Connected to Her

Even before I was pregnant with El, I dreamed about breastfeeding her. There is nothing more engaging and powerful, in my experience, than sharing this experience with my children. There were times when I thought that maybe the only reason I wanted another baby was because I wanted to breastfeed. 

Breastfeeding is also one of the most difficult things I have ever done for my children. To ensure they get as much breastmilk as possible, I pump while I am at work and on call. Breastfeeding my baby means that most of the time I am attached to a machine – not my baby. This is the part I hate; but I am reminded of why I endure it when I lay down at night with El by my side, her little body pressed up against my chest, listening to her suckle as she falls asleep. I never want it to end. 

A few weeks ago, the “brelfie” (breastfeeding selfie) began trending. I loved the idea of having a picture of my experience feeding my baby. I have many photos of me feeding my baby, but they are all from far away, or with covers, or even just for me to see. I was delighted to create something that I could share with the world. This is my life; what matters to me the most – giving myself to my children. 

Breastfeeding is so much to me: it is food, but it is also comfort, bonding, sharing, and love. I wish my babies didn’t grow up because I will never get tired of this amazing experience 

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In My Absence

It’s been weeks since I’ve been here… and three weeks have passed since I’ve been back at work.

It’s been months since I’ve been at work… and it’s taken 3 weeks to get back to some kind of normal. 

I’m happy to be back at work, but I miss my baby. I also miss my “free time” and I miss everything else that is important to me. 

The last three weeks have been a whirlind of breastfeeding in the night, pumping milk between surgeries and baby deliveries, leaking breasts, making bottles, sleeping, cuddling with baby El, and maybe some sleep somewhere in there.

I still have mixed emotions about my decision to return to work early. I love my job and it feels great to be back, but I miss my baby – even more than I imagined I would. 

In my absence she seems to be doing well. So far I have been able to continue breastfeeding. Although, I can sense her getting impatient at the breast when the milk doesn’t come as quickly as the bottle. My milk supply is having a hard time keeping up and I’ve had to start some supplements. Hopefully it will pick up in the next little while. 

She is excited to see me when I finally get to her after a long day of work. Even at 5.5 months, she had begun to give little hugs and bury her face into my shoulder. Then she opens her mouth wide and dives into my face – her idea of a kiss. It doesn’t take more than 5 minuets before she is suddenly pushing to lean back and rooting for her comfort. She still loves her special mommy and El time, and for that I’m so thankful. 

The “No Time” Life

Everyday I come up with some great thoughts and ideas that I want to blog about.  Everyday, however, I never find time to sit down at my computer to write them out.  Right now I have borrowed some time: baby El is awake but content in her swing.  A is at school.  E is distracting our Nanny.  I am sitting at the kitchen table drinking cold coffee, awkwardly holing my breast pump in place with my forearms as I type this post  (I’m still waiting for my pumping bra to arrive from Amazon).  I am lamenting the fact that today was A’s year end party at school and I missed it … because it it totally escaped my mind after I read the notice sent home last week.  I am not looking forward to explaining my absence to a sullen little boy when he gets off the bus in about an hour from now.

Yesterday I eagerly sat down on the bed, ready for my marathon afternoon of nursing El to get her to sleep, and I placed my computer within reach – hoping that maybe I could blog about one of the many thoughts that have been floating around in my head.  Unfortunately, El wasn’t going to cooperate.  After an hour of struggling to get her to sleep, I decided to wrap her up in the carrier and take her for a walk.  While on my walk I came up with a great idea: I could make a voice memo of my blog ideas and then transcribe them another time. So that’s what I did!  I walked and I recorded some great blog ideas.

But this morning, with my borrowed time to blog, I didn’t feel like listening or transcribing any of my ideas from yesterday.  I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and disappointment; like the emotions that go along with the posts was missing and I was just transcribing some sort of task.  My sadness was extended because I didn’t want to listen to or write down my thoughts from yesterday (really, for the past week or so that have been neglected).  Instead, I decided to write about these feelings of disappointment.

