To Feed Another: a Journey Towards Wholeness

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Feeding myself has been a journey.

I think about this as I watch my little girl grasp a steamed string bean in her hands, fervently cutting her new little shards of teeth on the limp pod.

On March 8th at 12:32 am, I became the one person who could feed this child a concoction that was designed by the Almighty and my own body—specifically for her. Before then, my responsibility in providing nourishment for my daughter consisted of me feeding myself well, something which I continue to do, so that the milk which flows from my breast to her tongue will be sufficient in helping her to thrive.

But this—this feeding myself well—it hasn’t always been so easy or important to me, even in the recent past.

I often think of my eating disorder and how it successfully passed from my mother to me, and the potential reasons why it did so, because I am determined that it will stop with me.

There are probably a lot of control issues behind this level of determined thinking that I need to be conscious of. But it is good that I be mindful about how I am feeding myself and how I am feeding my daughter, and also, how I am feeding myself in front of my daughter.

I first began distressing about feeding my daughter on the second night she was alive. Technically it was the first night, since she was born shortly after midnight, but after fifty hours (yes—five, zero) of labor, and three and half hours of pushing, I had not slept in three days and so technicalities escaped me. My husband, who had also not slept much or eaten a real meal in a few days, lay knocked out on the family bed at the birth center’s recovery room. I meanwhile, tried my hardest to latch Esther’s mouth onto my nipple every 12 minutes, in fear that neither of us were “doing it right”. The lactation consultant had not been by, and I attempted to remember what I had learned in the breastfeeding class I had attended a few weeks prior.

I remember looking down at my cracked and bleeding nipple and at my squirming newborn’s hungry mouth and thinking, “Am I really the only one who can do this right now?”

In that question were housed a multitude of doubts, and not simply the exhausted frustrations of a brand new mother at 3am.

They were doubts about my own ability not just to learn the tricky art of breastfeeding my particular baby, but about whether or not I could really feed another human being, and do it well.

Food. Sustenance. Nourishment. It is essential to life. The food we eat or do not eat determines of much of our health and wellbeing.

Perhaps the “normal” mother is not intimidated, much less frightened by this task of feeding. Perhaps it is my history with food that makes this responsibility so terrifying, which sends me spinning into questioning my capability to do any of this.

Doubts plague me—doubts about whether I, a formally bulimic and anorexic girl who got pregnant, had to deal with all kinds of people coming up to her, touching her belly and commenting on how “big you’re getting”, who lost all her modesty in the delivery room, and who is now dealing with a crap-ton of postpartum hormones—whether I can really do this thing called “being a mom”.

Mostly because “being a mom” means I’ve got to feed my kid. And I only just learned how to feed myself.

But then again, Perhaps the “normal” mother, regardless of how well or poor she has fed herself in the past, or how much she struggles with insecurities or how many doubts she has about her capabilities…perhaps every mom feels this pressure: the pressure to nourish; the pressure to sustain; the pressure to feed.

Perhaps I am just as “normal” as everyone else.

I decided I wanted to breastfeed my baby well before she was even conceived.

Oh, I did my research, and I knew that it was the healthiest option. Also, my husband and I were in agreement that I would stay at home with our kids, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pumping while at work or some of the other challenges that sometimes lead mothers to choose formula over the breast. I had read articles, books, blogs, and testimonials, and I was pretty sure I would be that “crunchy mama” with the cloth diapers, baby carriers, and avidly breastfeeding until well after most kiddos are weaned.

But, I’m not going to lie; the simplicity behind breastfeeding is also what attracted me to it.

No mixing and warming up bottles in the middle of the night, no spending hard earned money on formula, no forgetting to bring enough milk for a trip out of town. As long as my baby was with me, my breasts would be there, ready to supply all of their nutritional needs.

            It’s beautiful.

I realize now, that breastfeeding is not always so simple.

Many women struggle to develop a good latch. Some have trouble maintaining an adequate milk supply. Others get plugged milk ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. These things could happen to me too, and they could be difficult. I learned this as I browsed “What to Expect When Your Expecting” while 30 weeks pregnant, and at the breastfeeding class I took at the birth center where I would deliver Esther a few weeks later.

