Three Babies, Three Very Different Breastfeeding Experiences

To all of you moms out there who are about to try breastfeeding for the first time, remember not to be hard on yourself. It’s not easy for everyone. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It may or may not go smoothly. Just know that if it doesn’t go the way you want it to the first time, it doesn’t mean that it won’t go right the second time. Or the third or fourth time.
Family

Three babies, three unique breastfeeding experiences

Determined

Five years ago, before our son was born, I made a commitment to breastfeed him. Very few of my friends had children at the time, so I knew very little about the process. I had never actually seen someone do it. So to prepare myself (as much as one can for that sort of thing), I read dozens of books and participated in a pre-natal breastfeeding seminar where we learned about positioning and a baby’s latch using stuffed dolls and boobs. It was a little awkward to be practicing for such a thing without an actual baby yet, but I wanted to put as much information in my knowledge bank as possible. I desperately wanted the process to go smoothly. After all, a mother feeding her baby is one of the most natural things in the world, right?

Confused

Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t simple. As prepared as I thought I was, breastfeeding my first child was extremely difficult. It took days for my milk to come in. The little guy was hungry and not gaining weight. The latch was a problem from the start. I got the cracking and the intense pain that comes along with an incorrect latch. Every time I would try to feed him, he would fall asleep. When he was awake, he was constantly hungry. I would constantly feed him, but it seemed like he was never getting enough. And the cycle continued. At the first week weigh-in, the Logan was only in the 9th percentile for weight and the pediatrician told me that I needed to supplement him for him to “thrive.” I started to supplement in small amounts, but I was determined to provide Logan a majority of what he needed through breastfeeding. Two and a half weeks in, I turned to a lactation consultant. The consultant spent an hour analyzing the way I held Logan to nurse him, the way he latched on, and teaching me techniques to keep him awake while I nursed. She weighed him before and after I nursed him. When it was clear that he wasn’t getting enough, she recommended a supplemental nursing system (SNS), which is a type of necklace that allows the baby to drink both the mother’s milk as well as a supplement simultaneously. The device requires you to tape tiny tubes carrying formula (or pumped breast milk) from the necklace to your nipples — not an exact science, but it works. She also recommended I rent a hospital-grade breast pump and pump every time after I nursed him. Finally, she told me that since he was two and half weeks old, my milk supply had more or less been established and that I might never have enough milk to solely breastfeed him.

I remember all of this like it was yesterday. And I remember feeling insufficient — every day for many, many months. I was riddled by guilt that I couldn’t provide the most basic element that a mother should be able to provide for her child – food. Wasn’t my body made to do this? Why was it so hard? Why couldn’t I feed my child? What was wrong? And what’s more was the judgement I faced from other mothers. One look at the bottle of formula and they assumed that I hadn’t chosen or even tried to breastfeed my child. That I was lazy. That I didn’t want what was best for my baby. That my child wouldn’t be as well off as their child. The number of times that I was reduced to tears, mostly from the stress I put on myself, but also from the silent pressure of others, was unhealthy.

For the first four months of Logan’s life, I had such conflicting emotions — overwhelming joy from holding this perfect baby boy in my arms, mixed with the frustration and guilt of not being able to provide him with what he needed. For nine long months I breastfed and supplemented him. I pumped every time after I breastfed him. It was challenging and time consuming. It was the definition of intense. By nine months, I was exhausted and defeated, so I chose to wean him fully. And when the process was over, I had never felt such relief.

Cautious

Less than two years later, Katelyn, was born. I was even more nervous the second time than the first. Would I have enough milk? Would it come in sooner this time? Would I struggle again? Would it be easier since she was the second child and I knew what to expect? Questions abounded, but the one thing I focused on while in the hospital, was getting as much breastfeeding advice as often as possible. Nearly every time I would go to feed her, I’d call for the nurses to come in and help me do things the right way. Because we were in Thailand at the time, the nurses were amazingly helpful. I am so fortunate to have had their assistance.

