Category: Nursing

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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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.

In With The New

So much to say, so little time, so I’m just going to go for a little bullet recap. And hope that I’m more articulate later.

Jaybird

  • Is in preschool! After some separation anxiety, he has taken to it like a champ. He constantly recites the names of his friends there and has magically acquired the ability to pick up after himself. I love his snazzy trick for putting on his backpack by flipping it over his head. Kid is charming and quite independent. I’m always trying to sneak in cuddles and kisses, but he likes to tell me he’s too busy.
  • Is not really potty-trained, but we’re trying. He’s in undies almost always (or naked, his preferred outfit) and some days are fantastically dry, others full of accidents. At least it’s summer and he’s usually game to pee on a tree.
  • Has two speeds: fast and crash. Last month he had to get stitches after jumping on the bed went awry. And then he fell off the step a week later and busted it open AGAIN. His moms are quite nervous now about tumbles.
  • Is almost weaned. Uno has no more milk as of recently. He still likes to check daily. “Mommy, I’m just going to check,” he’ll say. He still wants it to go to sleep and to wake up, even without the milk itself, and Uno is patiently letting him slowly adjust to not having it. It’s resulted in a spike of Mommy clinginess. We’re both tired of hearing “Mommy Mommy Mommy” all the time. I’m mostly, pretty much, not taking it personally, but I’ll admit I look forward to the day when he requests me for something. Uno says that he does sometimes when I’m not around and I believe her. But I think I might need video.
  • No longer naps. He’s done. It has freed up our evenings, given that he sleeps about 7:30 – 7:30 each night, and it has cured him of night wakings. Oh, lord, how I love it. Sometimes we feel guilty, though, when he gets fussy and droopy around 4 or 5 pm and we keep him awake (knowing he could probably use a nap). Also, evenings are a little rushed: dinner-bath-bed has to happen in short order.

Moms

  • We are two working women, now! Being financially solvent is definitely a relief. Uno’s job is emotionally draining, and sometimes we discuss her looking for a new one. Being a counselor for traumatized kids / families – you can imagine that some days are hard and hard to leave at work.
  • My job, on the other hand, requires almost no emotional investment. It’s a) low stress and b) full of twentysomethings who prefer pinging me via chat rather than talking to me even when we are TWO DESKS AWAY from each other (but are clever, fun and make me laugh). I still look around on occasion and can’t believe this is my life. It’s so different than adjuncting. I can’t even begin. There is a margarita machine in the break room. There is a break room. There is a 401K. It’s pretty soulless, though. I mean, it is. I am not using my powers for good. (It’s ad copy, did I say that?)
  • We continue to help take care of Uno’s grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. It is a lot of work, but very necessary. Uno has her power of attorney and is the one shouldering most of the planning, calling, finances, legal issues and so on. I worry about her and compassion fatigue, given this and her job.
  • That said, our summer has been full of good friends and beach time, berry picking and visiting. We have been careful with our time, trying to do things that nurture our family, and I’m proud of us for that.
  • Our garden is thriving like never before, just chock full of zucchini and tomatoes and beans and flowers, and it feels like a lovely corollary to our lives.
  • Oh, and I AM GETTING AN ESSAY PUBLISHED IN SALON. It’s a short memoir piece. I can’t believe it, am pretty excited, pretty nervous, grateful, in shock. I’ve had other publications but never so public, so visible.
  • Finally, baby #2 is still very much on our minds, but we put the process on hold until next month or September. I found out that I can have 16 – yes, 16 – weeks of paid leave, but I have to be at this job a calendar year before I qualify. Hence the waiting. It was hard to wait after just one try, but after the first cycle came and went I realized I was relieved, too. Juggling the new job and new childcare configurations and everything else is a balancing act, one that we’re getting better at, but I think TTC would have tipped the scales too much this particular month and last. I’m hopeful that when we start again, my body and I will be more relaxed.

Parenting A Nursing Toddler When You Aren’t The One With The Milk

Jaybird still nurses a lot. There you have it. We have turned into an extended nursing family. He shows no signs of self-weaning, and in fact, would probably nurse all day and night if he could. He can’t, as Uno is at work 35 hours/week and we put the kibosh on night nursing, but we’re otherwise flexible. Uno follows the “never offer, never refuse” La Leche League mantra, more or less. Jaybird calls it “nana” – sounds like “nuh-nuh.” When Uno comes home he shouts “Mommy! Nana!” with the world’s biggest grin on his face. He loves his nana with a passion.

There are difficulties. He squirms, he pinches her, he wants it instead of solid food, he wants it at five a.m., he doesn’t do bedtime without it. But they have a strong, sweet nursing relationship overall, which has been empowering for Uno and healthy for him. We’re happy to have such an attached boy. I enjoy resting my head on Uno’s shoulder while Jaybird nurses in her arms; he’s cuddly and relaxed and she is too. It’s a great soothing technique for our wild child. It’s a source of humor: his antics as he nurses, his fascination with all boobs – mine included. If he gets a little nervous when we’re out and about, he has been known to shoot his arm down into my cleavage faster than you can say “stop, we’re in public.”

