I brought my baby home from the hospital when he was five days old.

Even though it was only ten months ago, I can’t quite remember what day of the week it was.  In my heart, it was a Monday.

Mondays are for new beginnings.  Mondays are for starting over.  Mondays are for reinvention, and renewal.  Mondays are about redemption.

We took a family photo as we walked through the front door that day.  The newly minted big brother, the proud but exhausted Daddy, and me.  Me, with a relieved half-smile.  Me, with a still bulging belly.  Me, with one hand on my sweet, almost four year old, and one hand gripping the car seat that Ben was tucked into.  This wasn’t our first dance.  No one survives the first four years of parenting without figuring out a few tricks.  But it was a Monday.  And there were too many new beginnings whistling their cat-call from just beyond the front door.  I had known all along that I would need to outrun them, but I thought I’d be better rested this time.  From where I was standing, on the warm bricks of my front porch, I could see the shadow of postpartum depression hiding behind the nursery door.  I knew that just down the hall, breastfeeding was waiting for me, ready to prove that I wasn’t strong enough, or good enough, or healthy enough to succeed this time.

Until you arrived.

I’ll never know what Sean said to you when he let you in that day, but you knew where to find me.  Nestled into the depths of our old brown rocking chair.  Nursing pillow, spit rag, wet ponytail, maternity yoga pants, nursing tank top.  I was a hot mess.  I was holding a mewing Ben.  My fresh-faced, soft-cheeked, days old newborn was swaddled tight in a crisp receiving blanket.  As you walked in, his tiny lips found my breast and latched.  Then unlatched.  Then half-latched.  Then missed my breast all together.  

You moved towards me as my tears spilled over and my eyes grew wide.  You whispered that I was doing a great job.  You rearranged my pillows, brought my water cup to my lips, gently pushed my shoulders back and brought a stool over for my feet.  You smiled.  You smiled and hugged me.  When I thought that I was failing, you told me that I was incredible.

You taught me how to breastfeed.

I’ll tell you a secret.  Dozens of months ago, Sean and I were wide awake at midnight, talking about having another baby.  Or rather, I was talking about having another baby, and Sean was talking about what a bad idea it was.  We barely survived the first year with Max.  And when we finally came up for air, we knew that our curious, active, kind, funny little boy was the greatest child that had ever been born.  How would we ever love another baby as much as we loved Max?  How would we ever make it through another first year?  Would we fight?  Would it eat away at the foundation that we were just now starting to rebuild?  What if I couldn’t breastfeed again, and the weight of that sent me back into a spiral of depression? We whispered together that night.  We made promises to each other.  We allowed ourselves to dream.  And we said yes.  But only if we accepted help.  So as Sean slept, I Googled.  I researched.  I emailed.  I remembered a conversation that we had on the porch of an East Coast summer home with a dear friend.  And I decided we would find a doula.  A full year before Ben was even a poppyseed growing in my belly, I knew that I would need you.

What I didn’t know, as I lay awake that night, lying under a blanket of hope and fear, was how much I would love you.

When I found you, I knew.  I knew that I didn’t have to be a crunchy, natural birth mama for you to support me.  You helped me put my birth plan into words.  You told me about the power that I had in my body.  You reassured me that I could do it, that I had the right to try, and that you wouldn’t leave my side.  I wanted a VBAC, and you helped me advocate for one until I absolutely had to have a c-section.  I knew that I didn’t have to be strong, or know all of the answers.  You met me in the recovery room, and eased right in to the role of making introductions between Ben and I, even though his entrance didn’t happen as I had planned.  You put him on my chest.  You put him to my breast.  You sat behind me, and gave me the birth experience that I thought was out of reach.

And you kept coming back.  Even though you didn’t have to.  Even when the avalanche of breastfeeding catastrophes hit.  Even as you had new clients who needed you.  You came back.  You came back to Ben’s nursery.  You found me in the old worn rocking chair.  You changed diapers so I could feel what it was like to sit without a baby in my arms for 3 minutes.  You brought tickles for Max and magic healing potions for me.  You reheated plates of my mom’s casserole and brought a fork to my lips, because you knew that I hadn’t been eating.  You helped me to brave first baths and dried up belly button stubs and midnight hormonal fevers.  You brought articles about tongue tie and thrush and plugged ducts, and you sat next to me on the floor as we read them together.  Our knees touched as we talked about depression.  You asked me the questions that everyone else was afraid to.  You made it ok.  You rescued me from all of my self-doubt.  You made me feel like I mattered.  Like I was visible, even though I hadn’t slept or showered or had a meal that lasted longer than 3 uninterrupted minutes.  You helped me to find my way back.

