#mombrain

mombrain2Mom brain.  They say it’s a bad thing.  That the pregnancy and postpartum period cause “impaired” brain function.  It’s blamed for the state of foggy forgetfulness many of us find ourselves in after having children.  Just the other day, I heard someone apologize for their mom brain.  But screw that.  I’m damn proud of my mom brain, and I’ll tell you why.

But to start, I don’t say any of this to diminish the dad brain in any way.  He obviously helps whenever and wherever he can.  But he also travels, so many days it is just me.  My mom brain is on my own.  But even when he is here, he often has the luxury of focusing on one task at a time.  Because while my kids love him, they cling to me.  There’s always something that only mommy can do, at least in my family.

My mom brain has to get 3 people ready and out of the house every morning.  I try to answer a work email from Japan at 7 am on my phone, moments before the 3-year old bounds into the room to interrupt literally every thought I have with a new question.  My coffee gets shuffled from room to room as I take care of everyone’s needs; change the diaper, nurse the baby, read a book, read another book, wipe a bottom, but not with that toilet paper, the other toilet paper.  Shove my wet hair into a bun, remember to put nursing pads into my bra. My mom brain has to remember exactly where that dress is that my daughter wants to wear (in the large pile of unfolded clothes that I’ve dumped on the guest bed), or else there might be a meltdown before 8 am.  Mommy I want a braid, no I want a ponytail, no I want that bow.  I have to make sure the dishwasher gets run the night before so that I have clean bottle nipples to screw on the milk that’s organized by date in the fridge. My mom brain has to keep track of the fact that it’s teacher appreciation week, and today I have to take flowers to my daughter’s class and handmade cards to my son’s class, and tomorrow it’s flowers to my son’s class and homemade cookies to my daughter’s class, and the next day it’s more handmade cards to ohmygoshisitFridayyet.  My mom brain has to remember that it’s dance day for her, and that he’s running low on diapers, and that she needs a family picture printed out for her classroom wall and that I have to replace the spare clothes in his cubby because it’s been a blowout kind of week.  I have to assemble and pack my pump parts every single day; and sometimes I realize I’ve forgotten them after I’ve already gotten to work, and thank goodness I don’t have a meeting at 9 am because my boobs are going to explode if I don’t go back home.  I could blame it on mom brain, but look at what my mom brain has already accomplished before the coffee has even had a chance to kick in.

My mom brain gets to work and is firing on all cylinders.  Emails are flying, fires are being put out, I’m making sh*t happen. Ding. Outlook reminder. Time to pump.  Refill my water, close the curtains, hook up the pump, breathe in, breathe out, relax.  Get the milk going, and get back to work.  Ding, 5 minutes until my next meeting.  Unscrew the flanges from the bottles, drip drip, wipe up my desk, screw on the tops before they get spilled.  Less than 3 hours later… ding.  My mom brain bounces back and forth all day long, between my work and making food for my baby.

My mom brain runs through a mental checklist every time we leave the house. Socks. Shoes. Fill the water bottle.  Bring a snack.  No not that snack, I want a different snack.  Pack the diapers.  Refill the wipes.  Need hats.  And sunscreen.  And a bib.  Where’s that teething toy?  Nurse the baby.  Make the 3-year old go potty.  Carry as many things at once out the door.  Buckle them into car seats.  Clean out old drinks and trash from the car during the first time my hands have been free in 4 hours.  Fetch that toy to prevent the meltdown.  Stick the paci in the mouth.  Adjust the buckle, it’s too tight.  Start the car.  Mommy put that song one, the one after Hello.  Pull out of the driveway.  Realize I’ve left my phone at home.

My mom brain has to track the health needs of 3 people. I have to remember to schedule the 1 month, 2 month, 4 month, 6 month, 9 month, 12 month appointments… and the sick ones in between. And the 3-year old’s dentist appointment.  Oh she needs a haircut. It’s been 9 months since my own haircut. Baby needs his nails trimmed, says the huge scratch on my face.  Did we brush your teeth yet?  My mom brain has to remember the last time we dosed the ibuprofen and the last time the baby pooped. Baby spikes a fever in the middle of the night, and I can’t take him to school the next day. My mom brain has to switch back and forth between baby and work; I time our feeds & play to ensure he takes a nap during the call where I’m presenting my report to the clients.  Please please please stay asleep.

My mom brain has to keep 3 people in this family clothed, which is no small feat.  My mom brain is always thinking of what size the kids will be in 6 months, because I have to be on the hunt for their next wardrobe.  Because their closets literally turn over every season.  And with the littlest one, sometimes I have to churn it 3 times in a season because they grow so darn fast.  I am constantly sorting clothes into bins.  Washing. Folding. Selling. Donating.  But inevitably there’s a day when someone doesn’t have any pants that fit.  Or I forget to buy gloves in time for the cold weather.  And there are days when I send the baby to school without any socks because I literally cannot rub together two socks that match in my house. 

My mom brain has to figure out what to wear every day.  A third of my closet doesn’t fit.  Another third isn’t nursing-friendly.  That leaves a third that I basically churn through by picking clean clothes out of the laundry basket, never bothering to put them away.  Every morning, my mom brain considers how much I’ll be nursing in public or in front of others that day.  Should I wear two shirts so I don’t need to use a cover that my baby’s just going to swat off?  Oh I’m going to be wearing the baby, so I should wear a shirt I can pull down?  Oh we’re taking pictures on the beach in a month?  Literally I can’t wear any of the dresses I want to because I’d either ruin the neckline or have to pull up the entire thing.  Seriously, my mom brain shouldn’t have to work this hard just so you don’t see a little boob while I feed my child.

