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Sometimes you end up nursing your baby in the driver’s seat of your minivan in the parking lot of McDonald’s because his persistent screaming from the back seat was about to make you plunge your car into a snow bank. No varieties or volume of music would assuage him, nor your own voice, which is admittedly becoming less soothing. You’re on your way home. It’s been a long day filled with things that did not go well. Why is he screaming? It’s anyone’s guess. He is probably teething. Although he has seemed like he has been teething for the past six months or so. He is probably hungry, because it’s dinner time. You’re hungry. You plied him with cheerios and yogurt melts earlier, and you attempted to give him milk. But as is his habit lately, he will not breastfeed when there are people or things nearby that might be remotely stimulating. He drinks a few sips and–although you know he is hungry and you know plenty of milk is available–he wrests away and tries to throw himself onto the floor so he can crawl toward something compelling, like a glass object. He may be crying because his sister is not in the back seat with him as she usually is, since she has just been dropped off for a sleepover. She is a reliable source of companionship, entertainment, and cheer, and she is missing. He may be tired–as you are–and crying is his favorite way of expressing that. He may be frustrated that he has removed one of his socks but not the other. There is no telling. But you realize you cannot make it home while enduring the screaming any longer, so you pull into the parking lot, as far away from other cars as possible, and try to nurse. At first he refuses, clinging to his tears and then distracted by the novelty of the steering wheel, the gear shift, the buttons that control the music and temperature. Eventually, thankfully, basic desire for nourishment overcomes innate curiosity and he turns to you for milk. And he drinks.

After a while you step gingerly out of the car and oh so carefully try to put him back in his carseat, talking softly to him to try to erase any lingering memory of his previous activity there. He is quiet. You strap him in. You get back in the driver’s seat and start to pull back onto the road. He starts to cry again. Your heartbeat accelerates and your hands clench the steering wheel. You start to sing “Old MacDonald” (no relation to the restaurant–different spelling) and run through your mental catalogue of 15 or so animals. He is quiet again. You are so tired you start getting the animal noises wrong. You switch to “The Wheels on the Bus” and exhaust the list of bus features and riders. He is still quiet. You stop singing and feel profound gratitude for the silence.

On good days, parenting is made up of many ecstatic moments interrupted by a few exasperating ones. On bad days, the reverse. Some days as a parent I can rejoice in the trivial triumphs, like getting Zeke’s nails clipped so he won’t claw himself or us in fits of excitement or fatigue. Other days I look around at the colossal mess and the long list of undone items and struggle to see what I’ve accomplished, other than keeping everyone fed and alive. Which is something, but sometimes seems like a low bar.

While I am a working mom, my work only happens during the hours that Zeke is in day care and Zoe is in school, or sometimes at night if necessary. Although night office hours are much fewer and further between since Zeke was born since his sleep patterns are utterly unpredictable. But I am on my own with the kids most afternoons, and with Zeke on Fridays, and typically on snow days, so I did identify with this post by The Ugly Volvo. Parenting a baby can be so spectacularly joyful and so thoroughly frustrating from moment to moment.

At this moment, thankfully, Zeke is asleep. It was a hard-fought nap. He has a cold, so he was only willing to nurse briefly because breastfeeding makes it hard for him to breathe when he’s congested. I knew he was tired and still hungry but he screamed and battled fiercely when I tried to keep feeding him. Eventually I liberated him from his napping cocoon and took him downstairs to play while I pumped four ounces. Luckily I was able to entice him to stay in the play area instead of crawling off to find uncovered electrical outlets while I was tethered to the breast pump. Then we returned upstairs and he sat up and gave himself the bottle while I sneakily eased him half into the cocoon. As soon as he finished drinking and discarded the bottled I zipped him all the way up, singing “The Wheels on the Bus” at the top of my lungs to distract him from his capture. Then I rocked him and toned it down until he zonked out.

