Once Bitten…

Content note: breastfeeding

After my experience trying (and failing) to breastfeed E, I was determined that if I was able to have another baby, I was going to breastfeed.  I tried to set myself up for success when I found out I was expecting M, reading books and purchasing a new, high quality double electric pump (I wore out the motor on the one I used with E).  When M was born, I worked on getting milk supply established, making sure she had a good latch and was feeding well.  I was fortunate my body responded this time, and we were happy.

For the last seven and a half months, everything went well.  M loved breastfeeding.  I had a huge supply.  I froze lots, and ultimately wound up donating to the local milk bank when I overflowed the freezer.  I followed all the new guidelines that stipulated exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months.  I loved breastfeeding and figured we were set.

(You can tell where this is going.)

Then, about two months ago, the first little crack in that rosy picture appeared when, out of nowhere, in the middle of a happy nursing session, my adorable baby smiled up at me…and promptly bit down.  Hard.

M didn’t have any teeth at the time, so while I was startled and it hurt, I just let out a little “ow!” and stared down at her.  She, seemingly oblivious, resumed nursing.  I figured it was a one-off and didn’t think much of it.

Until it happened again.  And again.  And again.  Thanks to no teeth, it didn’t bother me all that much, and eventually M quit, right around the time she got her first tooth.

Then, in late October, M started biting again.  The situation escalated over about a week, culminating with Halloween, where she bit me seven times, including once that drew blood.  I did some research, concluded that I needed to keep a closer eye on her when nursing and watched her latch like a hawk.  She bit me one more time on November 1, then we reached a détente.  M nursed.  I watched.  It was no longer quite the carefree, cuddly experience from before.

The peace held until Tuesday.  M bit me once in the morning.  I unlatched her, set her down, and told her “no” soberly.  The next nursing session went fine.  I went to latch her on for the afternoon session, and M bit.  This time, she drew blood.  I yelped, took her off, waited twenty minutes until I could see her giving hunger cues, then I gingerly started to put her onto the other breast.

Within seconds, I was bleeding again.

Because I am nothing if not persistent, I waited until I saw hunger cues again, about fifteen minutes later, and tried again on the first breast.  Before I knew it, she clamped down, leaving behind a pair of bloody toothmarks.

I called the lactation consultant, who advised that I pump and let myself heal.

I went to nurse M again on Thursday morning, and found myself terrified.  I could not bring myself to put my breast in that mouth, which turned out to be a correct instinct as she bit her bottle over and over.  I went and saw the lactation consultant.  We figured out a few things, but the upshot is, as of today, M screams whenever she sees my breast.  She’s on a nursing strike.

It’s like a lock has sprung open on all those crappy feelings from infertility and prematurity and my inability to breastfeed with E.  A representative sampling: This is why you’re infertile.  You’re a bad mother.  You caused this to happen, you reacted wrong.  You aren’t trying hard enough, anyone can breastfeed.  You gave up too soon with E, you know that you could have gotten her latched eventually.  If you can’t breastfeed M until she’s one, you’ve failed and she’s going to have tons of health problems.

I know these are ridiculous, and also?  Totally untrue.  I also know something else from all the past struggles: I can set myself up for success and do the work, but sometimes, the end result is out of my hands.  The problem is, it’s hard to keep reminding myself of those facts.

I have given M eight months of breastfeeding.  I found ways to bond with E that had nothing to do with nursing.  We are all going to be okay, regardless of the outcome, regardless of if I manage to get her back on the breast, or pump and feed for the next four months, or wind up formula feeding.  In the end, fed is best.

But right now?  The whole thing bites.   

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Sometimes, You Can’t Run After Them

Content note: parenting, miscarriage

My older daughter loves books.  Upstairs, downstairs, board books and picture books abound.  I periodically go through and put them back in some semblance of order, only to have them joyfully pulled off the shelf a few minutes later for reading.  There are classics and newer titles and everything in between.

There is one board book, however, that doesn’t belong to the girls, that never is pulled from the shelf, that I have never read to either daughter.

I bought it nearly four years ago, one burst of optimism in a lot of nagging fear and doubt.  I never could get into buying baby clothes – that felt wholly overwhelming to me for something so tentative – but I did purchase a tiny set of board books.  The other two I threw away after it happened, I was so sad and so angry, but one I slipped into the box that held a positive pregnancy test, ultrasound photos, the embryo photo, some cards, and a few sprigs from the bouquets I received.

