The Light in the Darkness

The other day my kids and I were watching some old videos from when the older two were both tiny little bits with adorable little baby babbles.  Miles looked at me asked me, “Mommy…when Nora was born did you ever think you were going to have another baby.”

I had to answer him honestly, that I hadn’t.  I remember there being a fleeting thought of another baby, but it quickly faded.  The time since Nora was born hasn’t always been wonderful.  In fact, there have been a lot of dark times.  It started with a hard pregnancy, and then a few months afterward, postpartum depression that pulled me down deep.  Then came 2016.  

In one year, I watched my healthy, active, full of life uncle pass away from cancer less than a year after being diagnosed.  Just a few months later one of my grandmas passed away.  Then the very next month both my grandma and grandpa on the other side of my family ended up hospitalized on the same day, my grandma from a stroke that has left her bedridden and unable to go home for over 2 years now.  My mother had to rush to California to care for them, and hasn’t ever really been able to return home to Arizona.  As we debated my flying out as well, our house flooded.  A few days later a friend of ours got into a terrible accident while trying to help us fix the water drainage issue that caused the flooding.  And then a few days after that, we got the news that another beloved family member was just diagnosed with another life threatening illness.  It was like we couldn’t catch our breathe.

Things kept happening in the circle around us…people getting sick or dying, friends walking through the unspeakable pain of losing precious 4-month-old babies, people getting laid off, people we loved struggling with trauma.  There were so many funerals that year that I lost count.  There were many things that are not my story to tell, but that affected us greatly.   

It was dark.  I felt myself asking questions of God I’d never had to ask before…never felt I had the right to ask before.

In all this, there was no thought of another baby.  In some ways, deep down, it seemed like if we did have another baby we’d only be met with more sickness and loss…just like everything and everyone else around us.

But it was in all that darkness that the light of Christ broke through and shined on us like a beacon of hope.  He brought us out of the darkness into a good place, and then He gave us a gift we didn’t know we needed.  A gift in the form of a tiny baby.

This afternoon I watched my 3rd baby eat mango in the same corner of my little kitchen as my first two babies sat and ate mango.  Two years ago at Christmas, I could never have looked forward and seen the hope and joy that fill my heart today.  I could never have foreseen this little joy baby that God gave us when we needed joy the most…when He wanted us to trust that He is good, even when things are dark.

I know that the darkness outside this time of year for many of you is just a reflection of the darkness in your life that you’re struggling with, sinking it, just trying to catch a breathe in.    

There’s a quote from The Fellowship of the Ring that resonates with me when I’m in those dark places.  Galadriel gifts the star of Eärendil to Frodo and she tells him, “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” 

Each of us will come to a place in our lives, and maybe we’re in it right now, when it will feel like every light has gone out.  Sometimes it’s even, or especially, in this Christmas season when all is supposed to be happy and full of hope, but instead it feels as dark as the winter days…as dark as the “bleak midwinter”.  

It is into this darkness that another tiny baby named Jesus longs to slip.

The apostle John begins it this way (emphasis mine): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome itThe true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

Into the darkness of our lives and our hearts, when all other lights have gone out, Jesus is waiting to shine.

Corrie Ten Boom’s sister, Betsy, in one of the darkest places imaginable, said that they must tell others that “there is no pit so deep, that He is not deeper still.”  

This Christmas season, I want to encourage you to not let the darkness overwhelm you…to not lose hope.  Instead, look to the Light that can break through all of that darkness.  The Light that never fades and never gives up.  The Light that shines bright even when all other lights have gone out.  

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In Which My Third Baby Is Formula Fed

It’s 2 am and my baby, Molly, stirs in the bassinet next to me.  I pick her up and walk out to the kitchen, where I scoop formula into a bottle and shake it up before popping it in her mouth.  It’s become routine, but it still invokes a little sadness in me….it’s certainly something I never expected to be doing.

You see, I’m one of those moms who really, truly loves breastfeeding.  I had a lot of nursing struggles in the beginning with both of my first two babies, but I pushed through and a few months in it became easy.  I loved being able to feed my baby anytime, anywhere with this amazing super milk made just for them.  I loved the little sounds they made and the way they looked in their milk drunk coma.  I nursed my baby while hiking and felt like super mom, and I could pump out milk like a boss.  Even when my second baby bit me so hard that I couldn’t nurse on that side for over a week, we kept going, and I nursed her until 18 months.

So as this sweet little third baby of mine grew inside of me, nursing was one of the things I most looked forward to.  When she was born, she latched on right away, and I was so thankful.  Things continued to go great…at first.

