5 Things Breastfeeding Moms Really Need (That No One Ever Talks About)

We’ve all heard that “breast is best” and honestly it is, if you can do it. No joke, breastfeeding is tough stuff.

The act itself is tough but that’s not all. It takes time and energy that working families often don’t have. Who has time to nurse when you have another child that needs to get to soccer practice? Who has time to nurse, especially on-demand, when you’re late to work? And what about single moms who are balancing parenting and breadwinning?

Since I’m not a lactation consultant, I’m not going to write about troubleshooting difficult breastfeeding situations. Much has already been written about common issues such as low milk supply, difficulty latching, and tongue-tie. If you are having difficulty with any of those, please contact a lactation consultant or a member of the La Leche League. Or at least head over to Kelly Mom and read the exhausting amount of data that this woman has generously shared with all new moms.

This post is about what women actually need in order to breastfeed. When common breastfeeding difficulties aren’t an issue there’s still a whole bunch of necessities that no one talks about. This post is about what we really need to continue breastfeeding when we’re exhausted and want to give up. So, if you find yourself with a baby who nurses right away, with the perfect latch, and gains weight like a champ, hooray for you. You will still need the following in order to keep this awesomeness up:
1. Other women who’ve breastfed
I am part of a generation that is just beginning to return to breastfeeding. We are recovering from more than 60 years of an industrial food supply—a shift in society that was detrimental to breastfeeding. Before joining the Peace Corps, at age 27, I’d never actually seen a mother nurse her baby. Admittedly, I am from a conservative Southern state, where such things are too easily dismissed as inappropriate and not meant for public display.  My mom didn’t breastfeed, nor did my grandmother. I’d love to discuss the repercussions of what sixty plus years of formula feeding have done to our country, but that health crisis is for a different post.

While volunteering in West Africa, everywhere I looked I saw women feeding their babies their own milk, breasts out, openly displaying the most natural and nurturing act any female mammal can offer. In a short time, breastfeeding seemed completely normal to me. By the time I was ready to have my own child, I was living in a community surrounded by other women who’d also nursed their babies.  I knew far more women breastfeeding than formula feeding. And those I knew who were using formula, were doing it because they had to, not by choice.  This type of community offered such support to me as I nursed my first-born. Everywhere I went, I felt encouraged to breastfeed. Whether in public or in the privacy of a friend’s home, the overall expectation was that breastfeeding is normal and my priority. Many times, I sat around with other new moms while we all nursed our babies and talked about the difficult and joyful experiences we were having being new parents. This type of support is absolutely necessary to get through the difficult and time consuming task of nursing a new born baby into infancy and beyond.
2. Uninterrupted time with baby
One of the most important aspects of breastfeeding that I took for granted the first time around is that I needed and received lots of uninterrupted time with my baby. In order for a mother’s milk supply to be established, she needs the appropriate hormones to flow through her body. This only happens when a new mother is allowed the time and space to bond with her baby without distraction and interruption. Often times, well-intentioned family members and friends offer to come over and hold the baby so that a new mother can rest or get stuff done at home. While these offers are coming from a generous place, the most important thing a mom can be given in the first days after the birth of a child is uninterrupted time with their baby. This ideally means that she is not expected to receive visitors (unless she wants to), tend to chores, prepare meals (more on that in #3), or leave the house during this time. Mom and baby need to be resting, in close proximity to each other, pretty much around the clock. This is not easy when there are other expectations for a new mom to tend to.  This means that a partner or husband, and/ or family and friends are present to help with food preparation, household chores, the needs of older children/ siblings, and the needs of the new mother. I find that one of the most difficult barriers to this necessity is the new mother’s resistance to receiving so much help. The alternative is that we trade bonding and nursing for routine and meeting our own (unrealistic) expectations. The first weeks and months of life are crucial to a newborn’s brain development and the most optimal element for this to happen is the mother’s presence.
3. Prepared Meals

After the birth of both of my children, our community rallied around us and created a Meal Train. Since we were living far from our families, this generous offering from friends saved us countless hours and preserved our energy during the early weeks of having a new baby in the house.

Friends would sign up online to drop off a meal (based on our dietary requests) on a certain day. Through the online signup, we were able to ask that meals get dropped off on our porch, so we did not have to receive visitors in order to receive the meal. I cannot express how helpful a meal train was for us. Every other day, we received a healthy, wholesome meal from a friend. This meant that we didn’t have to run out to the grocery store, worry about planning or preparing meals, or deal with the task of cleaning up after cooking. We are just nearing the end of the meal train for baby #2 and I can say, this was better than any other baby gift we ever received. 
4. (More) Food, water, and lots of snacks
Nursing moms require lots of fluids and calories to make breast milk, which means that we need someone at home helping to bring us plates of food, constant refills of water, and snacks while nursing. No one mentions that for the first several weeks, if not longer, nursing is a two handed job. A breast full of milk is too heavy for a new born to hold in its mouth, so mom must do it for them. So if one hand is busy holding baby and the other hand is holding a breast full of milk that leaves no hands to do anything else with. I am a type 1 diabetic and at times I even had to ask my husband to feed me once or twice, just one more opportunity to surrender to motherhood. After our first son was born, I sat my husband down and explained that if he ever saw my water glass empty, he should fill it automatically. We also had to discuss how humiliated I felt asking him for so much help after we’d both been so independent from one another until that time. Ultimately, this was the only way I was going to be able to breastfeed and believe me, I wanted to provide this to our baby.
Luckily my husband wanted me to breastfeed as much as I did. His constant support allowed me to focus on meeting the needs of our nursing son, which were unpredictable and sometimes exhausting. Which leads me to…
5. A supportive partner
This sort of goes without saying, after reading the other necessities listed, but every nursing woman needs a solid, supportive partner helping her through the difficult times, painful moments, and sleepless nights. Whether this is a spouse, partner, friend, or group of supporters, we need another adult who we know and trust to stand by and encourage, support, and hand hold while we make enough food with our body to grow a healthy, thriving newborn into a healthy, thriving infant. Ladies, this is not something we can do alone. Seriously, we need the help of others. Newborns have to be fed every two hours and sometimes they nurse the entire two hours, leaving no time to rest in between. Nearly every mom I know that has been successful with breastfeeding has had someone else supporting them every step of the way.

