But finding time to fully develop and organize a written blog post has proven to be… challenging.
Full-time work. Two kids. House. Life.
It usually takes me at least three or four hours to craft a post that I publish on this blog. And let’s be honest, I’m really stretched for finding that time.
But I really love writing.
So for 2018, I’m going to try a different format and reach beyond the written word.
The theme of the year is “Pieces of Parenthood.”
Each week, I’ll share a picture, a video, a sound file, or maybe just a short written post. The theme of these posts is to give the reader a glimpse into what parenthood looks like in this version of life that our family lives. Since these pieces of media will be curated, I’ll present them like an art exhibition.
Admission is free.
So, here we go.
Pieces of Parenthood # 1: Infant feeding
Format: Digital picture
Feeding is a central theme in the care of infants. It is one of the three-pronged components of an infant’s life: feeding, peeing/pooing, sleeping. To feed a baby is to love a baby. My 11-month-old son is in the midst of transitioning to solid foods. As such, his primary caloric intakes comes from formula (soy-based, to respond to lactose intolerance). In addition, he eats three bowls of some kind of solid, blended food. In this photo, I capture the moment just before I mix together some baby oatmeal cereal with a blueberry/pear blend.
On his face, you can see the eagerness with which he reaches for his food and his recognition of the person who is offering the food.
(I shouldn’t have to, but I know how quickly the mind jumps to conclusions…)
I think breastfeeding is awesome.
My love of formula feeding in no way diminishes your breastfeeding experience.
Infant feeding isn’t a zero-sum issue.
(And by the way, when did it become one?)
Formula feeding, one week old
As I’ve written about extensively in my book and in other blog posts, breastfeeding was so much worse than childbirth for me. (And I gave birth without drugs).
With my first baby, I was overcome with feelings of guilt (This shit might actually keep her brain from developing as much as it would if I were breastfeeding…) and shame (If I were a better mother, I would have kept pumping, even just a little bit. Every little bit helps.)
In my mind, I wasn’t allowed to openly love formula feeding. Proclaiming how much I loved formula feeding would have been akin to saying that I didn’t particularly care about the health of my child.
That’s what I thought.
When I try to trace back where those thoughts came from, I realize how much of my own insinuations were responsible for the guilt and shame that I felt. I read four or five credible books about breastfeeding when I was pregnant. (The Breastfeeding Book by Martha and William Sears was particularly good.) My takeaway from this and the other books was that, as long as I stuck with breastfeeding, my chances of success were very, very high.
I just needed to buckle down and commit to the process.
Because, let’s face it, breastfeeding is better for me and the baby.
I LOVED THIS MESSAGE.
Because if there’s one thing my friends and family know about me, it’s that I CAN BUCKLE DOWN AND COMMIT like no other.
I’m like a dog with a bone when I move something to the top of the priority list.
And in those first weeks after my first child was born…
Let’s just say, Ruff, ruff.
There’s a difference between loving the way that you feed your child and doing it simply because you hate the alternative.
I had to learn this the hard way with my first child.
Because, I confess, I didn’t love formula feeding her.
I just hated the alternative of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding made me absolutely miserable. It brought me no joy. It only brought physical and emotional pain. Feelings of inadequacy and resentment. And days and days of being awake for 22 out of 24 hours (and that brings you to the brink of psychosis, let me tell you).
So I quietly switched to formula feeding when my daughter was 12 days old. Every time, someone saw us feeding her tiny bottles of formula, the mental tape of guilt and shame ran its course in my mind.
I bit my lip and hoped no one would say anything.
Most people didn’t.
But some did.
And then I was prepared with my boilerplate speech that grew increasingly awkward as I tried to figure out on-the-fly if this audience really needed to know the shape of my nipples or the amount of milk that I was producing. (Does anyone really need to know that?)
It was agonizing.
But this post isn’t supposed to be about how hard breastfeeding was for me.
It’s supposed to be about how awesome formula feeding has been for me.
