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GUEST POST: Giving up the Ghost of Breastfeeding, Over Two Years Later

Welcome back to Kayla Borja Frost; we’re grateful to have her share more of her parenting journey. Kayla is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

When I think back to the first few weeks of my son’s life, one word comes to mind: heartbreak. I feel immense guilt for even mentioning that word in the context of my now two-and-a-half year old son, who is healthy and intelligent and sweet and beautiful. There are so many moms out there (some of them known to me personally) longing for a healthy little baby to call their own. And I am so grateful to have my son.

But rather than browbeat myself too much (because I don’t think that’s helpful to me or to anyone else), I think it’s more important to be honest about my journey. And as I cared for my newborn son, my heart was most certainly breaking.

Because all was not going according to plan. In fact, nothing was going according to MY plan. I hadn’t planned to suffer a serious hemorrhage after my baby’s birth. I hadn’t planned on the sleeplessness and worry of life with a newborn plunging me deep into insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I hadn’t planned on the nagging thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I’m a terrible mother” and “I’ve made a mistake.” But there they were.

Most of all, I hadn’t planned that the simple act of feeding my baby would have me feeling lost, helpless, devastated, and full of rage all at the same time. The problem: I wasn’t producing milk (no more than an ounce or so at a time). I tried to be patient with myself (perhaps the hemorrhage caused my body a set back) and with my baby (maybe he needed to learn to be a more effective eater). I saw several lactation consultants and followed their recommendations: pumping after every feeding, lots of skin to skin contact, eating specific foods and taking supplements to boost supply, and even using a torturous SNS device (basically a baby beer bong for formula). The one suggestion I didn’t take (which ironically probably would have helped the most) was to go to a breastfeeding support group. I felt far too ashamed and embarrassed to face a group of women and lay bare my nursing failures. Of course now, with some perspective, I realize that I likely would have met women with similar struggles and gained support and reassurance. Hindsight.

However, at six weeks postpartum, the situation felt hopeless. I could only pump the smallest drops of milk. My son would feed for 45 minutes or an hour, and then ravenously suck down a bottle of formula. Then I would pump. Then I would clean the bottle and pump parts. Then it would be time to start this whole process over again. And while I had imagined breastfeeding would be this great bonding experience with my baby, instead I felt a growing resentment.

I also felt a growing resentment toward my own body.  I had always been a strong believer in mind over matter. At my first spin class, my body said “Noooo!” But my mind said “if all these other people can do this, you can too.” I stuck with it and became an avid indoor cycler. But breastfeeding is not a spin class. You cannot force your body to make milk (believe me, I tried). And for all the “It will happen” statements I clung to from LC’s or well-meaning friends, I shut out my OB frankly saying “It might not work for you” and “No one will know on the first day of kindergarten whether he was breast or formula fed.” I shut out my mother and my husband gently saying “It’s okay to stop” because they could see how miserable I was. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t just QUIT. For a lifelong super over-achiever like me, that was the unthinkable.

I remember the morning I stopped nursing. My child was 6 weeks old. I had been awake all night with the feeding/pumping routine, and on top of that worrying, worrying, worrying about it all. I felt very close to breaking, mentally and physically. So finally, I felt able to tell myself that I wasn’t QUITTING. I just had to stop. For my sanity. For my wellbeing and that of my baby. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to be able to hold my baby without a boob or bottle involved. I needed to banish the nightmarish whir of the breast pump. Moreover, my baby needed ME. And he needed me to be sane more than he needed breast milk.

I would love to say that I made my decision about breastfeeding and stood firmly and proudly behind it thereafter. But that would be a lie. I have struggled (and still do) with so much guilt. More than two years later, I still find myself thinking, “If I had stuck with it for another week, would my milk have come in?” When I see another mother nursing her baby, I feel a hot rush of jealousy and inadequacy. When the topic of breastfeeding comes up, I’m tempted to lie or to over-explain my experience. I just haven’t been able to truly move on.

I experience a deep and profound sadness mixed with rage when I see “breast is best” advertisements. I fully recognize that this material is meant to inform and encourage mothers and the general public. And I am truly in awe of the superwomen who make breastfeeding work for their families, whether for a few months, a year, or longer. I now understand how difficult this is, even for a woman with adequate milk supply. There is no such thing as an “easy” road for any of us.

