Monday, June 25, 2018

The "end" is near!!!

**Disclaimer: this post is about my personal experience with breastfeeding and in no way is it meant to offend or diminish any mother who isn't able to or decides to forego breastfeeding. Please know that I respect ALL mothers and stand by the "fed is best" motto, however, I wanted to share my breastfeeding journey and document it for my children as I do many of our most remarkable experiences**

Getting pregnant with Oliver was one of the biggest surprises of my life; he came unannounced and completely unexpected but totally ready to rock our world! (I know I have said this a million times!)
With the unescapable fact that I'd be a mother of three also came great opportunities to do better than I had in the past and one of the challenges I set for myself was to breastfeed my child or at least try a little harder than I did with my first two daughters.
Breastfeeding was always a taboo subject for me; I either avoided it because I had failed in the past or simply became defensive (and sometimes offensive) because it made me uncomfortable.  I clearly remember this post I wrote more than 6 years ago when TIME magazine had a cover featuring a mom breastfeeding her 4 year old; for some reason the cover made really mad and I thought that mom was delirious for practicing "extended breastfeeding"'s one of those times I said "I would NEVER do that!"...
During my pregnancy with Oliver I spent many hours reading and doing research about breastfeeding and overcoming the many hurdles that come with it; it was clear to me that while it wasn't impossible, succeeding was going to take a lot of dedication and discipline on my part so I decided to take it one day at a time. 
I made the decision of not being "too hard" on myself if it didn't go well but I was also set on not being "too easy" either because the accountability that was needed could only come from ME!
The first few weeks were as challenging as expected (or maybe even more!); bleeding and sore nipples, engorgement, leaking, boob pain.. you name it, I had it and it was very discouraging. Every possible doubt crossed my mind: "can I do this?", "is my baby eating enough?", "should I feed him formula instead?", "why do I put myself through this?"; those were just some of the questions I asked myself on a daily basis and I cannot tell you how many times I was so close to throwing in the towel...
But somehow every time I was ready to give up, I saw a glimmer of hope in the fact that Oliver seemed happy and thriving, and slowly but surely I was feeling more comfortable in my own skin and in my job as the sole provider of nutrition for my baby, it felt good!

After 3 months (my first mini goal) I was sure I had succeeded and expected nothing but smooth sailing; we had already found our rhythm and he was getting more than enough nutrition from me, I could read his signs and we found our favorite breastfeeding positions, even my wardrobe was breastfeeding friendly and I was so proud of myself for sticking to it. At this point I felt more than accomplished since I had already gotten way further than I ever imagined and had reached my personal goal.  I decided to keep going since it was really so easy and practical, and in the blink of an eye, I reached the 1 year mark! But then, right around that time, I got an evil mastitis case; it started with a mild fever and it escalated to huge lumps on my breasts and pieces of nasty clogged up milk that I had to painfully suction out of me.. it was terrible.. 
As I was convinced that mastitis was the end of my journey, my doctor suggested I kept going and even hinted at the fact that using Oliver for suction would make this nasty mastitis go away quicker.. and so I did...and it did! My mastitis cleared within a few days and we were back on the road!

During the next year, I breastfed Oliver at the oddest places and even got over my fear of "exposing" myself and showing too much skin in public. It was liberating to know that I could do this whenever, wherever, because feeding my baby was my number one priority and I didn't care about what anybody thought. I figured that's how so many breastfeeding advocates feel and exactly why so many moms feel so free when using their bodies for what they are intended. 
Once we reached the 2 year mark I started to get the "you're crazy" kind of comments; some people even suggested that I was "sick" for breastfeeding a "giant" and even mentioned that I was doing more harm than good for doing this. These comments came from the most loving and caring people and honestly I didn't take anything personal because I was once in that bunch; years ago I would have been the person to say that and I probably did without realizing how personal this decision is. 
In November of last year (Oliver was already 2 years and 2 months), I took a week long solo trip to Europe so I decided to take that opportunity to wean Oliver. Because I was still producing so much milk by then, I took a portable breast pump as a precaution (please note that up to this point, I had never pumped since Oliver always fed "straight from the source") to relieve some of the pain associated with weaning.  During my trip I "pumped and dumped" twice a day and Oliver did remarkably well while I was away.... I was done!
To my surprise my milk didn't dry up and as soon as I got back home Oliver demanded a feed and it was like I never went away; my body kept producing all the milk he needed and for some reason I was "ok" with the fact that the weaning wasn't happening as planned. 

