Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How Do I Feel Not Broken?

I met with my midwife yesterday and was finally able to articulate something that I've been feeling silently for many years.

Through the miscarriages and the birth of my daughter all of my support and most well meaning friends and providers have offered suggestions as to why these things might be happening.  Those suggestions ranged from clotting disorders and hypothyroid, relating to miscarriages, to hypothyroid and PCOS relating to breech and low milk supply.

Brief overview:
Miscarriage in Aug 2006--6 weeks pregnant
Miscarriage in Jan 2007--13 weeks pregnant
Pregnancy in 2009: high blood pressure in third trimester (no other signs of pre-eclampsia) and it started to come down before I went into labor.  It actually normalized completely after an episode of 24 hour flu.
Cesarean for surprise breech (we found out after I was complete and pushing).
Low milk supply. It took 3-4 months to establish a supply.  I had a supply but then got mastitis three times in one week, my first week with a new baby.  I had severe nipple damage, excruciating pain, vaso spasm, oh and, coming of the operating table my body temperature was 92 degrees (!!! that's head cooling temperature).
Pregnancy in 2012: took 2.5 years to get pregnant again

Sure if you look at all that listed as such, I look like a complicated case.  If you just look at that.  My medical history.  Sure maybe I'm a bit complicated.

But if you look at my life, if my medical history comes in context of my life and if we zoom out just a bit I believe that I'm perfectly normal and barely complicated.  I just had one set of shitty circumstances for the pregnancy and birth of my daughter.

Two miscarriages is not pathological.  Its normal to miscarry and its actually a good thing because nature allows for re-do's.  Its also normal to take a year to get pregnant, which it did once I stopped preventing.  But I was so convinced by then that I was broken that I didn't think I would get pregnant so I didn't even bother preventing.  Surprise.  Baby.  Pregnant in March 2009.

Not infertile.  Not broken.  Normal.

During my pregnancy I moved across the country.  I worked as an apprentice (unpaid) while my husband and I desperately tried to adjust to a completely different world.  We had huge amounts of financial and personal stress.

High blood pressure.  Duh.  Its stress related. I had no symptoms of pre-eclampsia.  Sure I'm overweight and that's a risk factor.  But I've seen the most fit women have full on pre-eclampsia.  My blood pressure responded to therapy: rest, garlic, fish oil, passion flower tincture, magnesium supplement.  And eventually it went to normal completely after a 16 hour episode of vomiting and diarrhea, which put me into labor by the way.

So, I'm gaining perspective.  Looking at this, I don't believe I'm broken, merely human.  Normal human response to stress.  My vow after this pregnancy and birth was never to let myself get that stressed ever again and certainly not in pregnancy.

Not pre-eclamptic.  Not hypertension of pregnancy.  Normal response to stress.  Not broken.

Postpartum I was in shock, trauma, pain, confusion, a general mess and I had a new baby who wasn't gaining weight.  My boobs were damaged and not providing milk and I was devastated. Through sheer determination and refusal to give up even when the odds of breastfeeding 100% were looking impossible. I did it.  I got a full supply.  I breast fed and pumped and took every supplement and herb known to woman and in the end used a drug called Domperidone to get my hormones kick started.  I literally sat on my couch and did nothing else for 3 months.  And by four months I was sending out pictures with a fat cheeked baby (of course I couldn't see the fat cheeks.  I could only be worried and nervous because I believed I was broken).

Looking back, I see a set of circumstances that really sucked and I prevailed not because I'm broken but because I'm not broken.  I'm whole.  I got my supply back and breast fed till she was two and a half.  She still has fat cheeks.

Not broken.  Whole.  Full supply.  Healthy baby.

This brings me to the time I'm programmed to do it all over again.  About a year postpartum I'm talking with a friend about getting pregnant again. Which is wholly a bad idea but programming doesn't care about those things.  It just moves full force ahead ( in my family 2 year spacing is a huge gap). So we stop preventing again.  And all those feelings of infertility flood back.  My friend gets pregnant the first month.  I don't get pregnant every month for 17 until I've forgotten again that its even a possibility and kaboom.  Baby.  Picks me, us.  Our family.

