Friday, August 31, 2012

What LBZ's Nursing Strike Has Taught Me About Me.

I am a true believer that growth can come from change.  When everything is operating at a perfect rhythm, nothing is learned.  No growth takes place because everyone is safely inside the little box that is their life.

Don't get me wrong, there really isn't anything wrong with that.  I prefer living in my self-created box.  But when an unexpected change happens, something that shakes up everything I thought, planned, and expected from my life and my child, growth inevitably happens.

Before LBZ's nursing strike, everything was operating in a perfect rhythm.  Our routine was set.  Everyone knew what to expect.  It was nice and quiet and predictable and it was our life.  When he suddenly stopped nursing, my whole life was turned upside down.

I didn't know how to mother him.  I didn't know how to pump when I was with him.  I didn't know how to be a mom to him.  Quite frankly, I didn't know who I was if I was not a nursing mom.

I had myself in a box.  A box that said "I'm a nursing mom.  I plan to nurse my toddler until he's 2.  I am an attached parent and I show the world that by (among other things) breastfeeding my older child."  And just like that, LBZ pulled me out of my box.

I began to think back to the weeks leading up to his strike.  Besides in the morning, when I picked him up from school, and before bed, I ALWAYS brought LBZ to me to nurse.  Not once, that I can remember from recent months, did he ever come to me and ask to nurse.  Not once.

I would bring him to me when my body felt like he needed to eat.  It didn't even occur to me that he may not want to.  There were times he nursed with no trouble when I brought him to me, but other times he would fight it, but I would end up winning.  Looking back, I was breaking my own "rule" of following the baby's lead without even realizing I was doing it.  I was in my box and I had LBZ safely in his.

I also realized that because LBZ is so laid back and easy going, and because his brother is the polar opposite and is intense and needy (I mean that in a very lovingly way), LBZ was often just sort of...there.  He was so overshadowed by his brother's need for my attention that I often allowed LBZ to play on the floor on a blanket or entertain himself with some toys.  Because he did just that. 

His strike was a huge shock to me, so it got my attention.  He got my attention.  I suddenly watched everything he did as I attempted to figure out what caused the strike.  When I began to accept that he would not nurse again, I began to see something I didn't see before.  A glimpse into my littlest boy's personality, which is vastly out of the box I put him in and vastly different from his older brother.

And all I can say is, thank goodness I learned this now.

Thank goodness he didn't just do what I wanted and expected him to do.  Thank goodness he decided to show me who he is, separate from what I thought he was and separate from his brother.  Thank goodness I get to learn about who he is in this way right now, because he could have easily stayed in the box I placed him in for years, and suddenly at 16 break out of that box only for me to realize that I missed who he was, as a separate person than I thought, for many, many years.

He taught me that I am who I am, nursing mother or not.  My choices may shape my life and my practice, but those things do not define me.  I am so much more than a nursing mom.  I am his mom.  I am BBZ's mom.  I am learning to be flexible and to question my expectations and allow myself to feel out of control.

That is what a lot of this comes down to.  Control.  My boys make me feel completely out of control of my own life, and I am learning to love it.  Me, the planner, the have to have everything planned and the outcome figured out before I even start.  These boys are teaching me to roll with life.  They keep me guessing and make me wonder what will happen next.  They help me feel alive.

I am so grateful to my sweet littlest boy for teaching me all of this.  Had he stayed safe in the box I made for him, and had I stayed safe in the box I made for myself, I would never grow.

"If we don't change, we don't grow.  If we don't grow, we aren't really living." ~Gail Sheehy

"If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves." ~Carl Jung

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Over. And I'm Ok.

I think it is safe to say that LBZ is done nursing.

And I really am ok with it.

I realized something this weekend . . . he is still one of the happiest babies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  He is sleeping better than he has in months, waking only 2 times during the night over the last 12 days.  He continues to eat 3 huge meals each day, a bottle in the morning and at night, and 2-3 cups of milk during the day.  He is done, and that's ok.