At nine months, he seems gigantic. He’s wearing 18-month clothes and stretches out way beyond your arms when you’re holding him. And he’s so tough and sturdy. He hardly seems like a baby because he appears indestructible (don’t test this, please). He just steamrolls over toys of any shape or size to get what he wants. He crawls so much faster than you expect and then you really don’t have time to look away or do anything you thought you’d have time to do between when you put him down and when he’s at the top of the stairs, or in the kitchen. He’s made a game of taking a toy and throwing it on front of him and crawling to get it and can repeat this over and over circuiting around the first floor of our house. At long last, he has two teeth–one fully in and the other emerging–and loves to use them to crunch. In fact he’s so excited to feed himself that more often than not he wants cheerios and the other little crunchy things instead of the baby food. I think the baby food is getting boring. But we haven’t quite gotten to the point where he can eat what we’re eating. Probably what has to happen is us putting in the extra effort to make some table food that’s appropriate for him, but we haven’t quite managed to do that yet. And I’m also not sure that anything I can make will be as nutritious as these little pouches of spinach, apple, and rutabaga, or plum, berry, and quinoa.

Zeke recently discovered clapping, and today I saw him pick up two blocks and clap them together and enjoyed his reaction when he created his first hand-held percussion instrument (aside from one of his favorite hobbies of smacking and tapping all wooden surfaces). Much like his sister and his parents, he loves music. Yesterday we went to the open house at Zoe’s former preschool, which will hopefully be Zeke’s preschool next fall. One of the first people we ran into was the music teacher there. One of my favorite times when I used to co-op in Zoe’s class was going to music class and seeing the kids either enthusiastically sing and dance and stomp around, or just observe mutely. I am reading the book Quiet right now and gaining a better understanding of how personality develops and what it means when kids are introverted or extroverted or low-reactive or high-reactive or sensitive and the various combinations of all of those factors. And I know participating in preschool music class isn’t really everyone’s thing, but I think all of the kids are still taking it in on some level, and how it comes back out remains to be seen. Zoe was not always a jubilant singer, but that didn’t inhibit the development of her fascination with and intense enjoyment of music. Today in church, she was sitting with me in the front row, right behind the grand piano, percussionists, and bassist, with a great view of the choir. On the first Sunday of the month, kids start out in the sanctuary and participate in the first part of the service, then listen to a story for all ages, and then go to their religious education classes. But after the first couple songs, Zoe said emphatically, “I want to stay for the music. I don’t want to go to class.” So she stayed, and she seemed as entranced and moved by the music as I was, singing to herself quietly, but clearly part of the moment.

Is it easy to be hard on yourself as a parent, or as a nursing mom, or as a nursing, working mom. Sometimes things do not go the way you expected them to go, or the way you think they must magically go for everyone else. But sometimes they work out fine. And sometimes your baby beams at you for minutes at a time without breaking eye contact, showing you the best way he knows how exactly how much he loves you. And sometimes your first-grader holds your hand and sings with you in church, or snuggles up to read, or gives you a kiss when she knows you’re feeling beaten down, and she even says “I love you,” because she can, and she does. And a nap would be nice, but you know you’ll make it through one way or another.

 

The truth is that I don’t really mind it, and I actually kind of love it. Except for the occasional morning that I wake up with little feet kicking my face, I find contentment and joy in snuggling and nursing through the night with my baby in the guest bed in our office.

Certainly, I miss my husband and sharing a bed with him. And absolutely part of my longs for the return of the eight-hour night of uninterrupted sleep I have enjoyed many nights in the past before my son was born (or really before I was hugely pregnant with him and had to get up frequently to pee).

There was a time, when he was about three or four months old, when Zeke did sleep through the night, or would get up once a night to nurse. That was pretty awesome. Then in October he had surgery, and has subsequently refused to sleep in his crib for more than 30 minutes at a time. As a result, we’ve let him sleep in his car seat, since that was the only place he would sleep for many weeks, and with us. And more often, just with me. It’s easier to fit a baby (who any parent will know actually takes up most of the bed despite his relatively small size) and a grown-up in a double bed than a baby and two grown-ups in a queen size bed. So what happens these days is we put Zeke to bed in his car seat, wedged between pillows, on the floor of the office. The sound of the ocean plays on the iPad. He will sleep there from about 7:30 until 9 or 10 when he needs a snuggle or a pacifier reinsertion or a quick snack. Then he will usually go back to sleep. Then around midnight, he will wake up and demand our attention until he is fed. I have tried on a few occasions to feed him and put him back in the seat. But then I go to bed and invariably he will wake up at 1 or 2 and demand whatever he is demanding and I am too sleepy to thoughtfully discern what it is, so I just take him to bed. Because of this, it’s much more restful just to go to sleep with him when he gets up at midnight. So what happens pretty much every night is that Randy and I are doing whatever we’re doing and we hear him cry, and we will race upstairs so I can brush my teeth and set my alarm and take my vitamins while Randy distracts Zeke, until I’m ready to set up camp in the office. I will feed Zeke until he falls back asleep and I will fall asleep, and we will sleep peacefully together until he wakes up looking for more. The beautiful advantage to this arrangement is that when he wakes up hungry it takes me 30 seconds of being awake to take care of him instead of 30 minutes if I were in my bed and stumbling in the dark to assuage him.