Now, as I think about this rationally I consider that I was breastfeeding my toddler at night till she was at least 2.  I consider as a midwife that even though some women ovulate under those circumstances and get pregnant, it is well within normal not to get pregnant, not to ovulate.  Rationally I understand that this is not a sign of broken.  It is a good thing.  My body knew that I needed more time and it gave me that time.

Not infertile.  Working well.  Healthy spacing for my children.  Not broken.  Normal.

So here I am five months pregnant and I feel very different in my body than I did last pregnancy.  I even decided to try and finish midwifery school before this baby comes and still I feel different.  I don't feel the same levels of chronic stress.  I don't feel the panic.  I feel ok.  And my blood pressure is holding.

In preparation for this birth there have been many tests or support options that seem perhaps prudent.  Should I check to see if I have hypothyroidism in pregnancy just in case I get another persistent breech baby?(I've tested pre and post pregnancy and I've never shown clinical signs of hypothyroid).  Should I get an ultrasound to see where my placenta is?  Should I get scar tissue release?  Should I start supplementing to prevent high blood pressure?  Am I still broken?

I'm still fat for one.  Obese to be specific.  Not morbidly, but still.  Does this make me broken?

I love my midwife.  In talking about this yesterday she said, "I see you as young and healthy.  I don't think this baby will be breech."

It feels like a clean slate.  I'm not assumed broken.  I get to be young and healthy unless proven otherwise.

Normal mom having her second baby.  Healthy mom.  Healthy baby.

All I have to do is believe it.  Which is my task for this pregnancy.  Believe in myself.  Believe in my body. Respond appropriately to prevent stress.  Take care of myself.

Will I take supplements for blood pressure?  Probably.  But not because I'm broken.  Because I'm whole and I deserve it.

Much love dear readers,

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Frenzied Pace

This is a short article that I wrote when preparing for teaching a childbirth preparation series.

Most parents at some point get ahead of themselves trying to get their child to do something in order to avoid a coming pitfall.  For example many mothers want their babies to begin regular naps around four months.  Everyone will talk about it and start stressing out because its not happening.  One or two of your friends will manage it, and you may be that person or may have no idea how that person did it.  Each child is individual and many babies don't fall into a rhythm at this age.  Rhythm will come but it takes time.
A question you will hear often: is your baby sleeping through the night yet? as though that were the normal thing.

Babies don’t sleep the way adults do until they are 3.  This is protective it prevents them from sleeping too deep and forgetting to breathe.  Some babies do sleep through the night fine but not all do and so it follows that your baby may not and this is normal and ok.  Your family must find their way with this.  Don't get ahead of yourself and stress yourself because it isn't happening. 

 Adding stress about what you cannot control to sleep deprivation (the state you are already in) is basically torture--really I mean it.  That’s considered warfare style torture.

Instead try getting really clear about what your family's needs are and how you can find a balance between your baby's needs and remaining sane and happy together.

Then move forward with your strategy in confidence rather than from a place of panic that your baby may not sleep through the night or nap regularly for unforeseeable future.

For many this is a balance between knowing their own personal limits and surrender to the process.  This looks different for everyone so we all learn not to judge each other. 

Remember the only right way is the one where you find balance, your needs are being met, your baby's needs are being met.  This may take a while to work out.  The path is not always linear.  We tend to expect these things to be straight forward.  They sometimes are not.  But as you gain confidence as a parent and your capacity to roll with it and still maintain some semblance of togetherness the path will begin to appear before you, until it disappears again and then you re-evaluate.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Throwback: Baby Led Solids

I wrote this on 11//9/10 as a response to another mom on a local email list in Philly.  She had concerns and also interest in Baby Led Solids or Baby Led Weaning. 

I have done baby led weaning from the start.  The weaning park is kindof a joke because my daughter still nurses a lot.  I call it baby led solids sometimes.  My daughter has never had any pureed or mashed food.  Sometimes I will prechew meat for her now that she has teeth and can bite it into chunks that she gags on.

