Monthly Archives: June 2012

Breastfeeding is Not Beautiful

Dear Daughter,

One day when you have children of your own, you’ll realize that breastfeeding isn’t beautiful. It’s a mix of many things. “Beautiful” is an over-simplification.

Sometimes we’ll be sitting in the rocking chair together in the middle of the afternoon while your older brothers chase their grandma outside and we hide from the heat with the curtains drawn and the shades down and the big ceiling fan rattling around on its highest setting. You’ll be chubby and alert with big blue eyes, smiling at me from under your mop of curly hair. I’ll talk to you and you’ll nurse happily and all will be peaceful and right in the world.

Sometimes we’ll be nestled down in bed and your brothers will be sitting next to us and we’ll all read books and they’ll cover you with kisses and you’ll coo at them and dribble milk everywhere, and we’ll all laugh.

Sometimes it will be the middle of the night and everyone will be fast asleep and you’ll be awake and nursing and I’ll whisper to you how beautiful you are and how much I love you. (And the next day will be a weekend and your daddy will be an awesome daddy and the perfect husband and will let me sleep in because he knows you kept me up all night.)

Sometimes, though, breastfeeding will be difficult, a chore, something that forces me to stop the things that I want to get done. Sometimes you’ll flail your arms and kick your feet and fuss and yell when you want to nurse. Sometimes the hours are endless and my nipples ache and I smell of breastmilk and baby poo and I want a sh0wer and your brothers are bickering again over who gets to play with the toy that they’re supposed to be taking turns with.

Breastfeeding is much like motherhood. So very very very very worth it, even though it’s not always perfect, not always lovely, not always convenient, and not always easy. Breastfeeding isn’t a one-time event. It’s not defined by each time you want to eat. It’s a bright streak of color woven into the patterns of motherhood. It intertwines with everything else.

I no longer think too carefully about every outfit that you or your older brothers wear. I don’t strive to make every meal that we eat “beautiful”. Instead I pick the moments to focus on. I pick the “beautiful” moments that we have together, I pick the days when our meals will be beautiful and not just nutritious. Your brothers choose the days when they want to dress up, or dress different, or play in the sandbox in a suit and tie.

Life is not movie perfect. You don’t work your way through difficulties with perfect tempo only to break though all of the problems and live life happily ever after. Breastfeeding isn’t perfect. It’s life. It’s messy, it’s awesome, it’s difficult, it’s lovely, it’s pleasant, it’s peaceful, it’s annoying, it’s inconvenient, it’s close, personal, intimate, totally worth it.

One day when you’re nursing your first, your second, your third.. Whatever number of children you have.. Let go of the notion that breastfeeding is “beautiful”. Breastfeeding is just a part of life. It is not “beautiful”. It is multi-dimensional. It changes and it shifts, just as life does.

It is how it is supposed to be. It is worth it, because you are worth it. I don’t need every moment to be beautiful. I don’t need everything to be “perfect”. It just is. And I am profoundly happy with that.

<3 Mama

Latch Tricks

1- Try “gravity assist” positions. Laid back nursing where baby nurses “on top”, dangle nursing where you get on your hands and knees and lower your breast into baby’s mouth. It’s harder for baby to latch on shallowly when the weight of their head or the weight of your breast is helping them latch on.

2- Try the “spring loaded” deep latch trick: http://www.drmomma.org/2010/08/breastfeeding-latch-trick.html

3- Try the “roll up and point for the palate” trick. Similar to the trick above you roll the nipple up. But instead of letting go and letting it spring into baby’s mouth, try to aim it for the baby’s palate and then move it up and down while stroking their cheek to encourage latch. I do this with my daughter when she’s refusing to latch. Which is almost every time I latch her on. (She has a mean tongue thrust/gag reflex). To do this, support baby’s neck in the crook of one of your arms. With the opposite hand place your middle finger under the breast and your thumb on top of the breast. This leaves your index finger free to stroke baby’s cheek. Press your thumb down and back towards your body to “roll the nipple up”. Touch your nipple to baby’s nose and then bring it down to chin and back to nose, etc. until baby opens up. When you bring it up above baby’s nose baby sort of cranes head back and opens his mouth. Aim the nipple for the palate and insert. If baby tries to chomp down too soon, pull nipple back and tease baby a bit more until he opens his mouth wide enough to get the nipple into his palate area. move breast up and down until baby latches on.