This is not an attack on women who don’t breastfeed, it’s to raise the question of what support women really do need to accomplish this difficult task. In some European countries, women are paid to breastfeed for one year and allowed the same amount of time to be at home while maintaining job security. While in America, we’re forced to return to work long before baby or mom are biologically ready to do so.

There are many ways to bond, breastfeeding is just one of them. 


Mindful Parenting and Media Use

I get the irony. I’m writing about mindful use of media, posting it on a blog, and sharing it on social networking sites. So with that said, if you don’t read this, I hope it’s because you are out there doing something active and engaging with people who matter to you.

We live in a media rich world and there are aspects of technology that I love. For starters, I’m a Type 1 diabetic and I rely on an electronic insulin pump to deliver life saving insulin to my body throughout the day. Thank you, technology! My life has not been the same since.

On the flip side, my husband and I were raised in a generation where TV was on most of our waking hours. At some point, long before we met each other, we both decided to forgo owning television sets because they interfered with our hobbies of creating art and music. This post is a short take on how we’ve approached the use of media in our own lives and how we have and haven’t introduced it to our son.

The adults in the house

I gave away the only TV I ever purchased 15 years ago, when I turned 21. I was an architecture student and had no time to watch TV. I also didn’t have any money to spend on cable, so there wasn’t much allure in having one anyway. I gave the TV to my sister and in it’s place, I set up an easel and my art supplies. I never looked back. This was in 2001, before I had the internet at home. Getting rid of the TV freed up time for things that I loved and that filled me up: art, reading, and face-to-face talks with the people that I cared about.

Dating during my 20s was tricky since most guys couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t own a television. Trust me when I say that sports fans were not enthused. I met my husband shortly after I returned home from the Peace Corps. I was 28 and he was 36. He loved that I didn’t have a TV. He was in the process of finishing up his dissertation and spent most of his time reading, writing, or playing music. We spent that first year cooking and talking and going for walks. It was refreshing for so many reasons, especially after the shock of returning to the US from a tiny African village with intermittent electricity.

After we were married and became ready to start a family, we agreed we’d never own a TV. By this time, we owned laptops, were subscribers to Netflix, and felt that we could easily enjoy movies and shows when we felt like it. Acquiring a TV just felt like a waste of time and money. And the thought of arranging our beautiful living room around a TV screen felt depressing.

Forgoing smart phones

We also decided not to enter into the world of smart phones. Part of this decision is frugality and part of it is feeling a determination not to distract myself beyond what I’m capable of handling. I’m pretty sensitive to screens and I love new information. If I had a handheld device ready to captivate me at all moments of the day, I’d miss out on the things that I find truly important. Experiencing living things. Engaging with loved ones. Sitting and walking in nature. Sunlight. Laughter. Eye contact. Making art. I could go on and on.

My husband works at a university that provides him with a free MacBook and an iPad mini. We use the iPad for convenient apps like Instagram and Facetime. We use it to communicate with our family members. I do enjoy the convenience of being able to connect without a buying a data plan.

We have an old flip cell phone that costs $12 a month. We share the cell phone, though my husband rarely carries it. We use the cell for road trips and keep it and the charger in the car most of the time. We also have a landline, which is the number that we give out to people. I’m sure that we frustrate people who would like to contact us more easily, but this is what works for our family. (We also share a car, which isn’t for everyone but it’s worked for us since we met in 2008.)

Intentional use of Facebook

About 5 months ago, I disabled the use of Facebook on the iPad. Now, I have to use my husband’s computer to log on, so I’m limited to the amount of time I spend engaging with it. I try to log on with intention and then promptly log out once I’m done with that intention. I rarely read more than a few posts on my timeline and mostly check for events and messages. I’d reached a point where I would log on without even realizing it. I’d proceed to lose hours of my evenings scrolling through people’s posts, opening new tabs with interesting articles from people I respect, and often running into upsetting information that I wished I could “unsee”. I found myself spending 2 or 3 hours a night lost in another world. What I wanted was to feel connected and it never really happened. In the end, I just couldn’t deny how empty I felt afterword. After 5 months, I’ve never once regretted my decision. I definitely feel fuller and more connected since changing the way I engage with it.

Media and parenting

Since the birth of our son, three years ago, we made some serious decisions about media exposure. There is no denying the data. Early exposure to media is not healthy for the developing brain. Just Google it for yourself and you’ll find one basic answer, “avoid media use with children under the age of two”.  So, that is what we did. Aside from a few moments of exposure in stores or passing through a room where a TV was on, we avoided exposing Oliver to media before he was two. This meant that we didn’t have the laptop or the iPad open during his waking hours. I tried my hardest to read paper books when Oliver was nursing, though I did at times use the iPod Kindle app with the brightness dimmed after he fell asleep. When we were visiting grandma and grandpa, we didn’t make a huge deal out of it; we just politely played in another room if the TV was on. Also, they were pretty amazing about turning the TV off most of the time, as long as the Packers weren’t playing!

After Oliver’s 2nd birthday, we stuck with this plan for quite a while, but it became more difficult and we wanted to be flexible.  We found a compromise that felt right for us. He is allowed to watch 30 – 60 minutes of cartoons on Saturday mornings. We find 10 minute cartoons on Youtube, with characters he has begun to love. Our favorites are Heroes of the City, Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, and Thomas the Train. I used a “Vid to MP3” website to download the audio of his favorite cartoons, which we allow him to listen to on the iPod during quiet time in the afternoons. It feels like the right balance for us. And he doesn’t seem to beg for the audio stories the same way that he did cartoons when we first started out.

