Thursday, December 31, 2009

More than just my milk

I remember a comment someone made to me when I was struggling with breastfeeding Jonah, and feeling inadequate as a mother. She told me to remember that I was "more than just milk", and that Jonah needed my nurturing in many ways beyond nursing. I said, "of course", but really, inside, I was thinking "Are you kidding? Have you seen this baby?".

Our friends teased us that they didn't know what Jonah looked like for the first 6 months of his life; he was always nursing. Nursing in a carrier, nursing in his sleep, however, wherever, that's what he did. To be fair, he also screamed, but that was when he wasn't nursing, so I was incentivized to keep him on the boob pretty much 24/7.

I don't know which was the chicken and which the egg, but Jonah ended up as a baby whose only consolation was my breast. He nursed for comfort as well as nourishment, which is totally healthy and normal, but it was taken to the extreme. He never had any interest in cuddling or being rocked; if I was holding him and not nursing he was pissed.

Looking back, I definitely learned to equate nursing with mothering, and that basic equation led me to view giving him formula as tantamount to failure as a parent. This was the one thing he wanted from me, the one thing that I could give him and no one else could, and I worked so hard, day and night, to give it to him. It all worked out ok, but with my milk supply issues it probably would have been much easier on both of us if I had been willing to supplement.

Fast forward to my second baby, and breastfeeding is even harder than before. I have had to supplement with Galen, almost from birth. And while I thought I was prepared for the possibility, it has been very much a struggle not to feel like a failure. Every bottle that I gave Galen was painful for me, a reminder of the fact that I couldn't give him everything that he needed. Feelings of worthlessness plagued me, and followed me into bouts of post-partum depression. No encouraging words, no rationalization, nothing could shake me free from my own self judgement.

Until Galen, himself, managed to show me what I could not see on my own. We had been struggling with sleep issues for a while, and I was trying to get him down one night with little success. He was fussing while nursing, and I knew he was hungry, so I gave him a bottle. But he didn't want it, he just tensed up and began to cry. We were in the bed together, side-lying like we always sleep, and I kept trying over and over while he got more upset. Finally, I sat upright, picked him up and cradled him in my arms. He melted into me, and began rooting around for the bottle, which I gave him. He had just wanted to be held by me. It ended up being one of the sweetest, most tender moments that we had shared, with me giving him all of my love and nurturing, and him lapping it up. He finished the bottle and then wanted to breastfeed, so we laid back down and he nursed to sleep.

I don't think I can convey the shift that this allowed inside of me. I had been stressing, quite a bit, that Galen had been nursing less and less, and not knowing how to deal with the possibility of him weaning so young. But this one experience of closeness and true mothering while giving him a bottle made me realize that it will be ok.

I am so glad that I have worked as hard as I have, with my family's amazing support, to make nursing last this long, against all odds. It has given us a wonderful, strong bond, and strengthened Galen's body. And if it is not meant to go on much longer, I will miss it, and mourn it, but I will continue to give my baby everything that he needs. It is still my face that he looks for, my touch that soothes him. It's taken me a while to get here, but I finally know that I am, truly, more than just my milk.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Animal love

It is a powerful, startling and unique love that one succumbs to after giving birth. It consumes all senses, and occupies mind, body and soul. Having been in it for the second time of my life, I am really noticing how set apart it is from all the other loves I have felt.

When I was pregnant with Galen, I was so worried that I would not, could not possibly, love this new baby as much as I loved Jonah. The complete fierceness of motherhood felt singular, something so powerful that it could never be repeated. There was a point, early in (my first) labor with Galen that I really had to come up against and acknowledge my fears around becoming a parent of two. Having grown up an only child, it was a hard thing for me to comprehend. I remembered the raw intensity of feelings that overwhelmed me the first moment I touched Jonah, how my entire world cracked open and my heart exploded, and it seemed unrealistic to expect that to happen again.

And it didn't, not in the same way. Jonah's labor was so long and so hard, once it came to it's climax I was already in an altered state. As Paul said, we were exhausted physically and emotionally, and part of us probably doubted whether or not it would ever end, if we'd really get the baby after all that we'd gone through.

Galen's birth was intense, but felt so right, so clear, and when he fell into my hands it was just the natural conclusion to a natural process. It also made sense in that I had already done it once before, and, while it was different, it wasn't a surprise.

But that animal love was there. Still is, in fact, and getting stronger every day.

Animal love is my name for the fierce, instinctual way that my heart has wrapped itself around my boys. The way I know they're waking up a second before they stir. How their skin smells so good that I can't stop nuzzling them. The actual pain I feel when they hurt, and how it seems like I never knew joy until I heard them laugh. It is deep and primal, and I'm guessing it has had a lot to do with our species' success.