I don’t remember having any pain feeding Katelyn and my milk had come in immediately — so I was feeling good about breastfeeding her. And then came her one month appointment when the pediatrician told me that she was not gaining as much weight as she should be. He said I could continue to breastfeed her for another month, but if after that she still had not averaged out, I would need supplement her. I left his office, beelined for the nursing room, and burst into tears. I thought I had done it right this time. It certainly felt right. Kate was nursing often but never seemed upset that she wasn’t getting enough. I had given my whole self to this process, literally. What more could I do?  Feelings of insufficiency haunted me. I asked myself how I could fail at this process yet again.

And then, by some godly miracle, Katelyn’s weight averaged out at the two-month mark. The pediatrician gave me the green light to continue exclusively breastfeeding her. I was elated. No, beyond elated. I’m not sure what had happened in that extra month — maybe I had figured it out, maybe she had figured it out, maybe we had both figured it out, but whatever it was, it was enough. And I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to provide her with what she needed. Nor, (vain as it is) would I have to endure the judgement of the bottle. For the first time, I was able to relax and actually enjoy the process of breastfeeding. It was no longer a love-hate relationship. I became confident and it grew easier. So easy, that I waited until 13 months to wean her. And when I weaned her, it was bittersweet.

Calm

Two years later our second daughter, Ivy, was born. I had the same breastfeeding nervousness and fears, but they were tempered by my experience and the fact that on the second try, I had eventually succeeded. I still called the nurses on nearly every occasion I fed Ivy to make sure I was getting it right from the start. A week out of the hospital, I scheduled time with a lactation consultant, to double — no, triple — check that everything was as it should be. She laughed at me (in a good way) and told me that everything was more than fine. Ivy nursed well, slept well, and rarely cried. I had no physical pain. And all of her weigh-ins were successful. I was calm. This was working. And at 11 months, it’s still working.

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Something gone right – nursing sweet Ivy

Looking Back

So what made the difference in the end? Was I just nervous the first time around? Did I wait too long to get the help I needed? Did my body just not make enough milk from the start? You know what? I don’t know. Actually I have no idea. I could spend hours speculating why all of my experiences were different, but that’s not really the important part. The important part is that they were different. Just because exclusive breastfeeding didn’t work out the first time, didn’t mean that I wasn’t able to make it work the second (with some struggle) and third times. So hang in there. Be determined. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work exactly the way you want it to. It’s not necessarily an easy thing. And with every child, it is a unique experience.

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Resettlement

So here we are.  Back home.  In “America,” as Logan calls it.

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The jet lag did them in, but otherwise they seemed to adjust quickly

For three of the five of us it’s a place we don’t know, so there is some adjusting to do. Luckily, those three are little, adaptable, and easy-going (for the most part), so the twenty-four hour travel journey, followed up by an international move, a new home, a new school, and new friends and activities didn’t phase them much. Yes, we miss Thailand (BIG time — and probably me the most), but the kids are really enjoying a change of pace and getting to reconnect with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They are also learning a thing or two about the seasons, the concept of having neighbors, the luxury of having a back yard to play in, that there are public services like water fountains provided in parks and airports (and you can actually drink the water that comes from them), what real trick-or-treating is, what a chimney is and how Santa makes his way down it, what a postman (oh, and a mailbox) looks like.  It’s the little things, really.  Every once in awhile they ask for the beach, or to swim, or for certain friends in Bangkok.  And sometimes they ask for “gai thawt” (fried chicken) with “kaow niaow” (sticky rice).  But for the most part, they seem to have adjusted well.  It’s the times I get nostalgic and show them pictures of our time in Thailand that I can tell from their reactions that they miss it, too, but perhaps not in the way that I do.

