April 5, 2013
In the year following my mother’s death Daddy existed with two dark crescent moons under his eyes. He cried often. He wrapped his fingers on the table. He now only made one pot of coffee, no longer needing to make Mama’s decaf.
He walked around the house like a child who cannot find his mother, lost. Daddy called me one day to tell me he had just gotten a free pair of Levi’s.
Daddy needed to shop for his clothes now. A lifetime in the army wearing green camouflage fatigues and a wife with a great sense of style left him with a new need to walk the shopping malls in search of new clothes. His new Levi’s were too long, another new pair were too short. For years Mama bought his 38 x 30 Levi’s jeans and Dockers khakis. Now that he was in charge he would get to the bottom of the tomfoolery around his dungarees.
Having avoided Mama’s sewing room he trudged up the stairs past her paintings, past her writing notebooks, past the Singer sewing machine and the boxes of Butterick and Vogue patterns to the basket of supplies. There he found the faded six-foot long tape measure.
On the kitchen table he laid out his half dozen pairs of blue jeans and began to measure each leg. Each inseam was supposed to be 28 inches. Not one pair measured up. He looked at the tags and noticed a pattern. The jeans manufactured in Vietnam were actually 27 inches. The jeans made in China were 29 inches. The jeans made in Sri Lanka were 26 inches. Daddy was pissed. He called Levi’s and explained that his darling wife had always bought his Levi’s and Dockers and now that he needed to buy them they were all sized incorrectly. He proceeded to read off the numbers of each pair stacked on the kitchen table next to his coffee mug. The kind woman on the line from the west coast mailed Daddy a coupon for one pair of Levi’s or Dockers of his choice.
March 22, 2013
When Libby called and said she needed help weaning her 11-day-old baby I knew it was the right thing to do.
When I met Libby to work with her when her baby was 4 days old I saw she was an especially shaken new mom. When she told me she had a history of depression I knew I had to tread carefully. She was so unsure of how she wanted to approach feeding her baby and I understood. Typically I make up a plan for a mom with directions to make enough milk and to get breastfeeding going well. But with Libby, there were obstacles – the baby had been jaundiced, he had a tongue-tie, which tethers the tongue to the floor of the baby’s mouth and can cause a great deal of pain at every feeding.
While I was with her, Libby had a wild look in her eyes. She paraded around her apartment with only white cotton panties and her thick hair falling over her shoulders. Pacing back and forth like a caged animal, her eyes looking everywhere but in the room. Wanting nothing more than to be able to comfortably nurse her baby and feel at ease, everything caused her pain: the baby, the pump, hand-expressing. I think her own skin was causing her pain at this moment.
I gave Libby three plans: one to build a complete supply and get breastfeeding going normally, the second to mix feedings at the breast with bottles of formula and I gave her a plan to reduce her milk supply and wean completely. I asked if she was under the care of a psychiatrist. Yes, she assured me. I stayed with her longer than usual because I was afraid for her. I left after her husband came home.
When that call came seven days later I was at once relieved and saddened. The medication that had worked for her was truly incompatible with breastfeeding. I called the Infant Risk Center to clarify. The lovely woman on the phone in Texas felt the weight of my sadness and listened to me as we both mourned the loss of breastfeeding for Libby and her baby boy.
When I spoke with Libby a couple of days later she was calm and expressed her sadness at the loss of breastfeeding. As I hung up I thought of Kelly. At her funeral Joel told me that he saw how connected she and Katie had been whenever they nursed. Those moments with Katie where when she was the happiest and most focused in the last five months of her life.
The part of me that ached for Libby found peace in knowing she was going to be well and that her baby was going to have his mom. And her would have her longer than five months.
March 19, 2013
I have been exploring Postpartum Depression for a long time. I believe my mother had it when I was a baby. I believe I had it after my first and third babies were born.
So, I am sharing a few stories. They may come in quick succession or they may come over a few weeks or months.This first one is likely the most dramatic. I have been sitting on this story for some time. I decided it was time to share. In some of the stories I have changed some identifying details but the stories are real.
I met Kelly in the late 1990’s at the Murray Hill Players on East 36th Street in Manhattan. Tuesday evenings, actors gathered to read new plays while the playwrights listened to their words spoken out loud. Kelly was a bit younger than I. She lived with her boyfriend. I was married with a toddler. We both lived near the theatre so we would walk home together and we would talk.
I am a nurturer. I was a second mom to my little sister. I started babysitting in the neighborhood when I was eleven years old. When I went off to college I started really ogling pregnant women enviously. I earned the reputation as Earth Mother in my twenties. I cared better for some of my cousins than their own mothers did. When I finally had my own children I drank each of them in. I studied them. I nursed them. I fell in love everyday. For my second career I chose to become a lactation consultant, a career that allowed me to guide other mothers to follow their instincts and build relationships with their babies. That I can guide some of these mothers to nurse their babies into toddlerhood is a great gift. But it doesn’t always go that way.