My lack of blogging is just one place that I have been feeling disappointment.  For weeks now I have been trying to find time to add some breast pumping sessions to my day with the hopes of increasing my milk supply.  I want to do this slowly in anticipation of my return to work in 3 months, and also to counteract the likelihood that my supply will decrease when I have my IUD inserted in a few weeks.  Alas – that hasn’t been happening reliably.  Let’s also not forget about my unfortunate omission of A’s celebration today.  And then there is the complete lack of time (and energy) to get back into an exercise regime.  The weight loss has slowed and it’s time to kick it up a little, but there is no time.  My only form of exercise comes as leisurely strolls around my community with a fussy baby strapped to my chest. Oh, and there is also a serious lack of quality time that I spend with my other two kids… I feel like an epic failure.

I know that;s not the case; but it doesn’t stop me from feeling that way.  I want my life to go back to having some reliable structure and from, even if that structure is different than what it used to be.  Like most, I am a creature of habit and I thrive on routine and schedule.  This daily routine of “no/poor sleep – nurse fussy baby all day – maybe eat – maybe drink coffee – maybe shower – maybe do something I want to do” is really starting to eat away at my will.  I’m not sure what to do to change things up…

First Steps

Today I was supposed to be at a conference for work.  Initially, I was determined to go despite being on maternity leave; I wanted to show that I am hard working, committed, and engaged.  I also worked very hard all year to plan an important even that is happening at this conference – today actually.

Going to the meeting, however, would have meant travelling by plane, alone with baby El.  It would have meant staying in a hotel room alone for 4 nights and single handedly taking care of the baby, while also trying to attend the meetings and give off the vibe that I have it all together.  It would have likely been far from enjoyable.  So, I decided to stay home and enjoy this time with my family.

Staying home also means that instead of spending over $1000 to attend a conference, I can save that money and use it towards a family vacation.

Despite the overwhelmingly good reasons to stay home and not attend the conference, it was a difficult decision to make.  This is the first decision (I guess the second decision, if you count having a baby and taking a maternity leave) I have made in my career that puts my family ahead of my desire to be “the best I can be” in my work life.  This is like the first step in “retraining” myself to put my family and my role of Mother ahead of work and my role as Doctor.

This was not a hard decision to make, but it was difficult to execute, mentally.  I knew the right thing to do was to not go and stay with my kids and baby at home.  But I feel sad and I am mourning: I feel like I have thrown away an opportunity to show myself off as a dedicated, hard working, and committed resident.  Likely, it wouldn’t have made a difference to anyone but me.

Hopefully these steps get easier as the time goes on.  I feel it is imperative that I make this change in my life

MEternity Leave? Really?

Over a week ago, on June 1, I sat down to start writing a blog post.  I wrote one sentence of that post and I have not been back to WordPress since then.  It’s not because I haven’t wanted to blog, and it’s not because I have nothing to blog about… it’s because I’ve quite literally had no time to myself – at all.

This phenomenon of having no time to myself, despite being home from my 80-100hr+ work week, reminded me of the MEternity fiasco from a few months back.  For anyone to think that a maternity leave is a “sabbatical” or “vacation” or anything that resembles an opportunity for “me time” has got something seriously wrong.  If I’m going to be completely honest, I would say that I haven’t really been enjoying my maternity leave that much.  Before I divulge all the reasons I’m not enjoying it, I’ll state the few things that I do enjoy about maternity leave (just so I don’t seem to be complaining all the time):

  1. I love baby El and I love to spend time watching her grow and change.  I want her to stay small forever, but I know she won’t.  I’m cherishing the time I get to spend with her now.
  2. I get to see my other kids more often than I did when I was working.

