Plunging Into the Past

My mother, smoking in my grandparents’ house, back when everyone was lighting up like chimneys.

Back in May I finally (finally!) got around to sending a bunch of stuff into Legacybox, which is one of those companies that will scan your photos and transfer VHS tapes into digital files you can actually watch since VCRs are rare commodities these days. I had two boxes, the first of which was purchased in 2013, the year my mom died. It just kind of sad there, unused, because using it would require a level of organization and discipline I often struggle with.

Using my Legacybox was on my 19 in 2019 list, one of several goals I never got around to accomplishing. I kind of hate not being able to check things off my list, so in January I started going through pictures and sorting them into prioritized piles. And then I did exactly nothing with those files.

Fast forward to February, when the BFF and I turned our annual birthday vacation into a Get Shit Done (GSD) staycation. Both of us wanted to go through our photos, purging and organizing, and we spent one super-long night doing just that. I got much, much further than I had in January, but the boxes still didn’t make it out the door.

One of the holdups there was that the second box was purchased to digitize a photo album that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. Grammy’s album was the kind that had sticky pages, and if you’ve ever used one of those you know that after a handful of years, the adhesive turns yellowy brown and the acid in it starts eating away at your pictures.

One of the photos rescued from the evil sticky album of doom.

My goal had been to gently remove the photos, take the best of them, and get them digitized so that I could make her a Shutterfly book. But Grammy also had handwritten a bunch of notes and dates on the sticky pages, and I didn’t want to lose the detail or her writing. This meant that I had to photograph every page of the album so I could later match up the photos with her notes. I also had to save the album pages so I could eventually scan her writing and insert that into the Shutterfly book as well.

Fast forward again to Mother’s Day weekend, when the Legacyboxes began to feel like a couple of albatrosses I’d never shed. I needed to just get it done, damn it, so I rolled up my sleeves. Six hours later, I finally had everything sorted, labeled, packed, and ready to roll.

The first box came back a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t open it right away because I fucking procrastinate over everything, if you hadn’t figured that out yet. The second one showed up a few days ago. And still I didn’t open them up until today (technically yesterday, as it’s well after midnight as I’m writing this).

This weekend took on a decidedly GSD flare, as we had to rearrange a bunch of stuff to get ready for a new AC installation that required duct work on top of everything else. I even knocked out the advanced defensive driver course I purchased in January but never completed (master procrastinator, remember?) because I just got the new policy document and saw that the old discount dropped off and I wanted to squeak it in before the policy renewed.

This is my second time taking the refresher course, so I basically half-listened to the material while I worked on a bunch of other things…including opening my Legacyboxes and loading the DVDs and flash drive onto my storage system.

Here’s where my tale is about to take a sharp left turn, because I just spent all of this time talking about old photos but the real headline here is the videos. The four VHS I’d sent in were recordings of shows my now-defunct theater company put on over the summers between 1993 and 1997. They were original plays written by me and my friends from high school, with a core cast of actors and other people who flitted in and out over the years. I directed all four of them, because that was a think I liked to do.

The first one that loaded was from our second year. The image quality is atrocious, which is to be expected from 25-year-old, low-rent home videos that moved with me to Indiana, back to Delaware, off to Massachusetts, and back to Delaware again. Also, I have no recollection of who our cinematographer was, but the opening credits looked like they belonged in the 1980s and also had typos. Lots and lots of typos. (Ouch.)

After my initial shock of seeing the BFF in the first scene – I’d somehow forgotten that she acted in one of the plays, and when I asked her how I could have possibly forgotten she told me it was because the only thing I remembered about the summer was the much-disputed chair-throwing incident that ended our friendship for a 13-year stretch – something else happened that I wasn’t expecting: I heard my mother’s laugh.

Anyone who knew Nancy for more than a few minutes could tell you all about her laugh. It was unique, loud, and infectious. And even though it’s kind of burned into my memory, hearing it – her actual laugh – made my breath catch for a few beats before I burst into tears.

I hadn’t thought I’d ever hear her laugh again.

These days, I shoot video all of the time. The quality on my iPhone is decent and my kids are stupid cute. But back then, before my mom died? Not so much.

I’ll end on a sort-of sweet, semi-morbid note: My laugh is nothing like my mom’s, but it is similar in that it is unique, loud, and infectious. You can often hear it in the videos I record, and every time I think about how grateful I am that my son will always remember how much his mother loved to laugh – and how easily he could be the one to make her laugh in the first place.

20 for 2020

I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Feeling 42

J/k. Today’s my birthday, but it’s not that birthday. Kind of kicking myself because that would have been a great title for a post…had I been blogging when I turned 42.

But I wasn’t blogging then. I was, however, listening to a lot of Taylor Swift, which I still do because my four-year-old son is obsessed with her. Full disclosure: He’s likely obsessed with her because she became the unofficial soundtrack to the final stretch of fertility treatments that ultimately yielded said son. My clinic was an hour’s drive away, and if you have ever undergone fertility treatment or know someone who has, you will understand just how many hours I spent on the highway.

I actually wrote a post about the summer I developed a deep and abiding appreciation for the music of Taylor Swift, but that post now resides on a different blog, one that is related to this stuff I used to do a lot but now not so much. This blog?

This one is for me.

I don’t call myself a writer very often, but I am one and have been pretty much since I learned how to compose a sentence. Seriously, I got put in an elementary school creative writing class with a handful of other kids and that was that.

My current job requires me to do a fair bit of writing, rewriting, and editing, but it’s all in service of my employer and our mission. With the exception of personal correspondence and a couple of sprawling Facebook confessionals, I am not putting the things in my head out into the world, and I miss it.

