I’m sitting in my office “Lactation Room” tearing up as I draft this. In so many ways I feel ready to be done with our breastfeeding journey and yet I’m so hesitant. Is she ready? Am I doing a terrible thing by choosing to end this after a year? Will she be hurt or crushed by this decision? Should we try for 2 years? All the second guessing that comes with my latest title of “Mom”.
I have loved breastfeeding so much more than I ever imagined I would. It has been the only thing, aside from carrying her in my womb, that has been 100% just me and my baby girl. I feel like I have been lucky. Right away she latched. She slid into a groove before I even felt like I knew what I was doing.
She has been so patient letting me struggle in the beginning to find a comfortable position for the both of us: stacking pillows, then boppys, then finally an actual breastfeeding pillow. Switching up from the football hold, the cradle, the cross cradle, side lying (which did NOT work for us and ended with both of us in tears).
There were a few nights she was hysterically upset and I was just sobbing trying to get her to latch wondering what I was doing wrong, if I could do this, second guessing every move I made to comfort and nurse her.
I’ve been so afraid of losing my supply. I didn’t realize how important breastfeeding was to me until we got further and further along in our journey together. Going back to work after 3 months was already soul crushing but I was petrified it was going to shatter my supply and goal of making it to a year. Fortunately my job has been very flexible with telework and I’m certain this has been key for our success.
I can’t imagine any other version of our first year together but I didn’t expect the mental exhaustion that comes with feeling tethered to the baby, being their sole source of nutrition every 3 hours or so.
I didn’t expect to find out about myself how shy and modest I was about breastfeeding. I figured I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t hesitate to “whip ‘em out” and nurse around anyone anywhere. But I did, for whatever reason. I’m still working on it but that mentality surprised me.
I didn’t expect to develop such opinions on companies and businesses nursing policies. I’ve had to travel a few times and have been both disgusted and pleasantly surprised at airports and how much they’re willing to accommodate. For the record, Ronald Regan Airport, not much accommodation at all, it was suggested I nurse in the bathrooms and the lactation room is located outside security.
I didn’t expect to become even more obsessed with Target as they quickly became my saving grace in offering a nursing room. It was the first place I felt like a human again and gained confidence venturing outside with my baby and to be able to step away to nurse instead of venturing home or struggling to try it in the car was crucial.
I didn’t expect to fall so in love with nursing and sharing those private moments with my daughter. I once told my husband it’s the only super power I have! Anyone can bounce her or rock her to sleep or make her laugh but only I can give her my milk.
I didn’t expect even the thought of ending this journey would be so difficult, secretly wondering: “will she still love me as much? Am I replaceable now that she doesn’t need me in the same way?” And all the other self doubting questions that creep into your mind as both a mother and as a breastfeeding mother.
I didn’t expect to have so much to say on the topic but it’s truly been the best journey. I hope I’m able to accomplish as many months or more with the next one.
I’m pretty sure there’s a book, likely long decomposed somewhere, from around first grade stating that I was going to be an artist and a mommy…or maybe a teacher and a mommy. I’m proud to say I’ve taken on all three roles & while they’re all difficult in their own way, they are me.
I went to school for graphic design, did a few odd & some not so odd jobs in the 13 years since graduating. I mostly worked as a nanny & later as a preschool teacher, helping to raise other people’s children like they were family. Some of the kids I nannied for, early on, are out of college, which is beyond bonkers to me. They already have jobs making more money than I ever did, or probably would even want to.
It all feels like a lifetime ago, life before babies, because it was. My Calvin, as I remember, gave me a pretty chill pregnancy experience, minus the gas…oh man, I hope I always remember that.
His estimated due date was 6/11/2016 & I eventually started having contractions 6/16 around 4pm. I bounced on my medicine ball, watching a storm roll in. When it finally began to rain, I went outside. As the rain fell down my face, he slowly worked his way out. It was painful, it felt as though I was ripped in half from my asshole, but as soon as I held his warm, wet body against my chest at 2:55 AM, I would’ve happily done it all over again…and did 2 & a half years later.
I struggled when he was born with my identity as a mother, still do. I didn’t understand. It was everything I had always wanted, but I don’t get to turn a switch and shut off my responsibilities as I once could. I can’t just sit in a room and paint all day, like I often times wish I could. I’ve not resented my children or husband, but more of my (and so many other mama’s) lack of community and support. I hate that everything can feel so far away and lonely, but never being alone.
My husband takes the kids, but I am always mama. When they’re not in my eyesight, my mind creates nightmares of my children being torn from me as I read more and more about the children of asylum seeking mamas that are being separated from them each day, some younger than Daisy, unable to breastfeed, tormented.
