Sunday, April 15, 2012

What it's like to breastfeed a baby while caring for other children

It's like trying to conduct a symphony with your arms tied behind your back. Sure the violins basically know what's going on, but those dang violas and that percussion line? They need a lot of direction. And don't even get me started on the french horns.

So, it's slightly difficult. I always complicate things by having preconceived notions about how it's going to go. For some reason breastfeeding a baby looks like this in my head:
I am sitting in a comfortable rocking chair, that was whittled out of a maple tree from one of my great-grandparent's farms, bathed in a glow of soft light, quietly suckling my newborn. Quietly. No one is banging out various minor variations of Mary Had a Little Lamb on the Piano. No one is yelling from the other room, "Kenzie! THATS MINE!" while sobbing hysterically; And no one is trying to climb up onto my lap to "Kiss! Kiss!" the baby while simultaneously trying to gouge the baby's eyes out.

In the lower left corner of this picture you can see poor Norah's head. Ellie's favorite activity while I am nursing is to pull over a stool, place its sharp, cutting surface directly on my feet before I have a chance to move them, and then climb up onto the Boppy to give Norah kisses. She also likes to observe intelligently, while pointing to Norah eating, "Belly Button. Belly Button." We're all about correct anatomy at our house. (I did try to explain it once, but gave up when I figured that it was really more socially acceptable to feed the baby from my belly button.)  

Kenzie and Hannah like to make me nervous by hovering close by and making mother-hen noises. "Oh, little baby Norah," they sing-song, pushing the chair I am sitting in into the newly painted walls and stepping on clean blankets and my feet as they trip headlong into Norah in an effort to rub her little head.

"Don't touch the baby while she's eating. No. Seriously. Let her eat. Okay, guys. I'm feeling a little claustrophobic here. Don't touch her. ALRIGHT. EVERYONE OUT!"

So instead of Norah getting this wonderful quiet mother-bonding time, her eating is punctuated with a series of violent blows and resonant yells. I call it combat nursing. The Boppy should come with riot shields.

I try to be discreet about breastfeeding, but while I am no breast-brandishing La Leche League card-carrier, I do think it's ridiculous to have to throw a blanket over my baby's head while I'm in the privacy of my own home. (Privacy is such a funny word for a mother of four.) Here's how that particular scenario goes:  "Mommy, what's under there? Why are you hiding Norah?" says Kenzie peeking under a corner of the blanket, uncomfortably close to my chest. Hannah wanders over and tries to lift up the blanket, which attracts Ellie to the scene. "Peek-a-boo!" She says pulling the blanket off of me and the baby and then throwing it back violently where it somehow manages to catch Norah in the eye.

Shutting the door results in horrible fights, bloodcurdling screams and crashes which I am sure signify certain death. So I don't do that either.I just pretend that breastfeeding is normal and natural. Because, well, IT IS.

While it's easy (okay easier) to distract the seven and five-year old with a movie, or other activities, I don't have a solution for occupying Ellie (21 months) while I feed Norah. I know the experts recommend reading a book to your other kids while you nurse, but these so-called experts must be people who have never tried to shield a newborn's head and her delicate eyes from the paper-cutting, corner-poking potential of a book in the hands of a toddler). Or they recommend setting up a toy or toys that you only get out when you nurse.  Does anyone have an easy to set-up and store toy, that requires no parental intervention and that absorbs their toddler for 40 minutes? Yeah. Me neither. 

Mostly, Ellie wanders around happily as long as I've made sure she's fed and as long as I let her climb up and maul me and kiss Norah's head once in awhile. I'm hoping that if I don't make a big deal out of it, she'll just get bored of the whole situation. In the meantime I'm on a countdown to March 2013. If Norah and I can make it that far, she's sure to be well on her way to winning Survivor Season 354.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

This is your brain. This is your brain on motherhood.

Normally I am sharp as a tack (snort).  Okay, but I can generally manage to use adverbs correctly and utter socially acceptable responses in polite conversation. Mostly. But when I am waking up twice a night (three if you count 5:30 a.m. as night), blinking dazedly, half awake and half asleep, fumbling groggily to feed a floppy baby with a ginormous head, my brain doesn't function normally.  My already struggling social graces take a dive into, "Is that woman all there? Something seems a little off" terrirtory. I find that nodding and smiling is one of my best defense tactics during these looooooong months that sleep (or a lack thereof) occupies all of my brain cells. But sometimes people want me to respond. To answer coherently. To speak as if I have been processing the conversation and have something to add. They're not asking me to weigh in on the moral and social implications of foreign policy or asking me to solve difficult algorithms, but they might as well be.
"Hey Steph, how are you doing?"  I smile blankly. And then when it becomes painfully obvious that an answer is required, I scan my brain nervously, thinking, "I know I have answered this question correctly before. What is the answer?"
"Nothing!" I blurt. And then I realize that I have mistakenly substituted the answer to the Other question that people ask each other, "What's going on?" Then my milk comes in and I mutter something about "keeping the baby alive" and leave. Or I rush off to rescue Ellie (the toddler) from certain death.

Ellie has become really good at "certain death" activities, or "horribly mutilating" activities. In fact, we started off the second week of new motherhood with Ellie bashing her nose into the bottom cement stair on my parent's porch. It swelled to the size and color of a small plum. After a quick trip to Instacare, where they told us a CAT scan would need to be done if we thought it was broken (no thank you), and that it was rare to break your nose when you are so young, she began recovering nicely. Then, right when the swelling had gone down and the color subsided to a nice yellow, she bashed her eye climbing up onto a chair. It was a small gash, but she has another black eye. Poor thing.

And our cat is shedding a lot.

(Did I mention I have trouble focusing?)

Anyway, please forgive me if I respond like a homeless cat lady. Hopefully when I start sleeping again I'll at least be able to answer simple questions.