Friday, April 17, 2009

Trusting the Mom in Me.

It's taken some time, and one beautiful, healthy, sparkling and brilliant toddler to teach me this lesson: how to trust the Mom in Me. Motherhood is a great challenge in many ways, but in so many more it's the greatest joy. It teaches you the depths of your love and appreciation for others (your child, your spouse, the people your kids call 'uncle' and 'aunt' or 'grandma' and 'grandpa'), and if you pay enough attention it can teach you to love and appreciate yourself even more.

When Luca was born, she was 6 lb, 7 oz. I remember when they told us what she weighed, Darrick and I both responded with shock, and asked if they were sure. The whole time I was pregnant, I heard over and over "That is going to be a BIG baby!", and I believed it. Neither my husband nor I are petite and delicate, and we come from families chock full of tall people, curvy people, strong and able people. So when Luca came out well under 7 pounds, we were genuinely surprised. And that was just the beginning of a long couple of weeks of constant worry, stress, crying, fear, doubt, and guilt. Because no matter how hard I tried...how many times I nursed her in 24 hours (and believe me, it was A LOT of times!)...how many pumping sessions I fit in when I should have been napping...how many friends and lactation consultants and kind ears I talked to, she did not gain weight easily. It took her more than 3 weeks to return to her puny birthweight, and in that 3 weeks she went to the Pediatrician about every 3 days to have her weight checked. Those appointments were great stressors for me and for Darrick, and I can only imagine Luca's little newborn self was stressed by them as well. She would cry, I would cry, and I'd leave frustrated and feeling inadequate because despite my best intentions I could not seem to get my baby to gain weight by breastfeeding. I was at a loss to why I was 'broken' and disappointed in myself. Surely, I must be doing SOMETHING wrong or, worse, there must be something wrong with ME, if I couldn't get this to work.

By the time she was a month old, Luca was slowly gaining, but it took until she was 9 months old for her to get over the 5th percentile in weight. I got comments all the time from people who fussed over how small she was or couldn't believe she wasn't a preemie. It killed me inside. I tried pumping to increase supply. Supplements (fenugreek, blessed thistle, mother's milk tea) to increase supply. Food (oatmeal and 2 eggs every morning without fail) to increase supply. I was resigned to supplementing with pumped milk and (reluctant small doses of)formula. And I felt like I was broken the entire time.

Luca weaned herself right around 11 months. A huge part of me felt immense pride that I'd faced all those obstacles and managed to nurse her for so long. But a bigger part felt like I'd been robbed of what I had hoped would be a beautiful and natural experience. Breastfeeding was something I wanted to do for my baby's health, for myself, and for the ease and convenience. Instead, it took over my life in many ways. I feel pride now when I hear Luca say a new word or see her smile and I think "MY body made her, my body grew her, and my body fed her for 11 months.", but I worry that pride will forever be overshadowed with memories of the difficulty, tears, and self-doubt.

I went into this pregnancy, in spite of all of that, knowing I would breastfeed again. I know it seems like an odd choice, like I am some kind of lactating masochist, but I just thought this baby deserved as much of an effort on my part as Luca did. I know many, many women who formula feed their beautiful and brilliant babies and it works for them, and I fully support the right of a parent to decide what works for them and what they are comfortable with. But for me, breast IS best, and I think a baby deserves my time and effort to give them the best. If not now, when they are tiny and I am their world, when? And I'm so happy I decided that, because my experience this time has renewed my belief in myself. I could attribute this success to a lot of things.

First, I know what I am doing. This makes a WORLD of difference for me. I knew what my challenges would be, and how to move past them. I didn't stress when we had latch issues, because I knew how to work with them. I wasn't worried when he got lazy and fell asleep while nursing because I could wake him and keep him going. I didn't mind the endless marathon hours of sitting on the couch with a baby attached to me, because I knew this was what I needed to let him do so he could help my milk come in and so he could learn what HE was doing. It's just much easier to have perspective when you have...well...perspective, if that makes sense.

Second, he knew (somewhat) what he was doing. Luca was not a natural nursing. It took a lot for her to 'get' it, and with me not knowing what *I* was doing, it was the uphill battle to trump all other uphill battles. I had to help her a lot, and nursing was tiring and something I sort of dreaded until she was almost 4 months old. Rohan 'got' it more quickly. In fact, the first time I tried to nurse him, he latched right on.

Third, I had people around me at the birth who supported nursing and helped make it happen. My MW has 7 kids, all of whom she breastfed. Her apprentices, between them, have at least 7 more (one apprentice I never asked, but the other two have 5 kids and 2 kids), all breastfed. They supported me and advised me. In fact, one of the women there helped me get Rohan latched for the first time by giving me the simplest of directions. Does that ever happen to you? You're trying and trying to do something, and suddenly someone says, "Do X and it'll work." and you think "Yeah, like it's THAT easy?" and...lo and behold...it IS that easy? Anyhow, in addition to them, Darrick was there and supporting me. In contrast, at the hospital with Luca I had minimal help and no consistency to it.

