When baby is wide awake at 5am

Chris has been away on a short work trip since Wednesday and won’t be returning until tomorrow, which means that I am basically on night duty. This means I am responsible for “stretching” the baby’s sleep and ensuring that if/when she wakes up in the middle of the night that I stick the pacifier in her mouth to soothe and get her back to sleep. Luckily for me, the first night was actually pretty good: last night, she didn’t stir and yelp until about 4am. I quickly put the paci in her mouth, and she fell right back asleep. Then an hour later, at 5am, she woke up yet again, except this time, her eyes were wide open, she was nearly kicking her legs out, and she was moving so rapidly that the entire bassinet was nearly bouncing. As soon as she saw my face, she broke out into a huge smile and started kicking even harder, indicating she wanted out.

Ummmm, no. I still need to sleep for at least an hour and a half. Mommy is NOT taking you out to hold and cuddle you at 5am.

I gave her the pacifier and told her that I needed to sleep, and maybe if she was good, I’d take her out at around 6:40. She ended up falling back asleep to then wake up again at 6:15 with nonstop babble. I heard her babbling from the bed and decided to let her babble to herself for about 25 minutes while I got some shut-eye time. I eventually took her out and plopped her onto the bed, which she absolutely adores being on. She just loves being on the bed with us. We snuggled and she kicked her legs, and I got her bottle ready for her feeding.

It’s hard to get mad at her for waking up early when she’s so darn cute. While I want to indulge her and spend time with her, I also need my sleep time to stay sane, so there needs to be some balance. I told this, but she didn’t seem to care what I said. Oh, babies. She will learn some day.

Stronger and stronger

It’s almost like it was just yesterday when I first put our baby on her stomach on a blanket over the floor, and I announced to her that it was tummy time, and therefore she needed to practice lifting her head. She was only about three weeks old. They say that for newborns, if they are healthy and full term, tummy time can begin as early as the day they come home from the hospital. We were so consumed by feeding her and helping her gain weight that I totally forgot about tummy time until close to her 1-month check-up, though.

The first couple of months of tummy time were absolutely miserable: she’d yell and scream, tears would come down her little face, she’d spit up and drool all over the blanket. I felt like I was torturing her when all I wanted was for her to strengthen her neck and core muscles like every other modern-day parent was trying to do. Sometimes, Chris suggested skipping tummy time and just going right into feeding because I’m sure he felt like this was torture, too. In fact, he almost immediately renamed “tummy time” to “torture time,” and he didn’t want to be the one to place her on the floor on her stomach; he would leave that task to me, as though to quietly have our baby associate torture with her mama. How nice of him.

But gradually, she got stronger and stronger. She started turning her head from side to side on her tummy. Then, she started lifting her head between cries and yells. Then, she stopped wanting to be cradled when held and insisted we hold her upright with her head high and supported on her own while over our shoulders. She began lifting her head off the floor. Then, she lifted her shoulders. The tummy time cries stopped. And now, she’s doing tummy time for nearly 30 minutes AT A TIME. She’s pushing her hands down to lift her entire chest up. She tries to grab toys while on her tummy and lifting her chest. She’s even starting to crawl backwards for the first time. My baby is 23 weeks old and growing too fast. Whenever she is on her tummy now, she looks up, as though victorious, confident in her newfound and growing strength.

“Soon, she’ll be crawling, and then, she’ll be running all over this apartment!” the nanny exclaimed this morning.

Noooooo, don’t talk about that, I said to her. This is all happening too fast. I just want to enjoy her stages right here and right now.

Creating a fake boob

My baby doesn’t get a lot of milk directly from my breasts, but it certainly doesn’t mean that she does not love them. Every time she sees them, it’s as though her eyes get bigger and she starts wiggling her arms and legs more enthusiastically. Well, Chris, perhaps not even realizing it himself, managed to create a fake boob for our daughter.

The bassinet she has been sleeping in has bars on the outside of it, and when she moves vigorously in the bassinet, sometimes she bangs her head against the skinny bars. Chris got a little concerned, thinking she might get brain damage from banging her head too much against them. So he wrapped these thick, huge layers of bubble wrap around each of the bars where her head is during sleep. One of those wrap jobs is so thick that the bubble wrap protrudes into the bassinet and against the bassinet wall from the outside, which looks like a huge, round fluffy breast. So at night and early in the morning, when we’ve watched our baby lean over to that side of the bassinet, she tries to go at the side, mouthing and constantly licking and sucking at the “boob.” It’s the cutest and most hilarious thing to watch. And even when she is not in the bassinet going at the fake boob, you can see all her darkened saliva marks staining the area where the fake boob is.

