Monday, January 5, 2009

Decisions around nursing the first time

Giggleblue left the following question about our decisions to try to both lactate with this pregnancy vs. with the first pregnancy (when I would have been doing the pill-popping).
"It's interesting to hear how this situation plays out in both the first pregnancy as compared to the second. so i have a question. was co-nursing considered during the first pregnancy?

I know lex mentions that they considered it, but her partner was not interested. did you guys consider doing this before or has this been something that has come about more so from your experiences with the first go around and nursing?"
I did write a little bit before about how the reasons behind my/our decision not to have me lactate last time informed my attempts to convince Gail to try it this time, and she's written about how her experience with nursing is prompting her to give it a go (whether or not this ends up panning out).

The short answer is that, yes, we considered it but didn't do it. There were several factors that stopped me, one of them being medications that I was weaning off of, but still did not want to pass through breastmilk to our child. It turned out this was only an issue for the first two months of our daughter's life, and thus it probably wouldn't have been a problem, but the situation was such that there was know way I could have known that ahead of time. It was the medications that really put the brakes on, but as I wrote in the previous post, there was also some amount of discomfort and confusion around whether or not it was really appropriate for me to nurse. I was already quite anxious about being perceived as overzealous, as if I was overstepping bounds by being so enthusiastic to mother this child, one that would already have a mother. Inducing lactation would have brought that into stark relief, and I think that was part of the reason I held off. We were also concerned that we'd end up in competition for limited nursing time, and that in some sense, I would be set up to fail, trying to convince my body to do something using drugs and a pump, that my wife's had been primed for in pregnancy. These decisions were not mine alone and were the subject of many discussions. Gail was open to my trying to lactate, but I think we shared some discomfort around how logistics would work, and concern about setting up direct competition between us.

What we decided instead was that there was probably plenty of parenting to go around, and that the energy that would have been spent trying to get me to lactate would be better spent elsewhere. And, wow, did I ever get enthusiastic about applying that energy elsewhere. We had a battery of at least 6 baby carriers, at least two homemade (by me), before Leigh's arrival. I had studied the babywearer endlessly, figuring out fancy ways of tying woven wraps and practicing using 5 lb bags of flour. I had researched EC/Diaper free (I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I attended a DiaperFree meetup, alone, when Gail was barely out of the first trimester) and set up our cloth diapering layette. I sewed cloth pads for Gail to use post-partum (yes, we are big giant hippies) and zigzagged the edges of endless recycled terry cloth diaper wipes, repurposed from towels passed our way from my father-in-law's chain of tanning salons (yes, tanning salons). I put together astonishing quantities of furniture. I organized our entire household (which at the time, was only 400 square feet, but the vigor with which I took to sorting and labeling was something to behold). And this was all before Leigh was even born.

In retrospect, once Leigh had arrived, I think having developed these areas where I was the "expert" were really helpful. Sure, Gail could nurse Leigh, but I could also calm Leigh wonderfully in a sling or wrap, or by jiggling her just the right way. Sometimes I would take her for walks when she was too fussy to settle and eat, later handing Gail a freshly soothed baby who could concentrate and nurse properly. And yes, Leigh was nursing all the time, like any newborn, but I was so excited about EC and cloth diapering, that I was beyond thrilled to deal with what came out the other end, and that gave me time just with Leigh, even when she was only a day old. Maybe I couldn't nurse, and Gail was doing a great job at that already, but it was really nice to be the one to show Gail how to use our diaper covers, or how to tie the carrier I had made, and convince her that no, really, the baby really would go on the potty sometimes, that she'd wiggle this way or that just before she needed to pee.

I like to think I supported Gail well when she was nursing. I delivered endless glasses of water and snacks, set her up with books and magazines around her nursing chair, and took notes at the lactation consultant. When I was home with Leigh, I treated Gail's hard-won pumped milk like gold, and used it carefully and appropriately. I'm sure she could have some complaints, like how I was sometimes a nag about pumping, but overall I like to think that I did a good job, and that she knew how much I valued the work she was doing for Leigh.

For her part, Gail let me have my areas of expertise. She claimed that she'd been carrying the baby for 9 months, and that I should carry her as much as I pleased. She listened when I showed her things I had figured out. As Leigh grew, of course, I was no longer the complete expert at these things (though I always did a better back wrap cross carry...), but those first couple months, when I was most sensitive about my lack of nursing power, Gail's sensitivity and grace in stepping aside in some key alternate areas made all the difference. I developed confidence as a parent, and had I been trying to lactate during those months, I'm not sure that would have happened.

So I guess what I'm saying isn't that either I wish I had nursed, or that what we did was perfect, but rather that what we did worked. Even though I don't like some of the reasons that I chose not to nurse, and this is part of why I am hoping that Gail can nurse our second, I'm not sure settling in as a family would have been easier if I had.


mulberry said...

i am new to your blog... and i find it very helpful in helping in imagining what it will be like when we finally bring a little one into this world/our lives. the fact that you gals have been through one pregnancy and birth - and years of mommying together - and now are now pregnant with #2 is very inspiring... it got dakota and i talking about lactating (would she want to do that?) and continuing our dialogue on what it raises that we started ttc with her trying to get pregnant and have now switched to me - hopefully with her embryos... it is all so complex, i guess i just wanted to say that i am glad to have found your voices to add to our mix.

Anonymous said...

I second what Mulberry says - the musings that you guys post are so very helpful!
Inducing lactation is such an amazing thing to do - with my supply issues it would have been a really good thing, but my partner just isn't comfortable with the idea.
We did a lot of the things you mention though, from lazyboo wearing mcbean all the time to her being the complete expert at so many other things like changing nappies (and washing the cloth ones), burping, settling. I really dislike it when she's at work now and I have to do 'her' jobs!
Lazyboo is also spectacularly good at supporting my breastfeeding - it's been such a hard road that there is no way that we could have managed it even this far without her complete commitment and devotion to it.
Another thing we're going to do is in a few months reverse roles so that lazyboo is the mostly sahm while I go back to work.
There's so much to figure out on this road and it's really useful to hear your thoughts on it all - thanks guys.

giggleblue said...

wow! i totally didn't expect a dedication, but none the less, i am grateful.

this too is something that we have been toying with - the balance between myself and TL. how that will manifest its self in the future and what roles each of us will play.

i really do appreciate your knowledge in having "been there, done that" and you do help to bring to light a lot of topics of discussion.

i guess my main thought behind the question, which you did speak on, was the motivation behind wanted to co-lactate. i think it's a wonderful idea, so long as the intentions are right. i agree, it is not a competition, and that is something to think about. i think it's highly a case by case situation - well all know ourselves better than anyone else. and as with anything, you have to be sure your heart is in the right place when you sign up to do it.

again, it's opened up more topic of discussion in our home about what is best now and what will be best once more children come. thank you!