I'm not exactly sure when I accepted this fact.  Perhaps I wanted to accept it all along.  I really did have a gut feeling from the beginning that he was done.  Maybe it's because he rarely nursed to sleep.  Maybe it's because if I think really hard about it, I can see some minor ways he began *weaning* months ago.  Maybe it's because it's easier to accept my perfectly healthy and happy baby's preferences rather than trying to get him to do what I want him to do.

Whatever the reason, I am truely at peace with his ending our nursing relationship.  Maybe it's also because I have made the decision to keep pumping well into his second year, if my body cooperates.  So far, I am pumping plenty for him and have even been mixing some with almond milk just to see if he likes it (he does.)

It may seem crazy that I plan to keep pumping, but it somehow makes this much easier for me to accept.  It's may seem extra crazy because I have chosen to eliminate all dairy from his diet as a last resort before saying yes to tubes for his ears.  We saw an ENT who said he would do them but also suggested I take my time to decide.  My fingers are crossed that this either works or we figure something else out, but he could very well end up with tubes before winter if he gets one more infection.

I really hope eliminating dairy helps.  I stopped drinking cow's milk months ago but still ate cheese and other dairy products regularly.  This is going to be hard for me, especially if it works.

It's also another reason continuing to drink breastmilk is important for him.  I'd love to last all the way until he is 2, but I'm not sure I can do that.  I have had swings in supply over the last 12 days and I'm not sure I can swing back from a big dip without the real nursing happening.  But I will do my best to give him this milk as long as I can.

Of course I am pumping my milk for him, but it is also for selfish reasons.  I feel like a nursing mom when I pump.  Even though he won't nurse, I feel like he is when I pump.  I'm not ready to let that go yet.  Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.

LBZ did two major things over the last 12 days that I don't want to be overshadowed by his strike.  First, on his 11-month birthday, he took his first steps.  N was playing with him in our large great room and all of us were there.  He just took off and tottled about 2-3 steps before falling on his bum.  BBZ was there too.  It was such a special moment because all of us were there and we all clapped for him, even BBZ!  It was really special.

The next thing is LBZ's new 2-word sentence.  I was feeding him one of the first bottles after his strike in his room before bed.  There was about an ounce left and he sat up and kept pushing the bottle away.  I said "are you all done?" and I guess he remembered back to dinner when I was trying to teach him the sign for all done.  He crossed his arms in from of his body over and over and said "ah-du, ah-du" with such certainty of what he was saying!  At the time I wished that there was a way he could have told me he was done with nursing so I would know whether or not to keep trying.  Maybe that is what he was trying to say :)

I caught some steps on video this past weekend.  He is such a little independent man.  While I am sad that nursing is done, I am beginning to feel very proud of him for not needing to nurse anymore.  I imagine I will look back on my sweet littlest boy's life and say that he has always done exactly what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it.  And that once he make sup his mind, it's done.  Sounds a bit like someone else I know :)

I also want to thank everyone who sent me prayers, good thoughts, loving messages and comments as I weathered this storm.  It means so much to me that people care about me and my little family.  I was so afraid of this being the outcome, yet it feels as though things are exactly as they should be.  It's funny how life works out that way sometimes.  You know, exactly as it should.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Finding a New Normal.

When a routine is abruptly changed, especially when it has to do with a baby, the plethora of information that is available in the Internet world is amazing.  It can be unbelievably supportive and helpful, but also confusing and overwhelming.

During the first few days of his nursing strike, I was trying everything I could to get him to nurse again.  Offering, talking to him about it, not talking to him about it, walking around, trying different positions, in his sleep, in a bath... if it was suggested on a mom's message board, I tried it.

