Breastfeeding is Awesome

A few weeks back I was contacted by The Honest Company.  They requested I write my breastfeeding testimony.  I loved the idea and promised I’d have a post as soon as I could but that I couldn’t make any promises on a specific due date due to recently giving birth to my second child. Alas, the day has finally arrived and I’ve been given the gift of quiet, alone time since I’ve somehow managed to get both kids sleeping at the same time.

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I can’t say I was excited about breastfeeding before babies came my way but I can say I was committed to making it my reality for any children of mine until at least age two.  Why age two?  Well, currently it is the recommended minimum for meeting your babies core nutrition and immunity needs.

Before Maisy was born the only breastfeeding book I needed to read was The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  I know that because when Maisy was born my “I just labored for three days” brain had one instinct and one instinct only, to lay my naked baby vertically on my bare chest at breast level and let her hunt for the milk.  My baby and getting her to breastmilk was my one and only thought.  The tornado of busy nurses, doctors, and others that attended to my needs existed entirely outside the bubble of complete calm that enveloped me and my baby.  I had thoughts for nothing else.  I was amazed as I watched her wiggle her way over to sustenance and helped her along as she did so.  That was it, she latched on and got to work.

My let down was and is forceful and my supply overflowing so my main problems were helping my baby keep up with the flow, solve her problem of regular projectile vomiting, and avoiding blebs and engorgement.  My flow was so strong that my breasts stung every time I had a let down and that sting was followed by a coughing baby. After weeks of trying to get my flow to regulate by only nursing one side each session I gave into the pain and began a months long routine of pumping my breasts into comfortable slackness every morning and evening… resulting in 10+ ounces of milk each time.

There are several things about being a mama to my baby number two, my pretty Penny, that not only leave me feeling like I actually know what I’m doing but that also leave me loving this babyhood stage of life we are in.  I can now say I love babies.

With my baby Maisy I could tell you I loved my daughter, but not that I loved babies.  I certainly did live in the moment and enjoyed my squishy, smiley baby but I also couldn’t help but look forward to life with more sleep, less nursing, and the ability to do more than care for the sleep, eat, and poop needs of an infant.  Little did I know that life with a baby could allow such things too!  Penny is my dream baby: she sleeps nearly all night (even as a newborn), she nurses even better than Maisy (which I didn’t think was possible), and, instead of crying all day long, she uses her vocal chords for the sweetest baby chatter you ever did hear.

Before Penny was born I turned my brain off to learning anything breastfeeding.  Why would I when the first time around came so naturally?  I simply repeated what I did with Maisy.  I delivered Penny into my own hands at my own house, sat back and watched my birth team get the cord untangled from around her neck, and held her face down as she fought for breath.  Through all that emotional and physical chaos I would periodically offer the breast to Penny but each time it became obvious her breathing wasn’t ready to help her achieve success despite her loud longing to suckle.  After what felt like an eternity later I offered my breast yet again but this time she could breath and suck at the same time.  She had a perfect latch.  In that moment I was pleased to experience, for the first time, what moms feels when they say they “love breastfeeding.”  Maisy had a great latch, but from day one it tickled.  That makes for an oddly sexually stimulating, and therefore awkward breastfeeding experience.  Penny’s latch does not tickle, it does not hurt, it is wonderful.

Today I breastfeed my almost 2.5 year old and my 2 month old.  Sometimes we even tandem nurse.  Maisy’s latch still tickles awkwardly, Penny’s still feels awesome.  This time around it is a nearly perfect experience.  Whenever I’m feeling engorged I summon my toddler to empty me out until I am at least comfortable.  Penny doesn’t struggle to keep up with the flow because I am not so perpetually overflowing with milk due to my toddler helping with the upkeep throughout the day.  We have struggled with a few moments of projectile vomit but finally puzzled it out to two causes:  too much foremilk and too much milk in general.  Problem is now being avoided by nursing strictly on one breast through the duration of each wakeful period and by cutting her off when she starts to get uncomfortable and squirmy (her signs that she’s overfilling herself).  So far I’ve been lucky to avoid common ailments like blebs, cracked and/or bleeding nipples, and mastitis all of which I can thank my better regulated supply and great latch.

The key to successful and painless breast feeding lies in three factors: wide mouth latch, tongue mobility, and milk flow.  Problems may still arise but by consulting your local La Leche League you can trouble shoot everything from mastitis, to blebs, to bloody nipples without having to give up breastfeeding.  Every breast can do it, it’s just a matter of working with what you’ve been given.

Birth Story – Penny

For Penny’s birth I envisioned a beautiful home birth during which  we would labor largely outside and I would ultimately deliver in a pool set up in a tent outside with lights strung about, Maisy and Josh right there beside me.  The only reality that came true out of that vision was the home birth part; none of the rest of it panned out.  And that’s ok.

