Marriage and Divorce: Sharing the Details

When sharing the news of my divorce with people, I feel very awkward. People usually have the same look of shock on their faces, and I can tell it makes them uncomfortable – especially if we aren’t very close. They want to ask what happened. They want to ask what happened really, really badly. But they don’t, because they don’t want to be nosy. And I appreciate not having to talk about it in detail – but I still feel awkward: should I tell them? Should I keep it to myself? What is the protocol in this situation?

In the very beginning, I really didn’t want to tell people I was getting a divorce at all, let alone the reasons why. My emotional state was a super healthy combination of fear, shame, and embarrassment. When you get married, you check off a certain box on the Success Worksheet, and unchecking that box feels like a huge step backward. And announcing it? It’s like saying to the world, "hey world! I have failed! Look at me!"

It’s especially difficult when you don’t know many other divorced people. From the outside, everyone else’s "Marriage" box is checked off in permanent marker. It remains to be seen how many of my friends are actually happy in their marriages, and how many are serving themselves up a big ole plate of denial for breakfast every morning. In short, I’m the first one to get a divorce, and being first sucks. It’s embarrassing.

But, as my mom predicted, I got over the embarrassment pretty quickly. Now I’m just sort of matter-of-fact about it: “Yep, I’m getting a divorce. No, no one cheated.”

People have different reactions. Mostly they want to know what happened, because they never saw us having any problems. Sometimes they want to know simply because they’re curious…but mostly I think they want reassurances: did you always know it wouldn’t work out? Did you guys mean "forever" when you said, "I do"? Marriages are hard – are you just quitters? Basically, they want to hear that our relationship was fundamentally different than theirs is. They want to know that nothing is lurking in their marriages, ready to jump out and cause the D-word. They want to know that divorce isn’t contagious.

I can’t give them any of those reassurances, though, because I have no idea what is lurking inside their marriages, just like they didn’t know Divorce was lurking in mine. All we see of one another’s lives is what we choose to share – and most people only share the good stuff. After all, marriages are made up of good, bad, and mundane, and it’s hard to paint an accurate picture of what your marriage really looks like when you can’t share every little detail. I think people are afraid to talk about anything negative because they worry they’ll regret it the next day when the fight is over. Or they’re afraid their friends will judge them. Or that everyone else’s relationship actually is as perfect as it seems, and they’re the only one with major (or not-so-major) problems.

Plus, talking about marital problems can ruin friendships – everyone has a different opinion about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and you might get a whole lot of unsolicited advice that you don’t agree with if you do choose to open up. And of course, most people only want to hear what they’re willing to confront – and some people will get angry if they hear anything beyond that.

I wasn’t ready to confront the issues that led to the end of our marriage, so I didn’t tell a single soul about them. Sometimes I worry that my friends and family feel betrayed because I was so silent.

I could end this post with a call to action: “let’s not be quiet anymore! Let’s tell the world every little detail, in the name of empowerment! Let’s blog about it!”  But I’m not going to. I actually think it’s a good thing that people aren’t sharing every single detail of their married lives on the Internet. In an online world where people can tweet faster than it takes to second-guess themselves, it’s good to know that some things are still sacred. Or if not sacred – at least private. Because too much honesty can come back and bite you in the butt.

Thoughts?

I’m getting a divorce

If you’ve sent me an email lately, I may have taken a very long time to get back to you. Here’s why.

Literally every aspect of my life is totally up in the air right now. Why? Because — I can’t believe I’m about to publicly declare this — I am getting a divorce.

I’m not one for airing my dirty laundry in public, so I am going to be short & sweet about this:

  1. I won’t be talking in great detail about what happened here. I don’t think it’s particularly mature and it’s not good for C. But no, no one cheated.
  2. C and I have moved into a small apartment and are sharing a room. I bought a twin bed for the first time ever. I’m not sure whether I’ll be sharing photos of our space or not, as I am feeling much more private about my life right now. I’m trying to create as relaxing a space as possible for us.
  3. Being a single mom is harder than I ever thought it would be, but not in the way I thought it would be. I feel such an intense need to protect C from this awful situation, and the knowledge that she is now from a “broken home” kills me. But it is better than the alternative, so that brings me some solace. She is doing well and seems relaxed (despite FOUR MOLARS coming in at once, people!). 

Overall, we are doing okay, definitely as well as can be expected. I have very much appreciated my clients’ understanding and patience (I swear, I really do have the best clients ever – Amy, I’m especially looking at you!), and all the support I have received from my friends – but especially from my family. I am so incredibly lucky to have my parents.

Please be patient with me as I try to get the details of my new life worked out in the coming months – I will be slower to respond to emails than usual. Thank you.

