On Tuesday our baby girl will be one month old. Just a few short weeks ago I wasn’t sure we’d make it this far without some sort of institution worthy breakdown coupled with an attempt to take her back. To where I’m unsure, but there were certainly times in the past 4 weeks when I doubted our dominion over this child and felt that surely the hospital made a mistake in letting us take her home. All the warnings and advice from every book, professional and seasoned parent in the world couldn’t have prepared us for what we were to endure those first few weeks. And though at times I’ve questioned both my mental strength and abilities as a mother, the truth of the matter is that this shit is crazy hard, and everything we’ve experienced and felt is completely normal, and I am not a bad person for calling Norah an awful baby in a middle-of-the-night moment of despair over her unwillingness to go to sleep. I swear I took it back. As soon as I stopped crying.
Wearied as we are by our newborn woes, they’re all pretty run of the mill. Norah is healthy and happy and has thus far suffered from nothing more than gas, diaper rash, day/night confusion, and general breastfeeding difficulties. Man oh man was I clueless about breastfeeding. I mean, shouldn’t this supposedly natural thing that women have been doing for eons be pretty straight forward and simple? Whenever she’s hungry I’m just going to pop a boob in her mouth and she’ll eat and then I’ll burp her and it will all be super fun times at Casa Elder, right? Hell to the No. There are entire books and classes and even a LEAGUE devoted to breastfeeding for a reason. According to a study by Women’s Health USA, though 70 percent of new mothers in the US initiate breastfeeding, only 36 percent make it to 6 months. That’s a serious drop folks. There’s a multitude of reasons that half the women out there have ended their breastfeeding careers before half a year has gone by, and some of them are unavoidable and/or out of the mother’s hands, but for many (likely even most) the breastfeeding retirement was an unwelcome and difficult decision. A decision made after mom and baby struggled through a laundry list of challenges and eventually just said fuck it. And I don’t look down upon a single one of those mothers because even though we feel 100% committed to breastfeeding now, and have managed to work through all of the challenges of the first month, there’s just no way to predict what new and exciting adventures await us.
I will say this for sure…without some tremendous support from family, friends and a few experts from the glorious La Leche League, quittin’ time might already have arrived for us Elders; or at the very least supplementin’ time. You see, we had a less than fortunate experience at the end of week one with our pediatrician. I blame him a tiny bit and my crazy Type A personality a lot. On day four Norah had her first baby check-up at Mebane Peds. They weighed her – 7 lb 9 oz, down 5 oz from birth weight. Great! This is exactly what they expect to happen. On day 6, per doctor’s instructions, we swung by Mebane Peds again for another weigh in – 7 lb 7 oz – down another 2 oz. Now, in hindsight, this too was completely normal and to be expected because most newborns lose 10% of their birth weight before they start gaining again, and the doctor told us as much. But, since it was almost one week since birth and they “usually hope to start seeing weight come back at this point,” doc said, in a most non-red-flag-waving way, we should keep an eye on it over the weekend and start thinking about what we would do if she continues to lose i.e. isn’t getting enough milk. And that last part is all this momma heard – “isn’t getting enough milk.” Within hours I had settled into a sob ridden depression over my possible failure at what I considered to be one of the first tests of successful motherhood. The idea that I possibly wouldn’t be able to feed my baby without supplementing with formula was heart breaking, crushing, demoralizing, and enough to put me in such a funk that when Annie and Ryan came over to bring us our first of many homecooked meals from Mebane family (another topic that could spur a whole post), I could barely look them them in the eye for fear that I would burst into tears any second and I certainly didn’t put a dent into the delicious and amazing food they brought us.
It was awful. But that night, we had the first of a few key conversations that got us through. Our amazing and lovely sis-in-law, Courtney, spent her Friday evening chatting with Pete on the phone about all of my worries, assuring us that everything was normal and fine, and doling all sorts of helpful advice. I was literally on the edge of reason and had pulled out the box of free formula sent to us by Similac (sneaky bastards and their horrible pusher style marketing) in preparation to make a bottle because I was afraid my poor baby girl was hungry and malnourished. What a looney bird I was! Over the next couple days we had more chats with more amazingly supportive people including Annie’s mom, a long time Leche League member, and our buddy Denise, fellow Type A mother. Then come Monday we attended our first breastfeeding group meeting. Being an EBF mom (that’s “exclusive breastfeeding”) is kind of like being an alcoholic in recovery. You’re edgy and volatile, you attend meetings, you have “sponsors” to call in times of vulnerability, and you really want to get drunk, but that’s not such a good idea.
And guess what else happened on Monday? Norah had another weigh in and she was back up to 7 lb 9 oz. Whew! After that we deleted our spreadsheet that kept track of her feedings and diapers (not. joking.) and threw out any expectations we had for what Norah should and should not do. Because as one great wesbite put it…one of the many hundreds of websites I’ve visited this month to read everything possible every time she sneezes or cries or farts and I feel a life or death need to understand why…”the only constant with newborns is change.” Amen to that.