Thursday, March 28, 2013

adventures in nursing

Just in case I got too comfortable with this whole nursing thing, I've been thrown for a loop. I thought I'd been through a few: cracked nipple and poor latch (Bachelor #1), poor latch and overactive letdown (Bachelorette #2), congenital heart defect (Bachelorette #3)...

Well, it seems that somehow my milk supply has dropped gradually enough that Bachelorette #4 has been refusing to latch on unless I catch her just as she wakes up, just as she falls asleep, or by performing contortions worthy of the Cirque du Soleil.

On Tuesday, I spoke with three different Lactation Consultants, and got three sets of opinions/advice, all pointing to the belief that my milk supply is low.

I've rented a hospital-grade double breast pump, and am now hooking myself up to the milker six times a day. You can imagine the challenge of finding fifteen minutes, six times a day, to perform this task. I've surrendered to it, and am getting creative about how to keep the kids busy while I do it. Margot "reads" board books to the baby and sings nursery rhymes to her while Norah sits in her bouncy seat giving me the gimlet eye. I set my watch for 15 minutes and settle in to read, ignoring the shush-shush-shush rhythm of the pump. I have to say, it is satisfying to see that beautiful milk dripping into the bottles, as disconcerting as it is to see how far my nipples can stretch. I know it'll be worth it when Norah feels happier and more satisfied when she nurses.

It seems that this is a common issue with fourth babes. I know how often I've had to leap out of the nursing chair to break up a scrap between the older girls, or how I've had to put off a feeding to get the school-goers out to the bus on time. I know that raising my voice while nursing doesn't exactly encourage a peaceful mealtime experience for my baby girl. All these little actions have led to a gradual decrease in my milk supply, and the only way to increase it is to remove as much as possible, as often as possible. I'm past the point where fenugreek and blessed thistle will be of much help.

Thankfully, I'm heading to my mom's for the long weekend, pump in tow. My older children will be more than happy to run around with their cousins, and there will be lots of arms to hold Norah while I pump. I'll be getting her weighed as well; her rolls tell me that she isn't actually losing weight, and her diapers are consistently wet, but I want the reassurance of knowing that she is actually gaining after a few days of pumping.

Here are some things I noticed as my milk supply dropped:

  • I could still feel a let down, but didn't get the wet spots on my shirt (this doesn't happen to everyone)
  • Norah wanted to suck all the time (hands or soother) but got really upset when I tried to nurse
  • when I did get her latched on, she pulled on my nipple, hit my breast with her hands, and pushed her face into my breast (all instinctive attempts to stimulate more milk production)
Here are some tricks I've learned (thanks to the many great women who've been there to help):
  • calm your baby down before trying to latch (either just before sleep, when just waking up but not frantic, or by wrapping and rocking to soothe)
  • when baby latches on, tickle your breast lightly. I know this sounds funny, but it will cause your milk to let down more quickly so they don't get frustrated/frantic
  • try to stay calm, and don't take it personally (this has been the hardest part for me).
  • breathe deeply, speak calmly to your baby, reassure him/her that you're going to get it all figured out
  • keep your baby close so that you can read her cues; wear her in a sling and cosleep.
  • resist the urge to give your baby the soother instead of nursing. It not only satisfies their urge to suck, it actually convinces their stomach that they are no longer hungry. I've used it only to get her calm and sucking before I try the "bait and switch" (lowering her slowly to my breast, then pulling the soother out while latching her on as smoothly as possible
  • seek help! Call a neighbor or relative to help with the housework, find a lactation consultant near you, and keep seeking help until the problem resolves itself (through your hard work and commitment)
Breastfeeding is natural, yes, but it doesn't always come naturally. I've nursed four babes, now, and they always manage to keep me on my toes. I keep learning. I'm so grateful for the support of my mother, who comes to help me with my older children and makes sure I'm fed, and to my sister Julie who is the voice of reason when I start to panic as well as the person who points me to those who can help me. 

