Have Breast, Will Travel


For the past seven years, my days have been defined by the routine care of children. Lacking day care, I haul them with me on errands or I don’t go at all. (Christian does a lot more lunchtime errand running now than he did in days past.) I have a semi-regular babysitter now to give me time to write, but basically, the baby stays with me, because one thing we don’t have in this house is bottles. We don’t even own any.

Sometimes it’s frustrating to feel tied down, but in general I am at peace with our choice to exclusively breastfeed. People who haven’t breastfed their kids don’t get it; they look at me blankly and say, “Can’t you just leave him with a sitter? I mean, you could pump so they could give him a bottle, couldn’t you?” I have to explain that even if the sitter gives him a bottle, all the milk he was supposed to drink at that time still has to come out of my body. And I loathe pumping. I am in awe of the self-sacrifice routinely practiced by mothers who pump at work every day. Oh. My. Goodness. You deserve a medal. (You know who you are. You rock, ladies.)

So I choose to stay attached to my babies. I’ve become pretty adept at typing one-handed, and I save certain projects (blog reading, for instance) for nursing times. When Michael’s in a mood to concentrate on his job, I can read books to the other kids. He stays with me while I write, he stays with me while I teach lessons, he stays with me while we play for weddings. This is my life; it has been my life for the last seven years and four babies.

But there are days. Like this weekend, when Christian and I played a wedding.

On the wedding front, we’ve gone back and forth, trying out different solutions to the professional-musician, fully-nursing-mom dynamic. We choose different solutions depending on the age and the mood of the baby on a given day. This weekend we did the “bring baby along” thing, because he was cranky and we had a young sitter.

Michael amused himself in his car seat through the prelude and processional, but during the psalm, I heard Unhappy Baby Noises. By the time I got back to the music area, someone had come over to pick him up, offering to hold him. I hated to have a wedding guest drooled upon and distracted during the exchange of vows, so I said we’d be fine; at this point I was basically just singing a Mass, and I could do that holding a baby.

The only trouble? What he really wanted was three minutes on the breast to fall asleep. And I couldn’t leave. So I held him carefully down-wind of the microphone and kept my finger in his mouth as he alternately sucked and chomped on it. I thought he might actually bite through it at one point. My pointer finger was positively numb by the time Communion was over, and he was at the end of his rope, proceeding from noisy slurping and occasional whimpers to out-and-out cries of “Feed me NOW, Woman!” I bolted for the sacristy even before Christian stopped playing.

Michael was so tired, he went down in ten seconds, but knowing him as I do, I didn’t dare move. Christian ended up playing the recessional solo. It works fine, and by that point in a wedding I question whether anyone even noticed my absence, but still, I wince. Because I need to be professional, too, and wrestling a baby while playing a wedding felt anything but.

Oh, well. Michael’s baby days are passing; this is a fleeting time in my life, after all. Soon enough my body will be my own again, and we’ll be on to a whole different, far more complicated set of problems to solve. Might as well enjoy this bunch while it lasts.


The Milk Maid’s Postpartum Journey (a 7QT post)


(Men: I’m being pretty woman-frank today. Consider yourself warned.)


When I was pregnant with Alex, I was all about natural childbirth. I was one of those people that annoys the doctor by clarifying again and again and again that I DON’T want an epidural, I DON’T want forceps and episiotomy, and so on. Of course, all that assumes that the body is capable of laboring, which mine apparently isn’t. And after I became the classic case of spiraling interventions leading to C-section, I sighed and shrugged and said, “Oh, well, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. People should stop freaking out about C sections.”


I held that opinion until the third trimester of my pregnancy with Nicholas, when I realized that the damage and weakness done to my abdomen was the cause of all the pain that made walking excruciating–I could barely support my own weight. And realized that I had to restrengthen before I could have another baby. From the 6-week mark in 2009, I did Pilates 2-3 times a week and added exercises from my massage therapist, and we got by this time.


What I wasn’t counting on was that the fourth C section recovery would be as difficult as it has been. The pain has been stubborn, the bleeding has hung on, and then of course, we had latch issues that made nursing excruciating for several weeks. I can feel the difference in my body. The six and a half years since Alex’s birth, with three more C’s, have really taken their toll. I’m more aware of the incisions, the weakness in my own body. And the end of the incision rubbed raw and opened up in the last couple of weeks, defying all my attempts to heal it.


So yesterday I had my postpartum visit. The day dawned with snow that canceled school. Suddenly I was looking at a two-hour drive with ALL FOUR CHILDREN, with nothing but a doctor’s office at the end. I panicked and called my mom. She stepped up to the plate and kept the older three at home so I only had to take the baby with me. And the doctor found that there was a stitch hanging out there, refusing to fall off (because of the distance, he actually sews me up with dissolvable stitches instead of using staples). That was actually a relief to know; I thought I’d done something wrong.


However, yesterday was a rough day on the nursing front. Two hours, a quick doctor visit, and two hours back home = lots of sleeping baby interspersed with cranky baby. We nursed int he car at a rest area, and we nursed in the car in the doctor’s office lot before starting home. And what I thought was simple engorgement on one side (because he hates nursing that side) turned out to be my very first really nasty plugged duct.


