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Monday, December 30, 2013

Those Helpless Nights

If you are a parent, you know the ones I mean. The first night home from the hospital, the first time they get a fever, the first time they get their heart broken...

Of course I've only experienced the first two so far.

I'll never forget the first night we brought our son home from the hospital. It was like he transformed into a super-crying baby. Nothing we did could get him to stop crying. We walked him, fed him, changed him, put clothes on him, took clothes off him, rocked him, laid him down, picked him up. He just cried and cried. We didn't know what to do for him. I felt so helpless, I cried.

There were a few nights in the weeks to follow where I felt similar, but not quite as bad. The next time I felt almost as bad was last night. The first time he had a fever. It was like time was rewound 15 months. I walked him, fed him, changed him, put clothes on him, took clothes off him, rocked him, laid him down, picked him up. He cried and cried and I didn't know what to do for him. I felt so helpless, I cried.

These are nights that moms dread, but have to live through. And as we pace the floors, holding them tight in our arms, whispering comfort in their ears, we pray. We pray to God that this passes quickly and they are happy, healthy and whole again.

This won't be the last time I feel helpless as a parent, but I hope the next time is a long way off. I don't look forward to comforting him after the first time his feelings are hurt because I never want him to feel that pain. But his mommy will be there for him, God-willing, to do whatever I can to make him feel better. Even if I feel completely helpless doing it.

For all you parents, I hope your helpless nights are few and far between. And even if you feel all alone and completely helpless on those long, dark nights, God is there...pacing with you, holding you, whispering comfort in your ear.   

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Adventures in Breastfeeding

I know not everyone can or wants to breastfeed. Whatever feeding road you are traveling or have traveled is just as good as anyone else. 

I am writing this post because I believe breastfeeding my son is one of my greatest accomplishments.

My reasons for wanting to breastfeed vary from health benefits, emotional benefits (on both ends since I was at risk for post-pardum depression) and even financial reasons.

From day one we had trouble breastfeeding. My son had latching problems and it was so painful. All the lanolin, salt-water soaks and artificial nipples couldn't help the soreness! But I was determined to stick with it, scabs and all.

I still remember comparing the pain of those early days of breastfeeding to child birth. (and since I had just given birth, it was pretty accurate). I would scream out in pain when my son latched. The first few seconds where a blinding, breath-taking pain I can't fully explain. This is one of the things no one tells you before you start breastfeeding.

We went to our first well-baby visit and they were concerned about my son's weight. They said if it didn't increase in the next few days we'd have to supplement. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. So I upped his feedings and barely slept.

I tried pumping so I could get some sleep but I wasn't producing enough. Those nights were brutal. I was sleeping at most 2 hours before getting up to feed him. It took about a half-hour to feed him at the time, so I would put on a TV show to stay awake. (Luckily one channel was having a Golden Girls marathon for a few weeks). Before I had my soon I needed 9 hours of sleep to feel rested. In those early months I remember thinking, “what I wouldn't give for four hours of sleep!”

My son was pretty fussy and I was pretty sore so we went to the Breastfeeding Resource Center and had a consultation. He did have latching issues. No one ever “taught” him and I how breastfeeding worked. Sure it's natural, but that doesn't mean every mom and baby naturally knows how to do it. We got some pointers and it started going better. His weight increased and the doctor backed off.

He fed every hour and a half. I could not be away from him for more than an hour at a time. I felt like a prisoner. It was very taxing. It was very lonely. I was living a half hour from family and 45 minutes away from my job. I guess I could have taken him out more and fed him in public. While it didn't make me uncomfortable to BF in public, I could tell it made others uncomfortable. My husband was always trying to hide me. Most of my “public” breastfeeding was done in the car.

When my maternity leave was up I had to quit my job because I could not continue to work there and breastfeed. (By this time I gave up on pumping since it took longer to pump than to breastfeed). Nights were still rough. Many family members suggested supplementing at night so I could get sleep. But I didn't want to. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed.

My husband supported me all along the way and kept letting me know that he wouldn't blame me for giving up. He reminded me that again when I got mastitis.

But I was determined. 

My son was getting very frustrated at the breast and would pull and tug a lot. So I went back to the BRC for a follow-up consultation to see if there was something I was doing wrong. Turns out I wasn't producing enough at a time (which is why pumping didn't work). So for my son to get enough milk, I had to feed him more often (which of course I was). And do something they called “super switch” where I'd switch him from breast to breast multiple times in a feeding.  This helped with his frustration.  

We continued to stick it out.  It got a lot easier when he was 6 months and started eating solid food. Alleluia for solid foods!

There were a lot of times I sat in rooms, away from the crowd, feeding my son. And while some might have thought that wasn't fair to me; secretly, I loved getting away from the crowd to have a quiet moment alone with my baby.

I called the BRC again when my son started teething and learned how to bite! (If you're wondering what to do—take them off and end the feeding—they are usually done if they are biting). Thank God for people who felt breastfeeding was so important they opened the BRC!

Originally, my goal was to feed him for a year and start weaning at around 11 months. In the early months I wondered how I'd ever make it to 12 months. But as 11 months neared I realized that not only were we not ready to wean, I didn't really want to either.