And also he’s very snuggly. When I put him to bed for the evening, or give him naps during the day, he usually starts nursing like a small, fierce, wild animal. He wriggles and writhes. He pulls his hair and scratches his head and pokes himself in the ear. I have no idea why, but he always does. If I try to insert my hand in the midst of his clawing, he bats it away. He does this while he eats, long enough that I begin to think he is not going to ever calm down, until suddenly, in a moment of transcendence, he is calm. He settles down, except for an occasional gentle flail, and finishes his meal in peace. And it’s beautiful. That transition from frenetic energy to contented tranquility is so satisfying.

I know there are many ardent opinions about babies and sleep. Every time I post on Facebook about this topic, parents express their sympathies and their advice. I am not asking for advice here, or approval. I am not–and would never–suggest what works for me is right for anyone else. I am simply expressing that I am thankful that we have an extra bed, my husband waits patiently for my return to our bed, and that our son loves to snuggle with me and eat. I know that he will not be this little for very much longer, and the I will not be nursing him forever, and there will be a time where it is not practical or pleasant anymore. I know we will raise an independent little boy who will one day enjoy his crib and his bed on his own. But right now, at this moment, I know this is a good thing for Zeke and me. I feel so lucky that I can feed him well and show him in this way how much he is loved. And I am sleeping a lot better than I used to.

Zoe used to play at being pregnant and giving birth, constantly. She was a very fertile preschooler. Thankfully, she’s finished with frequent labor and delivery and focused on raising her babies. In particular she has a favorite doll named Eve who smells like vanilla. Zoe was three when she received Eve as a post-surgery recovery present from a friend of mine. Sweetly, since Zeke was born, Zoe has focused more on mothering Eve, and compares notes with me as if we are in a moms group together.

One day over the summer I came home from somewhere and Zoe rushed out of the house and started pacing the sidewalk with Eve. “She just won’t settle down,” she said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. I’ve fed her and changed her but she’s still fussy!” Hmmm. Where had we heard that before?

Sometimes when I feed Zeke dinner, Zoe feeds Eve and discusses which baby foods Eve likes and doesn’t like and when she will move into eating table food.

My favorite moment, though, was recently when we were sitting on the floor of Zoe and Zeke’s bedroom, and Zoe was holding Eve. Zoe lifted up her shirt and held Eve to her chest. “She is always hungry!” Zoe said wearily, as she began to nurse.

It’s good to have a small mom–right here in our house–to commiserate with.

I have never giggled so much at having my face smeared with drool.

Today was Zeke’s and my last baby yoga class and it was comical. I realized we’ve been doing mommy-baby yoga for six months now, and it’s kind of amazing to think we’ve been doing anything together for six months. Zeke is like the wise elder of the class, filled with babies who are still counting their age in weeks. I’ve loved this class, and so has Zeke. Most of the time during class he is delighted, except when he is hungry and we have to pause our poses for a snack. Zeke especially loves the teacher, Kathy, who is very attentive to the babies. His face lights up when she approaches and he is mesmerized. Unfortunately Kathy wasn’t there today and there was a substitute, who didn’t really care much about the babies. She also taught the class completely differently, making it basically moms attempt to do yoga in the presence of their babies, or holding their babies, without any baby yoga involved or any poses specifically chosen for baby interaction purposes. So Zeke and I will have to do our toes to nose and kissy feet and I love yous on our own. Anyway, mostly what happened today was that I did a few poses, Zeke drank a lot of milk, and then Zeke scooted on and over and under me while I did a few poses. And, because Zeke is a fountain of drool at all times, Zeke drooled on my neck and chest and, for a few shining moments of intimacy, nuzzled his drooly face up against mine, completely soaking my cheek while I tried to do a bridge pose. It was hard not to laugh.

