Monday, December 28, 2009

15-minutes of fame

A week or so ago, the Chambana Moms contacted me and asked if they could interview me for the Chambana Moms To Know section of their website. I was totally honored and agreed to do it. In retrospect, I think one of my friends must have suggested me to them (a certain mom who has 4 young boys perhaps? J), otherwise how would they have heard of me? Through Twitter, I guess. But at any rate, they published my interview just before Christmas, and you can have a look at it here.

In other news. We’re about 2/3 of the way done with Christmas, but I’ll leave the blogging to Ragfield and William for that. I’m totally bah-humbug this year because our house is already completely overrun with clutter, and having more stuff enter this house is absolutely the last thing I need. I guess it’s the thought that counts, but still. I would like to stop having clutter-induced panic attacks. Last night after William went to bed, I cleaned out 3 cupboards and filled 3 big trash bags with crap. It still feels like we’re just one more item away from being featured on that TV show Hoarders, which I’ve never actually seen, but can imagine nonetheless.

Also. I am about 99% sure that Almost PhD is about to close down. I say this because Rob just got me a domain name for a new website. I’m not sure what the plan is exactly. I had thought I might keep Almost PhD going until I actually deposit my thesis, but most of the things I feel like writing about lately are about motherhood and not about the PhD. I know the world really doesn’t need another mommy-blogger, and I really don’t have the time for it anyway, so I’m not sure what I was thinking when I thought a new website might be a good idea. We’ll have to see how this pans out. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Solstice and Everything After

A year ago today, on the winter solstice, was the first time I felt sick. I remember it well—we were out doing some last minute Christmas shopping when the first waves of clawing nausea swept over me. And I thought, I can totally handle this. Morning sickness has nothing on me. This is doable.

On Christmas Eve, the nausea began rising to a nearly audible crescendo. I was chopping kale and making butternut squash risotto to take to Rob’s grandparents for Christmas Eve dinner. All of a sudden, I had to stop. I had almost never felt so terrible in my life. I couldn’t quite describe what it was—more than nausea somehow. Like the time I got sick on the crowded bus in Ireland and the time I threw up on the boat in Lake Nicaragua. Combined. Holding my breath and covering my face in the crook of my elbow, I dumped my half-prepared meals into Tupperware containers and put them in the freezer. I thought for sure that this was just temporary—your garden variety morning sickness. Little did I know! That was the last time I tried to cook anything for about 9 months. Just the thought of the kale and risotto made me so sick that I couldn’t even open the freezer. My mom finally got rid of them for me when she came to stay with us after the baby was born. I had to go to my room and shut the door and clench my fists through the nausea as she ran them down the garbage disposal. Even more than 4 months later, there are still so many things that make me sick.

That nausea was only the beginning. I feel like I’ve been to hell and back to have this baby and to sustain him thus far. All of it has taken it’s toll on me—it’s like I’ve been fighting tooth and nail for everything since this day last year. I guess I just wanted to take a minute to think back about it all, what a journey it has been and everything that has happened since then. I look at Will sometimes and think, really, what a miracle it is that he is here and that he made it through all of this. If I had more time, I think I’d write a book about it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Still an Almost PhD

There are a million things that need to be done, but the baby has fallen asleep on my lap, and I’m afraid to move for fear of waking him and making him cry. We’ll see if I can blog while listening to his (adorable) snoring.

So I defended my dissertation a week ago, and since then, I have been getting cards, emails and even gifts offering congratulations. And I just have to say… seriously people, it is really not that big of a deal. All it takes to get a PhD is a little persistence, and I think (read Fig’s birth story, for example) we have established that I can be very persistent. After defending my thesis, nothing in my life has changed. I am still dealing with dirty diapers, mountains of laundry, a baby that wants to nurse 24 hours a day, and no time for anything. At this point in my life, the PhD just kind of seems irrelevant. And I feel really guilty… like I must have somehow misled all of you—to be getting such an influx of cards, emails, and gifts.

First of all, I’m not really a PhD yet. I still have to revise my thesis according to the loads of comments each committee member gave me, and deposit it sometime (hopefully) spring semester. Right after the defense, I half-jokingly asked Professor Pablo (my former cloth mother), if I could call myself “Dr” yet, or if I have to wait until I deposit the thesis and formally graduate. “You can call yourself whatever the hell you want,” was his smirking response.

And secondly, here is the truth: I am still not qualified for any job. My publication record sucks, and that is really what matters when you are on the job market. Seriously, the degree means next to nothing if you aren’t publishing loads of original research. PhD’s are a dime a dozen these days. For any given job, there will be hundreds of applicants. I am not exaggerating. If you don’t have a knock-their-socks-off publication record, you’re going straight into the garbage pile. I’m a long, long way from actually reaping any rewards from the PhD.

I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. If I want a successful academic career, I need to drop everything, put Will in full-time day care, and work like mad to get things published. In truth, I don’t even know how to go about doing that. And even if I managed to pull it off, the reward seems kind of grim: an extremely stressful academic career, involving coming up with and funding research project after research project, then publishing the results of this research, all the while teaching. Seriously, I look at the professors in my department and think that if I had to do all that they were doing, I would have a heart attack and die right on the spot.

I didn't really know all this when I started out in grad school years ago. If I had it to do all over again, I’d become a physical therapist. There. I said it.

Got to go, Will’s crying.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Almost PhD

So, I defended my dissertation on Friday. It went like this:

Earlier in the week, Will came down with a cold. Yes, a cold. I’m pretty sure he caught it from Rob, who caught it from the guy he shares an office with at work. I never got this cold, and I had assumed (or hoped?) that Will would be okay on account of the breastfeeding. The internet would have you believe that breastfeeding is this magical thing that protects your child from illness and makes them into a super baby. This is not entirely true, as evidenced by Will’s cold. So much snot. I did not know it was possible for so much snot to come out of one tiny little nose. He sounded like Darth Vader with every breath. And the poor dear could not sleep. He went from sleeping 8-10 hour stretches to sleeping only 2-3 hours at a time, max. And instead of going right back to sleep after his many night time feedings, he stayed awake and fussy—frustrated with all the snot he couldn’t breathe through. I called the doctor, but they said there was really nothing much they could do. Just keep using saline drops, the nasal bulb, a humidifier, and try to keep him upright to sleep. I think this cold also coincided with a growth spurt, because his sleeping disruptions actually started several days before the cold started and plus, the internet says that babies often go through a growth spurt around 4-months.

