Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

On Motherhood and Losing Myself

7 Sep

I remember the first time it happened – it was shortly after Theo’s birth and I was still in the hospital. My mother and husband were in the room with me when the nurse came in to do something – maybe weigh him or help bathe him or check his vital signs. After she finished, she said, “all right, now I’ll give him back to mom,” and I was momentarily confused. Why was she handing my son off to my mother? Shouldn’t she give him to me or my husband?

And then I realized that she had, in fact, meant to give Theo back to me. Mom meant me. I was mom. My mother, meanwhile, had graduated to “Grandma.” The nurse left before I had the chance to tell her that my name was Anne, although if she’d really wanted to know that she could have just looked at my chart.

I got used to the name Mom, though, and faster than I’d thought I would. I started using it to refer to myself in the third person when I spoke to my son: “Mama loves you so much,” I would say to him. “Mama’s just going to change your diaper, and then you’ll be much more comfortable.” “Mama’s making your dinner, but don’t worry, she’ll be really fast!” “Ma-ma. Can you say ma-ma? Ma-ma. I’m your mama. Ma-ma.” By the time Theo was eight months old, he would howl “Maaaaaaaaa-maaaaaaaaa” every time he wanted me, and I felt a funny sense of triumph whenever I heard him call me. He knew my name. I was Mama.

I wasn’t the only one who referred to myself as “Mom” or “Mama” either. My husband did it whenever he was in front of our son, even when he was talking directly to me – after all, we wanted to keep things consistent and easy to understand for Theo, didn’t we? My mother did it, too. So did my sisters. And as my son got older and we started making the rounds of playgroups and library programs and sing-alongs, the other parents (almost exclusively women) referred to me as “Theo’s mom.” Not that I was any better – I didn’t know any of their names, either. We were all just so-and-so’s mom, as if that were our name or our job title or maybe the most fascinating fact about us. 

Admittedly, there were a lot of things in my life that made me feel as if being a mother was the most fascinating thing about me, or at least the best, most noble thing about me. Strangers smiled at me, and offered me their seat on the bus. People working in customer service were more polite and attentive, whereas before I felt as if I’d often been brushed off. Everyone took me more seriously. It was as if by giving birth I’d somehow gained some strange kind of respectability. I wasn’t just that weird girl who talked too much and cried easily; I wasn’t just another person who had never reached their full potential. I was a mother, and according to a lot of people I’d fulfilled exactly as much of my potential as I needed to. And while on some level that fact was embarrassingly gratifying, mostly because I’d never felt so much societal approval before, underneath that gratification was a restless, howling anxiety. 

I wasn’t the only one in our household to be given a new title, of course. My husband became “Daddy,” a name that also carries some baggage with it. But he didn’t seem to feel as if he was losing himself, the way that I did – and it does seem to bear pointing out that our circumstances were vastly different. Every day, while I stayed at home with our son, my husband went to work. Every day, while I sat on the couch and cried over how fucking hard breastfeeding was, while I took a deep breath and tried not to scream with frustration because my kid was inconsolably exhausted but absolutely would not nap, while I stripped off yet another urine-soaked onesie and brightly-coloured cloth diaper only to watch in horror as my son chose that exact moment to unleash a jet of poop, my husband went back to the Land of the Adults, a country that we both called home but from which I had temporarily been exiled. Every day, while I opened my laptop and tried yet again – through frighteningly hive-minded online parenting communities, frantic status updates on Facebook, and emails to my family – to find the training manual for my overwhelming new job, my husband went back to his same old job, where he could take hour-long lunches and everyone called him by his real name.

No. It wasn’t the same thing at all.

I tried not to feel like I’d somehow lost something, because how could I have lost something? I hadn’t lost anything; I was still the same person, wasn’t I? Even if I felt like I’d lost myself, I was clearly still there. I still existed. On top of that, it seemed unbelievably selfish to frame it in terms of “loss” when, in fact, I’d gained a perfect baby – especially when several of my friends were struggling in various ways to become parents. And I’d wanted this, hadn’t I? Becoming a mother had been my choice. So how could I complain?

Another layer to my unease lay in the fact that if I felt like I’d lost some part of identity, then had my mother experienced the same thing when she’d given birth to me? It seemed impossible that she had ever been anything other than what she was, namely my mother; and yet that selfish feeling of impossibility was almost certainly evidence of the part that I had played in who she had become. For a long time I’d thought that I would never grow up to be my mother, because my mother’s life had always seemed so constrained and limited. Now I saw that I was the one who had limited it. 

Maybe saying that becoming a mother was my choice wasn’t quite the right way to put it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I chose to become a parent, and then society gave me the label “mother” with all of its loaded associations. After all, what is there specifically about being a woman that says that you have to lose yourself completely once you have a kid? Isn’t it possible that if we lived in a world that treated motherhood and fatherhood equally – a world where we called it parental leave instead of maternity leave, a world that was just as accepting of stay-at-home fathers as it was of stay-at-home mothers, a world where women couldn’t expect their wage to decrease by 4% for every child they have – then women wouldn’t feel as if having children was a deeply personal sacrifice?

I mean, of course you have to give some stuff up once you have a child. I’m not saying that your life should stay exactly the same. But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice yourself.

