Let them eat sugar

I took newly 17-month-old Stella out for ice cream last week. Just me and her. There was no special occasion other than “mama needs ice cream NOW.”  We headed out on foot at around 7pm to sneak in our treat before her 7:30 bath (which, of course, didn’t happen until 7:45). On the “walk” home, she stopped between wind sprints to request “more more more.” I happily served her bites of my mouthwatering masterpiece: perfectly salted caramel and rich chocolate Molly Moon’s ice cream in a waffle cone made two minutes before we ate it. I didn’t even mind sharing, until I realized she’d finished the salted caramel, leaving only chocolate and destroying the dessert’s mindblowing salty-sweet synergy. Really, the outing itself was a treat that instantly turned into a sweet memory.

So imagine my reaction to an increasingly popular declaration being made on mommy blogs lately: “My toddler eats no sugar or white flour whatsoever.

First thought? Sheer defensiveness. Then, “WHAT DID YOUR POOR TODDLER DO TO DESERVE THIS???” Lemme tell ya, I gave up dairy for two and half months in a last-ditch effort to make breastfeeding work, and it eroded my soul. I’m 27% more evil now. Had I been forced to give up sugar and white flour too, which to me means insanely sexy chocolate and crusty loaves of French or Italian baked goodness, I would not be here today. With no caloric or emotional reserves to draw from, no boost from my extra special favorite foods, the breast pump would’ve eventually worn me down to a pathetic pulp. The way our dryer would wear down my jeans if I put them through an unrelenting tumble cycle every three hours for two and a half months straight.

Maybe it’s because I just finished reading “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan, which I highly recommend as an enlightening antidote to our need to control and monitor everything we eat. Maybe it’s because for a few hellacious months, my baby refused to eat and required a feeding tube. In the process of helping her learn to embrace and enjoy eating, I had to let go of my own lingering fear and anxiety around food. (Fear is likely behind parental sugar bans, by the way.) Whatever the reason may be, I find sugar-free righteousness to be ridiculous, unrealistic, unhelpful and practically inhuman. Mark my words: An all-out sugar ban will backfire.

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Goodnight, milk.

Stella wasn't sad to see the milk go. In fact, she was delighted.

Stella wasn't sad to see the milk go. In fact, she was delighted.

A couple of weeks ago, I threw out 341 ounces of frozen breastmilk. That was just the bottom shelf. I still need to clear out the top one.

It has been six months since the last of it was pumped, rendering my precious milk expired. At the beginning, every half ounce was sacred. Toward the end of my pumping days, I didn’t bother saving the milk. It sat out for hours, until I forced myself to pump again at which point I would dump the previous yield down the drain. I was so bitter. So exhausted. I’d had it with pumping. Stella had been diagnosed with cow’s milk protein intolerance and fed hypoallergenic formula through a tube for a good month, and still I pumped. The odds of returning to breastfeeding seemed grim at best. Still, it was hard to stop. I didn’t want to give up. I wanted her to have “the best.”

I’d been meaning to throw the milk out for some time now, but couldn’t let it go.

When I stopped breastfeeding, when Stella had her NG tube, I was an emotional wreck. But I was consumed with tube- and bottle-feeding my baby and completely focused on getting Stella over her feeding aversion. I never really allowed myself to think very deeply about the loss. So I never got to grieve my milk or my vision of breastfeeding and what it represented to me. I never really embraced the choice that I made–the only choice that seemed logical, the one that enabled Stella (and me) to thrive. I want to accept it completely and I’m not sure why it’s been so hard to do.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, since dumping those 341 ounces. And perhaps the answer is simple. Formula-feeding is not what I wanted for Stella. I failed. Or that’s what it feels like. And a very small, insecure part of me wonders if there is simply something wrong with me. My milk made Stella sick. It didn’t protect or nourish her or do anything it was supposed to. I used to joke to myself, in the weeks just after Stella was born, that my breasts were being both destroyed and redeemed by breastfeeding. They were being stretched to the limit with the influx of milk, so I knew I could say goodbye to any perkiness. On the other hand, they’ve always been small and had really only been a source of ridicule from about fifth grade on, so I found it quite astounding that they had the amazing power to nourish my baby. To help her grow! For me, it was empowering. Unfortunately, that didn’t last.

I wrote about our attempt to give her a dairy-based formula. I never followed up on how it went. Let’s just say that the switch was not successful. Her intake started to drop slightly and she developed a couple of red splotches on her face.  We were very quick to switch back to hypoallergenic Elecare,  so we can’t be 100% sure if the milk protein was really bothering her or not. But my gut tells me something was off. It helps a little bit with the recurring thought that maybe, if I’d kept avoiding dairy and soy for just a little while longer, and kept trying to feed her, she’d have come around to enjoy nursing, and get the benefits of breastmilk without all the pain she’d been experiencing. Of course, that’s simplistic thinking, and dismissive of the severity of the issues we faced at that time. But the idea lingers.

