Breastfeeding 102

This post isn’t going to help you find a lactation consultant or give you loads of “breast is best” type stats.  The purpose of this post is to give you the secret, behind the scenes scoop on what it’s like to be a breastfeeding mom.  There is so much stuff that nobody ever tells you.  Classes and books are great for technical info. Magazine articles and the general public are great for scaring the crap out of you with their bloody nipple and starving baby horror stories.  Some blogs are known for rainbow and unicorn-filled “I love to nurse my baby!” stories – those are lovely.  We’re not doing any of that today.  Or probably ever.

Today, we are talking about all the random shit that makes up life as a nursing mother.  Starting with your wardrobe.  I’m sure most people have heard of nursing bras.  Very helpful and expensive little items to hold the girls in place until you suddenly need to feed someone with them…that’s when you employ the handy “trap door” mechanism and let your boob fall out for someone to munch on.  You know, it’s part of the deal with breastfeeding and I think the average mom kind of expects this.  What you don’t really expect is how this one activity renders the bulk of your wardrobe completely useless.  Say you’ve just recently had a baby.  You’ve been resting up at home but now you’re getting stir crazy and you’re ready to go out!  This is exciting!  You will see people who are not your husband and your mom.  You will be required to wear shoes.  This is a big day for you!  What will you wear?!  That super flattering maxi dress?  Nope.  You can’t get your boobs out of the top and clearly lifting up the entire dress to expose one nipple isn’t exactly efficient…or flattering.  Ok, what about those pants and that tank top?  Wrong again!  You can lift the shirt to nurse the baby but all of those damn nursing bras have straps that border dangerously on being sleeves, this is not cute in conjunction with regular tank top straps.  Anything that requires a strapless bra is out of the question.  Nursing and strapless bras are pretty much incompatible.  No tube tops for you.  You find another top that fits and will cover the ugly bra straps but the style of the neckline is such that you’d pretty much have to go up and over with the girls (as opposed to lifting the hem of your shirt) and while that’s not the end of the world, sometimes you just don’t wanna have an entire breast hanging out in the middle of Starbucks.  Or maybe you do.  (In which case, go for the tube top.  It would be like a buffet! For babies!)   Bottom line, I’ll never forget the day I saw a cute dress in a store, grabbed it off the rack then put it back immediately thinking, with genuine despair, “Oh this will never work.  How would I get my boobs out?!”   It’s an odd feeling to realize that you now evaluate every article of clothing based on easy breast access.  I thought I’d left all that behind in my 20’s.

Something else I feel you should know about is the overwhelming hunger and thirst you will experience.  Nursing burns through calories like crazy. It’s kind of like going to spin class for 20 minutes at a time 8+ times per day.  Except there’s very little actual movement involved and you can read or watch Food Network while you’re doing it. Also, you can (and will) eat while nursing. It’s my second favorite form of exercise.  There’s a little bit of a learning curve though.  First, you need to keep food stashed all over your house.  If you do not, you will find yourself trapped underneath an eating baby while slowly starving to death yourself.  You will not enjoy that.  So keep food nearby at all times.  You also need to figure out what kinds of food are good to eat while nursing.  As a general rule you’re going to want to avoid things that are saucy, drippy or gloppy.  Which, sadly, includes many delicious foods.  Like tacos with guacamole on them, for instance, are not really a good choice.  You will inevitably end up having to lick beans and guac off your baby’s head and that’s cool if your baby is bald but decidedly less cool if your baby has a lot of hair.  It’s hard to get a good lick in on a headful of hair.  Or so I’ve heard…ahem…  Oh yeah, and about the overwhelming thirst I mentioned: I recommend strategically placing fountains of water throughout your home.  If this is not an option, cases of bottled water will suffice.  When your baby starts nursing and your milk lets down you will immediately start to dehydrate very rapidly.  If you do not guzzle down buckets of water right away you’ll probably turn to dust on the spot.  It’s nearly happened to me twice.  Very unpleasant.

