Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Now I Get It

I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding. I don’t refer to myself as a “lactivist” . . . I find this term a tad corny . . . but I probably am. I sincerely hope that doesn’t scare you.
I almost wanted to call this something like “What Breastfeeding Means To Me” but it sounded too much like the grown-up version of the eighth-grade essay. Forgive me for plunging into stream of consciousness style here, but as much as I love this topic it’s often difficult for me to say what I want to say about it without running in circles.
We are VERY into breastfeeding at our house
I surely spend more time thinking about and researching and reading about breastfeeding than the average person. Because of this, one of my biggest Parenting Peeves is comments about breastfeeding that are blatantly untrue and/or offensive and/or plain stupid. (See Boob Talk for a minor rant on this.) Check out my my Facebook “likes” and you will find five pages directly related to breastfeeding plus numerous other “parenting” pages that discuss breastfeeding on a regular basis.
There are many advantages to breastfeeding beyond providing nutrition, and if you are interested, I would love to share them with you. Perhaps I will even rave about them in a future post. Dr. Jen (one of my absolute favorite sources of terrific info) wrote a fabulous piece on newborns and why breastmilk is not food. Plus, breastmilk is just so darn useful . . . recently I cleared up multiple eye infections (my children’s and my own) with “homemade” eye antibiotics. But that’s not why I’m writing this.
Nor am I writing this to make anyone else feel inadequate. Although to be honest, I must admit I cringe a little when I first hear a fellow mom say “well, I tried, but I couldn’t breastfeed because [fill in the blank with a reason that’s not really a reason].” I’m not here to boast about my superior lactation skills. I know some women are unable to breastfeed due to medications, or a previous reduction, or past trauma . . . or they simply prefer to bottle feed because they decided that breastfeeding was not for them.
What I really want to share is how I evolved from “Ooh, nursing, yes . . . that’s free, right? And formula is quite pricey? Okay, let’s do that breastfeeding thing” to “Feeding your child your own milk, and watching her/him thrive on it, is the Most Fabulous Mommy Feeling Ever.” Never did I anticipate that of all the myriad aspects of parenting swirling around me, nursing would be the thing to turn me on my head. I cannot separate mothering and breastfeeding. They are inexplicably intertwined for me, for us. It goes beyond feeding in a way that only another breastfeeding mother can understand.
Daughter #1 (Eva) came very close to being formula fed, as nursing her was not exactly easy or a joy at the beginning, but once we caught on it became just a part of our life. (See Feeding Baby for a bit more on this.) At one point in the middle of our latch issues I considered pumping exclusively and bottle feeding, but I’m sure that would have not lasted long. This likely would have nixed any chance of my second daughter or my son being breastfed either. Why? Because then I would have been a Formula Feeding Mom and never delved into all the benefits of breastfeeding, discovered LLL or other support groups, or become one of those people that comments on breastfeeding advice pages on Facebook at least once a day. I never would have known what it was really like. And I truly feel I would have been missing out. That is why I am writing this.
The first days with Eva were rough. The lactation consultant at the hospital where I delivered her quit that week. The nurse they sent in to “help” was uninformed, impatient, and mean. I ended up giving her formula, both in the hospital and at home during the first few days. I cried the first time I had to ask Hubby to go make her a bottle. I felt like a failure, a complete mess. I did see a lactation consultant when she was four days old, but she too was not very friendly, and knowing what I know now, gave some rather poor advice. One good thing came of that visit, however: She motivated me to pump. I went to Target and bought an electric boob pump (a pretty expensive experiment, given that I wasn’t sure it would work, or even if it did, if I would continue). I now know this saved our breastfeeding relationship. I pumped like a crazy woman and started feeding with bottles of expressed milk. However, pumping and bottle-feeding proved to be way too much work—basically doing the job of a breastfeeding mom and a bottle-feeding mom simultaneously. I figured we would just make our lives easier and switch to formula. So, after a few more days of trying to get her to latch on, I gave up. I put away the pump, packed in its neat little black bag, and thought: That’s it. I tried. This @#$% is harder than it looks. No wonder so many women can’t breastfed. Now I am one of them.
This lasted about three days.
Following a teensy postpartum breakdown of tears, I frantically pulled the pump back out, put it together, and went all bovine. I made a renewed commitment to trying to latch Baby. I wandered the house shirtless and focused on nothing but getting that baby attached to a boob. She finally latched properly for the first time at about three weeks old (interestingly, in the middle of the night, when I wasn’t even trying) and at just over a month she finally finished a sufficient meal directly from the breast.
Eva nursed through my second pregnancy and beyond. Daughter #2 (Julia) latched on immediately and sailed right through those first few days and weeks, probably because I was still nursing her sister (23 months at the time). I ended up tandem nursing for just over a year. Eva weaned at just over three; Julia at just over two. I was about four months pregnant with #3 when Julia stopped nursing.
Probably postpartum hormones thinking, but while in the hospital with little brother (Andrew), even after having successfully breastfed his sisters for a combined total of four years, I had a flash of panic: What if the milk never came in? What if I couldn’t nurse this one as I did his sisters? What if it simply didn’t work this time? (As I’m typing this, I’m balancing a five-month-old, 18-pound moose on my lap, so clearly not the case.) I struggled at the beginning with him, too . . . never did I dream that my third baby would have latch issues, weight gain issues, etc. But nursing and babies had become so connected for me that the thought of not being able to offer that to my last baby devastated me. So we pressed on, and we did it.
Okay, this is getting incredibly long, and I’m still not sure I’m saying what I set out to say. Putting this into writing is much more difficult than I thought. I love nursing my children. I cannot imagine parenting without breastfeeding. What I once considered just a way to feed a baby has become a game-changing act in my mothering gig. I especially love that my daughters think of mommies giving their babies milk not only as the right thing to do, or even the normal thing to do, but just The Thing To Do, period. It’s just how mommies and babies work.
And they make that adorable little happy sound right before they latch on.
Now that I have been nursing almost five years continually (just a wee break of a few months between #2 and #3), I would have no idea how to bottle-feed a baby. Seriously. When you breastfeed, you don’t need to worry if baby is actually hungry, or getting too much, or too little. Maybe he just wants to cuddle, but you offer to nurse and he accepts. It’s the ultimate baby calmer. And sleep inducer. And excuse for Mommy to grab the baby and snuggle . . . which I think I’ll go do right now.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Driving Miss Momma

