Sunday, June 1, 2014

table for two

It's not often that I'm alone with all three kids. When I am, it's usually for just a few hours and it goes surprisingly well...except, of course, when it doesn't. Andrew left for work this evening, and about an hour and a half later, I sent him this text:

So far...complete shit show.

And that's not an exaggeration. It was chaos. During that hour and a half, Harriet watched an hour and ten minutes of Barney. Barney is useful because he puts her in a sort of cooperative, I'll-do-whatever-you-say-as-long-as-you-let-me-keep-watching-this-purple-dinosaur trance. She doesn't like to eat, but Barney helped her eat a microwaved corndog (full disclosure - it was her third in three days). Barney also helped me get her to pee on her little potty chair...I literally carry the laptop in front of her like a carrot dangled in front of a mule as we walk to the bathroom. My respect for myself as a parent sort of goes out the window whenever I use this technique, but it works, so whatever.  Barney wasn't especially useful with the whole teeth brushing thing, because she still threw a fit. Thanks for nothing, Barney.

While I'm doing all of this, the boys are off and on for an hour and a half. I pick up the loudest and/or reddest one and hold him until the other one matches the first in intensity. Then I lay the first boy down and pick up his brother. We do this taking turns routine until one or both of them fall asleep. But even that only lasts a couple of minutes.

So I'm carrying this dumb laptop and a baby around, trying to get my toddler to cooperate with the bedtime routine and she's throwing little fits about...I'm sorry...the dumbest stuff ever, like the importance of holding the handrail on the way up the stairs and which sort of toothpaste we need to use. And it kind of blows my mind that she thinks that these things matter at all in the midst of such chaos. I mean, can she not hear two tiny boys absolutely losing it in the background? But then I remember that she's two, so yeah, it totally matters...even though one particular brother looks and sounds like he's a couple breaths away from complete combustion.

I'm not one for letting babies this little cry it or night. I am their mom and it's my job to help them. When I pick them up, they instantly calm. In fact, they melt. They just want to be held and whispered to. And I can do that, so I often as I can...which isn't as often as I'd like because, like every parent out there knows, there's always someone or something else pulling on one of our arms or legs. So I get a little panicky every now and then, wondering what sort of awful damage is being done to my children due to the fact that sometimes, despite our best efforts, they have to cry for a while. I worry about attachment. I worry that they won't feel as loved as Harriet has. I worry that they'll give up on me when I don't seem to heed their calls. But then I remind myself that my best is my best. It's all I've got.

So anyways...I get Harriet to bed (early, in fact...woohoo!). Louie has tired himself out by this point...classic Lou. And Gus is raging red as a raspberry...classic Gus. I change them, swaddle them and put them in their little rocking bassinets, looking like two cranky little egg rolls.

This is out of the norm. Usually, I'd plop them into their boppy's. One on each side of me on the couch. I'd shimmy into my nursing pillow like it's an inner tube and hoist them onto it one at a time. I'd latch Louie first, then Gus. Lou finds it quick, always desperately hungry but still with his wits about him. Gus is usually stiff as a board and I have to coax him to bend his knees so that he can nestle in under my arm and find what he's looking for.

When they're both latched, I wait. It doesn't take long for my milk to come in, fast and strong. That's when the games begin. The boy on the left unlatches first and milk goes spraying everywhere. When this happened to Harriet and I, I'd catch the squirting milk with a burp cloth, but with the boys, both of my hands are tied up, so we just sit there while the milk soaks our clothes. The baby on the left is crying, no doubt because he thinks he's drowning. When I finally get him calm and re-latched, the son on the right is squirming and making faces like he smelled something awful. He needs to burp. This isn't a surprise. I've been hearing him suck air while he guzzles the rush of milk. So even though he's only been drinking for a few minutes, he already needs to get rid of that extra gas. I squeeze my arm underneath him and lift him to my shoulder. In the process, I squish his tummy a bit so he spits up on me. I burp him for a while. He lets out a couple of big ones, all the while trying to climb away or something. I have no idea what he's doing but he's certainly not cooperating. I get him re-latched and now the baby on the left needs to burp. Somewhere along the way, one boy inevitably tries to eat his brother. And this is how it goes until I decide we're done. I get them both in a safe spot with their heads elevated so that they don't lose more of their lunch, and I look down at my shirt. I am completely drenched. Sometimes I change my shirt, but I never change my bra because I have two nursing bras that I like, and I'm not risking having both in the wash at the same time. By evening, I'm transported back to summer days in my childhood - that feeling of wearing a wet swimsuit all day long. As a kid, it's fine. As an adult, you feel like you're getting trench foot...except in your bra.

