The Blink of an Eye

img_9200I remember lying in my hospital bed, a mother for just seven short hours. My twin babies were in the NICU and I was full of anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to see them but wasn’t allowed because of the danger of seizures, I was worried I wouldn’t know how to breastfeed them, and my blood pressure was so high that I was mainlining magnesium sulfate through an IV pump I had affectionately named “George.” The doctor had ordered a “nightcap” for my IV (read: something to finally knock out the psycho mother in room 15) and I was just drifting off to sleep as my breastfeeding consultant walked in the room.

See, I was absolutely freaked that the twins wouldn’t get enough breastmilk. If I gave them a bottle, then I would know how much they drank. The ounces would be clearly marked on the side and with a little simple subtraction, I could know how much they were eating. Breasts, unfortunately, don’t come with those ounce marks. Plus, writing down the amount of poop and pee they created each day just seemed a bit too much like flying by the seat of my pants which, as we all know, I DO NOT DO.

So, there she was, this tired “Breast Milk is Best” advocate who was there to calm me down and give me advice.

In the middle of her instructions, her phone rang. It was her newly-minted 13-year-old daughter who was asking if she could have more minutes on her phone. You see, September 16th was her birthday, too. And she had just received a shiny, new cell phone for that 13th birthday. But, she had used all the monthly minutes to set it up and call all her friends to say, “HEY! CHECK IT OUT! I HAVE A NEW PHONE!”

4961_85634273231_4642627_nEven through my drug-addled, anxiety-ridden, sleepy brain, I could hear the mom’s/breastfeeding nurse’s voice become more terse and frustrated as the conversation went on.

“No. You cannot have more minutes.”

“You’ll get more minutes on October 1st. Those are the rules.”

“It’s not my fault you used up all of September’s minutes in just a matter of hours.”

“You should have paid attention to what you’re doing.”

“I know it’s your birthday, but deal with it.”

When she finally hung up, she apologized, explained what had happened, and as she spoke, gestured to me and the pictures of my new babies, and said, “This? Hon? This is easy. All you have to do is feed them, change their diapers, and love them. When they get to be 13? That’s the hard part. Trust me.”

Of course, I didn’t believe her. I was convinced that trying to guesstimate breastfeeding quantities was going to be the hardest thing I had EVER done in my ENTIRE life. (Postpartum anxiety is a total bitch, yo.)

Eleven years later, and here we are on the cusp of that cell phone moment. There are many days when I can see the beginnings of the teen years with mood swings and attitude. It’s no fun being the mom who takes away the iPad and tells them “NO!” while their tears fall as if it’s the end of the world. I can tell you that even though I know I’m doing the right thing, I still feel like the most awful mom in the world.

Somewhere out there is a 24-year-old woman, celebrating her birthday. She most likely pays for her own phone, and she may have her own children. I doubt she recalls that conversation with her mother, but I remember it as if it were only yesterday. I can remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “The teen years are SO FAR AWAY!”

And yet, they aren’t. They’re staring me in the face. I sometimes wish I could go back to the easy days of baby giggles, diapers, and fuzzy breastmilk consumption math, because she was right, those days were SO much more simple.

But, even though these days are no longer easy, they are certainly more interesting. I’m never bored. I see children who are forming ideas about the world, learning constantly, loving those around them, laughing freely, crying, arguing, questioning, and becoming really cool people. They make me feel more alive and more tired, all at the same time. I know the next eleven years will pass as quickly as these have and before I know it, I’ll have adults in place of the babies I once knew.

And I’ll long for these difficult days of the pre-teen years.

Happy 11th birthday, Amelia and Heath! I love you so very much!

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Back Off My Breast Friends

There's a dairy food theme here, isn't there?

There’s a dairy food theme here, isn’t there?

I remember the day well. It was March 18, 2006. For six months, I had made a vow to myself, and that vow was, If I can breastfeed these kids, day in and day out, for six months, I will declare victory in the Milk Wars and wean these little hoodlums. Six months, I decided, was my hard limit. I was done being the Dairy Queen. In real time, I had done this gig for six months. In twin years, that’s one whole year. (Note: This is called “Twin Math.” In “Twin Math,” you double everything. Two kids on two breasts for six months is equivalent to one kid on one breast for one whole year. And even if it isn’t logical, shut up. You did not push two babies out of your body on the same day. The only thing that trumps “Twin Math” is “Triplet Math.” Those women are goddesses and can say and do whatever they damn well please.) I was done. I started weaning the twins the month before, cutting off a feeding here, two feedings there, and replacing said feedings with bottles of formula until, on March 16th, on their six-month birthday, they were on straight formula. Two days later, a Saturday, I left the house around 7AM, waved to Tyler and my mother as they held the twins, and spent the entire day shopping with my sorority sister.

I. Was. Ecstatic.

More dairy references, you say?

More dairy references, you say?