I Totally Love…Baby Board Books

One of C’s favorite things to do is “read.” Before she was one or so, she would enjoy looking at her books by herself, turning the pages. Now she loves to hear us read to her, and often asks me to read the same books over and over again. I once had to hide Where’s Spot? after reading it 20 times in a row (literally – I counted). These are some of her favorite books, but there are a LOT more that are equally as good. Stay tuned for part two (and possibly three?) later down the road.

1: Where’s Spot? – This is one of my lift-the-flap books from my childhood. It is “well loved” to say the least, but C still adores it even though a few flaps are missing. Spot is missing when it’s time for his supper, so his Mama has to look all over the house for him – she finds all sorts of animals (including an alligator under the bed!) before finally finding Spot.

2: Haiku Baby – I’m not a big poetry fan, but C adores this cute little book’s bright illustrations. Each page includes a haiku about a different season.

3: Olivia I LOVE Olivia, and it didn’t take much convincing to get C on board too. She’s a sassy gal with a big personality and her own strong opinions. A good role model for a little girl, I think.

4: Llama Llama Misses Mama Ironically C doesn’t like me to read this book to her, only Y. I love the Llama Llama books because the illustrations are adorable and they’re fun to read. My personal favorite is Llama Llama Red Pajama, but C doesn’t like that one (yet).

5: One Moose, Twenty MiceWe borrowed this book from C’s best baby friend, and C immediately only wanted to read this and Somewhere So Sleepy (#9 below). This book is great for identifying animals and C has a great time searching for the cat on each page. It’s kinda like Where’s Waldo for babies.

6: Baby Einstein’s First Alphabet Our friend K gave us this book and C has loved it from day one. It’s a simple book with photos of various objects and animals, and has made teaching her different words much easier.

7: Winnie-the-Pooh’s Opposites – I actually have no idea why C loves this book so much. To Y and I, the drawings are kind of confusing and it’s hard to tell what’s happening. But she loves it! (Note: I can’t find this one on Amazon to link to it – we got our copy used)

8: Baby BelugaI grew up with Raffi, so I sing this book to her (and poke her belly when Baby Beluga sings his little song, sings for all his friends). She loves it.

9: Somewhere So Sleepy – Another book borrowed from C’s best baby friend and immediately ordered from Amazon so we could have our own copy! C calls this book “night night” and likes to flip to the end where she can pull a paper window shade up and down. This is a lift-the-flap book, which are usually a hit.

Stay tuned, more books will come later – we have quite a few favorites! And of course, I’d love to hear yours!

Mamahood: Embracing Denial?

I am about to confess to something awful. Five years ago (actually even two years ago) I would have judged myself harshly for what I’m about to say. But here goes…

I find the world outside of my tiny bubble to be very depressing. Some days, I would rather not know what’s going on in the world, just because it depresses me so much. I am tired of watching the news. I am sick of discussing politics. I wish people would keep their religion to themselves, because I don’t want to talk about it. I am jaded about our government and, sadly, about humanity in general. I would rather not debate anything controversial. And if I think about it too much, I become overwhelmed and truly frightened that I brought Charlie into such a disaster.

This is coming from a HuffPost-reading, NPR-listening, VERY opinionated person. I left a great blogging position over gay rights, I got into a Facebook fight on the night of the last election (not my finest moment), and I get truly heated when I see people throwing away recyclables. I will be raising informed, socially responsible children.

But man, do I ever wish I could do that without listening to the news.

If I’m honest with you, I have always been frustrated by people who put their heads in the sand. I will be frank and admit that I tended to judge them. I have a strong sense of morality, and whether I like it or not, I still bring my soapbox everywhere I go. I just can’t help it. I sometimes choose not to preach from it, but I still carry it around with me, right next to my iPhone and my house keys.

But after having a baby, something changed in me. I just do not have the emotional energy to deal with the negativity anymore. Maybe it’s my lack of sleep, maybe it’s juggling all of my responsibilities, or maybe it’s the hormones. Whatever the case, it’s come as a complete shock to me.

The interesting thing is that this extends to fictional negativity as well. Whereas I once loved Law & Order: SVU and devoured entire seasons of CSI: Las Vegas, I now prefer brainless garbage. The extent of my desire for drama is satisfied by Pretty Little Liars and Castle. Shows like Parenthood bring me to tears (and are thus avoided). Sometimes even Modern Family cues the waterworks (hey, that graduation episode was emotional!). I have never been happier in my entire life…and while I know that Charlie is the major reason for that, I’m starting to wonder if some of it might be due to my avoidance of depressing topics.

