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An Evolution

7 Aug

I always knew I’d breastfeed. But when I set out to nurse, I think I saw breastfeeding as a static, uniform thing — you did it or you didn’t, and for those who did, it was just all the same. As a new parent, it was both enlightening and reassuring to discover that’s not true. It is, in fact, extremely nuanced, as individual as the ones doing it. But I also discovered that as soon as you find your footing, things change. Like your baby, breastfeeding and the breastfeeding relationship is a living, ever-changing creature.

So in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m sharing with you the evolution of my breastfeeding experience… two and half years of the ups, downs, tears, joys, and mundane of nourishing my little one (and myself) in the process.

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Pre-birth – I suppose this started years ago when I watched my step mother nurse twins for 18 months. I’d never seen a baby breastfeed before and this seemed revolutionary to me at the time (at 15). Closer to time for z-baby’s birth, though, I took a breastfeeding class at work and attended some lunchtime discussions at work for nursing moms (led by a lactation consultant). A few days before I gave birth I started getting nervous and watched every video I could find from Dr. Jack Newman. I watched healthy newborn latches over and over and over…

Birth – Let’s just say it didn’t go as planned. I wanted to nurse right away but z-baby was in a transition nursery for over 6 hours. When I did get him, we started right away and he latched — but not a great one. I had already asked for a lactation consultant and we saw them three times before we left the hospital. Z-baby was a sleeper… he wanted to eat, but he wanted to sleep even more. So my most vivid memory of those days was stripping him down each and every time he needed to eat (so he didn’t feel too cozy) and gently nudging him awake throughout every feed. Z-baby’s papi took this very seriously, like his personal mission those first few days.

Month 1 – My milk came in quickly and plentiful and z-baby was a great eater. I loved nursing, but it was soooooo painful. But not in the way I could have imagined. I had a bit of Carpal Tunnel during the pregnancy, and it kicked into overdrive those few weeks following birth. My hands would freeze up like hooks and I was terrified I’d drop the baby. And my hands didn’t just go numb, they ached and pain shot up through to my elbows. I remember crying through several of those feedings from the pain. My mom or husband would have to either support the baby or my breast or both. It sucked (no pun intended). I couldn’t sit down to nurse without water and a towel because there was so much milk it seemed to get everywhere!
*Nursing equipment was very important: Boppy upstairs, Brest Friend downstairs, multiple towels, nipple cream, pads for the bra, nursing bra.

Months 2-3 – When the painful claw hands went away, nursing became a breeze. I loved it still, and enjoyed every minute of it. Then I had to have my gallbladder taken out and we happily fell into co-sleeping, which made the night-time nursing even better. Z-baby loved nursing and was still in that pre-wiggler phase where he’d pretty much stay put through a whole feeding and was serious about his nursing… no playing for this guy… yet!
*Equipment: We dropped the nipple cream around this time and started trying the pump and bottles. 

Nursing z-baby, 5 weeks

Months 4-9 – I went back to work after 3 months and it was hell. H-E-L-L. Z-baby refused all bottles and reversed cycled. My first day back I had an off-site meeting and tried to pump in the car, only to realize I had no batteries or charger. I got so engorged but survived. I was at a leading public health agency in the country and they had lactation rooms and pumps which were great, but it was still a challenge to find the time during the day to do it and an open time slot in the rooms. I luckily telecommuted several days a weeks and had someone watching the baby in the house, so I could just nurse those days. But on days when I wasn’t home, z-baby waited for me all day and then we nursed all night. I welcomed the nursing, but he would be so hungry that he’d overeat and puke everywhere and I could never keep up with the laundry. We introduced some solids in here but he could care less. Most of this is a blur for me because the postpartum depression set in during this time, though I wasn’t fully aware of it. But I know I worried all day about z-baby not eating and raced home to be with him and only then was I ever at ease. And in those early days of still undiagnosed postpartum depression, it was the nursing that kept me going… alive even.
*Equipment: Pump, pump, pump. And pump some more. Sometime during this time we also stopped using the nursing pillows.