I am laying here, Jonah dreaming next to me while Galen nurses in his sleep, and I know that this is it. This one bliss... This must be love...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Babes and beer

Jonah was about this age when he went on his first brewery tour...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why do you ask, dear?

So, somehow this story popped into my head today; my friend's nephew approached his mother nonchalantly and asked if one could get rabies from licking a dead opossum. The answer to the only logical question that would follow is not important to me right now, it is the fact that this mother likely would not be put in such a position to ask had she not had the great fortune to bear sons.

Now, I worked very hard, from the moment my first son was born, not to assign gender baggage to him. I wanted, and still want, him to be free to be himself, wholly and without reservation. It just happened to turn out that his authentic self absolutely adores trucks, cars, trains and anything else that has wheels and an engine. He is vivacious and without fear (except when it comes to ants), and the toughest little guy that I know. He is also such a nurturing little soul, one who loves his baby brother without abandon, rubs my back when he can tell I'm feeling stressed, and bounces his baby doll to help her fall asleep. But all this said, I have no doubt that he might contemplate licking a deceased marsupial if the proper age and situation presented itself. I hope to hell he would decide against it, but he would likely give it more serious thought than I would ever care to know.

I am not necessarily assuming the position that a he would be more likely to perform such an act based on his maleness, but clearly the way society treats our boys is very different from the way we treat our girls. Bold, brave, somewhat non-thinking action is praised in our sons, while reservation and restraint is what we hope our daughters will aspire to. How can we be surprised, then? And will "boys be boys" if we don't put the pressure on them to do so?

A profound example recently presented itself to me on the differences between the traits assigned to boys and girls. When faced with a challenge involving interpersonal relations, I was more concerned with whether or not a child was developing her skills as an empathic human being, where the child's mother was worried whether or not she (emphasis being on the female pronoun) felt empowered and able to be assertive in the same situation. At first I was taken aback at how different our responses were, given that we usually fall so closely in line when it comes to parenting. But, on further retrospection and with some welcome outside perspective, I can see that the difference in our outlooks owes itself to our having children of different genders; I am concerned with my son's not loosing all of their caring, empathic selves. My friend is concerned with her daughter not feeling that she has a true, empowered voice. I can't say that I would feel any different if I were in her position.

So it seems that our roles, as parents, is sometimes to counter the squelching of the soul that the outside world would put upon us. Or, more accurately, to allow our children to grow into the people that they really, truly are, without hindrance, without baggage, without reservation. I actually couldn't think of any greater wish.

In gratitude

Lately I have been contemplating gratitude, and the abundance of things in my life that I have to be thankful for. Today seems like a good day to write some of them down.

I am thankful for my beautiful, healthy family. I am thankful to share in the joy that marks Jonah's (almost) every waking moment. I am thankful to watch Galen discover the world.

I am thankful to have a partner who 'gets' me, who knows my bad side and loves me anyway. I am thankful to have been gathered into his amazing family as one of their own.

I am thankful to come from strong people, to have a family that I am proud to be a part of. I am thankful that my son knows and loves his two great-grandmothers.

I am grateful for my amazing community, for friends who love fiercely and live fully. I am thankful for their inspiration on this journey.

I am thankful for you.

Thank you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Natural, but not easy.

It seems horribly unfair that something so natural can be so damn hard. I have tried pumping constantly. I have tried nursing constantly. I have taken every herb under the sun, and even the best of the pharmaceuticals. I have tried breast compressions and I have prayed to the dairy goddess to make the milk flow, but nothing seems to make it work the way it's supposed to. Part of me feels like any reasonable person would have given up by now, but I can't. I can't stop trying. But it hurts my heart. I am tired of it hurting.

Don't get me wrong, though. I absolutely love breastfeeding. Never before nursing have I experienced the deep, unending bond that it brings, nor the inexplicable joy that comes from nurturing another being with my body. It is the very best thing for my baby, and I will continue to breastfeed as long as I have any milk to give. I just wish there was a little more.

But I guess that's parenting- giving everything you have, wishing it could be more, but it still having to be enough. Here is an anagram I wrote to remind me of what's important, what it's all about. Maybe it will help you too.

N-ot knowing

And above all else, Love, Love, Love.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things

I thought I would make a list of what I consider the "baby essentials", or at least those things that I would not want to do without. Let me know if I missed anything (we all know my brain is a little fuzzy!).

1. The Snugglewrap
Absolutely, hands down, the best newborn baby carrier. As a devout fan of carrying ones babe, I have tried just about every kind of soft carrier. This one is a wrap style, similar in some ways to the Moby, but much better; more stretchy, and fabric only where you need it, so much less bulky. This (especially combined with number two) is a colic life saver!