My labor started hard at 9 pm on my birthday, September 18.  With 1:15 minute contractions about seven minutes apart. They burned like fire through my butt and down both thighs.   I hoped I could get them to stop or at least sleep through them for a while, especially since I had a bit of a cold bug, but after only a couple of hours I was at 1-2 minutes long and 3-5 minutes apart and with “bloody show.” I promptly called my midwife and doula then woke Josh because it was go time whether I liked it or not!

Josh’s primary task was to get the pool set up.  Unfortunately, the tent we’d rented to enclose the pool outside was still in the travel bag and now we’d run out of time.  Plan B was to set the pool up in the living room, but then realized we didn’t have a way to blow it up other than lung power. A quick call to my doula promised we would have one upon her arrival so in the mean time we drew a bath.  Before I could slip away into the comfort of warm water and candlelight, however, I threw up the contents of my stomach into a bowl Josh produced just in time, right as my midwife walked in the door.  Then I got in the bath and tried to relax for a bit.  

By the time I got out my mother-in-law was tucked away in the guest bedroom to be ready to take Maisy as needed, my whole birth team was present, and my living room had been turned into home birth central, complete with plastic draped over various surfaces and the pool set up and filling slowly.

In the dark hours of the night the atmosphere in my house was lovely, alight with candles and entirely quiet and peaceful.  However I didn’t see the space very often because this part of my labor progressed largely behind closed eyes – I was so sleepy I couldn’t manage to keep my eyes open.  Even when Maisy came down the stairs at 5am I couldn’t manage to summon the energy for a hello that remotely resembled the mom she was so used to.  I just remember reclining in the pool like a dead whale wishing on a star that I would miraculously feel alive and awake, not like sleeping and shaking and puking. Each contraction I would close my eyes (if they weren’t already closed) and moan through the contraction. I thought I sounded like a sick cow. Then, after only a handful of hours, I experienced pushing urges.  And then they stopped.

In the lighter hours of the early morning I still rarely opened my eyes but what I saw was medical stuff everywhere.  My house didn’t look like my house anymore with the light of day revealing my couch draped in plastic and bed pads, a bright blue kiddie pool with sea characters brightly smiling at me, and clipboards and other supplies strewn across my dining room table and on any surface of my living room.  During these hours of labor I now was also chronically freezing and still unable to keep food in my belly.  

In the full light of the day I kept the blinds shut and stayed inside.  That’s entirely unlike me but my laboring self was afraid of onlooking neighbors and did not want anything messed with – I think I was afraid any change would make things worse even though it very well could have made things better. I still battled to keep my eyes open and cease shivering but my eyes did finally start to stay open in-between contractions and near the end of the day my shivers turned to sweating as the heat of the 82 degree September day took the interior of the house up to 76 degrees.  

During this time I started asking about going to the hospital for pitocin and an epidural.  I was ashamed to ask, I didn’t want to disappoint my all natural birth team, especially my doula, but also desperate.  I was miserable from the unrelenting burning contractions in my butt and down my thighs and exhausted from no sleep and no food.  I would labor for a while, then bring up the hospital again, labor for a while, then bring up the hospital again.  The most heartbreaking moments in this time, however, were the glimpses I caught of Maisy.  I could see in her eyes the distress that I felt in my body and I couldn’t be there for her – my ever interrupting contractions took all of my attention in order to cope.  Instead, she tried to be there for me; she would come up and give me a hug from behind, stroke my hair, or give me a kiss.  Then it became too much for her all of a sudden.  After so much time seeing me in distress and not being allowed to be with me like usual, Maisy broke down and cried for me.  Despite the team’s best efforts to continue to keep her distracted and occupied it became obvious she couldn’t handle it anymore.  My midwife suggested she head home with Grandma and I reluctantly agreed.  I so very much wanted Maisy to be present for the birth of the baby but for her sake and the sake of me being able to focus 100% on my labor I said goodbye to her.  

After some hopeless sobbing shortly thereafter, I said I was done and we talked strategy to get me to the hospital.  My “nonemergency transfer birth plan” stated that we would drive to St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison.  My “I’m in labor and don’t want to be in the car for 45 minutes laboring brain” stated that we would drive to the St. Mary’s Hospital just 3 minutes away. My midwife’s face sunk and she ever so sweetly informed me that the St. Mary’s in town has a very high c-section rate and they don’t receive home births well.  My heart sunk but simultaneously got the resolve I needed to get my baby out in my house like I planned. Somehow I deduced that it sounded much better to buckle down and do anything and everything my midwife and doula asked me to do to get my baby out at home than to make the agonizing 45 minute drive to Madison and chance being too far dilated to even receive an epidural.

