posts tagged with 'breastfeeding'

A non-formulaic reaction to a formula commercial

I am just going to keep watching this commercial until it stops making me cry. And that hasn't happened yet.

For those who have not seen the Similac Mommyhood commercial, I will offer the briefest of synopses. Different ideological groups of parents set off to spar. They stop to save a baby in peril. Fellowship ensues.

I've watched it at least a dozen times now, and it still leaves me crying like a three year old who's been told he can't have a second rice krispie treat. (ahem Zion.)

I love so many details about the parent "gangs" in this characterization. I love that the attachment parents come off as slightly indecisive and bewildered ("Is it go time? Yeah, I think it's go time..."). I love the fact that the badass breastfeeders look gross for not wearing bras. I belong to both those two tribes, and I think both depictions are accurate of me.

I appreciate that the area where the stay-at-home Dads are picnicking is an unadulterated mess.

But that is not the reason the commercial has me crying. Somehow it struck a chord, when the stroller rolls downhill and the parents all run to catch it. The mama peeks into the basinet and (wait for it, sob) she mouths the words, "It's okay. He's fine."

That's what made me YouTube this stupid thing until it showed ads on top of my ad. The inaudible phrase, "He's fine."

I don't think I'll ever be able to utter these words. In the absence of a formulaic vignette that only lasts three minutes, there will never be a stopping point for me. I will never have a moment, I don't think, when I look at my children and sigh with relief and say, "Phewf."

"We made it. HE'S FINE."

Another video that I watched in repetition this year was a clip of the first woman to complete the American Ninja Warrior qualifiers. After destroying the obstacle course like she works for an obstacle course manufacturer (which she does) Kacy Catanzaro scales the last hurtle, a vertical wall, to ring a bell signaling that she's reached the trial's end. That part got me chocked up. With jealousy, I guess. Not because I want to reinvent myself as a gymnast (unless breastfeeding counts), but because I will never have a moment in my life where I complete anything enough to ring a bell. Raising children is all encompassing from now til perpetuity. There's is never a moment when I get to say, as Kacy does in her tiny little gymnast voice: "I did it!"

Confound you, moving pictures.

I probably suffer less from the monotony of parenting than from the fallacy of narrative cohesion. Commercials and network television need to tell a story. The convention of the three-minute clip, whether it sells something or not, is to quickly string events together with a clear beginning middle and end. Life does not work in this fashion. It goes on for an impossibly long time after three minutes. We may have successes and we may have failures. We may connect with former enemies or triumph over physical obstacles. But life doesn't stop where a video might pull up a facebook share button. Life goes on. We have to go home and deal with the laundry. Find something for everyone to eat for dinner.

My goal for the moment is not to TRIUMPH over adversity or opposition, but find beauty in the strife-filled obstacle-laden world that I live in. It may never be 'fine' and it may never be 'done.' But if I let go of narrative expectations it can probably be beautiful.

(PS: same message different examples in an article I wrote for Horatio, out this week. I am a one-trick, mommy, potty-mouthed pony, apparently. Funnily enough, that's called a 'dam'.)


No more nuh-nuh

I don't want to jinx it or anything, but it seems as if I may have weened Zion this week. He was only using nursing to go to sleep at night, and not every night because sometimes he fell asleep without remembering to ask. So it wasn't a very big thing to tell him no nursing and give him a cuddle or a bottle of juice. I think we have passed that magical five-day mark with no nursing, which means we're officially done? yes? But it looks like my breasts don't believe me. They have given milk non-stop for over four years now, so when I tell them we are taking a bit of a break they're like, "Haha, yeah whatever lady."

This does not mean I'm suddenly sleeping easy. Zion hasn't night-nursed for months now, but he still wakes up faithfully between one and four times a night asking for cuddles and sometimes "apppple juiiiiiiiiice!" Harvey also wakes up when he wets the bed, which is at least twice a week, so between changing sheets, running to the kitchen for juiiiiiiice, and giving two needy boys the love and affection they refuse to take from teddy bears, there's not much rest going on. Which is why weening doesn't feel so much like a victory as it does a coping mechanism. If they keep me up all night and then on top of that the little one is squeezing my tits? I can get a little yelly first thing in the morning.