I’ll admit, I didn’t automatically switch to loving formula feeding after having my second baby simply because I had done it before.
But once I realized the absolute deluge of work that having a second child heaped upon us, I was ALL ABOUT FORMULA FEEDING.
With no grandparents living nearby to constantly stop by and help out, we bear the full load by ourselves. (Read: full-time jobs, daycare drop-off/pick-up, hours of housecleaning every day, lawn mowing (a HUGE yard), shopping, doctor visits, dentist visits, blah, blah, blah…)
So trying to breastfeed when my body wasn’t cooperating?
Breastfeeding even if my body were cooperating would have been a challenge.
I think the only way I would be breastfeeding right now is if…
1) I truly loved the experience of breastfeeding
2) I could hire outside help to pick up my share of the household chores.
Barring those two crucial factors, breastfeeding would just not happen.
Because now, the day is doubly full of responsibilities.
Now, there are no simply no free moments to wade through the quagmire of the Internet and second guess everything that I’m doing and compare this product and that product and this method and that method.
I no longer run Google searches like “infant formula obesity” or “does formula cause diarrhea?” or “comparison of intelligence breastfed and formula fed” or “mother child bonding only breastfeeding?” And then get sidetracked into a discussion board where self-righteous and insecure young mothers tear each other apart.
So unh-uh. Ain’t nobody got time for that any more.
If you’ve gotten this far, perhaps you want some specific reasons that I love formula feeding.
Here are my top reasons, in order of importance to me.
I know exactly how much my baby has eaten (This always helped put my mind at ease in those early weeks when your baby is trying to regain their birth weight.)
I know exactly what ingredients my baby has eaten.
I don’t have to worry about how my diet affects my baby. (After ten months of pregnancy, this is a huge relief, I can tell you.)
My body starts to feel like it belongs to me again, much sooner.
I can more easily share night feeding responsibilities.
I don’t have to pump at night or at work, just to keep my milk supply up.
Actually, just, I DON’T HAVE TO PUMP. (Those machines are like a form of torture, I swear to God. And of course, they were invented by a dude.)
I don’t have to scrape the bottom of my soul for the willpower to endure a baby’s incessant need to nurse all day, for several days–just to get my baby through a growth spurt.
I can get a babysitter and leave the house–without wondering how soon I’ll need to pump or nurse before my boobs explode.
I will never run out of food for my baby–even if my body isn’t cooperating (a statement of middle-class privilege, I acknowledge. Although… so are a lot of these reasons…)
If I get sick, I can take time to recover without having a baby attached to me all hours of the day.
I can exercise without worrying about diminishing my milk supply.
Actually, I can just live life without worrying about diminishing my milk supply.
I only spend 2 hours per day feeding my child (20 minutes X 5-6 feedings), rather than 4.5 hours per day (45 minutes X 5-6 feedings–that was about the fastest I could ever nurse).
I didn’t have to worry about whether my baby would take a bottle at daycare.
I don’t have to confront the frustrating situation of wondering if some nut job is going to find my breastfeeding “inappropriate.” (IT’S NOT. GET OVER IT.)
I’m sure I could go on…
I write this post specifically for mothers who are formula feeding.
Because I know what it’s like to be sitting in a group of moms and overhear someone refer to infant formula as “garbage.” Or hear another mom say, “Well, if that’s how you want to feed your baby…”
It ain’t fun.
And, if you were raised to be “ladylike” like me, you didn’t stand up for yourself. (Instead, you just pretended that you didn’t hear… and then complained about it later to an accepting audience as a means to let off steam. Being female is a bitch, isn’t it?)
What I want to say to you is this:
There will be sooo many times in motherhood when you can’t please everyone, no matter what you do.
This truth hit home hard just a month ago when another daycare mom who was considering withdrawing her baby (who had started just weeks earlier) called our daycare center a “dirty”, “expensive,” “baby factory.” (Expensive, sure, but dirty? Uh, have you been to other daycare centers???) After I told her that I liked our daycare, she said,
“Huh. I just thought my baby deserved better. But you’re fine with this, right?”