Months 10-14 – I finally started getting treatment for the postpartum depression, and while this was still a very difficult time, it did start to get a little better. Breastfeeding was still the light at the end of the tunnel each and every day. Looking down and seeing z-baby and seeing him relish the time as much as I did left me speechless. Or maybe it was from the biting, I can’t remember. No longer just a wiggler on the couch, he’s a roller during nursing, too. He nurses upside down and sideways, bouncing and swaying. I never knew my nipples were so flexible… I still overproduced and donated gallons (and gallons…) of it to a friend. But I’m finally not gushing every time I go to nurse.
*Equipment: I think I still used nursing pads when at work or separated from z-baby, and the pump, of course.

Months 14-24 – I stopped working, put away the pump, and started staying at home with z-baby full time. Life is goooooooooooooood. Nursing becomes something I do often throughout the day, but no longer think about. Z-baby became vocal about his nursing during this time and asked for it frequently. Nursing in public became both easier and more difficult. Easier because he could just sit in front of me and I could angle away from people… harder because he never stayed in one position and insisted my shirt be ALL the way up to give him total access. I struggled with the decision to wean or not so that I can get pregnant again, but it just never felt right. Z-baby went through lots of ups and downs… times when he needed to nurse a lot (usually growth and developmental spurts and teething) and periods where he didn’t nurse as much. Biting still an off and on issue, and the nipple fiddling started (playing with one while eating off the other). Momma became a serve yourself buffet during this time — z-baby would pull up my shirt and insist on his “deeta” whenever he wanted it.
*Equipment: A chair. That’s it. No pads, towels, creams, pillows, nothing. Oh, and a nursing bra. But I had to be careful somedays because he sees the act of sitting down as an open invitation.

Months 24-30 – Here we are, nursing at 2 1/2 years. Nursing is still an acrobatic act, day and night. We’ve pared it down to going down and waking up from naps and bedtime. He’s starting to respect my wishes some — needing to wait or stop during the night, for example. But he manages which side he wants and the exact position he wants it in. I also have to nurse cars and trains, and he’s even tried to push it up so I can have some, too (such a helper!). He even managed to get chocolate milk out of me one day (that’s a post for another day)!!! He had his first sleepover with grandma (our first night apart!), which was his first night ever that he didn’t nurse. And just very recently did I hit the nursing wall. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m ready to wean. I know I’ll miss it, and I can’t imagine motherhood without it (at first at least), but I’m ready. Is he? I don’t think so, and we’re working on potty training so I won’t do anything right away… but we’ll see what the future holds for us.
*Equipment: Nada. Except for the darn bra! There are times when he needs a quick comfort session of about 3 seconds and I don’t even sit anymore… just bend over.

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Two and half years of breastfeeding. No cracked nipples, plugged ducts, or mastisis. A little bit of yeast once. Overproduction and numb hands. Gallons of milk in my freezer. Lugging the pump to work and z-baby on a week-long business trip. Surgery and anesthesia. Postpartum depression and medication. Nursing pads, pillows, and towels. Reverse cycling and cosleeping. Nursing in bed, on the couch, at the table, typing, writing, on the phone, in the car, in public, in therapy, on planes, in meetings, standing up, sitting down, bending over. Two and half years. And I wouldn’t trade a single minute of it for anything in the world.

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Going with your gut

1 May

For those of you visiting from the Multicultural Awareness Blog Carnival, welcome to The Vaca Loca! I’m so glad you could stop by and hope you enjoy your stay!

I’m originally from Kentucky, and besides Speedy Gonzalez and The Three Amigos, I didn’t grow up hearing much Spanish spoken. I started taking Spanish in high school, and it was there that the universe started opening little windows for me and laying out paths that would ultimately lead me to where I am today — married to a man from Mexico and trying to raise a bilingual baby.