4- If baby is flailing arms and bobbing head, baby is probably having trouble finding the nipple. Babies don’t rely on sight, they seek the nipple through feel. Lay baby’s face on your breast and put baby’s hands on your breast before you try to latch baby on. When baby can feel the breast baby tends to calm down and latch on a bit easier.

5- Listen for sounds. If baby’s making clicking sounds, baby’s tongue is either on top of or in front of your nipple instead of under it. If the nipple is creased, it’s on top of the nipple. If the nipple has blisters at the tip, it’s in front of the nipple. Unlatch and re-latch. “Finger training” where you let baby suck on your pinky finger – pad in the palate and nail towards the tongue) can be helpful with clicky nursers.

6- If baby won’t latch onto one side, try the other side. Sometimes baby’s just having a hard time with a particular position and  moving to the other side can help baby figure things out.

7- Change baby’s diaper and wash off their diaper area with a wet washcloth instead of a wipe. Sometimes babies will refuse to latch if they’re uncomfortable.

8- Get baby rooting. Touch their nose and chin with your nipple, stroke their cheek. If they’re rooting they’ll latch on better.

9- Try “side laying” nursing. Lay down on your side, lay baby down on his side facing you. Pull baby close. Rotate baby’s body to see if there’s a good angle where baby is close, baby’s nose is clear of your breast, and baby can latch easily. Often my daughter will latch on like this even when she’s fussy.

10- Make sure baby can feel your breast. Baby will bob his head and move his hands around trying to find your breast and will often push it out of the way. Put his hands on your breast and hold his face against it and see if that helps him calm down to latch.

11- Make sure you support baby by the back of the neck NOT the head. Often a baby will pull away if their head is being pushed or held. I’ve found that sometimes when my daughter is reluctant to latch it helps to move my arm down so that it’s behind the upper part of her shoulders and the lower part of her neck so that her head tilts back slightly.

You Need to Learn Patience

Dear Eldest,

You’re five and a half and you really need to learn patience. You often expect me to listen to you RIGHT NOW when your sister needs a diaper change, when your brother is crying, or when your grandfather is telling me about his day at work.

I had a bit of an epiphany the other day. I “wait-a-minut-ed” you while Grampa finished telling a story. It was a longer story than I thought it would be, and I became very conscious of the minutes as they ticked on by.

It was not a minute. Just as “wait a second” is never a second.By the time the story had ended, you had forgotten what you wanted to tell me. I had wasted your patience and taught you that if you wanted to be heard you should interrupt often until I give up and turn to you in exasperation. “WHAT?”

I realized today that I’m not teaching you patience, I’m wasting what patience you have on things that patience need not be wasted on.

Yes. You do need to learn not to interrupt. The world will never revolve around you. Certainly not when you have two siblings that also need attention and that sometimes have more critical needs than yours.

However, learning is done best when the process is gradual, demonstrative and when it teaches valuable life skills. Not “I will drop you into this situation and expect you to automatically become patient.

Yes. Sometimes I don’t have the time at that moment to listen to fourteen of your newest knock knock jokes. And sometimes I really need to finish a phone call before the person on the other end hangs up on me for being non-responsive.

People tend to repeat what they experience. And I remember many long “just a minute” moments when I brimmed over with frustration that I was being ignored for a very simple thing that I needed to convey to my mother when she was on the phone. “We’re out of toilet paper. Can you get some down from the cabinet?”

I’ve been fumbling my way through the years trying to find some sort of a balance with you where I pay attention to you when you need it and where I’m allowed to finish things that need to be finished when they need to be finished. I allow you to freely interrupt anything I’m doing on the computer, any text messages, picture-taking, book reading. With conversations I’ve struggled to find a balance. Struggling brings frustration. So I’ve been frustrated with you when you did not deserve frustration.

Today I realized that you simply don’t know how to prioritize the task that I have at hand and the thing that you need to tell me. These things are not learned by osmosis. These things are taught. Every time I “wait a minute” you, I’m squandering a valuable learning moment.

Parents are not perfect. We learn as we go.

I’m going to try something new. I’m going to do a quick triage of what it is that you need to tell me. What is it about? Let me write it down for you so that we both remember, because it’s definitely important for me to hear.. But Grampa is trying to tell me something or this phone call needs to be finished and then I’ll have all the time we need to talk about that.