However, my problem with the current trend in breastfeeding education is that it frames breastfeeding as a choice. And if we feed our babies formula, we are not necessarily making a “bad” choice, but it’s not “best.” But what about those of us who did not have a choice? Adoptive parents. Parents with health problems that prevented breastfeeding. Parents that had to return immediately to work. Or moms like myself that just couldn’t make it work? It enrages me that I am thought to have made a poorer “choice” for my son, when what I feel is that my “choice” was taken away. It was out of my hands. I realize that just by writing this, I am opening myself up to criticism that I didn’t try hard enough. That I made the wrong “choice.” I’m sorry, but fuck that. I’m done feeling bad about this. Or at least I’m really, really trying to be.

So as my husband and I question if or when we might try for another baby, I find myself seriously concerned about attempting to breastfeed again and hoping that I can find a healthy, balanced approach. As I consider this, I am reminded of some good advice a mom friend gave that has stuck with me. As I complained to her about my breastfeeding woes, she said “There’s always going to be something in parenting that doesn’t work out at all the way you’d imagined.” For example, she had always imagined going for leisurely walks with her infant in his stroller. Unfortunately, her son had such terrible reflux that he couldn’t tolerate the stroller.  They never used it. Her stroller was my breastfeeding.

There’s something that just doesn’t work out for all parents. As hard as it is to accept that and move on. But we can move on. Because our children are fine. They’re better than fine. No one will know on the first day of kindergarten that her son couldn’t go for walks in a stroller. And no one will know my son was formula fed. Our children are fine. And we will be too.

Want to share your ideas with the village in a guest post? Write to us at raiseamother@gmail.com for more information. We’d love to hear from you!

Kudos to the Pre-Tech Moms

Much is made of the negative sides of the internet and smartphones in the parenting world. Mothers of previous generations have consistently told me they do not at all envy us younger women when it comes to figuring out how to do this parenting gig. They look at all the information that we have available to us on the web, and surmise that it’s no wonder we are so stressed about getting things”right.” They express gratitude that all they had to deal with was the sometimes conflicting advice of their immediate circle of family and friends, as well as a few parenting books, instead of the opinions of the global population of the interwebs. They shake their heads at the high expectations arising alongside social media imagery that tells us we can, and therefore should, be able to attain perfection as mother, crafter, party-thrower, cook, housekeeper, organizer, and professional.

But I’d like to throw my own head shake, along with some hefty kudos, back to my foremothers today. Because for all the bad rap that technology gets for its dominance over our lives, it is also sometimes my savior of a day.

Kudos to the moms who did this without cell phones. What did you do when you were, as I assume everybody has been since the invention of clocks, running really late with an infant to meet a friend who also had a baby? Did they just wait around forever, or did you finally show up at your agreed-upon place only to discover your friend had, quite reasonably, left an hour before? (I refuse to believe that you were just always on time.)

Kudos to the moms who did this without Netflix or podcasts. Being able to tune into an episode of One Bad Mother, or binge-watch West Wing or The Crown, have been key to my sanity while in a stretch of waking up at 5 a.m. every morning with a tiny baby who thinks that’s an appropriate time to start the day. I think I would have gone crazy if I was left with only the entertainment TV and radio stations deemed fit for air at that hour.

Most importantly, kudos to the moms who did this without having friends in a little box in their back pocket. I don’t know what I would do without having my friends accessible at the touch of a button, even in the midst of winter when none of us want to go out of the house, even while a little one is too sick and we don’t want to risk passing the germs around, even in the middle of the night when I’ve felt frustrated and ineffectual. Many instances of loneliness and self-doubt have been alleviated by an encouraging text, a humourous retort to my baby’s inconvenient behaviour, a photo that confirms no one else really has it all together either, or even just a string of messages with content that doesn’t seem in the least bit important. On some days, those “insignificant” conversations have been essential for keeping this mom grounded in the world outside her house.

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I love knowing what these women get up to during 3am wakings

I know, I know, if we lived in a time before these technologies, we would be able to do without them as well. But this is neither here nor there. Today, I want to give kudos to my heroines of the past, who did all we do, and sometimes a hell of a lot more, without these little electronic boxes that connect me to my village.

Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

GUEST POST: How community helped during the hardest time of our lives

This month, we are pleased to welcome Kristi Sterry to the Raise a Mother village. Kristi is the mom of two little boys.  She works in cancer research, and enjoys travel, hiking, and trail running. You can find her blog at lovelearnrunblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @krististerry. Welcome, Kristi!

bio-picOur youngest son, James, was born with a serious medical issue.  Hours after his birth, we discovered that his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, his trachea was underdeveloped, and had a fistula.  This condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, or EA/TEF.

Our world changed overnight. Instead of the sleepless nights, baby cuddles, and diapers we expected, we found ourselves navigating major surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and an uncertain future.

Our friends and family shared our heartache and our hope for this sweet new baby. Everyone we knew offered to help.  And honestly, they made all the difference in the world.  Here’s how:

Help with the older kids

My water broke at 5:45am, and we left for the hospital by 7am.  My older son, Thomas, awoke to the news that he had a new baby brother.  Before Thomas even met his brother, James had to be life-flighted to a larger hospital 2.5 hours away.  I followed as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.

I was terrified for my new baby, but my heart broke for my firstborn.  I knew he was confused and sad and missed his family.

During this time, our friends and family took care of Thomas, helped him FaceTime with us, took him on play dates, and brought him over the mountain pass to visit us.  Knowing that he was being loved and cared for brought this mama tremendous peace of mind.

Meals

After we got home, friends showed up with meals every day for 2 months.  It was such a tremendous help to have that off our plate so we could just focus on our family.  And many of my friends don’t cook (like me!), so they chipped in on gift cards.

Reach Out

Those long days at the hospital were really lonely, especially since we were hours away from home.  My best friends texted constantly.  My sister and mom e-mailed me encouraging quotes and verses late every night, since they knew I would be up pumping.  One sweet friend sent her friend who lived locally to deliver a care package.  It was so nice to connect with another mom.  Honestly, the love and support we received during that time still brings tears to my eyes.  Not everyone knew what to say, but just knowing they were thinking of us meant the world.

Keep offering to help

This is the big one. Once the baby comes home from the hospital, it seems like the medical crisis is over. But for many families, it is harder, lonelier, and scarier once they leave the support of the hospital. Our friends and family keep checking in with us.  They pray alongside us when James is sick.  And they celebrate every milestone as he continues to grow and thrive.

Watching your child suffer through a major medical issue is not something I would wish upon anyone.  But I wouldn’t trade our journey with James for the world.  He has taught us many things, not least of which is what a wonderful community surrounds our family.

January is EA/TEF Awareness Month.  Each year, 1 out of every 4,500 babies is born with EA/TEF.  Even after their repair, many of these children battle a long list of chronic issues.  On this official awareness month, we spread the word about this unknown condition and celebrate modern medicine gifting our children with life.

To Push or Not to Push: That is the question

pregnancyThe third trimester has officially started at our house. Woohoo! As Raise a Mother regulars will know, this pregnancy hasn’t been the easiest, so I am excited to be heading into the homestretch.

At the same time, we’ve still got so much to do. When I was pregnant with our first, I carefully researched and planned, making sure we got things ready throughout the nine months so we wouldn’t have too much to do at the end. This time…not so much. One of the things we have yet to sort out? Whether or not to try for a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC) or to opt for a repeat c-section.

We are fortunate to have health care providers who are committed to giving us all the information we need and then supporting whatever decision we make, (Shout out to Ontario’s midwives!)

Still, it’s a big decision. After all, it’s literally deciding how we want our child to come into this world. If you had asked me right after my son was born, I would have said, without a doubt, that I wanted a VBAC. I even asked my midwife at my discharge appointment what I could do to help to increase the odds of a successful VBAC the second time around.

I had a hard time with my c-section, both before and afterwards. I was disappointed when my son refused to move from his breech position – our little Buddha making surgery a necessity. I was scared shitless when my belly stopped growing properly around week 34 and then my amniotic fluid got low, ultimately resulting in our surgery being scheduled earlier than initially planned because little buddy was no longer getting the nutrients or space he needed. After the surgery, my body temperature remained too low for me to hold my sweet baby, so I watched from under an inflatable hot-air blanket as my husband had the first skin-to-skin contact with our son. I had to wait at least an hour to hold him, let alone try to feed him.

I felt like a failure whose body hadn’t done what it was “supposed” to do. It didn’t help that I, like many women who have had c-sections, had difficulty breast feeding. My son didn’t regain his birth weight for a full three weeks, and we ultimately moved fully to formula feeding after three months of struggling with a never-ending cycle of bottles, boobs and pumping. I promised myself that if I had the chance to do it again, it would be a vaginal birth all the way.