When planning a family vacation, my mom brain is in full effect.  When booking flights 10 months before the trip, I have to think about how early is too early for the kids, and scheduling our return so that we get home in time for bedtime to avoid a meltdown at 30,000 feet.  8 months before the trip, I think about the fact that I’d like to have family photos done on vacation, so I book a photographer (and begin the long search for the perfectly coordinating but not too-matchy outfits). I book the babysitter 6 months ahead of time, so we can have a little kid-free time on vacation. 4 months before, I take pictures of my baby, print them at Walgreens, make an appointment at the post office, get some stuff notarized, and get my son a passport.  3 months ahead, I have to buy clothes and swimsuits and sunhats and sandals and sunglasses for everyone.  A month before the trip, those brown Amazon boxes are showing up on our doorstep every other day with a new item I just remembered that we needed. I’m in packing mode; I have to remember the swim diapers and the tent and the baby sunscreen and the bug spray (oh crap, what types are safe, let me put that on the list of questions to ask the pediatrician) and the floaties and the toys for the plane and the snacks and the bottles and my pump and the frozen milk and all. the. things.

My mom brain can do a lot of things, it’s a multi-tasking machine. But it is basically failing at housework.  The place is a constant wreck.  But my mom brain has to make sure that everyone gets enough love.  Everyone’s cup must be filled every day, including my own.  So I let the dishes pile up in the sink, and the laundry pile up on the floor.  Because it means I get to spend more time with my kids, listen to them, connect with them.  I kiss the scrapes and wipe the noses and shoo away the monsters.  Every single day, they know they are loved.  So the next time you apologize for your mom brain, remember all that your mom brain actually does, and be proud.  It’s making your world go ‘round.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone with a #mombrain out there!  What does your #mombrain do?

 

From Newborn to Infant, Everything I Love

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Another trimester has passed.  And as much as I loved the newborn period, I love this one too.  I know for many it can be very tough; but this transition, from 3 to 6 months, from newborn to infant, are some of the sweetest memories for me.

I love how much you’re learning.  You play with toys and books, and reach for your paci all on your own.  I love the way you grab your feet, and the way you always stick the same two fingers in your mouth. All of the milestones you reached, while they make me so proud, make me only more aware of how fast you’re growing.  You learned to roll, you learned to sit, you learned to plank.  You’re on the verge of crawling and I’m going to be on the verge of tears if you don’t slow down.

I love that you love being worn.  How you’ll look all around at what’s going on, taking it all in.  And when you’ve had enough, you’ll snuggle into my chest, and drift off to sleep in the middle of a party, or the middle of the ocean.  I love that when you’re fussy, being put in the carrier always works to calm you down.  Your head next to my heart, a perfect pair.

I love the sound of your voice. The newborn sounds have faded away, replaced by long conversations of babble, and the most joyous belly laughs.  I love the way you talk to yourself in the mirror, and giggle out loud when tickled.  Even when it’s 5 am, your intense desire to talk amuses me.  I wonder what wonderful things you will say when you learn the magic of words.

I love the way you love your sister.  She absolutely steals the show when she’s in the room; your eyes follow her everywhere. I watched you watch her the other night as she got up from the dinner table.  Your face was overcome with sadness when she disappeared from your sight, and the tears started rolling and didn’t stop until she came back.  When she cries, you cry.  When she’s near you, you reach out to touch her.  I can already see how much you look up to her, and I hope you have that look in your eyes for a lifetime.

I love nursing you.  Your entire face lights up when I walk into your school at lunchtime every day.  You jump excitedly in anticipation of the cuddles and warm milk.  I love the way you touch my face, memorizing it until the next time I see you.  I already see that nursing is changing; you’re more distracted, you move your arms and legs voraciously, you blow raspberries on me and giggle.  I’ll miss the quieter moments.  I love the way you sometimes drift off to sleep, barely holding on, but still moving your jaw every few seconds to make sure I’m still there.  I love the way your milky breath smells.  It smells of baby.

I love your wide gummy smile.  Seriously, the gummy smile is the best.  It’s what makes you still look like a little baby.  I’m in no hurry for that first tooth to pop.  Oh how it hurt when I realized you were ready for solid food last week.  That you were about to start needing me less.  That I would no longer be the sole source of your nourishment.  When I carry you on my hip, my arm numb from the weight, I remind myself I’ve grown you, all of you, all 19 pounds of you, for the past 16 months, from womb to world.  And it’s one of the proudest accomplishments of my lifetime.

I love comforting and snuggling you in the middle of the night.  You’ve never slept through, but the only thing I care about is making sure you know that I’m here for you, and teaching you that sleep is a safe, wonderful place.  Just this week, while daddy was away, I held you in one arm and your sister in the other.  Her long legs were draped over mine at first, but then she was horizontal, and then upside down, and was what felt like miles away.  The tears rolled down my face as I realized how quickly she had grown up, and I held on to you just a little bit tighter, hoping to freeze these snuggles in time.  Because I’ll blink, and you’ll be a little boy with wild hair and a fierce penchant for asking why.

I love being your mother.  I’ve only known you for six months, but it feels like you’ve always been here in our hearts.  You’ve completed our family in the most perfect way.  But that word complete is so final, and I’m realizing that all of your firsts… will be my lasts.  There’s this undercurrent, this dull ache I feel, intermingled in the messiest of ways with all of the joy.  It’s bittersweet for me, but forever my baby you’ll be.

 

 

 

 

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In Defense of Baby-Led Weaning

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My son is 5 months old now, which means that people have already been asking me for a month if he has started on solids yet, and it means I’ll be telling people for another month that no, we’re waiting until he’s at least 6 months and/or he’s developmentally ready.  You see, I am going to skip purees entirely, and go straight to letting him feed himself table food. When I decided to pursue this feeding method with my daughter, her pediatrician basically looked at me like I had lost my mind.

This post is not so much a defense of the actual method, but rather, my journey of having to defend a non-mainstream method of feeding.  Let me tell you, it is difficult to have confidence in your parenting decisions when you’re a first time mom and everyone, including your doctor, is making you question yourself.

They had never heard of baby-lead weaning.  Heck even I had never heard of baby-led weaning until I was a mom.  Which meant that I had to educate basically everyone around me.  And it meant some really tough conversations, starting with our pediatrician at the time.