When I became pregnant with Calvin, I told my husband that I would take a year off to be with the babe and to work on my art. I had grand plans to make dinner each night, keep the house tidier than ever before and to become this famous artist…or something. I was going to set up a way to make a passive income for myself that I could ride until he was in kindergarten. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially in the first year of motherhood.
If I was able to get out of pajamas and take a shower, I called it a success. I did go to play dates and made more friends than I had made in the 8+ years since I moving to NOVA from LA, but they weren’t the type of friendships I really craved. We talked about baby milestones and they drank or talked about drinking. Ooh wee, I could write a whole other blog on mommy wine culture and just might.
Even if it was not my ultimate desired company, I pushed for play dates and made things happen, because there are sometimes just too many hours between the moment my husband would leave for work and when he’d return.
Early on, Calvin slept a lot, so I would paint. I dove into abstract work, and was pretty terrible at it. It was so cathartic to put onto canvas what I was unable to say in words. I had been doing these colorful animals for years, but felt super drawn to make abstracts with him at my side. They were easier as I didn’t have to adhere to any set rules. I kept at it. Literally hundreds of paintings later & finally I had my breakthrough piece, the first abstract that I actually liked. I want to keep it, but also feel that if someone feels a true connection with it that they should have it in their home. Before that, I was just doing it as therapy, not really showing them & often painting over them.
The abstract work still dominates my painting time, but I have branched out a bit. When I was pregnant with Daisy, my identity as a woman and mother felt a little more grounded, I was obviously already a mother, but really spent time and energy thinking about what motherhood meant to me.
Toward the end of July last year, I was having strong nursing aversions with Calvin during my pregnancy. I considered weaning before baby came, but really enjoyed breastfeeding overall. I knew that August was Breastfeeding Awareness Month and challenged myself to paint a nursing mother everyday for the month of August.
It was hot. I was nauseous. I was tired, so I took a jar of gouache that I’ve had since college, 1 paint brush, & one piece of watercolor paper to the couch each day. I let Calvin watch TV for an hour & painted during that time. I sometimes had 3 done, sometimes I’d work one into oblivion and given up.
I hadn’t painted people since high school and it was not something I was especially confident in doing, but I didn’t feel obligated to share them all. I wanted to, though. I think I did over 50 & then explored painting baby wearing & pregnant mothers, painting snuggle time and babies by themselves in the following months. I did maybe one or two in color & on canvas by the time Daisy was born in January, and a few more within her first few sleepy months. I called her my muse, I still think she is, Calvin too. He wishes I would paint more animals. I think he’s right.
Daisy was a rough pregnancy. I had all day nausea pretty much up until 7 months. I was just so uncomfortable the whole time. She has since made up for it being just about the most chill and happy baby I’ve met, which is saying a lot…but I may be a bit biased.
We had a rough couple months getting her paperwork in order, every bit of paperwork or file or whatever with Daisy’s name written on it had an issue. Every department, organization, agency, doctor, office, company, whatever gave me such shit over processing whatever. I stopped logging hours on the phone over 100 hours, many of which were spent on hold. I became so enraged by the whole ordeal, talking to faceless voice that never truly listened, never resolving things that needed to be resolved, so many broken promises.
She was/is such an awesome kid and yet she seems to have slipped through every crack imaginable. It’s such a shame that she had to live those first few months of life with mom in such a tizzy. I’m so bitter when I think of everything that went wrong. I need to clear my head and that’s when painting becomes so important to me. It’s a release, a necessity.
My art process is pretty intuitive, I sometimes do a rough sketch, but never pick colors ahead of time. The colors come to me as they can.
I’ve always loved green, but have been living for this color I’ve named “Emerald Jungle” green since I was pregnant with Calvin. It’s his color. It’s not his favorite color now, but it’s how I saw him inside me, a little sprout. Daisy was a pale, soft green, I named “Sage Mint”. I meditated on my babies & they presented themselves to me as these beams of color (I accidentally just typed beans & that’s pretty accurate, too), and I painted with their colors. It’s a beautiful feeling, a way of connecting them into my art.
I get into a zone when I paint ordinarily, but have to work it in while they play now, which can be extremely difficult and increasingly so as Daisy is now crawling everywhere and is caught daily with a (closed) tube of paint in her mouth. My couch heaps with tubes of paint, my rolling cart, which holds even more colors at the ready.
Calvin asks if I can do x,y, or z with him, and many times I do, but sometimes mommy is working. Mommy is working because she has to, not so much to make us money, but for her sanity.