Kelly and Joel got married and I had another baby. Kelly’s office was on Wall Street. On September 11 she was there. She stood outside of her office building. She watched as papers blew about like confetti. She brought dust-covered people into her lobby for water and comfort, for safety. This triggered in her the desire to be a parent. She was hesitant as she told me she and Joel were planning to have a baby.
She told me, “ I may not be able to breastfeed.”
“Why not? Of course you can,” I assured her.
“I have been on Prozac for six years,” was her reply.
“I will look into it,” I promised.
Summer 2002 was the time I would sit the exam to become a Lactation Consultant. I still had so much to learn. Soon Kelly was pregnant and still on Prozac. I contacted my colleague whose husband was a physician with a special interest in suicide prevention. At that time there was not much research on breastfeeding and Prozac. Margot assured me it was more important for a mother to be alive than to be breastfeeding. Her words were a foreshadow that I could not even imagine.
When Kelly was about seven months pregnant she asked me to be at her birth. I was so excited and honored. On July 30 Kelly called to say she was in labor and that I should meet her at New York University Hospital. A bit past midnight on July 1 a rush of excitement pulsed through me as her baby crowned. I watched as her dark, hairy little head seemed to soften and move with a gentle force as Kelly opened up like a tulip. The bolt of energy that rushed through me as I witnessed a life come into the world kept me flying for weeks. This was the first time I had been present at a birth other than my own.
The next day I bought a pink outfit and brought my girls to see the new baby. While I was there a young intern stopped in to go over her medical record.
“Are you on medication?” he asked her.
“Yes, Prozac,” she answered as she gazed into Katie’s new eyes.
“Are you breast-feeding?”
“OK, then, no Prozac, “ he said as he turned and exited the room. I remember the sound of his feet echoing down the hall on the white tiles.
I didn’t know then what the impact of stopping Prozac could be. I didn’t understand the postpartum physiology. As it turns out Prozac is considered safe with breastfeeding.
When Kelly called a few days later and asked if Chloe and I could stay with her and Katie because “my doctor says I am racy and she wants to admit me into the hospital but I told her I did not want to go and that I would make sure I am not alone and that I will have a schedule full of people hanging out with Katie and me,” I did not understand that she really could not be alone. Not for a moment. I did not understand.
When Kelly talked faster than usual and laughed louder than usual and started finding coincidences in all the numbers in her life I did not understand.
Three weeks later, Kelly, Joel and Katie moved out of their Manhattan one-bedroom walk-up apartment into a newly purchased house in the suburbs of New Jersey. Kelly said it was good that Joel was getting his MBA. Even though it meant he worked all day and went to school three nights a week. I didn’t know that Kelly had a fear of driving. I didn’t know that all of her friends with babies were in Manhattan.
I worried that most every time we spoke on the phone she cried. She told me, “I have told Katie I am so proud of her and I love her more than my own mom told me in my whole life.” I felt helpless being so far away.
I didn’t know that Kelly had started taking Prozac again at Thanksgiving. I didn’t know how long it takes for Prozac to move through the body and begin its balancing act.
I did know that when I received a phone call on December 11 telling me that someone named Kelly had stepped in front of a commuter train in New Jersey I knew that was my Kelly.
March 18, 2013
The question of co-sleeping comes up often. It can be controversial. There are heated debates about it.
The other day I asked my three children what they remember about co-sleeping and how it made them feel.
I did not ask them all together. I had three isolated conversations with them. Each was brief.
I first asked Finn, my youngest.
He is seven years old. About 80percent of the time Rob and I wake up with Finn in our bed even though he goes to sleep in his own bed. I asked him why he likes to sleep with us and he told me that he feels warm and cozy and it helps you if you are scared. He told me he feels safe.
Phoebe is 17 years old. She is a senior in high school. This sophisticated New Yorker travels all over Manhattan and Brooklyn on her own. She went to Ghana with her school for Spring Break. Phoebe flew down to North Carolina on her own to visit family. She is excited to go away to college in the fall. I asked her what she thinks of co-sleeping. She does not particularly remember co-sleeping as a baby and young child but she will climb in bed with me on the rare occasion that Rob is away. She says she feels safer.
Later I asked Chloe, my 12-year-old what she feels about co-sleeping. Without missing a beat she told me it feels safe. There you have it from the mouth of real life co-sleepers they feel safe.
The truth of the matter is that when each one of them was a baby I felt safer having them in my bed, close by so I could hear them breathe and I could feed them.
We all kept each other safe.
March 13, 2013
The humbling reality of my situation is beginning to kick in. The Percocet is being replaced by Acetaminophen and my fog is wearing off. Last Thursday my foot was sort of reconstructed. I went to the doctor yesterday for my post-op follow-up and saw the hardware store that is my foot. There are 4 screws and my foot is swollen and bruised. In the half second that I could bare to look I saw Frankenstein. Rob was disappointed that I did not photograph the gore.
It was fascinating to see the before and after x-rays. My foot was previously at a right angle and now it is a straight line. If I was a home-schooler this could be a fun lesson in geometry.
My foot cannot touch the ground for six weeks. This is hard for an independent New Yorker and mother of three. And, it puts me out of work. As a Lactation Consultant in Private Practice offering home visits in Manhattan I cannot carry my equipment as I hobble on crutches. I am open to Skype and phone consults as well as visits in my home but most new moms prefer a home visit in their homes. I do not blame them.