She was okay with me waiting until 6 months if I absolutely wanted to, but also turned around and told me that it was fine if we started at 4 months.  How’s that for a mixed message?  I have never understood how you can recommend 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding (per AAP and WHO guidelines), and then in the same breath, say sure, 4 months is enough.  My feeling is that there is just a lot of confusion, with lots of different data and studies and recommendations, and it seems to keep changing, so it’s hard to keep up.  So how do you go about deciding who to listen to?

When data gets confusing, I listen to my old trusty friend, biology.  I try to strip away the modern world, and ask myself questions like… What did they do before bottled processed baby food?  What did they do before blenders?  Before modern high chairs could prop babies up?  What did they do before books told them how to do it?  And maybe most importantly, what is my baby showing me she can do?  When did nature intend us to start eating food?

When I asked myself these questions, the answers were easy.  But the conversation with the doctor was not.

The doctor said I couldn’t feed her un-pureed foods because of the choking risk.  The thing is, if you follow the whole baby-led aspect of this method, then you really lower the risk of choking.  The baby only eats what she can handle, when she is ready.  She learns the natural order of things: how to sit up unassisted, how to bring food to her mouth, how to chew it, and then she learns how to swallow it, as opposed to the other way around.  And the gag reflex is a beautiful thing.  It’s more forward on the tongue until about 9 months, protecting baby from choking while she learns how to chew during this time frame.  By the time the gag reflex starts moving back in the throat, hopefully baby has learned how to handle food in her mouth, and it’s a non-issue.

The doctor questioned how I would know how much she was eating if I was just letting her “have at it” instead of spoon-feeding a measured amount.  The funny thing is, babies are not in the habit of overeating if you’re not in the habit of overriding their satiety cues.  Without a spoon, there’s no way to force her to eat just one more bite.  She eats until she’s had enough, and that’s it.  And she decides when she’s ready to increase her food intake and decrease her milk intake.  Honestly, the schedules of how much food a baby should be eating by a certain age are ridiculous.  Eating is a developmental skill, just like walking.  We don’t expect all babies to pop up and walk at the same age, do we?  We don’t force them to walk. So then why do we expect them to eat food at the same rate?

I told the doctor I wanted to skip rice cereal in favor of more nutritionally dense, unprocessed foods.  She insisted that feeding my baby rice cereal was a requirement because of the iron… Seriously?  You’re telling me that before Gerber came along and started making rice cereal, that babies weren’t fed adequately?  That the human race didn’t thrive until processed food with supplements existed? Seems hard to justify a recent invention as an absolute necessity in infant feeding.  Food marketing is a powerful thing.

Well then the doctor was incredulous at how in the world I would get my daughter to eat foods rich in iron (like meat) if I wasn’t going to puree it since she didn’t have teeth.  Well, if you’ve ever stuck your finger in a baby’s mouth, you know that those gums can chew the crap out of some meat, no teeth required. This is a sampling of the types of food my daughter was fully capable of chewing during that very first week, before she had any teeth:

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The iron thing came up again and again.  At the 6 month visit, a different doctor this time told me I needed to supplement with iron drops.  I just smiled and nodded.  Mentioned again at the 9 month visit.  Smile and nod.  At her 1 year visit, a different doctor yet again, insisted that I needed to be supplementing with iron.  Well by this point I was just infuriated.  Well aren’t you testing her iron today?  Isn’t that standard at the 1 year visit?  Shouldn’t we see what those levels are BEFORE we decide if supplementation is necessary? 

The doctor’s response?  I doubt she gets enough iron from food, most 1 year olds aren’t eating a lot of foods like meat, eggs, beans, sweet potatoes, and spinach. 

My response?  Actually, that’s exactly what she eats. Let’s see what the test says.   

And sure enough, after he had left, and the nurse came in to check her iron levels, they were perfectly normal.  Perfectly normal, as in, if I had been supplementing with iron for the last 6 months like the doctors had told me to, she would have actually had too much iron.  And probably a not very happy digestive system.  Her blood levels had finally validated my choices… but it took 6 long months of sticking to my instincts.

Look, I get it.  It is rare for babies to be breastfed for very long in the United States… At those 4 month, 6 month, 9 month, and 12 month visits (across 3 different pediatricians in the same practice), everyone kept mentioning formula.  It was just part of their everyday vernacular, and it flowed effortlessly off their tongues.  I corrected them every time, that my baby was on breast milk, but they continued to slip up and forget.  In my state of Georgia, I was among only 14.5% of mothers who exclusively breastfed until 6 months before introducing solids.  That means the majority of babies that these pediatricians see are on formula by the time they start food.  And many might not know that the iron in formula is harder to absorb than the iron in breastmilk.  And the majority of babies probably had immediate cord clamping at birth, meaning their iron stores are probably not as big as they could have been.  All of these things together mean that yes, many babies do need a closer eye on their iron intake.  And if those are the babies that you see all day every day in your practice, you’re going to get in the habit of recommending iron supplementation to all of your patients.

But that was not my baby.  She was not being treated as an individual, and was receiving unnecessary medical advice.  They were ignoring the fact that her delayed cord clamping at birth combined with being exclusively breastfed and being a healthy, full-term baby meant that maybe, just maybe, the blanket recommendation wouldn’t be appropriate for her.  And they weren’t willing to consider that maybe, just maybe, that there are acceptable ways of introducing solids beyond spoon feeding and ways of getting iron beyond rice cereal and drops.

Look, there is not a right way or a better way.  It’s valid to choose to feed your baby cereal and purees with a spoon, and obviously babies thrive being fed by traditional methods (I was fed this way).  But then my choice is equally valid too… it’s just not a widely accepted or understood choice, which placed the burden on me to explain and stand up for myself.

Every baby is different.  I know babies who didn’t do well on baby-led weaning, and had to go back to traditional weaning.  There’s not a huge difference, most babies will eat finger foods around 9 months anyways. But personally, when I heard stories of babies who had significant trouble moving from purees to finger foods (including apparently, myself, who wanted everything pureed until I was 2), I knew I had to skip over that potential minefield.  My daughter had already shown herself to be opinionated when she developed a bottle preference and refused the breast.  It was as simple as this: I did not want another potential feeding battle on my hands.  The first one was heartbreaking enough.

