weaning

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Breastfeeding is a lot of things.

The first time I did it, it was excruciating for two months and then it kind of clicked and was easier and just a thing I did several times a day. I had to stop earlier than I’d planned, due to needing a mammogram and breast MRI, and the shock of having to make that decision was unsettling. It took about three months to fully dry up my milk supply– from when baby Giles was 9 months to 12 months. The two weeks following my last nursing session were a hormonal roller coaster which felt similar to my immediate postpartum experience. Once I found out that “post-weaning depression” is a real thing I felt better, just to have a name for what I was experiencing.

Eventually things evened out in my brain and I felt like a person again. I started to feel a lot better physically– my vitamin D levels got better, my blood sugar went back to normal, and I started losing weight (I hadn’t lost a single pound other than the initial loss after giving birth). Some women lose a lot of weight while breastfeeding, others do not.

The second time was a whole different monster. Felix was born six weeks early due to preeclampsia. As soon as I pushed him out of my body he was whisked away and I didn’t see him for almost 24 hours. Before I had even seen him I was handed pumping equipment and told to get moving, the tiny preemie needed my liquid gold.

I stared at photos and videos my husband sent me from the NICU, willing my milk to come in. And it did. During those two weeks in the NICU and for three months following I pumped 8 times a day. Every three hours I would try to nurse, sometimes succeed and sometimes not, pass the baby to my husband to be fed a bottle, and then pump for ten to twenty minutes. It was awful and hard and I wept. Nursing hurt. Pumping hurt, though a little bit less then nursing. I also felt sad every time my milk let down (which is a real thing that just happens to some women). The thought “I don’t want to do this anymore” repeated itself in my mind every time I fed my baby. I wanted to stop breastfeeding, but felt guilty for wanting that, since he was so small and still so young. I wanted to make it to six months.

Finally, I started weaning. After just a few days my supply had decreased dramatically. We used up my very prolific freezer stash within a couple weeks. We bought formula. And in about a month I was done.

The hormone crash hit me hard, with intense mood swings and a lot of guilt. I know that my baby is fed and healthy and fine, but there’s this physical feeling of guilt, of shame for not being The Best Mom. Formula is JUST AS GOOD as breastmilk. It was invented for a reason. But there is societal pressure about breastfeeding, and also this innate feeling, which is about everything not just breastfeeding, that I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH feeling. If I don’t sacrifice every single thing about myself for my children, it feels like I’m not doing enough.

Really, truly, our children are better off if we are kind and gentle to ourselves. They are happier if we are happy. Which means giving ourselves what we need, putting on our own oxygen masks first.

I know this, but I still have the bad feelings. The hormone ups and downs and doubts and that terrible shaking knowledge that bad things things can happen and I can’t protect my kids from the world. The aftershocks of birth that came the next night, keeping me awake and terrified at what I had done in becoming a mother. Why had I destroyed my body, my mind, brought out this tiny helpless thing that will be harmed in some way by the cruel world?

But then that tiny, helpless thing smiles. Laughs. Holds his bottle on his own. Says, “dada” (of course dada and not mama). And then he gets up on all fours, rocks back and forth, and moves just the smallest bit forward by his own damn self and suddenly he is a PERSON. He will be okay. I will be okay.

I’m so glad to be done breastfeeding.

 

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another birth story (six weeks early)

I’m not going to say it wasn’t hard. It was shorter than last time, if you just count from the induction start at 11:00pm on September 27 to the moment the baby came out of my body at 1:40pm on September 28. But let me back up.

One week and one day before the actual delivery, on a Thursday, September 20, I went into the hospital.

I went into my midwives’ office for my regular 33 week appointment. Right away, the nurse could tell something was wrong. I had swelled up with 17 lbs of fluid in the past two weeks since my last appointment. My blood pressure was high. There was a lot of protein in my urine. She sent me over to the labor and delivery floor in the hospital, where one of the midwives, Amy, was already checking on another mom. I called my husband, Greg, from the elevator, starting to cry because I knew something scary was happening even though I didn’t know what.

