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I started yoga again.  I’ve done yoga on and off since my freshman year of college, which, as my reunion committee has kindly reminded me, was over 13 years ago.  I signed up for yoga as half of my physical fitness requirement (having passed out of the other half with a series of mediocre scores in sit-ups, push-ups, running, and sit-n-reach) because I was looking for something low-impact, that wouldn’t make me sweat through my pajamas.  After all, this was a 9am class.  It was low-impact.  We learned some basic postures, stretched and crawled around on the floor twice a week, and avoided working near the girls who, unfortunately, did sweat through their pajamas.

When I was pregnant two summers ago, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than prenatal yoga.  I have no idea why.  Even since I heard about it, years ago, it held a mystique.  Perhaps it was the exclusivity of the class membership, or the fact that it was one of few forms of exercise I could do as my belly bulged with the weight of twin fetuses.  I don’t pretend that I was “good” at it, if one can be skilled at prenatal yoga, but it helped me in many ways.   Physically, though my back did ache with my increasing load, it allowed me to maintain my flexibility and strength throughout my pregnancy.  I credit yoga with helping me stay healthy enough to help my twins reach a full-term gestation.  I was as agile as I could be, and the nurse who placed the fetal monitors even remarked, as I heaved my belly up so she could find my daughter’s heart rate, that she was impressed I had any abdominal strength at all left.  More that the physiological benefits, prenatal yoga became a place for me to commune with other women in the same condition.  I didn’t have any pregnancy buddies at work (they were either months ahead or months behind me, gestationally), nor really any geographically close friends who could guide me through pregnancy with their own experiences.  I was conscious of the desire not to become That Pregnant Lady who drones on and on to coworkers and family members about fetal measurements, heart rates, nursery colors, crib safety requirements, and stroller designs.  At prenatal yoga, the firist 15-25 minutes was dedicated to everyone going around the room, introducing themselves and having a couple minutes to talk about their pregnancies.  Finally, every other Saturday, I could talk about my due date, feeling the twins kick for the first time, having a good prenatal check-up, and air out my anxieties among people who welcomed them or shared their own.  And while it felt like a support group, our teacher said it was part of our yoga practice.

More recently, E, my coworker – who was thrust into the role of supervisor this year without much preparation or choice – had expressed a desire to find a way to de-stress, and was thinking of yoga.  I had been looking, too, but for a different reason.  In the midst of being a mommy for the last year-and-almost-a-half, I’ve been so focused on arranging and adhering to my children’s routine (okay, okay, it’s a semi-rigid schedule), that there’s been little time or flexibility left to feed the Me-ness, the Me-ness that I was so worried I’d lose to mommyhood.  I never wanted to be defined primarily as E’s and L’s mommy, and to that end, I have wisely kept working full-time. But once I get home, I shift to mommy mode, and still hadn’t found a way to balance what I want/need to do beyond caring for my kids.  My husband was in a play last fall, and while it was stressful to have him away two nights a week, and lonely during his dress rehearsals and shows, he got to get back into his Me-ness in a very real way.  He was back on stage, expressing his creativity, and bringing joy to yet another packed house.  It was now my turn.  With my colleague holding me accountable (and in turn, me relying on her), we found a nearby studio, made a date, and went to yoga.

The first Tuesday, I rushed in, breathless, having struggled to put the kids to bed in time for me to get out the door.  I worried that E would think I was absolutely nuts, that yoga was completely weird, and that I was more of a hippy-dippy granola that I’d let on. We moved through the poses, focusing on breathing, getting used to the style of the instructor, catching glances at others to make sure we were doing it right.  Somewhere in the middle of the class, the self-consciousness left, and I think that was when we actually started doing yoga.  I don’t have a great grasp of the philosophical or spiritual background behind yoga. I’ve always just done it primarily for the physical benefits, hoping to become slightly more limber or well-balanced.  But my concerns of E thinking me completely batty vanished when we rolled up our mats and stepped out into the cool air of the street.  Airily, she turned to me and said, “Where has this been all my life?”

Our husbands now have to kick us out the door on Tuesday nights. We’re tired, we complain.  It’s easier just to have a relaxing evening at home, we reason.  But you come home so relaxed, they counter.  Do it for yourself. They think we’re sneaking off to bars, we come home so Zen and dopey. I’ve done yoga before to strengthen and support my body, but I’d never before done yoga to feed my mind, my soul.  I know that sounds ridiculous and transcendental.  I only wanted an activity for myself to do.  It could have been a knitting circle or a book club, or taking bassoon lessons.  But I think yoga was a serendipitous, and overly auspicious choice.  I doubt somehow I would have come home from book club with my mind freed from anxieties, my body ready to enter a peaceful sleep, and my soul filled to the brim with Me-ness.

