Thursday, August 21, 2008


My mom called this morning while I was on the way to the office for an hour-long meeting. You better pull over, she said. I did. Your dad has cancer. He had surgery yesterday, completely unrelated, and they found cancer. Very advanced stage. They could tell just by looking at it, without running any tests. You should be prepared for the worst.

I cried, called Husband who is away from home for a month. What should I do? Should I go now? I want to see him before it’s too late. I want to bring the kids, at least Baby—he hasn’t met Baby, and I know it would mean so much to him. But Baby doesn’t have a passport, so I need to figure out a way to get one soon.

Let’s talk about it this weekend, Husband said, when all of us are together for Baby’s baptism.

The plan was for me and the boys to fly to Midwest tomorrow for Saturday’s baptism, spend a week there to help break up my five-week single-parenting stint, and come back home on Labor Day, with Husband returning home two weeks later. OK, I said, OK, just keep breathing. I got myself together and walked into the office.

And hour later, my mom called again.

Your dad just died.

I have SO MUCH to say about how I feel. About how much this hurts. About how the memories I suppressed from my parents’ divorce 20 years ago are resurfacing now. About how the guilt for not keeping in better touch with him is tearing me apart. About how completely unprepared I am to deal with a death of a parent; most people my age are just starting to lose their grandparents, not parents. About how hard it is to fall apart in front of your kids without being able to fully explain to them what’s happened. About how much I’ve simply needed a hug today, a simple human touch.

But I have to pack. Not the kind of packing I was planning to do for a leisurely week at the in-laws' house, but a suitcase full of black, full of grief. We are still heading to the Midwest tomorrow, but right after the baptism, I will be getting on the plane alone to go half-way across the world to bury my dad.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On breastfeeding

[Note to anyone who may stumble onto this post: Sensitive subject ahead. If you wanted but were not able to breastfeed your baby, you may want to skip this post. In it, I talk about my struggles with breastfeeding, but the fact is, I was able to nurse my child for nine months and counting, and I fear that women who were not able to nurse their babies at all may find my rant pointless, insensitive and ungrateful. I fully realize how lucky I am to have made it this far, and I don’t want to offend anyone.]

Today, I did not bring my breast pump to work. And unlike the time when I forgot to put it in the car during the morning rush, this time I actually meant to leave it at home.

My already meager supply has really taken a dive in the last six weeks. The week I spent away from my boys was the beginning of the end. I tried to pump as much as I could, but that’s difficult to accomplish when you are running a conference of more than 20,000 attendees. But even after that, especially on weekends, there were many a time when making a bottle was so much easier than finding a private spot to nurse him. For the last month, I’ve been down to one pump session a day, plus nursing him in the morning and at night.

About a month ago, after trying to nurse with great frustration, he finally pulled away, reached for his pacifier and turned away, calming down immediately. My heart ached and I quietly shed a few tears. He no longer needed me for comfort. My mid-day pumpings dropped to three ounces total, less than half of what he takes in one feeding. So it shouldn’t have come as a total surprise when yesterday he refused to nurse at lunch. He gave it a quick try, and when it resulted in nothing, he pulled away. “Be patient, baby, it will come,” I tried to coax him, but he would have none of it. At bedtime, he seemed unusually frustrated while nursing and then had trouble falling asleep, making me wonder if he was still hungry.

So this morning, I decided to leave the pump at home. What’s the point of spending 20 minutes pumping plus washing, when the results are meager? But the voice inside my head is casting doubts, “If you just try harder, if you increase the number of pumping times, you can make the numbers go up.” But why? What for? He is almost 10 months old; I’ve made it so much longer than I thought I would.

I am not entirely sure why breastfeeding is such an obsession for me. I suspect it’s the baggage that I am carrying from breastfeeding Child. Bouts with mastitis in both breasts, the never-ending thrush that wasn’t responding to medication, continued pain even after the infections had cleared (now I realize it was the result of his tongue-tie), round-the-clock pumping—six months of this physical and emotional nightmare and feeling that I failed him so miserably. When I finally emerged on the other side, I wondered why I didn’t quit earlier. I could have been a better mother if I weren’t pushing myself so ridiculously hard. I would have enjoyed my newborn so much more. I promised that I would not put these ridiculous demands on myself again. If it doesn’t work, I will stop. But I secretly hoped that I would do it right this time, with this baby.

I was determined not to make the same mistakes: not to let him comfort nurse so that my nipples wouldn’t crack and let in infection, not to wear too much lanolin, which can trap moisture and let yeast grow; not to scream in pain every two hours for weeks before calling the doctor; to massage out every plugged duct to keep it from turning into mastitis. But while I worried about me, I forgot about him. I was happy to let him sleep longer because it gave my achy breasts a break when he should have been eating. I ignored the fact that he looked a little yellow—he just has his dad’s olive skin, I told everyone. And two weeks later, when he was still almost a pound lighter than his birth weight and his bilirubin was way above normal, I, once again, felt like a failure. We went on a two-day feeding spree, feeding every two hours and pumping after every feeding. I slept a total of 4 hours during that time (as a side note, I doubt complete lack of sleep does any good for one’s milk supply), and the pain was unbearable. I bit my lip and stomped my feet on the floor at every latch (causing my mom, who slept in the basement, to run upstairs in panic in the middle of the night, worrying that the thumping noise of my feet was actually me dropping the baby). But his weight barely budged, and the dreaded words came, “you have to supplement.” I have nothing against formula, but to me, these words meant that I failed once again. A few days later, a dear friend sent a lactation consultant to my house. She took one look at Baby and said, “Did anyone mention his frenulum?” That’s where the pain was coming from. After she left, I called a dozen ENTs, hoping for a next-day appointment. Every single one offered to get me in in four weeks. I could not wait that long! I finally found a place that had an opening in five excruciatingly long days. After the appointment, the relief didn’t come immediately, but within days, things improved. I was not longer screaming at latch-on, just wincing. But I still had to deal with the supply. I researched dozens of ways to increase supply, and I tried many of them, but I would lie if I said I did my best. I could have pumped more, but it’s tough to do when you have a four-year-old running around. Looking back, I blame myself for not trying harder. Maybe if I tried harder, I could have built up my supply completely, and he would not be frustrated with my low flow now. If I didn't ignore his cues in the days after his birth, maybe I would not have had a supply problem to begin with. Having a low supply issue with a second child while there were no such issues with the first is very unusual, from what I've read. I could have avoided all of this if only I tried harder. At least I kept the promise I made to myself four years ago that I will not let the pump run my life.

I will continue to nurse him morning and night as long as he still wants to. Anecdotally, I know it’s possible to continue doing this for a while. But somehow I doubt he will want to for much longer. And I have to come to peace with this. However, the simple fact that I found it necessary to tell this entire story tells me that I am far from being at peace with this. And honestly, while my heart is breaking, my brain tells me that it's irrational to feel like this: I was hoping for an easier time this time, and I got it—I hated the entire six months of nursing Child, and I loved all but the first month of nursing Baby. My mistake was hoping for a perfect experience. And what hurts is that most likely, I will not get another chance.

I no longer do this for him. I do it to satisfy my selfish desire to keep him a baby a little longer, to keep this connection between just the two of us. It’s just another way I am having a tough time letting go.