I needed a village, and you created one.  I needed a guide, and you became one.  I needed to know that I could do it, that I was capable, and courageous, and you promised me that I was.  That day in the rocking chair?  That was my breaking point.  I was sure that I was failing.  I was sure that I didn’t have any milk to give my baby.  That my body would fail me, and that I would sink back into the chair and get swallowed by the shadows of my past.  Not good enough.  Not strong enough.  Not healthy enough.  And then you arrived.  And my breaking point became my turning point.

Jessica, Melissa, and Cindy, you gave me back to my little boys.  You gave them their Mom back.  You helped me to be a healthy, happy, capable partner to a husband who was terrified that we would start to drown again.  You created a calm, healing, hopeful space where Sean could exhale, and tell me that bringing Ben into our lives was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.  You sat with me on a Monday, and you helped me to find redemption.  You honored my desire for a second chance.  You knew how badly I needed to begin again, and how steep my learning curve would be.  You were by my side as I fell madly, deeply, head over heels in love with the beautiful little boy who completed our family.  You supported me as my first sweet son curled up behind me in the rocking chair.  You told me that we would all start healing together.  Here we are, ten months and many Mondays in to this journey, and I still think of you when I am nursing Ben to sleep at night.  You helped me to heal.  Not just from a bad latch, but from the pain of my self-doubt.  You weren’t just our doulas, you made doula a verb.  Love is an action word.  The sharing of strength is an action.  Teaching is an action.  Holding someone up, weaving a family together, answering the phone in the middle of the night to be awakened by the symphony of fear and excitement that accompanies a rush of contractions….your love, your commitment, your kindness, your wisdom…those are actions, that I am eternally grateful for.

You have shaped my motherhood.  Happy World Doula Week, my sweet doula friends.  My boys and I love you, we honor you, and we appreciate you.

Thank you for being my Monday. 

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baby_airline

 Super amazing comic by my friend Eliza Kinkz

I wasn’t going to get involved in the debate about nursing on airplanes.

I don’t even fly Delta.

My baby is 9 months old now, and it’s pretty rare that I can convince him to nurse under a cover.

I’ve flown other airlines and breastfed Ben discreetly in my seat.  I pull my blouse up and my tank top down, and my baby eats.  Because he gets hungry.  Just like you and I do.

So when the brouhaha started over Delta’s response to a nursing mother on Twitter, I was a little surprised.  Not because they told her that she had to cover her breasts and her baby as she fed, but because she even asked in the first place.  Do you ask if you can bring a ham sandwich on board to eat while you’re flying somewhere over the Rocky Mountains?  Never.  Do you call ahead to make sure that you can sip your Starbucks latte while you’re headed to Vegas?  Nope.  So why would someone tweet an airline to ask if they had permission to feed their baby while flying?  Especially when nursing in public is protected by law?

She must be looking for attention.

So I stopped paying attention to the whole story.

Until someone tagged me in a chain of tweets, along with the other cofounders of the I Support You campaign.

Shit.  So much for staying out of the fray.

I figured that I should read some of the tweets and articles before giving my two cents.  And perhaps I was a little flattered that anyone even wanted my two cents anyway.  So I read.  And researched.  I paid close attention to what other nursing mothers were saying.  And suddenly I realized exactly why someone had mentioned me in those tweets.

I have said very publicly that I support you, no matter how you choose to feed.  I have said that I will not be ashamed when I nurse in public, and that you shouldn’t feel ashamed either.  And when I stopped to think about how emotionally loaded breastfeeding can be, how scary and foreign it can feel at first, and how sometimes it seems like the eyes of the world are watching you…..I realized exactly why someone would tweet at an airline to ask them if it was ok to nurse on board.  It’s the same reason why I still toss a “Sorry, do you mind if I feed him real quick?” out into the air when I’m on a playdate.  It’s the reason why I cover in certain situations.  It’s the reason why my cheeks get red when a dad walks in to the “nursing mothers room” to change his child’s diaper.  Nursing in public isn’t accepted yet.  It isn’t commonplace to see a mother feeding her child without a cover.  People still throw phrases like “whip it out” and “needs attention” and “feeding your baby from your genitals” at women who use their breasts for what nature intended them for.  No wonder she asked.  She was afraid.