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Breastfeeding Revisited: Now You Are Three

10 Jun

When my son was a few weeks old, we did he requisite Extended Family Tour. We drove to Montreal to see my grandmother and assorted aunts and uncles, and then we went to Kingston to chill out at my mom’s and see even more aunts and uncles. During these visits I felt like a queen receiving supplicants – I would sit enthroned in a big, comfortable chair, my breastfeeding pillow on my lap and my son nestled against my chest. Breastfeeding back then was a bit of an ordeal – we were still using the nipple shield, which meant that in order to get Theo to nurse I had to expose my breast, fiddle around with the little silicone shield, get it firmly in place and make sure that it was airtight, and then try to get Theo latched (not always an entirely successful endeavour).

This trip marked the first time that I’d ever breastfed in public. I hadn’t planned on it, but halfway to Montreal the baby was doing that whole enraged purple-faced screaming, and it didn’t seem like the soothing bumpiness of the drive was going to lull him back to sleep anytime soon. So we stopped at a rest station, and I proceeded to the furthest, dimmest corner table to set up my boobtacular operation.

I couldn’t do it, though. I couldn’t pull out my breast, engorged and leaking milk everywhere. I couldn’t expose my nipple, red and inflamed and a little cracked. I just couldn’t.

Meanwhile, my son screamed beside me, guaranteeing that everyone in the place was now staring at us.

My mother came up behind me and said, “Just do it, Annie. Just do it. No one is looking. Just do it.”

And, clumsily, fumbling with that goddamn nipple shield, I did.

I scrunched down in my seat, waiting for one of those rent-a-cops to come over and tell me that someone had complained, that I needed to cover up, that I needed to go somewhere else. But nothing like that happened. Instead, my son finished, I packed my gear up, and we hit the road.

I had to nurse him again at my grandmother’s house (god, what is with these babies, always wanting to eat? it’s almost like they’re growing or something), and whenever I did, all my uncles would studiously look away.

“I think breastfeeding is wonderful,” said one of my aunts, “but some women seem to do it for themselves. I saw a woman on the metro the other day just sitting there with her kid hanging off her. She couldn’t have waited until she got home? When it’s public like that I think it’s more about the mother than the baby.”

The next day, when we were back in Kingston, my uncle and his three kids came over to meet Theo. They were fascinated by breastfeeding, and would crowd around me whenever I did it, shoving their heads as close as possible to my chest to get the best possible view of the action.

The youngest cousin was three, and she seemed enormous compared to Theo. Afterwards, I said to Matt, “I’m not breastfeeding him when he’s three.”

Matt, whose mother had been a La Leche League leader and who had been breastfed until he was nearly four, said, “You don’t have to.”

“Did you see how big that three year old was? I can’t breastfeed someone that big. I just can’t.”

“Yeah,” he said in agreement. “She was pretty big. I can see why that would seem weird. You don’t have to breastfeed Theo when he’s three – just do it as long as you feel comfortable with it.”

“I’m only going to do it for a year. That’s what all the books say. A year. At twelve months they can have cow’s milk.”

Because, see, I wasn’t going to be one of those breastfeeding mothers. Oh sure, I thought breastfeeding was great, and I was proud of how hard I’d fought to be able to do it, but I wasn’t going to be some kind of breastfeeding weirdo. No way.

And yet.

Here we are.

My son turned three in January, and still nurses once or twice a day – usually first thing in the morning, and right before bedtime. I’m not even producing milk anymore, but I don’t think that matters to him. It’s a comfort thing for him, and at a time when he’s going through so many changes, it’s hard to take it away from him. On top of all that, it doesn’t feel weird like I thought it would. It just feels normal – it’s  thing we’ve been doing every day for nearly three and a half years, after all. I guess I thought that there would be some magic cut-off date, at which point I would be like, “oh, ew, this is too gross to continue,” but that never happened.

I don’t feel weird when I’m breastfeeding Theo, but I do feel weird when I think about how society views me. All I have to do is look up all of the articles written about Jamie Lynn Grummet, the woman who was photographed nursing her three year old for the cover of TIME Magazine. She’s sick, she’s depraved, she’s doing it to satisfy some perverted sexual desire. Her kid is going to be fucked up. Her kid already is fucked up, and that’s why he’s still breastfeeding. She purposefully fucked her kid up so that he would always be tied to her apron strings. She is everything that’s wrong with modern parenting (never mind that extended breastfeeding has a long history in many different cultures around the world).

Breastfeeding older children (and by “older” I mean more than 12 months old) is associated with spoiled, bratty little kids and sexually deviant, overindulgent mothers. If you don’t believe me, I can easily trot out a bunch of example of this in popular culture. Peyton Place‘s Norman Page and his mother certainly fit this mother. Same with Lysa Arryn and her son in Game of Thrones. Or Christos Tsiolkas’ novel The Slap, whose titular event takes place because a bratty, breastfeeding three year old is slapped by an adult after hitting someone with a cricket bat.

Or you could look at the comments on a recent Facebook post I made, jokingly saying that I’m now basically the TIME breastfeeding mom – people reacting in disgust (as I once did) that they could never, ever imagine breastfeeding a three year old. People wondering how this would affect him as an adult, since he will probably have conscious memories of nursing (to which I replied that if they’re so curious, they can ask my husband, since, you know, he was older than Theo is now when he weaned). People saying that they couldn’t do it with their three year old because he’s too smart and too aware of the world (which is hard not to take as a dig at my own kid’s intelligence).

As a society, we are still pretty uncomfortable with breastfeeding in general, and we are hella uncomfortable with breastfeeding toddlers in particular.

But anyone who thinks it’s gross should meet my kid. My hilarious, bright, amazing-as-hell kid. My kid who snuggles up beside me and says, with an impish glint in his eye, “Can I have some mama’s milks? Can I have the left side first? Which side is the left side?” My kid who pretends to breastfeed his dolls, who says that when he grows up he wants to be a mama first and have breasts and make mama’s milks, and then be a dada and just have nipples. My kid who tried to make me nurse his Spiderman action figure the other day.

