Tag Archives: mother-child bonding

The end of my breastfeeding journey

photo (9)It is with some sadness, but some peace that I write this.

I struggled a lot with milk supply. Not with breastfeeding – I was one of the lucky few to whom the act came fairly easily. Or, I should say that I am one of the lucky few who had great lactation consultants straight away, a great baby with a natural latch, and an iPad with Netflix to make the whole thing more enjoyable 🙂 But, my body did not have a great supply. Why? In my sadder moments I have blamed the separation after birth, the nights in ICU, the severe postpartum anemia, the extensive surgery on my breast (left side) at 22. In my guiltier moments I have blamed returning to work so quickly, going to a conference at ~5 weeks postpartum, and not eating enough. I hope, deep down, it wasn’t ultimately any of these things, and just one of those things that was not meant to be.

I have accepted now that I really didn’t go down without a fight. In fact: I didn’t so much go down, as willingly jump off the ship in the end. When I last wrote about this,  I was in the throes of upping my supply with various tricks. Since that post, many internet surges, many forum chats and many lactation consultant visits actually got me to match my son’s needs. It required two things:

*A large bottle of V8 fusion a day

*Power pumping.

Power pumping, to the blissfully unenlightened, is pumping for 20 minutes  then having 10 minutes on, and 10 minutes off for a full hour. The idea is to teach your body to produce more. You do it for a couple of times a day, for a period of time, and then you wean yourself off it. Hopefully your body will have learned to produce more. Unfortunately, my body never ‘learned’. It would respond to power pumping with increased production (I got to, and beyond, my hallowed 30 oz a day), but as soon as I stopped, my supply would sink again. Ultimately, power pumping for each and every pump, 7 times a day, plus the shorter pump at night, meant I was pumping for a whopping 6-6.5 hours a day.

I did it for 3 weeks.

Seriously.

And it was every day – weekends included. Sam got so used to the speed of a bottle, he would not take the breast.

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I told myself that breastfeeding takes at least that long per day, so I had to suck it up. There was no way I was not doing something for my son, which other mothers were doing all the time. Even if I worked, which some people see as a free pass out of such things  I was not letting my son miss out because I had to work. I couldn’t go less, because if I dropped one session (even the night session) I lost not only the oz from that session, but all the others went down dramatically.

Then I had surgery (another blow to supply, by the way). I still fought to keep it up. I think the ultimate symbol of my dedication to me will always be coming around from the general anesthetic in the recovery room, and noticing the time on my monitor. The operation had been supposed to take under an hour, but the infection was deep, and it took over an hour. Upon realizing this, 3 minutes out of general anesthesia  all I could say was “Please get me a breast pump. Please find me a breast pump, I have to express milk”. My body was so broken at this stage (from the op, not the pumping), that nothing came out. But I lay and did it for 20 minutes, and then asked the pump to be brought to my second recovery room.

The next day, I was feeling uber sorry for myself, and put myself on strict bed rest. I took Sam, and told Wes to have a day for himself. I couldn’t give Sam my milk due to the effects of the surgery drugs, so I just didn’t pump as much. In fact, I ended up only pumping three times that day: morning, lunch and night.

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Dear God, it opened a world to me. A world in which my contribution to mothering did not consist of just sitting in another room, either earning money or producing milk (or, frequently, both) but actually looking after my son’s mental, and other physical needs. I cannot hold Sam close when I am pumping; in fact, I can barely hold him at all. I can barely play with him – just sit him on a mat and sing to him, or wave things at him. I spent a whole day with Sam in and out of my arms freely. It was the best day ever. I went to bed elated and happy. I thought it was just because I finally had time for Sam, but as I was giving him him Dream Feed, I realized it was because I didn’t have 6 1/2 hours that day where I could not be with him. And then just short 1 hour bursts of a day where yes, I could be with him, but it was also my only other chance to get other things done, like showering, cooking, shopping.

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With that realization I wept. I cried harder than I have cried in a very, very long time. I cried for everything I have missed out on. For every bedtime since he was 6 weeks where I have sat across the hall watching him refuse to settle with his Dad, while I pumped. For every breakfast I have missed out on. For every play session where when he has cried, I have had to call Wes until I had finished pumping. I cried for all the smiles I had missed, all the hugs I had given up.

Then I went to bed and cried some more.

Eventually I emailed two dear friends and asked what to do.

They helped me a lot. Through tender exchanges with them I realized several things:

*Making it to 3.5 month breastfeeding, with just a few bottles of formula, was not a ‘failure’. It was still a gift to my son, and an achievement.