So that’s the backdrop to my dissertation defense. A fussy, snorty, baby who wants to nurse all the time (though there is nothing new about that part) and who isn’t sleeping well. It didn’t leave me a whole lot of time to prepare for my defense, but even so, I had no idea how to actually prepare for it. At this point, I realized that my dissertation was too long to re-read. As I mentioned in the last post, what I ended up doing was printing out Chapter 8, my discussion chapter, and reading it while walking around the streets of Urbana with Will bundled up and nestled against me in the Baby Bjorn. I also ended up printing off the conclusion sections of all of my chapters and pouring over those. It felt kind of like I was reading the “Cliff Notes” version of my dissertation. I realized that my committee members, who had probably all just read it over Thanksgiving break, were all a lot more familiar with it than I was. Plus, none of them had been going slowly insane from listening to a crying baby for the last 4 months. Plus, all of them are a lot smarter than me and would be able to easily ascertain that I have no idea what I’m talking about most of the time.

I realized I was scared principally of the following things:

  1. The questions they would ask. Like I said, they are all a lot smarter than me. I am a disaster when it comes to theory. And theory is pretty much what a dissertation is. Plus, I don’t always think so well on my feet. If I didn’t already have an answer memorized, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to say anything. (“What is life history theory?” “I don’t know… the thing my dissertation is about?”)
  2. One faculty member in particular being there and asking me something on purpose to make me look dumber than Sarah Palin in the Katie Couric interview. This particular faculty member has actually made me cry (afterwards, in the privacy of my office) following previous presentations I have given in the department.
  3. Will having a last minute digestive problem and leaving me to do the whole defense with his vomit or puke on me.
  4. My boobs leaking in front of everybody.

Because I hadn’t been getting very much sleep during the preceding weeks, I vowed to go to bed early the night before my defense. There were too many last minute things to take care of though, and it didn’t happen. It seemed like I had just gotten to sleep when Will woke up crying around 3am. He ate and then began crying again when I tried to lay him back down. I finally got him back to sleep, but by 5am he was fussing again and would not go back to sleep, so by around 6, I fed him again. There was no way he was going back to sleep after that. I was so tired, but there was not much else to do besides get up and get ready. Rob did his best to keep Will quiet and entertained.

By around 8, Will was too fussy to settle down, so I fed him again. As I began feeding him, I thought that perhaps I should be wearing a smock or some type of staging outfit in case he puked on me, but alas. Just as soon as he finished eating from Side A, he vomited everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except the burp cloth. I very irked that I would now have to come up with a different outfit to wear to the defense. Rob came to the rescue though and sponged off the vomit. There wasn’t enough time to dry my shirt in the dryer, so I just waved the hair dryer over it for a while and ended up putting it back on kind of wet.

We left our house intending to catch the 9:13 bus to campus. It would be the first time Will had ever been on a bus. We stood there waiting at the cold bus stop for what seemed like forever, until finally we decided, “Screw this, we might as well walk.” Just then the bus came by and we caught it at the next stop.

We got to campus plenty early, but everything seemed to move so quickly after that. SL was there, with a fresh hair cut, wearing a sport coat and a tie that had hominin skulls on it. Everyone was hugging me and exclaiming about Will’s cuteness.

Then all of a sudden it began. My four committee members met in the room in private while everyone else waited outside. During this part of the defense, they discuss amongst themselves whether the thesis is defensible or if everybody should just go home. I was pretty sure this was just a formality. At least I was hoping it was just a formality, especially since my outside committee member had driven up the night before. In order to keep me occupied during this section, SL gave me a juvenile monkey skull that had had its teeth removed and told me my task was to correctly place the teeth back into both the jaw and maxilla and to identify the species. All I can say is that I am so glad my predecessor, Dr. G.B had forewarned me of this and that it was largely a joke that SL had devised based on his belief that manual tasks are soothing. I did not find the task to be soothing, but I threw myself into it with much gusto.

Melissa works to assemble the juvenile baboon skull

It was a juvenile baboon. SL later pointed out that I reversed the maxillary and mandibular premolars, and although he seemed disappointed, it did not affect the committee's decision on whether or not to pass me.

Monkey skulls and cookies

Eventually, SL emerged and said that the committee had decided we could proceed. Everybody filed into the room, and when the door closed behind us, I was much relieved to find that the faculty member I feared was not among us. Then all of a sudden I was up there at the podium, beginning my presentation. Will started crying soon after, and Rob took him out of the room. I was sad that they left, but I just kept going. I could hear Will crying for a while in the next room, and when he stopped I figured that Rob must have gotten the bottle ready for him (more on this later).

When the presentation was over, it was time for the committee to begin questioning me. I think that the idea is that they go around the table and each committee member has a turn to ask his or her questions. It started out that way, but then ended up just kind of being a free for all, with everybody kind of jumping back and forth and even a couple of questions from non-committee member faculty in the audience. It did get pretty intense for a while (particularly when SL asked me to define “positive allometry” and explain why it was important for my results), but nobody was unnecessarily harsh on me. In fact, it was a lot more like a big, open discussion of my thesis instead of me having to defend it to the world. I was definitely pretty out of it during the questioning period though, and felt like I wasn’t answering the questions very well. Time was passing in a way that could have been minutes or hours. At some point, Rob and Will came back in, and I was really happy to see them both.

Eventually it started winding down. SL asked if there were any further questions and when no one had any, the whole thing was done. Just like that. It hadn’t been great, but it really wasn’t that bad at all. I mean, it was nothing like giving birth. Maybe its because it’s only been 4-months since my 23-hour unmedicated labor, but seriously, everything else in life just seems so pale in comparison to that.

