Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Next Level

For years, I have praised the amazing and supportive relationships in the infertility community found on twitter. Truly, the friends I have found there have helped me to get through some of the most difficult moments of my life and I am forever grateful. Many of us have known each other for 3 or 4 years now. We have been there for each other through BFNs, miscarriages, homestudies, natural cycles, medicated cycles, surgeries, successes, joys and heartbreaks. As more than one person has put it, we were there in the trenches together. When the outside world couldn't understand our pain, our hurt, when we couldn't tolerate yet another happy birth announcement or cute kid story on Facebook, we had Twitter and each other to turn to for support. 

But over the past year or so I have witnessed an ever increasing divide between those of us who have been blessed with the children we have dreamed, hoped and cried for and those in our community who are still in those trenches with empty arms. Naturally, those who have crossed over into motherhood (myself included) have been tweeting and blogging about their new roles in life - their challenges in pregnancy, adoption finalizations and ultimately parenthood. And many amazing women who were there to support us in our journey to parenthood are forced to watch their support system shrink as their timelines fill with more and more tweets about breastfeeding and cranky toddlers. I have blogged in the past about infertility survivor's guilt and I experience it almost every time I am on twitter when I see the hurt and isolation in many of my beloved friend's tweets. Which is why I wasn't surprised when I recently learned that many of my favorite twitter pals have decided to deactivate their accounts or begin trimming down who they follow to focus solely on those who are still in shoes they can relate to. I completely understand and support their decision to move on from that aspect of the community because it is no longer fulfilling their needs. We are not the same community we were when we started. Of course I am overjoyed for those of us who are now mothers, but I am also heartbroken for those who are feeling left behind. I want so badly to be able to give the same love and support I once did, but I know that while I can represent hope I can't be back in their shoes and that is something people need. I know I did. 

When I went through my miscarriage in 2010, Twitter was a source of so much support and love, but it was also a source of tremendous pain. My BFP came on the heels of a couple of others and was followed by quite a few more. All of their pregnancies continued on after mine ended, and for the longest time I had to skip over tweets from many of those women. I just couldn't bear to be reminded of where my pregnancy would be by reading what was happening in theirs. Now that I have had my successful pregnancy, I carry that feeling with me and know it's not personal when someone pulls away or un-follows me online. I know that as much as I don't want to, I have the potential to be that painful reminder to someone else and it kills me. I love this community so much and hate to think I could cause anyone to hurt. Infertility does not define me but it certainly has become a part of me and while I can't serve the same role in this community as I did when I started, I can still find ways to advocate for support, understanding and awareness. 

Before my life was consumed by the infertility battle, I worked as a Victim Advocate, primarily providing support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I loved my job and was beyond passionate about victim rights. It was demanding work however, and I made the decision to step away so that I could focus on building my family. It has been over 3 years since then and now that I am contemplating my return to a career, I have realized that my experiences have caused my focus to shift and I want more than anything to incorporate advocacy for infertility into what I do next. So for a long time, I contemplated how I could do that. I spoke with friends both in and out of the community, chewed my husbands ear off with pro/con lists, researched into all hours of the night, met with professionals working in career paths I might pursue and did a great deal of thoughtful lot of soul-searching. 

And I think I have found the path that will help me incorporate all of my passions into my future and hopefully educate others on the issues that matter to me. I recently enrolled in a course to obtain needed prerequisites for a graduate studies program in Sociology. Yes, I know this isn't a degree with a huge likelihood of high paying career, but luckily I am not in it for the money. I am hoping to focus my Master's of Sociology on women and gender studies so that I can teach these topics at the community college level. My dream is to be able to create a course that examines the role of motherhood in women's lives and what happens when women don't become mothers in the way society expects them to. I want to explore and analyze the effects of infertility and child loss on women's rights, on gender roles, on the family, on society. Even more, I want to educate future generations on these things that impact so many members of our society but are too seldom discussed outside of the people that are experiencing them. Most of all I want to try to give back to the community that has given so much to me. I know I can't be everything to everyone, but I hope that if I can follow my passion and be true to myself and my experiences, I can still be a voice and a supporter for those who need one.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Putting the Breast to Rest

The process of trying to conceive can be so emotional and overpowering, it is only natural that many of those in the trenches cope with these struggles and their deepest hopes by realizing them in dream-filled sleeps. Many of my friends have told of dreams about yet to be realized children so real and vivid, they simultaneously give them feelings of hope at the possible future and despair and their very real present. During my years of struggle, I only ever had one dream of myself as a mother that I can recall. Some of it was nonsensical like most dreams but it also had one very simple, emotional moment in which I was nursing a baby girl and it felt so incredibly tender and real that it stuck with me.

