the day we met Emmy.

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Happy birth day, little one.

Emmy arrived two weeks early and an entirely different astrological sign than we had anticipated.

It was a little after 1am when I woke because I had apparently peed my pants. I was at that glorious point in pregnancy where I was getting up every hour or so to pee at night, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine my bladder had decided to skip the part where it woke me up. I went back to bed after cleaning myself up, only to be jolted back upright when I realized it was happening again – only I definitely did not need to pee. While our labor and delivery classes had assured us that water breaking would be nothing like how it’s depicted in the movies, what they hadn’t mentioned is it can be continuous small gushes, happening minutes apart. After a failed hope that maybe if I went back to sleep this would all be a dream, I poked Alex in the back and told him my water broke. “Are you kidding?,” he said.

It was about 2am when I felt my first contraction. Alex and I were throwing things into a suitcase (because we hadn’t packed our hospital bag yet), and I said to Alex, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad! I can totally handle contractions!” (#famouslastwords) We agreed to wait as long as possible before heading to the hospital, mostly because we didn’t want our first child (aka, our dog), Riley, to be left home alone in the middle of the night. So, we decided to go back to sleep for as long as we could. Alex fell asleep instantly. Seriously. One minute he was talking to me, the next he was snoring, so I did my best to follow suit. Around 4am the contractions were getting more intense and I started timing them. By 5am, I gave up on attempting sleep, and decided to send work emails in between increasingly intense contractions (the messages I got back from my colleagues are definitely some of my all time favorite email exchanges).

I’ll be honest, at this point, I was in pretty terrible pain. The contractions did not feel like anything I had imagined – it was like someone was trying to bend me backwards over their knee and break my spine in half. By 6am I was on my hands and knees in the kitchen, trying any position I could to attempt to alleviate some of the pain and pressure. But, I knew I had to hold out – our doggy daycare didn’t open until 7am.

An hour moves so slowly when it’s bisected by contractions. When the clock finally read 6:30a, I told Alex I was ready to head to the hospital. By 7:30a, we were admitted, and 3cm dilated. Our labor and delivery nurse, Jocelyn, took one look at me and asked if I would like to get an epidural. Now, I always knew I could never be a crunchy mom primarily because of my outlook on drugs – which is, yes please! (And if you don’t know what a crunchy mom is, good for you.) Before I knew what contractions felt like, I had written in my birth plan I would wait to get my epidural until I was at least 6cm dilated because they sometimes slow down the progression of labor. I told Jocelyn to screw my birth plan and to please put me in line for the drugs.

Oh, the sweet, sweet relief of that epidural! I have never held so still in my life as when they were inserting that needle into my spine, even as I felt the peak of a contraction rack my body. But 30 minutes later, with my entire bottom half numb, and a button in my hand to press whenever I wanted more drugs, I finally got some sleep.

The rest of the late morning and early afternoon was just waiting, napping, and Alex visiting the hospital cafeteria and surfing Reddit on his phone. Jocelyn came in and out of the room, checking my progress and delivering giant pitchers of ice cold juice. I remember the stillness of our room, the soft hum of the medical equipment, the curtains drawn so I could nod in and out of sleep, Alex sitting just an arm’s length away. Our final moments as a family of two. Around 3p, Jocelyn checked on me and asked, “Are you having a sensation like you need to poo?” Apparently, I was fully dilated.

The delivery room unfolded like an origami crane – lights came down from the ceiling, a table materialized and nurses unpacked sheets and metal instruments. My OBGYN appeared by my side having just rushed from Northridge to be at my delivery. “It’s time to push,” she said. With my OBGYN holding one leg, and Alex holding the other, I wondered if there was some way to pump the brakes a little here. Could we rewind a few months? I was completely unprepared for this – for the moment I would be transformed into a mother.

My memory of actually delivering Emmy is spotty, coming in and out like scenes from an action movie trailer. I’m pushing, and then I’m waiting. I’m looking at a terrified Alex who is doing his best to smile encouragingly at me, alternating between holding my hand and my leg in between contractions. A nurse is asking me if I want to touch the baby’s head as she’s crowning (I said yes, and immediately regretted it because it was so much grosser than I thought it would be). And then suddenly – a release.