I'll sign off now for a few days, as I'm busy being kept on my toes while twirling, pumping, nursing, and bouncing my knees through this challenging time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yarn Along

Yarn If you've read my latest post, you'll get that I don't have much time these days for knitting or reading. My little take-along basket contains tiny squibs of sock yarn and the last remains of my hope that I'll get a few Easter eggs knitted up before the weekend. So far, I've managed one and a half.  I couldn't resist making yet another horse, in miniature, and in blue. I love it.

I finally ordered the back issues of Taproot's first season. Wow. I'm completely sold on this beautiful, thought-provoking, ad-free publication. It's perfect for my life right now because I can just read one article at a time and think about it for days before I have time to get back to it. I love holding a paper magazine in my hands, and connecting, through writing, with so many trailblazers and homesteaders. It is more of a connection than I've ever felt through the internet. I highly recommend it; it is more than worth the subscription price, and would make a terrific gift for a friend!

Please visit Ginny's space to find out what more people are knitting and reading!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

baby girl, interrupted

Don't be surprised if you come to my door and find me standing on my head in a sequined dress, trying to nurse my baby.

A week ago, all the rules changed and suddenly Norah started completely losing her cool when I brought her to the breast. I DID eat substantial amounts of bok choy on Tuesday which may have caused the subsequent all-night fussapalooza, but then it carried on...and on...and on. 

Ruling out all the obvious suspects: thrush, reflux, low milk supply, illness, pain, I'm left scratching my head and contorting myself into ridiculous positions to feed my girl.

After a few days, I found that swaddling her, holding her under my arm in the football hold, bouncing my knees, and talking calmly while getting her to latch on did the trick. For a few days, that is.

I've used the "bait and switch" technique, where I get her happily sucking on a soother, then carefully lower down to the level of my breast and quickly switch the soother for my nipple.

I've waited till she falls asleep, or until she's just awoken from a nap.

In all these situations, she latches on and nurses happily and well. She is otherwise completely happy, sleeping well, cooing and burbling and interacting and using her hands with much surprise and delight.

But, if I try to nurse her in the cross-cradle position (as I've done since she was born), watch out. She arches away, screws her face up in a look of complete disgust, and screams her head off as if I'm trying to poison her. 

This is so bizarre: a formerly happy nursling needing to be tricked creatively into doing something she clearly enjoys once she gets started. It's been distressing for my husband (who still carries the wounds borne when Margot was so ill as a baby and is triggered by this whole breast-refusal routine), for the kids (who have to wait and be quiet and stay home because going out has become near-impossible), and especially for me. I breathe deeply, talk calmly, and try not to panic about what feels like not only a rejection of my milk, but of me.

The hill is steep, the boulder is big, and every step back adds more stress to the journey. Meals are simple, the laundry has to wait, and I'm just watching the calendar in hopes that this is just a phase that will pass as mysteriously as it began.

In the meantime, whisper a little prayer for us, would you?


Monday, March 25, 2013

wee warriors

As an act of crafty rebellion, I try to make most of the gifts our family gives (especially to children) by hand. This becomes more challenging as my children get older, but sometimes inspiration strikes. I'd seen these little guys all over the internet, and when Jude received one as a gift (thanks, Peggy!), he wanted a whole team of them.

But first, I made some for his friend's birthday:

Their little box was made from a small cardboard box I found in the recycling bin. I cut it down to size, covered it all in masking tape, painted it with acrylic craft paint, then used Mod Podge to cover it again with rice paper. I found some Japanese characters online to decorate it with gold paint.

Small, simple, and sweet, for a trio of deadly fighting machines, non?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tiny Wings

Small winged things, 

one for night

and one for day.

These beauties will be winging their way to my peg doll swap partners tomorrow, to hopefully arrive by Easter.