I consider myself fluent in Spanish, but not fully bilingual. I think in both languages, dream in both languages, feel in both languages… but English is still by far easier for me. This became especially apparent after having my baby. I spoke to him in both languages, but when it came time to comfort him, coo at his cuteness, and play baby games with him, English dominated. Complicating matters was the fact that I had postpartum depression, which utterly exhausted me and left me with an abysmal emptiness. And it’s when I’m tired and weak that my Spanish suffers the most.

My husband and I had talked early on about how we were going to go about teaching both languages to the baby. The one-parent-one-language method felt forced to us. And since we now live in the US we knew the baby would be getting an overwhelming amount of English no matter what. So we planned on just using Spanish in the home and with Spanish-speaking friends and family. The effect that my postpartum depression had on this plan only exasperated me more and fueled my feelings of inadequacy when it came to raising a bilingual baby. But we pressed on, adamant that he learn Spanish. We quit worrying about the “right” method, and just did what felt right in our guts.

My little z-baby is now two years old and his language skills are really starting to blossom. My husband speaks to him almost only in Spanish, and I speak as much Spanish to him as I possibly can. Some days this means no English. Others it means about half and half. And z-baby? He understands both beautifully. And he speaks some of both, though he has yet to string sentences together in either. He picks and chooses the words he uses. For some things he only uses Spanish — the alphabet, numbers, colors. For other things, it’s only English — parts of the body, apple, move, bed. And for yet other things, it’s what suits his fancy in the moment — ball/pelota, agua/water, kitty/gato, comer/eat, basura/trash. He’s let loose a perfectly conjugated verb or two in Spanish (cayó and ¡ya voy!) and chastises the dog in English (Bad gur!). And I’ve even noticed recently that he asks my husband and me to pick him up in Spanish, but asks my mother in English.

My heart explodes as such displays of bilingual communication. And it’s those moments that make all the hard work worth it, and make it easier to put up with the daily aches and pains of what it’s really like to try and teach our baby Spanish and English. So what does the daily grind feel like anyway? Well, a little something like this….

  • It means translating for grandparents and abuelos
  • It means walking through stores and jabbering away in Spanish while you get stares from everyone (both Latinos and non-Latinos)
  • It means actively seeking out books and activities in Spanish (this is the only gift we ever ask for from Mexico now)
  • It means learning the words for things you may never have had to use before
  • It means getting your Spanish corrected more frequently
  • It means learning songs in Spanish and making up new ones
  • It means always being aware of the balance between how much you use each language
  • It means not beating yourself up when you slip into English
  • It means second-guessing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g you say — “Did I say that right? Is that masculine or feminine? Is my accent off?”
  • It means loosening up, letting go, being persistent, and having patience

But most of all, it means trusting yourself and going with what feels natural in your gut — and isn’t that the ultimate lesson in parenting, no matter what language you do it in?

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A big Thank You to Bicultural Mom for hosting the carnival!

You’ve come a long way, baby

30 Apr

Today marks a major milestone for me — I’m sharing my 100th post.

100 posts.

100 times that I’ve bared my pain, vented my woes, shared my secrets, bragged about z-baby, opened my soul… and hoped to nourish yours in the process.

100 times that I’ve wondered what to divulge and how much to share.

100 times that I’ve hit “publish” and felt a little of the weight lifted.

I browsed through my old posts last night, and as I read through them, it was like reading some other woman’s diary. I couldn’t even remember writing some of them. I laughed at some (at least I can make myself laugh, heh?) and flinched from the pain of others. And I was thankful for this woman. Thankful that 1 1/2 years ago, this woman decided, on a whim, to start a secret blog and document her struggle with postpartum depression. I remember that woman… lying on her bedroom floor in the dark, afraid to move a muscle for fear that it would wake up her baby and she’d never get him back to sleep… wondering what other women with this illness actually thought and felt… wondering if she would ever be able to move forward… wondering how to fight the dark thoughts that kept pushing their way into her head.