Supportive partners and egalitarian parenting

“I’m so lucky that I have Joe,” my friend said over a Zoom chat the other day. When she was recovering from her c-section birth last August, she could barely stand up on her own for the first three weeks, and when she was able to stand on her own, she couldn’t really bend over, which meant she couldn’t change any of their baby’s diapers. Her husband did the lion’s share of taking care of the baby and the house as she recovered from the c-section, and she said she felt really bad about it. “We’re lucky to have partners who really believe in equal parenting in this day and age,” she said to me. “Our moms did NOT have even a fraction of this when they had us!”

She’s right. The current generation of parents are more egalitarian than the generations before us. But unfortunately, I see many, many posts in the mom and pumping/breastfeeding groups I’m in where there are plenty of dads that literally do nothing to help raise their children. They think it’s fully the mother’s responsibility to do everything child-related, and even say things like, “You need to control your child!” or “All you do all day is sit on your ass and pump.” That last one really stung when I read it. As someone who has attempted to exclusively pump since my child’s fourth week of life, I can say with firsthand experience that pumping not only fucks with your mind (“wait, I’m pumping milk to feed my child, but I can’t feed her directly from my boob, so I don’t get that direct bonding experience with her? WHY?!”), but it also just takes so, so much time and energy. Breastfeeding mothers do not attach themselves to an electric nipple sucking device for fun or as a hobby; we do this because we need and want to feed our babies the only thing they are able to eat aside from formula. We are producing food and nourishment for our babies to SURVIVE. And in a current time when formula has not only been recalled but is in scarcity, saying something that is not only tone deaf and ignorant, but it’s just plain stupid.

I’ve never had to explain to Chris why I wanted to breastfeed, whether that was directly from the boob or pumping. I’ve never had to listen to a dumb retort from his mouth when I tell him, “I have to pump.” I’ve never had to explain the benefits of breast milk to him or why pumping was a decision I wanted to push forward with to feed our child, even when I was angry or grumpy about it. He just got it and respected my wishes. He does pretty much all the baby’s bottle feeds other than the ones the nanny does now, and he actually enjoys it. If anything, I think he benefits from my exclusive pumping: it means he gets bonding time with our baby, who associates him with food (instead of me :-P). Whenever he walks into the room, her eyes immediately go to him. To her, Daddy = food. I know he loves this. Am I sad that she doesn’t associate me directly with food? Yes, but I’ve gotten over it now. She may be unaware of it now, but my body is providing the majority of her nourishment, and I’m happy knowing that. To think that other partners would not be supportive and would be flat out ignorant to the benefits of pumping and breast milk, not to mention completely be oblivious to the time and mental energy required to pump, just hurts my heart. And to think that other partners would not want the relationship Chris has with our daughter just seems sad to me. Why even bother to procreate unless you want to have a relationship with your child and contribute to their health, safety, and well being? It’s really unfortunate that not only so many women choose partners who are like this, but also continue to put up with this terrible behavior and treatment… in the year 2022.

Nanny’s first day and endless tears

Our nanny arrived ten minutes early this morning for her first day of work. It was also our baby’s first day being in a new routine and not taking a nap immediately after her first morning feed. I wasn’t sure how the day would go, but I had a feeling it would include some fussiness and crying. Our baby has occasionally gotten upset when being held with strangers as of late, and unfortunately, this morning was no different. In fact, it was even worse: as soon as our nanny picked her up, she immediately started crying and screaming nonstop. Before she had arrived, our baby was completely fine, smiling and babbling and happy. I was wondering how long it would last. Well, other than her nap time, all morning she screamed and cried. She even screamed and cried through her 10am feed and didn’t even finish the bottle. That’s fresh breast milk I pump that morning; she ALWAYS finishes that bottle. I was so devastated and struggled to concentrate on work in the morning. Being in the next room attempting to work while your baby daughter is screaming bloody murder in the next room is…. pretty futile and miserable. I lasted maybe 30-40 minutes before I caved in and got out of the second bedroom to hold and comfort her. I eventually had to go outside to get some air, and our handyman friend ran into me and comforted me while I cried outside, feeling a lot of mom guilt and wondering when the hell this was going to get easier. I normally don’t get too phased hearing the sound of my baby cry, but hearing the wailing and screaming nonstop was driving me crazy and making me wonder if having a nanny was a good idea after all. I mean, don’t I want to be with my baby during the day? It doesn’t seem to matter what choice you make; there’s guilt all around when you’re a mom.

