Writings

On breastfeeding…

Three weeks – that was my goal.

I work in health care, and you can’t fart around a hospital when you’re pregnant without someone gushing over the benefits of breastfeeding. To get more information, I took a breastfeeding class. After releasing the rainbows and butterflies, the instructor (who was very helpful) told us the tremendous benefits of breastfeeding. In addition to better immunity for your baby, losing pregnancy pounds faster, and solving world peace, breastfeeding was a bonding experience for you and your newborn.

I’m realistic and pragmatic. While the instructor assured me that breastfeeding would reduce the impacts of climate change, my female friends had different experiences. One friend had a surplus of milk, and built a stockpile in her freezer. However, another had to pump for an hour to squeeze out a few mere ounces. Some women I knew LOVED breastfeeding, and successfully fed their child for over a year! Others, flat out hated it. Sore nipples, biting, latch issues, clogged ducts, mastitis, no support at work, the time commitment, and mastitis.

I told myself I would try breastfeeding for three weeks. I would give it my all, and if I hated it we’d switch to formula (thank God for formula!). When Carly did not latch the first five days, I almost quit. My life was: try to latch for an hour, then manually express for thirty minutes, then formula, and then repeat. Day four I had a mental breakdown and was googling “Am I insane?” Thankfully on day six, my milk came in, and Carly decided to latch. Then, I spent the next eight weeks teaching her how to eat. Wake up, hit the boob, eat a little – repeat. Wake up, hit the boob, eat a bit more – repeat. Breastfeeding became my full time job, and mostly, I loved it.

There were not butterflies or rainbows, but the pride I felt at feeding our daughter from my body was like nothing else. When Del went back to work after week two I sent him pictures of Carly eating. My child latched to my body was beautiful. My body kept, and has been keeping, her alive.

Then, I went back to work. I am grateful for the time I had at home, but I have always known I was going to be a working mother. My work days have been without a break and without end. Get to work, pump and email, work, pump, work, email, pump. I hook up, eat lunch, and check emails. I bought a $70 pump/laptop bag to haul all of my stuff around. My entire work calendar is blocked off for pumping time, and my team knows when I need to take thirty minutes to pump.

Breastfeeding takes a village. For me to have the time to feed Carly, Del took over most of the housework for a few weeks. And after giving birth my back went out, so my mom stayed for five weeks to hand me Carly between feedings. Without Del or my mom, I would have failed. At work, my co-workers are incredibly supportive. They move meetings around my schedule, and help me find a space to pump if I need it.

With a lot of support, I’ve made it nine months. Nine wonderful, glorious, difficult, beautiful, exhausting, thrilling, calorie burning, I eat so much food, and drink so much water, months. Breastfeeding and pumping is not as hard as people said it would be – it’s harder. The sacrifice of time, energy, and your body is exhausting. Yet, I made it this far off of…. I don’t even know how. I think I am just too tired to think of something else.

When I think of how long I did it, it’s one of the accomplishments of which I am most proud. I did it! I feel like I deserve a little party or something. I kept Carly alive off breast milk for nine months. Although she has had a cold since August (daycare – le sigh) she is healthy and chunky. Although I have days where I want to just quit and throw my pump – I don’t (yet).

This morning Carly and I had our little time together. I hold her close to my body, she latches on, and we sit there in beautiful peace. I feel her snugly body, and the Oxytocin rushes from head to toe. I look down at her, and she looks up at me. Sometimes she giggles, sometimes she bites, but mostly – she just eats.

We did it, Carly, Del, the village, and I. Nine whole months. We did it.

I, Blue Collar

In graduate school we had to read The Metropolis by Georg Simmel. When we got to our theory class the professor asked the class “Can someone tell me what this reading was about?”

A classmate raised her hand and said quite smugly, “I think he’s saying that people from small towns are incredibly ignorant.”

I looked at my classmate and said, “I’m from a small town. Do you find me ignorant?”

She said nothing, but gave me a look that indicated my origins were not to her liking.

I grew up in Sullivan, Wisconsin – population 412. Most of my childhood feels like something from a beautifully written sitcom. My father was a very hard-working construction worker, and my mother had many fascinating jobs; ranging from an administrative assistant in the medical field to a clerk at Boston Store (Boston Store meant I got lots of fun clothing, so that was my favorite).