In theory and mostly in practice, I’m all for it. But I will admit: sometimes I wish he would wean. And then I feel guilty and think, “it’s not my decision.” During these periods of sleep regression, I wonder, would he sleep better if he weaned? ‘Cause I would give my right arm, foot, and appendix if he would.

Also: Would we be able to leave him overnight with the grandparents once in a while? Would his preference for / clinginess with Uno abate? When he’s tired or cranky, he definitely wants Uno if he can have her. He sometimes pushes me and says “no Mama,” and screams bloody murder when it’s me taking over for bath time. I get mopey about this. You know: “What am I, chopped liver?”

At the same time, I admire all the work Uno has put into nursing. She’s dealt with all the infant feeding, occasional bouts of mastitis, you name it. I can go out at bedtime, while she can’t.

I read about toddler nursing a lot: attachment parenting message boards, Kelly Mom, La Leche League, etc. The whole conversation seems to be about the nursing mom / child dyad, a problem I have with attachment parenting literature in general. The most we NGPs get (and mostly we’re called “Dad” or “Daddy” in these references) is a bone about how great it is that we can develop our own soothing techniques. Well, yes, okay. But we are deeply affected by the intensity of the nursing bond, too. It affects our sleep, our time with our spouse(s), our relationship with our children.

Anyway, Uno and I do talk about this quite a bit, but it’s not always easy. It seems like sacred territory. I feel guilty (see above) if I get frustrated about it, or snippy, or what have you. Navigating the weaning question is tricky. She wishes she had more extended nursing examples. We will both miss the sweetness of seeing our boy nurse. We both also wonder: is it time?

Speaking of alternative soothing techniques, my boy is waking up from his nap. He will be cranky and wish Mommy were here. Fortunately, I’ve invented a substitute we’ve dubbed “yo yo cozies.” I wrap him in a blanket and feed him yogurt and cuddle him on the porch while we watch the traffic. It’s our special thing. It’s not “nana,” but it will do in a pinch. Actually, as I type that, I must add: it’s one of my favorite moments of the day. He is so affectionate with me during yo yo cozies that I can kind of, sort of imagine what it’s like to hold a fussy child to my breast and feel him relax against me.

Sleep Mom, Eat Mom

Today I’m away from Uno and baby J until the evening, helping a friend, and I keep worrying that Uno is going to have to put the baby down for BOTH his naps. Because somewhere in our eight month parenting odyssey, we’ve settled into pretty firm roles: I’m the sleep mom and she’s the eat mom. More specifically, I do naps and she does nursing, which includes bedtime feeding (thus, we’re both Sleep Mom at bedtime). This arrangement has solidified because we’re both home with him, a luxury beyond words, and has been great for my parenting confidence. Lately, however, we’ve been talking about the need for flexibility, ours and his. We want him to go down for naps with someone other than me. We want Uno to feel empowered to put him to sleep without nursing. And so on. Still, I’ll admit that it’s nice to have a mothering niche of my own, and our nap routine is a huge factor in the strong bond I have with my son.

Early on, when Uno was still on maternity leave, I felt somewhat useless as regards J-bean’s routines and daily care. Sure, I changed diapers and cuddled him, but Uno had the bulk of the work, which amounted to nursing 24/7. You know how newborns are: the boob is the universe. I focused on keeping the house clean-ish, the cupboards stocked-ish, etc. I did feel left out, sometimes, but it was more out of a sense of bewilderment, of uncertainty about what new shape our lives would take. Then, somewhere around six weeks, J-bean started his evening fussiness. Or as we called it then, The Witching Hour. Everything we read assured us the behavior was normal, but it was disconcerting nonetheless to have a wailing hot mess of a baby on our hands most nights. He wouldn’t nurse during these times. Uno thought her milk supply was out of whack at first, we wondered about colic, we all cried, we lost sleep. But as it turns out, baby J just needed to let loose for a while before settling. So I got a routine going, necessity being the mother of invention and all. I’d swaddle him as he shrieked, toss him up on my shoulder, pat him firmly and steadily, and “sshh” him for all I was worth while pacing the apartment. Shortly into this period we discovered the white noise app, which meant I’d crank up the rain or ocean sounds on the iPod as I paced. Sometimes, when it was really bad, I’d sit with him on the floor of the bathroom with the shower running. This was magically quieting, though he’d often start up again when I turned it off. I know Uno helped during these times as well, but in my memory, it was often me who took him on, as she was exhausted, discouraged, and still, of course, in recovery from natural birth. My heroic honey.

