Milk Prepper

Two months of balancing baby, breastfeeding, and work, and I’m just now finding time to remember my blog. During the small window when Hunter naps during the evenings, the last thing I want to do is use my mind. For better or worse, the television and I have become quite close, as it allows me to exercise little brain power and stay in quasi-touch with the outside world. The only other hobby that keeps me occupied is storing and organizing milk. I’ve teased my husband in the past about his prepper tendencies, but I have developed my own obsession…

It all started in Baby Junk, a baby boutique in Omaha with a great selection of nursing bras and even better expert shopkeepers. I was 10 days into mamahood, desperately seeking advice about engorgement and my annoyingly overabundant supply of milk. (I realize I sound like an ungrateful brat for complaining about too much milk, but there is a dark side to every blessing.) Still high on pain meds and emotionally unstable, I was venting to the two shopkeepers about having to pump constantly and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of developing a milk storage system with an undersized freezer. No one tells you while you’re pregnant that you should have your system figured out before the baby comes. I didn’t even think I would be using my pump until returning to work, so I was in tears when I found myself reading the Medela instructions at 4 o’clock in the morning when my boobs were the size of watermelons and too big for latching. So I share my story, with full credit due to my Baby Junk friends, in case it will reach even one other overwhelmed mama.

When the women heard that I was throwing away pumped milk, their jaws dropped in a mix of surprise and disgust. I explained that I didn’t want to waste storage bags since I’d read you can only store milk for 3 months, and I wouldn’t need a significant amount of stored milk until months later. Without sparing my feelings, they gave me the “liquid gold’ lecture and a stream of advice that I frantically tried to remember in my exhausted, drugged brain. First things first, they declared that I must buy a deep freezer immediately in order to store my milk for a year. In the back of my mind, I knew this would be a justified purchase because my husband had been asking for a deep freezer that he could use to store deer meat for some time.

Even with plenty of storage space, how in the heck was I supposed to store the bags with any semblance of order? I would eventually need to access the oldest milk first, so how could I arrange the newest milk towards the back? They had an answer for that, too: paper bags. The one explained how she used to cut a 1-inch slit – about the size of a storage bag – at the bottom of the bag so that the oldest milk could be pulled from the bottom. She simply used a different bag for each ounce quantity (i.e., 1-5 ounces) and labeled each bag with the oldest milk date. That was the other thing. They stressed the importance of storing milk in a range of ounce quantities in order to use the milk efficiently. For example, Hunter might need only 2 more ounces at day care one day, so it would be wasteful to thaw a 4-ounce bag.

I left the store with two expensive nursing bras and a priceless amount of relief and confidence. My husband was ecstatic to begin the deep freezer search as I brainstormed the cheapest way to get my hands on paper bags that would fit on a freezer shelf. And then a great idea occurred to me the next day – the mound of gift bags from my baby shower would do just the trick. It only took me about 20 minutes to cut slits into the paper bags, label them, and organize the 20 or so milk bags I had already frozen. Since I wouldn’t be accessing the milk in the foreseeable future, I used tape to secure the ends of each slit so that the bags wouldn’t slip out the bottom.

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I preface this next paragraph with empathy for the many mothers who cannot produce enough milk for their babies. I can only imagine that must be an agonizing predicament. After just half a day of being unable to feed Hunter during engorgement, I was sobbing and felt guilty even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. With that said, I hope the description of my milk supply is not perceived as me bragging about this blessing, as I recognize it as such. We are at month 5 as of today, and I have 13 full paper bags of milk – who knows how many ounces. Day care has used about 20-30 bags on days when I didn’t bring enough freshly pumped milk from the day before. For half a week during Hunter’s first cold, I had them use my oldest milk containing colostrum because I remembered the women from Baby Junk said it has special healing powers. The cold lasted for more than two weeks, so who knows how true that is or to which illnesses it applies. I have found that the paper bag slits work perfectly. You can pull a milk bag out without the next bag slipping out the slit.

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I am beginning to wonder whether I am storing too much, but then I remind myself that I can always donate any surplus. Plus, the more I store, the sooner I can stop pumping at work and wean Hunter off the boob…an event that I am anticipating with mixed feelings of excitement (I’ll get my life back!) and dread (Our bonding will end. I’ve gotten so used to breastfeeding. What if Hunter refuses to wean?).