I missed therapy last week.  At 4pm, when I should have been parking my car and entering the building, I was instead holding my son as he screamed through a nebulizer treatment on the pediatric inpatient unit of Bryn Mawr Hospital.  E had been wheezing over the weekend, and we did nothing. Sure, Mr. Apron had noticed it, had asked for my confirmation (I heard it, too), but I did nothing.  I figured, as with most infant illnesses, it would resolve on its own, and, with the new conservative stance on such things as cough and cold medicines for children, we wouldn’t be able to give him anything anyhow.

A miserable Monday night’s sleep had us headed to the pediatrician on Tuesday, and after they’d tried to jack him up with breathing treatments in the office, we were sent directly to the ER.  What followed was a 36-hour ordeal filled with doctors, nurses, changes in treatment plans, screaming babies, childcare arrangements, and poor sleep for all.  My son had to endure being poked too many times in his chubby arms.  Even after digging around in his fat flesh for endless minutes, they still could not strike a vein, so the threats of putting in an IV “just in case” were abandoned, and the poor baby passed out from sheer exhaustion.

“He looks tired,” the nurses commented.  “Yes,” I said, “He slept poorly last night and hasn’t had his nap yet this morning.”

“No,” they demurred, “When we say, ‘he looks tired,’ we mean, tired of working so hard.”

But whether from exhaustion, fatigue, or defeat, the child napped on the stretcher, ensconced in the same hospital blanket they’d used to restrain him for the failed IV attempts.

Hours later, he napped again, this time securely attached to my breast for the better part of an hour as he tried to rehydrate and comfort himself while blocking out the noise and lights of the hospital.  By the time we reached the pediatric unit, he had rested, fed, and was perking up.  It would be another 12 hours before his labored breathing relaxed enough that his little chest wasn’t retracting with each breath, but his affect was brighter, and he’d stopped the endless helpless screaming.

All Tuesday, and into Wednesday as well, I stayed by his side, cuddling my son, feeding him, and letting him sleep on me whenever he could.  I tried 6 times to transfer my sleeping child to the prison-like crib provided for him, and for about 3 hours he slept by himself as I shoveled down a soggy garden burger brought up hours earlier by room service.  When the white noise of the nebulizer shut off after the 1am breathing treatment, he awoke again, and I gave up on the lavish plans I’d had for myself – to pump milk for my daughter, and text message my sister – and just let him sleep by my side on and off all night.  We lay on the pull-out cot together from 1:30 until he woke after 5am for his usual breakfast, despite the night nurse’s pleas that I put him down in the crib.  Co-sleeping is not a hospital policy, especially for babies on oxygen, but if he hadn’t sleep with me, neither of us would have slept at all that night.

I stepped up, I rose to the occasion.  I played with him for hours when my husband went home to our daughter.  I left for only an hour to go home and take a nap.  I advocated for his care, asked about his treatment plan, saved his diapers for the nurses to weigh, and cut up bits of fruit for his breakfast.  I gave him apple juice by syringe in 5ml increments, and let him nurse whenever he wanted.  I commandeered the best toys on the hall and brought in his favorite books from home. I sat for an hour just watching him sleep in the crib — after my only successful transfer — afraid to put the crib rail up for fear of making noise and waking him up.

And when we got home Wednesday night, just in time for bed, the family breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The nightmare was largely over, save for nebulizer treatments every 4 hours, oral steroids, and more follow-ups to the pediatrician.

I blame myself for ignoring the wheezing and landing us all in the hospital.  I blame my inadequacy as a parent.  I was in denial that he was sick because I couldn’t allow myself to believe something serious could be wrong.  Lurking around the corner, hiding behind that sweet baby wheeze, is asthma.

They technically won’t diagnose a baby with asthma, as they can’t really cooperate with all the breathing tests to measure tidal volume, and blowing out the birthday candles or whatever assessments Mr. Apron has told me about from his years of experience at his pediatric allergist/pulmonologist (to whom he still goes, but at least they don’t make him do the birthday cake any more).  But he might have it.  Having a nebulizer, giving him albuterol treatment, listening for wheezing, having an “asthma treatment plan” as part of our discharge instructions — it all scares  me shitless.