My intention word for 2020 is release, and writing for me has historically been cathartic. So when I was drafting my 20 for 2020 list, I decided to challenge myself to write 50 blog posts this calendar year. P.S. I did both of these things—pick intention words and make lists of X things I wanted to do by X age/date/whatever—long before Gretchen Rubin started to encourage her disciples to do this through her Happiness Podcast, which admittedly I used to listen to but no longer do.

(Side note: If you want a really good podcast about happiness, I 100% recommend The Happiness Lab. It’s from Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale who teaches a class on the science of happiness that’s insanely popular. She also has amazing hair, which I didn’t know until just now, when I was linking to her site.)

Writing blog posts is really hard when your super-adorable, super-active son wakes up in the middle of it and sings the Happy Birthday song to you no fewer than five times. I managed to record the fourth one, which I am going to share with you now because it’s just that adorable.

If you look closely at the thumbnail for this video, you’ll see that it encapsulates a lot of the the things that make me truly happy. There’s the Burrito (what I called Jackson when I was pregnant with him and didn’t want to reveal his name publicly); my now-blind schnoodle, Scout, who lost his eyes two years ago after rapid-onset glaucoma required them to be removed; my husband, represented here by fleece penguin PJ pants; and crafting, represented by the stocked Cricut cart in the background. You can even see the teal dining room chairs I bought after a multi-year search for a chair exactly like this and the shelf where I store all of our games.

The only things missing from this tableau are my extended family, in which I include my BFF Wendy, and the other treasured friends I’ve been lucky enough to collect over my 40-something years on this planet.

Speaking of: I’m running late for an afternoon BFF Birthday Date to see Little Women and make some Valentine Gnomes that are very popular right now in Dollar Tree crafting groups on Facebook. I say running late because before that I have a Birthday Breakfast Date with my  boys, and before that I need to touch up my roots because my once-chestnut hair is now streaked by silver and I’m afraid if I don’t color them people will think that I am Jackson’s grandmother and not his mother because this is what happens when you aren’t able to have a kid until you are almost 40.

pop culture

Dear Evan Hansen, Crushing Disappointment, and a Likely Fruitless Plea

Dear Evan Hansen

Everything I’m about to write reeks of middle class privilege. Apologies in advance.

This story starts with Nicole. Nicole is a former writing student of mine with whom I’ve kept in touch. She’s a fearless female who’s done ballsy things I wholeheartedly admire. She’s also a theater geek in the best possible sense. About a year and a half ago she posted on Facebook that she’d seen an Off-Broadway  musical that made her ugly cry.  “This show is everything,” she wrote.

That fall,  Dear Evan Hansen opened on Broadway.  (If you’re unfamiliar, check out Playbill’s three-minute recap.) A couple of months after that, I started to listen to the soundtrack. A lot. My best friend Wendy discovered some tracks through the Broadway channel on Sirius XM. We talked about how much we liked the music.

Okay, let me pause here to say that is a complete understatement. I loved the music. The songs spoke to me on a deeply personal level. That’s another post for another day, but suffice it to say I felt connected.

And I wanted to see this show. Badly. My husband and I talked about getting tickets for February. Last year we’d eschewed Valentine’s Day in favor of a day trip to NYC to see Hamilton (tickets purchased at face value the previous June). Maybe we could do it again?

I found two face value tickets. I hemmed and hawed on whether or not to buy them. The timing was perfect. The cost was close to my comfort zone. But a quick Google search told me that Ben Platt, who played the titular lead, would likely be leaving the show in November. I could get tickets for the fall, but they would cost a whole lot more.

So I bought the February tickets…and immediately regretted it. If you’ve ever watched a video of Ben singing “Waving Through a Window,” you’d understand why. Here, see for yourself:



I talked about it a lot. How much I regretted not spending the extra money to ensure I’d see Ben in the role he originated.

Here’s something you should know about me. I can be really, really cheap frugal. I don’t drive a fancy car. I don’t buy designer purses. I color my roots with dye from a box.

I save money so I can invest in experiences. I take annual birthday trips with my best friend. I go on a beach vacation with my family for a few days each summer. I send my stepdaughter to camp. These things are important to me.

The Saturday before the Tonys, my husband and I were driving to Trader Joes. I told him that Ben Platt was a lock for Best Actor and that after he won there’d be no way to get tickets to see him perform. I told him (again) how much I regretted not springing for fall tickets. I told him how every time I watched video of this man performing this part, I got chills and cried.

“Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” my husband said. “You should go for it.”

This set off a flurry of texts to Nicole. Should I do this? I should do this, right? Is there any way to get cheaper tickets? What are my options? What if I spend the extra cash to buy tickets specifically to see him and he ends up not performing? What then?

Nicole told me that when that happened, theaters typically allow you to switch your tickets or get a refund. This was common and normal.

In between texts, I kept saying to my husband, “This is crazy. I can’t do this. We already bought tickets for February.”

We’ll sell them, he told me. You have to do this. It means a lot to you.

That night, I searched for tickets. They weren’t plentiful, but they were available. I found several in the first few rows of right or left orchestra. They were definitely outside of my comfort zone, price-wise. My husband and I talked about how we could cut back the next few months to make up the difference in price. I waffled. I was a nervous wreck.

Do it, he said again and again. You deserve this.

He wanted me to take my best friend. That going to plays was really our thing and that Dear Evan Hansen meant more to her than it did to him. Have I mentioned that my husband can be a total saint?

More texts, this time to make sure Wendy was free. I found incredible seats, third row right orchestra. I checked the Jewish high holidays. I figured if Ben took off for Rosh Hashana, then surely he’d be back for the Saturday immediately following. The price tag was steep enough to make me suck in my breath. But like my husband said: once in a lifetime.