When I think of the advantages I have had in my life, I think of obvious things. My skin is white. I was born into a middle-class family. I’m able bodied, and I’m American. Perhaps the single greatest advantage I had, was two parents who would do anything for me.

As loving and hard-working as they are, my parents grew up in a time where attending college was not necessary. When I applied to college, my mother came with me to every meeting or session my high school offered for help. Then, I would come home and start filling out applications, grants, and scholarships. After I got accepted to college, I remember signing loan documents. To this day, I still cannot tell you what I signed. There’s a 50/50 shot I’m indebted to some Saudi prince. By the time I started writing papers in college, I was not sure where to go to for help. Between Oxford commas and split infinitives – I felt short on support.

Graduate school was the hardest two years of my life. I picked a bad thesis adviser. But without anyone behind me who had ever attended graduate school – how was I to know what was bad? Who should I have asked, “So, is it okay that my adviser emailed me to tell me she doesn’t have any time to help me?” I failed my thesis defense twice, and had a mental break down my last year. To this day, I believe my situation was more about my blue-collar background. I came in with an iron will and a sharp tongue. I left with my will completely broken. Trudging through it all, I was the first in my family to graduate with a Master’s degree.

In my professional life, the greatest thing I struggle with is not intelligence or skill. My greatest struggles are navigating through a white-collar system with a blue-collar background. I tend to say exactly what I’m thinking, because that is how I was raised. Thankfully, my last boss taught me tact. Instead of telling Vice Presidents “No, you’re wrong,” the better reply is “We can look into that.”

I seem to altogether lack a sense of subtlety that is bred into the children of white-collar workers. In any room I can read the five people whose parents were doctors or engineers. They lay back in their chairs with a socialized confidence it took me years to learn. Frankly, I feel jealous. I catch myself thinking things like “Do you know what it took for me to learn how to do this? Do you know what it took?”

Blue collar culture is beautiful to me in its layers and complexities. When I see construction workers I feel at ease, and immediately start a conversation. I ask about the kids, and then make a joke about any person that’s acting like an asshole. We’re immediately friends. When I see laborers, I feel at peace.

Yet, there is one thing I carry with me. My trump card that no one can take away, and that it takes a blue collar raising to learn. If I teach Carly one thing – it will be this.

In blue collar land, no one is better than me. I do not care what car you drive, what phone you use, or what shoes you wear. I care about whether you are a decent human being.

The president is not better than me, nor is the vice president, nor is the director. The only thing that separates us is a title, some made up financial class, and a suit. I have found that because I do not believe anyone is somehow superior to me, I lack fear that I feel like I’m supposed to have. Sometimes that lack of fear has gotten me in trouble, but at other times my candid nature has helped turn heads.

To me, every person I work with has the same level of importance. Everyone is deserving of kindness, time, and dignity. I’m from a small town. I am the salt of the earth. And underneath my white collar, is a blue one that I wear with pride.

Life and death begin and end at a hospital…

Carly came into this world crying. Eight pounds and seven ounces of perfection. When I tried calming her the doctor said, “It’s good she cries. She’s getting fluid out of her lungs.” Her life began at the hospital.

My coworker Paul died Monday. We weren’t besties, yet Paul had a quiet wisdom and subtle humor that made him feel like you were close. Paul taught us to eat the whale that is projects – one bite at a time. He was brilliant, funny, and calm. He fought cancer, and like the bitch it is, cancer won. Paul left this world at a hospital.

We eat in the cafeteria, chat in the halls, park in black lots, and swing the bathroom doors. Patients come to the hospital for baby checks, blood tests, surgery, ear aches and trauma. Family members visit to offer support and love. Doctors, nurses, clerks, admins, support staff and thousands of others make the hospital work.

Today, I drove on a site visit with a few RNs. One has delivered babies for 26 years. Another nurse started in surgery working nights – just so she could eventually transfer to the mother/baby floor. The third RN is from bereavement. When a baby dies, she supports the grieving family.

And me. Here I sit in the middle of it all. Running projects, making calls. It’s chaos and it’s busy.

