lessons in trust: a breastfeeding story

Two months ago, one ordinary morning Rivers decided to wean himself. For the last few weeks we’d been down to one breastfeeding cuddle a day. The fact that it was only once daily made it quite painful for me physically. My body was regressing back to its former sensitivity, the pre-suckling baby sensitivity. He was 22 months at this point, so when he decided to skip his “bop bop” breakfast, I really didn’t mind. Maybe I was a bit relieved even.

The next morning he skipped again, instead following Daddy straight into the kitchen for oatmeal. He never requested our time together later in the day, and I never insisted. This went on for a couple weeks, then suddenly it was as if he remembered I was there, or really that my “bop bops” were there. But by then my breasts had shrunk. I was dry and my breasts far too sensitive to oblige. I could only hold him close, a winter sweater between the space that once held his head to my chest. Our relationship had evolved and we could not reverse time. We both cried a little, because change is tough.

My journey as a mother would not be complete without my breastfeeding experience and it’s absolutely not because of the actual act. The act itself did not complete me. In actuality I never felt the bursts of bliss that some mothers express. The experience for me was a lesson in trust. I had to trust the tiny person who knew more about breastfeeding than his new mother. I had to give him time to find his way, allow him to be fussy (to do the on again, off again dance), to hang on me All. Day. Long. during teething periods or growth spurts, and eventually allow him to do gymnastics on my face when he still requested breastmilk even after he was on a steady diet of solids. I had to trust my body. I had to trust that I was giving “enough,” because the moment I became anxious about it, my flow would begin to diminish. I never gave extra, but I trusted myself and I always had just enough for my single baby bird.

Before his arrival I had set a flexible goal of breastfeeding for one year, but by the time the first month passed I was in such pain that I had to exclusively pump for two days while Jonathan bottle fed. The first time I bottle fed Rivers, I wept terribly because he was so fussy, determined to wiggle his head into my fuzzy robe and get at the real thing. I kept thinking, if I make it to month three and this is still painful, I’ll quit. Month three was fine, but the pain crept back by month four, then disappeared again for good until recently when our days slowly dwindled. I had to trust that, like any physical exercise, my body would adjust and my nipples would toughen. They did.

As we neared a year, and Rivers became more physically active, he seemed to nurse less and less. I almost thought our days were over, but my instincts told me otherwise. If he refused me, I pumped. Nothing worth keeping ever came out of the sessions, but I kept up the activity to keep the milk glands active just in case. I trusted my instincts and sure enough he was back to nursing like clockwork.

Sometime after Rivers’ first year, a female farmer at the greenmarket unabashedly asked if I was still breastfeeding. It turned out that she had practiced extended breastfeeding with her son through his early toddler years and swore he never went through the terrible twos because of the practice. Her produce partner teased, “Oh yeah, did he skip the terrible threes? What about the terrible fours, or terrible fives? Are you just going to breastfeed him till he goes through puberty?”  Though he seemed to be doing this in a friendly manner I couldn’t help but remember a time when I reacted similarly (internally, thank goodness) when a coworker told me she’d been breastfed until the age of three and even had memories of it. When my mother in-law first told me she’d breastfed both her children at least two years my eyes bulged a little. My mother breastfed, but extended breastfeeding was definitely a new term for me. I learned much more about it when I realized our journey was not over on Rivers’ first birthday. I talked to and read stories from other mothers and trusted that they were not crazy or smothering, but simply balancing the needs and wants of their child with their own instincts and boundaries.

After the first year of breastfeeding, the second came easily. We were practiced at the dance, and quite a dance it could be with a toddler! I could envy the farmer who took care of her son’s “terrible twos” by shaking her breasts. I wouldn’t mind doing the same as Rivers enters that stage of his life, but if I hadn’t learned to trust that we would both know when our time was truly over, then I wouldn’t have learned anything at all.

06.13

 

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natural teething relief: stage 2

Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.
— a riddle by Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit

©fourwoodthinking

He may not yet have thirty, but eight teeth have moved in and matured his smile. It’s almost been a month now. And he’s hungrier than ever! Maybe even a little bit of a trouble-maker now as well. He has weapons and he uses them. The phrase of the day, every day, for the past several weeks has been “no bite!”

