In Honor of the Struggle ~ Dana

Feeding our babies looks different for lots of different mamas. To close out August, Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I’d like to share my story with you.

My first daughter, Mazie, was born in January 2011 and nursing came extremely easy for both of us, even though she had a traumatic birth. From the moment she came out, though, she suffered from colic. The only, and I mean only, thing that would calm her down for the first 5 months of her life was nursing. So, she and I sat up in our house for hours every day, nursing. And she grew. By her 3-month appointment, Mazie was in the 97th percentile for height and weight. She was huge! And she had those great baby rolls on her legs. Her belly protruded out and she had a quadruple chin. And I was proud… not only of her, but of myself, too. I grew this baby in my stomach, and now I was nourishing her into being a 6’4” volleyball player (someday).

I nursed her everywhere, too. No one ever asked me to cover up or leave. Maybe it was the look on my face that just dared them to say something… because I was prepared to get big and loud. Instead, people complimented me. They encouraged me to keep up the good work. Friends, family, and even strangers commented that Mazie was growing so big because, “she’s a breast-fed baby,” and so healthy because, “mother’s milk is best.” And my heart soared.

IMG_0231

Mazie nursed until she was 18 months old. And truthfully, I think she would have nursed for longer, but I was 6 months pregnant with Violet at the time and Mazie didn’t fit on my lap anymore.

Violet was born in November 2012. And unfortunately, the first year of her life will always be wrapped up with the last 6 months of my father’s life. Less than two weeks before Violet was born, my dad went into the emergency room for the first time, suffering complications from his chemotherapy. He had gotten down to about 140 lbs and the chemo wasn’t working. As his treatments got stronger and he got weaker, the cancer grew.

IMG_1557

Dad and Violet, April 2013

 Those of you who have experienced the loss of a parent know the sense of desperation that comes as you watch that parent slip away slowly, day by day. It was such a strange time because the emotions in my heart couldn’t have been more opposite. I had a brand new, perfect, wonderful little baby, and I was watching my father die. While I tried to keep those emotions separate, at Violet’s 3-month appointment, her pediatrician labeled her as “failure to thrive.” Failure.

Despite my best efforts to compartmentalize my emotions and to still feel the joy of a new baby, the grief and fear of losing my father were taking their toll. My milk supply began to dwindle. I was failing my baby. I drank Mother’s Milk tea. I loaded up on milk production supplements. I read up on old wives’ tales, drank a Guinness a day, tried to pump… all to no avail.

Now before you jump to my defense, let me assure you that my intellectual, rational mind knows that this wasn’t my “fault.” I know that sometimes, life happens. But as I looked at her skinny little legs, her scrawny arms, her petite stature, my emotional mind thought that I should have been stronger. I wanted desperately to nurse her back to healthy. But as time passed, and her weekly weigh-ins continued to show no weight gain, I had to face the fact that I needed to supplement, then ultimately replace her nursing with formula.

In May, the day before her 6-month birthday, my dad died. And two weeks later, I had my final nursing session with my sweet baby. She began to eat solid food. And she drank only formula.

Because I had gotten so much support from others nursing Mazie, whenever I bottle-fed Violet in public, I felt so ashamed. If people were so proud of me for breastfeeding, would they think less of me for feeding my baby formula? I hated putting that powder in her bottle and shaking it up with water. I found myself explaining to people, complete strangers, that I wanted to nurse her, but I had lost my milk in my grief. In that time, I lost so much.

But time kept right on going, just like it always does. I had to learn what our new lives looked like. There were days that I thought of the part in Sleepless in Seattle where Sam tells Dr. Marsha Fieldstone, “Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out…” There were many times that I forgot to take formula and bottles with us when we left the house and I had to make a quick Target detour en route to wherever we were headed. There were (and still are) times when I wished I could just nurse Violet to calm her down. And there were times that I was grateful that I could just hand her a bottle in her stroller and let her fall asleep. But no matter my feelings of guilt or frustration, I continued to do what most of us do… I did the best that I could for my baby.