Please visit Margaret Bloom's blog, We Bloom Here, or even better, purchase a copy of her book Making Peg Dolls for more peg-doll inspiration!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Nine Days of March Break

On the first day of March Break, I panicked at how busy it felt to take all four children into "town" for the day. Our village of 1300 souls held innumerable dangers, at least in the eyes of this pretty relaxed mother. Mostly the dangers involved four farm kids with no street smarts (they even lack sidewalk-smarts). I recognize now that the more we take them into the big city, the better. Stopping at cross walks is a good skill to have.
We also played in the melting snow and mud of our lane way, all afternoon. That wasn't so scary, and much more fun.

On the second day of March Break, I think I must have been recovering from the stress of the day before, because I can't remember what we did.

On the third day of March Break, my nieces arrived, and the usual hilarity of princess play, jokes that make no sense, bellydance costumes, heaps of kids cuddling on the couch, and messy eating ensued.

On the fourth day of March Break, the older kids (all five of them) visited a local sugar bush, and came home with face paint and the beginnings of taffy-induced tooth decay. We danced to this song, while drinking red wine (me) and having a chocolate fondue (them). Margot completely freaked out at this full body experience. She loved it. We loved it.

On the fifth day of March Break, we said goodbye to the beloved cousins, and went to our local library to create candy sushi. Rice crispy square made with extra marshmallows as the rice, fruit-roll ups for the nori, and candy as the vegetables. Just in case you were wondering. Fun. Big shout out to the staff at the Bonnechere Union Public Library for their amazing child-centred programming!

On the sixth day of March Break, everyone had a melt down (including me) about going out to visit friends. I decided I didn't have the strength to fight with the girls about getting their hair brushed, and that made them melt down more. Finally, once everyone calmed down, the hair was brushed, the four kids were loaded in the van, and I peeled away with my husband's parting words echoing in my head: "Are you sure about this?" Um, no. Never. But there's no turning back now, is there?

Then we came home and watched Doolin give birth to four kittens. Kittens will be available for adoption in about eight weeks, free to loving homes.

On the seventh day of March Break, I almost gave my husband heart failure when I spontaneously decided to join him on his carefully planned trip to my sister's house for St. Patrick's Day. We were worried: about how Norah would cope with the two hour drive, about how she'd sleep, about how I'd sleep, about how it would impact the fun of everyone if I was cross and exhausted. I went anyway.

And whaddya know? Norah slept all the way, with one brief stopover. She slept well both nights. 

On the eighth day, I got to see my niece do some ballet, watched a house concert (a topic for another post), got to sing some Irish songs, and enjoyed the excellent hospitality of my sister and her husband. My children love this annual event, and run around till either their batteries run out or their plug gets yanked. We all wore green, made merry, and were so glad we made the trip.

And on the ninth day, we woke up, had breakfast, relived the best moments of the night before, made the trip home, watched Mary Poppins, and went to bed early.

The End.

Monday, March 11, 2013

We Break for Spring

On the last day of school before March Break, I met my older kids at the end of the lane way to welcome them off the bus. Winter is beginning to relinquish her hold on March, and I laughed as the kids squelched through the patches of mud unveiled by the day's sunshine. "Take a picture, mom!" they kept calling, as they climbed onto then leapt off of mounds of snow left by the plow, backpacks sailing behind them, snow pants damp and droopy after a day of recesses in a soggy school yard.

We came in and shed our boots, put the lunchbags on the counter, and banished their back packs to the summer kitchen for the week. Violet leaned over my shoulder and asked for a picture. Again, I remind myself to include myself in photos with my children for the days when their childhood is a distant and vague memory (even when I've wrapped a knitted scarf around my head to conceal my chronic bed-head).

The past weeks have been stressful in many ways. Norah has started making strange, and wants to be held and carried all day. She is increasingly reluctant to nap on our bed, and my back and neck are feeling the effects of lugging Her Royal Sweetness around all day in a sling or a wrap. My older girls are reacting to my limited ability to play and craft with them by fighting a lot, and testing my patience in various ways. It is hard to follow through on requests and instructions when I'm planted in a chair with a baby at my breast for much of the day!