The great thing about breastfeeding and also waiting to do solids till they are 6 months is that you don't have to worry so much about allergies unless there are allergies in the immediate family.

With my daughter since she was interested in our food we let her have some.  She really got interested around 5 months but at this point she would just mouth the food, not really eat much.  we let her suck on fruits mostly at first.

Then as her interest grew and she became more able to hold her own food in her hand we would give her food to suck on like a piece of meat or vegetable from our plate.  She would suck all the juice out of a piece of meat and leave it white.  I didn't do wheat right away just because I'm leery of wheat allergies but pretty much everything else she ate with us right off our plates.

A particular favorite for her is broccoli because she can hold the stem in her hand and devour all the florets.  There is one food she doesn't do well with and that is eggs.  She throws them up every time, so I stopped giving them to her.  My sister said that my nephew did this and then was able to eat them later.

Many folks stress about the gagging thing.  From my experience with my daughter I've learned to trust her.  If something is too big to swallow she will usually gag a little and it will come right up.  Her eyes water but she doesn't get scared.  She just moves on, sometimes retrying with the same piece of food that bested her before.

I think that the big thing about this approach is trust.  Trust that your child is not as dumb as our culture would have us believe.  Trust that babies will not intentionally kill themselves.  Trust that the learning process is sometimes a little ugly.  Trust that your milk is enough for the first year and beyond.  Trust that the food you are eating is good for your child too.  Trust in your instincts that something is not working for your kid now so to maybe wait and try again later.

My husband and I eat on the floor off of one plate most meals.  This has led to my daughter just openly participating in that ritual.  We put newspaper down under us and just throw it all away at the end.

Another food she likes right now is shredded mozzarella.  She also likes apple slices, pear, yogurt (which I feed her on a spoon while she has something in each hand to occupy her need to participate).

I trust that you will find a way that works for you and that it will evolve over time.

Some points of interest:

  1. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding's new edition lays this out as the way to offer solids to babies
  2. This is a developmentally appropriate approach since you offer solids only when a child can grasp it in their own hand and sit up on their own.  At the same time they can grasp the food is when they are able to move the food with their tongue from the front of their mouth to their throat.
  3. Between 5 and 6 months of age is when the bacteria in their gut goes through a transformation in preparation for food other than breast milk.  This is what makes it ok to give them multiple foods at a time at this stage.  No need to try one food and wait a week.
  4. This is a breastfeeding centered approach. Cereals are offered to infants for two reasons as far as I can tell: formula fed babies are offered solids earlier because formula is expensive and not that much better for their gut than solid food.  Cereals can be fortified with iron because babies who's umbilical cords are clamped before they stop pulsating are iron deficient around 6 months of age.  My daughter's cord was clamped but I gave her meat as one of her first foods.
  5. Do not strap your kid in a seat when offering them solid foods.  Maybe obvious but if you were choking would you want to be strapped in?
  6. Choking isn't badThis may be really hard to get your head around but its true. Choking shows that the child is actually engaging with the food rather than being suffocated.  As you build trust with your child you will become more confident in their ability to navigate food and clear their own airway.  Key point: LOOK at their eyes.  If they aren't scared they will be ok.  If they are scared, help them clear the food.
  7. Its a myth that solids make babies sleep better at night.  There are hormones in your breast milk at night similar to tryptophan (like in turkey) that makes your baby sleepy.  
  8. Babies don't need anything other than breast milk for the first year.  Some babies really want food early and eat a lot, some babies don't really want food.  Both are totally normal and fine.
  9. This method offers an approach to food that is exploratory.  This is in contrast to a culture of spooning  pureed food into infants because they are supposed to eat.
  10. Because I used this method I am not freaked out about my child swallowing small things.  She is two and I have been unconcerned for some time while others with much older children are constantly watching and worried that they will swallow small objects.  I am confident that my daughter can prevent herself from choking to the point of blocking her airway.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

follow up: My kid is sleeping in a crib with a tent on it.

