Parenthood really tests your limits. So far, our family consists of a mom, a dad, a two-year-old, a neurotic 11-year-old dog and a very active fetus. I know single moms taking care of two children, happily married moms taking care of four children, and others with two to three children who are happily married but whose husbands are seemingly constantly away on business.

I don’t know how they do it.

Do you?

I have to remind myself from time to time that no one “does it all.” Even if it seems like they do, it’s probably just what it looks like to someone on the outside. And even when you scratch beneath the surface and it still looks like they’re “doing it all,” they’re not.

Anyone “doing it all” is neglecting something, usually themselves.

I have to remind myself of this because it helps keep me from despairing when I feel like I’m failing as a mom, wife, translator or member of society. In fact, I have to remind myself in general of the deceptiveness of the feeling of “the grass is always greener on the other side.” For example, some of my favorite blogs include Soule Mama, Betz White and Angry Chicken. And when I read their thoughts and see their pictures, it’s easy to think my life would be easier and more harmonious if I didn’t live in a big metropolis. So many of the things I value in family life seem so much easier to include in said life when you live somewhere a little quieter. And then I have to remind myself that a) I’m not seeing the whole picture of any of these women’s lives, and b) there are things about living in a big city that I would miss horribly. I see my Ozzie friend Amanda raising her two young children while her husband jets around the globe on business, and I see her do it with such seeming effortlessness, that I wonder if I’m just plain incompetent.

But if I really stop and think about it, I’m not incompetent, and while city living does make certain family rituals much harder to establish and uphold, it’s not the reason I feel like a failure sometimes.

I am, quite simply, overwhelmed right now.

Why, you ask?

  • I have a two-year-old;
  • I am six months pregnant;
  • This pregnancy, while not high-risk, has been very hard;
  • I have been laid up with a sinus infection for the last seven days;
  • My social network in Berlin has shrunk to miniscule proportions;
  • We’re going through a major financial rough spot (oddly enough, totally unrelated to the global financial crisis, but I’ll address this whole can of worms in another post);
  • And lastly, alas, after 28+ years of life in this body, I still tend to bite off more than I can chew.

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ten weeks pregnant

June 8, 2009

* Originally written May 20, 2009

As the end of the first trimester seems attainable, I’m beginning to feel more confident. For one, I no longer feel quite so apprehensive about having a miscarriage. The spotting hasn’t returned at all since I started taking the progesterone supplements, and I certainly feel pregnant enough to be constantly reminded that “hey, this is real!”

But the feeling pregnant part has also been a drag. The symptoms of pregnancy have been much more intense this time around. It’s hard to say whether it’s the pregnancy itself that’s different or whether it has more to do with the fact that I can’t just succumb to the overwhelming desire to sleep, eat, be alone or to lie down in the one position that helps me feel slightly less nauseated (on my back with knees bent and hands folded on my tummy). To some extent, I suspect the latter; since I already have a young child who needs a lot of attention and care, I can’t just indulge the whims of my pregnant body. But then again, my first pregnancy wasn’t accompanied by a hormone deficiency, and I don’t know any woman who experienced two pregnancies that were exactly alike. I am soooooo relieved that Marie is weaned, though, because the mere thought of feeling this way and breastfeeding on top of it makes me feel light-headed and panicky. I just don’t think I could have handled it.

If I’m making it sound like this pregnancy is miserable, well, then, I suppose am guilty as charged. But it’s not all bad news. I’m also feeling confident that when I no longer have to take progesterone supplements (8 days from now) and when I am officially in the second trimester (15 days from now), I will begin feeling significantly better. Not that I expect the rest of my pregnancy to go smoothly without a single hitch, but I do expect this first-trimester misery to subside soon, at least enough for me to be able to enjoy my days a little more and consequently, for my daughter and husband to enjoy me a little more. Seriously, these past weeks cannot have been that fun for either of them. Not only have I been tired and prone to sudden fits of nausea and fatigue too strong to resist, but I have been moody as hell, more likely than ever to either sit and stew while ignoring everybody or to snap and yell at others for mere trifles.

I think Marie, especially, has picked up on my mood. Toffi is an adult and is much more able to understand why his wife is so apt to blow her stack these days. I know it bothers him, but he knows it’s temporary and that it’s not him that’s making me crazy. But Marie doesn’t know these things, and she seems to sense it on a much more subconscious level. I think a lot of her tantrums and the battles of the wills we’ve been having can be partly blamed on my ambivalent (and sometimes downright hostile) mood. It also hasn’t helped that she hasn’t been sleeping nearly enough over the past 3-4 weeks (a topic on which I could rant for days), but even this chronic sleep deprivation could be at least partly related to feelings of insecurity arising from my pregnancy and the way I’ve been feeling and acting.

In other words, I can’t wait for the next two weeks to be over, to feel more certain of this pregnancy going to term, to feel physically and mental better and to feel like I have more control over my own behavior again.