One of my favorite aspects of living this way is the time we spend together in the mornings after breakfast and evenings after dinner. Mornings are usually spent building things together. Oliver will get busy building and Liberty or I will clean up the kitchen from breakfast. (Liberty is on sabbatical this year and is writing from home and I work part time so parenting is shared equally.) One of us usually joins Oliver to build with Legos or we head out to the library or to a play date. After dinner, we try to be together as a family. We spend that time doing puzzles, wrestling, making up silly dress up games, or just being goofy together. Sometimes we hit a balloon around the living room or play hide and seek. I am amazed at how much fun the simplest activities can be when it involves everyone in the family.

After Oliver falls asleep, Liberty and I will take one or two evenings a week to watch something together or catch up on reading online. We both have space in our home devoted to our hobbies. Liberty has an office that he has filled with guitars and books on mediation. I have an art room. We try to support each other in spending time engaging in these activities.  We are definitely happier this way.


The Rest of the Story

My family, 1983
Last week, I posted this about self love and my childhood self. The post brought in a few inquiries from family and friends, mostly about one of the lines that I wrote in that post.

The line was in reference to my three year-old self, “I thought of what it might have been like if someone had been looking out for my needs and seen them as normal and not a burden.”

But there is so much more to the story of my three year old self.

What I could have and should have written instead was, “I felt like I was a burden as a child and that no one could ever meet my needs.”

At three years-old, when this photo was taken, the four of us were living in a house with active alcoholism. What I know now is that my needs probably weren’t totally met because, you know, a lot was happening in that household. But here is the rest of the story, the really great part. We all found our way into recovery. We all found our way to healing from a terribly, destructive, family disease. My mom began her journey 30 years ago, followed by my dad one year later. Mine started 21 years ago. And my sister found her way there more than two years ago.

When I was six years old, my dad stopped drinking and my parents divorced. Life changed considerably for me. And that turned out to be the beginning of our story, but not the happy ending. The journeys that we’ve all embarked upon have not been easy. What recovery has done is given each of us the chance to develop a way of living that provided a solution that none of us had when that picture was taken.

Whether my needs were met in childhood or not, whether my impression of myself as a burden to my parents was real or imagined, I know this:
No parent is capable of meeting all of their child’s needs.
We just aren’t.
It’s beautiful that we try, but ultimately, we just aren’t enough to be all that they need.
And that’s OK.

For a long time I thought that if I could change the external circumstances in my family, everything else would feel right. As an adult, I realized that even if I could have changed my parents into what I wanted them to be, it would never have been enough to change the way I felt on the inside. The way that I felt on the inside could only be changed by me. 

When Oliver was born, I’d been in recovery for 18 years. That means that he doesn’t have to grow up with the same kind of issues that I grew up with. The cycle has been broken, at least where those issues are concerned.

Our family isn’t perfect. In fact, being pregnant has brought up a whole bunch of pain from long ago. I have embraced it as an opportunity for growth and healing. The three others in this picture have been a huge part of that healing. After I wrote the original post last week, I received a deeply moving letter from my mother about what life was like for her then and what it is like now.

Today my parents are friends, something I never imagined being possible. They spend a lot of time together because they share grandchildren. But we all still argue, try to change each other, and act less than admirable at times. We also admit when we are wrong and make amends when needed. These are just a few miracles of recovery that we’ve been granted.  


Self love and a fresh perspective

Me, 3 years-old
Earlier this week, Oliver was playing at the indoor playground and noticed another child wearing a Spiderman mask. He came home obsessed. He went to sleep talking about it. He woke up talking about it. And eventually, he asked if we could make one to go with his costume. I promised we would give it a try after nap that day.

When he woke up, I asked if he wanted to help me make the mask and he excitedly agreed and started climbing the stairs to my art room. I pulled out a piece of red felt and then a piece of red foam and decided the foam would be easier. Crafting a project with an almost three year old is not easy. He didn’t want me to measure his face or even touch his face. He started crying and screaming when he thought I was going to use white foam instead of red. He became hysterical when I drew the webbing on the mask and it didn’t look the way he wanted. I eventually had to call Liberty in to take him away and distract him while I finished making the mask.

Until recently, I assumed that Oliver’s personality was closer to Liberty’s than my own- mellow, laid back, loving, affectionate. I’ve had good reason for this assumption. He looks exactly like Liberty, they are both male, and he does share many endearing qualities with his father. But as Oliver has matured into a toddler, I notice many of my familiar traits taking shape in him. He’s very particular, wants badly to please others, and is often shy in new settings. At times, he’s insecure and overly cautious. He is sensitive to rough fabric, loud noises, strong smells and tastes. I could go on and on but basically he’s a sensitive kiddo who knows exactly what he wants but lacks the ability to verbalize it and this often causes meltdowns and frustration.

As I worked on the mask, I noticed myself feeling tense. I noticed myself worrying about the upcoming years, imagining Oliver behaving as I did. I imagined him struggling socially and ultimately, I imagined him suffering because of these personality traits. I noticed myself judging these characteristics as faulty, undesirable, and ultimately bad.

Suddenly, I stopped myself. I stopped the inner dialogue and pictured my little three-year-old self. I thought of her innocence and her three year old needs. I thought of what it might have been like if someone had been looking out for my needs and seen them as normal and not a burden. I thought of the wonderful qualities in Oliver that I love and admire. I was suddenly able to see that my little three-year-old self possessed those qualities, too. Out loud, I said to no one in particular, “No, no, no. Stop it.” I am not going to place this harsh self-judgment on my son. He is amazing, sensitive, unique, and human. He is a complex mix of qualities that are perfect. And so am I.

Peace washed over me. The need to worry and judge and compare and criticize him (and myself) faded. A sense of calm and surrender was left inside of me. I saw myself through compassionate eyes and felt genuine love for myself, including the qualities that, at times, have caused me discomfort.

Learning to love another unconditionally has been one of the greatest gifts of becoming a mother. I did not expect that I’d start to love myself that way, too.

