The Gravity of It

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Nothing in my life is convenient right now. Being poked by a two-year-old at 4am most mornings? Nope. Never eating a meal without having to feed other people at the same time? I don’t think so. Never being able to leave the house without needing to persuade little people to put their shoes and jackets on, to stop fighting, stop kicking the wall, stop wiping snot on each other? Nah.

I used to be able to glide through my life effortlessly (though I probably didn’t feel that way at the time). My life was my own. I could wake up when I wanted, eat breakfast in silence, put my shoes on and leave. I could go where I wanted, nothing but my wallet and keys to keep track of. It’s hard to even remember when navigating the world was that effortless.

Things are different now. So different. I accept that most days I am tangled up in children. I accept that I am weighed down by their needs. I accept the gravity of it.

And yet, I feel it the burden deeply. It pushes my body into the armchair at 4pm. It makes me say yes to extra screentime at that hour because I just can’t move another muscleI can’t muster up another smile. I can’t listen to another word coming out of their adorable l little mouths. 4pm, baby, is when I feel the mind-blowing, earth-shattering heaviness of it all.

I think it’s important to say it, how terribly inconvenient motherhood is—especially motherhood at this stage, when the kids are so incredibly dependent on me. I think it’s important to say I feel buried in it.

And now I feel the push (from where?) to write about the joy, to tell you it’s all worth it. But I feel like that is the obvious part. My sons are gorgeous. Their stunning wondrousness makes me cry.

But I can’t deny that it is terribly inconvenient, stifling, so very hard to care as deeply as I do for them, and then to find the energy to care for myself as well.

I am trying to find the balance. Aren’t we all? I do, sometimes. And other times I don’t, at all.

And so I write. I tell my stories. I walk. I meditate. I do my best. That’s self-care. That sets me free.

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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How To Get Through a Nursing Strike

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Scenario 1: Your eight-month-old seems to be teething. He bit you while nursing and you screamed at the top of your lungs (ouch!). Now your baby cries when he comes to your breast, and refuses to nurse.

Scenario 2: Your four-month-old had a cold last week and was too stuffed up to nurse. Then you had a busy week—lots of plans out of the house—and your baby wouldn’t sit still to nurse while you were out. Today she arches away from the breast every time you sit down to nurse. You were already stressed out and now your stress is skyrocketing.

Scenario 3: Your fourteen-month-old seems too busy to nurse lately. He’ll sit on your lap, latch for a second, and then run off laughing. He would rather eat snacks or drink water from a sippy cup. Last night you were staying at your in-laws’, and he was restless and pulling off the breast even while nursing to sleep. Today he’s flatly refusing the breast altogether and you are concerned he’s weaning.

Sound familiar? These are just some examples of what might happen if your baby is experiencing a nursing strike.

First, how do you distinguish a nursing strike from weaning? Basically, any baby or toddler who suddenly refuses the breast is having a strike. It doesn’t really matter how old your baby is. Certainly any child under two years won’t just stop nursing suddenly without due cause. Even older toddlers can have nursing strikes. Natural weaning—even if it is pushed along a bit by a mom—happens very gradually, the child dropping nursing sessions one by one, over many weeks or months. So, when in doubt, assume your baby or toddler is having a nursing strike.

The first thing to know is that almost all nursing strikes resolve in time. Babies actually want to nurse, but something is upsetting them when they strike, and once this is resolved or forgotten, nursing will resume. In order to get through the strike, you need some faith, good support, and lots of patience. It can sometimes take a few days (or even weeks, in some cases) to resolve completely.

Even though it might take a bit of detective work, almost all nursing strikes begin with some kind of stressor that make nursing unhappy for your baby. The most common ones are illness, teething, developmental changes (both mental and physical), changes in routine (moving, busy family life), biting (especially if the mother reacts by screaming, and startling the baby), and high-stress situations in the family. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle than these situations, and often is a combination of things that push things over the edge for your baby, and result in a strike.

Remember that something is bothering your baby. It is nothing you did wrong. Even if you screamed while being bitten, or were “too busy” or “too stressed,” there is no reason for guilt here. These things happen in our lives. Like I said before, nursing strikes almost always work themselves out in due time.

So what to do once you have identified it as a nursing strike?

First, it’s important to protect your milk supply and feed your baby. Some babies will refuse the breast completely; others will still nurse for some sessions, but refuse the others. Unless you are dealing with an older toddler, you will need to pump or hand express in order to keep up your milk supply. Your baby needs to be fed the pumped milk to get adequate calories.