I told a colleague this during a call this morning. I was trying to focus on what he was sharing with me, but I also told him that in the next room was my screaming 21-week old baby, struggling to get along with the new nanny. He sent me an email later telling me that he really felt for me: when his now toddler went to daycare the very first day, he said it was likely the hardest day of his and his wife’s lives. For the first two weeks, it was a huge struggle and pain to get ready in the morning, get out the door, and do drop off. Pickups were miserable because his son was angry at them both for leaving him with strangers. But after two weeks, the kid adjusted, and now he loves his teachers and friends and looks forward to daycare. He told me to take it a day at a time, and that we’d all get used to this new normal, including my daughter.

These are the emotional ups and downs of having a child in real time, and it really, really sucks.

Full milk supply

A full milk supply for a breastfeeding mother is considered somewhere between 600 to 1200 mL per 24-hour period. As you would probably think looking at this, that is a huge range. On average though, based on what I have read, it actually should be at least 720 mL per day once your baby is between 1 to 6 months of age. Over 1000 mL per day is considered a bit of an over supply. But alas, every baby is different and has a different appetite level. I was taking a look at my last seven day average of breastmilk output, and I realized that I was averaging 744 ml, or almost 25 ounces. There were days when I made over 25 ounces, and then there were the days when I made just over 24 ounces. And even though I still am not making 100% of what my baby needs, I still couldn’t really believe it when I looked at these numbers. 

Once upon a time, within my baby’s first month of life, I struggled to produce even 1-1.5 ounces per pump session. I had a late start to pumping. I had no idea then that a weak suck was preventing my baby from effectively removing milk from my breasts. She was on my boobs all the time that first week, yet I had no clue that she wasn’t eating enough. I only pumped a handful of times in her first week of life… Because I was naïve and ignorant. I thought to myself, I don’t need to pump that much. She’s on my breasts on all the time. She had a good latch according to what the lactation consultant at the hospital said. And the breast-feeding course I took plus all the breastfeeding guides I read said that the latch was the most important thing, so there was no way anything could be wrong, right? So I didn’t really pump much until after she was one week old – that’s when I started pumping 3 times a day… which was inadequate if you read any exclusive pumping guide. I didn’t pump six times a day until she was two weeks old. And I didn’t pump seven times a day until she was over four weeks old. I didn’t use the right flange size until she was five weeks old. I didn’t even start pumping for 30 minutes until she was four weeks old. I didn’t learn my pump settings and how to effectively get the most milk out until about six weeks. I had a lot to learn and teach myself, through my own experience, trial and error, the Facebook pumping mama‘s group, and the exclusive pumping website. 

When I was about four weeks postpartum, I seriously considered giving up altogether. I felt like I was a failure. I wasn’t producing enough for my baby to eat, and I felt like I was spending all my time with a stupid breast pump instead of bonding with my baby. I was so angry at the world, at myself, at the crappy lactation consultants I met with in person at the hospital and at the pediatrician’s office. The pediatrician of all people told us our baby had a weak suck that would be inefficient at removing milk from my breasts, not either of the LCs we saw in person. It was such a simple test: to just stick your finger in her mouth when she was hungry to see how hard she sucked, and neither LC did this! I was angry that I missed the window of the first two weeks of my baby’s life to really establish a good milk supply by consistently removing milk from my breasts. If you read any breast-feeding support group, every single person emphasizes that the first two weeks are critical in terms of building your milk supply. You either need to be nursing effectively every 2 to 3 hours or pumping every 2 to 3 hours for the first two weeks, otherwise it will be just that much more challenging to get a full milk supply. Well, I didn’t know that then. I was so bitter and beyond upset. But I was determined not to give up. I had to give all of my new learnings a chance, plus the $60 package of flanges that I just purchased. And, I read that most struggling breast-feeding moms, whether they are nursing or pumping, give up at the six week mark. And there was no way in hell that I was giving up that soon. I ate oatmeal every single day from the morning after we returned from the hospital. I still eat it every single day. I drink an insane amount of water every single day to stay hydrated. I power pumped for over two months every single day to get my supply up (“that is such shit,” said an Australian friend who had exclusively breastfed/nursed both of her babies and only ever had to pump one breast occasionally). Power pumping is likely the only thing that really worked, which makes sense. Because again, milk removal builds milk supply. Nothing else.