I don’t feel pregnant, I told my doctor at the time.  I’d never been pregnant before, but I knew, knew somewhere deep inside that something wasn’t quite right.  I found out that I’d miscarried the first one on a December morning when the ultrasound screen showed the pooling blackness of a gestational sac with something inside but no flickering sign of life.  The second one though.  The second one had a perfect heartbeat.

I hoped that the feeling of this is not right had been the first one passing, but I still didn’t feel good.  Or rather, I felt too good.  Not a wisp of nausea (but my mother had never really suffered from morning sickness and these things are often hereditary).  No breast tenderness (not everyone gets that).  No reaction to strong scents (well, it doesn’t usually set in right away).  Not overly tired (no more than usual).

But everyone told me that if you saw a heartbeat, your chance of miscarriage was drastically reduced.  I bought the books.  The Runaway Bunny seemed particularly apt.  If you run away, I will run after you, the mother bunny promises her little bunny.  I had run after this child, first with all the poking and prodding, then medications, and finally the IVF.  Right then, it seemed perhaps I had finally caught this baby.

Even then, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling.

I wasn’t surprised the day the ultrasound revealed the absolute stillness in my womb.  Devastated, but not surprised.  The babies were gone, but I could not run after them.  I could not turn into a fisherman or a mountain climber or anything else like in the story to bring either of them home where they belonged with me.

I let go in the end.  I had to.  Unlike the fictional mother bunny, I didn’t get that choice.

I tucked the book into the box a few days later.  A small gift, a book I wanted so badly to be true.

I could not bring them home.  The only thing I could do was send my love.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. 

How Do You Say ‘Thank You’ to Someone You Never Met?

When I’d go for my daily run as I was going through infertility, I had one song on my i-pod that I generally slotted toward the end of my playlist.

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground

I always knew I couldn’t control the outcomes of my cycles or whether or not we ultimately had a baby.  I couldn’t control the suckitude of cancelled cycles, BFNs, or the losses.  Most days, it felt like nothing was in my control.

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
I’ll stand my ground

I never heard the song as a “don’t give up on treatment” but rather, not to give up on life when some days, it was hard to get up in the mornings.  The song always rallied me to remember that someday, somewhere, we would make it through.  There was a good life after infertility, whether or not we ultimately had children.

And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

I listened to that song through so many bad moments – diagnoses, miscarriages, cycles, job losses, hospitalization, NICU, my brother’s death, post-NICU – and it always gave me just that little bit of strength I so often needed to say “I am struggling.  But I will find a way through.  Maybe not the way I envisioned or hoped.  Maybe a different way.  But a way”.  Still does, honestly.

As I was browsing news sites the other day, I heard that one of the song’s writers and singer – Tom Petty – had died.  I’m sad and sorry he’s gone.  But what do you say about someone you never met or actually knew?

I guess, just this:

Thank you for the song, Tom Petty.  Thank you.

Lyrics to “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne. 

Bittersweet

When E was about six months old, I organized and decorated her room.  It was, literally, the only room in the house at that time I’d managed to do anything in remotely resembling organization.  The whole project had gotten kicked off with me wailing at Arthur one day about how I “hadn’t even gotten to put together the nursery” before I’d gone into the hospital and then had been too busy in NICU to even try to deal with it.  From there, we’d had oxygen equipment for months (even after E had stopped needing oxygen, our doctors had us keep the equipment a bit longer just in case) and needed a place to put the apnea monitor.  All this meant that the room was beautifully arranged to fit the monitor and oxygen equipment, but not really optimally for living without them.  We’d recently gotten rid of both the oxygen compressor and the apnea monitor, but the room was, like the rest of the house, a mess.

To placate me, Arthur told me that I should let the rest of the house go for the time being and see if I could work up a way to make E’s room nice.  He’d help with as much as he could and also with the lifting/arranging of furniture.  We decided to make a little bit of room in our budget to get a few things to decorate the room as well.