Although my story might differ from some of yours, I’m writing it to let other mamas who struggle with nursing know that you are not alone. I’m writing to tell you that people might be judging you for putting that powder in the bottle. But YOU know that you’re doing the best thing for your baby. Stand strong in that, as I have learned to do. I’m writing to tell you that even though you feel like a failure, you aren’t. Maybe I’m writing to tell myself that, too. Because I so desperately want to STILL be nursing Violet right this very moment. It is such a magical bond that I feel like I missed out on with her. It’s almost enough to make me want to have another baby. Almost.

I’m also writing to tell you (and me) that Violet is perfect, with or without nursing. On her first birthday, our pediatrician took her measurements, hugged me, and said, “Our girl is thriving!” And I cried. Really hard. And she still thrives. She is quite the opposite of her sister in nearly every way. She is small; at 22 months, she still fits into some 12-month skirts and dresses. She is dark; I often joke with people that she is a little fairy changeling, or, if you’ve read the Mists of Avalon, she’s of the Old Blood and maybe will be come Lady of the Lake someday. She is loud; if she is unhappy about something, she will let you know, and she’s not kidding. But just like her sister, she doesn’t look at me as a failure. She just sees her mama who loves her. She holds my hand and plays with my hair, and when she is sleepy or hurt or sometimes just standing in the living room, she says, “I need you, Mommy.”

And that, mamas, is not a failure.

photo-100

My sweet little fairy

90 Days and Counting!

My friend Paula is pregnant for the first time. Paula and I have been friends for 20 years. We played volleyball together in high school, then taught and lived together for ten years until I married Shea.
This Spring, her husband Jimmy, who is a National Park Service Ranger, got transferred far away. They moved in her first trimester. New place, new home, no job for Paula. The baby was a surprise in the fact that she thought that ship had sailed, and she worried about being able to get a teaching job with a November due date.
When I talked to her in May, she didn’t sound great. She was lonely, stressed about the job search and trying to process all these tremendous life changes. Who can blame her? So the Committee decided someone needed to go see her.
Because that’s how we do.
It was a toss up for Lisa and me: we both wanted to see Paula pregnant, and we both wanted to meet sweet baby girl when she gets here. In the end, I came now, and she will go later. We pinkie-promised to take lots of pictures.
And off I went to see my pregnant friend.
In Maui.
Did I forget to mention they moved to Maui?
Maui is one of my favorite places in the whole world. Paula and I went to Maui in the summer of 2002 to reward ourselves for making the jump to public school. We had a blast. When I met Shea a year later, and found out he grew up on Maui, it felt like a sign from God that he was for me.
But this trip was not about Maui. If Paula and Jimmy had moved to South Dakota, I’d still be going to visit her, even though I have no real desire to see South Dakota. She’s my friend and she’s having a baby! So the Maui part is neither here nor there, beyond the fact that we got a beachfront condo for the weekend.
The point was to get things ready. There’s no Babies R Us on Maui. Or Target. There’s a Walmart, but Paula feels the same way I do about Walmart, so that’s out. And Paula and Jimmy are super low-key folks. A lot of people don’t even know she’s pregnant. If she was closer, she might have let us throw a baby shower. Maybe. Probably not. She is just not a big fuss kind of gal.
But a baby requires equipment. And equipment requires shopping, which is not Paula’s favorite thing. And help wading through the crap that the baby industry tells new mamas that they need.
Like a wipes warmer. I could have just set $30 on fire for the good that thing did anyone.
The first thing we did was throw a wi-fi baby shower. I came armed with love and gifts cards, and we bought a mattress, swing, bath and the two cutest towels you ever did see.
Then we rolled through the baby section and reloaded her registry, which shocked her into silence when it reminded her that she has 90 days to go! I am happy to report that while there is plenty of pink out there for baby girls, there’s also a ton of fun blue, green and melon. And car mirrors have come a long way. The one she picked has flashing lights, plays music and even comes with a remote control so mom can reset while driving.
Paula is feeling better and looks great. She got a teaching job where she is facing down the challenges of being a haole. She and Jimmy are super excited to meet their baby. And you heard it here first: Jimmy doesn’t stand a chance when Miss Thing gets here. He loves himself some Paula, and when Mini-Paula shows up, he’s going over the edge. No doubt.
In other news, Paula took me to see Oprah’s Maui estate, which is right down the road from them. It looked kinda nice:
This is the main house on the Winfrey compound. There were at least five smaller (and by smaller, I mean normal) houses too. #itsgoodtobeoprah

