Alphonso mangoes in New Jersey

Yesterday, on our drive back from Philadelphia, Chris had us stop in Edison, New Jersey, to have dosas and poori for lunch, as well as to make a pit stop to get some Indian groceries at Patel Brothers. While Chris tends to focus on his Indian snacks like banana chips and mixture on these runs, I always end up getting the household staples, like fruit, vegetables, freshly baked roti or thepla from the Patel Brothers bakery (the Jackson Heights location has no bakery due to space constraints; it’s not fair!!), beans, frozen goods, etc. As we are currently in mango season, we picked up a box of Mexican Ataulfo mangoes… and Chris pointed at a sign that said, “Indian mangoes: See cashier.”

Eager with anticipation and hope, I asked a cashier about these, and she pointed me to the back of the register, where there were two stacked areas of boxes of Indian mangoes: one pile was for boxes of Alphonso mangoes, also considered the “king of mangoes” in India; the second stack was boxes of kesar mangoes, which we had one of during 2020 when an Indian shop owner gave it as a gift. One box of 11 Alphonso mangoes were $55, while the box of about 6-7 kesar mangoes were $45. The kesar mangoes were about double if not triple the size of the Alphonso mangoes. I really wanted to get both, but given we knew the Ataulfo mangoes would definitely be good, we just got one box each of the Ataulfo and Alphonso mangoes. Fifty-five dollars for 11 Indian Alphonso mangoes shipped on an Air India flight from India to the U.S.: this was by far, the most expensive purchase we’d ever made at Patel Brothers, or any Indian grocery store, for that matter.

I was so excited to bring these home and try them. The Alphonso mangoes were all still green and quite hard when we bought them, but today, they are already starting to get a little softer, and parts of them are turning yellow in color. I can’t wait to have these again. I know we ate Alphonso mangoes while in India the summer of 2018, but I cannot quite remember the flavor or scent at all. I just knew that they were complex and intensely delicious. We can’t go to India now and have their mangoes locally, so this is the best we can do for now. $5 per mango is a small price to pay for this level of deliciousness.

Traveling with baby for the first time

Our baby is just over 24 weeks old, and Chris thought that Memorial Day weekend would be a good long weekend to take a short trip with her away for the first time. He suggested Philadelphia, which I wasn’t initially that excited about, but this destination made sense for a couple reasons: 1) it’s a 2-hour driving distance away, so not too far but not too close, 2) Philly has a great food scene, so it would be fun for us to eat our way through it, plus they have an expanding beer and wine scene, as well. Two nights away in a new environment and new crib would be a good initial test to see how well our baby does with travel and adaptability.

Travel itself with the baby doesn’t really stress me out as it likely does with a lot of first time parents. What stresses me out more is pumping milk while traveling: knowing when to pump, when I can do it with my regular pump vs. portable pump, milk storage and transport — those are the things that make me a little tense when I’m thinking about being mobile and not at home. I ended up just skipping one pump per day during this trip to ensure we’d be more mobile and get from place to place, even though my breasts felt uncomfortable because of it. I made sure to take extra sunflower lecithin pills to prevent any clogs that could happen from doing this. Once your body is on a pumping schedule, it doesn’t really like it when you go off schedule unless you gradually wean.

The baby slept almost the whole drive to Philly, and throughout the trip, she has been in good spirits, smiling and babbling away. She’s only had one little fussy moment while at the winery today, and she has been sleeping well in the big pack-n-play crib that the hotel provided. She’s not used to sleeping with this much space: when we laid her down in it, she spread her arms and legs out wide as though she was an oversized starfish. She can’t really do this in her bassinet that she’s soon to outgrow now. It was cute to see her in new environments and her reactions to different places and things. She’s at this really cute and fun age where she’s responsive to everything but because she can’t speak yet, she can’t give attitude or talk back. I love this current development phase and how cute and sweet she is. I hope she continues to be an easy baby to travel with, especially since a friend of mine keeps warning me that the older she gets, the less adaptable she will be and the more difficult she will be in new surroundings or a new crib/bed.

Ripped nipples

Usually, when “ripped” is used as an adjective to describe how a person looks, it’s meant to be a compliment. So if you tell someone that they look “ripped,” you’re most likely telling them that they have very tight abs or chest muscles, or very sculpted and defined arms. Well, I discovered for myself yesterday what it meant to have “ripped” nipples, and I mean that in the literal sense, as in.. yes, I actually (accidentally) ripped the skin off the sides of both of my nipples. Unfortunately, this had nothing to do with muscles or looking sculpted. It had to do with pumping with improperly fitted flanges and my own cheapness/laziness.

