Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Power of Social Networking

I have been putting off writing about this because I know it will make me cry. But I think it is important and that people should know about it.

Facebook has changed my life.


Myspace, too, really. It all started in 2006, my first year of graduate school. But we'll get back to that.

Most recently, I came across a family who had a lot of needs. Eugene is a janitor who cleans state buildings. My mother (a single mom of four, who had a lot of help from her co-workers when she was raising us) developed a relationship with him and found out that his wife was expecting twin boys. Eugene and Judith are immigrants from Africa. One day, while my mom was playing with Tyler, she asked if I had any clothes "or anything" I could pass along to this growing family. Our own family was expecting twins, and I'd donated much of our extras to them, but I was able to come up with a few things. I told her I would post a message on Facebook and see if any of my friends had any extra baby items.

So I did.

And they did.

Everyone wanted to help.

This is where it gets emotional, so hang in here with me. I cried. Every. Single. Time someone had a donation. One stay-at-home-mom I know made two beautiful minky blankets for the family. Another mom of four donated a gift card. A mom in my mom's group brought clothing, toys, and extras. Another mom met me for lunch with a baby bathtub, changing pads, and clothing. I found a consignment store in town and purchased some baby gear, and when I shared the story, they donated two strollers, two car seats, and miscellaneous toys and clothing. Another girlfriend collected donations from her network of friends and family. I didn't call any of these friends asking for anything.

I only changed my status on Facebook.

So back to grad school. I was getting my Master of Social Work and the program required two full years of internship hours. Because I was working through school (and at the time school started, working 50 hours a week), I chose to delay my internship hours and complete them in a double block over the summer. Some of the professors worked hard to tailor the class experience to meet the needs of those interning. I didn't have an internship, so I would often piggy-back on with other students and discuss their experiences in their internships.

In my Diversity class, there was a service learning component. Each student was to spend classroom hours working on a project that would benefit the agencies hosting their internships. I was paired with a classmate, Mollie Nobile, to help with her agency. Mollie worked for a partial-hospitalization program -- a day program for those with mental illness, many of whom lived in group homes. Nearly all were indigent, as their disabilities rendered them unable to work.

They needed clothing. Patients would come to the day program in clothes that were soiled, needed changing and hadn't been washed in days. Many of the patients experienced weight gain (a side effect to anti-psychotic drugs, and other mental health medications) and could not affect a new wardrobe as their needs changed.

The agency requested a clothing closet and I thought and thought of how to provide them with one. Naturally, they did not expect me to BUY everything. I knew people would donate for the cause, but couldn't think of the logistics involved in organizing such a clothing drive. So what did I do? MYSPACE.

It was brilliant. And easy. So easy, it felt like cheating. I posted an event on Myspace and invited all of my friends in town. The messages started pouring in. I drove to meet friends across town that I hadn't seen in months, and each person stuffed the trunk of my Honda Accord full of clothing. I had the opportunity to thank each person for their donation and tell them just what their bags of clothes meant to the patients of the hospital. Every couple of weeks, I dropped by the agency with a delivery, until their storage room was filled. One Friday, I took off of work and organized the clothing, hung everything by size, and took a few photos.

It was the easiest (and most rewarding) school project I'd ever completed. I had an impressive clothing closet to provide the agency, and the most important part? The people who needed CLOTHES had CLOTHES. What a simple but beautiful thing.

So back to this family. Eugene and Judith had the boys last week. Only one twin survived, and the other has a heart defect. Eugene missed work for over a week -- and because Judith was on bed rest during the last months of her pregnancy, they did not have money for July's rent and other bills were piling up. I shared their story on my Facebook and Twitter feed and asked for monetary donations. Because really, we can't take away the pain of the loss of their son. We can't make adjusting to life with a newborn easy for this family. We can't immediately breach the language barrier that makes getting public assistance so difficult. But we can alleviate some of the financial stress, albeit temporarily, while we are working to get them on their feet.

