Thursday, September 23, 2010

wherein i give a lesson on breastmilk. and my kids chase the dragon.

there is one woman responsible for both my of kids' 'first meals.' and that woman is not me.

when i gave birth to the duke i was transported to the hospital and he couldn't go with me. not until the next morning. so that meant that for about 12 hours i didn't get to have my newborn baby with me. sure, he was surrounded by those who love him best in the world, but even in my half dead (literally) state i was upset about this.

what would he be thinking, not hearing my voice? not seeing my face? because he had heard my voice for so long, and saw my face when he was first born. what if he wanted to nurse? sure, he wouldn't starve, but when the midwife put him on my tummy he crawled up and latched on and started nursing. he would know something was missing.

the papa brought him to the hospital after i was first admitted that night for a short visit, but by then i had been poked, prodded, and prepped for the multiple blood transfusions to come, was battling a monster migraine, and was cracked out on morphine. plus, there was that half dead thing. so it wasn't a terribly long or coherent visit

i tried falling asleep but i couldn't. not really. so i passed the night thanking god for being alive and with the vision of the duke's two huge pink cheeks peeking out of the ugliest piece of newborn clothing i had for him and wondering why the papa would dress him in that god awful thing? (in the papa's defense, not that he needs one, i think he wasn't thinking 'what's the cutest thing i can dress my newborn baby in to take to the hospital to see his half dead mother?' i have no defense. i'm a mama. even half dead i saw it could be done a 'better' way. how any relationship ever survives is a mystery.)

and i passed that night wondering if the duke wanted to nurse and if he wondered where i was. wondering if he missed me. because i sure missed him. terribly. until that night i didn't know how much i could miss someone.

so it was early the next morning and i cannot recall if it was a phone call to the room or if a family member brought the information in but in my dozy hazy state i heard the goddess mother lean into me and say

"wendy's at the house. she's nursing the duke."

and with that i was finally able to let go and rest.

wendy. we were in texas at the clinic together. and from the moment i met her i loved her. it was hard not to. if you think of looking into a face that seems to hold the whole world, is capable of anything, and yet is right there present with you, that's wendy. she had since moved to the bay area and just so happened to have been visiting in seattle with her 8 month old son when i gave birth. she came right over and dove right in. there when i couldn't be. and she put the newborn duke to her breast and fed him. a mama doing what a mama does. opening her heart, feeding a hungry baby. so basic. and yet when i was lying in the hospital, utterly helpless in this arena, it gave me the greatest comfort and meant more than i could ever express.

the trouble with this arrangement came later. when the duke finally came to stay with me in the hospital.

now, there is a huge difference between the milk of a woman who just gave birth and that of a woman who's pretty much exclusively nursing and has been for 8 months.

let's have a little biology lesson shall we? when a woman gives birth her milk doesn't come in right away. what a baby gets in the first few days of nursing is colostrum. which isn't milk, but precedes it and is filled with antibodies and minerals and all that good stuff. there's not a lot of it compared to actual milk, but a newborn doesn't need a lot. and, the lack of real flow is helpful in teaching a newborn to regulate the milk while nursing. so he/she doesn't get too much and choke, etc.

a baby will nurse on this for a day or so and then BAM the real milk comes in. as a woman you know this happens because you wake up with the biggest rack you have ever seen and it's ON YOU. that paired with the incredible discomfort from engorgement and yep, there it is. and by incredible discomfort please know that this is an understatement.

okay, so wendy had been nursing for 8 months so the milk the duke got was not the bit of colostrum he could learn to regulate but a windfall of super rich and abundant milk. the cadillac of milk. double cheeseburger with bacon milk. wendy said he nursed right away, got way too much, threw up, and then nursed some more.

so by the time he came to stay with me in the hospital he was a nursing pro (that little crawl and latch after birth gave me a glimpse of that) and was ready to nurse. and nurse. and nurse. and not that colostrum stuff either. he was ready for the good stuff. the flowing stuff.

as you may imagine, this took a bit of time for him to adjust to. newborns can look like angry little men better than angry little men can. but, after awhile and lots of mama love we figured it out. but whoo boy when my milk came in he didn't leave my side for the next few years. literally.