Everybody had to wait outside again while the committee deliberated on whether or not I would pass. The other students in the department who came to the defense were amazing. They were so encouraging and supportive as we stood waiting for the verdict. I was so glad they were there (thanks so much, guys).

I asked Rob if Will had eaten, and he told me he had given Will a bottle. I asked him how much Will ate, and he said Will ate the contents of one of the bags of breastmilk I had pumped. My jaw dropped. There was 7 ounces of breastmilk in that baggie. According to the internet, I estimated that Will should be eating more like 4 to 4.25 ounes per feeding. I had put more milk than that in each of the bags I had stored, telling Rob to only pour out the appropriate amount and also leaving a note inside the bag with the milk and bottles. Well, apparently Rob misheard my instructions and didn’t read the note, so he just gave Will the whole thing. And Will took it. The boy is an animal. I instantly had visions of him growing up to be a competitive eater—winning contests for how many hot dogs he can eat in an hour or whatnot. He looked a little stoned.

So there I was, instead of freaking out about how my defense had gone and whether or not I had passed, I was freaking out about what must be going on inside Will’s digestive system at the moment. I was also a little bit paranoid that maybe the internet was wrong, and Will just needs 7 ounces of milk per feeding. I thought there was no way he was getting that much each time—the 7 ounces I had stored was from 2 pumping sessions.

In the middle of this freak out, SL and the committee members emerged, told me I had passed, and we all went out to lunch. I vaguely remember everybody ceremoniously signing the form saying that I had passed (with revisions), but it was all really a blur. All I could think about was the sheer quantity of breastmilk my son had just gulped down in one sitting and wondering what was going to happen.

What happened was, he fell asleep while we were out to lunch. That was a good thing, because he’d been for about 7 hours or so without taking a nap. Later in the afternoon after we got home, he pooped and it was very strange indeed. (WARNING: GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF POOP AHEAD). It looked kind of like pale green cottage cheese. Very unlike his typical poop. His poop stayed varying shades of green for the next day or so (actually, it is still a little more green than normal). I don’t know what the deal is. I’m starting to wonder if green poop is common for babies fed pumped breastmilk? All those many weeks he had green poop when he was a newborn, we were told he had a cow’s-milk allergy, so I went back to being vegan and I also gave up soy for a month or more when the green poop would not go away. Much of that time I was also giving him pumped milk because they told me I had a low milk supply which left him hungry all the time. Eventually, I had more milk and I stopped giving him pumped bottles. His poop stopped being green, but his behavior (the crying, oh the crying) didn’t change. So. I don’t know. Does anybody out there have experience with pumping and the kind of poop that results? And also, how much pumped milk did your baby take at a feeding? I would love to know. The thing that’s killing me here is that maybe he wants 7 ounces of milk per feeding and I feel like there is no way I am making that much for him every 2 hours, so…my God, is the crying still because he is hungry?!

So proud of Momma

A very full boy, happy for mama

At any rate. After an afternoon of worrying about my milk supply and Will’s poop, it was time for the big party at SL’s that night. I’d been planning on taking Will with us, but Rob had called his parents and asked them to come and babysit. This was going to be a big deal for me, because for the last 4 months, the maximal amount of time I have been away from Will is 1 hour. He has never been babysat by anyone other than Rob. I did not know if I could do it. But I also knew that it would probably be best for Will to stay home and skip the party. He goes to bed around 7:30, and I had been becoming increasingly worried about loading him into the carseat (which was sure to wake him up) and then having him awake and mad at the party. So I fed him and put him to bed before we left, and according to Rob’s parents, he never woke up the whole time we were gone.

One more thing, and then I promise I’m finished. Back when I took my prelim exams a million years ago, I brought a bottle of champagne to the party at SL’s house afterwards. It was a bottle of “Taittinger” I had bought in 1999 when I was studying abroad in Paris, but had never had an occasion to drink. Well, apparently SL did not think my prelims were a big enough occasion for it. He said he would keep the bottle for me and we’d drink it at my dissertation defense. He placed a duct tape label on the bottle and wrote in a sharpie “Save for Melissa’s dissertation defense.” Well, at the party the other night, he produced the bottle. And just as we were about to open it, he balked and decided that even my dissertation defense wasn’t a big enough occasion. He opened a bottle of Korbel instead and said that I should save the Taittinger until I got a job… no, until I got tenure… no… until Will got his PhD. At any rate, we drank the Korbel and I’ve got the Taittinger back in my possession, on hold yet again.

Okay, miles of laundry to fold. Thanks to everybody for all your calls, emails, cards, etc. I'll write more later.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How I Prepared for my Dissertation Defense

Preparing for one’s dissertation defense while also caring for a newborn is hardly ideal, but I’m trying to do the best I can. Mainly I am just in denial about the looming defense date. Now that it’s less than a week away, there is not much more denying I can do.

Most days I nurse Will for hours on end, only to have him start fussing and crying every time I try to take him off. A lot of the time he isn’t even eating, but he doesn’t care—he just really, really likes to suck. Yes, yes, I’ve tried pacifiers, but the boy accepts no substitutes. I’ve become pretty good at working on the computer while nursing him. In fact, I wrote my entire defense presentation while nursing him. I suppose it was kind of apropos, considering that the majority of my dissertation is about lactation and maternal investment. Sometimes I just really need a break from the constant nursing though. The other day I bundled him up and loaded him into the Baby Bjorn*. I took a print-out of the Discussion chapter of my dissertation with me, and we walked the streets of Urbana for around an hour while I read and ruminated. Will fell asleep the instant I stepped outdoors, so he managed to get in a good nap, and I managed to not trip on any cracks in the sidewalk as I was reading. I actually got a lot of work done in that hour. Plus, I got fresh air and exercise.

I kind of wondered if there had ever been anyone else in the history of dissertations who had ever prepared for their defense this way. We’ll find out on Friday whether or not this was an effective preparation tactic.