My Legendairy Milk cups came with 24mm and 28mm flanges, as did my primary Spectra pump. I have no idea why these are considered standard flanges sizes considering that over 80% of women have nipples smaller than 24mm, but hey, it is what it is, and likely a way for these companies to make more money by up-charging you anywhere from $10-20 for a smaller flange size. I had pumped while on the go just twice before with the 24mm flanges and these cups plus my Baby Buddha portable pump, and the output was never as good due to the flange size, but I accepted it just for the convenience. Legendairy Milk did not create 17mm flanges for someone like me, as their smallest one was 19mm, so I thought I was out of luck until I discovered the Maymom brand, which has flange tunnel inserts to hack and place into these flanges. I felt cheap, though, and wasn’t really sure how much mobile pumping I would be doing, so I neglected to buy these $15 inserts when I discovered them about two weeks ago.

Well, I pumped while in the car ride to Philly, and the entire time, I had no idea that I was damaging my nipples. I think I have just gotten so desensitized to all things nipple related that I didn’t even feel the skinning of my nipples as it was occurring. Plus, with all the bumps in the road, that is likely how the cups got off centered with my nipples, which then caused the damage. I had read so many stories in the pumping mamas Facebook group about women who had gotten bruised, split, cracked, bloody, and ripped nipples from using the incorrect flange size, but luckily for me, this had never happened. How does this happen, you might ask? So with flange sizing, it’s like Goldilocks: you can’t have your flanges be too small or too big; they need to fit just right for the perfect combination of both maximized comfort AND maximized output. If the flange is too small, you will bruise and split your nipples that are getting constricted. If they are too big, you risk your nipple getting pulled too deeply into the tunnel, thus creating friction on one side of your nipple, which then results in what happened to me — skinning, peeling of your nipple skin.

I didn’t even realize this had happened until I removed the cups when we got to the hotel room. I took them off and immediately noticed that the top of my left nipple was a deep purple color. And then upon examining both sides of my nipples, I realized that the skin was peeling off to reveal a raw, exposed under layer. The pain finally started settling in, and everything and anything that rubbed against my nipples hurt. I applied shea butter to help soothe and repair it, but this rawness will likely last for a while until my skin repaired and healed. Luckily for me, my nipples aren’t bleeding. After physically taking care of this, I logged into my Amazon account and purchased the stupid $15 flange inserts for the cups. This pain and injury was not worth saving $15 for.

This is the shit mothers go through just to feed their babies. Pumping mamas truly have it the hardest. You will never quite understand how annoying and taxing it is to be a pumping mom unless you actually do it yourself.

Wearable pumps: the next great thing in breast milk pumping

Although I got the Legendairy Milk cups to go along with my portable Baby Buddha pump in early March, the problem with this setup is that it’s not really 100 percent wearable: the Baby Buddha pump is portable in that it’s the size of a smart phone and you wear it on a lanyard around your neck, but it actually comes with bottle attachments. That’s what necessitated buying the Legendairy Milk cups for me to hack and wear with the pump. The cups are way, way too big to be discreet (they hold 8 ounces of milk EACH; who the heck pumps 16 ounces of milk in one pump sitting?! Whoever you are, I am super jealous of you!), plus there are still wires attaching the cups to the pump. Well, shortly after I purchased this combination to create a wearable pump for myself, lo and behold, Willow, a high end brand of wearable pumps, releases their next generation of wearable pump that is completely wireless, where you can operate the pump fully from an app on your phone. Each cup is essentially its own breast pump. The programming for stimulation vs. expression mode can be adjusted for each breast, so in case one breast performs better than the other, you can adjust (this is not the norm for the average breast pump, including the Spectra that I own; these assume you want the same settings for both breasts). In addition, this Willow Go pump allows you to customize what size of a cup you want, so the cup you could choose could be smaller (five ounces per cup sounds more discreet and reasonable than eight!). It’s a bit too late for me to get this pump, especially since I already bought the Baby Buddha and have only used it about five times, but if I had to do this all over again, I’d sell my Baby Buddha and buy the Willow Go pump.

One gripe I had with wearable pumps is that you can’t really do breast compressions with them. I also can’t see the milk spraying out, so I wasn’t sure if I’d know when my let down reflex started. Some women can actually feel their let down, and up until the last week, I was not able to feel it. But amazingly, as I’m currently in my 24th week postpartum, I actually started feeling my letdown, which would alert me to change the setting from stimulation mode to letdown /expression mode to maximize my milk output. Now, without even looking, I know when to switch the mode. This has helped me when I’ve needed to pump during work calls. I make sure to position my web cam so that it just reached under my neck, so no one has any idea I am pumping. In addition, I have my Zoom sound setting on so that background noises are blocked out, so no one can hear the subtle “burrrr” sound that my pump makes while on. I’ve never appreciated working from home more than while pumping milk. Pumping in a sad, windowless pumping mom room at work would have been miserable, not to mention I’d be time constrained.