On the labor and delivery floor I was put in Exam Room 2, and given a gown to change into, and they started running some tests. Greg arrived and my blood pressure finally went down. Amy came in and told me I didn’t quite have preeclampsia yet, but I was “brewing.” They’d need to keep a close eye on me, and I had “risked out of” midwife care, so I had to be switched over to the OB office. They gave me steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs develop quicker. I’d heard of preeclampsia, knew it was a scary thing, had seen women die of it on Grey’s Anatomy. Midwife Amy spoke calmly, but also told me all the information. They hoped I would get to 37 weeks, because the baby would be considered “term” by that point, but it was very possible I would need to give birth sooner for my own safety. If I needed to deliver before 37 weeks I’d be sent to Albany Med, a larger hospital more equipped to handle preeclampsia and a NICU where my preemie would be taken care of.

The following week I came into the hospital almost every day to be checked: blood pressure, weight (went up at least a couple pounds every day in fluid retention), pulse ox, urine, blood work to check my liver and kidney functions, ultrasounds to see how the baby was doing. My new OB told me I officially had  preeclampsia, but she thought I could get to 37 weeks, getting checked a couple times a week. I burst into tears at this. I was feeling so horrible, so uncomfortable, and really like I could barely make it another day.

My sister arrived on Wednesday evening, September 26. I had called her on Sunday and asked her to come. I just knew I needed her, and she booked a ticket right away. I kept telling myself I just needed to wait until Phoebe arrived. Also, each day when I left the house, I looked at my little Mexican sunflower plant, with a bloom getting closer and closer to opening, and said to myself, when the sunflower bloom opens, that is the day I will have the baby. 

On Thursday September 27 around 11am, I was resting at home by myself. Our 2.5 year old, Giles, was with Greg’s parents, Greg was at work, Phoebe and my dad were at my dad’s house, about to be on their way over to hang out with me. I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. This was a symptom I’d been told to watch out for, so I called my doctor and she said to come in. Greg came home and we went to the hospital, Phoebe and my dad met us there. When we walked out our front door to get in the car I looked at the sunflower and the bloom had opened. I knew this was it. We hung out at the hospital for several hours while my blood pressure was repeatedly checked, along with all the other things they were checking. My OB called the high risk doctors at Albany Med who said I should be sent there right away.

I rode in the ambulance along with a nurse, while Greg, Phoebe, and my dad had to drive separately. It was my first ambulance ride. I felt uncomfortable and scared, but the Ambulance drivers and nurse were really nice. We arrived at 7:00pm, just as the nurses were changing shifts. The nurse who had just come on duty was Rosa, and she would be with me for the next twelve hours. She took my vitals– my blood pressure readings were all very high. Dr. Aziz, the resident on duty, came in to examine me. I was nervous about it hurting, and she said, “Don’t worry. I have small hands and a gentle touch.” She was right, and she was awesome. She told us that they were going to start the induction right away, that my BP was just too high.

The first step of induction was inserting a Foley balloon into my cervix to start contractions and the cervix opening. It was very uncomfortable and I cried a lot. Phoebe and Greg were on each side of me, holding my hands. My dad waited outside the room. Dr. Aziz had to start over three times, which she felt really badly about. My cervix was tilted away from her and she had trouble seeing, plus I was clenching, even though I tried hard not to. During the third try Greg read out loud to me from Outlander book 8 which helped settle me enough to relax a bit and finally the balloon was in. This was around 11:00pm.