In the end, he had to push the purchase button for me.

Afterward I was giddy. Like, seriously giddy. Wendy and I exchanged excited GIFs the whole night. I talked about it with everyone. I introduced the music to my stepdaughter, who still asks if we can listen to it whenever she gets in my car. My almost-two year old decided he liked the soundtrack, too. For a while, it played on constant loop.

And then earlier this week my aunt texted to me to see if we were available to celebrate Rosh Hashana with her and my uncle on the 22nd or 23rd. I told her it would be tough because we had tickets for the 23rd and were planning on taking an early train into the city. And then immediately I panicked because hadn’t I checked the dates before buying the tickets?

That’s when I saw the e-mail. The one Telecharge had sent on September 1st, the one with the subject line “DEAR EVAN HANSEN: Ben Platt Out Wednesday and Saturday Matinees.”

I started to cry even before I called Telecharge to see if I could exchange my tickets. I could not. The show was sold out. It had been sold out for weeks before the announcement. There were literally no tickets available for any shows between now and November 19th, the Telecharge rep told me. The best I could do, he said, was e-mail requesting a refund.

“I don’t understand,” I said more than once. “I did everything right. I bought the tickets before the Tonys. I checked the holidays. I did everything right.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t help you.”

I felt gutted. That’s really the only word I can use to describe it. Gutted.

This all happened when my husband was putting our son down for a nap. When he came in the office, I told him what happened. I cried on his shoulder. I felt stupid crying over this. There was a hurricane ripping up people’s homes. It was the eve of the anniversary of 9/11. And I’m crying over theater tickets?

But it meant so much to me. I can’t even put it into words. My teenage self wept. My middle-aged self cried along with her.

There wasn’t much I could do, but I reached out to a few people to see if they might be able to help. Most said no. One said maybe. I searched in vain for tickets. Comparable seats to non-matinee shows were running $1,200 or more for a single ticket. Even I am not that crazy.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to see Ben Platt perform this role because he won the Tony. I don’t want to see him perform the role so I could say I saw the original cast.

I want to see him perform this role because he IS this role. Because the pain he projects when he sings is visceral and wrenching and because watching someone do something they so obviously love and do it so well has always felt transformative to me.

Like my husband said: it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now it’s an experience I’ll never have.

I’m tearing up as I type this. I can’t go back in time and pick a different set of tickets. It kills me because I could have. I looked at a bunch. But I chose a matinee because it gave us time to take a train into the city and also for me to get home in time to put my kid to bed.

So here is my plea: If you know someone who has tickets to a non-matinee show before November 19 who just wants to see an incredible show – who doesn’t really know who Ben Platt is or care who the part of Evan Hansen is played by – can you send them my way? I am happy to do a trade or pay for them with my refund.

I know that writing this post isn’t likely to get me anywhere. I know I should be in bed. My alarm is going to go off in about five hours and I will be zonked tomorrow. But I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about this missed opportunity. So I’m putting my words out into the universe, crossing my fingers, blowing dandelion clocks, and wishing on heads-up pennies.

Sincerely, Me.

family, life

A Few (More) Words About Breastfeeding

In late January, I wrote this on Facebook:

I’m working on a massive blog post about breastfeeding (spoiler alert: it’s not easy). In the meantime, I’ll just say this: Some of the so-called “lactivists” I’ve encountered in online support groups are really just mean girls in crunchy granola clothing.

Within a day, I’d gotten more than 50 comments from women wanting to offer their support, advice, and encouragement. Conversations cropped up in the thread about pumping, nipple pain, low supply, supplementing with formula. The response was surprising. It was also kind of overwhelming. but in a good way.

Then, in February, I finished the post about my struggles to breastfeed my son. There was another wave of support and encouragement, often from unlikely places. It was all very gratifying.

Here’s the elevator version, for those of you uninterested in slogging through the original post:

I was an exclusive pumper for the first 9 weeks of my son’s life, who had stopped latching even before we were discharged from the hospital. Then, after working with a new lactation consultant, the inimitable Katie Madden (a.k.a. “The Boobie Whisperer”), I got my son to latch using a nipple shield. We were working toward getting him back onto bare breast, but hadn’t gotten there yet.

Okay, so now you’re all caught up. Here’s what happened afterward:

Two weeks later, my husband and I had another appointment with Katie. I told her how frustrated I was that our progress had stalled. We’d been using the nipple shield for 7 weeks at that point, and frankly, it was still a gigantic pain in my ass. My son had relearned what boobs were for, but between all of the gear and the inefficiency of the shield itself, feedings took a long time. They were physically uncomfortable. And now that he wasn’t entirely bottle fed, I had no idea how much milk I was actually making on any given day, or how much he was taking in outside of the bottles. The whole thing was a total mindfuck.

Katie decided to make adjustments. I’d been nursing Jackson using the football hold, but at nearly four months, he’d gotten a little too big for it. So, she moved him into a cross-cradle position instead. This was an instant improvement.

I started nursing him using the shield. Then Katie instructed me to take it off. I did, and my son fussed. Katie knelt down, looked him square in the eye, and said, “Drink your milk, Jackson. Drink your milk.”

And then he did.

This is how I like to tell the story, anyway. If you ask Katie, she’ll add in some crucial details, like how he was smiling at her, flirting in his little baby way, and how she started opening and closing her mouth to show him what to do. And how, in imitating her, he finally – finally! – got it.

He nursed the boob empty, latching and unlatching himself several times. Katie had me switch him to the other side. He drained that boob, too. I put him back on the first boob, where he mostly comfort sucked for the rest of the appointment. By the end, he’d taken in six full ounces.