Endless women in my Facebook pumping mamas group have raved about the Willow Go, how it’s really changed their pumping lives because they can literally pump anywhere and no one will know, as these cups are small and flat enough to fit into their bras, so they don’t make pumping women look like they got breast implants. And more impressively, women have also said their output is comparable if not more than using their Spectra pumps, and no need for breast compressions! It’s a $330 investment, so definitely not cheap or a potential impulse buy. If I ever do this again, I would get it, but for now, I’ll stick with my Spectra and my occasional Baby Buddha use.

Active shooter drills: an American school reality

“I’m scared shitless about my daughter starting kindergarten this year,” my colleague confided in me yesterday. “Just the mere thought that an active gunman could get into her school and start shooting makes me want to sob uncontrollably. I held both of my kids on Tuesday night and just cried for hours, and my older one kept asking me what was wrong. Did you know that active shooter drills are a norm in schools now?! My daughter told me they are making them do these drills regularly at her preschool… AT HER PRESCHOOL! This is life in American schools now, and she hasn’t even started kindergarten yet!”

I got teary-eyed listening to my colleague getting distressed, sharing her worst fears with me…Well, they are my worst fears, too. It also made me sick to my stomach to think that this is a reality in schools, but only here in the U.S. No other country on earth has a requirement for active shooter drills in schools; I guess that’s another example of fucking American exceptionalism, however you want to define that. I thought back to my own time in school, and the only drills we had were in preparation for fire or earthquakes — natural disasters, not manmade cycles of hell the way we are dealing with today with gun violence and politicians who would rather give their pointless “thoughts and prayers” than pass any legislation to help prevent the same carnage from happening over and over on repeat.

I have cherished every night I have put my own baby to bed, rocking her back and forth, caressing her hair and cheeks, kissing her, singing her lullabies, letting her nurse at my breast to calm her down for her sleep. But this week, I have held her even a little tighter and told her that I would still try to do everything in my power to keep her healthy and safe…But honestly, I just wasn’t sure how far my power could extend in a country as insane as this one. I just feel helpless.

When grandma insists she isn’t racist

My mom wasn’t happy about the fact we were planning to hire a nanny. She kept saying over and over that “your own blood” takes care of your baby the best. When I asked if she was suggesting that I quit my job, she told me she didn’t want that, but what other option would there have been…? When she found out we finally hired one, she immediately asked me what the nanny’s race was. When I told my mom she was Jamaican, my mom responded, “Does that mean she’s Black?” She said the world “Black” in a near whisper. Why do Asian people of her generation always do that?

I told her to stop being so racist and that there was nothing wrong with Black people, or specifically, having a Black nanny. I told her we obviously vetted this person through not only references but also a trial, so we knew she’d be a good fit for us. My mom was nervous and completely unconvinced. It wasn’t until two weeks passed when she felt more at ease… after I let her know that Kaia greets our nanny with a smile each morning when she walks in.

“Can you send me a picture of what the nanny looks like?” my mom asked. “I want to see how dark she is…. I mean, what she looks like.”

“WHAT?” I responded, incredulously. “What is wrong with you? It doesn’t matter how light or dark skinned someone is, and who cares what she looks like if she’s getting the job done?!!!”

“It’s a reasonable request,” my mom insisted. “I just want to see what the nanny looks like. She takes care of my granddaughter all day, so I have a right to know what she looks like. I’m not prejudiced. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be prejudiced.”

Uh-huh. Sure, they can’t.

When thoughts and prayers can go to hell

There is never anything effective to say to someone when they have lost someone they love. To tell them that your thoughts and prayers are with them doesn’t do much, even if you are trying to be supportive. But the concept of “my thoughts and prayers are with you” is especially empty in the face of yet another mass school shooting in the United States of America, a country where guns are protected better than women who are child-bearing… or even children themselves.

I gave up on the idea of gun access restrictions ever getting anywhere in this country after the Sandy Hook mass shooting about ten years ago. That was really when this country decided that it didn’t give a shit about children dying because of guns. If you don’t care about children dying from guns, then you really don’t care about anyone dying from guns. Let the guns and the gun nuts reign supreme while more and more of America dies quietly and futilely.

