Monday, February 23, 2015

Keeping Baby Close

I am learning, learning every day in this life I am living with a baby who doesn't nurse easily.  I have no previous experience with what works and what doesn't.  I am relying constantly on snippets of advice I am receiving from women who have been in this situation, but I am also having to learn from experience--and sometimes a bad experience is of incredible value.

I had to run some errands on Friday.  I needed to visit at least 2, probably 3, different stores.  In the past taking Baby with me was a no-brainer--Baby came with Mom.  This time, though I hesitated, wondering what was best for us all.

*It was only 18 degrees outside . . . but it was warm in the house.
*Baby would have to spend a lot of time in a car seat . . . or at home he could be cuddled by a big sister.
*I could pack all of the necessary baby gear, wrestling the diaper bag and baby into and out of the car and stores . . . or I could just dash in and out of stores quickly.
*Baby would be exposed to winter germs in public places . . . or he could stay at home where the germs are familiar.

In the end, Dad said, "If you're going to have to deal with the hassles of bottle-feeding, you might as well enjoy the benefits.  Leave [Baby L] at home.  It will be easier on both of you."

So that's what I did.

The errands were easy to run.
I pumped before I left, and by the time I got home it was time for another pumping session.
Baby L was in competent, loving hands the whole time.

It seemed to be a perfect situation.

But then the experience turned sour. 

After 3 hours away, I was aching to hold my little one in my arms.  I wanted to touch him, smell him, feed him, and love him.  But I couldn't.  In order to keep my milk supply from dwindling any further, I had to pump.  It could not be put off.  Instead of taking my baby in my arms, I assembled the plastic pumping tools, hooked myself up to a machine, and watched as Baby L was kissed and cuddled by his sisters.

It was only a 20 minute delay. 

It shouldn't really have mattered.

But somehow it did.

It mattered on some deep, visceral level that refused to acknowledge logic or rational thinking.

I fought tears the whole time the pump ran.  I raced to put the milk in a bottle and take my baby in my arms.  

I fought tears while I held him--tears that I could not explain.  I was happy to be holding him, but sorrow kept crawling out of some secret place within me, and I could not shove it away.

I fought tears for 2 more days--tears that I still could not explain.  I would weep at odd moments . . . while emptying the dishwasher, combing my hair, moving  a load of laundry . . . I just couldn't stop the tears from coming.

Baby blues?
Lack of sleep?

I considered various reasons for why I was so weepy.  Each one seemed reasonable at first glance, but none held up under serious scrutiny. 

It was in a quiet moment two days after the event that inspiration came:  I need my baby. 

I am his mother, and I need to be near him.

There may not be logical reasons for me to keep him near me at all times.  There may even be times that it makes more sense for him to be separate from me--like when I ran errands on Friday morning.  But there is a need that supercedes rational thought, and that need is for mother and baby to be together. 

It's always been easy for me to honor that need in the past.  I was the only source of food for most of my other babies; they had to stay with me.  I've bottle-fed 3 of my babies because they were adopted or fostered, but those babies stayed near me at all times because there were no teen family members able to be babysitters. 

I always kept my babies near me because they needed me.  Having never been in a situation where the babies didn't seem to need my particular presence, I never knew how much I needed them.

Oh, I knew I was happiest being near them, but I didn't realize how deeply I need them.

I need my babies!

Having children ages 0-15 makes me quite aware that babies become children who become young adults  . . . and their need to be near me, along with my need to be near them, changes over time.  I am happy to see my children develop independence.  I take great joy in watching them become their own selves.

But right now Baby L is barely a month old.  He is not ready to be independent, and neither am I.  I will learn from my experience and keep him close . . . even if someone else is perfectly capable of giving him his bottle.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Waking Up?)

Baby L continues to be the focus of our family time and energy.  The good news is that he grew 1.5 lbs in one week once we began bottle feeding him.  The bad news is that in spite of every effort on our part to help him nurse he continues to be incapable of nursing adequately.  In fact, after over 30 minutes of what looked like a productive nursing session at the breastfeeding support clinic, he only ingested 4 ml of milk--that's less than a teaspoon.