By this point I knew my contractions weren’t going to do the job for me; no, I faced the reality that the only way I was going to get this baby out was to intentionally push my contractions to their maximum, to make them hurt worse.  I spent the last couple hours of labor exhausting my already exhausted body by going up and down the stairs, lunging, doing squats, and pacing the house as my doula and midwife egged my labor on by massaging my pressure points with Clary Sage essential oil and asking me to drink some labor concoction.  With a lot of intentionality I finally found some slight pushing urges in my system and jumped on them with a vengeance.  The going was impossibly slow even still.  Finally I focused entirely on pushing in a squatting position at the edge of my dining room table while pacing the dining room in-between contractions.  The contractions stayed pretty wimpy (not on the painful scale mind you but in productiveness) but I was determined.  After pushing as hard as I could through several of the pushing contractions I felt Penny’s head pop through some interior vaginal layer and my body took off with a vengeance causing me to push straight through with all my might for what had to have been 5 minutes straight.  I couldn’t take the intensity any longer so I took a deep breath to stop that round of contractions.  It worked and I got a breather for a few seconds before my body was racked by the next wave of contractions.  My midwife told me I could move to my hands and knees if I wanted.  I did, still clutching the leg of my dining room table for dear life.  My midwife told me to feel for the head.  I did and felt something squishy.  It was my bag of waters.  Another push and it popped. My midwife told me to feel for the head again.  I did and this time I could.  My midwife told me to hold the upper part of my vagina to help prevent tearing.  I did.  My midwife told me I could use my other hand to try and guide the baby’s head out.  I did.  I felt a burning in my netherparts and pushed strategically to stretch things out before giving the big push that I new would bring my baby’s head the rest of the way through.  This part was frustrating because her head kept slipping back in if I relaxed too much, so enough times of that and I was done waiting, done stretching things out, and I gave it one more big push and she came. Eleven minutes after that initial strong wave of pushing and Penny was out.

As I pulled her body up from under me I noticed the cord around her neck.  My midwife couldn’t see yet due to my position so I stated simply, “the cord is around her neck.”  Her hands went for it and slipped.  My hands went in then backed off seeing more hands on the cord.  I figured this was not a case when “the more the merrier” applied so I simply watched.  Life freeze framed in that moment when I saw the back of my daughter’s head and the chord around her neck.  I literally do not have a visual memory of how that moment got to the moment with me on the floor on my back in my doula’s arms holding Penny in my arms, untangled and fighting valiantly to clear her lungs and get a good cry in.  It felt like she cried forever, the poor girl frustrated by lack of good air and breast to suckle – air had to come before breast Penny.  Sorry love.

In the next moments, one midwife looked me over reporting next to no bleeding and no tearing while the other puffed oxygen into Penny’s lungs.  As my midwives shimmied some bed pads under me for cleanliness and padding they asked what the sex of our baby was.  This time I hadn’t forgotten to look but simply didn’t have access to taking a peek until some of the chaos abated.  That moment proved to be the first chance though so I unceremoniously lifted a leg, saw the girl parts, and said, “it’s a girl.” Though I was convinced we were having a boy all through the pregnancy I was not at all surprised that our baby was a girl.  The moment she came out, the moment I saw the back of her beautiful little head, I knew she was a girl.  “What’s her name?” said our midwife.  I looked into Josh’s proud and scared eyes, “she looks like a Penny.”  “Penny Elaine,” he agreed.  In that moment I was somehow passed from my doula’s lap to Josh’s.  I felt and saw him tearing up for the joy of having another daughter and for fear of the moment that just passed.  We watched with pride as Penny fought so hard to get good air, and we knew the worst was over and rejoiced that our secret wish for a girl, a sister for Maisy, was now a healthy and whole reality in our arms.  After a few moments of just staring at Penny I felt some contractions again, pushed my placenta out, Josh cut the cord, and I promptly got up to get more comfortable in a bed where we just snuggled and got right back to staring at the beauty of our brand new baby daughter.

Ultimately, the birth was not what I’d dreamed and planned.  I was disheartened by my body’s inability to perform on it’s own.  It is my understanding that most women ride their contractions and simply cope.  Turns out my body is only willing to get a baby out if I very intentionally push my contractions to work harder – to hurt worse.  I wish I could say I was happy with my labor, but I wasn’t.  I did not feel empowered and strong.  I felt frustrated and sleepy and bummed.  However, I am so happy to have done it at home and completely natural.  The contractions were ridiculously painful and wearisome and the pushing hurt like hell but man, the moment I saw the back of my daughters head all that work went up in smoke.  Not forgotten, but entirely trivial compared to the wonder of the product of all that hard work that I held in my arms.  I would do it all again to have my Penny and I would do it again at home.