I’ve been slowly crawling out of the deep, dark hole of my annual springtime depression. For as long as I’ve been living with depression – indeed, for as long as I can remember – the months of February, March and April have always been the worst. For some reason, the emergence of the sun and warmer days makes me feel worse, not better. Perhaps it’s the notion that I should be enjoying the season but that for some reason, I just can’t, that makes me feel so rotten. This year, the whole dark cloud started a bit earlier than usual, and maybe that’s why I’m starting to feel better earlier than in most years.

That being said, I’ve been feeling worse physically since my mental and emotional recovery. Last week, I had what I suspect was a mild case of food poisoning. I say mild because I didn’t spend entire nights or days on the bathroom floor, much less the hospital. But I did spend entire days in bed, forcing myself to sip water and nibble on pretzels and cursing the fact that you can’t buy Saltines in Germany. The closest thing is zwieback, which is like teething biscuits and just isn’t the same.

But even that is starting to get better, and I hope to be writing a lot more very soon. There are updates on my breastfeeding experience, new book reviews, some potty training insights and a few “how-to” posts coming up in the near future. So stay tuned!

Welcome to the Motherwear Carnival of Breastfeeding! For many of us, our New Year’s resolutions include some breastfeeding goals…

My breastfeeding relationship with my 19-month-old daughter almost ended a few days before 2008 came to an end. I had thought that plugged ducts and blebs were a thing of the past for me, but a painful breast and bloody milk had me seeking out a doctor in a town far from home, where we were spending the holidays with my in-laws. Although I only had to wait about half an hour in the gynecologist’s waiting room, I was so weak and in so much pain that I had to ask the nurses to find a spot for me to lie down while I waited. When I described my symptoms to the doctor – painful breast, bloody milk, pain in my back, neck and head, chills, hot flashes and swollen glands – she smiled compassionately and said that yes, mastitis could cause all those symptoms and more. She asked me whether I definitely wanted to continue breastfeeding. I answered yes, in theory.

She didn’t push me one way or the other, but she gently suggested that I consider weaning – not because there was no good reason to continue nursing, but because she suspected that this bout of mastitis was a cry for help from my body. She asked me about my general health, and it seemed plausible that my body had just run out of fuel. I admitted to being exhausted all the time, and stepping onto the scale confirmed what I had been suspecting for a while – not only had I gotten back down to my pre-pregnancy weight long ago, but I now weighed just over 15 pounds less than I did before pregnancy. I was underweight by any standard, and this despite the fact that I easily eat more than my husband and daughter combined! Feeling as miserable as I did and faced with what I knew to be at least partially true, it seemed to make sense that it was time to wean. The treatment the doctor prescribed included lactation suppressants, which are approved in Germany, where we live (the FDA has not approved them for use in the U.S.). I went back to my in-laws feeling somewhat relieved but also defeated.

I nursed my daughter for what I thought would be the last time. It broke my heart. I took the lactation suppressants and slept for most of the day. After putting my daughter to bed that evening, I ventured downstairs and had a bite to eat, got comfy on the couch and did a little Internet research on weaning, particularly sudden weaning. Two things in particular bothered me:

1. Marie was definitely not ready to be weaned. I was sure she would cope with it somehow, but nursing was still a big part of maintaining her equilibrium. The thought of taking that away from her made me feel sick to my stomach.

2. Sudden weaning can be very hard on a mother’s mental well-being, in part due to the massive change in hormone levels. I have been battling major depression for years now, and I considered it a miracle that I hadn’t suffered from postpartum depression as well. Having dodged that bullet, it seemed reckless to put myself at a heightened risk for a relapse into more severe mental illness. There was a purely pragmatic concern, too. If my body was falling apart already, how was I supposed to give my daughter the extra love and attention she would undoubtedly need over the next few weeks? How was weaning going to improve the state of my health if it was going to be so much work?

I shared my thoughts with my husband, as well as with other nursing moms in the kellymom discussion forums. One mother suggested that I postpone my decision regarding weaning until after the mastitis had cleared up, that perhaps I shouldn’t make such an important decision while I was feeling so sick. That logic struck a chord with me, and I resolved to go back to the doctor the next day and tell her that I wasn’t ready to wean my daughter yet. To my relief, she completely understood my change of heart and immediately adjusted my treatment. But she also impressed upon me the importance of taking better care of myself, reducing stress and getting more rest. Otherwise, she said, I would continue to be susceptible to infections. I agreed with her even though I had no solution. I still wasn’t really sure how things would continue.