E14 thought he looked particularly cute in this pensive moment.
I am learning to be at peace with the fact that our boy is happy when he's offered a bottle, and he's frustrated, tense and angry when he's at the breast.  My emotions seem to mirror his exactly, so bottle-feeding it is . . .

Unless some well-meaning friend or family member calls me with yet another tip for how to get baby back to the breast.  Then I am filled with doubt and worry. 

I am learning how to cope with 'round-the-clock pumping sessions.  As I learn, I am becoming more capable of noticing and caring for other family members.  This week I read a few stories to I3 and H5 while I was hooked to the breast pump.  For me, this is a triumph.  I hope to be able to learn how to be ever more productive and attentive in these otherwise draining times of the day.

"Look at me!  I'm a goat!"
The other 7 kids have continued to have and use copious amounts of free time to the best of their ability . . .

which can be very interesting sometimes.
 The oldest ones read novels day in and day out.

H5 got out the camera again and again which means we have pictures of . . .

random lego creations . . .

sibling body parts . . .

extreme close ups . . .
and window screens (in an effort to photograph the snow outside).

One day this week, all of the kitchen stools received identities.

And Baby L was loved and played with constantly.

H5 and I managed to sneak in a reading practice session one quiet afternoon.  The time spent together fed both of our souls.

We're also trying to get some exercise in spite of the really low temperatures, snow, and ice that have been the norm this week.

Wednesday was our Explorer's Club field trip.  Dad took the kids to the meeting at an urban nature center.

Birds were the focus of the day, and A7 fell particularly in love with the raptors.  She brought home a free pamphlet and carefully took it apart so she could hang up the photos on her bedroom wall.  She was cunning enough to hang them in such a way that the articles were still readable, and now every time I tuck her in or check on her she shares a new fact she's learned.  H5 does what A7 does, so she's learning, too.

Dance rehearsals were cancelled due to illness, but that night Dad took the oldest 4 girls to the opera.  Our local opera house offers $5 tickets to educational groups on the night of their dress rehearsal.  The road conditions were of the white-knuckle variety, but Dad and the girls made it there and back safely and were able to enjoy the production of Silent Night.

I had a good long talk with an old friend who has also dealt with a baby who couldn't nurse; she gave me advice about how to get my milk supply back up (I'm only making about a third of what he needs) and how to cope with homeschooling for now.  I'm following her advice which means we're watching lots of documentaries as a family.  I reserved at the library about 75 documentaries on all sorts of subjects, and every day we're watching one or two together--old favorites like Planet Earth and Blue Planet and new-to-us favorites like Spellbound and Knut.  A couple of Great Courses DVD sets are waiting for us to try (one on opera, one on European art).  The girls and I are also enjoying more Jane Austen movies--Emma and Sense and Sensibility so far.

The Daddy/daughter dance at church was postponed, so we had a quiet night together on Friday night, but today is filled with activity--soccer practice, a dinner with cousins (provided the roads are safe), and a date with the sketch artist who is drawing a family portrait for us:

This is the preliminary rough draft he sent for our approval.  Today's session will help him finalize details, colors, and help him make any needed changes. 
I really like it!!!!!!

Lastly, inspired by another blogger, I've offered prizes for kids who work independently on schoolwork.  I've promised to be available each day for questions and to check their work, but I have not been able to figure out how to pick back up with a working school schedule of the variety we're used to.  I'm going to make a checklist for myself of things that I really want/need to get done and a tentative schedule that works around my pumping schedule. 

Dad goes back to work next week, so it's time for me to square my shoulders and press forward with faith.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Still Learning How to Cope)

A7 taught our family night lesson with a story she learned in her primary class at church.  It was about priesthood authority.   She did such a good job, labeling the little cars and making sure as many family members as possible were able to be active participants.