She’s here.

They put Emmy on my chest, she is mewling and wriggling, shocked by the sudden experience of life outside of my body. The nurses are suctioning gunk out of her mouth and nose, wiping her down on top of me. Alex and I both remember noticing with some alarm how much hair covered her arms and shoulders. I remember how slimy and tiny her body felt on my chest. Alex remembers cutting her umbilical cord and being surprised by how much pressure he needed to apply.

This is a day I thought was etched into my brain forever, but even 6 months down the line, I’m finding it harder and harder to recall the details of those first few moments of Emmy’s life. The older she gets, the more the little things from that day escape me, replaced now by new memories of her laughter, or the way her face lights up and her tongue sticks out when she smiles. But I know I’ll always remember meeting Alex’s eyes for the first time after Emmy’s birth, both of us still in disbelief and smiling from ear to ear, completely bonded and transformed forever by the new Aries in our lives.

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formula, let me count the ways…

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Organizing is my favorite.

We are just about 5 and a half months into this motherhood thing, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized how much I’m still clinging onto the early disappointments we faced. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with how little time there really is to process emotions when you’re caught in the intricacies and chaos of life with an infant. Unfortunately, I think that makes a lot of us mamas tend to focus in on the heartaches and ways we haven’t lived up to our own expectations, rather than being able to see the bigger picture and all the ways we have overcome and are completely awesome. For me, when I take a step back and a moment to consider how far we’ve come, I am able to see how much I appreciate being a formula-feeding mama.

So today, in recognition of the mountains I’ve climbed and all of the victories, big and small, I’ve written a bit of a love list to formula – here are the top 5 reasons why formula feeding has been really, really great for us.

1. I have become an extreme couponer.
Okay, I get it, weird one to come out of the gate with and this doesn’t sound “awesome” at all – but I assure you it is. Have you ever felt the rush that comes with stacking manufacturer coupons, store discounts, and taking advantage of in-store bonuses (like, spend $100, get a $25 gift card – thanks Target!)? I hadn’t before, but now I feel like I get to stick it to the man on an almost bi-weekly basis (And I guess “the man” in this situation is Enfamil? Or Target? Take your pick.) My pediatrician encouraged me early on to buy any formula that was on sale, or generic. Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. While I didn’t go the European formula route, I was completely suckered by the formula claiming it is the “closest to breastmilk” that science can achieve – and that comes with a price tag of $39.99 a can. The Asian deal-seeker in me is proud to say that I’ve gone 5.5 months and have never purchased a can at full price.

2. I have control (or as much control as someone with an infant can have).
Emmy eats 30 ounces a day and I prepare all of her bottles in the morning, arrange them in a row in my fridge, and am ready for the rest of the day. There is no mystery, no doubts, no need to weigh her before and after a feed to determine milk transfer – and it is amazing what a relief it has been to eliminate at least that worry from my mind and know with precision that she is getting enough to eat every day.

3. I can eat and drink with abandon.
Well, kind of, I still have to worry about someday getting my pre-baby figure back. But, what I don’t have to worry about is whether the beans I’m eating with my enchiladas will cause Emmy terrible gas later on in the day, or if my fifth cup of coffee will keep her up all night. I also don’t need to worry about timing my glasses (yes, multiple! I deserve it!) of wine.

4. Freedom.
Right around the time I decided to stop pumping, my husband and I went to a wedding in Tahoe and left Emmy with my parents for a long weekend. I had extreme anxiety about being away from her, but I was able to take my first weekend “off” since she was born. I didn’t need to pump while I was away, and all I had to do was leave a can of formula with my mom and dad. I almost felt like pre-mom Evita – and it was nice to see her again. While being away from Emmy was terrifying, it was a reminder for me that my relationship with my husband is just as important as the one I have with my daughter. And, it was a truly glorious thing to have a few days away to enjoy myself without ever once needing to think about breastmilk.