One day, I found a neat collage frame at a store.  It held six photos, organized around a central photo.  It was a little more expensive than we wanted, but I couldn’t resist.  I bought it and eventually put a photo of E in the center with a picture of us, one of my parents, one of Arthur’s family, one of the twin cousins once they were born, and one of my brother and his girlfriend in the outside frames.  It’s one of my favorite parts of E’s room.

As E has learned to talk and recognize people, Arthur started explaining who the people were in the frames when he was getting E dressed in the mornings.  Or so I found out when E startled me one morning by pointing up at the picture of my brother and announcing, “Unca E-!”

It wasn’t that I minded at all, in fact, it was lovely and I am really glad that Arthur is teaching E who the people in the frames are to her.  It was more that I wasn’t expecting it and it took me off guard for a moment.  I treasured the moment and didn’t think about it again for awhile.

A few weeks ago, I got some photos from my mother that I asked her for and downloaded from her phone, a whole mishmash starting at the beginning of E’s life.  As I was going through them, I found one that made me stop and stare, one I hadn’t been entirely certain existed.  E was born about seven months before my brother died.  He saw her once in NICU and then once in September of 2015.  Only during that September visit did he get to hold her.  At the time, it didn’t seem extremely noteworthy.  I didn’t know if anyone had snapped a photo.

There it was, though.  E hurried over, took one look at the photo and went “Unca E-“.  She made me go back to the photo several times as I scrolled through the folder, even trying to use the touchscreen on my laptop to go back to look at it anytime I’d try to move forward.

It was beautiful and so, so d*mn sad at the same time.

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Returning Home

Big time spoilers for The Lord of the Rings – especially the ending – ahead.  

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  There aren’t too many things in my life that have stayed constant since age 14, but these books continue to inspire, motivate, and comfort me.  As I’ve grown, aged, and lived, the meanings have changed, the understandings deepened, but every time I pick them up, I find something new.  When I first read the books, I was thrilled by the exciting adventure, the battles, and, oh yeah, Aragorn.  These days, it’s a different part that I keep turning to read.

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings now is the ending.  The movie version leaves out part of the original ending, and I understand that choice at some level.  The original ending is messy, hard, and complicated in a way that’s difficult to translate to the screen.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book ending, it looks initially like a very traditional storybook ending wrap-up.  Then the movie and book part ways: there is evil waiting in the Shire for the returning hobbits.  They have to fight yet another battle to get the Shire back – their home is ugly and changed by that evil.  The book and the movie return to sync when Frodo departs Middle Earth.

When I initially read The Return of the King, the scouring of the Shire irritated me a bit.  It seemed…unnecessary.  The major task was fulfilled, the ring destroyed, the epic showdown at the gates of Mordor fought, and the hobbits returned home triumphantly.  Then Tolkien throws in this seemingly discordant sadness and destruction.  It’s no wonder Peter Jackson left it out of the movie.  It feels unfair that after everything the hobbits have done and the horror they’ve been through they don’t come home to a hero’s welcome, that there’s still more to do.  This isn’t a Harry Potter ending.

Now, though, I get it.  Tolkien has captured the reality of life after being touched by struggle and tragedy, in whatever form that comes to particular people.  You don’t walk through Mordor and remain untouched.  Even once the main event is over and evil seemingly vanquished or at least survived, it’s coming home to find more work to do and reminder after reminder sitting in your front yard.

We walked through Mordor the days my daughter nearly died.  We walked through Mordor when my brother so inexplicably left us.  The days when nothing made sense.

I hoped when we finally came back, naively, it would still be mostly the same.  I knew better.  But I hoped.

Instead, it’s been the weariness of battling back what those journeys took from us.

It’s no longer the epic battles of life and death.  It’s the bitterness at the bottom of the glass, the sh*ttier stuff, but battles that are no less for their smallness.  It’s fighting those unwelcome triggers and reclaiming home.

It’s knowing when to lay down the swords and begin the peaceful work of planting and bringing green life back to damaged land.  It’s showing mercy.  In some ways, this is almost harder.  It requires vulnerability, patience, honesty, kindness, and diligence.  Qualities that some days are tough to muster.

