Today, we have been breastfeeding for six months. When I say we, I mean, me, The Caddie, Tom and the village it has taken to get here. Six months ago, I wanted to get to three months. The first 6 weeks were brutal. I have very little memory of most of it, mostly just a haze of late night feedings, sleepy newborn head on my chest, a LOT of lanolin, warm showers, learning to nurse standing up so I could sway my screaming baby side to side in an attempt to 5 S her into submission, learning to nurse laying down when I was too weak with the stomach flu to hold her, learning to nurse in a crammed airplane seat while she kicked her feet on the arm rests, learning to nurse in public so I could eat in a restaurant and breast pads EVERYWHERE. Weeks 6-11 were pretty breezy. I was still on leave, we’d gotten the hang of pretty much everything and 5 hours of sleep on the regular turned me back into a normal human(ish). I became one of the moms at breastfeeding group who was comforting the moms with 10 day olds. I could work the stroller with one hand and get six bags and the kid into the car with the other. My kid smiled at me (like REALLY SMILED) and took such obvious comfort in nursing, my only heartbreak during that time was knowing I would have to leave her for 10ish hours a day fairly soon. My first few weeks back at work were surprisingly good. I was busy but not too busy. Pumping enough milk came easily and I was able to continue to add to the freezer stash. I found that I actually enjoyed working and was a more patient and energetic mom to The Caddie when I was home with her. We established play and bath and dinner and bedtime routines. Her night waking petered down to a 3:30 a.m. session and then a 6:30 a.m. before I left for work. At Month 3, I was SURE I could make it to six.
And then Month 4 hit. I had a long trial that lasted for weeks and had to fight to find time to pump. I pumped in the parking garage before and after court (On battery, which SUCKED), and convinced a grumpy probate secretary to let me use her private bathroom (With an outlet! And a lock!) so I could pump once, maybe twice if I could catch a break, during the day in the courthouse. When I wasn’t in court, I was working long hours and would lose track of time and forget to pump until 4-5 hours had passed. And my milk supply suffered. Horrendously. I counted ounces coming out of the freezer and realized we would be done before the month was up if things didn’t change. I cried because I was afraid that I would eventually not be able to nurse when I WAS around. (Explanation: My motivation has always come more from the relationship-aspect of nursing and less from the nutrition side. I could care less about pumping and providing expressed milk but without it, my supply at home could dwindle to where I couldn’t nurse The Caddie on nights and weekends and I would miss that part of it).
So I emailed/texted my support team (We’ll call them A, J, K and L for anonymity sake). They rallied around me. Offered me hugs and pats on the back for making it so far. Did not judge me for considering letting it all go and gradually head towards stopping nursing. They gave me bits of gentle advice and lots of exclamation points of encouragement. (Slightly offtopic: Email and text are a working mom’s best friend because WHEN would we ever find the time to talk on the phone without a kid screaming in the background, let alone get together in person.) So I started with lactation cookies (recipes courtesy of A and K) and fenugreek and blessed thistle and committing myself to pumping every two hours no matter what. I took a cue from J and power pumped on weekends (which is a nursing and pumping combo that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as its name indicates) and added a pumping session before work and after bedtime. My supply recovered, my stress levels subsided and I was still nursing my baby when we were together. We had survived another month.
And then Month 5 hit. And I was sick and tired of how much effort everything took. Sick of staying up two hours after putting The Caddie down for bed to pump (or waiting that two hours to have a second glass of wine), sick of pumping my body full of cookies and disgusting tinctures and teas (seriously, more milk plus? That shit is GROSS. Someone needs to work on that.), sick of seeing my supply plummet anytime I tried to eat anything remotely geared towards me losing my baby belly, sick of stressing about how I was going to make it, sick of cleaning pump parts, sick of lugging my pump everywhere, sick of the SOUND of my pump. Also, in a cruel twist of fate, at this exact same time, The Caddie hit that lovely developmental stage where she was impatient and distracted so our post-work and pre-bedtime nursing sessions became a battle. She would cry because the milk wouldn’t come fast enough, squirm and pull and latch off and on and I would smile down at her (Quick explanation: I’ve always forced myself to smile at her while nursing because when I was going through the first 6 weeks, there were lots of tears and I hated to think she’d be seeing me crying all the time, and it ended up making me more relaxed. A fake it till I make it sort of thing. I know, it’s weird) but inside I was dying. I felt like I was starving her and should just throw in the towel and let her have a bottle (thus further depleting my sad freezer stash). With a little help from my working mama friends A and J, I stuck with it. They told me it was normal, it would pass and if I wanted to keep going I could. If I didn’t, I didn’t have to. So I took a LOT of deep breaths. I handed her off to Tom sometimes or laid her in the crib for a few minutes if he wasn’t there to take a break and start nursing again. I drank more water than I ever thought humanly possible. And I TALKED to Tom about how I was feeling, even the parts about starting to not like nursing (which was always the part that made all the pumping crap worth it). I admitted how hard it was and how painful it was to “make” The Caddie nurse when I knew she wanted the bottle. Somehow, it felt better just saying those things out loud. It all seemed easier and manageable for him to know how it really was. And we decided to take it day by day and week by week.
