Thursday, February 17, 2011


Hopefully people will forgive my long rambling post.  I have a couple tutorials in the works, but my broken camera is slowing me down.  In the meantime, I've felt like I can finally catch my breath after what has been a crazy 8 months or so.  In that time, our family moved several states away, our minivan caught fire while we were staying with family (it was a total loss, and it gutted my in-laws' garage and smoke-damaged every part of their house) and we had a new baby--#6.  Needless to say, I've been needing some down time to process things emotionally for a while.  With a baby who is getting more self-sufficient and easy by the day, I finally feel like I'm coming up for air--and boy does it feel great!  Anyway, here is something I've been thinking about for a few weeks:

Today is an anniversary of sorts.  Two months ago today, I turned in my hospital grade baby scale and hospital grade breast pump after 5 months of intensive use.  The birds were singing, the sun was shining (no really--even in Washington we get some winter sunshine) and all was right with the world.  I called my husband at work to tell him the I had some good news.  He said cautiously "Uhhh...what kind of news?"  Many a conversation about a positive pregnancy test result has started in the same way, so I don't blame him for his caution.  He was relieved that my news just involved the cessation of $45 in monthly bills, although he may not have grasped the full extent of the lightness and joy that I was feeling at that moment.

I have nursed all my children happily until they were two years old.  Yes, I am one of those women.  Minus the sensible footwear and art teacher-y clothing, I am really a total earth mother.  I love nursing--I love the closeness, the forced sitting down and reconnecting with your baby.  I love how nursing gives me time to examine their tiny fingernails (not to mention hang out on the computer).  I love it when they finish feeding, looking up at you with a sweet smile, milk-drool slowly dribbling from the corner of their mouth.  I love knowing that I can give this gift of health and love to each of my children.

Then came Lucy.  From the very beginning, I felt like something wasn't quite the same with her nursing.  I've never been as sore with subsequent children as I was with my first, but usually for the first couple of weeks, an infant's initial latch on makes my toes curl a little with the force of it.  But not with Lucy.  I was completely comfortable.  Uh oh.

However, early on I realized that she wasn't getting enough to eat.  I saw two different lactation consultants who both couldn't figure out what was going on.  In the meantime, she was nursing endlessly and not gaining weight.  I saw our family practice doctor who made me feel like I was failing.

I had to start feeding her part formula because without adequate stimulation, my milk supply had dropped off.  When we started out, she was getting about 1/2 of her calories from formula.  This was very hard for me.  It was hard for me not to feel like every bit of formula she got was a symbol of my failure as a mother.  I knew rationally that mothering is much more than food, but nursing had become such a huge part of how I felt about myself as a mother of an infant.

I had to start pumping after every feeding, since Lucy's nursing wasn't strong enough to keep my milk supply up on her own.  I had to either feed her with a bottle or a nursing supplementer, which allowed her to drink expressed milk or formula as I was nursing.  I was completely obsessed with making this nursing relationship work, but I didn't even know what was wrong.  I wondered if it was me or her.  Meanwhile, all my kids were home for the summer and I felt like I was failing them.  I was tethered to my pump and nursing.  Even a quick outing to the park felt like an accomplishment.

The second lactation consultant I saw referred me to the Seattle Children's Hospital to see an occupational therapist who specializes in infant feeding issues.  Robin took one look at Lucy's tongue and pronounced her tongue-tied.  Both lactation consultants had ruled this out because she didn't have a classic tongue tie.  Basically, you have a frenulum under your tongue, which is a membrane that connects your tongue to the floor of your mouth.  If the frenum is too short, or extends to the tip of the tongue, it is hard for the tongue to move past the gum line and you are considered tongue-tied.  Nursing is usually difficult or even impossible.

Robin referred me to a specialist who also took one look at Lucy's tongue, prounounced it "a perfect example of a posterior tongue-tie" (lucky us) and performed a frenotomy (clipped the frenulum).  I was hoping and praying for an immediate improvement, but instead there was a slight improvement with each thing we introduced over a series of months.  I did facial "exercises" with Lucy to help increase the mobility in her face and jaw.  We tried using kinesio tape on her cheeks to stimulate better muscular strength and coordination.  Through it all, I was monitoring her weight and pumping to keep up my milk supply.  Slowly, she started to improve.

Thanks to a hands-free pumping bustier (every bit as attractive as you might imagine lol), I learned to pump while still being able to keep up (I use the term loosely) with household chores like laundry and dishes.  I even pumped in my car while driving kids to sports practices or on the way home from Costco runs (using a nursing cover, don't worry :) ).

