Amy Beth

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pictures of Motherhood

mothers

From The Forgotten Photos of Mothers – Mashable

I loved this collection of photos of mothers around the world. Taken over 50 years ago, they show a piece of shared human experience that can be so easy to forget. Motherhood can feel like an island at times, but then images like this remind me that there are so many others, both now and who have gone before, that actually know just what I’m going through. It also reminds me that what I’m going through is mostly snuggles.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

So, my baby has Down Syndrome

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My baby came into the world as most do. Amid anticipation and pain, a flurry of excitement, exhaustion, relief, happiness, smiles, cuddles and kisses. I like to think that I am capable of being objective and realistic when it comes to my children, so I don’t mean to offend anyone else when I say that I’m pretty sure she was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen. Our time in the hospital was fairly lovely, as far as hospital visits go. She caught on to nursing quickly and stayed peaceful and content. I loved to just sit and stare at her cute little face. I made note of a tiny pinprick of a dent next to her ear just in case the hospital’s obsessive identification band checking should fail us and they hand me the wrong baby. Not that we were separated that often. Aside from the morning doctor’s visit in the nursery and a few extra visits to the warmer because she had a bit of trouble keeping her temperature up, little Penelope stayed by my side.

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Chris and I woke up on the last morning in the hospital ready to get home and settle into our life as a family of four. Determined to be home for lunch, we packed up bags and filled out paperwork at a level of efficiency that we haven’t been able to match since. As we were finishing up breakfast the doctor came by to give us a report of his morning checkup. It was then that we heard the news. The doctor had observed several physical characteristics that indicated that our baby could have Down Syndrome. He rattled off a list of indicators. Chris and I asked a few questions I think. We were told that we could get the blood test at her first checkup the next day and would hopefully have an official diagnosis within a week. He was positive and kind and promised to follow up with us. We thanked him and were left to absorb the news over what was left of our dry toast and eggs.


It’s taken me eight months to write this post. I’m not sure why, exactly. I think I just wanted to make sure I gave an accurate and true representation of what this diagnosis means to us. I also want to make sure that it’s a source of encouragement and hope to anyone who may come across it who is faced with a similar situation. A source of encouragement and hope without discounting the wide range of emotions a parent might feel when they find out their child has Down syndrome. I’ve read many posts like this one. The parents in these posts have felt many things: disbelief, shock, anger, fear, bitterness, guilt, grief. But in the end there’s always acceptance, gratitude, resolve, and of course, love.

That’s not exactly my story though. My process of wading through these emotions has felt much gentler than anything else I’ve read. It’s been surrounded by an overall feeling of peace. Maybe it’s my personality. More than likely it’s my God.


Once the doctor left I think I cried a bit. But then Penelope came back from the nursery and it was time for me to be a mama and get her dressed for the trip home. Chris and I didn’t really talk about it again until we were safely in the car. Then I think I cried some more. About what, I’m not sure. Some of it was fear of the unknown. Much of it was adjusting to a new vision for my daughter’s future than the one I had previously had. I think most of all I worried that her life was going to be so much more difficult than what I wanted for her.

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And Chris, who I’m sure was feeling much of these same things but didn’t have the postpartum hormones to deal with and also had to keep his eyes dry so he could drive, said the most steadying thing. He said, “She’s still the same baby. We may have some new information about her, but she hasn’t changed.”

Maybe this subtle shift in perception doesn’t feel as profound to you. But to me, that was just what I need to hear right then.


My mom and sister were at home with Charlie waiting for us. I had dried my tears by then and turned my focus to settling in and helping Charlie adjust to a new sister in the family. Chris got the task of breaking the news to my mom and sister because, as stated above, he didn’t have postpartum hormones. It’s times like these that I’m thankful to have an introverted family. Big news is generally received politely and without a lot of comment. And since no one says much until all the thoughts and emotions have had time to settle down and organize themselves inside the thinker’s head, there is much less chance of anyone saying anything stupid or upsetting. So we told them and they said “Oh. Ok.” and we moved on.


Later that day we sent out an email to a few close friends asking for prayer. We still weren’t sure what to do with this information and were just trying not to freak out. She may not have it after all, we kept telling ourselves. But I think those prayers are what made all the difference. I’d heard before of the “peace that passes understanding” but had never really thought about what those words meant. But as we moved through the next couple of days and weeks, that’s what I experienced. Even though there were lots of reasons to be stressed or to worry or to feel emotionally distraught, I didn’t. I still had my moments where I mourned for the vision of the future I had had for her. But they were brief and cathartic and left me feeling more accepting of the future that God obviously had for her. When people would ask how we were doing I could honestly say that we were doing well.