Tolkien doesn’t give Frodo a beautiful happy ending in his beloved Shire.  The wounds simply go too deep.  I take a lot of heart, though, from Sam’s ending.  Sam, who also bore the Ring, touched evil, who also walked through Mordor.  Sam, who “planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each.  He went up and down the Shire in this labour…”  Sam, who receives these words at the last, painful farewell: “Do not be too sad, Sam.  You cannot be always torn in two.  You will have to be one and whole, for many years.  You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.”

That is an ending – or perhaps another beginning – worth all of the work.

Reorganizing

I knew when we started the home organization project that it was going to involve a lot of cleaning out.  I started with my closet and clothing.  I was ready to clean out my clothing, tired of having it spill out across the floor, tired of holding on to aspirational pieces, tired of not being able to find the items I actually wear.  The low hanging fruit as it were, and when I got done I felt an immense sense of relief and accomplishment.

Then our organizer came.

Holy h*ll.  I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that we had been overdue for a clean-out about three or so years before we moved – right about the start of the whole infertility nightmare.  I didn’t want to buy any new furniture because who knew what we’d need if we managed to have a baby or not?  I didn’t want to throw anything away because I couldn’t deal with sorting through boxes or letting go when I was already struggling with treatments, loss, and so much of life seemed up in the air.

Well, the organizer waded right in.  It’s precisely what we needed her to do, because there was no way I could have managed it on my own.  She gave me permission (essentially) to let go of things that I had some sort of warped, misplaced attachment to but really no longer wanted.  She helped keep me on task.  It was definitely an exercise in asking myself over and over again “why?”  Why did I want this or that item?  Why did I feel guilty letting something go?  Why had I acquired it or kept it in the first place?  It was far more difficult than I’d thought it would be and took longer than I wanted.

Our house is now clean and full of things I actually enjoy, things I actually want there.  The clutter, the items I kept storing out of guilt, out of sadness, out of a misplaced sense of ‘value’ are gone.  I can walk around the house without tripping over things.  I can get out the decorating items that only seemed to add to the mess before.  We bought a few new furniture items that fit our lives and are exactly what I eventually want to add to when we buy a house.  I find that the strict “one in, one out” system we’ve adopted helps me buy less on impulse.

I recently read The Next Happy by Tracey Cleantis about letting go of dreams and the notion that “if you try hard enough, you can do anything”.  It’s an apropos book as I’ve let go of various items in the physical world, found freedom in that letting go, and have realized that it’s time to perhaps start the process on some of the things in my head.  I’m a packrat by nature both with physical objects and emotionally, so I knew this was a bit of a step.

When Arthur and I got married, we always talked about having three children.  I planned a huge chunk of my life around that idea, from schooling to the jobs I’ve taken.  Even the fact that we started trying when I was 29, a bit before I was truly ready was done in service of that dream.  I figured I’d get pregnant within six to eight months, have the baby, wait a year, get pregnant again when the first child was about 18 months, and then if we wanted that third child, I could fit in that last pregnancy all by the time I turned 35 or 36. We’d buy a house somewhere in there and then I’d get my master’s degree.

Infertility, high risk pregnancy, and premature birth shattered what our dream family life looked like in my head.  The house?  The down payment was spent on IVF.  The master’s degree?  Probably much later than I’d hoped if at all, and the money for it also spent on IVF.  Three children?  Only if something truly unprecedented (and largely out of my control) happens.  I can’t do anything more beyond a few natural cycles (unlikely to work) and FET of whatever we have left once the two embryos thaw to make that dream come true.  We are out of emotional strength and money to do so.

When my brother died, I wondered why that situation – seemingly so different and separate from infertility – often tended to trigger strong memories of the difficult losses of the infertility and high risk pregnancy and vice versa.  I figured initially that it was because trauma is trauma, perhaps thinking of one made me think of the other.  Recently, I realized that they’re both linked in one very critical area.

I always thought I had an amazing family growing up.  I really do both love and like my parents.  I don’t call them out of a sense of obligation or family, I genuinely enjoy them.  This isn’t to say there weren’t issues or we were the Waltons or anything like that, but I always felt that my parents, my brother and I made a pretty good bunch, especially in the last few years.

That’s a really sh*tty part about suicide as opposed to a different tragic death – it colors and permeates everything for me.  It taints so many of those memories, leaving me wondering: were we really that happy?  Were we okay?  Were the seeds of this tragedy sown somewhere in all of that?  Where? Basically, it completely dynamites everything I believed about my family of origin and leaves me reexamining all the pieces through a completely different lens.

