Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Joint Family Road Trip & Summer Family Reunion!

We seem to be doing a family road trip every Summer. It's kinda become a thing. Now we've done it three years in a row, so I guess it's organically becoming a new family tradition! Last year, we ventured out to the Okanagan. The year before, we explored Yellowstone National Park. I absolutely love road trips because there's just so much that you can explore unplanned. It's been a great way to just spend time together and show my in-law's and the kids part of the world. And it was Veda's first official vacation!

This year, our road trip was more of a last minute decision. We had not planned to travel anywhere this year, until one of husband-ji's cousins got a job and relocated to Washington, which is the state right below us. We have not seen this cousin for over two years, so it was the perfect excuse to plan a trip down so we could visit them. We have three cousins in Washington (all from the Tamil side of the family, and each set has kids). My main reason for wanting to go was because I wanted to get all of the kids to play together and have some bonding time.

Boy, were they wild! They just had the best time playing together. From 7am until 10pm, they were playing, laughing and running around. Just as children should be. They are all close in age (7, 5, 5, 18 months, 5 months). It was really lovely - we made so many amazing memories together. It was a bit of a family reunion of sorts!

Here are some highlights from our trip:


Monday, August 14, 2017

Veda: 6 months old!

Well, this is all happening too fast. Veda's already 6 months?! It's officially her half birthday.

This month, Veda has really been getting a move on and displaying signs that she's going to be a very active tot. She loves to crawl and she loves being held up so that she can bounce her legs. We tried the Jolly Jumper out recently and Veda absolutely loved it, of course. She hates sitting and wants to be moving at all times. She detests being in the car unless she's sleepy, which means I have to be very choosy when I'm taking the car out. She is okay when you hold her (because she clearly likes to be pampered), but mostly she's happiest when she's on her tummy and ready to explore. I have to keep a very close eye on her because she is getting into everything. The other day, she made her way over to Maya's markers so I had to put them all safely away in drawers - nothing left out for her to get her curious little hands into! This all happened within 30 seconds when I was in the bathroom, of course - she made her way from one side of the living room to another - a determined stealth snail!

We've also been trying out all the new foods and flavors, one by one. So far, she likes bananas, avocados, apples, kale, pineapple, mango, and carrots. We still have lots more to try out. She does not like cauliflower or peas. It's a bit hard to feed her since she's so active, so we have to feed her quite quickly. 

Veda has not been sleeping well at night, so I am one tired mommy. She is teething, going through a growth spurt, and she also had her first ear infection this month. I assumed that she would be immune to such things like ear infections since I'm breastfeeding her, but no. Clearly, my milk has no magical powers like some of the other women have!

Veda starts out sleeping in her crib, and then by 4AM I give in and just co-sleep with her. Which is something I never did with Maya! With the breastfeeding, it's just easier to co-sleep because you can just pop your boob out. Veda sleeps much better when I co-sleep with her but I try not to do it unless I absolutely have to. No matter how tiring the night has been, Veda always wakes up so fresh and happy and ready to slay the day. She gives me a big smile and starts giggling when she wakes up which is so incredibly adorable that I can't be mad at her.

I also end up co-sleeping with her for at least one of her naps because by that time I also need a nap! Now she is down to two naps a day. I get nothing accomplished during those naps. For her morning nap, I always take the kids out for an outing while Veda sleeps in her stroller. By the time the afternoon nap rolls around, Maya has her quiet time and mommy is exhausted (snoring along with the baby) and counting down the minutes until daddy gets home!

We've also made it to 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, which I do have to give myself a pat on the back for. My favorite breastfeeding position is lying down because I'm so exhausted. We are still trying to get her to take my pumped milk from the bottle - with no luck. She only wants the boobs. Now I feel like I have no choice but to breast feed her, so I feel a bit stuck. Luckily, now that she is having solids, I can find a way to get out of the house kid-free for like an hour, but usually not more. That way I can at least hand over some of the feeding to husband-ji.

Veda's hair is not standing up anymore (like Elvis) because it's getting so much longer. Now gravity is pulling it down. I could actually put it in pigtails! Maya loves to pick out Veda's outfits and especially hair clips. It's funny because she won't wear a hair clip herself (being more of a tomboy) but she loves it when Veda wears one. I haven't been dressing her up too much because it's been so hot - usually just a simple cotton onesie. 

We ventured out to a restaurant for dinner the other night - the first time in 4 months! It went surprisingly well, but of course we had to keep it under an hour. Veda was very entertained by all the comings and goings of the restaurant people. She loves to people-watch and she loves to overhear people talk and eavesdrop like a senile Indian grandma. Veda has grown up in a joint family, so she loves it when there are a lot of people around.