Breastfeeding gives him one certain thing in this wild new world he’s exploring and learning more about every day. It’s something solid for him to hold on to, while from minute to minute he gathers in new information that slowly but surely pulls the rug of what he understands out from under him. So many things about life are confusing and contradictory and even downright scary for him right now – how could I possibly take away something that’s not?

The answer is that I can’t.

Theo at 19 months - Photo by Diana Nazareth http://www.diananazareth.com

Theo at 19 months – Photo by Diana Nazareth http://www.diananazareth.com

Sometimes I’m Tired Of Being A Mom

4 Feb

“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

I started hearing it the day Theo was born. Actually, I probably started hearing it way before then, but it’s likely that I didn’t pay much attention. I just filed it under “obvious advice is obvious,” and thought nothing more of it. Of course I was going to sleep when the baby slept. Just like of course I was going to have a natural birth, breastfeed like a champ and have a kid who slept through the night at six weeks. Because, unlike all the other moms in the world, I’d read all the right books, bought all the right products, and participated in a million online discussions about how not to fuck up your kid. I was so set.

I was sure that motherhood was going to be so fulfilling. I mean, yeah, I knew it would be hard, but hard in a being-super-brave-through-tough-times-like-Florence-Nightingale sort of way, not hard in a grinding, miserable, I-hate-my-life way. Surely I would come out of those long, desperate, sleepless nights glowing with motherly love, just happy to have been able to offer my screaming child even a modicum of comfort. Surely I would be happy to sacrifice any and everything for my kid.

Surely I would never, ever resent him.

After Theo was born, people kept reminding me to sleep when he slept. But I didn’t want to; I wanted to stay awake and just stare and stare at this amazingly tiny new human I’d just created. I’d just made an entire new person that had never existed before – how could I be expected to sleep after doing that? Besides, I remember thinking, I’ll sleep later. Because, up until that moment in my life, there had always been a later. Whenever I’d had a long week at work, I’d been able to plan to sleep in on the weekend. I’d been able to look forward to vacations when Matt and I could grab catnaps together between fun activities. I’d always, always been been able to think ahead to a time when I would be able to catch up on my sleep, maybe even take some kind of sleeping aid to ensure maximum restfulness.

When you become a parent, there never seems to be a later when it comes to sleep. You either grab it when you can, or you go without. Not long after Theo was born, I learned the hard way that I couldn’t do the former – when Theo slept, I was too anxious to rest, and when I did finally manage to fall asleep, I was awakened by every. single. tiny. noise he made. I don’t know if it was because I was so fucked up on hormones, or if it was the postpartum depression beginning to rear its ugly head, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep when he slept.

And you know what’s the worst? Not being able to sleep when you are bone-fucking-tired and you know that your kid is going to wake up screaming soon and then you won’t get to sit down for the next five hours.

At some point towards the end of that hazy first week of motherhood, I remember thinking, “When is someone coming to take this baby away so that I can go back to my real life?”

And then I realized that this baby was mine, and no one was going to take him away, and this was my real life now.

With that thought came a bizarre mixture of guilt over wanting to go back to my non-baby life, and blind panic of the “holy shit I have a kid, what the fuck have I just done?” variety.

In all the months I’d spent preparing to have a kid, I’d never fully realized what it would be like to have a kid.

Sometimes having a kid sucks. A lot. I love him, and I love being his mom, but sometimes I’m so tired of being a mom, anyone’s mom. Sometimes I just want to be myself. I want to go back to my old life, the life where I slept in on weekends, watched TV whenever I wanted to, and sometimes spent all day having sex with my husband. It doesn’t help that my life now bears a striking surface resemblance to my old life; I live in the same apartment, wear many of the same clothes, eat the same foods. I even look pretty much the same, except that I’m a cup size bigger than I was (thanks, breastfeeding!). I’m surrounded by reminders of the way I used to live.

It also doesn’t help that most of my friends still, in some ways, live in my old life, staying out late, drinking too much, and going to the bathroom without having a toddler follow them to watch them pee. And I promise that I’m not trying to be all, having a kid is so hard and my non-mom friends don’t get it, but let’s be honest: most of them don’t, really, in the same way that I didn’t get it, either. And I’m jealous that they don’t get it, jealous that they don’t have to watch what they eat or drink or smoke because they’re afraid of contaminating their breast milk, jealous that they can go to bed and not have a whimpering toddler wake them up five times a night, jealous that when they go home at the end of the day, their work is done, while mine lasts forever and ever and ever.

Sometimes I’m so tired of being a mom.

Sometimes I’m so fucking tired. Period.

And you know what sucks the most? Knowing that all of this is my fault. I don’t mean so much in the sense that I chose to have a kid (although that is true), but more that I haven’t done any sleep-training, haven’t tried too hard to night-wean and, at 24 months old, still can’t really imagine being away from him overnight. Know why? Because I’m a wuss, that’s why. Every time I think about sleep-training Theo, I think of all the crying that will be involved, and I wince. I’m not the crying-it-out-will-ruin-your-kid-forever type, but you know what? I just can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t. Hearing him cry makes me feel like every nerve in my body is on fire. And it’s one thing to hear my kid cry because I won’t let him splash his hands in the toilet; it’s another when he’s crying because he just wants to be held, or sung to, or breastfed.

And that’s why my 24-month-old still sleeps in my room and still breastfeeds pretty much whenever he wants at night. Because I am too tired and too wussy to do anything about it.

