Friday, November 21, 2008

Month One

Dear BabyF and BabyB,

A month ago today you came into my world and immediately changed me forever. The moment I heard your precious little cries as you announced your arrival my heart flooded and swelled with a kind of love I’ve never experienced before. Every moment of pain and discomfort throughout my pregnancy was completely worthwhile and became the furthest thing from my mind.

You were both kept in the nursery during that first night in the hospital because I was unable to move or care for you after the c-section delivery. Although I felt physically horrible, I felt emotionally fulfilled because I was now the mother of two precious little girls and I couldn’t wait to have you near me and in my care.

Within days your different personalities were evident, as were your different physical traits. BabyB, you seemed very relaxed and easy-going in the first days – content to sleep and nurse. From the very first day you were very vocal, humming appreciatively throughout your feedings and filling your diapers more often than I could count – even surprising us with your first poop explosion moments after we first arrived home from the hospital. BabyF, you not only resembled your Mamma in appearance but with your fiery temper as well. You very quickly let us know when you wanted something with your loud and beautiful cries and you just as quickly settled down when your needs were met. Your Daddy and I were so proud and happy and uncertain and emotional through it all.

During your fourth week, you both started to show signs of colic. From about 4:00pm until 9:00pm almost every evening at least one of you was inconsolable – sometimes both of you remained cranky and awake through that whole time. Daddy and I both questioned our abilities and we called on your Nonna to come to the rescue as often as she could. Three pairs of hands were much better than two pairs – especially when we were all so sleep deprived and I was still recovering from the surgery and hormonal imbalances that come postpartum. We were told that this was normal and the only thing that repeatedly got us through each evening was reminding each other that this was a temporary situation and that the colicky phase will pass by the time you’re three or four months old. I hope and pray that it doesn’t take that long and I beg each of you every evening to just go to sleep so that Daddy and I can get some rest and take better care of you. Every time I can’t console one of you, my heart breaks and I often end up crying right along with you. I promise I will keep trying to figure out what works, even through the tears and frustration and feelings of inadequacy.

In spite of the colic, this first month of your lives has been one filled with celebrations. I celebrate everything from poop-filled diapers to earth-shattering burps and sleepy smiles. Everything you do is a wonder to me and I have most often been found holding you in my arms and smiling upon your beautiful faces, cooing soft words of adoration and praise. I may not always know what to do or how to do it, but I do know that the love I feel for you reaches the furthest depths of me. I am fiercely protective of each of you. You have given me strength and happiness and purpose that I never knew would fulfill me so deeply. BabyF and BabyB, I now exist for you. Happy first month-iversary, my treasures.


Friday, November 7, 2008

breast is best

Breast is best. That was the single most repeated phrase I heard from the moment I became pregnant to now. From the moment I registered at the hospital at about 12 weeks into the pregnancy until about two weeks after the twins were born I must have heard and read that phrase at hundreds of times from dozens of sources - ranging from nurses to friends who had successfully nursed their own babies, along with countless books and pamphlets.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed my babies before I even knew I was pregnant. My goal has always been to do my absolute best to exclusively breastfeed any children I might have for the first six months of their lives. All of the information indicates that breast is indeed best. It seems to be nutritionally superior, more convenient (no need for washing and sterilizing and carrying around bottles and formula), more economical (savings of up to $2000-$3000), and helps create a stronger bond between mother and child. I've also always thought that breastfeeding would be the most natural and easiest thing in the world. It turns out I was mistaken about that last part.

While recovering at the hospital (who am I kidding - hospitals are no place for recovery) I saw at least half a dozen nurses / lactation consultants who were there to help ensure my babies were latching on properly and breastfeeding was going well. Each nurse had a slightly different technique, repeatedly correcting the tips I put in place from the previous nurse's visit. Each nurse managed to make me feel, in my hormone overloaded post-partum state, that I was doing it all wrong. Feelings of failure and inadequacy were extremely high in those few days. I was a new mother caring for two babies while trying to recover from a painful surgery. I was clueless and felt helpless. Not a single nurse provided encouragement - only harsh and cold correction. My tears were running like a full-flowing tap.

During those first days at the hospital the twins would nurse on my breasts for a short while and then I would have to supplement with some formula in a tiny plastic measuring cup. Bottles with nipples were not allowed in the hospital for fear the infants would suffer from nipple confusion and end up refusing mother's breast in favour of the much easier bottle nipple. BabyB ended up losing more weight than was acceptable and I began to panic about how little she was getting from my breasts. There were threats about keeping us in the hospital longer if she didn't begin to regain some of that weight immediately. I began to increase the amount of formula I was using to supplement. We were released after 72 hours of their birth and much begging from both J and me.

After much frustration (for me and the girls) with maintaining that same feeding routine, my nipples cracked and bled, despite a good latch from both of them. Both BabyF and BabyB have wonderful appetites and BabyB sometimes liked to play a catch and release game with my nipples. She seemed to entertain herself by yanking her head back while suckling on a nipple until the nipple popped out of mouth and then violently lunging back on and chomping hard on the nipple again - repeatedly. BabyF also liked to chomp down hard. Sensitivity led to cracked nipples until the nipples looked like they'd been scraped against a cheese grater. The pain during their feedings had me in tears and I began to dread the approach of feeding time.

By the time they were two weeks old, I was incapable of handling the pain and had to remove BabyB from my breast at the beginning of a feeding session and feed her that entire meal with formula. I sobbed. I felt I had failed my daughters and wasn't providing what was best for them. Tremendous guilt washed over me and a dark cloud of sadness and worthlessness hung over me constantly. I was a horrible mother and a fool to think I could be a good mother.

I made my first difficult parenting decision. It was time to take a break from breastfeeding in order to allow my nipples to heal. I would continue pumping as often as possible and feed them my milk in a bottle while still supplementing with formula. I had a manual pump and ended up getting out a pitiful ounce per day. More tear-filled days and nights ensued. I went out and rented an electrical pump and started taking specific herbs to help increase my milk production. Within a day I went from pumping 20ml to 85ml. Within a few days after that I managed to pump 220ml in a full day. I spoke to friends with infants of their own who had been struggling with breastfeeding also and felt much better with their uplifting words and advice. Despite my sore nipples, I finally felt encouraged. This was still not enough to nourish them, but it was enough for one full feeding for both of them. I finally came to accept that this would be enough if it was the best I could do. The dark cloud lifted.

The healthcare community should take a long hard look at their approach. A new mother is often filled with insecurities with emotions running high. She doesn't need harsh criticism and strict rules. She needs encouragement and options. I've been very lucky to have the ability to accept my decision that goes against the very aggressive advice of every nurse and several well-meaning friends and family members. I am very fortunate and grateful to have the support of my husband, my mother, and of a few close friends. Without them, I would still be walking around with that dark cloud of guilt over me.
Happy mom = happy baby... and vice versa.