And while these challenges scared me a little, I still wanted to do it—to breastfeed my baby. The pros greatly outweighed the potential cons, and I knew that this commitment to breastfeed would be the first of many decisions I would make about feeding my little one once I finally brought her into the outside world and out of that cocoon of coziness she was wrapped in, germinating for 41 weeks and a day inside of me.

And on that exhausting night in March, when the thunder and lightning raged, the wind blew, America celebrated women, and Jews celebrated Purim, I met the one I would be saddled with feeding. I met my daughter.

I remember how she looked against the bright lights as my midwife and my husband handed her up over to me. I remember Dennis exclaiming, “It’s a girl!” as he cut the cord and I kissed her head on my sweaty and bare chest.

I remember saying to her, “Hi baby, I’m your mommy.”

And when they finally left us alone as a family, after they cleaned me up and I had stopped shaking, I remember pulling that little unnamed baby close, and feeling her mouth grope for my breast, as they were already leaking the golden colostrum that was designed especially for her.

Getting the hang of breastfeeding Esther came in stages for me.

First, it was just getting over the sore nipples and engorgement. Then it was fretting about my forceful letdown, which left Esther sputtering and me spraying milk at whatever happened to be a foot in front of me at the time. Then it was regulating my oversupply while still staying comfortable, which involved pumping at least four ounces of milk first thing in the morning.

By five months, I finally felt confident.

…And then a month later we started solid food with her.

Quickly, it became clear that feeding my child would no longer be as simple as pulling her to my breast. No. Now there were bibs and sticky messes and baby spoons and packing pureed goop into glass jars next to ice packs.

Suddenly, I was reading all the labels and spending evenings blending large batches of whole foods and freezing them into ice cube trays. Suddenly I was worried about whether Esther was getting enough zinc, or protein, or—as my little one just battled some crazy constipation—fiber.

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I lament at the amount of time and preparation this all takes.

And I think back to when I first learned to feed myself well, or rather, when I began my process of learning to do so.

I remember the intentionality with which I packed my lunches when I first committed to recovery from my anorexia and bulimia. They had to have the right kind of nutrients: enough “healthy fats”, as my dietitian called them, and each of them had to contain the correct serving size of each food group, and enough calories.

At an age when most people were living off of late night pizza and beer (college-aged), I was learning to feed myself.

Now, I’ve been recovered from that seven-year-long disease for four years. But I still have to deal with the root issues as battles in my brain.

Now, Esther doesn’t eat many baby purees, and we’ve embraced the simpler yet messier task of baby-led-weaning (BLW). But I still read labels and plan out her nutrition intentionally.

And every day I’m faced with the pressure of feeding. Feeding myself, feeding my husband, and feeding my daughter.

I do the grocery shopping. I do the meal preparation. I eat, and what I eat goes into producing the milk my daughter eats. I fill the sippy-cups with water and prune juice. I cook the dinners. The snacks I buy are what we end up pulling out at 9pm when we’re watching The Newsroom and our little one is sound asleep in her crib.

How did slowly learning to feed my own self well suddenly turn into being crowned “Queen of Feeding”?

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We will have more kids. And I will be in charge of what they eat.

I will feed my tribe.

This sinks in slowly over the months, like tea seeps into hot water in a steaming mug. Like I slowly conquered breastfeeding, my milk supply leveling out as I finally stopped leaking milk through all of my shirts. And I suppose that’s how it has been: gradually and with grace, until I’m ready to sustain. I have become this source of nourishment slowly, and it still is a process.

The anxiety about feeding lessens as the days pass. As avocados are sliced and coffee is brewed and I scrub sweet potato off of the dining room floor. As my child weans herself and I grow into my motherhood and food begins to taste different without the pressure of the very new.

And I remember the first time I ate ice cream after anorexia without wanting to empty myself clean. And how soon it isn’t painful anymore.

I want to teach my daughter that eating is good, and food is an adventure, and if it ever starts to feel hard, that I know how it is, and that I got through it by the grace of God and His determination to make me whole.

Feeding myself has been a journey. 

Feeding my daughter has been a journey.

And I am walking closely to grace as I teeter past these milestones and menus and meals, eating whole foods and whole pints of ice cream like I’ve always known I was capable of once I became whole.

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Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

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This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

Begin Again

I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.