I’m tired and you guys?

Sometimes I still miss my old life. A lot.

And that makes me feel really awful.

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Now You Are Two

18 Jan

Dear Theo,

You are two.

That shit is crazy.

It’s honestly hard to imagine what life was like before you came along. I mean, sure, I remember going out on dates with Matt whenever we wanted to, and never having to worry about things like babysitters. And yeah, I remember stumbling home drunk in the wee hours of the morning, then sleeping in the next day with no consequences. Okay, and yes, I remember not getting up a bajillion times a night to nurse my still-breastfeeding toddler. And I guess I remember what it’s like to be able to have sex whenever I want, without suddenly hearing “Mama? Where are you?” while mid-coitus.

But you know what? Trading all of that stuff for you, my perfect, smart, funny kid, was worth it. Totally, totally worth it.

Two years ago today, a team of doctors pulled you feet-first out of my belly (offering Matt a peek as they did so, which nearly made him pass out), and I heard someone exclaim, “it’s a boy!”

And you know what? Even though I’d kind of, maybe, sort of been hoping for a girl, when they told me that you were a boy I cried because I was so happy.

Two years later, I’m still happy – not because you’re a boy, but because you’re you. Wonderful, amazing you.

You are so much fun right now. You’re like a sponge, and you just want to soak up everything. You chatter non-stop, morning til night, even when there’s no one there to listen to you. You love narwhals and totem poles. You will only sleep while cuddling a stuffed squirrel on wheels that your Auntie Erin knitted for you. You offer guided tours of the European Galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum, pointing out the two lutes, the harp, and the exposed breast of the woman in the Rococo-era painting. You love books, and will happy sit and flip through them on your own or with your dad and I, pointing out every tiny detail in the pictures. You know all of the letters of the alphabet, and all of your colours. The other day at the art gallery, you pointed to a Frida Kahlo painting and said quite clearly and loudly, “Fee-da! Kah-lo!”

In fact, Frida Kahlo is one of the three public personalities that you’re most readily able to recognize – the other two, strangely enough, are Jesus and the Virgin Mary. You like to tell me that Jesus lives in the church, and today you came home and said, “Fee-da Kah-lo doll, where are you?”

You also love bagels. That, along with your admiration of Frida, is enough to convince me that, even though you still look exactly like your father, there’s some of me in you, too.

Today at dinner you told me that your daddy’s other name is Matt.

When I asked you what my other name was, you looked confused for a moment, then happily exclaimed, “Matt!”

You are so great.

These past few months have brought a lot of changes for both of us. After spending 19 months at home with you, I went back to work full time, and you started daycare. I miss you, even now, five months later. By the time I quit my gig as a stay-at-home mom, I was so ready to be around grownups all day long and leave baby-town behind. And you know what? I love being back at work. But I miss you.

The good news is that you love daycare, and you’re flourishing there. Your language has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last little while, and I love hearing you talk about your friends at “school”. You enjoy the routine there, and I think that the structure is good for you. Your teachers tell me that your favourite toys are the trains and the trucks (no surprises there), and that you love story time and music class.

You’re pretty easy-going for a toddler. You don’t tantrum (yet), and you wake up smiling every day. Our main struggles with you are getting you to eat, and getting you to sleep (or rather, to stay asleep). In spite of these difficulties, you’re happy, healthy and meeting all of your milestones. I mostly don’t think that I could ask for a better kid than you.

I’m so excited to see what the next year will bring. Watching you grow and learn is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and when I realize that you, perfect, adorable, hilarious you, actually come from me – well, that kind of breaks my brain a little. Whenever I’m having a really tough day, being around you is the only thing that can cheer me up. Whenever I’m upset about the fact that my life isn’t going the way that I expected, I think of you, and that puts things like career, writing, money, etc, into perspective. Because, yeah, while I might not be where I thought I would be at thirty in a lot of respects, I have you – scratch that, I made you – and that makes me really fucking lucky.

I love you so fucking hard. I’m so thankful to whatever god decided that I was the one who should be your mother, because seriously. Kid. You are the best.

Together, you and I are going to rock this world.

Love,

Mama

Unwilling to put down his bagel, even for a birthday picture.

Unwilling to put down his bagel, even for a birthday picture.

You’ve come a long way in two years, baby:
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On Judgment And Breastfeeding

4 Dec

If you know me at all, even a little bit, then you know that I am a person who loves breastfeeding. I think breastfeeding is great, and will talk about it until you are super bored and/or uncomfortable. Half of the population of Toronto has probably seen my breasts by now, and not just because of my preference for low-cut tops. Most of the time I’m pretty sure my kid loves me, but there are days when I wonder if he loves my boobs more. If you ask me for breastfeeding advice, I will inundate you with more facts than you could ever possibly need. In short, I breastfeed, I’m proud of it, and I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding.

I think that one of the reasons I’m so into breastfeeding is that Theo and I struggled with it at first. He had a bad latch, jaundice made him too sleepy to stay awake for an entire feeding, and I just plain had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect, I know I got off pretty easy as far as breastfeeding issues go, but at the time it seemed like the end of the world. My son was only 5 lbs 4 oz at birth, and by the time we came home from the hospital he was only 4 lbs 12 oz. Every nursing session was a fight, and I started to dread feeding time. I also dreaded weighing him, because I was terrified of seeing the needle dip even lower on the scale. Here I was, blessed with an abundant supply of milk, and I couldn’t even manage do that simplest, most basic thing: feed my child.