Now, I have a history of plugged ducts. It comes with the territory when you have abundant supply and, ahem, abundant space. Usually these would be considered a blessing–certainly every mother in the NICU looked slightly green when I walked in having pumped four ounces in ten minutes. I have twenty-nine vials of milk residing in the deep freeze at present that I have no idea what to do with. In the NICU they called me the “Milk Maid.” I have been holding my breath these first six weeks, chowing on lecithin, massaging tissue, not multitasking much while nursing, to try to avoid plugs, because they’re such a horrid experience. I’ve had five or six already, but they were partial plugs, ones that, while achy, never caused me that panicky sense of lack of control. This one is one of those. I haven’t started panicking yet, but having three quarters of one breast blocked off, producing ridiculous amounts of milk that can’t get out…I’m getting there. Warm water, massage, and now I’m afraid I’m going to have to go pump. I just keep praying that the blockage will break quickly this time, and not hang around for three days like they’re wont to do.


Breastfeeding moms…if you’ve never had a plugged milk duct…fall on your knees and thank God.

Now. Off to the mechanical pump. (Envision me gagging.)

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 160)

I Guess It’s Postpartum Blues


Breastfeeding symbolThe thing I’ve always valued about breastfeeding is that it is a symbiotic relationship. The well-being of baby depends upon mother, and the well-being of mother depends upon baby. We’re a partnership, and my motivation is high to keep us mutually healthy.

I’ve been through difficult nursing times, but I have never faltered in my commitment.

Until now.

I feel terrible. As if everything that could plague a new mother postpartum is hitting me all at the same time. My neck, my shoulders, my back, the headache; the incision; the nether regions; worst of all, nursing is excruciating. I mean excruciating. All.The.Time. This week I’ve had diagnostic work, a chiropractic adjustment, conversations with the doctor’s office, conversation with the lactation consultant, and tomorrow I’ll have an appointment with her. I think it’s a ductal yeast infection. I’ve gotten through that before, I can handle it for another 36 hours, right?

Except I was in tears at 3:45 this morning. Michael has a habit of chewing on me without drawing any milk out. I keep thinking there’s something wrong with the latch…or maybe he’s just not awake enough…or the position’s wrong. I mean, this is my fourth child. I’m an expert breastfeeding mom now. I ought to be able to problem solve my way through most things. And I did…he got his feeding, it just took almost an hour. An hour of experimenting with latches and positions, and a lot of chewing on skin that was already raw. I thought about the several dozen vials of breastmilk pumped out during the NICU stay. How long will that last? Can I just quit?

Sore, stiff neck and headache greeted me this morning, heaping insult upon misery. It was getting better for several days, then suddenly took a turn for the worse. Every single time I sit down to nurse, I do neck stretches. I really thought it would be improving by now. I knelt in the hallway folding clothes and crying. Julianna came over and gave me hug after hug, shaking her head and signing “cry,” to say: Don’t cry. Don’t cry. What I really wanted was a long, comforting cuddle with my husband but he was trying to get out of the house with Alex.

Three ibuprofen later I feel marginally human, but life seems pretty overwhelming. I can recite verbatim everything everybody’s thinking, about taking care of yourself, taking a nap, asking for help, etc. etc. I am taking naps, and how much more help can I ask? I’ve already hit up two people for chauffering services this week, and a dozen more have either brought or been loosely scheduled to bring food. We could stock our deep freeze and not cook for the next three months—and it’s wonderful, it will be so helpful to only cook half as much for the foreseeable future. But how can I ask more? I’m not the only person in the world with difficulties, and I’m sure mine are less severe than most.

More than likely this freak-out is post-NICU-stress related. Life keeps marching on, I keep trying to take care of kids and take back all the overwhelming burden that Christian had to carry by himself for ten days, and it’s almost Christmas and I’m having to say no to the kids’ school parties because I just don’t think I can do any more, which makes me feel horribly guilty. I’m not writing, I’m barely cleaning, just trying to keep up with the dishes and the laundry, and when I look around me I see people carrying burdens truly crushing. I don’t have any justification for flipping out over perfectly normal postpartum blues and ordinary health concerns. It just seems like there’s no end in sight, no time to just sit down on the couch and simply be. Be with my husband, mostly, just be, not crisis-hopping, not problem-solving how to get child care so he can work, not working out grocery lists long distance, not trying to communicate the latest unjustified bilirubin flip-out the doctor had today, not trying to figure out why they want to do yet another PKU test, not trying to work in another doctor appointment or diagnostic test, not tearing our hair out because Alex can’t seem to get himself together and we can’t juggle one more thing for him, not gnashing our teeth because Julianna’s lost some of her verbal skills and maybe it’s because we ran out of green tea three weeks ago and can’t seem to get any more made.

Life right now just feels like too much. It’s not just the last two weeks; the crisis of early delivery and NICU blindsided us on the back end of a long period of stress. I just want a few days to breathe, without crisis, without chaos, without the phone ringing twenty times a day from Sirius XM radio and the pediatrician’s office. I just want to be for a while. Is that so much to ask, God?