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One year later
By Ursula Crawford

One year later,
the tulips are blooming again
and I remember

how in birth
my body was ripped
open. Broken.
My strength taken.

Days later,
I can barely stand and I
dream my teeth are breaking.
I sleep in 90-minute stretches
and pray to stay lucid.

Slowly, over weeks and months
my body heals, my strength returns,
and I piece together a new life,
trading staff meetings for diaper changes,
adult conversation for baby sign language.

One year later,
my life, my heart belong
to you, the one
who grips my finger tightly
in her tiny fist.

In birth I have been made new.

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Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies throughout human history, so one would think that this natural act would come easily. At least that’s what I thought, before my daughter was born. My husband and I even went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital in order to be extra prepared.  “Newborn babies instinctively crawl to the breast after birth!” the lactation specialist cheerfully told us.

It was a rude awakening then to find that: 1) my newborn baby had no clue how to latch on, 2) I was so exhausted I could barely hold her in my lap, and 3) I had to breastfeed her every two hours around the clock for the first several weeks of life.

I know that I am not the only one who had a hard time with breastfeeding. I have heard other moms say that breastfeeding is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. But since nursing is by far the healthiest and most cost-effective option for feeding your newborn, I offer you some tips for success.

Invest in a Brest Friend pillow.  Although I was hesitant to buy a $50 pillow, I found that it was well worth the money. It gave stable support to my daughter’s body and made it easy to get her into a good positioning for nursing.

Learn the side lying position.  Finally learning this nursing position when my daughter was about two-months-old made my life so much better – I wish I’d gotten it down sooner.  When you’re exhausted in the middle of the night, it’s much easier to lie in bed and nurse than to sit up in a chair. You can watch videos of this and other breastfeeding positions on YouTube to learn how it’s done.

Splurge on a double electric breast pump.  Even if you’re not planning on returning to work, this is an important investment – and your insurance company may even reimburse you. You will want the option of occasionally having someone else bottlefeed your baby, and it will be difficult to get enough milk without a double electric pump. Once we got the go ahead from the lactation specialist to bottlefeed, my husband took over one feeding per night. This allowed me to get much-needed four-hour stretches of sleep.

Catch up on your reading list. Reality check – you are going to be spending about eight hours a day breastfeeding your newborn. It can get a little boring. Get some good books or movies to keep your mind occupied and to help make this time more fun for you.

Be positive. Breastfeeding a newborn can be difficult, but it gets easier and more rewarding as time goes on. My daughter and I had a challenging start to our nursing relationship, and it took about a month to figure things out. Now, she is almost 11 months old and I’m still nursing her. Breastfeeding has given her the healthiest possible start to life, helped us bond, saved me time cleaning and sterilizing bottles, and saved our family more than a thousand dollars in formula costs. It has been well worth the challenges.

I know I’m very lucky. Baby Bear is quite an easy baby, who loves to smile. Last night I went to bed at 10 and didn’t wake up until 4:45 a.m.! She was still asleep, but I woke her up to feed her anyway. She’s only 11 weeks and is still supposed to eat at least every 6 hours at night. Then, she went right back to sleep after that and slept until 8 a.m.

I’m so thankful that she’s such a great nighttime sleeper, because I really cannot function without good sleep. I’ve never been one to stay up all night cramming for an exam or writing a paper. I always figured that staying up all night to study for a test does more harm than good.

One thing that is a little difficult with Baby Bear is the frequency of diaper changes. Last night, I took her with me to a baby shower. I only stayed for about an hour, and I had to change her diaper three times! After three diaper changes, I figure it’s probably time to go home. They were all just pee diapers. Every time she pees while awake, she gets fussy and demands a diaper change. So I frequently change her diaper three or more times in an hour. Probably adds up to 15-20 diapers a day. This is expensive and quite exhausting. Many parents seem surprised by this, so I’m assuming that a lot of babies either don’t complain when they have a wet diaper, or just don’t pee as frequently. The upside is that I assume she will be potty trained at an early age. I’m hoping by age 2 — fingers crossed.