A 48-hour migraine that began later that day would prove to be the turning point. The doctor who treated me praised me for breastfeeding my daughter beyond infancy, and my husband was able to keep Marie happy for an entire breast-free night. As I drank water out of a champagne glass and rang in the new year, I realized that night-weaning our daughter was feasible – something we hadn’t dared to hope for in the past – and it has become the cornerstone of my goals for improving the breastfeeding relationship I almost lost:

  • Go to bed early. I can’t honestly pretend to be surprised by my exhaustion when I go to bed after midnight, night after night. I may be a night owl, but for now, getting enough rest takes precedence. I will aim to get ready for bed at 10, meaning I’ll be in bed by 10:30. Realistically, this won’t happen every night, but if I make it 5 out of 7 nights, it will make a big difference.
  • Eat nourishing food at every meal. Avoid empty calories. Most of the food we buy is locally grown, organic, healthy food. But it often spoils before we use it, and since we don’t plan ahead enough, we find ourselves hungry and in no mood to cook. The result is to eat something fast and unhealthy. Inspired by Half Pint Pixie, I started meal planning a few weeks before Christmas. I intend to continue this, as it has made it much easier to eat healthy, well-balanced meals every day. It has also made it easier to eat our meals together as a family, and we’ve hardly thrown away any food since starting this either! My body needs all the nourishment it can get, so this is a big part of my plan.
  • Strengthen my body. I walk a lot, but I don’t do anything to strengthen my body anymore. I’m no longer into a lot of the high-impact sports I used to play in years past, but a weekly yoga course would do wonders for my creaky back. And as soon as the weather gets a little less sub-zero, I can add riding my bike to the mix. We don’t have a car, and using a bicycle is a great way to save money on public transportation. I’ve wanted to return to regular yoga for a long time now, but I’ve been postponing it for over a year, mainly because the Iyengar class I want to take is concurrent with Marie’s bedtime. But bedtime shouldn’t be an issue anymore if we …
  • … night-wean Marie. I don’t merely need more sleep. I need uninterrupted sleep. After over a year and a half of waking up every 2-3 hours at night, I simply can’t go on. This means my husband will take over the bedtime routine and all night wakings for a while. It will be hard, but we’re hopeful.

I think these steps will go a long way to giving me the physical, mental and spiritual energy I need to continue nursing my daughter, but there is another important aspect to the breastfeeding relationship that I need to address: our actual nursing sessions. For a few months, I have come to enjoy feedings less and less. In fact, there are days when I spend the time in between feedings dreading the next time Marie asks to nurse. On weekends, when I am at home by myself with Marie all day, it has been hard to enjoy nursing x times a day when I know that I’ll be nursing her on and off at night as well. So I am optimistic that night-weaning will give me the break I need to enjoy daytime nursings.

The trickier part will be improving the quality of our nursings. My daughter likes to twiddle, knead, pat, pinch, poke, prod, scratch and otherwise explore my face and chest while nursing. Some of this is fine – I don’t mind it when she pats my breast, and I love it when she points at different parts of my or her face, expecting me to name them for her. But when she scratches my face, pulls my hair or just plain hits me, I get exasperated pretty quickly. I know she doesn’t do any of these things maliciously, but I have yet to find the right tone of voice that gets the message across that hitting and scratching don’t go with breastfeeding. Her reactions to my attempts to change the behavior range from laughing at me, to becoming very distressed, to hitting me even harder. But she rarely stops. Sometimes redirection works, but it’s the exception, not the rule. Behavior like this, though, is a big part of why I have enjoyed nursing less and less over time, and solving this problem is going to be a big part of making the breastfeeding experience pleasurable again.

I’m optimistic because I’ve noticed that my daughter is more and more capable of cooperation and compromise. When I was laid up with my migraine, for example, she seemed to understand that I wasn’t feeling well, and she made no attempts to nurse. Instead, she came to visit me in the darkened bedroom, briefly cuddled with me, gave me a kiss and ran off to play with her father again. This gives me hope that she can learn to cooperate while nursing as well. Maybe it will be a little like brushing her teeth – one day, after months and months of crying and fighting us off every single evening when we tried to brush her teeth, Marie suddenly decided to cooperate. We have no idea why, but all of a sudden, she started letting us brush her teeth without a fight, and now, she even enjoys it!

2009: the year of tear-free dental hygiene, breast-free nights and cooperative nursing. This is how I hope to make extended breastfeeding fun again!

Don’t miss the other carnival participants’ breastfeeding goals!

Misty of Secrets of Orual writes about relaxing and being brave.

Tanya at the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog writes about her many goals as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding activist.

Zen Mommy writes about relaxing and breastfeeding advocacy.

Hobo Mama reflects on her personal breastfeeding goals, as well as her wish for breastfeeding to become normal again worldwide.

The Beautiful Letdown writes about nursing on demand while tandem breastfeeding.

Angela of Breastfeeding 1 2 3 writes about exclusive breastfeeding and introducing solids.

Blacktating writes about child-led weaning.

Mama Knows Breast sets the goal of making other breastfeeding moms feel more comfortable.

Breastfeeding Mums on publishing her breastfeeding book.

foaming at the mouth

January 9, 2009

I’m going to be counting the days until March 24th. Of course, then I’ll have to count the days it will take to have Dooce’s new book sent to Germany.

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