Previously I posted about his first two toof-ers and combating teething pain with the use of an amber necklace and large frozen carrot slices. Both worked amazingly until the upper teeth appeared. Obviously once the champing began, the necklace had to go. The carrot slices were also held back after an incident in which Rivers shoved an entire slice in his jaw. He peered up at me with an expression of  ‘uh-oh, now what?’ I replied with panic sweats and swiftly swept it from his mouth. Soon I replaced them with something that could melt in case he decided to test the limits again.

On a whim, while racing through the grocery store one day, I purchased ring-pop popsicle molds. They seemed like the perfect size for a little one to practice hand-coordination and enjoy a frozen treat to sooth the gums. Best investment ever! We used them all summer long. Honestly I may have been more excited about them for myself. They are ring pops after all! If and when my friends start having babies, I won’t even bother with the registry. Everyone’s getting a ring-pop popsicle mold. Watching a baby indulge on a tiny popsicle is pure cuteness. There is really nothing else necessary.

Now that weather is frigid there is no use letting the boy cover himself in frozen fruit puree. I reluctantly packed up the popsicles and replaced them with homemade frozen bagels. I’m a fan of the edible teething toys. They disappear, which is perfect for a small apartment. Plus they serve two purposes, function and filler. Belly filler. It’s been quite some time now since my little man has looked up at me to rescue him from a bite bigger than he can chew. I may think his bites are too big, but he’s proving to me more and more each day what he’s capable of. I made bagels as teething toys. I didn’t actually expect he would eat them entirely!

bagels

the heartache of returning to work

©fourwoodthinking

My eyes are red and still slightly damp from tears. My sinus is inflamed from the collision between my nose and a baby’s head that occurred several days prior, but today’s crying doesn’t help. These emotions are a mingle of excitement, confusion and pain. The abrupt bursts are seemingly unending. I’m suffering from a first world problem, which makes me feel worse. Out of the blue, just as I began thinking, just thinking about going back to work, I was offered a job. It’s a good fit, so I accepted. Once I began the victory dance around the kitchen, my son crawled in, grinning ear to ear. Seeing him, my heart grew two sizes and then shattered all over the floor.

Why did I just negotiate to leave him?

The plan was never to be a permanent play-at-home mama. Having a child never dampened my desire to have a career. When he was barely two months old I returned to the pastry kitchen, practically running to get there the first day. It was like having a day off compared to at-home parenthood.  The work seemed less taxing and it was amazing to converse with other adult again, but something was missing. The same joys of accomplishment I’d once received were no longer evident. Jonathan and I juggled parenting and work, but ultimately it was more finically feasible for one parent to stay home consistently. I happily returned.

Certainly no other position has been more strenuous or challenging. The past seven months have drastically widened my appreciation for parents who drop outside careers to raise kids. While friends complained about the muck they dealt with in their jobs, I dealt with literal muck in diapers. My boss was unpredictable and needy just like theirs. The only difference is that I could never honestly vent about him without garnering strange looks. I love my son unconditionally, but only the sweet older lady at the sandwich shop has understood. “I bet some days you feel like you could sell him to the lowest bidder.” Absolutely! But today isn’t one of them.

Today I hold him and cry. And cry. And cry some more. Empathy is lost on the baby. He reacts with hysterical laughter followed by a joyful slap to the face. Perhaps my mood is intense because the change is sudden. Unlike the previous time, I don’t have two months to mentally prepare. I have a week. This time it’s not temporary. Jonathan is transitioning toward a full-time tattoo career.  Since it’s client-based and clients can be unreliable we will be once again share outside jobs and child care.

My partner is an amazing father and our son’s whole face lights up in his presence. I’m a blessed individual who doesn’t have to worry about the competency of my child’s caregiver during my absences, or about applying for a job because apparently they just appear. I’ve been blessed (although sometimes I felt cursed) to have spent such an immense amount of quality time with my little dude. He’s old enough to play independently and request daily doses of alone time. He doesn’t require my particular attention as often. It’s a good time to go back to work. I want to go to work. I know these things to be true, but my heart still aches. Who knew it would be this hard.

little projects

©fourwoodthinking

©fourwoodthinking

©fourwoodthinking

©fourwoodthinking

©fourwoodthinking

We’re not hiding, I promise. But it does seems as though we’ve been MIA the last couple weeks. Just a few writings here and there, mostly recipes. Rivers is going through a new stage where he thinks he’s the Energizer Bunny. Naps are few and far between, and when they occur, I have been active on other tasks.

–bringing the outdoors in with colorful pillows.