*Stopping breastfeeding was not done for selfish reasons. Yes, there are advantages to me, but I am doing it to be there for my son. They made me see that Sam needs me physically, as well as more materially. That cuddles and kisses may be more valuable to him than anything else.

*There are other benefits that Sam will get, if I stop. My marriage will be a lot better when I can give Wes some breaks, when I can spend an evening with him without the pump, when I am just up for 30 mins feeding Sam at night, not 30 mins feeding + 40 mins pumping (I always kept the 3 am pump short).

*That, life is beautiful.

 Philippians 4:4-7:
 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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So. With some peace, but a heavy heart I decided to give up breastfeeding. I don’t think it is an understatement to say that mourn its loss. I do grieve for losing that experience for Sam. But, already, I was able to take Sam for a whole day: no relief needed. I have put him to bed every night. And I got off what a friend who went though a similar thing memorably described as ‘the rollercoaster’. The high of pumping enough, the fear when you don’t. That up and down every day.

When I had made that decision, I realized I could pump some without too much disruption. I could get up with Sam, spend time with him, and pump on the way to work. I could pump at lunch, and once, for 20 minutes, when Sam went to bed. My goal is 5 oz a day – which Sam can have split into two portions and mixed with his morning and evening feed (yup, my average on this schedule Will probably be a little over 1 oz / pump). I suspect my supply will quickly dwindle to zero, and Sam will get zilch. But, that is better than a Mum who doesn’t really see her son in a meaningful way.

I am appreciating the benefits: the extra time with Sam, the extra energy for him, the extra ways to express our bond. My head appreciates this as the best solution, but my heart is still heavy

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Btw – this was also a total pic spam post. Sorry ’bout that.

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Some clouds have platinum linings

Bed day survival kit: toys, Jaffa cakes, magazines, board books and pic n mix!

Bed day survival kit: toys, Jaffa cakes, magazines, board books and pic n mix!

So, the last couple of days have not been rockstar, ending in (minor) surgery as they did. Today I was disappointed that I would ‘lose’ my whole weekend by being bed ridden, to recover. I was looking forward to crafting, sorting my room out, maybe taking Sam shopping. Bed was really not on the cards.

But it seemed that bed was my only option, so I said to Wes that he might as well take a day of freedom, and I would look after Sam. Not that he doesn’t love Sam, and love looking after him. But I am very sympathetic to the view that as a parent you so rarely get free time: you’re always conscious of your child, what they are doing, how long you have completing a certain activity before they wake / make a fuss / need feeding. Let me repeat: we love being parents, and adore Sam, but I do know how much I appreciate those few stolen moments when you don’t have to think about anything or anyone but yourself and your activities.

So, Wes made bullets while I settled into my second choice day: a day stuck in bed, in pain, albeit with the best boy ever.

Greatest. Day. Ever.

sleeping baby

It started when I got Sam into my bed at about 5 am. As Wes had done the 2 am feed I was really rested and I couldn’t sleep, but wasn’t tired. I just sat and watched Sam. Watched him sleep. It has been 3 months since I got to do that. Since going to back to work at ~3 weeks postpartum nighttime is always a rush to either spend time with Wes, or get my work finished, and the morning is a chance to cram in extra sleep, or a rush to get up and get pumping so I can get to work. I have forgotten how my son sleeps, or at least, it has changed since we I last saw it. It is deeper than it used to be, but his movements are different, less jerky, and much stronger.

Then we got up and had breakfast. Me, a LaraBar and Sam: a bottle of formula. I never get to feed Sam breakfast! My morning pump is the longest (sometimes an hour) and so Wes gives Sam his bottle. Morning is Sam’s best time, and he was so awake. He watched me with sparkling eyes and kept breaking away from the bottle just to grin at me, and then latched himself back on. It was so much fun!

Is that your monster, Sam?

Is that your monster, Sam?

Then we settled in to play together. I picked up a book and started to read it to Sam. He loved it! All my previous attempts at reading to him had fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. But he really locked onto the first book. So I got out another… and another. Sam had a definite favorite: ‘That’s not my monster’. He was not interested in feeling the pages, but just looked at the pictures and listened. About 5 times. The other books he would have once or twice, but this one: over and over again he was enraptured.

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When I could stand it no more, we sang songs until he got grizzly. I put him in my arms and sang him to sleep in about 2 minutes. He liked ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ way more than ‘Mr Moon’, or ‘Twinkle Twinkle’. We napped together until 10 am when Wes woke up. While I watched Grey’s Anatomy, Wes went and got me an egg biscuit and 2 crafting magazines, and Sam slept on.