In a way, my choice is the lazy choice.  I didn’t have the stress of creating a feeding schedule… I offered food when we were eating.  I never had to spoon feed her, allowing me to enjoy my own meal with 2 hands at the same time.  I didn’t have to pack baby food to bring to restaurants, I could just order something healthy off the menu for her.

In some ways it wasn’t easier – it takes a lot of patience, a lot of trust in the process, and willingness to clean up a whole lot of mess to let your baby feed herself.  The first 3-4 weeks were basically play and exploration; most food ended up on the floor.  But then 1 day, it just clicked, and she figured out she could do more than just chew the food, she learned she could swallow it.  And then gradually, as she practiced her fine motor skills, she was able to explore more and more foods, in larger and larger quantities.  And then you blink and your baby is 3 years old, eating you out of house and home.

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I’m excited to start the process all over again with my son in a few short weeks.  To see him make a silly face when he tastes something sour for the first time, or a disgusted face when he tries something bitter.  To watch him grow to enjoy the foods we eat as a family, and (hopefully) develop a palate for spice the way my daughter has. She eats Indian and Szechuan food with the best of them, and has become quite the little foodie.

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But I’m also sad that I’ll no longer be his sole source of nourishment.  Nursing is just easier than solids; this makes life busier, and offers fewer cuddles.  And the thought of him needing me less and less is heart-wrenching.  But it will be easier this time, because as a second time mom, I won’t have to defend myself anymore.  I’m just going to let my baby lead the way.

 

 

 

Over the next few months, I’ll be posting pics of my son’s journey with baby-led weaning & sharing food tips, so come follow me on Instagram @thebestseasonofmylifeblog if you’re interested!

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The end of maternity leave: The most important work

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The bags are carefully packed and are waiting by the door.  The pump bag filled with bottles and pump parts and cleaning wipes and the hands-free bra, the bag with extra clothes with carefully ironed-on name labels, the bag with diapers and wipes and coconut oil, my backpack with my laptop and all of the hospital bills I still need to pay when I get a spare moment… and tomorrow I’ll fill a cooler bag with the bottles of breastmilk I have measured and re-measured a million times, unsure of how much to actually send.  Oh yea, and my diaper bag and purse.  Tomorrow I’ll be the bag lady.

Tomorrow I go back to my job outside the home – I won’t call it going back to work, because I’ve been doing work.  Important work.  The most important work in fact.  The work of giving birth.  The work of recovering.  The work of building bonds with my baby.  The work of establishing my milk supply.  The work of learning how to balance parenting two children.  The work of laundry. So. Much. Laundry.

I’ve done this before.  The night before going back to your other job can feel a lot like the first day of school after a long summer…  Who are these new people?  What are these new policies?  Will they recognize me?

That last one might sound silly… of course they’ll recognize me, on the surface.  But underneath, deep down, I’ve been transformed.  And each child transforms you differently.  With my daughter, I was utterly transformed by this feeling that I would go to the ends of the earth for this tiny human being.  Her birth changed me into someone who at all costs, believed in myself.  My breastfeeding journey with her showed me the deepest reserves of strength I never knew I had.  As someone who previously struggled with my own perception of my body, I now viewed it as this amazing temple that could perform the biggest of miracles.

My miscarriage transformed me.  I was no longer invincible, no longer innocent.  But I learned how to grieve, and how to heal.

With my son, I’ve been transformed again.  His birth showed me how to harness my power.  Breastfeeding him has taught me how to trust my instincts.  I hold my parenting convictions more deeply; I’m unapologetic about my bedsharing, and even more outspoken about how the postpartum period should be.  My heart has grown astoundingly bigger, for another tiny human who I love just as fiercely as the first.

So yes, I wonder if they’ll recognize me.  Motherhood has changed me.  They might notice that all of these big feelings, this other job of mothering, impact my work.  It means that I’m more efficient with my time.  It means that I can multi-task at a whole new level.  It means that I’m a more nurturing teacher.  It means that I’m less likely to second-guess my instincts.  It means that I’m more willing to be flexible when circumstances change.  What makes me a better mother also makes me a better employee.

Everyone has asked me if I’m ready.  I don’t know if you can ever be ready.  I’ve already cried 3 times in the past week, and I’m sure more tears will be shed in the morning.  But I remind myself that this is a choice I am making.  I am privileged that it even is a choice for me.  Despite how glorious the last 19 weeks have been, I have spent it feeling sad and angry for my friends who do not have the choices I do.  We live in a country that does not respect new motherhood as the most important work. 

For the mothers who only got 2 weeks off… I am sorry that you weren’t given a chance to recover from birth. I am sorry that you were not allowed to get off the hormonal roller coaster first.  I am sorry that you had to go back to work on a paltry amount of sleep while your baby still had their days and nights mixed up.  I am sorry that you likely had very little “choice” in how you fed your baby.

For the mothers who only got 6 weeks off… I am sorry that recovery from birth is apparently the only thing that matters, and that many of you still won’t be recovered by this point.  I am sorry that you had to leave just as you were getting to know your baby.  I am sorry that just as it was starting to get easier, it got harder.  I am sorry that if you had any breastfeeding issues, you may not have had enough time to resolve them.  I am sorry that you didn’t get the optimal chance to firmly establish your milk supply; I am sorry that you may have to wean earlier than you intended.

For the mothers who only got 12 weeks off… I am sorry that you’ve likely taken much of this time unpaid.  That despite your desire to spend more time with your baby, the threat of losing your job is forcing you to go back.  That even if you have the flexibility to take more time off, that the financial burden of doing so unpaid is too stressful.  I’m sorry that you may have had to put your baby in daycare during the height of cold and flu season.  That your first weeks back at work were actually spent at home taking care of your sick baby.  I’m sorry that if you got through the hardest part of breastfeeding, through to the part where you absolutely love nursing your baby, that you have to pump multiple times a day to maintain that relationship.  I’m sorry that this will be a source of stress, and that some of you will have to fight hard for every ounce.

