Quickly, While They Sleep

Things I “knew” but plainly admitted were beyond comprehension until they have been lived:

  1. It is a crazy and instantaneous kind of love. The story of the birth is that I nearly had a full on panic attack in the OR. There is so much noise and commotion, bright lights, nine different people all working on you at the same time – put your leg here, slouch your back, move your hands out to your side like Jesus on the cross – and all with a giant drape crowding your breathing space. I had this terrible fear that the spinal block would not work and I would feel them cut me or that the risk of placenta accreta related to my uterine scarring before this pregnancy would become real and I would start to hemorrhage or lose my uterus. My cousin has been a life-saver. She flipped her entire schedule around at the hospital to work in the OR for my section, and if it hadn’t been for her reassurance and narration, I might have literally hyperventilated. That said, the moment they brought these lanky, shell-shocked babies from behind the curtain, one at a time, and placed their clammy bodies on my bare chest, I felt this hot rush of, God, I don’t have words for it: relief, love, some wild sort of rightness like those games we played as children where we had to find the star-shaped peg to place in the star-shaped hole, as if this warm, fleshy armful of children almost literally filled a dark, haunted cavern in my heart in one split-second. During the days in the hospital, I was encouraged, as they say, to sleep when they babies sleep, but I found this really hard. Their waking time was filled with nurses and doctors poking and upsetting them or pragmatic matters of feeding and diapers. In the moments of calm, I wanted them back on my chest. It ached to see them across the room alone, and so the opening act of motherhood sent me on a spin of weepy sleep deprivation that turned the world into a carnival house of mirrors. But what was totally surreal a week ago is now rocking sleepily eight feet away, and I just want to eat their sweet little faces. Farts have suddenly become joyous, poopy diapers a boon, and the sound of their wails flips a biochemical switch inside of me that I cannot tolerate. It’s not that the love is greater or less than (certainly I love my husband as much as I love them) but so unlike anything I’ve ever known because it isn’t the slow-growing intimacy of virtually every other relationship. It is a primal need to nurture and protect that blooms with urgency as soon as they exist.
  2. Breastfeeding is hard. I had always heard this. My friend Allie, steeped in San Francisco’s militant earth-mama narrative, went to such heroic lengths to establish a supply over the course of her son’s first month of life that it nearly broke her. Her husband ultimately intervened to say: You have done everything and now you have to absolve yourself and move on. I had some anxieties about my ability to nurse but pointed fingers at my infertility-induced post-traumatic stress wherein I carry an established fear of my body failing me into any reproductive circumstance. This was, of course, a theme for the entire pregnancy, as so many of you know, but during the pregnancy, these fears were never realized, and in nursing they have been. I am not producing milk. I produced a low amount of colostrum for the first two days, and it took multiple nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital to help me hand-express tiny droplets into plastic spoons to feed something to the babies while they lost weight. Then it turned thin and white, which should have been a signal that my milk was coming in, but the volume never increased, and I felt I was watching my 6-pound peanut wither away and my stronger baby scream in hunger and frustration as I offered her a limp, empty breast that failed to yield the milk she was demanding while ten different people told me ten different things about what to do. This has meant “supplementing” while trying to “establish supply,” which, if you don’t have a concrete idea of what that looks like, let me give it to you straight. Newborns need to eat about every 2-3 hours starting at the beginning of the feed. I have two borderline premature babies with poor latches (one because she is small and the other because she is tongue-tied) and it takes about an hour of constant stimulation and re-latching while also holding their heads to keep a good position; since I only have two hands, this usually requires the help of another adult. Then we give formula, followed by a half hour of pumping, which all cumulatively takes almost two hours, and if we add the time for burps and diaper changes, the result is that it is already time for them to eat again and there is zero sleep ever for days on end. I have cried countless tears over this already and the girls are less than a week old. The pediatrician asked me yesterday, after seeing me in the hospital and again at the office, if she needed to worry about PPD because I have been a puffy, red-eyed mess who dissolves into tears every time we talk about feeding. I am honestly shocked by how quickly this has brought me to my knees (*see earlier reference to sleep-deprivation and the carnival house of mirrors) but the visit to the pediatrician yesterday was very sobering, and a small but critical epiphany managed to cut through all the fog and hype and baggage: this is just food. I am bringing something else into this, some vestiges of infertility and loss, which left me feeling that my body was a tomb and I was a failure as a woman because I could not produce a healthy child, and here, with nursing, I feel that failure compiled and magnified and heaped symbolically into the image of my baby’s skin turning papery from weight loss while she sucks happily on an Enfamil bottle. I texted with Allie, and she said, “I would spend hours thinking [my baby] would starve if we were primitive” and I realized that there are many mothers out there suffering from this rigid La Leche League mantra. I drank a beer last night with my infant in my lap while I looked at pictures from my 10 year-old niece’s lacrosse game on Facebook, and the “breast is best” illusion started to crumble. Formula is a six-month compromise. These girls are incredible gifts that came after seven execrable years of heartache, and they are my forever. Motherhood and womanhood extend so far past what can be sucked out of my nipples, and I am going to be a damn good mother. I already am. This is just food.
  3. I love my husband even more than I did a week ago, if that’s possible. We have been together for almost fourteen years, and, despite the strain long-term infertility and treatment puts on a marriage, we have weathered this crisis and come out the other side on even stronger ground. He wrote a song that shares a name with one of our daughters in which he sings, “There’s no one I’d have rather spent this season in hell with than you.” There it is, and now that season has passed; it’s spring, and the crocuses are pushing up from the ground. I have two cooing infants in my living room, and my husband is such a devoted and loving father already that my heart seems to swell to bursting when I see him lay our babies on his bare chest or scramble around in his own sleep-deprived state to pick up anti-gas drops from the drug store or run a dishwasher full of bottles and breast pump paraphernalia or decide not to wake me at 1am for my shift while he rocks a colicky baby and changes diapers all night because he knows I desperately need sleep. I am so incredibly lucky in spite of the ways I have been unlucky that I feel myself counting my blessing this morning.