Yet another sweet and gentle aspect of breastfeeding is a little something I like to call “Taking Inventory”.  This is where you sit around looking confused and holding your boobs in an attempt to see which is heaviest and due to be nursed from next.  I find that this is where your partner suddenly takes an interest in the breastfeeding process.

Partner:  What are you doing?

You:  (gently groping yourself) Oh, just Taking Inventory.

Partner:  I see!  Do you need any help with that?

You:  Nope, I’ve got it.

Partner:  Are you sure because…

You:  No.  I’m good.

Partner:  Really, it would be no trouble.  I think I’m probably great at Taking Inventory.  I went to college.

You:  I see.  Thanks, but no thanks.  College boy.

And if that doesn’t bring you and your spouse closer together (how could it not?!?) this next one should do the trick…

The ever popular Wardrobe Malfunction.  Except in your case it’s not a malfunction it’s more like a way of life.  See, your baby is going through a growth spurt and is eating ALL THE FREAKING TIME.  Constant eating.  Around the clock EATING.  At a certain point you just give up on putting your boobs away.  There’s no point.  They really are a buffet for a baby right now and after you’ve resigned yourself to this fact you kind of…forget.  Hopefully it’s your college educated spouse who comes home from work to find a boob or two on display and not, say, the UPS guy at the front door.  Now I’ve never actually answered the door with my, umm…”buffet” hanging out but there have been some very close calls.  Like that time I finally got the baby laid down in her bed, went to the kitchen, had a little snack then beelined for the shower only to realize that I still had one boob hanging out of my shirt and nary a baby in sight.  I’ll be honest, it was a little disconcerting but I was too tired to care.

While we’re on the topic of crazy, constant, growth spurt feedings here’s another bit of advice.  Go to Sephora and ask them to give you the best under-eye concealer on the market.  I don’t care if it costs you $100 for a container the size of a quarter, just do it. Because when your baby decides that he needs to eat every 90 minutes for 3 days straight the dark circles under your eyes are really more like black holes.  Instagram hath no filter with which to remedy the likes of these.  You’re going to need some spackle or some putty or something.  Or at least some big sunglasses because you’re going to look like you’ve been punched in the face.  Repeatedly.

Let’s recap what we’ve learned here, shall we?

  • Replace all your shirts, keeping the phrase “easy access” in mind while shopping.
  • Buy lots of foods that are not guacamole.
  • Drink.  A lot.
  • Cop a feel from time to time.
  • Consider just going topless.
  • Invest in good quality makeup and/or sunglasses.

Bonus Tip: Get a charger with a really long cord for your smart phone.  You don’t want to have your phone die while you’re nursing your baby and pinning stuff at 3am, right?  How would you ever find that cupcake recipe again?!

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Marleigh’s Birth Story

I love birth stories.  I like hearing all the nitty-gritty details of what it was like for other people to give birth.  I know some people totally aren’t into that and that’s ok.  I get it.  Birth is pretty gory and generally speaking, I’m not into gore.  But it’s also pretty amazing and that’s where I get sucked in.  It’s like watching the Olympics.  I’m not really into sports but show me a video montage of someone winning a medal they’ve dreamed about and shed blood, sweat and tears for and I’ll sit there riveted and sob like a baby.  Every time.

There’s also something reassuring about hearing birth stories.  Whether the birth was incredibly difficult or remarkably “easy” it’s always comforting to know that whoever is telling the story apparently lived to, well, tell about it.  I’ve always felt that if so-and-so could deliver a baby then darn it, so could I!  Presumptuous?  Maybe.  But also true.

Marleigh is my third child so I knew what I was getting into when it came to giving birth to her.  Sort of.  I mean, I had a general idea of how the process typically goes as well as the encouraging knowledge that I’d already survived the process twice before, so my chances were probably pretty good. I knew there would be an ebb and flow to the process.  That some parts would be fairly easy and other parts would make me feel like I was insane for doing this again.  I also knew that it would be oh so incredibly worth it.