I can only hope that something I’ve written in these 100 posts has resonated with someone battling postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and/or postpartum OCD, and helped them to know that they’re not alone and that things can get better.

This is a small, humble blog, and I want to say thank you to anyone who has ever read it and for those who have ever left a comment.

And for those of you who are new to The Vaca Loca, I still write a little about postpartum depression, but it has evolved into thoughts and stories about my real life, rather than just my illness. So for nostalgia’s sake, and as a celebration of how far I’ve come in 100 posts, I thought I’d share some of my earlier posts with you all…

  1. How did I get here? — the path to my PPD/PPA/PPOCD
  2. A minute inside my head — the painful record that played in my head 24/7
  3. What tipped the scales — the evolution of thoughts that made me get help
  4. Down with rubber duckies — my meltdown over a rubber duckie
  5. The spa episode — the one where I very nearly killed sig-o before I got help
  6. I do good guilt — really… but what mom doesn’t?
  7. Birth Story — reflections on how z-baby came into this world
  8. Taking care of mom — what happened after the birth story
  9. It’s a love-hate thing — watching sig-o parent through the lens of PPD
  10. And yet — still in the midst of PPD, but know it’s getting better

Funky house

5 Apr

I have a funky house. And by that I don’t mean a hip, little bungalow. My house stinks. And I’m tired of the funk.

Almost a year ago I was still really struggling with postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD and I felt like I needed a change. I wasn’t trying to run from my life, but felt like I needed to put some things in order and create a life that would allow me to appropriately work through the PPD and then maintain the peace and happiness I hoped I would soon achieve. So we decided to leave the big city behind and move to a smaller place to be closer to my mom for support.

We rented out our house because there was no way we could sell at the time (still!) and looked for a new place to rent. Our finances were changing dramatically because I was leaving my primary wage earner job to be a stay-at-home mom. So our choices were more limited. We finally found a house that had just what we were looking for: a quiet street, not too far from my mom, a fenced backyard for the dog, the size we needed (though smaller than what we had), and in our price range. As an added bonus, the neighborhood had a playground and swimming pool that were within walking distance from the house and were included in the monthly rent. Score!

When we first went in the house, though, I was hit at the door with a funky smell. Not a knock you on your ass kind of smell, but it was clearly there. Kind of like a mix between mothballs and I wasn’t sure what else. But the house had been vacant a few months because they were re-roofing it, so I thought a good airing out would do the trick. We moved in and I started battling the smell. Painting, airing out, cleaning, changing air filters, cleaning, and scented candles, oils, and what not — whatever I could find that wasn’t made of a bunch of toxic chemicals. And it got a little better. But it’s still there. It wasn’t very noticeable in the winter. But now that it’s getting warmer and more humid, I’m noticing it again. I can’t tell when I’m in the house. But every time I come home, I get so frustrated with it again. And to make matters worse, sig-o was heating up his dinner last night because I wasn’t home and burnt the crap out of some tortillas. So now it’s a smoky funk. And the dog is shedding her winter coat, so it’s a hairy, smoky funk. UGH!

And it’s not just frustrating. It’s embarrassing, really… I hate having friends or family visit. My grandparents are in town and I’m actually embarrassed to have them over to my house. Which has me down. Our other house was new. Pristine. Ok, pristine when we moved in. But when we cleaned it up it came pretty damn close. This place? It serves us well, I suppose, and I’m thankful we have it. But it’s older and has it’s issues.

I’m just down today, so it’s easy for me to focus on the damn smelly house because it’s always there and always frustrating. And it’s better for me to focus on one thing because otherwise the negativity snowballs until it gets out of control. More than anything, it scares me when I feel like this because I’m afraid it will be a slippery slope back into a depression.