AND we decided to completely change up our strategy. From here on out, no more taking from the freezer if I came up short. She got what I pumped and she would have to make up the difference when we were together. To make his life easier (i.e. minimize any screaming hungry baby time), we also decided to start solids and get her on a nap, eat, play schedule (which we had never done before). Lactivists and the AAP should just leave the room now because yes, you read that right, this hardcore breastfeeding mama started solids a month early. The Caddie was just ready. I don’t know how else to say it. We slowly(ish) integrated into her day some sweet potatoes, pears and whole grain organic rice cereal (I almost want to throw up writing that last bit but my mom guilt sent me straight to the fancy schmancy health food store for the best whole grain infant cereal money could buy. Go figure). And holy shit, it worked. Two small “meals” a day and two big bottles before nap time and I was back to pumping enough for her to be away from me during the work day. I even had EXTRA to put in the freezer. We ran into some constipation issues, but after 2 days of no cereal (the culprit) a LOT of prunes and some prune juice and water, The Caddie’s large intestine fell right back in line. And man does that kid love food. It has been SO.MUCH. fun watching her try new things, and now reaching for the spoon and feeding herself some finger friendly foods. She LOVES peaches, pears and green beans. Enjoys sweet potatoes, peas, carrots and mangoes. HATES bananas (her only truly hated food at the moment) even when I mixed only one banana in a batch of 8 peaches, she refused to eat any of it. With that sensitive of a palate, maybe she’ll be a food critic someday. I have found real enjoyment in making her food but we’ve also used some premade packets so it has stayed enjoyable rather than a burden.
And nursing. Nursing has become good again. She nuzzles herself in at night and it’s like the old days when she was just a wee 11 week old. She rarely becomes frustrated when nursing (and if she does, it’s usually during the day on weekends and a dark quiet room with her blankie in tow usually does the trick) and I don’t feel stressed or scared that she is not getting enough. We’ve estimated her milk intake to be 22oz most days, which means I have 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. wake-up calls most days, but I’ve adjusted to it so much it’s barely noticeable.
So here we are. The big SIX. MONTHS. I don’t know what the future holds. I still hate pumping and my supply is sort of down and I am finding it hard to find the energy and motivation to ramp up the pumping like I know I should. It’s starting to seem more important to take her to the beach on our Sunday family day rather than stay home and power pump. And to enjoy a martini with my husband and go to bed at a reasonable hour rather than stay up two hours to get that extra session in on weekdays. But I’m really okay with it. We are in a happy place and if things wind down from here, I know we’ll all be fine.
So that all said, here is my Reaching My Breastfeeding Goal Oscar acceptance speech. I’d like to thank everyone who helped get me here, without which none of this would have possible.
- The Caddie: Without your Hoover-like first latch, and coming out of the womb making feeding cues, I don’t know if we would’ve made it past the first week. I hope we can continue on this journey together until it ends in a way that is best for both of us.
- Tom: Your openness to new ideas, your willingness to learn how to navigate this crazy working/pumping/nursing schedule, your patience with me and with The Caddie (lest we not forget her bottle-refusing days), your confidence in defending our nursing decisions (i.e. being the first one to tell anyone who would listen that feeding on demand would not overfeed the baby and that the baby using me as a pacifier was a GOOD thing), your eagerness to try new things (You want me to get through the whole day with only 10oz?? Whaaa???) and your sympathetic ear when things get tough are qualities for which I can’t really express how grateful I am (I think me at a loss for words is pretty telling). Your sense of humor hasn’t been too shabby either, nor has your ability to always know what kind of cocktail to have ready and just *how* much sushi to order when I get home on Friday based on the type of week it’s been.
