01 November 2013

Ack! I've become one of "those moms."

Today is November 1st. My birthday month has started! My nephew, Dylan, was welcomed into the world 8 years ago today. Thanksgiving and the Christmas season are on their way! There are plenty of things to love about November. In years past, I've enjoyed following others as they participated in 30 Days of Thankfulness (or a variety of other titles). I've jumped in a few times casually, but I don't believe I've ever committed to participate for the entire month. This morning, as I was reminded that we had entered November, I made an internal commitment to complete 30 Days of Thankfulness. For a brief moment, I considered blogging through it, but realized that I have a poor track record with committing to daily blogs. I'll plan to share my thankful thoughts on twitter (you can follow me at: twitter.com/217designs) and Facebook.

Here is Day 1 for free!

Now, onto the actual purpose of this post. I fear that I may have become one of those moms. You know the type--the moms who can't stop sharing about their perfect kids, husband, job, life! Even when I was pregnant, I found myself internally rolling my eyes at the women who claimed that pregnancy was just "so wonderful." While pregnancy was relatively easy for me, there was enough discomfort, fatigue and fear of the unknown, that I don't think I ever once described it as "so wonderful." I was excited, but I don't think I felt that same instant bond that many moms experience. It felt awkward to talk to the baby that was growing inside of me. I loved her, and lived in anticipation of her arrival, but interacting with her felt kind of intangible.

After she arrived, it was kind of a haze of diapers and milk and pumping and doctor's visits and tears (hers & mine). I knew people were anxious to see pictures of her and hear what a miracle and wonder our life as new parents was. On Facebook, I posted a handful of pictures. Upon looking back, it appears that my first month or so of facebook posts about our little girl offered very little commentary. I wanted to document our new little girl, but didn't care to admit how difficult it was--I knew nobody wanted to hear that. I had to work hard to find the joy. When we finally got out of the house and I was asked how being a new mom was, I often described it as "hard." This seemed to take people by surprise. I really wasn't comfortable describing it any other way, yet. Nobody prepared me for this struggle. I cried a lot. I had my husband, a few close friends and my mom and sisters to confide in, but other than that, I fought this battle internally. I cried so much that I made a point to ask both my sister and my doctor if I might be dealing with postpartum depression--I didn't want to miss the signs. With a few questions, they were able to determine that I was not. I was relieved and disappointed--at least a diagnosis would give me an excuse for being so sullen and distressed. All the while, I would see posts from other new moms expressing incredible delight and wonder. They had already gone on outings with their little ones and I was locked away in my little apartment trying desperately to figure this parenting thing out. For them, it appeared that every day held something new and amazing. For me, it felt like every day held the same anxiety and distress. And each mention of how wonderful their child was felt like a piercing accusation that something was wrong with me. "What was I doing wrong?" I would think. Why am I not overjoyed like those moms? I was determined, however, to not be one of those moms. Their experiences were too perfect, too ideal. Didn't they struggle too? Why weren't they miserable like me?

As we continued through her first year, we settled into a rhythm. Sleep got easier. feeding got easier. We were beginning to figure it out. The posts from those moms felt a little less piercing. It was still hard and slowly I got to share honestly about my struggles and even advise some other moms who went through similar struggles to me. And, in between the posts about a baby that wakes me up at all hours, snot dripping out of the nose, and mischief I never thought a being that small was capable of, I found myself posting about my adorable daughter and how brilliant she was, and how much I loved her and loved watching her grow and learn. And how she taught me to love in a way I had never experienced before! Every once in a while I was one of those moms--and it felt good.

My daughter turned one year just a few months ago, and I'm realizing, more and more, how much I enjoy her, and how proud I am of her, and how incredible this impossible role of parent is! During those first few months, if anyone told me to "cherish this time, it only lasts so long," I might have wanted to punch them in the nose. That time is NOT a time I want to cherish. But if someone told me that now, I would be likely to agree. Being a mom sure is pretty wonderful! Much of this change in attitude came as a result of dumping my (breast) pump. We were free! No more schedules, nothing holding us back or weighing us down. I also got to really appreciate how much work and care my husband had been putting in (because I started to take it for granted)--and I got to brag about him a little too! (He is cleaning the bathroom as I type this!) It wasn't long until I officially became one of those moms. And it was good!

