Miscarriage issues in the news

The New York Times has just published a lovely visual story on miscarriage. Everything Jessica Zucker writes in the piece rings true to my own experience with pregnancy loss, from her description of the deep grief to the more mundane (“On top of losing a baby, now I have to lose weight, too.”)

I love this best: 

After miscarriage, the body grieves. Depending on the length of pregnancy the body may continue to look pregnant after it’s not. Living in a no-longer-pregnant body —longing to be, looking like you are—is a complex aspect of pregnancy loss that gets lost in conversations surrounding grief.

This was definitely part of my experience. While I was not at the point where my pregnancy was outwardly obvious when I lost my pregnancies, my body already looked pregnant to me. Body image issues were confusing & confounding. 

Also, be sure to find Jessica Zucker on Instagram (@ihadamiscarriage) to see other brace women share their stories of loss & infertility. 

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Loving my job(s)

(NB: I don’t usually get political on this blog & I don’t intend to go on any lengthy political rants that don’t relate to parenting or maternity leave, but I have to say… I wrote this post 2 weeks ago & since the inauguration, the current administration has made my day-to-day job very challenging & frustrating. What a difference a day makes! Still, the sentiment in this post is generally still true, so I’ve decided to publish it as is. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up…)

I’ve returned to work. But with the winter holidays, I’ve actually only had a couple of full weeks back on the job. 

There’s no doubt about it, it’s hard to be away for these long days. Commuting + a full day’s work… The hours add up. But…

I’m glad to be back to my work as an attorney. 

There. I said it. 

I am an attachment parenting mom & I don’t feel guilty about leaving my baby to pursue my career. 

Oh, sure, I have worries, but those are limited to the day to day sort. Will I pump enough milk? (Yes, Baby M is taking a bottle!) Will MFA Dad overbundle her in her car seat? Will the babysitter drop her? (There I have to be honest… She’s fallen once from a low chair & that was on my watch.) Will Grandma give her too much milk?

I don’t worry about the long term… Will she somehow be damaged because I left her for the office? Will we not be attached? 

No, those worries are silly. Not only is there no use in worrying about those things (my return to work was inevitable for a number of reasons, not least of which is because I love it), they are simply unfounded. But the main reason I think worrying too much is uncalled for is this:

Babies are remarkably adaptable. 

If they are safe & surrounded by at least one loving adult, they can thrive. If this weren’t the case, adoption would always be a failure. All children with working moms would be damaged because their mothers work. This simply isn’t the case. 

I read the lovely book Our Babies, Ourselves while I was on leave & one of the interesting findings that Meredith Small discusses is that while for many mammals immediate attachment to the mother is necessary for the infant’s survival, that is apparently not the case for human infants. Sure, there’s oxytocin, the famed “love hormone,” that can help facilitate a connection between mother & child, but babies have wily ways of convincing just about any adult to form an on-going attachment with him or her. Because survival. Maybe because historically childbirth was dangerous enough that our species planned for maternal death in infancy. 

Whatever the reason, the point is that babies are adaptable. 

We should be gentle with them. Easy with transitions. Meet their (prehistoric but very real) needs. But they are adaptable & forgiving. 

Women subject themselves to far too much hand-wringing on account of the working mom “dilemma.” It should not be a dilemma. Work if you need to or want to. Stay home if you want to & can. No matter what, make sure your child is attached to his or her caregiver, even if that’s not you at the moment. 

Now, there are many things to get in our way & that’s where the focus should be. 

Affordable, quality childcare is hard to come by. Many families do not have access to quality care outside of the family. 

Maternity leave is non-existent for most women, forcing new mothers to return to work before they’ve physically recovered, let alone bonded fully with baby. 

I was lucky by American standards. 

Eeking out a 5-month maternity leave as an attorney in the USA was no small feat & I appreciated every moment I spent with my new daughter. Forgoing vacation for 3 years to squirrel away every possible hour (in itself a luxury & lucky choice) & tightening the budget so I could supplement with unpaid leave was worth it for me. It shouldn’t be this way, but, America. I didn’t have to go back to work at 3 weeks postpartum (which should literally be a crime).