We also took Veda on her first vacation this month....more on that later!


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Ups and Downs of Breastfeeding

(Photo by Simply Rose)

Breastfeeding. It's supposed to come naturally, right? I mean, it looks so easy. It's what's best for your baby, they say! It's free, they say! It's simple, they say! Rather, I find it to be very complicated. Like, a knee-deep complex, loaded issue. For something that's supposed to be so simple, it really isn't. After childbirth, it's arguably the first thing that women get criticized about and made to feel unworthy about. There are moms around the world crying their eyes out at this very moment about what kind of milk they feed their baby. If you feed formula, you're damaging your baby. If you feed breast milk, are they getting enough? If you breastfeed for too long, you're a weirdo.

It's #worldbreastfeedingweek and I'd like to share our stories. Two different experiences, for two different babies, like night and day.

Breastfeeding Maya
With Maya, I had a very difficult time breastfeeding. I spent a lot of time preparing for childbirth, and not a lot for breastfeeding. I assumed it would come naturally. It's going to sound ridiculous, but when the baby came out, I was appalled when I realized that I'd have to spend so much effort feeding it. (Like what the hell, can't my husband do it? Do I have to do everything here?) I was disappointed when it didn't come naturally. I was ashamed to breastfeed and expose myself even in front of the nurses at the hospital. When they tried to help me breastfeed and they asked if it hurt, I lied and said no, when in reality it did hurt - a lot. But compared to the pain of having a vaginal birth, I thought it was low on the pain scale. I didn't understand then that when breastfeeding hurts, it's because you have a bad latch. And when you get a bad latch, it affects your milk supply. And it hurts like hell, because that baby gets damn hungry and ends up massacring your nipples with it's bad latch. At the end of my birth, I had a severe postpartum hemorrhage as my placenta refused to detach. Then my finicky placenta decided to detach along with part of my uterus and I lost more than a litre of blood, which gave me anemia for 2 years. (Let me tell you, suffering from anemia while being a stay at home mother with no help is no fun at all!) My anemia completely zapped me and also affected my milk supply. My milk came in around day 5, and I nearly had a mental breakdown from all the hormones. Maya's latch only got worse and I remember pumping and getting a bunch of blood instead of milk. Or pumping for hours and only getting a few drops of milk, when my aunt said that my cousin's wife could get a whole bottle of milk in minutes. Then, I started using a nipple shield because my nipples were so damaged, which you had to hold in place awkwardly. Then Maya got addicted to the nipple shield and wouldn't go back to my actual nipple. At Maya's 1 month check-up, we discovered that she had lost weight since birth. I had another mental breakdown. I cried and cried and cried. The midwives suggested to pump and supplement formula for the health of the baby. My midwives were very anti-formula so I knew this was serious. At one point, I used donor milk and I felt like less of a woman seeing my child consume milk from other women, when I couldn't produce enough of my own. I thought, why is it so easy for them and so hard for me?! I pumped every 3 hours for 3 months, out of sheer determination. My milk supply never increased. At Maya's 3 month check-up, I conveyed to our family doctor that I was having a difficult time with the pumping, especially now that Maya was becoming more alert. She suggested I just stop pumping milk and give formula, for my sanity. She said, "Don't drive yourself crazy. She will be fine!" I quit and didn't look back. It was a relief. I still felt a bit guilty though. I wondered if Maya would be less smart than her peers. Five years later, she's one of the smartest in her class.

Breastfeeding Veda
With Veda, I wanted to give breastfeeding another go. I wanted to try to see if I could have a different experience, if I could love breastfeeding as much as the other mothers do. I was just going to see how it went, without expectation, and if I didn't want to then I'd give her formula - because Maya turned out fine, after all! This time, my placenta birthed just as it should, and immediately after, I asked the nurse to help latch the baby on to me. We stayed in the hospital for a few days afterwards and I paged the nurses every few hours to teach me and her how to breastfeed. I got a lot of help, so when we got home I felt really confident. Veda got a great latch from the start and fed round-the-clock which brought my milk in faster, and with a fury. She fed so much that I ended up overproducing milk. My breasts were often so full of milk that I would have to pump extra milk just to feel relief. I got mastitis when Veda was 6 weeks old. After a few months, my milk supply evened out and it became really easy. I breastfed lying down, sitting down, and in all kinds of positions. It took me a while to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public (or in front of my father-in-law, and other relatives), but I just got over it, concentrated on the baby, and I figured that if anyone was uncomfortable then they could just look away. I also wanted to breastfeed for my own maternal health benefits since it can bring down my risk of getting breast cancer. This has been important to me because my mom has had breast cancer twice. Once the breastfeeding started going well, every month I thought to myself, "Oh, I'll do another month. Why not?" And here I am now, having just passed 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. I can't even believe it. I'm not sure when I'll wean but as of now, I do enjoy it. There is a different kind of closeness when you look at your baby taking your milk. It is animalistic in a sense. In those moments, you know that you are all your baby needs, and it is a fulfilling feeling.