I think that maybe I've been one of those moms all along. That I was just purposeful and honest when I shared (or didn't share) our joys and triumphs. Or maybe I became one of those moms when I (mostly) stopped comparing myself and my family to the families I read about on Facebook. Perhaps I became one of those moms when I realized that those moms were just like me. That sometimes they struggled to find the joy too and when they did, they wanted to shout it from the rooftops. That even though those moms didn't go through exactly what I went through, they had their own trials and were just trying their best to get it right. I'm now proud to be one of those moms.

29 October 2013

I'm Sorry, Mama

I've got more to say and an outlet for sharing it. Oh dear!

After my post yesterday, I feel compelled to apologize. I don't apologize for the content of that post, but for the fact that not only did I get defensive, I actually transitioned into attack mode. I thought I had escaped the "Mommy Wars." It is now apparent that I have not. Deep down, I truly wanted to add a voice to the conversation that just wasn't being expressed and I hope that my response can help to support another mama in her journey.

I've read and re-read the blog post on Banned from Baby Showers, my post and several comments and replies to both. My first reading caused me to feel attacked and shamed for the method in which I fed my baby for her first year in life. After desperately trying to breastfeed my baby and making uncountable sacrifices to keep my daughter on breast milk when breastfeeding proved to be impossible for us, I felt like I was being told that I hadn't tried hard enough, hadn't spent enough time, read enough books, spoke to enough lactation consultants or cried enough tears. That even though I had found a way to give my breast milk to my child, that because I did not hold my child to my breast, I wasn't good enough. On top of that, I got to read about all of the breastfeeding moments I had dreamed of but never experienced. All the pain and insecurity came flooding back. I became defensive and, in that spirit, I fought back. I entered the "Mommy Wars."

Let me be clear that it is I who entered the Mommy Wars. I continue to believe that the author intended to support breastfeeding, not tear another mama down. It is my insecurities and experience that fueled my response. I went so far as to say I was "outraged" by the original post. At the time I was outraged, but I'm not any more. And I don't want you to be outraged either.

So, here it is. My apology: I'm sorry. I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions. I'm sorry for assuming that you were writing at me. You don't even know me. Why should I assume that? I'm sorry for responding too quickly and for letting emotion fuel my words. I'm sorry for not slowing down to process it a little more. I'm sorry for not putting myself in another woman's shoes. In my response, I stated, "Please don't assume you know the whole story." I needed to take my own advice. I'm sorry for failing to do just that. I'm sorry for making it all about me.

This morning I read this post from the Momastery blog. This is a blog I enjoy because of the author's transparency in her flaws and her unwavering support of all moms. She doesn't sugar-coat her stories or experiences. It helps us, mere mortals, remember that we are not alone. She shared, this morning, that the "Mommy Wars" represents an internal struggle with our own choices and insecurities. And, in order to feel better about ourselves, we must tell ourselves (and sometimes others) that we are right and they are wrong. I previously thought that I had avoided the "Mommy Wars" because I was surrounded by such wonderful, non-judgmental mamas. But now that I have this understanding, I realize that I may not have escaped unscathed. Despite preaching non-judgment, support and encouragement, I'm not immune to judgment and superiority (and inferiority too). I don't usually share these thoughts publicly, but they have caused me to cast other mamas (at least internally) in a bad light. And this is a reflection of me, not them.

Again, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for secretly judging you, mamas. I'm sorry for allowing my insecurities to cause me to avoid you. I'm sorry for ignoring you, rather than supporting you, if we have differing views or methods.

Now, before I'm done, I do feel the need to go on the defensive again. There have been times that I have been inconsiderate, judgmental and unsupportive, but I do hope and pray that this is not my norm. I believe that, more often than not, I have lended an understanding ear, given an encouraging word, and offered a helping hand. I aspire to live my life with humility and kindness.

I'll end this post in almost the same way as I did yesterday's (I removed one sentence) because I believe it is worth repeating. Thanks for reading and joining me on this journey.

All this to say that it is important to support the mothers in your lives; to encourage them; to listen to them; to congratulate them; to tell them they are doing a great job; to offer advice when it is requested; to be sympathetic to their story and their struggles; to celebrate their triumphs and commiserate in their struggles. We’re all in this together.

