To My Daughter 

Last night after watching “This is Us” and crying like a baby like I always do, I realized something. 

Call me crazy, call me late to the party-but I realized that this tiny human we are raising is going to grow up to be an adult and have to deal with all of the emotions that come with that. And for that reason, I continued to cry, long after the show was over. 

I remember very distinctly the the day that I found out my mom had a stroke, the days that I had to say goodbye to my grandparents, the day I found out my mom had breast cancer, and the day my dad had open heart surgery. But I also remember the day my mom came home from the hospital, the thousands of good days with my grandparents, the day my mom had been cancer free for 5 years and the moment I knew my dad had survived the surgery. 

In life, each person is given so many trials. But we are also so fortunate to be given pure happiness.  As a parent, you don’t want your children to feel the trials, only the happiness. But, to feel that happiness, you have to know the pain and sadness. 

So on the eve (or a few weeks prior) of my daughter being 18 months old, I decided to write this letter for her so that one day, she can know just how I feel and my perspective of what it feels like to be a parent. 

Dear EJ,

You will never, ever understand how much I love you. The pure joy in my heart began long before you were born and although I didn’t think it could ever be possible, it grows a little more every day. Some days my heart literally feels like it will explode.

 When you were born and I had to return to work, I proudly displayed your newborn pictures in my office at work. As the months passed, I had to move offices and the pictures-for whatever reason-never made it back up. Last week, your Grandma asked for me to print her some recent pictures of you and I ended up printing 2 of each thinking that I would put them up at work. I proudly displayed them again–but every time I look at them I get sad. I get sad that I can’t be with you 24/7. I get sad that your Madré and I have to work so that we can provide and continue to provide you with everything a child would need in life…and maybe a few extras here and there. I plan on keeping them up, but I wish you were with me. 

So EJ–I need for you to know a few things. Things that I have learned in my short 30 years (ok, almost 31). 

  • Never doubt how much your family loves you. There will be days when we get upset or frustrated, but that doesn’t ever mean we don’t love you. Give us some time, even 5 minutes, and we will be better.
  • Be kind to your pets. They will love you more unconditionally than anyone in the world. When it feels like everyone has turned their back on you, your pet will still be there, waiting for your next move. Make it a kind one. 
  • Don’t be afraid to take the risk. Whether this is jumping off the monkey bars, or quitting your job that you are so incredibly unhappy in. I will say, jumping off the monkey bars is much easier when you are 6. 
  • Spend time with your grandparents. They have so much to offer. They are funny people and love you more than the world. If I could have anything, it would be one more day with all of my grandparents. Do not take this for granted. They won’t be here forever, and you will miss them. 
  • Do not compare yourself to others. This is a really hard one. You are you. You are made to be you, nobody else. And you are perfect in your own way. 
  • Do not let other people change you. The only caveat to this is, unless it’s for the better. If you find someone that makes you want to be a better human, do not let them go. 
  • Be creative. No matter what that outlet looks like, everyone has got one. Find yours and do it. It feels so good. 
  • Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. Now, as you know since you are reading this, neither of your moms can dance or sing. But that doesn’t stop us from dancing around the kitchen, singing at the top of our lungs in the car, or hula hooping in public to get you to laugh. When you dig deep to have the courage to be embarrassed, you open up a whole new ability to learn about yourself.
  • Laugh. If there is one thing your grandparents taught me, it was how to laugh. Laugh at yourself, laugh with other people. Just laugh. If you ever need help laughing, and inevitably you will, you call me. I promise, even on the darkest days, there is humor in there somewhere.
  • On that same note, cry. Ugly cry, happy cry, sad cry. It’s always ok to express your emotions and sometimes, that cry is such a cathartic release. 

EJ. Your Madré and I love you more than the world. We lay in bed at night and talk about how cute you are, how much you are growing and we ask each other if other people feel this way about their children. Our topics of conversation for the past 2 years has been devoted to you. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have to talk about other things, but it always comes back to you. We will scroll through the 1,458,233 pictures and videos of you and just smile. You are our everything. We are so lucky to be able to have you as a daughter. Our only hope is that we do you proud and make you happy to be our daughter. We know it won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it. 