Now, when I wake up and do my first morning pump, I produce 8 to 9 ounces; my Spectra bottles are nearly full, which I always dreamt of seeing but never thought was possible at 4 weeks postpartum. And every subsequent pump, I usually get between 3 to 5 ounces. On average now, I am feeding my baby over 80% of her total daily needs. That means that the majority of her diet is breastmilk. I would love to tell that stupid lactation consultant at the doctor’s office that I don’t have low supply like she said. Look at my output now, bitches! I needed to have more milk removed from my breast back then. Because the key to milk supply is milk removal, not the useless supplements that she told me to take. And no, I am not the problem. I never was. My problem was that I didn’t have the right support. I am 21 weeks postpartum now and somehow, against everything that I read, my supply is still slowly creeping up. Most people told me that my supply would regulate at around 12 weeks, which is considered general knowledge. Some people have supplies that continue to increase, but that is rarer than the supplies that decrease or stay the same at 12 weeks and beyond. And also against what I thought would happen, after dropping pump sessions, my supply actually continued to creep up. When I dropped my seventh pump, I was producing about 20 ounces per day, But I told myself I had to start reducing pumps in order to get my sanity back. Twenty ounces per day with seven pumps became 22 ounces per day with six pumps, which then became 24 to 25 ounces with five pumps a day and no overnight pumping. 

I am so happy that I kept going and did not give up. Even though I am still not giving my baby 100% of her needs, I am grateful to my body for what it has been able to do, to go against the odds with the late start for exclusive pumping and continue to produce more and more milk to feed my baby. And when I look at the growth over time in terms of my output since January, I feel really proud. The numbers graphed out look amazing. If you told me in January that by May, I would be producing 25 ounces of breast milk per day, I would have told you that you were way too optimistic. But here we are. I am still hopeful that I will produce beyond 25 ounces regularly, but we shall wait and see.

Pumping has been hard as hell. This is not how I imagined primarily feeding my baby, but here we are. Nursing did not work out, but this is the next best thing for her and for me. Pumping is likely one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do, but even in the hardest and most emotional times, I have never regretted doing this for my baby. In some way, I look at pumping as the way that I have mourned not being able to exclusively nurse her.  But I also look at it as yet another sacrifice that a mother makes for her child. This time will soon come to an end, and as it starts winding down, I can already see myself getting sad and emotional to think that my breast-feeding journey with her will be ending. But that just means the start of the next era of our life together.

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.

respect for stay-at-home moms

I grew up having the utmost respect for working moms, as in, moms who not only take care of the house and kids but also have a paid job outside the home. My mom instilled in me from a really young age that I needed to stand on my own two feet and not depend on a man for money, that it didn’t matter how much money my future husband would make because if he left me, or God forbid, died, I’d be left with nothing or little and would need to rebuild whatever career I would have left. And there’s actually data to prove this: women who leave the workforce to care for their children and return a few years later re-enter at a lower position, lower salary, and have to work *that* much harder to get back to where they left off, if they are even lucky enough to get back there. I also heard a lot of negative comments from other kids or moms against “working moms” — working moms supposedly don’t care or aren’t as invested in their children as stay-at-home moms; working moms only think about their own careers and not raising their children. There are certainly flipped arguments here that you could use against stay-at-home moms, but either way, I heard more disparaging comments about working moms growing up. And what is not even in any of these debates is… what about “working dads” or the rare stay-at-home dad? Why don’t dads ever pit themselves against each other in these regards? Moms of all types have to argue with each other and prove who is the best. It’s so tiring.

But it goes without saying that in this generation, it’s a privilege to even *think* about being a stay-at-home parent. For most of us who live in major metropolitan areas with a high cost of living, it’s pretty much untenable to NOT have both parents working. Childcare is expensive regardless of whether it’s a daycare center or a nanny. Unless you have nearby grandparents or a very loving and selfless relative nearby who wants to help for free, there’s no getting around high childcare expenses. And being a mom now, I have thought a lot more about what life would be like from a stay-at-home mom’s standpoint, and I’ve actually learned to really admire them. For those moms who had a budding or happy career or job, they chose the selfless path to play the primary role in child-rearing and gave up their careers for their children. They felt they could be the best caregiver there was for their child, and so they pushed money and “status” aside to do that. They wanted to be there for their children’s “firsts” and be there for all the moments their babies needed encouragement and love immediately. They made that decision believing it was the best choice for their child and family, and so they became a different type of “working mom” — the working mom who works full time and gets paid zero dollars to help their child grow and flourish.