In the week or so between hearing from the doctor that he thought she might have Down syndrome and getting the results of the genetic test back, I spent a lot of time staring at my baby, trying to decide if I thought it was true or not. The doctor sounded so certain. But every time I looked at her I would just think, I don’t see it. I don’t see anything wrong with her.

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And God must have been there with me because he spoke to me. He said something that I think I will remember and carry with me for the rest of my life.

He said — It’s a doctor’s job to see the things that might be wrong. But you are not her doctor. You’re her mother. It’s your job to see her.

Since then I’ve realized that that is probably the most important thing I can give her. That I can give all my children. The world may look at her as if something is wrong with her. That she’s at a disadvantage. That she is someone to feel sorry for. But I have determined that I will not see her the way the world sees her. I will see her for who she really is. For who God made her to be. I will see all the wonderful, unique, made-that-way-on-purpose qualities that God has given her and celebrate those things. I’m her mother. That’s my job.


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Now at eight months out, Down syndrome often doesn’t feel like a big deal. We’ve been blessed with a very healthy child. None of the extra test or checkups have revealed any health problems to be concerned with. Her development is lagging somewhat behind other children her age, but she’s making steady progress and we have weekly therapy appointments to help build up those muscles. She’s a girl who lets people know what she wants and seems to have a fairly determined personality, so I don’t think she’s going to let too much get in her way in life. She loves her family and has the best smile. She and Charlie are best friends, a fact that routinely makes my heart melt.


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Some might think that it would be reasonable to wish she didn’t have Down syndrome. But that wouldn’t be true. That would be like wishing I had a different child.

It’s not like God made this amazing person and then slapped on a disability. He just made an amazing person who, just like my brown hair and short stature, Down syndrome is just a part of the equation. It is literally at the very core of who she is. It is within every cell in her body. Before she was even conceived, there was an extra chromosome, hanging out, waiting to become a part of our little girl.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning – Pt. 2

My last post on my breastfeeding experience left you with lots of thoughts, but not a lot of helpful information. It’s easy to find posts and articles out there with tips and strategies on how to keep going with breastfeeding. There seem to be a lot less on how to quit. So for those mothers out there that find themselves needing to wean a baby (well, toddler at this point) who would be happy to keep nursing forever, here are a couple of things that helped me.

A few weaning strategies

Don’t ask, don’t refuse

Sometimes a mother can get used to asking her toddler if he wants to nurse, to which he will of course say yes. But if you don’t ask, sometimes the kid will forget about or be distracted enough not to notice that you’re skipping a feeding every now and then. This can be a gentle way to phase it out, but it can move pretty slowly.

So maybe sometimes refuse

Sometimes I knew Charlie was asking for milk simply because he was kind of bored and it sounded like a good way to pass the time. When this happened I started to just say, “Not right now, you can have some milk before bed (or whenever the next routine nursing time was)” and try to direct his attention to something else. This worked to make nursing less of a recreational activity and eventually we were just nursing during those times that it was firmly planted in our daily routine. So for those instances…

Change up the routine

For a long time Charlie nursed every morning. I would bring him back to our bed when he woke up and we would snuggle and nurse for a few minutes before getting up to get ready for the day. So eventually I started to make an effort to up be and moving before he started to stir. Then once he woke up, rather than bringing him back to the bed which he would automatically associate with wanting to nurse, I would or get some toys out for him to play with in the living room or let him hang out with me in the bathroom while I finished getting ready. I found that by changing the regular routine he didn’t seem to notice that he didn’t get to nurse that morning. This worked well for the morning, but I still struggled with how to do away with nursing before naps and bedtime. So that’s when it was helpful to…

REALLY change up the routine

As in, leave town for a while and have somebody make a new routine with him. In my case, I went to visit my sister for five days while Charlie stayed with his dad and grandparents. While the trip wasn’t planned as a way to finish up the weaning process, I kind of suspected before going that it might do the trick. Even if Charlie wanted to continue nursing after I got back I wasn’t sure that I would still have milk to give him. (I didn’t.) So for five days Charlie got in a new routine with his daddy of a cup of milk (not from mama) before bedtime and nap. Once we were reunited I just continued with the new routine. On the few occasions that asked to nurse I just explained that mama didn’t have any more milk but he had his cup of milk that he could drink. Since he had done well with the new routine already he didn’t put up much of a fuss about it and just like that we were done.