We joked about how my stubborn little boy would probably refuse to latch without her there telling him to drink his milk. “Keep me posted,” Katie said.

His next feeding had to be done by bottle, since I had a conference call for work. But the one after that, I strapped myself into my ginormous nursing pillow, took a deep breath, and offered him a boob.

He took it, easily, and nursed until he fell asleep.

I was in shock. My husband was in shock. Was this it? Had I finally reached my goal?

I took a picture of Jackson, still hugging my boob to his sleeping face, and emailed it to Katie with the subject line “Prepare to have your mind blown.”

Her response? “Yeeeeesssss!!!!!!”

In those first few days, I didn’t completely trust the whole back-on-the-boob thing. We gave a few bottles at home. But at a certain point, I had to hold my breath and dive in.

And then I had to grit my teeth.

Even though Jackson was just shy of four months, to my boobs it was like Day 1. His latch was shallow, his top lip didn’t flange out properly, and he was using me like a human pacifier. It hurt. It hurt a lot. My husband would stand there, watching me fight back tears, my eyes squinched up in pain, and plead with me to stop.

I didn’t. (But you knew that already, didn’t you?)

It took a while to break my boobs in. All-Purpose Nipple Ointment helped. So did good old-fashioned time.

There have been milestones along the way. The first time we left the house without a bottle in the diaper bag, for one. The first time I nursed Jackson in front of my stepdaughter, for another.

Transitioning to a nursing-except-for-day care relationship hasn’t been without its challenges, either. But that’s another post for another day.

Here’s what I know: when I look at Jackson, and I make the ASL sign for “milk,” his eyes get bright and his face lights up in a smile and he reaches his little arms out in my direction. I pick him up and he cuddles into me. Sometimes his eyes roll back in his head. Sometimes he does that triple breath-sigh thing that babies do. Often, he falls asleep, still hugging me close.

Way back when I first met Katie, even before my little burrito was born, she asked me about my breastfeeding goals. At the top of my list? To give my baby breast milk for at least six months.

Tomorrow, I reach that goal.

I didn’t get here alone, but if I thanked everyone who supported me on this journey, I’d be like the set designer who gets played off at the Oscars because her speech is too damned long.

So instead I’ll say this: I’m grateful to all of you. You know who you are.

Now, onto one year!


A Few Words About Breastfeeding.

I didn’t think I’d care so much about breastfeeding my son. I mean, I knew I wanted to try. But I also knew so many women (SO many) who struggled with breastfeeding for various reasons: inverted nipples, milk not coming in, too much milk coming in, babies who wouldn’t latch, babies whose latches were painful as hell – you name it, I knew at least one woman who dealt with it.

So my plan was to give it a go, but to do so with a realistic attitude about it. If the breastfeeding thing didn’t work out, it didn’t work out. No big deal.

It was important to me to set myself up for success as much I could – really stack the deck in my favor. So I read a lot of things about breastfeeding. I did a prenatal consult with Katie Madden, a local lactation consultant whose legions of adoring clients had nicknamed her “The Boob Whisperer.” Katie and I discussed my concerns and identified potential challenges. She made recommendations of tools to purchase in advance (two biggies: a My Brest Friend pillow and a nipple shield) and offered advice about what to do after I delivered (top of the list: make an appointment with her at the first sign of struggle). My husband and I took her breastfeeding workshop at The Birth Center, which was fun and inspiring in addition to being super informative.

I also ordered bottles of Fenugreek, a supplement that increases milk supply, and baked a huge batch of lactation cookies that I stored in the freezer. I put a four pack of pineapple juice in my hospital bag along with a box of Milkmaid Tea, a nursing bra, and my insurance-supplied breastpump.

In other words, I was prepared.

My son was delivered at 11:14 p.m. on a Saturday night in November, via an “emergency” c-section (converted from a failed induction that led to 28 hours of unproductive labor). It took them 45 minutes to carve through unexpected scar tissue left over from surgery I’d had in 2012, when a knife-happy surgeon went in to remove a dermoid cyst from my left ovary and decided to take the whole thing instead, and another 45 minutes to close me up afterward. During that time my husband held our infant son while I lay helpless on the operating table, my hands strapped down on either side of me, asking for the anesthesiologist to remove my oxygen mask so I could puke on myself no less than three times.

Toward the end of this ordeal, my son became hysterical. After all, it’s cold outside of the womb. He was hungry. He needed his momma.

Eventually, I got wheeled  back to the recovery room. I was still wearing the oxygen mask. I had an IV in one arm, a blood pressure cuff on the another, and a pulsox monitor on a finger. There were wires everywhere. And this was when they finally handed me my baby. His whole body was beet red from screaming and crying, and it took me at least ten minutes to console him enough to offer him my breast.

But then I did, and surprisingly enough he latched immediately. I could feel gentle tugs as he nursed. They didn’t hurt. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe it doesn’t hurt!” I stared at this tiny human in awe, amazed that after four years of infertility, a hellish pregnancy, and a traumatic birth, this one thing was going to work out perfectly, against all odds. My husband took pictures of our son feeding from one breast and then the other. You can tell from the look on my face that I am both shocked and overwhelmingly, blissfully happy.

I thought, “I didn’t know it could be like this.”

After a while, nurses took our son away for the evening. I was headed for a high-risk recovery room and he couldn’t come with. They brought him to me every hour or two to nurse him and do skin to skin. One nurse helped me adjust his positioning to give him easier access. But his latch was good and his suck was strong.

“We got this, baby,” I whispered to him.

When my kid wasn’t even 12 hours old, he was circumcised. Afterward the nurse who brought him to me told me that he was likely to be really sleepy and/or a bit fussy from the procedure. If he didn’t want to eat, she said, I should do more skin to skin. That “counted.”

