Ed turns 43

This may be the first time I’ve been in San Francisco for Ed’s birthday since he passed, and how funny it is that this time when I am in town for his birthday, Kaia is now here with us. Coming back to San Francisco and leaving have never really been easy for me… pretty much since forever. When Ed was around, I always felt guilt that I was leaving him in the abusive environment of my parents. I always wanted to support him more, but never knew how to. Then, he died. I always have lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings around coming and being home– mostly because of Ed and how he should be here but isn’t; my parents’ mental health; the hoarding and clutter and dilapidated state their home is in. To me, the house is cursed. I still occasionally fantasize about burning it down. But I realize it resembles hell to me only downstairs. As soon as you are on the third floor where my aunt and her roommate live, it actually feels warmer both temperature-wise and in terms of its ambiance. It feels brighter; there is more light. She actually decorates and maintains her home so that it feels pleasant to be in.

In my parents’ home, it does not feel welcoming at all. It feels dark, desolate, and there is literally a cold draft running through the house that you can feel if you are walking barefoot. It comes from the sunroom. The level of clutter and hoarding always seems a little worse every time I come home. In my mind, there are a few times when it’s gotten heightened: the first time I really noticed it was my first visit home a year after I graduated from college; every subsequent visit there has been more accumulation of junk. And it really skyrocketed after Ed died. It’s almost like to make up for Ed’s presence, my dad started hoarding more things and having most surfaces of the house that are meant for sitting… not sittable, if that’s even a word (it doesn’t look like a word). The breakfast table seats have perpetually been covered in food stuff, cans, and appliances. My mom said that my bed and Ed’s are always covered with piles of paper and other random things when I am not there. The physical clutter always makes me feel more stressed and annoyed every time I am there. And when I say even the slightest thing about it to my mom, she gets mad and tells me I am causing trouble and to just stop talking about it.

I always hoped that as my parents aged that they would finally do things to enjoy life and be more comfortable: renovate the kitchen and have it be easier to use instead of having all these random tables and stools everywhere with paper bags and old newspapers everywhere; create fixtures in the bathroom that would make it easier to bathe and shower in; actually make use of all the space they have in their house, which actually is a LOT of space for two people. But instead, they do nothing and seem to only make it more uncomfortable as time goes on. The amount of time my parents spend separating out compost and trash is completely insane. My hope is based in just that: hope. It’s not rooted in anything they’ve ever indicated they wanted. I really don’t know what they are doing with their lives. I wonder what Ed thinks looking down at all this, wondering what the hell our parents are doing. I have no idea what they live for. My mom loves to talk about how depressed she is, but she doesn’t do anything to help herself, and this was even before Ed died, so it’s not just because of that.

I wish our parents the best. I really do. I just wish they’d learn to stop and enjoy life and all the privileges they had instead of picking fights about stupid, senseless things. It probably won’t happen, but I still wish it would.

I wonder if Ed were still alive today if he’d still be at home. It would be an even worse hell in many ways if he was still living there with them, likely getting tortured alive. My mom was never going to be at peace with Ed, alive or dead, as awful as it sounds.

Happy 43rd birthday, Ed. I am happy you are free from the hell that is that house on 20th avenue and that you are enjoying yourself truly, somewhere out there. You are free… free from all the pain, suffering, torture of that miserable house. You are free. But our parents are not and likely will never be.

Memories of milkies

“How much did you pump?” Chris asked, as he passed me in the kitchen this morning.

“270 ml,” I responded, while tipping out the last few drops of milk into a bottle before dumping all my pump parts into a bowl to wash.

Our nanny’s eyes widened. “You just pumped 270 ml in one session?! Yvonne, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a cow! That’s like 8 ounces!”

“Actually, that’s 9 ounces,” Chris said.

I told her that was relatively normal for my first morning pump since it’s all the milk that had accumulated overnight, as I no longer do a middle of the night pump. But we’d come a long, long way from my early days of struggling to even get 30 ml / 1 ounce per pump session.

