Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Tribe

I remember being about 8 months pregnant with my first and clutching my husbands arm as we crossed a street one weekend during a community fair. There were cars and throngs of people. I felt vulnerable and slow and obvious. I remember thinking to myself, "if a Tiger attacked me right now, I'd be toast, I have zero get up and go, I'd be two treats in one and it'd be over before I knew it."

The feeling got me thinking about how the human race survived with all these slow pregnant women waddling around attracting saber tooth tigers and tyrannosaurs rexes from down below in the valley. Now, I imagine that part of it is that our naturally living ancestors did not suffer from some of the maladies that we do caused by your sedentary life styles, poor posture, and lack of good role models around child bearing and birth. But even if the average early pregnant lady could probably kick my non-pregnant and highly fit butt in a foot race, I imagine that she was slower than her non-pregnant compatriots and if I have learned anything from all the Discovery Channel and Planet Earth I have watched it is that hunters like to pick of the slowest wildebeest in the tribe.

So why are we all still here? There are probably lots of good answers to this founded in a solid understanding of human evolutionary science, archeology, and history. This is not one of those answers. I imagine that our fore-mothers did what I have found myself doing. She relied on her tribe. Or on her village as we moved out of the caves and settled down. I would bet early husbands held the hands of pregnant mothers as they crossed the stream and were a little extra vigilant as they climbed aboard the wooly mammoth mini van to drive down to the local Target. When she went to fetch water I image her non-pregnant friends kept their eye on her and carried an extra spear in case the man who met them at the well was more of the rape and pillage type than Eliezer was when he arrived to lure a maiden away with riches as a wife for Isaac.

I felt the power of my own tribe on our recent trip hiking in Sequoia. We saw four bears! Thanks largely to the unnaturally keen vision our official bear spotter, Maura. My husband went on to see five more over the course of the trip.  Normally I am pretty excited about wildlife. On a trip to florida before we were married I stopped paddling our canoe right by a huge alligator so I could get some close up photos. Alarmed, my then boyfriend, now husband, paddled furiously and chastised me for trying to get us eaten (I still don't think they would have gotten into the boat, but I suppose he has been keeping my ass alive, pregnant or not for a while now). But in my hobbled pregnant state these bears made me a bit squirrly. I am the slow wildebeest. But I didn't have to do anything, some of my friends got behind me and others in front and made sure I was never the end of the line. We were not in any likely danger, but my feeling safe mattered, and they didn't think twice about becoming the end of the line themselves. This also kept me safer from the more real risk that I would just be so much slower than everyone else that I would be left behind or twist my ankle thanks to my extra lax joints and no one would notice until they got to the car a few hours later, short 1.5 people.

My tribe has stepped up again this last week when I was told by my PT, that thanks to my abdominal wall tearing apart like a cheap old zipper on an overstuffed duffle bag, I was to rest for a week and not pick up anything over 15 pounds for the rest of my pregnancy. (Did I mention I have a 2 year old? He weighs, 25 pounds...). My sister showed up to play on my day off. My mom took him multiple afternoons. And to my amazement, my two year old, who usually refuses to walk five feet on his own listened thoughtfully as I explained that Mommy had an ouchie and it was hard for her to pick him up and that he needed to walk, did so, without complaint and repeatedly. Even my toddler is part of my tribe.

These days pregnant women and new mommas are not as likely to get eaten by a wild animal or attacked by a neighboring village. But we still need our tribe. We are vulnerable to feeling isolated and alone and stranded. We have a sort of weird hands off rule with new families, etiquette some how telling us to keep our distance rather than come on in and make sure everyone is hanging in there. Isolation seems to be a huge factor in postpartum depression, which impacts at least 10% of new families. Our tribe may do less fending off of wildlife with spears than it once did but its role as support and nurturing for pregnant women and new families are as critical as ever, if not even more important since many women live far away from their family that might have been their natural tribe even a few generations before. As I look around me, I know that I am one slow wildebeest thankful for my tribe.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

All Done Milkos

I have been holding off on writing this post because I wasn't sure if it was real or not. But after last night, I think I finally believe it has happened. My baby is weaned.

David and I had a rough start to nursing (I should say David, Michael, and I had a rough start because on those sleepless nights and tear-filled feedings Michael was right there adjusting pillows and wishing he could help as badly as I wanted there to be something I knew how to do to make things go better). David was born with a tongue tie, a sneaky posterior tie, that while my lactation consultant found it after two sessions together, I ignored her and was in denial about until he was about 5 weeks old. I feel lucky that I had a huge milk supply so unlike a lot of TT babies David grew like a weed despite our nursing woes. However, he tore me apart. I had a fissure across my entire left nipple that was so painful I ended up needing to stop nursing on it for four days to let it heal. During that time I nursed only on the right, which, doing as bodies do best, kicked into high gear and made all the milk David needed all by its self. To this day my right side is "my big gun." I had two thrush (yeast) infections, a bought of mastitis, numerous plugged ducts, nipples that were oddly shaped like lipstick with a beveled edge after each excruciating feeding.

David was 5 weeks old and Nina, my super hero lactation consultant I had just resent me information on posterior tongue ties. I was finally convinced that was what was going on but the local ENT who could perform the simple surgery he needed couldn't see me for two weeks, an eternity in the world of infant feeding. I sat on the couch at 5pm and David latched onto my newly healed left side. It was painful, as usual, and when he finished I looked down and saw to my horror he had resplit the fissure. I picked up the phone and called Nina who gave me the number to a doctor she knew in phoenix. Because I apparently had a small cache of good Karma, the office picked up at 5:11pm and because there apparently is a G-d got me an appointment THE NEXT DAY. Off I went to Phoenix with my tiny 5 week old in the back of the car (one of his least favorite places on earth at the time) and Nina in the front seat with me.