Yes, I think that’s about it.  Here are all the things I dislike about my maternity leave:

  1. I am always tired – I am lucky to get 6 hours of broken sleep a night, and the sleep I do get is far from quality as I am paranoid about my baby and her ridiculously low risk of SIDS (this is where I say that, contrary to all advice on how to reduce SIDS, I can’t abide by t all.  Baby El refuses to sleep unless she is right next to me, with easy access to her precious boobie – All. The. Time.)
  2. I almost always have a little human being attached to my body.  This is either in the form of breastfeeding or babywearing.  Baby El usually needs to be nursed to sleep.  And, she doesn’t really like to stay asleep unless someone is carrying her.
  3. I am always yelling at the boys: Either they aren’t listening to the Nanny, so I get mad at them for that.  Or, they aren’t listening to me, so I get mad at them for that.  Or they are too loud and running around every part of the house and waking up the delicate baby that I just FINALLY GOT TO SLEEP.  I feel like all the time I spend with my kids involves yelling.
  4. I miss adult human interaction.  You can only text message people so much before you get bored.  Plus, everyone is working while I am home, so there is no one to go out with during the day.
  5. I have fleeting thoughts of finishing that book I started weeks ago, or working on the cross stitch birth announcements (for E first, before I can start El’s), or blogging, or even getting some exercise.  However, those thoughts are vanquished by one of the three kids that are demanding my attention at any given time of the day.  If I’m lucky, I can get outside for a walk with the baby in a carrier (she won’t even stay settled in a stroller)… but not before getting the 10th degree from A, who wants to know where I’m going, when I’ll be back, why he can’t come, am I sure he can’t come, and what kind of punishment I will get if I’m not home when I say I’ll be home.
  6. I miss my job… dearly.  If it wasn’t for my baby, I would go back tomorrow.
  7. I’m sure there is something I’m missing.

So there you have it… My maternity leave is far from relaxing, enjoyable, or a life changing revolution.

And, I’ve gotta go… baby El is awake!

Lactation Cookies!

Hot on the heels of my Milk obsessed post, I decided to give lactation cookies a try.  I have heard a lot of buzz around the idea of lactation cookies in the past few months but I didn’t really think too much of them.  I learned that there are store-bought varieties, as well as a myriad of recipes to make your own.  Over the past few days I delved into the wide online ocean of lactation cookie recipes to decide which one seemed “best.”

IMG_7413All the recipes seemed to have the same three ingredients, touting these (or a combination of them) to be the “magic” behind increasing lactation: Oats, Flax, and Brewers Yeast.  The recipe I selected also called for Fenugreek – a supplement I relied on when I was breastfeeding the boys years ago.  Buying these ingredients can be expensive and difficult, but I was lucky to find them all (including the fenugreek) in bulk for under $10 at my local bulk-food store!

The recipe I chose is listed below, but I give full and complete credit to this blog, where I used the recipe exactly as listed.

Once I got the baby to sleep (of course I picked a fussy baby day to bake these), I set out getting all the ingredients ready.  Just as I finally got everything organized and mixed the dry ingredients into the wet, baby El started screaming… she wanted more Boobie, of course!  How appropriate was it then, when I picked her up, placed her on my “Breast Friend” nusrsing pillow (AKA the UFO pillow) and continued to make my lactation cookies WHILE breastfeeding the fussy baby?

Luckily, I managed to finish the cookies and they turned out pretty great!  They are delicious, tasting exactly like “regular” oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (maybe with a slight aftertaste).  I froze most of the cookies and then placed about half a dozen into a secret place in my pantry.  I ate 3 cookies yesterday (1 was a taster after they were our of the oven, and then two as a bedtime snack) and then two this morning.

IMG_7414I can’t comment too much on if the cookies actually started “working” because I am not pumping, and I’m feeding on demand.  However, I do feel like the ladies are a more full today than yesterday.  There may have also been more leaking.  El seems much more satisfied with her feeds, despite me feeling like she’s not completely emptying (I guess it’s time to start pumping and working on my back-to-work frozen milk stash).  It’s hard to say, though, if these changes are due to the cookies or the fact that yesterday seemed to be a bit of a fussy baby-cluster feeding kind of day.