It’s preferable to feed your with non-bottle nipples (you can try a small cup or a spoon). If that isn’t possible, and your baby will only take a bottle, try paced bottle feeding to make bottle feeding most compatible with breastfeeding. If your baby uses a pacifier, see if you can use it less, or not at all—some babies will come back to the breast by first using it to pacify, so you don’t want to rely on artificial nipples right now.

Babies who are refusing the breast have a memory of something that happened during breastfeeding that upset them, and you want them to move past this memory. So now isn’t the time to force the breast. Definitely continue offering it—but if your baby cries when you do, this may not be the best strategy.

When your baby gets upset at the sight of your breast, a good strategy is to offer the breast when the baby is less aware of what is happening. My favorite time to do so is just when a baby is waking up from sleep because the baby is in a semi-conscious state then. You can also offer the breast in the middle of a sleep cycle, when the baby stirs. If you don’t already share sleep with your baby, now is a good time to do so, even if it’s just a temporary thing. Sleep without a shirt so your baby will smell you—he or she might latch on without your even knowing.

Lots of skin-to-skin usually helps. You can just hold your baby against your breast periodically without offering, without trying to “make things happen.” You want to remind your baby that the breast is a safe, cozy place. A weekend napping in bed together, skin-to-skin, often cures a nursing strike.

Other tricks include nursing in the dark, nursing in a baby carrier, nursing in the bathtub, or nursing outside. Just changing up the nursing routine can be helpful so that your baby can forget whatever caused the strike.

I highly recommend you talk to a breastfeeding counselor, or an understanding friend. When a baby refuses your breast, it can cause a whole lot of stress for you, and being able to talk it through can be immensely helpful. Often your baby will pick up on the relief in your body, and begin to relax as well, which will help end the strike.

So have faith, take your time, go back to basics, and get tons of support. I know how devastating it is when your baby refuses the breast. It’s hard not to take it as a personal rejection. But it will be OK. It’s just a nursing strike, and will be over soon.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/okbends/

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A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

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If you are looking for breastfeeding help, you can contact a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant.  If you are interested in setting up a breastfeeding consultation with me, visit my website , or contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.  I do in-person consultations for mothers in Queens or Nassau County, NY, and I also offer phone/Skype/FaceTime consultations for mothers outside of my area. 

It Goes So Fast…I’m Holding On

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My two-year-old requires that I spend about half his nap lying with him/nursing him. Well, not requires it, but that’s how it’s always been. And if I don’t come to him, he will take a shorter nap and probably be cranky. So when he stirs, I come. I check Facebook, maybe try to write something (thank god for the “Notes” app on my phone), close my eyes for a bit.

At this point in my life as a parent (8.5 years!), I don’t really think about my  “parenting” choices, at least not in the way I used to when my first child was a baby. I obviously err on the side of crunchy/attachment parenting. But I don’t really think about it. What I do or don’t do is just…whatever. Just part of life. Nothing to be pored over or analyzed. It basically works, and if it doesn’t, I’m too tired to question it.

But it occurred to me this afternoon that there are a ton of parents out there who don’t or wouldn’t or simply can’t spend half of naptime lying there with their children. Some are working mothers, some have other kids to be with during naptime. Some have kids who have teddy bears, pacifiers, or blankets to cuddle with. Some just don’t have kids who need as much sleep assistance as my kid does. I totally get that. Every mom and kid does what works for them.

It was recently “Pajama Day” at my older son’s school. He was supposed to come dressed in PJ’s, with a favorite stuffed animal. Like his brother, he never had a teddy bear or another security object.

My son said, laughing, “I guess I’d have to bring you to school that day, Mom.”

He doesn’t sleep in our bed anymore (yes, they do eventually stop) but we lie together each night before he falls asleep and his dad or I (usually me) stay with him until he’s out.

My 2-year-old requires much more of me still. Naps, all night his body next to mine. I realize this level of need, sleep interruption, and closeness is not for everyone. I forget how strange it is to some people only because I have been parenting this way for so long and it feels like second nature to me.

Can I tell you why I do it? Yes, it started partly because I’m lazy, and going to my babies anytime they cried was easier than figuring out a different way to soothe them. Yes, I believe in breast as soother as well as nutrition source. Yes, it was just my instinct to do it.

But I also do it because I’m holding on. I’m holding on to their childhoods by holding onto them. My eight-year-old barely even wants to cuddle before bed anymore. I’m lucky if I get a second of it. Before I know it, he won’t even want me to lie near him. He’ll just go into his room, shut the door, and collapse into bed.

