Sunday, June 30, 2013

How it Feels

My children drink formula. My body refuses to make more than a few drops of breast milk at a time. It won't. It made slightly more for Thomas, but only an ounce per feeding. Whenever the doctor asks whether I "supplement" with formula, I admit that I actually supplement with breast milk. My children's primary source of nutrition is, and always will be, formula.

What does this mean for me? It means I feel a tremendous amount of sadness and guilt. Every time it comes up that my kids drink formula, I feel compelled to explain that I am unable to lactate. I explain it to friends, relatives, doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, checkout clerks, random strangers really. Whether it's psychologically healthy or not, I need people to know that I tried. And, yes, judgmental (as I would surely be too!) person who has the nerve to ask how long I "tried," I really did.

I spent two months trying to make more milk for Virginia. Two months of weekly visits to the doctor to check her weight and the lactation consultant to try something new. No bottles entered her mouth. Instead, I taped on tubes attached to what amounts to a prosthetic mammary glands and engaged in a feeding ritual that took two people, every time. By the time I fed the baby and pumped, it had been more than an hour, meaning that I had less than an hour to sleep before we did it all again.

Before Thomas was born, I read a book about stimulating milk production. And I saved up tips from others. I tried everything anyone ever told me worked, except for drinking beer. I took twenty-two pills every day, including some that tasted really awful and some that cost more per month than the baby's formula. I was extremely careful not to eat any of the foods that suppress lactation and to include in my diet as many galactagogues (foods that promote lactation) as I could. I drank Mother's Milk tea so much that I didn't even both to heat or sweeten it. I just drank it whenever I remembered to, then put on another cup to steep. Four times per day, I would put nasty drops onto my tongue and let them sit there, ordered not to drink anything for fifteen minutes after I took them. These drops made me smell like maple syrup, but they didn't get me to make more milk.

Trying to increase lactation means that you have to be very careful how you go about breastfeeding. I am quite adept at getting a perfect latch, but always have to spend a good deal of time teaching the baby how to latch well. Any feeding session necessarily involves a combination of things I do and things I get the baby to do to prime the pump, so to speak, and make sure everything is in optimal form for milk transfer. I have spent countless hours sitting on the couch in the middle of the night, counting breast compressions through 40-60 minute feedings and thinking really angry thoughts about women who hardly have to wake up but just lay it bed and feed their babies with little effort at all.

Then, of course, there are the lactation consultants. I've seen quite a number of the matronly, well-meaning "authorities," who seem to believe that if I try harder and think about milk more, I'll be successful. By the time I was in the hospital with Molly, I knew more about stimulating lactation than any of the consultants who stopped by to discourage me from using formula. I even gave one consultant some tips on where another of her patients could find pills to increase her milk supply. I've endured countless remarks from medical personnel about the shape and spacing of my breasts as well as the environment in which I grew up, each seeking an explanation for my inability to lactate. Of course there's nothing to do about it even if we do figure out why, but they do have a talent for contributing to my already secure knowledge that my breasts are inferior. After all this, the best lactation consultant of the pack looked at me one day and said, "I don't know what else to suggest for you."

At long last, with Virginia, I decided that I needed some time and energy left to be a mom. And when she was eight weeks old, I weaned her. But I felt guilty and questioned my decision for months. Thomas gave up after four months, deciding he wasn't getting enough at the breast to make it worth the effort and he wanted to cut straight to the bottle. With Molly, I brought all of my equipment to the hospital and felt very optimistic. I was taking all the teas and pills before the lactation consultant even showed up to check on me. Still, her weight dropped, and I had to start giving her formula in the hospital, with plenty of head shaking and tongue clucking by the doctors and nurses. After a two hour visit to the lactation consultant four days later, she announced that I had not transferred any measurable amount of liquid to the baby. Even knowing that I wasn't giving her anything, it still took two days and a lot of tears to resign myself to surrendering and switching exclusively to bottles. Molly still rooted around, looking for the breast, for months. And my heart ached every time.