I plan to eat only one (maybe two) cookies a day from now on… All things in moderation, and I am starting on a more formal post-partum weight loss adventure (now that the immediate post-birth weight loss has ended).

Lactation Cookie Recipe: (Check out the source for extra tips and ways of modifying the recipe

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup of brewer’s yeast (this is the main ingredient for milk production)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp ground Fenugreek
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup coconut oil, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 large, eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups of old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix flaxseed meal and water; set aside.
  3. Stir together the flour, brewer’s yeast, salt, baking soda and fenugreek, set aside.
  4. Blend butter, coconut oil, and sugars well. Blend in eggs. Stir in flaxseed mixture and vanilla; mix well.
  5. Add dry mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.
  6. Scoop 2 Tbsp of dough, 1 to 2 inches apart, onto a silicone lined baking sheet. (About 8 cookies per tray.)
  7. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, until matte on the top.
  8. Once cooled, individually wrap cookies in plastic wrap and place them in a container the freezer. Eat at least 2 cookies the first day, and one each day afterwards. (I have one every day after lunch. Just unwrap it and nuke it in the microwave for 30 seconds.) Enjoy!

I AM The Milk

“Why are you so worried about your milk? He asked, after I broke into tears.

It was 7am and I couldn’t help but let the pooling tears run down my cheeks.  I had been awake most of the night feeding El, who just never seemed to be satisfied.  The day before had seemed a pointless day to wear a shirt and bra, because my breasts were out all day, on demand to her.  She was finally asleep, my breasts were empty and deflated, like they had been all night, yet the mere thought of feeding her left me leaking more than just tears.

Maybe I have been obsessed lately.  I know El has a small tongue tie, and I know what that could mean for our breastfeeding relationship.  I have mentioned it to everyone from the postpartum nurse in the hospital, to the pediatrician who looked after her there, to the home care nurses drawing her bilirubin, to my own family doctor.  Everyone just keeps telling me not to worry about it because she’s feeding and growing well.  But her latch is shallow.  I know it could be a lot better, and I fear that while she gets enough milk now, she might not get enough in the future.  I love breastfeeding my babies, and she is the last one.  I want to breastfeed her for a long time.

So, why shouldn’t I obsess?  This beautiful baby was part of me – she came from my own body and flesh.  Now that she is born, she is still part of me; everything that provides for her, nourishes her, and keeps her happy and alive is from me.  She knows my voice and she knows it means comfort, fulfillment, closeness, and love.  I am the only person in her world who can give her all of that by simply holding her in my arms and offering her my body.

It is not just milk.  That milk is me.  I AM the milk.
My beautiful baby drinks me in and for those minutes – those hours – we are one again.
I am not ready for that to end, so I can’t help but worry about my milk.

Identity Crisis

For almost 6 years, I have been a mother.  For almost 6 years minus 13 weeks, I have been pursuing a career in medicine.  Neither of these tasks are particularly easy on their own, let alone together.  No one gives out medals and prizes to the Mom who “accomplishes” the most with her kids, or who “does it all right,*” or who raises the best kids.  It’s different in medicine, though.  In medical school there are awards for many aspects of study.  There is a constant, hidden agenda, enticing students to be better than their peers, to be the best student they can be, and at the end of it all, to compete with each other for the best residency positions.

*What does “doing it right” mean as a mother, anyway?

For 6 years I have struggled to be the best mom I can be, despite the overwhelming time and energy commitment that goes along with medical training.  Along the way I have received little recognition for my hard work (like every mother out there).  For 6 years minus 13 weeks, I have struggled to be the best medical student and then resident that I can be.  Fortunately, that role always came with significant recognition: Scholarships and Bursaries, conferences, accolades from my peers and preceptors, and the all too often phrase: “I don’t know how you do it.”