I was induced on my due date for medical reasons with my firstborn.  My second child was an excruciating five days late.  I was trying to mentally prepare myself for going past my due date with Marleigh, even though I really really really didn’t want to.  However, as her due date approached I just kept having the feeling that she might come a little early.  I told that feeling to shut the hell up.  That feeling could easily turn me into a hysterical mess if I believed it and then ended up being overdue.  Yet, even as I was telling that little feeling to shove off I was also kind of hedging my bets by trying to get everything ready just in case.  I had been dilating bit by bit at my last few midwife appointments so by 39 weeks I was at 3 centimeters.  This made me happy because those were centimeters that I didn’t have to wait around for during labor.  I like to think of my cervix as being proactive.  I packed my labor bag.  Organized, sterilized and sorted things in the nursery.  Made The Hubs install the car seat. Then I just HAD to go to Target for some last-minute stuff.  I also had to pick up a gallon of some weird fish oil by-product from a friend in hopes of resurrecting my pitiful garden.  So I did those things.  I chatted with my friend about how yes, I was ready to have the baby any time but I was totally ok with going longer if needed.  I was being cool and calm about it.  Trying to show my baby that I could handle anything she threw my way.  I left my friend’s house, came home, ate a bowl of cereal, laid on my bed and felt a very distinct and forceful POP.  I froze.  (not hard to do when you’re basically an immobile, pregnant lump…)  Nothing appeared to be happening but I had to pee anyway so I got up and *whoosh* – water all down my legs.  Seeing as I’d been very confident in my continence up until this point I was pretty damn sure my water had just broken. (It was about 4:00pm and I was 39 weeks & 3 days)  I stood on the bathmat in my bathroom, intermittently trickling amniotic fluid  and determined that I was probably going to be having a baby soon.  I told The Hubs my water was broken and he jumped up, ran around getting dressed, putting on a hat (?!) and then finally asking what he should do.  It was hands down the fastest I’ve even seen him move, very impressive, but also kind of funny since by now he should know that this process takes hours.  There was more than enough hat-putting-on time left.  He was assigned to call our mothers while I called to talk to our midwife.  I was advised to just go about my business as usual for the next couple hours and wait for contractions to start, keeping in touch with my midwife via phone at this point.  It was a good plan.  But I was so shocked by the whole scenario that I was literally shaking.  I just never in a million years actually thought I’d go into labor before my due date.  Also, having your water break is sort of startling in itself.  It’s so completely involuntary and…drippy.  Very awkward.

My mom came over to watch the boys for us.  While we waited for my contractions to get going we assembled the baby’s swing and did a few other miscellaneous tasks to kill time.  After two hours, at about 6:00pm, I started having contractions that were around nine minutes apart.  By 6:30 they had progressed to being about six to seven minutes apart.  At this point, while they were nice, clear, obvious contractions they weren’t particularly painful.  Definitely uncomfortable and definitely NOT just Braxton Hicks but still really manageable.  They were like the Dwight Schrute of contractions; big, annoying enough to be noticeable but definitely not scary in any way.  No need to stop everything and breathe through them, just kind of let them do their thing and note the timing.  At 8:00pm my midwife called to check in.  I told her my contractions were pretty regular at six-plus minutes apart but not particularly painful.  We agreed that I could labor at home a while longer but that I would call her right away if my contractions increased in intensity or got closer together.  I was still feeling really good so I was totally on board with this plan.  However, thirty minutes later my contractions suddenly went to being just barely four minutes apart and feeling stronger.  So I called my midwife back, updated her and we agreed to meet at the birth center within thirty minutes.  My mom and The Hubs were feeling much more anxious about this than I was.  I’ll confess to being a wee bit spacey between contractions.  As they were trying to shuffle me out the door I was pausing by the fruit bowl to assess the avocados.  I just wanted to see if I needed to put them in the fridge!  I didn’t want them going bad, I wanted to eat them!  This is totally reasonable behavior…except, apparently, when you’re in labor with your third child and your contractions are (at this point) three and half minutes apart. And just so you know, it appears to be unacceptable to pause and look for a particular pair of flip-flops or to load a couple of dishes in the dishwasher at this point as well.  People get all weird and twitchy… like the baby’s just gonna come jumping out of your body any minute.  Believe me, babies don’t just come jumping out.  Ever.