Baby L and I took a trip to a breastfeeding support clinic.  His weight loss was severe enough that the lactation consultant told us it was imperative that we get some food in him immediately.  Even though I'd been nursing him around the clock, he'd been taking in very, very little milk.  He wasn't dehydrated, but he was at 15% weight loss since being born.  On the way home from the clinic I stopped to pick up some bottles and formula.  

I've been crying pretty much ever since.

The week became a blur of consulting with La Leche League leaders, additional lactation consultations, purchasing tools/toys/gadgets to help us try to keep breastfeeding, pumping breast milk, and bottle feedings.

He's growing now.  
He LOVES taking a bottle.  
He tolerates nursing when all he wants is comfort.  
We've spent a fortune to learn the hard way what does and doesn't work for our boy.
Unless something dramatic happens soon, it looks like Baby L will be bottle-fed both formula and whatever breast milk I can pump (which isn't much at the moment, because for over 2 weeks it was almost as if I wasn't nursing him at all).

I'll continue seeing a lactation consultant for a while longer.  We'll keep up weight checks and keep trying to help him nurse, but I truly can't see what the future holds for this little fellow who spent his first weeks in a state of constant hunger.

While I spent every waking (and most sleeping) moments working on feeding Baby L, the kids did their own thing--playing with the camera was one of them.  (Playing with make up was another.)

Dad did a science experiment with the little guys.  The experiment was from a Christmas present science kit that they've been waiting and waiting to get to use.  They learned about how color can affect temperature--the black paper got 6 degrees hotter than the white paper did.

We spent time together loving one another.

We made valentines.  Adding Baby L means we make 90 valentines just as a family.  And no pre-made one for us (though I was sorely tempted this year)!  Every valentine is hand-crafted and individually made.  It's tradition.

The 7 who were big enough to participate in this year's treasure hunt.
(Baby L was eating--as he does most of the time these days.)

I3 got to "read" the first clue.

And there were chocolates for every one at the end of the hunt.

Sharing some screen time on a lazy afternoon.

S12 and J11 made cupcakes.  Everyone got in on the decorating (and eating) action.

Baby L liked his second bath far better than his first.  Believe it or not, those spindly little arms are  plumper than they were 5 days ago.  

We started up our devotionals again.  We're not back into our full routine with scripture memorization and singing, but at least we're reading and talking about the gospel each morning.  

We managed to watch both the Kiera Knightley and the Colin Firth versions of Pride and Prejudice this week.  The good part is that someone (I really don't yet know who) in the house pulled the book off the shelf and is reading it just for fun.

One night Dad managed to get the kids up to the soccer field for a little extra conditioning.  H5 and A7 were very proud of how much running they were able to do.  The biggest girls realize just how much additional physical conditioning they need!

A7 and H5 were invited to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese.  I'm grateful that I3 was graciously allowed to tag along. 

We all went to the church on Wednesday night for activities and meetings.  I found it exhausting, but the kids had a blast.

Dance rehearsals were on Thursday.  The kids all came home tired and sweaty but happy to welcome some new kids to the troupe and to be learning some new dances.

Soccer practice was on Saturday.

We read aloud together Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, and then we watched the movie.  We were fascinated by both.

I don't know how to start school again . . . between pumping, nursing, and bottle feeding, almost every hour of the day is taken up with baby feeding.  And that doesn't even begin to count the hours his other needs take.  I have a lot to learn about taking care of this little fellow.  That's what I get for being confident that we'd slide easily back into our school routines once Baby L arrived. 

Sometimes it's hard to be humbled.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Week, Briefly (It's all about feeding the baby)

Another non-academic week that was rich in life skills and family time . . .

This week was dominated by our efforts to get Baby L to grow.  I called a breastfeeding support group (only to have my call go unreturned for over 48 hours).  I also made an appointment to have his tongue tie reassessed for clipping.  After a weight check proved that he was still losing weight,  the dr's office took us seriously, and by Tuesday afternoon we were at an ENT's office having the procedure done.  It was far more traumatic than I expected (and I'd done my homework!), so recovery has been difficult. 