This is the part where I really cry.

In fewer than 48 hours, I have received donations and pledges totaling over $300. Friends from all over the country have sent paypal donations and mailed checks to help this family. Some are women I have never met -- they're moms in my online birth club. Nearly all of the donors are people who are not in my everyday life -- friends I don't see often. The employees at the state building where Eugene works have taken up a collection, too. Their immediate financial needs are being met and we are working to provide them with resources such as Family Road to help with their ongoing needs as they adjust to life with this new baby, mourn the loss of their son, and get back into the swing of things with work.

Word of mouth, emails, and technology have brought people together for this family. But mostly? Facebook. Social Networking.


If you are interested and able to help with a monetary donation for Eugene and Judith, please leave a comment and I will get the information for you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I recognize that I am doing this about six months late... oops!

January: We heard Tyler's heartbeat on a doppler for the first time. Announced our pregnancy to our friends. Took an Intelligender test that swore we were having a little girl. Didn't believe it (fortunately).

February: Received a Valentine card from Scott and the baby. So sweet! Started looking pregnant. Dug a garden and planted a lot of yummy things.

March: I started having horrible acid reflux because of the pregnancy. I woke countless times choking on my vomit. It was terrible! I had no idea that people LIVED like that and I started buying stock in tums. When that stopped working, I used OTC then prescription drugs. Of course, none of these worked, so I just swallowed a ton of vomit.

April: Scott won a trip to Miami, so we babymooned. Fortunately for him, everything was all inclusive with premium bar. Unfortunately for me, I was pregnant. We didn't spend much time on the beach, but it was nice to get away. I took my annual photo with my birthday tree, and we celebrated my last birthday as a family of two.

May: School ended and work for me became much easier. I became huge. There is photographic evidence of my size on this very blog. At some point, I decided that it would be a good idea to completely demolish our kitchen and remodel it. (Okay, not completely, just mostly.) It was horrible, but now it looks much much better.

June: I did summer camp with elementary and middle school kids in the heat of Louisiana summer. Outside. With little liquid nourishment. It was tough, and I had a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. These would be the last contractions I would feel until I was actually in labor.

July: My due date was July 31. I knew better than to think I'd actually have the baby early, but I was so sick of choking on my vomit that I was ready to have the baby. I spent a lot of time at the pool because I felt weightless. It was amazing.

August: Tyler was born August 3 at 12:24am. He started screaming after birth and didn't really slow down for months. Fortunately for him, we are very forgiving people and we fell in love with him anyway. All that time at the pool I spent in July? Big mistake. My belly button was black. I am not kidding.

September: Scott started a new job and was out of town for nearly two full weeks. My mom stayed with me to help with Tyler and I spent a lot of time crying and feeling helpless. Every day felt like the longest day of my life and I was sleeping a collective 5 hours of broken sleep a day. Tyler would only sleep in the Baby Bjorn or on the boob.

October: Tyler took his first out-of-state trip to Dallas, TX. Scott had a business trip and I was terrified of being alone with Tyler, so we went along to see Catherine and Mark. Catherine especially loved seeing Tyler, as she was pregnant with twins and ready to be a mom. Tyler didn't sleep very well, but that was sort of normal for the time. The Baby Bjorn wasn't working out very well on the trip, so most of his sleep was attached to the boob. This would be a habit that would continue until March 2011.

November: Tyler and I accompanied my mom to Wichita Falls, TX to meet the brand new Salem Hostetler. Tyler slept less than he slept in Dallas, and he cried most of the time we were visiting with my sister. It was stressful, but I fell in love with baby Salem. She also managed to sleep more than my 3 month old baby. In love? Yes. Jealous? You betcha. We brought Tyler to Slidell to stay overnight the night before Thanksgiving. He woke up every 45 minutes and slept in my arms while Scott and I share a double bed. Not a whole lot of fun. Tyler also cried through Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. I suspect he was exhausted, as I wanted to cry, too!

