The A-Ha Moment

A friend of mine recently asked if she could interview me for a research project involving breastfeeding. She needed someone who is currently breastfeeding, someone who successfully breastfed, and someone who…well…failed.

Guess which one I am??

I can do many things. I can make a mean crockpot soup; I can dress one child with one hand, change the other one’s diaper with the other hand, and use my foot to keep the dog away from the breakfast bars that they’ve abandoned on the living room floor; I can drink my coffee while cleaning mystery liquids from various household surfaces and not even gag! (and that’s kind of a big deal when you have 2 kids and a dog- there’s a lot of stuff coming out of ALL of them)

But I can’t breastfeed.

Trust me, I tried. Twice. These girls just don’t work.

Does that mean it doesn’t come back and smack me in the face every now and then? Of course not. Any opportunity to doubt myself is met with roaring fanfare by my brain. So as I sat at my computer reading through the interview questions (on my LUNCH hour, if you’re reading this, person from HR), I came across one that struck a chord.

“Tell me about a time you felt re-affirmed about your decision to stop breastfeeding.”

Was it even a decision? It felt like more of an “if you don’t buy some formula your kid is going to starve” type scenario.

Nonetheless, there is one “a-ha” moment that I clearly remember. I’m pretty sure all moms have it. That moment when you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on. The boob ship has sailed. Ok, you get it.

I think it was mid-afternoon, less than a month after Vince was born. I was sitting on the couch, carefully arching my back to keep the pumps in place while I let go for just a second to drink another few ounces of water, which, according to Lactation Consultant #2 and the breastfeeding book I was re-reading, would increase my milk flow. It hadn’t worked so far, but I was pretty certain that between the water, the lactation tea, the special diet, the yoga, the breathing exercises, the duct massages and the perfectly-timed frequency of pumping sessions, my boobs were soon going to wake up from their lazy slumber and turn into a milk factory. I might even be able to store extra milk! Or donate it!

I looked down at the bottles- ½ ounce in the left, 2oz in the right. I had been pumping for 30 minutes.

But it was ok. Any day now, I was going to be a milk…machine? A cow. I was going to be a cow!

I heard a squeak. Then a little whine. Then full-on screaming. Vince was awake, and he wanted to be held. But…I couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. It had only been 30 minutes and I needed to pump for a solid hour to get enough for his next two feedings. The books, the magazines, the social media posts- they were clear. Breast is Best. Breastmilk is THE way to bond with your baby. I couldn’t just take the pumps off now- I only had 2.5oz! That was crazy- I couldn’t stunt his cognitive development like that. We needed to BOND. And the best way to do that was with breastmilk, according to the article I had just read in that mom group on Facebook.

In an attempt to calm him, I started singing to him from across the room. I made up a song about how Mommy was making him a meal to make him big and strong and healthy and happy….and he began screaming louder. He was hysterical. And suddenly, so was I.

I took stock of my life in that moment. What the hell was I doing? I was sitting on the couch, back arched, 2 largely ineffective pumps attached to my chest, reading a book I had read 3 times already, crossing my legs to prevent myself from having an accident after drinking ridiculous amounts of water. I did this every 3 hours, 24 hours per day, all in the name of bonding with and nurturing my son.

But you know what I wasn’t doing?

Bonding with or nurturing my son.

I turned off the pumps; I tossed the book on the floor; and I picked up my baby. I held him against me for what seemed like forever, and we sobbed together (he stopped long before I did). Maybe breast was best, but not if it took me away from my baby and my sanity. I knew what I needed to do.

I’d like to say that was the moment I switched to formula, but it wasn’t. I spent another 4 grueling weeks dealing with 2 bouts of mastitis, pumping to no avail, and assuring my midwife, who was practically begging me to give up, that “It’s going to happen. Any day now.”

It never happened.

My midwife explained that for a very small percentage of women, breastfeeding just isn’t successful. I refused to believe that my 32G’s were in that group. How could they NOT have milk? What the hell was in there? Helium?!

But after 8 weeks, 2 infections, about 1 hour of sleep per night, and little to no results, I accepted it the best way I could- by driving to Whole Foods, grabbing a can of organic formula, and crying my eyes out in the baby aisle.

Once that formula was in my cabinet, I spent every hour of every day convinced that I had failed my son. I hadn’t tried hard enough. I hadn’t waited long enough. I hadn’t spoken to enough people. I hadn’t gagged down enough tea.

