Friday, May 24, 2013

Breastfeeding: This One's Gonna Hurt

Breastfeeding.  If you didn’t know it, there are as many theories on breastfeeding as there are breasts.  While we were in the hospital, we got all the information we thought we’d need.  We just didn’t get any unified counsel on breastfeeding.  No sooner had one nurse left with a satisfied look on her face that she had dispensed the “correct” advice, the doctor would come in and tell us that the nurse was completely crazy.  We had the “Lactation Lady” come in and give us a tip, which would work in some cases, but not all.  Then, the nurse would come in with a helpful hint that her aunt used, and that would work for a while.  Then, the doctor would come in and give us another bit of information—it usually contradicted the other two pieces of advice—but it nevertheless worked, too.   Sunday and I are getting a degree in nippology.

We’ve come to the conclusion that one tidbit of information regularly handed out might be a bit of a lie.  Here it is:  breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.  Logically, this just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  How’s this not supposed to hurt?  We can all imagine the pain and stress put on the nippological region as Jonah feeds.  (Definition of feeds:  When a youngster gnarls the end off of the protruding part of a woman’s chest, forcing her to reconsider this whole idea of “feeding”).  

I can’t imagine a way a man could experience breastfeeding firsthand, but I believe I have gotten really close with the following experiment. 

Here’s what you need.  (All male activities require a parts list.  Have you ever noticed that?)

1.  Heavy duty jumper cables.
2.  Large 4X4 pickup truck, large tires, mud flaps, Hemi.
3.  Your own keys to the large pick-up truck so that you can drive around, showing your buddies your new pick-up truck right after you’ve experienced breast feeding for yourself.

Step one:  Start the truck.  Hear the engine purr.  Try not to weep openly at the beauty of the truck.

Step  two:  Pop the hood. 

Step three:  Spend half an hour trying to find that little lever that allows you to open the hood fully.

Step four:  Attach red cable to “hot” post on battery.  Attach black cable to the other post.

Step five:  Rev the engine.  Again, try to squelch the urge to weep openly.

Step six:  Attach the other end of the cables to your nipples. 

Step seven:  It shouldn’t hurt.  If it doesn’t hurt, rip the cables off the nipples.

Step eight:  Repeat every 3-4 hours until you have formed a bond with the truck, beyond the love-at-first-sight weeping you did earlier.

From my perspective, that is what breastfeeding is like.  There’s cracking, leaking, and wailing.  There’s also bleeding, crying, and cringing—Sunday does most of that—and Jonah simply wants to be fed.  Often.  More than Sunday wants to feed him.  It’s a difficult balance.  We both know that we should love Jonah, but the pain involved doesn’t help matters much

Consequently, during this first few weeks of Jonah’s life, Sunday really didn’t like the little guy.  The way he was treating her, I don’t think he liked her either.  It was rough.

Now, before you start thinking about Sunday’s toughness here, I must rush to her defense.   Sunday and I both thought breastfeeding was a great idea.  She thought it was a terrific opportunity to provide Jonah with the perfect food and with the antibodies he needs as a newborn. Everybody wins.

We had read just about everything on raising a newborn, and almost everyone said that breastfeeding was the best, there is absolutely no way anyone in her right mind would choose the bottle, and that we’re darn near abusing our child if we even passed by the formula section of the grocery store.  Aside from the nutrition, we also understood that the breastfeeding would help bond mother and child, and provide a time for the family to grow together as a unit. 

Breastfeeding is serious stuff, not to be ignored.  If we happened to not have an immediate answer to the “breast or bottle” question, there are always those people who believe it is their duty to spread the gospel of guilt when it comes to whatever they believe in.  They usually warned us about the higher rates of ear infection, colds, lower intelligence, and all-around malaise for those poor street urchins who happened to have mothers who didn’t choose to breast feed. 

After a while, we were convinced that we’d get arrested or something if we bought a can of Infamil. 

On top of the guilt trips, one of Sunday’s “friends” tried to encourage her in her breastfeeding effort by telling her how wonderful the experience is and how she enjoyed every second of the time she breastfed.  To hear this “friend” tell it, she breastfed her kids until they could reach around and unhook her bra strap with one hand. 