So to make a long story short and spare you more details than what I've already given out, Oliver is 2 years and 9 months today and we are STILL breastfeeding; granted it's only once or maybe twice a day but I'm still baffled to have made it this far. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would achieve this incredibly goal and I am so proud for giving myself the chance to prove that I could do it; more importantly I am happy that my son got the best he could get from me. 
But as proud and happy as I am to have made it this far, I know the end is near and I am at the point where I really want it to end.  Nothing will ever erase the bond and love that breastfeeding gave us and I have a new level of admiration for all the mothers that overcome the hurdles and succeed at this difficult task. 
Breastfeeding Oliver for this long has been such a blessing for our family; I was able to provide my child with good nutrition and I was also able to teach my girls resilience and perseverance. I was able to prove myself that discipline goes a long way and most importantly I was able to tear down all the stigmas that I had created. I am sorry for the times I rolled my eyes at moms who breastfed in public and for the times that I felt uncomfortable or offended by the most natural of motherly acts. I thank everyone who supported me through this journey; all my breastfeeding advocate friends that taught me so much, my husband who pushed me when I was ready to give up, my daughters who learned that breastfeeding is normal and beautiful, my family who cheered me on even when they thought it was time to quit,  and my wonderful son who loved me even when I cried as my nipples bled during the first few weeks. 
And to any mother out there that wants to give breastfeeding a try, please know that it is HARD and it takes a lot of discipline and dedication but once you get the hang of it, it is among the MOST rewarding and beautiful things you could do for your child! Also know that choosing to breastfeed (for however long you wish) is an extremely personal decision and it should never be questioned by anyone. 
Happy Breastfeeding! #normalizebreastfeeding

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Puberty knocking at my door

 As a mother I am constantly learning from my children and living new experiences; I do this by observing and gaging in order to decipher their wants and needs as best as I can. Of course in the process I often find myself making mistakes and wondering how I can do better.
More often than not, I find myself lost in this parenting journey and many times ill equipped to deal with what's ahead. Unfortunately, I realize this when I'm in the middle of unfamiliar situations or new stages in the life of my children and many times it's very scary.
Oftentimes the oldest child is the guinea pig because "first times" are more likely to happen with your first child and that's just part of life... and that's what I'm going through!
With Olivia about to turn 11 I can already see puberty knocking at my door and I feel SO unprepared for it, for ALL of it... Bodily changes, hormonal stuff, personality afflictions, attitudes.. it's just so overwhelming and I can't help but feel nervous for what's ahead. 
Here's a recent anecdote...
A couple of weeks ago I took Olivia out to shop for some new clothes because none of her stuff fits and her style has gone from graphic tees and jean shorts to hippie skirts and bohemian dresses and as much as I hate to admit it, she has developed her own image which I can no longer fight. While she was trying on some outfits I noticed her armpits were very hairy and even though I am aware that axillary hair a is completely normal thing, I just wasn't ready to see it on my "little" girl. Coincidentally I had been discussing leg and pubic hair with a close group of moms so the whole "hair thing" had been on my mind; some of these moms were talking about their 10/11 year olds shaving their legs and other body parts and I had sternly expressed that Olivia "wasn't even close" to that..or so I thought! 
When I pointed out the hairy armpits, Olivia immediately became flustered and started to cry; this was an embarrassment cry almost as if she felt guilty and even slightly attacked by my observation. I tried (and miserably failed) to make her feel better by normalizing the situation but she just brushed it off.  She asked if she could shave off the hair and I said "sure" and we moved on, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry a bit inside.. it happens, I guess.. and it was probably has been time for a while but this is all so new to me. 

Aside from the obvious (like the body hair and breast buds), I have noticed A LOT of changes in Olivia in the last two years and I guess I have been somewhat ignoring the fact that she will soon be entering puberty (or maybe she already has?!?) because I don't feel ready.  I am not ready to talk to her about periods and boobs, or pubic hair and body odors and most definitely I am not ready to talk to her about sex or any kind of adult intimacy because even though I have a great relationship with my daughter, this is all so new to me and I know that I'll have to step up my game when it comes to talking and communicating openly because otherwise I will fail. 
The whole armpit experience really opened my eyes and made me realize that puberty is upon us and so are the talks and the questions, and the doubts and the tears, and the eye rollings and the slamming of doors and so many other things that I'm so unprepared for.. and it's scary... and distressing...and confusing...and maybe...just maybe.. a little bit exciting and exhilarating at the same time!

What are your experiences with puberty? How did you navigate this stage?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Middle Child Syndrome

"Middle child syndrome is the feeling of exclusion by middle children. This effect occurs because the first child is more prone to receiving privileges and responsibilities (by virtue of being the oldest), while the youngest in the family is more likely to receive indulgences."