That way, if you need toilet paper- you get it. If you want to tell me a knock knock joke, you wait. If you need to tell me that your little brother just fell in the toilet while he was trying to poop and Grandma is not able to stop laughing long enough to unstick his chubby toddler butt from the toilet.. I’ll agree that is a time critical emergency that merits my pausing only to grab a camera.

When you are older I will encourage you to “remember a word” or to tell me when something is REALLY important. That’s a later step, though. I can’t jump ahead. It breaks the rules of learning and sets us both up for a LOT of frustration.

I can teach you patience without teaching you that you lack in importance. I can teach you patience while helping you learn about priorities. I can teach you patience without half of the things that you want to tell me being forgotten in the process. I can make it more gentle, more rewarding.

And so I shall.

<3 Mama

 

Red Frog

Dear Eldest Child,

A year ago something happened between the two of us that has stuck in my mind ever since, and that will now stay with me for the rest of my life in the form of a small red frog tattooed on the back of my left wrist.

It is a reminder to be careful of fragile things.

You were four and a half years old. We were staying at Grandma and Grampa’s house for the week to watch their cats while they were on vacation. You asked for some privacy in the bathroom and I went into the other room to nurse your little brother until you wanted my help again.

After more than enough time had passed, I went into the bathroom to see if you needed help. You were sitting on the floor with your back to me. You had taken down all of the small glass figurines that were on the shelves above the toilet. Glass figurines that I had asked you time and time again not to touch. Fragile. Not ours. Don’t touch.

I startled you when I walked in, and you dropped a small red glass frog on the floor. Its feet snapped off.

In that moment I said your name with a tone of disappointment. You turned around with tears in your eyes.

I had a choice then, and I made the wrong choice. I chose to see the small broken frog rather than seeing the fact that you had climbed up onto the toilet time and time again to take down each glass figure carefully, to line them up on the floor, to drink them in and appreciate their intricate beauty. You had been gentle. You had been careful. You had been diligent. It was my disruption that caused the frog to break. It was my previous refusal to allow you to explore those tantalizingly interesting glass figurines that caused you to explore them on your own. And it was guilt over going against what I had said that caused you to break one. I did not see those things. I did not see all of the glass figures you had been careful with, I did not see my contribution to the broken frog. And I did not see the sadness and guilt that you already felt.

Instead I became angry and sent you to the bedroom where we were staying for a time-out. I put all the glass figurines back on the shelf, carefully examining them to make sure no others had been broken. And then I walked back into the room and saw you. And I realized that I had not been careful with fragile things. I had taken your sadness and I had made you sadder.

Ever since that day, the red frog reminds me every time I see it of that moment where I made the wrong decision. My job was not to make you feel worse than you already did, but to help you craft your regret into an apology for the people who owned the frog. My job was to stand next to you as your anchor. And even before that, my job was to make the time to let you see those things that you wanted to see.

The little red frog on my wrist is a reminder to always be careful, to always look for the full picture of your intentions and your actions. And to treat your feelings with as much caution as I expected you to treat that small piece of glass.

That day a year ago I apologized and told you that I was upset that you hadn’t listened to me, not that you had broken the frog. I told you that I understood why you had taken them down and that if you wanted to look at them again you could just let me know and we could look at them together.

I want to remember the things you taught me that day. I will always be on your side no matter what. I will always be there for you. I will always love you. I won’t simply ignore the mistakes that you make, but I won’t take it upon myself to make you feel worse about them. That’s not my job. My job is to help you find the context for them within your life. To avoid repeating them.

Everyone says that your first tattoo should have some meaning that will last for the rest of your life. This is why I hadn’t gotten a tattoo before now, and why this little red frog is my first tattoo at 32 years old.

I like that little frog because it is a constant reminder that I can do better. Be more gentle. Show more patience. Explore more things. Love more deeply. For the rest of my life. It is a constant reminder of you, of your brother, of your sister, of any future sibling that you might have. I can’t think of anything else that would have a more permanent meaning.

So that’s why I got a little red frog on my arm. Even though when you ask me now at five, I simply say that I like it and it reminds me of you because it’s red. All the underlying reasons can wait until you’re grown and can understand more of what it means to me.

I know that there will be times that you break things. There will be times that I’m upset. There will be times that you don’t listen. This is all a part of childhood, all a part of parenthood. I don’t mind the broken things, I just never want one of the things that is broken to be your feelings. Not over little insignificant things, or even over bigger things.

I love you.

