Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: the agony and the — yeah, just the agony.

Hello! It is I, woman who used to regularly update her blog. My shocking absence can and will, as usual, be blamed on my two adorable children, who are slowly but surely sucking the life-force from my now husk-like terrestrial body. NOT TO BE DRAMATIC!

No, but really, things are good. Ewan is now a whopping 6 months old, and Lucia is 28 months old. They are both very cute. And they are both very exhausting. I love them so much! But man, they’re a lot of work. But they’re so cute. BUT OH MY GOD I AM SO TIRED.

I want to talk today about breastfeeding. Again. I’ve already talked about it here. But breastfeeding continues to occupy a lot of my mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. I have so many thoughts and feelings about it, it’s hard to know where to begin. But mostly, I want to talk about how breastfeeding is hard (for me), and how it’s only now, with my second child, that I’m starting to hear that it’s hard for other people, too.

Until recently, I always felt rather alone in my struggles with breastfeeding. It seemed like everyone else just effortlessly nursed their babies (or happily went to formula) while I toiled away, cursed with every breastfeeding affliction and pathology in the book. Let me quickly enumerate the issues I’ve had with breastfeeding. With Lucia, it was oversupply, engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis (two bouts), undersupply, bottle refusal, and a hellacious recovery process after her three frenectomies at four months old. Somehow, despite all my trials and tribulations, I nursed her for a full year (plus two weeks), and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I weaned her. I was so glad to be done with it and to have my body back to myself. Two weeks later, I got pregnant with Ewan. Oops.

With Ewan, I was anticipating a repeat of all the issues I had nursing Lucia. But instead, I got a whole host of NEW problems. Starting when he was about a month old, I began to suffer from stabbing, electric pains in my breasts that felt like I was being burnt with cigarettes from the inside. My symptoms led healthcare professionals to assume that I had a bad case of thrush in the milk ducts, but after over two months’ worth of thrush treatments for me and Ewan (heavy duty oral antifungals for me, washing everyone’s clothes in hot water and bleach, wiping my boobs down with vinegar, treating Ewan’s mouth with everything from nystatin to gentian violet, which stained his entire face purple, etc., etc.), with no relief, a midwife I saw figured out that it wasn’t thrush after all, it was breast spasms. I went on a blood pressure medication that successfully got rid of those. Hooray!

But then, I got the stomach flu twice (thanks, pernicious preschool germs) and my milk supply tanked, and poor Ewan fell from the 40th percentile for weight to the 20th. This concerned his pediatrician, so I began a pumping regimen that has increased my supply but has also left me so uncomfortable in the middle of the night that I have to wake up from a dead sleep to pump, usually at three or four in the morning. Also, half a year in, my boobs still hurt occasionally, either while feeding the baby or between feedings. I am still constantly teetering on the brink of getting a plugged duct. I constantly worry about Ewan’s weight (despite his utterly delicious thigh rolls) and my supply. Breastfeeding, for me, has been and continues to be stressful, most of the time.

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And yet, I soldier on. I’ve tried to figure out why I keep doing it, and I can come up with a lot of reasons, none of which are particularly great. I tell myself that I owe it to Ewan to nurse him for at least a year since that’s what I did with Lucia. (He’ll definitely care about this, right? RIGHT?) I tell myself that breastfeeding is more convenient (…debatable) and cheaper than formula (although it drives me insane when people say that breastfeeding is “free,” because it most definitely isn’t). I tell myself that since breastmilk is more varied in flavor than formula, Ewan is going to have a more adventurous palate when it comes to solid food (although Lucia’s refusal to touch a vegetable with a ten-foot pole puts the lie to this theory). I tell myself that burning 500 calories a day without having to exercise is a nice perk (although while breastfeeding, I end up eating an additional, like, 3000 calories a day since I’m so frigging hungry all the time, so I’m not sure that math works out). I tell myself that I’ve come this far, so I might as well keep going. And so I do.

I’m not going to stop breastfeeding yet. But I wish that mothers could talk more about how hard breastfeeding can be and really think deeply about why we choose to do it or not do it. I wonder if, had I not felt weird societal pressure to exclusively breastfeed Lucia, and hadn’t been told from day one that it should be “easy” and “natural” and “pain-free,” if I would have made a different choice. Maybe not. But I probably would have felt less alone in my difficulties.

Two under two

On November 29, we welcomed Ewan William into our family! He is, as you can see, very cute, and has incredible arm rolls.

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For those of you doing the math, Ewan was born almost three months ago and this is the first I’m writing about it. Yeah. Sorry about that. Turns out, the whole “two kids under two” thing IS, in fact, all it’s cracked up to be, and I am just now getting my head above water. And yes, I am comparing having two children under two to almost drowning. The thing about having two under two (and now, technically, one under two and one who has been two for a couple of weeks) is that it is very hard logistically, emotionally, and physically. Hard in every way, in other words. But, as with all things parenting, the wretched is accompanied by a large dose of wonderful, and in the end, the wonderful wins out. But let’s discuss the wretched, shall we?