So If anyone has a miracle cure for a funky house, PLEASE let me know!!! I will be forever indebted 🙂

La Vaca

24 Mar

I’ve been wanting to update my “about” section ever since I started blogging again. But for some reason it doesn’t come easy. I’m never sure what and just how much to share (but that’s another post), so I’ll start with this and call it a work in progress… Let me know what you think — what do you want to know about the Vaca Loca?

When I started this blog and was in the deepest throes of postpartum depression (and anxiety and OCD), all I could muster to say about myself was this:

The Vaca Loca… a lactating, co-sleeping, attachment parenting new mama who thought she had slipped past the postpartum depression monster unscathed…but boy is this vaca loca.

I couldn’t tell you who I was because I didn’t know anymore. But after a lot of work on me and kicking postpartum to the curb, I remember who I am and am discovering more about who I want to be every day. I’m still pretty much all of the above, and while the postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD isn’t making me so loca these days, there’s still plenty loca left around here.

  • I’m a gringa married to a Mexican for 12 years
  • We used to live in Mexico but we’re in the states now
  • We have one living child, z-baby, who just turned two (we lost p-baby during our first pregnancy)
  • I experienced postpartum depression… but thankfully survived
  • A year after z-baby was born I left my career to be a stay-at-home mom (and I LOVE it)
  • I like cooking, reading (though I rarely get to anymore), traveling, camping, and am a yard-sale junkie (pun intended)
  • Every now and then I have those days where everything just seems to fall into place… I get some cleaning done, the baby eats real food, we happily play at the playground, he cuddles and takes a nap and goes down for the night without a fuss. But more often than not I leave piles of clean laundry in the baby’s bed for folding later, the dishes pile up on the counter, the baby has a meltdown when he has to get out of the bath, the dog vomits unidentifiable matter on the carpet (for the 4th time that week), we can’t get our crap together and miss story time at the library, and by the time sig-o comes home from work I’m mumbling like Rainman. I count myself lucky if most of our days fall somewhere in between!

I just couldn’t stop

23 Mar

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, it was the first day of strawberry season around here. I was so excited for so many reasons.

First, this is just the kind of thing I loved to do as a kid, and I wanted to start the tradition with z-baby. Strawberries, blackberries, mulberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, watermelon… you name it, I’ll pick it. In Mexico my favorite things to pick were aguacates and liches (yum!). I’ve also been in a cooking mood, and there are so many things you can make with strawberries. Plus, Z-baby loves his outside time, but isn’t such a fan of getting dirty. I thought this would be a good way to get him to play in the dirt. The biggest reason of all, though, is that just thinking about strawberry season really put of lot into perspective for me.

When we moved here last year, I was still really struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD. But I think I had forgotten just how much… Back then it had been on my list of things to do: “Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom and live here, I’m going to go do things like pick strawberries. In the middle of the day. In the middle of the week!” It felt so monumental, so… rebellious even. But I never did it. Strawberry season came and went. Then blackberry. Then blueberry. We didn’t even go cut our own pumpkin in the fall. In fact, there’s a lot of things that I just don’t remember from those first few months here. I was still that depressed. It wasn’t until later in the summer that I started feeling good, starting getting out and doing things, started enjoying myself, my z-baby, my new town. I was happy to get off the meds in later summer, too. But that didn’t mean that everything was miraculously better. I still had some anxiety. Not a lot, but I still had to go through a period of learning how to better manage it on my own. It was slow. But it felt normal. It felt good.

Now I’ve made it through my first winter post- postpartum depression. Winters used to be so hard on me. March, for some reason was the worst. I inevitably hit rock bottom every March. My doc suggested I use a light box this winter. And I was going to do it, had every intention of buying one. But I forgot. I was distracted by the fun I was having with z-baby. I did make it a point to get outside more and try and soak up as much sun as possible. And the climate around these parts is forgiving in that way, so maybe that helped. Are things perfect? Hell no. But I do feel a lot better than I’ve felt in a very, very long time.