<3 Mama

 

When Donor Milk is No Different than Formula

In some ways donor milk is no different than infant formula.

After you’re done getting very VERY angry at me, let me clarify. I am not talking about nutritive content and health value. I’m talking about the impact that donor milk can have on a woman’s breastfeeding relationship and how the baby is fed.

Used correctly, it is a godsend. Used incorrectly it is just as much sabotage as infant formula.

But how could that be? It’s breastmilk!

When the baby’s mother has died, when the baby’s mother has cancer and must have chemotherapy, when the baby’s mother has hypoplastic breasts or has had a breast reduction, when baby was born early and mom is genuinely struggling to pump.. Donor milk is a clear cut choice. In those situations infant formula would also be a clear cut choice.

However, I’m seeing an influx of moms that want to use donor milk because they want to be able to go out but have a hard time pumping. Or their baby is fussy and they think that their supply is low. Or because their baby is in a lower percentile and their doctor is pushing them to supplement.

So mom starts off giving baby three ounces per day of donor milk in a bottle.

And then mom makes three ounces less per day of her own milk.

And whatever started the issue off in the first place stays the same.

And baby’s symptoms often stay the same.

So three ounces goes up to six ounces, and mom’s supply goes down again. And again. Until baby’s reliant on donor milk for 100% of what her baby needs each day.

If mom has a constant donor that is willing to continue pumping baby’s daily needs each day until baby hits whatever mom’s original goal was.. Great. No harm no foul (other than baby getting different antibodies than what baby needs, and other than baby consuming frozen milk rather than fresh..)

Donor milk is not an easy thing to come by, though. Moms have to scramble and pay shipping costs and drive long distances.

Whenever mom has large amounts of milk stored away there is the temptation to use that milk whenever there is an issue of convenience. It doesn’t matter if that milk is infant formula, donor milk, or even milk that mom pumped early on in the breastfeeding relationship. Using milk that mom is not pumping to replace DIMINISHES MOM’S SUPPLY.

Donor milk should not be used lightly. Unfortunately it is being used lightly.

When donor milk is used because of a real problem, it helps a mother avoid infant formula. When donor milk is used because of a transient issue where supplementation was not truly needed.. It can force a mother to wean prematurely and to use infant formula.

Understand this if you use donor milk. And understand this when you do peer donation. Do not sabotage yourself, and do not provide your milk without making sure that the recipient’s caregivers understand how to supplement rather than replace baby’s mom’s milk.

Attachment Parenting is Not

Attachment Parenting is not Indulgent Parenting. Attachment parents do not “spoil” their children. Spoiling is done when a child is given everything that they want regardless of what they need and regardless of what is practical. Indulgent parents give toys for tantrums, ice cream for breakfast, allow their infants to forward face before they’re physically safe doing so. Attachment parents don’t give their children everything that they want, they give their children everything that they need. Attachment parents believe that love and comfort are free and necessary. Not sweets or toys.

Attachment Parenting is not “Afraid of tears” parenting. Our kids cry. The difference is that we understand that tantrums and tears come from emotions and not manipulation. And our children understand this too. They cry and tantrum sometimes, of course. But they do this because their emotions are so overwhelming that they need to get it out. They do not expect to be “rewarded” for their strong negative emotions, they simply expect that we will listen. I don’t remember the last time my partner was feeling so frustrated about something and needed to vent, and I told him to go sit alone in a corner and come talk to me when everything was hunky dory dandy. We pick up our babies when they cry, and we respond to the tears of our older children because we believe firmly that comfort is free, love is free, and that when a child has need for comfort and love, it is our job to provide those things. We are not afraid of tears. We don’t avoid them. We hold our children through them and teach them that when they hurt or are frustrated we are here to comfort them and help them work through their emotions.

Attachment Parenting is not Clingy Parenting. I do not cling to my children. In fact, I’m pretty free-range. As soon as they can move they usually move away from me and let me set up a chase as they crawl, run, skip and hop on their merry way to explore the world. Sure, I carry them and hug them and chase them and kiss them and rock them and sometimes sleep with them. But this is not me following them everywhere and pulling them back to me. This is me being a home base. The “attachment” comes from their being allowed to attach to us, not from us attaching to them like parental leeches.

Attachment Parenting is not Selfish Parenting. It is also not selfless parenting. We are not doing it for us, and we are not doing it to torment ourselves.