For the mothers who own their own businesses… I am sorry that there is no safety net for people like you.  That some of you never quit working, despite having given birth to a human being.  I hope you were able to assemble enough support.

So yes, I am lucky that I had a choice at all.  I chose to take 19 weeks off.  I am privileged to have been able to take 13 of those weeks unpaid.  I am choosing to go back to my job, which I love.  My bags are packed and waiting by the door.  But there’s an invisible bag I’ll be carrying with me tomorrow.  This heavy baggage in my heart, this feeling of disappointment that every mother does not have a choice, this sorrow that they are not being allowed the time and space to transform.  I hope that some day soon, our country will realize that this is the most important work. 

 

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The Beauty In Bedsharing

 

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This morning, I slipped under my nearly 3-year old daughter’s covers to wake her up with a kiss and a cuddle, but was met with resistance.

Her: Noooooo mommy, I didn’t ask you.  It’s wake-up time, we can’t cuggle. 

Me: Just a little cuggle? {I try to assume our usual position, by slipping my arm under her neck}

Her: No, your arm hurts my head. 

Me: Oh… that hurts my heart.  I wanted to cuggle you.

Her: It’s okay mommy, I still love you.

My heart shattered into a thousand pieces.  Where was my little baby girl?  Where had she gone?  She allowed me the small concession of carrying her out of her bed… but it’s only a matter of time before she’s too big to even do that with.

I tried.

I tried to capture her smallness.  I tried to hold on to the last breaths of her babyhood. But try as I might, it has slipped right out of my grasp.  Despite my efforts to slow down and enjoy every moment since everyone told me it goes so fast… all I have left are memories and photographs.  But it doesn’t mean that I can re-live it.  Not really. 

Some of my favorite memories of her as an infant will always be of bedsharing.  She always started the night in her own bed, but after her first wake-up of the night, I’d scoop her out of her room and bring her into our cozy nest to feed her and quickly soothe her back to sleep.  And for the most part that meant that we all got more sleep… except for the times I’d find myself staring at her while she slept.  I’d watch her tiny chest move up and down, and memorize every little detail of her perfect little face.  I’d think to myself this is crazy, what are you doing, go to sleep. But those memories, in the dead of night, the ones where there aren’t any pictures – are the clearest in my mind’s eye.

The morning cuddles were always the best.  There was always lots of cooing and giggling, which eventually morphed into babbling and games.  She’d drum on my belly, or rub her daddy’s back.  It usually ended with a ticklefest involving pretend spiders.  On the weekends, we used to be able to trick her into sleeping in with us.  But now she bounds into our room at 7 am every morning exclaiming It’s wake up time! I slept in my princess bed all by myself. We can’t sleep, the sun is shining. I want to watch something. Now sleeping in means lying in bed with my eyes closed, listening to a Tiger on TV sing catchy jingles about life lessons.     

When she was a baby, she slept in the crook of my arm, her hand always on me.  I could feel the rise and fall of her chest all night.  Eventually she got bigger and then she slept next to me, but I still curved my body around hers, close enough to still hear her breath.  And then one day, she could talk, and she began making very specific requests on how I “cuggled” her.  This arm here, mommy.  Don’t breathe on me, mommy.

I find myself wondering when it’ll be the last time.  On average, she woke up twice a night until she was a year old.  And then once a night until she was two.  But for the most part, she’s slept in her own bed all night for almost the last year (a sentence I never thought I’d say).  But there is still the occasional wake-up because of a nightmare, or a noise, or just the request Mommy I want to sleep in your bed with you.  There was one night, about a month before her brother was born, when I got just such a request.  I willingly obliged, preparing myself for the chance that this might be one of the last times that I might share a bed all night with her.  I memorized her sweet breath on my face.  Her little arms wrapped tightly around my neck.  Her legs propped up on the side of my growing belly.  I tried to capture her smallness.

I know that if we offered it, she’d still want to sleep in our bed.  But now that her brother is here, he’s claimed her old spot.  I’m still holding on to the fact that she even wants to sleep with me once in a while.  If daddy’s out of town and she asks, I let her.  When it’s the weekend and baby brother is napping and I’m tired too, I let her.  It’s not the same anymore, since I have to face the baby, acting as the barrier between them.  But now she says heart-melting things like Mommy I want to be close, and she drapes her arm over me, acting as the big spoon.  She’s the big spoon.  How did that happen?

My only regret is that I didn’t start bedsharing sooner with her.  I had heard all of the warnings during pregnancy; that it was dangerous, that I’d never get her out of my bed, and that there was a short window of time in which I needed to sleep train her or else she’d never learn how to sleep.  Everything in parenting had been presented as a choice, except for this.

But I had no idea how strong my biological need to be close to her {and her to me} would be.  Every bone in my tired, aching, postpartum body screamed at me to pick her up and sleep with her. She was the furthest from my body she had been in 9 months; she was unsettled, and I was unsettled. If I wasn’t with her, I’d constantly wake up to check the monitor to make sure she was okay.  She only wanted to sleep in our arms or on our chests.  She flat out refused to sleep in the co-sleeper in our room.  She’d wake up the second we laid her down in her crib.  Parenting in the modern, Western world just wasn’t agreeing with me {or with her}.

Eventually, I gave in to my intuition, did some careful research on safe bedsharing, and took the plunge. And it just felt right. Of course, I didn’t need much “permission” to give in to it.  I shared a bed with my parents until I was two, and my brother did the same.  I witnessed bedsharing as the norm when we’d visit extended family in India.  We never had a crib in our house.  In fact, I never even saw a crib until I was thirteen years old and started babysitting.  So, it wasn’t that big of a leap for me.