I’m not trying to be Polyanna-ish about working with an infant at home. There are challenges. My brain is fried by the end of a work day. I have zero time to take care of myself during the week. (Some would say showering is relaxing, but let’s be honest… I only take micro showers these days so my clients & coworkers won’t fear being near me!) When I have to be in the office, I barely get to see Baby M: I leave as she’s waking & come home just in time for bed, more or less. And that doesn’t feel good. 

But overall, it’s good to be back. And I’m ok with having two jobs again!

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Working

My dream workplace…

I realize that breast milk storage bags likely have space for a name for use in hospitals, but I can’t help imagining a workplace where there are a bunch of bright, working moms supporting each other in work & in life. Having intellectual conversations & political discussions & chatter about babies. And coming together to take care of business collaboratively. And pumping. Lots of pumping. With a fridge full of pumped breast milk… requiring use of that name line, naturally. 

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“Imitation Mother” & Sour Milk


Baby M is 3 months old & we are starting to plan for my eventual return to work. For me, this has meant building up a stash of frozen breast milk & convincing Baby to take milk from a bottle. 

With T, there was nothing I hated more than pumping. In the beginning, I couldn’t pump more than a half ounce or so at home with my crappy little pump. Things were slightly better when I went back to clinic & school because my law school had just purchased a hospital-grade pump for us lactating cows moms. It was far more efficient, but the process was still painful & stressful for me. The pump was efficient & I had a clean private space, but I was simultaneously trying to relax, conjure up images of my sweet baby, & study Constitutioal Law. I never had a proper back-up stash of milk & could barely meet T’s daytime demands. 

This time around, when I was leaking milk everywhere during Baby M’s earliest days, I decided to take advantage of the apparent abundance & pump away. The technology had changed over the past 7 years & my small, affordable pump was more efficient & comfortable than even the hospital-grade one I had used for T. I dutifully pumped (stress free!) between feedings or when Baby M took a surprise long nap. I packaged the milk away & froze it. I watched with amazement as my frozen milk started taking over two shelves in the freezer. Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, two problems have now popped up…

#1. Baby M will not drink from a bottle. 

After some fussing, MFA Dad got her to take a bottle when she was about 6 or 8 weeks old. Then I got a little lazy with the pumping as my milk supply settled down a bit & we didn’t make a habit of giving her a bottle. (When T was a baby, the bottle was never a problem—He loved both bottle & breast & never had a problem switching from one to the other.) Fast forward a month & my mother-in-law is upstairs right now with Baby M, unsuccessfully (from the sounds of it) attempting to convince Baby M to take an ounce of mama milk. MFA Dad has been similarly unsuccessful in recent days as well.

Naturally, I’ve turned to Google for help on convincing Baby M that the bottle isn’t so bad. Of course, there are advertisements for bottles & silicone nipples, each promising to be closer to the breast than the others. And there are myriad blog posts with advice like “try the bottle while walking” or “give baby the bottle while she sleeps” or stories about quitting jobs or babies crying ad infunitum.

On one breastfeeding advocacy website, one father described his daughter’s rejection of the bottle as a refusal “to settle for an imitation mother.”

Y’all know how I dislike language that fuels guilt & this is one I can’t let slide by. I don’t think that this dad (who was obviously working super hard to meet his daughter’s needs) meant to make his wife or other working mothers feel guilty. He simply shared his experience & struggles & problem-solving strategy. But this is the type of language that sometimes appears in breastfeeding advocacy literature that alienates working moms & bottle-feeding moms. 

To be clear, a bottle is not an “imitation mother.” It’s an imitation boob. Babies are little primates who need to eat & their physiology requires any feeding device be designed around babies’ sucking capabilities. Mothers who breastfeed are fulfilling this biological requirement in one particular way & it happens to be the way that requires the least amount of equipment. Breastfeeding also has known benefits for mother & baby, but really, it’s simply an mammalian process & just one aspect of mothering. Human “mothering” (or, just parenting) is so much more than feeding, even if some of that mothering takes place while breastfeeding. 