What the hell is going on with me?! I would think that I’m alone in this, except even my optometrist brought it up while fitting me for my new prescription the other day, announcing that she only wants to rent comedies since becoming a mother. Is this one of the unspoken hazards of motherhood? Will I ever feel emotionally capable of handling the barrage of depressing headlines again? I’m not sure (yikes). In the meantime, I will eat a healthy slice of humble pie, and remind myself that being a Judgey Judge is never a good idea.

My Baby Had Colic & Food Intolerances, and I Survived

I feel a little annoyed by people who talk about how their babies never fuss, they’re great sleepers, and they can be passed from person to person without crying, then label them “good.” As if babies who aren’t like that – and most aren’t – are somehow BAD. And while these people pretend that they aren’t bragging about their “good” baby (which they are, it’s only natural), they’re making the rest of us feel a little insecure. And that isn’t helpful. It might be part of the reason why no one talks about their bundle of joy screaming their freaking face off night after night.

I am not ashamed to say that my baby was colicky. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t my fault. But Charlie had colic, and it really was awful. It lasted from three weeks until she was about four months old. That’s a long damn time when your baby is crying most of the time and you don’t know why. She cried and cried, but at no point did I think she was a “bad” baby. If I’m honest, though, I’ll admit I was worried that other people might think she was “bad.” Inside, I felt defensive of her. I also thought, “something is WRONG. I have to figure out what it is.”

Before I go any further into this, let me define colic for those of you who don’t know. Colic is medically defined as a condition in which an otherwise healthy baby shows periods of intense, unexplained crying lasting more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks. It usually disappears by the age of 3-4 months, and is allegedly lower in breastfed babies.

When Charlie was about three weeks old, we noticed that she was crying a lot. To be honest, though, as first time parents we had no idea what a “normal” amount of crying was, and it took us quite awhile to realize that what was happening wasn’t normal. After all, there’s a book and DVD set called “the Happiest Baby on the Block,” which is designed to get babies to stop crying…so some amount of crying is to be expected.  We quickly became experts at the techniques in the Happiest Baby on the Block. We spent hours bouncing her up and down while sitting on an exercise ball. We swaddled her up and we had skin to skin contact. We put her on her side and shushed loudly in her ear. We “wore” her in a moby wrap. Y practically wore down the tile in the kitchen, walking around in circles night after night.

And still, the crying didn’t stop.  I called her doctor at least three times (and the advice nurse even more), when I had reached the edge of being able to cope and convinced myself that there had to be a solution. After all, the diagnosis of “colic” is complete and total crap. Yes, I KNOW my baby is crying all the time. Naming it doesn’t help. Give me a damn solution, will you?

How we helped our colicky baby

While there was no solution, per se, we did find at least part of the problem. And to be honest, I am posting this not because I think you guys will find it riveting, but mostly because I hope that at least one mother (or father) out there will google “my baby cries all the time,” “cause of colic” or “help with colicky baby” and happen upon this post.

Our doctor told us that some babies seem to have very sensitive intestinal tracts – it’s not just that they’re necessarily immature (which is an abandoned theory as to the cause of colic), as much as they are sensitive. It seems that the normal processes of digestion (not gas) cause these babies a lot of pain, and that pain causes a lot of crying.

However, in my online research I found some sources that say experts no longer believe that colic is caused by stomach pain or immature intestinal tracts; it is now believed that colicky babies are normal – just more vocal than other babies (ie, they’re big complainers so their parents are more likely to call their doctor). There are several reasons why the opinion has changed, but I don’t want to bore you with them. If you’re interested, check out Wiki. There’s one point, though, that I’m going to talk about:

In 90% of cases, colic is unrelated to a baby’s diet. However, in 10% of cases colic is triggered by stomach discomfort from food allergy and requires altering the diet of a breastfeeding mom or switching a baby to a hypoallergenic formula.

So although some colicky babies are just “loud,” some of them are obviously in pain. And I absolutely and completely believe that Charlie was one of these babies.

Why do I believe this? Well, let’s return to that part about “altering the diet of a breastfeeding mom.” Often, I’d feed Charlie and within an hour she would be screaming. Not just crying; she’d be screaming, writhing around, arching her back, and punching the air with her little baby fists. It was heartbreaking. Then one day, I noticed it was worse after I ate some (okay, a LOT) of the fudge that my sister-in-law made.

As a bit of background, my friend Krista had to cut dairy out of her diet while she was breastfeeding her baby. I remembered her describing her baby as “screaming in pain,” so I decided to call her and have her describe what she had experienced. As a result of that conversation, I cut chocolate out of my diet.  I lamented my inability to eat delicious fudge, but Charlie seemed to be crying a little bit less (I had been eating a lot of chocolate, haha). It was encouraging.

