Monday, February 20, 2012

Six reflections on pregnancy and the newborn days from this "poor little heady"

My friend's husband has this phrase he uses for her when she's over-analyzed something or honed in on a detail that no one else would notice or just thought too deeply about something that others would gloss over. "Poor Little Heady." I wish you could see the silly way he strokes her hair and looks at her when he says it. It's pretty adorable and pretty true most of the time.

But I have to admit there have been times when (after picking up this phrase from our friend) my husband has used it to describe me. And this blog post might have an element of "poor little heady."

Below are six brief reflections on my pregnancy and my early days as a mom. And while I mean every word, I don't want you to think I'm taking any of these too seriously. I am not saying any of these things made me a good or bad mom or that they made any material difference to anyone but me. Because, after all, sometimes I can have a poor little heady that thinks about things..., well, just because it's always thinking about things.

Three things I'm glad I did when I was pregnant (you know aside from the serious things like eating right and avoiding skydiving):
  • Sing. Not only that, but I'm glad I sang the same song. My husband read in the Brain Rules for Babies that songs babies hear often in the womb sound familiar to them even after they are born. So I wanted to pick the perfect song for him to remember. One that I would not get tired of singing. One that had lyrics about God and love. Based on my introduction, you shouldn't be surprised to know that I actually put a lot of thought into this. I picked just one song to sing because music is really important to me -- at the time I was singing on the praise team at my church -- and it's always around me. I thought that since he would be hearing so many different songs, I wanted one to stand out. I picked what I call the campfire version of Jesus Loves Me/Amazing Grace, which I come to learn is Paul Colman's Medley of Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me. It's a beautiful, lyrical version, and I continued to sing it after he was born. It was one of the songs that comforted him in his early life. There were times when I sang it and I could swear there was a look of recognition on his face (kind of like a tiny, pleasant double take). I'm sure the look of recognition was my imagination, but it still made me happy to know we had been bonding with that song since he was in the womb.
  • Pregnancy Journal. My husband and I waited almost 10 years before we started trying to get pregnant. I had no idea how the pregnancy would go because I had some health issues (that actually miraculously got better with the pregnancy). I was already 33 when we got pregnant. I just had the sense that, "I'm not sure if I will ever get to do this again," so I wanted to take time to reflect and to have a way to remember. Though my reasons were serious and sweet, the journal I chose was lighthearted and silly. It's called The Belly Book, and though there are places to record serious reflections, it also includes questions such as, "When you were in the womb, I thought you were: ___ a girl, ___ a boy, ___ a boxer. The funny little questions helped get my journaling juices flowing. There are places for pictures of the growing belly, places to record stats from the doctor visits and more. I love that I have that keepsake of such as special time.
  • Cord Blood Banking. I hope we never need it, but I am glad that we did it. If you are considering it, just remember to order the free kit well before you think you'll need it, so your blood pressure doesn't go up with the thought, "Oh no, what if he/she is early, and I haven't done this yet." Not that I'm speaking from've just heard that can sometimes happen...

Three things I wish I had done when Gavin was tiny:
  • More skin-to-skin. Everyone from doctors to granola mamas cite the benefits of skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby, as well as dad and baby. I was excited about this extra way to bond. Both Josh and I had skin-to-skin time with him when he was a newborn before and during that first nursing session. I also did it a few other times (like when he had wet his clothes and it was getting too close to feeding time for me to fuss with putting new clothes on him right away or when I got out of the shower just in time and nursed him in my robe) but, frankly, since it was winter (and I am cold-natured) and since I was a new mom (and pretty overwhelmed with the clip at which that little guy needed food) and since I was still healing (from delivering his darling little head that was turned the wrong direction), I have to admit: at the time, the thought of adding one more step by undressing him and/or me was just a little more than I wanted to do. Still, I wish I had done it a few more times. Not because I don't feel that we are plenty bonded and not because I think there is something in his development that is lacking, but just because he was only tiny once, and those times we were skin-to-skin were pretty special.
  • Sign up for Huggies and Pampers rewards. Okay, this is silly, but true. Now that I am collecting points for ALL the diapers and wipes that we use, I am thinking of ALLLLLL the points I threw away. Again, not that I really could have added one more thing to my plate in those early days, but it sure would have been nice to have saved them to enter later...
  • Floss my teeth every day (like I used to). This may sound silly or nerdy, but I am dead serious about this one. After Gavin was born, it was definitely one of the things I let go. But if someone had told me that at that next dentist appointment after delivery, the dentist would discover my first-ever cavity which would be followed by my first-ever root canal, I would have stayed up the extra minute to take care of it. When they discovered it, I told my boss, and she said, "Oh yeah, I should have thought to tell you that the baby can steal your calcium and make you more vulnerable to stuff like that." The cavity had extra opportunity to grow undetected since pregnant women can't have X-rays. Now, the root canal wasn't actually that bad -- I was as shocked as anyone. It was more the idea that, for so long, I had all of my teeth, and then I had to say goodbye to one of them. It was actually very sad. See what I mean...Poor Little Heady...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wonders and Woes

We just came back from Gavin's first trip to the library for toddler story time. Appropriately, the story time consisted of one story, several active songs and rhymes, puppets and a very energetic and fun story/song leader.