It all felt very fake to me.  I felt like I was trying to get him to do something he didn't want to do.  It didn't feel like what my baby wanted.  I was constantly fighting with him about nursing.  All of the things I read said to be patient, but persistent.  Offer, but don't push.  If either of us became frustrated, stop and try again later.  Well, it got to a point where if it even looked as though I was going to try and offer he would arch him back and cry.  Nothing was getting better.

I was off work for the weekend, then Monday night came and I knew I'd be at work the next day.  I had a low grade fever at that point, so I thought about keeping him home with me Tuesday if I did still have a fever.  I also found an article that said some very important words about dealing with a strike.

"Stop trying to feed him"

At first glance that might mean to stop trying to nurse him, but that is not what that is saying.  It means, stop trying to get him to feed from you.  It means be there and be available for him, but don't try and hold him in the cradle hold and get him to latch on as he did for the last 11 months.  It means adjust your expectations and just be there, in case he changes his mind.

This was the first thing read that seemed to make sense to me and my baby's temperment.  I tried it and while it didn't get him to nurse again, it is what allowed me to pay attention to and provide for my child again.  I spent most of the day on Tuesday with my breasts very available to him.  When he bumped his head I'd hold him close and asked if he wanted to nurse, without making any physical motions to suggest it.  He didn't nurse, but he snuggled and cuddled and connected with me again.  It was a wonderful day to spend with him.

When Wednesday came and I went back to work, I realized that there is no time first thing in the morning to just be there.  The hustle to get two children and myself ready and out of the door, plus a time to pump leaves very little time to have a relaxed environment to gently encourage nursing.  The evening is even worse.  Between the boys winding down from school, me needing to pump (again), fixing dinner and all of that, there really isn't time for this.  I began to worry about how I can continue to encourage him to try.

The other thing I was doing was resisting giving him a bottle.  Everything I read said to avoid bottles and give him milk in a cup.I did this for a few days and would even rock him in his rocker with a sippy cup.  I didn't see the point in giving him a bottle just to wean him from that later.

I'm not sure what made me think of it, but I decided to give him a bottle Wednesday night.  Exactly one week after the last time he nursed, I sat with him in his rocker, with his face pressed against my breast, with his eyelashes gently tickling my skin, listening to him hum to his milk, stroking his light blond hair, as I had done each night since the day he was born . . . as he drank his bottle.

It was the first time in a week that he allowed me to hold him this way in his chair.  The first time he felt the way he did each night leading up to seven days ago.  The first time I again felt like a nursing mother.  It didn't matter that the bottle was there.  He was close to me.  It was my milk he was drinking.  I didn't have to convince him to sit with me or to be near me.  It was exactly what he wanted, and was the closest to what I want as I have been in seven days.

So I decided to have this time with him when he wakes in the morning and when he goes to bed.  I have done this since then and have an enormous sense of peace about it.  My hope is that one time he will decide that he wants to nurse again when the bottle is gone and I will be there, ready to provide it for him.  But if he doesn't, I can feel great about still having this time to connect with him.  It has been a beautiful alternative to the nursing relationship we had.

I can deal with this :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grieving the Loss of Our Nursing Relationship.

The last seven days have been some of the hardest of my life. They remind me of when I was waiting those long, agonizing 10 days for my littlest boy to come into this world. Just as I could not make him be born, I cannot make him nurse, as much as I wish I could. Just like then, he came into my world just as he was meant to, and all the waiting was worthwhile. I keep hoping that there will be a worthwhile explanation for this strike. Something I haven't discovered yet but that he knows and understand.  I hold out hope that I will understand all of this soon.

Oh, how I ache for him to nurse again.  I have nursed with him at least 3 times every single day for his entire life, until 7 days ago.  It was the first thing I did when I woke up.  It was the first thing I did after a long and stressful day at work.  It was the last thing I did before he went to bed.  It is gone now, either for a while or forever, and I am grieving the loss of this special time we spent together.

One of the hardest things is wanting desperately to follow his lead, but also holding out hope that he isn't really done with nursing. It's a constant internal battle of understanding and respecting his wishes and hoping he might change his mind.