Needless to say, the pressure was on.  When, in the second week, Sunday was considering a self-mastectomy because she wasn’t experiencing the wonder and thrill of breastfeeding, she asked her “friend” what was wrong.  That’s when “friend” fessed up.  In her enthusiasm to “encourage” Sunday, she may have told a stretcher or two.  I think she breast-fed her first kid for four weeks and her second a little longer.  (Definition of encourage:  lie.)    

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Fresh Hell: Getting up the Middle of the Night, Part II

So what if I was a jellyfish in the middle of the night?  So what if my knees buckled at the sound of a baby crying?  So what if I didn’t know how to change a diaper.  So what?

After a quick second, though, I had gotten the courage. 

“HONEY.”  No, I didn’t say it that loud.  It was more of a “honey”  or even a “honey.”  No caveman yet, ok?

She opened her eyes.  I could tell they were open in the dark room for two reasons: 

1.  She was so tired, her eyelids creaked. 
2.  The red laser light of her anger flashed around the room. 

At this point, I was wondering why Jonah wasn’t crying anymore.  I was also wondering why I was in the room, waking up Sunday and causing a huge stinky commotion in the middle of the night. 

Sunday was wondering the same thing.

“I couldn’t get him to be quiet.”

“You haven’t been in there that long, have you?”

“You’ve been asleep.  You don’t know how long I’ve been in there.”

“Matt, he’s been screaming the whole time.  I’ve been awake.”  I looked at Jonah with silent blame.

“I don’t know how to get him to be quiet.”

“Try again.” 

This “try again” was said in about the same tone your mother uses when she says your first and middle names.  It’s a warning, a sign that all three names will soon be used and then a fresh hell will be unleashed in an unmerciful fury against which no one on the planet will be able to withstand. 

Sunday, the merciful, was giving me a warning. 

I didn’t get it.  “Well, I was hoping you’d help…”

“No.  I am going to sleep and you are going to take care of him.”


Here is the most damning thing she’s said to me.  Ever.  “Because you said you would.”

That was it.  No cave man.  No Jell-O spine.  No quitting.  I said I would and I was going to have to do it.  Now, she was telling me:  “Suck it up and quit being a baby.”  I would have to engage in the difficult things. I had to wipe that stupid look off my face, walk back into Jonah’s room, and stay there until he passed out.   Not because I wanted to, or because Jonah needed it.  I was going to plug in, raise my IQ, and get to work because Sunday expected it of me.

As she said, “Because you said you would,” I had no response.  No reply.  Nada.  I stood there, in the dark, holding our baby with nothing to say.

You know what Sunday’s response to my silence was?  She rolled over and went back to sleep.  She was snoring by the time I had collected my thoughts well enough to realize Jonah was asleep, too. 

I’ve thought about that night for a number of reasons, and I’ve always asked why she confident enough to go back to sleep.  Some women would have badgered me until I gave up my will to live or simply refused to ask me to do anything from then on.

No, here are the reasons I believe Sunday rolled over and went to sleep.

1.  She decided that there could only be one exhausted parent in Jonah’s life, and I had been chosen to be that parent.

2.  She was not in the mood for my garbage.  This one’s important.  There are times when I absolutely need her to swallow a big shovel full of my attitude.  I need it.  There, in the middle of the night, was NOT one of those times.

3.  She knew that, if she took Jonah then, she would take him for the rest of his nocturnal scream-fests.  A kick from Jackie Chan couldn’t get me out of bed if there was a chance that she would end up taking him.

4.  She knew I could handle it.  No emotional melt-downs, no hierarchy of knowledge.  Neither one of us knew what we were doing, so it didn’t matter who was trying to get him to shut up.  Our ignorance was parallel and simultaneous.  (That means that we walked in oblivion, all at the same time.)

5.  She knew Jonah didn’t care which one of us got him back to sleep.  He just wanted to sleep.  And since Sunday was the one in the supine position, then I must have been the one who got him out of bed.  Thus, it was my job to put him back. 

