Saturday, December 3, 2011

Loving the Moby Wrap

I knew before my babe was born that I wanted to be a "baby-wearing mom." I'd learned that babies who are held more cry less, and the idea fit in with the whole concept of re-creating the womb for newborns that I'd read about in "Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp.

I did a bit of research on the different types of wraps and ended up deciding on the Moby - a versatile, affordable, ergonomic option. I wasn't sure exactly what kind of use I'd get out of it, or if I'd even be able to figure out how to use it, but it seemed like if nothing else it would make for a good trial run in baby-wearing.

The first time I wrapped it on, I was having a particularly "up" morning during my bout with the baby blues the first week of my daughter's life. I had projects that had been lingering around the house that I probably should have let wait while I caught up on sleep and rested my weary, bleeding body, but the idea of being able to exert control over something in my life was much too appealing to let go.

I was surprised that I was so quickly able to figure out the instructions and successfully tie my tiny baby to my body. The little snugglebug nuzzled herself against my chest and fell fast asleep as I finally started to get our hospital bag unpacked. As I walked around the house both spending quality time with my baby and being a productive homemaker, I had a boost of confidence in parenting I had not yet experienced.

Today my little one is three weeks old, and we've had a very productive day running around the house and snuggling at the same time. And to top it all off, she is much more content and less fussy during the days that I wear her.

I'm not sure how long the Moby will last as my carrier of choice. I do find that she eventually starts to "sag down" as I carry her longer and longer, and I imagine that problem will only get worse as she grows bigger. But I can promise that my husband and I will be baby-wearing parents at least until she is big enough to walk around on her own!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Choice to Formula Feed

As we prepared for our baby to come into the world, my tendencies to plan and prepare went into overdrive. I quickly discovered that I tended toward more of the "natural" parenting methods. Unmedicated childbirth, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and, of course, breastfeeding were all key components in my parenting plan.

My husband and friends repeatedly warned me not to be discouraged if something didn't work out the way I'd hoped. In particular, several people gave me this heartfelt speech: "Don't feel bad if breastfeeding isn't for you. It's just not for everyone." I smiled and nodded while thinking, "I don't understand why anyone would not breastfeed. It is the perfect food for the baby, promotes bonding, and it's free!"

The idea that anyone would choose to spend money on synthetic food for their baby baffled me. Anyone who had given up breastfeeding must just not have stuck it out long enough, or they must not have known what they were doing. My husband and I had taken a breastfeeding class at our hospital, so I felt prepared to be a nursing pro. I'd heard lots of stories of painful or difficult nursing, but for some reason I just figured it would be easy for me.

Hungry from Birth

Much to my delight, my daughter came out of the womb rooting. Before I'd even left the delivery room, I told the nurses I'd like to try breastfeeding her. I recalled what I'd learned in the breastfeeding class and got her to latch on fairly quickly. But it did not feel good. It was a terrible pinching feeling that curled my toes and didn't go away after the initial latch. But I could hear the baby gulping and see her lips flanged out and most of my areola in her mouth, so I figured it was just that my nipples were tender and sensitive and they would toughen up.

My nipples did not toughen up. In fact, they ended up bruised and looking like an overly zealous teenage boy had been trying to give me hickies all night. Every time I tried to nurse my voracious little eater, my toes would curl and I'd have to bite my lip in pain. "It's not supposed to hurt!" I'd say. "It means I'm doing something wrong!" But my baby's latch looked just fine to any nurse or lactation consultant who examined it in the hospital.

Unfortunately, it seemed that my baby kept getting hungrier and nursing kept getting harder. One evening in the hospital, we sat down to nurse and she was basically hyperventilating, hungrily trying to devour my boob but failing to get the quick, easy meal she was looking for. Out of desperation, I finally gave in to my mom and husband's urging to give her a bottle of formula. I felt like a failure as I put the artificial nipple in her mouth, but then I began to cry happy tears as my child wolfed down an ounce and leaned back, contented, satiated - nourished.

I continued to stick out the battle. When I got home, I was hit with a bad case of baby blues. Everything was overwhelming and produced anxiety, and the part of parenting that caused me the most grief was nursing. It still really hurt, and now my nipples were bleeding and beginning to scab over.