I worked hard to be able to breastfeed Theo. While I was still in the hospital, I attended daily breastfeeding classes and would would call the nurses to come help me get Theo latched on every time he woke up. After we went home, I schlepped Theo back and forth to our family doctor and the hospital lactation clinic on a near-daily basis.  In those cold, sterile offices I would watch as other people weighed him, then I would let strangers manhandle my boobs and stare intently at my chest as I tried again and again to feed my son.

I pumped. I did “suck training” with a tiny tube attached to my finger. I cup-fed him. I bottle-fed him. Finally, I tried a nipple shield, which (hallelujah!) worked. With the nipple shield, Theo was at last able to fill his tiny belly with my milk and start gaining the weight he needed so badly. My kid has been a boob-addict ever since.

Now, the thing is, I know that a lot of my successful breastfeeding relationship is due to good old-fashioned hard work. I wanted to breastfeed, and I fought for it and, in the end, I succeeded. It was really hard at times, like, total-meltdown-cry-until-I-made-myself-sick hard, but even though I sometimes felt like giving up, I didn’t. And I’m proud that I didn’t quit, and I also have to give myself credit for sticking with it even when things felt impossible.

But you know what? Hard work only gets you so far, and I know that I wouldn’t still be breastfeeding today if I hadn’t had an amazing support system. I was lucky that my hospital offered such great resources to breastfeeding moms, I was lucky that our family doctor had breastfed both her children and knew what she was talking about, I was lucky to have a mother-in-law who was a former La Leche League leader (and a sister-in-law who knew a whole heck of a lot about breastfeeding), and I was lucky to have a family who gave me nothing but encouragement and love. If I hadn’t had these things, there’s a good chance that Theo would have been formula-fed, and I know that. So yeah, while hard work has played a big part in our success, I also realize that I’ve been able to breastfeed because I was just plain lucky.

Knowing that I was lucky to have such great support means that I want to offer that kind of support to other people. I cheer people on when they’re struggling to breastfeed, and I offer advice (usually only when asked) to new moms. I upload a ton of pictures of me nursing Theo to my Facebook page, partly because I just think they’re really nice pictures, but also because I think posting breastfeeding pictures publicly help normalize breastfeeding. Basically, if you want to breastfeed, I want to do whatever I can to help you! If you don’t want to breastfeed, though, that’s cool too.

Sadly, a lot of the breastfeeding community doesn’t feel the same way I do. I belong to a few online groups, and while a lot of the posts are asking for advice, or sharing cute, funny stories about breastfeeding, there’s an awful lot of judgment going on against women who don’t breastfeed. Mostly I’m used to it and I just kind of shut it out, because I still see a lot of benefit and good in the lactivist movement. Today, though, really took the cake. Today I couldn’t ignore this judgmental crap anymore.

See, there’s a story that’s been in the news lately about an Alberta mother who can’t afford the prescription formula that her infant son needs to live. Her son, Isaac, was born prematurely and subsequently developed necrotizing entercolitis (NEC), an intestinal disease that means that he has an inability to digest many foods, including dairy products, and can lead to internal bleeding. At four months old Isaac has already had two week-long stretches in the hospital, and continues to be at risk for bleeding and other problems.

Isaac’s mother, Lisa Caskenette, initially tried to breastfeed her son. Unfortunately, he had severe reactions to her milk, and, given the scope of his allergies (dairy products, whey, soy and whey protein, to name a few), she wasn’t sure that she could find an elimination diet that would work for her. As well, during Isaac’s two hospital stays he was allowed nothing by mouth, and although Caskenette pumped during that time, her supply dwindled. After consulting over a dozen experts, Caskenette decided to give her son Neocate, an amino acid-based, hypoallergenic formula which costs her $1,200 a month. $1,200 a month that Caskenette’s family cannot afford.

You’d think that this would be the kind of story that breastfeeding advocates would rally around, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, what I witnessed today on a Facebook breastfeeding group was the opposite of that. Here’s a small sample of the comments people made after the group’s moderator posted a link to a story about Caskenette and her son:

She should breastfeed. That’s free and better.

She should be breastfeeding! That won’t cost a dime,the Insurance wont need to pay a dime and the baby would be a lot healthier!!!

Yes, she should be breastfeeding…formula use has been shown to increase the chance of NEC [this from the page’s owner/moderator]

Sometimes I wonder if people just don’t feel like sacrificing their own diet to make it acceptable for an allergic baby.

I think the cost is outrageous and I certainly would not be able to afford that, however I breastfed my kids. Or donor breast milk, we have 3 Milk Banks in Canada which you need a prescription for and she would have no problem getting a script for it. I would have pumped and pumped. However, she may not may not have tried that. I feel for the family, but she never mentioned anything about trying to nurse, pump or re-lactate. I do think the cost should be shared though. We have a public health care system and we pay for it by way of taxes etc and if her baby needs it then it shouldn’t have to cost $1200 a month, but I wish someone in her circle would mention she could try to breastfeed if she hasn’t. Her baby would be eating for free.

For the government to start subsidizing an industry that harms the health of its citizens is not the best idea. They should offer to fund the baby’s use of breastmilk from a milk bank if the mom is unable to breastfeed.

I looked up this condition and one of the reasons it occurs is improper mixing of formula, yet another reason breast would been best!

I find it hard to believe with all the support in Canada that NO-One would have given her the information she needed to do best for her baby! And yes the only thing that would stop me from giving my baby breastmilk is death!

Can’t breastfeed…not really. You could do an elimination of your diet. You could breastfeed. You opted not to. You don’t want judgment. You just want everyone to agree with you. Should the formula me covered? I actually think yes but the rest is just crap.