The screaming didn’t end, though, and eventually I tried eliminating dairy, which I never would have thought I was capable of. Not only did I live off of dairy (cheese, anyone?), but I am kind of infamous in my family for having zero self-control. But man, I quit dairy cold turkey and never looked back. I was actually surprised by how easy it was (and seriously, if I can do it, anyone can do it). It was easy in part because the benefits were almost immediate. It takes some babies three weeks to show improvement, but with Charlie it was one day. She was like a whole new baby, I kid you not.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. As you can imagine, eating dairy-free is really hard, especially for a vegetarian.  I had to suck it up and eat a lot more meat.  And, because I really don’t like meat, I was eating a lot more soy.  But as it turns out, something like 30% of newborns with a dairy allergy/intolerance also have an intolerance to soy.  Charlie and I are apparently part of that lucky 30%.  Trial and error has shown us that she can tolerate small amounts of soy (like butter substitute, a Tofutti Cutie, etc), but a meal made with primarily tofu is a no-go.

After we initially figured all of this out, I went for about two months with very little soy, and no dairy or chocolate. Then one day, Y messed up and accidentally gave me cheddar popcorn (he thought it was plain popcorn and didn’t read the ingredients). I thought to myself, “man, this popcorn is GOOD! I can’t believe it’s ‘legal’ for me to eat!” As it turned out, it was not legal. It seemed like every freakin’ ingredient in that popcorn contained some kind of dairy. I was so, so upset. And so was Charlie. She screamed in pain, like we hadn’t heard in weeks. Poor Y felt horrible. If we needed any more convincing that Charlie had a dairy allergy/intolerance, that popcorn did it.

So the screaming was gone, but I eventually ended up cutting out wheat as well. A lactation consultant gave me a handout about “food sensitivities in babies” and I learned that “chronic congestion” was one of the symptoms. After I cut out wheat, Charlie’s stuffy nose was gone. It was amazing.

Now, I don’t want to leave you thinking this cured Charlie of colic, because it didn’t. She still cried a lot more than “normal” three month old babies, and she had a hard time sleeping (colicky and post-colicky babies often do). But the difference in our lives after cutting out dairy was AMAZING. Watching our baby scream in pain made us feel helpless. Our hearts broke for her. After I cut out dairy, she still cried, but we no longer felt that same level of heartbreak.

Why I think food sensitivities are more common than experts think

If you’ll recall from above, Wiki mentions that about 10% of breastfed babies have problems relating to their mother’s diets. And remember, I mentioned that my friend Krista had to cut dairy out of her diet. Well, she wasn’t the only one; I also know five other breastfeeding women who have had to cut dairy and other foods out of their diets. How many breastfeeding women do I know? Uh, not that many. When we switched to a new pediatrician and I explained Charlie’s food sensitivities, the doctor nodded knowingly and said, “this is a lot more common than one might think.”

When I was a baby, I was breastfed until I was five months old, at which point my mom tried to switch me to formula. Cue insane crying. I was intolerant to pretty much everything she tried to feed me. Y also cried incessantly as a baby.  How many “colicky” babies are being breastfed by mothers who have no idea that babies can be affected by a mother’s diet? How many babies are being formula fed, when they have an intolerance to dairy or soy? My guess is a lot more than experts think.

The #1 question I was asked when I told people about my limited diet was, “will she grow out of this?” And the answer is “most likely.” For most babies, this is an intolerance, not an allergy.  But this issue doesn’t seem to be very heavily researched, and a lot of doctors don’t know much about it. In order to find out whether Charlie was actually allergic, we went to an allergist and had the poor girl tested. We found out later, though, that allergy tests in babies under a year old aren’t even considered valid – yet the allergist we saw didn’t know that, hadn’t heard about actual allergies to proteins passed through breast milk, and had never tested a four month old baby.

Where we are now

Charlie is now seven months old, and is a complete and utter joy to be around. She only cries when something is wrong. Over the months, we’ve done a few food trials to see if she’s more tolerant to foods in my diet:

  • 5 months: drank a lot of soy nog, which caused her to have a lot of gas and wake up crying. Determined that a lot of soy is still not good, but a little is okay.
  • 6 months: introduced wheat, which caused no reaction. I now eat wheat, but only in small quantities (just to be safe). Interestingly, I think I felt a little healthier when I wasn’t eating wheat, so I may experiment with that later.
  • 7 months: four spoonfuls of yogurt, no reaction. We were told to try yogurt before other forms of dairy (not sure why). I didn’t have a lot, but enough to definitely consider it a trial.
  • Yesterday (7.5 months): three large crackers with delicious cheese on top, no reaction. YAY!!!  I’m not going to go hog-wild or anything, but I think it might be okay to stop panicking about whether or not something is made with butter.