–ordering prints and sending out greetings.

–sharpening kitchen tools and oiling baby spoons.

–mending the ever-unwrapping kitty post.

–refurbishing old to new for Rivers’ nursery corner.

Of course when he wakes, the party begins again.

Let me know what you’re doing. Leave me a link. My RSS feed is so…forgotten at this point. I’d love to read and catch up.

observation & journal entries

painting

Stretched out along the hardwood floor, belly down, with unbelievable yearning he somehow makes his way to the cats’ water bowl. He’s slashing around like a victor and I’m utterly perplexed, because I’ve been watching him the entire time and still don’t understand how he made it from point A to point B.

Sometimes I think of myself more of a scientist than a mama. My technique in raising a child is observation. I never aspired to be a scientist, it just sort of happened. One day I noticed that the same way he focuses on the specks of grape skins in his fruit puree, I study his physic, expression and mood. We both look so closely and attentively.

One mighty blow and popsicle debris litters the hallway. His expression seems to say, “I wonder why it did that,” while I am left wondering, why did he do that? 

Watching his chubby little fingers grasp at a wad of cat fur in a forgotten corner. Thank goodness, it has yet to enter his mouth. But his face is lit up as if he’s found the greatest treasure on Earth.

goat yogurt/beans

I placed a plastic bowl of veggie puree in front of him and moved away to wash dishes. He looked up at me with a sweet mix of desperation and earnest. Of course! He’s never witnessed us eating finger food. To feed him yes, but not ourselves. He had no idea what to do and was not the least bit curious about making a mess. It’s better not to eat alone anyway, and so I sat with him and encouraged him to help me with the spoon.

I have a routine; one large towel down, one bucket filled with warm water and bubbles, one small towel to the side and one wash cloth ready. This is how bath time turns into an hour-long pool session. He loves them and so do I. The mess is not sticky and smells…clean.

Peach season is the best! Above all the benefits, my baby smells so good.

He’s less enthused about holding his popsicle in his chair, so I leave him on the floor only to discover that he’s painting the walls with frozen fruit. And his pants. And if I am too close, he paints my pants. He doesn’t seem devious or even overjoyed, simply concentrated. It’s as if he thinks this is just another method of using a popsicle. If mama gets to close, you must paint her. That’s just what you do.

feet

He’s yet to crawl in any recognizable form, but he pulls himself up onto everything now. I fear for us all.

Standing for too long (and by too long I’m referring to just under five minutes) and he’s screaming in pain. His muscles are working so hard, there must be a burn somewhere. He refuses to give in. He’d rather scream and stand than sit back in the hand that mama offers to his toosh.

Jonathan tells me I should let the boy self sooth more often for my own sanity. Today I left him to his mat and toys as I prepared the beginnings for bread making. He never screamed, but the usual fussiness that attracts my observational eye was ignored in place of this new technique. After a little time, he was too quiet. I looked in the room only to have my heart drop. He was completely gone! Or so I though. He was behind the door, straddling the cats’ scratching post. The one unraveling rogue strip of twine was in his mouth like a straw from a cup, and his little hands were full of twine tufts. Needless-to-say I’m dumping Jonathan’s technique right after I repair the scratching post.

grass

Grass beware. My son wants a piece of you. A really, really big piece.

He’s eaten dirt, sand, grass, ocean water, flowers, leaves and bits of gravel. A little discovery is good. Today he attempted to lick a pole on the subway. Over my dead body!

His outburst are within reason, I’m sure. But they are beyond my feeble mind. It cannot be a wet toosh, because he has no diaper or hunger because he’s refused the breast. Could it really be as simple as being angry at the wooden spoon for unexpectedly flying from his hand and onto the other side of the room? How dare it.

He’s trained me well. Whenever I hiss to initiate urination for him, instinctively I have to go. It’s always the moment I give in and go that, upon my return, I find a fresh puddle on the floor.

Life is not about getting things done, but about knowing when to give in. To let go of the mess, the projects,  personal outlets and succumb to the present moment.

sunshine

You are the sunshine of my life.

classic first-time-mom mistake

Her face was distorted, a blend of confusion and disgust. With a condescending tone she asked, “Don’t you have a tissue?” There were two, quarter-size splashes of milk on the store floor, however most of the mess, the stream, was running entirely down my leg and into my slip-on Toms.  And no, I did not have a single tissue, or towel or rag or anything. I’d forgotten them all at home!