A mother cradling her son in one hand & feeding him with a bottle of formula in the other hand is also mothering. She is certainly not “imitation mothering.” That dad who couldn’t get his daughter to take the bottle was “mothering” when he was caring for his daughter & when he ultimately found he was able to feed her with a sippy cup.  The babysitter or nanny giving baby a bottle of pumped breast milk is also “mothering.”

And mothering by many is okay

As long as your child & your family is happy with whatever baby raising configuration you have, your baby will be happy, attached & well adjusted!

Not that it’s easy… Currently, I need to keep repeating that Baby M will be okay when I go back to work to convince myself that we will all adjust. But I have experience on my side this time around… My awesome seven-year-old has thrived despite the fact that I was studying or working from his early days. No imitation mother needed, thank you very much! Just lots of love & lots of bottles & lots of nursing. 

As for imitation boobs… I’m on the search for the perfect one that will trick my wee one to drink while I’m away from her. And I’m finding there’s a fine line in terms of advertising for silicone nipples that might fit the bill. In my online searching, I find breastfeeding advocates who criticize bottle makers who make claims that their bottle nipples are close to the real deal. I can understand these criticisms, the idea being that by advertising a bottle as a replacement for the breast, these companies are undermining breastfeeding. I will say, I still see a lot more bottle feeding than breastfeeding out in the everyday world. So, there may be something to this criticism.

But to make breastfeeding work long-term, many of us need to find that breast-like silicone nipple. So on another level, I appreciate the fact that bottle manufacturers have been making bottles & nipples that are more likely to trick my reluctant bottle drinker. 

If M falls for the bottle, what she’ll be drinking from it is less certain, though, because…

#2. Most of that milk I froze tastes like crap.

So here I’m going to do a 360.

I recently defrosted some breast milk from my abundant freezer stash to make up a practice bottle. I dropped a bit of the milk onto my hand to test for temperature & taste…

Yuck! 

It was a bit sour & I suddenly remembered that my milk tasted a bit off after freezing when T was an infant. Not that he cared. So I didn’t care. At the time, I learned that there is an enzyme called lipase in breast milk that can cause it to taste soapy or off, even if it’s been stored properly. The milk itself is perfectly fine.

But here it was again! Lipase appears to be affecting the taste of my milk & now Baby M does seem to care!

So I googled the sh@! out of that too… And I started to worry. Did I have too much lipase in my milk? Why? It’s been associated with nutritional deficiencies… 

I could neutralize the enzyme by scalding my milk before freezing it, but lipase seems to be important for baby in terms of digesting the milk. And what other nutrients would be lost? And can you imagine a more maddening task than pumping and then scalding a couple ounces of milk at a time?!

The truth is (and here’s the 360 degree turn from what I said above), breast milk was not designed to be expressed & then stored for long periods of time. It’s supposed to go from mom’s nipple to baby’s mouth, directly & in short order. 

You’d think this might make me feel guilty, but it actually makes me feel better. There is nothing wrong with me or my milk! Baby is thriving on it, so it’s purely a storage issue. I’ve stopped googling nutritional deficiencies as it’s likely not a problem with me. 

While modern technology is amazing (and the pumps available today are truly technological miracles!), I find myself stymied by basic biology (or is it physiology?). I am a modern mother, with a family & a career & a freezer full of lipase-happy sour milk. But baby & my body are still engaged in a process that has not evolved much during the past 3 million years or so. 

So I have to work with those biological limits. Of course, I’ll try to keep up with a supply of fresh milk by pumping every day at work. Maybe she’ll go for the lipase-full milk if I mix it with fresh milk or formula. It’s a modern world after all, and I thankfully have options that are perfectly healthy, even if less perfect than fresh breast milk. 

As long as we can find a solution that respects baby M’s needs & doesn’t involve copious amounts of tears or stress, we’ll all be okay. Just because I respect human biology (especially when it comes to babies) doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about living a modern life. 