It was all downhill from there.

At first my son would start to nurse and then, after a few minutes, he’d simply fall asleep at the breast. Often he’d do this with my nipple still in his mouth. I was concerned, but newborn stomachs are really small – the size of a marble – and he’d had the appropriate number of wet and dirty diapers. So I wasn’t too concerned.

But the next day, when he got weighed by the pediatrician, we learned that he’d lost a decent amount of weight, around 7%. Within the threshold of acceptable loss but not by much. The day after that. he’d lost 11%, which was just over the threshold. He’d also had a touch of jaundice, but not enough to require treatment. Just enough to make the kid fall asleep whenever he was near me.

The pediatrician was concerned. The nurses were concerned. The hospital lactation consultants were concerned.

I was really concerned. I didn’t understand what happened, or even why it happened. Hadn’t it all been going so well?

I made an appointment with The Boob Whisperer for the following Tuesday. I’d wanted to get in sooner but she was booked solid. They asked me if I wanted to meet with another lactation consultant, but I said no. I’d already worked with Katie. I felt comfortable with her.

A friend of mine who’d had a baby a few months before I did had added me to a secret Facebook support group devoted to breastfeeding. In it I posted about what was happening. I wrote about how everything was fine until my boy was circumcised, and about how after the procedure he was like a different baby. I asked for advice.

Only one person responded. You know what she said? Nothing. Instead, she pasted a link to an article about why you should never get your child circumcised.

Thanks, lady. I really needed that.

I asked the nurses about hand expressing colostrum and feeding it to him with a spoon. They gave me tiny collection cups and a dropper and showed me how to put my finger in his mouth while using the dropper to dispense the goods at the same time. Later I’d be told I wasn’t feeding him enough. Because guess what? That marble of a stomach becomes the size of an egg a lot quicker than you think. And since the kid didn’t come with an instruction manual, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, or how much he was supposed to be eating. Me = parenting idiot.

My husband had already taken my breast pump home, after one well-meaning nurse told me I shouldn’t use it until four weeks postpartum. This is true if you don’t have any problems, because you could end up creating an oversupply. This isn’t true if your kid isn’t feeding well.

So we used the hospital grade pump. The nurses were impressed by how much I was able to extract. I felt pleased by this. Must’ve been the pineapple juice and tea and Fenugreek, right?

I still tried to put my son to the breast. He never got past a few sucks before passing out. Momma is warm. Momma is safe. He was so tired. And he wasn’t eating enough, which made him even more tired.

On the day of our discharge, my son had lost more than 13% of his birth weight, and we had a particularly long session with the fourth hospital lactation consultant we’d worked with. This one set us up with a supplemental nursing system (SNS), which involved more finger feeding and a tiny tube that would deliver the milk. It took forever to do one feeding, and the kid wasn’t even four full days old, so we were still doing 8-10 feedings a day.

That night, my baby wouldn’t stop crying. He was hungry. My milk hadn’t come in fully. I was pumping frequently but not getting enough to sustain him. I broke into the formula samples all pregnant women are given by companies banking on breastfeeding going badly. My heart broke into a billion pieces, but I knew I needed to feed my little boy.

At our first appointment with our pediatrician the next day, we found out that he’d had lost nearly 20% of his birth weight in the first five days of life. The doctor was alarmed. This was a Thursday, and she told me we couldn’t wait until Tuesday to work with the Boob Whisperer. I had to get in with her immediately or else the pediatrician would need to see us again the next day. She handed my husband a lab slip and told him we had to get the blood work done as soon as we left.

This is when I kind of lost my shit.

I cried on the way to the hospital’s lab. I hadn’t slept in days. My kid never stopped crying. I was apparently starving him to death, even after I’d given him formula. I was failing at the one thing I couldn’t handle failing at.

I was falling apart.

So while my husband took our son in for the blood draw, I sat outside on a bench, sobbing to my therapist. I kept saying, “We started off so strong. Those first 12 hours were perfect. I don’t understand what happened. I never should have had him circumcised.” I was so overwhelmed. Nothing can prepare you for new parenthood, or how desperate you feel when you’ve had less than 24 hours sleep over a six-day span, or how helpless it makes you to listen to your child scream and cry so long and so hard that they only time he sleeps is when he wears himself out. Throughout this conversation my phone continued to ping with text messages from friends and loved ones wanting to know how I was doing. JUST GO AWAY, I wanted to write back. I LOVE YOU BUT I CAN’T HANDLE PEOPLE RIGHT NOW.

My therapist talked me down, because that is what she does. And then she helped me make a plan. Step one was to ask my best friend Wendy to email everyone and ask them to give me and my husband a little space while we adjusted to new parenthood. Step two was to find a lactation consultant I could meet with immediately. Step three was to get some fucking sleep: doctor’s orders.

Wendy took care of everything. She sent off the email. She contacted a lactation consultant I’d found who’d come to your home and work with you there and got her to agree to come out the following afternoon. She herself came to the house to spend the night, so that my husband and I could get some real rest. She made me skip a few pumping sessions so I could sleep 3-4 hours in a stretch.

Sleep was a precious commodity. The pediatrician had put the fear of god into us and insisted we had to feed our kid every two hours around the clock, no exceptions. If he was sleeping, wake him up. We were still feeding him through the SNS and to give him two ounces took 30 minutes. I was pumping every two hours, too, trying to increase my milk supply, or at least make it come in faster. I’d forget to eat real meals but I was great about gnawing on three lactation cookies a day, drinking my Milkmaid tea and pineapple juice and water.  After each session I wrote down how much milk my boobs had given up. It wasn’t a lot. If it hadn’t been for the formula, I don’t know what we would’ve done.