They said it could take around twelve hours for the balloon to do its work, so after talking for a little while, Phoebe and Pops left to go home and would come back the next day. It was around midnight now, and Greg and I settled in for the long night, he on a couch next to my hospital bed. Rosa checked me regularly, and I was hooked up to magnesium sulfate through an IV. We watched TV, some show I don’t remember and then Maid in Manhattan starring Jennifer Lopez. I started having contractions, the early ones that feel familiar to my first birth experience. Several minutes apart, and not too terrible pain-wise. I breathed through each one and felt like I could really do this thing. I hadn’t eaten since 3pm Thursday, and was very hungry, but could only have clear liquids at this point. Luckily Rosa mentioned that Jello was considered a clear liquid and brought me some. “We only have cherry,” she said, and I devoured two cups. That Jello saved me. My weakness from not eating for several hours, and not sleeping for several weeks was adding up and my body was depleted. The calories from that Jello, and even the simple act of eating something, revived my spirit. That Jello was the best thing I had ever eaten.

During this time the anesthesia guy came in to talk to us, and I told him about my previous epidural experience– how it only lasted a few hours and then I was told I couldn’t have any more. Also a NICU pediatrician came to talk to us about what would happen with the baby, and we signed some papers. Rosa was checking me regularly, tugging on the balloon, and a resident checked my dilation. Another doctor came in to do an ultrasound to check on the baby, and she told us that I had lots of fluid in my uterus (not a big surprise considering how much fluid I had everywhere in my body). Not a dangerous amount, but the high side of normal.

Around 4:00am the balloon came out. The resident on duty checked my cervix and I was 5cm dilated. This seemed to happen more quickly than anyone expected. Greg texted Pops and Phoebe to come back, because we figured things would start to move even faster at this point. Rosa started Pitocin in my IV, just a little at first. Anesthesia guy Chris came back to administer the epidural. I was sitting on the bed, Chris behind me, Greg and Rosa in front of me. I had to hold very still in a weird crouched over position. Because of all the fluid, Chris had a hard time finding the right spot for the epidural catheter and it took a really long time, maybe 45 minutes. Greg held my hand, Rosa talked to me, trying to distract me. At one point Rosa and Greg were laughing, and looking at the TV behind me. “I think it’s an infomercial for a dildo,” Greg said. “Well, she looks happy,” Rosa said. The infomercial went on the whole time Chris was administering the epidural. I was still having contractions every few minutes, and they were still manageable, but I called out loudly each time one happened so Chris would stop sticking me with the needle while I breathed through it. Finally the epidural was in and I started to feel that blissful numbness.

Pitocin kept increasing, and I had contractions but didn’t feel them. It was great. I love pain medication. Pops and Phoebe came back. Phoebe read to me from magazines, and told stories. The three of them talked and I just closed my eyes and listened. At 7:00am Rosa’s shift ended and our new nurse, Jen, came in. I was nervous– Rosa had been with us this whole time and she was so amazing. I didn’t want her to leave. But right away I saw that Jen was also amazing. She was concerned about the fluid in my lungs which made me short of breath, so she kept checking that. When the attending OB came in to check my cervix, it was very uncomfortable. He had large hands and the exam was rough and fast. As soon as he left the room my eyes teared up and I told Jen I didn’t want him to examine me again. She looked at me and asked if I had any trauma that I wanted her to know about. “No, his hands are just too big,” I said. Jen smiled and said quietly that everyone commented about that with him. She said she’d find me a woman for the next exam.

As the Pitocin increased I began to feel my contractions again. I maxed out my epidural button and was still in pain, getting worse. Around 10:30am it was pretty bad and I started crying. Jen called in anesthesia, and it was a different guy– Phoebe called him and his team of med students the “Pain Posse.” He redid my epidural, which he said was in the wrong place. He asked me questions about the pain, actually listening to me. (This was the opposite of my experience with Giles’ birth at a different hospital). The epidural replacement worked a little bit, but only for a short time, and the contractions were coming harder and faster now, with lots of pain in my back. Jen positioned me on my side with a “peanut ball” between my legs to help the baby descend faster. They were waiting for the head to be lower so they could break my water.