An angel in my arms

An angel in my arms

The day passed like this. I just got to know my son. I play peek-a-boo with him most days, and he has never loved it. I learned he doesn’t really like a big, surprise ‘boo’, he likes to watch you slowly peek around a teddy and smile at him. I already knew what his favorite toys are, and I held one of them up for him. I got to watch how much he has changed: he no longer just stares at toys, but engages and anticipates where they will go. He is no longer just ‘not bored’ by them, but engaged and stimulated. It was so much fun watching him.

One of his favorite toys

One of his favorite toys

I read him to sleep again (more ‘That’s Not my Monster’).

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I did what I usually and do and imitated his noises back at him.

I let him lie in his ‘pack n play’ and giggle. I leaned over the pack n play and chatted to him.

In his pack n play, chatting to me

In his pack n play, chatting to me

I sat and read my magazine, while he watched Sesame Street.

We don't mind a little structured TV time if Sam is enjoying it

We don’t mind a little structured TV time if Sam is enjoying it

In truth, I mostly did what I always do with him. But, instead of doing it for 10 minutes before we went to the grocery store, or for 15 minutes before we got dressed for lunch, or doing it while reading a manuscript or at arm’s length while pumping, or my eyes on my email, I did it all with the luxury of time. I did it as if it was the only thing in the world that mattered.

Is THIS your monster, Sam?

Is THIS your monster, Sam?

And you know what? To Sam, it is the only thing that matters.

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We had a fabulous day. We got to know each other so much more. Sam is such an easy, happy baby, it is easy to take him for granted. It is easy to take all those we know for granted. I am so grateful that at the end of a scary and painful experience, I got this: a day learning about the new little person in our house. The best gift I could have asked for.

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We have not been very successful at putting Sam to sleep. In truth, I had a grant due Jan 31st, and another one yesterday (got an extension – phew!). So, I have always bathed with Sam, played with him, fed him while we ate dinner and got Wes to put him to bed. Sam gets wound up and Wes uses the swing to make him sleepy most nights. It’s a battle of Sam fussing, and frustration, and eventually swinging. I remembered that before going back to work full time, I put Sam to bed every night, without a problem.

Tonight, I took the time. I left my unfinished grant (due Monday) and took Sam,a book, and some milk into his room. I read to him, fed him, and sang to him (more ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’) until he was sleepy, laid him down in his crib and patted him to sleep. When he woke 10 min later, I fed him again, and sang him back to sleep in his crib.

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I forgot that we already knew each other inside and out. We just needed to have a chance to show it.

A fantastic reminder of what is important in my life right now.

Post-partum complication reflections

Sam’s birth really comes in three stages to me: the ‘last day‘, the induction and birth, and the post-partum aftermath. Although I was happy to share, in glorious details (too glorious for some?) the first two parts, I have decided not to blog in detail about the last bit. This is because:

(1) I don’t want to be another internet scare story;

(2) It is incredibly painful for my family, and some of my friends, to think about and thus they do not need a permanent reminder to pour over;

(3) I don’t think I have fully processed everything – for example, I still see pictures that haunt me or feel funny when someone writes ‘you nearly died in childbirth’, it’s as if it didn’t actually happen in my mind, at least, it still seems like a story someone told me.

So, in the spirit of positivity, I am not going to rehash the sorry tale (although any curious peeps are perfectly welcome to email me about it – I have a fairly blow-by-blow account I can forward on with no problem), but instead leave you with the thoughts that are in head, as I process the whole sorry tale:

(1) Dear God, I am glad I did not give birth in a birth center after all. Quite simply, I would not be here now. I now do not know where I stand on home / birth center births.

ICU machines

Not available at a birth center…

(2) Wes’ Aunt is a nurse, and is fairly sure that many hospitals in the US would not have been able to cope with the demands of a 10-unit blood transfusion. I ended up at Texas Children’s utterly by chance: they were about the only people who would take me as I moved state mid-pregnancy. I wonder if God was looking out for me at that time.

(3) I am ridiculously grateful I am a health nut. When we went in for the cervadil, as is standard procedure, I was monitored overnight. My temperature is 1 full degree lower than average, my reflexes are (literally) kick ass, and my heart rate drops so low in my sleep that the machines kept sounding alarms for the nurse to come as I had dropped into a Brady (below 50 beats per minute). These are all indicators of good health and our nurse commented “Why, you’re just going to live forever” [words that would later haunt Wes]. I suspect the speed of my recovery, and possibly my recovery itself, was due to a long relationship with weight-lifting, healthy eating and running. I really would urge all my readers to care for their health.