The best emotional management tool I know after a terrible night with the children is to take a break away from them before they wake up. So if I find myself lying across the bottom of their two beds, a hand mechanically petting Zion's back, and I start to hear the birds singing? I quickly check if they're asleep and then I get the fuck out of there. I used to go running at 5am religiously, but the heat has been making me sick lately so instead I look at the computer or read or stretch. Sometimes I even read the bible, but Zion usually needs a half-hour of cuddling when he wakes up, and I try to do bible then or else it's so boring rocking a two-year-old and doing absolutely nothing else that I want to gouge my eyes out.

Of all the mothers that could be on the cover of Time Magazine, I am probably a poor poster-child for extended breastfeeding. I mean, yeah I nursed one child to 22 months and another to 27, through a pregnancy, in public when necessary. But I never, like, super-duper enjoyed it. I never felt like I needed or wanted to advocate for it. I never felt like it was anything more than feeding, anything bigger than pouring a bottle of juice (something I do probably twenty times a day now with very little sentimentality.)

I used to have big ideas about breastfeeding in the same way I had big ideas about home-birth or attachment parenting (whatever that is), and those big ideas included an unhealthy dose of EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING IT WRONG. I don't feel so strongly about these things anymore. Breastfeeding or giving birth at home are things that I have done. Other people do other things and that's cool too. I don't feel that these choices carry more weight than other parenting choices. Parenting goes on for a long time and every day there are lots and lots of choices. How do I do discipline this moment? How am I going to love my children and also take a break to breath? What tone of voice am I using when I speak to them? and how can I wipe that holier-than-thou asshole expression off my face?

I don't know the answers to all these questions, but I do know that I've signed up for class at the gym at 8am, and I'm going to wear my sports bra ALL DAY until then. In my weird world that feels like a celebration.


risk tolerances

So even though he's almost 2 and I'm almost 8 months pregnant, I'm still nursing Harvey twice a day now. I'd like to say it stems from my hippy ideals of child-led weaning, maintaining the nurturing relationship, blah blah blah. But no; it's laziness. Nursing puts him to sleep... most of the time. And I want him to sleep... all of the time.

At this point in his life nursing has about an 80% put-down success rate. 8 times out of 10 Harvey will fall asleep at the teat, for a nice neat put down time of 10-15 minutes. If the milk runs out before he gets tired, add 20-30 minutes of singing. A dry put-down can take 40 minutes to never.

And therein lies the ultimate fear: today might be a day when he doesn't nap at all.

That's the fear that seems to be keeping me in nursing bras infinitely. I'd love to have a fully weaned toddler at this point, to give my boobs a break and erect a tiny facade of personal space. But an hour of singing in the middle of the day when I'm already exhausted, when the back of my mind is painted with a nightmare vision of a stressful put-down stretching into a drawn-out battle of wills which ends in an ever-more exhausted mama giving up all hope of rest and heading downstairs to make lunch, wakeful Harvey in tow... the thought of 12 straight hours no break of holding up my end of a constant conversation the other half of which is "This one day? Harvey this one day?" makes my brain drain out my ears, makes me say yes, nursing, anything to give you a better chance of sleeping.

It is a losing battle that I am fighting. I know my days of nursing him to sleep are numbered, that it gets less effective as I get closer to my due date, that he's getting older and wiser, and that some days he might just not nap at all. I tell myself that when the second one comes along they may never sleep concurrently. That I'll need to find other tiny moments of rest during the day. For some reason, these thoughts don't seem helpful.


more noooneeee?

I've been nursing Harvey for almost 18 months now, and I still like it. Well, let me put some parentheses on that. I like it at 11 am when it calms him into a cuddly afternoon nap. I like it less at fussy bed-time, and even less at 6 in the morning when the anticipation thereof has solicited screaming outbursts at 3am and every hour thereafter. Seriously. Every friggin night. If you want to get 8 hours of sleep in this household, you have to go to bed at 7.

Harvey too loves nursing and seems in no way inclined to give it up. I'm floating the possibility in my own brain of tandem nursing when the new baby comes. I'm not sure whether that will be easier or harder than weaning Harvey on my schedule, nor am I sure which is better for seeing that both children feel attended to and loved. I've never actually met a tandem nurser in person, so it seems kind of like chasing a mythical unicorn.

I do know that there's a lot of bullshit about nursing floating around in our cultural ether, which makes me raise serious eyebrows at anyone else who jumps to give me advice. A neighbor told me months ago, "You're thinking of getting pregnant? You know you're going to have to stop nursing, right?" Indeed, most people are aghast when they find out that I'm still nursing while with child. But here I am bucking everyone's fears, gaining a pound a week right on schedule (which makes for a rather slow and un-vigorous buck, but you understand). And Harvey isn't nutritionally phased by the few sips of milk he gets thrice daily. He goes right on chomping through whatever we put in front of him, alongside items he demands of my plate and food from the dog's dish. Which is a matter for another post, but ew.