When the lactation consultant came out to the house, we worked on positioning the baby. He still wasn’t latching, mostly because he fell asleep any time he came in contact with my boob. The LC asked about how much I’d been pumping; at the time it was something like 7 ounces a day. Normal babies take in 20+ ounces a day. I’d only been pumping for a couple of days and my mature milk still hadn’t come in, but the LC was concerned. She told me that I’d need to produce roughly 30 ounces a day to be able to give my kid 100% breast milk. She wanted me to prepare myself for the fact that I might never make that much. Even so, she suggested I triple the amount of Fenugreek I was taking and add in an equal amount of Blessed Thistle. She also identified one of the medications I was on as a potential milk-wrecker and recommended I decrease it pending doctor’s approval.

The LC was convinced my son had a lip tie and maybe even a tongue tie and encouraged me to get him evaluated for these things. In the meantime, she told us we needed to start feeding our boy with bottles. The SNS was meant for short-term use, she said. It wasn’t sustainable. She also gave us permission to start using a pacifier. In fact, she recommended we use the Mam ones designed for kids six months or older, to help strengthen our son’s muscles. And she suggested we work with a chiropractor who specialized in kids. It just so happened that this was the same chiropractor I’d already been seeing throughout my rough pregnancy, and we’d already made an appointment to get our baby adjusted.

I followed all of her suggestions to a T, continuing to pump and feed my kid every two hours around the clock. When we went in for a weight check at the pediatrician’s office, our son had regained almost all of the weight he’d lost, coming in just a couple ounces shy of his birth weight. We got the go-head to move to on-demand feedings, especially at night.

With the starving child crisis now officially over, I got even more serious about breastfeeding. I was going to make this work, damn it.

But it was hard. The introduction of the bottle gave my kid an instant case of nipple confusion, though I didn’t know it then. Any time I tried to put mine in his mouth, he’d start to squirm or cry or scream. This got worse the longer he was on the bottle. And eventually, I stopped trying to get him back on the boob.

Instead, I focused on making as much milk as possible. I rented a hospital-grade pump to increase my supply. I researched galactagogue foods and made a rule that I had to eat a galactagogue-rich snack every time I pumped. I trolled forums looking for advice, insight, encouragement. I sent the LC many emails about how I wanted to quit. It had all taken such a toll on me, physically and emotionally.

While all of this was going on, I was dealing with what I thought was a very colicky baby. A baby that didn’t sleep very often and who cried out in pain after every feeding. At first we thought it was the formula that was making him feel sick. I bought expensive organic stuff. Then I bought even more expensive stuff made for kids with milk sensitivities. We only used it a couple of time before my milk production caught up to the baby’s demands.

This was huge and should have felt like a win, but it didn’t. Because now my exclusively breast milk-fed baby was still screaming in pain after every feeding. Everyone had an opinion about why this was. Popular theories focused on him having a dairy allergy or other allergy to something I was eating. Did I have caffeine? Eat chocolate? Eat spicy food? Eat things in the cabbage family? Beans? We gave him gas drops. We gave him gripe water. Nothing touched the pain.

Later we’d find out that our son had reflux, and a fairly bad case of it. Later we’d be given baby Zantac to help manage his reflux. Later we’d give our baby this medication and his pain would go away and he would be a happy normal-ish baby.

But before all this, I became convinced I was poisoning our son with my milk.

This is, after all, what I was hearing from all sides. It was something I was eating. I should give up dairy. I should give up caffeine. I should give up chocolate. I should give up nuts. I should give up eggs. I should give up everything but organic turkey, steamed zucchini, rice, and pears. No, I’m not making this up.

Meanwhile, two of the people closest to me were encouraging me to let go of the breastfeeding thing. “It’s okay,” they kept telling me. “It doesn’t matter how the kid gets fed. What matters is that you’re not miserable all of the time. That you bond with him. My kid grew up on formula and he/she turned out just fine.”

Only, formula wasn’t really the issue by then. At times my milk production outpaced our son’s consumption, and I even got a little freezer stash going. The LC I was still working with was trying to get me to use the nipple shield, since bottle-fed babies make an easier transition to the breast using them. But nipple shields aren’t easy to use even if you have perfect boobs. Mine, on the other hand. were large and droopy from years of gaining and losing weight; when my boobs are freed from the confines of a bra, my nipples quite literally point south. (I always joke that they’re itching to make out with my knees.)

Anyway, loose boobs make using the shield almost impossible. I think the words I used over and over again were “unmitigated disaster.”

And still I plugged away it. Right before Christmas, a few days before our kid got diagnosed with reflux, we had his very pronounced lip tie lasered. This was going to be the magic bullet! (It wasn’t.) Prior to this, I’d tried taking a nursing vacation, which basically means spending time with your kid naked in bed, offering him the breast often. The only thing that came of that was me crying hysterically after yet another failure. Right after the new year, a family friend came to visit to help out with the baby. She was there for the very last session I had with the LC, in which she prescribed a 48-hour breastfeeding boot camp (“boob camp,” my friend dubbed it). She was determined to help me achieve my goal, but after four dismal attempts to get my son to nurse – all of which devolved into him crying and screaming his head off – she got a little PTSD and actually started to encouraging me to sit some sessions out.

“Go get some sleep,” she told me. “You need it.”

By mid-January, I was pretty much done. And I was almost okay with being done. I would be an exclusive pumper. This is still considered breastfeeding; it’s just doing with a bottle and not the boob. One of my closest friends had gone this route. I was ready to board that train.

