Archive | April, 2014

Milk

It is three days after Penelope’s birth, and we are home in our apartment for the first time. I am hiding in our bedroom alone, stuffing fistfuls of the white down comforter into my mouth, my whole body shaking violently with sobs. I feel myself breaking, cracking open. Out in the living room my mother-in-law rocks my tiny, wailing baby. My husband scurries back and forth between us both. I cry, and cry, and cry. My daughter is starving.

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When filling out the paperwork for daycare, I have to write in that Penny is “combination-fed” both breastmilk and formula. I try not to die inside. Why won’t my body do what it was biologically designed to do?

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We overslept and we are rushing. Penny plays on the floor while David and I swoop around getting things ready so he doesn’t miss the bus. I open the fridge. “Where’s the breastmilk?” I say. Yesterday I pumped a record 7 oz total over three pumping sessions at work. It’s the most milk I’ve ever pumped in one day, and I am damn proud. “What?” says David, pausing in the kitchen. “The breastmilk,” I say, panicking now. “Didn’t you bring it up from the car yesterday?” He had. And there it is, sitting in the lunch bag on the kitchen counter. Neither of us remembered to stick it in the fridge and now, fourteen hours later, we are paying for it. Spoiled. It is no one’s fault. It just is. David holds me in the kitchen while I blink back vicious tears. It takes every bit of strength I possess not to apologize to my daughter as I kiss her goodbye. After she and my husband leave I collapse on the floor, sobbing. I can’t bring myself to pour it down the drain so I leave the bottles on the counter where I found them. I go to work. Start again.

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I had planned to breastfeed from the moment I got pregnant, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. I have always been uncomfortable in my body, and breastfeeding frightened me. My husband tried to mitigate my discomfort by assuring me that breastfeeding was normal. “Well, I’ve never had milk come out of my boobs before,” I said tartly. “So it’s not normal for me.”

But when I saw her, when I held Penny in my arms for the first time all of that discomfort and apprehension melted away. Of course I was going to nurse my daughter. Of course.

It wasn’t that easy.

We struggled in the hospital. I expected there to be a learning curve when it came to breastfeeding. A learning curve for me, that is. I just assumed my baby would be born knowing how to breastfeed. It never occurred to me that she would be learning, too. We struggled with latching, positioning, getting Penny to swallow, keeping Penny awake long enough to nurse, waiting and waiting and waiting for my milk to come in. The nurses were all eager to help, but each one had different–often conflicting–advice, and we would inevitably reach a point in the process where the nurse would just grab my breast, place it in Penny’s mouth and hold it there, while stroking her throat with the other hand to get her to swallow. I felt invisible, detached, and so sad. One nurse dripped formula onto my nipple to try to get Penny interested enough to suck, because there was just no milk there. I was so empty and so far away.

Before we were discharged from the hospital the resident pediatrician instructed us to set up an appointment at the clinic for the following day rather than waiting for two week check up. “She’s looking just a little jaundiced,” he said.

The first night home was the worst night of my life. I did not know it was possible to feel as exhausted, as heartbroken, as ashamed as I felt when I could not feed my daughter.

Somehow we survived the night. At the pediatrician’s appointment the next morning, Penny was more that “just a little” jaundiced. She was fluorescent yellow down to the whites of her eyes and had lost 13% of her birthweight. We immediately went into crisis mode. Penny’s pediatrician, Mary Jane, is also a specialized lactation consultant, so she watched us nurse and then went to work. My left nipple was inverted, so we focused on that. Mary Jane showed me new holds, tips to get Penny to latch, and ways to make sure she swallowed. She got us an electric pump and instructed me to start pumping for a minimum of 15 minutes after every feed. And she gave us a supplemental nursing system.

An SNS is a thin, flexible tube that is taped to the nipple and attached to a bottle filled with formula. The idea is that the baby is still breastfeeding while simultaneously getting supplemental calories from the formula. My milk still wasn’t in, and if Penny didn’t begin gaining weight immediately she was going to be hospitalized. So we were sent home with the SNS and the pump and got to work.

