Friday, January 11, 2013

Lessons From The First Half Year Of Stella's Life

Stella's more than 6 months old now. And before she was born, I had a lot of ideas about what life with baby would look like and be like. I imagined happily breastfeeding her until she was at least a year old. I imagined co-sleeping with her and being beautifully bonded with her through co-sleeping and nursing. I imagined an ideally drug-free, natural birth, in an atmosphere that was celebratory and loving and supportive. And I imagined gently, easily shrinking back to my pre-pregnancy size over the course of a few months. I'd been in good shape before I was pregnant, and exercised regularly throughout the pregnancy. So why not? I took a metric ton of classes on breastfeeding and natural childbirth. So why shouldn't all of that work out too?

Here's the first hard lesson I had to learn: a baby in the abstract is totally different than a baby in actual real life. The actual real live Stella, after being in the ideal position for vaginal birth, flipped breech and stayed that way. She was essentially sitting cross-legged, facing my spine, the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I went to the pool every day and did somersaults and handstands to try and flip her. I did acupuncture. I used moxibustion. I had a manual version. I visualized her flipping. I asked her to flip over, and I slowly moved lights over my belly from where her head was to where I wanted her head to be. Abstract Stella would have flipped over no problem. Actual Stella stayed breech, cross-legged, and staring at my spine.

Abstract Stella latched easily and breastfed happily, bringing in a more-than-adequate supply of breastmilk. Actual Stella latched fine for a short period, but my milk supply dried up within a matter of days, and then, even after trying to breastfeed her for more than 3 months, I could never get Actual Stella to latch for very long again. As a result, Actual Stella has been fed with mostly formula and as much breastmilk as I could pump. And even in the days when I pumped 8-10 times a day, I never produced enough to take her off formula completely.

Abstract Stella wore cloth diapers and co-slept peacefully and calmly. Actual Stella rarely stayed still long enough for me to get her in a cloth diaper, and barely slept at all the first three months of her life. By then, I was so exhausted that once I realized she actually slept *better* in her own crib, I didn't know whether to laugh, sob, or collapse in a corner. I may have done all three.

Abstract post-pregnancy Jeannie started running again at around 3 months, and was back in her old clothes by about 4 months. Actual post-pregnancy Jeannie is still wearing maternity jeans more than 6 months in, and she can't remember the last time she ran.

So all of this (which, I know, sounds like a bunch of self-pitying sad violin stuff - but I swear it's not! Stay with me!) leads me to my second hard lesson....the one which I think I've had to learn my whole life. Here it is: Some is better than none. It is, for me, revolutionary. And it allows me to be kinder to myself than I've probably ever been.

Here's what I mean by "Some is better than none".  Stella was born by c-section. But everyone in the operating room supported me, and when Aaron asked everyone to sing Happy Birthday to Stella after they took her out of me, they did. It was the most celebratory, loving operating room I could imagine. Some is better than none.

Stella gets as much breastmilk as I can give her by pumping 2-3 times a day. I don't go nuts pumping constantly, I don't pump in the middle of night anymore, and I don't obsess over how much I produce. I do what I can. Some breastmilk is better than none.

I don't know when I'll run again. I don't know when I'll have the time or energy. But I do find time to go for a walk nearly every day - sometimes with Stella, sometimes during a break at work. I walk for at least 30 minutes. It's not running. But. Some exercise is better than none.

I don't lose my mind over the cluttered state of our house anymore. Instead, I spend 15-30 minutes each night doing *something* to make the house less cluttered and more pleasant. Some cleaning and organizing is better than none.

I don't co-sleep with Stella, and we don't nurse. But we sometimes take naps together on weekends, and I cuddle her and dance with her and play with her feet and sing to her and talk to her and tell her stories. And she knows me and my smell and my body, and I know hers. Some is better than none may not seem to apply here, but it does when I think about it. Some lovey bonding times, no matter what form they take, are clearly better than none.

Most of my adult life, I've been an all-or-nothing person - meaning, if I couldn't do things the way I wanted or envisioned, whether it was cleaning the whole goddamn house at once or going on a 5-mile run, I just did nothing. Things had to be right or they weren't gonna happen. Doing nothing is never an option with Stella. She always wants or needs something. And that's fine. That's great. None of the shit I wanted happened once Stella was born. And at the same time, some of the most important, most wonderful stuff that I hoped for has happened since Stella was born. And that's where I try to put my head and my heart every day, every moment. I focus on the "some" instead of the "none", if that makes sense. Sometimes I fail and just see "none" and I am fucking miserable. But sometimes I succeed, and I am pretty happy. And some success is better than no success.


Josh said...

Wow! I love this post. You guys are great parents. I can't wait to meet Stella in person and give her some more Star Wars stuff...

Anonymous said...

Your success is looking at and loving that beautiful baby girl every day. Having the joy and the previlage of watching her grow. It will be the most amazing experience of your life. Welcome to motherhood. Enjoy, love Mom

Mary Kate said...

I love you, buddy. Wonderful post. Very true. Hard lessons, but life changing ones that bring unexpected, long-term peace.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't know you! But I hear you in every way. I too am an all-or-nothing kind of girl. But now, as a mom of two kids, I realize with increasing certainty and the passage of time that the best way to be their mom is to be happy and to spend time with them, and happiness doesn't come from all-or-nothing. Anyways. Thanks for a great, well written synopsis of how it is. :)