Sunday, July 14, 2013

Past and future (or, wisdom from my midwife).

I've gotten a fair bit of parenting advice over the last few years. Some of it has been good, some of it has been horrendous, some of it has been frustrating, and a fair bit of it has made me laugh. But some of it is exceptional. Some of it changes me.

Perhaps change is the wrong word. Maybe clarify is better. Because when those lightbulb moments happen, I think, not so much, I should be doing this differently, but, oh that's the way to look at it, that makes perfect sense. It's the same way with marriage advice, or life advice in general. I have a whole arsenal of good ideas and garnered wisdom. And then I have the things that stick out, that define the way I see the world, and the way I choose to live my life.

Anyway, all this is to say, one of those came last week, at my latest prenatal appointment. I left Peregrine with my sister-in-law and went in alone because I wanted to have a long, uninterrupted conversation about breastfeeding.

Peregrine and I had an interesting breastfeeding relationship, primarily because Peregrine was a somewhat odd nurser. He had a fast metabolism, little patience, and an extremely hard suck; and, as a result of these things, he was very quick and efficient at getting what he needed. I called him the speed nurser, because he could clean me out in (very few) minutes, and, past a few weeks old, he never fell asleep nursing or really relaxed while nursing at all. It was mealtime, it was business (pretty frantic business), and he was there on a life-or-death mission. Because of this, perhaps, or because of my own anatomy and hormones, I was never overflowing with milk. I had enough, Peregrine gained weight and wet diapers like he was supposed to, but I never had too much. I never had extra. Growth spurts were painfully unpleasant and I ended up supplementing a fair bit with donated milk from my sister-in-law.

And, without going into too many details, let me just say my extended family disagreed with a lot of choices I made surrounding breastfeeding, most notably, my choice to try to space out Peregrine's feedings instead of nursing him whenever he seemed unhappy. It was pretty hard on me (okay, really hard on me), and something I have a fair bit of anxiety about as I anticipate starting another nursing relationship.

Which is why I wanted to lay the whole thing out to my midwife, and hear the opinion of a third party who didn't know anyone in question, and who could honestly tell me whether or not I had supply issues, whether there was anything I could have done to make my nursing experience better, and whether or not I can make decisions now that will make this whole thing easier with Sylvia.

So I did. In the blissful absence of a restless toddler, I kind of vomited the whole story out in painful detail, both the Peregrine-and-me side of things, and the family tensions. I included all the things that I was sure would lose me attachment-parent points: having to schedule feedings when Peregrine was tiny because he wouldn't eat enough, introducing pacifiers early on because he would eat until he threw up, spacing feedings because he seemed happier that way, not just feeding him extra bottles because he would take them (in short, everything I'd been criticized for). I told her how I had watched my sister-in-law nurse her babies completely on demand (comfort-demand, not hunger-demand), and how easy it was for her, and how little her babies cried, and how much milk she had, how that had been my only model for breastfeeding, but also how much it would frustrate me to feel like a baby was perpetually attached to my breast when it didn't necessarily need to be. And I asked her, did I do it wrong, what could I have changed?

She listened, calmly, interjecting here and there, assuring me that I probably couldn't have changed anything, that my child had the personality (and eating habits) he had, for better or for worse, and there isn't anything you can do to change your child's personality. She said it sounded like I had formed a breastfeeding paradigm based on my sister-in-law's experience, which was all well and good until it didn't work with my body and my baby. And she assured me there's nothing wrong with having to shift our paradigms and work with the bodies and babies we have, and that I sounded like a responsive parent who gave my child exactly what he needed. (I knew all this, deep inside, but it was good to hear it). She thanked me for sharing my story, and said she would tell it to all the midwives in the practice, so they will know my history when they start walking me through my next breastfeeding adventure.

And when I got to the end of it, and asked her what she thought, and where I could go from there, she just sat there, for a long time.

And then she said this:

"Well, here's what I have to say. Your past history will always be with you. It just will be. And when you begin a new experience, it will heavily influence your mindset and the choices you make. And who knows? Your next baby could be tit-for-tat exactly like your first. In which case, you'll have done it before, and you'll be more experienced at dealing with that kind of baby. Or, she could be completely different. In which case, your past history will start mattering less and less as time goes on, and you'll adapt to the baby you have."

And there was clarity.

Because she didn't try to negate anything. She didn't tell me not to worry. She didn't even say, it's irrelevant, this is a different baby. It will be there. The worry about growth spurts. The tension in my family relationships. The every-drop-of-milk-is-precious mentality. But I'd never had it laid out so clearly before. Your past matters, and will matter. And either you will be wiser for it, or it will become less relevant as you have different experiences. Just like that.

I feel so much more settled now. So much more at peace. And not just about nursing. About parenting in general. About life. Because there it is. Your past matters. You can't escape it. You can learn from it, and maybe it will be relevant, maybe it won't. It's so easy as a parent, I think, to hash and re-hash the past, to recall every detail, to wonder could I have done it better? and how will I do it the next time around? Important questions, to be sure. It's good to learn from our mistakes (or to figure out whether they were mistakes at all!). It's good to be able to say, I'll do this differently if I have to do it again.

But then there's also a temptation to just move on. To sweep it all under the rug and say, I won't worry about it this time. I'll forget it all, start over. Whatever it was, I may not have to deal with it again, so I won't even think about it. I'll just take things as they come.

But neither is entirely healthy, and neither is realistic. You can't take things as they come when they've come a certain way before. For better or for worse, your past affects you. And yet it may not matter. Things may turn out differently. So, the wisdom you gained will either matter a lot--or it won't.

Maybe it's a small thing, and maybe it's something most people know instinctively already. But I'd never had it said before; and now, since I have, it's going to become a piece of me, and a piece of the way I parent. And ultimately, I think it's going to make me more confident, and more okay with things being what they are.

Which is good. It's very good.

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