“This should be the worst thing that ever happens to him,” Mr. Apron says.  Asthma, or reactive airway, or wheezing when he gets a cold – all of these are manageable things.  Still, I found myself collapsed on the kitchen floor at 9:40pm the night we got home from the hospital, having a whimpering, silent, self-indulgent adult tantrum about having to give my baby nebulizer treatments.  Because I was in denial, and couldn’t face the fact that something real and scary might be wrong with my baby.

Eventually, Mr. Apron refused to coddle me, I shelved the self-pity, and I pulled on my big-girl panties to go help my son.  I learned about all the meds, familiarized myself with the nebulizer, figured out how to detach the individual vials of meds from the plastic strips, and determined how to teach the nanny all of this horrific mess of plastic tubing and drugs.  I labeled each vial with a time, and taped them to E.’s daily communication notebook.

Nebulizer aside, meds aside, asthma aside, it’s just one more task in a seemingly endless series of “have to”s in caring for my children.  And it’s just exhausting.  Choosing to breastfeed means managing milk, rotating my personal dairy, freezing it when it reaches close to expiration, worrying about producing enough, and making sure others know how to handle the Liquid Gold.  Choosing a convertible car seat (and having to buy 4) means researching safety, ease of installation, trying them out in my tiny car, and finding the best deal (did I mention we had to buy 4?).  Starting solid foods means more preparation, choosing healthy, kid-friendly foods, and keeping alert for hidden, forbidden ingredients.  Managing food safety.  Making bottles.  Teaching my husband or in-laws how to use the car seats. It’s an awful lot, and I was managing pretty well.  But along came bronchiolitis and a nebulizer, and treatments every 4 hours, and I just melted down.  Being a detail-oriented, perfectionist mom is hard enough.  I was stretched to my breaking point, everything just working, but without wiggle room.  Adding one more “have to” just set me over the edge.

I’m okay now.  I debriefed with my therapist.  The nanny used a nebulizer when she was a kid.  And the pediatrician said we can skip the overnight treatments, as he supports my belief that sleep is restorative and uber-important.  I love our pediatrician.  I may have a doctor-crush on him; don’t tell Mr. Apron.

I don’t really know how to end this post, as it was just meant to be a Brain Dump, cathartic way of processing the hospital stay and my resulting feelings.  I’m glad we’re all home and on the way to healthy.  I’m glad I’m no longer scared of the nebulizer.  I’m relieved I’m able to care for my son.  I’m scared, too, scared for the future, whether the next emergency is my son and asthma-related symptoms, or something frightening with my daughter, my husband, or my parents.  It’s certainly not the last crisis in the years to come, but I hope I can get my big girl panties in gear so I can handle the situation like a grown-up.

In my house, only the babies are allowed to shit themselves.

It’s easy to feel superior to a babysitter, nanny, or grandmother, when you’re the only one who can comfort your crying child.  It’s easy to be self-congratulatory when your husband leaves the house exasperated because the kid. will. not. go. to. sleep. and you go into the nursery, hold the pacifier in his mouth for 30 seconds, and leave a peacefully sleeping child behind.  It’s easy to feel great when you’re staring at endless open highway ahead, yet the other side is backed up for miles.  You beam internally when you find one more box of your husband’s favorite granola bars, squirreled away in the pantry.  You knew what to do.  You picked the right route.  You – and only you – could fix the problem, comfort the child, find the matching Tupperware lid.

Yet when so much self-worth is wrapped up in the incredible highs of awesomeness, the lows that accompany moments of humanity – “failures”, in your mind – deal equally damaging blows.  If you can’t comfort the child or find the Tupperware lid, and you drop the apple (repeatedly) in the garbage can while you’re peeling it, the waves of exasperation are overwhelming.  You find yourself gently willing the cranky, over-tired child to sleep, cooing softly in its ear, “I’m sorry I’m inadequate.  I’m sorry I fucked up.  Your mother is inadequate.  I’m sorry.”  Because it’s your fault the child won’t go to bed.  Obviously.  And that fault points to a deeper character flaw, not just some fluke in the Baby Laws of the Universe, or a soggy diaper.