For me, breastfeeding wasn’t a bonding experience. It was a chore. I was absolutely determined to breastfeed because I was convinced that if I didn’t pass on my immunities to my preemie twins, they would become gravely ill. And if I fed the first two that way, then the third needed it as well. It was a chore I did, without complaint, for one whole actual year. (I lasted six months with Jarrod. That’s an actual six months. No freaky singleton math going on there. But, technically, with Twin Math in place, I like to think I lactated for a whole 18 months. Don’t judge me. It was hard, ya’ll!) I don’t want to go into too many details, but let’s just say that my mammary glands aren’t the most… functional in the lactation department, and without help (read: nipple shields) I was in a lot of pain. A lot.

But, here’s the thing. I did it. It is possible to breastfeed even if you don’t want to or aren’t really built properly for the job. And even though I did it, I didn’t have to. I mean, I was raised on formula and I turned out just fine. I have a pretty bitchin’ IQ, no behavioral problems, and my weight is OK. Tyler was raised on formula and has, to my knowledge, never gone off the bend. My mother breastfed me for six weeks before the same dysfunctional mammary gland design that plagued me stopped her cold in her tracks. Shit happens, people. And it happens a lot when you’re trying to feed those feisty little ones.

But here’s the other thing. If I had put my foot down and said, “NO! I will NOT be breastfeeding my children!” should I have been made to feel guilty? As this mother was made to feel? Absolutely not.

I hate that we, as women, feel it necessary to judge other women on how they are feeding/clothing/bathing/teaching/disciplining/raising their children. Get off the Judgy Train, headed for Fort Judgerson, with a stop at Judgjunction. You take care of your kids as you see fit and I’ll take care of mine as I see fit and stop thinking that your way is better for everyone. Your way is just better for you and yours. And that’s just fine and dandy as long as you don’t shove your way in my face. Then, we might have a problem.

Now, here’s where I’m going to make… a suggestion. Any time I see a pregnant lady, I just want to hug her and ask, “First time?” and if she says, “Yes!” then this is pretty much the soapbox from which I want to stand and share my incredible wisdom of moderation, ease, and frequent breaks.

Just one more. I can't help myself.

Just one more. I can’t help myself.

There are lots of people out there who talk about “nipple confusion” and “breast is best” and “formula will make your kids fat and stupid” and blah, blah, blah. But, here was my reality. I had premature twins who NEEDED the calories that formula could provide. They spent their first 20 days in the NICU and since I couldn’t be there all the time, I pumped my breast milk and carted it over there every day. Since my babies needed to gain weight, the nurses and doctors at Northside Hospital supplemented my breast milk with preemie formula and bottle fed them. And they had pacifiers. When they came home, I continued with the one-bottle-a-day routine so that I could get extra sleep, they could get extra calories, and Tyler, Nana, Grandmama, et. al. could get extra baby cuddles. It was a win-win. I continued the tradition with Jarrod. Tyler got the late evening, “Let’s bond over Enfamil and Magnum, P.I!” feeding. So, this is my Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy You Are Gonna Kiss Me When This Is All Over Feeding Guide For New Mothers. Use it or not, it’s up to you. But, it seems to me a common-sense approach to feeding your babies and keeping your sanity.

  1. You have absolutely decided that you don’t want to breastfeed. It turns you off, the thought of it makes you sick to your stomach, and you’re done before the baby is even born. That’s fine! You stick to your guns, give that precious baby some formula, and don’t let those Lactation Nazis make you feel guilty for your choice. And if they harass you, kick them out of your hospital room.
  2. You decide to try breastfeeding and it doesn’t work out. No worries! As long as baby isn’t starving, you’re good. Get out the Enfamil and have a party! And tell those Lactation Nazis to take a long walk off a short pier.
  3. If you are successfully able to breastfeed your baby, give your baby one bottle of formula a day. Wait… hear me out.
  4. One bottle of formula a day gives you a break and allows you extra sleep and allows your significant other/relatives to also bond with the baby.
  5. Having that bottle of formula allows the baby to get used to the taste of formula so that if something happens and you have to unexpectedly wean them, it’s not a battle getting them used to formula. (I can tell you that after watching a friend try to force her baby through an emergency weaning onto formula, it’s not pretty. Your precious wee one will reject that bottle and put you through a couple of days of heck. Trust me on this one.)
  6. Also, having a bottle of formula a day gives you a chance to get out of the house. Guess what? It means you could actually have a date night/night out in those first six/eight/whatever months! You’re not so tied down that you can’t leave your child! Go out and have a great time! And realize that your baby is fine because they’re used to a bottle nipple and acclimated to the taste of formula and you are your own person and can take a break if necessary.
  7. And finally, give your child a pacifier. There is nothing wrong with pacifiers. They soothe your baby and, again, get them used to sucking on something other than you. It gives you a break and a rest. You can start to wean them from the pacifier any time you like, but definitely keep it around for the first year. Trust me, it’s a life saver. If your breast is the only thing soothing them, then you’re probably going to have a lot of sleepless nights.

