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Bottles and Battles

Olive turned four weeks old on Friday, and will be one calendar month old on Monday. I’ll spare you the trite “How is she a month old already? Time has gone so quickly!” post, as long as you know that I am thinking it almost daily. Every time I look at her she is visibly bigger, more alert.

She’s gained almost a pound and a half and has outgrown her first item of clothing – a sweet yellow polka dot onesie that fit her a few short weeks ago, but we struggled to stuff her legs into the other night.

This past four weeks have been some of the strangest I’ve ever had; physically, mentally and emotionally. The physical changes are the easiest to address, being as they are visible, easily quantifiable. I now weigh 122 lbs, which is 7 more than my pre-pregnancy weight and I’m fine to sit here for a while. I don’t mind feeling soft, being somehow more than I was –  it seems to suit me at the moment.

My incision hardly hurts anymore, tomorrow I’m hoping we will have a rare break from the rain so we can take Gus for a long overdue mega dog walk. I still feel raw and tender from breastfeeding – in the shower I cup my hands over my chest to avoid the shower stream. This is pretty minor though, and something that will pass with time. 

Also, something unexpected has happened with my electrolyte levels (if you’re new here, I have a rare kidney condition that causes fatigue and muscle weakness among other lovely side effects). I got my regular bloodwork done last week and both my potassium and magnesium levels were some of the highest they’ve ever been – even after getting IV’s. They were both within the “normal” range, which is absolutely unheard of for me. This, coupled with the fact that I haven’t exactly been taking my pills religiously in the haze of having a newborn, makes for a very interesting scenario. I can only assume that somehow breastfeeding is mitigating the effects of Gitelman Syndrome and I think my high levels are why I’m doing ok with the loss of sleep and broken schedule. I actually have more energy than I did before.

As for the mental and emotional shifts, I don’t know where to begin cataloging the changes I’ve undergone. As soon as Olive was born I felt this intense biological imperative to take care of her, meet her needs. Protect her. Her crying makes me physically uncomfortable and I want to do anything I can to make her happy, to relieve her discomfort. It’s this aspect of the experience I hadn’t accounted for,  this irrational instinctual part of me that makes it difficult to remain sane sometimes.

For two days last week she was gassy and uncomfortable which meant that pretty much anytime she was awake and not nursing, she was crying. Her face would contort into an expression that can only be described as pained, she would grunt and strain and cry and wail. I couldn’t soothe her except by nursing her, which would only create more problems as she struggled to pass more gas. Adam came home to find us both crying and it’s the first time since we had her that I felt overwhelmed, ill-equipped to handle this little creature. I would have ripped my heart out to help her. We discovered gas drops which seems to be helping, and I’ve eliminated caffeine, chocolate and dairy in the hopes that it will address the source of the problem (see when I said I would rip my heart out? I’ve given up CHEESE, which for me is essentially the same thing).

It’s here that I do battle with myself. Met with her discomfort, my brain flies out the window. Logic has no place here. When we put her down in her crib and she cries, I scoop her up and let her cuddle on my chest. Part of me feels good that she’s soothed by my presence, the other part worries that I’m creating bad habits by not letting her sleep by herself. At the moment I’m going to put off imposing any sort of schedule for sleeping or feeding until she’s at least three months old.

Half of me thinks that I am here to meet her needs – to offer her nourishment and comfort on demand so that she develops with the knowledge that the world is a kind and benevolent place where her needs will be met. The other half of me thinks I should be fostering independence, providing her with the skills to do these things for herself.

Which brings us to my first real bout of Mommy guilt. Tonight I pumped my first bottle, which Adam will feed to Olive later tonight. I think it’s been difficult for Adam having such a necessarily limited role in her life right now – although he’s been very involved with bathing her, doing diaper changes etc., when she cries there’s very little he can do to soothe her. At some point he has to hand her over to me and this, understandably, makes him feel a bit helpless.

I don’t mind the idea of giving her a bottle every so often. I love that Adam will be able to share the process of feeding her. I definitely would like the option to leave Olive for longer than 2-3 hours in the next year or so, which makes having her take a bottle a necessity, but still I have guilt.

I think that its because I’m giving up one of the most crucial biological functions that I, as her mother, can perform. And I’m doing it in the name of convenience; because it’s what we want rather than what she needs. It feels wrong somehow. I worry that she won’t go back to breastfeeding, I worry that I’m destroying some bond that should be developing between us. I worry that she’s drinking out of plastic, that I’m being milked by a machine.

Basically I just worry. Period. And then I research, which causes more problems because no one can agree when is a good time to introduce a bottle to an infant. Some say as soon as possible, some say no sooner than six weeks. Everyone is right, everyone has developed the best system, has horror stories about those who didn’t follow it to the letter.

And I’m trying to reel logic back into the fold, to balance the research and knowledge and advice of others with my own developing instincts as a mother. So I scoop her up and cuddle her, let her sleep with her milky breath on my neck. I sit here and type, a strange few hours of untethered freedom ahead of me because Adam is sitting upstairs with a bottle by his side. 

I’m trying to muddle my way through and assuage the guilt and do what’s best for this little being, but as I watch the battle between instinct and logic, comfort and independence, I am getting the sense that in this particular conflict, the battle has just begun. I’m a month deep into a lifelong struggle to balance these two sides, and this I think, more than the sleep or the breastfeeding or the physical recovery, this is the biggest adjustment. The biggest responsibility.

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