- My mother: You made those early days bearable and every day afterwards manageable. You set the example of how breastfeeding and being a working mom could work even when it was hard. You laugh with me, not at me, and I have never felt anything but positive support coming from your direction. You’ve been a sympathetic ear and a role model for me as a mother. You give me breaks when I don’t ask for them, help when I need it most and such unconditional support in intangible ways that thanking you for the rest of my life wouldn’t be enough.
- My mother-in-law: If you told me now that you had never breastfed, I would never know. You have been so open to new ideas, which I know must have been strange to you, and learning with us along the way, without a single word of negativity or judgment. Your positivity and patience has helped Tom and I become better parents. I feel so encouraged by you and so at ease when The Caddie is in your care. You should teach a class to all mother-in-laws. Seriously.
- My sister-in-law: You got me started with everything I needed. The right books, the right “equipment” (aside from my boobs of course) and an unwavering faith that I could do this. We don’t always have a ton in common as women or as people (feminist dystopian literature aside), but as mothers, you are a kindred spirit and I can not imagine going through this journey without you. You make me excited to see where motherhood takes us and the love and support you have shown to me and The Caddie makes me embarrassingly emotional.
- My breastfeeding support group: You were a place to go when I couldn’t go anywhere else. I showed up exhausted, terrified and overwhelmed and left laughing and ready to conquer another week. I learned from other’s mistakes (I was THIS close to pumping myself into engorgement when J put the brakes on that, I’m still thankful even now!) and saw the light at the end of the tunnel in the other mom’s older babies. You were my safe haven for so long and I still miss you sometimes.
- L, K and B: We all tried breastfeeding and as you’ve all told me (in one fashion or another) “it just wasn’t in the cards for S (or B or M) and I.” But you ladies have been as invaluable to my motherhood and nursing experience these past 6 months as any of my nursing friends. Our talks about sleep, food, behavior, post-baby exercise (or lack thereof), car seats, strollers, socializing, marital issues, crazy clients, crazy schedules and pretty much everything else keep me going some days. You’ve taught me that breastmilk isn’t a magic potion worth losing myself over. You’ve taught me that the mommy wars don’t have to apply to us and you give me perspective and tell me (in much kinder words) when I’m being a smug, insensitive asshole. These things stick with me and when and if the time comes to make a decision to stop nursing, I know I will feel right about it because of you. You make my life funnier and easier with every text, email, gchat and tweet.
- A and J: My working and nursing moms. Whether or not I would still be nursing is irrelevant, the bottom line is I’d be a puddle on the floor without either of you. You make me laugh ALL the time. You make this whole crazy ride seem fun even when it hasn’t been fun for days. You read emails of mine that are of ungodly length and don’t even blink. I feel less whiny and almost normal because of you. I’m not scared of what the future holds because I know that if I want to keep nursing, you guys will help me find a way to do it. If I need to bitch about work being demanding, wanting to go Office Space on my pump, my stupid husband (that day), the constant state of disaster that is my bathroom and the laundry, the fact that I wore a pump-unfriendly dress and had to pump with my entire dress pulled up to my neck or just the general impossible expectations of working mothers, you are there and you make me laugh about it all. If either of you go anywhere, I’m moving to Australia.
- My own sheer force of will: Pumping in parking garages and court bathrooms sucks ass. But you did it. Trying to feed a screaming, squirming child who wants nothing more than to be out of your arms and in the arms of her dad with a bottle sucks ass. But you did it. Slathering your bleeding, cracked nipples in lanolin only to hear the baby grunting and smacking her lips to eat again sucks ass. But you did it. Telling clients and work colleagues that you have to pump because yes, you’re still doing that, sucks ass. But you are doing it. Having a kid who still wakes up in the middle of the night because you’ve had to reverse cycle her to meet her milk needs when all of your other friends’ kids are sleeping all the way through to the morning SUCKS. ASS. But you are doing it. Cause you kick ass. And I love you.
I may amend this list upon further reflection, because I am SURE that I am missing people. My village is HUGE and it’s almost impossible to thank everyone on a day when I’m writing this but should be writing something else so I need to finish up or this will never get posted. Thank you thank you thank you. You all fucking rule. And sorry Mom, I had to swear. I mean it that much.
Wife to the Daddy, Mama to The Caddie/CEO, Esq.