We hosted my in-laws for Christmas because it was really the only way we could survive. Tyler loved the Christmas tree (a fake) and spent most of his time trying to eat the branches. I took six hundred photos of him sitting in front of the tree in his little elf hat. Life was still incredibly difficult, but was becoming more manageable. Scott and I decided that we would move Tyler to his own room in hopes that we could all get some sleep, and we made a plan and stuck to it. Initially, Tyler hated his crib, but we soon learned that he could in fact roll over (as he spent most of his time rolling in his sleep. Which woke him. It was great!)

So that's a year! Only six months late :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Our Breastfeeding Journey

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but let's face it - I haven't blogged in months. I don't do much writing at all nowadays (besides my daily note to Tyler, part of our 365 project) but I think as if I am writing all the time.

I am not sure if that makes me crazy, but yes, I do it!

SO here goes.

While I am well aware that many women successfully formula feed their babies, it never crossed my mind as a choice. Even before I knew so much about breastfeeding, it just seemed right to me. Hey, that's what these things were made for, right? I longed to be one of those mothers who held their babies close while they nursed at the park, and I loved the idea that I could just grab a diaper and run out of the door (no bottles!)

My biggest misconception about breastfeeding was that it would come naturally. It's such a natural thing, right? I would just open my hospital gown right after birth, pop that sucker in his mouth and he would eat until he drifted off to sleep. Why did I need a class, or to go to a La Leche League meeting? I tried to read a book, but it just didn't seem right because there was no baby to practice on and borrowing someone's baby for the task just didn't seem right. My preparation didn't exceed buying a few nursing bras, tanks, and a good pump. I already had the other equipment, right?

So it goes something like this. Tyler was born. What a big boy!! He was so big, in fact, they did this sneaky test to check his glucose. I don't remember consenting for this blood prick, but I'm also not sure I was really given a choice. Regardless, his numbers were off, and he had to eat - IMMEDIATELY. BUT I AM BREASTFEEDING! I exclaimed. I'd heard of Lactation Consultants (commonly referred as LCs - those specialized in infant nutrition and helping moms like myself learn to nurse their babies) and I wanted one in my room now!

But it was 12:24am. And even though I was delivering at WOMAN'S HOSPITAL, THE BIRTHPLACE OF BATON ROUGE who swears on every commercial and billboard that they are woman and baby centered, there was no LC available. It was past midnight. These people needed some sleep, y'all, and my baby had to eat.

"If you don't breastfeed him right now, we have to give him formula" the nurses informed me. No problem. Here goes. Boob - check. Baby - check. I opened my gown and tried. Baby was SCREAMING! Isn't he supposed to know what to do?? (I had no idea what to do). And there she appeared - the pediatric nurse. She will know what to do! "You have to hold yourself this way" she said, as she smashed my breast painfully between her hand, "and just DUNK him on like THIS" Well, the dunking wasn't successful the first two times so we tried it another hundred. The result was an incredibly bloody nipple (just one hour post-birth, mind you!) and her response, "Well, it doesn't look like you'll be able to breastfeed him. Your anatomy isn't right for it."

OOOOOHHHH good. That makes sense, right? I mean, I had the boobs, but my anatomy wasn't right. Whatever the hell that meant. I decide I'll try again when I get to my room and am away from this boob smashing nurse. So I get to my post-partum (mother/baby) room and get the full, 30 minute long orientation. At some point, I said, "I really don't need to learn how to use the remote right now. Could you just turn off the light?" It was 2:30am, Tyler was two hours old, and had been crying for close to an hour because he was hungry and I'd been unable to feed him successfully. When I was finally alone, I did that thing I saw all of the other women do - I put my boob in his mouth (right?) and I think he kind of latched (albeit incorrectly) for a moment or two.