I guess mainly what I’m trying to impart here is don’t be so hard on yourself. Pictures and media and ads make breastfeeding look very easy. I mean, it should come naturally, right? Not really. It’s a learning process for both you and the baby and if neither of you is enjoying it, you don’t need the stress. Do what’s best for both of you while at the same time giving yourself some elbow-room. Trust me when I say you’re going to need it.

Stepping down off my soapbox. Tune in next time for “Pampers versus Huggies versus Luvs: Is it really all about the diaper or is it more about penis position?” where we discuss leakage and little boys. Or not. Cheerio!

Sick and Twisted

"Looks like a Bataan death march." -Brad Finn

“Looks like a Bataan death march.” -Brad Finn

No one gives you instructions on how to be a mother when you’re sick. Oh, sure. You receive tons of advice about feeding them and changing their diapers. Everyone scrambles to help you snap up those onsies and cuddle the cute, wittle, sweet, BABEHS! You give birth and there’s a multitude of opinions about sleepless nights, growth spurts, and the sometimes endless crying. “Sleep when they sleep!” they all chant to you. And then those sages of advice eventually went home and I was left with one twin who slept like the dead and another who was so colicky that sleep was only something I read about in magazines. And when the third one came along? Sleep became an extremely rare commodity. They all had competing schedules and I, somehow, kept three children and myself alive and fed for six months with just a few hours of sleep each night.

In retrospect, that’s nothing. What’s really hard is being a mom while you’re sick. Nobody tells you how difficult that is. It’s like this huge secret, a motherhood initiation. When I finally experienced it for the first time, I imagined all the other mothers giggling and snorting behind my back, whispering, “IT’S HAPPENING! Let’s watch the carnage and see if she makes it!” As I imagined them pulling up their chairs and digging into buckets of buttered popcorn, I bitterly dove head-first into my first-ever “sick with kids” episode.

The twins were three months old and still latching on to me at all hours of the day and night. Not only was I exhausted, but my throat started feeling scratchy, and then I couldn’t talk, and then I was using up every tissue within a six-mile radius of the house, and then I was hacking up both lungs.

There’s nothing more miserable than breastfeeding twins while surviving a nasty upper-respiratory something-or-other. And the worst part? I was on my own. Tyler had to work and none of the grandparents wanted to catch what I had. So, there I sat, at home, alone, and wondering why in the world I decided to have kids and wanting nothing more than for my mommy to tuck me into bed and bring me warm soup and Sunkist.

The above picture was taken last Wednesday, during the kids’ “Walk To School Day.” It was an official event, full of county deputies directing traffic and hordes of kids and their parents, converging (on foot) onto the school. Heck, the Chick-fil-A cow was even there! (Do we Southerners know how to do up an event, or what?) The kids had been looking forward to this morning for a week. And I started experiencing my tell-tale scratchy throat and low-grade fever the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I looked and felt like death warmed-over and knew I had nothing but misery ahead of me. That quote? Up there on the picture? Actually kind of apropos considering how awful I felt. It was 1.7 miles of speeding up, slowing down, stopping, chit-chat, and trying not to trip over those new-fangled rolling backpacks.

Yeah, I was miserable, but I was also surprisingly content. I had 45 uninterrupted minutes of my children’s time. We talked about school and friends and the cars passing us. We paused to smell late-blooming gardenias and observed a golden orb weaver spider on its web. I sipped my coffee, more for the soothing effect of the warm liquid than for any caffeine rush. And we made it. Tyler picked me up at the end and I collapsed into his car happy, yet thankful to the stars above that it was over.

In the nine years I’ve been a mother, there’s only been a handful of mornings I’ve woken up and said to Tyler, “I can’t do this. I’m too sick. You’re going to have to take over today.” No, being sick and being a parent is no fun. In the beginning, the kids don’t care. They will still expect meals and answers and activities and your undivided attention. I learned early on how to just lie on the floor as they played. They would treat me as a wall for them to climb and tumble over. I felt useless, but they would giggle and have the greatest of times. I would get up from time to time to feed them and change diapers, but I adapted. I realized that when I was sick, I was allowed to be less than myself. When the twins started first grade, I spent two bronchitis-filled weeks on the couch, with Jarrod, watching the London Olympics. And that was OK.

Now that my children are older, they are able to empathize and take care of themselves. When I say I don’t feel well, they back off, they let me have that rest, and they demand less of me. They are able to pick up the slack. All that stuff we’ve been teaching them? It’s finally paying off and it’s an amazing thing to see happen after so many years of dependence.

I decided, quite a long time ago, that if any of my children have children of their own, and they find themselves on the receiving end of a cold or the flu or some other nasty illness, I will be there for them. I will fix them soup and Sunkist and fluff their pillows, stroke their foreheads, and wish them rest and wellness.

And then I’ll tiptoe downstairs to my grandkids and take them out for ice cream, water gun battles, and Legos. Because I’m thinking that’s what all the cool, hip grandmothers will do sometime around 2030.