The topic of breastfeeding is definitely a controversial and emotional one. I know all types of mamas – those who jumped straight to formula for convenience or other reasons, one who had to stop breastfeeding due to the baby’s food allergies, several who decided to/had to quit due to nipple soreness or low supply, and a few like me who are surging ahead but with realistic expectations that we may or may not hit the coveted 1-year mark. No matter which path you choose, the emotions are not easy, whether it be guilt or anxiety. Women are pressured to be perfect mothers and wives and family members and workers…and the list goes on. I definitely fall in the anxiety category. Less so now but often in the first few months, I felt overwhelmed by my self-inflicted expectations to follow the feeding schedule and storage process just right. Many would argue that I have become rigid about the process, but structure keeps me sane when experiencing the unknown. And I think I’m doing a pretty damn good job! I might be a little uptight, but my baby is fat and happy…and has enough milk prepped for any curveball that might come our way.

Mama Knows

People who know me well understand that I’ve been a mama for more than 11 weeks. Before Hunter came along, I poured all my nurturing energy into my almost 5-year-old golden retriever, Lexi (a.k.a. Sexy Lexi because she’s a pretty girl and knows it). I surprised myself with how nurturing I could be as a caregiver because I’m typically more like a guy when it comes to my communication style. I think and talk with my head, not my heart.

During Lexi’s first week home at our apartment, I found myself saying “mama knows” in a sing-song voice. I didn’t think anything of it until my mom heard me use the phrase and reminded me that she used to say that to me all the time when I was little. The expression must have been completely subconscious because I didn’t remember that at all. Our long-term memory is remarkable. We absorb information when we’re young, store it in a place that we don’t know exists, and then bring it back out when it’s time to use the information again. I guess that’s how we become our parents, for better or worse.

Lexi is not thrilled that I now use her nurturing phrases on Hunter, and her withdrawn face makes it apparent that she understands the change is permanent. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I even called Hunter by the dog’s name a few times because I’m so used to saying Lexi’s name in my mom voice. When I was pregnant, multiple people tried to convince me that my dog would become much less important once the baby arrives. “Trust me,” they explained, “I was the same way with my dog, and now she isn’t even allowed in the bedroom.” I have to admit that I have been neglecting Lexi and view her more as a pet than a daughter now. There’s something about having a child that put’s the dog’s role in perspective, and I find myself having a finite amount of nurturing energy to give. I hope Lexi will forgive me someday for betraying her, but she can’t complain about still sleeping in our bed. Despite our new relationship boundaries, mama knows that Sexy Lexi needs her beauty rest in a proper bed.

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 Lexi as a spoiled only child

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Lexi as a proud but sacrificing big sister

Personal Armageddon

I originally intended to start this blog at the beginning of my 3-month maternity leave and use it as a way to productively stay busy. I was freaking clueless! My beautiful baby boy, Hunter, is coming up on 11 weeks this Thursday. To put a task off that long is unheard of for me. My Marriage and Family Counseling instructor once told our class a story about a family whose home was being swept away in a flood. While looking out the window, the little boy saw a hat floating back and forth across the lawn; confused, he asked his mom how a hat could possibly be moving in straight lines. She laughed and explained, “Honey, that’s just your father. Today is mowing day, and you know how he likes to stick to his schedule.”

That would have been me. I would have mowed that lawn come hell or high water, literally. Not anymore. After a good amount of reflection while staring at the nursery walls during countless feedings, I’ve identified “personal Armageddon” as the best term to describe what has happened to me. Having a baby is not the end of the world, but it ended my world as I knew it. I have handed my plan over to the tiny hands of a 14-pounder. Hunter is the captain now.

During the first few weeks, a dark time when I was overwhelmed and even a little angry about this reality, I felt like I was in hell with only fleeting glimpses of heaven. A mid-feeding milk grin would briefly remind me why it was worth waking up every 2 hours to breastfeed someone who takes so much but gives so little.

Thankfully, Hunter is giving a lot more these days. He expresses his gratitude with smiles, coos, and even laughter. Now that I am sleeping through the night and drinking caffeine again (I couldn’t take being exhausted until my afternoon nap anymore, and Hunter sleeps 8-9 hours at night despite ingesting a 12-ounce cup of coffee each day.), my perspective has become much clearer and more positive. I see now that the baby’s demands weren’t the only thing keeping me from starting the blog. My perfectionism was also getting in the way. Every time the task crossed my mind, I convinced myself that I wouldn’t have time that day to pick the perfect background theme and draft a compelling introductory post.

Well, here I am, prepared to begin blogging (imperfectly) at whatever pace I can manage. I promise to avoid rose-colored stories and photos of Hunter’s every move. I’ll leave that to Facebook where there’s an unspoken agreement to fake the perfect life. In keeping with my blunt nature and dry sense of humor, I plan to share the joyful and awful experiences. Because let’s be honest – although no one ever likes to admit this out loud – raising a baby, especially breastfeeding, is the most rewarding but difficult job I’ve ever had so far.