April 24, 2013

Nursing, 5 Months In.

I haven't yet written a post entirely about breastfeeding. If you don't care or don't want to hear a whole lot about boobs and milk and babies, you can please just click away from this post? Because otherwise I'll be embarrassed that you read so much about me and my "supply."

On Friday, Livvy will turn five months old, which means I've been (almost) exclusively breastfeeding this little doll for five months. I nursed my first daughter, Tessa, for five weeks, so this is a whole new ball of wax, and we've hit the sweet spot that everyone told me we'd hit. I don't really want to reminisce very much here about what went wrong with nursing Tessa because this is my post about nursing Livvy, but I do want to say that: Unlike with most things in life, there are no do-overs with nursing. With exercise or friendships or whatever, you can take a break or screw up and then get back to it, recommitted, remorseful, ready to kick ass this time. But with nursing, there's not really any taking a break. You take a break and the milk dries up. And when it's gone, it is seriously gone. I wasn't used to life working like that, and I literally had to grieve breastfeeding after I stopped doing it. It suuuuuucked; I was so angry at myself, and I was bitterly jealous of moms who were nursing. That patently judgmental "breast is best" platitude is so pervasive that I remember feeling embarrassed to bottle feed in public. Mostly, I felt that I'd failed. And I felt that almost every time I mixed a bottle for my baby. I also remember feeling relieved when Tessa turned a year old, not just because I wouldn't have to buy formula anymore but because I could move on from that whole depressing chapter.

The other thing I want to say about my first nursing go-round is that it's made me extraordinarily sympathetic to mothers who wanted to nurse but couldn't or who lost their milk before anyone told them how to keep it. I knew this time around that if I was going to nurse my baby I would have to a) educate myself and b) tough it out to get to the good part. This time, immediately after having Livvy, I made breastfeeding priority No. 1. (Actually I made it priority No. 2. Because my No. 1 priority was getting sleep.) While I was still pregnant, I read Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding cover to cover and decided from the get-go that I was going to throw out the window that very common suggestion to write down when you breastfeed and from what breast and how many wet and dirty diapers there are. I just wanted to feed my baby when she was hungry and not stress out about it. Likewise, sometimes now there are times when I don't want to feed my baby; I want someone else to do it because I don't want someone hanging on me or needing anything of me, even someone as precious as Livvy. So we'll make a bottle, no big deal. I guess what I'm saying is that I've found that, for me, the best way to succeed at breastfeeding is to be relaxed about it but to also take it very seriously.

Nursing Livvy hurt really bad at first. Even though I got latching tips from about three different lactation consultants, the first week was pretty miserable, and I cried feeding her. Even a few weeks in, it kind of hurt. But after about six weeks, it didn't hurt at all. Now, after months of long nursing sessions--tons of them in the middle of the night, in public, in the car, in restrooms and dressing rooms and friends' living rooms--I can happily say that it's gotten easier, quicker, and that I now absolutely love nursing Livvy. No matter how scattered or on edge I am, as soon as I sit down to feed her, I become so relaxed that I start to yawn, to think of naps and other sleepy things. (Pumping does not have the same calming effect for me.) Prolactin is a hell of a drug.

And I'm still learning new things every month. I'm so fortunate that my mom keeps Livvy once a week for about 24 hours at a time. But that means that six days a week I breastfeed and one day a week I pump. I've had to make sure that I pump about 30 ounces while she's away because I know that's about how much she'll drink, and I need to keep the supply matched to the demand.

More recently, I had been feeling like my milk supply was dwindling because it didn't seem like Livvy was getting enough to eat, especially not before bed. In an attempt to get her sleeping longer stretches, I started feeding her bottles of the milk I'd pumped while she was at my mom's, and to my amazement she'd gulp down an additional seven or eight ounces after nursing. Also, my boobs started feeling empty and soft after months of being very full. I did some reading and found that this is super normal, that somewhere around the fourth or fifth month the engorgement and leaking and "fullness" feeling goes away, leaving lots of moms feeling like their supply isn't cutting it. I think it was partly that and partly that my supply actually wasn't cutting it. So, starting last week, I put the bottles away, and she and I toughed it out together, exclusively breastfeeding so that I could build my supply back up. It worked like a charm.

I don't want to say that I feel "proud" to have nursed for five months, because I don't think it's been much more difficult than bottle feeding was. (In most ways, it's easier. No bottles to make and clean. No formula to buy. And I do think it's helped some of Livvy's colds from progressing past a runny nose. She's yet to have a fever.) I think what I feel about it is just ... happy and relieved. The only real downside to nursing is that I can't share the responsibility of Livvy with Nekos as much. That means that I not only do every feeding, but I change almost all the diapers, too. Not because Nekos is a big jerk but because diaper changes and feedings go together so I normally just do them both. (I hope he'll make it up to me by changing extra diapers when she's older and weaned.)