We finally start driving to the birth center.  Though I’d been having steady contractions less than four minutes apart for a while I didn’t have even one during the fifteen minute drive.  It is NOT fun to have contractions in a moving vehicle.  But suddenly not having them?  That made me nervous.  We arrived at about 9:15pm  and saw our midwife whom we adore and who also delivered Mason.  (and who we were not-so-secrectly hoping would be on call.)  She checked my cervix and announced, “I feel hair!”  Which was not at all what I was expecting to hear.  Oddly, this was very exciting and endearing to us.  The Hubs and I whispered to each other, “Awww!  She has hair!” several times over the next hour or so.  Oh, and I was still three centimeters dilated.  Not as exciting or endearing as the hair.  Since baby and I checked out to be healthy & happy and since my contractions had tapered off on the drive over, my midwife suggested that we walk.  We had the option of walking around outside or walking the stairs inside.  I vetoed the stairs immediately.  Outside we went!  We walked and talked.  Our baby has hair!  HAIR!  We can’t wait to see the hair on her cute little baby head!  Thirty minutes or so later my contractions were back to being about seven minutes apart and I was sick of walking in circles.

Inside the birth center we went upstairs to our room, checked my blood pressure, baby’s heart rate etc. and settled in.  I sat on the birth ball and The Hubs and our midwife sat in the chairs and we all just relaxed and chatted.  It was great.  So friendly and fun and if we’d been on a patio with margaritas it would have been fabulous.  But I was supposed to be having a baby and it was taking a lot longer than I’d anticipated so I was intermittently pissed off.  My contractions just weren’t getting much closer or stronger and while that made for pleasant conversation (honestly, we were having a really good time!  It was bizarre…and nice.) it wasn’t so effective for giving birth.  I felt so guilty.  My husband and the midwife were happily chatting away and I was just feeling so incredibly guilty.  Like I was wasting everyone’s time.  Like I needed to be doing something to get this show on the road!  People are waiting to see a baby and I just wasn’t delivering.  (ha! get it?!  I’ll wait while your roll your eyes…ok, ready?)  Seriously though, I was getting so frustrated and just feeling so awful about it.  I finally interrupted and confessed all this to the midwife and The Hubs.  They were nothing but positive and supportive.  Which made me love them all the more…and feel even more guilty.  It was about 11:00pm when my midwife offered me some herbs that would help bring my contractions closer together.  I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to take them.  I didn’t say this at the time but I was just so determined to “do it myself” that I didn’t want to take something to help.  Sometimes, I’m a stubborn fool.  (Hi, My name’s Rachelle and I’m a Taurus.  Obviously.)  My midwife was so laid back and cool about my hesitation.  She just left the option open and let it go.  I spent another hour sitting, standing, rocking and on all fours guilting myself to death for not being better at having babies.  It was absurd.  At midnight, with no discernible progress, I finally caved.  I asked my midwife about the herbs and decided to go ahead and take them.  It was one silly little capsule.  It was like the freaking Matrix only you don’t get a fancy leather outfit and an instantaneous knowledge of Kung Fu.  You just get to lay down on the bed and assume that you’ll have a baby…eventually.