Ick. I couldn’t get out of the conversation fast enough.
Trust me. There will always be someone who will try to make you feel badly about how you’re raising your kids. No matter what you’re doing.
And if you need even more assurance that everything’s going to be okay, here’s Adam explaining why baby formula isn’t poison.
Press on, moms.
There will always be someone who is sure you’re not doing the best that you can. (And for some reason, it’s their responsibility to let you know about it.)
In Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch is a group of monk-like men who devote themselves to defending the icy wall that separates the Realm from demonic Whitewalkers. In their oaths, they make this pledge:
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
Being a mother of a newborn is a bit like being a Brother of the Night’s Watch.
Not completely. But a bit.
It’s sold to you as important, noble, and life-changing work. And it feels like this for a time, while it’s still fresh and new.
But after a time, you feel like you actually have a lot in common with the Brothers of the Night’s Watch, sent to the end of the world, isolated, doing the work that must be done, the work that safeguards and ensures that humanity goes on, but that no one else will do.
At one time, you looked forward to the night hours that other mothers had once told you were so dear and precious. They talked about those hours as if they had been part adventure, part battle, and part romance.
But then, you find yourself standing in the midst of this long-awaited dream, bleary-eyed, weary, frustrated, resentful, and just downright sad.
And in that moment, it feels like you have been duped. It feels like you have fallen for a grand prank, as if you’ve been traveling toward some oasis, only to find that once you got there, there was nothing but sand to drink and no one to share your frustration with but the stars.
I imagine that it’s a lot like how Jon Snow felt when he realized that the other men who were travelling to the Wall with him were criminals who were being sent there as punishment.
So fueled by your euphoric and powerful love for your child, this feeling that you’ve been doing incredibly important, albeit invisible work, transforms into something quite different.
Loneliness. Singularity. A feeling of forgottenness.
While everyone else has moved on with their lives, there you are. Ever rocking. Ever feeding. Ever diapering and holding. Traveling in a repetitive loop of time. Frozen.
It weighs so heavy on you.
It feels like it will never end.
It feels like this will forever be the rhythm of your life.
When we came home with the baby just six weeks ago, I called those hours between midnight and 6:00 a.m. “The Night Watch.” They were the hours when it was only me and him. My husband and daughter were sound asleep. So was my mother, who had come to help us in those first few weeks.
And then there was me and Henry.
And six hours.
And three feedings.
For about a week, the Night Watch had three feedings, around 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 a.m. And then it shortened to two feedings, around midnight and 3:00 a.m.
Last week, as Henry turned six weeks old, it shortened even more. We noticed that he would sleep for five and a half hours in one stretch, usually between 11:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
This was exciting. Because it opened the possibility of me being able to seriously regain some sleep. My husband and I agreed to share the responsibility for the two feedings. Since I’m much better in the morning and he’s better at night, I took the early morning feeding and he took the late night feeding.
A few days passed like this.
It was sooo great.
In bed at 9:00 p.m. Up at 5:00 a.m.
And I got so much stuff done.
Between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., depending on when Henry would wake up to eat, I could (usually) accomplish the following, always in a different order.
Exercise (low-impact kickboxing or walking)
Packing Felicity’s lunch
Feeding/changing Henry, putting him back to sleep
Getting Felicity dressed/ fed/ dropped off at daycare
Wake up Doug
And then it occurred to me.
And now my watch is ended.
There will still be those awful nights of teething and illness when he can’t sleep more than a few minutes at a time. And sometimes, his sleep will be messed up and he’ll want to eat at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.
But for the most part, it’s over.
There is no more Night Watch for me.
Just like that.
And now, I can hardly remember how long those hours were. My memory tells me that I felt so tired and heavy. I remember pulling myself out of sleep and moving through the night, bare feet on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, digging my hands into the pockets of my robe. Pouring the formula into a bottle, microwaving it (which you should never do… right?), and then trudging back up the stairs (had I actually walked down them? I can’t even remember…).