So its the next day and I've been digging deeper and thinking more.  While perhaps in my post it may have seemed like my decision was driven by my own need for sleep.  The primary drive was based on her behavior.  Let me describe the picture to you:

  • She doesn't want to eat.  Instead she only wants snacky foods including popcorn, gummy vitamins, juice, tortillas, etc.  Then her behavior tanks because she needs protein but refuses to eat it.
  • Then all she wants to do is nurse.
  • She is very difficult to get into a rythm because she often sleeps badly if at all for several hours a night during which time I am also not sleeping.  She then sleeps in till 8 or 9 which makes her nap later than is ideal.
  • When she takes a later nap she doesn't want to go to bed.
  • She often wakes up in a state of needy, clingy, unhappy, miserable both from nap and in the morning.
  • She often spends a good amount of time crying at bedtime.
  • She has several meltdowns a day which include hitting, yelling, and complete noncooperation

My criticism of Attachment Parenting is not the information about infant physiology and psychology as seen here (thank you Sheila), such as infants needing closeness to their mothers and crying for extended periods of time being harmful, but the lack of information of how to appropriately transition your child at developmentally driven stages.  Neither is there information regarding signs of developmental stages.  For example it is true that an infant (very young) should probably not cry it out nor sleep alone.  But where is the information about when that changes?

Where's the info about how to balance baby lead nursing with sanity?  I'm a huge advocate for baby led nursing in the early days, but when is it appropriate developmentally to begin a rythm?   Where's the information relevant to our current state of insular family units who don't have live in aunties and grandmothers?  Where's the dialogue about how not to be a martyr parent?

I see AP as an incomplete model.  While it offers some excellent observations and unique perspectives, it is really only one generation in.  Its not tried and true, well tested and modified for use.

The big problem I have with parenting in the US is that most of our practices fluctuate so much rather than being grounded in community, experience, multigenerational communication and mentorship.  We instead listen to the person who got a degree and wrote a book based on their own observation and experience.

Then we talk about it theoretically and then we try to do it and believe me if I believed that Ami's behavior was better when she slept with me I'd sacrifice the next years of sleep to do it.  But its not working.

A big influence on my parenting recently is an article by a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher.  I really started to get the breathing in and breathing out thing.  So for me that has been the answer, the balancing point for attachment and independence.

Before I got this I felt like I was failing at both.  Neither was I present enough for her nor was I getting the tasks done that I wanted to do.

So my current plan:
  • No snacks or vitamins or juice.  Real food only.
  • Regular bedtime and naptime.
  • Quality time together (breathing in) before and after sleep.
  • Sleep in the crib (breathing out)
  • Eating meals and snacks together (breathing in)
So my experience so far...She's eating again and she woke up this morning happy and independent after quietly waiting in her crib till she heard me stirring.  When she heard me she called me and I brought her in the bed for a few minutes of cuddle.  Then she asked for water and we started our day without nursing which is a huge deal because only a few weeks ago she wanted to nurse 12 or more times in 24 hours.

Just now I put her in the crib for a nap.  She cried for one minute.  Then she calmly asked to come out. Now she is cuddling her dolly.  I expect her to be asleep in the next few minutes.

Thank you for all your comments and blessings friends and family.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My kid is sleeping in a crib with a tent on it.

For someone who thought I was an attachment parent this comes as much as a surprise to me as anyone else.

The crib has a tent on the top that prevents her from jumping out and a curtain around it that prevents her from seeing anything.

I could just stop the post there and that would be enough but I think I'll try to tease it out a little.

First, Ami is nearly two and while for some mom's this comes as a relief, the years of diaper changing waning and the years of verbal communication waxing, for me it is more like a constant agony.  Not obvious or raging agony but that slow ache that pulls at you.  Its there but you forget it till another mom acts freely and you realize you are tethered by this ache, this grief, this sadness and you can't quite pull yourself free of it nor can you figure out how to make it go away.

As best as I can identify it the ache come from a sense of loss.  Those early days, that first few months of honeymoon were spent in excruciating pain and despair.  I remember waiting till I felt love for her, noticing that it wasn't there.  I knew it would come but all I could feel was overwhelmed, and jipped.