I recalled the times early on when I just didn’t understand the concept of “supply and demand” with milk supply, when I didn’t realize my baby wasn’t sucking hard enough on my breasts to create a proper “demand.” Those days, I was lucky to get even 30 ml per pump session. I pumped so little milk that after refrigerating the milk to combine with other pumps, Chris would try to consolidate the milk, and to get every drop and fat residual on the sides of the pump bottles loosened, he’d run our hot water tap over the outside of the bottles like a crazy person. But he ran so much hot water over the bottles to get every last drop of breast milk that one day, the hot water tap tank actually ran out, and so we had to wait for the water to refill and get heated again. It was a hilarious moment when he told me this. But on the other hand, I felt really embarrassed and ashamed that I was producing so little then that he felt like he had to get every last smidgen of milk possible to feed our baby. That also reminded me of how I used to cry and blame myself, erroneously thinking I actually had low milk supply because of my own body as opposed to lack of sufficient demand.

So, I remember those painful and emotional moments when my nanny praises me now, not only for how diligently and on schedule I pump, but for how much I am producing to feed my baby. Like the concept of “you should never trust a skinny chef,” she said she used to think that if a woman had small boobs, she’d never produce much milk to feed her baby. Apparently, I proved her wrong with that since she always tells me that I am a small woman with tiny boobs but a ton of milk!

Most moms already would have given up on pumping by now, my nanny always says. “But you still keep going,” she’s said to me a few times. “That shows how much you love your baby. It is an extremely selfless act. Your baby will never understand this until she one day becomes a mother and tries to breastfeed her own babies. Even other women who don’t have kids don’t get it.”

Rolling, crawling, and eventually walking

Being a mother is definitely the most tiring job one can have, especially while your child is still a baby and 100% dependent on you. But it’s also one of the most gratifying jobs, especially when you are able to watch your child grow and develop. Even the littlest things that my baby does fascinate me as I observe her. Lately, she’s been working on pushing her butt up into the air and getting on all fours, likely so that she can attempt to crawl. She is not quite crawling yet, but is more pushing and sliding her body around the mat to move places. Sometimes, it looks like she’s going to start doing push ups. Other times, she looks like she’s doing downward dog, the yoga pose, or trying to do a side plank by lifting one arm high in the air for stability. I realized she puts her arm in the air for stability in an attempt to begin rolling, and it’s the cutest thing. And then, there are the times when, in Chris’s words, it looks like she is “dry humping” the floor, constantly coming up and down and pushing down. She’s learning her different body parts and how to properly use them.

I’ve also been standing her up on her two feet more over the last couple of weeks to see how stable she is while attempting to stand, and it’s clear she’s getting stronger and stronger. She is able to put a lot of weight on her two feet, and a few times, it actually felt like I could *almost* let go and have her stand on her own for maybe 2-3 seconds. It’s crazy to think that she is almost eight months old and now getting ready to crawl and eventually walk. My sweet little baby is growing up.

Asian greens baby

Today was Kaia’s second day having mustard greens. I blanched the mustard greens I got from Brooklyn Chinatown with a little oil, and I separated the leaves from the stems, as the leaves can be a choking hazard unless finely minced for babies. I gave her three stalks yesterday afternoon, and she happily grabbed and gnawed on them, sucking their juices out. I was very pleased with her first exposure. Then today, the nanny reported back to me that she gnawed and chewed away at another set of three stalks to the point there was barely any vegetable left. The membranes were all broken down with little left.

I hope my baby grows up to love all green vegetables, but to especially embrace Asian greens. They are her mommy’s favorites, and I hope she knows just how special and delicious they are. Mustard greens are particularly good because it’s her first exposure to something that is slightly bitter. “Bitter” is a good flavor for babies to develop a taste of early on, so I hope this is a good sign. Who knows – I may introduce bitter melon to her next!

When you become a pumping mama resource

A couple days ago when Chris’s parents were still here, I was hand expressing milk to “prime” my breasts for the pump in the second bedroom. I came out with the collection bottle in my hand, and Chris looked at the bottle, a little incredulous.