I can’t talk about this topic without acknowledging that it’s mired in controversy.  But an army of 10,000 pediatricians couldn’t have kept me from sleeping with my baby.  It’s like the CDC’s recent recommendations against alcohol for all young women.  It’s one-size fits all, and is so condemning in its tone that it fails to do the most important thing: actually educate people.  We’re mothers, not monsters.  We have brains and boobs and biological instincts, so just let us use them already.

If half of us are even occasionally bedsharing, but lying to our pediatricians about it because their response is just don’t do it instead of here’s how to do it safely, then no one wins.  But to be fair, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t support bedsharing, it is supported by The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the USA Breastfeeding Committee, La Leche League International, UNICEF, the WHO, and even the Breastfeeding section of the American Academy of Pediatrics (how’s that for a mixed message).  Just read anything by Dr. James McKenna and you’ll know where I stand.  Every family is different, and bedsharing isn’t for everyone. But it can be safe, is entirely natural, and the bottom line is: it worked for us.

After I went back to work full-time (which coincided with the dreaded 4-month sleep regression), bedsharing became a necessity to get a good night’s sleep.  After being apart all day, she missed me, and I missed her.  There was no way that I was going to spend precious time fruitlessly bouncing my baby back to sleep in her room for half an hour, only to have her wake up when I put her back in her crib, when she would peacefully fall asleep in my bed in 3 minutes flat.  Putting her down to sleep initially is a different story… but as long as the waking happened after I was ready to go to bed, I was fine with it.  As soon as I stopped treating her night-wakings like a problem, they stopped being one.

And now I just have these beautiful memories with my daughter, who is no longer a baby. But my son is a baby, and has been in my bed since the day he was born.  So I’m soaking it in and am recognizing all of the beauty in bedsharing…

There’s beauty in the fact that despite the early loss of my nursing relationship with my daughter, bedsharing restored our bond.  Those first 10 weeks of pumping every 3 hours meant that I lost precious time that I could have been holding her.  I made up for it by snuggling her and soothing her back to sleep in my bed.  When she was old enough to use sign language, she’d wake up in the morning, and sign for milk.  I’d sit up in bed and pump her a fresh bottle, while she clapped her hands with excitement and anticipation.

There’s beauty in the fact that it lets me better take care of my kids when they’re sick.  When my daughter went to bed with a low-grade fever, I was able to keep her close and feel her body heat enough to know when it spiked in the middle of the night so I could do something about it.  And when my son was congested and having difficulty sleeping, I could position him to be more comfortable so he could breathe.

There’s beauty in the fact that I sometimes get the privilege of catching a smile flash across their faces or hearing a laugh escape from their mouths.  What wonderful dreams they must have.

There’s beauty in the fact that every time my son startles awake, I don’t have to feed him.  I simply lay my hand on his chest, with my other arm touching the top of his head.  All it takes is my subtle touch, the awareness of my presence, to soothe him back to sleep.  It’s how we survived the fourth trimester.

There’s beauty in the fact that when my son does need to nurse, there’s no crying. It took me several weeks to even learn what his hunger cry sounded like, because I honestly never heard it at the beginning – he was always close enough to get the milk flowing before the tears were.

There’s beauty in the fact that when my son wakes up in the morning, his entire face lights up with delight as we lock eyes – the way he looks at me sets my heart on fire.  He does a whole body stretch like he’s had the best sleep of his entire life. He latches on to nurse, but unlatches often to smile a gummy, milky grin at me.

There’s beauty in the fact that our mornings start together.  My daughter creeps into our bed in the morning, telling us about her dreams. She pokes and prods at her baby brother, he babbles back at her, she scratches her daddy’s back, kisses are doled out, we all tickle each other, and start our days with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.

So when I look back on this season of my life, I’ll always the cherish the beauty that bedsharing brought to our days {and nights}.

 

 

 

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The Fourth Trimester: Take Two

fourthtrimester

I love the newborn period.

There.  I said it.

Not something you hear every day, huh?  Normally you hear stories of intense sleep deprivation, aching nipples, a questionable amount of time since the last shower, and a lot of crying.  And if I was talking about my first child, that might be pretty accurate.  But I’m talking about my second child.  And with a second child comes the confidence of an experienced mother.  A mother who knows what to expect, and more importantly, what not to expect.  And that, I think, makes all the difference – for expectation is the thief of joy.

I expected nothing from my baby this time around. Nothing besides the expectation that he would act like a newborn baby. 

I did not expect that he would eat for a certain amount of time, or at certain intervals.  I just fed him on demand, for however long he wanted to, as frequently as he wanted to.  I trusted that he knew what his body needed to grow.  I didn’t freak out when he wanted to nurse every 15 minutes for 4 straight hours right before a growth spurt.  As a result, I have a healthy milk supply, and a thriving baby who’s become efficient enough at nursing to down 5 ounces in 5 minutes if he’s hungry.

I did not obsess over having a huge freezer stash of milk.  My body responds too well to a pump; it means that daily pumping for a week put my body into an uncomfortable oversupply.  So, I pump once every 5 days, just to have a bottle in the fridge.  If we don’t use it, on the fifth day I freeze it and then pump a fresh bottle.  He’s taken about 6 bottles so far, just to ensure that he’s amenable to them when I go back to work.  I have enough in the freezer for an emergency, and have taken to heart the mantra feed your baby, not the freezer. 

I did not expect that he would eat at certain times of day.  Like I said, I fed on demand, and I didn’t even try to predict it.  To not plan my day around having to pump this time around meant I could go anywhere.  I just left the house whenever I wanted to, without regard to the time.  If he got hungry, I nursed him.  In parking lots, in dressing rooms, in restaurants, on walks, at the park, wherever.  And it felt so freeing to be unchained from the pump this time around.  Have boobs, will travel.

I did not expect that he would take scheduled naps. I didn’t stress myself out about “nap times” and fighting to get him down to keep on a schedule.  I just followed his cues, and whenever he got fussy after a period of awake time, I put him down and he went right to sleep.  Except for the few times he didn’t, of course, in which case I held him, bounced him, rocked him, nursed him, or whatever else he needed from me to drift peacefully off to sleep.  I didn’t worry about holding him too much or spoiling him, because those things aren’t possible. All in all, he’s been a wonderful napper, and all I had to do was listen to him and let him set his rhythm.