When I think of 19 elementary school age children dying senselessly from a random gunman storming through their school, not to mention the two teachers who died, I think to myself… that could be my daughter. Those families that were screaming and crying for hours on end, wanting to find out whether their children were alive or dead and just waiting without any word… That could be Chris and me, worried sick after hearing about a shooting at the school our child goes to. That could be any of my friends’ children. And the fact that this is such a real thought is absolutely terrifying. It makes me sick to my stomach. This is the reality of raising children in the United States today.

No child should go to school and end up having to duck and cover and prepare for a “bad man” coming in. No child should go to school and get shot dead. Why do these things even have to be said? This is not a mental illness issue as much as idiots on Instagram and in Congress want to tell me. The U.S. does not have higher rates of mental health issues than other countries in the world; there is no data to prove this. What we do have is easier and greater access to guns and law makers who are truly cowards and flat out evil for allowing mass shootings to continually happen with literally no action taken to prevent these things from happening in the future. These mass shootings are 100 percent preventable. But we live in a country where no one wants to prevent these mass shootings. Our government, our lawmakers, the ones who happily taking our tax dollars, are doing nothing. Ninety percent of Americans are in favor of increasing background checks for guns, which includes those from households who actually own guns, yet we have law makers who completely ignore that.

All parents want to ensure that their children are healthy and safe. All parents do everything within their power to ensure their children’s safety. But there comes a day when parents have to rely on their community, on their “village,” whether that’s at the playground, at school, at some activity. A parent cannot hover over and be with her child 24/7, protecting her from all harm and malice. At some point, a child’s health and safety are no longer in the hands of her parents, and we have to have trust in the community to know she is safe. But I don’t know if I can trust that this country will be safe for my daughter to live in given all of this.

The Jamaican nanny becomes more Asian

“You know, by the time I stop working with you, I will have become completely Asian!” the nanny joked with me this morning after I handed her a matcha oat milk latte I had just whisked.

Since starting with us just over two weeks ago, she has been introduced to matcha I’ve made. She’s sampled multiple Asian dishes I’ve made. She regularly drinks our Sri Lankan Dilmah tea. She’s enjoyed hand cut and peeled fruit, including Mexican ataulfo mangoes, which she revealed she’d never purchased before because she thought they looked small and wimpy compared to the larger Haitian mangoes she was used to buying in New York during mango season. Since I introduced them to her and she realized how good they were, she has started purchasing them because of me.

She’s also regularly listening to Mandarin Chinese nursery rhymes with Kaia and also trying to learn how to sing them, which I think is the most adorable thing. That’s one area where she’s totally one upped Chris. Her Chinese pronunciation, even though she has no idea what she’s saying, is far better than his.

Even though I wasn’t sure what our dynamic would be like with my working from home and her being in the next room with the baby, so far, it seems to be going pretty well. We talk occasionally and get to know each other, but when I’m working, she respects my space and doesn’t interrupt me. Hopefully, it continues to go well.

Breast milk: you produce what you eat

Our nanny grows callaloo, a West African cousin of spinach in her backyard, among other vegetables. She said she will bring us some since it’s just sprouting now. She said she knows I will like it… because my baby farts a lot, so she knows I eat a lot of vegetables.

“Mommy eats lots of vegetables and fiber!” the nanny exclaimed while feeding the baby last week. “That’s why Kaia farts so much! So much fiber in the breast milk! In the booby milk! So much good stuff in this booby milk for baby Kaia pookie!”

It’s debatable how much of what a breastfeeding mother eats will end up in her breast milk. It’s already been widely established that alcohol, certain medicines and drugs, among other things, can get into breast milk in traces, but the concentrations of which are still debated. Either way, I try to eat a wide variety of things not just for myself, but also in hopes that our baby will develop an affinity for all these different foods. I’ve intentionally eaten nuts daily, hoping she won’t have any nut allergies. I especially hope she will love all leafy green vegetables and mangoes.

Mommy thumb on both hands

So just as I thought my mommy thumb, or de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, was getting better on my right hand, lo and behold, my left hand decides to rudely raise its hand and say, “hey! I want mommy thumb, too!” It came completely out of nowhere without any warning one day as I picked up a full mug of tea and felt that sharp, shooting pain down my wrist that was unfortunately far too familiar to me.

And I thought, WHYYYYYY???? Why does my body not discriminate? Why do I always have to have all these physical ailments on BOTH sides? It doesn’t matter if it’s carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, mommy thumb, or just general pain in my fingers and hands… it’s always on both sides, just in varying degrees.

This is really not fair, I thought. And why does it seem so difficult to get help that doesn’t include medication or the suggestion of what I can already find out via a quick Google search…?