*Of all the baby slings I have tried, the Baby Bjorn is by far the best!! I was lucky because my sister loaned me hers so I didn’t have to shell out ~$90 for one. But even if I would have had to pay full price for one, it would have been totally worth it! The Baby Bjorn is probably the most used baby item we have!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

At least the Fed-Ex man believes me

It is well-known that Will is often a perfect little angel when we are visiting with friends and family. But when I’m home alone with him, he cries all day, no matter what I do. I get the feeling that no one believes me. That I’m just being Melissa, a crazy, overreactive bitch who doesn't handle things well and is a vegan just because she wants to be difficult.

A couple weeks ago, we got a package delivered via Fed-Ex. Will was in the midst of an endless crying bout when the doorbell rang. Haggard, red-eyed, and wearing baby-puke-stained pajamas, I answered the door. The Fed-Ex man winced as he heard the crying from within. “I’m sorry, did I cause that?” he gestured towards Will. “Oh, no, he’s been crying all day,” I assured him. The Fed-Ex man looked sympathetic. As I signed for the package, he asked me, “How’s it going?” as though we were old friends. “Just fine,” I said. Then, “No, not really,” as my eyes welled over. The Fed-Ex man seemed genuinely concerned, and he stayed just a few moments longer, offering a few encouraging words and assuring me that it would soon be better. Then as he hurried back to his delivery truck, I sighed and thought, well, at least the Fed-Ex man believes me.

No more advice, please. I've tried everything and nothing works.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is this just a bad dream?

Will was crying, as per usual, and I was bouncing on the birth ball with him trying to calm him down. I checked my twitter account while doing so and found that one of my fellow-runners had just posted a tweet saying that the 2010 Boston Marathon registration had already closed—2-1/2 months early this year.

So here I am, a crying baby on my arm, trying to convince myself that this is all just part of some really, really bad dream.

I have this recurrent dream that my teeth are falling out. It always seems so real. When I wake up, I swear that I am toothless. I sometimes run to the bathroom mirror to see if my teeth are really there or not. The dream has progressed so much that sometimes I even dream that I’m dreaming that my teeth have fallen out. It is weird I know. The dream probably means something, but I don’t know what. All I can do right now is hope that I am in the middle of a sleep-deprived dream and I will wake up disoriented and in a cold sweat and the first thing I will do is rush out to my computer and register for Boston.


I qualified for Boston at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon just over a year ago, and then just over a month after that, I found out I was pregnant. My first thought upon beholding the positive pregnancy test? Not of the growing life form inside me, but of the realization that I would not be able to run the Boston Marathon. My qualifying time was good for 2010 as well, so I immediately set my sights on that.

It’s my own fault for not registering in time. But still. Traditionally, registration does not close until January or February. Plus, my pelvis hasn’t even completely realigned from childbirth, and I can still barely run 3 miles at a time because it hurts too bad. I had thought I would get around to register sometime in early December. Before Christmas for sure. But not this early, not before my pelvis had realigned.


The only good thing is that we’ll save a lot of money. It is hell of expensive to register for the Boston Marathon. Not to mention, the cost of airfare and a hotel room. Plus, Boston is the Monday after the annual physical anthropology conference, which is in Albuquerque this year. It was looking like I would have to somehow manage to fly out of Albuquerque on Saturday night or Sunday morning and go directly to Boston, doing all of that with a baby in tow. It was already stressing me out. A lot. But still. I would have done it.

I figure now that I’ve got a child, there is no way in hell I’ll ever be able to qualify for Boston again. I was in the best shape of my life when I BQ’ed last year. I’ll never have that kind of time to invest in training again, ever.

I am just so, totally, bummed out. This sucks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three months in review

Well, Will is officially 3 months old. Most of the time I still find it hard to believe that I was every really pregnant (the whole thing just seems like a continuous blur of nausea and vomiting), that I ever actually gave birth, and that I have managed to sustain this little life for 3 whole months. But somehow we’ve made it.

I never really thought that all our difficulties with Will would end the instant he turned 3 months old, but I guess I was kind of hoping that they would. They haven’t. Things are better though, at least better than they were in the bleak of September when I seriously didn’t know if I was going to make it from one minute to the next. When I think about it like that, I realize we really have come a long way. By the skin of my teeth, I managed to power through the hellishness of Low Milk Supply and Will has not had a drop of formula in his life. Not one drop. But getting through that has been the hardest thing I have ever done.

Where are we now? Will is well fed and growing by leaps and bounds. He has a full, round belly, chubby little cheeks, and even some darling little rolls of fat on his thighs (Will, if you are reading this someday, sorry honey, but I had to mention your darling little rolls of fat because they are adorable). He’s getting plenty to eat, but I am still on the Domperidone—90 mg a day. Luckily, I’ve been able to reduce this nearly $9 a day Domperidone habit by ordering it from Vanuatu. Yes. Vanuatu, a volcanic island nation some 1000 miles off the coast of Australia. I was able to get 300 pills for $50 and without a prescription. I know it sounds sketchy, but it worked. This ordering-from-Vanuatu option was actually suggested in a well-respected breastfeeding book, The Nursing Mother’s Companion. My lactation consultant herself had suggested ordering it from Canada, but that required faxing a prescription and whatnot, and I just couldn’t deal with all of that, so I went the Vanuatu route. No prescription required or anything. Just click “add to cart” and you’re good to go. Eight days after I placed the order (and there was a weekend in there too), my shipment of Domperidone (i.e. Motilium) arrived and there was never a lull in my milk supply. If anyone out there who needs Domperidone finds this blog and is considering ordering it from Vanuatu, I can totally vouch for the Inhouse Pharmacy.

My plan was to keep taking the Domperidone until Will was 3 months old and then to gradually decrease it. The last time I tried this (many, many weeks ago), my milk supply plummeted again and there was all-around general despair. So I am naturally petrified of trying it again. The last couple of days I have reduced my dosage to 80 mg (8 pills a day) instead of 90 mg, and so far so good. I’ll hold steady another couple of days and then drop it by another pill to see what happens.