But the sensations are gone. I cannot recreate them.
And so, those tired moments have become uncoupled from the exact cause of what made them so difficult: the actual feelings of utter exhaustion.
What was once so horrible in the moment has already become a fond memory.
One, I’m sure, I’ll recall next year with longing and misty eyes.
Description: You’ve just labored for God knows how long, so you’re already physically exhausted. But you are riding on a hormonal high because your baby is out and in your arms. At first, you believe that you will be able to rest as soon as everyone leaves your hospital room.
Only, they don’t ever really leave. For very long, at least. So what you end up with are minuscule catnaps that amount to no real rest. You close your eyes and try to drift off, but your brain doesn’t really power down.
You pray that once you return home, you’ll be able to sleep. But then, new stressors await you at home, no matter how many people are there to help out. Your life is in flux. The baby warps the fabric of time and space and requires your concerted attention for figuring out how to move through the day in order to keep everyone alive.
And then you’re processing the birth experience, remembering everything that happened. The horrible. The beautiful. The painful. The moments you never, ever want to forget but are already slowly falling through the cracks in your memory.
Then, there are your plummeting postpartum hormones. Your constant need to mop out all the fluids pouring out of you. The postpartum hunger as your body prepares to breastfeed. The afterbirth cramps that continue to pulse in waves.
All of this adds to your mounting anxiety and despair that you will literally never power down again. Although you desperately close your eyes and tell yourself, This is it. Everyone is taking care of everything. I can sleep—You still don’t sleep.
Your mind wants to fall asleep, but your body won’t follow suit.
When: Days 7-14
Description: You sleep in one-hour increments around the clock, totaling about 5 hours. You do not reach restorative, REM sleep, but the sleep is deep enough for your brain to put a period to the last segment of time that you were awake. It’s not that you never find the opportunity to sleep. Your body just physically won’t completely let go of consciousness for whatever reason.
Your need for round-the-clock self-care continues, along with your round-the-clock eating which coincides with your baby’s feedings. Your postpartum hormones are still swinging up and down, making you unpredictably emotional.
Sometimes, you just need to cry at 2:00 a.m.
Every time you wake up from a one-hour nap, you feel that you’ve taken a few steps away from full-on psychosis. But after a few hours, when you hear yourself talking, you think, Is that me? Did I say that? Do I sound weird to other people?
You cannot make decisions and you hope no one asks you to do so. Your cognitive processing is at an all-time low. Your head feels warm and fuzzy.
Stupid things make you laugh.
You utter the words, “Oh, sweet, sweet exhaustion.”
When: Day 15 – Whenever the baby has only one night feeding.
Description: Small 1-2 hour chunks of sleep at night + 2 naps, totaling 5-6 hours.
You are doing two or three night feedings each night, but it feels like six. Up and down. Up and down. Up, up, up. And down.
But there’s a good side. This is the first time you really achieve restorative, REM-sleep. You begin to dream regularly again, although sometimes you wish you didn’t. Nightmares of losing your baby or discovering your child dead in his crib haunt you.
This is also where chronic sleep deprivation sets in. When you wake up from a good chunk of sleep, you feel restored. It’s deceptive. You feel like you can do anything. Grocery shopping! Daycare drop off! Make my own breakfast! Yes, I can do it all!
But by the sixth hour that you are awake, you are completely spent. This time, your body wants to sleep, but your mind doesn’t. That familiar warm, fuzzy feeling in your head returns and you feel your eyes start to involuntarily close. It happens at predictable intervals, too, because all the sleeping in one-hour increments has trained your body to power down with or without your permission.
1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. is when you feel it. Like clockwork.
1:00 p.m. is not so bad because the baby usually wants to sleep.
But 7:00 p.m. opens a previously hidden door to hell.