5. My daughter is healthy and happy. I am healthy and happy.

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Just kidding, Emmy is my favorite.

The most important thing and really the only thing I need to say. My daughter is growing, smiling, playing, and chubbier than ever. And being a formula-feeding mama has enabled me to be more present and focused on Emmy, rather than obsessing about what she’s eating. Once upon a time, I worried that Emmy and I wouldn’t bond because we weren’t breastfeeding, and while I have no other experience to compare this to, I am confident that we are as bonded as a mother and daughter can be.

So for all my mamas out there – formula-feeding, breastfeeding, baby-led weaning or purees, whatever it is that is working for you and your families to keep those baby bellies full, I hope you take some time to celebrate and acknowledge all those mountains you’ve climbed that you didn’t think you could – especially if it’s something you never thought you would be celebrating when you first became a mom.

my life in ounces, aka my time as an exclusive pumper.

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Goodbye breastmilk.

Since I stopped pumping around Emmy’s 16th week, she has gotten one, precious, 4 ounce bag of breastmilk a day. Today, she will drink the last bag. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. It feels like there ought to be some kind of ceremony to commemorate the moment – like maybe it would finally be appropriate to light my breast pump on fire?

When it became clear that breastfeeding was not going to work out for us, I switched over to exclusively pumping breastmilk and stopped putting Emmy to the breast. In theory, I loved the idea – no more stressing out about whether or not the baby had eaten enough, or second-guessing whether her latch was correct – I would bottle feed my breastmilk and know exactly how much she was getting each time. The OCD side of me rejoiced. But, exclusive pumping is HARD WORK. You’re making a choice to become a human cow, attached to a machine for what amounts to a few hours of each day, staring, transfixed, at the weird shape your boobs become when they get pulled into the plastic flanges. Oh, also, you still have to take care of a newborn who, I assure you, does not care that it’s been four hours and you have to pump for 15-20 minutes to ensure the sanctity of your already tiny supply.

I was always an underproducer, and at my best, I was pumping about 12 ounces a day. But, in order to get those ounces, I was pumping every four hours, around the clock, day and night. Emmy already needed around 25 ounces at the time, her appetite increasing what felt like daily, but still, I continued pumping for those 12 ounces of liquid gold. Each day was a blur of zipping into my pumping bra, washing and washing endless pump parts, recording how many ounces I did or didn’t produce that day, and oftentimes holding Emmy in my arms above the working pump because she needed to be held and I needed to pump.

I knew at the volume I was producing it didn’t make sense to pump forever, so I decided to freeze a 4 ounce bag every day with the dream that maybe I could provide her this tiny amount of breastmilk daily until she was 6 months old. It was an arbitrary goal, but it became my obsession. I looked forward to bagging those 4 ounces at the end of each day, writing in the date and “4 OZ” where the bag asked for volume with an immense amount of pride.

When Emmy was about 12 weeks old, I was in bad shape. My breasts had been stinging and aching for a few weeks and I was desperately uncomfortable. I cringed every time I attached myself to the pump (which was a lot), but kept telling myself I needed to do this for Emmy. I convinced myself that pain was a totally normal part of exclusive pumping, and continued on, patting myself on the back for persevering. I finally admitted that something was wrong when my chest exploded into red, angry splotches. The doctor told me I had been suffering from either thrush (a yeast infection on your boobs) or a bacterial skin infection of some kind – likely a combo of the two, and why had I waited so long to come in? I was immediately put on medication and a healthy dose of reality.

What the hell was I doing?

From that point on, I stopped recording how many ounces I pumped in a day. I returned my hospital grade pump and shifted to only using my hand pump – a longer process, but definitely a less stressful experience for me mentally. I started skipping night pumps and letting myself sleep for 5-6 hour stretches that matched my baby’s sleep. I refocused on the reason why I stopped breastfeeding in the first place – a healthy mom is more important to my daughter’s wellbeing than a few extra ounces of breastmilk a day.