We had a great time. Gavin tends to be mesmerized by music anyway. Add to that a room full of mostly older toddlers and their mommies, daddies and grandmas singing and dancing, and you can imagine: it took him awhile to relax.

They started with "The More We Get Together," which Gavin and I have sung many times while reading the Caroline Jayne Church illustrated book of the same title. We also did "The Ants Go Marching One by One," which Gavin and I sang for the first time earlier that morning thanks to our toddler station on Pandora.

Once Gavin got relaxed enough to do something besides stare wide-eyed, he enjoyed dancing with mommy, dancing on his knees while watching the other kids and parents and, eventually, crawling toward the other kids.

As I mentioned, it was mostly older toddlers. It just gave me a glimpse and a listen (in surround-sound stereo) of what we are in for. The wonders and woes of true toddlerhood. The wonders of their sense of humor, their long-term memory and their pure joy of discovering something new, which are all more developed and more intense than Gavin's at this stage. It seems like those developments are really far away, but many of these kids were not that much older than Gavin, so I know they are coming sooner than I think.

After story time, everyone went from the little meeting room to the children's book area where they had coloring sheets and puzzles. There, the woes of toddlerhood became much more evident. I was surprised by how more than one three-year-old tried to hit or grab something from my (tiny) baby. Okay, he's a tall 13-month-old, but still. After one such incident of pushing by the older child, a sweet, well-meaning grandma corrected me when I gently took a puzzle piece from Gavin and gave it back to the three-year-old that was playing with it. She said that her grandson "needs to learn to share." A true statement, but not on my baby he doesn't. Grin. We'll come back after he's practiced a couple times on someone his own size.

It's not like I've never observed a toddler before. Though the fact that I am taking the time to record such simple observations may lead you to believe otherwise, I've spent many, many hours teaching that age in childcare centers and church nurseries. It just seems that raising a child is so mind-consuming that my memories of those days have faded to somewhere far in the background. It makes sense -- I need all my up-front brain space for "How do I convince him that morning does not start at 5:20?" "How many rice puffs has he had today?" "Now, what do I need at this, my fifth trip to Target in four days?" I'm convinced the same thing will happen with all of my adamant intentions of being an understanding, fair, empathetic, and maybe somewhat cool parent of a teenager. I won't be able to recall those plans let alone implement them when I'm done with potty training, first day of school, soccer teams, riding a bike, first sleepover and all the et ceteras that I cannot even imagine. I also know that the opportunity to reflect on these toddlers comes because I am seeing everything through new eyes now. Wide eyes. Mommy-of-a-baby eyes.

Overall, it was a really fun time for both of us. In fact, it made my day. I've been wanting to let him be around kids his own age on a more regular basis, which has been harder than I thought it would be. It was very stimulating for Gavin -- both during and after the story time. And it's possible that my eyes were glossy as I watched him recognize songs we've sung at home and try out new things. Something tells me we'll be doing that again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Words and would-be words

I told Josh, "From now on, when I say, 'Gavin said ____,' you'll know I mean it sounded like he said it or he was copying me, not necessarily that he knew what he was doing or that he will say it again anytime soon." And then he did start saying certain things consistently. It's all happening so fast that I feel compelled to record it.

Gavin's Words (He meant to say it and says it consistently.)
Ball (Ba)
Dog (Da)
Daddy (Daddy) -- Today he said, "Hi Da!"
Mama (Mama)
Uh-oh (Just such a perfect uh-oh)
Pear and Bread both sound like (Prrreh)
Puffs (Pfs)
Picture (Pah) - He loves looking at photos of friends and family
Puzzles (Pzz or Pah)
There she is -- referring most often to our dog, Millie (da dereee - it's more the inflection that sounds exactly like it)
Gotcha (Ga or Da)
No ( least it's not said defiantly yet...)
Cup (Cuh)
Car (Cah)
Down (Da)
Up (Uh or Up)
Play (He's just starting to say this, so it's hard to describe it because I haven't heard it enough)
Chair (Cha)
Broccoli (Bra)
Socks (sometimes he reverses the k and s sounds, sometimes it's very close)

Gavin's Would-Be Words (He mimics the sounds - most of them we've only heard once, so it's hard to write exactly how it sounded, but they are still fun.)
Thank you (Da Do)
Little Pooh (as in Bear)
Little Book
Rock (Rah)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My first (sort of) guest bloggers talk about nursing

My last post was on nursing and prompted some discussion among some of my friends and family who have also struggled with breastfeeding. I find their experiences inspiring and their commitment to providing what breast milk they can/could encouraging. They enthusiastically gave me permission to share their stories.