©fou

I’m going to back up a little tell you about my hilarious, or not so hilarious mess. Having a brother who is about fourteen years my junior makes me sometimes prideful that, while I am a first time mother, I don’t always act like it because of all the so-called experience I have.  Apparently I never learned how to properly pack a diaper bag. Usually it’s overloaded with useless items that, in addition to the baby on my chest, leave me feeling more like a pack-mule than a carefree on-the-go mama.  On this particular day though, I could have used all the extras.

Considering the influx of heat advisories over the past few weeks, it was definitely time to flee the neighborhood. Both of us were a little under the weather, so I figured an outing would do us good. I had it all planned out. A quick stroll through a department store for Halloween items (I’m not a natural seamstress, so yes I’m starting early on costumes) followed by lunch with papa and then the farmers’ market. We’d leave by midday and be home way before rush hour. Perfect. I anticipated all of the weight I’d have to juggle on the ride and walk home, so I packed my purse carefully and only rolled a couple cloth bags for produce. I replaced the diaper bag with a smaller purse, and aside from my personal necessities I packed two diapers, a nose aspirator, one small toy, sun hat and a couple wipes tucked in a ziplock. The thought of packing a rag or an extra outfit faded with the realization that neither had been necessary in so long that I couldn’t remember the last time they’d actually been used while we were out.

Oh, silly mama.

Months earlier with a large, round pregnant belly I walked around that particular department store. Around the baby section, touching all of the fuzzy footsie and daydreaming about the day I would put my little bundle into the cart seat, stroll along and compare clothing lengths to the length of my child. My vision did not include a happy baby attempting to hurl himself out of his seat and into racks of rainbow textiles. My efforts to compare his size to an outfit were met with wrestling matches and squeals of complete ecstasy. He must have thought shopping was the best game ever. Perhaps he was having too much fun and laughing too hard. Once I wrangled him back into the carrier and had him snuggled belly to belly, he began coughing and choking.

I asked if he was okay and he looked up just in time for the flood gate to open and warm regurgitated milk to flow out like a mass exodus. Right at that moment I relived a flashback of being very young and watching another child, across the grocery store aisle, completely demolish the floor with an unexpected upchuck. Without hesitation, his mother whisked him out of sight. As a kid I was simultaneously appalled by the mess and amazed by his mother’s swift reaction. Here I was now the mother and my eyes were just bulging.

They say, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” Maybe there should be an alternate expression, something like, “Don’t panic over regurgitated milk from your baby, dripping down your leg and filling your shoe.” My little one finished with a smile of relief, just in time for our fellow shopper to roll by and ask if I had a tissue to clean the floor. Never mind my soaked body. I wanted to start laughing, but she was sincere with concern, so I simply thanked her and directed myself straight to the restroom. Of course the store did not have a diaper station! The joke was really all over me that afternoon. Needless-to-say we checked out with a new onesie so that at least one of us would be clean for lunch.

After recounting the experience to Jonathan, I have no doubt we will forever use the phrase, “Don’t you have a tissue,” to tease one another over clumsy accidents in the future.  As my shoes soak in a bath of baking soda and my pants, shirt, bra, the carrier, his romper and diaper (what a mess) all swirl around in the wash, I can confidently say that the diaper bag is already pre-packed for the next outing, complete with several lightweight and highly absorbent rags. Of course this probably means that there will never be another big mess again until the day we forget the bag.

bedtime breakdancer

©fourwoodthinking

My vacation alarm clock has two feet instead of two hands.  In place of an annoying noise erupting at the chosen hour, whimpering or laughter breaks out, while those little feet repeatedly kick my back.  The hour for wake-up is consistent, but certainly not chosen by me.

Prior to our vacation, Jonathan and I occasionally welcomed Rivers into our bed for naps or the last few hours of a long night. We’re both heavy sleepers who hog the bed, so neither of us planned to regularly sleep with our baby, but on particular days it worked out well. I cherish the memory of waking up with my newborn facing me, almost nose to nose, breathing in the same rhythm. His soft, sweet breath touching my face. Fast forward several months and my sweet sleeping companion has become a bedtime breakdancer, spinning on his back and lifting his legs high!