The SNS was shoddy, a temporary device we were hoping to get rid of as soon as possible. Most of the time David held up the bottle for me, but on the rare occasion that he couldn’t there was a clip that would attach the bottle to the brim of a baseball hat. When David held it up for me it was easier to pretend that it wasn’t there. That my body wasn’t totally betraying me. But when wearing the baseball cap the bottle hung directly in my face, gently clunking my cheek whenever I moved, a tangible, forcible reminder of my failure. Wearing the SNS–which I did at every single feeding for the first two weeks, slowly dropping it one feed at a time for weeks afterward–filled me with shame. Fresh, undiluted shame. I wept through every feeding.

With the constant nursing and pumping, my nipples cracked. The pain was agonizing. I remember sitting on the couch after a feeding, slowly peeling the tape off my nipple while David sat beside me and held Penelope. The pain was so intense that my whole body shook as I grit my teeth and kept peeling. More painful, less purposeful than childbirth. Tears streamed down my face as I pulled and pulled and pulled. David cried watching me.

Penny had doctor appointments every day that first week, and weekly appointments for the first month. Little by little she gained weight, but never enough. It took her over a month to get back to her birthweight.

It rapidly became clear that exclusively breastfeeding my daughter was not going to be an option. She was always, always going to need formula. Especially because I couldn’t pump enough to sustain her when I returned to work.

I tried everything. We were skin to skin for the bulk of my maternity leave. I drink lactation teas, eat oatmeal every day, started taking fenugreek capsules, and have been taking a drug prescribed by the pediatrician to help increase milk production. I nurse Penny on demand: she eats whenever she wants for as long as she wants; we have never tried to cut her off or impose a schedule. I have pored over books and articles and forums. I have been to lactation consultants. If it has been suggested, I have tried it. And it hasn’t worked.

It hasn’t worked.

We dropped the SNS after a few months and switched to a bottle for Penny’s formula feeds. I couldn’t handle the tube anymore. At my insistence we never took a photo of me wearing that contraption while nursing, the dreaded bottle swaying horribly in front of my face. Now, though, I wish we had. I wish we had a photograph that I could pull out and shove in the face of everyone who thinks I didn’t try hard enough. “See, see?! I did everything I could.”

I am feeding my kid. What matters is that I am feeding my kid. She is getting food. It doesn’t matter where the food comes from. She is healthy. I am doing the best I can. This is what I tell myself over and over again. David is more worried about me than he is about Penelope. He wishes I didn’t take this so much to heart. He wishes I could see how much I am giving, and not view that as a failure. He wishes I could be proud of myself, the way he is so very proud of me. I wish all of that, too.

We are still nursing as often as we can, and I dream of making it to a full year although I’m currently setting my sights on six months, which is on our horizon. But until she transitions to an all-solid food diet Penny will always need formula to be healthy. I just cannot make enough for her. And it is devastating.

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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Personal

Quest for the Perfect Pizza Dough: Take Two

Last spring I began a quest for the perfect pizza dough, and the first recipe I tried didn’t cut it. I had every intention of getting right back in the kitchen, but pregnancy destroyed all my ambition. So that’s how I find myself a little over a year later finally getting around to pizza dough number two.

We haven’t spent much time in the kitchen since Penny was born, but we’re making a concerted effort to do better now that we’re out of the harrowing (but achingly sweet) newborn weeks and our life is settling down into what I think is a new normal. We’re keeping meals simple for now, and pizza is about as easy as it gets, with easy prep, only a little clean up, and an endless variety of combinations to try, many of which are fresh and healthy!

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I went back to the Smitten Kitchen cookbook for take two since the book includes two recipes and I figured it was only fair to give both of them a shot. The only difference in ingredients is that this “leisurely” dough has slightly less yeast because the rise time is so much longer. So right from the get go I was expecting mediocre results. Luckily, my expectations were too low. While this isn’t the recipe that will end my quest, it was an improvement over the first one. The crust puffed nicely and had a bit more flavor to it, thanks to the longer rise.

The best thing about this pizza, though, is that we grilled it.

David and I are not overjoyed with our current apartment, but one of the perks is that it has a balcony and we’re allowed to have a grill. I’d heard about grilling pizzas before, but couldn’t imagine it. In my mind the soft dough would just melt right down between the grill bars before the crust had a chance to set up, leaving a sad, doughy mess at the bottom of the grill. I guess this is just one of those magical things, though, because grilling pizza totally works!