Superiority, on the other hand, feels so good.  It’s so easy, so gratifying.  Choices others make immediately speak of their flawed character, their lack of taste, leadership, common sense, etc.  That fiberglass fence my sister-in-law picked out?  Hideous.  The overweight, tattooed couple at the mall wearing matching dishwater-grey wifebeaters and carrying matching half-gallons of Wawa iced tea?  Just trashy.  Really funny, too.  Funny enough for a surreptitious cell-phone picture shared with husband and sister.  Funny enough for us all to feel superior.  Heaven forbid anyone with a cell phone camera at the same mall yesterday saw me with my shorts hanging off my hips, so loose they literally did fall down as I was carrying a baby up the stairs.  My own wardrobe malfunctions might point to my own inability to dress for my body type, my age, or to adjust to my changing body after childbirth.  Not merely that clothes are clothes.  And, with twins at home and a full-time job and a decaying dog and visiting relatives  I haven’t had time to buy a new wardrobe.

When my daughter cries, does it reflect negatively on me?  If I choose to let her cry herself to sleep, do I feel like I have somehow failed her because I couldn’t figure out any better method?  Or am I just like everyone else out there, navigating a world that came with no instruction manual?  If I give up the self-deprecation that accompanies my failures (or human flaws), do I also have to give up the superiority that goes so nicely with my successes?  I don’t want to; it makes me feel pretty good.  But this begs the question: why is my self-worth so wrapped up in feeling better than others by my choices, my accomplishments, even my SAT scores?

*By “dummies”, I mean sleep-deprived new mothers nearing delirium.  My IQ must have dropped at least 20 points (10 per child?) since becoming a parent.

I have sought out support in breastfeeding, both before the babies arrived, and in the last 5 weeks.  I went to two classes prenatally.  I have also been offered unsolicited advice by well-meaning mommy-friends, and called in a lactation consultant.  I have started going to an awesome support group on Thursday mornings.  From all of these sources, I have distilled a top-ten list of breastfeeding tips, as no one who needs help breastfeeding has time to read any more than 10 bulleted points at a sitting.  Heck, I don’t even know if there are ten.  It’s just a nice, round number.