Attachment parenting is not Helicopter Parenting. I don’t hover. I supervise. I follow, I teach, I demonstrate, I explain. I don’t slap curious hands away. I show how to do things safely. I let my child do the things that my child wishes to do, first with help and then with supervision and finally with trust. I don’t insist that my 23 month old hold my hand when we walk on the sidewalk because I know that I can recall him with my voice because he trusts me to allow him to explore and he trusts me to explain when something is dangerous and to help him satiate his curiosities safely.

Most of the negative things that I hear about “attachment parents” are completely off-base and describe something that is entirely unlike AP. AP is child-centric and focuses on the needs of the child. Children need structure, rules, and boundaries. Attachment Parents simply believe that the child and the parent are allies not adversaries. And that children are taught, not trained.

Dear Alex

Dear Alex,

Today is Father’s Day. Thank you for being an awesome dad to Thing One, Thing Two and Thing-ette Three.

One thing that I’ve learned about motherhood is that it is easier to be a single parent than it is to have an unsupportive partner. Not only are you supportive, but you manage to be an equal parent despite working full time with an insane commute. You manage to be just as well bonded with our exclusively breastfed daughter who is with me all day in a wrap against my chest. This is rare. Very rare. I am blessed, and our children are blessed. While it might sound corny, you are a blessing.

Every step of the way you place our children ahead of your own ego, and your relationship comes out so much stronger because of this. I learn from the way you parent our children, and the way you connect with them and how you carve out their time with you even when you are tired with a headache and want to be asleep.

It makes me smile when you come home and the big-two stampede to give you hugs at the door and the little one starts fussing in my arms because she knows that you’re home and wants you to hold her.

I love you, our children love you, and there is no one else in the world that I would rather have by my side while navigating these crazy sleep deprived days of having children under six years old.

Happy Father’s day to the best father I have ever met.

<3 Sarah

Against Nursing in Public

Dear Stranger,

You are doing something that makes many people very sad, very angry, very uncomfortable, very defensive. Please consider the impact that your actions have on others.

We share this public space of ours. Some of us choose to smoke cigarettes. Some of us have dogs. Some of us listen to loud music that blares from behind our cellphones. Some of us wear clothing that is suggestive. Some of us wear clothing that has vulgar phrases. Some of us have tattoos. Some of us have piercings. Some of us wear religious symbols. Some of us speak loudly and enthusiastically. Some of us have cell phones. Some of us have cell phones that ring loudly.

And some of us feed our children quietly. Some of us cover up our babies and our bodies with a lightweight nursing cover. Others do not, because experience tells us that our child will scream. Some of us cover our breast with our shirt even as we latch our baby on. Others cannot because of how the baby latches on. Some of us are able to walk into the other room to latch the baby on before we return to where we were. Some of us cannot. I will not explain the reasons to you because I do not believe that you care.

I have had three children, and with each child my awareness of public offense with breastfeeding has become more painful.

I understand that you don’t want to see it. I understand this deeply. I am a person who refused to wear shorts for the longest of times because I found my knees to be too knobbly and “didn’t want to make anyone else look at them.” I am the person that wore long heavy jeans in the middle of the summer in August even though they plastered themselves to my legs. I understand every possible part of my body that you could find disgusting and offensive and ugly. From my too-tallness to my too-thinness, from my knobbly knees to my wobbly postpartum belly. I understand how deeply disgusting and ugly people can find a body that has had a baby. Don’t worry, I feel the shame. I feel your anger. I feel your disgust. Calm down. I know every single part of my body that is not presentable for the public.

I no longer wear jeans in the middle of August. I no longer shy from wearing flip flops in the heat, even though I cannot afford the time or money for a pedicure that would render my feet more appropriate in the views of people that hate the human body and all of its imperfections. And I no longer feel deeply ashamed when I feed my babies in public while covering up as best as I can.

I no longer get angry when I inhale the smoke of someone else’s cigarette in a shared public space. (Even though often this happens in a public space where the smokers are smoking illegally.) Instead I choose compassion. I understand that they are addicted. I understand how difficult an addiction is.

I no longer get angry when I am forced to listen to the too-loud music blaring from another’s headphones. Instead I choose to view this as the consequences of being in a public space.

I no longer get angry when someone’s loud ringtone blares from their cellphone in their purse. Even if I question their choice to make that particular sound or song into a ringtone, knowing that they would receive phone calls while out in public. And I no longer wonder why they don’t just wear pants so that they can put it in their pocket and keep it on vibrate the way I do.