But then that changed.  My milk supply came in and, just like with my other two, I became engorged.  My baby started struggling to latch.  My second baby had the same thing happen and I ended up pumping and giving her a bottle, which I regretted because she wouldn’t nurse for a week and a half after that.  I wasn’t going to risk that this time, so I kept pushing through.  For whatever reason, my milk supply tanked overnight.  Molly started screaming every time she’d try to nurse and my milk took forever to let down.  It stressed me out and everything got worse.   I could tell I wasn’t full, even after going several hours without nursing.  I’d pump and only get dribbles out [side note: I know pumping isn’t always an indicator of milk supply, but it always has been for me in the past].  Every feeding became a battle, with her popping on and off for 30 minutes, screaming the whole time, until my milk would finally let down a little or she’d get tired…I could never tell which.  I would have to send my other kids out of the room each time because they only stressed me out more.

I tried everything I knew to try to fix things.  I ate all the right foods, did lots of skin-to-skin, and quoted Scripture to try to decrease my anxiety.  And I prayed…oh did I pray.  I begged God to make my milk come back. But things only went from bad to worse.  Her diaper count started to drop, and her screaming cry became more hoarse.  Everyone in the house was getting very little sleep, and between that and all the crazy hormones, I felt like I was losing my sanity.  I’d snap at the kids if they even came near while I was trying to nurse.  I just knew in my heart that this wasn’t working and she wasn’t getting enough.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came one night when my three-year-old came in after Molly finally started nursing (after 30 min of screaming) and sat next to me.  She was visibly upset, and after probing her she said that she didn’t like the baby screaming.  I looked at her little face and realized that this battle was creating as much anxiety in her as it was me.  I knew then that this wasn’t healthy for anybody.  My kids needed a sane mom, Molly needed to eat, and I didn’t need my older two to resent the new baby.  At a week and a half old, as tears streamed down my face, I gave her her first bottle.  I watched as she guzzled it down, satisfied for the first time in days.

Suddenly she became the happiest, most content baby.  She started to put on weight and thrive.  Everybody started getting more sleep and anxiety levels went down.   The strangest thing happened, and I was actually able to enjoy my baby–and to enjoy feeding her–for the first time.  My older two started enjoying her again.  It was obviously the right decision for our family.

But, if I’m honest, I still struggled.  For awhile I cried every time I mixed up a bottle.  I worried that I wasn’t giving her the best start. I wanted to give Molly the same chance as my other two.  I wanter her to be just as healthy, just as well fed, etc.   I grieved the loss of all those special times breastfeeding.  Every social media post about breastfeeding caused a pang in my heart.  And I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  The first times I went into public, I dreaded somebody seeing me shake up a bottle.  I put off telling even close friends what was going on.  I knew in my heart I was doing what was best for Molly and our family, but that didn’t mean I didn’t wish things were different.

I feel such a connection now to other moms who can’t breastfeed.  For the first time, I really understand.  I understand the disappointment and frustration.  I understand the worries about being judged.    I understand the grief.  It’s very real and very true.

Now at 6 weeks postpartum, I’m able to pump about 2 bottles out a day, and for the rest she gets formula.  We’re in a routine and I’m okay with things for the most part.  We found a formula that she does very well on, and each new little fat roll comforts my heart.

Part of me didn’t want to share all this because, frankly, it’s very personal and nobody else’s business.  But then I realized that I needed to share my story for the sake of all the other moms like me.

Breastfeeding is an amazing, beautiful thing…but I’ve come to realize how quickly it can become an idol.  It certainly had become so to me.  I was relying on it to keep my kids healthy and allergy free.  I was sacrificing everything else for its sake.  In many ways, I was viewing breastfeeding as the epitome of mothering a baby.  What I wasn’t seeing was that breastfeeding is just one piece of the puzzle.  There are so many other parts to motherhood that I was missing.  I was missing out on the joy of this newborn stage.  I was missing out on the bonding as a new family of 5.    And I was missing out on my other two children, who were needing a present, sane mom just as much as the baby was.

And formula feeding doesn’t mean I’m missing out on all of the other beautiful parts of the baby stage.  I babywear her a lot, the same way I wore my other babies.  I still snuggle her and hold her close.  When I feed her, we stare into each other’s eyes the same way I would if I was nursing.  She sleeps right next to me in her bassinet.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing.  We need to normalize it.  We need to support new moms struggling to breastfeed, and we need to encourage moms to persevere and try hard to get it to work.  But we also need to support moms who have tried and can’t make it work.  They shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or less of a mother, or like they just didn’t try hard enough or know enough.  I can tell you from experience that what I didn’t need was another well-meaning person with a suggestion on how to increase my milk supply.  What I needed were the friends who recognized the tough decision I made and cheered me on in it.  I needed the people who told me I was doing a good job for doing what was best for my baby.

