Are We All A Little Too Precious About The Boob?

I’m in the thick of trying to keep my kid fed exclusively with breast milk – and as he’s growing fast and I’m working and trying to pump enough throughout the day, the whole thing is getting a little stressful.  Last weekend I even stooped to squeezing in a pumping at 1am.  I had gone out to dinner with the wife, shared a bottle of wine, and O needed milk as soon as we were home.  My milk was in no state for an infant to consume so I fed him a bottle and replenished our tight bottle stock several hours later.

Somewhere around 1:15am and 4 oz into pumping I was compelled to wonder if I was taking it all a little too seriously.  I entered the mom thing with a general plan to breast feed — I knew it was medically recommended, a good public health practice, and perhaps most importantly it was my vision of what having a baby meant.  That said, I didn’t have any very strong feelings about it before getting pregnant – it just seemed like that’s what you do.  And if it was too hard for some reason, I figured I would supplement.

But as my stomach got bigger and I learned more about what we’d do when this baby made his debut – everything from the immediate skin to skin contact once O was born (something we had to forgo because I had a C-section and there was meconium in the fluid) to waiting 4-6 weeks before introducing the bottle to solidify the connection with the boob (something we also immediately abandoned when he needed to eat before he and I had figured out nursing) – I bought into the holy shrine of the boob and became much more fixated on the singular importance of breastfeeding.  And once nursing clicked for us, I became committed to the all-important milestone of exclusive breast-feeding until 6 months.

Several articles over the last week have cast some much needed reality-checks on the whole enterprise of breastfeeding:

First, Emily Oster offers an analysis on the benefits of breastfeeding and finds that the data don’t support the over-obsession with this liquid gold.   And then this Newsweek piece takes a stab at the preciousness with which we approach the experience of feeding our kids by casting light on the market for breast milk.

But it’s this essay that really stopped me in my tracks.  One mother of a 7 months old tells of an encounter with another mother of a newborn baby struggling to feed him when the latch is not happening and she is out of formula.  Emma Saloranta describes making the on-the-spot judgment call to offer to nurse the stranger’s baby when she realizes the baby just needed to eat:

I looked up to [the baby’s] mother, worried that she would feel offended by her baby nursing from another woman’s breast — but all I saw was relief as she saw her baby calming down. The baby wasn’t crying anymore, and neither was the mother. She held my baby as I nursed hers, and though I had feared that it would be weird, odd, or crossing a line of some sort — it didn’t feel like that at all. It felt like exactly the right thing to do.

I nursed the baby for a few minutes, and she dozed off. The mother told me her husband was waiting outside but had to head to the airport. The whole family was supposed to travel back to their home country, Egypt, on that day, but the mother and baby would have to stay behind for a few extra days because some of the paperwork was taking longer. I was worried about how the father would feel about a total stranger having just breastfed their infant baby — but he greeted me with a warm smile, took my hands in his and thanked me with sincere gratitude for helping his wife and their daughter. He asked what my son’s name was, and told me that according to the Muslim faith, our children were now milk siblings, brother and sister.

I like to think I would do the same thing in that situation – and in fact, there have been moments when I’ve had an excess of milk or looked at my freezer drawer full of frozen milk O won’t eat and wondered if there wasn’t somebody who could benefit from it.

Reading this essay – and thinking about my own stress around trying to eke out enough milk for my (rapidly) growing baby reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who related her disappointment at having to forgo her plans of an unmedicated, vaginal birth for a C-section when her baby was breech.  Her husband said to her “It’s not about you” and she let go of what she realized was her own visions for herself as a mother and got down to the business of being a mother by doing what was best for her kid.

I feel the same about breastfeeding.  It’s a wonderful experience that I’m so thrilled I’m able to offer my son and have for myself.  I still want to make it to six months having exclusively breastfed him and then continue breastfeeding through his first year.  And I love the experience of feeding him – the connection we have together when we do it – and knowing I’m passing on rich vitamins, flavors, immunities and more through my breast milk when he’s taking it from a bottle later.  But at the end of the day, it’s his food – and he needs to eat.  And if I can’t make enough without sacrificing my health and all of our sanity – a little formula (or exclusively formula if need be) is what O needs.  And I hope in that moment, if it arises, I’m mother enough to do that.

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[Guest Post] The Same But Different

Today brings a VERY special addition to MWO – the first guest post from someone other than the Wife!  I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the Dispatches from the Wife series, and I’m so thrilled to expand the voices in this space.  And the topics – from strictly parenting to the broader ways we define our communities, build our families and experience our tribes.   Today K from LA brings us a wonderful essay about the experience of being engaged.  For me, the engagement process was transformative despite my best intentions to be above it all.  K’s story illustrates not just this conundrum but does against the backdrop of sweeping legal changes across CA and the U.S. proving in the most acute way that the political is personal.