Until Nurse Bitch walked in, waving his chart. His whatever glucose issue was important. We are testing him again. If it's whatever wrong, he needs this crap we have ready mixed in a 2oz tube. (Obviously this was not what was said, but all I heard was that my baby would eat first from a rubber nipple instead of my own, that those precious first drips of colostrum would not line his tummy, but it would be stinky Similac or Enfamil or whoever the hospital signed a contract with.)

But he was still crying. He was hungry. I failed at feeding him and I had no support. It's not like my husband knew how - and obviously none of the nurses knew anything but how to screw that rubber nipple on the top of that liquid ready-to-feed human milk substitute.

That was not our first challenge. Tyler's glucose levels "required" (I write in quotes, because I am not positive this was an actual requirement and will request physical documentation of this policy/procedure before it happens again) another formula feeding. In the morning I attempted to nurse him, and it must have been enough to keep him from screaming for a little bit. And finally, when the morning nurse came, I asked, through tears, "PLEASE HELP ME BREASTFEED MY BABY!" and she responded by immediately paging the LC. Who promptly came.

And told me I had flat nipples. Wouldn't be able to breastfeed without a nipple shield and shells. She even told me that because Tyler was a big baby (8 pounds, 8.5oz at birth) that he would need more than I could provide. Showed me how to syringe feed formula through the nipple shield. Brought in a hospital grade Ameda pump and showed me how to use it. "Oh! You have a lot of colostrum" I remember her saying. But never took back the comment about Tyler needing formula because I would not make enough.

I cried. A lot. This was not how I pictured it at all. Where was my peaceful, easy, convenient set of boobs I could use to feed my baby? Now I have to wear these hard plastic things in my bra that cut into my bleeding nipple (still sore from pediatric nurse) and pull out this silicone thing to place over my nipple before I feed my baby. It didn't make sense - Surely other women had the same issue I was having and didn't use all of this crap to nurse their baby. Why was I being told this was what I needed?

That night was a long one. Tyler barely slept and spent most of his time screaming. I tried to nurse him over and over, and eventually ended up supplementing with the syringe and the nipple shield the way the LC showed me. When that didn't work, I called the nurses in to check him out. SURELY something was wrong with this baby. Newborns were supposed to be sleepy, right?? After checking him out and finding nothing wrong, they concluded that I was starving him. He NEEDS formula, you know. They offered to let me feed him. I refused. I didn't want to feed my baby formula. I cried as he was fed an entire two ounces of formula, and I cried again when he projectile vomited all of it all over himself and his bassinet thirty minutes later. Obviously, no one told these nurses that the size of a one day-old's belly is only the size of a marble. No one told me, either.

The next morning, a nurse came in to bring Tyler for his circumcision. Tyler had just woken and I was struggling to nurse him while Scott ran home to check on the house, clean up, and grab some non-hospital food to eat. The nurse saw me nursing and said, "Oh no! He can't eat right now. The doctor can't wait." So I listened. What else was I to do?

When she brought him back in, she said, "Don't feed him now - the pediatrician is coming and will want to see him." My wonderful OB came in to tell me about the circumcision procedure. He asked how I was doing and I broke down into tears, telling him of the problems nursing. He told me he could have waited, and that the pediatrician could wait. We talked about supplementing with formula, and he told me to make sure to bring the baby to my breast first. He was so supportive, and I cried the whole time. I was alone and incredibly overwhelmed. I immediately started nursing, and was able to get Tyler to latch. Less than five minutes later, I was interrupted by the pediatrician who, as it turned out, would not wait. "Take him off. If he's been nursing longer than five minutes, he's gotten everything he needs anyway." Really? If that was true, why had the LC told me to let him nurse until he stopped sucking? I wanted to believe that five minutes would work instead of an hour, but it seemed too good to be true. I didn't react, so he grabbed Tyler from my arms. Off of my breast. I wish I was exaggerating. After the exam, he left and I attempted to nurse again.