I found the five stages of grief and loss, and have discovered that I have been experiencing all of these over the last week.  I cannot believe the anger I feel sometimes.  I get angry when I see posts on facebook from the nursing websites I love and follow.  I get angry when I think about people who have ongoing successful nursing relationships with their babies and toddlers.  I'm pretty much pissed off at everyone one minute, then feeling at peace the next.

It's the same with depression.  I go from extreme low moments where I can hardly hold in the tears to complete acceptance with this being the end.  The mood swings are so severe that I cannot predict which I will feel in a day.  My guess is that a lot of that is hormonal.

I know that people will say that I should be happy about the 11 months I've had.  The truth is, if this had been a gradual change, I could have become more accepting of one less feeding in the morning, or skipping the feeding when I picked him up from school, but this was a complete shock.  This gave me no warning and no preparation for ending nursing.  I relied on these moments with my littlest boy.  Perhaps this is selfish of me, but we were in this together.

This was as much a part of my life as it was his, and I miss it terribly.  I can and will continue to pump milk for him as long as my body will allow me to, so the issue of him not getting my milk into toddlerhood is not the issue.  The issue is that I have lost the way I connected with my son.  I lost the way I knew, not wondered, but knew that he would not become dehydrated.  I've lost my tool for hurt feelings and bumped heads.  Until 7 days ago, I had no idea how to mother without nursing.  I am now learning how.

Seven days ago, the nursing relationship I had with my littlest boy died.  When he woke up on Thursday morning, he had the same needs that I have to learn how to provide for in a different way than what my body is programmed to do.  This is so much more than just nursing for 11 months.

I was sick with a fever yesterday, no doubt because I have been under so much stress lately.  So I decided to keep him home with me, send BBZ to school, and try to have some loving 1-1 time with him.  While he didn't show any progress toward nursing again, what we were able to do is reconnect.  I was able to rock him to sleep for 2 naps without any crying or resisting.  We snuggled and cuddled and I began to realize that I do know how to mother him without nursing, and I can do this if it is what is to be for us.

I have hope that no matter what happens, we will be ok.  I can still be connetced with him.  I can still wind down from a hard day, even if it involves a pump.  I am so incredibly sad about what is now gone, but hopeful that all is not lost because one aspect of our relationship is gone.

I ate luch out today, and this was my fortune.

I have been holding true that what I want is to have peace with whatever his decision is, but quite frankly, that's bull shit.  I want my baby to nurse again.  That is my dearest wish.  If he chooses not to, I'll get over it and move on.  But that's what I want.  I'm not going to sugar-coat it.  I want our nursing relationship back.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Little Brother Z is 11 Months Old!

Yesterday, my sweet littlest boy, you turned 11 months old.  We are still in the midst of your nursing strike, but I am going to try and highlight all of the many wonderful things that are happening with you, even though I am so distracted by this challenging times that we are finding ourselves in.

You spent this month making up for being sick in June!  I cannot believe how much food you eat.  I typically make the same size plate for you as I do for your brother.

You still love bath time and adore the water!  You've started to stick your face in the water and try to eat it.  I was nervous at first, but you got some water in your nose just once and have done fine since.  You understand just about every word we say, so when you hear me say "bath" you get so excited!

We went to an exhibit about fire at the History Museum and you loved this fake fire set-up.  See your marshmallow to toast?


We also went to the Botanical Garden to see the Chinese Lantern Festival.  The place was magical!

I also bought myself a new stroller.  Now I can actually take you and your brother on a walk together.  You're not as excited as I am about you having the back seat, but you manage.

You're pulling up and moving all over our home.  You will be toddling around before we know it.

This walking toy is your absolute favorite.  You have figured out how to move it around barriers in the home and will occasionally call us to help, but not often.  If you see this toy you crawl to it so fast!  It's so fun watching you push it around and imagine you walking very, very soon.