I wonder if she ever saw/spoke with an IBCLC to get support to breast feed? This baby needs human milk not formula to heal his gut. Perhaps she should look into eats on feets or similar organization to find mothers willing to donate their extra breastmilk. So sad that all this baby needs is breastmilk ;(

There are a few comments supporting and sympathizing with Caskenette, but most of them are just repeating over and over, ad nauseam, that she should give him breast milk. Most of the commenters agree that she should either relactate (which is a long and difficult process, and also doesn’t solve the issues she was having with the elimination diet), or else she should get donor milk (which wouldn’t work at all, because she has no way of knowing the diet of the women who donated the milk). Most of the comments were judgmental and hurtful; nearly every single one of the commenters felt that Caskenette was a selfish mother who just couldn’t be bothered to do what was best for her son.

Here is the one thing that I really want all of you to know: when you comment on something like this on a public page, you are writing actual words that will be read by actual people that can cause actual hurt. Is it really so difficult to try to be a kind, empathetic human being? Like, really? Can everyone just stop being dicks for like FIVE MINUTES?

It's kind of true, though

It’s kind of true, though

The other thing is that stuff like this does a total disservice to the breastfeeding advocacy movement. When you make comments like this, you’re making us all look like the crazy, narrow-minded, intolerant people all the stereotypes make us out to be. Comments like these are the reason people end up switching to formula, because they’re afraid of the judgment that will be thrown at them if they ask for help. You are not forwarding your cause, you’re hindering it. I don’t understand how you can’t see that.

I mean, in a perfect world, do I think that every biological mother would breastfeed? Hell yeah, I do! In a world where babies don’t get life-threatening illnesses, and women don’t go back to work after 6 weeks, and sexual assault victims don’t find nursing to be triggering, and no mothers need to take any medication that is contraindicated for breastfeeding, and there aren’t fucking booby traps everywhere you turn, and all healthcare professionals are well-educated about breastfeeding, and no mother had supply issues, and shitty formula marketing schemes don’t exist I think everyone could breastfeed. But I don’t live in that world and neither do you.

If you want to be a good breastfeeding advocate, here’s what you need to do: support and listen. Support the person wherever they are in their breastfeeding journey (even if they’re formula feeding), and listen to what they have to say. Maybe they won’t breastfeed this particular child, but maybe your love, support and advice will make them more willing to try to breastfeed the next one. Or maybe it won’t, and that’s fine too. All you can do is offer your help; you can’t make people take it. And what’s the sense in getting riled up over the fact that someone doesn’t breastfeed? Is that worth ending a friendship or hurting someone over?

If you want to help out Lisa Caskenette and her family, there are a number of ways that you can do that. First of all, you can find her on Facebook, and she does accept private donations to help her family with the cost of the formula. You can also advocate for her by writing to the Alberta Blue Cross (which should be covering the cost of the formula), or to Alison Redford, the current Alberta premier. Or you can just send Caskenette positive messages on Facebook, letting her know that you’re thinking about her and her family.

Anything, really, other than telling her that she’s a bad mother.

Baby Isaac

Baby Isaac

How To Have A Good C-Section (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love major surgery)

26 Oct

I woke up the morning of January 8th, 2011, and lay in bed, waiting for Theo to kick me good morning. I was 34 weeks pregnant, and this was our wake-up ritual: he would wriggle around like a maniac, and I would spend a few minutes lying on my side, rubbing the outline of his body and telling him what we were going to do that day. Sometimes he would stick his feet in my ribs, and I would tickle his toes. Sometimes he would take a big stretch and I would try to map out how he was sitting inside of me.

That morning, though, I didn’t feel anything.

No big deal, I figured; he was probably asleep. Surely it wouldn’t be long before he was awake and kicking up a storm.

I had a bagel and coffee for breakfast and then lay on the couch with Matt, waiting for the caffeine to pass through the placenta and jolt Theo awake. We were watching a movie, but I couldn’t concentrate on it; all I could think about was the absence of movement inside of me.

I tried everything I could think of to get Theo to move – I drank ice water and lay on my side, poked and prodded him until I worried that I might be bruising my baby in utero, had Matt put his mouth up against my belly and talk to his son. Nothing worked.

We decided that we should go to the hospital.

When we got to the labour and delivery ward, I had to sit and wait for a bed to become available. Then we discovered that I hadn’t properly registered, so Matt had to go back down and re-do the paperwork. I was becoming increasingly anxious, and I was frustrated that the nurses didn’t seem to share my sense of urgency. Finally, they got me into an examining room and asked me where my OB usually found the baby’s heartbeat. I said it was loudest on the left side of my belly, so they put the doppler there.

Silence.

I started to cry. Matt tried to say something to calm me down, but he had tears in his eyes, too. The nurse frowned and moved the doppler around while the continuing silence made me sob harder and harder. This must have only gone on for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. I was sure that Theo was dead; I pictured having to call my mom to tell her that her grandchild wouldn’t be born alive. I pictured myself having to be induced and delivering a cold, white baby.

Finally, way over on my right side, the nurse found a faint but steady heartbeat. The nurse smiled and said that she’d known all along that he was fine. I still couldn’t stop crying.

The nurse brought in a portable ultrasound machine, since I still wasn’t feeling Theo move. As she moved the probe over my belly, she asked me if I knew that he was breech. No, he’s not, I said, he’s been head down since 26 weeks. In fact, I had seen my OB three days earlier, and he had confirmed that the baby was head down. Not anymore he’s not, said the nurse.

