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.

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parenthood one month in

Saturday was my due date. Instead of being in labor, I spent the day with my ONE MONTH OLDS. They’re already growing up so fast! There’s no way they’d fit in the little preemie footie pjs they came home in just four weeks ago. Amazing how time flies when lived in 3 hour intervals between baby feedings.

Time also apparently flies between blog posts around here…sorry about that.

The truth is, my life is rather boring but happy at the moment. I’m not kidding about the living in 3 hour intervals thing– we followed the “golden rule of multiples” from the start, which is “one up, both up,” and mercifully the babies are on roughly the same eating/sleeping schedule, which works out great until I’m home alone with them and they’re both screaming with hunger at the exact same time, and I can currently only feed one at a time because they both like to try to drown in their food, or dribble it all over themselves, or choke themselves by sucking the nipple too far into their mouths. Luckily, until June, Jon is home with me most of the time, and we can just both feed a baby at the same time. This also means we can trade off at night and get longer stretches of sleep!

In a similar vein, I’m no longer mournful about not being able to breastfeed. Formula may be stinky and expensive, but it’s also fast and easy, and it allows my husband and me to share in the feeding of our babies. It also means I’m getting much more rest than I would be if I were nursing, and I’m enjoying having my body mostly to myself after 9 months of sharing it with two other people. I get to drink wine in the evenings! More than one glass even, if I’m feeling crazy!

Another thing that’s working out great is cloth diapering. I was really hoping it would work for us, and it totally is. I don’t find the cloth diapers to be any more disgusting to deal with than the disposables we used for the first 2-ish weeks, and when we have babies spitting up and such all the time, we’re already doing an extra load of laundry every day anyway. If anyone is particularly curious about what we’re doing, I thought I’d give a quick rundown.

We have a “stash” (oh cloth diapering lingo!) of 36 newborn all-in-one diapers (aka AIOs). They are BumGenius XS’s, Lil Joeys, and some Kissaluvs. (When the babies are bigger, we’ll switch to my stash of one-size pocket diapers.) I chose AIOs because they’re the easiest to use, and the most like disposables. I could probably wash every other day, but I just do a small load every day because I’ve got other stuff to wash anyway. I run the dirty diapers through a rinse and spin cycle with no spin, and then I add in the other laundry and do a “sanitize” cycle on the heavy duty setting for extra water. We tried All Free and Clear detergent, but I wasn’t crazy about it (I felt like the diapers still kind of smelled), so now we’re trying Tide Original Powder. I figured I’d exhaust all my available-at-Target options before moving on to more specialty detergents. I’ve been mostly drying the diapers in the dryer, though I’d like to line-dry them more often.

I think the cloth diapers are really cute, and I like that we’re not creating tons (literally) of trash by using disposable diapers. Other folks use cloth for health reasons, but those weren’t one of my top priorities. Most of all, we’re saving a ton of money over what it would cost us to have twins in disposable diapers. I know some folks try to claim the energy and water from washing is just as expensive, but with our high efficiency washer and dryer, it’s totally a negligible cost.

As far as the babies themselves: they are perfect. Sure, Claire sometimes reminds me of a hungry hungry hippo (do NOT get between that girl and her bottle), and Etta is our little Fussbudget who wants to be held all the time, but they are the most precious and beautiful little things I’ve ever seen. When they’re snuggled together? The cuteness is somehow multiplied by a factor of 10. I’m so looking forward to seeing their personalities develop.

A month in, motherhood has both changed and not changed me. I feel like the same person, even though I was worried that I wouldn’t. Sometimes I look around and feel like I’m playing house and wonder who entrusted us with the care of these two little people. But at the same time, I’m surprised by how much I don’t mind all the work that care involves. I used to have a hair-trigger gag reflex, but now I can deal with all manner of the disgustingness babies produce without batting an eye (though the nasty smell of formula spit-up in my hair still makes me want to run for the toilet).

I’ve still not spent an entire day alone with the babies, and we have basically only ventured out to doctor’s appointments and church, and then always with Jon. The very idea of going somewhere alone with the babies seems VERY daunting to me at this point. Two infants is just a lot to handle.

As for all of my fears about how having twins would rob me of some of the specialness of a new-baby experience, they were both founded and unfounded. I read the posts of new moms of singletons on one of my pregnancy message boards and see things like how they never let their baby cry for more than just a second, how they’re always rushing to comfort their baby, how they never put their baby down, even how exhausted and frustrated they are, and I almost want to laugh AND cry. With two infants and only one me, if Jon’s not home, sometimes one baby just has to scream her head off when I’m feeding her sister and can’t stop to feed her too. I’m always having to put one baby down to pick up another. And nighttime feedings take twice as long because I have to do the whole routine twice. I must resist the urge to say, “we had only one baby home for a week and it was SO EASY.” Seriously though, my theory is that 2 babies are 4 times harder than 1, though I should probably save that sentiment for the multiples message boards– infancy is hard, no matter how many infants you have.

I still get plenty of baby snuggles. I still spend hours staring at their tiny faces, gazing into their currently still-blue eyes. I still have babies falling asleep on my chest. I still feel very bonded and connected to both of them. And all of us are doing so much better than I could have possibly imagined either while pregnant or just a month ago.