Before I get to their stories, I wanted to list a few resources, so they don't get lost at the end. My post called, "Oh, the places I've pumped (and other nursing adventures)" has some resources listed about breastfeeding and can be found by clicking It also has my story and was the starting place for this post.

Here are some other resources that I thought might be important based on my guest bloggers' experiences -- they want you to have all the resources possible to help with whatever breastfeeding trials you might encounter:

Final thoughts before we get to the stories: I hope this post provides the encouragement it was designed to -- these stories of charting new paths through treacherous territory are supposed to draw attention to the "new paths" not the "treacherous territory." Certainly, everyone's experience is different, and many women don't encounter the trials found in my story or those below.

I also hope that no one who reads this blog experiences any shame about breastfeeding -- no matter what your experience is or may have been. As women, let's keep speaking up and speaking out to provide each other the help we need to make it on this rewarding and exhausting journey called motherhood, an often mystifying blend of art and science. Hearts out and hats off to you all!

NW’s nursing story

I'm still very new at all this and kind of feel like a fish out of water, but I'm open to sharing my experience.

I went into this with the idea that I would give breastfeeding a try and if it worked, it worked; if not, no big deal. So I was pretty shocked at how disappointed I was when it wasn't working and we were told to supplement because my little guy was not gaining weight. I felt like I was a complete failure and that I was starving my child.

Even though he nursed 15 minutes on each side and showed no signs of hunger, he was only gaining an ounce or two a week and rarely having a poopy diaper. The doctor deduced that he was getting just enough to not be hungry, but not enough to be full, and that he couldn't/wouldn't work hard enough to get much milk out. We decided he defiantly got the lazy gene from my side of the family. I think he also had a bad/shallow latch because it was pretty painful for me. I never could get him to get his mouth very wide open. He has a bit of an recessed chin, so I don't really even know if it was physically possible for him to open his mouth any wider. All the lactation consultants we saw were completely useless. 

I gave up trying to feed him from the breast after two weeks because in addition to him not gaining weight, neither of us were enjoying it, and my stress level was through the roof. However, I decided to exclusively pump for a year or as long as I'm able to produce milk. After I switched to pumping and bottle feeding him so that I could tell just how much he was getting, he gained 10 ounces in one week and had regular poopy diapers.

Before I finally made the decision to pump and bottle feed, I felt that I was being selfish by insisting on breastfeeding when it wasn't working for him. No one really ever told me there was another option besides formula. I'm not one of those women who thinks that formula is the devil; obviously, I know lots of kiddos that were fed formula that turned out wonderfully (my sweet niece and nephew being two of them!), so I don't know why I have such an overwhelming insistence on providing breast milk – especially since formula would be so much easier. But as for now – three weeks in – I’m going to try doing the pumping thing. I pump every two hours and he eats every three, so pretty much every hour on the hour I'm either pumping, feeding him (or sometimes both at the same time), or sleeping! Don't know how long I'll be able to keep that up for, but I'm going to give it a go!

I know it's not 'technically' breastfeeding, but I think it's important for women out there to know there's another option besides formula if breastfeeding doesn't work out. It's time consuming and at times restricting (I'm pumping 10 times a day to establish my supply, so it's hard to get anything done/go anywhere between his feeding schedule and my pumping schedule). At times I think about how much easier it would be just to use formula, but I'm stubborn and decided this is what I wanted to do, so it's what I'm going to do.

NG's nursing story

I wish there was more information on the problems some moms have nursing. Nursing is not always as easy as some people would have you believe. I spent many hours crying because I wanted it to work so badly for both my boys. I would have given anything to have enough milk. I loved the bonding. But it was emotionally and physically draining to have my babies crying 20 minutes later because they were starving! So—committed to giving them as much breast milk as possible—I pumped, oh the places I have pumped and for only 2 - 3 ounces TOTAL!

To top it off, I recently had to throw more than 50 ounces of milk away that I had stored up because it went rancid in the freezer. Apparently some women have an overproduction of a hormone that makes the milk bad once frozen! So, on top of not having enough milk, the milk I did freeze was bad! Since I couldn't pump enough for a full feeding, I froze the milk I pumped at night and formula fed the night feeding in the hopes my little guy would sleep longer! It took me forever to store up enough milk to freeze...three nights of pumping to freeze one bag of milk! It was heartbreaking. It is very inspirational to see others sticking it out through trying times, too!