But of course, this is when my son started exhibiting strange behavior. Sometimes I’d bottle feed him without my top on, to get more skin to skin time in. After these feedings, he’d start crawling across my body, rooting at my breast. If I was wearing a bra, I’d pop out a boob and offer it to him. He’d take a tentative lick or suck and then start crying. Not just a little – a lot. He’d thrash around angrily, but he’d keep trying, over and over again, to take the breast. Each time only seemed to make him angrier. At points he’d quite literally push me away.

Every time, it broke my fucking heart.

Every. Single. Time.

And then the Boob Whisperer came back into my life. I’d subscribed to her blog, and a post was delivered to my inbox: The Confusion About Nipple Confusion. In it, she wrote:

When a baby is given anything other than a soft mama nipple to suck on, a pacifier or a bottle, it stimulates a reflex on the roof of the baby’s mouth that makes him suck. This sweet spot is right at the juncture of the hard and soft palate in the baby’s mouth. This is not however, the same reflex that babies use to suck at the breast. The root reflex (like when baby tries to eat his own shoulder) is the reflex that gets a baby latched on and sucking. The problem comes when a baby becomes used to using the suck reflex instead of the root reflex to suck.

Anyone who has put her nipple in her baby’s mouth and had that baby refuse to suck, then put a bottle in the baby’s mouth and he instantly sucks, knows what I am talking about. He doesn’t like the bottle better than you; he is simply a reflex-driven animal. When your baby is frantically thrashing around at the breast with the nipple in his mouth like an angry trout on a fishing line but will not suck, he is nipple confused. He is waiting for that “super stimuli” to make him suck, but he simply won’t get it at the breast.

Can you see the light bulb sparking above my head? THIS IS WHY MY BABY CRIED EVERY TIME HE TRIED TO TAKE MY BREAST. It wasn’t because I tasted funny or smelled weird or because he had developed breast aversion. IT WAS BECAUSE HE WAS NIPPLE CONFUSED.

I sent the Boob Whisperer (Katie) an email. I filled her in on my journey and how after reading her post I finally understood what was going on with my kid. I told her what a relief it was to realize that he wasn’t rejecting me, he was just frustrated beyond belief. I told her about how, after nine weeks, I didn’t seem to be any closer to my goal of getting my son back on the boob. I asked her if she thought I was a hopeless case.

She did not.

In fact, she called me that afternoon. “Your email broke my heart, lady,” she said. “I’d like to work with you. Would you like to work with me?”

“Yes, please,” I replied.

At our first session, Katie identified some major problems. Getting my son into a good position was a big one. Normal nursing pillows weren’t working so well for me, in part because they were too small. There were more pillow towers to be built. And there was the floppy boob issue, including no side boob support. So we created some complicated structures for my boobs using blankets and burp cloths – basically shoving shit underneath each breast until it was firm enough to take the nipple shield. I (finally!) learned how to use the dreaded shield. And guess what? My kid latched on. HE LATCHED ON. And then he nursed for a twenty-minute stretch – the most he’d done since the hospital.

I may have cried; I don’t remember.

I celebrated my 40th birthday by breastfeeding my son for 40 solid minutes. It was epic, truly epic. The best gift anyone could have given me.

At our next session, Katie had an inspired idea: what if I ditched the normal nursing pillows and tried out a twin one? She strapped me into the double Brest Friend pillow, which was so big we started calling it “the kitchen table.” But it was genius, absolutely genius. One of the biggest challenges I’d had was instantly solve.

Our son started to nurse with the shield. Halfway through, Katie took it off and worked with me until he’d take the bare nipple. Which he did. It didn’t take much wrestling, and before we knew it, the kid was breastfeeding shield-free.

“I’m going to give you two a moment,” Katie told us. “You’ve earned it.”

When she left the room, I turned to my husband and said, “Two sessions. That’s all it took.”

“She really is the Boob Whisperer,” he agreed.

Of course, in the 10 days since, I’ve only gotten my kid to latch without the shield once, for like five minutes. But now he latches with the shield 100% of the time. And I keep experimenting with new tools that I hope will be as genius as the twin pillow thing.

We had our third session with Katie today. I walked in and joked, “Why am I trying to do this breastfeeding thing again?”

“Good question,” she said. “Why are you?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked by many people, many times, in many different ways. And to be honest, I don’t have a great answer. I mean, I pump enough milk now, and that milk can be given through a bottle. What’s the difference between that and him getting it straight from the tap?

I could talk about the bond it creates between us, but you can create an equally strong bond with a bottle. I could talk about the convenience of not having to pump, but between my ginormous pillow, rolled blankets, etc., it’s not like I can nurse the kid any time, anywhere anyway.

The real answer is that I am stubborn. I am not used to failing. When I have a goal, I do whatever I have to in order to achieve it. I almost never give up. It’s just not who I am.

But in Katie’s office, as we talked through things, I realized that it was more than me being stubborn. My kid smiles every time he drinks from my breast. Literally smiles while he feeds. He calms down when he’s tucked under my arm and next to my boob. He makes these little sighs of contentment that are priceless. His eyes roll back in his head like the milk-drunk little booger he is.

He’s also kind of ornery, often popping off and using his little hands to move my boob into a better position before relatching himself. So what if it’s on the shield? I know in my heart that if we eventually get him back onto bare boob he’s going to nurse like a champ. He’ll just reach up, grab on, and drink away. And I want to have that relationship with him.

“You can have that relationship,” Katie told me. “This will happen for you. And I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t believe it.”

So we will keep at it, because I am not ready to give up. Not yet. Not when we’ve come so far. Not when we’re so close.

A week ago, my husband and I were talking, and I had a revelation. I told him, “I’ve hated my body my entire life. As long as I can remember, I’ve hated it, even when I was, like, four years old. But this body grew our baby. This body makes the food that feeds our baby. How can I hate my body when my body makes miracles?”