Solid foods, however, are not going very well.  At six months, we started introducing various kinds of vegetables to see how she liked the taste. At first we were trying Baby Led Weaning, but I was nervous about choking after she kept shoving sweet potatoes down her gullet, so we switched to purees. The first thing she ate a lot of was carrots, which she loved. Unfortunately, she spit up most of it and seemed to have a horrible tummy ache. A few days later, we tried butternut squash, which gave her a rash. After contacting her doctor, we are now introducing solid foods much more slowly, starting with a week of rice cereal followed by a week of oatmeal, then mixed grain. Once we’re finished with that, we’ll start introducing vegetables – one per week.

So as you can see, Charlie has a very sensitive tummy, which we are still dealing with seven months later. But colic has been gone for months (thank god) and her real personality has come out!  She’s so much fun. When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like it will never, ever end. But it does.

This is obviously only our experience, and not all colicky babies will be helped by changing their diet. But ours was, and I’m sure others will be, too. I know there are other people out there who had/have colicky babies, even if you don’t see many bloggers talking about it. You are not alone!!

How becoming a mother made me a better person

So, here’s a confession: I’m a Type A personality.  I use Google Docs to organize every aspect of my business. We moved three weeks before my baby was born, and I was hell-bent on getting the house done (ie, unpacked and decorated) before she arrived. It irritated me that there was a big blank space on our office wall where artwork needed to go. That’s just a little bit of insight into my personality.

So here’s how I’ve changed…

I’m not living with as much guilt.

Before Charlie was born, I think I might have said to myself, “OMG [because that’s how I talk to myself], how am I going to cope with this?! What if the linen closet doesn’t get organized? What if I’m not able to peruse the blogosphere for business inspiration/ways to expand/things that will make me feel inadequate? What if I (gasp) don’t have time to organize our books by color so they look really cool?”  As it turns out, instead of worrying about those things, I just stopped doing them (but can I say, I’m so glad I did some of those things – like the linen closet – before she was born?!).  And really, my life is far better for it.

You see, in addition to feeling like I wanted to do these things, I also somehow managed to make myself feel really guilty if I didn’t do them.  If I had fun during the day, I felt like I should be working.  Thus, I didn’t take advantage of one of the best parts of working from home: freedom. Seriously, people.  I have no idea why I felt so compelled to complete (and dare I say stressed by the thought of?) such trivial tasks.  I no longer have time to do a lot of those things, and now I feel like my life is pared down to the essentials: I work only on what I have to, and I spend the majority of my time taking care of Charlie.  I am thrilled by the fact that “taking care of Charlie” encompasses such activities as: meeting other women with new babies and having a relaxed lunch in the park, going shopping for baby clothes, and and staring at the cutest face on the planet (granted this job also includes cleaning up projectile baby poop, but we’re not focusing on that right now). And guess what? A lot of that is fun, and I’m not feeling even one shred of guilt about it.

And as for using the Internet to better my business? I found that I didn’t need to use the Internet to better my business.  Reading “professional” blogs stressed me out. They made me feel like I should be moving faster, that my business isn’t expanding quickly enough, that I should be pumping out ready-made designs at an exponential rate. The stress squelched my creativity and made it hard to come up with original ideas.  Since I’ve stepped back from that, I’ve been able to come up with some new, creative ways to solve problems I’ve been pondering for at least a year.  It’s really refreshing.

I’ve developed patience.

The other way I’ve changed is that I have developed patience, which has surprised no one more than me.  To illustrate this point, I’ll tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, Y and I lived in Ohio.  In Ohio, they have car washes like nothing I’ve ever seen: they’re like the car washes at gas stations, but it’s just the car wash, and there’s a whole line of them.  One day, Y and I took the ole’ Prius to get a good scrubbing, and he asked me to choose which line to wait in.  I chose the one I thought would move the fastest, only to discover two minutes later that the line next to us was moving much more quickly.  Pointing at the faster lane, I told Y, “you should get in that line.” We had nowhere to be and nothing else to do, but I was really irritated that Y wouldn’t change lanes.

This story pretty much sums up my Type A personality.  I didn’t care that we had nowhere to be; we had a task, and we should finish it as quickly and efficiently as possible.Well.  Babies don’t allow you to do anything quickly and efficiently.  In fact, it seems like they try their darndest to make things go as slowly and inefficiently as possible.  Had I known this before having Charlie, I think I would have been very worried.  As it was, I already worried about how I would have a baby and not go completely insane.  What if I can’t handle how demanding she is?  What if her screaming gives me a migraine? What if I feel so overwhelmed, I just want to put her in the closet?  For crying out loud, the dog’s neediness annoyed me, and I knew she was nothing compared to a baby (although seriously, she is the neediest dog I’ve ever met).