The pain was getting worse and worse, with so little time between contractions. I felt so incredibly weak, like I couldn’t keep this up much longer. I started to lose it a little but, crying and begging for help. Jen was so responsive. Every time she asked, “Are you in pain, or are you scared?” And when I said both, she asked, “What are you scared of? Where is the pain?” She reassured me that everything was okay, I was safe, she was monitoring me very closely. She barely ever left the room. The Pain Posse came back, and tried different drugs to help with the pain. They took the edge off for short periods of time, but the pain would always get worse again. I kept my eyes closed, so inside myself. I felt I would die from the pain, and said so. Jen assured me that I would not. I wanted a c-section. I wanted the baby out as quickly as possible, I didn’t care how they did it. I didn’t think I could do it, I had nothing left in me. Everyone (there were more people in the room at this point) said I could do it, that I was doing it. Greg and Phoebe were right by my side, I held at least one of their hands at all times. I had banished Pops to the waiting room as soon as the contractions started getting really bad. My eyes remained closed, my face too swollen to open them, and when I did open them everything was blurry. My butt started to hurt– there was an urge to push that was so strong, something I never felt in my labor with Giles. Somehow I thought that I wasn’t allowed to push yet, that if they hadn’t broken my water yet I still had a long way to go. I was on my side, holding my butt with one hand. “I’m holding it in!” I said at one point. I felt like a wild animal, thrashing and sweating and crying loudly. I went deep inside myself, to a really dark place where I didn’t care about anything or anyone except making the pain stop. I called for help. Dr. Phillips (the OB resident who had come in to do the delivery) said, “We are all here to help you, Anna, but you are driving this car.” Finally I yelled that I needed to push. They started adjusting the table for delivery, and hands moved my legs for me, trying to get me on my back. The baby must have been low enough by now, because Dr. Phillips said, “I’m breaking your water.” I felt and heard the huge splash. Someone said, “Woah!” (I think it was Phoebe?) Then I just started pushing because I absolutely had to. No one told me not to. Phoebe counted while I pushed. I heard someone say, “You’ll be done in two minutes.” I knew this was a smaller baby, so much smaller than last time, and that thought pushed me forward. I pushed, feeling the head come out, and then another push and there was the body. It only took a few minutes.

As soon as the baby was out I relaxed back and immediately felt relief. My eyes were still closed. I heard someone in the distance say, “It’s a boy!” I was so surprised. They took him to a side room to work on him. Dr. Phillips stitched me up quickly, there was not much tearing. Then they started to work on getting my placenta out. I thought to ask, “Is he okay?” (meaning the baby). A nurse asked for me phone, Phoebe gave it to her, and she took a couple pictures of him. “His name is Felix,” I said, looking at Greg. It was a name we had decided on the day before, in case the baby was a boy (though we were convinced it was a girl). They wheeled him by my bed on their way to the NICU, pausing for a moment so I could see him. I couldn’t really see much, but I called out, “I love you!” Or at least I did in my mind.

My placenta had torn and wasn’t coming out. Jen offered me morphine and I said “Yes.” Dr. Phillips was elbow deep in my uterus, getting every last bit of placenta. It took awhile and was uncomfortable to say the least, but the morphine had me in a cloud, and I knew that my part in this was over.

Everyone was telling me how great I had done, but I felt like a weak failure, a shell of a woman, someone who could not handle giving birth in the strong way that other women could. I said I wanted a pizza. Jen said I could eat, but to take it slow. She cleaned me up. All the other people left the room. Pops came back. I ate some popcorn and drank some juice and promptly threw it all up.

Once I could be moved into a wheel chair we were transferred into a recovery room. Jen called down to the NICU to check on Felix. Greg, Phoebe, and Pops went down to see him. I wasn’t allowed to because of my blood pressure being so high. I was still hooked up to the magnesium sulfate and would be for 24 hours longer. The next morning was the first time I got to see and hold Felix. I was wheeled down by a nurse, Greg was with me too. When they finally placed him in my arms and I saw his face, eyes dark and bright, hair blonde and soft, skin a ruddy color. His mouth looked like mine. It’s you, I thought. It was you this whole time. He looked so, so tiny. 4 lbs 1 oz. My eyes filled with tears.