I would like to get him off morning nursing and asking for it all night, which heralds the end of co-sleeping for my first born. I feel rather bitter sweet about the whole thing. I love sleeping next to Harvey, but we all desperately need more sleep. I'm trying to come to grips with the fact that my family sleeping situation needs to be dictated by actual sleep, not by my need for love or my pathological fear that our basement will spontaneously combust.


independence crafting week - refashion

When Harvey was born I invested in some nursing tops, which the magazines and blogs say are absolutely ESSENTIAL for breast-feeding discreetly in public.

The first few times I went out in my special tops I beamed with confidence. I can breast-feed whenever I want, wherever I want! I thought. That is, until I tried the dang things out. "Let's see... reach through here, unsnap this here... pull this out here... cover this with this... wait, he can't find the... hold on... I've just gotta cover this with this...." After a few tries I just said "To hell with it!" and pulled out my entire breast to offer to my child. The world can see an inch of exposed breast once in a while and not explode. And in the end, I decided that I hate nursing tops. Because when you're not breast-feeding, they look pretty frumpy.

the shirt before alterations


I wanted to end independence crafting week with a re-fashion, so I decided to re-fashion this nursing top into something I might actually like to wear these days. The first thing I had to do was get rid of the double layers of fabric on the top. I cut free the top layer, folded it down, and turned it into a long belt loop through which I could string some ribbon. Then I shortened the straps (thank you serger), sewed a dart in the back, and embellished with some spare fabric and the ribbing I had cut off the top.

the shirt after being upgraded


I'm pretty happy with how it came out (if not so happy with looking at myself in pictures).

I'm also happy that independence crafting week is officially over! It's been a hot week in the sewing room!

Smarter feminists than me talk about boobquake

On why a million sexy boobies missed the point:

Given a chance, I do not think [Iranian women] would fight for equality that looks like women wearing revealing clothing so men can get all into it and derail its original purpose.  We Western women?  Are not exactly totally free, either, and thus this ALSO reinforces the incorrect notion that the West has women's equality, THE END.

Because the point isn't to be sexy:

In our culture, displaying your cleavage is generally acceptable and it is almost always seen as sexy, flirtatious, ‘flaunting it’... What is not so generously embraced in our culture is revealing a breast for the purpose of feeding a child. Get your boobs out to nourish your offspring, and suddenly, they’re not so palatable. The kind of quake I want to experience is that which would be caused by the visibility and acceptability of all women’s bodies in all their guises - that'd be a real seismic shift.


Today is boobquake 2010. I am participating. In my own way.

The goal of boobquake is to hold a mass movement of women dressing scandalously to prove that a woman's skin does not cause massive environmental disaster.

This sounds totally fun - the sort of mass movement I could have really gotten behind in college. It's fun and flirty to show off your cleavage! Stick it to the man! Um, or whatever.

On the other hand, now that I'm a mom I'm kind of fed up with the hypersexualization of breasts. It's not only about wonderbras, it's about a billion dollar industry made up of tents of varying sizes that you can put over baby's face while he's breastfeeding. If he's squirmy or difficult to feed in a tent, others will glance at you disapprovingly. Even breastfeeding advocates will chastise you for not being discrete.

At church a few weeks ago I was in the nursing baby's corner. I saw a new mom take ten minutes draping her little patterned shawl just so over baby's head. What a pain in the ass! Then another mom came in with a toddler and just rolled down her shirt pulling her whole boob out. Way to fuckin go! I wanted to scream. Except, you know, I was in a room full of babies. And I was trying to hide the top of my breast with my sweater.

So in honor of boobquake 2010 I'm officially declaring myself over it. Check out my breast. You'll find it in the baby food section. If you can't help yourself from being either titillated or disgusted, then you have your own problems you need to work through. I've taken a self-portrait in honor of the occasion. (And out of the complete boredom that comes from pumping in a poorly-lit closet.)


pumping with photo booth set to emo

Happy boobquake. Although I have to admit, this is really more like geyser territory.


Anyone need some brain dev powder for a smoothie?

Another free sample came from enfamil in the mail. This time it's some special pre-toddler formula to help with growing brains. There's even a graph on the package indicating how 85% of Harvey's brain function will be formed by age 3, with the implication that regular food and, um, breast-milk aren't enough to fertilize his little mind like miracle grow.