So there, fair internet, is the story of why my children drink formula. It is not, I can assure you, because I want them to. But they do because otherwise, they would have nothing to drink. I've come to terms with it and accepted that this is the best way for me to nourish my children. Still, all of this experience is with me. It's with me every time someone complains about breast feeding, every time someone says they have low milk supply, every time the nursing shift at the hospital changes and I have to explain again that I really really do need to supplement. It's there every time someone gives me a look for pulling out formula, every time I don't go into the nursing mothers' lounge at church because I don't need it and don't belong to that club. It's there when I read well-meaning articles on how everyone can breast feed if they really want to. It's there when people ask me if I'm not also glad that I don't have to breast feed. It's there when friends talk about the gallons of extra milk they donated to the milk bank because their baby couldn't drink everything they made. It's there when women talk about how the pregnancy pounds have melted off because their baby is so hungry. It's there when my four year old asks why other babies drink from their mommies' breasts, but mine don't. It is always with me. It's mine to deal with and accept and cry about sometimes. And there's nothing I can do about it.

As a formula feeding mother, it falls to me to buy this much-disparaged substance for my children. And formula, it has to be said, is expensive. I consider it a sort of tax on my body's inferiority. I feel compelled to purchase the name brand formulas, which are even more expensive. How could I not? I've already failed at giving my kids what I consider the very best thing for them. Of course I want to give them the next best thing. So I buy formula that costs about $25 a can, which lasts less than a week.

Whenever you have a baby and the formula companies find out (I tell them, but I'm pretty sure that my doctor tells them too), they really want your business. So they send you coupons. Really good coupons. Coupons worth $5 each. And they're actually rebate checks, so you can use more than one at a time. In fact, you can combine them with store coupons. But you can only use one per can of formula, and they always expire within a few months. As a person of modest means who always has plenty of places to spend my money, I value these checks and take care to utilize them before they expire. They take a really long time for cashiers to process, and each must be processed individually, but I'm willing to wait an extra thirty seconds to save $5.

This past week, I noticed that I had twelve formula checks, all of which would expire at the end of the month. So I planned to head over to Target and stock up for a few months. The checks slow down as the baby gets older, so it's important to use them when you have them. I went on Wednesday and bought eight cans of formula with no trouble. Then yesterday, I went back to Target, and, among other things, bought four more cans of formula. Fortunately, it was a pretty slow time at the checkout stand because the cashier meticulously read over everything written on the check. She told me she wanted to be absolutely certain I was allowed to use more than one per transaction (the formula companies send them four at a time, so I'm not sure that they care). Then, she got on her little phone and called around to two different people to ask what the limit was on how many I could use at a time. Could I use all four? Eventually, a manager came over and approved the transaction. Meanwhile, someone had gotten in line behind me and eventually decided to switch to another line because it was clear I was going to be there a while. And, of course, the two children I had with me were busily pawing through the candy and toys that line the checkouts. As we were nearing the end of the transaction, the cashier decided she wanted to ID me as well. She asked to see my identification to know whether the name on the checks was my name. I dug through my wallet, which Thomas had recently rearranged for me, finally found my driver's license, and produced it. And after all that, she finally accepted my credit card for the (disheartening!) balance of what I owed and let me go on my way.

I really wanted to tell her this whole story. I wanted to tell her how hard I work for the money I use to buy the formula, and that the $20 I was saving really does mean a lot to me. More than that, though, I wanted to tell her how very very very much I did not want to be buying formula at all. But there I was, for an extra five minutes, feeling the shame of what I cannot do for my child, and feeling shamed that I was trying to save a few dollars while providing for her in the best way I possibly could. True, I don't know the other people who decided they couldn't wait for my eternal transaction. And I don't know this cashier who for some reason felt the need to put my poverty on display for a while. But I still felt disheartened and diminished by the fact that a transaction that is painful every time, and not just for my wallet, should be stretched into an inquisition.

As I collected my children and my new belongings and headed home, I thought about people who collect welfare. There are so many reasons that a person may come to need WIC or Food Stamps or subsidized housing, and I don't think any of them are pleasant. I would think those people would much rather pull out some cash than be reminded, in a rather public setting, that they can't provide food for their family and need it to come from somewhere else. Why would we make these people endure a drug test too? Why would we add another step of degradation and humiliation to what is already a rather demoralizing step? I know a lot of women who don't breast feed for a lot of reasons, ranging from medicines they have to take to the baby's anatomy not allowing it to the mother's emotional health necessitating that they stop. And I wouldn't wish the formula check inquisition on any one of them. Nor would I wish anything like it upon any person who finds themselves in need of something they'd like to provide on their own but can't. Just give the people their food and let them go home.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

In other news

 These two adore each other.