And this, ultimately, is what breastfeeding means to me, and why I’m so determined to have that relationship with my son, even if I’ve struggled to articulate it. The mere fact of his being has healed so many things that were broken inside of me. Loving him has taught me so much about loving myself. And yes, I understand how hippy dippy bullshitty that sounds, but it’s 100% genuine emotion.

You may wonder why I am going into such excruciating detail here, especially about such a deeply personal issue. But after all of the Googling I’ve done the past three months, how could I not share my story? How could I not talk about what worked and what didn’t and how I felt the whole time? If even one person stumbles across this post and has the light bulb moment I had after reading Katie’s blog, then something really wonderful could come out of an incredibly painful journey. (I mean, besides the part where my kid finally gets back on the boob.)

So, yeah. That’s my story. It’s still unfolding, and I’m okay with that. The Boob Whisperer believes in me. But even more than that, I’m starting to believe in myself.

family, life

I am the 1 in 4.

As of today, I’m roughly two to four weeks away from delivering my first child, a little boy my husband and I have been calling the Burrito (so named because for the longest time, I didn’t look pregnant so much as like I’d been eating too many burritos). But a couple of weeks ago I finally started to pop, and as I sit here typing this our little bundle of joy is punching and kicking me from the inside. Seriously, my stomach looks a little like Sigourney Weaver’s before that alien exploded out of her.

The Burrito will be our first baby, but he’s not our first pregnancy. Our first pregnancy ended two-thirds of the way through the first trimester, due to suspected chromosomal abnormalities. The loss would’ve been devastating no matter what, but it was made all the more so for us as we A) had been trying to conceive for nearly four years and B) put ourselves through two and a half years of infertility treatments before finally seeing a positive pregnancy test. It didn’t matter that we knew early on that my hormone levels weren’t doubling appropriately, and that the pregnancy was likely to fail, because at every ultrasound, the baby grew, its heart beating strong. Doctor after doctor told us that we shouldn’t be seeing what we were seeing, but that once a heartbeat had been confirmed, blood tests became way less important than what was on the screen.

So we watched and we waited and then waited some more.  Eventually the outcome we feared came to pass. But because of all of the medications I was on, due to conceiving as the result of IVF, I couldn’t even miscarry naturally. I had to be induced. And I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say the physical loss of that baby was literally one of the most traumatic events I’ve ever had to endure.

When I told the people who needed to be told that we’d lost the baby, I did it in the most perfunctory way possible. I asked them not to make a big deal about it. I told them that we were fine and eager to try again. The latter half of that sentence was 100% true; the former, not so much.

I know a lot of women who’ve suffered miscarriages and even stillbirths, to various levels of devastation, but not a single one of us felt “fine” immediately after. How could we? We’d grown a life inside our womb, baked a baby we’d never get to know.

After you have a miscarriage, you learn just how many women you know have gone through the same thing – some multiple times, even. It’s like you’re indoctrinated into a club, albeit one you wished no one ever had to join. In my experience, women speak more freely about pregnancy loss with someone who’s gone through or is going through the same thing. Maybe because, on some level, you will never be able to understand what it’s like unless it’s happened to you, too.

As for me, I didn’t want to talk about my miscarriage because talking about it would involve talking about my infertility, and I didn’t want to talk about that because I was still in the trenches, fighting my way out. Some women find their infertility embarrassing, but I am not one of them. Our infertility was largely caused by doctors, at least initially – one who administered drugs to my husband without informing him that they’d render him sterile, the other who removed what turned out to be my “good” ovary rather than trying to save it (even priding himself on the speed with which he’d done so).

When you are a woman of a certain age, trying to conceive yet failing to do so month after month, cycle after cycle, people start to offer you a lot of unsolicited advice. Things like, “You just need to relax” or “If you stop eating dairy, you’ll get pregnant right away.” (For the record: neither of those things worked for us. And trust me when I say we tried just about EVERYTHING.)

Worse than that, though, are the soft, pitied looks, the sad eyes and heartfelt frowns. I didn’t like people asking me for updates, especially when I didn’t have anything positive to report. So I didn’t talk about my infertility, and about a year into our diagnosis, I stopped talking about wanting to have kids altogether. In fact, I was so mum on the topic that when we announced our pregnancy this past spring, several coworkers told me they thought I didn’t even like children, let alone wanted to have one of my own. Of course, I probably contributed to this misperception; whenever new babies visited the office, I refused offers to hold them – not because I didn’t like babies but because it would hurt too much to hold one that wasn’t my own.

It’s easy for me to talk about those years of struggle now, when we’re so close to crossing over to the other side. But the pain of infertility never really goes away, even for those of us lucky enough to find success after it. The same can be said for the pain of miscarriage. I still think of that little gummy bear of a baby who didn’t make it. I still wonder what might have been.

I’ve been crafting this post in my head all month long. Probably even longer than that, as I knew when the miscarriage happened that some day I’d write about it. And yet I’m doing a horrible job at conveying everything I felt, everything I’m still feeling.

I will say this: Pregnancy after a loss is a weird, weird thing. At least it’s been that way for me. I spent the Burrito’s first trimester convinced that another loss was inevitable, despite an abundance of evidence proving otherwise. I’ve spent this last one half in a daze.

So, why write about my miscarriage now, when I’m about to welcome a new life into this world? Because October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, and I feel compelled to add my voice to the conversation. Plus I don’t ever want to forget the baby that didn’t make it. She gave me a lot of things in the few short weeks I carried her, but the biggest was hope. That, and the courage to keep going, even when everything inside of me was ready to give up.

1 in 4