Other things to review: sleeping through the night. By the time Will was about 6 or 7 weeks old, he was sleeping around 8 hours at a time—usually from 10pm to 6am. It worked out really nice for mama. Except for the plugged ducts that I endured when he first started going an 8-hour stretch without nursing. I was constantly worried about what this would do to my precarious milk supply, but as long as I was taking the Domperidone, things were okay in that department. It was just that during the daytime, it seemed like he cried all the time and he rarely napped for more than a few minutes at a time. It was exhausting. Then a couple weeks ago, I was listening to the New Moms New Babies podcast and realized that some of this fussiness might be because Will was not getting enough sleep. It was like he would get so tired that he couldn’t fall asleep, or that he would refuse to let himself fall asleep for fear of missing something that might happen in this great big world. So I decided to get better about making him take naps and get to bed earlier at night (Ha! Easier said than done!). What has resulted is that usually I can get him to take at least one nap during the day, and usually I can get him to go to sleep for the night around 7-7:30. The drawback to this is that instead of “sleeping through the night,” he would sleep until about 3 or 4am, so I was back to a nighttime feeding again. The past two nights though, he has actually slept from 7:30pm to 6:00am, so that has been really nice. The end goal of all of this, of course, is so that he is less fussy during the daytime. So far it’s been hit and miss. We’ll have to see how that turns out.

Onto the milk, soy, and acid reflux issue. It’s been at least 7 weeks since I’ve had any dairy and at least a month since I’ve had any soy. The green poops finally ended (again, sorry Will, if you are grown up and reading this some day), but as I’ve mentioned the crying and fussiness has not. As far as the Prevacid, I honestly didn’t feel like it was doing anything, plus his prescription was starting to run out, so I’ve been cutting down his dosage (the doctor told me to do that). I’ve noticed no difference in his crying whether he takes it 3 times a day or 1 time a day. And really, I don’t think his symptoms are consistent with acid reflux. He spits up sometimes, sure, but all babies do that. The main thing was that he cried all the time, and especially he cried after I fed him. I think the doctors just wanted to give him acid reflux medicine to make me feel like they were doing something, not because he actually had acid reflux. As far as dairy, I don’t care if I ever eat that again, but I decided that when he hit the 3 month mark I would gradually reintroduce soy. So far, I haven’t noticed much of a change, so we’ll have to see how this pans out.

So much more to say, but Will is crying so I need to try to figure out what he wants. Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Almost 3 months

Human babies are born about 3 months too early. They are extraordinarily helpless, particularly compared to other primates. The evolutionary narrowing of our pelvises for bipedal walking necessitates giving birth to a small and underdeveloped fetus, and this is further complicated by the evolutionary expansion of our brains, which leads to a big ol’ head. Astute observers, such as Dr. Harvey Karp, have termed the first three months as the “fourth trimester.” A lot of babies’ crying and fussing during their first three months in the world isn’t really because of things like “colic” or “acid reflux,” but rather, because they are just not ready to be out of the womb yet. Unfortunately for babies (and those of us who take care of them), the locomotor patterns and brain size of our species makes it necessary for them to get evicted early. If they stayed in there long enough to actually be ready to be born, they just wouldn’t fit through.

I have high hopes for this next milestone—Fig’s 3 month birthday. Many people assured me that from personal experience it would get better by 6 weeks, but that date came and went. Weeks 9 and 10 were amazingly, sublimely perfect though, and I thought that the worst was behind us. Then weeks 11 and 12 hit with a vengeance. The crying never ends. It is so frustrating because Fig’s behavior really hasn’t changed much since the beginning. He cries, so I feed him. He falls asleep while nursing. Eventually he drinks all the milk but continues to non-nutritively suck. When I finally need to get up to do something, I take him off. He wakes with a start and begins to fuss, then gives way to all-out howling within a few seconds or minutes. We’ve had him to the doctor a million times. First they told me I had a low milk supply, that the crying was because of hunger. So I did a million things and eventually got more milk. “At last,” I thought. “The baby will be happy.” Not so. Then they told me that he had acid reflux. So we tried Zantac, then Prevacid. There were some good times, but then the crying returned. All that’s left to hope is that Will is still in the limbo of the fourth trimester and this is all about to end soon.

It’s just that it reminds me of the morning sickness. That was supposed to get better around 12 weeks. But 12 weeks, then 13 and 14 came and went. I had a few friends who said their nausea had persisted to 16 or 18. Those came and went. In fact, the whole damn pregnancy came and went, but the nausea remained. And just like the remedies I tried for increasing my milk supply and soothing Will’s crying, I tried everything for morning sickness to no avail. Finally the Zofran worked just enough (much like the Domperidone works “just enough” for my milk supply) that I could get through the day without thinking that I might be better off dead.

Last week one morning I went for a run while Rob watched Will, and I listed to a back-episode of the “New Moms New Babies” podcast. They had a “sleep expert” on the show, who explained that babies of Will’s age need about 16-18 hours of sleep per day, and they need to go to bed by 6:00pm. If they’re not getting enough sleep, they can be fussy and crying, etc. I thought, aha! This is it. Will is not getting enough sleep. He goes to bed at 10pm and gets up at 6am and only takes a rare catnap or two during the day. It suddenly all made sense. The night before, he had been crying at the top of his lungs after I fed him around 7pm. Nothing would calm him down—not rocking, swinging, swaying, singing, bouncing, soothing, etc. Then all of a sudden in mid cry, he fell fast asleep in my arms. I didn’t know what to do. I kept holding him for a while and finally put him down in his bed-- where he slept soundly until about 3am, had a diaper change and a bite to eat, then fell back to sleep for another 3 hours. When I listened to the podcast I felt certain that he was crying because he was tired, so I decided to institute an earlier bedtime and more naps from then on.

He’s been going to bed much earlier, around 6 or 7pm, but unfortunately, I haven’t noticed much of a reduction in his crying during the day. On the plus side, he is getting more sleep, but on the downside, he isn’t “sleeping through the night” anymore when he goes to bed at 6pm. Usually he wakes up around 3 or 4 and then sleeps a couple more hours until he wakes up ready to go at 6am. Then the rest of the day is spent eating, crying, eating, crying, with a few naps interspersed in there when I can get him to take one. Rob says Will is still getting adjusted to this new sleep routine and he will settle down once he gets used to it. I hope so. We’re only a few days away from the 3 month mark here, and if that comes and goes with no end to the crying, I will go off the deep end.