I understand that everyone is guilty of living their own life with their own set of flaws and failings. I understand that everyone is guilty of doing things that make other people uncomfortable.

I understand all of the things that you do in public that get on my nerves.

I understand why you are glaring at me while I feed my baby. I no longer feel that I have the right to not be glared at in public. I do not ask you to conceal your emotions. I do not ask you to leave the area. I do not rant at you for being selfish and rude and disgusting and self-centered. I do not make you ashamed of your feelings or your clothing or your body or your location or your existence.

I do not ask you to have the same understanding and tolerance towards me that I have towards you. I do not need your acceptance. I understand that I will not have it, and I choose to not live my life in sorrow over this fact. I understand that for every one of you there are countless people that simply don’t give a damn either way. And that on top of that there are many people that feel as I do- that celebrate when they see a mother feeding her baby, that feel it is beautiful, that feel that every mother should feed her baby this way and in public, and openly so that other young women can see how it’s done. I wish I had the self confidence to feed without hiding. I don’t. I fear a person like you making me feel more ugly and disgusting and terrible than I have ever been made to feel before. I know how powerful your judgement is, and I recognize my own fragility. I do not ask you “please do not make me cry by being a bully.” I simply avoid the situations that could make me feel that sad.

When I see you judge other nursing mothers, though.. I can’t stand that. It makes me so deeply sad to see and hear you pass judgement on them. You push so many mothers to feed their babies in ways that make life so difficult and full of guilt. You push so many babies into eating something that is not the best that their mothers can offer. You make so many women feel so afraid to be out in public where they need to be. I talk to women every day that are suffering postpartum depression and loneliness because their babies won’t take a bottle and they “can’t” go out in public because they are afraid of your judgement on them for feeding their babies.

You don’t understand how breastfeeding works for babies and mothers. Maybe you’ve been gifted with a baby that does not need to comfort nurse, that doesn’t suffer from nipple confusion. Maybe you’ve never breastfed at all and feel that formula is “just fine”. Maybe you’re angry because someone else has judged you harshly for doing something that no one ever had the right to make you ashamed of. I don’t know. I don’t know your reasons for being cruel and judgmental towards breastfeeding mothers. I only know that when I see you look at another mother that way… I find it deeply offensive and it is not something that I wish to learn how to tolerate. I wish that you would stop. I wish that you would cover your face, stifle your feelings, and leave the public area if you’re not able to show common decency to someone who may be very fragile.

I do, however, recognize that this is a public space and you are entitled to your feelings even if they seep bitterness and angry judgement into a world that I wish was peaceful.

So instead of acting on the anger that you make me feel, I’ll step between you and the woman that you are judging harshly so that instead of your bitter ugly feelings she can see my smile and know nothing other than that she is doing the best that she can. I move my body so that you need not move either your eyes or your ugly feelings, and so that she does not have to suffer because of your selfishness and utter lack of self control.

Understand, though, your judgement of her is selfish and controlling and ugly and there are people that recognize this ugliness in you. Even if the mother that you are judging cannot. Even if the mother that you are making feel terrible and ugly and ashamed cannot feel anything but the guilt that you choose to make her feel.. It is you that are ugly. It is you that are doing something socially inappropriate and disgusting.

Women are meant to feed their babies at their breast. We evolved to do so. We were designed to do so. Passing judgement on another member of our species for feeding their offspring is not natural, it’s not healthy. It’s not wholesome. It’s not polite. It’s nothing but an abomination. An ugly disgusting abomination that has no business in a shared public space where that mother’s actions are protected by law.

She may not know and understand that. But the people watching you do.

I  could care less about the ugliness inside of your head, keep it there. I care when it takes up residence in the heads of innocent others.

BBQ Cat

Dear Daughter,

I am daydreaming of BBQ Cat. It is now 4:25AM. I began trying to get you to sleep “For Real TM” at 11PM. I tried it all. Your nose is snuffly and you have some gas, I’m pretty sure you’ve got the same thing that your 23 month old brother has. Just a bit more mild. Whatever it is, it’s made it difficult for you to sleep much (at all?) these past couple of days. Oh, and your daddy has it too, so he’s been a bit less helpful than usual as he’s keeled over with a sore throat and doesn’t want to touch you for fear of passing on the ick any more than you might already have it.