The Witching Hour phase ended fairly soon, in retrospect. I think we got over it by three months, and it wasn’t every night. But from that time on, I became the nap maven. I grew confident about soothing baby J when nursing wasn’t working or wasn’t an option. Uno went back to work when J was 11 weeks old, and I continued my swaddling / patting routine for naps, adding in a long afternoon walk for a Bjorn nap. I loved holding my baby, wrapped in a fat knitted blanket, as I rocked and read a new novel. I loved his hot little face pressed against my chest as I circled our neighborhood with an iced coffee sweating in my palm. He lunged eagerly for Uno (insofar as he could lunge at that age) when she came home from work, frazzled, to nurse him. The boob was still paramount, and the nursing relationship along with it; none of us wanted this to change. He nursed to fall asleep and nursed during the night, cuddled against Uno. But our daytime naps were quickly becoming special, too.

Fast forward and we had a chubby, leggy six month-old who would only nap ON MY CHEST. Er, damn. I had that coming, didn’t I? Hence we embarked on an elaborate nap training journey, armed with “The No-Cry Nap Solution,” which we followed faithfully until we realized that all the record-keeping and strict-routine-adherence was making us insane. Great for some people, not so much for us. We did glean useful tips from her approach, including the “dance” I did for a while to get him from my arms onto the mattress. I still do 99% of the naps, as Uno does so much work with the nighttime feeding. Here’s what we do now: she makes sure he’s well fed. We watch him for signs of tiredness, which come predictably around 10 am and 2 pm (er, until recently, but that’s another story). I go into the bedroom, switch on the white noise, swaddle him in our favorite stretchy blanket, and settle onto the exercise ball to bounce him as I sing. He cries when I swaddle him and stops as soon as we start bouncing, usually. On a good day, he’s asleep before I get through two songs. On a bad day, I’m resorting to fragments of pop songs, out of breath. He likes to doze off with his head propped in my hand. My right arm, which supports his bottom, has become very strong! I stand slowly, sway him down into a prone position in the air, pause, let him twitch and resettle, then dance him down onto the bed. Now that he’s used to it, I don’t have to be so deliberate, though I’m still careful about not disturbing him as I lay him down. At first, he’d wake up two or three or four times and we’d have to start over each time. Now, it almost always works at first go.

Are you laughing yet? Yes, it’s elaborate, I’ll admit. Worse than a trig problem. But it’s paid off for us, and we didn’t want to do cry-it-out. Baby J is a powerful, persistent screamer and CIO about killed us all the few times we tried it. We feel good about how much progress he’s made. Uno and I can enjoy free time separately or together when he naps, and it’s fantastic. Just sipping coffee on the couch together is exhilirating. I realize that this whole routine is a luxury borne of our choice to take this extended familymoon, for which we continue to be grateful, despite the hit to our finances and overachieving egos.

The division of labor is awesome, but  it does have its pitfalls. As I mentioned above, we’ve become dependent on it. For quite some time, and still to some extent, no matter how much Uno swaddled and bounced him, baby J wouldn’t conk out. He’d take a little nursing, sure, but wouldn’t settle into sleep with it during the day. Even on walks, he’d cry and fight sleep when she wore him in the carrier, but when we traded, he’d collapse against me easily. By the same token, he wouldn’t let me bounce him at bedtime. The moment he sensed physical distance from the nocturnal milk buffet, he erupted. Uno is sometimes demoralized about her inability to make him nap, and while the baby ALLOWS me put him to sleep, it isn’t always an easygoing arrangement. Sometimes it feels like a power struggle that I win only because I’m more stubborn than Uno and willing to be … well, harsher. This isn’t the greatest feeling in the world, as you can imagine. That’s probably true for all parents, though I’m especially sensitive to it as the non-bio mom. Being the bad cop sucks. I’ve had to learn to set better limits and back down sooner in order to avoid painting myself into that particular corner. We’re also working on more flexibility around naps and bedtime, in terms of who’s on duty. Today is a trial run, for instance, and Uno just texted to say he went down fine for his morning nap without nursing. Hooray! At night, we’ve started to have her nurse him a while, then I take over with the bounce / pat to seal the deal, then if needed he returns to the boob for a brief top-off. This has made bedtime far quicker.

Did I mention that a good exercise ball heads our “must have” list in the baby department?

I’ve often thought that not being able to nurse has its advantages, and I’d say that my nap expertise is a big one. I still have nursing envy, once in a while – more because he’s just so dang cute when he nuzzles into her like that, his little hand wandering up to her face. Then again, I’m relieved I don’t have to put in the sheer hours that nursing requires. And when I hold him as he dozes off, I just stare and stare at the intricacies of his face, I ghost kisses on his ice cream scoop cheeks, I lean in to smell his sweet, warm breath. It’s Zen. Heaven. Even if I’m tired and my biceps ache and I’m lullabied out.

As baby J gets more mobile and regresses with the old sleep, we’ll have to adjust. It’s the name of the game in parenting, I’ve been told. But I’m confident we’ll navigate these changes with aplomb. Go team!

I’ll return to the April blog challenge soon, but had been wanting to write about this for a while…