So back to those cranky egg rolls...Tonight, I decided to forgo the breast in favor of bottles. Now you need to understand, these bottles were the third and forth bottles I have personally fed my children...ever. Andrew had to teach me how to heat it up before he left for work. When I put that rubbery plastic in their mouths, part of me wanted to cry. But then I got myself together and decided to enjoy it. I sang them John Denver and CeCe Winans. I smiled into their beautiful, sleepy eyes. And you know what? It was actually kind of nice.

I wasn't wet at the end. No one spit up. No milk went spurting everywhere. The boys didn't cry or make those sad, gassy faces. And I thought, Wow...could that have possibly been more peaceful and straightforward? I never understood moms who pumped and bottle-fed until that moment.

And that scares me a little...okay fine, it terrifies me. I don't want to give up nursing. I love nursing. I just worry that we're not going to figure out how to make this work. I worry that every feeding is going to be a battle.

And now I'm super mad at myself for not going to bed immediately after I put them down. I've now spent forty minutes blogging and eating rhubarb crisp directly out of the pan when I could be sleeping. So I'm vowing to do it differently tomorrow...never gonna happen.


So now it's 2:30 in the morning...the boys slept six hours straight after I gave them those bottles - their longest chunk so far. It's bittersweet. I'm so glad that they slept such a long time. I feel amazing after sleeping five straight hours. But it kind of makes me wonder if I'm the problem. Much of the time, when I tandem nurse them, it's wonderful. Seeing those four beautiful eyes staring up at me and snuggling their warm little bodies brings on overwhelming feelings of joy and gratitude. More than a few times, I've cried happy tears while nursing this day:

Maybe it's weird to take crying selfies but I love to remember these moments. 
Andrew was outside working on the yard. Harriet was upstairs napping and I was burping the boys after a feeding. He peeked his head in the patio door and asked if I wanted him to put them in their bassinets so that I could stand up. I shook my head no. He asked if I was okay, and I just started to cry. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him, just looked at me and smiled.

"We have a great life, don't we?" he said.

I nodded. "So many of our dreams are coming true."

There's something about nursing these boys, and specifically nursing them together that brings out so much beauty in this mother/children relationship. I'm not giving that up just to get more sleep, and the good news is, I don't think I have to.

Here's my theory. I think that the bottles seem to work better at night for several reasons. First, they don't spit up with bottles because I'm not jostling them around trying to keep them both latched, trying to burp one while the other eats, then switching them up. They're just in one spot, so they don't get sick from having their tummies scrunched and all that. Also, they control the rate of flow with the bottles, whereas when my milk comes in, it's kind of a firehose effect. There's no way for them to turn it off, so they gulp and gulp, which leads to upset tummies. Also, they fall asleep more quickly at the breast than with bottles, probably because with bottles, it's more about the business of eating and isn't as comfy-cozy. Lastly, because I have such an abundance of milk (I'm freezing over 100 ounces per week in addition to the milk that's feeding Lou and Gus), they have to eat a long time to get to the hindmilk (the really rich stuff that keeps them full longer). When I pump and fill up bottles for them, the hindmilk and the foremilk all mixes together. I know that an abundance of milk is a great problem to have, but it's still a problem. And pumping before feedings doesn't help all that much. In fact, I think it makes the problem worse because it makes me produce even more milk.

So I think I'm going to do bottles at night and nurse them during the day. I keep reminding myself that they will be sleeping through the night soon (maybe wishful thinking), so who cares if we do bottles for a couple of months? I also keep reminding myself that Harriet went through this same thing at the same age. She actually seemed to develop a fear of nursing which lasted over a month. As she got bigger and could handle the flow better, the problem just fixed itself. I'm hoping the same happens for the boys, but pushing through the problem just feels a little harder with two babies than it did with one.

I'm also going to do more individual feedings. Nursing them one at a time has its perks - I can walk around the house and do things while I feed them or I can give that baby my undivided attention. I can read Harriet a book and turn the pages, or we can sit on the floor and build a block tower. So most of our feedings have become individual, but I'm trying to do at least one or two tandem feeds per day just to keep up the skill, because I'm guessing that if you don't use it, you lose it.

I'd love thoughts, input, stories and tips from any of you tandem nursing moms out there...or regular nursing moms...or dads or grandmas or anybody! This is so important to me, and I can take all the help I can get.
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