The Same But Different
by K from LA
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I’ve been engaged for 4 months and, in that time, certain small talk themes have emerged. People who know I’m engaged ask if I have a date (yes), if I have a venue (yes), and where we’re going on the honeymoon (Palm Springs). If the person I’m talking to is married, I ask them if being married feels different.

I’ve been with my partner for nearly 8 years and we’ve lived together for about 6. We spend hours a day talking and emailing about everything from grandiose existential issues to the latest great cat video. We’ve shared so many experiences, from international travel to shopping for renters insurance. Our plans for the future intersect even when we haven’t planned them that way, and we’ve navigated multiple apartment moves without purposely crushing the other under our endless boxes of books. So I’m curious: will being married really feel different?

My cousin got married in October after being with her husband for a decade. At first, she said the relationship felt no different after it became a marriage. A few months later, she changed her mind. It did feel different, she told me. It feels more… she interlocked her fingers and closed her fists tight.

Another friend said being married didn’t feel different, but getting married had really brought her and her husband together. She called it a “trauma-based bonding experience”, and defined “trauma” as a not-altogether-bad thing, but something more complicated, involving more decisions to make together than they’d ever had before, and a more urgent need to “be nice to each other’s weird relatives.”

Hours after my partner proposed (complete with surprise flower delivery at a local botanical garden, nicely done), we changed our Facebook statuses to “engaged.” As congrats from far-flung friends and family members popped up, it felt to me like the title change from girlfriend to fiancee meant more to them than it did to me. I wasn’t floating through the clouds because there was now a ring on my finger. My partner and I started planning our wedding long before we were officially fiancees.

In fact, our desire to be married pre-dated (by many years) our ability to get legally married. And our floating-in-the-clouds moment came on June 26, 2013, when the Supreme Court issued a 5–4 decision effectively overturning Prop 8. Then, just as we had when Prop 8 passed, my partner and I took in the news and headed to a nearby bar to cry into our beers.

The night I knew Prop 8 would pass was as surreal an experience as I’ve had. I lived in West Hollywood and my partner brought over burritos (surefire way to my heart), and we sat in my tiny studio watching election returns, falling into elated disbelief as evidence mounted that Barack Obama was going to be our President. Incredible. Flying high on pride and relief, we walked down the block to the Formosa Cafe and opened the door to find an excited melee of happy neighbors raising glasses high above their “I voted” stickers. The bartender started to mix two gin and tonics, and I used my phone to look up vote tallies for the propositions. Next to “Prop 8 – Yes” was a big percentage in green. I told my partner “Prop 8 is passing,” and the bartender dropped a glass. The three of us got quiet while the noise around us continued, but as the news spread, many of the smiles around us started to fade.

The next morning on my way to work, I shared an elevator with a man who was beaming about President Obama’s election, saying in an accent I couldn’t place, “I can’t believe my kids get to see this moment in history.” I shared his feelings, but I couldn’t quite meet his enthusiasm. I kept thinking about how my state had voted against me. It felt very personal and very distressing.

Then five years later I was overcome with the same weight of emotions, this time good ones. After the paper-thin arguments for upholding Prop 8 melted away and the Supreme Court decision made California’s marriage ban an alienating footnote in recent history, I met my partner at a beer garden in Downtown Los Angeles. We clinked our steins and wrote out a wedding invite list.

So at first, being officially engaged wasn’t a distinction that really meant anything to me, because having our right to legal marriage restored had felt much more significant. Four months into this thing and–just like many politicians on the subject of gay marriage–my thinking has started to “evolve”. Tasks that would have been mine or hers, now seem more like ours.

I feel like we’re relating to the world in a slightly different way, and the world is relating to us differently as well. We’ve noticed small changes in how some of our, how shall I put this … less easily accepting relatives treat us. Possibly because living with another woman can be minimized more quickly than can a legal marriage, which also boasts more cultural legitimacy.

Plus, we’re signing up for our Crate and Barrel registry alongside people we may have nothing in common with aside from our desire for minimalist flatware.

Getting legally married is making us relatable to others in a way I didn’t foresee, and planning a wedding puts us in a club that often feels affirming, warm and welcoming. And sometimes it just feels weird for us, two people who grew comfortable with our allies at the fringes, to dip our toes in a current headed toward the mainstream.

Maybe this isn’t our first “trauma-based bonding experience”, but I must admit, things are starting to feel a little different.

Long Weekend Lulling

We’ve spent most of this weekend hanging out with Baby O at various local beer gardens in our neighborhood. At each, he was one of a few babies holding court alongside much taller humans.  We didn’t intend to spend so much time at these outdoor watering holes… It just sort of happened.  Warm but not too hot weather plus a relatively less crowded city… what are you going to do.