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Bodies, pregnancy & birth: “Bouncing back”

Me & baby M, 6 days postpartum

On evening #2 postpartum I had a strange sensation & a thought. I was listening for M’s burp to come, but instead felt my own body shifting back to its previous order. It’s as if my intestines were settling down with a big sigh, my body literally re-ordering itself. I really started to think about what my postpartum body is, would be & should be. While society has come a ways in discussions of the postpartum period & postpartum bodies (both with humor & sincerity), we still have far to go.

So much of what we think about postpartum bodies has to do with weight. It’s no news that our culture is obsessed with women’s weights & for some f’d up reason, we’re almost more obsessed with weight after giving birth than at any other time in a woman’s life. At a time when we should be so proud of our bodies for building & sustaining life, we’re pressured (or allowing ourselves to feel pressured) to change our miracle makers. Women deserve a big ol’ break from the body (self-) talk postpartum, not new demands.

As if taking care of a newborn isn’t enough. As if recovering from birthing isn’t enough. As if reorganizing your innards isn’t enough. As if making breast milk isn’t enough. As if taking a damned shower isn’t enough.

But really, the weight issue is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the socially accepted code for talking about women’s bodies. What we don’t talk about are all the other body issues that come with postpartum. Losing control over basic bodily functions. (If we’re honest, this includes not only peeing, but also pooping, farting, sweating & crying… Did I miss anything?) Dealing with new bodily functions we can’t control either. (I’m talking about you, leaky boobs!) Worrying about having (good) sex again. Having newborns, then babies, then toddlers, then children who still think of (& treat) our bodies as extensions of themselves. 

Postpartum body issues are about more than how we look to the outside world. And we don’t necessarily have a good way of talking about all this yet. Heck, no one talked to me about the health of my pelvic floor after I had my son over seven years ago, not even my midwife. And certainly no one warned me that I’d still feel “touched out” sometimes by my child seven years later.

In terms of bodily integrity, somehow, having a foreign body growing inside me for nine months has paled in comparison to postpartum (& motherhood, generally…). And it doesn’t help that the healing portion of the postpartum period lasts so long. Feeling bed-ridden for days & then housebound for weeks is hard, especially on the heels of an active pregnancy (heck, I was at work the day before I gave birth!). 

What I came to realize in those early days (as I sat around, nursing around the clock & try to catch fits of sleep here & there…) is that postpartum is such a contrast to the powerful experiences of pregnancy & birth. Suddenly, after growing a human child in my womb, after pushing that baby out with blood, sweat & tears (not to mention other bodily substances!), there I lay, needing help getting out of bed! 

We need & deserve help in the postpartum period. We need to heal & recover. We need to put our bodies’ energies (what little we have left, that is) toward nourishing ourselves & our new babies (& keeping us both alive!). We need to keep our sanity & put a check on those baby blues (not to mention dealing with full-blown postpartum depression). When my mom told me that no one stayed around to help her after she brought me & then my brother home from the hospital, I felt so sad & angry that new mothers have been (& continue to be) so underserved at such a vulnerable time. 

It’s obviously different for each woman, but if I’m honest, part of the reason the postpartum period is so hard is that it is, in some ways, a let down. After giving birth, we need help not only walking to the bathroom or getting dinner on the table… We need help feeling normal & important. We need support in so many ways.

Sure, I may be crazy in love with the new little person in my life, but it’s a bummer to feel so weak & out of control in those early weeks following birth. When my mother in law & husband brought me breakfast in bed the first few days after giving birth, I felt special. When my mom made me an herbal sitz bath, I felt loved. 

Mothers need to “bounce back” mentally before even getting back to a more-or-less functioning body. Fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans is just not a priority, even if I am starting to work on being more physically active. Feeling some sort of normal is a priority. I’m lucky to have had the help of family getting there.