The Miscarriage Scarf

When I told my therapist that I was knitting a miscarriage scarf, she told me to call it something else.  “Memory Scarf” or “Bean’s Scarf”. (Bean is what we called the baby)

And I will admit that my therapist is usually right about things, and does a great job of calling me out on my bullshit.

But we had a miscarriage.  And I knitted a scarf while I was waiting for it.

I can’t bring myself to call it anything else than what it is.  It is a miscarriage scarf.

On December 29th, we had a 2nd ultrasound- which showed an empty gestational sac.  We had an ultrasound the week before, which showed a small sac, and we were told then that there was a 50/50 chance of it being viable.

The doctor was so sweet.  Hugged and cried with us.  She gave me three options.

  1. Wait it out.  My body will eventually end the pregnancy, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe two weeks.  I would continue having pregnancy symptoms until my body miscarried.
  2. Go have a D&C.  A surgical procedure to end the pregnancy.
  3. Take some medication now that will make me miscarry.

I just wanted it over with.  I wanted some control.  I thought about the D&C, the thought of just going to sleep, waking up and it being over was actually appealing.  But she said there would be a longer healing time, and likely would be an extra month or two before we could try again.  So opted to take the cytotec, and initiate a miscarriage at home.  I would have a long weekend due to New Years, and it was a low week at work.

The cytotec goes inside, vaginally.  4 pills.  She said I would probably start bleeding in 2-6 hours.

Mary took the day off work, and we went home.  I texted some friends that I knew had been through something similar.

One friend, said that she had a D&C for one and for another, miscarried at home.  She mentioned that waking up from surgery just made her feel empty- that miscarrying at home helped her process it.

Oddly, she was right.

I asked her, “What does one do while waiting for a miscarriage to start?  Knit a scarf?”

“Knitting a scarf might be nice” she said.

Truthfully, I had already started a scarf.  Every woman does a few weird things when they get pregnant- I knit.

But I felt like I needed to work on it while my body lost the pregnancy.  I started the scarf when I just found out we were expecting, and I’ll finish while the pregnancy ends…

The thing I wasn’t expecting- is the feeling of guilt.  Not because I did anything wrong that caused a miscarriage, but that I elected to take the medication to end the pregnancy when it was determined to no longer be viable.  That Catholic guilt is some serious shit.  A part of me feels as though I had an abortion.  And even though I am very pro choice, I feel guilty for ending a pregnancy with medical intervention, even though I know that the pregnancy wasn’t viable.

Things effect you differently.  Friends who announce their pregnancy, and their baby is due at the same time ours would have been.

I wont go into the details of what having a miscarriage is like.  The bleeding lasted longer than I thought, however the pain wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

After the miscarriage, I noticed my milk came back in- but EJ still refused to go to the breast.  I tried to pump for about a week, but stopped when I came to terms with the fact that EJ wasn’t interested.  Honestly, processing the loss of a breastfeeding relationship is actually harder than processing the loss of a pregnancy.

I am fortunate to have an amazing wife and village of friends I can turn to.  I’m actually, in some respects, thankful to have an opportunity to connect with women who have had similar experiences.  To be able to have another level of understanding and empathy.  I am hopeful, that obviously I am still able to get pregnant. I know that everything happens for a reason.  That this is just a step to get to the child this is meant for our family.

But what’s been most healing for me, is just saying, frankly, unfiltered, what happened.

We had a miscarriage.

The Black Hole

We went to have an ultrasound this Monday. I was excited, but nervous. All I wanted to see was a heartbeat, in the uterus. I got excited when I could see the gestational sac, but my heart sank. I looked at Mary. The sac was in the uterus, but it was just a black, empty hole. I looked at the doctor’s face. She was scanning, the tech was going back and forth. Nothing. They said maybe there is a small indication of a fetal pole and a yolk sac along the edge of the gestational sac, but hard to say. No heartbeat. Nothing. Not even a slight flicker on the screen.

She said come back next week. That there is a 50-50 chance its viable.

“We did some screwy things this cycle, I made you ovulate late, maybe its too early to see a heartbeat…”

Those aren’t hopeful words.

She put her hand on my knee, “I need you to go home and believe that you are still pregnant. Positive thoughts, okay?”

But all I feel is empty. I don’t feel connected to the pregnancy anymore.