Even with his tongue being freed, he's struggling to nurse effectively.  Nursing sessions take hours, and I have to pay attention to helping him get properly latched and staying that way.   I will be attending a breastfeeding support group in the coming week to do weight checks and see if there's some knowledge that I don't already have about nursing babies--there must be something!  If he's still losing, then it's time to look at some supplementation options.

So . . . my plans to jump back into school after a couple of weeks of recovery have been utterly derailed.

While Mom is forever busy with keeping Baby L fed, Dad keeps the family happy.

M13 is often behind the camera, so we intentionally took this picture of her with Baby L to prove that she really does hold him . . . and she probably holds him more than any other sibling!

There was lots of down time this week while Mom and Dad were busy with Baby L and keeping up with errands/chores/paperwork.

H5 has been missing our normal routines and her normal amounts of attention from Mommy.  Fortunately M13 was willing to let H5 be her dinner-making buddy.

After M13 took her picture, H5 took M13's.

Then it was A7's turn with the camera--capturing the two sisters working together.

And a silly I3.

And she got Baby L in a thoughtful moment, too.
We had a snow storm on Wednesday that made us want to stay quietly at home, but we had places to go and people to see, so away we went. 

First there was Explorer's Club.  I'd planned to just send the kids with Dad, but the group leaders decided we needed to do a planning session for the coming year to help us find a focus (the group leaders just changed this year).  The older kids helped the younger kids do some crafts while the parents talked.  I'm disappointed to learn that the changes are going to lead the club in a direction that is not going to work for our family, so unless I have a major change of heart, this is our last semester of Explorer's Club.

We stopped at a thrift store to get soccer gear for the older girls.

Then there were church activities that night.  Had it not been for Dad being home, we'd have missed out on all of the day's activities.  The kids are happy that Dad is a willing chauffeur.

It snowed a couple of days this week.  Not really very much snow, but enough for the kids to get out and have some fun.

M13 caught a few cardinals at our feeder.

When there aren't enough sleds to go around, the kids get creative.

Good enough to eat!

Such a cute J11.

M13 took this beautiful shot of S12

This picture of I3 is too gorgeous for words.

H5 has a sweet, gappy smile.

M13--lovely selfie

More creative sledding options.  (The kids say she never made it down the hill--instead she opted to play with the red baby sled instead.)

E14 took the cat for a ride . . .

She wasn't a very happy cat at all.
I needed a shower, and no one was available to hold our little guy--too weird--there's always someone around!  I just tucked him in a basket and took him into the bathroom with me.   When the kids got home and saw him, they were delighted.

I3's favorite book these days is "Blue Hat, Green Hat" by Sandra Boynton.  He's learning some spelling from it. :)

Baby L is struggling to grow--he's starting to be all eyes like a baby bird.  (But he has more hair than shows in this picture!)

Everyone is tired these days.
On Saturday the girls had a dance performance at a local city carnival.  They did two mini-shows that went over really well.  Dad took them and was one of the photographers for the day.  I stayed home with the two little boys.

But even before the shows, the older girls had their first soccer practice!  It was an early morning, and a long day for the whole family.

Here are the older two groups performing "Raise a Ruckus."

The littlest ones performed "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

After the show, the director gave the kids some free carnival tickets.  They had a blast hanging out with friends, eating junk food, and playing games.

Though I3 was stuck at home, his sisters didn't forget him--every one of them brought him home a prize from the carnival.

Baby L got his first real bath on Saturday night.  It's pretty clear how he felt about it.
In addition, we had a couple of long conversations about our adoption plans.  We're at a tough cross-roads right now, with strong feelings from all family members to deal with.  I talked candidly with an adoption worker.   We're having to call on our deepest reservoirs of faith in order to make decisions.

The week ahead will need to include some serious self-assessment about what we reasonably can/can't accomplish in our homeschool in the next month or so . . .