In other news. I’ve had recurrent pelvic pain since Will was born. It felt like my pubic symphysis was separated, probably because it was. It started feeling a little bit better last week, and I decided to celebrate this by running a 5K on Saturday. It was a bit of a logistical challenge, but the planning phase was more difficult than the actual race. I had pumped milk to take in a bottle for him, but we ended up not using it. The race was at Crystal Lake Park, which is near our house. We drove over there and I picked up my race number, then I went back to the car and fed him until just before the start of the race. The whole thing would not have been possible without Rob, who was probably skipping a bike ride just so that I could do this. Rob and Will positioned themselves at several locations throughout the course to cheer for me, which was really nice. Will looked utterly uninterested and kind of peeved, but at least he wasn’t crying any of the times that I ran past him. Running the race was actually pretty tough. This is partially because my pelvic bones haven’t completely realigned, and partially because I haven’t run more than 2 miles consecutively since Will was born (because of pelvis and lack of time). It was also difficult for me because I am like 500 pounds overweight. And because it was pretty windy that day, and there was one large hill. I started the race with my only goal being to finish it in one piece, and I thought that maybe an outside goal could be 30 minutes. At the start line I met up with my old running buddy, Norm, who wanted to finish it in 24. As we took off, I thought that maybe I’d be able to keep up with him, but less than a quarter of a mile into it, I realized that 8 minutes miles were way beyond my grasp at this point and Norm was so far in front of me that he was out of sight. In the end, I finished in 27:43, feeling like I was going to vomit, but happy under the circumstances. I think I just needed to do this to prove to myself that I still could, despite having had a baby and despite being 500 pounds overweight. It was really nice of Rob and Will to organize their schedules so that I could do the race.

Melissa's first race since Will was born


Melissa in mile 3

Mile 3

At any rate, Will is taking an impromptu nap that may end at any second, and I’ve got laundry to fold and 10,000 other things to do. Thanks for reading.

Grins & giggles

Between the tears, William smiles

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Dissrotation

Last fall, SL initiated the “Dissertation Lunch.” Around once a week, he would take me and his other two students (hi, J and P, if you are reading) out to lunch somewhere. At first, J and P and I were a little bewildered by this. We fully expected that SL would start grilling us about our dissertations as soon as we sat down to eat. During our first lunch, no one’s dissertation was mentioned. Research was not even discussed. Most of our attention was focused on the cuteness of P’s 3-month old baby, who had joined us. I, for one, hoped that P would keep bringing her baby to these lunches so that we could all remain light-hearted and avoid talking about our dissertations.

It remained that way. We really never did talk about our dissertations very much. I guess it was just to be some sort of bonding thing for us all. One week as we were planning what day to meet, SL sent out an email to the three of us, and the subject line read: “Dissrotation Lunch.” Apparently SL did not notice this typo, but the 3 of us found it so amusing that we have often continued to speak to each other of our “dissrotations,” and I for one, have thought of my dissertation as my “dissrotation” ever since.

At any rate, I turned my dissrotation into my committee on Thursday. They’ll have about 6 weeks to read it, as the defense date is scheduled for December 11. I’ve got Fig’s outfit picked out for the defense day already, and I’m seriously hoping I can be out of maternity clothes by then (though if this would require me to stop eating heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar, it is looking unlikely). If I actually manage to pull this off and finish this thing, I wonder if I’ll have to change the name of the blog?

Melissa's dissertation

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sleeping through the night

For the first 6 weeks of Fig’s life, I dutifully fed him every 2 hours during the day and at least every 3-4 hours during the night. At first, he often woke up and wanted to be fed (i.e., cried) more frequently than 3-4 hours at night, but after a couple of weeks I actually had to wake him up most of the time. His nurse practitioner had told me to wake him up to feed him—partially because his weight gain was marginal, and partially because of my ailing milk supply. As I’ve mentioned before, milk production is (theoretically at least) a supply and demand issue. Feeding him frequently would signal to my body that it needed to produce a lot of milk (though my body ended up doing nothing of the sort), whereas going too long between feedings would signal my body to shut down production.

When Fig was 6 weeks old, I was talking to another grad student and his wife, who had a baby just 2 days older than Fig. They were telling me how their baby slept through the night—8 hours at a time. I thought, that’s all well and good, but there’s no way she’s nursing the baby. Going 8 hours between feedings would lead to uncomfortable engorgement and a reduction in milk supply. As our conversation continued, however, she said how she was breastfeeding, and I was astounded. I had no doubt that Fig could sleep 8 hours or even more. Most of the time I had to wake him up in the night to feed him. But what would happen if I didn’t continue to do this? Would he waste away? Would my milk supply completely dry up? I thought that this couples’ daughter must be some kind of super-baby, and I wrote it off as a fluke.

But lo and behold, I talked to a few more friends and neighbors—revealing how I still woke up Fig to feed him in the night. They all confirmed that I was crazy to do that. “Let a sleeping baby lie!” seemed to be the refrain. So one night I let him go 5 hours instead of the prescribed 4. I was terrified of what would happen. To my surprise, nobody died.

At our next doctor appointment, I asked about whether or not I still needed to wake up Fig in the night to feed him. The nurse practitioner told me I could go ahead and let him sleep, as long as I still fed him about every 2 hours during the daytime. So I tried it. On October 1st to be exact. I fed him and put him to bed at 10pm. I woke up at 2, instinctively getting out of bed to wake him. But I made myself stay put. I woke up again at 4, feeling like my boobs were full of cement. I thought, I need to wake him, don’t I? What should I do? Will he sleep forever if I don’t wake him? My milk will surely dry up if I don’t wake him. I lay there in a panic until 6am, when he finally began stirring and I jumped up to feed him. It had been 8 hours. He had slept through the night.