Now, I’m signing off so I can feed bottles of formula to two of those blessings and swat away the dark thoughts that threaten to steal and pollute the joy of this precious and fleeting phase of their lives: sleepy little dumplings in diapers who will let you hold and kiss them all the live-long day. Happy Monday ❀

28 thoughts on “Quickly, While They Sleep

  1. I am so glad they are here!

    When E was new, breastfeeding was really important to me because I felt, deep down, that being able to do this would mean that my body hadn’t been such a failure after all. There was a lot of infertility baggage caught up in that. I was lucky and it did work, but I’m so aware now that when I watch him line up with the others to go in to school you can’t tell who was breast fed or combo fed or formula fed. They’re all just healthy kids. I’m glad you reached the conclusion that it’s just food so early. Hold on to that when the judgment comes out (because people can be ignorant and nosey and cruel).

    Do whatever you can to get some sleep. Call in anyone you can call. Cuddle those babies but try to make some space for sleep. It colours everything else.


  2. Congratualtions , so happy to read your post that your daughters have arrived. So very happy for you and your husband πŸ’« Wishing you all the happiness in the world x


  3. I’m so so happy for you that you have finally gotten what you worked so hard to get. Enjoy those girls and do not, for one second, stress or feel less-than for using formula. It’s just food. It’s just food they eat for a tiny fraction of their lives. They need you, not your milk, in order to thrive.


  4. Allllll dis. I didn’t have a C-but yeah, the instant love is for real. breastfeeding IS hard, but once it gets not hard for you it should stay that way. And if it never gets not hard, it IS TOTALLY OKAY TO STOP. I wish people said that more often. And number three is so true. If you come through it in one piece it can totally make you stronger.

    Happy for you πŸ™‚


  5. Iam soooo happy for you!!! Your post made me cry… Happy teats… Made me count my blessings today too! Enjoy every decond. They are here to stay!!!


  6. Congratulations!
    I want to replace the whole ‘breast is best’ mantra with ‘FED is best’. Because that is truth. I struggled so much with breastfeeding my son. But when the 3rd breastfeeding consultant hands you formula and said feed him, you realize what’s important.