So here I am  at four thirty in the morning thinking about BBQ cat. Specifically one small gray feline by the name of Valentine who is currently sharpening her claws on the wallpaper in the corner of the room while I type this. Roast rack of kitty ribs, perhaps?

Ok, not really. I’m just offloading a bit of ire in her direction. You see, when your daddy used the bathroom she stealthed her way into our room and hid under the bed. She likes to do this. Then when I finally had you to sleep at 3AM after quite a few hours of attempting to get you to sleep.. She waited. And I fell asleep. And then she decided to join you in your bassinet. And then you decided to scream because you ReallyWantedSleep(TM). At that point I gave up on the idea of sleeping ever again (because A- I have to be up at 7:30AM to get your biggest brother up for school, and B- If I were somehow able to fall asleep at this point I would repeatedly dream that you or MiddleChild had woken up, and I would launch out of bed ready to rock, to burp, to wipe a snotty nose, or otherwise tend to an in-fact-blissfully-sleeping child. So rather than attempt to fall asleep again, I took you downstairs and snuggled up to you in the rocking armchair in the living room in the dark and nursed you back to sleep while Said Kitty of Extreme Annoyance sharpened her claws on the back of the armchair and at one point leaped up, missed the top of the chair, and smacked into the back of my head. I then tucked you into your wrap and wandered into the office to read my email and kvetch about kitty to anyone who might be awake. (Which is no one.)

No one is awake to commiserate over insane felines (the same insane feline who repeatedly escaped from the house, climbed a tree and perched on the roof meowing to be rescued.. While I was pregnant. And who forced me to climb out the window- nearly getting stuck in the windowframe- to rescue her. While I was pregnant. And who continued to do this for my entire pregnancy with you. And who has not done it a single time since you were born. Right. That cat.)

So I decided to write you a letter.

The first point of this letter is this: Do not adopt a cat until your children are significantly older and can sleep through less disruptive things such as buffalo stampedes.

Okay, not really. I’m just a bit loopy from not sleeping for a few days.

The real point of this letter is this: I am very very tired. And I don’t blame you or your brother in the slightest. (Or the cat, really. As much as I’d l0ve to.) It is not your fault. You are not “the damned baby” that kept me awake. Your brother is not “damned kid” that kept me awake. I see and hear so many people talking about their children this way when they won’t sleep. I am tired, so very very very very tired. TIRED. Not angry. I have no reason to be angry with you, you are not intentionally keeping me awake. You are awake, you are unable to sleep, and you cry because you need my closeness and comfort. I am honored by this, not irritated by it. One day you will have children of your own. One day they will be sick. One day you might be unfortunate enough to have adopted your own cat. One day I’ll smile and say that it happens, and that it passes, and to just take it a day/night at a time. Yeah, all this parenting stuff is hard, but babies grow into kids and kids grow up, and it’s precious and you should cherish it. (AND NEVER ADOPT A CAT.) Some will tell you that if you were not breastfeeding your baby will sleep through the night. Incorrect. All the other things conspire sometimes to give us sleepless nights. Breastfeeding quite simply ain’t one of them.

I’m still trying to figure out some positive way to look at the behavior of the cat who is now sitting on top of the laser printer hoping that it will print something so that she can send it flying into the air. But you? Your brother? You’re just doing what sick babies do. Waking up and needing comfort. And I’m happy to give it to you.

The cat, by the way, just fell asleep.

<3 Mama

The Truth About Your Body

Dear Daughter,

You lay on my lap nursing in your sleep. Long and chubby, with an impossible amount of thick curly dark hair. Behind those whispy lashes are big blue eyes, and you have a prominent little nose even in infancy. A nose that will likely grow into the distinct European schnoz that my mum used to liken to a witch’s nose. Mine points slightly to the right, yours slightly to the left. I can see the shape of my jawline already forming underneath your chubby little cheeks. Your arms and legs are already ridiculously long, and you have little monkey toes on your feet. You do not dislike your body yet. No one has pointed out anything about you that is not “perfect”. You are not too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. You are seven weeks old, all of those “imperfections” come later as you grow and the world around you slowly tries to make you believe a lie about your body.

The lie is this: That your perfection or lack thereof comes from the superficial things that you see on the surface. How you look, how skinny you are, where you have curves, the size of your breasts, the daintiness of your feet, and how perfect you can look when you paint yourself with makeup.