“You got that amount out just using your hands?” he asked. “Once upon a time, that’s how much milk you got during an entire pump session.”

Trying to conceive was a journey. Pregnancy was a journey. And breastfeeding/pumping has been its own journey full of many ups and downs. I’ve definitely come a long way not just with my output to feed my baby, but also with my knowledge of breastfeeding and pumping in general. Now, I actually frequently answer questions about pumping from colleagues as well as a neighbor friend who recently gave birth. She is about eight weeks postpartum and had a hard time feeding her baby directly from the breast. If I didn’t know it any better, I’d say we were the exact same person with the same problems. She, however, had me as a resource since the beginning, so I’d been sharing pumping resources and tips with her since before she even gave birth. She took me up on a lot of my suggestions and read through my resources, and this morning, she texted me a photo of her first morning pump, the largest one she’d ever had to date, which was approximately seven ounces (210ml). I don’t think I got to that level of output in a single pumping session until after the 12-week mark, but then again, I also didn’t have all the resources then that I shared with her now.

I’m happy to help other mothers who are struggling to breastfeed in any way I can. I only wish I had all this knowledge and help back then. But it’s one way I can “give back” to help others who are going through their own downward spirals and just trying to help their babies eat, grow, and be healthy. I know if I did this again, even though it would be challenging, I’d have a lot more experience and resources at my fingertips so that I wouldn’t be as upset as I was in the beginning of this journey. But that’s what all moms need: more support, more resources, and more help.

Using flow to break stagnation

I was re-reading the article about stagnation that Adam Grant wrote during the pandemic. He talked about not being happy or fulfilled, but also not being depressed. He felt something in between the two. He was being productive, so it wasn’t like he was just lazing around doing nothing, but something just didn’t feel right. And he concluded he just felt stagnant.

That’s how I’d been feeling when I went back to work about four weeks ago. I was getting things done, attending Zoom meetings, taking notes, providing action items, getting training done, but I just felt blegh and meh. I didn’t feel fulfilled, and I felt annoyed that I couldn’t be in the next room taking care of my own baby; I couldn’t do the job I really wanted, which was to take care of my own child. A number of mom friends shared this sentiment with me when they returned to work after having their first children. It’s something most moms don’t want to admit out loud in fear of being judged for wanting what is stereotypically female, but they nevertheless feel. I’ve been really lucky in my postpartum journey: I had a quick and easy recovery. I bonded right away with my baby. I started exercising again after six weeks. I had a supportive partner who took an egalitarian approach to parenting. The worst part that I struggled with was pumping, but I finally came to accept it as the choice I actively made for the benefit of my baby and her health. But overall, I really loved and still love my new role as a mother. There is really no job I’ve ever had that has felt more fulfilling and meaningful than this one. So when I started feeling stagnant, I felt kind of guilty. A lot of moms who’d had rough recoveries or postpartum depression/anxiety would kill to be in my shoes.

But in the last week or so, I’ve finally started feeling better. I researched things to do and eat in Philadelphia for our trip. I’ve been actively cooking things I’ve wanted to make and researching more things to cook and bake. It’s part of what Adam Grant says you need to do to break stagnation: find your “flow” where you get totally absorbed into something and just feel energized by it. So no surprise here, but food was my way to do that. I feel a little more like myself and like there is more to life than just my day job and being a pumping princess.

First Mother’s Day gift

Yesterday, we received an unexpected package in the mail. It was from Chris’s friend, who sent me an early Mother’s Day gift. It was a package of assorted specialty teas, and her message wished me a happy first Mother’s Day. It was very sweet and thoughtful, completely out of nowhere, especially since I wasn’t actively thinking about Mother’s Day at all.

