Sunday, October 25, 2015

Happy Birthday to Jack. Well done to my breastfeeding self.

1 year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. No matter how you slice it, my son is one year old! I'm so excited for my little peanut. He wows me everyday with his constantly growing personality. It's mind-boggling to think back to my little nugget with matted hair, squinty eyes still covered in greasy ointment, and body movements that seemed to slowly slither. That was just a year ago.

And now, here we are.

I'm so proud of him. And I'm proud of myself. That's a big deal. In the Midwest we don't compliment ourselves like that. Pride is often kept in a corked bottle. We may look at it every once in awhile, but we're definitely not going to open it. And we certainly aren't going to serve it up for all to see. Maybe, just maybe, if we're really pleased with ourselves, we'll casually mention it to someone so they compliment us. Once they do, we may say, "oh no, not me, it wasn't a big deal." But we don't say I'm proud of myself. Well...Screw that. We should say it.

One thing I'm really proud of: Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is hard work. Really, really hard work.

My son did not have a love-at-first sight relationship my breasts. This contradicted some past observed male behavior so it came as a bit of surprise. Talk about a new and different kind of rejection.

I had made the decision that I wanted to breastfeed before he was born. I was committed, and I am a very stubborn person. Sure, I had read that not everyone has an easy time breastfeeding. But naive, pre-child me seemed to believe those people did not want it enough. The breastfeeding gods laughed at that and decided to show me otherwise. And boy, did they show me how wrong I was.

He wouldn't latch on. At the hospital they mentioned he was tongue-tied and did a procedure. Still, he was not interested. So I started pumping. I even got donor milk at the hospital (thanks to my lactation-consultant sister-in-law for letting me know that might be an option).

We went home with my newborn losing more weight than he should. Meantime, I was dealing with blood, sweat and tears - yes, all of them - trying to breastfeed. I took some of my anger out on my husband (sorry sweetie!). And we were going in for daily clinic weigh-ins to see if our son was getting enough milk. He wasn't for awhile. My husband looked over at me one day as I was trying to get the baby to latch on. The baby was screaming. I was crying. And I was exhausted. You see, I was pumping about every three hours while still feeding him. The whole process took about 45 minutes, then I repeated it about 2 hours 15 minutes later. My husband offered to help, but I had a notion in my head that I wanted the baby to know milk came from mommy, even if it was out of bottle. I was convinced he would someday latch.

I remember an old friend sending me a Facebook message saying her husband had to have his tongue cut twice for his tongue-tie because it wasn't done far enough back the first time. That stayed with me. I also became stressed one day and emailed a woman who ran a web site for women who exclusively pump. She was so helpful and reassuring! At the time, I thought that might be my only option for getting the little one breast milk.

When he was a month old, my amazing sister-in-law (the expert) came to visit for Thanksgiving. She took a look and said he could do it. I was inspired. Exhausted but inspired.

So I made another appointment with a highly-recommended lactation specialist. She looked at my son and said his tongue should undergo another procedure. She did it right on the spot. Still we didn't fully connect.

Then. It happened. Eight weeks after he was born. That's two months and a whole lot of pumping. My baby latched on. We did it. He started breastfeeding.

I was also able to save a lot of milk while pumping so he has made it over a year on breast milk. We hit our goal.

I now know some people can't breastfeed even after they go to great lengths. I also know some people don't want to breastfeed. This is not a blog to say, "you should do it my way." There are plenty of those. And I'm in no position to judge. I fully support moms who don't breastfeed just as much as I support those who do. We all have to find our way through this crazy parenthood thing.

So here's why I'm writing this. I was able to make it through because I had people to lean on. That support started with my husband but it extended to family, friends and medical professionals. Heck, I remember a borderline stranger even offering advice.

I'm an independent woman. Sometimes to a fault. But I allowed myself to say, I need help. And I got it. Because I wasn't alone. There are a lot of moms out there, and some of them have likely experienced your same struggles. I'm so glad I allowed them to help me. This can be applied to any number of mommy problems: potty-training, balancing baby and marriage, finding time to shower (that's real and probably affects aforementioned problem), learning the best sippy cup to use (weird thing to add to the list, but I just spent an hour reading online reviews for good sippy cups. I would offer suggestions, but I still have no clue), etc. etc. etc.

And I'm writing this because we make a lot of sacrifices to be parents. We don't look for a pat on the back. The best kudos we can receive is a well-raised kid. But that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't look in the mirror and say, way to go!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

He learned to walk while I was away...

If you are around me over the next couple days, consider yourself warned. My emotions are all amok. Next week - for four long nights - I will be away from my little peanut. I have not spent a single night away from my nearly one-year-old since he was conceived, and now I'm going for four. What was I thinking?