For my 30th birthday, when I was five months pregnant with Livvy, my mom bought me a beautiful vintage necklace with lapis lazuli stones and tiny silver bells. I wear it all the time, and Livvy, who tends to rest one of her tiny, dimpled hands on my chest bone while she nurses, likes to jangle this necklace while she eats. It is, at the moment, my very favorite sound in the whole world.

April 23, 2013

A Haint Blue Porch Ceiling.

My porch feels quintessentially Southern now. Getting it there has been a well-blogged-about process. First, I painted the front door Benjamin Moore's Wyeth Blue; that was last August. Then I painted stripes on the floor because ... obviously. Most recently, I painted the beadboard ceiling sky blue, known here in the south as "haint blue." I am in love with the mythology behind this decor choice; legend has it that the blue will chase away "haints," which are lost souls, restless apparitions that are still sticking around to stir up some no good. Plus, blue porch ceilings are said to deter bugs, tricking them into thinking it's the sky they're flying up into.

We want to do landscaping next. Not sure if the budget will allow for that this year, but we're definitely dreaming about big, fat flowering shrubs and meandering vines. For the record, this striped porch has proven to be a little high-maintenance, although I wouldn't take it back for anything. Still, rainy days mean paths of muddy footprints, so I've taken to mopping the porch once a week or so.

The porch ceiling paint project cost only about $5 (the cost of my roller brush) because I mixed the paint myself. First time ever doing that--it was fun! I mixed two colors of blue I had on hand, a little mint, plus some of the cream porch paint, to make enough to cover the ceiling.

Finally, I thrifted this little rattan chair last week. It is the most comfortable. 

We have been sitting for long spells out here, feeling Southern as hell. Which we are, happily.  

April 19, 2013

A Post About Everything.

I've been slacking in the blogging department but not in all the other departments, that's for sure. Nekos has been out of town on two work trips this month so I've been winging it as a solo parent much of the time while also juggling some extra freelance writing work in addition to my regular work. (Stress-full. Waking-up-with-a-lump-in-my-throat-at-2-a.m. stressful. Our whopping tax bill did not help with that.) But there's a lot I want to blog about. Like, there's a post I have in mind to write about big and little motherhood insights I've gotten now that I'm on round two ... and another post about how I painted my porch ceiling blue like I've been dreaming about. I also thrifted this rattan chair to go on the porch, and everything with that space has fallen into place, and I love it now. Nekos hung a baby swing out there, and Tessa and Livvy take turns swinging, and it is ah-dorable. I've yet to get my first mosquito bite of the season; I'm sure that will change the way I feel about spending time outdoors.

Also, I am just super, uber in love with Livvy right now. I've of course loved her always, since the very first second, but I had some trouble bonding with her as a newborn. She's nearing five months, and has almost stopped spitting up completely, which is a big deal, because it was pretty awful and constant and not at all good-smelling and sort of demoralizing to be getting thrown up on all day. She is also sleeping so much better--waking up either once or not at all at night to eat. To be honest, I really don't mind feeding her once at night. More than that, though, and I am pissed. Most of all, though, she is just so lovely--big, huge smiles that crinkle her nose and spread all the way to her gray-brown-who-knows-what-color-they'll-turn-out eyes. Her epic bald spot is filling in with dark fuzz and the longer pieces are starting to curl around her ears and at the nape of her neck. Who is this little person? I feel like I see so clearly who Tessa is, but I'm still figuring Livvy out, and it's exciting!  

And I'm still doing that green smoothie challenge. Haven't missed a day, not because I'm a very regimented person, but because I love these smoothies. Every single day I am literally eating four times the produce I would normally eat because of these things. I've only lost two pounds, but I'd say that the biggest difference I've noticed is that my sweet tooth is diminished, although not my overall appetite. Nursing keeps me hungry around the clock, which makes me think I probably won't lose the last five or so pounds of baby weight until I'm done with that. And I'm definitely not ready to be done with that. Speaking of eating, Livvy is starting to do it--so far I've made her avocado, applesauce, banana, rice cereal, and sweet potato. Sweet potato has been her favorite.