Our world we live in has little to no respect for caregivers, whether they are for the very young or the very old. We devalue childcare and elderly care. But why do we do this when our babies will eventually become the people running the world in the next couple decades, or when the elderly have given their all to society when they were in their prime?

Eyes that still bulge when they see the boobies

Many weeks ago, I stopped nursing the baby before her bottle. Chris suggested it since it would make the feedings more efficient. And while it made me sad to stop, I knew that it was for the best. It would make the day smoother. She would get her main food faster. And I would nurse her only when she got fussy perhaps due to pre-teething or when she needed a little extra after a bottle feed. I was still technically breast-feeding her because I was still pumping as much milk as I could, but I just wasn’t having as much direct breast to mouth contact anymore. The main time that I would nurse her would be before bedtime for the night after her last feed, when she needed an “aperitif” as Chris calls it. I would put her on my boob until she was satisfied, whether that was from the extra milk or just being soothed from being on the breast. I look forward to this time every night when it’s just the two of us in the bedroom together, and she is on my boob and I am caressing her hair and her face and relishing these quiet moments of just the two of us together in the darkness and peace. 

Although I will always be sad that I was never able to successfully nurse her exclusively, it will always make me smile when I think about how much she loves my boobs. In the morning when I get up and say good morning to her while she is in the bassinet for her morning nap after her first feed, I usually have the straps on my nursing top undone, so my breasts are exposed to get ready for my first morning pump. And it is the cutest and most hilarious thing when I poke my head into her bassinet to say good morning, and she immediately makes eye contact with me and smiles. And predictably, her eyes move down from my face directly to my breasts, and it’s like her eyes almost bulge out with excitement. Her mouth opens wide and she is just nearly jumping out of her skin. She starts kicking her legs and flailing her arms as though she is trying to say, get me on those boobies right now! She just loves the boobs. If she had it her way, she would be on my boob all day and all night. And this thought always makes me smile and feel happy. My baby loves me. My baby needs me. And even if she isn’t able to get her nourishment directly from my breast, she still loves spending time on my breast. She loves being with me. She is soothed from being on my boobs. And at this point in time, I have made peace with it. I am still her mother. I am still able to soothe and take care of her. I am still able to provide her food from my breasts, pumped into a bottle. And these are all amazing things. These are all things that I am constantly grateful for.

Pregnancy wistfulness and mom thoughts

I went to visit my neighbor yesterday to drop off a few baby related things that were either brand new that I never got to use, as well as a few lightly used baby items. She is 37 weeks pregnant, also from IVF, and she is expecting her first, which is a girl. She is 40 years old, and her husband is 51. She told me that she is very well aware that even though she has two more embryos that are frozen, that those may not ever make it. So this could be her one and only child. She told me that even though she was excited to meet her baby soon, she was really sad that her pregnancy was ending. It wasn’t that she wanted her pregnancy to last forever, but time just passed way too quickly. She wanted to relish the little moments more and more. Similar to me, she had a very smooth and straightforward pregnancy after IVF. She has loved every moment of being pregnant and has been incredibly grateful that IVF worked out and that she was pregnant, though at a much later age than she had hoped. She and her husband had been trying for over eight years to conceive naturally, and it just never worked. It wasn’t until last year that they finally tried IVF.

I relate a lot to her sadness about her pregnancy ending. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I also felt a little bit sad, though obviously I was at the same time very excited. I also have a similar sentiment as she does when it comes to that thought that this could be her only child. It seems that only other moms can relate to this feeling of sadness. Many parts of pregnancy as well as new motherhood and motherhood in general are difficult, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t love it and enjoy it. As far as I know, there has been no deeper meaning in life to me than raising my baby and growing her in my womb. As much as I have tried to relish every moment of pregnancy as well as new motherhood, it all just felt like it’s going too fast. Even today, it is going far too quickly for me. Our baby is growing well, but I just can’t believe that she is already four months old. I told my neighbor my feelings around this, and I told her that those complicated emotions of happiness and sadness  at your baby progressing and growing are just going to continue. Because obviously as mothers, while we want our babies to grow, we all wish that we could just freeze time so that they didn’t grow too fast. I tried to explain this to Chris, and his response was, she’s not growing too fast! She’s right on the curve! …Well, that is not what I mean. I do not literally mean that she is growing too fast. What I mean is that these moments are all passing me by too quickly, and before I know it, she is not going to need me to feed her or to get her from place to place. She’s going to be an independent woman before we even know it. And that is just crazy to me.