Carly’s life started here. Paul’s life ended. For a few moments the strands of our lives intertwined. Together, we became more than just ourselves. We became a community. A hospital, in our city, is a life blood for the community. In connects to every facet of our lives.

I’ve never lost a co-worker before. I don’t know how this grieving muscle works. But I know where it begins, and ends, and that I’m somewhere in the middle… living.

On PTSD…

In kindergarten we had a special speaker come in to talk to us about good and bad touching. We were told to just say no, and that if an adult touched us in a bad spot to tell our parents or someone we trusted. At five I remember thinking, “But, they’re adults.” Although I could not vocalize it then, I remember knowing that older people have more power. What our kindergarten teacher did not know, was that I was already a victim of an adult’s power move.

Instead of leaving the talk feeling safe I remember feeling guilty. Perhaps if I had said no that would have worked? Perhaps if I had just told an adult sooner that would have done something. At five, I knew power, and guilt, and that sometimes evil people win – and there is nothing we can do about it.

I started seeing a counselor two months ago. Since having Carly I have been having panic attacks at work and at home. I will get an email, my heart will start racing, and a panic attack begins. I had one last week driving to work when I got stuck in traffic, and I had another two days ago when my husband tried to help me when I was cooking.

Post traumatic stress disorder.

My entire life I assumed I was a naturally anxious person, and felt bad about my reactions to every day scenarios. I thought I was weak for my little freak outs. I get up at 5am, never miss a day of working out, chart my day religiously, and organize my world to a meticulous degree.

Having a baby has a way of throwing off your game. I knew going into parenthood I would need to get better at adapting to the unexpected. My friends kindly joke that I’m going to have to learn to be better at letting go of my plans (they’re right).

But let’s be fair here.

Some people get the glorious luxury of traveling through most of their lives thinking the world is a safe place. Many people get to go to age thirty before they find out about things that go bump in the night.

I was five. What they stole from me was more than innocence. They stole, for the rest of my life, that feeling of safety that allows most people to float through the world with a deep sense of trust that everything will be ok.

For the last 20+ years I have not operated in the mind set of “everything will be ok.” I operate in the mindset of “Have a back-up plan for your back-up plan.” In my patterns and plans I have found safety. I use to feel like a terrible person for being so well planned. Friends are comfortable with adapting and going with the flow. When others change plans on me it sends my heart racing.

But how could my heart not race? There was a time when the world was safe, and that was unfairly stolen. Not knowing what else to do, my beautiful and adaptive mind created a universe where I could live safely. My spreadsheets kept me warm at night. My charts tucked me into bed. When I look back at what I created without knowing why, I stand in awe of myself.

But then – Carly happened.

I look at Carly and see the world as it should be. Her world is safe, everything is new, and no one wants to hurt her. Seeing lights turn on is a magical event that for which we should charge admission. I want to be better, so Carly can keep seeing the world in a safe way that I can hardly remember experiencing. My old patterns (sigh) – I’m working to let them go.

I am trying to plan less, and be more free. I am trying to adapt when all I want to do is hide in the closet, because no one can hurt me when the doors close. Life does not exist in the dark where no one can hurt us. Life exists where there is light. Slowly but surely, I’m flicking the switches to turn the light back on. And I have sweet little Carly for showing me that everything will be ok.

Give me grace to get there. Help me to trust that this world can be safe.

On the fastest way to wash bottles…

In our house I breastfeed and then give bottles while the baby is at daycare. By the end of the day – we have a lot of bottle parts. And bottle washing takes FOREVER. If you’re pumping or formula feeding I’m sure you feel the pain. The first time I washed all the bottles it took about twenty minutes. I quickly did the math and realized that would suck the life out of me. So I vowed to find a better way! This might be where you’re thinking “Use the dishwasher!” I had that thought too – but our dishwasher kind of sucks. I did not trust that bottle parts would get cleaned, and I was concered small parts would get ruined. I also felt like washing by hand would allow me to feel like the parts were 100% clean.

WHY BOTTLE WASHING TAKES FOREVER

What takes so long in washing is individually (by bottle part) doing one step, then another, then another. You wash, rinse, and then put on the rack for each part – that wastes time. If you want to save time – you need to think of bottle washing like a car assembly line. You’re going to get all the parts together and move them from one stop to another – like Ford did the Model T.