  7. Ahhh, congratulations. I’m so over the moon happy for you. As impossible as it may seem, the love only gets bigger. This is great news.

    I couldn’t breastfeed, either, for the same reason–low supply. I remember the awful cycle of practicing at the breast, then feeding (via SNS), then feeling dejected. I pumped and that felt like time away from my family and quite frankly I was unhappy doing it, primarily because I was failing. I didn’t want to take extraordinary measures to breastfeed. I wanted to be happy, I wanted A to be happy, and I wanted to spend time with my family. I remember my boss told me (and it helped me to hear this) that she grew up on dairy farm and any dairy farmer knows there are cows that produce a lot of milk and there are cows that don’t. It’s just the way the world works.

    It took a while for me to get over not breastfeeding, but I did, and I eventually found some bright sides (no pumping at work, aren’t tethered to your children, everyone loves to feed a baby and so it’s a good way for others to bond). It doesn’t seem to have made a bit of difference. I have an amazing 21 month old who will eat broccoli and red peppers and curries.

    One tip that I got from another mama, every time you see the pediatrician, ask for formula samples.


  8. I’m fairly new to your blog, so this is my first time commenting.

    First, congratulations on your precious babies! I am so incredibly happy for you and your husband.

    Second, I could write a book (or two) about my breastfeeding failures and the emotional fallout from that. Almost four years later, I still feel sadness and regret over it, even though I knew that switching to formula was best for all of us. It’s something primal that I can’t even put into words. But yes, infertility did play a part in how important it had been to me. All that aside, my one nugget of advice is this: if you haven’t already, get a Perfect Prep or some other formula-making machine. It saved my sanity!


  9. Even miracles take a little time! I had this quote put up in my miracle baby’s room so I’d never forget how hard the journey was. I’m so thrilled for you on the birth of your baby girls. The best thing for your babies is a happy (although still exhausted) momma. I formula fed all 3 of my girls. They are happy, healthy, allergy-free, and intelligent. Best of luck to your little family! Motherhood is HARD. You are doing great!


  10. So so happy for you! God bless your family and your precious little angels!
    As for breastfeeding do not despair! And don’t let anyone to judge you! I had bleeding and cracked nipples from the start, so we fed our daughter with Enfamil as well. But after, when it healed, breastfeeding became easier, but the munchkin still wanted the bottle with formula and she was screaming for it even after breastfeeding! I tried to pump, but only small amount was coming out… So as you see whatever works! As long as they are fed! Wishing you and your family all the blessings!


  11. 🍼🍼🍺🍼🍼🍺🍼🍼🍺🍼🍼🍺🍼🍼🍺🍼🍼🍺
    Sounds good to me!


  12. Huge, huge congratulations! I’m so happy for you. Glad that your cousin was able to be there for the C-section and help and that the babies are here.

    Count me as another one who had major issues breastfeeding…I vividly remember what you’re describing with the attempt-pump-feed and it was exhausting and hard with just one baby, let alone with two! And yes, definitely, infertility played a role in how I felt about the situation. However, once I finally gave it up, I was really relieved for the most part (my supply never really came in) and sort of wondered why I’d made myself so miserable about it for so long. It’s great that you’ve adopted the “this is just food” mantra, because it’s so true. Fed is best.

    Wishing you so much happiness in the days ahead!


  13. You are already inspirational…how you managed to write up such a coherent and profound blog amidst the intensity of the first few weeks is quite something. I could barely string a sentence together. So, in my humble opinion, you are already coping better than you think!

    Trust your instinct and do what you need to do to cope and keep sane. You are as important as your daughters.

    I am so delighted you have your babes in your arms at last. Little souls come home.


  14. Congrats to both you and your husband on the safe arrivals.

    Don’t worry about breast-feeding, the important thing is that they are fed and that everyone (including you) is kept healthy and maybe even gets a little rest!

    Just to get your anxieties about giving your children formula milk in perspective, one of my friends went to Scotland and saw a young mum on the bus pouring a can of COKE into a bottle and feeding it to her baby!!!! Forget nutritionally balanced baby formula, that’s what some children get given!