So clearly that moment on the couch wasn’t my a-ha moment. My a-ha moment came a few months later.

It was midnight, which, oddly enough, had become my favorite time of day. Vince was pressed against me, his little fingers curled up in my robe, chugging his bottle like he’d never seen milk before. He drooled a little bit and giggled as I wiped his chin. Then he gazed up at me and smiled, settled into my chest, and fell fast asleep. I rocked gently in the glider, bending down every few moments to take in his baby scent, and marveled, as new moms do, about how incredible this whole new mom thing was.

Then I remembered that afternoon in the living room.

I remembered the pain of the pumps, the pain of the mastitis, the pain in my back, and the pain of my dangerously over-full bladder. But mostly I remembered the pain of berating myself into thinking that sitting on that couch and squeezing out one more ounce was the best thing for my brand new, skinny little son who was hungry for milk and cuddles and the warmth of his mama.

Then I looked down at him, my now chubby, pink-cheeked, contented little potato, happy and sleepy and safe in my arms. THIS was bonding. THIS was nurturing. I hadn’t failed him at all. I was finally doing it right.

Do I wish I could have breastfed? Of course! Breastmilk is amazing, and I applaud- no, I bow down to- any woman who has successfully breastfed her children for even a week. It is no easy task for anyone.

But for some of us- even the 32G’s of the world- it’s just not there.  And we need to stop berating ourselves.

You know your child. You know your body. You know your heart.

Listen to them.

Cavities

Today, we will go over the Anxious Mother’s Guide to Preparing for a Routine Pediatric Dental Procedure. Feel free to take notes or just print this entire article for reference.
All set? OK, here we go. Now, you may of course move these around as works best for you, but this is the general order of the steps:
Listen to the dentist tell you your son has 8 cavities. Yes, EIGHT.
Hope some of them are in teeth that are about to fall out.
Listen to the dentist tell you every one of those little bastards are between molars, in awkward locations, and of course it will take several sessions and be challenging. Because why wouldn’t it be?!
Make first appointment.
Mentally agonize over the details of his organic, low sugar, candy-and-all-fun-foods-free, frequent brushing lifestyle and wonder what the hell you’re doing wrong.
Remember his visit to the pediatric ophthalmologist last month where you learned he might have a lazy eye. Wonder if you should just put him in a bubble now and get it over with.
Take him to the diner and let him eat a stack of giant pancakes dripping in syrup because hey, clearly your organic, low sugar neuroses have gotten him NOWHERE and all of his teeth are falling out and he’s going blind so f*ck it.
Put in for a sick day in case he doesn’t handle the anesthesia well.
Pack snacks in case he’s hungry when he wakes up.
Pack an extra shirt in case he vomits when he wakes up.
Pack extra pants, underwear and shoes in case he vomits a lot.
Pack towels in case he projectile vomits.
Go to the store and buy his favorite foods for after the procedure.
Go back to the store and buy soup in case he has trouble chewing.
Resist the urge to Google “routine pediatric dental procedures gone wrong.”
Get mom to come with you, to help in case, you know, he doesn’t handle…you get it.
Buckle under the stress and Google “routine pediatric dental procedures gone wrong.”
Panic.
Wonder which hospital is the best option in case his routine dental procedure goes wrong.
Snap at your husband for being too hard on him for not finishing his dinner.
Mapquest the best route from the dentist’s office to the hospital you’ve chosen because you are now convinced his routine dental procedure will, without a doubt, go horribly awry.
Snap at your husband every time he even looks at your son in a stern manner.
Let him stay awake late watching his favorite Netflix cartoon while you marvel over how much you love him.
Write a blog in an attempt to give a humorous slant to your insanity.
OK! You’re all set for your routine pediatric dental procedure! Any questions??2017-11-07 20.32.15

The Ache

It hit me around 7am as I was walking into Vince’s room to separate the two kids because “She’s wrecking my Lego Village!!!” and “He won’t let me playyyyy!!!!!”

Legos strewn everywhere; applesauce pouches tossed aside in the melee; the dog dodging and weaving to see if anything that’s been launched from their hands is edible…and the feeling was still there in my chest.

It wasn’t a phase.

I want another one.