I made a promise to Ben 9 months ago, on the day that I first held him in my arms and tried to feed him.  I was so scared.  I had no idea what I was doing, and our amazing Doula sat behind me and helped me to latch Ben’s tiny lips to my breast.  I was terrified that I wouldn’t make milk.  I was sure that I was doing it all wrong, that my body was broken, and that I would never be enough for the tiny boy whose little hands were curled into my chest.  In the first few weeks, I cried every time he latched on.  I was terrible at breastfeeding, but we kept going.  And with a lot of help, we learned together how to do it.  I made a promise to my sweet son on that first day, that I would not be afraid.  That whatever happened, I would try my best, and I would feed him with love.  I understand so well what it feels like to be afraid.  I am still afraid, on many days.  I’m afraid that my milk supply will dry up.  I’m afraid that Ben won’t gain enough weight.  I’m afraid that someone will ask me when I plan on stopping.  I’m afraid that I’ll offend someone when I unbutton my blouse.  Even though we are nine months in to a relationship that has been more amazing then I ever imagined it could be, I am constantly afraid that I will do something to screw it all up.  I’ve lost this chance before.

But I’ve learned that my fear doesn’t matter.  Ben matters.  My tiny boy, who has grown into a laughing, standing, crawling, healthy 9 month old, is thriving.  He is thriving because I wasn’t afraid.  And if we are going to create a place where all of us can feed our babies without fear, then we need to stand together and say out loud that we are stronger than the voices that try to cover us in shame.  Feeding our babies, comfortably, is more important than feeling embarrassed.  Nourishing our little ones is our job, our beautiful responsibility, and we don’t owe anyone an apology for that.  Our babies are worth it.  Our self-esteem is worth it.  And the mom who is holding her tiny newborn to her breast for the very first time tonight, is worth it.  To that mama, and to the mama who tweeted at Delta airlines, and to the mamas who are nursing their babies in public whenever their little one is hungry, I say “Well done, Mama.”  Let’s be fearless together.

7

Photo courtesy of Richelle Wetzel at LissyMack Photography

VDayBoys

There’s a game that we play, my boys and I, when the sun goes down and we’re getting a little stir-crazy.  Max balances an overturned stacking block on his hand, or on his head, or at the edge of the couch, and I try to throw a ball in.  At nearly five years old, he is mostly amused when I miss.  And of course the baby just thinks that everything is funny.  We laugh together when I narrowly miss hitting Daddy’s favorite painting.  Max pretends to fall over when the ball hits his belly by mistake.  I talk endlessly about how I really should improve my aim.

Tonight, Max started counting to see how many balls I could get in the box before he got to ten.  It wasn’t many.  He giggled when my time was up, and then suddenly he yelled out.

“LOSER!!!  Loooooo-ser!!  You’re a loser Mommy!”

He saw the shock register on my face.  He could feel the fun of the game being sucked out of the room like helium from a birthday balloon.  And I couldn’t stop the words as they came tumbling out of my mouth.  ”Who says Loser?” I asked.  ”Does someone at school use that word?”  Max looked at me, and then at the ground, and quietly mumbled “Nobody”.

“Honey, that word isn’t kind.” I said, as he tried to walk away.  ”It’s ok if you don’t always win, but it’s not ok to make people feel bad when they’re trying hard.”   “I know” he said, and he took off in search of the next game.

I sat there with Baby Ben, and watched Max dart away.  I’m not naive enough to think that preschool name-calling is anything new, but I was caught off guard by how mean-spirited the words can feel.  Over the last few weeks we’ve been surprised when our fairly positive four year old has come home with words like “dumb” and “stupid”.  My fragile mama heart wants to believe that Max isn’t parroting words that have been used against him, but I worry that could be true.  Of course there are worse things that Max could have said.  And he has.  We won’t even talk about how he managed to drop the F bomb a few weeks ago, and that one was totally our fault.  But this felt different.  We’ve heard a few stories recently about how the kids at school are testing out how it feels to have the big, bold feelings that four and five year olds do.  Pre-K is a weird form of pre-pre-puberty that suddenly transforms chubby, cuddly, toddler bodies into gangly, awkward, strong bodies that push you away while grabbing on tightly to your leg at the same time.  Pre-K is where our kids learn to need each other, to lead each other, and to experiment with how best to hurt each other.  I wasn’t prepared to be answering such serious questions about hurt feelings, being left out, and the politics of play.  Not yet.  Not now.  Not when they are still so fresh-faced and hopeful, so eager to be friends and thrilled to be accepting of everyone.