I called the lactation line. A new LC came this time - Mona. She asked me about the night before and I broke down into tears and told her about the other LC, the formula, the nurses, the vomiting. Mona tossed the shells and nipple shield to the side and showed me how to get Tyler to latch without all of that garbage. I felt like I could do it for the first time since giving birth.

The hospital social worker also came to check on me because I'd spent the whole day crying every time someone asked me how I was doing. We talked for about thirty minutes about my difficulties, my level of stress, how I was being interrupted when trying to meet my baby's most basic need, and how I thought I'd be okay if I would JUST LEAVE THE HOSPITAL.

Mona came a few times that day to check on me, and the next day, too, before discharge. After meeting with Mona that initial time, we tossed the formula from the room. I felt confident in my ability to feed my son without the artificial milk. (As a side note, the hospital did not, and they packed along 70oz ready-to-feed formula with the bag of diapers they sent home. The sad thing is, the nurse really believed she was doing me a favor hooking me up with freebies. I took pleasure in donating it to the local food bank as soon as I was able.)

It didn't get easier. As soon as my milk came in, my nipples were flat again and I was unable to get Tyler to latch. But wait! I had this silicone thing that helped - the nipple shield! I used that thinking I would toss it after the first few feedings, and ended up using it exclusively (with resentment) for over five months. Not only did I receive that thing at the hospital, it came with no information about nipple confusion or how to wean, and I would cry as my own baby would not recognize my nipple without it.

We had other problems, too. Tyler was a refluxy baby and when I brought him in for a doctor visit, my pediatrician told me he was gaining weight too rapidly and that he was overeating. He was, after all, eating for an hour every other hour. It certainly felt like too much for me, but I believed it was what he needed so I did it. When I asked, "But I thought breastfed babies regulated on their own?" the pediatrician said, "Yeah, well, no." She recommended nursing for five minutes and finding another way to pacify Tyler without feeding for at least an hour. We tried it once and it all Tyler did was cry. Then, we decided that the problem wasn't Tyler's weight gain, rather, it was the pediatrician. We chose a new one immediately. (And, for the record, he has stayed on the same curve since his 20 week anatomy scan - he is just a big kid.)

Breastfeeding Tyler was HARD. As in, cry-every-time-he-showed-a-hunger-sign-because-I-know-it-will-be-horrible hard. I wanted to quit nearly every day for most of the first three months of his life. On top of nursing being tough, he was just a generally tough baby (still is, as an older infant) and I resented my decision to breastfeed. I thought every day about feeding him with pumped milk, or human milk substitute, but really? I was too stubborn to give up. That didn't mean I didn't want to, that I didn't cry when someone asked me about it, that I didn't consider the possibility that I was having a breakdown because I felt I wasn't able to meet the needs of my child.

But one day - and I don't even know when because I was so mentally and physically exhausted - it didn't feel impossible. Then, after that, I found some support. Even though I'd called the LC line (and talked to LC #1, the giver of nipple shields) and was told I wouldn't be able to nurse without the shield, I tried it. It took some time but we eventually stopped using it completely and haven't looked back. Feedings dropped from 12 times a day to six or seven. (Remember, this is the baby that slept attached to the breast for the first six months of his life - literally. If I had given up, I wondered, how would he sleep??) I educated myself about the needs of a newborn when feeding and became angry about my experience. I vowed to spread the word about basic breastfeeding education to my pregnant friends so they wouldn't feel booby-trapped the way I did.

And somewhere along the line, I fell in love with nursing my baby. It became easy, convenient, healthy for both of us, relaxing for both of us, and we bonded. Tyler found my eyelashes one day last month while nursing. He learned to "Give me 5" while getting his morning milk. We talk, laugh, and share smiles while he nurses. Sometimes I sing. I finally got it.

I don't know how long I'll breastfeed Tyler or any of my other, not-yet-conceived babies, but I do know that when I look back years from now, I'll cherish those moments. Maybe even more so because of our struggles.

What is it they say? The challenges for the joys?

Tyler is 10 months and 3 days old.