Oh, how I love this photo.  I took it just 3 days before you started your nursing strike.  You rarely held your blanket like this unless you were nursing, so looking at it now gives me lots of wonderful thoughts of me holding you in my arms.  This is a photo that I will forever look back to with such happiness.  I love the way you hold your blanket to your lip or cheek and gently rub it in comfort.  I love that I was able to capture that.

You continue to grow into exactly who you are meant to be.  You are stubborn as can be, which explains the strike in some ways.  You have some new words including: buh-duh (brother), which you yell like crazy when BBZ runs away from you.  Bottle, bath and ball all sound similar, but I can tell what you are saying.  You also have a great word for Delilah, but I don't know how to repeat it.  You wave and say "bu-bu", and also wave hello.  You still suck those fingers all the time, which is still cute but I must admit, I'm wondering how long that will last.

You are growing up right before our eyes, and I cannot believe that we will be celebrating your 1st birthday in less than a month.  You light up our lives, sweet baby Lu, and I cannot wait to see what your future brings.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Experiencing a Nursing Strike.

Alternately titled:
Ripping My Heart Out of My Chest and Stomping On It.

Also alternately titled:
A Lesson in My Littlest Son's Independence I Hoped Wouldn't Come Until College.

This week was a bit strange from the start.  I was home with the boys as usual on Monday, but their school was closed for teacher meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, so N and I took turns staying home.  I worked in the morning and stayed home with the boys in the afternoon.

Wednesday evening I planned to go have dinner with some friends.  I nursed Lu at about 5pm and figured he'd be up around 11pm to nurse as he'd been doing for weeks now.  N said that he went to bed fine, although it was later than usual.  I got home around 9:30pm and got excited when he started stirring around 10pm because I really missed that bedtime nursing.

I went into his room and picked him up and started to try and nurse with him.  He would try and latch on but would turn away.  He has done this only once or twice before and it was when his tummy hurt and he had to poo, so I figured that was it.  I put him back into bed and he didn't cry and fell back to sleep.

He woke up around 5:30am on Thursday and I went in planning to feed him since I was pretty full from skipping his nighttime and overnight feedings.  He screamed and pulled away and arched his back.  I tried numerous times with this same result.  I realized that this probably wasn't going to just pass.

I felt terribly rejected.  The one thing that I thought caused him the most comfort was now the absolute last thing he wanted.  I tried to have N hold him so I could pump, but he screamed at that too.  He wanted me to hold him but didn't want to nurse.  I was confused and hurt and in pain from being engorged.

N eventually was able to distract him enough so I could pump.  As I pumped I started reading articles I could find on nursing strikes.  I was pretty sure that is what was happening, but I also had noticed that he was slowing down on both nursing and taking his bottle, so I also wondered if this was weaning.

I took him to school and drove to work, feeling sad and scared and completely unsure of myself as a nursing mother.  Why didn't he want me anymore?  Is this the end?  I'm not ready to wean yet.  Do I have to be ready?  Isn't this about him?  But it is about him.  He needs this milk to be healthy.  Should I just give him the bottle from now on and call it quits?  I don't want to stop.  It's not all about me.  Am I being selfish?

Ugh.  The emotions were running rapid.  I really did feel like someone ripped my heart out and stomped on it.  I felt angry at LBZ.  Every time he laughed I wondered how he could possibly be happy about anything with our nursing relationship in shambles.  I wanted him to feel rejected like I did.  Some mothering, huh?

Once at work I spoke with a few nursing-friendly co-workers who encouraged me to stay positive and keep my milk up in case it is just a short strike and that he might regain interest.  I felt a bit more hopeful and hoped that maybe he would nurse when I picked him up from school since it was the longest stretch that we had been separated in almost a week.  That didn't happen.