Luckily, my husband will be home for the week and we have some fun plans: skiing/snowboarding, some one-on-one outings with Daddy, library activities (think candy sushi, a fairy tea party, and all-day Lego!) a visit from their cousins and a St. Patrick's Day party later in the week. I'm hoping a trip to a sugar bush is in the cards, as well. This will be our first full week together since Norah was born at Christmas time, and we hope to glue this family more tightly together as we continue to adapt to new patterns and expectations.

This space will be quiet this week, in celebration of March Break. Perhaps when I return, Spring will truly be unfurling before our eyes. One can hope!

Friday, March 8, 2013

::this moment::sunbeam::

Please stop by Amanda's blog to share your own moment or to visit those of others.

I hope you find your own beam of warm almost-Spring sunshine in which to bask!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

days like that

There are days when I wear her in the sling from the moment she wakes, till the last dreg of the day when my neck and back insist that they can't take it anymore. But they do, and I go to bed knowing that I'll do it all again tomorrow. I won't get to wash my hair, or even my face. Don't even mention shaving my legs or tidying up my eyebrows. I don't have time to wonder what I used to do with all that time I used to have. I have officially (gasp) let my self go.

There are days when the only way I can bathe is by taking her into the tub with me. Her gaze at my face tells me that she doesn't mind my hairy legs. What used to be awareness of my own body and its needs have faded, and that awareness has shifted towards her and her siblings. It is as though they are extensions of my own self, like the baby sprouts that grow from the tentacles of a spider plant.

Some days I burn the popcorn, and say yes when the older girls ask if they can make "soup". They sprinkle in spices and coffee grounds, add a bit of water, and stir like little wisewomen. These are the days when they seem happiest, when I say yes. Some days I frantically cry NO at the prospect of any additional messes to overwhelm me in my half-assed pursuit of any sense of tidiness or order. With a baby in a sling, I can't tidy anything below my hips, so the floor at day's end is something to be waded through rather than walked upon.

In these last weeks of winter, there are days where they will play outside for over an hour, burying each other, creating slides in the mounds left by the snow plow, following mouse-tracks over the dusting on the crust of hard snow. One day they even saw the mouse jumping in and out of their boot prints, and followed it to its hole in the snow. On those days they come in clamouring for popcorn (preferably not burnt), cheeks rosy and mouths spilling tales of winter adventure.

There are also days where no amount of coercion or bribery will induce them to go outside. These are the days where they climb the furniture, fight, and break things. These are the days where I congratulate myself once again for the fact that I am not a)divorced or b) an alcoholic.

If it's one of those days when my mother comes to help me out, she tries to get a picture of us now and then. I know that these days will be a blur someday; instead of memories I will have a vague sense of how busy I was but without a real recollection of the intensity and reality. These pictures might fool me into thinking that the older girls didn't fight like hell cats, that the baby was happy to be put down, or that I always wore makeup and a smile.

These days, we check our pots of wheatgrass for sprouts, and check the world outside our window for the coming of Spring when we will all be released from this winter of welcoming a new sibling, testing mommy's limits, putting in the hours of cold and snow and chucking wood, and learning what it is to be a family of six. 

Bring it on.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yarn Along: Magical and Winged Things

I just finished a great knit: Mamma4earth's Rainbow Horse, and a great book: Adriana Trigiani's The Shoemaker's Wife. I've finished my third horse and have cast on for a fourth, and that's all the endorsement this pattern really needs: a great, easy knit with amazing results. If you want a beautiful story of love, with lots of twists and turns in the journey but nothing really terrible intervening, you'll love The Shoemaker's Wife. I couldn't put it down and the characters have stayed with me since I finished it. 

Sometimes it can be a challenge to step into a new project or a new book when the ones you've just finished are whispering to you. 

