Life After Birth | Caitlin + Andy

Life After Birth | Caitlin + Andy

As told by Caitlin:

The birth of my son isn’t a story that would be helpful for anyone to read. The long story short is my beautiful rainbow baby boy was born on September 9, 2014.

So we will skip to a half hour after his birth. I finally get to hold my son after what feels like an eternity. The nurse laid him on chest and I guided him to my breast. It didn’t take him long to latch and he laid contently with me for hours. The first few hours were precious and I’ll never forget how it felt to finally have my son in my arms.

Against nurses orders, I kept my son in bed with me for pretty much the entire time we were admitted. On day 4 we headed home, he had only lost 5 ounces since birth. By his one week appointment he was 3oz over birth weight! We were so excited! Breastfeeding was working! Our son was thriving! We at least had that, even if we lost the birth experience we wanted.

At 8 weeks postpartum I had to return to work. I had 100oz in the freezer and I was terrified I’d run out. The first day the sitter went through 30oz of milk and I had only pumped 12oz in the 11 hours we were apart. So I started to wake up half hour earlier each day to pump. And an extra session at work. And an extra at night. Because he was blowing through 20-30oz a day on average at daycare. We didn’t know about paced feeding, and he seemed to only be content with a bottle in his mouth. We moved houses when he was 7 months old, and I had over 1,000 ounces of milk in the freezer. I contacted a human milk bank who after some screening accepted my donation. By his first birthday I had another 1,000 ounces to donate. We had made it to one year of breastfeeding and I felt so accomplished! We made it!

Well, my milkiedoodle didn’t get the memo that we were only aiming for a year. I started to wean off the pump but a Mom nearby needed milk for her baby, so I kept pumping for her little one, donating around 2,000oz over three months. In addition to the donor baby, I was sending 10-12oz a day with my son to daycare. I had to get several forms signed that he was to have my milk and not cow milk at school. I never thought it would be such a hassle to give my son what was best for him.

Well, his second birthday rolls around and I’m thinking that I should stop pumping finally! Weaning off the pump was proving difficult, but by 34 months I was finally done pumping!! Maybe I’m crazy for all that time pumping, but I kept thinking I had to do what was best for my son. And I had this obsession that if I couldn’t be with him, at least my milk could be.

Preschooler breastfeeding, Life After Birth Project

His third birthday comes to pass and we’re still breastfeeding on demand. I made the decision that I needed to start weaning him because he would never initiate weaning himself. We first dropped the on demand nursing and went to three sessions a day – morning, after work, and bedtime. Next to go was after work, and at 3 years 3 months we cut out the morning session. He asks frequently about having milk, and even though I explain it’s for bedtime only, he seems to understand but shows disappointment. On March 9 he will be 3.5 years old and that will be our last nursing session, unless he stops somewhere between then and now.

preschooler breastfeeding, Life After Birth Project

I feel so sad to think that this time is coming to an end. I felt like nursing my son was the first and only thing to go right in my motherhood experience. We made it to our goal of a year and kept exceeding the goal, so I’m not disappointed with that. It just seems so sad that one day soon I’ll put him to bed without that tender moment, and he may cry and fuss until he settles without his milk. I know that he will be ok, but after all we’ve been through, it’s hard to let this last bit of babyhood go.

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Photos: Bergen Howlett

Life After Birth | Kelsey + James

Life After Birth | Kelsey + James

As told by Kelsey:

Picture this: a plastic pregnancy test resting carefully on the toilet paper holder in the last bathroom stall of my cushy office bathroom. I am so confident that there is no possible way I am pregnant that I take the test at work, but those two obvious pink lines glare up at me. There is no mistaking. Despite years of ovarian cysts, irregular periods and more than one doctors opinion on the matter – I am indeed pregnant.

I approach my best work friend, petrified, with tears rolling down my face and we escape to the nearest conference room to panic-cry together. Even though there is no room in my current life for pregnancy, much less a living, breathing human, there was never a question of will I or won’t I? In that moment, I become a mother. Against all odds.

I’m 25 and I work really hard in the oh so volatile mortgage business. I also really, really like whiskey, wine, my local hole-in-the-wall bar and my new boyfriend. We’ve only been together seven and a half months and I think he’s the one. This wasn’t how I wanted to figure that out but here we go – careening through a world of diapers, bottles, sonograms, gender reveal parties and pregnancy hormones. These are things I know nothing about. I’m very type A in my business world, but when it comes to this, I am lost.