Please take a minute today to tell a mom, “You’re doing a great job!” Chances are she really needs to hear it.

28 October 2013

In Defense of Exclusive Pumping

I am disappointed today. I have only ever witnessed the “Mommy Wars” from afar and in hypotheticals. I am baffled at all the moms who live their lives on the defensive, as though every person is constantly judging and attacking them. I am still blessed to be surrounded by supportive moms (online & in real life) who are thoughtful, encouraging and non-judgmental. To borrow a line from High School Musical, “We’re all in this together,” despite any differences in backgrounds and parenting styles.

So, back to my disappointment—I found myself on the defensive this afternoon upon reading this blog post. Feel free to click over. It’s nice and quick. The author, a natural childbirth instructor, is responding to a woman’s question on how to encourage breastfeeding among this modern “trend” of pumping and bottle-feeding breast milk. While I believe that she (and the original inquisitor) had the best of intentions, the response was lacking in understanding. Both women based their view on exclusively pumping on their belief that it was a practice done as a means of “convenience” for the mom. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can tell you, from my own experience exclusively pumping for nearly a year, that it is hardly a “convenience.”

I am going to respond to several of the statements made in this post.

“The trend seems to be, and this is not limited to just my circle of friends, but pumping and giving breastmilk in a bottle. Simply because its faster or they're having trouble latching their babies.“

In my experience, pumping and bottle-feeding took up a great deal of my time. For much of the time I was pumping, I would pump for 30 minutes at a time, every 2-3 hours. Eventually, the longest stretch I went was 4 hours, and eventually I dropped my overnight pumping sessions resulting in a decrease in my milk supply. On top of the pumping, there was the act of making bottles, cleaning my supplies and then feeding my baby.

“I want to help them without overstepping my boundaries. Any tips on how to help encourage true nursing? I've suggested books and lactation consultants, but I don't seem to be getting through.”

Put yourself in her shoes. I would guess that there is more to the story than a simple decision to pump and bottle feed. In my case, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my struggles (or at least all the nitty-gritty details) with everyone I encountered. There was a lot of raw emotion involved, along with disappointment and insecurity. It felt like everyone expected me to be delighted by motherhood; I was ashamed to let it be known how much I struggled. It was a deeply personal struggle and I had neither the courage nor energy to share it with very many people. In public, I put on a brave face as I explained, “breastfeeding never caught on,” holding back tears as I recalled the intense struggle I had endured in my attempts to feed my daughter and help her grow. It’s possible that these people have read all the books, met with lactation consultants, and, like me, never achieved that dream of holding their child to their breast in that beautiful, natural, idyllic moment. Perhaps each additional piece of advice brings back the flood of emotions she has already endured. I know that was the case for me. I can’t count the amount of tears I have shed over my experiences long after I thought I had come to peace with our situation. Please don’t assume you know the whole story.

Many of the statements in this post are some of my triggers. I know that a woman who is successfully breastfeeding, is not personally attacking me, however, every time I hear of their success, I am reminded of my own insecurities. I am delighted in their success, but it still has a a bitter taste—that is usually because of my own insecurities, not because of anything they have said or done.

“*Feeling milk let down and my baby relax as milk flowed into his/her mouth was priceless.  I had a magic superpower!“

I would argue that all moms are superheroes and each has her own unique and fantastic superpowers. Seeing the popular comment, “I make breast milk. What’s your superpower?” originally made me feel like less of a mother because I struggled so hard to make enough breast milk for my daughter.  I still have to remind myself to not take it as a personal attack and celebrate the successes of my fellow moms (even when they are different from my successes).  We need to support each other.

“If you are one of these women that pump and give your baby a bottle, you are missing out on a truly unique and special life experience.”

I agree completely with that statement. I felt it deeply each time I sat down to pump, each time I fed my daughter a bottle, and many times in between.