Every time the weird sensation has begun dancing around inside me over the past few months, I push it away like that last bit of stuffing on Thanksgiving that looks great, but that you know damn well will wreak havoc on you. I’ve ignored it, denied it, even laughed it off when someone suggests we have another baby.

I swiftly blink away my frequent visions of a chubby blonde-haired boy crawling after Rocco, learning to slurp spaghetti from Vince, getting rocked to sleep by Gracie. I tell myself it’s my hormones; it’s the fried egg I ate for dinner; it’s just nonsense.

But standing there, watching Legos soar through the air amid the ear-splitting shrieks of my 2-year old daughter, I realized it’s not just a weird sensation or a passing daydream- it’s an ache.

As I stepped in to break up the royal rumble, I remembered a conversation I had many years ago with my grandmother.

“Every few years, the baby wouldn’t be a baby anymore. Suddenly I had a kid who was ready to go to school. I missed having a baby in my arms. I’d start to feel an ache for another child. So I’d talk to your grandfather and tell him we needed another one. And that’s how I ended up with four kids!”

Of course, that was a much different time, a fact that I repeat to myself every time the ache starts to creep up on me.  It’s become a mental pep-talk. “Those were different times,” I think to myself in my best old lady voice.

Actually, I’ve been giving myself quite a few very gentle, very loving pep-talks these days.

“Stop being ridiculous. You can’t handle three kids- you failed at having 2 dogs for Christ’s sake.” Actually, dog #2 turned out to have severe emotional issues and lunged at Vince, teeth bared and growling, so I don’t know if our decision to give him back really counts as not being able to handle 2 dogs as much as making sure my kids don’t get eaten.

“Remember the heartburn? The bed rest? Sliding down the wall and onto the floor of the bathroom every few hours like you were made of rubber? Losing your meals to every sink and garbage can in the house, and sometimes your purse, for 9 months? That time you spit up blood? You ready for that again? Huh?”

“How was that year of post-partum depression? Did you like that? You really want to go THERE again?”

“You have no right to mope around for another baby. There are women who struggle for years and never get to experience motherhood. You have a boy and a girl, and they are healthy, happy, smart, loving- you have everything you’ve ever wanted. Pull yourself together.”

“Two words. College Tuition.”

“Do you hate sleep? Do you not want to ever sleep again? Is that what this is about?”

“Vasectomies aren’t easily reversed.”

“You’re mere MONTHS away from never having to buy another diaper- ever again! Don’t ruin it.”

“Remember all those neat trips that your friends are taking? The places you daydream about one day seeing? If you can’t afford them now, you can really kiss them goodbye if you have another mouth to feed.”

“You’d need a bigger truck. You still have 3 ½ years left before you pay this one off. Where would you put this additional baby- the trunk???”

“Your ass gets bigger with every pregnancy. If you have one more you might be mistaken for a Kardashian.”

This was my entire commute this morning- listening to my daughter sing along to the radio while mentally admonishing myself into oblivion.

It didn’t work- the ache is still there.

And where does my husband stand in all of this? In a puddle of my often-unannounced and freely-flowing tears, basically. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a jar of peanut butter and a bag of kettle corn when I dissolved into silent sobs during the birthing scene on This is Us. He held my hand as I tearfully recounted the number of people I know who are pregnant, about to give birth, or who have just posted adorable pictures of newborns on their Facebook feeds. He gives me quick, supportive glances every time our friends discuss expanding their families.

But he’s done.

There will never be any reason that my husband will entertain the idea of a third child in our home. And he’s not faulting me for having this ache for another child, so I can’t very well blame him for not having the ache. Sometimes I want to….but I don’t. I promise.

And I don’t think for a moment that I’m alone, or that my ache is the worst ache of them all. Not by FAR.

I know countless people who have the ache- it might be for a baby, or a home of their own, or a different career, or a different spouse, or a different life entirely. I guess we all have the ache at some point in our lives. Sometimes you achieve the goal, realize the dream, find “the one”- and you can finally silence the ache, almost like blowing out a candle.

Or, the ache becomes a part of you, burning sometimes brightly, sometimes dimly…but always burning. It’s kind of like that one bit of hair on your head that never cooperates with the rest of them. Sometimes you can smooth it away; other times you need a hat. But you make it work.

So where do I go from here? Well, I guess I just remain endlessly grateful for the family I have, stop ignoring my ache, and learn to live with it.

And adopt a puppy. Definitely adopting a puppy.