If breastfeeding came easy for you, be thankful and don’t judge those moms for whom it didn’t.  When you see a mom shaking  up a bottle of formula, don’t make assumptions, and don’t feel superior.  Don’t make a comment about how much easier bottle feeding is.  Instead, smile at her and say, “Good for you, feeding your baby!” Chances are, bottle feeding her baby is actually one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

And if you’re like me, and haven’t been able to breastfeed your baby for whatever reason…take heart.  It’s okay to feel a little sad, but just know that you are doing an amazing job, Mama.  You are feeding and nourishing your baby.  You are caring for them the way they need you to.  There’s nothing faulty about you and you didn’t do anything wrong.  Feeding your baby formula doesn’t make you any less of a mother than having a c-section does.  Don’t doubt yourself, and don’t let anyone else make you ashamed.  Love and feed that baby the way only you can.  Trust your instincts.  Stop focusing on the things you can’t change, and focus on the things you can (the way you mother, the foods you’ll feed him/her later on, etc).  Don’t let the inability to breastfeed steal these precious, fleeting moments from you.  All too soon that little baby won’t be a baby anymore, and it won’t matter a whit whether they were bottlefed or breastfed.  What will matter is that you loved them and cared for them to the best of your ability.  

I don’t think I’ll ever love bottle feeding.  I still mourn the loss of that special experience, and I will probably always wish I could have breastfed of her like I wanted.  But I am thankful for a healthy baby who is thriving on formula.  I’m thankful that I’m still able to pump out a little.  And I’m proud of myself for not sacrificing my baby’s health, our bond, my mental health, or my husband and other two children for the sake of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is best…if it works.  But if it doesn’t, fed truly is best.

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My sweet little bottle fed baby

About Baby #3

As many of you know, a third sweet little one is growing inside of me.  I’ve been meaning to write something about this third baby pretty much since I found out I was pregnant…but somehow the words haven’t come.  With 28 weeks rapidly approaching on Monday, I thought that now was as good of a time as any to finally write about her.  But to do that, I have to go back to the beginning…before this baby was even a possibility in our minds.

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Things Moms Think (But Would Never Admit)

My kid is the cutest (or smartest or most beautiful)…you fill in the blank.

Your kid is more advanced developmentally than mine?  You’re probably exaggerating.

My baby looks tiny next to yours?  You must be feeding yours too much.

My baby is really chunky?  Yes sir, and I’m proud of it!

I could totally blame my indigestion on the baby and no one would ever know.

I’m trying to remember why I would have put the TV remote in the fridge.

I wonder if the other mothers’ bellies look like squishy biscuit dough?

Child, you are about to make me lose my mind.  But somehow I still love you anyway.

If the kids fall asleep in the car I’m totally stopping for a milkshake.

Being Miles’ Mama: Why I’m Thankful for My High Need Child

*Note: When I refer to my son as “high need”, I’m referring to Dr. Sears’ description of a high need baby.  

My first child was a really hard baby.  I feel qualified to say that now because my second baby is significantly easier.  In many ways, my laid-back second born has made me feel vindicated.  I can now say, “See!  I did know what I was talking about!  I wasn’t just a hormone-crazed new mama grossly underprepared for motherhood (although I was)!  It wasn’t my parenting, eating habits, or personality that made him that way!  He was just plain hard.

One of the mysteries of motherhood, however, is how fiercely in love I was with that colicky, high need baby.  Even more mysterious is how that love still grows each day…how I think it always will.  Beyond all the incredible love, however, I look back and truly am thankful that my first baby was high needs.  Here are some reasons why:

He humbled me and revealed my heart.  I came into motherhood with the idea that I had everything figured out.  I knew what kind of mother I would be and why.  I was prideful and, sadly, judgmental.  Then my beautiful, screaming Miles entered this world and threw me for a loop.  He wasn’t what a baby was supposed to be, and I quickly had to let go of all that I thought I knew about babies and about motherhood.  He showed me how wrong I was.

I had to depend on God for my strength and wisdom. I always felt myself to be an intelligent, capable young woman.  However, being Miles’ mom has often made me feel utterly incapable and weak.  The beauty of it all is that when I couldn’t go on, God sustained me.  When I didn’t know what to do, He led me.  I simply couldn’t rely on myself, and instead learned to rely on Him.  