When I was finally and truly pregnant with my amazing daughter, that dream came back to me and I knew that I wanted to breastfeed her when she was born. I also knew that it isn't always as easy as plopping a baby onto your boob and I wanted to learn more about the nursing process so that I could be as successful as possible. I won't lie, I was insanely intimidated and daunted at the huge task and throughout pregnancy I did my best to soak in information from friends, books and even a class taught by a lactation consultant. I set a goal to breastfeed exclusively for the 1st six months. I also always reminded myself that breastfeeding isn't easy and it isn't life or death. If for any reason it wasn't working for her or me, it was ok to move to something that worked better for us. 

And in the beginning it really wasn't always easy. Thanks to an emergency c-section and some concerning swelling in her head after birth, Eliana and I were apart for the first few hours of her life. I can't even remember the first time I tried to nurse her. But I do remember the days at the hospital of her crying desperately for nourishment without the slightest idea of how to latch onto my breast to get it. It was frustrating and challenging for both of us. Luckily, I had some amazing nurses and one physically helped me figure it out. It would have been awkward but the result negated any weirdness and for the first time ever I successfully fed my daughter. It was incredible. 

I have had a few other bumps in the road since then: engorgement, plugged ducts, difficulty pumping, and a near bout of mastitis that I spent days fighting off. It wasn't always fun or easy and it was definitely never glamorous, but overall, I got lucky and Snow Pea and I fell into a good routine. We reached six months and the introduction of solids faster than I could have dreamed, and while the demand for the breast went down the more food she ate, and her growing awareness of the world was changing the dynamic, I saw no reason to stop just yet. So we continued our nursing relationship and I hoped to make it another six months. 

I was so thrilled when I made it to a year. By then we were down to 3 feedings a day, first thing the morning, after her afternoon nap and right before bed. It had become far less demanding than when we started, but now a year later I felt ready to wean. Snow Pea wasn't a sweet, peaceful baby anymore. She wiggly, distracted and precocious. She had started demanding milk by tugging on my shirt and whining at me during the day, biting my nipples when she got bored or wanted to switch sides. It was frustrating and exhausting. 

So again, I did my research. I talked to friends who had been there and read up and just weeks ago introduced cow's milk into my daughter's diet. She hated it at first. She knew what she wanted and it didn't come in a plastic cup. But it literally only took a week of offering a cup after her afternoon nap before she decided this was good stuff and at 13 months she has officially dropped her daytime feeding. My plan setting out was to wean from this feeding first and then the other two, one at a time, over the course of a few weeks. I was by no means in a rush. Now it seems though that my body has begun deciding for us that time is just about up. 

Earlier this week I nursed Snow Pea after her bath, just as I have for months now and realized that I felt almost completely empty. My poor girl was trying and trying but I had nothing to give her. She was miserable, screaming and crying in hunger and frustration. I had to do what was best for her needs and I gave her a bottle of plain milk that she hungrily sucked down before contentedly passing out. And then I cried.

I thought I was ready. I was the one who decided it was time to wean, that encouraged her to transition away from needing my body to feed her, but now that it is actually happening, it is more emotional than I ever anticipated. My body has nourished hers for nearly 2 years! For 9 months she lived and grew inside my body and for the last 13 my milk has sustained her. Being unable to do for her what I have done her entire life made me feel a little bit heartbroken, like she was growing too fast and didn't need me anymore. But it also made me see that she really is weaning herself even more than I'm weaning her and as hard as it may be, I need to follow her lead and let her have this bit of independence. My child is becoming just that, a child. She is no longer an infant and she is ready to move on from our nursing relationship.

I am not positive how many weeks or days of breastfeeding are left. Will I even know my last nursing session with her when it happens? What I do know is that I am grateful to have been able to breastfeed at all and to have been able to do it for so long. I also know that I don't believe any of the media hype that I am somehow more or less of a mom because of it. I won't get into all that now, especially since I have already written a more at length post on the topic (which you can find here) but I do want to be sure that my words don't get turned into fuel for a supposed "mommy war". All moms that love and do their best for their kids are good moms, period. I have done what was best for my me and daughter so far and now that it is changing, I am looking forward what that means for us in the future.