They brought in the on-call doctor who confirmed that no only was Theo breech, he was footling breech, one of the rarest fetal positions and the most dangerous to the baby. On top of that, his umbilical cord was hanging down by his feet, which meant that, if my water were to break, he would be at high risk for a cord prolapse.

They hooked me up to a contraction monitor and told me that I was having strong contractions (none of which I could feel, by the way). They checked my cervix and I was 2 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Not a big deal, they said – some women dilate early. Two hours later I was 5 cm dilated.

At 34 weeks pregnant, I was in labour with a baby who wanted to meet the world feet first.

They wanted to do a caesarean that night. They would have, too, except that two emergency c-sections came in, tying up all the operating rooms. While we waited for an OR to open up, I sat in my bed and tried to use Jedi mind-tricks to stop my labour. Think calm thoughts, I told myself. I stared at the printout on the contraction monitor and willed the jagged lines to smooth themselves out. I stared at my belly and willed Theo to stay put.

Whatever I did must have worked, because by the time they checked my cervix again, I was still 5 cm dilated. My contractions continued, but were definitely less frequent than before. I made a deal with the on-call OB – if they would agree to delay my c-section, I would stay on bed rest in the hospital until I was full-term and/or my cervix started dilating again. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she agreed to admit me for the night and check with my doctor. Luckily, he was a super cool dude, and when he came to see me on Monday morning he said he thought I’d made a good suggestion, and was totally fine with me hanging around the hospital until whenever.

This gave me some time to figure out what I was going to do. Up until this point, I’d planned on having a natural birth; I’d read books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth , Martha Sears’ Birth Book and Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide To A Better Birth. I’d looked forward to giving birth, imagining that I would have some kind of mystical earth goddess experience; I’d been weirdly excited to know what real contractions felt like. I’d spent months participating in online pregnancy forums, decrying the medicalization of childbirth and the deplorable c-section rate in the western world. I hadn’t even read anything about c-sections, because there was no way that I was going to have one.

Except now I was.

I started to look for online resources for moms who were having caesareans but still wanted the whole touchy-feely earth goddess experience. I discovered, to my chagrin, that there weren’t many. Most people seem to think that a good birth and c-sections are diametrically opposed. Many people in the natural birth community are very, very anti-caesarean (one woman even went so far as to send me a video of a midwife delivering a footling breech birth, like, hey, thanks for your support), and many of those who support the medical model of childbirth tend to see birth as something that you just endure and get through, rather than a positive experience. I think that it’s totally possible to have a c-section and still have a good birth.

I’ve put together a list of things that worked well for us and resources that I found helpful:

If You Are Having A Planned Caesarean:

1. Educate yourself. This one is huge. Read as much as you can about c-sections, both about the procedure itself and what recovery will be like. Talk to other women who have had c-sections, and ask your OB for a run-down of how the procedure typically happens at your hospital. It’s also a good idea to read about the possible emotional effects of a c-section.

2. If you plan on breastfeeding, consider contacting a lactation consultant (the nice thing about being in the hospital was that the lactation consultant came to me), or else join the La Leche League and talk to women who have had similar experiences. Find out what kind of resources your hospital offers breastfeeding mothers – for example, mine held a breastfeeding class twice a day and had a lactation clinic. Make sure you get yourself a nursing pillow, because I promise you that you will be SO THANKFUL for it. Also,there are some good resources online here and here and here.

3. If you plan on breastfeeding, do so as soon as possible after surgery. I was able to breastfeed in the recovery room, less than half an hour after my son’s birth.

4. Make a birth plan of what you would ideally like to happen. You can ask for things like playing your own music during the surgery, doing skin-to-skin in the OR, and delaying (or even forgoing) the application of the eye gel. Remember that it doesn’t have to be the mother who does skin-to-skin – your partner also has some important bonding to do.

5. Eat really well at your last meal before your surgery (this will typically be 8 hours earlier). Make sure you get a lot of protein and that whatever you have is really filling, because they won’t let you eat afterwards until you fart (not kidding).

6. If you are having a c-section because your baby is breech, consider trying an external cephalic version. I wasn’t able to do this because I continued having contractions right up until my c-section (and we discovered during my surgery that I have a heart-shaped uterus, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway), but it’s definitely worth trying.

If You Are Planning On Having A Vaginal Birth

1. Educate yourself about c-sections anyway! It won’t hurt, and you’ll be prepared in case you do need one.

2. Include a “Caesarean Contingency Plan” as part of your birth plan. Sure, chances are that you won’t have a c-section, but if something goes wrong, it’ll probably go wrong pretty quickly, which means that it would be better to have what you want written out ahead of time.

3. Make sure that your partner is clear on what you want if you need a c-section – in the craziness of the OR, you’re going to need them as an advocate more than ever.

For Everyone

1. Allow yourself the time to mourn the birth you didn’t have. Some women feel that they’ve “failed” if they end up having a c-section; some feel that they haven’t really given birth. Talk about your feelings with your partner, and remind yourself that your experience was just as important and valid as anyone who had a vaginal birth.

2. Keep in mind that women who have c-sections are at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Make sure to watch yourself carefully for any of the signs and talk to a healthcare professional immediately if you think you might be showing some of the symptoms.

3. Take all of your medication on time. Trust me, you will feel way worse if you delay or skip a dose. The vast majority of medications are safe for breastfeeding; if you’re not sure, ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or La Leche League leader.