The End

Even though Charlie didn’t exactly wean himself, I could tell he was ready and that I was going about weaning in the right way because it felt like a gentle process. I didn’t experience any engorgement or discomfort, which told me that I went about it gradually enough. (All of these strategies put together probably took about 2-3 months.) And Charlie never had any melt-downs or fits at the prospect of no milk for the day. On the occasions that he asked and I refused, he would easily accept the answer and move on to other things. I’m thankful that it wasn’t emotionally difficult for him, because that would have made it much harder.

The hardest part was my own emotional response. While I was ready for him to wean and knew that I wanted there to be some space before the next baby came, it was still a bittersweet change. Some of our sweetest moments together had been while nursing, from his early newborn milk-drunk smiles, to the games we would play where I would nibble on his fingers and send him into a fit of giggles. In many ways it felt like the end of nursing was the end of babyhood for him, not exactly an easy thing for a mother to come to grips with. And on top of all that, I’m pretty sure weaning caused some pretty significant hormonal changes for me. I spent the week or so after Charlie had weaned for good feeling very emotional. Sometimes because I was mourning the end of nursing, but sometimes over a variety of insignificant and unrelated things. Basically, I spent about a week needing a really good cry at the end of each day. My emotions eventually evened out and got back to normal, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that particular emotional roller coaster.

In all, I nursed my first child for 28 months. I’m thankful we stuck out the early challenges and were able to keep it up for as long as we did. But while the nursing relationship is definitely a special thing, it’s the mother-child relationship that has real staying power. Obviously our bond hasn’t diminished at all with the lack of nursing sessions. We’ve found plenty of ways to get our quality time in together. The bedtime nursing routine was quickly replaced with story times and back rubs and night-time lullabies. Morning snuggles under the covers still happen if we’re not in too much of a rush (and sometimes even if we are). And while babyhood may be over, I’m finding toddlerhood to be a pretty fun stage.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning – Pt. 1

In the beginning…

Like many expectant mothers, I learned all about the benefits of breastfeeding early in my first pregnancy and quickly decided that’s what I wanted to do. I read the books and the blog posts about what a proper latch looks like. I knew all about how a mother’s body is miraculously equipped to change and adjust to nourish her baby at each age and stage. I learned how it has many emotional and health benefits for the mother as well as the baby. It was the obvious choice for me.

I also learned a lot about what a challenge it can be. How despite being the natural way to do things it does not always come naturally. How a poor latch can make it agonizing and ineffective and it can sometimes only be fixed with the help of a lactation consultant. How some mothers, no matter how dedicated they are, may not be able to produce enough milk to breastfeed exclusively. While I felt committed to the idea of breastfeeding, I knew that I should be prepared to face some challenges.

And face some challenges we did. It took what felt like forever for my milk to come in (all while the doctors were telling me that’s what my baby needed to be cleared of his jaundice). We had some struggles with latch at the beginning. I experienced both thrush and mastitis, neither of which make breastfeed particularly pleasant. And then there was just the fatigue of being constantly on call to feed a baby. During growth spurts it felt like that was all I did all day long, and I don’t care what the experts say about how breastfeeding should be painless when you’re doing it right; when you’re doing it almost constantly, it can hurt.

But my struggles were fairly minor in the grand scheme of things and we eventually figured it out. Nursing breaks became a (mostly) restful time for me to bond with my baby and overall we had a very positive breastfeeding experience. I reached a point where breastfeeding felt easy and natural.

My goal when I started out was to try to make it to a year. Other than my own mother, I didn’t know anyone personally who had made it much past that point, so I figured that would be the best that I could do. And the statistics backed that up. While about 80% of mother’s are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital, only 49% are still breastfeeding at 6 months, and only 26% make it all the way to a year. Among my friends, even those that were able to keep going past the first few months and establish a good breastfeeding routine would often comment that their babies weaned themselves by at least a year old when they started eating solids in earnest. I fully expected to experience something similar.

A year later…

So once Charlie reached his first birthday I quietly celebrated the fact that we had kept up breastfeeding for the first year. In fact, we were still going strong. Charlie still nursed several times a day, and though he was eating solid foods, we practiced baby led weaning and were very relaxed about how much he ate each day. I didn’t stress out about the solids he was eating because he was still nursing so well and I knew he was still getting plenty of nourishment from breastmilk. I knew that his solid food intake would continue to increase and become more varied, and his nursing needs would diminish. At this point it was pretty clear that we would continue nursing well past the one-year mark, but I still expected it to drop pretty drastically over the next year and figured he would be completely weaned well by the time he was two. By this time nursing felt so easy and natural to me that I didn’t feel any need to rush the weaning process or put it on a timeline. We were both happy with how things were going so I just let it be.