But now, more than two years later, I can honestly say I’m torn about what to choose.

Because I’m not the same Mom I was when my son was born. I have enough distance, perspective and confidence to know that I didn’t fail my kid when we had a c-section (or for that matter, when we switched exclusively to formula). In fact, that was me Mom-ing Up. We did away with my expectations of how things were supposed to go and instead went with what was going to work best for my kid and for our family.

Now, there is a big part of me that finds it appealing to go with what I’ve already done – the “devil I know”, so to speak. After all, there are so many things about parenting that throw you into the deep end, leaving you to either sink or swim. Why not choose the thing that’s more familiar – where you know what to expect – if given the option to do so?

On the other hand, assuming that all is going well and there are no complications, VBACs are statistically safer than having another major surgery – which is, of course, what a c-section is. Not to mention that the idea of trying to deal with a six-week recovery period with a two-and-half-year-old at home sounds far from appealing, if not impossible. Seriously, how am I not going to pick up my firstborn for six weeks?

And, just because my c-section no longer makes me feel like a failure doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my desire for that moment of having my child placed on my chest immediately after he’s emerged from my body. Do I really want to give up that opportunity voluntarily?

On the other hand (yes, I have three hands in this scenario), the idea of trying to have a VBAC and ending up with an emergency c-section scares me the most. The idea that I could shoot for the moon and end up with a birth where I feel even more separate from my baby – and both of us are put at greater risk – is my personal nightmare. So, does that mean we shouldn’t even try?

At the recommendation of our midwife, my husband and I attended a VBAC information session run by ob-gyns from a local hospital. The facilitator emphasized that we shouldn’t think of this as a single decision, c-section or VBAC. Instead, we need to answer a series of questions: Are we comfortable with any medically-approved induction methods or do we want to rely on my body going into labour naturally in order to go for a VBAC? At how many weeks do we give up on that and schedule a c-section? If we opt for an elective c-section, what does our birth plan look like if I go into labour before the scheduled surgery date?  etc, etc, etc.

I found this framing very helpful because it recognizes the many variables that come into play in any birth experience. My husband and I want to ensure that we are on the same page, so our plan now is for each of us to answer the questions and come up with what would be our own ideal birth plan. Then we’ll compare and find the plan that will work best for both of us.

Of course, the decision may not end up being ours in the end. I know all too well that kiddos have a way of rendering your well-thought-out plans irrelevant. The circumstances of this pregnancy may shift and a VBAC may no longer be an option. The best we can do is plan for the best-case scenario, be prepared for things to change, and keep our focus on getting our little nugget here safe and healthy.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a repeat c-section or VBAC. Any advice you can offer to this mama-of-two-to-be?

 

Lists: This ‘Type A’ Mom’s Worst Frenemy

I really needed a break this week, friends.

Sickness, that common December friend, swept through my house, meaning I was the only person well enough to take care of… well, everything and everyone else. I felt like I spent four days (covering an entire weekend that is usually our chance to get things done and have fun as a family) being trapped inside the box of my house. It seemed I simply cycled through an endless rotation of getting snacks, water, clean laundry, naps, and more clean laundry for the rest of my family. I did all the night wakings with two sick kiddos, one of whom decided he couldn’t go back to sleep for two hours each night after his night feed. I missed a couple of holiday events that I was really looking forward to: Breakfast with Santa in our local community, and a festive family lunch. I LOVE Christmas, so this really bothered me. I had big plans to have the tree up and decorated on Saturday, and it didn’t happen for two more days. Finally, on Monday, I hit a new low Continue reading

A Lovely Little Corner of the Oft-Infuriating Internet…

I have a resource to share that has really been a game-changer for me, fellow parents! Recently, I signed up for Lori Petro’s Chaos to Cooperation 10-Day Virtual Retreat via her Teach Through Love site . I’m not even sure now how I came across her stuff… I think it was during my 5am-feeding window, where I scroll through Pinterest and Facebook in order to keep myself awake while little R eats. I must have been surfing on the topic of dealing with toddler tantrums, and I ended up inputting my email – an action that is extremely rare for me, since I always think I’m getting too many emails as it is. So I must have been pretty desperate at that moment. (I want to say up front, too, that the course was FREE – completely free! And she has not emailed me once since the end of the course, either!) Continue reading

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