We arrived at the Dr. Agerwal's in time and I then experienced one of the most compassionate physician's visits I have ever had. He listened to my 5 week long saga with empathy, looked at my son's tongue and confirmed Nina's diagnosis. I was sent briefly out of the room while he strapped my precious baby to a board for the second time in his life (circumcision is a whole other blog post, I'll save it for another day, or maybe after our second bris). A quick cry and about 3 minutes later I was called back in and David was handed back to me to nurse. It was better instantly. Not perfect. But better enough that I believed that I wasn't going to have to pump and bottle feed for the rest of the year.

The next three weeks were full of somewhat improved but not perfect feedings that landed me eventually in the office of Amy Wheeler, a magical Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and cranio-sacral therapist who finally pushed us over the edge to the blissful nursing I had imagined when I was pregnant.

From there the story is less dramatic, and as it rightly should, takes up less space in my memory. When David was hungry I fed him. We got good enough at it together, and I got confident enough in what I was doing, that I was able to shed the nursing shield and nurse in public without my boobs flapping in the wind (too much at least). He got bigger and started eating foods too. We went on a backpacking trip when he was six month old and I felt the freedom that breast feeding allows, as long as I was with him, he had everything he needed.

His first birthday came and went. Some of my friends kids started slowing down, some with more encouragement than others but all in their own unique and gentle ways. By their 14 or 18 month marks some only nursed at night. Not David. He didn't seem anywhere near being done with Milkos, a coin he termed himself sometime after his first birthday. Sometimes, like first thing in the morning we nursed because he was hungry. Sometimes, like when I got home from work we nursed to reconnect. Sometimes we nursed to help him calm down, and at night we nursed to help him relax and drift off to sleep.

As his first birthday drifted away I felt the social approval for nursing fading too. It is hard to put my finger on what this is like, questions like "he is still nursing?" take on new meaning. The best metaphor I have come up with is when someone says something like, "you look great, and I know you will feel awesome when you finally loose those last ten pounds, but don't worry! You look great now too!" That sort of bestowal of temporary approval for something that everyone knows you should have gotten done already and as long as you plan on getting it done soon, you are still okay. But you are on notice.

As he approached two I started gently stopping nursing in public and he understood more about waiting and he needs weren't so pressing so it wasn't so hard. The exception of course being when it was convenient for me, such as while waiting for the food at a restaurant during a dinner planned at an inadvisable late hour for a toddler. I got to stay at the table and talk to friends or family rather than run around a restaurant entertaining an over tired toddler while avoiding crashes with tray laden waitresses.

Then I got pregnant. Faster than I imagined I would. At first things went on as normal. I didn't have any of the pain that some women experience when nursing while pregnant. Then about three months in Thursh reared its ugly little fungal head again and I had a hard time knocking it. Nursing got more uncomfortable. But I wanted so much for weaning to be a partnership and for him to be ready as well, so I persisted but knew I needed at least the number of nursings to decrease. So I just started pushing slowly, saying no, or telling him we needed to wait until before nap. I feel grateful he was ready and said ok. There were a number of feedings he stopped on his own, as my milk supply dwindled he popped out of bed each morning and demanded breakfast, milkos no longer enough to break his fast. Every once in a while he would let me know that he really still needed it and I would say okay to him in return. It felt flexible. No one felt stressed. But before long we were down to the elusive just before bed nursing that when pressed most people will condone when thinking about older nurslings.

There we were when we headed off on our family vacation to California. I think the change in scenery and routine let us both let go. Without the familiar routine cues to nurse he stopped asking before nap and bed time. Instead my husband and I sang him the Shema every night before we kissed him and left the room. I nursed him a few times on the trip. Once in the middle of the night on our first night away when he woke up disoriented. The last real nursing we had was sitting on the side of a windy mountain road in Sequoia National Park. He had gotten car sick and was miserable so we pulled over and I offered my fix-it-all solution, and, as the trusty parenting tool it had been for the last 27 months, it worked like a charm. After that he asked once or twice but would get distracted before I could say yes or no. Once he asked and I told him he could but that there might not be a lot of milkos left. "yes there are! they are BIG, I drink them up!" he insisted, in that way that two year olds have of being direct and honest about their observations and desires. I conceded, not really knowing how to explain the breast enlargement due to pregnancy to a two year old. He put his mouth briefly to me, without even a suckle, pulled away, and stated emphatically "no more milkos! I don't like that," off he went to play.

And that was it. We returned home and my mom had removed the rocking chair from his room at my request, although I don't think we needed to do that. Last night he asked again, and we had a similar discussion. He ended up curling up on the couch with me and as he was insistent, I offered. He took one look at the nipple and said, "I don't want that." so I asked, did you need to just cuddle? "Yes" he stated, popped his thumb in his mouth and began twirling his hair curled up next to me on the couch. He still needs the closeness that nursing provided and is now learning new words and new ways to get it. I am learning too. A few nights ago he woke up in the night and I comforted him, sleepy and in the dark, for the first time without my go to never fail trick-nursing. A skill my husband excels at by now, but was new for me, and I was proud. Of both of us.

The feeling is a bitter sweet. I was ready to be done, my body is giving itself over to his baby brother, and he has so many skills now, he doesn't need it. Not me, he still needs me, lots, but doesn't need my milk any more, the world sustains him in new ways. I am apprehensive and curious and excited to find out what my next nursing adventure will bring. I hope that what ever our start, our ending feels this good.