We all thrive on positive re-enforcement and recognition for our accomplishments.  As a result, I felt more reward from excelling in my work life because the rewards were tangible.  Even as recently as being pregnant at work, I had people telling me that they couldn’t believe how hard I was working, or how dedicated I was to be working so late into my pregnancy.  It made me feel good to know that other people noticed my effort, how much I loved my job, and how well I performed.  But now that I am off work, at home and being a full-time mom, all of that is missing.

I’ve been home for 2.5 weeks and I really miss work.  I feel guilty because I should be happy to be home spending time with my kids – I never get this opportunity.  I would argue that staying home with three kids (while one if a newborn) is tough work – tougher than my actual job.  The worst part of it is that I feel like I don’t know how to be this person… the mother who gives all of her love, attention, and effort to her kids all the time.  It makes me sad to realize that for the entire time I’ve been a mother (minus 13 weeks), I don’t know how to fully identify as a mother.

I have, somehow, let my life as “medical trainee” define my identity to a greater extent than my life as “mother.”  I feel like this is so wrong – like I have it all backwards.  I mourn for my children, who have never completely had a mother who knows what it means to be their mother.  They have always been competing with my other identity – an identity where they have merely been accessories to my apparent success.  And now I am home all the time and I feel lost.  I am having an identity crisis, and I only have 5 months to sort it all out.

The Birth of Baby El

I shouldn’t be surprised that El came into the world with a relative fury – she is my third baby, after all… and my first girl.

She came early on a Tuesday morning, but her decision on when to arrive seemed to be a few days in the making.  For the entire weekend preceding her birthday, I experienced contractions that would start and stop every few hours.  Sometimes they would get worse, but they would always just stop.  When Sunday night came, I was anxious about whether or not to work the next day – or even for the rest of the week, given that my maternity leave was scheduled to start the following Monday.  After weighing the options, I opted to listen to my body and I sent an email to the necessary people advising that I would not be in the next day.

I spent Monday feeling guilty about my decision to stay home from work.  I moved my prenatal appointment to the morning with the hopes that talking with my Doctor would make me feel a little better about my decision.  She didn’t seem phased by my decision to take  the day, or even the rest of the week, off work.  I was, for goodness sake, 38+ weeks pregnant.

She checked my cervix and told me it was 3cm and 50% effaced.  “Do you want me to strip your membranes? ” She asked.  I gave her permission (I preemptively took  two extra strength tylenol before my appointment, in anticipation of this possibility).  It was more painful than I remembered and I made more noise than I expected myself to make.  Then, I left her office with hopeful anticipation that labour wouldn’t be too far away.

The day passed uneventfully, with nary a contraction to bring up my hopes.  I went about the usual business of taking the kids to their activities, and given the beautiful weather, we even walked the short distance to get where we were going.  I took the boys for frozen yogurt after taekwondo, and if I could go back now knowing that would be the last thing we would do together without the baby in our lives, I would have been kinder and more patient with them.  We went home, prepared for bed and I tucked them in as usual.

I was getting ready for bed around 10:00 and the same contractions that had plagued my weekend showed up again.  They were mild and not even painful.  I shrugged them off as more of the same, non-productive, braxton hicks.  Thirty minutes later I went to the washroom and noticed a significant amount of “show,” and for a second I though that maybe these contractions were different.  Regardless, I made an effort to go to sleep.

Sleep didn’t work for me that night.  By midnight the contractions were still coming regularly and they were starting to get painful.  I suggested to my husband that, “maybe it’s time.”  He groaned in his sleep and rolled over.  By 1:00, things didn’t seem to be improving, so I made the decision that we needed to go into the hospital.  I called my nanny and woke up my husband, who begrudgingly had to go and pick her up.  By the time she arrived at our house and we drove across the city to the hospital where I was checked in, it was 2:30.  Somehow, Baby El got the memo that we were at the hospital because contractions started getting a whole lot worse!