But, I've committed myself to a Peg Doll Swap over at We Bloom Here, and have calculated that I have a week to finish each doll before they need to be mailed. Being one who never does things in half measures, I've decided to create a pair of dolls for each recipient, which constricts my time a bit more! So, I've been busy knitting little peg doll "sweaters" as a base for my creations. Norah spends a lot of time napping in the sling, so I do a lot of walking and knitting, or rocking in the rocking chair and knitting. I'm excited about the winged ideas that are hatching around this creative adventure, and can see how these little peg dolls can become addicting!

I visited our local library to find out if they carried any other Adriana Trigiani books; I've already read "Big Stone Gap" (I highly recommend it), so asked the librarian for another recommendation. I wanted something that tells a great story without too much tragedy. She gave me The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I managed to read a few pages last night, and am curious and captivated by the beginning of this book!

Please stop by Ginny's blog to share your own tales of what you're reading and knitting, and to find links to more recommendations!

Monday, March 4, 2013

black-eyed fairy princess

On Friday we made pink cupcakes. She had to wear the dress her Nanny made for her because the cupcakes were special.

On Saturday, she wore the same dress, with wings. Their careworn appearance called to mind the poem I included in a thank-you card to her heart surgeons:

"A little weeping Fairy found
A patch of moonlight on the ground.
She knew it was the very thing
To mend the hole torn in her wing
She dried her eyes, picked up the patch,
And sewed it on - a splendid match".

This fairy princess sports a shiner sustained when her brother tipped the rocking chair over. I think it gives her an air of devil-may-care.

Then she decided she didn't want wings,

and in the next moment felt some spontaneous horse-love.

Tea cup in hand, she watched my face as I carried her cupcakes to her and I can say that that was the moment that I will cherish most. 

I do hope her wish comes true.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Margot Turns Four

Four years ago today, we welcomed our second baby girl as the winter sun came up. I spent those early days nursing in our bed, looking at the bare tree that grows outside our bedroom window, watching for signs of Spring. 

We named her Margot Joy and loved her instantly.

Today, that baby turns four. 

She loves to dress up. A cowboy with sparkly shoes. A superhero in underwear and a knitted blanket for a cape. A unicorn. A belly dancer. 

Mostly, she sheds her clothes throughout the day and likes to be in her skin.
She loves to draw and is learning her letters and numbers. She asks me to draw mermaids for her to colour every single day, and tells me that they're me. She stores her extra pencils in her armpits for easy access. She thinks I'm prettier than Sporty Spice. She sings like Ariel (the aaah, aaah part where Ursula yells, "Keep singing!"), and loves to wear loud shoes.
She loves eating meat off a bone and always has dibs on the drumstick. She gets in and out of her chair one hundred times per meal. She runs away when we tell her we need to brush her hair. She never listens when we tell her it's time to get ready to go somewhere, then cries when everyone else is ready and she isn't. She loves her blankie and falls off the couch on a daily basis.

She hates being left behind when we go for a walk and cries about that, too. She always needs coercing to get her outside. 

Her favourite person outside our immediate family is her Nanny, hands down.

That little baby has teeth now, and freckles, and a wild mess of hair. She calls ketchup "keputch", plums "klums", and kiwis "peewees". She makes up songs about everything. She tells jokes that make no sense and gets mad when no one laughs. The latest: "Why did the owl go to the doctor?" "To watch his favourite (whooooo!) movie!"
She loves to take pictures, and insists on showing me how to smile when my portrait is being taken.

She waffles between wanting to be little and wanting to be big. She loves her new booster seat (it's purple with flowers), play dough, Barbie movies, sleepovers at Nanny's, camping, and mermaids. She hates dogs, men with facial hair, and not knowing things that her big sister does.

Margot Joy is just that: a joy. Over the past week I've tried to freeze each twirl, mispronounced word, creatively-sung song, and every new independent step she takes because I would so love to keep her at age three just a little longer. 

But I think the coming year is going to be just fabulous. How could it not be, when it's this fabulous little girl who is turning four?