6.  She knew I’d do it.  She knew it.  She didn’t have the fear that I’d forget, or I wouldn’t think it was important or that I’d whine until she woke up again.  She could trust me enough to take our small baby back to his room, lay him down, and run quickly away before he started crying again.  She knew I’d do it. 

Looking back on that night, I’m glad she left me holding the baby.  That meant she cared enough—about me AND about Jonah—to do that.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stuff I'm not Equipped to Do: Getting up in the Middle of the Night

When we brought Jonah home, I was prepared to do anything.  I wanted to help, I wanted to be involved, and I felt myself developing a gritty determination to climb mountains, cross icy streams and wear a pork-chop dress while wrestling a grizzly bear to show I was a New Millennium Dad, one who is involved and engaged in the child rearing.  I was so pumped, I should have had theme music.  It was tremendous.

Then, the second week started. 

We had begun a system where I would feed Jonah the last feeding of the night and Sunday would get up in the middle of the night to feed him.  If Jonah woke up after I fed him, however, I was to take care of getting him to be quiet and go back to sleep, before he needs to eat in the middle of the night. 

The first time I got “the kick” I was out of the bed and ready for action.  For the uninitiated, “the kick” could range in ferocity from a gentle touch with an ice-cold big toe to a foot assault that Pele could not complete.  

At any rate, that first night found me ready to accomplish my task and be back in bed within the half hour.

Pitiful Amateurism.  Sweet Ignorance.   
I swaggered into Jonah’s room and began my efforts to calm him. 
First, I picked him up. 
Still screaming. 

I gently rocked him. 
Still screaming. 

I checked his diaper, turned on some music, and told some jokes. 
Still screaming. 

After about five minutes of this, I was on my knees begging this kid to be quiet. I pride myself on being a problem solver, one who can recognize the negativity in a situation and work to resolve it.  At the foot of my child’s crib, surrounded by stuffed animals in the shape of Snoopy, my iron will buckled.

I quickly resorted to bargaining, which, by the way, is one of steps a dying person takes when he tries to resolve the idea of dying too soon.  I tried everything—and I do mean everything—in the span of 6 ½ minutes and Jonah wasn’t having any.  It was embarrassing, but I was pleading with a person who was two weeks old to “quit being a baby and suck it up.”  I knew he wanted only one thing—or at least a choice of one or the other thing—and I wasn’t equipped to provide either one, if you know what I mean.  Anyway, my efforts failed miserably, so I decided to risk my life and ask Sunday for help. 

As I walked the short hallway back to our apartment with young Jonah, I felt a powerful change come over me.  I began to zone out Jonah’s cries, my face was contorting and I literally felt my IQ dropping about 25 points.  Yes, on that trip down the hallway, I was turning into an imbecile.  I was fully prepared to genuflect at Sunday's mighty, motherly powers and never attempt to fly where only mothers tread, or something like that.  I had given up.  Jonah had whipped me.  I couldn’t get him to shut up.  I couldn’t think, I couldn’t comfort him, I couldn’t cry louder than he could, and I couldn’t take it anymore. They were the worst ten minutes of my life, a sad commentary on the type of father I thought I’d be and the father I was now becoming.  My spine melted and it was replaced with instant Jell-O—sugar free nonetheless.

And it was only a fortnight after Sunday had gone through a pretty tough birth experience.  It was tougher than my birth experience, I can tell you that.

It was pitch black in the room, which is good, because it matched the color of my wicked soul.  I was about to take the step that could change our parenting.  I was choosing the full night’s sleep, the poop free hands, and the world of ignorant bliss.  I was choosing to be an old-school Dad in a new millennium.  I would get a job, make money and take care of my brood financially.  A cave man.  That’s what I’d be.  I’d be a cave man that continued to club things and eat them raw, trichinosis be damned.   I would be brave in other arenas, conquer other hills, and rebuild my spine in the outside world.  So what if I was a jelly fish in the middle of the night?  So what if my knees buckled at the sound of a baby crying?  So what if I didn’t know how to change a diaper.  So what?