I made it as an exclusive pumper until Emmy was about 16 weeks old. I knew I didn’t have enough in the freezer to make it to Emmy’s 6 month, but it was time to put away the pump, and time to admit everything was going to be okay even if we didn’t make it to my arbitrary goal. I could tell my supply was dipping again and Emmy was so much more alert lately…The ounces just weren’t worth it anymore, I realized.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never know if Emmy getting 4 ounces of breastmilk a day for an additional 7 weeks will make a significant difference in her life. As I’m finding with a lot of aspects of parenting, ultimately this was more about me than it was about her. I felt, and sometimes still feel, shame in not being able to breastfeed her, so I put myself through hell to prove – what? That I love her? That I am enough? I’m still not quite sure, and I might need the distance of a few more months to really unpack that period and what I felt I needed to put myself through. But today, as I pour out her last bag of breastmilk, I can at least say that while this isn’t what I envisioned motherhood to look like, this is what it looks like for us, and we are better for it.

 

a letter to myself at 5 weeks postpartum.

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Emmy at 5 weeks versus Emmy at 5 months.

Hey there,

I know, it’s pretty ballsy of me to be writing to you – I mean, I only have 17 weeks of motherhood on you, so I must be feeling pretty good about myself. I know it’s hard to imagine right now, in the thick of the fourth trimester, but things are going to get better. That Benjamin Button-looking, string bean blob in front of you is going to become a tiny person – and seriously, the day she first smiles at you on purpose – all double chins and pink gums – everything else will disappear.

But that won’t happen for awhile yet.

The pediatrician recently delivered the news to you that Emmy hasn’t been gaining the weight she should have been, and now you cry every time you have to supplement feed her formula. You also cry while you’re working your butt off, feeding her on one boob, pumping on the other, swapping, then bottle feeding her back whatever was pumped, and then putting her down so you can pump both boobs for another 10 minutes. Alex is back to work now too, so its just you, Emmy, and our dog, Riley. And everyone is looking to you to love them and know what to do next.

No one ever said that motherhood was going to be easy, but for sure, no one ever told us it was going to be THIS hard, this early.

Spoiler alert: breastfeeding isn’t going to work out for us. We’ll see two lactation consultants and we’ll take all the fenugreek, Boobie Bars, lactation treats and Mother’s Milk tea that can be safely consumed. We’ll also refuse to see anyone for a week so we can take a “nursing vacation” – we’ll sit on the couch, demand feed Emmy and finish season one of Big Little Lies in two days, surrounded by empty bags of pretzels and plantain chips. We’ll get up at 2am and use our hospital grade pump to power pump for an hour, over and over again. We’ll get acupuncture, hoping that those little needles will open up whatever blocked qi is screwing our milk supply. We’re going to do it all, and, unfortunately, we’re going to be really mean to ourselves every step of the way.

There are more dark days than you realized there would be this early on – and strangely, they are all related to what Emmy is eating. There are some days when you feel yourself tipping over the precipice, and all you can think about is how you’ve already let your baby down. Over and over again, those dark thoughts come back until you don’t even hear them anymore, they are just part of your daily mantra: I am not enough, I am a disappointment.

But I’m here to tell you that we make it through. That Emmy, yes, she is formula-fed, but she is thriving – and so are you. You love being a mother, and Emmy loves being your kid – her face lights up and her legs kick with joy whenever she sees you. Someday, you will actually look forward to bottle-feeding Emmy, because she will use both hands to hold your fingers as you feed her, and she will look up at you and smile, milk running down her chubby cheeks and into the folds that make up her neck. There’s going to come a day where you’ll wonder why you wasted so many of those early, precious, Benjamin Button days wrecking yourself over breastfeeding.

But all of that won’t happen for awhile yet.

So in the meantime, I hope you’ll try to be kinder to yourself and remember – you are all that this baby needs. You were meant to be her mother, and you deserve a little grace too.

Hang in there champ – and see you in 17 weeks.

Love and kisses,
Future You