This is the main house on the Winfrey compound. There were at least five smaller (and by smaller, I mean normal) houses too. #itsgoodtobeoprah

And Maui? Maui’s doing all right. Not that I noticed:
These flowers smell heavenly.

These flowers smell heavenly.

The view from our beach.

The view from our beach.

 

Towards Kihei.

Towards Kihei.

 

Honu!

Honu!

The Things I Will Miss ~ Dana

It’s no secret that having two kids under three, like we do, is no joke.  Having two kids under two was no joke either.  My husband was over 40 when our second child was born, and let’s be real, I’m not that far behind.  We are exhausted.  We feel old.  We look at people with older children with longing, and a twinge of jealousy.  And by twinge, I mean huge green streak.

And when those moms of older kids look at me and say, “Oh, enjoy every moment!  They grow so quickly!” I curse at them under my breath and usually say, in my best funny-ironic-sarcastic tone, “Not quick enough!”  But I really mean, “I feel like this will never end.  I have not had a good night’s sleep in literally three years, and I have someone else’s poop on my pants and their boogers on my shirt.” And sorry, but I really want to smack those women.  Not smack.  Sock.  Right in the jaw.

But the other day, as I was looking down at my sweet little Violet, who just turned one before Thanksgiving, I had a little moment.  She is our last baby and you know, there are things that I will miss when they do go away.  So I thought I would share them with you.  I know that some of you moms and dads out there are overwhelmed and tired, too.  And it is so frustrating sometimes.  But lest these moments do pass so quickly (which I’m still not convinced of) let me take a moment to honor them:

  1. Little feet – I love baby feet!  And I love the way they kick their feet and legs when you pick them up!  When does that start?  Around 4 or 5 months?  When does it stop?  I don’t remember, but Violet is 14 months and she still does it.  I’m noticing it every time and I love it.
  2. The four-toothed smile – Am I right?  The teeth change their smile so much.  Violet’s two bottom teeth are close together but those top teeth are far apart.  And when I see them, all four of them, they are the cutest teeth in the world.Image
  3. We’re friends – Now I know, I know, be their mother, not their friend.  But when I asked Mazie which friends she wanted to invite to her 3rd birthday and she replied, “Mommy, and Daddy, and Grammie,” my heart melted.  She wants to invite ME to her birthday party!  Done.                                                                                                                                                                                         Image
  4. Piggies on my knee – Do any of your kids do this?  While we’re sitting at the table eating, Mazie puts her feet on my leg.  All the time.  Every time.  I love piggies on my knee.
  5. Holding them while they fall asleep – This is a no-brainer.  Who doesn’t love to hold a sleeping baby?  But as I was giving Violet her bottle the other night, I felt her warmth, felt her breath, and realized that this, too, will be gone soon.  And it’s ok, because it will be awesome to send them up to brush their teeth after eating popcorn and watching a movie together, then coming into their rooms to tuck them in… but for just a few more months, I get to hold this sweet little girl in my arms while she drifts off to sleep.  Awesome.
  6. Dueling naps in the stroller – Granted, when this happens, then we’re pretty much tied to the stroller… but I just love this.  And yes, I realize that’s two sleeping things right in a row.Image
  7. Two girls, one lap – They’re still little enough that they both fit on my lap.  Le sigh…
    Image
     So tired moms of little ones, let’s band together and get through this.  We can do it.  And you moms who have older ones, maybe, just maybe you could tell us what a great job we’re doing?  Maybe a hand on my shoulder with a “hang in there!” attached?  You survived it, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t cherish EVERY moment.  Especially the poop-filled ones!