Oliver and his new Spiderman mask


Moments of clarity and thoughtful parenting

Tonight, as we finished dinner, Liberty and I lingered at the table talking and Oliver played next to us at his train table. Oliver asked if he could change into pants with pockets. My first instinct was to say, “No”. We had half an hour until bedtime and I didn’t want to stop the relaxing conversation we were having around the table. However, I had a tiny moment of clarity where I could see that he was planning something out and really needed pockets to accomplish it. In that split second, several thoughts occurred to me at once: he can’t put on his pants without help, that must be frustrating, I can wear whatever I want whenever I want, he is asking for help as we have taught him to do, it will take no time to help him, and finally, this is a reasonable request.

I was deeply touched by what happened over the next half hour. He had an idea to play a game with us where he hid different toys in his pocket and we guessed what was inside. He thought it was the funniest thing ever and literally shook with laughter each time he pulled out the toy. He looked like a tiny toddler magician, pulling each item out of his pocket slowly so that he could surprise us at the end. As we all giggled and I watched him shake with laughter, I couldn’t help but think about how it could have gone. I thought of the countless power struggles we’ve had at this time of day because we are both tired and ready for bedtime. Yet, it was so easy to say yes to a reasonable request for help. And the result was a delightful half hour of laughter and giggles between the three of us.

I realize that saying yes to everything isn’t any better than always saying no. The balance that I seek as a parent requires conscious awareness, which takes energy and commitment. These are characteristics that aren’t always easy to find, especially at the end of the day and being 9 months pregnant. Though the impact of this tiny moment felt life changing.  I’m grateful for the moments of clarity that I heed. They allow me a second chance to be the thoughtful parent that I long to be.


The Sacred Hour of Naptime

Figuring out little people’s sleep needs is difficult work. I feel like half of my time as a mom is spent observing subtle mood fluctuations. The other half, I’m using some imaginary mommy math equation to figure out if what we are doing that week is actually working.

About five weeks ago, we cut out Oliver’s afternoon nap. I felt it was the only option since our afternoons usually went something like this:

Half an hour of coaxing, reading, story telling.

Half an hour of Oliver tossing and turning or running around his room and asking to come out and “doing something else”.

An occasional hour long nap, sometimes longer, sometimes much shorter.

And the later he fell sleep at naptime, the more hell there was to pay at bedtime. 

Our norm at night was beginning to look like a two and a half to three hour bedtime routine made up of thirty minutes of routine and two hours of tossing and turning. It was miserable.

The result: three very tired people.

So, we decided to cut out the nap. It wasn’t easy. Oliver was fine during his regular naptime but dinner and beyond were horrible. He’d fall right asleep after snuggles and books but he woke many nights with night terrors. Once I realized they were actual night terrors, I discovered (googled) the usual cause: going to bed overtired.

I didn’t think we could go backward, and bring back naptime, so I figured we had to trudge on.

Then last Monday, Oliver stayed at school later than normal so that Liberty could attend an afternoon meeting. When they picked me up from work, I noticed Oliver was in a delightful mood. A mood I hadn’t seen in weeks and hadn’t realized how much I’d missed. We stopped at the co-op to pick up a few things and we was strolling around singing to himself at a time of day that usually meant tears, power struggles, and delicate negotiating. Every parent knows that attempting to rationalize with a tired toddler is nearly impossible.

As Oliver hummed his way through helping me bag the groceries, the cashier kept commenting on what a delightful angel he is.  Suddenly, it hits me like a ton of bricks, “he must have napped today”.

I turn to Liberty and ask if Oliver napped at school and he says, “no, I asked him three times and he said no every time”. I turn to my sing-song angel and ask if he fell asleep on his cot at school and in the most delightful voice he says, “yes, I yaid down with my yittle animal byanket and I took a nap!”

Emotions shot through me so fast. I couldn’t select one to actually feel. Worry that bedtime would be three hours of torture. Guilt that he could be so happy and that I’d been depriving him of this for weeks. Curiosity of what to do now that I knew he needed more sleep.

After a day of deliberation, Liberty and I decided to change up his schedule and include an early, mid-day, one-hour only nap. In order to do this, we had to change his school schedule around. (I know that most working parents don’t have this privilege but we do, at least for this year.)

It hasn’t been easy re-introducing something he detests to his (our) routine, but it also hasn’t been a difficult as I’d thought it would be. (Here I am, writing my first blog post in two or three years, as he peacefully snores away in the room next door.)

One more of the many lessons that I receive from surrendering to motherhood is that there is no perfect way for any of us to parent. It’s a full time job requiring every bit of my awareness and attention. Even on days when I feel I have little to give, the bits that I do give, the smiles that I muster, the eye contact, the attentiveness, it all matters.  Every little bit.
Naps happen unexpectedly sometimes.

Snuggles and books with dad.



De-clutter Your Life Series -- Introduction

This post is the first in a series devoted to the benefits of clearing away the clutter from our lives.  

I grew up in a house full of stuff.  The bookshelves were full.  The junk drawers were full.  The closets were full.  Every surface had something on it.  Most of the stuff was never used, never moved, and not even nice to look at.  My mom felt better surrounded by things, even if the things didn’t have a purpose in her life. 

To deal with all the stuff, I began to mentally ignore my surroundings.  As a kid, I’d escape through T.V. shows where everything looked beautiful on screen.  I’d escape to friend’s less cluttered homes, where I felt more comfortable, wishing I never had to leave.   Later I found other ways to escape but that’s a story for another post.  All the stuff at home was over-stimulating, especially to a highly sensitive person like me. 

Too much of a good thing is—a bad thing.

My first apartment started off with minimal furnishings.  In those days, I was on a tight budget.  The minimalism didn’t last long.  Before I knew it, I looked around and saw a bunch of second-hand stuff cluttering up my space--mostly cast offs from friends that had somehow made their way into my sacred dwelling.  Back then, I almost always said yes to an offer of something free, never questioning if I needed or wanted it.  I held a pretty hefty belief in lack, which my bank account also reflected. 