Now I say all that to explain what went through my head when I read the simplest of statements in a newsletter Sunday afternoon: “The u-pick strawberry farms may open for the season tomorrow, but you’ll have to call to be sure.” Immediately, I was like, “Yes! Strawberries! That sounds like fun!” And then I remembered last year’s proclamation and the failed follow-through. And that’s why when I woke up Monday morning, the first thing I did was grab my phone and call to see if they were really open. And that’s why I threw on some clothes and took off with z-baby and headed to the fields even before sig-o had left for work that morning. I know I’m a different person now than I was just a few short months ago, and I wasn’t going to put off another strawberry proclamation again.

So how was the event? Z-baby picked three whole strawberries. Then he felt the sandy dirt on his hands and decided this was not the fun he thought it was going to be. He took off his hat and tossed it over a few rows. He carried the buckets. Until he got distracted by two little girls munching on berries as they picked them. He watched them for a long time and then picked one out of his bucket and chomped into it. And then spent the next 5 minutes spitting and wiping his tongue clean. Then he kicked the buckets. Then he dumped all the berries out of them. Then he picked at the leaves. Then he found his real calling. He kicked the dirt. And he loved it. Me? I filled my bucket in an almost delirious trance, talking half to z-baby and half to myself the whole time about how beautiful the berries were, how good they smelled, all the things we could make with them. The sun was hot but the day was cool and berries were perfect and the dirt smelled as good as the berries and the leaves were scratchy in a nostalgic and not too annoying kind of way. And then I filled another bucket. I just couldn’t stop. It was like meditation, the movement, the senses. I finally stopped when berries were falling from both buckets. I thought about getting more buckets, but thought it wiser to stop for the day… if for no other reason, so I can come back again soon and do it all over again.

Down with rubber duckies

30 Jan

Had a bit of a meltdown this evening over a rubber ducky. Yep, Ernie’s best damn friend got the best of me. I usually think they’re great — in fact, we have a whole song about a pirate ducky that I made up for z-baby — but not tonight.

Sig-o is working a double shift today and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy day. So I planned ahead and scheduled time outside of the house to go walking to get a change of scenery and let the world entertain z-baby for while. Things were going fine. Then my suegra called (mother-in-law). Just to check on me. So I told her the truth. “You know, it’s a bad day, but we’re at the mall walking since it’s raining and that helps some.” So she and my sister-in-law invited me to dinner, which was very nice and a welcome reprieve. I let them fight over who got to hold the baby and who got to hold him down in the high chair while I munched away. I didn’t feel like being alone at the house so I invited them over…but they didn’t come. Now, usually I would think I’d narrowly escaped a natural disaster, but I really did want them to come over tonight. So I got in my car with a screaming baby who finally fell asleep three blocks from the house.

Z-baby had been breathing heavy all day so I surmised that he must have a massive boogie up his nose and decided to give him a steam bath to try and loosen up the monster boog. We headed into the bathroom and I let the water start to warm up and then I realized that the fireman ducky that supposedly protects the baby’s head from faucet doom had to come off to pull up the thingy to turn the shower on. This is a forever annoying task, but not a hard one. So I don’t know what came over that f’ing duck but he would NOT come off. I started pulling and twisting until I actually turned the faucet head and then I just started yanking as I cussed a blue streak at the poor guy (the ducky, not the baby, who was across the way in the bathroom playing with a flash drive he confiscated earlier in the day). My dog just stood there looking at me with her ears up and head cocked, like she wasn’t sure what had gotten into me or where this was going. I stopped just short of yanking the whole thing out of the wall because I realized that would really send me over the edge. I thought about calling sig-o and asking him to come home early, that I give up and need some help. But just then the little pecker popped off the faucet and all was well. We finished our steam bath, and I felt a small sense of accomplishment since I gave the baby some kind of bath and could truthfully answer “yes” when tomorrow sig-o asks me if he got a bath last night. Guess that’s cheating, but who cares.  Only the baby, the dog, and that f’ing duck know the real truth.