I wish I could reduce my dependency on a car. Not to be environmentally conscious, although that’s nice and all. Not to get more exercise, even though that would certainly be a perk. No, I just really hate driving.
The longest I ever went without driving at all, or very minimally, was about a period of about 7-10 years (most of the 1990s, off and on) during and immediately following college. I didn’t have access to a car for most of that time, so it was not even an option. I walked everywhere that was feasible and took the bus when I needed to. I bummed a few rides from friends here and there. Some things were more difficult (grocery shopping comes to mind) but mostly it was fine. Really. I survived for several years as an adult who didn’t own a car and lived to tell about it.
It probably doesn’t help that I currently live in southern Italy, the epitome of driving at its worse. From the lack of directions on road signs (Seriously, how hard is it to print the word “north”?) to the sidewalk-sized travel lanes, to the “I’m the only one on the road” mentality of most drivers here . . . it’s just inexplicable. And don’t even get me started on road conditions; my poor Diego takes so much abuse. (Yes; my car has a name.) For a humorous, albeit true, take on things, check out Wikinapoli's Driving in Italy, especially the sections on “Italian Drivers: How to Understand and Manage” (Oh, how I love this title!) and “Parking.”
For me, driving is a necessary evil. Without it I couldn’t get the girls to school, which they love, or run errands nearly as easily. But I really hate it. (Have I mentioned that I hate driving?) When we go somewhere as a family, my husband always drives, even on long road trips. I know I wasn’t always like this . . . I’m sure in the first few years after earning my driver’s license I loved driving everywhere I could. But that was a long time ago, and the novelty has worn off, to say the least.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Changing Seasons

“There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.”
--Ecclesiastes 3:1, NLT
Children are not terribly convenient. This is contrary to what our culture expects, and it really frazzles some parents, but it’s true. Conventional wisdom encourages us to push babies from one stage to the next as quickly as possible. Many folks want to put parenting on fast-forward . . . get them weaned, sleeping alone, eating alone, out of diapers, off to school, out of the house as fast as possible so you can . . . um, do what exactly? Go back to your life before children? Hmm.
Might I suggest, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, if that is how you feel, perhaps you should have gotten a ficus instead. Or maybe a cactus. I hear they’re real easy to take care of.
I know it’s not easy when you are in the trenches. I’m living that right now . . . the day-to-day can be brutal. Multiple kids brings multiple drama. Sweet little girls can turn your living room into a wrestling venue. Just this week I was again reminded it is entirely possible for a tiny infant to poop so explosively that you are cleaning poo from his hair . . . and ears. I also recently removed peanut butter from my child’s eye . . . for those of you keeping score: Agent J, of course. Parenting is glamourous, for sure.
When all else fails, remember: This too shall pass.
Consider this a gentle reminder to slow down and enjoy the season. This isn’t always easy, or fun. Right now my “season” involves a four-year-old needing constant reassurance and guidance from Mommy as she learns to navigate the world independently; a rather defiant, strong-willed, and feisty (some of the nicer words I can come up with right now) two-year-old; and an easy-going but nevertheless time-consuming infant. Believe me, some days I’d like to time machine myself out of this stage. But, this is the way my children need me right now. This is *my* season. Are you enjoying yours?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Yes, I Really Say That