I am sad that we’re done with yoga, but Zeke just won’t be still enough for it to work. Next we will go in search of a toddler yoga class, as soon as he’s toddling, which won’t be long now.

I’m sure everyone in my family has now seen more of my breasts, and more often, than they ever expected or cared to. My boy Zeke loves to nurse. And why wouldn’t he? Thankfully, he’s a good sleeper, usually going through the night without needing to eat these days. As a result, however, he packs it in during the day, breastfeeding six or eight or a dozen times a day. I lose count. Every day I intend to keep track, but my brain is so cloudy that I forget. He enjoys long, luxurious meals. He appreciates quick snacks. When I’m out in public, especially in a crowded place or if strangers are seated nearby, I feed Zeke under a nursing cover. I can’t imagine it’s very discreet, because anyone would see what I’m doing, but at least my boobs and my belly are not exposed to a room full of people. But at home, or on vacation, I don’t bother. So Family, I hope you haven’t been offended. I am nutritious.

After a long and thorough search for an acceptable day care provider to care for Zeke when I go back to work in earnest, I found someone who has run her home-based day care for 33 years. Her house is five minutes from ours and she seemed conscientious and the kids there seemed happy. Zeke won’t start there until September, and even then he will only be with her two days a week and with my parents for two. I’m sure he’ll be fine, and if I decide I don’t like her, we can always take him out and find someone else. And yet. Putting him in day care at all feels like a colossal betrayal. I am his source of sustenance. Sure, he’s taken bottles of breast milk from his dad and grandparents and great aunt. But it’s me he loves to eat from and with. Sure, there’s some ego involved here. Being the mother of a baby is nothing if not a rush to the ego–look what my body developed and birthed and now I’m feeding him and he’s growing and WOW — I am doing this. Even if it’s basically all happening automatically and you’re not really doing anything yourself, just letting yourself be used as a vessel and a milk factory. Still, it feels impressive and gratifying. Much as you feel pleased with yourself when you take him to the grocery store in the stroller and buy $100 worth of groceries that you shop for with a basket attached to each side of the stroller and then you stroll home the half mile with 9 bags hanging from the hooks on your stroller handlebars. You don’t always have that many opportunities to feel really physically competent–or at least I don’t–but taking care of this baby provides plenty.

I realize that soon after he starts day care, he will likely start eating some solid food, so he won’t be as dependent on nursing as he is now. At some point, that will be a relief to me and certainly to Zoe, who is visibly frustrated with the lack of intimacy she is able to share with me now in terms of snuggles and lap time because Zeke is so often occupying my arms and taking priority. Life will be easier for me, just simpler and less demanding, when I don’t have to nurse so much. But at the same time that intensity of being needed, and being able to provide such an essential service for this wonderful little person, will diminish. And as much as constant breastfeeding has driven me insane, when I just want to eat a sandwich or go to the bathroom, the thought of giving it up makes me equally sad. I know I’m not giving it up just because he’ll be in day care, but it will all be different. And we know change is hard. Although when you have kids, change happens about every five minutes whether you like it or not.

I can see Zoe changing by the minute since her brother was born. While she seems less likely to listen the first time and increasingly able to stand and stare at us when we ask her to do something, or why she did or didn’t do something, wearing this expression of complete intransigence, she is also more independent and both able and willing (if sometimes resigned to doing so with a loud sigh) to amuse herself for long stretches. I guess she realizes it’s either be her own entertainment or stand around being pathetic while we take care of her brother. Last summer I took her to the pool almost every day after camp and played with her in the water. This summer it has proven complicated and exhausting to get in the water with Zeke, although I’ve done it a handful of times, and Zoe has adapted quite nicely. She swims by herself, throwing in pool toys and diving to catch them, or she makes friends, or she plays with kids she’s met before. She’s adapted.