 

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this is me, right after giving birth, eating popcorn (right before throwing it all up)

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holding Felix for the first time

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Felix Wolf Moriarty-Lev-Howard, on his first day of life, in the NICU

drawing while moming

This is the first drawing I made after giving birth:

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I drew it from a photo taken of my sister cuddling with Giles on the couch. It feel so good to start doing art while being a mom since for the first few weeks I just focused on mom-ing. It’s a beautiful thing to fully be a mom, at home with Giles, completely in the moment with him. But it’s also important for me to find a way to do both art and parenting. I want to find my own way of doing this, of doing both things and letting them inform each other.

Several years ago a person I worked with said to me, seeming to read my mind, “When a woman artist has a child, it deepens her art.” At the time I was 23 or 24, already knowing I wanted this life. That statement feels even more true now that I am here.

My first portrait of Giles:

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Giles is right next to me as I post this, cozy in his Rock N Play, sucking on his pacifier, watching me.

haven’t had the baby yet

We’re getting really close. It could be any day now. My due date is May 7.

Every day I wonder, will it happen today? Is that a contraction? Do I have to poop or is it the baby? Every time I go to the bathroom I check for blood and mucus. (TMI? Sorry not sorry. Pregnancy is gross!)

In the mornings I wait patiently for Smokey’s first movements, thumps to remind me that he’s in there, he’s hungry, and he’s pressing on my very full bladder. We’re still tied together in this body, cocooned and connected, snug and warm. It’s me and Smokey, Greg and me, all three of us savoring our last bit of time in this particular way of being a family that is about to change.

On the street people say things like, “You haven’t popped yet?” and “When is the baby coming?”

I DON’T KNOW HE’LL BE BORN WHEN HE’S BORN. YES I KNOW I AM HUGE. I’d rather they said, “Can I buy you a coffee/cookie/ice cream?” Yes. Yes you can. Thank you for your support.

Mostly I don’t go out much because then I’d have to climb three flights of stairs to get back into my apartment.

My dreams get stranger. My back gets more sore. My “productive hours” each day get smaller. I stop making plans. I cross off days on the calendar.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Eating. Peeing. Waiting.

Talking to Smokey. Moving the furniture around in the kitchen because I’m “nesting.” Napping with my sweet sweet cats who keep their eyes on me, pat my belly, stay close at my heels. They know. They are watching out for me. I start reading a 900 page novel I have no idea if I will be able to finish because do people even have time or energy for reading when they have a newborn?

These are the days right before. The last days. The days out of time. I’ve always loved in-betweens.

 

 

art life/life as art

I’ve been looking through my mom’s blog, and found this photo of us from her last exhibit at Images Cinema in November 2012:

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This show was called “Still Lifes and Figures in the Still Life.” The painting to the left of me in the photo, the chairs and lamp with the lemon tablecloth, is hanging in my apartment now and is one of my favorites. She looks so good here, so healthy. This was during a good period before she started a new and very strong chemo treatment in December which made her very sick. It’s hard to look at this image and believe that she died only five and a half months later.

I think we look alike here, with our smiles and teeth and eyes. My mom was my best art friend. I’m getting ready to hang a show on that same wall in April– my first exhibition as a full-time artist. I’ve hung several shows since she died, and it’s so strange without her input and perfect eye for hanging things straight without the aid of a level. My dad helps me, and brings Mama’s hanging box– the toolbox with all the nails and hangers and other stuff, with her name written in thick sharpie on the outside. She labeled everything with her name.

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This photo is from July 2011. Mama painted at Cathy Link’s house that whole summer and sometimes I went with her and modeled in the landscape. The finished painting of this scene is hanging in my baby’s room.

Just thinking about my mom and art. Our art together, the way we talked about it and supported each other in this Art Life. How much I wish she was in my autobio comics workshop. How much I just wish she was HERE. Physically. Alive. Making art. Making life.

It’s almost three years since she died. April 18, 2013. On April 18 this year I will be 19 days from my baby’s due date.