Today I found out that the job I wanted and went through 4 interviews for was given to the other candidate.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

This wasn’t the plan.

For the last 6 months I’ve (Machelle) watched as two friends continue to nurse their first baby through their 2nd pregnancy. They also plan to tandem feed once baby #2 comes along. I looked at these two moms with envy. It was like watching a big sister. “One day, that will be me!” I was ready to join the special club, and hop on the tandem nursing train. I too could be the “Ultimate Badass Breastfeeder”.

It’s taken me a week to process how I feel about what is happening- I cried for days, but now I’m coming to a point of healing.

Why? Why did I want to do this when I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to nurse at all? Then I reached 3 months, then 6 months, then 12- and then suddenly I was nursing a 14 month walking talking toddler.

But that’s normal in my village. Lots of moms nurse into toddlerhood- and if they can do it, I can too.

We knew we wanted another baby, so we started seeing a new infertility doctor in town right after EJ turned a year old. My new specialist was actually very supportive of me continuing to nurse while taking infertility medications. I had done my research, weighed my options, and decided I was comfortable nursing EJ through infertility treatments, pregnancy and beyond.

After 12 months, EJ continued nursing and I continued pumping. However, her primary nutrition source was clearly food.

At 12 months I stopped nursing her at her school. She would get very upset when I left and I didn’t want her to get off their schedule and cry for the rest of the day. She wasn’t even nursing much when I came anyway, mostly wanted to play.

At 13 months my supply started dropping a bit because of the fertility medications, but EJ still nursed on. I stopped pumping at work- but she nursed in the morning, when I got home and at night. We did our first round of medicated IUI (insemination) with clomid and a “trigger shot”. I was convinced I was pregnant- but period came. That two week wait can be a real misleading bitch.

The nice thing about infertility is that if you fail, the turnaround time to start working on the next cycle is 3 days. So you don’t have much time to be upset that you didn’t get pregnant that month, because by day 3 of your period you start the hormones again to try, more ultrasounds to see follicles, blood work to track levels, inseminate again, and before you know it- you’re back in your two week wait.

We inseminated on November 16th.

And I had no symptoms. Nothing. In fact, since I got my positive with EJ at 9 DPO, on day 10 this time since I was still negative and no sign of symptoms I figured, “Well, this month is out…” and drank a huge espresso drink from Starbucks.

The next day I was volunteering at the hospital as a breastfeeding peer counselor. On the way to the hospital something just told me to “Go by Walgreens, get a test, and a gift bag to wrap it up in…”

I peed on the test in the staff bathroom before I started working and to my surprise- a very visible 2nd pink line appeared.

Holy fuck.

We’re pregnant.

But I couldn’t tell anyone. I had to wait until my 4 hour shift was over. On the way home, I wrapped it in the gift bag and gave it to Mary to open.

Still cautious of course, but excited. That was on Sunday 11/27.

EJ’s nursing took a sharp dip. I figured it was teething. She nurse a little on Monday, and maybe twice on Tuesday. She would latch for 1-2 seconds and then come off crying. She refused on the 30th and the 1st. I was devastated. She just stopped. She would turn away from the breast if I tried. I cried.

Thinking it was a nursing strike, I tried hand expressing- then I tasted my milk on Friday the 2nd. What once tasted like vanilla creamer now tastes like warm ocean water. No wonder she hates it.

I was completely unprepared for this. And I can’t process this sudden weaning with my village, because I’m scared to tell them I’m pregnant. What if I lose the baby? Then I’d have a toddler who weaned and no baby. I felt like she hated me. That our bond was just severed so fast.  She, actually, didn’t seem upset at all. She didn’t cry to nurse, or even “ask”. She just stopped.

I texted a couple of friends to process this. But I felt like I was in the weaning closet. I wasn’t ready to tell people why she weaned…but I don’t want to lie and make it seem like we are still nursing.

I felt so guilty. I wanted babies close together so she would tandem. I felt like the village outcast.  Everybody else could do it. But me.

So after a few days of crying, I calmed down.

It’s not my fault, I had the best of intentions. It was EJ’s decision, and who can blame her with such salty milk? It’s okay to grieve a relationship that ended before I was ready. Many people would have loved to be able to nurse their baby for 14 months.