One day when my husband took him out, he was asking for milk, so my sister-in-law suggested giving him cow's milk. They put cow's milk in a sippy cup, gave it to him and told him it was milk. He took a couple sips, gave them a strange look and said, “No?” haha, it seems he wasn't quite ready for cow's milk either.

Here's a word of hope to those in the beginning stages of breastfeeding--- it gets easy! Once the babies get the hang of it, it's quick and easy. If my son isn't tired, it takes about 5 minutes for him to eat. No set up, no refrigeration, no cleaning bottles or sippy cups. It's pretty awesome.

I would say that every feeding is a beautiful bonding experience, and while some are, at this point it's pretty routine and the middle of the night ones can get frustrating. The beginning was absolute hell-- we hit so many walls in the beginning, but we made it through.  So I hope this gives hope to mommas out there that are having a tough time with breastfeeding. If you need to give it up, don't beat yourself up.

I know I'm blessed to be able to do this. It doesn't work out for everyone. It's not always glamorous... but it is amazing. I never really respected my body until it conceived, carried, birthed and fed my son. I mean, how could you not respect something that can do all that? So I may not look like a bikini model anymore, but my body image is better than ever.

Maybe I'm stubborn, maybe I'm determined, but I can say after almost 15 months, he's never had a drop of formula. And we're so in sync. Of course when I ask him who I am, he replies, “milk.” I guess it's true that the way to a boy's heart is through his stomach! And my heart melts when I ask him what he wants and he responds, “momma's milk.”  

The most supported I've ever felt was when a pediatric GI doctor gave me a very enthusiastic high-five for exclusively breastfeeding my son. It was such a great feeling, so here's a high five to all of you moms who have stuck it out too.   

Reflection on He Qi's "The Magi"

Advent is a time of expectation, hope, miracles, blessing, joy. When I was a kid, Christmas was always a magical time. I would joyfully, impatiently await the arrival of Christmas--- Christmas meant the birth of Jesus, it meant church being alive, it meant family being together, it meant Santa was coming, it meant profound joy. It was that one day I looked forward to all year.

I have a vivid memory of sitting on the couch one Advent day with a stuffed Santa doll, watching my mom decorate the house for Christmas. I can remember another time being in Fellowship Hall right before the big Christmas pageant and everyone was so happy and excited-- even the people in the church who were never happy. Christmas was that time that brought out the best in everyone. I can think back to those times and feel the warmth that Christmas brought.

But then I grew up. The congregation I grew up in is no longer in existence. Advent is one of the busiest and most stressful times for a person working in the church. Preparing for Christmas became more of a chore than a joyous process. The magic was fading. Ever year, I was losing the spirit and joy of Christmas more.

And then I experienced a miracle.

Two years ago, while I was in seminary, I was taking a Liturgical Dance class. For those who aren't aware, dance is my ultimate soul food. I loved being in that class and communicating with God through movement. Our teacher gave us instructions for our final project: Embody something from the lecture series being held at our school.

That night I had a dream. I had a dream that I was holding a baby. It wasn't surprising to me that I was having this dream. After years of doctors telling me it would be near-impossible for me to conceive, carry and a birth a child, all for different reasons, my husband and I decided to try to have a baby anyway. We talked about adoption and surrogacy, but kept coming to a stalemate. I finally put my fears aside, went to the doctor and told them I wanted to try to have a baby. So I had a dream that I was holding a baby and I was holding this baby in a very specific way. When I woke up, the image was seared into my memory.

That day, I attended the lecture series. There was an artist there named He Qi. His paintings were all over seminary hall. They were nothing like I had ever seen before. They surely captured my attention. Downstairs they were selling prints of his work. At $10 a piece I figured, “hey maybe there's one that speaks to me. I can buy it and embody it for my dance project.” So I grabbed a stack of the prints and started going through them.

And then one caught my eye.

                                                              (used with permission)

It was of Mary holding the newborn Jesus in the exact same way I was holding the baby in my dream that night.

I knew instantly I had to embody this painting. So I did.

I decided to perform a dance from Mary's perspective of what it was like to be a mother expecting a child. I studied the first chapter of Luke. I thought of what it was like for both Mary and Elizabeth to be filled with joy in their unexpected conceptions. What it was like for Mary to find out she was pregnant, carry that holy child inside of her, give birth and then watch him grow up. I included the elated “Magnificat” into my dance. I was having a hard time coming up with a song, then “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles came on the radio and my husband said, “You should use this song.”

It was perfect. The day of my performance came. I embodied my interpretation of Mary's journey to motherhood to “Here Comes the Sun.” I was then asked to perform it again at our seminary's Advent Service which was themed “Mourning to Dancing.”  So I embodied it again. I don't know how many times I embodied this, practicing it for both my final presentation and the Advent service, but something registered inside me because a few weeks later
  I became pregnant with my son.

It was a miracle.

Every time I look at this painting I am reminded of that dream and that dance. The way I communicated with God and God communicated with me. I am reminded of the hope and joy that Advent bring and this miraculous moment in my life. Thanks be to God. Amen.