Before Zeke was born, Randy and I easily agreed that we would be sure to spend one-on-one time with Zoe to make sure she got enough attention. Of course that makes sense and is what any good parent would do. But then life happens and it’s harder to do the things that obviously of course you should be doing. I had this idea that I was spending all this time with Zoe because I spend a lot of time driving her places and watching her swim, or do tae kwan do, or what have you. But Zeke is always there. And as often as not, screaming in the car.

So finally, I took Zoe out today for a mommy-daughter outing, to get our nails done. Something definitely not appropriate for babies and something only big girls get to do. She chose neon orange for her toes, and what she called sparkly indigo for her fingernails. And she got flower designs on her thumbs and big toes. Then we went out to lunch, where Randy and Zeke met us. Thoughtfully, Zeke slept through lunch.

Then after lunch I had the opportunity to indulge myself in some mommy-alone-without-kids-and-not-attempting-to-do-work-or-errands time, while Randy hung out with Zoe and Zeke at home. I had a reflexology foot massage, supremely relaxing in its own right, but also just blissful in that I was just on my own, being taken care of, and not taking care of anyone else at all. Even for a minute. My breasts safely cocooned inside my shirt.

It’s good to be needed, even when it’s exhausting. And it’s good to have the chance to give something to other people who need you besides the little one who just likes to suckle and smile. And it’s good to take care of yourself once in a while. And now that it’s bedtime for the grown-ups, that means it’s time for me to pump, to make a bottle for Zeke to enjoy with someone else who loves him.

When I arrived at school yesterday to pick Zoe up after her last day of kindergarten, I found her, fully clothed in her Abingdon t-shirt (“I want to wear it on the last day to show everyone how much I like Abingdon,” she said) and some shorts, sitting and splashing in a baby pool with several of her friends to cool off. She was soaked. And why not? What else is there to do after the last day of school? Apparently water games were part of the last day carnival that the extended day teachers creatively and generously put on for the kids but Zoe neglected to tell me about it the night before. Whatever. It’s the last day of school! Getting wet in your clothes makes it easier to not be too sad about the end of a fabulous year.

I saw Zoe’s wonderful teacher in the hallway as I was wheeling Zeke through the school to find Zoe, and thanked her again. Part of me wanted to hug her, but I knew if I did I would cry and I didn’t feel like she needed to deal with me crying. I did tell her, despite myself, that I found out I was pregnant with Zeke on the first day of school. So somehow the last day of school seemed like my little baby bubble was popping. I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of help and support from family and friends over the past eight weeks to make life easier for me and to allow me to focus on Zeke. Randy has driven Zoe to school every day since Zeke was born, which has been huge. On Monday Zoe will start camp which, thankfully, begins an hour and a half later than school starts, so it will be once again up to me to take charge of things in the morning. I am confident I can handle this, but I’m a little sad for the end of my morning repose with Zeke.

But I digress. While Zoe finished splashing with her friends, I nursed Zeke in the hallway, briefly chatting with the strings teacher, greeting other teachers who walked by, and meeting the technology teacher when she came by to admire Zeke. I saw tonight that she had posted a video of the Big Wave, an Abingdon tradition where all the teachers and staff sing and dance and send off the kids on the last afternoon. I love this school. Throughout the year, and especially over the past few weeks when it would seem all learning had ceased, Zoe did so many fun and interesting things at school. Her teachers and the other kindergarten teachers found creative and enriching activities to keep them engaged. She learned about Betsy Ross, magnets, the different between needs and wants, and introductory economics using musical chairs. The extended day teachers brought in a DJ for a dance party and hosted a slumber party. Field day was apparently the most fun Zoe had ever had in her life. Last night we went through a variety of workbooks and projects that Zoe brought home. She read us her end of the year book. She thoughtfully completed the final few pages in the My Kindergarten Year book that we gave her at the beginning of the year. Tonight we took her out for dinner at the restaurant of her choice (Lost Dog) followed by dessert of her choice (Dairy Queen) to celebrate her accomplishments during kindergarten and today’s tae kwan do belt ceremony where she broke her board (on the second try!) and earned her green stripe belt. We made toasts to each other.