The truth about your body is this: Beauty comes from functionality, from strength, from knowledge, from joy. Beauty is not a checklist that others tick off while appraising you for surface flaws. Beauty comes from understanding the purpose of your body, from feeling your muscles flex under your skin and knowing that you are strong, healthy, and competent. Beauty comes from confidence, confidence comes from competence, competence comes from seizing your failures or shortcomings as opportunities to learn rather than as excuses or as permanent character flaws.

Don’t “lose ten pounds” or “gain ten pounds”. Or buy a bikini that is three sizes too small. Eat to satiate your hunger. Seek healthy foods that feed your soul and your body as you eat them. Feel the strength of your jaw as you chew them, and acknowledge the energy that they give you as it moves through your body. Move, stretch your limits, do the things that are “too hard” to see if they get any easier. Walk everywhere. Feel your muscles move under your skin. Feel the strength of your bones and delight at the solid weight of your body as your feet hit the ground. Own the world. Do not ask for help for the things that you can do, but learn to do them yourself. When you say “I want to try” and someone tries to discourage you, simply smile and insist. The world is yours for the taking and you are the only one that decides if you can or cannot do something. Anyone else who tries to make this choice for you either is not your friend or has learned to distrust themselves. You do not need to take their distrust of themselves as your own.

When others profess their ugliness, or say that they need to lose ten pounds before they will wear a bathing suit, or mourn at the paleness of their skin.. When others point at spider veins in their legs, or at their bellies, their thighs, their butts. When others say “I cannot because I do not like myself”, don’t seek the same “flaws” in your body and feel that they are things you need to hide. The ugliness that others talk about is not ugliness. Ugliness is what was done to them to make them feel that they need to hide, to change, to erase bits of themselves before they can partake in the joys of life and before they can love the body that gives them so much joy and that others want them to see as a source of pain and shame.

I’ve spent most of my life hating the body that I have. Too long, too thin, too different. Too big a nose, too crooked a nose, too bushy eyebrows, too-big eyes, a prominent birthmark on my leg, too frizzy hair.

When I was told that I was having a daughter, I realized that my dislike for my body had to end. Many of the things that I have disliked about my body are going to be yours through inheritance. If you grow up hearing me shoot myself down with the words of others, you will grow up disliking yourself as much as I grew up disliking myself. I do not wish that upon anyone. At first I was resolved to just lie to you and avoid telling you the truth about how I see my body. “Fake it til you make it”. That was when I was seventeen weeks pregnant with you and had 23 weeks left until you were to be born.

During those twenty three weeks I found myself looking at myself in the mirror, looking at all my flaws. Every time I looked, I told myself all the things that I had overheard, all the things that I had heard other women say about themselves, all the things that I had heard my mother and my grandmother say about their bodies while I grew up. During those twenty three weeks I thought of you thinking those things one day, and I started saying to myself exactly the same thing that I will say to you one day: “Who told you that?” Then I looked a little bit closer. “You do know that’s a lie, don’t you?” I looked at the reasons for each of my flaws, I thought about how I would feel if I saw them on you, and I asked myself what impact those “flaws” have upon the purpose of my body.

None. None at all.

The truth about my body is this: I am strong, I am healthy, I try hard, I do many things. I am beautiful in the way that my genes have formed me to be. I can be no more, I can be no less. I can love myself for who I am, as I hope that you will love yourself for who you are, or I can live life miserable and full of self disdain. Your existence means that I no longer have a choice. In loving you, I must love myself. What’s more is that I know that you will not be an exact replica of me. I cannot look at other women through the words that society chooses to apply. I do not know if you will be larger or smaller, shorter or taller. I do not know what shape you will take. Through loving you, I look at all of the women and all of their daughters and I see nothing ugly, nothing out of shape, nothing wrong. I see many beautiful strong women who are being lied to by others about the beauty that they have, just as I was.

When you echo the words that others have chosen, I will smile and will point out the beauty of what our culture has chosen to label as “ugly”. The skinny, the fat, the large-breasted, the small-breasted, the made-up, the disheveled, the birthmarked, the pale, the suntanned, the blonde, the redheaded, the dark-skinned, the frizzy-headed. The same truth about your body also applies to them. They are beautiful because they are alive, they have life, they live, they love, they breathe, they dream. They are a miracle of living. Just as we are.

Ugly is found in the harsh judgement of the beauty of others.

Thank you for this, daughter.

<3 Mama