My two-year-old, though. He lets me hold him. He wants that. He’s small enough to still curl into me. His damp head in the May night still smells a little like a baby. OK, a lot. And I just don’t want to rush it. I can’t. It hurts my heart to think it will end. I know it will. I’m certain of it.

So, even though I sometimes get frustrated when my “off” time is interrupted; even though I sometimes feel touched out; even though I sometimes wish I could sleep alone, I go to him anyway. I lie there in the dark, mostly just waiting, sometimes just resting, often zoning out on my phone.

I’m taking him in. I’m stopping time for a second. I’m holding on.

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Thank You, Mom

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This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of my mother. She was a single mom for most of my childhood, but I didn’t really get what that meant until I became a mother myself. I still can’t really know, since I’ve had an amazing partner-in-crime for the duration of this parenting thing. But I do know how tired I am after 15-hour days alone with the kids. I know how stressed I am about money. I know how much I crave adult contact after my long days. I know how I am always questioning myself: Have I done enough for the kids? Have I listened well enough? Have I been present with them?

I can only imagine how she did it. Like any kid, I complained about her. I wanted more attention. I criticized her for napping after work. I wished we lived in houses instead of apartments. I wanted that illusive cookie-cutter mom-and-dad white picket fence life.

But she always did the best that she could with what she had. And I realize now—as I get older, and become more and more myself—just how much she taught me, how much of her spirit is inside of me.

She taught me to follow my gut in all aspects of my life. She taught me that art and self-expression were more important than money and status. She taught me that cuddles and affection fix everything. She taught me kindness for all beings. She taught me to want peace for this world, to want it with all my heart. She taught me to question authority. She taught me that each act of kindness is a little seed that can grow a better world.

I recently published two pieces about her at The Mid (it’s a great new publication—you should check it out!). In This is It: I’m a Grown-Up, I reflect on turning 37, which feels somehow more grown-up than before. I remember my own mother at this age, and I can’t believe I am here now, where she was then. I also wrote a tribute piece to her for Mother’s Day: Why I’m So Grateful to My Mother.

I am also really proud to share with you a louder, angrier, more gritty piece I wrote for Role Reboot: It’s Mother’s Day, and I’m Pissed. I know it’s not your usual Mother’s Day fare, but it comes from my heart. I want so much more for mothers in our country. I really do. It’s not acceptable that millions of mothers and children go to sleep hungry each night. It’s not acceptable that we don’t have paid maternity leave. It’s not acceptable that even middle-class families are barely scraping by. It’s not acceptable that the number of mothers dying during childbirth has increased over the past decade.

In a way, this piece is also a tribute to my mom, who taught me from the very beginning that there was a world outside my little bubble—that there were people who struggled, that were was inequality, that we lived in a very imperfect world. She taught me to speak up about it, to write, to shout.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. And thank you. For everything.

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10 Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

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I have been helping women breastfeed their babies for six years, and have been nursing my own children for over eight years, but I am still floored when I hear some of the things women are told about breastfeeding—from their doctors, midwives, friends, grandmothers, Dr. Google, and even other lactation consultants. Still, we’ve come a long way since the 70s, when my mom was told I was too small to breastfeed, or that she should give me a bottle of rice cereal when I was four months to “help me sleep” (oh, wait, I think I heard that one last week!).

So here are some of the top pieces of “advice” mothers are given, debunked.

1. “Breastfeeding Is Supposed to Hurt at the Beginning.” You may have been told that your nipples just need to “toughen up.” Or your girlfriend may have told you her horror stories of how her nipples bled for three weeks, and then it miraculously got better. Most cases of nipple pain in the first few weeks will resolve eventually, but most mothers can’t get through weeks of pain to see it to the end. In the first few days, a gentle “tugging” feeling is normal as you and your baby sort things out, but pain that makes you wince, or that causes cracked or bleeding nipples is NOT normal, and you shouldn’t have to go through it. There are solutions out there. Get help! Call your local La Leche League or find a lactation consultant to troubleshoot.

2. “My Mom Didn’t Breastfed Me So I Can’t Breastfeed.” Yep, people actually believe this! Well, it kind of makes sense that they would. After all, the way babies (and breasts) are formed is passed on through DNA. But most cases of breastfeeding failure are because of lack of knowledge and support. So the most likely reason your mother couldn’t nurse you was because of the roadblocks that were in place from the moment your perfectly bundled self was placed in her arms. So have some empathy for her, shut out the naysayers, and believe in your body’s ability to make milk and nurse your own little bundle.