The Hubs and I got cozy on the big bed (advantage #78 to having your baby in a birth center) and prepared to take a little nap.  My midwife advised me that the herbs would take “at LEAST” an hour to kick in so I might as well rest.  I laid down on my side and dozed off for 20 blissful, drooly minutes before a pretty gnarly contraction woke me up.  I felt surprised but hopeful that maybe things would start progressing soon.  I tried to doze off again but another contraction kept that from happening.  Suddenly these contractions were all serious and shit.  No more la-dee-dah friendly contractions.  These contractions weren’t messing around.  I had to focus and breathe through them.  The Hubs, who claims to be a super light sleeper, snoozed his way through all my subtle writhing and not so subtle heavy breathing.  I finally decided to drag myself out of the bed to go pee before these contractions got totally out of control.  It was a good, sound decision and a total fucking beating.  As I dragged myself back from the bathroom I had to stop a few times to work through contractions.  I made it to the middle of the room, gripped the footboard of the bed, bent nearly in half and breathed like a laboring Darth Vader.  At which point my husband finally woke up and asked, “Are you having a contraction?”  (wait while I roll my eyes…ok, I’m ready.)  I did not curse at him because I’m a damn saint.  Or because I was too busy staying alive during that contraction to bother.  Maybe a bit of both.  He got out of the bed and helped me over to the birth ball because I wanted to sit down.  I sat and worked through a couple more really intense contractions before I told him to get our midwife from the next room.

It was 1:00am at this point.  She checked on the baby and I again and then sat with me while I contracted some more.  I held onto her with one hand and my husband with the other.  They just sat there patiently and quietly with me while I worked through what were now very strong and very frequent contractions.  They gave me sips of water and told me that I was doing great.  My husband started to say something heartfelt regarding his wedding ring and I shushed him because, CONTRACTIONS.  And as I sat there feeling battered by these relentless waves of pain I thought so many random things.  I thought about the irony of how I’d spent hours being frustrated that my contractions weren’t close enough or strong enough and now that they were I just wanted them to stop.  I thought about how my doula had told me (at Mason’s birth) that when I started feeling this overwhelmed that meant it was almost over and my baby would be here soon…and how I’d called her a liar…and how Mason had been born very shortly thereafter.  I literally laughed out loud at myself for thinking, “This was a terrible idea!”…because it’s *exactly* the same thought I’ve had at some point during labor for each of my kids.  I thought about how this moment was so similar to giving birth to my other kids.  The feelings of physical pain mixed with so many emotions: anticipation, worry, helplessness, determination and resolution.  Overshadowing all of those was the desire to see and hear and touch my baby.  My god, it was all just so intense.  So fucking intense.  I felt like all of this took eons.  In reality, it was about thirty minutes.  My midwife asked if I’d like to try going to the bathroom one more time.  I nearly cried.  In fact I’m 99% certain that I whimpered.  But I said yes because I knew it was a good idea.  So off to the bathroom we went.  All three of us.  It took a year – or five minutes – to walk across the room into the bathroom.  (Why the hell did I keep going all the way back to the far side of the bed?!)  I’ll spare you the details of what took place in the bathroom.  Suffice to say that I don’t even pee in front of my husband at home so this whole “crowd”  of people in the bathroom with me took some getting used to.  Even in my contraction induced haze I was not happy to have company in there.  But no way in hell was I going to let them leave.  When I could finally heave myself up from the toilet, they walked me back into the bedroom and asked if I wanted to lay on the bed.  This was another yes-but-no moment.  I DID want to lay on the bed.  Very badly.  However there was a lot of work involved in getting my huge, laboring body onto the bed that I wasn’t really interested in.  I would have preferred to levitate myself onto the bed.  Or maybe employ a crane of some kind.  Like those ones they use to transport whales and dolphins and stuff.  As it turns out, those options were not available.  So that sucked.  I did manage to climb/collapse into that bed eventually though.  And it was great for all of thirty seconds until a contraction plowed through me like a freight train.  Remember those early labor, Dwight Schrute contractions?  Kinda big, annoying and ultimately harmless?  Yeah, those were long gone.  These new contractions were like vengeful Liam Neeson; serious, relentless and scary as fuck.  They were here to get shit done.