Afternoons managing two kids are challenging, and this year has not been without its tough spots, including Zoe’s surgery, a rough pregnancy, and the trying minutiae that gets magnified and seems to consume us sometimes. But it’s lovely to end the year on a good note. We have a delightful rising first-grader and a cute baby boy who now often greets us with smiles. So what if the air conditioner is broken. We are lucky people. Let’s go jump in the baby pool.

I am constantly worried that people are judging my children (and thereby judging me as a parent). If my baby is crying, I worry that they will judge him to be a bad baby or me to be a bad mother who is unable to soothe her fussy baby. When people ask, “is he a good baby?” I feel like they’re suggesting that if he’s not (what’s a good baby anyway?) that somehow he is defective or I am defective. In my mind there is a great deal of weight attached to well-meaning or innocuous comments or questions from strangers or friends. I’ve wondered for the past several weeks if Zoe’s teachers or other adults at school think she is neglected because her has rarely been brushed since her brother was born. Dad has been taking her to school each day so I can rest or nurse and hairbrushing is often one of the items that gets dropped from the morning to do list. Which is fine, in the scheme of things. She is dressed in clean clothes and she is fed and she usually brings her lunch. But still.

When I am driving and I do something I know is wrong, or slightly illegal, I often compose excuses or justifications in my head as part of imaginary conversations with police officers who might pull me over. I am sincerely repentant and simultaneously indignant about being theoretically called on minor offenses. I don’t think other people have these conversations in their heads. Do they?

I don’t know how long I have felt this shadow of judgment looming over me, but it’s been a long time.

One time at lunch a friend of mine–whose frankness and fierceness I admire and also am a little scared of–said she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of her. She wondered, but seemingly without too much concern, if that was a bad thing. Instinctively, I think it is. But I am on the other end of the spectrum and that is a bad thing too. I think caring what other people think of you helps you be more compassionate and sympathetic, maybe more reliable. Who knows? But obsessing about what other people think and whether they are evaluating your every move is not helpful.

I’m reading the new¬†book by Glennon Melton, the mom and blogger behind Momastery. Glennon’s whole thing is about how we, as moms, or really as humans, need to love more and judge less. She has plenty of personal history that would be easy to judge, and she freely admits where her faults and imperfections still lie. And she is so reassuring. Clearly this is why thousands of people read her blog and comment on her Facebook posts and show up at her readings. If she is such a mess and still such a wonderful person who is clearly trying to do the right thing, and often succeeding, and bringing so much love into the lives of people around her and the total strangers for whom she organizes “love flash mobs” to help in times of crisis, we must be all right too. Right?

When Zoe was born I struggled with feeling isolated as a new mom. Even though I had friends with babies, they all seemed to be far away. We don’t live in a neighborhood filled with kids. Everyone seemed to work. I went to Moms Club events but didn’t seem to connect with anyone or have the opportunity to have a conversation longer than a few minutes because of all the crying babies. I didn’t take a childbirth class or prenatal yoga class where I bonded with all the other moms. It wasn’t until Zoe started preschool at one-and-a-half that I felt like I started to make some local mom friends. Thankfully I am still friends with some of those moms.

But with one exception, none of them have newborns. And though I swore I’d do it differently this time, when you have a kindergartener already, it’s difficult to do everything you want to do. So I find myself again feeling kind of lonely at home, trying to balance relaxing and nursing and trying to be zen with going out and interacting with people to feel sane. Today at Trader Joe’s I wore Zeke in a baby carrier while I shopped. It took him a while to settle down so I was kind of jiggling and rocking as I pushed the cart along, and frequently slid my hands inside the carrier to adjust him to try to make him more comfortable. The whole time I was wondering if people were looking at me, if they thought I was doing it right or wrong. A few people smiled. There were a couple other moms wearing babies and one of them complimented Zeke’s hair. In the parking lot afterward there was a woman getting out of her car, right next to mine, who was carefully inserting her baby into a carrier on her chest, and then extracting her toddler from the car. I asked the mom about her carrier and we chatted briefly. She was friendly but clearly on her way to shop. Some part of me felt like saying, “hey we’re both wearing our babies and have two kids! Can we be friends?” But I didn’t. A few weeks ago outside the Giant in my neighborhood I was having a snack while Zeke slept in the stroller, and another mom on the next bench over was doing the same, with a baby who turned out to be just a week younger than Zeke. Before we walked away, I was tempted to ask for her email address so we could meet up at the park. But I didn’t.