Those of you familiar with my personal Facebook page (which is most of you) know that I affectionately refer to my children as “the Agents” . . . an idea stolen from Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus turned secret agent, Perry. (Perry goes by the alias Agent P; my little super spies are Agent E, Agent J, and Agent A.) But this is not the only bizarre cultural/television reference we use at our house. The following three circulate pretty much daily (note the PBS/Disney theme):
Like An Octopus From Your Head!
A few weeks ago Sesame Street illustrated the definition of “separate” by having a man with an octopus stuck to his head attempt to remove said octopus. Now when the girls are wrestling, pulling hair, or driving each other crazy in the way only siblings can, I simply say, “Separate! Like An Octopus From Your Head! Separate!” Sometimes I just yell out “Octopus!” and they know exactly what Momma means.
Belgium Rocks!
In an episode of Martha Speaks, T.D. has to do a report on Belgium, so he and his friends form a rock band and sing a song about this little European country. It’s a catchy tune about waffles and Waterloo, and the last line is, “Kick off our shoes and our socks, ‘cause we know that Belgium rocks!” So, anytime we come inside I immediately shout “Belgium!” and the girls know I want them to take off their shoes and socks. (This has evolved to also include coat removal . . . in the interest of efficiency and all.)
Celia!
In a scene of Monsters, Inc. Mike’s girlfriend, Celia, who tends to speak in a cutesy sing-song voice, says to Sully, “Hey, Sully Wully.” Sully is a little uncomfortable and doesn’t quite know what to say, but he responds, “Hey . . . Celia . . . Welia.” During Hubby’s deployment two years ago, Monsters became our movie of choice. As in, we watched it every single night after bath time for about six months straight. Sometime in that DVD “run” I started calling the girls Eva Weva and Julia Wulia, and it has stuck to this day. (This does not work nearly as well with Andrew.)
So, fess up: What ridiculous television or other references to you find yourself uttering around your own home?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

10 Things My Pre-Parenting Self Swore I Would Never Do

1. Breastfeed past one year. First child made it to three. Second to just over two. Third still going strong.

2. Have an almost-three-year-old in diapers. Yep; middle child will turn three next month. Zero motivation to learn the potty.

3. Co-sleep with my kids. Most nights we resemble a giant pile of meerkats.

4. Give up going out/adult time (and not even care). It’s not even on my radar anymore. I genuinely don’t want to leave my kids at night/bedtime.

5. Be sleep deprived . . . forever. Maybe just those first few months, right? Ha!

6. Cry over what I would have previously thought crazy. Like watching your daughter “meet” Donald Duck for the first time.

7. Lose additional brain cells with each child. My former excellent memory is gone.

8. Be my child’s friend. (For an interesting take on this, see Should parents be friends with their kids?)

9. Evolve into more Lorelai Gilmore than Annie Camden. Darn you, television parenting models!

10. Have kids who misbehave in public. I don’t even know where to *begin* with this one.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To TV Or Not To TV

We all know that television is the devil incarnate. No good could possibly come of having Mickey Mouse engage your child in learning colors, shapes, or counting. Oh, the horror!

I personally do not watch ANY television (not even the news . . . I read that online), so it’s not like I expose my children to inappropriate content and language. We’re talking age-appropriate shows/networks . . . PBS, Disney, and (some) Nickelodeon. We watch mostly DVDs, as we live overseas and television options are limited, so they also have very little experience with commercials. I am almost always in the room with them when they are watching, hence how I have 27 different kid-friendly yet somewhat annoying little jingles bouncing around my brain at any given moment. We talk about what they are watching. The shows they view engage them in interesting ways (answering questions, imitating physical movements, etc.). Both girls have learned a lot from their favorite TV shows and characters. 
Probably the most irritating comment from the anti-television crowd is promoting the idea of Doing Other Things besides watching TV. Usually it comes across similarly to the anti-school logic (see previous rant on homeschooling): Get outside! Read books together! Do a craft! Have them help you in the kitchen! Encourage them to use their imaginations!
Yes, because my children never do *any* of those things. Really, they do nothing else but watch television during their free time. I practically have to peel them off the living room floor just to bathe them. Sometimes I have to apply eye drops because they’ve stopped blinking.
Ah, I’m enjoying this ranting thing way too much. What will be next?