I also realized (through the unblinking eyes of my clear-sighted husband) that people needed to come before pumping.  I realized that instead of seeing every bit of formula as a symbol of failure, that every drop of breast milk was a priceless gift.  I decided to do the best I could with pumping (I averaged 5 sessions a day), but not if it meant neglecting others (or myself).

The breakthrough came toward the end of November when I did a pre/post feeding weight and realized that she had just taken in 3 1/2 ounces of milk from nursing directly.  I monitored it a little more, but gradually was able to cut out pumping completely.  Now, about 1/4 to 1/3 of her calories come from formula.  

Before experiencing this, I had no idea what it felt like to have nursing not work out as you'd hoped.  When I met women who would laugh brittlely and say like one friend, "Oh, the nursing thing didn't work out for us...", I would think, deep down, that they didn't try hard enough or care enough.  Now I know that you can be desperately trying, and it may not work out the way you'd hoped.  I know how agonizing that is when you want so badly to breastfeed your baby.  Sometimes people cover hurt by trying to be blase about something--especially when they probably felt my unspoken judgment.  I am so sorry about that.

Interestingly, when I was deeply discouraged that I might not be able to nurse Lucy, I decided that instead of trying to pretend everything was fine when people asked, that I needed to be honest.  I am usually someone who doesn't admit I need help until my world is crashing around me (and okay, it was, but getting me to admit this was a big step for me!).  The support I received from people around me was wonderful.  I talked with several new friends about what I was experiencing and how miserable I was about it, and both of them confided some of their own nursing struggles and how they still feel sad about it--even years later.  As I was talking to them, I felt such a wave of empathy for them.  I don't think the pre-Lucy me would have been able to have that kind of conversation because I was too convinced that nursing just takes effort and determination, period.

I am so grateful for my hard-earned empathy, but I am even more grateful for the resting place that little Lucy and I have found.  She is eating a few meals of baby food now, in addition to the breastfeeding and formula.  As I'm typing this, she is resting on my chest with milk on the corner of her mouth, having nursed herself to sleep for the night.  It's difficult for me to imagine heaven being any sweeter than this.

Which is why, on December 17, the lightness I felt was only partially about setting down a heavy breast pump and infant scale.  It was only partially about the winter sunshine glistening on the evergreen trees around me.  It was the peculiar kind of lightness you feel when you have been carrying a heavy burden of the soul and have finally been able to set it down.  On that day, I put down my sorrow and disappointment over what I had wished for and felt the lightness and joy of being grateful for what I have been able to accomplish despite the obstacles.

Happy Anniversary, little Lulu.  We've made it.

I'm linking up to Weekend Bloggy Reading at Amanda's Serenity Now:

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Family Picture--Ye olde but ye goody

We had a family picture taken of us when we went to our church's "Festival of Nativities" in December.  It is a wonderful tradition, where people all over Bellevue donate their Christmas Nativities to be displayed (borrowed) during a the first weekend of December.  The variety of nativities was amazing, from beautiful hand-carved olive wood nativities from Israel, to German "Kertzen Pyramiden," to some of the handcrafted nativities made of found objects like old aluminum cans rolled up into figures.  This whole event just set the tone for my Christmas this year.  My favorite display was a whole roomful of beautiful framed pictures of Jesus like this (one of my favorites by Liz Lemon Swindle):

Anyway, they had a room where your family could dress up and pose their own Nativity scene.  Yes, it took me this long to look ours up and order some pics on Shutterfly.  Here's it is:

Man, give me some lipstick!  I look like I'm dying of anemia.

But the rest of this picture is so stinking cute I can hardly stand it.  The shepherd standing next to me is dashing enough that I may have to quit the angel thing and marry him :).  The taller two wise men are very handsome, Mary and Joseph look perfect and if you've seen a more adorable midget wise man, I'd like to know (not to mention a more luscious angel-in-training).

I have some pictures of projects I've been working on (hint: new to me sofas at last!) that I'll get up by the end of the week if I can get the camera Wise Man #2 accidentally broke yesterday to load pics to my computer--Sadness!  In the meantime, I wanted to post something that made me smile today, even if it is evidence that I still wish it was Christmastime.  I hope it made you smile, too.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Food Heroin: New Craves in the Making

Uh oh.

I tried two new foods this weekend, and I am already hooked.  Food heroin, anyone?