God sure does have a sense of humor, I think. With my first baby, I didn't make enough milk. With my second baby, I had too much milk!

Looking back, both my babies had different latches and sucking styles, just as they have different personalities. They also had different appetites. They have different little mouths too. I wish I had known this in the early days of being a first time mom, but it's something that you realize only with experience. 

When it comes to breastfeeding, there are lots of ups and downs. It's simple, but it's not......

For example, there is also a lot of privilege attached to breastfeeding. To exclusively breastfeed for years, you'd have to have a partner who is earning enough to support both you and the children. Or you'd have to get adequate maternity leave, which sometimes involves no pay or a big pay cut. Some moms have no choice but to return back to work. Or you'd have to have an employer who would allow you to pump every few hours. And pumping equipment is expensive. Just like formula companies are big businesses, so are breast pump companies. Yes, breastfeeding is technically free, but it's actually not.

Babies feed every few hours and the mom's body has to be available at all times, day and night. If you supplement or pump the milk, you risk losing your milk supply. The only way to truly guarantee a steady supply is to exclusively breastfeed - which comes at a cost of the mom. Sometimes the cost is time, or even sanity.

 On top of being pregnant for 9 months, it's a huge additional sacrifice of the mom's body. For example, if the baby nurses and needs to be pacified by mom, you might not get enough time to do much of anything else. Even something as important as a dental appointment is difficult to plan if you don't know what time your baby will want to nurse.

It's also a lot of pressure being the sole milk-provider of the baby. You have to be careful what you eat and drink, you have to eat enough calories and stay hydrated. Most moms take herbal supplements to increase their milk supply or drink specific herbal teas (while researching and avoiding others that can lower your milk supply). By the way, the lactation teas taste like shit. There's always a fear that your supply will drop and how will you feed the baby? Moms who are not able to produce enough milk cry their eyes out (I was one of those with baby #1).

And it's all emphasized by the fact that men just don't get it. They think that you just shove it in there and the baby will take it. Um, no, dude. You have to get a good latch, which can take months of round-the-clock practice - for both baby and mom. Sometimes the baby will latch and you will have to re-latch to get the perfect fit. You have to let the boob hang in the right way. Leaning over to breastfeed can wreak havoc on your back, while lifting the baby up to your nipple can wreak havoc on your arms - continually. As the baby gets more alert, they may get distracted nursing in public.

And don't forget the staring. How much people can stare when you nurse your baby in public! How much people ogle at your only-for-sex breasts when their purpose is really to feed your babies. Nursing covers are really only for small infants and as soon as your child learns to swat their arms, covering up is not an option. For many women, nursing in public can be uncomfortable and humiliating, and worse if strangers make comments - especially to an exasperated mother who's just trying to feed her hungry/fussy/tired baby.

Plus, don't get me started with the sore or cracked nipples. The bleeding nipples. Constantly leaking milk. Thrush. Mastitis. How irritating nursing bra's are.

Any mom who breastfeeds their baby (or attempts to) knows how hard it can be. That's why I absolutely despise moms who make other moms feel bad for not breastfeeding, as if it's some kind of gold-medal competition. It's an intensely personal decision that the mom has to make based on A LOT of different factors. I don't think we should shame women for not breastfeeding. Or wanting not to because they don't like breastfeeding. If men had to breastfeed, I bet they wouldn't even make it past Day 3!

But, all the above reasons are why moms love it so much, too. Because when it works - really works - there is a sense of pride and accomplishment for being the sole provider of milk for your baby. It's a sacrifice of one's own body that women do with a sense of joy of wanting to be as close as possible with their babies, as their infants gently suckle and drift off to sleep. Just like a pregnant women beams with pride when she rubs her tummy, a breastfeeding mother does the same as her child takes her milk. It is a very intimate experience.

So, to the moms that formula feed, you're doing a great job. To the moms who couldn't get their milk supply up, you're doing a great job. To the moms who are struggling to breastfeed, you're doing a great job. To the mom who loves breastfeeding, you're doing a great job. To the mom who has to use donor milk, you're doing a great job. To the mom who is breastfeeding for 2+ years, you're doing a great job. Every experience is different, no two babies are the same. And let's all just take a minute to respect it for what it is -  an intimate, personal experience that is just as unique as the babies themselves.

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