I did not expect him to sleep long stretches at night on his own.  Over the last 12 weeks, it always seems like the first question that people have asked me is how is he sleeping? How many times does he wake at night? Truthfully, I have no idea, and I don’t care.  He sleeps with me, and when he stirs, I stir.  I nurse him right there in the bed, and after he latches, we both drift right back to sleep.  There’s rarely any crying, I don’t have to get out of the bed, and I don’t have to spend a bunch of time getting him (or myself) back to sleep – it’s quite literally, dreamy.

I did not expect that much of myself.  I let my husband wait on me hand and foot for the 3 weeks that he was off on paternity leave.  I didn’t prepare a meal, I didn’t wash the dishes, and I didn’t feel guilty about it at all.  Instead, I took a shower every single day. I took a nap with my son every day for at least the first 6 weeks.  I let my body heal from birth.  I didn’t care about losing weight right away; I know my milk supply dips when I cut calories, so that’ll just have to wait – all in good time.  I didn’t worry about how much I “accomplished” each day.  Snuggling my son while watching 6 seasons of The Good Wife is accomplishment enough for me.

This feeling of freedom and ease with motherhood did not come easy or automatically.  I remember going through all of this with my first, where every decision about every aspect of her life had to be carefully considered and decided upon.  It made the newborn period stressful – when everybody has an opinion, and you’re not quite sure what yours is yet because the sheer number of decisions and the total upheaval of your pre-parent life is just so overwhelming. This time – there are no decisions to be made, just instincts to follow.

And I feel so free. 

And I don’t mean to make it sound like it has been easy.  On the contrary; my neck and shoulders are constantly sore, it’s frustrating to always eat in a hurry with one hand, the dynamic of parenting two children can be tough, and I really don’t get much done.

But I know this too shall pass.  

Unfortunately, it will pass.

The only times I’ve cried have been about how fast he’s growing and how fast it’s all going.  I’m writing this post as I watch my son on the baby monitor; it’s the first time I’ve put him down to sleep for the first stretch of the night in his crib.  I used to put him in the bassinet in the living room – but he has started spinning in his sleep (he has already rotated 90 degrees since I began this post), so the bassinet is officially too small.  And it’s the first of many things that he will outgrow.

And now the fourth trimester is over.  And I’ll never have a newborn again.

The only thing I’ve expected is change.  Change coming at me so exceedingly fast that it’s a blur.  Where one day, his hands in his mouth means he’s hungry, and the next day it means hey, I found my hands!  Where one day he fits curled up on my chest, and the next day I’m putting away the tiny clothes forever.  Where one day he’s looking off into space at blurry shapes, and the next day he’s staring into my eyes, smiling his mega-watt, heart-melting smile.

So, forgive me if you think I take and post too many pictures of my kids.  Because I’m having a moment.  Like, some of the best moments of my life.

 

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An Unexpected Waterbirth

October 14th, 2015 (37 weeks and 3 days)

As I mentioned earlier, I just had a feeling that the baby was coming soon. At my appointment that day, I asked my midwife to check me… normally I wouldn’t have asked, but I felt like I needed to know in order to make a plan for the rest of the day.  80% effaced, 2-3 cm, and -1 station.  She felt his head RIGHT THERE.  No wonder I felt like he was going to fall out every time I stood up.  I went home and took a short nap, and then a shower.  I picked up my daughter from school, we played for a while in the playroom, and then decided to go out to dinner instead of making anything.  On the way home from dinner, she said “When baby brother is born tomorrow, we can play with him.”  Somehow, she must have sensed it too.

Throughout the evening, I was having very sporadic contractions… one every 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Nothing very regular, and certainly very far apart.  I thought that I probably had at least another day before things actually got going.  Normally when putting my daughter to bed, I cuddle with her for a bit… and this late in pregnancy, I had gotten into the habit of falling asleep with her as a way to sneak in a little cat nap each day.  Well today, I turned the light out in her room, and started feeling some pelvic pressure.  I said goodnight in a hurry, left her room, and closed the door behind me.  And right there in the hallway outside her door, I had a strong, intense, contraction. It’s as if my body had just been waiting to put my daughter to bed before allowing itself to move forward with labor.

To be absoContractions1lutely certain that labor was starting (and that it wasn’t just wishful thinking), I went into my room and laid down in the dark.  I opened my eyes with every contraction, long enough to hit the timer, and then tried to snooze in between.  After about an hour of regular contractions, I decided it was time to call the in-laws and ask them to go ahead and start the 2.5 hour drive to our house.

ContraContractions2ctions started to get closer together and more intense over the next hour.  I spent this time sitting on my yoga ball right next to my bed, with my iPad open to my Kindle app, reading birth stories from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. 

After seeing those 7-minute apart contractions, I panicked a little bit.  There was no way my in-laws would be here in time.  At 10:38, I texted our babysitter and asked her to come over.  At 10:46, I called my midwife.  She told me to come in once my contractions were 4 minutes apart.  But I knew I needed to go in sooner, based on how intense these contractions were.  My husband loaded all of our bags into the car, our babysitter was here at 10:55, and we were out the door.

Contractions3Normally, you hear about labor slowing down while in the car.  Well, the peaceful night drive with no traffic made mine speed up.  All I remember about the drive was hearing Mike and the Mechanics All I Need is a Miracle on the radio.

The last contraction I recorded on my app at 11:20 was experienced leaning on the car door in the parking lot of the hospital.  Once in labor & delivery, they had me change into a gown & pee in a cup.  In the admitting room, 2 nurses worked on strapping me to a fetal monitor – they require a continuous 30 minute strip upon admittance.  But at this point, my contractions were really close together, so they quickly took me off the monitor and decided to check me.  6 cm dilated – I was glad we had left the house when we did.  They decided to go ahead and put me in a labor & delivery room and put me on the monitor in there while they filled the birth pool.