ITEMS NEEDED:

  • Dirty bottles
  • A bottle brush (OXO from Amazon)
  • A bottle rack

STEPS

  1. Get all your stuff together. Have your dirty bottles in one spot, and have a drying rack ready.
  2. Scrub both sinks so you know they’re clean. If you don’t have dual sinks you can use two tubs.
  3. Fill both sinks (or two big tubs) with really hot water. The sink at the beginning of your line put soap in. The sink at end of the line just put water in for rinsing. To save time I fill both sinks at the same time. While the sinks are filling disassemble your bottles in the soap water.
  4. Using your bottle brush, wash each part. Scrub each part. I do bottles, then lids, then nipples, then flanges. I save flanges and nipples for last because they require cleaning with the small end of the brush.
  5. Toss each cleaned part into the rinse water.
  6. Then, pull the bottles out of the rinse water and put them on a drying rack.

And – you’re done – time saved.

The 5 best things I bought for pumping…

When I was pregnant, I wrote a post about the five best things I bought for my pregnancy. Time has moved along, and I’ve gone from the pregnancy stage to breastfeeding and pumping. Breastfeeding, for me, has been incredibly rewarding. It has definitely had it’s downs (baby Carly didn’t latch for the first week) and it’s ups (baby Carly is now in the 90th percentile for everything). Along the way I’ve made a few purchases to make pumping easier. If you’re in that same life stage, here are some things that have helped me.

  1. A Spectra S1 pump

If you are a woman that likes to do things and not hold two bottles to your boobies – this is the pump for you. It has a battery! So you do not have to be chained to an outlet to pump. I can pump at night while cleaning the kitchen and making iced coffee for tomorrow. It is also a closed system, which means you do not have to wash the tubes out. And if you learn anything about pumping it is that there is a ton of washing. Also, it has a “massage” function. It doesn’t actually feel like a massage, but when you’re having milk sucked out it’s nice to have options. Insurance fully covered my pump, so I got the one that had a few extra parts and pieces.

2. A feeding/pumping bra that isn’t super gross

Why Victoria Secret is not all over this is beyond me. When you look at pumping bras online, they’re disgusting. Imagine a gigantic rubber band you strap on. Just because I’m a mom does not I have lost my sexuality and want to wear gross underwear. This bra is pretty dang good (I haven’t found the perfect one yet). It is kind of bulky and more on the pricey side, but it looks beautiful and holds bottles super well. Plus, you can wear it to breastfeed AND to pump. Overall, it’s a win.

bra

3. An all-in-one back pack

My third week back at work I almost threw out my back hauling my laptop, lunch bag, bottles, and pump from meeting-to-meeting. I was tired of my shoulders and back hurting from lugging around so much stuff. Enter in: this backpack. It holds everything! There’s a space for my laptop, a space for the pump, and a little cooler section for bottles. Plus, there’s enough extra space for my lunch bag. Now, when I need to go to meetings I just throw it all in one backpack and go!

backpack.PNG

4. One of these ice packs

I walked into my six month check up, and there were packs of formula, a baby toy, and this ice pack. I grabbed the formula for a few families I know, took the baby toy for Carly, and then snagged three of these ice packs. I like them because they wrap around the bottles to keep them cool when I’m travelling around. Plus, they also work to keep cans cold.

ice pack

5. Extra parts

One of my current fears is running out of flanges, bottles, or extra parts. I do not want to be at work and feel like my boobs are going to burst. So ease my worry, I bought one extra set of everything. Although Amazon has a lot of stuff, I’ve found great prices on lactationconnection.com. When Amazon has not had the parts I wanted, Lactation Connection has items in stock.

Happy Pumping Y’all!

On a more efficient way to meal prep…

We just had a baby, and she the most wonderful addition to our lives. However, between the baby, trying to do some extracurricular activities, and working full-time – it was difficult to think of when we would have time to make dinner. We thought about eating out more frequently, but that gets expensive quickly and I have a lot of food allergies. We thought about eating more pizzas and pre-prepared meals, but we prefer cooking fresh food.