 I really can't believe how old she is! Or how much I love her when she's not asking me "why" just because she's bored.

We blessed Molly

 These people came. As did my parents, though they somehow escaped the pictures.
 Tommy got a new doll, cause he and Scout were fighting over hers all the time. She, of course, appropriated the new one and has let him have free reign with the older (nicer) doll.
 It's warm enough for the park most days, and Scout is much more adventuresome this year.
 Tommy still loves ice cream.
 And dancing and jewelry.
 Molly still sleeps, though not as much.
 She's super happy when she's awake.
 These two often wake me up in the morning, which is a good experience more than it isn't.
 He mostly likes to eat snacks at the park, though sometimes he climbs to the top of the slides and stare down them.
 She is STILL obsessed with Mary (and princesses).
 She now also loves missionaries. I think this is mostly because she secretly thinks Sister Erickson is a princess.

Once it was even warm enough to swim.

I just realized that... least two of my children are almost completely different people from who they were the last time I posted on my blog. 

He's much older....
 ...and she's much bigger.
The cuteness factor remains sky high. Some things never change.

Gone to Pieces

Five years ago, when I moved to Madison, I was lonely. I had had a hard time finding friends in Virginia since those I knew were in very different places from me and couldn't relate to my situation, a childless, married law student. In Madison I had little to do. I called my mom every single day. It was a hard time. But then, I started to meet people. And I finally found the people like me. It turns out there are a lot of them!

I found women who are educated, opinionated, intelligent, strong and so many other things that I am or hope to be. One Sunday afternoon our new acquaintances, Johnny and Sheena, invited us to their apartment where we meet the Prices, another couple who were relatively new to Madison. We all sat around and talked for hours as if we'd know each other for years. It was wonderful. When we got home I couldn't believe that we didn't separate our conversations according to gender and, in fact, it was mostly the women who talked. Jessica, Sheena and I had plenty to say about everything and husbands who weren't bothered by our pert opinions, as Jane Austen might call them.Over the next year I added many many friends who enriched my experience and made me come alive in ways I hadn't before.

But then, the hard part of being a grad student happened. My friends and their husbands started to graduate. And they moved away. All the permanent ward members told us how hard it is to make friends and see them go, but it really is really hard!

For the past few months I've felt a shift in my life as things become more and more about our little family and we increasingly spend time with just our kids and have less time for social engagements. I suppose it's a new phase of life as the number and needs of my children increase. I'm not sure I'll ever again have as many and as wonderful friends as I've had here, in part because I won't have time for them. I'm definitely enjoying so much wonderful family time. But at the same time I'm mourning the passing of my wonderful friendships.

There are so many things we love about Madison, but my favorite by far is the people I've met here. I know it will be hard for us to move when our time comes, but the truth is that some of Madison has been leaving me in small, slow pieces for several years now. 

I miss Jenn, who taught me not to fear childbirth and that my body is strong and knows what to do.
I miss Sheena, who taught me to say what I think and introduced me to the Hunger Games and Ingrid Michaelson..
I miss Brouge, who introduced me to genuine whole wheat bread.
I miss Bethany, who taught me to whine less, let things go and be strong.
I miss Tish, who taught me how to take care of a baby and the importance of shared sorrows.
I miss Becky, who gave me permission to do what's best for me and my family no matter what anyone else says.
I miss Chrystal who taught me to play real games and to make oreo truffles.

In the past ten days, two of the biggest pieces of my Madison circle of friends have left. And I tear up every time I think about it. I can't wrap my mind around them being gone. And with four more of my favorite people set to leave before the summer ends, I know the coming year is going to be long and lonely all over again. I have many wonderful friends still here, but my heart will ache for a long time over those who are not.

I know I'll someday join the slow exodus, but that only makes up a fraction of the difficulty of losing my friends. I know we'll always be friends, but the distance from here to Michigan, and Maine and New York and Delaware seems an eternity. I want so much to gather them all back here, sit them down in my living room and just enjoy being together. How much I wish I could piece back together my wonderful circle of friends and appreciate them for how wonderful they were before I realized how fleeting our time together would be.