I’ve lost both the dream of the family I planned to create with my husband and the family I grew up in.  No wonder the two things twine together so often.

I’m slowly starting to work on letting go of what I firmly believed my life would look like, particularly in regards to family.  The first step has been reaffirming the decision not to pursue further fresh IVF.  I’d said it over and over again, believed it intellectually, but there’s a sense in which I’m finally truly closing that door emotionally.  It means working to ignore the nagging voice that keeps telling me “just one more round!  You could still make it happen!”  Or the other voice that tells me that I am somehow stopping short although objectively I can see that we went through h*ll and had a couple of extraordinary, unprecedented – and out of our control – breaks in our favor to get where we are today at all.

One of the other steps has been slowly letting go of the residual denial that probably kept me functional for a bit after my brother’s death.  I knew, of course, that he was dead.  At the same time, some part of my mind kept imagining him going out for a run along the city streets, going to work, generally living his life.  We didn’t talk all the time on the phone and lived several hours apart, so reality didn’t intrude constantly.  I went about my day, I imagined him going about his.

Over the last month or so, I’ve done that less and less.  The ache of the loss seeps in more and more as I begin to fully acknowledge that he is not in the city, not living, and that he is really and truly gone from this world.  No matter how hard I try or what I do, I cannot make that fact change.

It’s hard.  Really f*cking hard.

At the same time, the anxiety is a little bit less.  Instead of feeling hugely overloaded emotionally all the time, I’m finding that I’m closer to just being maxed out more often and hope that at some point it will reach a reasonable equilibrium.  There is so much good in my life, but needing uncovered and brought out.  It’s what keeps me moving and working, the idea that this massive and painful letting go will eventually be worth it, allowing me to fully embrace the whole of my life as it actually exists.

Winter Driving

 

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed a bit of a phobia surrounding winter driving.  I’m not sure if it was the fact that first winter I had a job further than ten minutes from my home turned into one of the worst we’d had in a long time, sending me slip-sliding all over snowy, icy roads regularly or if it developed more during my pregnancy with E as an outlet for all the anxiety, or if it was a combination of circumstances.  Whatever created the situation, I let out a sigh of relief when we reached late March and then early April.  We were through winter.

The second Friday in April came.  I got ready for work.  Arthur told me to take the four-wheel drive.  “They’re saying it may snow,” he said.  I rolled my eyes, but took the SUV.

At around 3 am, some of my coworkers who were coming in to start early shifts said it was snowing like crazy.  “Getting bad out there,” one of them said.  I gritted my teeth and hoped it was gone by the time I left at around 8 am.

By the time the full dayshift arrived, the weather was the topic on everyone’s mind.  “I slid through a stop sign,” one said.  “I got sideways,” said another.  The last summed it up succinctly: “It’s the worst driving I’ve done the whole winter.  And it’s not even winter anymore.”

Darn it.

I headed out to the car after finishing up and was struck immediately by how slippery the sidewalks felt.  It wasn’t snow so much as an icy grit that covered everything.  If I hadn’t been working again that night, I probably would have had a cup of coffee at work and waited for it to melt off a bit.  However, I needed to get home to sleep.  It was a short drive away, as once we’d moved, I lived about ten minutes from work once again.

The main road was icy but not terrible.  I knew once I turned off for the majority of the journey home, it would probably be a sheet of ice though, and I was right.

I crawled along, feeling the wheels slipping with every adjustment or tap of the brakes.  I could feel my panic rising.  Thankfully the road was all but deserted, but I flipped on my hazard lights to let anyone coming around me know that I was going very slowly indeed.

It took me nearly 25 minutes to get home, white-knuckling and fighting fear the entire way.  By that evening, however, the sun was out and the roads were clear.

Truthfully, that more or less sums up life these days: sudden, unexpected storms of worry, grief, or sadness.  But like driving on that icy April morning, we’re managing.  Even when it feels long or I have to essentially put on the hazard lights and go really, really slowly, struggling along.  Instead of wondering if winter will ever end, I know that eventually the sun and warmth will come back.

It’s finally spring.

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