Unlike baking a pizza in the oven, when you grill a pizza you want to start with just the dough: don’t put any toppings on it yet. Over medium heat, grill your rolled out dough for 3-5 minutes. Flip it over, then add your toppings, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Remove from the grill, slice, and enjoy!

We topped this pizza with brush of olive oil, yellow tomatoes, red bell peppers, chèvre, and basil. Delicious.

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Smitten Kitchen’s Leisurely Pizza Dough

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Yield: Dough for one pizza

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup warm–not hot–water (I always need more than this).
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more to dust the counter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Olive oil, for coating the bowl

Directions

  • Pour the water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it stand for 5 minutes. The yeast will start to bloom as the granules expand. This is called “proofing” the yeast, and is done to make sure that the yeast is still alive.
  • Add flour and salt and mix until a shaggy dough forms (if you find you need more water to keep it together, as I often do, add warm water one tablespoon at a time. Don’t overdo it). If using a stand mixer, knead for 5 minutes with the dough hook. If kneading by hand, flour your counter lightly and go for ten minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic when its ready; tacky to the touch, but not sticky.
  • Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into a bowl, and place your dough inside, rolling it around in the oil so that all sides are coated. Cover your bowl (tip: a shower cap is the absolute best thing for this. Cheap, reusable, and SO MUCH EASIER than struggling with saran wrap. I keep half a dozen shower caps in my kitchen at all times) and place it in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
  • About an hour before you’re ready to use it,take the bowl out of the fridge and let the dough come to room temperature. The dough should have risen until almost double in size. Press a finger gently into the dough; if the dough remains indented and doesn’t spring back right away it’s ready! Gently press down on the dough to deflate.
  • Roll, toss, or stretch to your desired shape, top with deliciousness, and bake (usually at your oven’s highest heat, for 10-12 minutes) or grill over medium heat (reserving toppings until the first side of the dough has cooked and been flipped).

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Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Food

Papa Speaks: The Year of 30

 

Note: “Papa Speaks” is the tentative title for what we hope will be a recurring feature on this blog: updates from David. Here, he’ll write about food, family, and whatever sparks his interest. 
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This spectacular image of Pen–when she was just a few days old–sums up the past 12+ months for me. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…tired, wired, mired…

In March I turned thirty-one years old. The preceding year was a trip. In that single year I experienced:

  • most of my first year being married to my best friend
  • a pregnant wife
  • the birth of our child
  • caring for a newborn and a new mom
  • being the proud father of a beautiful daughter
  • completing an MBA
  • working into a huge promotion
  • being a core member of a team that launched a new state agency
  • being a core member of a team that launched a new (faulty) website
  • developing and implementing multiple programs, products, and services
  • hiring a team of professional staff
  • formally supervising someone for the first time
  • formally managing a team for the first time
  • firing someone for the first time
  • being the subject of a deposition
  • making multiple headlines (mostly bad, but some good)

It was a thrilling, stressful, not fun, eye opening, crazy fucking year. I think it was worth it.

I have a great life. A wonderful life. A healthy daughter. A promising career.  Most important of all, a wonderful partner to share this all with. Good and bad.

So what’s thirty-one about? This next year is about designing a better me: a good career trajectory, a healthy body and mind, a well read citizen, a close family member, an engaged friend, an interesting acquaintance. I’m going to continue building my home–a happy place for a great, budding family. Eventually everything will come together. But I’ll always be working on something. Life’s about moments. And there are a lot of awesome moments ahead. I’m on a path as an individual. I’m on a journey with my girls.

Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Personal

Sunday Mornings

When we were dating, David and I spent Sunday mornings at his Brooklyn apartment in our pajamas with the New York Times, coffee, and a box of crunch mini donuts. Spending all morning reading and getting crumbs all over the bed (it’s ok; Sunday is also laundry day) was fantastic, and I wasn’t about to give it up just because we no longer have a bodega downstairs and instead have a tiny, demanding baby.

So we did our best to make it work.

It’s not as relaxing as it used to be, but we did successfully spend our morning and early afternoon in bed. We hung out with Penny and read magazines and had a delicious breakfast of coffee and Mojo Monkey donuts that Mary brought over for us in honor of David’s recent birthday. In a few years we’ll make a point to go to the library on Saturdays so that Penny can have her own reading material for Sunday mornings. In the meantime, this is just fine.

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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in Personal