Sunday, August 7, 2016

When Bottle Fed Became My Best

This picture is from March but still very special to me. Here are my almost Irish twins coming as close to tandem nursing as we will ever get.


I've always been all about scientific facts. I'm pretty much the biggest breastfeeding advocate there is. The science supports that breast is best, so I had every intention of feeding all of my babies exclusively breastmilk. I spent my last year of medical school pumping despite lack of sleep and an insane work schedule to make that happen for my firstborn.

But I bottle fed my second baby. 

became pregnant when he was less than 6 months old. While exclusively breastfeeding around the clock. By 9 months, he self-weaned.

Despite the scientific fact that breastfeeding is perfectly safe during pregnancy. Despite the many articles I read stating that self-weaning would not happen before a year. Despite the countless women I read about who nursed through their pregnancies and then tandem nursed for months afterward. Despite my envy for them. But most importantly, despite anything I did. 

I nursed around the clock. When my baby began to refuse the breast, I pumped. And I pumped. And pumped. 

Increased demand will increase supply!! My brain yelled the scientific facts.

I nursed and pumped until my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I continued pumping even when my baby refused my breast completely. I pumped as the hormones and guilt raged and countless tears fell. I pumped even when I was down to an ounce from a 20 minute session.  Even when I was so strung out from caring for two littles 2 and under all day while being pregnant that I wanted nothing more than to curl into the fetal position and sleep for 14 hours straight.

I pumped until my husband finally helped me see that it was time to let go. That I was causing more harm than good. That sometimes, breast is not best. And it was no longer my best.

I had to re-define. Change. Realign my expectations with reality. My reality. 

But isn't that the beautiful surprise essence of motherhood? We go into it imaging what we will impart on the lives of our babies only to find out that it is we who are most deeply changed. Endless learning, shifting, stretching, re-thinking, re-discovering.... It is true that the day a baby is born, so is a mother. 

My precious boys have changed me into who I am today. Changed me for the better. Changed me from knowing endless scientific facts about parenting to being one.

Not that change is easy. And comparison with a hefty dose of guilt is hard to let go of. I'll always marvel at the beauty of tandem breastfeeding photos and feel a tiny twinge of envy, but that doesn't change my reality. My body cannot sustain breast milk production and a pregnancy at once. I lost a baby while nursing my oldest then could not conceive again until I weaned him a half a year later. This time, my milk dried up as my pregnancy progressed.

But my reality is beautiful too. I have 3 growing boys that my body has cumulatively nurtured for 27 months inside and 30 months (so far) outside. I'm grateful for each of those days and the special bonds of pregnancy and breastfeeding I was able to experience.

On this last day of world breastfeeding week, while we celebrate the beauty of a mother's body continuing to sustain her infant outside of her body, remember to be kind because motherhood is hard enough without criticizing each other. Let's support each other instead. And remember that not everyone's reality is the same as yours. 

And truly, fed, nurtured, and loved is best. The face of best looks different because our stories are different. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Birth of Oliver

This pregnancy was tumultuous for me. I had a 2 year old in the throes of terrible two-ness and a 6 month old who was up many times at night and very clingy during the day. I felt overwhelmed often. Then one night my husband suggested I take a pregnancy test. I was defensive. I told him that there's no way I could be pregnant.  But he gently explained that he felt I had been hormonal and my craving Mexican food for dinner had him concerned. To indulge him, I rummaged around in my drawer and found an expired dollar tree test. It came up as a bright, bold, immediate positive. 

I panicked. I couldn't be pregnant. I didn't want to be. Sometimes I felt that I couldn't handle the 2 children I had and to add a pregnancy on top of it all...

This panic merged into fear and then, of course, a fair helping of guilt, the emotions mixing and rolling together for most of my pregnancy. I felt like I wasn't bonding well with this baby like I had with my other 2. I had less time to dream about him, doubted my ability to mother 3 littles so close together well, and on top of it all, feared labor and delivery. 

My last birth was a long mix of fighting the hospital staff on having interventions I didn't want and defending myself from assumptions they made about me as a result.  It was exhausting and unpleasant. While my OB is amazing and did come in a few times when she could, she didn't know the full story and could only do so much in the brief snippets she was able to be there. 

A few months before my due date, my sister, Emily, passed away.  We had planned for her to visit us the week after the baby was born.  Sadness, regret, and the many other things that come with grief compounded my already stormy feelings.

When my labor began at midnight on February 5th my emotions were at full tilt. I was determined to stay home about 5 hours. Apparently 12 hours without intervention is the hospital cut-off and my previous labors had both been a solid 17. My husband and I had agreed...less time there gave them less incentive to rush my labor.

In significant pain, we arrived at the hospital at 5 AM.  In triage, I was checked and excited to find out I was already 5 cm and 75% effaced, in -3 station. They monitored me as I expected for 2 hours. What I didn't expect was for my contractions to slowly become less painful then pretty much stop.  I figured it was lying in bed so I tried to move, sway, and walk as best I could with monitors attached. Nothing seemed to help pick up the contractions. Feeling defeated, I decided to rest.  I had been awake the entire night and knew that if labor did start back that day, I would need all of my strength. 