The nurse I had was kind enough.  She didn’t immediately recognize me, and I was okay with that… until she presented a rather inappropriate plan to observe the progress of my labour before admitting me: “You’re only 4cm, so maybe we’ll get you to walk around for an hour and then we’ll re-assess. Do you want anything for pain?”
I turned down the morphine and said I would wait for my epidural.  She tried not to raise her eyebrows at me, but she didn’t do a good job.  When she disappeared behind the curtain, I expressed my frustration to my husband:
She obviously doesn’t recognize me… This is a stupid plan. She didn’t even look at my prenatal sheets.  I would never send a para 3 woman who is obviously contracting and uncomfortable away to walk, especially when her last labour was only 5 hours.”

The nurse came back after a few more contractions had come and gone.  The contraction pattern on my NST was impressive, to say the least.  Thankfully, one of the other nurses must have told her who I was, and maybe also discussed a better plan with her.  The new plan was to admit me right away and get me an epidural… Oh, and she also mentioned that she “realized how she knew me…”

I walked down the hallway to my labour room, stopping twice for contractions.  I placed out my arm eagerly in anticipation of my IV start… step one to my epidural acquisition.  The nurse missed.   She couldn’t find another good vein, so she decided to wait for the anesthetist.  He couldn’t find a good vein either and it felt like an eternity before he finally decided to retry the hand where the original attempt failed.  My contractions were close now, and more intense than I could tolerate.  I asked for the gas – I needed something and I didn’t even have an IV yet – I began to fear the possibility that I would be delivering this baby without any pain medications on board.  Breathing was barely working. I may have swore.  That moment reaffirmed for me that women who gracefully deliver their babies without pain medication are my silent heroes.

The IV was finally in and we wasted no time in positioning for my epidural.  I was starting to feel pressure and the sounds I made with the contractions were the audible evidence of that.  Whatever was going on behind me didn’t matter, but I had seen so many of them done before that I could picture the steps as he was doing them.  I knew when he was threading the catheter into my back, and despite the pain of a contraction, I was relieved to know that the medication would come soon.

It took a few contractions to feel the effects of the epidural, but once it was effective enough, my nurse checked my cervix again.  9cm.  It was 4:15 and it was time to call my doctor.  I didn’t know who would arrive first: my doctor, my baby, or my mom – who was driving frantically from 3 hours away.  Baby El held out- I could feel the pressure of the contractions and waited for my water to break with each one.  My wonderful doctor arrived after 15 min, and my mom was 15 minutes away.  I asked her if we could wait to push until my mom arrived – and as wonderful as she is, she obliged.

Baby still held on and by 4:50 the party was ready to start.  My epidural was fantastic – maybe too fantastic – because I couldn’t feel a single thing, not even the urge to push.  But with great coaching and some determination, baby El came into the world at 5:15 Tuesday morning. With her tiny little peanut body, her head full of black hair, and her tight double nuchal cord (which we would have never guessed from her heart rate strip, but explained my need to push for 20 minutes), she was placed on my flattened belly for me to see.

There is no way to put into words that moment when you see your new baby for the first time.  She was beautiful and I loved her immediately.  Her cord was cut and I slid her up onto my chest, where she stayed for the first hour of her life.  We took many pictures while my placenta delivered, and I received the final piece of wonderful news: no tearing at all.  I could finally sit up in my bed and I cradled my beautiful baby El up against my breast.  She was eager to suckle and I helped her latch.  It was so surreal to be nursing my baby only 10 minutes after she was born.  After only 4 hours of strong, active labour.  Just barely longer than a day after I decided to listen to my body tell me that it was time to take care of myself and my baby.

Tomorrow Baby El will be a week old and my mind is mixed with one paradoxical feeling: it has only been a week of having her in our lives… but how has it only been a week?

 

Best Mother’s Day Gift

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful Mothers out there!  I feel privileged to blog amongst all you amazing women!

My Mother’s Day this year will be one of the most memorable of my life.  Baby El was born quickly and without fuss early in the morning May 3. I don’t usually post pictures of my kids online, but today I will make my one and only exception. 

Happy Mother’s Day from both baby El and I!