The author seems to assume that a mother who exclusively pumps and bottle-feeds, does so out of convenience. (After re-reading the article, this may be more perceived than explicitly written.) I can tell you that exclusively pumping is anything but convenient.  The exclusive pumper will lug around a pump, storage bottles/bags, bottles, coolers with ice, along with all of the supplies required for caring for a baby on the go—and the baby too! The exclusive pumper turns down all kinds of social invitations because it would be impossible (or overwhelming) to keep her pumping schedule or to find a place to pump. While breastfeeding is completely acceptable and expected in many public spaces, it would be quite another story to pull out and use my electric breast pump in public. The exclusive pumper is not only required to find a private space in which to pump, but an electrical outlet as well (there are exclusive pumpers who use manual pumps and that’s another level of commitment altogether). I could share a hundred stories of how inconvenient exclusive pumping is. I’m proud to have been able to feed my daughter as much of my breastmilk as I could in her first year, but it was anything but convenient.

All this to say that it is important to support the mothers in your lives; to encourage them; to listen to them; to congratulate them; to tell them they are doing a great job; to offer advice when it is requested; to be sympathetic to their story and their struggles; to celebrate their triumphs and commiserate in their struggles. It is a great thing to be a breastfeeding advocate, but please do so with a spirit of encouragement and support, not with a spirit of superiority. We’re all in this together.

Please take a minute today to tell a mom, “You’re doing a great job!” Chances are she really needs to hear it.

02 August 2013

How to Feed a Baby (Year One)

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, so what better time to share these thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head for months. Let me begin by saying that breastfeeding, at it’s core, is beautiful and natural—and I support a woman's right to breastfeed her child when and where she needs to.

Personally, I have had a difficult, emotionally draining relationship with breastfeeding. As I prepared to welcome my daughter into this world, I expected breastfeeding to be a natural first connection between my daughter and me. Between my mom and two sisters, they had successfully breastfed a dozen children. I thought it would surely come naturally to me and should I have any small struggles, they would support and guide me through it.

By the time I left the hospital, I had not mastered any productive techniques in getting my daughter to latch and remain interested in breastfeeding, and my daughter's pediatrician and the hospital’s lactation consultant sent me home with formula samples and instructions on how to supplement her feedings, while we worked it out and in order for her to gain weight. The following weeks were peppered with multiple weight checks, stressful days and nights as I tried to breastfeed (30 minutes to over an hour sometimes), and then supplemented and then pumped for up to 30 minutes and then after a very brief “rest,” the cycle started all over. I cried so many tears. Every little triumph was soon forgotten with another setback. I would find a position that worked, only to fail miserably with it at the next feeding. I was exhausted. I was confused. I was miserable. I couldn’t enjoy my newborn baby. And I desperately wanted to.

My sisters and my mom invited a lactation consultant to come meet me and support me. On her advice, we bottle-fed my daughter to make sure she was receiving full feedings, while I started to pump to build up my supply. What a different baby I had when she took the bottle. I would feed her all the milk I could pump and sample formula to make up the difference. Despite continued attempts, my daughter never took to the breast. Although I understood that feeding my daughter formula was a viable and completely normal feeding option, I was still desperate to feed my daughter breastmilk.

At this point, I learned of the option of “exclusive pumping” and heard a couple stories of women who had successfully fed their children while exclusive pumping.  I decided I would try this option for as long as I was able. In the beginning, to build my supply, I was pumping about 30 minutes every 2 hours. My family and friends were wonderful to support me by coming over to help with the baby while my husband was at work. My mom spent countless hours washing pump parts, preparing bottles, feeding and caring for our baby.  Other than that, I was a hobbit.  The ease of breastfeeding and always having food available, anytime, anywhere for my child, was replaced with schedules and a yearlong attachment to the pump.  I felt better, but still had plenty of time to consider and cry over my failure at such a natural interaction. When the nurse at the pediatrician’s office asked, “Are you nursing or bottles?” I had to hold back tears as I explained that I was pumping exclusively. Exclusively pumping doesn’t really fit into any sort of category. It’s not nursing and it’s not formula feeding. It’s some sort of hybrid of the two. Don’t get me wrong—I would not have continued if I didn’t see a benefit, but it was a long, exhausting, difficult experience, that without the support I received, I would not have been able to continue.  I got pretty good at scheduling out my time and had worked out a system for pumping on the go, but I never had a very good supply and eventually my daughter’s appetite surpassed my production.