I generally think Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are bullshit holidays. They are “holidays” on the calendar to remind everyone to love and respect and appreciate their parents when most of the other days of the year, they genuinely do not care and take these people in their lives for granted. You know what would be even better than having a Mother’s Day holiday (which is on a Sunday, and as if anyone would actually get the day off if they worked on a Sunday): actually having nationally mandated family leave, universal healthcare, and for everyone, especially our government, to stay the hell out of the business of any woman who has to make the gut-wrenching decision to have an abortion.

Dropping pumps

After your milk supply regulates after around 12 weeks postpartum, hormones play less of a part in terms of your milk supply and instead, demand dictates it a lot more. Because of that, I wanted to wait until after I reached 12 weeks to start dropping pumps. Even though I was only pumping about 2-4 times a day in the first week of my baby’s life, and then six times a day in the next three weeks, I increased to seven times per day to increase the demand that would fuel my supply based on what I had read on exclusive pumping via the exclusive pumping mamas website as well as the Facebook support group. These have been my two sources of truth on EP since starting. The exclusive pumping guidelines strongly urge that in the first 12 weeks postpartum, pumping moms pump at minimum 8 to 12 times per day around the clock, every 2 to 3 hours. I knew I would never be able to do that and retain my sanity, and so my compromise to myself was seven pumps per day. Even for those rare moms who have an over supply in their first 12 weeks, if they do not pump at this frequency around the clock, their supply will likely plummet quite drastically after 12 weeks, and so their oversupply tends to be a bit of a false security.

When I reached the 13th week, I finally decided to drop a pump. Instead of pumping approximately every three hours during the day and four hours overnight, I would pump about every four hours around the clock, with a five hour gap between pumps from 3 AM to 8 AM to allow me to sleep a little bit more (yeah, like 3.5 hours vs. 3 – very luxurious as you can tell). Also, it makes sense that I would pump six times a day if my baby eats six times a day. In an ideal world, the amount I pump per pump session would match the amount that my baby needed to eat. This has never been the case, as my supply has always fluctuated throughout the day and yielded very different numbers, so every time I started pumping, it would always feel like a crapshoot as to how much I would produce. However, I have read that this is very common with most women who are lactating, as your prolactin level is constantly fluctuating throughout the day and tends to peak in the middle of the night through the early morning. The only time I could semi-accurately predict what I would produce at a given session at a given time was during the middle of the night pump as well as my very first morning pump when I woke up.

Anyway, I was really scared to drop a pump because I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I was especially scared of losing supply, but I knew that as I approached returning back to work, my eventual goal was to get down to five pumps per day as well as to cut out my overnight pump. And so, dropping at least one pump at this point made sense for me. So I sucked it up and told myself, even if my supply drops by an ounce or so, there is really no going back once I drop pumps. Once I start dropping pumps, the number of pumps per day will only go down, never up again. I had to do this for my sanity, for my own mental health. I really need to start getting my life back again and not constantly focus on the number of milliliters of breastmilk that I was producing for my baby to eat. As my night nurse always says, this is only for a short time, and this will not last forever. And so, that short time is being defined partly by my return to work date, as well as my own sanity and desire to be unshackled from my pump.

So now, it’s been about one week since I took the plunge and did it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised after dropping a pump: all of my outputs at every session increased dramatically, with the exception of my first morning pump, which tends to be pretty similar to before I dropped pumps. Every other pump increased: it was like it was almost predictable at this point and very even. The amount that I was producing per session on average increased about 20 to 70mL and it ended up evening out to more than what I was producing when I was doing seven pumps per day. In fact, it was like my supply had increased over the course of the last week with just six pumps a day. I was almost matching how much my baby was eating in a single day! I could not believe it. I never thought that I could get to a point where I could even call myself “a just enougher,” But it looked like there were a couple of days where I could actually have given myself that label. I had a late start to priming my body for exclusive pumping because of the crappy advice I was given early on from the lactation consultants that I had met in person. I was not forward thinking enough at that point to think about a life of potentially exclusively pumping for my baby given her weak suck and poor milk transfer. I didn’t start doing my research on this until about a week before her one month check up. In retrospect, I really regretted not looking into it sooner or being more prepared. I just didn’t have the information early on enough to establish my supply early enough, as those first one to two weeks postpartum are really crucial in terms of establishing one’s milk supply. Timing REALLY matters here. And when I spoke with another lactation consultant through Cleo in March, I told her that my goal was to get to 75 to 80% breast milk for my baby. I would obviously love for it to be 100%, but I would be OK if it never got there; I had made peace with this at the end of January. Given my late start with aggressive exclusive pumping, she told me that 80% was a realistic goal given the trajectory I had shared with her, but 100% would be unlikely. It would not be impossible, she said, but it would be quite difficult and against the odds.