Logistically speaking, Lucia’s schedule does not tend to sync up with Ewan’s (and Ewan’s schedule changes every day because trying to get a twelve-week-old on a schedule is like trying to put an octopus in a winter coat), so I often find myself trying to nurse the baby while cutting up chicken for Lucia’s lunch, or holding a pacifier in the baby’s mouth and rocking him while reading a book to Lucia, or trying to figure out which child to unload from the car and which one to leave while I get the other one inside, or wondering whether I can leave Ewan fussing in his bassinet while I put Lucia down for her nap, or whether I should try to bring Lulu into Ewan’s room while I put him down for his nap, even though she is constitutionally incapable of not shouting everything at the top of her lungs because she is two. In other words, everything is just more complicated with two.

Emotionally, I constantly feel like I’m not paying enough attention to one child or the other. It’s sort of impossible not to short-change at least one of my kids at all times, because there is only one of me and there are two of them. I know this will get better as Ewan gets older and his needs become less immediate, but right now, I spend a lot of time nursing or burping him while trying to listen to Lucia tell me something, or putting Ewan on a mat and letting him chill by himself while I feed Lulu, and so on. One kid is always being slightly ignored.

And physically, parenting two very small children is, to put it mildly, taxing. My chiropractor has his work cut out for him now that I have to lug a giant newborn in a heavy carseat up a flight of stairs in order to drop off Lulu at preschool. Then, when I pick her up from school, I must navigate said giant newborn and carseat down a flight of stairs while holding the tiny hand of a toddler who insists on walking down the stairs like a big girl, which takes approximately fifteen hours and may, in fact, be the thing that finally kills me. Then I have to stop the toddler from dashing into the street as I get the newborn into the car (or, alternatively, I leave the baby on the sidewalk while I wrangle the toddler into the car). This, while holding Lulu’s backpack, my purse, and assorted baby detritus, like a burp cloth, a blanket, and a pacifier. GOOD TIMES. While we’re on the topic of the physical toll of parenting two very small children, did I mention I’m breastfeeding, and that breastfeeding makes everything 1000% more difficult (at least for me)? I’ll leave it at that because if I start to list my many boob-related woes here, things will quickly spiral out of control.

Photo by Heather Ryan Photography

Photo by Heather Ryan Photography

BUT! It’s not all doom and gloom! To the contrary, actually. The thing about having a baby and a toddler is that now, on top of my hilarious, sweet Lucia, I also have this marvelous new person to love, and he is, objectively speaking, irresistible. Lucia has been such a wonderful, sweet big sister to her baby bro, which is a joy to see. She “helps” by picking up his pacifiers and diapers and bringing them to me, stroking Ewan’s head very gently, and rather forcefully rocking him in his Rock ‘N Play. I can already see how awesome things are going to be once Ewan is a bit more mobile and is nursing less. I really hope he and Lulu will be great friends. And, if not, at least they’ll eventually be able to split my nursing home costs.

So, as hard as it is having two little people to take care of at once, it’s definitely worth it. All of those cliches about your parental love expanding with the addition of a new child are, in fact, true (thank God, because I was worried), and I know that Lucia’s life is being enriched by having a sibling. If nothing else, she’ll thank me for giving her someone to boss around for the rest of her life. And, I’m happy to report, things are getting easier with each passing week.

Well, that’s all she (I) wrote for now. Both kids are sleeping and I need to sit still with my eyes closed for the thirty seconds that this will last.

Writing and motherhood, eleven months out

As the mother of a baby, I spend a lot of time — I mean, a LOT of time — thinking about the balance between motherhood and my would-be career as a writer. Unlike women who work outside of the home or women who embrace the Stay At Home Mom designation, I feel as if I’m caught in a murky limbo wherein I do stay at home with my child, but I also work at home — or, at least, I try to work at home. I’ve heard women in my situation referred to as Work At Home Moms, but that doesn’t quite capture what it is to be a mother as well as a struggling writer or other creative professional whose job is largely unstructured. The problem with having an unstructured — or, rather, self-structured — work life when you have a baby is that the demands of your work — which are often self-imposed — are quickly crowded out by the demands of your child. Eleven months into this motherhood thing, I am still trying to figure out how I can succeed and feel satisfied both as a professional writer and as a mother. Here are some thoughts I’ve been turning over lately.

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Life as a writer, before and after baby

Before I had Lucia, my work life was blissfully predictable. I rarely worried about whether I’d have enough time each day to get everything done. I’d set high word-count or revision goals for myself every day and I’d almost always meet them. Every morning, I would get up, make coffee and breakfast, sit down at my computer, and write for several hours. If I were working on a manuscript, I’d bang out 1500-2000 words, minimum. Then I’d go to the gym, eat lunch, run errands, and finish up any loose ends in the afternoon (freelancing work, short fiction, blogging, etc.) before calling it quits for the day. It was awesome.