Everyone is home now. It’s dinner time. Maybe you have to cook. (Or maybe you just assemble salads and sandwiches, like I usually do.) The daily dishes mount in the sink. The mail comes in. The baby is in the prime “witching hours” of fussiness. He cries, but won’t really eat. He’s asleep, then awake 10 minutes later. Then, asleep. Awake. Crying. Refuses the pacifier. All you want to do is slink away from everyone, miraculously unnoticed and unneeded and bed down in your dark room with the cool sheets to soothe the building heat in your head.
God forbid, one of you gets sick.
That’s when the shit really hits the fan.
When: Transitional period of one nightly feeding/waking – no nightly feedings/wakings
Description: This is arguably the most frustrating period of sleep deprivation, simply because you’ve had a taste of the good nights. At this level, you have a bit of an expectation that you will fall asleep and stay asleep for a good six or seven hours. Sure, you’re not technically as sleep deprived as you were during DEFCON 3. But after several days of solid sleep, you begin to believe that your baby has finally dropped the night wakings.
And then it happens. The old familiar 2:00 a.m. wail.
When: Whenever your baby has no more nightly feedings or wakings
Description: Besides occasional nights when your child is teething or sick, your child is sleeping through the night and so are you. You begin to forget the horrible sensations of being sleep deprived. Sure, you remember that you hated it, but you truly start to forget the actual sensations of constant sleep deprivation. Sometimes, you tiptoe into your child’s room to watch him sleep so peacefully.
You actually miss waking up in the middle of the night to comfort him.
As can be expected, my ability to write is greatly diminished right now. And that’s totally fine with me. Self-care first. Instead of putting effort into writing, I’d like to just show you around my world in the last five days.
Life-saver. I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage, but my midwife and nurses were able to control the bleeding within the first hour of delivery. Thank God for modern medicine.
Putting on my Warrior hat to breastfeed after the birth.
Getting ready to leave Family Beginnings, a natural birthing center attached to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. They. Are. Marvelous.
Temporary living quarters while Doug finishes the baby’s room.
Self-care ain’t pretty sometimes.
Day 2 profile
My viewpoint, post “nap.” So hard to sleep soundly.
Day 3 Profile: Breasts actually feeling milk come in this time. Feeling a bit hopeful in this moment.
Can you see it? Just barely? That is what 20 minutes of pumping yields. It won’t even drain into the vials. Baby has a good latch, but I have to use a shield to get a good latch. But he gets frustrated when hardly anything comes out. Can’t really blame him. Poor guy.
How small, he starts.
Stork bite on right thigh.
Looks just like his sister in the first week. I will show a side-by-side comparison someday.
Day 4: Weaning. As my breasts fill and ache, latching is more difficult and the pump won’t relieve it. I try having him latch without the shield. Awful. So awful. Baby is doing well with formula, and I’m tired of working to overcome these barriers. So I am utterly done with breastfeeding forever. And you know what? That’s okay with me. We’re not having any more kids after this one, so it’s time to stop stressing and just enjoy having a baby.
Day 4 Profile
Nipple shield with last bits of milk still on it.
First doctor’s appointment. Henry receives an excellent bill of health. “You look pale,” says the pediatrician. “You should take iron to help with the breastfeeding.” I tell her that I started the weaning process yesterday and he’s exclusively on formula. “Well, he’s doing great. Can I get you some free cans of formula?” Thank God for choices and supportive pediatricians. I leave without the same feelings of guilt that I had with my first child.
What’s not in these pictures?
All the people who are supporting me.
My husband, who has spent the last month painting and installing lights and shelving in not one, not two, but three bedrooms.
My mother, who has been watching the baby during the day while I have been sleeping and recovering from the blood loss. (I’ve got the night shift.)
My friends, who brought over bagels and scones and muffins on Day 2 and sat with me. Small reassurances that even though crazy things like birth and recovery happen, life goes on. And it’s all beautiful and holy.
My church, who lifted me with their prayers.
The postpartum period can be incredibly isolating and lonely, but all this help has made it just a little easier.