At work I’m on the performance improvement (PI) team. Basically, we’re a team of people that sit around and think of ways to make everything more efficient. We help the people we work with plan their days so they can get more done. So I figured, why not PI our food? A co-worker had told me, “We just eat the same thing all the time.” At this point in our lives, I thought that was a fantastic idea and a great way to simplify a family that just added a new human.

Enter – meal prep Sundays. The idea is that we:

  • always buy the same food, so we do not have the spend time coming up with a new grocery list
  • except we have ‘Wild Card’ days where we either make something from what we have in the pantry or we go out to eat
  • we prep a egg casserole to make for morning breakfast
  • we make enough food for dinner so we can take it the next day for lunch
  • we prep everything in 2 hours on Sunday – then on the day of we cook what we prepped
  • we also found that this saved on doing some dishes. Because everything prepped in one sitting we wash fewer knives, cutting boards, pots and pans

If you want to make this happen, here are the two tools you need:

  1. The grocery list. I keep our list on google drive so my husband and I can access it whenever we need to. We also get everything at Aldi because it is more affordable and takes way less time than going to a larger grocery store.GROCERY LIST
  2. The meal prep chart. I printed this out and pinned it on the fridge. When Sunday hits we move along and make everything.

food prepI wanted to share in case it saves any of the active people in my life some time.

Enjoy! And happy cooking.

 

On the healing power of breastmilk…

After college, while in grad school, I developed a scarcity mentality. My annual income was around $10,000. My weekly food budget was so low that I lost 40 pounds in less than a year. Eventually, I started to worry constantly about whether I would have enough. Will I have enough food for the week? Will I have enough money for bills? I only lived in poverty for two years, but the impact still lingers.

After Carly was born, she did not latch for five days. Eight to ten times a day we’d try to breastfeed in every position we could. When that failed, we fed her formula through a syringe. Her weight dropped. I was terrified she wasn’t eating enough and would end up in the hospital. Eventually, things got better. Carly latched! She gained weight. Now, she is super healthy, chubby, and happy.

Out of fear I started building a stockpile of breastmilk. I’d feed Carly, then pump. Feed. Pump. Feed. Pump. I pumped so much milk we bought a freezer.

Then, a strange thing happened. The expiration date on the milk crept up. I realized I would either have to: unfreeze the milk and freeze more fresh stuff, let it go bad, or I could donate it.

I was adament when I was pregnant that I’d try breastfeeding for three maybe weeks, and I’d quit if I hated it. But the moment Carly finally latched, after 100+ unsuccessful attempts – I knew I loved breastfeeding. I never ever thought I’d love it as much as I do.

However families choose to feed their babies is a decision I respect. It’s hard and emotional. For our family, breastfeeding has been our main choice. But when we needed formula it was a blessing to have.

Yesterday I donated 60+ ounces of breastmilk to a mom in need. Del and I drove to Starbucks with our cooler, and I handed the family my milk. Then we got in the car and cried. Before Carly’s birth so many people gave us so much. We didn’t have to buy diapers for Carly until she was three months old. We won’t need to buy clothing for her for another three months. I was terrified at every step of my pregnacy that something would be scarce, but that never happened. My breastmilk was scarce a few days, but then it came in abundance.

As others gave to us, we give to those in need. For a few days, my milk will help give life to a beautiful baby. I’m beyond grateful to God for that opportunity.

I came home from exchanging the milk and thought about my scarcity fears. For the first time in years I felt a sense of peace. In giving away something so personal, I felt healing for an old fear. I never thought breastmilk would bring so much healing to my life.

Maybe my milk will dry up tomorrow. Maybe the freezer will go out. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. But God has always provided. Thanks to breastmilk, my fear of scarcity is subsiding.

On the end of maternity leave…

I’m going back to work Thursday, July 5th after twelve weeks of maternity leave. Over the last few days I’ve felt every stage of grief. On Monday and Tuesday I called my mom sobbing with mom guilt. I thought about asking my boss whether I could take off Fridays, or work from home on Thursdays. Then, yesterday, I was so burned out I felt like I could start working at 8am and feel 100% okay.

This leave is coming to an end. It’s been wonderful, and stressful, and full of life. There has been poop, pee, spit-up, giggles and glorious snuggles. As I move back into working I thought it would be cathartic to write about what I will miss and what is coming next. When I volunteered at hospice (yes – tragic) they taught us to always say good-bye when we left a room. Although no one is dying, we are moving from the “mommy is always with me” stage to the “daycare time!” stage.