Regarding Tessa, she is such a frigging joy (85 percent of the time). That's part of the reason I decided to only put her in school two days a week this summer (as opposed to her usual four). I may or may not be crazy for doing that, but I just get the feeling right now that I want to drink her up with a straw. I've heard awful, terrible things about three-year-olds, but so far she has been awesomely funny, alarmingly smart, and just take my breath away beautiful. Sometimes--even with the snot-streaked nose and the magic marker on her legs and the hair in pigtails--I get glimpses of the woman she will grow up to be, and woah ... I love her.

I hope to be back with more soon.

April 12, 2013


“There were once two sisters
who were not afraid of the dark
because the dark was full of the other's voice
across the room,
because even when the night was thick
and starless
they walked home together from the river
seeing who could last the longest
without turning on her flashlight,
not afraid
because sometimes in the pitch of night
they'd lie on their backs
in the middle of the path
and look up until the stars came back
and when they did,
they'd reach their arms up to touch them
and did.”
 ― Jandy Nelson, from The Sky Is Everywhere

Nekos and I are both onlys, so raising these little siblings is a brand new thing for us. I always liked the Bon Iver lyric, "I am my mother's only one / It's enough" because how romantic to think I was all the kid my mama needed. But the truth is that there would have been siblings for me if circumstances had been different and my parents' marriage hadn't ended the way it did. I grieve sometimes for my mom that she didn't get to have more children. Because she's a natural mother--giving and open and warm and wise. She assures me that it's OK. She says I'm enough. But she sure does take great delight in the two grand daughters she has now.

I always knew I wanted more than one child, but not because I didn't like being an only. I mostly liked it actually, although I've especially idealized the sister relationship and looked for that sister figure in my best girlfriends. My childhood wasn't the most excellent, so I think that getting to grow up in the bright beam of my mom's undivided attention helped me overcome that. I'm sure, though, that as I witness Tessa and Livvy's relationship continue to develop, I'll come to understand more about what I missed by not having a brother or sister.

Nearly five months in, it's been an unbelievable experience to see these girls become sisters. I like to spy on them interacting, peeking my head around door frames or eavesdropping from another room, because then I get to see Tessa smooching on Livvy or cooing at her, bringing her a rattle or wagging a stuffed animal in her face. It's basically so friggin' adorable that I can barely stand it, and I'm often calling Nekos into the room so he can get a load of the preciousness. And when Livvy goes to stay with my mom overnight, Tessa does a whole lot of heavy sighing and saying, "Mama, I reeeeeally miss Livvy."

When we first brought Livvy home from the hospital, I said here that I wouldn't trust Tessa alone with Livvy, not for a minute. But now I do, within reason. She has quickly learned the dos and don'ts of babies, how to be gentle and to keep things away from Livvy that could hurt her. We're still working on some concepts; today Tessa asked, "Since Livvy can eat soft things now, she can eat some of my fruit gummies?"

I wonder if Tessa tires of people asking her, "How do you like being a big sister?"

She gets asked that at least once day and usually just says, "Good." Then she snakes her arms around my leg and hides her face against my knee.

But if Tessa was really going to tell you how she feels about being a big sister, I think she would say, "You guys? This is the single best thing that has ever happened to me." She has someone now to watch cartoons with, to watch her dance, and to grin big and crooked at every single thing she says and does. Livvy turns on like a light when I carry her downstairs and she sees Tessa for the first time every morning.

It's so hard not to compare them. They are so stunningly different. First off, they look almost nothing alike. Analyzing their baby pictures has been futile; I can find barely any similarities there. Their hair is different, their eye and skin color, their personalities and preferences, the shape of their little faces. Livvy, for instance, won't take a pacifier, while Tessa clung to hers until she was almost three. The way I feel about them is different, too. I'm learning that's OK.

We are all going to grow up together--me and Nekos and Livvy and Tessa. I am so, so excited about it, but I feel like I have a lot to learn about how to help them be friends and not competitors. I've been reading Siblings Without Rivalry, which has given me a lot of insight about how to nurture Tess and Liv as individuals and not do them the disservice of putting them into roles--like "If Tessa is this way, then Livvy must be this way..."

The book warns, "The mere existence of an additional child or children in the family could signify Less. Less time alone with parents. Less attention for hurts and disappointments. Less approval for accomplishments. . . . No wonder children struggle so fiercely to be first or best. No wonder they mobilize all their energy to have more or most. Or better still, all."

I want to do everything I can to make sure that my two daughters not only love each other but like each other. Here's hoping I can honor their differences without comparing them. Behind closed doors, and in my heart, I may marvel at what different creatures they are, but I'm going to try not to when they can hear. I want them to know that they are always enough, together and apart.