Since then, I have not been waking him to feed him anymore. I was so terrified of what would happen to my milk supply, but as long as I keep taking 90mg of Domperidone every day, it remains okay (knock on wood). Typically what happens is that I feed him and put him down sometime between 9 and 10 pm, and he wakes up at 3am to eat, then goes back to sleep until 7am sharp when he wakes up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to eat and get started on his day. It’s really not that bad. Even though he has spent the majority of his life crying non-stop during the day, ever since about 2 weeks of age, he’s been very good at night. Usually he goes right back to sleep without a fuss after his nighttime meal. This has been the one thing (well, aside from all the times my mom has driven down from Peoria just to scrub my floors and do my laundry) that has saved my sanity.

Sometimes he doesn’t even wake up for his 3am feeding. Take last night for instance. We had been to D-ville to visit Rob’s extended family (Fig’s first trip out of town, if only 30 miles). I fed him around 9pm before we left Rob’s grandparents’ house, and he fell asleep on the way home. He didn’t really wake up and we put him right to bed when we got home. He didn’t wake up until 6:30am this morning. And that was only because Rob’s alarm was going off. He looked like he would have been perfectly content to keep sleeping, but my boobs were horrifically uncomfortable, so I hauled him out of his bed and made him drink about a quart of breastmilk. He was pretty happy about that, actually.

I still get a little paranoid about his possibly excessive nighttime sleeping. Mainly I am paranoid about my milk drying up (given that my supply is still somewhat marginal). Everybody always asks me how the baby is sleeping at night, and if the asker is a parent themselves, I always ask them, “Should I be worried about this?!” So far everyone has told me, “Thank your lucky stars.”

Sometimes I think this sleeping through the night is a double-edged sword. When he wakes up, he is generally ravenous and he wants to eat at least every hour for most of the morning and even into the afternoon. One of the nights that he slept for an 8 hour stretch, he woke up with a bit of a diaper rash because I didn’t change him during that time. And since he’s slept so well at night, he generally has no intention of taking any kind of nap during the day. This all makes it quite difficult for Melissa to finish her dissertation.

At any rate. He had a pretty good day yesterday and for most of the day today. But long about 5pm this evening, he decided to cry for several hours, and then begin screaming hysterically (as in, Oh my god, should I take him to the emergency room?!) about 8pm. The only way to get him to quiet down was to nurse him continually. Whenever I tried to take him off (like if I had to pee or needed a drink of water), the screaming began anew. Then abruptly about 9:30, he fell asleep.

Well, I need to fold 3 loads of laundry, clean up the kitchen, put away random piles of crap that have accumulated throughout the house, and floss my teeth.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

She must not have noticed the baby vomit on my shirt

I went to the grocery store one morning last week, and as I stood in the check-out line, the woman behind me said, “You make it look so easy.” I had no idea what she was talking about. “Getting groceries with a baby,” she clarified. I stared at her in disbelief. This was anything but easy. The whole endeavor required the planning of a military operation and the speed of world-class athlete. I couldn’t remember the last time I washed my hair, and my shirt was still wet with some vomit Fig had deposited there after his breakfast. I had made the calculated decision to go ahead and go to the store wearing the baby vomit shirt because I didn’t have time to shower anyway, and I didn’t see the point in putting on clean clothes when I myself was dirty. “This is not easy!” I assured her, mentally noting that nothing in my life had been easy since I got pregnant. “I know,” she told me, “I have a 10-month old that I dropped off at day-care just so I could come to the store.”

The mere fact that someone thought I made it look easy was mind-boggling, because I never do not feel like I am hanging on by a thread. The past couple of days though, have been a definite improvement. All of a sudden, there are multiple periods per day when he is awake and not crying inconsolably. This is a completely new thing to me. He had given us a few smiles before, but his smiling time has now increased by an order of magnitude. There have even been a few feeding bouts when he didn’t fuss at the end and he actually looked like he was satisfied. It’s like a miracle. I can understand why people have children now. I hope to god that the worst of it is over, but I know we’re not out of the woods yet. The crying hasn’t completely ended, but at least it hasn’t been as incessant as before and it seems more like how a normal baby would cry.

Today was a good day

I’m not sure what it is that has done the trick. I’ve got so many things going on. The Domperidone to increase my milk supply. The Prevacid to help with his acid reflux. This week also marked the 3rd week that I’ve been off dairy, so I suppose it could be that too. His reduced crying also coincided with a reduction in the weird green poo, which is supposedly a sign of a food intolerance. In the meantime, I gave up soy as well, so it could be that. It seemed to me that he was especially bad on days when I had a lot of soy products, and according to the internet, soy is a very common allergen for infants. Particularly for infants who are also intolerant of dairy. I was sick of waiting around and listening to him cry, so I cut out soy just to see what would happen. It was about 5 days later that things got better. Since I don’t know what it was that actually helped, I am just going to keep doing everything for the foreseeable future. It isn’t the easiest thing being a vegetarian/vegan who cannot eat dairy or soy, but once I actually did it, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The biggest change I made was to switch soymilk for almond milk. I wish almond milk wasn’t so expensive and had more protein in it, but oh well. I figure I’ll keep off both dairy and soy for another week or so, then cautiously eat something with soy in it (soy flour or soybean oil is in everything, so it won’t be that hard to find something with a small amount of soy). If he tolerates that well, I will eventually try soymilk or something and see what happens.

Hoping for more smiles and less crying. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The things I've done

My milk first came in on August 14th, my 30th birthday. I felt like Mother Earth herself. I thought having milk would solve all my problems—Will’s latch would stop hurting, he would stop crying, and life would be happy again. But none of this happened. Will persisted in crying relentlessly, inconsolably, all times of the day and night. And his latch continued to hurt just as bad as it had in the hospital whenever I wasn’t in the lactation consultant’s office. I had plugged duct after plugged duct. The crying never ended.

I’m not sure when it was—when Will was 2, maybe 3 weeks old? He only gained 4.5 ounces that week. Not dangerously low, but enough that the lactation consultant told me that she thought I had a low milk supply. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, nursing the baby for hours at a time, at least 12 times a day; in fact, I was doing little else besides nursing. I couldn’t believe that his weight gain was so low after all that nursing. But what I didn’t know was that most of the time he was “nursing,” he wasn’t really nursing. I didn’t know there was such a thing as “non-nutritive sucking” and that he was doing it. I didn’t know what it sounded like when babies swallowed and that if I didn’t hear that noise, he wasn’t getting any milk.