I was forced to relinquish my need for control.  I have control issues.  I really do.  While that’s something I’m still working on, I’ve gotten immeasurably better since Miles was born.  I had to let go of scheduling anything or the idea that I could somehow control my baby’s behavior (because I really couldn’t).  Most of all, I had to get over the idea that I could somehow manipulate my life to create the”perfect” family and “perfect” marriage.   

I learned not to care what other people thought.  I use to dread people asking me if Miles was a “good” baby or if he slept good.  If I told them the truth, I was quickly given advice about how I could “fix” the problem.  If I mentioned that Miles was “high needs”, I was often met with raised eyebrows and skepticism.  I could tell that certain people thought that my parenting style was to blame.  I held him too much.  I didn’t schedule him.  I didn’t let him cry it out.  I was too clingy.  I wasn’t persistent or resilient enough.  I had to learn to brush off comments like these and be confident in my parenting.

I became less critical and more sympathetic towards other moms.  Criticism from other people made me much more careful about the comments I made to other moms.  Just as I had learned that my baby and I were both unique individuals, so I came to see that every baby and mom is, in fact, different.  I could never know every circumstance of a person’s life and, therefore, I had no right to judge another mom.  I began to look at the mom in the grocery store with a toddler way past due for a nap with sympathy, rather than judging her for shopping instead of getting her child a nap.

I learned to pay attention to him as a little person instead of treating him as a generic baby.  Miles never went “by the book” as a baby.  That used to drive me crazy.  I am now thankful for it because it caused me to really learn about him and mother him accordingly.  It taught me to be responsive to my children, instead of expecting them to fit into my parenting style.

He taught me how important it was to be proactive in my marriage. For awhile after Miles was born, Andy and I had a pretty strained relationship.  Not that there was really anything wrong.  It was just that, up until Miles’ birth, pretty much every night was a date night for us.  Miles demanded so much of our attention that we spent most of our time tag teaming instead of doing things together.  Our own relationship was put on the back burner, and we felt like two ships adrift at sea.  Thankfully, we began to learn what was necessary in our marriage in order to keep the flame, and even the friendship, alive.  This is something we’re still working on, and I’m sure always will be, but we’re much more on our guard now.

I got a glimpse into how God loves us.  Miles wrecked my life.  He left my nerves frazzled, my brain foggy, and my self-confidence lacking.  Yet, somehow my fierce love for him only grew.  Through it, I got a taste of God’s love for us.  I began to see how unfathomable it was for Him to love us so indescribably, when we can never begin to reciprocate…when we forget Him and fail Him and betray Him.

I now get to watch him blossom into an intelligent, intuitive toddler.  Miles was a hard baby and he’s definitely a challenging toddler.  Yet he’s also so very sweet and fun.  He loves to talk and is very communicative.  He’s also very observant and intuitive.  He quickly picks up on people’s emotions, whether they be his mama’s or a strangers.  His hawk-like eyes miss nothing, and he’ll often bring up things later that I had already forgotten had happened.  I love it, and I love him.

I’m enjoying having a more laid-back baby this time around…and getting more sleep.  Yet, I wouldn’t trade Miles and his personality for anything.  I firmly believe that I am a much better mother to Nora because of what I learned from Miles.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  He knew the children that I needed.    

Shaming the Breastfeeding Challenged

I’m going to be real honest: breastfeeding and I have a love-hate relationship.  As much as I loved nursing my son and am very pro-breastfeeding, I don’t believe that breastfeeding is always the best way.  There are way too many moms out there (me included) that are made to feel like less of a mother for either struggling with breastfeeding, not enjoying it, or choosing not to breastfeed altogether.

This was circulating recently, and it was awesome, but I think that some women forget that there are other reasons besides health ones that can prevent moms from being able to nurse their babies.  For some, the stress of nursing is just not worth it.  For others, breastfeeding is a struggle and at some point the benefits of fighting for it don’t outweigh the physical and emotional exhaustion.  For still others, their supply, their physical attributes, or their baby’s mouth keeps them from being able to breastfeed.  

I’ve not really shared this here before, but I really struggled nursing Miles in the beginning.  I had dreams of effortlessly nursing my newborn in what would be a completely natural and incredibly bonding experience.  Unfortunately, a combo of issues between me and him made latching impossible.  For several months, the only way I could get him latched was with a shield.  Even then, it was a struggle.  There was a lot of screaming and frustration.  Finally, though, he got the hang of it and became a pro.  Breastfeeding became a beautiful, peaceful thing, and I loved it.  I couldn’t understand how anyone who could breastfeed would choose not to.  I was terribly proud of myself for sticking with it and persevering.