 This beer garden tour is actually the fulfillment of a goal I had for this summer and parenting in general.   I envisioned being that  mom that’s holding a beer in one hand, my baby in another, enjoying a stress-free warm afternoon.  And it was that – and O loved it.   So here’s to kicking off the summer doing what makes you happy.

Photo: O at Garden District on 14th Street, NW in DC.

Interesting Things – Memorial Weekend edition!

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This weekend is the unofficial start to summer and the first long weekend of the season – it’s also one of my favorite times of year to be in DC.  DC is a city of outsiders – that is, a high percent of the population (but by no means all) come from somewhere else.  So on holiday weekends like this one, people tend to go away – or go home, as it were.  And so for those of us that stay in town we have the run of the mill.  So we intend to spend the weekend with family visiting, setting up a grill, putting together O’s high chair (see: milestones!) and maybe some mattress shopping.  Oh, and exploring strawberry recipes.

As we kick off this luxurious long-weekend, here is what I find interesting on the internet:

I’ve recently shared why maternity leave was the greatest experience for me and my family – here is an honest and striking essay about what it means not to have paid leave.

By contrast, here is one man’s take on his paternity leave experience.

On not wanting kids (which should not require an explanation but seemingly does).

In the heart-wrenching category, one woman’s story of why a recent abortion ban passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would have a harmful impact on women and their families.

File under breastfeeding bad-ass-ness:

If you are planning to host a panel and will have only men on it, be warned.

Another item in the cloth vs disposable diaper decision matrix.

Fascinating study shows the time of day when most babies are born.

Closing out with some good news (nay, awesome news): Rebel Wilson is a fashion designer!

Have a good weekend all!

On Milestones.

The number one thing anyone tells you if you have a new baby is “it goes so fast.”  It’s like a broken record and it’s trite.  But damnit, it sure is true.

With Baby O at 5 months old, I keep moving the “write down O’s milestones” item to the top of my to do list.  The wife and I realize if we don’t stay on top of recording his developments, we will lose it forever.  And while the first time he slept on his stomach with his knees crunched under him and his butt in the air or the first time he kicked his legs in the bath water may not be the *most* important milestones to save for perpetuity, they are meaningful, exciting and special to us and are a way of savoring the journey.

So we are writing down milestones any way we can.  A very clever and seasoned mom friend (she was simply a good friend before I was a mom – now I add that additional title) gave us a calendar as a baby shower gift advising that being able to just jot down words on a calendar date was a whole lot easier than keeping a journal.  So true and that got us through the first couple months.

Now that we’re less stationary (as we were when O slept on us for 22 hours a day) we email each other updates whenever they cross our minds.  An email I received from the Wife the other day read “Subject: milestones” and the text was: “almost sitting on his own – May 10.”  I am dumping all these bits into a gmail folder for a future day when I will finally watch all of Breaking Bad while simultaneously formatting a google doc of baby milestones.  (Is that not your idea of a good time?  it is mine!)  We are also going through old texts with our parents who have been the eager recipients of much more detailed updates (O gurgled in a new tone of voice today!  He didn’t cry when we put him in the stroller today!)

But as we’ve been frantically trying to get our act together to make a record of the important stuff (and the rest of it too), I’ve been increasingly struck by the other milestones – the parenting milestones – and have started keeping track of those too.

Here are a few of my most proud and/or important milestones:

  • From pregnancy, the day I walked into a wall because I no longer knew the perimeter of my belly
  • The first time I slept through a night nursing.  (Like slept. through. completely.  As in, I woke up at 3 am amazed that O had made it that far into the night without needing to eat only to learn that he had woken up, he had been placed next to me, fed from me, and been burped and put back down – thanks Wife! – and I stayed asleep.  Nice.)  
  • The time when I was fully dressed for work in the one outfit that fit me and was also formal enough for my meetings that day and then O needed a big diaper change stat, which I did without getting any bodily fluids landing on my clothes.  huzzah!
  • The only time I pumped more than 10 oz in one sitting!  (And I havent come close to repeating since..)
  • Our first date night after O was born (and how we managed to not talk about him for the a full 50% of the time)
  • The first morning I left O with the nanny and didn’t feel a little panic inside as I walked out of the house

I’m very curious to hear from the internets, what are your parental milestones?

The 4 month Regression Is A Real Pickle

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As it turns out, some stages are more frustrating than others.  And some are more delightful.  For Baby O, it seemed that being 3 months old was a revelation.  His digestive system was no longer brand new, he could mostly hold his head up on his own, he had the hang of being out of the womb and – wonder upon wonders – he had just discovered he had hands!  The possibilities of the world had just increased exponentially.