4. Hold a pillow against your incision whenever you cough, sneeze or laugh. I don’t know why, but this helps.

5. Take a shower as soon as you are feeling up to it. It will be the best shower of your whole life.

6. Accept help. If you have someone willing to do everything for you, let them.

Theo’s birth wasn’t what I had planned for, and it wasn’t the birth I would have chosen, but it was still good. I sometimes think that this was my first real lesson in parenting: the idea that not everything would happen on my own terms, that there would be times when I was not in control of the situation, but could still try to make the best of things.

So no, Theo’s birth wasn’t ideal, but I do think that it was the best birth that it could have been. And I’m thankful for that.

If you follow the simple steps that I have outlined above, then you, too, can look this happy while having a giant gash cut in their abdomen.

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments!

An Open Letter to Nicola Kraus (or, another day, another angry-making article)

18 Sep

Dear Nicola Kraus,

So! I understand that you have discovered the one single method of parenting that works for everyone and you are proselytizing this fact via the Huffington Post. Well, that is good news! Please, tell me more!

No, but seriously: I find articles like yours incredibly difficult to read. Not only is the tone rude and condescending, but the content is full of assumptions and misinformation.

First of all, let’s talk about a few personal pet peeves that I have with regards discussions surrounding attachment parenting:

1. Dr. Sears did not come up with attachment theory. John Bowlby did. Doctor Sears may have popularized the idea and coined the phrase attachment parenting, but it’s a concept that’s been around since the 50s.

2. I bet that you actually practice attachment parenting, even if you don’t want to call it that. In fact, I guarantee it.

The basis of attachment theory is this, which comes from Bowlby’s seminal 1951 work, Maternal Care and Mental Health:

… the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.

Keep in mind that in the first half of the 20th century, women were getting a lot of not-so-great advice form doctors. They were told to put their babies on a schedule as soon as possible, feeding them only every three or four hours instead of whenever the baby was hungry. They were advised not to pick up their crying babies for fear of spoiling them, and there was also a pervasive belief that crying strengthened the lungs. I have a friend whose grandmother was instructed to wheel her infant son out into the garden every day and let him cry for half an hour. While her baby cried, she would sit at the table and weep because she hated it so much. But she still did it, because her doctor had told her to.

Attachment parenting, by contrast, suggests that you respond to your baby’s needs in an appropriate and timely fashion. Which, I am guessing, is probably something that you do.

Breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, etc. are not necessary for attachment parenting. They’re tools that can help form a bond between parent and child, but they aren’t by any means required. Your friend Dr. Sears says the following:

AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules. It’s actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way. The important point is to get connected to your baby, and the baby B’s [his term for the set of tools mentioned above] of attachment parenting help. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit – the little word that so economically describes the relationship between parent and baby.

So even Doctor Sears says that you need to go with what’s best for you and your family.

I guess that what I really want to say with you is this: I’m happy that your kid is a great sleeper. I’m happy that you found a method that works for you. But what you should realize is: every child and every family is different.

For instance, my kid? My kid is 19 months and still sleeps in my bed, which I’m fine with. He didn’t end up there because I had romantic ideas about forming a bond with him. We have a crib for him. He hated it.

From just about day one, my son point-blank refused to sleep in his crib. He would fall asleep after nursing, I would swaddle him back up and gently (so gently) lie him down in his crib. Within ten minutes he would be screaming. I tried everything – waiting until he was deeply, deeply asleep to move him, putting him down when he was drowsy but still awake, keeping his spot in the crib warm with a heating pad – nothing worked.

On top of that, I was struggling with postpartum depression in the early months of his life, which was made much, much worse by my lack of sleep. Even if I had been comfortable with the idea of letting him cry it out (which I wasn’t), it would have meant several days of even less sleep. The idea of that would have made me cry, except that I already spent most of my time crying.

Once my son started sleeping in my bed, I found that it actually helped with my anxiety. For one thing, it was easy for me to check on him during the night to make sure that he was still breathing. It also made nighttime feeds easier – they were no longer this big production of getting him out of the crib, getting the nursing pillow in place, feeding him, then getting him back to sleep, putting him back in the crib, etc. Once he was in my bed I literally just had to roll over to nurse him and then roll back over once he was done.

The way that my husband and I parent isn’t for everyone. I get that. I try to be respectful of the way other people raise their children, and I think that by and large I’m pretty successful. As long as your kid is healthy, happy and well-fed, I think you’re doing a bang-up job. I would really appreciate it if you could extend me the same respect.

Oh, and by the way? When you let a 12-week-old cry it out, you are not teaching them to self-soothe, you’re teaching them that no one is coming to comfort them (and, by the way, there’s a world of difference between those two concepts). Science is behind me on this one. Science is awesome!

I totally agree with you on one thing, though – parenting is really fucking hard. The hardest part is that you have no idea what you’re doing, and you have to make important decisions on the fly while operating on little or no sleep. But the thing is, everyone is trying to do their best working with whatever they’re given. So why are you making people feel badly about the way they parent, when you already know that they’re doing their damnedest? How is your judgment and condescension helpful in any way? Just a few things you might want to think about.

Anyway, for the record, I don’t think that attachment parenting has made my kid clingy, or, you know, overly attached. In fact, I think the opposite is true: he’s so confident in our bond, so certain that I’ll be there to help him when he needs it, that he feels totally comfortable running off and doing his own thing. He’s happy to take off without looking back, because he just assumes that my husband or I will be close behind him. Because we always have been.

Sincerely,

Annabelle

p.s. You should maybe advise all of your sex-deprived friends to try getting it on in rooms other than the bedroom. The living room couch or the shower are two good suggestions. Tell them to be creative! If they really want to fuck, I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Theo, trying to claim the whole bed for himself