When Nora was born, I prepared myself for another struggle.  To my surprise, only minutes after she arrived she latched right on.  She was such a good little nurser that she wanted to nurse constantly.  My poor husband had to go to Walmart at 5 am to get a pacifier and give me a break.  I was in proud Mommy heaven.

Then engorgement struck.  Terrible, painful engorgement that I wasn’t able to get to go down for several days.  Suddenly my nursing champ couldn’t latch.  After a sleepless night of trying unsuccessfully to get her to nurse, and her not getting more than a few drops of milk, we gave in and gave her a bottle of pumped milk.  One bottle.  That’s all it took for my nursing pro to decide that nursing was simply too much work.

My dreams of easily nursing my newborn whenever and wherever crumbled into a heap.  I can’t even begin to describe to you how hard it is to have your own child screaming in rejection of you, in favor of a cold, artificial substitute.  Meanwhile, all you can think of are the many, many friends whose baby’s latch right on and never have any trouble nursing.  You know it’s not true, but you can’t help but feel like a failure.

You see, I know from experience that not being able to “Exclusively Breastfeed” (or “EBF”, as it’s known in the cyber world), whether by choice or necessity, is never easy.  Something deep down whispers that you are less of a woman.  After all, women have been doing it for thousands of years so why can’t you? 

Then there’s the judgement from other moms, especially those that don’t know the pain it is to struggle to nurse your little one.  Whether imagined or not, you feel the stares when you pull out that bottle.  You hesitate before posting that cute anecdote about your child on Facebook because it includes the world “bottle”, and you know what certain moms will think.  You cringe inside when that mom who doesn’t understand the whole situation gives you advice on what will help with your “problem”.  You skip over that article someone shared for the millionth time about how much better breastfeeding is, implying that your kid will be less healthy, smart, and developed than those lucky kids who nursed until they were 2.

Mamas, if you’ve struggled with breastfeeding or have had to give up on it altogether for whatever reason, take heart.  You are not less of a mama, and your child will not lack because of it.  My grandma likes to remind people that all of her three amazingly smart, high-IQ, beautiful children (which include an orthodontist and a PhD psychologist) were, in fact, formula babies, as were my sister and I.  If you can breastfeed, that’s wonderful, but breastfeeding alone will not dictate the future and health of your children.  What’s far more important is for our children to have a mentally stable mama who loves them with all of her heart.

To those of you to whom nursing comes easily, think twice before passing judgement.  If you haven’t struggled with breastfeeding, you can’t fully understand the struggle of those who have.  Make the choice to support other mothers, whether they breastfeed of bottle feed.  What is best for one family and one child will not be best for another family and another child.  We need to embrace one another and the unique paths that we are all on.  Remember that breastfeeding your children does not make you a better mother than the woman who bottle feeds.  

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Nora is almost three weeks old now, and she’s had more bottles than I can count.  I’m producing more than enough milk, so it’s all been mama’s milk, but it’s still not my preference or my choice.  Pumping often enough to produce enough milk for your little one is exhausting (especially when that includes pumping in the middle of the night after already having fed your baby a bottle).  There have definitely been days that I’ve wondered how long we’ll make it before switching to formula.  Being a busy wife and mama makes exclusively pumping for the next year impossible.  I had to come to terms with the fact that, should she not return to breastfeeding, my sweet Nora might end up on formula…and I had to be okay with that.

Thankfully, taking it one day at a time has worked.  By the grace of God (because it’s certainly nothing I’ve done), my sweet Nora has suddenly decided that she really does like nursing after all.  It’s 3 in the afternoon and she hasn’t had one bottle all day.  Yet, I know that that could change in a heartbeat, and that’s perfectly fine.  My worth and value as her mother is not tied up in my ability to feed her the “natural way”.  Instead, it’s found in the love and devotion I have for her, whether she’s fed formula in a bottle or right at my chest.  


She’s Here!!!

I’m pleased to announce that Baby Girl Baker finally made her grand entrance into this world!

Nora Jane Baker was born 10/15/14 at 1:56 PM after a very crazy and intense birth.  8 lb, 1 oz.  20.5″ long.  Healthy as can be!  Hopefully I’ll have the chance to write out her birth story.  Until then, I’m home with my sweet little family, adjusting to life as a family of four.