All of us have gone to extraordinary efforts to increase my milk. Will is now 8-1/2 weeks old and we’re far from in the clear. I’ll be honest, my life has pretty much been a nightmare during this whole time.

We tried the simple things first:

  • Skin to skin contact—didn’t help.
  • Breast compression—got more milk into him but didn’t increase my supply.
  • Eating oatmeal—did nothing. I still eat oatmeal every day though, just in case.
  • Eating alfalfa—nothing.
  • Mother’s Milk Tea—nothing.
  • Pumping after feedings—I really think this only made things worse. In theory, if the breast is more frequently emptied, that should signal your body to produce more milk. But I feel like it did the opposite for me. I’d feed him, pump, and then when I fed him again (often with very little break in between), a lot of times I’d be completely dried up—not a single drop of milk in me. I’d have to give him the pumped milk, and it became a vicious, vicious cycle. Plus, all this was hard to do, practically speaking. He took forever to eat—often 45 minutes or more, what with all his non-nutritive sucking. When I finally decided the feeding bout was over and took him off, he would cry inconsolably. I could try to calm him down, or I could pump. Most of the time I ended up pumping while listening to him scream. And as soon as I was done, he wanted to eat.
  • Power pumping—the same as pumping. In this technique, you pump 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off for an hour, and you do that several times a day. It was virtually impossible to do when I was home alone with him, as I often was.

We tried all kinds of different galactogogues:

  • Fenugreek—the lactation consultant put me on this. It didn’t do very much. When you’re taking fenugreek, it’s supposed to make you smell like maple syrup (fenugreek is what they use to flavor artificial syrup). I took as many as 12 pills a day, and I never smelled like syrup, and I never noticed much of an increase in my milk or a decrease in Will’s hungry cries.
  • Blessed thistle—sometimes fenugreek works best in combination with blessed thistle. We tried this. Nothing.
  • Goat’s rue—this may have helped a tad, but the package instructions say not to drink anything 20 minutes prior to and 20 minutes after taking it. And you’re supposed to take it 4 times a day. Try doing this and also getting the 90+ ounces of water you’re supposed to have while nursing, all the while taking care of a screaming baby. Not good.
  • More Milk Special Blend tincture—the lactation consultant didn’t know I tried this, but I was really desperate. It might have worked had I taken it for weeks, but it had goat’s rue in it and I had the same problems as above.
  • Domperidone—This is actually a drug for acid reflux (or some type of gastrointestinal problem) and I believe it is not technically FDA approved as a galactogue. I’m not really sure what the deal is. But one of the side effects of this drug is to increase your prolactin levels, which in turn increase milk production. The problem is that insurance companies do not cover it, and it is very expensive—around $1 per pill. I took 9 pills a day. Plus, you can only get it from certain compounding pharmacies. I had to go to the St. Joseph Apothocary, which sounded very medieval, but ended up not being very medieval at all.

After a full week on Domperidone, I noticed nothing. In desperation, I went back to the lactation consultant and she said it might take 3 weeks or more to notice a change. She said I might be one of the 5% of women who actually cannot breastfeed, and we might need to redefine success. That I would need to stop feeling like I was a failure if I had to give him formula and could not exclusively breastfeed.

But I’m Melissa. I don’t redefine success. Life would be much easier if I could do that, but I just don’t know how to. They prescribed me anti-depressants I guess so that I would just give up and give him formula and not hurl myself off a bridge as a result.

I have not given him formula. Not one drop. He’s gained a good amount of weight every time except that one appointment, and it has all been on my milk—whether pumped or from the breast. But it's killing me. Every night I think, this is one more small victory, one more day that he hasn’t had formula. Every morning, I wonder if this will be the day when I break.

After two to three weeks on the Domperidone, I finally felt like I had more milk. Not exactly as much as I should have, but enough that I finally felt like some of his crying might not be a result of hunger pangs. Around this time I also started drinking almond milk, after my yoga teacher recommended it. She’s from Israel, and she said that is what women do there to increase their milk supply, but I haven’t found any information about it. When we went back to the lactation consultant (also a pediatric nurse practitioner), she said two things. First, he had characteristic signs of acid reflux (crying after feeding, etc), so she would put him on Zantac. Second, he also had signs (green, foamy poo) of being intolerant to dairy products (i.e., the cheese and sour cream in my diet), so I would have to stop eating anything containing milk protein. Fine, consider it done. I was vegan before, I’ll be vegan again. I could be a vegan in my sleep. Especially if it would stop him from crying.

And yet.

The crying persists. Zantac did nothing. After 2 weeks, I went back yesterday and they put him on Prevacid, which is super expensive. Still waiting for results. Going off dairy products could take up to 3 weeks for any noticeable improvement. So I’ve got a week left to see if that helped. After my milk supply seemed stable for a while, I also began trying to slowly wean myself off the Domperidone... from 9 pills a day to 8 and so on. By the time I got down to 6, it seemed like maybe there wasn't so much milk as before, but I tried to convince myself that it was just my imagination. At his appointment yesterday, Will had gained enough weight, but it was less than before. The lactation consultant said that it didn't seem like a good idea for me to go off the Domperidone yet. She wrote me a prescription for another 10 days (back to the apothecary I go) and suggested that I look into ordering some from Canada to save money. It might be that I have to take it the whole time I nurse.


The latest verdict on Will's persistent crying is: colic. Great. I don’t even believe in colic, and now he has it. Anthropologically speaking, babies of non-western societies do not suffer from colic. Their mothers wear them in a sling as they go foraging through the forest or savanna, and the babies nurse on demand and don’t cry relentlessly. I thought if I held him all the time, and wore him in the Baby Bjorn, and nursed him, that everything would be okay. But it’s not.

He’s sleeping at the moment. There are a million things I should be doing while the house is quiet, but for some reason I felt like I should write this. Thanks for reading.