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.

Breastfeeding

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.

Advertisements

Resettlement

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

IMG_3759

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.

IMG_4077

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.

IMG_4806

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.

The Nanny Conundrum

To have a nanny, or not to have a nanny?  That is only one of the 2,874, 524 questions.

Part time or full time?  Live in or live out?  Burmese, Thai, or Filipina?  A nanny who strictly helps with the children or a nanny/housekeeper/cook all in one?  A nanny who is fluent in Chinese or reads and writes English?  One who can juggle like the Cat in the Hat while cooking Pad Thai and making Lego castles with your children or one that can sing lullabies like Jewel, make baby food like Jamie Oliver, and clean like Mary Poppins?  Heck, why not just all of those things.

Whether or not to employ a nanny is inevitably one of the first issues you face when you arrive in Thailand and it is not an easy one.  As a parent, I cannot imagine loving anything more than my children.  The very act of trusting someone with them that is not part of our family is difficult.  No, beyond difficult. Continue reading

A Healthy Mom is a Happy Mom

Let me just start by saying that if you are a mom in Bangkok looking to get back into shape via running, here are some critical links for you:  Go Adventure Asia and Jog and Joy.  The first site provides a list of some of the bigger and more well-known races in Thailand and the region; the second lists the more local races in Thailand.

Just last weekend I challenged myself by jogging the Vertical Marathon at the Banyan Tree.  That means climbing 61 floors (1,093 stairs) as quickly as possible.  It was awesome.

On a high after fourteen minutes of stair-climbing to the top of the Banyan Tree

Now on to my weekly blog post story:  When I was pregnant with Logan three years ago, I joined a prenatal yoga class on Capitol Hill.  My ultra-hippy yoga teacher would start each class by having everyone introduce themselves and use one word to describe how they felt.  I remember using the word “frustrated” one week and when it came to why, I explained that I just wanted to go out for a run.  Logan was born in late July in Washington, DC and as the beautiful spring and summer months came out to play, I was aching to go on a nice, long jog.  Prenatal yoga certainly helped me with delivery, and for that I am grateful, but blah blah blah blah, it was boring (my apologies to all of you yogis out there)!  Four weeks after delivering Logan, I went out for my first jog.  I was pathetically out of shape, but it felt great to be jogging again.  And as the weeks ensued, I got back into running, lifting and some tennis, started some short-distance races, and a year later I was pregnant again.

Pregnancies don’t treat me kindly, so I counted chasing my one year old around as my daily exercise while I was pregnant with my second (and those of you that have had a 1-2 year old boy know that chasing him around is exercise indeed).  I was extremely ready to get back into jogging after Kate was born in May.  I started slow and built up.  I feel about a thousand times better now that I can challenge myself physically again.  The endorphin high is an extra plus.  This fall weather in Bangkok is another bonus.  What a beautiful time of year to jog outside.  There were actually leaves falling on my jog in Lumpini today.

Bottom line, for me, a healthy mom is a happy mom.  Every day I can get a quick jog in or some lifting, I feel like I’m a better mom.  I’m less stressed, more fit, get in some valuable alone time, and build up energy for the day with my children.

Find what it is that makes you healthy – a good read, a good swim, some time with friends – and find the time to do it.  You will be a better mom for it.

Push-ups in Lumpini