Ironically, my contractions picked up a little when I attempted to sleep (they had at home too). So, unable to sleep,  I spent some time on my phone looking for something to explain my labor stopping in the middle of active labor.  I found a reassuring article about labor patterns on spinning babies that said some labors can have a start and stop pattern. It encouraged Moms not to view this stop as "stalled labor" but as a natural rest for the uterus. 
 Progress had not necessarily stopped during this rest but some birth task that was not dilation-related such as engagement or fetal rotation may be occurring. It promised that the contractions should return strongly (kind of like picking up where we left off) and labor was likely to advance faster once they did. 

Waiting and keeping a positive attitude was hard as neither of my previous labors had followed the “start and stop” pattern but fit more under the “long and steady” category.  I wasn't surprised when I was rechecked and there was no change other than baby moving down a station. Of course the attending recommended pitocin. This is an intervention I am not interested in unless used as a last resort, so I refused.  I did agree to have my membranes stripped before going home. My husband and I left the hospital at 9 AM. 

We went to the mall to walk around to see if we could get labor moving again. We started looking for some shoes for my oldest son just so we had something to do. A few laps around the mall and my contractions picked up quite a bit. They came back in the manner the article I read had promised--as strong, if not stronger than before. The pain picked up quickly. I usually like walking through contractions but I found myself unable to do that after a while. I had to sit down during the peak of each of the contractions. My earlier intestinal upset came back along with intense nausea. I decided to cut the shopping trip short.

In the car, my contractions continued to become more and more painful. My husband was incredibly supportive and flexible. He went with whatever I said though my decisions were hardly clear.  In between contractions I would say that I was OK with going to a hotel or the house like we'd previously decided. However, during a contraction I would beg to go back to the hospital. In the end, we made a quick detour by the house for him to pick up a few things then we went straight to the hospital. I vomited three times by the time we got there. I was in a great deal of pain and vocalizing loudly in the privacy of our vehicle. I was already begging for an epidural. My husband was incredibly supportive, even while driving, finding bags and napkins when I threw up, rubbing my back, holding my hand and reminding me to breathe through the pain.

At noon, back at the hospital, they took one look at me and immediately admitted me to a room this time. On recheck I was 75% effaced but a loose 6 cm dilated and -1 station. The next few hours are a blur of trying to delay the epidural as long as possible, something I had previously planned.  I tried to make use of this time when I was completely mobile by rocking or getting on the floor, whatever my body compelled me to do during a contraction. My nurse had a completely natural delivery with her baby and she was very supportive of all of the things I asked for in my birth plan.  I remember when she read my plan, her only comment was “no problem… we can do all that. Easy.

I got my epidural around 2:30 PM.  I wanted to still be able to move my legs so that I could change positions on my own and to be able to feel my contractions.  It was perfect. The anesthesia only extended through my pelvis and quickly took the edge off of the maddening pain.  I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the birth.  My contractions immediately picked up and by 3:30 PM, I was 8 cm and completely effaced.

My OB/GYN was not on call until the next morning but she came in for my delivery anyway. By 4:30 PM, when she checked me again, I was fully dilated with a little cervical lip. She said it was stretchy so I could do a few test pushes to see if his head would slide past.  I was a little nervous that my mom would miss the birth. She had been watching my older two boys and hadn't arrived yet. The test pushes didn’t work to move the lip though so we decided to wait in order to avoid potential tearing of my cervix. I moved onto my stomach to help the baby descend.  It was wonderful to be able to control my body’s position, something I was not able to do to this extent at my previous deliveries.

In less than 30 minutes, I started feeling the head move into the birth canal and called for my doctor. My mom arrived then, just in time. My OB asked again if I could feel my contractions and I reassured her that I could. She told me that timing would be up to me then and to let her know when I was having a contraction and was ready to push.  It felt good to have the lead and not have to be told what my body was doing or when to push.  Three contractions with about 3 pushes each and his head was born.

My doctor asked me if I wanted to catch the baby.  Of course I did! I'll never forget the feeling pulling him out of myself, feeling the pressure release and his body twist slightly as he slid out.  I lifted his slippery, bluish, screaming self to my chest, the grand finale of this birth changing and healing me. I wish I had a picture but I will never forget this moment, regardless.  I felt a rush of positive emotions replacing the swirl of negative ones I’d been feeling for months.

All the anxiety over him being unplanned and my being unable to handle it all or love him enough…fearing the birth and worrying about fighting the system along the way…it was all undone somehow and I just felt…empowered. My body felt strong and capable. I felt in control. My nurses, doctor and husband had been nothing but supportive.  It was the beginning of a new chapter and I knew somehow I could do it all because I loved this little wailing being with my whole heart, just like I loved his brothers.

Oliver Emil came earthside at 5:10 PM, squalling loudly, born into his mother's eager arms, the namesake of his aunt who had passed from this earth a few months too early to meet him.  His name symbolizes peace and healing.