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Logan was not phased by his first day in a new school and Kateyln assumed she was going, too

I found Thailand hard to leave on a number of levels – the warmth of the people, the ease of life, the year-round warm weather that allowed beach trips every month, the food, the ability to travel elsewhere in region so easily.  And then there were the people we had to say goodbye to – our friends, school mates, teachers, work colleagues and the people who worked in our home.  Uncle Noodle and the tuk-tuk tea shop lady along our street.  After all, we did see them nearly every day for almost four years.  I started to get emotional a day or two before we departed Thailand. I had an all-out emotional melt-down taking Logan to preschool the last day and saying goodbye to his teachers and other parents.  On our way back to the U.S., we stopped off in Oahu for a few days (highly recommended, by the way), and I continued to be emotional.  In fact, I didn’t really stop being emotional for a short time after that.  Now I feel adjusted, but still nostalgic for our time in Thailand.

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Definitely not in Thailand anymore . . .

It took me awhile to clear my head, but I finally realized why it was so particularly hard for me to let go.  Leaving Thailand meant leaving behind a stage in our children’s lives – a young and innocent stage, a stage of their “firsts” (words, steps, day of school).  It meant leaving behind the place where two of our daughters were born and a place that nearly fully shaped the first four years of our son’s life.  It meant that our children were growing up.  And I was learning that I was going to have to start accepting that. And that is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with as a parent this year.  Not the tantrums, not the lack of sleep, not the constant demands of three little ones all at one time.  It’s the fact that they are growing up and things won’t be the way they are today come tomorrow.

The day-to-day of being a parent seems to go by so slowly, but the years go by quickly. So never forget to cherish today.  Live in today.  Be patient in solving their problems because tomorrow, it may be a problem that they can solve on their own.

Also, I am going to need to invest in Kleenex stock next year when Logan starts kindergarten.

Meet Ivy Grace

Yes, yes, it has been a while since I’ve posted, but this is why:

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Pure beauty.

We are so overwhelmed with joy to welcome Ivy to our family.  She is a precious gift from God.  We dote on her every chance we get!  She receives a bountiful number of kisses from big sister Kate and lots of big brotherly-help from Logan everyday.  She is patient, precious, and a fabulous sleeper.  We love this little girl!

Details:

Ivy Grace Braunohler

Born:  Bumrungrad Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand

Date:  March 19, 2014 at 1:15pm

Weight:  7 lb, 2 ounces (or 3.26 kilos)

With plenty of wavy blonde hair, she looks most like big brother Logan.  I’m excited to share her birth story soon (daddy more or less delivered her)!

In the meantime, wishing you a very Happy Songkran from hot and sunny Bangkok!

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Logan celebrating Songkran at a day of soccer camp!

So You Want to Write A Children’s Book?

Okay, so I haven’t been posting updates as often recently — but there’s a reason for that:  I’ve just finished writing a children’s picture book.

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Book time at the Braunohler house

Ever since I started reading to Logan and re-discovered the world of children’s literature, I realized what an important role books play in the lives of children.  Walter, Logan, and I all treasure a good picture book (Katelyn is a little young yet).  We read it many times over, and yet it never grows old.  And we can never have enough books.  We order new children’s books from Amazon every week.  We ask for new books for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter.  Going to the book store is one of our favorite things to do.  So in love with the world of children’s literature I have become, that I am now determined to contribute to it.  I’m not saying I’ll be the next Maurice Sendak or J.K. Rowling.  I’m not saying that I’ll write anything as beautiful as Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express, as captivating as Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, or as humorous as Mo Willems Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, but I’ve written something.  Something creative that involves a young boy who travels the world via his imagination.  And I’ll leave it at that.

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Cousins Issy and Maxi introducing Logan to The Adventures of Tin Tin, now one of his favorite series!

Do I hope to get published?  Of course.  Do I think I’ll get published?  I guess we’ll find out in 6-12 months – or even longer.  In the meantime, I’d like to write about my journey as an aspiring author every now and then.  If in the process of becoming a parent you’ve also found a passion for wanting to write your own children’s book, I hope you’ll join this journey with me.  Below are some of the things that I’ve already learned from the process of writing and submitting a manuscript — and suggestions you might want to think about if you are going in a similar direction.

1. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI).  

If you’re even thinking about voyaging into the world of writing children’s lit, this is an absolute must.  The discussion boards provide a treasure trove of information on how to go about writing your manuscript, contacting agents, forming critique groups, finding appropriate publishing houses . . . you name the subject in the world of children’s lit, and it’s been (or is being) discussed on the boards.  When I’ve posted a question, I’ve always received numerous responses — all of which are helpful.  Most of the responses come from published authors and sometimes even from editors and agents, which makes the information you receive via the boards all the more valuable.  The SCBWI offers yearly conferences where authors and illustrators can meet agents and editors, establishes local member groups for authors and illustrators to come together, critique one another’s work, and so on, keeps author and illustrators up-to-date on contests, and is a wonderful general resource and meeting place for those entering the children’s lit world.

2.  It’s not as easy as it looks.

We have our classic favorites that only the world’s most talented children’s authors could contrive, but we’ve also read some children’s books that seem so simple and effortless.  I’ve read those books and thought, “This isn’t hard.  I can do this.”  Right.  Something that is appealing to you as an adult reader of a children’s book might not also appeal to a child.  And that is the hardest part.  Getting out of the mindset of what you like to read and getting into the mindset of what a child would enjoy.  And after determining what this might be, you then have to put words on paper, write query letters, allow your manuscript to be critiqued, find appropriate publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, etc. etc.  Trust me — it’s a lot more difficult than it at first seems.

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Grandad sharing his love of aviation with Logan via children’s literature

3. Once you’ve determined your genre and developed your concept, just start writing.

I knew I wanted to write a picture book (as opposed to a middle grade novel, for example) but it took me months to develop my concept.  And by “develop my concept,” I mean just think about what story I wanted to tell children and how I would tell it.  That was the easy part.  Then I had to actually put it in writing.  Transitioning my work from my head to a written page has never been my strongest suit.  I’m not a fast writer, yet I’m a perfectionist.  This screws me in two ways.  In fact, it’s screwing me right now as I write this post.  Until I convey an idea exactly the way I want it to be conveyed (whether it be in the first sentence, second, third . . . ), I can’t move on.  This means it takes me a long time to write.  Too long, most of the time.  Instead of being like me, I would suggest (and I’ve read), it’s wiser just to get a first draft on paper — the whole thing.  Then, start revising.  If it’s awful, revise a lot.  But what matters is that your concept has been developed and written down — and you can continue to improve on it as much as you like.

4. Once you think you’ve got a good first draft, join or form a critique group.

A good critique group is worth its weight in gold.  Seriously.  The first draft of my manuscript has improved leaps and bounds since I’ve had other aspiring and published authors look at my work.  Although criticism of your writing, no matter how nicely conveyed, is difficult to swallow, trust me, this one is worth it.  How did I find a critique group?  I posted a comment through an SCBWI discussion board (there is a board specific to critique groups) and was able to find three other writers looking for critiques on their picture book manuscripts as well.  We traded manuscripts individually and responded individually via email.  It worked perfectly.  Finally, a rookie mistake I almost made:  sending it to friends and family for critiques. While I love my friends and family (and can’t wait for them to read my book), they are probably much less likely be as critical as others that you don’t know.  A not-fully-honest critique of your work won’t get you where you need to be to get published.

5. Once your manuscript is ready to go, start researching agents and/or publishing houses.

To agent or not-to-agent?  This was a big question for me.  After doing a lot of online research and talking with other published authors, I decided to give it a go without an agent.  Why?  Because I’m writing a picture book and many publishing houses — even some of the big ones — still accept unsolicited manuscripts from yet-to-be-published authors.  If I were writing a middle grade or young adult novel, I would have chosen differently. We’ll see how this works out for me in the end — but it is definitely something you need to think about before you start submitting.

