it’s apparently breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, i’m not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

When I nearly died from complications after delivering our twins, I grieved one thing possibly more than any other: the loss of my ability to breastfeed my babies. Breastfeeding was just something I knew that I would do. It was really important to me, and in our first few days in the hospital, I was breastfeeding Etta and pumping to send milk to Claire in the NICU at Children’s Hospital, too. I remember the agony of my possessed hospital pump that would randomly turn itself to high and threaten to rip my poor nipples right off. I remember the ritual of Jon cleaning all the various parts in the hospital room sink so we could get ready to do it all over again all too soon. And I remember the pride I felt in sending those little 2 ounce bottles of “liquid gold” to my girl recovering from surgery to close her myelomeningocele, feeling comfort that if I couldn’t be there holding her, at least she was getting a little bit of me to strengthen and nourish her. It was so important to me, that when I was intubated and unconscious in the ICU myself, my husband had a lactation consultant bring the pump up, because he just knew I’d be very mad if I woke up and discovered they had let my precious milk dry up.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Unfortunately, when I woke up, they told me that drying up was exactly what I would have to do, because the medicines I needed to help my heart were not safe for nursing moms, and there were no safer alternatives. I had to stop breastfeeding so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.

From where I sit now, with happy, healthy three year olds, this seems like an obvious choice– the clear, right thing for my health. But at the time it felt rather devastating, because I believed I’d be settling for “second best” for my babies. Oh, how I cried. I remember noticing that even my damn formula can said “breast is best” on it and SOBBING. And for a while, I felt sad or defensive every time breastfeeding came up. Sad because I didn’t get to do something that was important to me. Defensive because I felt like so many people essentially wanted to see a doctor’s note to justify our “choice.” “Breast is best” became a trigger for rage– oh yeah? Let me show you how bonded I am to these bottle-fed babies! Let me tell you about immune systems and antibodies when these formula-fed kiddos haven’t had a single ear infection in over 3 years of life!

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

But now, 3 years in, it’s amazing to realize how all of that has just kind of fallen away. My kids eat food now. They drink mostly water, and sometimes whole cow milk. No one really asks if they were breast or bottle fed. No one really questions our bond, or their intelligence, or their health. They’re just happy, healthy kids, and what seemed SO IMPORTANT and SO DEVASTATING to me back in that hospital room, my breasts and my heart aching for what I could no longer give to my babies, well, it seems so far away and so small now.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Today, I don’t feel a twinge of pain or sadness or loss when I see my friends nursing their babies. Today, I can stand alongside other parents and say that our culture needs to do a whole lot more to support nursing parents. And today I also feel a whole lot of compassion for those of us who feel a little too aware during breastfeeding awareness month, too aware of what we perceive as our failings or shortcomings, or too aware of what we perceive as judgment from others, or too aware of loss and pain. To you who are still in that place, I am writing this to say: it gets better. Your babies will thrive not because of what they are drinking, but because of your great love. They will be bonded to you not because of your breasts but because of your hearts. They will be healthy because of your care, not because of antibodies in their milk. They will grow, and they will thrive, and this big deal will shrink and shrink and disappear in the rearview. I promise. I’ve finally made it there.

small milestone, big bag

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Something big has happened in my life. 2.5 years in as a mom, and I have graduated from the diaper bag. Not that I even had a “real” diaper bag, as my diaper bag was always the giant yellow Patagonia messenger bag I used first for a work commute bag, then for a graduate school backpack. It was sort of the big yellow school bus of diaper bags, and it allowed me to carry more gear than a Himalayan sherpa while expeditioning with two small people who might at any moment need diapers, wipes, toys, a complete outfit change, bibs, blankets, burp cloths, pacifiers, teethers, a bottle, a snack, a bandaid, or even a change of shirts for me (Claire barfed a lot).

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Toddlers, I’ve realized, don’t need nearly as much gear. I can actually leave the house without packing each of us a complete outfit change. In fact, I can generally throw a couple diapers, a catheter, a wipes clutch, and bibs into my bag and we could survive an outing. Even better, my toddlers even think carrying a backpack themselves is cool and grown up, so they got their own little backpacks for Christmas. Now, they can actually tote their own diapers, wipes, water bottle, snack, and toy, and they think it’s fun! Have fun, baby pack mules, knock yourselves out! I’ll just be over here twirling, wild, free, and unencumbered by all your stuff!