So. yes. I’ve been reluctant to throw out my milk. I kept hoping that maybe someday, I could give her some.  My brain kept whispering, annoyingly, “You know, you could add a bit to each of her bottles and she’ll get the benefits!” But it’s clear now that, no, she will never have my milk again.

Every time I read about yet another benefit of breastmilk, I cringe. Each time I read some judgmental comment or article by some zealot who equates formula with poison, I seethe. (For that reason, I can no longer read Mothering magazine.)

Perhaps that’s why I painstakingly calculated the total number of ounces. I needed some proof, some evidence of how hard I tried. I will get the final number soon, when I gather the courage to toss the rest. Maybe then I can finally let go.

My other resume

I’ve jumped back into the freelance writing life in an effort to make a bit of money while I stay home with Stella Bella. This, of course, necessitated the updating of my resume.

It got me thinking. Some of my most impressive achievements and abilities will never grace the pages of this supposedly all-important document. And it seems like a shame. I am referring, of course, to motherhood–all that it requires. And with that, I present my other resume…

EXPERIENCE

Mother, 8/17/08–present (lifetime commitment)

  • Collaborate with Stella Eleanor’s father (my husband) to ensure that she grows and thrives; oversee everything from basic maintenance, such as diaper changes and feeding, to high-level development including babbling, drooling, sitting up, laughing, and rolling/tummy time, with plans to teach her how to be kind, walk, use the toilet and drive
  • Provide attention, protection, guidance and full range of entertainment services including peek-a-boo, tickling, general zaniness and impromptu songs, stories and farting noises
  • Willingly put my daughter’s needs before my own while still taking care of self and providing excellent example of how to live life to the fullest
  • Manage public relations; handle photography and mailing of seasonal cards and wellness updates; manage upkeep of Flickr account with near-daily shots of Stella to prevent extended family from suffering cuteness withdrawal
  • Love that girl with all my heart, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year–even when her yelling reaches peak annoy-ability levels

Giver of Life, 8/15/08–8/17/08

  • Gave birth to baby girl weighing 7 pounds and 7 ounces; filled with pure joy upon her arrival
  • Kicked ass throughout 32-hour un-medicated labor during which baby’s head was transverse (sideways)
  • Nearly broke husband’s hands with vice-like grip; will try harder next time

Grower of Human Being, 11/08–8/09

  • Provided egg for successful fertilization; worried endlessly about fetus from moment of conception
  • Attended prenatal yoga, birthing and parenting classes despite overwhelming exhaustion and overwhelmed bladder
  • Ate enough cheese to feed all of Wisconsin for three years; consumed record amounts of grapefruit juice
  • Tolerated the shooting of sharp pains up my rear-end for several months; withstood debilitating hip pain and baby’s roundhouse kicks
  • Enjoyed pregnancy despite all of the above

Warrior, 10/08–02/09

  • Assembled and coordinated a top-tier team of Seattle doctors, as well as two lactation consultants, an occupational therapist, nutritionist, dietitian and cranial osteopath
  • Managed to maintain sanity when baby refused to eat; chugged olive oil and ate bacon in a valiant attempt to fatten starving, anxiety-ridden self and improve quality and caloric value of breast milk
  • Mastered use of Supplemental Nursing System while successfully limiting use of the “f-word” to 400 times per day; managed insertion and maintenance of god-forsaken nasogastric feeding tube and associated god-damned pump and evil face tape and crap-tastic peripherals; sacrificed small but previously perky boobs to hospital grade breast pump
  • Navigated labyrinth of hospital and health care challenges; slashed red tape and improved child’s outcome by 1000%; successfully argued case for the removal of nasogastric tube and executed successful tube weaning; produced a happier child and family as a result of round-the-clock efforts
  • Analyzed growth charts, lab results and intake levels; conducted in-depth, terrifying online research on daughter’s condition and treatment

EDUCATION

The Parental Institution of Barbara and Gregory Hescock

  • Coursework in everything, with an emphasis on love, the value hard work, and a good sense of humor

School of Hard Knocks

  • Classes included Terrible Mistakes, Bad Relationships 101, and The Awkwardness of Middle School

Sink or Swim Academy

  • Curriculum revolved around parenting without anything resembling adequate preparation

SKILLS SUMMARY

General: Expert-level nurturing, crisis and conflict management, hazardous waste handling and sanitation, budgeting, soothing, teaching life skills and morals, child safety, nursery decorating, baby-wearing, silly face and nonsensical sounds mastery

Technical: Milk production, human creation, swaddling, rocking, one-handed diapering (experience with both formula and breast milk poop platforms), bottle maintenance, reflux abatement

COMMUNITY SERVICE

  • Contributed a new member to the human race
  • Responsible raising of a kind, compassionate, contributing citizen
  • Adept removal of screeching baby from public places, ensuring a peaceful community
  • Addition to the world of a love that grows by leaps and bounds each and every day

We set ’em up. Stella knocks ’em down.