Speaking of submitting, how do you know which houses to submit to?  Well, I have spent hours pouring over houses — the big five, the family-owned, the niche, independent houses — and am choosing to submit to those who: a) accept unsolicited picture book manuscripts and b) publish works similar in nature to what I’ve written.  A good place to start is the SCBWI’s Publishing Guide, which is updated online weekly for members.  From there, I checked the SCBWI’s discussion boards (in particular, the one on “Response Times”) to see which publishers I might be missing.  Once I had a tentative list, I then started checking out the houses online to make sure they were currently accepting picture book manuscripts.  If they were, I took note of their submission guidelines, editors’ names, and other picture books that they have recently published.  This is a really tedious process — but it makes much more sense (at least, in my opinion) to submit only to those houses who might have an interest in publishing what you’ve written based on what they’re looking for versus submitting blindly.  Again, we’ll see how it works out.

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At one of our favorite libraries in Bangkok: Neilson Hays

6.  Format your manuscript and write your query and/or cover letters.

After you’ve selected who you’d liked to submit to (whether it be an agent or a publishing house), make sure to write proper cover and query letters to accompany your manuscript.  Is there a difference between the two?  Yes, there is — but I’ll let you do some research on that one.  Do all houses require this?  No, they don’t, but it is always polite to submit a cover letter with your manuscript — so just suck it up, and do it.  And personalize it to the house and/or editor and/or agent.  Oh, and make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly.  Don’t be sloppy!

7.  Send that manuscript out and prepare to . . . wait.

Everything in place?  Well, then it is time to submit.  And then wait — one month, three months, six months, a year.  These response times are all normal in the publishing world, so get used to it.  And in the meantime, start working on your next manuscript!

Also, one thing that has really helped me is pinning all of the great blogs and pages I have come across during my research.  I am more than happy to share this with others, so if you want a little short-cut on all of that research, here is a link to my Pinterest “Getting Published” Board:  http://www.pinterest.com/lorenbraunohler/getting-published/.

Right now I’m in the waiting process.  I only began submitting a few days ago, so I’m not holding my breath for a response any time soon.  I figure, though, that I will keep pretty busy in the meantime with a newborn, the third mini-edition to our sweet family (nine more weeks to go)!

The Silver Lining

Have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds in your home?  I mean really stopped — not just for a minute or two, but for an hour or two?  An hour or two when you focus on nothing else but listening to what your children say, how they interact, how they play, how they fight, etc.  I know as moms and dads to young children, it is nearly impossible for us to do this.  We are always right in the middle of the action – helping our children, watching out for their safety, abating their quarrels, playing imaginary games with them.  And if we’re not, we’re usually washing dishes, cooking dinner, cleaning up toys, making up beds – you know, doing all of that other stuff that has to get done at some point or another.

At 30 weeks pregnant this week, I had a tough time after my second glucose screening test (couldn’t keep the liquid down for more than 30 minutes the first time, so had to re-test).  The second test made me so sick that I vomited twice at the hospital – once at the thought of drinking the stuff, the second time just after my blood was drawn and while I was waiting to pay at the cashier’s desk – and then seven or eight times at home that afternoon and evening.  I felt awful.  But what this forced me to do — the silver lining, if you will — was to lay in bed and listen to what went on outside my bedroom door.  My husband (I thank God everyday for that amazing man) was able to come home early and play with the kids, feed them, bathe them, and get them ready for bed.  During this time, I heard so much laughter, some singing, a lot of great solo imaginary play, some fighting (mostly from Katelyn pulling Logan’s hair), some very insightful toddler observations, and some bubble-blowing in milk at dinner time (I know it’s not good manners, but it is so much fun!).  I realized just how much joy there is in our home, and I’m so thankful for it.

So on a day when you are down and out — or just down right sick and unable to get out of bed — tune in to the sounds of your home.  The love that family members have for one another is such a special thing, and something we should never take for granted.

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Lots of joy in the house this Christmas!