Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Lenten Discipline

I've always participated in giving up something for Lent, even when I participated in a church that didn't observe Lent, and even when I didn't participate in a church at all. I think maybe as I teenager I thrived on acting deprived and put out, advancing beyond the physical temptations of this world. Then the self-absorption just gave way to habit.

In the past, I've given up ice cream (the year I had my wisdom teeth removed. dumb), electronic media during certain times (no TV or internet before 8:00 pm), alcohol (did not go so well), etc. All the things I've chosen were to challenge myself to forgo a common worldly vice (e.g. red wine) or to meet a bigger goal (i.e. losing weight). But this year, I was having a really hard time coming up with a Lenten Discipline. As a new parent, I feel like I'm already sacrificing so much. I tell myself I'm a martyr for working, breastfeeding moms. No more boozy Sunday brunches; no more band practice in the basement; no more pretty clothes (unless they have quick boob access, which is mutually exclusive to pretty). I don't even have time to paint my nails or blow my hair dry or put on makeup before work. Of course these are all first world problems, but nonetheless, it's quite a change from my prior, childless life. So why should I give something up for 40 days?

Because. Just because. Because no matter how selfless I think I've become in raising Dot, I still have bad habits. One of which is shopping. Not shopping like I have a spending-money-type-shopping addiction, but shopping like I-need-to-get-away-from-a-screaming-baby-and-a-hairy-husband-so-I'm-going-to-poke-around-Target-for-an-hour shopping. Of course, despite the previous statement, it does lead to spending money. I can go to Target intending to buy wipes and batteries, and come out with four bottles of clearance organic shower gel and a dog Halloween costume. It's just unnecessary. I've also developed this problem where I'm ten pounds below my baby weight. You can hate me for that, but I earned it. So most of my clothes don't fit, and the ones that do, I can't nurse in them. Anyway, this led to a lot of money spent at Nordstrom Rack. It's so easy to just spend $20 here or there, and before you know it, you've blown your whole fun money budget on scented highlighters and house plants.

So to further avoid falling victim to mindless consumerism (a very behavior I should not be teaching my daughter), I'm giving up shopping. No more baby clothes for my really cute baby. No impulsive Nook book purchases. No etsy. No Amazon. Nothing. But groceries of course. But aside from that, nothing. Instead of using shopping as an excuse to get out of the house, I'm going to try exercising perhaps. Or just being satisfied by being in a different room than everyone else sometimes. Even if it's the basement.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Breast milk does not make you a superhero

Before Dot was born, nay, before we even conceived our first baby, I was determined I would breastfeed. I had lots of reasons, but many of them concerned the benefits to infant health. The public health initiatives advertising the benefits of breastfeeding rang in my ears during those first trying weeks after she was born. Fewer ear infections! Reduced risk of GI infection! Lower risk of obesity! The promises sounded like snake oil ads from the traveling circus era, a la Water for Elephants (so erotic). I thought breastfeeding would make my baby a bullet-proof mutant who might one day be asked by the CDC to ingest the last remaining small pox cultures, since her superior immune system would obviously destroy them and save humanity from a biological terrorist attack.

But despite my religious commitment to breastfeeding, my baby now has an ear infection and bronchiolitis.
The day she was diagnosed with an ear infection.
The day she was diagnosed with bronchiolitis. She clearly prefers bronchiolitis.
We have been to the doctor three times in three days, during which they have excavated her ear canals, suctioned her sinuses with a super machine, and tested her blood oxygen level. I have "worked from home" (a.k.a. worked during nap time and after bed time) during those three days, since daycare has banned the little human-sized booger and maternity leave consumed every last drop of my PTO. And during all of the nose-suctioning and medicating and breath-timing, I keep thinking "but she's breastfed!"

Unfortunately, germs do not listen to reason, nor do they read scholarly journal articles about the antimicrobial properties of breast milk. They pretty much gave me and Dot the middle finger. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that one of the few comforts she has right now, when her ear hurts and her chest is tight and her fever burns, is nursing. Despite her reduced appetite, my sick little dinosaur snuggles up to me every few hours just to feel my skin and play with my hair and listen to my heart beat. And if I can't make the ickiness go away, at least I can give her that. So even if the health benefits of breastfeeding are overblown, the health benefits of cuddling are pretty undeniable.
Post-meal cuddles. And squishy face.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Lies. All of it.

Dot and I had some difficulties breastfeeding, but we've been going at it strong ever since that first hurdle. I'm proud of both of us; her for being so patient and diligent, and myself for gritting my teeth through the pain and enduring several bouts cluster-feeding. Granted, I didn't have too many issues once we got started. I've never had to battle mastitis or thrush or the like. And even though she's a biter sometimes, it's something I generally look forward to. So we're lucky. I love sitting quietly with her in our rocking chair while she cuddles up to me for breakfast. Or second breakfast. Or 3am snacktime.

But since returning to work, maintaining breastfeeding has become something of a challenge. And a nuisance. During my first three days back, I noticed a dramatic drop in my supply, which I attribute to the use of a pump. Pumps are simply less efficient than babies at expressing milk, and I learned that I had to pump at least every two hours while at work, in addition to pumping after she goes to bed and in the middle of the night just to get enough to feed her for the next day. I follow the rule that you only send to day care the milk that you pumped the day before, and that your freezer stash is only for date nights and when you're too drunk to nurse. It's a good way to prevent inadvertently telling your body to make less milk. Either way, it doesn't feel like the cozy breastfeeding I'm used to, and kudos to all my sisters who always pumped exclusively. You guys are superheroes. I would have dropped it like it's hot.

I also realized that pumping at work made me much less productive (it's like a 30 minute interruption out of every two hours), so I bought one of those hands-free bra things. The manufacturers want you to think that hands-free pumping will be like this:

Or this:

Who could she possibly be looking at?
But it's not. It feels more like this:

And frankly, you can't do stuff like answer the phone, because even the cadillac of breast pumps is audible on the other line. Other knowing women who call me at my desk hear the rhythmic wheezing in the background and immediately call me out. And you can't just hook up and forget about it for 15 minutes, or the receptacles overflow all over your pants and you end up like me on this day:

Or this day:

Thankfully I have my own office, and I can at least shut the door, but I'm constantly covered in my own fluids, and my desk is probably a biohazard. And contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding (that is, breastfeeding after returning to work) does not lead to less dishwashing, because you have like a million of those Medela tubes and pump parts to wash every day, in addition to the bottles you took to day care.

I'm not saying all this to bash breastfeeding, because I'm sure some people would just tell me to quit if it's this much of a pain in the ass. I'm saying all this in an effort to dispel the myth that it comes naturally to breastfeed. If it did, our newborns would plop out of us and toddle over to nourish themselves from a teat that hung to the ground. But they don't, and now we live in a world where (God help us) women work. It requires continuous commitment, whether you work or not. Thankfully we have pumping technology, but no one really talks openly about how challenging it is to maintain breastfeeding in general, but in particular after your six or eight or twelve week leave. I love the time that I get with my baby when I'm home, and I'm eternally grateful that my job is flexible and affords me the freedom to work from home sometimes and take breaks to pump when I can't. But some breastfeeding advocates are calling on the community to be more frank about the challenges, and I couldn't agree more. I certainly would have liked to know that I wasn't the only mom who sobbed in the shower because the hot water felt like battery acid on my nipples.