As luck would have it, the nipple that was most traumatized was the one that was easier for the baby to nurse from (the other nipple is a bit inverted and even pumping a little first did not make it easier to latch on). One day, I tried pumping from the more traumatized nipple and allowing her to nurse on the other nipple. Unfortunately, this was also right after my milk had come in. My breasts were huge and the baby could then not even find her way to the nipple.

At the end of a 25-minute battle to get my 4-day-old daughter to stay latched on as she cried in frustration and I sat feeling like a failure as a mother and having absolutely no energy to keep fighting, while my empathetic mom and husband watched us struggle, I decided to switch to bottle feeding. I gave her a bottle of formula and again watched as she hungrily devoured it and gave a sweet baby smile of content when she was finished. "This is what mothering is supposed to feel like," I said. I had fed my baby. That was my job, and I had done it. To my poor hormone-ravaged, sleep-deprived, anxious and depressed body, that was a rare moment of bliss.

The Problematic Solution

I began pumping and supplementing my fairly low supply with formula. Seeing how much the baby was able to eat in each sitting gave a sense of predictability, control, and structure to my life that I'd desperately craved. Still, I couldn't shake my intense feeling of guilt. Everything I read - even the formula packaging - reminded me that "breast is best." I felt like a terrible mother for giving my baby bottles. I hated that I was costing my family an extra grand or more this year when I was producing free, perfect food myself.

I feared telling anyone about my decision because I was sure I would be encouraged to give nursing another try, and worst of all, I didn't want to. I liked bottle-feeding. I liked that I could give my husband the joy of participating in feeding our baby. I liked that the weight of being the sole person who could feed her - and I couldn't even do that well - was lifted from my shoulders. But when I realized I liked bottle-feeding and didn't want to return to nursing, I felt even more guilty.

Even though I was pumping and getting some breast milk into my daughter every day for the antibodies, I foresaw an end to that coming, as well. I dreaded sitting down to pump. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because I wasn't getting a lot of milk out in any one session (the most I ever got out of both breasts was a total of 2.75 ounces when I was pumping most often and regularly). Maybe it was because pumping was a time when I could literally do nothing but sit there and hold the flanges to my breasts, which made me feel even more tied down. Maybe I just wanted to make an exclusive choice and stick to it. Maybe I had a weird reaction to the hormones released during breastfeeding. Maybe I was just lazy. I don't know, but in any case, even the pumping caused me anxiety (and I did end up stopping as of yesterday when my daughter was 19 days old).

I spent hours and hours surfing the internet, trying to find support for my decision. It seemed that everywhere I turned, bloggers and article-writers touted breastfeeding and condemned formula-feeding moms as lazy and selfish. Even if I found an article that lent support to moms who chose formula, the comments from breastfeeding advocates would send me back to tears. All the other women who had made the decision to switch seemed to have given breastfeeding so much more of a try than I did. I felt so guilty, despite the support from my hospital nurse, pediatrician's nurse, mom, and husband - and, come to think of it, the support of my happy, healthy daughter who gladly sucked down the bottles at each feeding and reacted perfectly to the formula.

Coming to Terms

In the end, stewing over this decision that was clearly working for us was only holding me longer in my baby blues. I finally faced the fact that the only thing I could do was to embrace the choice I'd made and just let it be what it was. As the scabs on my breasts healed, slowly but surely, so did my conscience. I reasoned that I was fed formula and ended up being the valedictorian of my high school class and best friends with my mom. My husband was formula-fed and has an immune system that rivals any I've ever seen. All the arguments that formula-fed babies are less intelligent, less healthy, and less bonded to their moms seemed ludicrous when I looked at my anecdotal evidence.

As it turns out, my baby is just a really hard sucker. She sucks like crazy on her pacifier, vacuums down her bottles, and when my husband and I have given her our clean fingers to suck, we can feel it first-hand (pun intended). Several people have commented on her Hoover effect, verifying that what I was feeling on my breasts was not something she was necessarily doing wrong or something I was doing wrong - she just sucks hard!

My job is to nourish and care for my child, and this is the way I've chosen to do it. Yes, breast milk might be the best food for a baby, but formula is a very, very close second. I am able to bond so much better with my daughter and be a happier, more mentally healthy mother because I am not nursing, which in my opinion makes it the best choice. And what matters most is that my baby is content, alert, healthy, and gaining weight like a champ on formula. In fact, part of me believes that if I'd continued breastfeeding, it would have been more for me than for her.