JM's nursing story

Just to ease any "mommy guilt" for those who find they cannot successfully nurse—I couldn't, and though I grieved about missing the experience, my two teenagers are happy, healthy, totally well-adjusted youngsters who don't care that they had to settle for pumped  breast milk and formula. I wrote about my experience for a magazine called "Get Born" (since defunct). It was a total shock to me that breastfeeding doesn't always work, so I'm glad there is more info out there to prepare new moms now.

By Jeanette Minnich

                The title of the book caught my eye, "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding."  I felt an urge to pick it up, to see if it contained the secret that I didn't know--that would have changed my life.  But I didn't pick it up because it would be pointless.  My kids are 10 and 12 now.  It's too late--and anyway, I've come to terms with my inability to breastfeed.


                I've always been what is described as "well endowed."  Most of the time, I've been happy about this--except when the fashion of the day favored the flatter chested.  I naively assumed that one day, these ample breasts would be ready for the hungry mouth of a suckling babe.  I envisioned myself, Madonna-like with a lovely baby snuggled in my arms, the lights low, the edges blurred, classical music playing in the background.  As my first pregnancy progressed, I bought the rocking chair where we would sit at night, fulfilling my fantasy...

                My first inkling of danger came during one of the last pregnancy classes, when the instructor made an off-hand remark about inverted  or retracting nipples.  These conditions might make it difficult to breast feed, she commented, before telling us how to see if we had one of these conditions. 

                At home that night, I squeezed one of my nipples.  Horrified, I watched it totally flatten out--there would be nothing there for the baby to latch on to!  In a panic, I called my instructor and she reassured me that I could wear plastic devices that would draw my nipples out, solving the problem.  Praise the Lord, we have the technology!

                So, during my last few weeks of pregnancy, I walked around feeling like one of the Valkyries, with impenetrable breast shields standing erect in front of me.  I tried not to bump into anyone, lest I injure them.  Did I mention that my already ample breasts had grown to roughly the size of watermelons?  They had lethal potential.

                My first child finally arrived (ten days late), and I confidently announced to the nursing staff that I planned to breastfeed.  They woke me up every few hours and watched me struggle to get my daughter to latch.  I was awkward, and so hot and sweaty, and just not able to do what I thought would come naturally.  Finally a nurse suggested that if I wanted to be sure my baby was getting adequate nourishment, maybe I should supplement with some formula?  Disappointed, but fearful of starving my hungry child, I agreed.

                The next few weeks were torture.  I tried and tried to breastfeed.  I had a La Leche coach come to help, and I called all my experienced Mommy-friends. They all advised patience and practice.   I think my daughter successfully latched a total of two times. Meanwhile my breasts became engorged, my nipples cracked and bled.  The pregnancy class teacher had said nothing about breast pumps, assuming we could address this as a "returning to work" subject.  I had to send my husband out on an emergency run to buy a breast pump and some beer (I was told it would help with the engorgement).  I overcame my humiliation and rubbed something called "Bag Balm" on my nipples, feeling a new sense of empathy for all the dairy cows of the world.  Nothing worked.

                I learned to pump, and fed my baby breast milk from a bottle.  My fantasies of breastfeeding were overcome by the nightmare of breastfeeding--trying to discreetly feed a baby in a public place while silently crying with pain a friend described as "enough to curl your toes."  Within a month, I gave up the effort.  I started to recognize some of the benefits of the bottle.  First, it didn't hurt.  Second, my husband could share the arduous feeding schedule.  Third, since the baby was still drinking breast milk, I was fulfilling my mission of building her immune system.  Finally, it made it easier to return to work when my six-week maternity leave was over.

                Still, some niggling part of me grieved over missing the experience.  I talked to friends who told me that bottle feeding at the hospital had sabotaged my efforts.  The baby wouldn't have starved if I'd held out and demanded that the nurses let me breastfeed.  I listened doubtfully.  I was sure my failure reflected deeper flaws with me--my anatomy, my lack of determination, my cowardice--because any "real woman" can breastfeed.

                I faithfully pumped and fed my daughter breast milk for 6 months.  Eighteen months after her birth, I gave birth to a son.  This time I would show the nurses who was in charge--and since I only had to stay in the hospital one day, I could work on my technique without so much pressure.  Surely it would be different this time.

                Again I tried to breastfeed, and again I failed.  We had to move when my son was four months old, so I sold my breast pump and switched to formula.  I convinced myself that it was best for all involved--and my children have grown up happy and healthy.  Of course, they know nothing and would care even less about my breastfeeding struggles. 

                Over the years, I've realized that I'm a good mother and a good woman,  in spite of my retracting nipples (which, ironically, still harbor a drop or two of milk).  I've moved on and gotten past my disappointment...except when I catch sight of a mother breastfeeding, Madonna-like, with classical music playing in the background.