I was really, really surprised by myself.  When Charlie cries, instead of thinking, “OMG this baby is crying AGAIN,” I think, “this poor kid. She is really upset and has no way to help herself.”  I think it’s my compassion for her that has actually made me into – gasp – a patient person.  Yes, seriously.  I am starting to consider myself a patient person.  I’m not nearly as annoyed by the little things as I used to be – baby related or not.  And I find myself thinking, “man, why is everyone in such a hurry?”  I can’t rush Charlie through a feeding, and I shouldn’t be rushing myself through my life.

I’ve become more relaxed about…well, everything.

I used to do thirty things at once.  I never watched TV without the laptop in one hand and the iPhone in the other. I never just drew – I had Hulu on in the background, or I was talking to a long-distance friend.

But having a baby makes you attend to one thing, most of the time. There’s no time for any of the other crap, and you have no choice but it let it go — because you only have this one responsibility. There’s no worrying about getting everything on the to do list done, because you knew that was impossible when you woke up. It’s an exercise in letting go.  And it’s awesome. I’m enjoying my life more.

So tell me, people – am I the only one who really didn’t expect this?  I hadn’t really anticipated that having a child would change me for the better…I actually hadn’t considered that aspect of it at all!  Mamas and mamas-to-be — have you thought about this? How has having a baby changed you – besides, of course, talking about poop all the time?

Why Breastfeeding Sucks but I Refuse to Give Up

I really have a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding.  It seems like every time I think I’ve got it together, some other problem pops up.  Right now I feel like I have an oversupply issue and I’m worried I’m going to get mastitis or something.  Better oversupply than undersupply I guess, but either problem warrants yet another trip to the lactation consultant.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, I’ll tell you a bit about my breastfeeding journey, starting with the beginning.

As I mentioned before, breastfeeding SUCKS and is HARD.  I was completely unprepared for that.  We took a breastfeeding class, and they kept talking about how "breast is best!" and "breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world!" Then they scared the everliving daylights out of you: "you have to breastfeed if you want all of these wonderful benefits we’ve been discussing for the past half hour. If you supplement with formula EVEN ONCE, here is a chart of how you’ll never keep your milk supply up and you’ll basically ruin everything for yourself and your baby will have to be on FORMULA and won’t be as smart."  Okay, so those weren’t the EXACT words, but they were pretty darn close.  They also scared the everliving daylights out of us about pacifiers and bottles, two other EVIL things that will, without a doubt, ruin breastfeeding forever.

In the beginning…
Our hospital was really amazing, and the nurses there were wonderful at teaching me what to do.  For the first day, I really felt like I got the hang of it, and so did Charlie.  No real milk was coming out, of course, but the poster in the bathroom was encouraging: “Colostrum is LIQUID GOLD.  You may not have milk yet, but your baby is getting all the nutrition she needs.”  

The second day, however, things started to go south.  She wasn’t latching correctly and it started to HURT. I kept trying to deal with the pain, hoping it would go away and my nipples would “toughen up” or something.  Finally I gave up and called for a lactation nurse, who told me that I needed to give my nipples some time to heal, and to keep my supply up, I should pump.  Then she said the unthinkable: “I think you should supplement with formula.”  I basically burst into tears: the exhaustion of not sleeping in three days – coupled with my fears about formula – was too much.  I told her what they’d told me in the breastfeeding class, and told her that I really didn’t want to use formula.  I don’t remember what she said (I can barely remember anything, to be honest), but whatever it was, it convinced me that the baby needed to eat.  It may have been because she was small and was at high risk for jaundice, but I don’t remember.  There are two things I do remember: first, the nurse had a very cute Australian accent.  Second (and obviously more important) was that she said, “breastfeeding is difficult and a lot of women have a hard time with it.  Just because you supplement with formula doesn’t mean you won’t go on to breastfeed exclusively successfully.  Many, many women have to supplement with formula.  I did, and I had no problem exclusively breastfeeding for many months after that.”  What?! An actual human being who supplemented with formula and went on to breastfeed exclusively? It felt like seeing a unicorn, and it gave me a lot of help.

So we decided that I would pump and we would supplement with formula.  At the very least, though, I was not going to use a bottle – I think seeing her with the bottle would have been really upsetting for me in my heightened hormonal state.  We might be using formula, but I wasn’t going to expose Charlie to the dreaded NIPPLE CONFUSION.  I still am not entirely clear on what NIPPLE CONFUSION is, but I know that it is something Big and Scary, much like formula, and it has the potential to ruin breastfeeding forever (oy vey, right?). Instead, we tried finger feeding.  What a pain in the ass that was!  But I felt better about finger feeding than I did about a bottle, so we persevered.