This blog is dedicated to saying good-bye to old things, and saying hello to new things.

Good-bye 24/7 Carly time. Without a doubt, I will miss our snuggles, naps, and cute poops. Carly – I love you so!

Hello 30 minutes of eating lunch!

Good-bye 8+ times a day breastfeeding. Although, I will miss Carly’s constant warmth and sweet suckling sounds. However – we still have mornings and nights.

Hello to (some) body freedom!

Good-bye raw fingers from Desitin applications, wiping, and “I seriously JUST changed you.”

Hello to missing changing diapers three times in a row. Carly’s chunky baby butt is just the cutest!

Good-bye to morning stroller walks. I’ll miss these the most. Watching Carly’s sweet face as we walk around our neighborhood is the best.

Hello adult conversation! My how I’ve missed you. Vocab, words, thoughts, oh my!

Good-bye seeing everything new Carly does. Another person will see it first, and that breaks my heart.

Hello mental challenges… my my how I love thee. Coordination. Formuli. Brain gymnastics – my sweet love.

Good-bye knowing Carly is unlikely to get sick at home with mommy.

Hello colds, ear infections, and a slew of weird S#$& from daycare. But also hello to an immune system that is learning to survive. This will suck, but we can do this. Kids get sick. A lot.

Good-bye safety of mommy’s perfect schedule (Ug). We worked so hard on this. Carly is sleeping well and growing so big. Pray we adapt well.

Hello socialization. Carly is going to get to meet so many people! She’s in a safe place with people who dedicate their lives to loving children. Hello to meeting more little friends we can hang out with. We’re going to learn so much from each other.

Good-bye taking a gazillion photos a day. Now it’ll just be a few hundred.

Hello to getting photos every day from daycare. I hope they take good pictures!

Good-bye mommy guilt over…. everything. Hello new mommy guilt over…. who knows? If the FDA makes a drug for mommy guilt I’ll line up to buy it.

Hello to a new trust. Trust in daycare. Trust in daddy. Trust in myself. Trust in God that we’ll all be ok. It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok.

Good-bye to whatever I’ve forgotten to mention.

Hello to those things I can never see or imagine.

Good-bye maternity leave. Hello career and daycare. I am so thankful for this leave, what I’ve learned, and my time with Carly. May we greet what is next with grace, endurance, love, and humor.

How I survived suicide…

I’ve tried to kill myself twice. Thankfully, I failed.

Suicide has been in the news twice in the last week. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are two talented people gone when the world wanted more time with them.

My brother posted this article. It inspired me to talk about life after suicide attempts.

Don’t kill yourself. When you die more people are sad then you will ever know. Live for yourself. Live for your children, your friends, and those silly third party people we friend on LinkedIn. Death is forever.

It took me thirty years to find happiness on this earth. I’m melancholy by nature and went through some tough stuff as a child. Trauma shapes you by forcing your body to believe things will always be bad. You have a small stressor and your cortisol levels shoot through the roof. Emotions hurt mentally and physically. A trigger sets off a large ripple. Anxiety kicks in and you think the pain will never get better. Death seems better than the pain, but trust me – it isn’t.

I’m here to let you know that I found the light. It takes work to get here but it is real. I haven’t had a depression episode in three years. I am – actually – deeply happy.

More than that, I no longer worry about depression overcoming me. I see that I am surrounded by people that love me and would do anything for me.

People. People will get you though. People are how you survive suicide attempts. There are light in the dark and Jesus in a fallen world. Rely on people. Trust in people. Tell people you need them, because they need you too. The secret of life is that we need to live for others. Culture may tell us to live for ourselves, but it’s living for our loved ones that make everything worth it.

Depression does not have to be forever. There is more beyond this short time of sadness. There is so much to live for. If I had succeeded in my attempts I’d never have known the love of my husband, or have gotten to hold my perfect daughter the moment she was born. I would have missed morning walks, mango sorbet, and Lake Michigan in summer.

Lift yourself up. Dust off the broken bits. You can do this. I did. There is so much to live for.