A few days postpartum, I sat in the bath admiring my soft belly. My uterus was still painfully shrinking back to its former size. My belly button was a weird inny-outy blob & my beautiful linea negra still adorned my strangely pigmented & deflated belly. My abdomen was a bit uneven, as if somehow my liver were now crooked. Or my small intestines we balled up on one side. My nipples were practically scabbed over & slathered in nipple cream. This is ok, I thought to myself. This body, today, is wonderful!

Now, 10 weeks later, I sometimes think that if I put baby girl down in the bassinet for her nap, I could exercise. Some days I do put her in the stroller for a proper walk. Most days I just hold her tight. I don’t need my body “back” right now. My body is all that it needs to be in this moment, even if that means I’m a human pillow for an hour or so.

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We’ve had a baby!

Little Mom, JD, Jr. (aka “M”) is here & has actually been here for about 2 months now! 

Yikes, life is busy with 2 kiddos! Whereas with T, I started this blog in the early days of his life… with M and T, I haven’t found much time to do any writing. 

Little Baby M has been a joy & I’ve waited so long for her to join us that I find myself just staring at her most of the day in wonderment at the miracle that she is. Nursing time has been (a) meditative, (b) restful, (c) time to jot down ideas for the blog, or (d) wasted on Facebook. 

And when she’s not eating or sleeping (usually on someone), I’ve been trying to engage with T (who is the most amazing big brother) or take care of household stuff (which means managing various states of chaos, if I’m honest…).

I have managed to stay off of my work email (aside from purging emails so that I don’t get locked out of my email system entirely), though I may start working remotely for a few hours a week one day soon.

I have so many thoughts about motherhood in the early newborn days, postpartum living, birth after miscarriages, parenting, maternity leave, work-life divides, and living radically… But mostly these thoughts are just swirling in my sleep-deprived brain. I hope to get some of them out of there one day soon.

So, yay, she’s here! And she’s waking up, so that’s all for now…

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Letter to my as-yet unborn daughter 

Big brother’s picture of baby, mom, T & midwives on baby’s guess date.


Dear baby girl,

I am officially in the final days of what is likely my last pregnancy. With you! This means you will be born so very soon. Last night, I dreamt of your birth & it was amazing. I know your actual birth will be even more amazing… I woke up & you weren’t in my arms but you will be on your true birthing day!

Despite the darker days of uncertainty I’ve had during this pregnancy (sometimes doubting that I’d ever get to meet you), I’ve enjoyed every minute of nurturing you in my womb. I was worried when I was pregnant with your brother, but for different reasons—born of inexperience & naïveté. I worried about you because I knew too much. 

Still, nothing has been more miraculous than feeling you wriggle around in my belly. Feeling you changing inside me & growing stronger, week by week. 

And now that your birthing day is just around the corner, I am relaxing & letting myself be excited to meet & hold you. I’m talking to you more (though never as much as your sweet brother, who I am convinced you will recognize by voice immediately after you’re born). I’m allowing myself to think & daydream about the person you will be on this side of the womb. 

I fear I won’t want to let you go once you’re here. Ever. 

But there are others who are so excited for your arrival. You, who they’ve never felt the way I have. Who nonetheless love as if they had carried you these past 8 1/2 months. Your dad, who pats & kisses my belly every day & takes such good care of us. Your brother, who is so ready to sing & read & talk to you face-to-face. Your loving grandparents & aunts & uncles & cousins & dear friends. 

With birth, I will have to let you go. Even if just a little bit. Which is perhaps why I’ve loved being pregnant so much. I’ve had you to myself all these months! 

When I look at your brother, who is so fiercely independent, I realize that birth will be your first act of independence. 

I’ve been preparing for this birth, but so have you! And, really, it’s your birth, not mine. I’m not exactly on the sidelines, but together our bodies will be working to bring you into this world. 

And as flawed & sometimes horrifying as this world can be, my instinct is to keep you protected inside me. Where you are safe & near me at all times. But only out here can you help make this world a better place. I know you will. More love & more loving can be nothing but healing. Even if it’s just in our small corner or neighborhood. I can feel your love already. 

Soon, others will feel it too. 

Love always,

Mom

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