3. “All Women Can Breastfeed.” OK, now I’m going to completely contradict myself. The fact is that almost all women can produce enough milk for their babies. But there is a small percentage of women who cannot. Causes of this include hormonal imbalances, a history of breast surgery, or a newly discovered condition called Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). Women with IGT never grew enough “milk-making tissue” to produce a full supply. But the good news is that many women who can’t produce a full supply do produce something, and it’s possible to supplement with donated breast milk or formula and still keep up a breastfeeding relationship. Really, anyone with nipples can breastfeed, whether or not her breasts produce a full supply of milk. You can even supplement with an at-breast supplementer (it’s a little tube taped to your breast where milk is delivered to your baby).

4. “All Babies Can Breastfeed.” Yep, almost all babies can breastfeed, but a minority of them do have problems latching on. Common causes include anatomy issues (the most prevalent being tongue tie), or medical issues that make it difficult for them. Others develop breast aversions for other reasons, including aggressive suctioning in the hospital, and nipple confusion (it doesn’t affect all babies, but it’s real). Many of these can be remedied with medical interventions (like a tongue tie release), alternative health treatments (like chiropractic work), TLC, and patience. But there are some moms I’ve helped whose babies never did latch, despite everyone’s best efforts. This is one of the more heartbreaking things I’ve encountered in my years helping moms breastfeed. Many of these moms become exclusive pumpers, and find other ways to bond and connect with their babies (tons of cuddles and holding!).

5. “You Can’t Drink Coffee or Alcohol.” There are almost no dietary restrictions on a breastfeeding mom. Say it out loud. Now say it again. Yeah, you probably don’t want to drink four coffees and five beers, and then nurse your baby (I’d like to see you hold your baby, let alone breastfeed, after that).  But very little of the coffee and alcohol you consume gets into your milk.  The rule is having the occasional alcoholic drink (or two) is completely fine.  There is no need to pump and dump! Generally, if you are sober enough to care for your baby, then it is safe to nurse.  Most breastfeeding mothers can drink a cup or more of coffee a day without noticing any effects in their baby.  Some younger babies seem to be more wakeful when their mothers drink coffee, but that is unusual, and is usually outgrown.  So drink a cup or two.  New moms need coffee!

6. “You’ll Need to Pump and Dump If You Take Anything Stronger Than Tylenol.” Nope! Not at all. MOST medications (with some exceptions, of course) are safe for breastfeeding mothers. Generally, very little of the maternal dose passes into the milk.  Even medications that are contraindicated usually have alternative safer choices.  But let me let you in on a little secret: most doctors (the ones prescribing the medications) aren’t up to date on this fact, and don’t know where to look to get the information.  So don’t accept the notion that you need to wean or “pump and dump” to take a medication.  Get armed with information, and seek help from lactation-friendly professionals. You can look up most medications on a government research-based website called LactMed, or you can download an app for your phone from the Infant Risk Center called Mommy Meds. Both are excellent and reliable sources for medicine safety while breastfeeding.

7. “If I Nurse, My Husband Will Have Nothing to Do.” This one makes me laugh, and I do hear it all the time. I’d like to give your husband a handy list of things he can do besides feeding your baby. OK, here’s the list (it’s really short): EVERYTHING ELSE. Yep, that’s right. There are a billion things your husband can do to take care of the baby, and many of them involve bonding with the baby. Besides changing diapers, preparing meals, cleaning up, and doing laundry, babies like to be held (almost constantly!), and rocked and bounced. Your husband can be a regular baby whisperer if he chooses (mine was!).

8. “This Lactation Cookie Will Increase Your Milk Supply.” The internet abounds with different cookies, smoothies, herbal tinctures, and food lists for nursing mothers to increase their milk supply. Most of them are harmless, some of them do help, but many of them don’t do a thing (someone just wanted to make a buck). The single most important thing you can do to increase your supply is nurse or pump more frequently. It’s all about supply and demand with nursing, and if that is ignored, you can stuff your face with Oatmeal-Flax-Brewer’s Yeast-Fenugreek cookies for days and nothing will change.