Well, to be fair, I was thinking this: you miss one of your very best friends, you haven't had extended quality alone time with your husband in ages, you love to travel, your son has fabulous grandparents and a great aunt who would love some babysitting time, and it's probably good for him too. Okay, that was a moment of rational thinking, let's now re-board crazy train.

My husband texted me a picture of our son last week. He was standing with a little bit of support, but he looked like he was ready to start moving. I smiled at the photo, and then I immediately texted my husband, "OMG, what if he learns to walk while I am away?" Don't mind the odd verb tense. I had a mental soundtrack of "Cats in the Cradle" playing. You know the song. The one that is an ode to preoccupied, bad parents. And now my baby could take his first steps when I'm six states away!

I think my husband has already noticed my stress. He asked me this weekend why I've seemed so tense. You see, he is fully capable of only seeing things half full. He thinks this trip is nothing but a great thing. He is the most positive person on the planet. I, however, am fully capable of being a big ball of worry.

And yet I'm reminded of a little advice I gave a friend recently. She returned to work after baby and seemed a little overwhelmed with balancing everything. I told her I often try to nap in the morning if the baby takes a nap. I feel guilty about it because it cuts into my time with him, however, I realize that a rested mama can be a better mama - I know this isn't always possible! But the same line of thought is applicable here. A refreshed mama who continues to add non-baby experiences is probably going to be a better parent. If I continue to pursue things I love, I'll be able to meet our child with a better attitude.

Not to mention, I should probably get over myself. I mean, I get to take a cool trip.

I am a realist though, and I know my mommy guilt rarely fully disappears. I just need to take a deep breath and push it down a bit.

Will I succeed? I hope so. And I plan to keep repeating my husband's favorite quote:

Even if he learns to walk while I'm away, I know his grandmas and great aunt will be great cheerleaders for his first steps. (But waiting a few extra days wouldn't hurt either - a mom can hope, right?)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cancer sucks

That's what his button read. My mom put that pin on our refrigerator along with all the happy, smiling faces and proud accomplishments. This was a word we could not use in our home, my mom said it was like a swear, but she still hung it up.

My dad was one of the smartest people I have ever known. He was a constant student of life. He loved to read. He was a psychologist. He had his Ph.D and a minor in philosophy. The man spoke slowly like he was going through the catalog of his brain before choosing each word. Cancer Sucks made him laugh.

I research everything. If someone asks a question or doubts information they are saying chances are I'm already on google finding out what I can about the topic. It can be an annoying habit for others, I'm sure, but I crave facts. I think it's a major part of my career that appealed to me. So when my dad was given the diagnosis, pancreatic cancer, I went to a computer. Typing the words pancreatic cancer in a search engine is something I wish no one else would ever have to do. At the time, the five-year survival rate was at 5%. I think it's at 6% now.

My heart told me my dad would defy the odds. My cynical - or maybe just realist - brain told me he probably would not. And because there was so much confusion and conflict spinning inside me, I was at a loss for words. I suspect my dad felt the same way, and seeing the buttons when he went in for chemo made him feel like he wasn't alone. Someone else understood that the emotions are too great to explain. You try to speak but the fear, the pain, the anger seem to rise up and choke you.

My dad died less than a year after his diagnosis. Without the major surgery he had doctors predicted he would have had two months. Last weekend would have been his 70th birthday. He only made it to 58. My dad was there to watch me take my first breath in this world. I was there, snuggled against him, as he took his last. Parents are supposed to go first, but not when their kids are 23 and 27.

My dad never met his daughter-in-law, son-in-law or four grand kids. He used to tell me growing up that he couldn't wait for me to be a mom and for him to spoil his grandchildren. It pisses me off that he missed out on this.

I'm not writing this just to rant. I'm writing it because we don't have to be the underdog in this battle forever.

My job has allowed me to help out with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in town. Today I also helped with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I saw so many survivors today. More than 10,000 people were there to support the cause in Omaha. Komen has a lot of support, and it's making a dent in our Goliath of a competitor.

Days like this are always tough for me. I see and hear from the families that feel so much loss. I look at the cancer patients who seem tired from the drugs and therapy. It reminds me of a time that I wish never happened. But it's important to look at how bad cancer is and tackle it. Cancer makes victims feel alone. It makes spouses feel alone. It makes children feel alone. It makes people feel alone because it seems to occupy our every thought and feeling. But those of us who have been touched by its poisonous, long-reaching, indiscriminate finger need to realize we aren't alone.

Cancer succeeds by dividing and spreading. We also need to multiply and continue to carry the message as loud as we can. We need to beat it at its own game. Because with research and support, we can win. The reason why is really quite simple: Cancer sucks. People don't.

Learn more about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network by clicking here.

Learn more about Susan G. Komen by clicking here.