On my way to pick him up, I prayed.  I don't often pray, but yesterday I did.  I didn't pray that he would go back to nursing, although that is what I really wanted.  I prayed for my own peace in whatever he did.  That I could accept his rejection as nothing more than a single act and have strength to make it through that feeding, if he did refuse.

Well, he did refuse.  He started to put his mouth on and decided he didn't want to.  I gave him a minute, tried the other side and when he refused, I accepted it.  We went home and I tried a few different positions, none of which were successful.  I again felt angry at him.  I didn't understand why he didn't like to nurse anymore.  BBZ started acting up and it was just too much for me to handle.  N was home by then and I just ran into our room and cried.

I don't think I can adequately put these emotions into words.  I was angry, hurt, sad and worried.  I had no idea what to do next.

I found a LLL meeting that I thought I'd go to, but then LBZ started crying and neither N or I could calm him down.  I decided at that moment to take him to the doctor.  I had planned to see how the night went, but this made me not want to wait.  I packed him into the car and ran off to the urgent care.  Diagnosis: "really bad" ear infection.

I was simultaneously relieved and upset by this diagnosis.  Now I understood why he was refusing.  Clearly, he is in pain.  I stopped and got the prescription and filled it on the way home.  I gave him a dose and tried to get him to sleep.  He was happy and playful, until I tried to get him to nurse.  I tried every position imaginable.  He was just not having it.  I finally gave in and gave him a bottle.  He sucked it down and passed out about 5 minutes later.

He woke up at 5:30am again this morning and would not nurse.  He went to latch on, but turned away and arched his back and cried.  While I still felt hurt from his rejection, it was different.  I understand why he doesn't want to nurse right now and I want to support him and his decision.

And there lies my dilemma.  My son has made this decision to no longer nurse.  Is it forever?  Maybe, maybe not.  But I am completely torn between what I want and what he wants.  While I realize that many children return to nursing following a strike, but why?  Do they eventually give in to a persistent parent?  Do they decide they still want to?  I have read about strikes that last for weeks, how long do I let this go on before I finally give up?

And is it giving up or would I be following the baby's lead, as so many breastfeeding resources say to do.  I feel very confused about what the next few days or weeks may bring.  I will continue to pump and offer for now, and who knows what will happen next.

I realize that my mothering life will constantly be lessons in learning how to balance my sons' need for independence and my needs as a mother.  While I know how beneficial nursing is to him, I also want to respect his decision if he no longer wants to, even when I so desperately do.

I have also decided to call the ENT and explore the possibility of tubes.  I feel very disappointed about this as well, but I feel it is the right thing to do at this time.  I have not made the complete commitment to doing them, but I am going to explore this option.  At least I can go into this saying that I tried other things.  I am going to say that diet changes combined with the chiropractor got us an extra 5 months.  He would have otherwise had tubes placed months ago.  And if this ear pain was enough to cause him to stop nursing, I have to do something more than what I've done so far.  It's just time.

I will keep all of you updated as we head down this path.  No matter what is to come, I can feel great about our nursing up to this point.  I can continue to pump and give him my milk for his health.  While I do hope that he will return to breastfeeding, I can also prepare myself in case that isn't our path.  Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Oh, how I love them so.

Sometimes, a photo can capture a moment so special that my heart goes back to it each time I see it. These two photos of my boys do just that.

I love them so much. I sometimes feel like my heart is going to burst out of my chest.

BBZ was on his way to get fro-yo for earning enough stickers on his chart. His behavior had been horrendous, but he has been his sweet self since Sunday, so we are really enjoying him.

When LBZ sees his blanket, he immediately grabs it with his right hand, sticks those fingers on his left hand into his mouth and gently rubs the blanket on his top lip or cheek.

I typically leave his blanket in his room, but yesterday he found it on the floor in our living room. This gave mea chance to capture this on camera.

This usually only happens when he nurses or is ready for bed, so it didn't leave the best opportunities for a photo shoot. But I got it today.

Sometimes I realize that I love them so much, my heart hurts.