This is the job that never ends…

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Nearly all the time I love my life as a full time mom, full time day care mom, and photographer.  But then days like today come like a slap across the face and I can’t face another dirty diaper, make another meal, wipe another runny nose, deal with another tantrum, face another whiner, replace another sopping wet breast pad, change another potty accident outfit or my clothes due to any number of these things… but I have to.

The job as a full time mom to two kids under two means it’s a job that never ends.  I wake up to it, serve it all day, and sleep with it.  Even on my worst days I would choose this set of roles I’ve been given, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stink sometimes.  I find myself on the edge of tears just wishing they would come so I could have that release.  I find myself yelling at my toddler for the littlest things just because I’m fed up.  I find myself angry at my infant even though at the same time I know she’s just being a baby.  And I find myself wishing desperately for an hour or two of alone time to run the errands that have been on my list for weeks or write with a cup of coffee at a coffee shop all by myself.

Moms, sometimes this job is just a bummer… I’m in the thick of it with you and entirely unafraid to say it right now. Dads, this job is hard and no words will make you fully understand why and how.  Because it’s not just about the day in and day out of the demands of the job, it’s also a thankless job that is very emotionally personal and also gets a mix of hormones to boot.  Everyone else, give the next mom you see a cookie, or a hug, or a coffee or something… you will seriously make her day times ten!

Checklist for Labor Pictures

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I am very excited for the birth of Baby Two.  I was excited with Maisy but this birth presents some unique excitement for a couple reasons.  One, we know what we’re being given.  With Maisy we simply had only the head knowledge that we were getting a baby out of the deal.  We had no clue what that would mean for our family, what life would look like, and how amazing babies actually are.  We knew babies were cute but man there’s a lot more to them when you see all the day in and out with them!  Two, we are having a home birth with the goal of a water birth outside in our backyard.

I’m so excited about this birth and how beautiful and wholesome it is going to be that we have hired a photographer and videographer to capture the whole shebang!  For Maisy’s birth we simply had our doula snap a few (literally there are three) pictures of the laboring process.  After some research I gave them this list of things to keep in mind when taking our pictures. Though, bottom line when hiring a photographer and videographer for anything is to like the work they normally put out.  Trusting your professional is of the utmost importance!

Checklist for Labor Pictures

Please take pictures periodically all throughout labor, birth and postpartum. Try to be modest in most cases so that we can share them with others but some graphic pictures are okay for our personal viewing and cropping or deleting.

1st Stage and 2nd Stage

  • Outside the house (especially if there’s a beautiful sunrise or sunset)
  • Kaia laboring in the backyard
  • Wide shot of each room Kaia labors in (with Kaia in the room at the time)
  • At least one shot of each labor support person “in action”
  • Capture the ambiance of the place (candles, other lighting, diffuser)
  • Activities taking place
  • Labor positions used
  • Techniques used by Mom
  • Techniques used by Dad and others
  • Maisy
  • Midwives
  • Other helpers

Delivery

  • Full VIDEO coverage
  • Mom’s reaction
  • Dad’s reaction
  • Maisy’s immediate reaction
  • Cord cutting
  • Clock showing time
  • Baby making first eye contact

Afterbirth

  • 1st photo of baby
  • Mommy and Daddy
  • Cord cutting
  • Baby procedures (weighing, etc)
  • First breastfeeding
  • Midwives
  • Other helpers
  • Baby with Maisy
  • Baby with Mommy and Daddy
  • Baby with Mommy, Daddy and Maisy
  • Baby with midwife and doula

Wholesome Talk and Children

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“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

Some weeks ago I attended a new women’s Bible study that revolves particularly around building up and generally supporting our marriages.  It’s been amazing digging into the word with these women and having little (and big) things added to my list to work on.  In one of our first meetings Ephesians 4:29 was referenced only very slightly but it stuck to my bones. Since then it has become somewhat of a life verse.

Since I’m all about being honest, I confess I have intentionally let myself get away with saying exactly what’s on my mind to Maisy for quite some time.  I thought I was being wise – better to say it out loud to the one who’s frustrating me and can’t understand what I’m saying anyways, but I’ve been convicted that there’s more to it than that.  I think that in her spirit she understands exactly what I’m saying, especially now that she’s older.  I’ve also found that saying what I want to her actually encourages more unwholesome thoughts and words rather than “satisfying” those I’m already feeling.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite effect, after only working on my words for several weeks now, I’ve found that not only are my words more in check but my thoughts are too.

Throughout my days now I find this verse popping into my head when I want to swear or say something negative towards Maisy.  I’m so encouraged how quickly my heart and mind were able to correct themselves so holding my tongue became quickly effortless and changing my thoughts.