of it…

I digress. I don’t think Uno does feel the same way as I did, because she has Jaybird. What I want to avoid is feeling like we each have a designated child. I cried about that pretty much every day, at first. It’s abated, though. I’ve had sweet times with my big boy, reading him to sleep, playing Legos. A little quality time goes a long way. I remind myself that as Starling gets bigger, it’ll be easier to share duties, that this infant period is such a short blip. Not that I want to rush it. I don’t know. Conflicting feelings.

We are enjoying our hot-hot summer, all the while. Jaybird takes delight in water play, whether at the lake, the Sound or in the sprinkler. We have prolific tomato and pumpkin plants. We try to keep the house cool with whirring fans and plenty of ice cream. We just spent several days in my hometown, berry picking and swimming and sleeping in, which was lovely. Uno is back at work today (!!) and Jaybird is in half-day gymnastics camp all week. Next week he has half-day preschool again. I sleep in two- or three-hour chunks at night – not terrible – and am reading more than ever, with all the nursing. Right now I’m wearing a sweaty little Starling at a local coffeeshop and it feels downright indulgent to be here, with iced coffee and a laptop. I’m working on embracing this: it’s okay to be less productive, to be here, with my boys, with the demands and pleasures of the present moment. 

I have maternity leave through the end of the month. After much thought, I’m 98% sure I won’t be going back to that particular job. Instead, I’m going to teach again this fall — half-time at the same community college. The schedule is so much easier on the family. It’s not forever, but for now it makes the most sense. It will only have me away for about 15 hours/week. Plus, I just can’t stand the thought of putting Starling in full-time daycare, as we never had to do with Jaybird. When you crunch the numbers, it’s pretty silly, in a sense: most of my net pay would go to childcare if I returned to the copywriter position. That said, I worry this decision to pieces. I wear circles around it. It means less money (and less stability from academic quarter to quarter). Uno is totally confident about it but I worry and worry. I try to remind myself that the ILLUSION of control doesn’t actually equal having control over the future. I try to remind myself to trust my instincts. I also remind myself that this is a decision for the moment, for the now. Things will change and we will adjust accordingly.

And oh, are we ever lucky. Look at these love nuggets.

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The Middle of the Wait

I don’t feel pregnant. Last month I was so convinced, so I’m taking the lack of signs as a good sign. Here we are a week past the IUI and I’m doing a pretty good job of distracting myself. This time I have done very little Googling. I am tracking my temp and still going to acupuncture, but I am (mostly) not thinking about it constantly.

Funny how stubborn hope is, though. It latches onto little things, like the acupuncturist saying that my pulse felt different, or Jaybird announcing that I have “a baby in there.” I’m trying not to talk about it around him, so that he doesn’t get confused, though this morning it did come up. He came into our bed and asked for “nana,” which he calls nursing. We’re a few months post-weaning and he still sometimes asks. “Can I check please, Mommy? Can I check on both sides?” He said today. It was unbearably sweet. Anyway, Uno said it’d be Mama who had the nana next time, which made him laugh and brought on the baby conversation. I do look forward to nursing, I’ll admit. Our son had such an intense, long-lived nursing bond with Uno that I have admired, envied, felt confounded by and celebrated by turns. At points, I wished so badly that I could offer him that singular comfort. At other times, I was grateful that I didn’t have a child attached to my breast at all times.

I have another reading coming up this week – last one for the foreseeable future – and I’m working on a little piece about being a non-bio mom. It’s fun and hard, mainly because there’s just so much material and I don’t have an organizing principle for any of it yet. We’ll see. It’s an event featuring queer writers. I’m pretty sure that my fellow readers are all younger and more political than me, and I’m looking forward to bringing my own voice into the mix in all its banal, family-oriented, quasi-suburban glory. Well, just kidding about the banal (I hope!)

Working on this, I’m struck by how different it is to be entering bio-mom territory. The hope, the anticipation, is similar, but there is an intensity that wasn’t there before. I’m a little bit afraid of the difference, because I don’t want there to be something about this experience that dilutes what I have with my son. I’m a little afraid even to write about it, because I don’t want to privilege biology in a way that used to hurt me terribly as an NGP.

Of course, differences don’t have to be threatening. They can be empowering. They can be instructive.