Much of my parenting, while informed by the Attachment school, is born of circumstance.  When I finally got to stop pumping around the clock and figured out I could just lay next to my baby and let her nurse all night without too much pain (it still hurt but it was better than pumping) I embraced it.  Its a holy night when no one has to get out of bed except to pee.  Even holier in my book when no lights get turned on.

So we slept together and nursed because we earned it and by goddess no one could take that from us.

But somewhere along the line, and honestly I don't know where because the past two years are a blur and I am in shock every day that she is not a baby, I got lost in giving.  Lost in offering myself up to the service of healthy attachment.  No one really talks about the part when your kid instead of growing independent decides that attachment is actually great to the point of sleeping on top of you (30 pounds people) and nursing all day and night at 15-24 months.

It should be discussed.  What to do with attachment parenting when....your kid doesn't detach (become independent) because you are so fucked up in the head that you won't let them on a subconscious level.  Haven't heard that one yet at least not from the mom to whom it is happening, as it is happening.  I've heard plenty of people critique it from the outside.  But where is the conversation among those doing it?

Well I'm saying it.  I know because I've been watching myself and even Bah do it.  We feel sorry for her, but its not really her we are feeling sorry for.  Its us.  Poor us. But I don't want to royally fuck up my kid just because I'm sad. Somewhere in my head I'm still grieving the lost pregnancies and the year it took to get pregnant and I'm just so glad to have a kid that I sacrifice inappropriately my own needs for what I perceive to be her needs.

Some of the best advice I ever received about parenting was during a conversation with my midwife Carrie Kimball (if you live in Philly you are lucky because she's a keeper).  She said that her favorite kids to hang out with her kid were from a family where no attachment parenting was practiced.  Instead they slept in their own beds, and rolled around in strollers (is there anything else you would specifically define as AP?).
But they were parented by confident parents who loved them very much.  

I would shout it out the window if I could do it w/o waking up Ami.  Confidence (not rigidness) and love.  Two very important ingredients to parenting as far as I can tell.  The thing about confidence is that it requires clarity and clarity requires being a grown up.  Can't muddle around.  Can't figure it out on the fly.  Have to have some kind of idea where/ what/ how/ when and then do it.  It requires being one step ahead, anticipating needs and desires.  It requires having one's shit together.

That's what I thought parenting would require of me but it took me till now to be ready to do it.  Having one's shit together also requires that one not be reactionary (i.e. not project one's bullshit onto one's kid) which requires that one deal with one's bullshit.  Hmmm.  That's part of what this post is for me.

I'm coming out of the closet as a fucked up parent.  I am sad and angry and I hate the park because it means I have to deal with other parents.  Mostly I feel beaten down by life and I resent it.  I parent occasionally in ways that directly oppose my upbringing just because I can.  This is the ugly side people.

Another really great piece of advice Carrie gave me: don't read things written by parents who have it all together.  Read the dark stuff.  Laughter goes a long way and reading the ugly somehow makes it all prettier.

So this brings us to the present where my nearly two year old who has slept in, with, on, near, inside for the past threeish years is now sleeping in a crib with a tent because she can and will jump out in the dark. SPLAT.  Over and over again while screaming herself hoarse.

How did I get here?
  1. Her unwillingness and inability to detach /be independent  
  2. She tortures me all night by pushing, pulling, groping, laying on top of me, etc.
  3. She's a mess in the mornings and in the evenings. 
  4.  She takes a long time to go to sleep and often cries a lot at night anyway with me holding her on the bed. 
  5. One and a half hours is just too long for me to put her to sleep.
  6. I know she can sleep on her own.  When I help her it seems like she's holding on and its taking longer. When I put her to sleep in my bed she makes it clear that she wants me to do the work for her.
  7. One night of crying a ton in the crib and then at 3am sleeping on the other side of the bed from me (Bah kept her with him) resulted in her waking up in an excellent and independent mood.
So tonight she had dinner and nursed and got put in the crib.  She cried for fifteen minutes.  Then calmly asked her Baba (who is at work) and then me, to help her.  Then she lay down and went to sleep fourty minutes after I put her down.

I did not speak to her during this time.  My voice tends to enrage her in this situation.  So I silently held space for her to learn to sleep on her own.