I let go a bit of the drive to become a famous artist (…or something) and to even make any money. I paint what feels right and if someone else loves it, great. I’m pretty prolific, but haven’t yet had the luxury of making enough in a year to cover expenses.
My husband works his tail off so that I can stay at home with my kids and paint, and for that (and SO MUCH MORE), I am eternally grateful. He is supportive in his way, but is not the mind reader I once thought he was. After over 10 years of togetherness, I still struggle to ask my partner (or anyone for that matter) for what I truly want & need, mostly alone time.
I need time where I’m just an artist, so that I can focus on the tasks that seem impossible with 2 children adoringly dangling from my tired body.
If you see me out in the world with unapologetically unkempt hair, flip flops worn nearly to the ground, overstuffed, heavy backpack/purse, & likely paint somewhere on my person, be kind. Give me that “I’m in the same boat” nod that moms sometimes give each other when they’ve been there & done that. I’m just trying my best, my hardest. It’s not everyone’s ideal, but it’s all I’ve got in me & I’ve got two adorable & happy kids to show for it.
“She’s my mom. Her name is June and she is an artist.” Calvin once told a cashier unprovoked.
That’s me. He’s right. Always a mama, sometimes an artist.
Ok look, we both know that the early postpartum days and weeks are nothing like a vacation. Those days, and those long nights, with a newborn are hard, hard work. They may even be some of the most challenging and transformative of your life. But when it comes to making plans for your family’s maternity leave, your baby moon, your fourth trimester, it may just help to look at it like it’s the vacation of a lifetime…
The trip is smoother when planned thoughtfully in advance. You wouldn’t wing an entire overseas vacation and your postpartum should be treated with the same care. How will you get there? What books should you read about your locale? What local guides do you need to book ahead of time? What will you eat? What special clothes will you need? What do you need to pack in advance and what can you pick up along the way? What’s the budget look like? It’s perfectly ok, often even necessary sometimes to improvise along the way, but get that itinerary outlined before you leave.
You focus on spending time together. The most important parts of any vacation are the people you travel with. The same is true in the first six weeks. This babymoon is like a honeymoon for your new family where you celebrate and steep in this new person at the center of your universe. And like you wouldn’t take just anyone with you overseas, consider your postpartum travel companions carefully. Choose those who add positivity to the experience, not those who add stress or anxiety.
You don’t do chores. No one goes on vacation to do chores. Vacation time is for maintenance only, not deep cleaning. You eat out, you pay the hotel to wash your linens, you live out of a suitcase and maybe you wear the same things a few days in a row. Take the “I’m on vacation” mindset with you into those early postpartum days and weeks. This is special time that you don’t get back. Do what you need for comfort and function and the rest will be there when you return.
You treat yo’self. On vacation you eat nourishing food that makes you feel good, and as much of it as your body wants. That spa menu looks pretty dang tempting. ROOMSERVICE. You’re recovering from your journey into parenthood and adjusting to spending your days keeping an entire other person alive so if there was ever a time for a little lux in your life, it’s now. So get that massage. Schedule the house cleaner, the dog walker and the landscaper. Visit your chiropractor and acupuncturist. Find a postpartum yoga class. Call your postpartum doula.
Your schedule is wack. Birth is some serious jet lag, friend, and you’re going to need plenty of recovery days built-in. Days and nights flow differently on vacation and in those early days with a baby, and that’s ok. Take naps, eat whenever you feel like it, watch movies in the middle of the day. Newborns don’t have schedules, so don’t fight it, just embrace the weirdest sleepover party of your life.
You keep an open mind as you traverse new terrain. Being a new parent is a lot like waking up in another country. You don’t know the language or the customs and the info from the guide books only gets you so far. The best way to learn your way around is to dive on in. You’re gonna get lost a few times, but you’ll be a local before you know it.
The landmarks all look different. There’s nothing like finally reaching a landmark that you feel like you already know from every angle from your research on Pinterest, Instagram and your friends’ travel photos: It’s never quite the same in real life as it was in photographs. The same is true for parenting milestones with your IRL baby. Uniquely beautiful, meaningful, celebrated and hard-earned, yes, but they never quite the same as they appear online.
You don’t always come back feeling rested. Have you ever taken a trip and come home worn out, needing a vacation after your vacation? There will be bumps in the road, blisters, sunburn and rainstorms. You will get turned around, maybe miss a flight or lose a reservation. But life with a newborn is just as wonderful, just as exhausting, just as frustrating and just as worth it.