My current bag situation is a Fossil tote with birds all over it.
My current bag situation is a Fossil tote with birds all over it.

 

 

but which one’s older?

IMG_3204Last night I was reading a New York Times profile of Megan Rapinoe, a soccer star I really admire. The piece mentioned that she has a twin sister, and went out of it’s way to let readers know that her sister is “older by 11 minutes.” Cue the sound of a record scratching in my mind.

I have twin daughters. People love to ask us questions in public, and one of their favorites is “Which one is older?”

Let me stop right here. Say you meet someone. Say it comes up that you were both born on March 28. Would you ask that stranger what precise hour and minute he or she was born? Or would you just say, “Wow, we have the same birthday! We’re the same age!”

I think people ask this question because, like most of our first-meeting questions, we’re trying to “place” people and figure them out. Asking about birth order lets us know which one is supposed to be the bossy older sibling, and which one is supposed to be the attention-seeking youngest. People even seem to believe that the “older” twin should also be the bigger one, as if the 6 lb. size difference that currently exists between Etta and Claire could be attributed to a head start gained by a few extra minutes out in the world. These things are stereotypes at best, and they’re simply not useful in the case of twins, and, I believe, can be harmful. It attempts to impose a hierarchy where none exists.

I have heard about “older” twins lording it over younger twins, and about parents who truly treat their twins as if there is some sort of inborn difference that results from what is essentially the luck of the draw. Wherever an egg implants in the uterus, the twin closest to the “exit” is born first. And in the case of a c-section, isn’t it just whom the surgeon grabs first?

In a society that loves to label people and to lump twins together, I want my girls to feel loved and supported for the individuals they are, not shoehorned into some sort of role, be it birth order, or gender, or religion, or whatever. I don’t want strangers deciding that one is “the bossy one” because she’s “older” or something. I’m even thinking I may just keep mum on the whole thing if asked. Because really, from the moment of conception, their cells have been dividing the same. The entire time I was pregnant, they were the same gestational age. They still are. Who was first pulled out into the sterile brightness of the operating room really doesn’t matter much to me.

In which I compare having dogs and having babies

IMG_0003We used to be smug first time parents.

Dog parents, that is.

See, when we got our first dog Bessie, we just went to a shelter one day, found a pretty cute pup who seemed playful and friendly, and took her home. There was some puppy chewing of throw pillows and Playstation controllers, but for the most part, she was a freakishly good dog– well behaved, friendly, easy to get along with. Naturally, we thought this was all our doing. We’d go to other people’s houses and encounter unruly dogs who jumped up or begged for food or used the bathroom in the house, and we’d leave thinking to ourselves, what is wrong with them? They’re clearly doing a terrible job as pet parents! We’d think, if only they were as good as we are, they wouldn’t allow that behavior.

Then we got a second dog.

Olive, it turns out, is a vastly different dog, despite our clearly superior dog parenting abilities. In the years we’ve had her, we’ve been completely unable to teach her not to put her paws on us or attempt to climb in our laps or onto the furniture, both places she isn’t allowed. We have had to come to a very shocking conclusion: it’s not that we’re amazing dog owners, we just had a really amazing first dog.

This is a realization I think more first time parents need to come to. It’s a realization we’ve come to yet again as we parent twins who, at every turn, seem determined to remind us that they are very distinct individuals. It started when Claire began sleeping through the night on her own at about 3 months old. Etta still hasn’t mastered that feat. Baby sleep in particular seems to be an area in which everyone fancies themselves an expert. Particularly if they have one kid, the baby equivalent of a Bessie dog, they’ll happily tell you that all you need to do is exactly what they did, and you too will have a baby who sleeps through the night. I hope their next baby is an Olive, every time. Because even though we use the exact same techniques and parenting styles on both of our girls, one sleeps and one doesn’t. We can’t anymore take credit for Claire’s awesome sleeping abilities than we can the blame for Etta’s lack thereof.

The same thing happened with food. Claire took happily to purees quite easily (around 6 months), while Etta has always refused to let us spoon feed her. Several months later, at 10 months, and Etta has only recently decided that while she still hates purees, she’ll willingly chow down on any food she can hold in her own fist. Truly baby-led Baby Led Weaning. I can’t take credit for how either of my girls eats, really, either– they each just do their thing, and I figure out what that thing is through trial and error.

So, you parents of one baby who think you’ve got the whole sleeping and eating figured out through your superior skills? Your kid is probably a Bessie. The next one just might be an Olive.

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