In her blog post today, Glennon talked about going to the makeup counter at a department store and striking up a conversation with the makeup lady who ended up having an intense personal story to tell, which Glennon generously listened to and witnessed. I admire her ability to reach out to people–strangers–and make those connections. Sometimes I want to talk with someone so much but I can’t bring myself to do it. Or ask for a little–very little–help from a stranger. Today I took Zeke and myself out to lunch and while I ate my cheeseburger with one hand, I was cradling and nursing him in the other. I finished my drink and wanted a refill. There was a table of 8 women right next to me and I was tempted to ask one if she would mind getting me some more soda, but I couldn’t do it. She probably wouldn’t have minded. I would be delighted to do something like that if I were asked. But people don’t usually ask. Part of me was worried, I think, that people in the restaurant would be judging me, wondering why I was bringing my newborn to a restaurant, or why I was drinking soda while breastfeeding, or why I couldn’t take care of things myself. They probably weren’t. But still.

I’m trying to figure out how I can make myself reach out more. And wondering what to tell myself when I worry that people will judge me for reaching out. Who cares what they think? Clearly, I do. But why?

Do you remember this song from Sesame Street?

This little tune runs through my head often these days, as I lead a milk-soaked existence.

I am a milk machine.

This is miraculous.

And messy.

Yesterday during Zoe’s tae kwan do class I suddenly realized that the left half of my shirt was soaked through with milk. I spent most of class nursing Zeke anyway, so no one could see anyway. When I had to get up, walk across the mat where Zoe’s class was practicing their punches, kicks, and form, to reach the bathroom so I could change Zeke’s diaper, I cleverly draped his flannel frog blanket over my shoulder, obscuring my dampness.

Our sheets are populated by milk stains, either fresh from me or dribbled out of Zeke’s mouth. When I nurse and the milk comes out too fast and Zeke pulls away, the milk gets all over his clothes and me and my pants. I go through so many shirts and bras. Breast pads are of limited utility.

When Zoe was three and a half months old, my sister got married. Zoe was the ring bearer and my husband was the ring bearer bearer. Zoe spent most of the wedding sleeping on the shoulder of my mom or aunt. As you might imagine, a bridesmaid dress doesn’t allow for easy access to nursing, nor is there much opportunity to pump (or express milk, if you prefer) during your sister’s wedding. By the end of the evening, the top of my dress was soaked through with milk. I still have it in my closet, although the dry cleaner was not able to get the stain out of the material. Not sure what use I might have for it, except as a souvenir.

A friend who doesn’t have children and doesn’t expect to recently asked me about nursing. Was it wonderful? Was it terrible? Breastfeeding is amazing. It is spectacular that, without me having to do ANYTHING special, my body produces this perfect food for my baby. How cool is that? And it’s free! AND Zeke loves to drink my milk (as did Zoe) and my body makes a ton of it–maybe even too much?–but it’s a great problem to have.

Breastfeeding is intimate, as you can understand, but also public, because you have to do it all over the place when your baby is hungry. It is sweet and tender, except when your baby is fussing and crying and freaking out for no apparent reason. It is relaxing, especially when you’re doing it at home in a comfortable chair, or stressful, when you’re trying to do it in some crowded place and people are getting in your face. Breastfeeding produces some sort of happy hormones (in the mom). It is impossible for me not to fall asleep almost instantly when I go in during the middle of the night to feed Zeke. I end up sleeping in the glider for hours sometimes, which somehow seems wrong, but I guess it’s fine.

Nursing your baby makes you feel very competent, except when it doesn’t. I am grateful for all the ladies at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington for their guidance. Zeke has been great, and the fact that he gained more than two pounds during his first three weeks of life is evident of his rock star ability to nurse, but that doesn’t mean it’s been without tense moments.

Speaking of which, I hear the siren call from the crib of a hungry baby. Duty calls.

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