    It’s pretty obvious that yours are well looked after and extremely lucky. πŸ™‚

    Wishing you all the best. x


  15. Words fail me. It has happened. Where there was nothing, there is something, two somethings, and so much more. Breath taken at the description of what it felt like to have them placed on you. I keep thinking of that Whitman—where is what I started for so long ago, and why is it yet unfound? That perpetual yearning. And then the yawning void is so suddenly filled! Amazing!

    Also, seriously, screw the breast is best movement. It goes too far. Fed is best! Fed is best. One of these days I will have enough time to write a letter to the militant, stats-driven hospital where S was born and let them know how insane it was of them to not diagnose tongue-tie in a timely way and simultaneously torture my son and me by physically forcing breastfeeding (a nurse pushing my nipple in his mouth with such rigor!) when he simply could not latch. Blech. One of the great things about bottle feeding is how much time it gives husband to bond and cuddle baby(ies)—an unexpected gift! I did that zero sleep, feeding, bottle-feeding, washing equipment, changing, etc cycle of which you speak, and I now believe it is batshit crazy that medical professionals recommend a new mother do that. Mama has to sleep!

    Sending you strength, love, warm hugs, and plenty of beer.


  16. Congratulations on the arrival of your precious baby girls!!!! What a joy after so many years of struggle, finnaly they are here and this is due to your determination, perseverance and hope!
    Enjoy this precious moments and the next phase of your journey – motherhood!

    Many hugs – Love, Joy and Believe! πŸ™‚


  17. How amazing. I love what you wrote about that primal bond, its intensity and its urgency. My children’s cries destroy me – still (as $1000s in photo radar tickets within blocks of our home as I have rushed to put an end to the shared torture in the “home stretch” attest).

    I’m all for choices and no guilt or shame about feeding options but I had a similar problem with supply after a section (that’s one thing for which they’re known) and here I could easily get domperidone. You can’t get a script filed in the US but can get a prescription and NZ pharmacies will fill it. That stuff *works*. I mailed my stash to another US friend and have no more refills or I’d make the offer. Whatever you do on the feeding front, good on you.

    So glad you’re in this place with all that boundless love. Enjoy!


  18. Congratulations on your babies! And yes, speaking as a formula feeding mother since I didn’t want to do adoptive bf’ing because it felt weird to me, it’s JUST food. Feed them. Keep them healthy. Take care of yourself. Always take care of yourself.


  19. Hi, you don’t know me but I have been checking in on your blog every once in a while over the past few years. I’m a student from Singapore stumbled upon your blog when I was distracting myself from a report I was supposed to be writing for school. I’m not married or TTC, but you and your friends have taught me so much about the struggles that some couples go through in having a child. I’m so truly happy that you have had your baby. You and everyone on this path demonstrate such incredible strength in dealing with repeated failures and loss, and I wish each and every one of you gets what you have been trying so hard for. Peace, and lots of love.


  20. I just found your blog through Stirrup Queens and wanted to congratulate you. You write so well about such hard stuff. Yes, it’s hard when you don’t sleep and you’re in this kind of netherworld where all you do is laundry and burp babies and feed them and change diapers. But it sounds like the pure love is keeping you going. Don’t forget to go outside and get you and those babies some fresh air and sunshine. It will literally be a breath of fresh air. Same with a shower! Sending you lots of strength and so glad you have your two sweethearts and a wonderful husband!


  21. Congratulations! I’m so happy for you. Twins parenting is such a unique and lovely experience.

    I was another twins mom who was seeped in the SF earth mama ethos – so much so I took some experimental drug not prescribed for breastfeeding, which I still have acid reflux from (long story). It didn’t work either, my body sucked as much at breastfeeding as it did at being fertile. Do what you need to do.

    Anyway, I’m so thrilled to see this blog post as a longtime reader.


  22. I followed your blog for many years during my own infertility journey. I now have a 9 month old baby who is the joy of my life. Today I was thinking of you and was so happy to read your latest entry! Congratulations and all the very best to your new babies!!


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