2. Large excersize ball
Not just for labor anymore! Seriously, though, I've spent a good deal of time in labor on one of these, but even more time postpartum. Now that Galen is following in his brother's colicky footsteps, I find myself on the ball once again (though, thankfully, not nearly as often). Strap baby in a Snugglewrap, get your bounce on, and say "nightnight"!

3. Nosefrida
The snotsucker. Seriously. It really, really works. If you've ever tried to breastfeed a baby with a cold at 3:00 in the morning, you know what I'm so excited about.

4. Wool
I LOVE wool for babies, for just about everything. Diaper covers. Clothes. Hats. Changing pads. Wool is almost miraculous, it doesn't stink even when it gets peed on (making it most amazing as a diaper cover), and if you treat it well it stays sooo nice. It is soft. It is temperature regulating, meaning it's warm when it's cold out, and cool when it's warm (assuming it isn't thick). And it rarely needs to be washed! Bonus! My very favorites are Batik Bums custom made woolens, made by a california mama and sold at For washing, I like Eucalan no rinse wash, It is much easier than people think!

5. Jojoba oil and a soft toothbrush
Got cradle cap? Slather it up with jojoba oil, let it soak in, and scrape it off with the toothbrush (don't brush your teeth with it afterwards. Ew.). This works really well, especially if you nip it in the bud before it gets too gnarly. The best thing about the jojoba oil is that it doesn't have a smell, so you still get to bask in the luscious new baby scent!

6. Exergen Thermometer
Take your baby's temperature quickly and accurately by just sweeping the scanner across their forehead. Supposedly as accurate as a rectal reading, but much more comfortable (for everyone).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Milk that someone else made

So, I have this problem: I seem to make really, really hungry little boys.

Jonah eats every one of us under the table, including me when I was pregnant and now that I am nursing two. It really is quite impressive. And little Galen just can't seem to get quite enough. Once my milk supply is up to his demand, his demand increases, and I am struggling to catch up again. I can write a whole 'nother rant about the panicked insecurity that my fear of starving him brings out (Jonah lost A LOT of weight in his first days before we knew anything was amiss), but that's not what I am thinking about now.

I am thinking about milk. If we're lucky, it's our first earthly food, made perfectly just for us. Breastmilk changes, miraculously in my opinion, throughout the first days, then weeks, months and even years of a childs life to match their nutritional and immunological needs. When I am battling an illness, the antibodies that my body produces are passed to my baby through my breastmilk, and his immune system is strengthened. Nothing, no supplement, can come close to that. So what is a mama to do when she is told that her baby needs supplementation?

I have found myself faced with this decision for the second time now. After the gut-wrenching, self-inflicted, guilt-fest that I enjoyed the first time around, I was determined to be OK if I need to give babe #2 some formula. It is not, after all, heroin, as a kind friend once pointed out to me. But it still sucks, even when it is the right thing to do.

Our midwife offered, when we first began supplementing, to put out a request to her clients asking if anyone had extra breastmilk that they would be willing to donate to us. I said no, at first because I really felt that it would only be for a day or two, but as the time has gone on I've had to look more closely at my hesitation. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have resistance to feeding my baby another woman's milk.

What's up with that?

Formula is made by someone else too, after all; someone I don't know, someone who may be perfectly well intentioned, but whose motivations are certainly influenced by profit. And every study out there is clear in the superiority of breastmilk. So why do I, self-professed hippy, have any hesitation with giving my baby the best option I have?

It isn't squeamishness. I am full of nothing but awe for our bodies and what they do. It isn't fear. I have absolute faith in my midwife, and trust anyone that she would guide us to who would be willing to share milk. I think it's mostly sadness.

Confronting the choice to give my baby milk that someone else made is coming right up against the pain of not being able to provide for him myself. And that hurts. It is a kind of impotence, at least that's what it feels like. I hate that it keeps coming back here, but here we are.

I have embraced and pushed through the pain. I have been shown intense generosity by three women who have given us an amazing gift, and I am so grateful. My son's belly is happy, he is thriving, and I don't worry about him not having enough. Of course, I want to be able to give him everything he needs from my own breast, and I hope to soon enough, but milk that someone else made is the next best thing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's give this a go

So, I was thinking that the whole blog thing could be an interesting outlet for all the pent-up thoughts and rants that I seem to accumulate each day, and also a nifty way for folks to catch up on our lives (if anyone should wish to do so).

If you're reading this, I'm sure you already know me, but I am Jamie, wife to Paul, and mama to Jonah (born May 2007) and Galen (born July 2009). I have worn various hats in my time on earth thus far, but "mama" seems to fit well, and bring me more happiness than I ever would have believed possible. I am passionate (to varying degrees) about homebirth, music, family rights, breastfeeding, elimination communication, wool, natural parenting, cloth diapers, sustainable agriculture, and, probably most of all, parenting with intention and respect. I suspect that rants on any of the above are likely to follow.