4 months old, however, has been another story.  He knows he has hands, but can’t quite use them.  He is aware of the possibilities his legs, his stomach, his head and feet all have to offer but can’t benefit yet from any of it.  He can’t stand but he desperately wants to.  And until this week, when he tried to sit up he would falls back, forward or to the side instantly.  He can hold things in his hands – sort of – but can’t move to grab the things he wants.

And, most frustrating of all, he’s learned to roll, but only onto his tummy. He can’t yet get off!

It’s a real pickle.

They call this phase the 4 month regression.  Whoever “they” are, I don’t think they got it right.  Better put, it’s a progression.  A massive, explosive progression.  True, this phase brings wake ups more frequently than any time since he was first born (or in O’s case – more frequent wake ups than ever before).  And it’s enough to cause despair and hopelessness – like someone just recovering from an illness only to relapse again.  Or enough to make a smug parent eat a heaping slice of humble pie.  But it’s full of huge leaps and changes every day enough kindle a little hope for what’s to come.

What’s very clear is that necessity is the mother of innovation because it’s only by getting frustrated enough that he is figuring out how to get to the next step.  No amount of parental coaching can make him realize that he can and how to get off his stomach.

And as epic as this phase has felt – oh those nights when he can’t get off his stomach and at times seems unable to sleep without burying his face in a suffocating position on his crib mattress such that even if he is able to sleep, we cannot – it moves just as quickly by.

In fact, as of this writing, Baby O has turned 5 months old and suddenly started to figure out the whole sitting thing.  For a few second or a couple minutes, but he’s decidedly starting to get it.  And with that, we are reminded about the best parenting advice we’ve received – that whatever phase you are in is all consuming and impossible to imagine a way out of, until you get to the next phase (almost magically).

And this week, I’m feeling especially grateful for some of the pains of the 4 month progression because without that struggle, the loss of these remaining semblances of our itty bitty newborn would be just too painful to bear.

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Photos: O getting stuck on his stomach during tummy time

[Guest Post] Dispatches From the Wife: “Liquid Gold”

This morning we have a special treat – the second edition of Dispatches from the Wife!  I can attest that everything she says here is spot on – freshly pumped breast milk IS liquid gold and it was a hard morning for all of us when it spilled.  But as bummed as I was, as guilt-ridden as she was, as oblivious as O was – s*&t happens and we have not yet run out of milk.  And more importantly wife is a TOTAL partner in the feeding of Baby O – so all the non-breastfeeding parents (NBfPOMWIBf) out there – take note!     

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I spilled liquid gold – otherwise known as expressed breast milk – the other morning. I was getting ready to take O to day care and gathering the MANY things needed, including bottles of milk, and one just fell and that was that. Yep, it was a low moment. Yep, I felt bad. Why?

Because I have watched how hard opinionated mama works to pump enough milk for O every day and as we know, pumping sucks. We try to keep ahead of the amount he needs each day but it is always close (for those of you who wonder why we didn’t stockpile milk in the freezer – we did. He is just one of the very small % of babies who doesn’t like reheated frozen milk).

On my way into work, after dropping off O, I started thinking about ways in which the non-breast feeding-partner-of-a-mom-who-is-breastfeeding (do we need an acronym for that? NBfPOMWIBf?) can help the breast feeding mom (spilling milk is definitely not one of them). But there is so much to help with and I thought it might be useful to lay some of this out for those of you are not sure, think you have little role in this regard, and/or are still sitting on your assess while the breastfeeding mom is WORKING HARD! Here is my list:

  • Feed and Hydrate the Mama: Breastfeeding makes a woman very hungry. And thirsty. Get her food. Make her breakfast. Bring water. She will be focused on the baby so offer to do this. Or, just do it (in my case, it is a discussion b/c opinionated mama always has a very specific idea of what she wants).
  • Get the non-perishable supplies ready: OK, so yeah, breastfeeding can be done with, well, just a breast and baby, but sometimes things like boppy pillows, burp cloths, iPhones, etc are really needed. Get them!
  • Burb the Baby: Just because she is feeding him doesn’t mean she has to burp him all the time. Maybe she can sleep a bit and you can do the burping.
  • Spilled MilkBe a Pumping Partner: If pumping, make sure the pump parts are getting cleaned and bring them to each pumping session at home. Take the bottles after each pumping session and label them or do whatever you do need to do with them. And if she pumps at work, why not get the pump parts ready for her every morning before she goes to the office? I mean, she’s the one who has to find time during her work day to be milked like a cow. All you have to do is get the stuff together.
  • Prepare for Day Care: If going to day care and milk is needed, get the milk out and ready. But be careful not to drop a bottle – that stuff is liquid gold.