Last week Max walked in to the kitchen and announced “Lily says I’m not invited to her birthday.”  ”Ummmm…..it’s not Lily’s birthday any time soon.  You’re good friends, so I’m thinking that she will invite you”, I offered.  ”Well she did eenie-meenie miney mo and said I couldn’t come” Max replied.  Ah-hah.  The infamous eenie meenie miney mo.  I pulled Max in close for a bear hug and we talked about how sometimes friends say things that can hurt your feelings.  We talked about what teasing is, and what it feels like to be left out.  And I tried to reinforce the positive friendships that he has in his class.  Every day, we walk through a different version of the same conversation.  Be kind.  Use your words.  Tell a teacher if someone is hurting your feelings.  It’s normal, it’s healthy, and quite frankly, it’s to be expected.  So why was it making me so angry?  All kids experiment with what it feels like to hurt someone with their words.  It’s a healthy part of growing up, and even my very special snowflake will be on the receiving end of another child’s learning experience at some point.  In fact, he will probably be the one using those words on a not so distant day in the future. (And when that happens, please god don’t let it be the F word.  But if it is, call my husband.)  Max has excellent, brilliant, empathetic teachers, and I know that they’re actively addressing the growing pains that they’re seeing with their students.  But still, a parent can’t help but worry about where those words land when they’re hurtled at each other on the playground.  Do they take root in the self-esteem of the quieter children?  Do the seeds of anger and sadness begin to grow now, at four years old?

It’s normal for kids to experiment with using their words to hurt each other.  Birthday party invite lists always seem to leave someone off.  Max will overhear much stronger words being used on the playground some day.  But I’m not ready yet.  I’m not ready for this next step.  I’m not ready to send him out into the brave new world of Kindergarten and ask him to protect his heart from the pain that the world can cause.

Max believes that he can ride rocket ships.  He plays garbage man, and robot inventor, and requests that we refer to him as SuperHero Max.  The world that he tries to save with his “Spidey-strength” is a crappy one, let’s be honest.  It’s dangerous, and unpredictable, and not always easy to navigate.  As adults, we weave our way through the labyrinth of social politics every day.  Who can we trust?  Who do we lean on?  Who will we feel safe around?

We model friendships for our children.  When we leave out a new mom at our child’s school because we haven’t taken the time to know her yet, we are modeling how to exclude someone.  When we whisper on the playground about the bratty kid that no one likes, we are modeling how to shame someone else when we don’t know the whole story about why they feel so angry.  When we comment on someone’s blog that “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”, we’re showing our kids that it’s ok to be critical for no reason (though I have to admit, reading that on one of my essays made me laugh).  We are so far past common decency in our grown-up lives, that it’s no wonder our children are coming home with an arsenal of unkind words.  We Yelp our frustrations with service providers and restaurants, we lay on the horn because we’re too busy to wait for someone, we “hate-read” blogs and “hate-watch” reality TV, because it gives us something to complain about.  It takes a lot of energy to be that disagreeable.  Energy that could be used to teach our children what kindness and compassion look like.  We’ve barreled past the point of being able to police ourselves, apparently.  Websites like The Huffington Post have instituted new comment moderation strategies, where readers are no longer allowed to comment anonymously.  People allow themselves to say things that they would never put their name to, when they are able to wear the mask of anonymity online.  It trickles down to our kids.  Our little people feel it.  They are watching us.  They are watching us be cruel to each other.  They are watching us speak poorly of our friends, and of ourselves.  They are translating our anger into words like “stupid” and “loser”, and they are lashing out at the people who are closest to them, because they are trying to figure out how this world works.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  And then what do we do?  How do we explain that to our kids, so that they grow up to be the problem-solvers and the peace-makers?

When I tucked Max in bed tonight, I took an extra few minutes to smooth his hair down across his forehead where it was still wet from his shower.  He looked so small under his dump truck blanket, and his sleepy voice suddenly filled the air.  ”Mommy, will you snuggle with me?” he asked.  I climbed in bed with him, and he tucked his hand flat underneath my leg.  ”I’m putting my hand here so that I can feel that you’re there.” he whispered.  ”I need to know that you’re still next to me.”

I am here.  ”I’m always here. ” I whispered back.  ”You carry Mommy and Daddy and Ben in your heart every day.  You are my best friend, and my kind boy, and I love you.”  I watched as his breath grew even, and the soft puffs of air escaped his pouted lips.  I want him to know a world where no one feels like a “loser”.  Where “dumb” and “stupid” don’t define children who learn differently, and our friends grow up to appreciate that there is something special in our challenges.  Something useful.  Something that we all need.  I will teach him to be kind, and encourage him to see past words that hurt.  I will arm him with strength, and resilience, and try to protect him from internalizing the pain of the world.  And perhaps I will work on my aim.

BoysHandBack

 

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