(4) I am amazed at how much humans can rebuild a body. I was left as a kind of shell and it blows my mind how much blood, plasma, fluid etc the doctors could pump into me, and how much they could do to keep my body going: it was for a brief while, almost like I was a vessel and the ‘life’ was just happening artificially outside of me with machines and so on doing all the work. The gifts that Science has given us are incredible.

Body not really functioning outside of the machines here…

(5) That being said, I am also amazed at all the things Science / Medicine couldn’t do. After rebuilding as much as possible, and troubleshooting, the doctors just had to wait to see if my ‘body would take over’. Of course it did, but it took time. It was interesting to me to watch certain systems start working again and reminded me what an amazingly complex and phenomenal thing the human body is.

Body working again

(6) I am clearly not at all used to ‘giving in’ to my body, when it wants to be weak. Every physical and mental challenge, I have just pushed through at taken my body to limits people did not think I was capable of: Tough Mudder? I’ll do it all. Grant due? I’ll work until 2 am every night and STILL train twice a day… I’ll recoup and recover later. This gave me a feeling of invincibility, and it has been hard learning I am not. The recovery was / is difficult… when I pushed it too hard (with ooooh, a trip to the grocery store), I got two infections. My anemia is bad enough that my heart is skipping beats / fluttering as it works extra heard to get oxygen around. Nothing to worry about, but serious signs that I have to be careful. I literally have had to bow down to my body holding me back, or watch it fail. It sucks to be reminded of my limitations, frailty, and human-ness.

Recovering at home – finally.

Writing this out made me realise something hidden deep inside: I used to love my body, because it was so strong. Now I hate it because its weakness betrayed me, and still does, every day. I’ll get over it.

(7) The hardest thing of all – of all – is that Sam’s coming into this world was not met with joy. I still cry when I think of how he – as an innocent little baby – got his start. I came across a picture Wesley took of himself right after he was handed Sam:

 

It breaks my heart that there is no joy here, just sadness that no one could tell him if he would see his wife again. When he called my parents when I was out of OR he said “Well… you have a grandson” but because it was followed up with “but we don’t know if you’ll have a daughter” my parents did not celebrate. In fact, they did not tell anyone about Sam for a couple of days when I was in the clear.

Possibly what breaks my heart the most is that when I was out of the OR and regained consciousness, I was in a lot of pain. I literally yelled and writhed my way through the first night. The nurses asked if Sam should be taken to the nursery and although ‘no separation’ was drummed into me, I was so consumed by my own pain, and so inward looking, I just said “yes. Take him”. I hate that I did that. My head says it was necessary… my heart says I was not a good mother.

Sam watching his Mum in ICU the next day

I also hate that I couldn’t really care for him initially. Sam was placed in my arms and I just held him passively – Wes did feeds and diaper changes, cuddled him, brought him to me. Wes placed him in my arms and I just held him passively. When most people are going home with their babies, I was considered too ill to be allowed to be alone with Sam and had to call a nurse to take him to the nursery if Wes went out (to get food or something). When I was out of ICU, we had a family photo shoot. Usually the Mum holds the baby and the Dad sits behind. I couldn’t really do this, as I could not get close enough to the camera while attached to IV lines, so the photographer said “OK, Dad come to the front, Mum can be in the background”. I wanted to cry as I felt this summed up Sam’s start in life: Mum a useless figure in the background. I worry that there is vital bonding time we’ll never get back.

Not ideal conditions for being a Mum…

Ultimately, the physical recovery was (and still is) tough. I have no immune system and still not enough red blood cells. I get infections easily, and I don’t beat them well. I have an extra layer to my tiredness, and my heart has an irregular beat (this will sort itself out!). But, though I hate that, and hate that I can’t just beat my body into submission, I get better and better every day and soon will be left with no visible traces of the ordeal. Emotionally, I think the wounds will take a bit longer to heal. That is where the scars will be.

On a happier note, it was of course all worth it, and if the Frazier-Wood’s can get through this OK, they can get through anything! Wes was amazing, and this was a bonding experience for us. There were happy times even in that first week, and there will be many more.

Now… back to blogging about happy topics. It’s advent, which means I have a whole lot of decorating and crafts to tell you about 🙂