Two years into adulthood, I inherited my grandmother’s home.  A modest two-bedroom house, shaded by three beautiful oak trees, and full of 80 years of personal possessions.  I found myself in the same situation I’d grown up in, totally overwhelmed by stuff.  I wanted a solution but I wasn’t sure where to start.  Every time I tried to get rid of something, I’d stop halfway through.  What if I need this someday?  What if this is valuable and I give it away for free?  What would my grandmother say if she knew I didn’t keep her (fill in the blank)? 

All it takes is one small step.

I began slowly.  I gave away or recycled almost everything I could.  I found homes for the big stuff, like 20 bolts of upholstery fabric.  I made many trips to the city dump.  My progression was slow but steady.  During this time I was making other changes---eating better, learning to meditate, becoming more intentional in every way.

Eventually I looked around my house and found that it felt good.  The space was a reflection of me and it was one I felt comfortable being in.  I couldn’t help but notice that I felt just as good about being in my own skin.  It fit just right, which hadn’t always been the case.  It was only a beginning, but a seed had been planted, nurtured, and was beginning to bloom.

Emptiness is clarifying, not terrifying.

I’ve spent the last 14 years de-cluttering my life.  What began as an effort to become more organized became a journey into mindful living that has transformed my body, mind, and soul.

Looking back, I know that each area of my life is a mirror of the my areas.  If my home is cluttered, then I can almost guarantee that my thoughts are cluttered.  If my space is full of stuff that I don’t need, then I’m willing to bet that my body is probably full of stuff that it doesn’t need.  The list goes on. What about my friendships? My inbox? My commitments?  Clutter causes stagnancy and I want to be in the flow.  

This series is devoted to de-cluttering our lives, one area at a time.


Pregnancy Self-Portraits

Today, while Liberty is away at a conference and I am stuck indoors, surrounded by snow, recovering from a cold, I decided to take self-portraits.  

My own personal images of a body that is expanding with new life.

I wanted to be alone while I took them though at the time I wished I had more hands, and eyes, and could jump out of my body quickly to peer through the view finder and press the button at the exact moment when everything stands still.  The same way I do for other pregnant women.

Instead, I balanced the camera on my old wooden treasure box and Liberty's music stand. I balanced it over my head in my right hand while I bent my body far over to the left so that the camera would not be pictured.  

I stood on a stool, on the sofa, in front of the mirror, and a window, and after exhausting myself, I edited what feels to me to be the most beautiful pictures I have ever taken...

34 weeks and 3 days... I can't wait to meet you little one.


The luckiest

It has been nearly a year since I’ve written anything for this blog.  I needed a break.  I needed time to go within, to be alone with my thoughts.  Time to sort it all out.

At first, I appeared to be depressed.  Liberty stood next to the bed, staring at me while I lay still, listless, encouraging me to get up, to make art, to try to feel something before it was too late and I stuffed it all away.  So I listened to my loving husband.  I got out of bed and sat on the floor of my studio.  I painted a watercolor of a mama sea turtle laying her eggs in the sand.  When I finished, I proudly brought it out to the living room, and held it up for Liberty to see.

“I think I will give it to the nurses at the hospital as a thank you for all they did to help us.”

Liberty stared at me with a strange look on his face and then nodded, “Sounds good.”

“What? Don’t you like it?” my face wrinkling at the brow. “It’s a mama turtle leaving her eggs in the sand.  Trusting Nature with the life of her babies.  You know, like I have to trust.”

“Oh, I thought she was pooping.”

And just like that, we were back to normal. 

Of course there were times when I’d see a pregnant woman and feel an ache inside, but honestly, I just felt that I’d be pregnant again.  I trusted my body and I trusted the Divine timing that I’d always relied on.

I did get pregnant again.  4 1/2 months later.  34 weeks and 3 days ago. 

In those 4 months, I made some major changes.  After miscarrying, I felt a new sense of urgency to do only what makes me truly happy.  I said goodbye to obligations that weren’t as fulfilling as I’d hoped they’d be.  Which, in turn, opened up space in my life for new opportunities. 

Along the way, I met a few kindred spirits who I’m now working with, doing most of the things I’d been dreaming of over the last 5 years.

The loss was a gift.  That the soul that came for those months brought me new life before leaving to return to wherever it is we return.

These months have been spent being surrounded by love.  Love from Liberty, love from friends, and love from myself.

It has been almost one year exactly since the miscarriage and I am now more than 8 months pregnant.  So much has changed.  We have a new home and a new car, each with stories of their own.  I am co-founder of a new business with two amazing women.
This year I’ve let go many times, even though sometimes I felt I’d break in two from the pain of it all.  I’ve let go of family members, friendships, work relationships, and old ideas that were no longer good for me or anyone else. 

Most recently I’ve had to let go of what I thought pregnancy would be like.  I’ve had to let go of being the one in control and as hard as it’s been, I’ve had to trust everyone around me for guidance and support.

The most amazing gift that I’ve received this year has been in my partnership with Liberty as it’s grown stronger than I imagined possible.  I am so thankful to be sharing my life with this man.  I can’t imagine a better father to Oliver.  We are the luckiest. 


Rock Family

Rock family


A Letter

*Caution: This post gives a detailed account of a miscarriage.