It’s funny how I assumed co-sleeping with my baby for vacation would be a breeze.  I thought  all the stimulation of family-visiting would help him sleep soundly by my side. What a joke! Neither of us slept pleasantly the first couple days, so in an effort to get an adequate amount of rest, I moved my little boy to a baby-sized reclining chair next to the bed a few nights ago. Around 5:30am he woke me with some whimpering. I patted his tummy. He was fine, so we both fell back asleep. Next thing I know, it’s 6:45am and he’s whimpering again, this time with a bit more effort. I peaked over to his chair to see that he’s missing! I leapt out of bed as my skin emitted the familiar panic sweat. At the foot of the chair, there he was stretched out on the carpet. A thumb in his mouth, eyes closed and pitching his toes with the free hand. He’d used his legs to gradually scoot all the way out. My skin cooled and guilt dissipated as soon as we locked eyes, and his thumb was abandoned for a great gummy smile. Babies just love to scare.

The chair is gone! We gave him his own space last night by making a little bed on the floor. It’s odd how Rivers will nap like a stone in the most awkward places and in the most seemingly uncomfortable positions. His first breakfast is always in bed, laying next to me. After I sneak out he doesn’t whimper or budge. He just sleeps calmly for an extra hour or two. How is it that he can’t sleep like that once the sun disappears and the last dinner has been served? Is this a sign he’s destined to be a late night party animal? Certainly he’s getting good practice with his dance moves. I woke this morning to find his head where his feet had been just hours before.

©fourwoodthinking

peekaboo

peekaboo

I took a little hiatus from the blog to help my little man get through allergy season. Poor kid takes after papa, so I was a bit of a clueless caretaker initially. His allergies have curbed somewhat with use of the humidifier, recent rainfall and extra breastfeeding. He’s been bubbly through the entire experience, and of course, I’m now under-the-weather. Go figure. No matter how well I cleaned up, that much snot being spread around by a little machine would make anyone sick.

just relax

himbababy

“A loved baby has all the advantages, no matter where it grows up.”
–Thomas Balmes, documentary filmmaker

Several years ago I watched a documentary called Babies, about four tiny individuals from different parts of the globe who are followed during their first year of life. No narration. No subtitles.  Just babies. It was poetic and engaging and I loved it. Now that I have a baby, I figured we could watch it together. Of course he loved it too. He’s recently discovered the boy in the mirror, so anyone like him is instantly entertaining. As he tried communicating to the babies on screen, I found myself watching a different documentary than my initial viewing. There are few adult scenes, but I absorbed them in a familiar way. Especially one in particular where a Himba mother breastfeeds a fussy baby repeatedly detaching and reattaching himself between cries. She seemed undisturbed and only continued to offer her milk.

This made me consider the society which I live, compared to hers. It seems as though modern women are conditioned to be concerned if feedings don’t go smoothly. A fussy baby means the mother’s diet is off, supply is too low, let down is too fast, the position is wrong or any number of things we can think of! It’s so reassuring to see a tribal woman presented with the same issue, yet what does she do? She’s unconcerned. Relaxed. And continues to offer him. Sometimes babies are just fussy. As Jonathan says, “[We should] stop reading the internet,” relax and continue to offer food, comfort and love.

Added Note: My entry is not to undermine serious breastfeeding issues. In most cases, especially from my own experience, I think we easily jump to conclusions. Watching the clip gave me encouragement and a reminder that we’re not always going to be in sync with our babies, and that’s okay.

*The photo featured is of a carefree boy I met on safari in Nambia, years ago.*

my first mother’s day

hand0413

Every attempt I make to reflect upon my first Mother’s Day is redirected, because of my complete distraction of this chubby little hand.  For once I caught it without the usual slobbery shine! Each time I glance up, it reminds me of Rivers’ favorite song. Near the end of my eight month of pregnancy, I compiled a playlist for labor. I wanted baby Dragon to be welcomed by Ella Fitzgerald, Salt n’Pepa and everyone in between. When the time finally arrived, I didn’t want to listen to any music. There was one song I never thought to add to the list, but it found it’s way into my head.  It played over and over and I couldn’t escape it. Your Song, by Elton John. I chose a long list with such care and in the end Rivers chose his own.  I know it’s his, as he prefers it to all others even now. The Ellie Goulding version.

I did have such a lovely first Mother’s Day.  Brunch with my men, then an afternoon with the girls and Rivers on the waterfront.  Cards, flowers and and overwhelming amount of sweet greeting from family, friends and even strangers! I feel so loved.