  • Don’t ask your mother for help.  Or at least, don’t expect her to be the ultimate resource. I tried asking my mother, whom I know successfully breastfed all three of her children.  I personally was nursed exclusively for 15 months, having refused nearly all baby food.  I figured Mom would be a good resource, especially as she was breastfeeding during formula’s hey-dey.  Nope.  Her first response, when I asked if she had any resources (books, advice, etc.) back in the 1980s, was, “No.” She initially claimed breastfeeding was natural, so easy she never gave it a second thought. This led to a lengthy discussion about the manufactured industry of lactation consultants and heavy-handed pressure on all moms to breastfeed nowadays.  Later, however, upon visiting my house and seeing La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” on my bookshelf, she remarked that it was the seminal resource she herself had consulted.  And also that she had met with a group of stay-at-home new moms of young babies in their homes to, among other things, troubleshoot breastfeeding.  But no, it had been for her, a completely natural, instinctive thing to do.  No support whatever.  So, yeah, don’t hedge your bets on maternal wisdom.
  • When we eat a hoagie (translation for non-Philadelphians: sub/zep/Dagwood/regional sandwich), we don’t just open our mouths and shove it in.  Try it next time.  Watch what you do.  I’ll bet you squish the bun/bread a bit, then roll the sandwich into your mouth from the lower lip first.  Your boobie is a hoagie for your baby.  Compress it, then roll it into the baby’s mouth from the lower lip.  Don’t just try to shove your breast into their mouth as is.  Compression while nursing also helps baby breathe, a vastly underrated function during breastfeeding.
  • It’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding. Make sure your kiddo has a huge mouth-full of boobie.  You’re actually aiming for your nipple to go as far back as the place where the hard and soft palates meet.  Feel in your own mouth using your tongue; that’s pretty far back, and if the kiddo is only latched onto your nipple, not only will it hurt like tiny needles stabbing your breast, but there’s no chance it’ll reach that far back in baby’s mouth.
  • Breastfeeding might hurt, even if you’re doing it right.  There’s some mystical bullshit out there that if it hurts, you have to adjust baby’s latch, or your position, or your chakra. Nope.  It might hurt for a minute when they’re latching, or only during the initial let-down, or for four months.  And you might be doing everything right.
  • Bring kid to boobie, not boobie to kid.  Otherwise, you’ll be hunched over like some old hagitha for a half-hour, dangling your breast in your kid’s mouth.  And your back will hurt.
  • To help you bring baby to boobie, get a pillow designed for breastfeeding.  My favorite is the idiotically named “My Brest Friend.”  You’ll feel like a tool the first few times you strap this planetary orbit around your midsection, and stupider still as you waltz around the house wearing a satellite dish, but it’s the best thing ever not to have to fold and fluff a regular pillow into the right position, or to strain your arm holding even the smallest infant in the precise position for any length of time.  Many people love Boppies.  They do have pretty covers, but it’ll be a cold day in Hell if you think you can wrench my “My Best Friend” away from me.
  • When baby is rooting, and opening its mouth, and you seize the opportunity to shove its precious little head towards your engorged breast, manipulate your little darling’s noggin by holding it nearer to its neck, not the round part of its skull.  I usually hold my baby’s heads with a thumb and forefinger or middle finger by the mastoid bones, which are right behind the ears, near where the lower jaw attaches.  If someone tries to move your head around by pushing at the back (occipital region), feel how you tense up and resist (go on, try it.  No one’s looking).  Now feel how much more control they’d have by holding nearer the neck.  Now you have ultimate control over baby’s noggin.  Use it wisely.
  • Set a stopwatch so you can keep track of how long baby is nursing for.  You can try just watching a clock and doing the math, but in my experience, your brain will be too fried to do even simple subtraction.  Plus, when you’re at it ‘round the clock, you won’t remember if the :19 you’re calculating from was from the 3pm feed or the 6pm feed.  The doctors profess to love and support breastfeeding, but it makes them nuts, because it’s so hard to measure.  They want numbers for their reports, so they can make calculations, compare to charts, and write goals.  If you have a formula-fed baby, you can ask how much it’s taking from a bottle, and report back in ounces.  Easy.  With a breast-fed baby, the best you can do on a regular basis is count wet/dirty diapers, and ask how long they nurse for.  Babies are all different, and some are more efficient than others.  Women produce more milk at different times of the day.  And sometimes babies who hang out for a long time at the breast, are just dicking around, using you as a human pacifier.  Sure, you can weigh a baby before and after a feed, but on a daily basis, the duration and frequency of a nursing session is the only number you’ll be able to give the doctors.
  • Get an iPad or an ereader or at least some good phone apps.  Nursing is not only time-consuming, but also soporific.  To keep yourself from falling asleep mid-suckle, download engaging books and mind-numbing games.  Until your baby knows it has hands and can stop flailing about volitionally, you’ll have to help it stay on the breast.  This requires at least one hand.  You will value any and all activities you can do with the other hand, and you may eventually tire of 3am TV infomercials.  Though I am only a recent convert to the ebook world, I have found yet another lesser-known advantage over paper books – you can turn the pages with the swipe of a finger, and don’t have to deal with a paperback folding up, losing your page, or holding the spine open with two fingers and turning pages with another.  While you’re at it, download a stopwatch app and a nursing log app.  The doctors will love you.
  • I guess I only had 9 tips.  Oh, no, wait.  Here’s one more – keep trying.  Breastfeeding can be really hard, but don’t give up.  Call in the troops.  Get a lactation consultant, or go to a breastfeeding support group.  Call a mommy-friend, or  use your iPad to find an online support group.  But keep at it.  You’re awesome.
  • Oh, shit.  Another one.  This one was personal, and stems from a failed 4am feeding where L. wouldn’t latch.  Through streaming tears, I pleaded with her to stop rejecting my breast, to stop rejecting me.  And while this may seem silly from the comfort of daylight hours, it was very real to me.  A baby’s difficulty latching, or sucking, or removing enough milk is not a personal affront on your motherhood.
  • Or your best intentions.  It killed me to have to supplement with formula on doctor’s orders because my babies had lost too much weight since birth.  But by adding formula for only two weeks, I was able to appease the doctor’s need for numbers (Yes, we give her up 2oz to “top off” after a 20-minute feed, etc.), and once I could show my babies were gaining weight, we were back to boobie.  It did not mean I was a failure that I had to give my children formula.  We just needed some help.

I hope my earnest little list offered you’re a little help.  Now go, get some sleep.  You look awful.

with apologies to Margery Williams…

 

“Does it hurt?” asked the Mother-to-Be.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for she was always truthful. “When you are a Mother you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” the pregnant woman asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are a Mother, most of your skin has stretch marks, and your belly drops out and you get loose in the joints and very tired. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are a Mother you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are a Mother?” said the Expectant Woman. And then she wished he had not said it, for she thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.