Fast forward roughly 8 months and I’m in the hospital, about to give birth to my tiny human. I’m 9 days past my due date and I’m ready to be done. I took approximately zero birth classes and approximately zero hospital tours. I’m winging this knowing only a handful of things:

    1. I do not want a c-section. God please don’t let me need a c-section
    2. I want to hold my little human the second he his born, and…
    3. I want to breastfeed

 

I’m ill prepared for any of this. I lay in this bed, laboring (for a grand total of 29 hours – ugh) and I’m kicking myself for not reading the books, not taking the classes, not doing anything more than spending an unreasonable amount of hours constructing the perfect gift registry for my baby shower. I will share you the grueling details of my labor but eventually, miraculous, exhaustedly, I push out an eight pound, twelve ounce little boy. He is covered in what I now know is vernix, but I believe I then referred to it as “slime.” He’s being thrown on my bare belly in a manner that I can only compare to a Thanksgiving turkey being slapped in the pot. I am shocked by how heavy he actually is (though maybe I’m just exhausted) and disturbed that I don’t actually want to hold this thing. Why didn’t they clean him off first? I had a particularly hard labor and the fact that it did not result in c-section is a miracle, and largely in part to my incredible staff off delivery nurses. I was warned half way through pushing that once James Andrew was born, he was going to go off to the NICU. In that moment, I was crushed.

If you’ll remember, one of the only things I knew I wanted to do was breastfeed my son. I was already troubled by my lack of immediate connection with my own flesh in blood, and now he’s going to be snatched away from me before I even get a chance to put him to my breast? I remember being completely and utterly defeated. I was sore, hormonal and convinced that if I couldn’t immediately breastfeed him, he was never going to latch.

The rest of that night was long, and confusing, and overwhelming. My partner and I were finally allowed to visit our son in the NICU around 2 AM, but we weren’t allowed to hold him. Another missed nursing opportunity and another defeat to mark down in my book.

6 AM came both slowly and quickly and I’m up. I need to get to my baby so he can get on the boob and we can get this party started. I’m impatient and no nurses are coming and my boyfriend won’t wake up so I hobble my way to the NICU. I’m sore, but determined. I get there but I can’t go in. The nurses are making their rounds and don’t you remember we told you there were no visitors during the 7 o’clock hour and did you walk here? I get wheeled back to my room where I sob.

A lactation consultant shows up shortly after and shows me how to use the pump. I try, but I’m over-stimulated and frustrated and the machine tugging at my body makes me so uncomfortable that I ask her to leave.

FINALLY my boyfriend is awake. We go back to the NICU and after what seems like forever, I get to hold my baby again and put him to breast. Now that he is clean and bundled up and smells like a newborn, I am slightly more enamored, but become frustrated again when he doesn’t instantly latch. I’m uneducated, really, and again I’m kicking myself. The nurse suggests we try some formula and I get some rest. I know this is not what I want but reluctantly, I agree, because after all, fed is best. The nurse also promises she will call for another lactation consultant to visit James and myself later that day. I rest and I wait. This consultant is more aggressive, but helpful. I’m uncomfortable presenting my bare chest to what feels like world, but she is patient and kind and sits with us for almost an hour. James latches, but quickly falls asleep. This is progress.

A couple days pass and it’s time for me to go home. James has to stay. Everyone says to go home and enjoy a few nights of rest without a crying baby, but my heart physically aches when I leave my boy. We planned to go home as a happy and healthy family of three and this isn’t right. I spend as much time at the hospital as I can, and any time at home attached to my pump, which is only slightly less excruciating than the hospital pump. The motor whirls in a way that I swear seems to say, “bring him home” and I think I’m going a little insane. I think to myself, is this even worth it? It’s been five days and my milk still isn’t in.

Just as I am certain I’m going to quit, I manage to pump my first ounce of colostrum and my Type A personality starts to kick in. I’m going to do this.

 

And I do.

breastfeeding mother and her toddler son in black and white

 

Today my son is almost 14 months old and still nurses 2-3 times a day. I went back to work full-time when he was 3 months old, but even with that, I managed to pump 3 times a day and he remained exclusively breastfed until he was around 10 months old.

This breastfeeding journey has been the pinnacle of my experience as a mother. I had this innate need to do this for my son and that along with the support and advice from my local community has been incredible, for lack of a better term.

I have been guided by seasoned mamas through low supply, nursing strikes, clogged ducts and pumping during work. My sons absolute love for “milkies” has gotten me through cracked nipples, the exhaustion of cluster feeding and kept me going when I was certain I couldn’t on the pump. I have no words to describe how challenging pumping at work was for me. I never bonded with my pump so each session was slightly uncomfortable, and my office did not provide the most relaxing of spaces to take care of business. Despite this, I did it. Three times a day. Every day. For 9 months.

Breastfeeding was not always something I loved. It was more-so something I had to do for James but luckily, eventually, it stopped being something to just get through and became a true bond between a mother and son.

I am thankful for our nursing relationship every single day. I am proud to have nourished him for almost 14 months. I am proud to continue to be able to provide him with “milkies” and comfort and warmth when he needs it. I am in love with the way his face lights up when I offer his said “milkies?” and I am happy that he chooses to let me nourish and comfort him still. I know our days are numbered as our sessions grow further and farther between. As they become shorter and shorter. As the distraction of just about anything, including Bergen’s camera shutter, is enough to cause him to pull off and pop back on approximately 2000 times in a 3 minute time span, but for as long as we can do this in tandem, I plan to.