Another triumphant feeding! Daddy and Stella celebrate after Stella takes 135 mls from the bottle!

Another triumphant feeding! Daddy and Stella celebrate after Stella takes 135 mls from the bottle!

Cody, Stella and I had a relaxing holiday weekend. I’m sad that it’s over and that Cody will have to return to work tomorrow. He’s been working a lot, which has been tough. Just having him around makes me feel better, and Stella loves it, too.

When I get down, he helps pick me up, and vice versa. Of course, when feeding doesn’t go well, we both feel discouraged and can sometimes work together to find the positives and pull ourselves up together.

This weekend, we realized that our standards had really risen in regards to Stella’s eating. We found ourselves feeling bummed when she took “only” 70 to 80 mls. We had to step back and remind ourselves that not long ago, that was considered a good feeding! 

Today is an interesting example. She had only four bottles because she slept so much, and because we gave her the usual two feedings via pump while she slept. The average number of mls she took per bottle was 111.75 (yes, we are that exact). Remember, her formula has 24 calories per ounce instead of the usual 20 calories per ounce, so she gets more calories with less volume–big feedings can really exacerbate reflux.

She complained a bit before her first feeding, but other than that, she accepted the bottle right away and was very comfortable while eating. Stella has come so very far! This whole feeding fiasco–or should I call it a “challenge” instead–has been an exercise in the power and importance of positive thinking. Slowly but surely, I’m learning.

Tonight, I returned the hospital grade breast pump that I rented two months ago. I was surprised by how emotional I got during this seemingly simple errand. I cried a lot and it really caught me off-guard. Then again, that pump and I, we spent so much time together. We worked so hard! We were side by side through the scariest times with Stella. When she didn’t want to eat and I thought her health was in serious danger and that it was my fault. When my milk supply was low because she wasn’t taking enough. When we had no idea what was going on with Stella and were desperate to get answers.

I tried. I really, really tried. Hundreds of ounces of breastmilk still sit in our freezer.

I tried. I really, really tried. Hundreds of ounces of breastmilk still sit in our freezer. Just can't bring myself to dump it. Too much effort and love went into making it. I'm wondering if I can donate it somewhere.

That huge, yellow pump became a fixture in our living room. It represented my long, last, and intense effort to continue breastfeeding Stella–and I suppose I had a hard time letting the pump go for that reason. Breastfeeding was what I wanted for her, and for me. I really miss the closeness that we enjoyed through breastfeeding. The proud and assured feeling that I was giving her the very best nutrition. The knowledge that I was nurturing her in such a direct and intimate way. I am grieving the loss of breastfeeding, though it’s not as sharp as when she had her first bottle of formula, or when I stopped pumping a couple of weeks ago. Even though formula truly helped Stella thrive by getting her comfortable and willing to eat, part of me really feels like Stella and I are missing out on something. However, toward the end of my time with this impressive piece of machinery, pumping was taking away more than it was giving us. 

At the hospital,  Stella was put on hypoallergenic formula “temporarily” to see how she’d do and to allow the doctors to do their assessment. (Of course, it didn’t turn out to be temporary, as stool testing showed that the switch helped Stella in many ways. I think that deep down, I actually knew that it would not be temporary, or at least I feared that would be the case.) I was pumping eight times a day even though it wasn’t clear if she’d ever safely be able to enjoy breastmilk again without jeopardizing her comfort and willingness to eat. I’d given up soy and dairy for the cause, which was difficult but wouldn’t have been as big a deal if anxiety wasn’t already beating the crap out of my appetite. 

Feeding Stella with the bottle, then the tube/pump is time-consuming and then to have to pump myself–it was too much for me to handle. I wanted more time to spend just being with and enjoying Stella instead of operating various pumps for hours a day. I needed rest, which was impossible with having to wake up to feed her via tube and stay up to pump. As my friend and cousin Regan pointed out, breastmilk is very beneficial to babies. But just as if not more beneficial? Happy, healthy moms.

Happy and healthy is how we can now describe Stella. Sure, I wish breastfeeding worked out for us. But it didn’t. It’s that pesky parenting lesson that keeps popping up! In short, sometimes things don’t work out like you planned or hoped or envisioned, and you just have to make the best of it. Besides, I have three months of fond breastfeeding memories to hold onto. I remember nursing her for 30 minutes right after she was born. I remember her first few weeks, when she’d wake up hungry in the middle of the night, and Cody would change her diaper and then place this beautiful, tiny, wriggling little baby next to me. She’d be crying and squirming and sucking on her hands–and then she’d latch on and suddenly be so peaceful. Later, that all changed and breastfeeding was not so peaceful, of course. But I’m so glad we had those early experiences together. And, stepping away from my emotional attachment to breastfeeding, I’m so very glad that the formula took away much of the pain Stella was experiencing.

She may no longer get my milk, but she’ll always get my best! I just love her so much. And that’s really all there is to it.