And a year after that…

Once we hit Charlie’s second birthday I found myself firmly in the camp of those that practiced “extended breastfeeding.” Charlie was still a big fan of mama’s milk and still asked to nurse about three times a day. For the most part I didn’t mind, but I was definitely in unknown territory. I didn’t know anyone personally who had gone for that long and I started to feel a bit self-conscious mentioning it to others. Would people think I was weird? Had I become one of “those” mothers? And even more pressing, would he ever actually wean himself? I realized I had spent so long expecting Charlie to just become disinterested eventually that I knew nothing about how to successfully encourage a child to wean. And honestly, at this point I was a little reluctant to try. Not because I wanted him to be attached to me forever, but because I had found breastfeeding to make so many things easier. It remained my one sure-fire method to get him to relax and get sleepy before bedtime. I knew that if he was hurt or sick that it would comfort him. And it was one of the only times in a day when he would actually be still and let me hold him for a while. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to give that up.

But once we became pregnant with baby number two I started to feel a bit more urgency to move the process along. First of all, although I knew tandem nursing was possible, it wasn’t really something I was interested in doing. But perhaps more persuasive was the fact that pregnancy had made breastfeeding pretty painful again. It was no longer a relaxing bonding time, but rather chore I had to brace myself for each time. I was also pretty sure that by this point I wasn’t producing much milk, either because Charlie didn’t need much anymore or because of the pregnancy, so I figured my body would be able to handle a transition to weaning pretty easily. But the question remained…how to do it?


Talk about a cliff hanger, huh? I found I had way too much to say on this subject so I’ll continue with some strategies that helped me next week. UPDATE: Here’s part two!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Things that Keep Me Up at Night

The other day Charlie woke up at 5:30 in the morning. This isn’t all that unusual, and honestly, it’s not that much of a bother. I can usually go in, pat his back, give him a drink of water, and count on him to fall back asleep for at least another couple of hours (and I can get a bit more precious sleep myself). No problem.

But on this particular day I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was thinking about pictures. And journals. And memory keeping. And my complete and utter lack of any physical documentation of Charlie’s first years of life. I started to panic. I couldn’t remember Charlie’s first word. (It was “car”, my husband reminded me later. Of course it was.) I wasn’t entirely sure when he started crawling, or walking, or when he got his first teeth. I was starting to picture a future when my children wanted to know interesting details about their early life and they would be dismayed to find that their mother had NO IDEA. I might have been going a little crazy. I’ll blame it on the hormones.

So at 6:00 that morning I decided I needed to get on this. I had read about Project Life from a few different bloggers I follow, so I decided that seemed like the most realistic way to go about catching up on the past two years of missing documentation. Project Life is a system that is meant to be a simpler version of scrapbooking. You get photos printed out and slip them in pocket sleeves like a traditional photo album, but you mix in pretty journaling cards to tell the story behind the pictures. Official Project Life products have pocket sleeve pages in a variety of layouts so you can mix things up and keep it interesting. They also make several kits of cute coordinating cards and journaling prompts. The bloggers I follow get really creative with their layouts and some even design their own cards, so it’s a system that can be as simple or elaborate as you choose to make it.


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This layout by Elise Joy makes good use of journal cards and shows a creative way to crop images to make use of different layouts.

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This is a layout featured on A Beautiful Mess. I love how the images follow the same color scheme.


Rather than the typical 12×12 inch album, I went with a smaller 6×8 inch size. I figured 12×12 would get too overwhelming – not something I need right now. I also like the fact that the albums are really just binders, so I can fill it with as much as I can get done, but if I don’t get all the way through two years I’ll at least have something and it won’t look sadly incomplete. I can also work out of order and rearrange pages as needed, so I can make a page for things I want to document now, while still catching up on the past.

I’m still waiting on my supplies and photo prints to come in so I can get started on my album, but I’m excited to get going. After I get a few spreads done and have a better idea of how realistic this plan is, I’ll share an update.

 

Here are a few other photo/life documentation ideas:

Artifact Uprising has really nice looking softcover books specifically designed for instagram photos. I think this could be really nice to make someday, it just doesn’t have the journalling aspect that I wanted for this project.

My friend Tina made a simple and cute pregnancy journal that she shared on her blog. I like that it was small enough to easily update on a regular basis. I could see this kind of photo journal working for a lot of special events in life.