From my understanding the crying may continue but will likely decrease to a few minutes each night. I am clear.  She may come out at 6am if she is awake.  Till then she will have to rest in her nest.

Will keep you abreast dear reader....

At 9pm she woke slightly and asked me to help her, I was silent and she went back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What slowing down has meant for me

In my last post I described the revelation that being a SAHM means time and space both for my child and me as well.  

I've been sitting with this for a while and observing how it is changing my perceptions of time management as well as my orientation to tasks.  For example, I've noticed recently that tasks I might have resented before such as dishes or cleaning (I still don't touch Bah's pace or frequency in these) are faintly pleasurable.  I am able to ease into each phase of a task, enjoying it rather than wishing I could just skip it and do the part I want to do.

Anymore I just like doing the whole thing.  I don't even mind if a task takes the entire afternoon between keeping an eye on Ami or having her help me.  I find that slowing down makes space for me to bake pumpkin for pies later.  Rather than resenting the scraping and seed removal I found myself at peace, taking as much time as I needed, not watching the clock or rushing to something else.  

I am more comfortable with things that may take time to be ready or have multiple steps.  For example I've been all about the water kefir (3day turn around) and sauerkraut (3 day-5 week turnaround).  Before I didn't feel patient enough or slow enough to be comfortable with the pace of these things.

I've begun to track what I accomplish rather than what I would like to accomplish.  This has been very satisfying.  I have a calendar and I write down every time I make kefir (partially to help me to remember to do the next step) or sauerkraut or bake.  I record when I did childcare for a friend or dropped off a birth tub.  

I am slowly bringing my awareness to the ways in which I am creating, cultivating, nurturing, and resourcing.  Each of these small accomplishments done at my own pace and in slow time without any pressure or external timeline holds satisfaction.  I am freeing myself of those long held culturally beliefs that I must DO DO DO.  Forgive the caps but I do believe they reflect the dominant cultural belief.

In the space that this slowing down creates I find myself with the mental space to learn new things, hear more people, breathe in fresh air.  All the things I tried to do in yoga class squeezed in between running here and there and doing this and that.  

More on this soon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What is a stay at home mom anyway?

So I've been trying to get my head around this anew lately and on the round about I've been doin a lot of justifying and explaining and rationalizing and reworking.

Here's what I've come up with:
1. Every family has to do what works for them (this goes without saying but I'm about to make a strong case for my way of thinking)
2. The kids of families who have one mostly at home parent appear to me to be better off: well adjusted, secure, relaxed, comfortable, however you want to say it, they seem like they got the better deal.
3. When I'm a working person it takes up a lot of my creative energy.  This is the very same energy that I could be focusing on my family's quality of life.
          Examples: making homemade food including bone broth, ferments, and more veggies; growing my own                      food; sourcing cheap or free clothes, toys and other necessities.
4. When I'm a working person the scheduling of it all makes me stressed out especially when trying to schedule childcare too.
5. When I'm not stressed out the family is better off: we eat better, we relax more, we slow down.

So, isn't that the goal?  Stress kills right?  So if I live without all the extras but I live with less stress I'm winning right?  And my family wins too.  Kids don't get shipped here and there, we have the presence of mind to look at each other and take each other in.  We laugh a little more.  We skip the lunch out and the fancy clothes.  But what we gain appears to be health, wealth, and happiness in comparison. Am I right?

Slowing down is the biggest thing I've learned as a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom).  We SAHM's don't seem to "do" much.  But what we accomplish is pretty GREAT (by great I mean large, huge, massive).

I've often wondered what made my siblings and I ok?  We grew up in a household of broke parents who fought all the time.  There are many more details I won't go into. Suffice to say they are on the negative side.

And yet, we all came out of it relatively ok.  None of us is homeless or addicted to substances or in jail.

I attribute this to my mother being at home.  Our early life was not rushed around.  We lived in the same place for 12 years.  We grew like weeds in the earth, warmed by the sun and refreshed by the rain.  No one traipsed us from home to daycare to home and back.  We had the luxury of time and space.

These are the lessons of motherhood: time and space.