he nursed ALL THE TIME. in the car with him strapped in the car seat and me leaning over. like a barnyard animal. this is not recommended, by the way. in the grocery store with him in the sling while i pushed the cart and shopped. the original hands-free device. occasionally, just for fun, he would get curious and stop nursing for a minute to peek his head out of the sling and see what was going on. just because *he* stopped didn't mean the milk did. and so i would up flashing whomever was around and spraying breast milk all over. fun.

he nursed all night long. all day long. and then all night long again. he nursed so much i ate like a pack of teenage boys and STILL lost my ass. this is just a theory, but i think he was chasing the dragon. trying to recreate that first great meal from wendy. and no matter how hard he tried...nothing. but he wasn't going to stop trying.

and he wasn't quiet about it either. he nursed with great smacks and sound effects. he wanted EVERYONE to know how much he was enjoying nursing. and when he couldn't nurse right.then.and.there. he would let you know how terrible it was. when we lived in san francisco when he was a toddler he would push against the straps and STAND UP in his baby backpack and shout I WANT NEE NEE! at the top of his lungs, punching the air with his fists. all. the. way. home.

good times.

fast forward a few years and i have a 4 year old and a 6 month old and i'm getting married. in a big wedding. because that's how we do it in my family. we like EVERYONE in the pictures so you've got to have the kids first, right?

anyway. wendy. by now she had two children and came for the wedding. which was lovely and a good time was had by all.

and, as an added bonus, because i had all the important people around, the day after the wedding i planned to feed the 6 month old wingman his first solid food. cooked mashed made with love organic sweet potato. just like his brother.

i even filmed the whole thing.

his first food. such a milestone.


a few years later wendy was visiting again and she had a story to tell me. apparently the day of the wedding when i went to have my hair done wendy and her family took wingman to do some errands with them because the papa was busy with last minute details. there was some reticence because i wouldn't know about the arrangement, wouldn't know that wingman wasn't at home, and i was/am an 'attached parent' to put it mildly. but it was decided because it was wendy this would be okay.


they are at target. and the normally quiet wingman was at the end of his rope. too much going on. too many people. who were these kids? where was his own brother? he cried and cried.

so they hightailed it out of target. and they got him strapped in his rear facing car seat in between wendy's boy and girl. and he cried and cried.

and because they wouldn't be eating until after the wedding later in the day and with a crying baby there were few options they went through a fast food drive thru. got food for the adults and the two kids. and wingman cried and cried.

but about two minutes after pulling away from the drive thru wingman stopped crying.

wendy asked after him in the back because she couldn't see him due to the rear facing seat.

"he's not crying anymore!"

she hears from the backseat.

"he really likes the french fries!"

she hears from the backseat.

and sure enough, there's the 6 month old exclusively breastfed waiting on his first solid food tomorrow wingman in the back, in between her two kids, with two fists full of fries, chomping them down and as happy as can be.

and not crying.

and wendy in the front going oh. SHIT.

and wendy and the papa making a secret pact vowing to NEVER EVER speak of this to me. ever.

to their credit, i had NO idea.

until wendy told me years later. and by then i had relaxed a bit into my parenting, and to my credit, i laughed.

no wonder wingman seemed so underwhelmed by those stupid sweet potatoes.

and wingman? well, let's just say out of the four of us his palate has always been a bit less 'refined.' and further, he's always seemed less than impressed by the things he does eat. like he's looking for something...more.

i'll bet. shit, how do you top fistfuls of hot salty fries as your very first food? i almost feel sorry for the lad.

and so it goes. the baby books never tell you about the little things that crop up. the what ifs and the oh shits. and that it can all go sideways in an instant. and sometimes, it does. and then what do you do?


and what do you do? you jump in. or you let go. or you make the best of it. you try. you fail. you learn to laugh.

and you don't place too much emphasis on the stupid sweet potatoes.

and if i've learned anything about parenting it's that surrounding yourself with the very best people makes ALL of those things much easier and makes ALL the difference in the world.

i wish for you a wendy in your own life.

we should all be so lucky.

and, some of us are.



Lone Star Ma said...

Oh1 I need a wendy so much!

gojirama said...

Oh, I love that!

brittanicals said...

I absolutely love this story! Thank you for your beautiful writing.

Maggie May said...

I loved everything about this, and that's the way we did it too = kids first, then the wedding pics!! lol
And I loved the description of your guy nursing day and night, exactly like Dakota. Awesome writing!