Because BaView More: http://bella-birth.pass.us/kavithabirthby B was already so low, it was difficult to keep the monitor in the right place to get a continuous strip.  It kept slipping down, and we’d lose the signal.  I eventually had to hold the monitor in place to get a continuous 30 minutes.  I sat with my legs off the side of the bed, so that my husband had access to my back to provide counter-pressure during each contraction.  I was counting down the minutes until I could get into the tub; I had intended for it to be a tool to use during labor, but fully planned on getting out of the water for the pushing stage. Finally, at 12:30 am, I was allowed off the monitor.  I changed, and slipped into the water.

holdinghands

The overhead lights were low, and a strand of Christmas lights twinkled across the windows.  Across one of the windows, we had hung a bunting of birth affirmations I had made.  I had used my daughter’s finger paintings from when she was an infant; I had cut them into pendants, strung them together, and written phrases like “I trust my body” and “I am strong” on them.  These were my focal points during each contraction.  In between contractions, I breathed in lavender oil from a washcloth.  The water felt like a warm hug, and allowed me to truly relax in between contractions.

However, the contractions were still intense – the water and breathing wasn’t enough, I still needed the counter-pressure on my back.  For a few contractions, I attempted to swing my back to an edge of the tub, and my husband leaned over to help me.  But positioning myself that way and moving all around the tub was not working for me… so I finally asked my husband to get into the tub with me.  Once he did that, I was able to get into a rhythm.  In between contractions, I leaned over the edge of the tub.  During contractions, I was on my knees while my husband pushed on my lower back.  Soon it all blurred together; the contractions were on top of each other.  I remember thinking to myself – I must be going through transition.  Already?  At this rate, I’m not going to have time to get out of the tub. The nurse flitted in for a moment, and told me to call her if I started feeling the urge to push.

labor3

Almost immediately after she left, I felt that urge.  Nope, not getting out of the tub.  Guess I’m having a waterbirth! After 2 more contractions, we called the nurse, and asked her to get my midwife (she was already at the hospital, she just wasn’t in my room yet).  She walked in, accompanied by 3 labor & delivery nurses.

Now, this is the part that is the most vivid in my mind.  The room was filled with people: my midwife, my doula, and 3 nurses.  But at the same time, they weren’t there.  I was in the little bubble of my birth tub.  I was in control.  No one was directing me, no one was interfering.  They were just observers.

This is when I allowed myself to get primal.  To access that most instinctive part of my brain, and do whatever my body told me to.  And my body told me to get vocal.  Very vocal.  I emitted a long, low, guttural moan during each contraction.  I could feel it make my pushing more effective, opening me up.  After each contraction, there was silence, unless I initiated conversation with my midwife & doula, which I did.  I’ll say that again, because I found it remarkable: there was silence whenever I wanted there to be silence.

Contraction-

In case you didn’t know, that’s the sound of me pushing. {Laughter}.

It’s a testament to the women in that room, who made me feel comfortable enough to vocalize the way I was.  I was letting go completely.  Of all fears, of all inhibitions.

Contraction-

I feel something, can you see anything?  {No, we can’t see anything}.

This is when I realized – no one else is going to be able to get me through this.  No one can tell me if I’m pushing the right way, or if I’m making progress.  I have to do this myself.  And that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay.  I trusted myself.

-Contraction-

Why can’t I be one of those women who gets a baby out in 1 push?  {Well, that might be difficult since your water hasn’t broken yet}.

This revelation motivated me not to hold back anymore.  I was going to give the next push my all.  My water needed to break before my baby could descend.

-Contraction- (Pop)

I felt it! My water just broke! That was so weird! 

Contraction-

Oh it’s burning. 

Contraction-

Ahhhhhhh it burns.  {That means it’s almost over!}  You’re right!  Keep telling me that!  Please, keep telling me that. 

At this point, I felt like I had been pushing forever.  They told me later that it was I was probably only pushing for 15 minutes total.  But in the moment, it felt. Like. Forever.  The subtle reminder that it would be over soon was just what I needed to hear.  I knew exactly how I needed to push during the next contraction.

-Contraction-

OH MY GOD, I’m holding his head.  His head is in my hands… and it’s perfect. {Laughter}.  Hi Baby!  Hi!  You’re almost here! 

In that moment, when I was holding my son’s head in my hands, I have never felt more alive.  Maybe it was the huge oxytocin & endorphin rush, but I felt every sensation and emotion right into my fingertips and toes.  I was elated that I was moments away from meeting him; relieved that labor was almost over; amazed that my body had grown this perfect little head; empowered by the trust of my care providers to do this on my own; humbled by the privilege of catching him myself; and a dozen other emotions I can’t even begin to describe.  I’ll let my face at that moment tell the story:

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Contraction-

And with that last one, at 1:37 am on October 15th, just one short hour after I had entered the tub, he slipped right out and I pulled him up out of the water and met my little boy.

MeetingBaby

*MeetingBaby2

He was alert and calm.  The entire room swears that he cried “hey” to me right after I said “hey” to him.  After that, he didn’t really cry; we just settled into a calm state of being while we studied each other.  He’d squint and open his eyes a tiny bit, and then shut them again.  And then he’d open them for a tiny bit longer before shutting them again.  I just stared at this perfect little being for as long as I could.  I was on a hormonal high.  I was in disbelief about how fast he had arrived, and so grateful for how smoothly it had all gone.

After the cord stopped pulsing, my husband cut it, and held him skin-to-skin for a few minutes while I got out of the tub and got dried off.

cordcutting

I recounted the 3rd stage of labor and the initiation of breastfeeding in a previous post.  But here are some pictures from this amazing time we had together:

breastfeeding

*warmingtable

*daddyholding

I hadn’t planned on giving birth in the water; but sometimes when you stray from your plan, life’s most amazing moments can happen.

This is the best season of my life.

*Photos by Bella Birth

 

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