My dearest,

We opened ourselves and readied our lives for your entry into the world.  And you arrived, in my womb, safe and protected.  You chose us.  An honor I felt each morning and night, when my first and last thoughts of the day always rested on your presence within me.  I did everything I could to make sure that nothing would harm you.  I arranged my life, my diet, my thoughts around your needs. 
One night, Liberty came to bed late and I awoke, asking him what was wrong.  He was nervous that something would happen to you.  I told him not to worry.  We are healthy and happy and doing everything we can to stay that way.  The rest is beyond our control.  I fell back to sleep feeling surprised, I've never known him to worry about anything.
I woke one morning and felt less pregnant.  My breasts were no long tender.  I noticed it immediately.  I felt panicked but remembered being told that there would be blood to warn me of something wrong.  So, I continued on, loving the thought of you growing inside of me and watching myself grow with you. 
Twelve weeks and two days went by.  Like the blink of an eye, those days circled around me.  I woke to find bleeding.  Not very much, not much at all.  I felt nothing, in fact.  I kept my panic at bay.  I didn't want to scare Liberty, so I made light of it.  I woke him and mentioned that we should stop at the doctor's on the way to work, not a big deal, it's probably nothing, just being extra safe.  
The nurse did not seem alarmed, spotting is normal.  I mentioned that I'd stopped feeling pregnant a few weeks before.  She looked worried and made an appointment for later that day.  I went to work and thought about you all day.  I worked through emails and meetings and felt disconnected from myself.  I felt powerless to do anything except send you love. 
During the ultra-sound, the doctor showed us images of you, your umbilical cord and placenta.  I knew then that you had no heart-beat, I could see there was no movement.  I felt suddenly scared for Liberty and became focused on protecting him from what I knew was coming.  We were told I was miscarrying.  I immediately sat up, put on my most calm and serious face.  What should I do? Ok, ok.  And what should I expect?  Ok, great.  I kept looking back at Liberty, the color draining his face.  I felt nothing except the need to preserve the life that existed, ours.
I awed at Liberty's ability to find him emotions and express them so freely.  He cried and grieved immediately.  While I sat next to him surrounded by the fog that was rising around me.  We were told that we were the fourth miscarriage that day.  That we'd all come in that morning with spotting and that all of us were miscarrying.  I went home, made dinner, snuggled with Liberty and tried to connect to you still inside of me.  I did not believe that you were not alive.  I felt more certain that the machine was broken, the technology incorrect.  You had to still be alive, otherwise, why would I look the way I do and why would I not be bleeding?  
That night, the pain and contractions began.  Pain and nausea that took over my entire body, leaving me in uncontrollable convulsions, writhing on the bathroom floor.  I felt so afraid.  I couldn't think of who to call.  I began to shake violently and run fever.  We went to the hospital.  They treated me so tenderly.  I cried from their loving care.  I saw myself through their eyes and finally felt sad for all that was happening.
My water broke in the night and I began to bleed.  A relief to me.  A symbol that Nature was at work and not medicine, which I feared.  I trusted Nature with my body and with yours.  The pain was unbelievable and I shook through the night and through the medication.  The next day, I fought to return to normal, I longed to go home and later that day we did.  I bled so heavily that night, I thought certainly something was wrong, but then it subsided and I retreated to bed, where I remained the next four days. 
Numbness and emptiness accompanied me.  Liberty was more loving than I'd ever witnessed another to be.  He said and did everything with gentle care.  I melted into the bed and into myself.  Lost to feel anything, I felt blank inside.
Your leaving brought about days of writing, pouring out of me about the life I have and the love I've found.  Your leaving brought it out of me after months of attempts but no success.  I felt compelled to tell my story, though I did not speak of you.  I just couldn't.
The sun rose Monday and I returned to work.  Tuesday I felt better.  Hope was rising to the top.  I fantasized that our house would feel alive again, no longer filled with gloom.
That night, I suddenly became ill.  A high fever found me achy and terrified.  I could only think fearfully of what might become of me if something was wrong with my uterus.  The next morning they found an infection and decided to perform surgery.  I felt so lost and numb.  I did not want surgery and wanted infection even less.  I succumbed to their suggestion and was off to the operating room.  I no longer cared what they did to me.  I turned myself over to their care.  The nurses treated me like a china doll, like I would break under anything less than the most fragile care.  I felt protected by this gentle attention and so cared for, the thought made me want to cry, but the feelings were jammed in my throat.
I awoke never realizing I'd gone to sleep.  The whole thing was over.  I returned home and found my outline in the bed.  This time I felt full of emotion, though it would not surface.  I felt heavy and exhausted and full of pain that I could not access.  I sat and tried to write but nothing came.  I told Liberty that all of my feelings were stuck right here, and pointed to my chest and throat.  The fullness of them brought about nausea.  I told him I was scared that if I didn't feel them now, I'd suffer later.  No matter what I wished, I could not make them come up.  
As I laid in bed, I began to recognize circumstances that made me feel connected to something greater than myself and all that was happening.  I felt protected and supported by little things.  My schedule at work had been clear, something that never happens, yet there it was, empty and clear just when I need it the most.  People were in the right place at the right time.  Precisely when I needed someone, I'd oddly run into exactly the right person.  I started to feel not loss but gain from your presence.  You didn't leave us, you came to us.  You didn't stay as long as we'd expected, but I began to focus on the fact that you did come.  I felt immense love from your time with us, inside my womb.  I began to feel immense gratitude that you chose to be with me during this time and the joy that your presence brought to me.  I focused on that feeling.  I focused on the feeling that you had come to help me in ways that I have yet to understand.
My heaviest emotions are still waiting to be expressed, but the lightest ones have arrived easily.  Joy, love and gratitude for you have filled me to the brim and begun to spill over.  I've felt more lifted and carried these last weeks than ever before in my life, not only by Liberty and family and friends, but by myself too.  I have been more gentle with myself than I ever thought imaginable.  I have loved and accepted the exact place that I'm in, placing my need to get everything right on the back burner.  Even allowing myself not to force myself to feel.  I've been being, simply because I've had no choice.  I feel that you've given me gifts that I never could have given myself.  
With all the love that we possess, thank you for choosing us for your time here.  


Traveling Partner, part 2

This post is a continuation of this post.

It's amazing what happens when we allow ourselves to tell the truth.  It's hard to find the truth when it's buried beneath doubt, fear, and belief in impossibility.  When those things are lost in the passage of life and there is nothing left to lose, truth usually shows up on it's own.  As long as you're willing to acknowledge it and welcome it inside.