 Well, here we are looking at the data and we have achieved that in two days in this last seven day period, when I was able to match my baby’s needs 100%. We still gave her one bottle of formula on these days as we normally do because as per usual, I was scared that my supply would not be that consistent, and I wanted to save for a “rainy day,“ which could easily be tomorrow when I may not produce as many ounces. But if we wanted to, we could’ve easily given her just breast milk that day. My fear in that, though, which has always been a fear, is that my baby will get so used to having breastmilk that she will start rejecting any and all formula. And that will be particularly difficult and scary when eventually, my period returns, which will inevitably result in my supply tanking. That happens with literally every woman who lactates, and every lactating mom dreads that time. Well, fingers crossed that my period does not return until at least 8 to 9 months postpartum.

It’s funny how things turn out. It is true what they say: once you stop worrying about your milk supply and just throw in the towel and say, it is what it is; I will produce what I produce. I will make peace with it. I will drop pumps and accept whatever supply dip comes — At that point, when you least expect it, you actually end up producing more.

Well, I hope this keeps up. I only have seven days of data right now, so I am looking at the next seven days to see how consistent this will stay, if at all. Because if the next seven days look good, then after that, I will try gradually weaning myself off of my middle of the night pump. Then, I will have five pumps from the time that I wake up to time that I go to bed and actually… Have a real, full night‘s sleep for the first time since two days before my baby was born. And I am really looking forward to that happening. I really deserve it.

Chai meditation – daily calm

During the pandemic, I started supporting (in a greater number, anyway) smaller, minority owned food businesses. It was also an added bonus if these small food businesses were owned by women. One of the businesses that I discovered via Instagram that I absolutely loved was The Chai Box. It is a small chai company that is based in Atlanta and owned by a female Indian American who immigrated to the US from India when she was a young girl. I love the story behind how her business got started: she and her husband raised three sons in Atlanta and after school, when the kids would come home with their friends, she would make chai for all of them to enjoy with their after school snacks. Their kids’ friends enjoyed the chai so much that they would go home and tell their parents about it. Then, at school events or sports games, the kids’ moms would ask about how she makes her chai. A number of them offered to pay her for her blends. So initially she started gifting and selling them to these moms and family friends. Gradually it became an actual business — their family business. They source all of their tea from India, and all of their spices, which are crazy fresh, are sourced from small, fair trade businesses in Kerala, the state where Chris’s family originates. They also are all hand picked and do not use pesticides.

I especially love her chai meditation, which she does every single morning when she is not traveling for work in her beautiful kitchen. She records herself in her Instagram story making chai, always a slightly different version, and then she records the pour and insists that you make time for you. Her time to herself is her daily morning chai meditation. I watch it every single day, no fail. I actually find it very soothing, particularly the #ASMR from the heat aeration as well as the pouring of the chai into the pot and cup. I have learned a lot about chai just from following her Instagram handle and watching her daily chai meditation. She says that when you add spices to hot boiling water, you know how fresh they are if the water changes into a faint golden or brown color. And she always says that chai is not chai unless you do a double boil: first, you boil the water and add the tea leaves or spices and boil; and then you do a second boil once you add your milk of choice and let simmer. My favorite blends that she does so far are the Punjaban Party and Hill Station.  