This spring there will be new life. A piece of my mom will come back with this baby: maybe he will have her ears, or her hands, or just something undefinable that he got from her and brings back into the world in that beautiful way genetics have of keeping things going, or a secret she whispered to him in the womb.

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This is my mom and me, right after I was born. I love this image. It will be me soon, holding baby Smokey, a happy new mom just like her.

my body now, part 2

self portrait with bunself portrait in watercolor, January 2016

My face doesn’t look that different, even though my body is 6 months pregnant and looks (and FEELS) quite different. Sometimes my face looks really tired. Sometimes my skin is blotchy, or pale, or has tiny bumps on it, and my hair is weird because I’m in the process of growing it out (again). Some days I feel so beautiful, more beautiful than I’ve ever felt. Greg tells me often that I am a gorgeous pregnant woman. But some days I feel huge and nothing fits right and my boobs hurt and my back hurts…it’s a new body every day, constantly changing.

I want to talk to my mom about all this body stuff. We used to talk about these things a lot: relating about how clothes make us feel, society’s insistence on bras and underwear, the way our bodies change as we get older and why, how we can redefine beauty at every age and even during cancer. I want to know what clothes she wore during pregnancy, how she felt, was she frustrated, how did her body change? I want her to go bra shopping with me. I want her to help me find shoes that are comfortable but also cute on my slightly swollen pregnant feet.

Today I feel good because I’m wearing my cute new overalls and a bra that actually fits (more on the maternity bra shopping experience later), and my hair is just the right amount of messy.

the other side of the world

20160107_131913We went to Chile, my dad and I, to visit my sister, Phoebe. She lives in Futaleufu, in the Patagonia region which is way down south. I was nervous to travel so far while pregnant but Smokey did great and so did I.

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I love seeing Phoebe’s life. She’s made such a beautiful one.

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Of course we made art together. I sketched while Phoebe painted murals in her new house, we made a mosaic together in the kitchen.

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Here’s Phoebe working on her mural, looking just like our  mom.

There’s a kind of magic when we’re all together.

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How much does place matter, where we live? What is home? I think about these questions a lot.

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Phoebe in her greenhouse, and below is her garden on her land. 12494872_10100336620337287_7091185328840765845_n

 

 

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Some of my drawings from the trip:

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And now it’s time to begin my new beginning. It’s 2016. I’m leaving my job in six weeks. My baby will be born in four months. A whole new life full of unknowns.

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I’m getting married. I say this to myself several times a day, feeling the words in my mouth, hearing how they sound in different rooms. I’ve found the person I want to build a life with, and he found me, and big things are beginning. Lots of different types of days.

We got engaged in Paris– a secret trip he’d planned for a long time. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, and it was a dream.

I wish my mom was here– I wish that every moment of every day, but I also wish it specifically for this, because it’s a big thing, and I’m so excited, and it would be so much fun to be excited about this with her.

Here are some drawings I did in Paris (click image to see larger):

And here are a few photos:

behind the wheel

It’s been about 7 years since I was behind the wheel of a car. 10 years since I drove on a regular basis, and even then I didn’t drive often or long enough to ever get comfortable. Today I got behind the wheel for a driving lesson with my boyfriend, Greg.

driving I expected to feel anxious and unnatural, like I was fighting my true inner self– which is how I felt at 16, 17 and 18 learning to drive, and how I’ve felt every time I’ve sat in the driver’s seat. I’ve been determined for 10 years to live as a non-driver, convinced that if I never got behind the wheel again I’d be content.

But today I felt fine. Confident. The parking lot loops went so well I took to the open road. Maybe it’s all the biking I’ve been doing, or just that my brain is different now, fully formed and adult. Maybe it’s my personal confidence in myself, or that Greg is incredibly patient and kind to me, and opens my heart in a million ways.

I felt jazzed. Independent. Empowered. In the special way that learning a new skill does to us.

There are buds on the tree outside my window. Greg is making cheeseburgers. I’m happy.