I decided I needed to focus on building our bond in other ways the next 9 months before our world really changes. And I’ll probably have a huge over supply again and I can just put my extra in her cereal, right?

The plan was we’d find out we were pregnant, and I would nurse through pregnancy, then tandem with a flower crown in a field like some lactation goddess. But that’s not my reality- and since I can’t change it, I just have to change the way I think about it.

6 months

I know, I know.

We used to be so good about actually updating this every.  Single.  Week.

Right, but that’s when I was just pregnant. Then the baby actually came…and…

Well…then I went back to work…
Then she started daycare…
Then spring semester started…
Then Mary got a new job with more responsibilities…

And then its like we blinked and we suddenly have a 6 month old who found her feet and is on the verge of sitting up on her own.  She has distinct preferences. She loves popping sounds, sleeping on her side, any teething toy.  She can be very fussy, but turn on Adele’s “Hello” and she is calm within 5 seconds.

She’s been in daycare now for almost 3 months.  She’s brought home some germs- a GI bug and pink eye…but other than that doing pretty well.  We love our daycare and her teachers are so nice.  I go by the daycare once a day to nurse her- and she is always being held and loved on.

Waiting for a baby seems to go by so much slower then actually watching the baby grow up.  She’s isn’t a newborn anymore, certainly not tiny.

She’s almost 16 pounds, and truthfully I have no idea how long she is but I will next week at her check up.

And we’ve changed too…

While I don’t recall every saying it; Mary swears I promised that we wouldn’t co-sleep or bedshare.  Whelp…then that 4 month sleep regression happened; and EJ sleeps with us 90% of the time.

I swore my baby wouldn’t ever watch TV….til I needed just 20 minutes to tidy up the house.

I swore I wouldn’t buy girly cloths.  Yeah…about that.  I just bought lady bug shoes tonight and planned out her outfit for our breastfeeding photo shoot (it involves a tutu and flower headband.)

And yes, we met our first breastfeeding goal of 6 months.  And its all going well- so we hope to meet our next goal, 12 months 🙂

I’ll try to do better about updating…thought at least if I wrote a blurb it would get me back in the habit.

 

 

 

 

The day before daycare 

Geeze–all I feel like doing is screaming, crying, jumping up and down and slapping every stay at home mom I can find (Ok, maybe not actually slapping–but at least cutting them a dirty look).

Tomorrow EJ starts daycare part time (3 days a week) while Machelle and I both are back at work full time. We have transitioned our schedule to both still work 40 hours a week but just longer days so we can both have an EJ day and she will only have to be there part time. 

I know that we are paying them to watch our child–and we like them–but nothing compares to having someone at home with EJ. She’s so freaking adorable, starting to become extremely interactive and now for part of the day–these people at daycare are going to get to spend that time with her. 

They don’t do cloth wipes, like we do at home–and in all reality, it’s difficult to find any daycare that truly supports cloth diapering and breastfeeding. I know, somewhere deep down, that for right now we are making the right decision for our family. It may not always be the same decision that we stick to–but it’s what we have to do right now. Does that make it any easier to know that tomorrow will be the first time she is away from one mom or another for longer than a few hours? No. Absolutely 100% no. 

I keep trying to remain positive and not get bogged down in the negative–especially when Machelle is around because I know she is hurting just as bad if not more than I am. 

I also know that this daycare is full of good staff and the babies are always interacting with someone when we go in there. I try to think that this will make her going to kindergarten easier–because by then we will be old pros at this. I try to think about the tons of children who have gone to daycare and been absolutely fine. 

In the car this afternoon Machelle tells me she hopes that EJ didn’t inherit the biting that Machelle was guilty of while she was in childcare. 

Great. Here’s to hoping we win the lottery.  

    
    
 

Token of Accomplishments

I’ve (thankfully) never needed to be in “in recovery”- but I like the idea of how they pass out “tokens” for milestones. Little bits of accomplishments you can carry around in your pocket.  “2 months sober” type of thing.

02month

They should make those for breastfeeding moms.  Like, every time you go to our version of “AA” (La Leche League Meetings, Breastfeeding USA meetings, or Mother’s Milk Support Groups), if you’ve held your shit together for another month, you get a shiny new token.