In her early weeks of life, we also had the occasional projectile poop during changing. Once I was changing her diaper and she let out a projectile poop that flew across the changing table and hit the door a few feet away. Wow! Quite impressive. Sometimes she also has fountains of pee while I’m changing her, that spray all over herself. I’m just glad Baby Bear is not a boy!

The best is when is when I’m changing her poopy diaper, then she pees all over the changing pad, and then spits up all over herself. The trifecta. She used to spit up frequently during changing. Now she doesn’t spit up as often, probably because her stomach is bigger, and I have also been more vigilant about burping her.

This is the life of a new mom. Cleaning up poop, pee and throw up 20 percent of the day, and breastfeeding the other 80 percent of the day. Reminding yourself to take time to shower, brush your teeth and eat three meals daily. But when I look at my beautiful little girl, it’s all worth it.

How did I survive the first few weeks with a new baby? How does anyone?

My friend Courtney was visiting when Baby Bear was about three weeks old. I told her that we hadn’t been sleeping much, but things had improved since the first week when we hadn’t slept more than a few hours a day.

Didn’t you start hallucinating? she asked.

One would think! According this article I found on the Internet (so we know it’s true!), some side effects of prolonged sleep deprivation include hallucinations, temporary insanity and sometimes death.

I’m happy to say that I didn’t hallucinate, although at times I did feel like I might die. Some things that helped me through the craziness were my husband, our moms, and our amazing friends who brought us meals for the first week. Homemade brownies and lasagna can help you through anything. As can love.

Baby Bear was born on a Saturday, after a night of no sleep.  When we finally got to go home on Monday afternoon, I had still hardly slept despite my extreme exhaustion. The lactation consultant was very clear that I needed to feed her every 3 hours from beginning of feeding to the next. So, if I started feeding her at 8 and finished at 8:45, I would have to make sure to feed her again at 11. That doesn’t leave much opportunity for sleep in between.

I was also still exhausted just from the birth itself. So tired in fact, it took about all my strength just to stand. And I’d experienced some tearing complications that had me on Vicodin and generally feeling awful.

Additionally, we had appointments for Baby Bear every day that first week. She had jaundice and was having problems breastfeeding. So we had two pediatrician visits, two lactation consultant visits, and two trips to the hospital for bilirubin tests.

On Wednesday, they determined she had lost a little more than 10% of her birth weight, which is a red flag for jaundice. So the lactation consultant put us on an even crazier regime where every 2 1/2 hours I had to breastfeed her, then Spencer would feed her breastmilk from a tube while I pumped breastmilk.

On Thursday we both had a meltdown and I called my mother-in-law and asked her to come spend the night. She came, did laundry and dishes, and took over Spencer’s tube feeding duties so that he at least could get some sleep.

Somewhere around Saturday I started having REM sleep again. I’d gone that whole week without dreaming, but I became so exhausted that I would sink into a deep sleep during each brief break between feeding the little one.

On Monday we went back to the lactation consultant, and she still had not gained much weight. I couldn’t believe it after we had worked so hard. The nurse gave us a new plan, where I would breastfeed her and then Spencer would feed her from a bottle. The bottle was able to fit quite a bit more milk than tube we’d been using.

The next day we returned to her pediatrician to find that she had gained several ounces. Thank God! Of course, we had to keep feeding her constantly, but the whole situation was becoming slightly less stressful.

Things have continued to get easier, and now at 10 weeks, Baby Bear is in the 75th percentile for weight and 95th percentile for height. She goes to bed regularly around 10 p.m., and I get up with her around 3 a.m. to feed her. Usually she sleeps for a few more hours after that, although last night she declared a sleeping strike from about 3:30 – 5:30.

Now, she is napping peacefully. I still can’t believe how beautiful she is, with her long, dark eyelashes and little elf ears. It all seems like such a miracle. To have such a sweet, healthy baby. To get through a natural birth and weeks of sleeplessness. To have all of our needs provided for when I was so worried that they wouldn’t be. I don’t know how it all happened. I can only say, thank you thank you thank you.

Now maybe I should nap.

 

Mama and baby ducks.