Enfamil and their competitors have been working pretty hard to ensnare Harvey as one of their potential customers. Here's a sample of the free enticements they sent me before the baby was even born:

formula free samples

sampling is a high-cost high-return marketing tactic

5 large tins of powdered formula
3 single-serving formula sizes
two boxes of baby vitamin drops
one bottle
three nipples
one pacifier
one cold compress bag
a sports-themed bib
a to-go travel back-pack
a thousand pamphlets about the importance of starting your baby off right with good nutrition.
Goodnight Moon. As if we didn't already have two friggin copies of Goodnight Moon.

Breast-feeding in America can be hard. Sometimes it's hard because you don't have support from your healthcare provider to begin with. Sometimes it's hard because you don't stop getting Mastitis or because your breasts are riddled with festering sores. Sometimes it's hard because other people are assholes and don't want to see your boob in any fashion other than titillating.

And sometimes it's not that hard, but quitting seems so so so much easier.

This debate is already raging on the internet, and some people have better things to say than I do. I don't have anything more super deep to say; I just look at that image and it chills me to the core. You can unsubscribe from tv and magazines but you can't escape culture when it's mailed direct to your house every afternoon. Whatever it is that the culture values, good or bad. Brain development. Doing things the easy way. Buying shit.


booby update

After I blogged about the booby sores yesterday the tit situation took a turn for the worse. Around noon a thick clog developed on the top half of my breast, about half an inch wide and three inches long. I couldn't unclog it as damned hard as I tried, despite spending about two hours in the pumping closet at work. At about 4pm I called it quits and headed home. I ran a bath and tried to soak the foul milk out. No dice. I nursed the baby and still that swath of clog stayed stuck.

I cursed. I sniffled. I gave up for a few hours and had dinner with friends.

When I got ready to nurse Harvey before bed, I pulled out my boob to examine the distressed nipple. Previously I had been so focused on the sores that I missed a tiny pin-prick sized white dot on the top. I had thought it was a spot of milk, but looking closer it looked more like a white-head or some sort of zit. I put two nails to it and popped it out. All of a sudden SPURT! The entire three square inches of milk came gushing out geiser style! For about a minute my boob looked like one of those trick fountains at Disney World. A perfect arc of milk erupted up and out and onto the floor. The sensation was one of the most incredible relief.

If nothing else, this breast-feeding thing is a real trip. When else is your life would you pop a zit and watch a gallon of milk stream out your body. And simultaneously think: Awwwww. That's the stuff!

The jury's still out on whether parenthood has made me more or less mature. I think the answer is, six of one, half dozen of the other.


this is why I'm constantly looking down my shirt and wincing

Harvey has some sharp teeth these days. In the past two weeks he's delivered some mighty bites to the nips that feed him. He's mostly over his biting-for-fun phase that I complained about a few months ago, but now the problem isn't the pain of the bite but the lasting damage it inflicts. It's a whole new animal when there are top and bottom teeth that come together in staple-remover fashion.

Now when he bites me, which I'll admit isn't often, there appears a neat puncture wound in my nipple; a tiny crater for a tiny little space man. On any other part of my body this wouldn't be a big deal. On your arm a pin-sized prick will go away after a few days, and you won't notice it. But on a nipple that's consistently submerged in baby saliva, the wound lingers. It pusses and scabs, only to have the scab ripped off three hours later. Then it pusses again.

Festering is a word that comes to mind.

I've had some challenges with breast feeding over the past nine months, what with persistent clogs and two bouts of mastitis. But these tiny festering pin-prick sized craters, these are the worst. It's absolutely amazing how much they hurt. Constantly. Sitting here typing I'm aware of the pain neurons firing. And you can't even imagine how it feels to nurse him. I draw in my breath. I grit my teeth. I clench and unclench my fists. Sometimes I pray and curse alternatively. "Oh-God-Oh-God-Oh-God, STOP making this hurt so GODDAMN FUCKING MUCH!"

I share these unsavory images not to gross you out (although, mission accomplished!) but rather to get encouragement around my unshakable conviction to nurse Harvey until he's 12 months old. There's the pain. There's the pain-in-the-ass of pumping. But on the other side there's the anxiety-industrial-complex, pushing all sorts of normal foods farther and farther out of the reach of my 9-month old. Hold off on cows milk, and cheese, and eggs, and peanut butter. If I stop milking then what will he eat? The boy can't live on rice-cakes alone!

No matter how much he loves them...