In the years that I'd been open to a love that surpassed any I'd personally witnessed, friends were sometimes skeptical of my thinking.  I'd been told that it wasn't possible, what I wanted wasn't out there.  I'd been set up on countless blind dates, double dates, urged to pursue this or that friend.  I even had a friend blatantly explain that what I had was wishful thinking and that the type of guy I was waiting for didn't even exist.  I never knew what to say.  I didn't really know what I was waiting for or if I was waiting at all.  All I knew was that I was ok being alone, I liked who I'd become, I could certainly keep and enjoy my own company and that if I did ever enter into a partnership with someone, it was going to be someone, at minimum, with the qualities I'd listed.

Until I made that list, I felt strongly that I'd continue to travel the world as a volunteer, have short love affairs when I felt the weight of loneliness and when my biological clock ticked it's last tocks, I'd have a child on my own.   I was certainly willing to forgo that path if I did meet someone.  It wasn't until I sat down to write that list, the list of what my heart truly desired in a partner, that I'd ever felt that meeting someone like that was possible for me.  Once I did make the list, I felt the possibility course through me like an energy I'd never before experienced.

Intentions were being set into motion that Life already had plans for.  It was only a matter of it all playing out.

During the months after my return home, I met many new people.  So many that I couldn't remember most of their names or faces.  Life felt like a whirlwind at times and I was sitting in the center while everyone else was swept up into it all.  I just watched it all spinning by and felt dizzy most of the time.  Re-acclimating into the society of your birth is exhausting.  I often felt the weight of this experience and possessed little knowledge of how to process it.

I spent time at my favorite coffee house.  I found a job at a flower shop.  I rented a room from a generous friend that cost very little and allowed me to continue riding my bike to and from work.  I slowly fell into a pace that I could handle.  Life felt livable and even exciting again.

One day, I was sitting at the coffee shop, in a chair by the window, watching people walk by, wondering what their lives were like.  Someone sitting behind me answered a question from the person at the table next to him and when he spoke, something vibrated in my chest.  The vibration was so strong, I felt shaken up after.  I glanced behind me and noted who he was.  I mildly recognized him but couldn't remember if I'd ever met him.  I turned around and hoped he noticed me.  I was quite intrigued.

The next day, during a terrible storm, I waited out the rain at the coffee house after work.  I walked in and immediately noticed the guy from the day before.  I chose the empty seat next to him and when  I sat down, he turned and said, Hello, Erica.   I was a little stunned, embarrassed that I didn't know his name, confused as to how he knew mine.  I said, Hello... and waited.  Finally, he smiled and said, Liberty.

Liberty?  How could I not remember a name like that?  I was sure we'd never met, I would have remembered.  He reminded me that we'd met a few weeks ago, with a girl I barely knew.  I vaguely remembered her approaching me while I was waiting for my coffee one day.  She was with a guy and she introduced us.  She was the kind of girl that was easily jealous and I recalled not wanting to even make eye contact with the guy.  I just nodded and smiled but never looked up at him.   And here he was.  

I commented on meeting him with her and inquired as to how they knew each other.  He said they shared a mutual friend but that he didn't know her well.  I felt hopeful, considering I was about to completely scratch him off the list if he had dated her, simply because I didn't want to even consider what type of volatile turmoil that might bring into my simple and stable life.  

He kept the conversation going and he mentioned that we'd met other times over the last few years and that we shared a few mutual friends.  I had no recollection of him and felt amused that I couldn't remember meeting him before.  We laughed about it.  He bought me a piece of chocolate.  We discovered that he lived across the street from my mom.  We talked about our friends that had recently gotten divorced after only 7 months of marriage.  He shared some simple and beautiful thoughts about growth in relationships.  I remember thinking that this man was one of the most open people I'd ever met and I wanted to know all that I could about him.  I continued asking him questions about himself, so that our conversation wouldn't end.  He was in Louisiana finishing a PhD.  He was originally from Madison, Wisconsin, a place that seemed completely foreign to me and other worldly.  

At one point, he closed his computer and I felt embarrassed that I was taking too much of his time.  He later told me that was to let me know I wasn't.  It was time for me to leave and he tried to ask for my number but I was nervous and left too abruptly.  The next day, during my walk to work, thoughts of him flooded my imagination.  I remember the morning so vividly.  There was a thick fog and all of the surrounding colors seemed vibrant amidst this dense moisture.  I walked past a bright pink crape myrtle tree and felt it's trunk, which was damp to the touch.  I recited a poem to myself and wondered if Liberty knew of it's author.  I wondered if he was already awake and what he might be doing during the day.  I wondered when I'd see him again.

Thanks to modern technology, when I got home, I had an email message from him containing his phone number. Excitement coursed through me.  I returned his message and said that I hoped to run into him again at the coffee shop.  He responded that he'd really like that and that he'd probably be there the following night.  

The next night, I dressed up, without looking like I'd tried too hard and agreed to meet a few girlfriends for coffee.  I did see him, but he wasn't alone,  he was sitting at a table and a girl was sitting next to him.  I pretended like I didn't see him and walked over to meet my girlfriends.  I observed the distance between them and felt it to be quite close.  I realized that maybe he had a girlfriend.  I also realized that if he did, he obviously wasn't that great of a boyfriend, to email me.  I'd been just about to point him out to my girlfriends but decided not to, since he didn't appear to be solo.  When we got up to leave, I walked over said hello quickly.  I mentioned that I was sorry I hadn't gotten to talk to him but that maybe I'd see him again.  He was extremely friendly and looked disappointed.  I decided that maybe she wasn't his girlfriend, but that she might, in fact, be hoping to be.  I left feeling confused and a little disappointed, but not ready to give up.  Our conversation a few days prior still had an impact on me and I wasn't ready to shut the door.