Any mom that has more than one child is probably faced with the "fairness an equality" dilema that comes with having to split your love (and everything else) with multiple little people. When I was pregnant with Gaby I clearly remember feeling overwhelmed about possibly not being able to love her the same way I loved Olivia; I thought "how could I possibly love another person this much? Would I love her less? How can I be a great mom to TWO people?", but once she was born (as I am sure many mothers have experienced), my heart just bursted and the love immediately multiplied; suddenly I had more than enough love to give not one but two children and all was right in the world. 
I experienced similar feelings when I got pregnant with Oliver but that time I had less self doubt and definitely more experience in this "fairness and equality" game... or so I thought! Because somehow I am always falling short and my poor Gaby has fallen victim to the "Middle Child Syndrome" I always dreaded.  
Being a middle child myself, I know that being stuck between 2 "favorites" is no easy task; I think the birth order has a lot to do with personalities, preferences and just character in general. Out of the three, Gaby is my most difficult child and while she isn't necessarily problematic or unruly, her personality is definitely the most challenging one mainly because she is stubborn, messy, individualistic, skeptical and even shy. Her life is the one that was impacted the most when Oliver arrived; first she stopped being the "baby" of the family in a matter of days and then as Oliver keeps growing she finds herself being bossed around by her "baby" brother and often outshined by her older sister. 
As a mother it's hard to accept that one of my children feels less loved than the others and even harder to realize that it's partly my fault. As much as I try to be "fair and equal", something always fails and more often than not, Gaby is the one that pays the consequences.  A few weeks ago she approached me and said "ever since Oliver was born you don't love me as much"; I know it's not true but that's what she feels and it breaks my heart. I know she isn't jealous of him because she is a loving sister and has more patience than I can brag about but "Middle Child Syndrome" is a real thing and while it might not sound like a big deal, it is to Gaby and hence to me too.  I know I need to find the time to make her feel special but as I mentioned on a previous post, sometimes I feel my life is consumed by trying to get out of the trenches of toddlerhood and the hardship of puberty that inevitably take up most of my motherly time.  And let's not forget that I spend more time alone (husband travels for work more than I'd like him to) than I do with a partner so at times everything seems darker than it is. 
I pray to God all the time so that He gives me the wisdom to raise my children right but this time I pray that I can find a way to make Gaby feel how special she is to me, to be able to show her my immense love for her and to light her path to understanding and faith. 

So, do you have a middle child? Have you experienced similar things in your family?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

End of School Year

I always get emotional when a school year ends but I also feel incredibly grateful to see my kids thriving, learning and becoming better humans thanks to the environment in which they are developing. 
We are incredibly blessed to be able to send our kids to Catholic schools and even though it's not always rainbows and butterflies and we've certainly had shortcomings in their current school, I can honestly say I wouldn't trade this experience for the world!

Olivia finished 5th grade and is ready for middle school; she enjoyed her teacher, Mrs. B, and she learned incredible lessons this year.  She achieved excellent grades in all her classes and completed her first year of advanced Math. There were many times when she felt like giving up and we had numerous nights of endless crying and frustration, nights were I felt her desperation caused by insane amounts of homework or sheer exhaustion that she just didn't know how to handle. She also learned a lot about friendships, relationships, responsibility, accountability and many other important things. I am proud of her for being so resilient and dedicated and I can only hope she continues to grow into a beautiful and faithful young lady! Congrats on a great year, Olivia!

Gaby finished 3rd grade and as opposed to last year, this was a very good one for her.  She was blessed with a wonderful teacher, Kitty O, who was kind, sweet and very loving. Gaby loved going to school every day and she learned so much this year; she improved her handwriting, reading skills and achieved excellent grades in every subject.  I am so proud of all of her accomplishments and for her ability to bounce back from the bad experiences of the past.  I know that Gaby will do great next year and I can only hope she continues to shine through her incredible personality with God always by her side. Congrats on finishing 3rd grade, Gaby!

And then there's this little one who is just starting his school life and surprises us every day with his rascal ways. Oliver is such a wonderful boy and this first year in pre-school was a great one for him. He learned numbers, letters, shapes, colors and a whole lot of skills that he puts to good use every day. He made his first life friends and was loved by his teachers. Next year he will be moving on to the girls' school and I am sure he will do great there too. 

I am glad school is over and I can't wait for all the fun summer has in store for us. I wish everyone a happy and safe summer and I congratulate all children on finishing school! Enjoy your time off!