Being a mom has changed me. Breastfeeding has changed me. These acts have made me selfless and aware and stronger. It has changed my personality in huge ways. It has opened my heart and forced it to double, maybe triple, in size to fill with love for my babe. It has brought new challenges, new reasons to worry. Motherhood has brought a different set of struggles and an entirely different season of life, but at the end of each day when James and I sit down in that old wooden rocking chair and I nurse him and rock him until he falls asleep, I count my blessings and cherish each moment of THIS life.

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Photos: Bergen Howlett

A Story About Breastfeeding

A Story About Breastfeeding

It must have been fall because I remember that it was getting cold. There had been a sudden rash of stories about mothers being made to leave a location because they were breastfeeding in public without enough cover; because someone saw something, or thought they saw something or could, maybe see something if they looked really closely. Something like a nipple. Like a breast. Like a baby eating. Something shameful, dirty.

In the recent months families had been removed from stores, museums and airplanes for nursing. Aided by social media breastfeeders across the country were up in arms, staging nurse-ins, great gatherings of nursing families in peaceful, milky protest. Inspired, friends told horror stories about the uneducated, rude and sometimes just plain mean things that friends, family and even perfect strangers said. All this, even though most states hold laws protecting a breastfeeder’s right to feed their baby anywhere they themselves have a right to be.

We are so conflicted about breastfeeding in this country. We beat breastfeeders black and blue with the “Breast is Best” mantra without providing anywhere enough support for the complicated dance between parent, child and the rest of their family that is any breastfeeding relationship. Nurse your baby, we say. But not for too long. And not where anyone can see (there are children watching, you know). We frighten parents into believing our bodies are inadequate. We trick mothers into believing that our bodies are inconvenient. We shame women into believing that our bodies are unwholesome.

Pippa was my second nursling and the dance was easy. With my eldest, Belle, we stumbled constantly — I was always fumbling with one of the three nipple shields I carried with me everywhere, repeatedly latching and unlatching trying to outsmart the insidious tongue tie, lip tie and inverted nipples that defined our nursing relationship and plagued my dear but angry infant daughter. Covers and blankets became nothing more than a waving banner, a sure way to draw even more attention to us with Belle’s thrashing and shrieks of protest. No, covers were not for us. Despite our elaborate mealtime rituals and alfresco dining preferences, for 25 months of nursing Belle we never once had a negative comment. Sometimes we would get a smile or a “good for you, Dear” from a Granny at the grocery store. But I was influenced by my friends’ stories of public backlash so by the time Pippa approached the 9 month mark I thought I was overdue.

Papa became Catholic halfway through college. With all the fervor of a convert he cherishes Eucharistic adoration. One evening he talked me into bringing the girls with us to the chapel for the utterly silent meditation. After dinner time. He is a brave soul.

We tried to slip in quietly. Three-year-old Belle was a flurry of questions in the loudest, but still-technically-whispers, she could manage. I’d much rather our children be engaged with Faith and asking questions and seeking answers, and this night was as good as any to tackle the existential questions, but I was worried about disturbing the other worshipers. Papa took Belle up front. I wanted to sit closer to the door just in case, but those rows were full. I settled for the middle.

Pippa quickly tired of sitting still so I offered her a snack. At 9 months old she was not a polite nurser, turning, kicking, chattering, popping on and off again. My sweater was pulled up high with too much bare skin exposed through the open-back folding chairs. We resembled something more akin to an angular, juttering Picasso painting with too many elbows and feet than the serene Madonna and Child hanging above the alter. I heard whispering in the rows behind me.

Pippa unlatched again, squirming and whimpering. Belle sounded disturbingly loud to my mama-ears. I tried to get Pippa situated on the other breast when I coughed. Then I coughed again. Once I started I couldn’t seem to stop. We were a hot mess. I heard a woman in the row behind us get up and leave.

Great. Someone has left. We offended someone so much that they actually left. With waves of shame radiating from my whole body I gathered my things, unlatched the baby and motioned to Papa that I was leaving — coughing the whole time.

After closing the door to the chapel behind me a middle-aged woman with beautiful long gray hair rushed up. I recognized her, one of the cantors who sang at early Mass. She was the one who had left. That’s it, my good luck had finally run out. I was about to be initiated into the club of hurtful comments. I couldn’t even meet her eyes.

She held out her arm. “I miss that.” she said. I just stared at her, confused.

“Here.” She said and I realized that she was handing me a paper cup of water. Oh, right, for my cough.

“I miss nursing my babies. It’s such a sweet time of connection. Keep it up.” And then she went back into the chapel.

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This story has been republished under the Life After Birth Project. More about the project HERE