When breastfeeding my third child was so challenging I saw it as an opportunity to be a better Lactation Consultant. This convalescent period will make me more sympathetic to the moms who have had a very difficult birth and have to ask for help and to rely on the kindness of others.
I am giving space for my family to get angry and frustrated. They really have to do so much for me. Rob has to get the kids ready in the morning and he makes me tea and breakfast. This, from the man who typically is out the door before the kids wake up. Phoebe has helped me bathe – remember baths? You have to have a sense of humor when you find yourself in a bathtub with your leg wrapped up to the knee in plastic hanging over the side of the tub and your children all staring down at you arguing over who will wash your hair.
Chloe comes home from school and makes me tea. I am filled with guilt at the prospect of not being able to attend her performance in the Middle School production of Bye Bye Birdie.
Finn cuddles me and throws things in the hamper and garbage for me. He gets himself dressed and ready for bed with less arguing.
I have metal water bottles placed strategically in my home.
I have had to ask friends to drive me to doctor’s appointments – thanks Julia! I have told my mother-in-law pointblank which of her delicious foods I want her to make for me. I have blatantly posted a photo of my foot on social media, which alerted my friend Liz, a Reiki Master to come work on me.
I am planning the time to work on more writing and putting together a presentation for the Museum of Motherhood Conference in May.
Look for more blog posts and come visit me if you are in the ‘hood. I like chocolate and gluten-free foods!
February 21, 2013
Some of you have seen this but it bears showing from time to time:
Katherine, a new mom, called me to discuss her milk supply. She was concerned with keeping up the demand of her baby. Then she asked me other breastfeeding questions. She was not sure how to nurse Sadie outside of her house. She thought it was because she needed her “special pillow.” The truth is she doesn’t know how because few women really breastfeed in public anymore.
My Review of the Lecture: Our Bodies, Our Nature: Breastfeeding & Maternal Ideology in the mid-20th Century America
January 19, 2013
On Thursday evening January 17, 2013 I attended a lecture at the New York Academy of Medicine. The title was Our Bodies, Our Nature: Breastfeeding & Maternal Ideology in mid-20th Century America.
This was presented by Jessica Martucci, PhD. She is an historian and gender studies professor. This lecture was from her research on the history of breastfeeding and environmental contaminants. She is also writing a book called Back to the Breast: Natural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in the 20th Century.
Breastfeeding research always interests me. What piqued my interest in attending this lecture was Ms. Martucci’s seeming attack on La Leche League. The descirption on the announcement has this quote:
“In 1972, the international breastfeeding support organization La Leche League published a pamphlet titled “DDT and Mother’s Milk,” which addressed the problem of tainted breast milk. “Many mothers have wondered whether they should discontinue nursing their babies,” they wrote, adding “The answer is ‘No.’” As much as the League wished the issue of DDT and other toxins in milk would just go away, environmental contaminants have been a persistent issue in scienitific and popular discussions of breastfeeding.”
Now perhaps I was wrong. I went to the lecture with an open mind.
The presentation was interesting. She paralleled the resurgence of breastfeeding with the contamination of the environment. She also discussed her concept of Natural Mothering. She somewhat spoke on it’s impact on feminism.
She pointed out two environmental researchers who had been breastfeeding while doing research on environmental contaminants and had their own milk tested. Glenda Daniel made the decision to discontinue breastfeeding her daughter sometime around 1980. She then discussed Florence Williams, a science writer, who in 2005 wrote an article for the New York Times titled Toxic Milk. Ms. Williams decided to continue to breastfeed her daughter despite the environmental contaminants. She wanted to know why these two women made different decisions with nearly the same data. I found two big missings in this parallel. One big missing was Sandra Steingraber, the ecologist and author, who also continued to breastfeed her children knowing the environmental impact.
The other big missing in my opinion is that we know much more about human milk than we did thirty years ago. Perhaps Ms. Daniel did not understand what she was giving to her daughter in terms of immunity and long term protection from diabetes, cancers, obesity while she was breastfeeding her.
She also chose to show examples of prominent women in the natural motherhood movement who had breastfeeding failure. She highlighted the experience of Eleanor Agnew from her book Back From The Land. Ms. Agnew had two terrible bouts of mastitis and discontinued breastfeeding.
Ms. Martucci seemd to have a subtle, but palpable dislike for La Leche League and breastfeeding. I could not call her on it for it’s subtlety nor would it be my place. She referred to the organization as The League.
This was not the forum to ask her about her personal life. I wanted to know if she is a mother, if so, did she breastfeed? I wanted to know if she was breastfed herself. I wanted to know what her birth experience was like.
My big question during the Q & A was “How many babies have died as a result of being nursed from polluted breasts?” While Ms. Martucci said that data has not been collected the was a resounding “None” from the audience.
The great thing about the evening was that the audience was peppered with physicians and scientists who spoke of the importance of breastfeeding despite the environment.
The big take home was that we need to act to clean up our polluted world.