I was again at a crossroads with formula, when my sister shared a story about a mom she knew who could not breastfeed and her son received donated breast milk from another mom for his first two years. Another feeding option I had never even heard of. It sounded strange and uncomfortable at first, but the more I considered it, the more “normal” it seemed. Milksharing is not a new phenomenon—Wet Nurses existed at least as far back as biblical times. I did my research, found the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Facebook page and put out my request. Our first donor had a little girl a few months older than mine and shared with us her excess freezer stock several times. We’ve had about a half dozen donors (“milky mamas”) and I am abundantly grateful for their generous donations of “liquid gold”—it truly is (crying over spilt milk never seemed less funny—and ½ an ounce has never been so precious).

Over the course of about six months, I became an expert in a few things I had never heard about prior to having my daughter. I was able to offer words of advice and support as I encountered friends who came upon similar struggles. And I will continue to offer my experience and advice, based on my experiences, to other moms who find themselves in the same spot. I have all sorts of plans for the next baby (not yet!) and how we will work to make breastfeeding successful.

Last Friday morning, I pumped for the last time (I think). I had thoughts of pumping longer, but my daughter has turned one and was able to transition to cow’s milk and she is getting more nutrition from solid foods. I was ready. And I feel so free. I no longer have to schedule my entire life around pumping. I have yet to put away all my pumping supplies, but it is going to feel so liberating when I do!

Despite my ability to feed my daughter breastmilk almost exclusively during her first year (barring baby foods, etc), it still breaks my heart when I consider the connection we did not get through breastfeeding. I am conflicted. When I see a mother breastfeeding in public, I see the beauty in it, but it also brings up the disappointment I felt in my own inability to do the same thing. I always pictured myself, out and about with my baby, breastfeeding when she required it, feeling confident and content. So, when I see another mom living my dream, I am sad.

I didn’t expect to be so negative in this narrative. I just wanted to share my experiences, so that others might know they are not alone. And to explain a little bit of where my mind has been this past year. There were many, many triumphs and milestones along the way as well, and my daughter is beautiful, healthy, smart, sweet, growing, loved…the list could go on and on. I am proud to be part of an elite sisterhood of superheroes—all moms are superheroes—this was powerfully evident to me during my first year of motherhood! The support, advice, encouragement, love, commiserating and more that I received from those who have been doing this “mom thing” for years or just a few months has been incredible and much needed. Thank you!

I just realized that there isn't much mention of Daddy in this post. I want to note, that although my husband did not always understand why breastfeeding and breastmilk were so important to me, he fully supported my decisions. And despite my words and actions, that were almost entirely driven by emotion, he stood by me and showed me how much he loves me and our daughter through the way he took care of us so tenderly. We are blessed and abundantly loved!

26 June 2013

...the greatest of these is love.

Well, it seems that everybody has an opinion today. And you are either elated or distraught. And many of you feel the need to share your opinion with me--often expecting that I shared your views. The Supreme Court made two major decisions today in the gay rights/marriage equality arena. I won't pretend that I know near enough about the legalities of this issue, but I wanted to say something. As a Christian, it has been so hard to reconcile the stance, based on God's Word, that we have been taught to take on homosexuality, and the love that we are to show to humanity, based on Christ's example. I'm not really going to get into that, though--I think I just needed to confess my struggle.

As I read and heard all sorts of opinions and predictions, I found myself praying, "I don't know how to respond." Immediately, I heard (not audibly): "Respond in love." Duh! So my response is exactly what I posted as my facebook status, this afternoon. It comes from God's Word, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, Verse 13: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Enough said (at least for me).

10 May 2013

In My Defense (a parenting rant)

I don't get it. Maybe I'm deaf, or just lucky, or perhaps I'm the perfect parent (probably that one). I just don't know who all these people who defend their parenting style/choices are defending theirselves from. I don't doubt that there are people who adamantly oppose certain decisions in parenting. I just don't see the attacks that would necessitate a defense. So you vaccinate or don't vaccinate your child? Or you breastfeed? Or you formula feed? Maybe you almost always hold your child? Or perhaps you let your child "cry it out?" Good for you. You are likely a great parent. I truly appreciate your experiences, opinions and research. They help me to make informed decisions for my own family. I just can't stand to see you portray yourself as a victim. We are all doing the best we can. Keep at it. And hopefully, one day soon you will be a perfect parent like me or deaf, rather, to the mean-spirited few who don't know when to hold their tongue and let you make the best choice for your own family.