Fourth, I was able to nurse right away, basically. I gave birth, got out of the tub and got warm, and went straight to feeding my baby. With Luca, more than 3 hours passed between her birth and my first attempt at nursing her. Those three hours were critical and I am sad I can never get them back.

Which brings us back to the central issue in this post. Breastfeeding was going well and I was feeling confident, and then I had to take Rohan to the Pediatrician. On my MW's scale, he was 8 lb 12 oz at birth. At his 2 day check up with the Pedi, he was 8 lb 3 oz. She wasn't worried, as it's normal for newborns to lose up to 10% of their birthweight, so long as they regain it by about 2 weeks, or put on 0.5 - 1 oz per day. Well, we returned to the Pedi (to have his cephalohematoma checked) at 4 days, and he was up to 8 lb 5oz. Smashing, no? Fast forward to a week later (11 days), and he was...8 lb 5 oz. Seven days with no gain and suddenly I was having flashbacks. This Pedi (same practice, different Dr from Luca's) wasn't overly concerned, but asked us to come in a week later to recheck his weight. All I could imagine was twice a week visits where I stressed, they pushed formula at me, I cried in my car on the way home, and I was ashamed to tell people I was supplementing.

We left the appointment, and I was surprised because though I was stressed over the scale not moving, I was not feeling lost and in despair like I had with Luca. For some reason, I just KNEW everything was ok. He was eating well and had all the signs of a healthy baby. I said to Darrick (and anyone else who would listen) that I thought maybe this was just how my kids were...perhaps I didn't MAKE chubsters? Perhaps my kids don't GET fat and happy? Perhaps there was nothing to worry about at all, and just like Luca is healthy and brilliant and beautiful despite her skinny start, maybe Rohan will be too?

And so I thought a lot about it that weekend, and on Monday I called my MW to talk. I explained to her what was going on and how Rohan was doing, and I asked for her expert input. She assured me that I could be right...that perhaps I didn't make chubsters and my kids don't get fat and just like Luca is healthy and brilliant and beautiful despite her skinny start, so might Rohan be. She cited studies on breastfed vs formula fed babies, mentioned how breastfed babies tend to be thinner b/c they process mom's milk more efficiently than formula, etc. And then she offered to have us come by and have him weighed on her scale...the same one he'd been weighed on shortly after birth...to see how he was doing. I agreed.

I took him to see her when he was 16 days old. We chatted, I nursed him while she and her two apprentices peeked in to be sure his latch was good, she snuggled him and cooed over him, and then he was weighed. Eight pounds, twelve ounces. He weighed exactly what he had at birth...and exactly what he SHOULD at 2 weeks. Victory!!! I called and cancelled his follow-up appointment for that Friday. Darrick was a bit worried. He fully supported me cancelling the appointment (primarily because we have a $25 copay and that man will stop short at almost nothing to save some cash!) but he started making comments here and there about how there is nothing WRONG with supplementing and how we have 2 free cans of formula in the kitchen (thanks for your faith in women, Similac) and he didn't mind making bottles, etc etc etc. I told him thanks but no thanks. I told him if he thought my supply was low, I'd pump and we could feed Rohan what I pumped. I told him, "You know what I think? I think I never even HAD a problem when Luca was born. I don't think I was broken at all, but that I let my spirit be broken by worry and fear. I won't let that happen this time. I just KNOW Rohan is ok."

So we pumped and fed bottles after I nursed. Only once a day most days, but enough to appease the hubby and assure us both I AM indeed making plenty of milk. And I refused to stress out over how much he was or was not gaining. I just had faith he would be ok. The Mom in Me knew it to be true.

Rohan had a 1 month appointment this morning. He is 32 days old. When we put him on the scale, I almost squeeled with joy to see that he weighed 9 lbs, 12 oz. In 21 days, he gained 1 lb, 7 oz. His Pedi wanted to see him gain at least 25 grams per day, and he gained 33! The Mom in Me knew he was ok...knew I was doing right by him...knew there was nothing to be gained from stressing and worrying and doubting myself and my body and my baby.

This is an art I am learning. I am discovering ways to shut out the noise of other people, as well-meaning as they may be. I am figuring out ways to be true to me and do what I know to be best for my kids. I won't win all the battles (let's not even talk about circumcision) and I won't always be right, but I am learning that I can trust myself. I'm learning that, as far as moms go, I happen to be a pretty kick-ass one! And I think I'm giving a real gift to my kids in trusting myself and listening to my own voice. Not only will they grow up with a mom who's true to herself, but they will also grow up with a mom who trusted THEM to fulfill their part of the equation. I am really learning to embrace the challenges of motherhood and not compare my experience and those of my kids to the experiences of others. It's freeing.

1 comment:

TMH256 said...

"I happen to be a pretty kick-ass one" ... ABSOLUTELY! I continue to be inspired and amazed by you, Katie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the greatest challenge and the greatest joy of our lives. :-) (Funny, I said the same exact thing to a friend last week.)

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