When we left the hospital, we were given a follow-up appointment to have Charlie checked out two days later.  The nurse who made the appointment had the genius idea to make the follow-up appointment with a lactation consultant rather than a regular doctor, so that I could get help from an expert after finger feeding for a couple of days.  I was thrilled.  Finger feeding took ages: we had to prepare the formula, get the tube and syringe set up, and spend a half hour feeding her.  Then, Y would burp her and I’d spend another 20 minutes pumping.  And, of course, at the end of the 20 minutes, I’d look down to see that I’d pumped absolutely nothing.  And may I just say, pumping is kind of humiliating?  I felt like a broken milk machine.  It was incredibly frustrating.

Things started to turn around a bit the night before the appointment, when I looked down after pumping to find that I had actually PRODUCED something.  It wasn’t much, but it was something!  My parents were with us, and my reaction to seeing the fruits of my labor was apparently enough to crack up everyone in the room.  I felt like I’d had a breakthrough. The next morning I started to feel the beginning stages of engorgement, which wasn’t very pleasant – but at least it meant something was happening.

At the appointment, I explained to the lactation consultant (who, oddly, was an old friend of the family and actually helped deliver me! Her name is even in my baby book!) why we were finger feeding.  I also explained that breastfeeding was very important to me, and that I hated having to supplement.  The lactation consultant (who was wonderful) helped me to get Charlie latched on correctly, but it still hurt a lot.  At this point, she introduced me to the nipple shield (basically a plastic thing that goes over the nipple and has holes in it – the baby latches onto the plastic thing instead of the nipple so it doesn’t hurt).  It was a strange concept to put a little plastic thing over my nipple, but I can’t explain the elation I felt at actually being able to feed my child.  It was wonderful.

After about a week and a half of successfully using the nipple shield, my nipples started to hurt again.  A lot.  I made another appointment to go back to the lactation consultant.  This time I saw someone else, who was equally as wonderful.  As it turns out, I wasn’t putting the nipple shield on right, so only the nipple (instead of the areola) was in Charlie’s mouth.  Oops.  It was the dreaded Bad Latch.  I was taught how to do it right, and all was well with the world.  

For about a week and a half.

I started to notice that although I was putting the nipple shield on right, it was sort of sliding up after I’d put it on, so it was no longer on right.  No matter how many times I attached it, it was like the nipple was receding inside the shield.  When Charlie would latch on, she’d have a Bad Latch.  I stupidly ignored this for a few days.  By the time I called for help, I was having a LOT of pain.  The only way I can describe it is that it felt like one part of my nipple was being sucked out of one tiny hole in the shield.

This time, the lactation consultants at Hippy Hospital were all booked up, so I went to the hospital closest to us.  I saw a new lactation consultant, and she wasn’t very good.  She told me that the nipple shield should only be used as a short-term solution and that I needed to stop using it.  She helped me latch Charlie directly onto my breast once, and then sent me on my way.

Well, as it turns out, it’s not that simple.  Although I had Charlie positioned right, I couldn’t get her to latch on when I got home.  After extensive googling (which, really, is my forté), I discovered that she was basically ADDICTED to the nipple shield, which is huge and hard and very easy for her to nurse with.  My nipples were tiny in comparison and she didn’t recognize them as the source of her food.  And of course, my appointment had been on a Friday afternoon, and lactation was closed for the weekend, so I had no help.  I worked my ass off trying to get her to latch on correctly, reading a lot of stuff online and watching a lot of videos.  I was lucky that Charlie caught on relatively quickly, and by Monday I was pretty confident that we’d be able to work things out.

For, like, a week.

And then I ended up with another problem – for some reason Charlie was refusing to latch on correctly, after having done it right for a week.  She was also screaming her head off – a lot. WTF?  I called the lactation consultant, who was super busy.  We talked on the phone, and she said she thought I was “hosing” Charlie.  What is hosing, you might ask?  Basically, it’s a laymen’s term for overactive letdown, meaning I had too much milk coming out too fast.  Charlie was trying to slow the flow by clamping down on my nipple.  In addition, the fast flow was causing her to swallow a lot of air, which was giving her gas.  To be honest, I thought this was load of hooey.  I didn’t see any evidence of my “hosing” the poor kid.  But I did what the LC said to do anyway, which involved acrobatics during feeding time in which I somehow would maneuver Charlie to be on top of me instead of below me, thus making gravity work against the milk so it wouldn’t come out as fast.

To be honest, I’m still not entirely convinced that I am “hosing” her.  My best buddy has overactive letdown, and her description of what it’s like (spraying milk, baby choking and coughing) is not happening to me.  She coughed while nursing for the first time yesterday.  I still do the acrobatics, mostly in the super early morning when my milk supply is supposed to be the highest, just in case.