Number uno:

Candy Cane Trader Joe Joes Cookies

Since I think Oreo's are not worth the calories (I hate the way the filling coats the inside of your mouth--ewww), I figured these peppermint filling-ed chocolate sandwich cookies would be something I was buying for the rest of my family's sake.  My friend, Annie, told me they are addictive.  She was oh-so-right.  I LOVE Joe-Joe's, and I don't care who knows it.  I also think they would be divine dipped in chocolate (of course, what wouldn't, right?).  Maybe for neighbor gifts next year?  Oh, all right--I wouldn't mind having a bunch of chocolate dipped Joe-Joe's hanging around the house, either.

Numero two:

Greek Gods Yogurt - Pomegranate

Oh My--Greek yogurt, where have you been all my life?

I bought a large container of Greek Gods strawberry yogurt and it was l-o-v-e at first bite.  It is so creamy, sweetened with honey (but not too sweet), just enough strawberry flavor.  I chased everyone in my family around with a spoon and made them try a bite.  They all, with the exception of my husband, instantly raised their eyebrows with delighted greed and wanted their own bowl-ful.  My husband, who is not a yogurt lover, still said, "It's pretty good."  Pretty good, my eye :).  It is amazing, life-altering, transformative.  Thank goodness I'm going grocery shopping this morning and can buy some more.

So of my new addictions, I fear that the yogurt one is the only one I can indulge on a semi-regular basis.  One of the lessons learned this weekend is that I am not to be trusted with an open pack of Joe-Joe's in my home.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Favorite Cookbooks and Recipe Organization

There are so many good cookbooks in the world, but here are some of my favorites:

I have three of Nigella Lawson's cookbooks, and I love all the recipes I've tried (although in the interest of full disclosure, she is a waaaaay more adventurous eater than I am).  This is a basics kind of cookbook that teaches you to do things like roast a turkey or chicken, make a cake from scratch, cook when you are trying to lose weight, etc.  Even more than the food, however, I love her writing.  This is the kind of cookbook you like to read just for the sake of reading.  I read it to get into the mood to cook and think about food (sometimes I am just not feeling the excitement when it comes to planning another week's meals and going grocery shopping).  She is intelligent and witty and assumes that you are an intelligent cook (while still giving great directions).  And I like it that she is a beautiful woman who looks like she actually likes to eat rather than gingerly and self-consciously nibbling a small bite of something and proclaiming "Delicious" (cough: Martha).  My best friend, Brynn, does a hilarious impression of Martha tasting food.  I miss you, Brynn!

I'm planning on buying Nigella's newest (or maybe asking for it for my birthday? Valentine's Day?):  
 Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home                                                        
 I can't wait!
My next favorite is Molly Katzen's "Moosewood Cookbook".  I used to make things from this when I was just starting to really cook when I was a teenager, and nostalgia is one reason I keep cooking from it.  It is a vegetarian cookbook, and the food is very good and flavorful--and her desserts are wonderful.  The font is all hand-written, with some of the directions illustrated with her own drawings, which makes it feel really personal, like you are cooking from a recipe a friend wrote out for you.

For my third favorite, I'll give you a hint:

Yep, it's the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.  I refer to it all the time for basics like biscuits.  Plus, no matter how evocative it is of cheap Italian restaurants, I just love red gingham.  Sigh.

My fourth and last favorite is actually not a published cookbook, but rather a way of organizing recipes that makes my life better.  I cook from this more than any other single cookbook.

I started putting my recipes in plastic sheet protectors in a binder almost 10 years ago, and it is such a great system.  I now have three of these binders, and it makes it so easy to add a recipe or find one that I've clipped.  My newest folder is much cuter and has dividers to section things out into different types of food (salad, soup, main dishes, desserts, etc.), but my older ones are just in an order that makes sense to me.  I can easily flip through and find what I want.  Here are some pics of what I mean:

 This one has randomly clipped recipes that I taped or glued onto regular paper, then slipped into the sleeves.

 This is an example of whole pages from magazines that I've put into page protectors.

It is good to select a binder that has pockets so you can have a place to store recipes that are waiting to be slipped into page protectors, as in above. Ideally, you just have empty page protectors in your binder ready to go.  Long story short, my binder is an English A4 size from when we were living in London, so I can't get page protectors for it here.  I need to shuffle around my recipes and put some in a normal binder that uses normal page protectors.  I will add this to my endless list of needed yet not crucial projects and will probably get to it when Lucy starts college soon.

Anyway, not rocket science I know :), but this sure makes my life easier!

I am linking up to Works for me Wednesday over at We are that Family.