But now, my work schedule, such as it is, must bend to Lucia’s schedule. This makes sense; the baby thrives on a predictable routine of feedings, changings, play, and naps. In the morning, my first priorities are getting Lucia changed and fed, and pumping milk for the bottle that she will have before bedtime. After L has had breakfast and the pumping is done, I play with her until it’s time for her nap, two hours after she gets up. When she goes down for her morning nap around 9 am, I have my first sliver of free time. Hooray! But, as it turns out, by 9 am, there’s always a bunch of crap around the house that needs doing: laundry, dishes, picking bits of discarded food off the floor and walls, stashing toys, answering emails, paying bills, returning phone calls, etc. And now that L is almost a year old, her morning nap is rarely longer than an hour, which means by the time I’ve done all of my annoying chores, I’m looking at maybe a half-hour window in which to get work done. I’m a fast writer, and a half hour is sometimes a feasible timeframe for me to crank out a freelancing piece, but for my fiction work, I need longer stretches of time to get any quality work done. It’s a real dilemma. At the moment, my freelancing work is chugging along (yay for deadlines), but my manuscript is languishing. Those halcyon days of cranking out 2000 words in a sitting are behind me, and I constantly struggle to feel productive or like I’m making any progress on my fiction work at all.

Breastfeeding and babysitting

The obvious solution to the problems I’ve just laid out would be reliable childcare, right? Well, yes, except there’s a wrinkle: breastfeeding. It’s true that things on the work-life balance front have gotten much better since I’ve hired a babysitter, who comes three days a week and watches L for three to four hours at a time. Having the babysitter come allows me to leave the house to work (and go to the gym and grocery store and do other adult human activities, sans baby), and it’s great! I’ve gotten more writing done on my manuscript in the past five months of having a babysitter than I did in the preceding six months of no babysitter. But this is complicated by the constraints of breastfeeding. The thing is, I can’t leave for much longer than three or four hours or I will miss several feedings and have to pump to make up for them. I already pump twice a day as it is (in the morning and at night), and the idea of adding a third or even fourth pumping session into the day strikes dread into my heart. When I set the goal for myself to breastfeed L until she was a year old, I didn’t anticipate the crimp it would put on my work life. And now I’m wondering how anyone makes breastfeeding and working work.

I don’t really see this precise issue written or talked about much online or in my group of mom friends. I think this is because most moms who work outside the home stop breastfeeding and/or pumping soon after going back to work because it’s such a giant pain in the ass to try to pump at work, clean and wash all the bottles and pump parts, and then transport the milk home every day. Moms who stay at home (and who don’t need uninterrupted stretches of the day for work) and want to breastfeed can continue to breastfeed (and maybe don’t need to pump much at all) because they’re always near their babies. But what about those of us who want to keep breastfeeding but also need to be out of the house to get work done? The options aren’t great.

For those who have never breastfed or used a breast pump, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Just pump the milk and quit your whining.” The thing is, pumping suuuucccckkkks, literally and figuratively. I’ve been doing it for six months now (since L started taking a bottle at 5 months old) and it’s still the most annoying part of my day. You have to get out your pump, put on a special pumping bra, wash and assemble your pump parts and bottles, hook up the parts and bottles to the machine and your bra, and sit down with a giant bottle of water for ten uncomfortable minutes wherein you can’t move more than a foot away from the pump. Then, once you’ve pumped the milk, you have to pour it into a new bottle, store it, wash and disassemble the pump parts, take off the pumping bra and get re-dressed, and put away the pump. The entire process takes a good 20-30 minutes and it’s just the worst. I really don’t know how any woman does this at an office, since even doing it at home is such a time-suck. (Moms who pump at work: I salute you.). As Hanna Rosin said in her piece in The Atlantic, “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” “[Breastfeeding is] only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”

Weaning and writing

The other option, of course, is to just stop breastfeeding and pumping altogether and put L on formula. The thing is, she’s only three weeks away from being a year old (i.e., weaning age), and dammit, I’ve come this far, and I’m not going to quit now! I guess I’m hoping things will get easier once she’s weaned, because I can leave her for longer stretches (say, five to six hours) without having to worry about pumping. In my fantasies about my post-weaning work life, I return to getting real work done on my manuscript every day. I have enjoyed breastfeeding my child and I will certainly miss the sweet, bonding moments I’ve shared with her, but damn, I can’t wait to be free of that damned pump and its terrible accoutrements.

All of this makes me wonder how I’ll handle breastfeeding with my next baby. Right now, at the peak of my frustration with pumping, I’m thinking I won’t breastfeed for as long, or I will do a combo of formula and breastmilk to allow myself some more freedom. Who knows what my writing career will look like by then, anyway. Only time will tell.

Do you have any thoughts about balancing work and baby? I’d love to hear them.