Well, I thought about her rule of thumb that spices are not fresh unless they change the water color in boiling water. One morning this week, I decided to make chai the way I used to make it before I started buying her blends by using my Dilmah teabags, a slice of ginger, as well as some crushed cardamom pods, fennel seeds, and clove. My pot was too dark for me to see if there was a color change, but when I tasted the chai, it really fell flat: the richness of both the spices as well as the tea was really so inferior to her blends that there was genuinely no comparison at all. It was like I was knowingly giving myself subpar chai. Making chai in the morning a few times a week is like my little indulgence for myself in the midst of the massive fatigue and chaos in raising a baby: I love doing the double boil as well as the heat aeration, and that first sip always hits the spot. Even when I made matcha, which I love, a few times a week in the last few weeks, that has been nowhere as satisfying as my first sip of chai each morning when I make it. It is definitely a process, one that takes time and patience to do right, but one that I really love and look forward to.

Donating IVF medications

When I look back, I always feel extremely grateful and lucky that I only had to do one IVF cycle to have Kaia. Through all of the IVF support groups, Instagram handles, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances I know who have gone through and are currently going through IVF, I know that I am not the rule: I am the exception when it comes to a successful IVF journey. Every single day, when I look at Kaia‘s face, I am so grateful that I have her because I know others are nowhere as lucky as I have been. Even though I only had one embryo that made it, that one embryo is now my healthy baby. And for that, I am beyond blessed. I read real stories of people’s endless IVF cycles, failed transfers, zero embryos that made it through genetic testing, and sometimes, I have broken down and cried. All these people want to do is start a family or expand their family. It’s not like they are asking for much, but given the environmental factors that we are facing in a very polluted world now, our eggs and sperm have collectively been compromised. And so, some of us face more challenges than others when it comes to conceiving and carrying babies to term. And because I can relate to that pain, as there were many moments in the last two years when I wondered if I would ever have my own biological child, I wanted to be able to help others in some small way.

I knew I had a lot of IVF medication left over from my single cycle last year. I was also fortunate from a financial standpoint and that I had Chris’s amazing health insurance that paid for the vast majority of the IVF costs. The total raw cost of all of the medication that I got was likely around $15-18K. What did I pay? Only about $300 out-of-pocket. When I looked at my remaining medication that would be expiring in the second half of this year, I realized that I had about $7000 of medication that was still sealed, brand new, and never used. This would completely go to waste if I just left it in my closet. It’s illegal to resell medication, and so that never even crossed my mind for a second… Even though I am sure that people would have bought it from me, and I could’ve made a decent amount of money. For me, to resell IVF medication feels very wrong, to play on the hearts and minds of those who are the most vulnerable. And so, in the one private IVF support group that I have continue to stay in on Facebook, I posted that I would be giving the medications away for free to anyone who would be willing to pick them up from my apartment here in New York. I asked for them to follow the honor code and only request the medication if they were a self pay patient. Of course, I got a lot of responses. Some of the people who responded lived as far away as Pennsylvania and Chicago. They were willing to either come here or have a friend or relative pick it up from me who is local. All of them asked if there was any way for them to repay me. I told them I did not want to accept any money… But if they really wanted to give me something in return, then I would appreciate something sweet, maybe ice cream.

Well, these women were very grateful and thoughtful, as well. They all asked me about what flavors of ice cream I liked and what brands, and so I rattled off a short list of flavors as well as brands that I liked. And now, after having given away all of my medication to three different self-pay IVF patients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, we now have over seven different types of ice cream that are sitting in the back of our freezer. We have Häagen-Dazs, Malai Ice Cream, Tollhouse ice cream sandwiches, and Adirondack Creamery. Is the value the same as value of the medication? Of course it isn’t. But none of that really matters to me. When I heard their brief stories of their own IVF journeys, my heart just broke. All of them have done multiple IVF cycles. One was on her fourth IVF cycle. Two of out of three of them have paid completely out of pocket… Just for the mere chance of having a baby. I have not forgotten the pain and suffering that I went through when going through the exact same process as they did. So I hope this little bit that I have done will help give them some hope for the future and help with the expenses.