I know that the moms who would encourage me to continue nursing have my best interests and those of my daughter at heart, but in the end, those people who had given me warnings were correct. It really isn't for everyone. I truly believe that giving up nursing was one of the keys to kicking my baby blues. Some families may have more severe reasons than mine to stop nursing, but I don't think that makes my choice any less legitimate or mean I took it any more lightly. In fact, it was a choice I made out of love.

I pray that I will not have to apologize to my baby one day for not feeding her breast milk, but I was tired of having to apologize to her for not being able to give her the love, attention, and affection she so deserved while I was breastfeeding. And I pray that one day I will be able to completely let go of the feeling that I have to apologize to the world for not nursing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Battling the Baby Blues

My introduction to mothering was nothing that I pictured. I am typically an organized problem-solver who tackles new situations with the attitude that I will research and learn and tweak until I get it just right. I had all kinds of au naturel mama plans, from breastfeeding to cloth diapering, and spent most of my pregnancy with my nose buried in a parenting book or website. I had experience with kids from babysitting and, of course, watching Supernanny on a regular basis. Everyone kept telling me what a great mom I'd be, and I was confident they'd be right.

Then reality hit.

When we arrived home, I thought I'd be so glad to be in our house, ready to start our life with our little family. My husband and mom were home with me, and my mom would be staying for the whole week, so I had plenty of support and assistance. But I was anything but ready and rearing to go.

How can I best describe what I felt like that day and for the week or so that followed?

I was like an empty shell of myself. I would feel OK when I got up in the morning, but as the day went on, my mind would lock itself into this pattern of negative thoughts: What if the baby gets sick? Hurt? How will I entertain her when she gets older? Will I ever have time to myself again? How could anyone have more than one child? What have I done?

Absolutely everything made me anxious and overwhelmed. At one point, I looked at the water bottle I'd been given at the hospital and thought, "I should put that in the dishwasher." This thought sent me into a tizzy. Something as simple as putting something in the dishwasher! I just felt as though I would never get my life on any semblance of a schedule, would never find the time to do everything that needed to get done, and would never learn to take on all the responsibilities of parenthood well. Worse, I worried that I was doomed to a life of boredom and monotony.

One thing that surprised me was that my appetite was virtually nonexistent. During pregnancy and before, I had a love affair with food. Now, no food sounded good, and not only that, but my body would not tell me when I was hungry. I had to be reminded to eat, and only when I was forced by my mom or my husband would I choke something down. My baby weight was virtually melting off me, but it was not happening in a healthy way.

Of course, on top of all this, my nipples were bloody and bruised and I was finding nursing to be a nightmare.

My poor mother would spend the day with the baby and me and watch as I slowly disintegrated into a teary-eyed zombie by afternoon. My husband would come home from work to his weary, ragged wife every night. We'd go upstairs and I'd cry to him about my fears and anxiety while I took a sitz bath at his insistence, and then I'd lie down in my bed and cuddle up with him, trying to take a nap but failing because my mind wouldn't stop its cycle of negativity, crying until my tears dried up.

Meanwhile, I had this beautiful little girl. I mean, seriously beautiful. And easy, too. As babies come, she was (and is) an angel. The saying that God doesn't give us more than we can handle is so true. If I'd had a difficult baby on top of these baby blues, I don't know how I would have survived. I probably would have ended up back in the hospital.

At no point did I ever resent my sweet little angel, but I also didn't feel toward her like I thought I would. I thought I would just melt at the sight of her and feel overwhelmed with a warm, gooey love. Instead, my love was very objective and detached. I stayed patient and calm with her, despite my tears, but rather than wanting to stare at her for hours in awe, I just wanted to make sure she was cared for and her needs were met. I rose to the challenge of parenthood, but not in the confident, super-mom way I'd imagined.

What was going on to cause this classic case of baby blues?

#1 - Hormones. Before I got pregnant, I'd had a hormonal imbalance. I'd used natural progesterone oil to balance out estrogen-progesterone ratio and help me have a healthy enough menstrual cycle to get pregnant. (It worked the first cycle we tried!) Whereas pregnancy normally makes women feel "hormonal," my pregnancy balanced me out and made me feel more like myself. After childbirth, that balance was drastically altered.