I had about three or four contractions while lying on my side on the bed.  Then I felt the urge to push.  Which wasn’t so much an urge as it was an absolutely crushing need to push.  My midwife coached me along saying that if I felt like I needed to push that I could go ahead and do so.  I imagine she was taking her cues from the borderline inhuman sounds I was making.  (Hey, sometimes you just gotta let it all hang out.  I think giving birth is one of those times.) So I went for it.  I stayed in my side-lying position, let my midwife handle my legs (I can’t be in charge of *everything*) and pushed with all my might.  The Hubs was sitting up on the bed next to me, holding my hand and encouraging me.  My midwife handed him a sheet to cover himself with, commenting that she didn’t want him to get messy.  Side note: who wears white shorts to a birth?  The Hubs, that’s who.  God love him.

Meanwhile, I’m still pushing.

The advantage to this being my third birth is that I knew I had to just go for it.  No holds barred, full throttle yadda yadda yadda.  The more delicately or gently you try to push, the longer it takes to get the baby out.  That’s just how it works.  If you need to remove a ship from a bottle, take your time, use a little finesse, be cautious.  If you need to remove a baby from your birth canal, stop fucking around and push.  There is no need to prolong this process.

So yeah, pushing.  Because I’m babbling about it in retrospect here you might think this is taking a long time.  It’s not.  This is all happening pretty fast.  But not fast enough.  As I’m pushing I’m thinking to myself, “Ummm…this needs to be done.”  The conversation with my midwife is going something like this:

Me: THIS ISN’T WORKING!!!!!!

Her: Yes it is!  You’re doing great!  Just a little more…

The Hubs: Seriously honey, you’re doing so good!

Me: NO.  THIS IS NOT WORKING!!

Her: It is!  I promise it is!  She’s almost here.

Me: SHE NEEDS TO BE OUT!!  MAKE HER COME OUT!!!

Her: She’s coming.  You’re doing SO good…just a little more…

And what do you know?  She was right.  Marleigh came gushing into the world right about then. (It was 2:12am)  I realize I should have said something more reverent than “gushing” but I was there and gushing is definitely the right word for what happened.  My response was pretty reverent though.  I let loose with an ecstatic, “Oh my god!!” because nothing in the world feels quite as amazing as having your baby OUT of your body.  All that pain, all those crazy thoughts and intense feelings were suddenly just gone.  As if someone flipped a switch.  I felt amazing as my baby girl was laid on my chest.  She was all chubby cheeks and dark hair covered in vernix.  She was absolute perfection.  She was so calm, opening her eyes and looking into my face.  I couldn’t believe this glorious, goopy little creature was mine.  She was healthy!  She was female!  She made me so happy and proud just because she existed.  What a brave, strong, darling little girl.

As I basked in the glow of my gorgeous daughter, the midwife took the opportunity to tell me that she had been born with her arm up by her head.  For those that don’t know much about giving birth, the ideal scenario is that only the baby’s head comes out first and all the other body parts follow after.  The head is quite large enough, thank you.  No need to go adding to its girth.  It is, then, less than ideal when the baby decides to bring out extra parts along with the head.  I was not amused.  Though it did explain that whole “THIS ISN’T WORKING!!!!” feeling I’d been having while pushing.  I said as much to my midwife and she nodded, saying that she’d been inwardly cringing for me as she encouraged me to just keep going.  If that woman’s Poker Face is anything like her Assisting a Birth Face she needs to take her cute self to Vegas immediately. I had no idea that there was anything other than textbook perfect crowning baby going on down there.

After happily chatting, getting checked up and cleaned up I was able to settle in with some snacks and just enjoy our new baby.  It was blissful.  A sweet, healthy baby girl.  A loving husband.  Two fun little boys waiting for us at home.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I truly have everything I’ve ever wanted in life.  And it was worth every single struggle, heartbreak and yes, all that blood, sweat and tears to get here.

There is a quote by Martin Luther King Jr that says, “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained…their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”

This moment, was one of those.