to Emmy, at six months old

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Easy, breezy, beautiful baby girl.

Dear Emmy,

Today you have been in our world for six whole months. On one hand, I can’t believe I’ve only known you for six months, on the other – I can hardly remember how I lived my life before you. I won’t pretend that all of it has been it easy, but I can tell you that every challenge, every heartache, and every minute of lost sleep has been worth it to get to know you.

I wish I could put into words how much motherhood – how much you – have transformed me; how my life and priorities have rearranged themselves around you, how my view of the world has changed now that you are in it. Becoming your mother has made me feel stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life, but also incredibly exposed. I am constantly battling my insecurities, weaknesses, all of my faults and failings, striving to be the best mother I can be for you, and frequently feeling that I’m falling short. I’m working on that though, and I hope someday I can be the role model in self-confidence you will need when facing down your own doubts and fears.

In the mornings your dad gets you out of bed and feeds you your first bottle of the day. You two have these precious mornings to spend together until he leaves for work – both of us framed in the doorway, waving as he drives away. We spend our days together playing on your play mat, or running errands to get out of the house. Sometimes I put a blanket out in the backyard, and we soak in the sunshine while you work on your tummy time and Riley rolls around in the grass next to us. Our daily victories are small but mighty – like getting your pants on in the first try, or avoiding a diaper blow out. We end each day with bath time and songs, and your smile that lights up your face while we (you) splash water everywhere. Then after you’ve gone to bed, your dad and I look at photos of you on our phones, missing you already and looking forward to starting the next day with you. I feel lucky every day to be living this life, to be able to be so present in these first months of your life.

I think a lot lately about wanting to protect you, especially as you grow up and become more aware of the world. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll explain why there seems to be so much hate and anger at every turn, so much pain and disaster. And I wonder what event will shape your young view of the world the way that 9/11 shaped mine as a teenager. I’m thankful we have a few more years before you begin to ask and want to untangle these issues, because honestly, I’m pretty new at this mom thing still, and I’m still struggling to understand the “whys” of the world myself.

So, my darling Emmy, maybe someday you’ll read this letter and roll your eyes because I’m so corny and embarrassing. And then maybe later down the road, if you decide to become a mother yourself, you’ll go back and read it again. You’ll see how I describe myself at the beginning of motherhood and compare it to the mom that you know. Perhaps you’ll marvel at how this can be the same person, separated simply by time and experience. And then, I hope you will look at your own child and be struck with sudden understanding – this is how much I love you, this is how much you have shaped my life, this is how you made me the person I am today.

Love you forever,

Mom

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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.

 

how a wrinkled blanket became my first metaphor for motherhood.

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How Emmy really feels about these monthly pictures.
Emmy is 5 months old today. So, as with the past 4 times she turned a month older, I got her dressed in her cutest outfit, arranged her monthly milestone blanket on the rug in her nursery, and proceeded to take about 1000 photos of her while shaking a toy above her head and using my highest pitch voice and best nonsense words to try and elicit a giggle or smile from her.

 

If you had asked me before I became a mother if I would be doing monthly photos of my kid, I would most definitely have said no. Not because I have anything against them, but more because the idea of getting myself together enough to actually remember to do something like this on a monthly basis would seem absurd to me even before a tiny human was depending on me to keep them alive. Honestly, its a good month when I remember to give our dog her flea medicine on the right day (the 17th of every month, reminders welcome).

 

So, when I received the milestone blanket from coworkers as a gift, I told myself I would at least do the first month as a courtesy. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon on Emmy’s one month before I even realized what day it was. It was also the first time I actually opened the milestone blanket – and found out it was a wrinkly muslin square.

 

Friends, I was at a crossroads: do I bust out the ironing board and iron the thing? MacGyver a way to hang it from the ceiling and steam it? Do I just say screw it, shove it back into the closet, and pretend like I never received it in the first place? Or, horror of horrors, do I use it as is, all wrinkles and uneven edges, Emmy’s striped rug peeking out around the borders, and allow everyone to see that I do not have any of this cute mom stuff handled?

 

I’m very proud to say that we’re on the fifth monthly picture and I have absolutely no intention of ironing the damn blanket. If being a mother for five months has taught me anything, it’s that life is guaranteed to be imperfect, that there are very, very few things I am actually in control of, and that embracing these facts are part of motherhood, wrinkles and all. I’ve also found that I look forward to these monthly photos with Emmy and taking the time to acknowledge and commemorate that we both made it another month wiser, both a little pudgier, and very much loving every moment we have together.