9. “You Have to Love Breastfeeding.” At the beginning, breastfeeding is all about “I had this baby, and now I have to make sure I can take care of it.” Many mothers get so entrenched in the mechanics of breastfeeding that they don’t really like in the beginning—they’re just doing it and trying to survive the insanity of the first few weeks. Other mothers actually don’t like it, but stick to it because their minds or their hearts tell them to. Most mothers eventually learn to love it, especially when their milk-drunk baby begins to smile up at them. But you should know that it’s normal to love it, hate it, feel elated, feel conflicted—sometimes all in the same hour. If you truly hate breastfeeding even after the first few weeks, you may want to see a lactation consultant to make sure things are going smoothly with breastfeeding, or a counselor to see if perhaps you are dealing with some postpartum depression. And if you end up needing to stop breastfeeding for whatever reason, it’s OK. Every mom has to do what works for her.

10. “Breastfeeding Is All Or Nothing. Any amount of milk you give your baby is awesome, whether it’s just a few days of colostrum, a few weeks of nursing, a few months, or a few years. And while supplementing with formula shouldn’t be taken lightly, and will definitely drive down a full milk supply, there are some women—whether because of biology, poor advice given at the beginning, a medical issue, or other outside circumstances—who do need to supplement. It is certainly possible to breastfeed AND supplement with pumped milk, donated milk, or formula. I’d definitely recommend you do so under the advice of a lactation consultant, but if you end up needing to supplement on a long-terms basis, give yourself a giant pat on a back, and a whole lot of grace. Just like motherhood in general, breastfeeding comes in all shapes and sizes. You are amazing however much or little you do it.

So there you have it. There are certainly other myths out there—too many to include, actually. Your mother instincts are very powerful here, especially when it comes to misinformation about breastfeeding. If something sounds fishy, it probably is. My favorite sources for reliable breastfeeding information on the internet are the La Leche League website and Kellymom.

The mommy-world is rife with judgments about breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding mothers. Try to ignore that as much as you can. We’re all in this together, trying our best to nourish and nurture our kids. We all want what is best for our kids, and we are all trying to navigate the sea of information out there to find what works for our families.

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A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

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If you are looking for breastfeeding help, you can contact a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant.  If you are interested in setting up a breastfeeding consultation with me, visit my website , or contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.  I do in-person consultations for mothers in Queens or Nassau County, NY, and I also offer phone/Skype/FaceTime consultations for mothers outside of my area. 

What’s Your Story?

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This week I was thrilled to publish two new pieces. I got to delve into the past, and tell the stories I have turned over and over in my head for decades. Really fun and freeing.

The first was a piece published in a really cool publication called Role Reboot. It’s about the bumpy, intense, neverending journey toward body acceptance. As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit closer to accepting that no matter what I do or want, I will never be skinny. But I can choose to be healthy, and happy. So simple, but hard to get. Somehow, having babies, nursing them, and just getting older has helped me accept this truth, and love my body. Here’s my piece: At 37, I’ve Finally Made Peace With My Body.

The second piece was written for xoJane. In the ’90’s I was a huge Sassy Magazine fan. It was my first magazine subscription. Michael Stipe, Courtney & Kurt, Johnny & Winona—Sassy was for misfits. And I certainly was one. xoJane is a site founded by the former editor of Sassy, so it was totally amazing to be published there, a teenage dream come true. And fitting, too, because I wrote a piece for them about when I was in high school and was sent to the principal’s office for not wearing a bra. Yes, that really happened. Here’s the story.

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I have been writing my stories (mostly in the form of poems) for years, but as I expand, and dig deeper, I see just how many stories are in me. And not just in me—in everyone. That’s the thing. We all have our stories. Harrowing ones, courageous ones, beautiful ones, heartbreaking ones. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. So, if you are out there wondering if you should write, if your story matters, if you have anything say, the answer is YES. You do. Just try. Just write.

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Flowering Trees

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For National Poetry Month, a poem of mine, which I keep thinking of as all the trees become full with blossoms. It first appeared in Prairie Schooner and then in my book, Morph and Bloom.

Flowering Trees

The magnolias bloomed for a week,
then shed their petals on the lawn.
Two weeks for the redbuds,
then their feisty pinks
on sidewalks and cars.
My boy just learned the names
of these beauties and now they’re gone.
Soon he’ll venture into dirt,
squashing dandelions in his sweaty palms.
Then summer will roar into the yard,
turning the dandelions to dust.
And this morning, driving home
from the park, I saw my childhood
fly out the window: my father gripping
the steering wheel, his fingers
tapping to the music. I lost
the season, the color of his shirt,
the timbre of his voice.
All that remained
was a terrible thumping
in my throat, his love swelling,
then spinning from me.
Sometimes I search for my father
in my boy’s eyes. And when I find him,
I turn away, I scatter, I disperse.

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