#2 - Exhaustion. I. Was. Tired. I went into labor at 11pm on a Friday night. My daughter was born the next day at 3pm. Needless to say, I didn't get much, if any, sleep over those 16 hours. Nor did I get any during the day as our room was filled with visitors until 11:30 that night. And then I was up at night fighting the breastfeeding battle. And then the next day was more visitors and another long night. When we were finally discharged on Monday, I was learning how capable the human body is of running on an empty tank, and I never had the chance to recharge it - nor did I see a chance lurking around the corner.

I'm the kind of person who needed 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to function, pre-baby. No wonder everything overwhelmed me when I had absolutely no energy to do anything. And no matter how many times people told me "nap when the baby naps," I felt like I had to bustle around the house and get things done when I could. Why? Maybe to prove my competence as a parent, maybe to exert some sort of control over my life, but regardless, it all could have waited.

#3 - Sheer change. Having a baby is perhaps the most life-altering thing a person could ever do. Before she was born, I had an idea of what being a mom would be like, but that's all it was - an idea. No amount of reading, research, or classes could have prepared me for the realization that we had brought a new person into the world for whom we'd be responsible to raise. I suddenly realized that unpredictable and scary things would happen to her. That I'd have very little time to myself anymore. That I was going to have an infinite amount of things to learn about her development and needs. That I was going to make mistakes. For a person who constantly desires predictability and routine, this was the opposite of exciting - it was terrifying.

Objectively, I knew I had the baby blues, but I couldn't simply tell myself that's all it was and to just get over it. It was a very real problem that was manifesting itself physically, emotionally, and mentally in an all-encompassing way. But, eventually, things did get better, and here is what I attribute it to.

I talked about it. My mother and husband were the rocks I leaned on. They let me voice my fears and negative thoughts and helped me to feel like it was understandable I felt the way I felt. Instead of bottling everything up inside and fighting a silent battle, I was able to put my feelings into words. They would give me a realistic perspective or just hug me and let me cry.

I got help. My mom actually took overnight care of the baby for a few nights. She got up with her when she cried, gave her bottles, changed her diapers, and allowed me to catch up on my sleep a little bit. When my husband would get home, he'd go into daddy mode and lift some of the responsibility off my shoulders. I felt a little guilty allowing others to care for my child, but that guilt was countered by the knowledge that I could not be a good mom to my daughter if I had nothing left to give her.

I gave up nursing. This is not something that I necessarily recommend because we all know "breast is best." But for me, nursing was a major stress that was sending me over the edge. Each time my daughter would nurse, I'd curl my toes in pain and she would cry because she wasn't getting what she needed. Switching to bottle feeding - expressed breast milk and supplementing with formula (and as I write this, now exclusively on formula) - gave me the solace of knowing my baby was getting nourished, and it also allowed others to pick up some of the feedings. For a person suffering from the baby blues, being the sole source of nutrition for another human being and not being able to satisfy that nutrition adequately was the straw that continually broke the camel's back. Read more about my decision here.

I tried new things. It was so awesome to have my mom with me, but I was also sort of using her as a crutch. I was letting her change, feed, and dress the baby. I spent lots of time worrying about things like driving the baby, taking her places, and bathing her. As I've actually started doing these things - taking her to the grocery store with my husband, giving her a bath on my own, driving her to the post office, taking her to church, simply staying alone with her - my competence has increased by a million.

I wrote things down. After a few days, I realized that things might feel a little less overwhelming if I would write down her feedings and diaper changes. It helped me pick up on patterns and gave a feeling of structure to our life.

I used a Moby wrap. Being able to wrap my baby on me and go about my business around the house made me feel like a million bucks. It helped me realize I could spend quality time with my daughter and keep her content while still being able to manage our household. I cannot recommend baby slings/carriers/wraps highly enough!

I allowed time to do its thing. Time sorted my hormones out. Time has helped me get to know my daughter better with each passing day. Each day is an accomplishment. As I write this entry, I'm confident in my parenting abilities and excited about what lies ahead with our daughter. Things still worry me and I still have negative thoughts from time to time, but I spend way more of my time feeling those warm, gooey love vibes and crying happy tears instead of tears of exhaustion, worry, and anxiety.

This was definitely an unexpected battle, but one that I finally won. Looking back, I should have relied more on my relationship with God. I knew that objectively, but I felt I didn't even have the mental resources to pray. Regardless of whether I actually made it around to asking, I know he was working on me and helping me through. And now that my tank is slowly but surely recharging, I will remember to rely on him and let him "go before me always" as I continue raising my little girl.