Over time, Charlie has gotten a lot better at latching on. My nipples hurt a lot less than they used to, although I have one major problem: nipple vasospasm.  What is a nipple vasospasm, you might ask?  It’s basically a migraine in your nipple: the blood vessels contract and your entire nipple turns white.  Oh, and it hurts like hell.  I was given medication for it, but unfortunately one of the side effects is headache – and as someone with a history of chronic migraine headaches, I (of course) suffered from the side effect and had to stop the medication.  Right now I’m just kind of dealing with it because I have no choice.  I think I have a mild case of it, too, which is lucky.

After I was finally able to successfully feed Charlie, I was able to focus on other things because breastfeeding wasn’t so all-consuming.  And the main thing I noticed was that my baby cried a lot.  And when she cried, she wasn’t just crying – she was absolutely screaming in pain, kicking and writhing and punching the air with her little fists.  Absolutely nothing we did could console her.  Did we have a “colicky” baby?  Or was something else wrong?

Lucky for Charlie, my friend K (the same one who told me about overactive letdown) had the same problem with her first baby.  I remembered K describing her daughter’s crying as “screaming in pain,” and wondered if Charlie had the same issue: dairy allergy.  My suspicions started to grow after I ate some delicious fudge and her crying worsened.

I know this might sound strange, because it’s not like I was feeding Charlie dairy directly, but quite a few women I know have had the same problem – dairy in the mother’s diet sometimes causes extreme gas and pain in their little nursling.  So I decided to cut out dairy.  And would you believe it, her screaming fits stopped.  She still cried, but nothing like before.  She was like a whole new baby.  

For like, a week and a half.

As you can imagine, eating dairy-free is really hard, especially for a vegetarian.  I had to suck it up and eat a lot more meat.  And, because I really don’t like meat, I was eating a lot more soy.  As it turns out, something like 30% of newborns with a dairy allergy/intolerance also have an intolerance to soy.  Charlie and I are apparently part of that lucky 30%.  Trial and error has shown us that she can tolerate small amounts of soy (like butter substitute, a Tofutti Cutie, etc), but a meal made with primarily tofu is a no-go.

The #1 question I get asked when I tell people that I can’t eat dairy or soy is whether she’ll have this allergy for life.  Apparently most infants grow out of it, which is a major relief, as this diet really, really sucks.  It takes all of the interest out of food, makes dining out close to impossible, and has me eating a lot of stuff I don’t like — I would hate if she had to spend her life eating like this.  But really, it makes sense that she is having issues with digesting food – she’s doing it for the very first time ever, and her digestive system is really immature.  For the same reason that all babies have reflux to some extent, a lot of babies just can’t tolerate foods that are even slightly irritating.  As time goes on, I may be able to reintroduce dairy slowly and see if she can tolerate it.

The second question I get asked is how long I will breastfeed.  I don’t know the answer to that question exactly, but I guess “as long as I can” is good enough.  Despite all of it’s difficulties and annoyances, I really enjoy breastfeeding.  It makes me feel good to know that I’m the one helping her to gain 11 ounces in a week, and I love the bonding time with her.  She’s so darn cute.  I also like the idea that by breastfeeding, I’m saving us a LOT of money.  Formula costs somewhere between $100 and $200 a month, which is an expense we’d obviously rather avoid. I’m not working as much right now, so I’d like to help in any way I can.  Plus, can you imagine trying to find a formula made without dairy and soy?  Lord help us. 

I’m no longer worried about all of the things the breastfeeding class scared me about.  Sure, “breast is best,” but I don’t really know if I believe in NIPPLE CONFUSION (we gave Charlie a soothie pacifier at 2 weeks to shut her up and have been using it ever since) and I certainly don’t believe that “you supplement once and you’re up formula creek without a paddle.”  Every woman does what’s right for her, and breastfeeding is HARD.  There are so many factors involved (as you can clearly see from my experience) and if you add any other stressors – having to go back to work, for example – it just gets that much harder.  

I know that breastfeeding comes easy to some people (*cough cough* Gisele), but for others it’s a difficult process.  I don’t want to scare anyone who hasn’t tried it yet, but I also think it’s important to know that it isn’t always “the most natural process in the world.”  If it’s hard for you, you’re not alone, and you’re certainly not a failure.  I completely credit the support of wonderful lactation consultants for my success thus far.  Ask for help, and ask for it RIGHT AWAY.  Don’t wait, not even for a couple of days.  The problems only get worse or develop into other problems.  

And that, my friends, is my story (and my number one piece of advice for success)!  Any questions?