Literally, they seem just like AA- I mean, it is peer support.  “Hi, my name is Machelle, and this is Emerson.  She’s 11 weeks old and nursing is going well but…”

Sometimes I half expect the other moms in the room to say in unison, “Hi Machelle…”

I’m pretty fortunate, I don’t have any terrible problems.  But it’s the same stories every week:
“My mother in law is pressuring me to give formula…”
“I have mastitis…again!”
“My nipples feel like they are going to fall off…”
“My husband wants to give a bottle to bond but I’m not ready to pump yet…”
“My father got upset when I breastfed at a restaurant…”
“I don’t have supportive family…”
“My baby was in the NICU/premature/had surgery and now won’t latch as well…”

I didn’t really grow up “seeing” breastfeeding.  Honestly, the first and last time I saw someone nurse a baby (before I was actually pregnant myself) was about 4 years ago.  Mary’s cousin, who also happens to be a LLL leader had just had her 2nd child, a son.  He oldest daughter was still a toddler.  We met them at a bar (okay, that sounds bad- but its like a family-friendly craft beer establishment).  She nursed her new son, without a cover, in public.  (GASP).  And then, she nursed her toddler (DOUBLE GASP!!!) I wasn’t offended, or embarrassed or anything- I was honestly amazed….and wanted to learn more without being the creepy lesbian wife of your cousin trying to figure out “exactly what you are doing…”  I was curious, because I hadn’t “seen” nursing before.  I was honestly trying to workout the logistics of how it all worked in my head.

When I was about 7 or 8 months pregnant, I went to a birth circle, and saw nursing for the 2nd time in my adult life.  There were 3 or 4 moms there and all of them just whipped out their boobs and fed their child like it was nothing.  Again, I didn’t want to stare, but I was mystified.  I was half tempted to be like, “Look, I’m about to have a baby in the next month or two, and I’m not trying to be creepy, I’m trying to watch and learn…”

You know, like the way you watch a cooking show and figure out how to do something.  Or the way you learn to dissect a frog in anatomy.  You watch someone else more experienced do it before you give it a go.

When I was pregnant, I had two co workers that pumped at work.  I asked them for advice.  They were exclusive pumpers, not “to the breast-feeders”.  They asked me about what cover I was getting- but I had already heard that so many babies hated eating in the dark with something on their head.  I casually said, “I’m not sure I’m going to use one.”

GASP!  You would have thought I said I was going to run naked up and down Wrightsville Beach.

“IN PUBLIC?!?!?!”

Uhhh…yeah.  I guess so.

The first 6 weeks, I tried to use a cover.  Honestly it is way harder than it looks, its hot, EJ hates it, and I think it draws more attention to me.  I hate the cover- it works for some, and good for them.  There are times when I want to have a bit more modesty- but I’m slowly getting to a point while I’m nursing that you really can’t see anything, even if I don’t use a cover.  EJ and I- we are getting to be pros at this.

A new store in Wilmington has started selling nursing shirts for us plus-sized ladies, and Mary got me two- they are freaking awesome because I can nurse more discreetly without a cover.

So, I’ve somehow become one of those women I stared at.   Half of Wilmington has probably seen a little flash of my boobs.  Sometimes I see women, often they are pregnant, sort of looking- and I know why.  They too didn’t “see” nursing growing up- and they’re just trying to “watch and learn”.

A girl I met who I know is breastfeeding her 10 or 11 month old son just told us she is expecting.  She was so excited.  Which means, it gave me hope that one day I might find myself tandem nursing two babes…I might have to watch and learn how she does it  (with 2!) a little more.

Anywho, the reason I felt the need to write about “seeing” someone nurse:
Last weekend, our original plan was to meet our friend (a photographer) for some outdoor holiday pictures.  As luck would have it, it was raining that day.   So instead, we went to her house for some pictures in front of the tree.  And of course EJ got hungry.  She had mentioned taking some nursing pictures, and I’ve seen others have them on social media, but the thought of someone photographing you while nursing seems a little…well, weird.  So what was supposed to be an outdoor Christmas party photo session, turned into an indoor one with a side of nursing.  But I’m so glad it happened, because they make me feel like I’ve accomplished something, like I’ve reached a milestone of success.

My breastfeeding “token” of accomplishments I can carry around in my pocket.