Christmas was right around the corner, so I decided to make him a holiday card.  I had just bought a new magazine with bright images and fun quotes so I decided to collage the card.  I figured that he'd either love it or hate it and that would determine a lot about our compatibility.   I didn't have scissors, so I had to tear the images, which gave the card a nice effect.  I glued it all together and wrote a few lines.  After I was done, I felt childish.  Even though it was only a card, I felt that he might really think I'm an idiot, especially if the girl I saw him with was his girlfriend, or if he wanted her to be.  I justified to myself that if it turned out badly, it really wasn't that big of a deal, I barely knew him.  But I had to find out, especially after the talk we'd had that night.  He seemed kind and open, plus, I was outrageously attracted to him.  I sent him a message that I had a Christmas card for him and that I'd be over at the coffee shop that evening.  Hopefully, I'd see him there.

I had a Christmas party to go to, so I planned to just stop by, grab a coffee to go and if he was there, I'd give him the card.  When I arrived, I saw him sitting alone, outside on the patio.  I sat down with him and we chatted nervously.  Our conversation deepened quickly and hit the same level that we had a few evenings before.  Two hours rushed by and I realized I was extremely late for the party.  I quickly gave him his card and got ready to leave.  I didn't want to leave, but I didn't want to disappoint my friends either.  I felt so torn.  I asked what he was up to later.  He said that he didn't have plans.  I mentioned that maybe I'd call him later and I hurried off to the party unsure of what to do.

Since this isn't an epic novel and only a blog post, I'll spare the lengthy details.  I did call him that night and we talked until 9 the next morning.  Over the next few weeks, we spent time together every day cooking, talking, walking and just being.  I discovered he liked my cooking.  We preferred books and conversation to television.  After longs days, he was always willing to stop over for a visit.  We'd sit and talk in my tiny studio apartment for hours.  

One day he let me know that he had to go out of town for three weeks.  I remember talking to him from the stove while he sat on my bed, the only place to sit on in the entire apartment.  He suddenly looked very serious.  I stopped what I was doing in the kitchen and sat next to him.  He nervously asked if I would consider not dating anyone else while he was gone. That he'd like the opportunity to continue getting to know me even though he would be away.

I, of course, said I wouldn't date anyone else, not that I'd been planning that anyway.  I sat there dumbfounded that he'd been brave enough to ask such a question.  I'd only ever been asked such questions by men I had no interest in.  I was completely smitten by Liberty and our budding relationship.  I couldn't believe that he was able to communicate so easily, to me, his needs and wants.

While he was away, we spoke everyday on the phone.  When he returned, months flew by in a flash.  One day, my friend returned and needed the apartment back.  I had no where to go and two days to figure it out.  Liberty offered for me to live with him.  Since he lived across the street from my mom and I had very few possessions, we decided that I'd stay with him temporarily and if it didn't work out, I'd move to my mom's.  

It did work out, but his apartment was pretty tiny.  I mentioned to him that I had a house that I'd rented out while I was gone and that I could ask the tenant whether or not he'd be willing to relocate.  Liberty agreed without even seeing the place and we moved two weeks later.  I'm not sure when we fell in love.  I had no idea of where I was going next in life.  I vaguely knew that he'd be moving somewhere, at the end of the summer, but he didn't know where.  As time passed by, each day I fell more in love with him.  Living together was effortless.  We had a large backyard full of trees and I often felt that living in such a magically environment made it even easier for the love between us to grow.  He eventually had a few job offers.  When he traveled for interviews, I researched the towns, knowing I'd go with him anywhere.  

In the spring, I traveled to Germany with friends.  In the two weeks that I was gone, I realized that I couldn't stay behind when he left.  When I returned home, I discovered that he felt the same way.  That May, at his graduation, I met his family.  They laughed more than any family I'd ever met and I remember being in amazement that this is what he grew up surrounded by.  We enjoyed the season, the shade beneath the trees.  Liberty visited me at the flower shop nearly everyday.  We hung out with friends and slowly made plans to move to Minnesota.  

I'd taken on extra design work and one Saturday night, I was frantically working on a set of prints that were due the following week.  Nothing seemed to be going right and I looked pretty pathetic sitting there nearly in tears.  Liberty asked me to join him on the sofa.  He pulled me on his lap and hugged me and asked if I'd be willing to spend the rest of my life with him as his wife.  I was in complete shock as he placed a small box in my hand.  I said, of course I would and then just sat there stunned.  He opened the box and placed the sweet ruby engagement ring on my finger.

We relocated to a tiny town.  I struggled to find work.  I felt sad and depressed for the first few months.  We became even closer, surviving on humor and love.  We got to know the town, we got pummeled beneath feet of snow.  He taught me to shovel, to ski, to understand the culture of the Midwest.  At times I felt like he moved me to another country.  The customs were different from anything I knew.  The rules of engagement that I knew were defunct.  I vowed to myself that I would make it work.  That I am in charge of my own happiness.  I took a temporary job in a factory making seat cushions.  All day, I stood at a machine placing a piece of vinyl on the line every few seconds.  I took this time to meditate.  The entire day became a meditation.  I began to feel the possibility of other jobs.  I began to feel what it would be like to have the job of my dreams.  Two weeks later, I landed a graphic design job with an ample salary.

We made it through the winter.  We planned a long distance wedding.  The seasons changed with us.  I felt balanced and realized the importance of dormancy and rebirth that nature expresses so vividly in this part of the world.  We expressed our love for one another before our family and friends in a loving ceremony that was truly our own creation.  We returned from the wedding and moved to an old cabin tucked away in the trees, facing the river and the setting sun.  

We completed another round of seasons and embarked on a three month long journey across Europe where we fell in love more deeply, though I didn't think it possible.  It was during these travels that I began to ponder what it takes to make good traveling partners.  I had no idea how wonderful it could possibly be.  

We celebrated Liberty's 39 birthday last month.  Sometimes I wish we'd met sooner, so we'd have even more years together.  But, then, I wouldn't have been who I was when we met, and I believe I'd never have attracted such an amazing person before I was able to notice that I, too, am amazing and worthy of someone so special.