And in a puff of smoke, suddenly six months have passed since C was born. He'll actually be seven months old in about ten days... yeesh.
These last six months have been challenging, for sure, but C is such an amazing little boy and the way I love him sometimes takes my breath away.
We've had a lot of challenges in our breastfeeding relationship, but it's become more important to me to preserve that than I had anticipated it would be. You see, in 2009 I had a breast reduction surgery, knowing full well that it may affect my ability to breastfeed any babies I have. I prepared for his birth, knowing that my body would likely not be able to make a full milk supply for him. I also suspected that I would have problems with him nursing because my nipples are flat - I worried there wouldn't be enough for him to latch onto. When he was born, sure enough, he couldn't latch properly. Our lovely nurse and IBCLC Judy, whose praises I cannot sing enough, helped us to use a nipple shield. The shield is a piece of thin, formed silicone that goes over the flat nipple in order to give the baby something to latch onto. There are holes in the tip of the silicone nipple, so milk can get into the baby. We got pretty good at using the shield, and I was satisfied.
But then we were hospitalized two times, and the second time C began refusing to nurse. He would get so worked up that he couldn't calm down enough to try to latch. Fortunately, we got one night nurse who saved our sanity and was able to help C get settled and latch. But after that, he had increasing problems with latching and nursing successfully. He'd lost weight while hospitalized, so we were under close scrutiny by our pediatrician, just as nursing became increasingly painful for me. I offered to let him nurse nearly constantly. We heard time after time, from family members and well-meaning strangers (and certain nurses who were jerks in the hospital), "My, he sure seems to nurse quite a bit! Does he ever do anything else?!" I never had the energy to explain why it took him longer, even once I did know why. I cringed and had to practice deep, concentrated breathing techniques to handle the pain stabbing through my nipples as C suckled.
We began offering him supplemental milk that I had pumped and kept frozen. T would give it to him, at first, through the Supplemental Nursing System via her own breasts. She was the first one to tell me that something was wrong with his latch. She suffered through his feedings just as I did, but with thin tubes taped to her breasts that he continually ripped off with flailing, frustrated arms. T pressed me about seeing Judy the IBCLC, she wouldn't stop telling me things I didn't want to hear. No no no no... our baby is perfect and if I just keep going, soldier through, it'll all be okay...
One day, T sat down and looked me in the eye. "You are not just going to power through this. This is not going to get better. We have to get help." My cracked and bleeding nipples that stuck to all my breast pads and bras agreed.
It struck me then that I really had believed I could power through it. I knew she was right. We made an appointment with Judy right away. I cried, trying to explain to Judy what had been going on and acknowledging that he wasn't getting enough milk; that I wasn't good enough. She gave me the space to compose myself and dry my tears before telling me that he was eating and gaining weight, just slowly, and that we were going to do everything we could to make the hard parts easier. Then she cradled C in her lap and gently began to evaluate his mouth. She believed he had a tongue tie and perhaps a lip tie. She noted that he struggled to latch, that he had difficulties getting all the working parts to coordinate in order to have an effective suckle. She suggested seeing a pediatric ENT and a chiropractor specializing in infants.
The pediatric ENT worked us in within a few days, and agreed with Judy about the tongue tie. He performed a frenotomy that day in the office - he clipped the flap of skin that was holding C's tongue too tightly to the bottom of his mouth.
Naturally, nothing's ever easy, and nursing didn't improve right away. We had to stretch open the cut in C's mouth with every feeding to prevent the flap from reattaching. We had to do tongue and mouth exercises with him so he could relearn how to latch properly.
Finally, after a couple weeks and several visits to the chiropractor, who told us he was all out of alignment, things began to settle into a more comfortable rhythm. He was gaining more weight; the pediatrician was satisfied.
Our final hurdle: the damned nipple shield. We used that for five months before we could kick it. It took some effort to get him off it, but once he realized that he got even MORE milk without it, he was ready to transition. I could have benefited from a slower transition time, because nursing for the first time without the shield HURT! My nipples had just barely healed from the improper nursing when I subjected them to nursing without the shield. Fortunately, we didn't end up with any more cracks. Since then, his weight gain has been very good and nursing has been relatively smooth sailing. I'm intensely grateful to be past those first five months of struggling to breastfeed.
You might be thinking to yourself that I'm a bit crazy to be "oversharing" all these intimate details about milk and breasts and nipples and my challenges. But I'm writing about this because as a society, we've lost the normalization of breastfeeding. As my wife so frequently bemoans, our culture has lost its generational knowledge of breastfeeding our babies. Many of us have mothers who didn't breastfeed us and are learning alongside us as we go. Issues that could be fixed with old traditional remedies or techniques now leave us stymied, in need of professional intervention.
Since C was born, two close friends of mine have experienced similar breastfeeding struggles. Both their babies had tongue ties, and one also had a lip tie. Both babies had weight gain issues. Both my friends worried and grieved and wondered what they were doing wrong.
The truth is that sometimes we just need some help. That breastfeeding, while very natural, doesn't always COME naturally. Sometimes it takes hard freaking work. That all babies don't breastfeed the same way, that some come with innate challenges.
We need to relearn breastfeeding culture, so we can all support one another. So we can offer sound advice to our daughters and our granddaughters when one day, they become mothers.
Now, I don't want anyone thinking that my life has been a shambles for the last six months. Far, far from it.
All I have to do is gaze into this baby's big sparkling brown eyes and everything else melts away. He's been a part of me, of us, forever. We didn't know he was missing because he somehow was with us all along. He is a perfect fit, this charming and bold boy. With his thatch of brown hair and a mischievous grin, he's marked his place in our family. He is just as much wonderful trouble as we anticipated he would be - unafraid when his sister was cautious, strong and forthright when his sister was gentle, more level when his sister was a baby of extremes. Both babies have been witty and clever from the start, though we had hoped C might be a better sleeper than he is. Oh well; you can't win them all.
Before he even turned six months, he was finding ways to get where he wanted to go. Scooting, army crawling, rolling, pulling himself along, wriggling. From the get-go, this boy has been so strong. Now he's full-on speed crawling and working on pulling himself up onto things. He is intensely curious and wants to be a part of everything. He is so into food! He loves mealtimes and experiencing any food he can shove into his mouth - even the chunk of bleu cheese he swiped off his grandfather's salad plate like a tiny ninja.
I am trying so hard to hold onto these precious, short, long, wonderful. frustrating, sleep-deprived days with my children but especially with C. He's growing so fast, and the days just slip through my fingers like sand in an hourglass. I know how fleeting this time will end up being, and I'm determined to just be with him in these moments when he reaches for me, and when he sings his milky song, and when he falls asleep in my arms, holding my fingers. Sometimes I feel as if I'm barely scraping by, and yet sometimes I wish desperately that he would stay small just a little while longer.
It's the best part of my life - watching my children grow and change and learning who they are. I am in disbelief that my baby is already halfway to turning a whole year old.
Happy half-Birthday, you sweet and wonderful child.