I am a mother of four! Sometimes I can’t even believe it. I always wanted a big family but it never happens the way you expect. Three out of the four were surprises including this last baby who was totally unexpected. My husband only wanted two, a boy and a girl, which we had in our twenties, then our third child, another boy, came just before I turned 34. He rocked our world messing up the perfect balance of the 2 kids to 2 parent’s ratio, but I can’t imagine life without that kid’s laughter and big personality. Our last child another baby girl was born when I turned age 36. Life is crazy at our house but I wouldn’t have it another way.
Even though I was 27 when I had my first, I was still a ‘new’ mom. I read all the books, took the free classes, and was determined to get it all right. I tried to force my husband Jeff to read with me, but he was too busy painting the baby’s room, so I would sit and read it out loud. He wouldn’t let me lift a finger, but I demanded to get to help with the crib and the closet full of baby clothes. I have a large extended family on both my side and Jeff’s. His family lived 8 hours away, and my family lived only 20 minutes North, but my mom had just begun treatments for breast cancer and my sister, the nurse, was taking care of her, so I wouldn’t have help when the baby arrived. It was all on me, but my stubborn independence wouldn’t let me ask for help even if I needed it.
My first born son also had a mind of his own and was born just barely premature at 36 weeks. The usual hilarity ensued when my water exploded like you see on TV while I was resting in bed one night, the rush to the hospital, then the long 12 hour natural delivery was exhausting, but he as perfect. A healthy baby boy that was only 5 lbs 12 oz. I tortured myself trying to exclusively feed from the breast in the beginning. His small body had trouble latching at first but he loved to eat, and never seemed full. My husband felt helpless during those early A.M. feedings those first few weeks. When I gave in and started pumping Jeff could hold and feed his first born son with a bottle so now I could nap or even shower! I still felt guilty. All the books and websites I had read said that switching back and forth from breast to bottle could cause the baby confusion, but I was still using breastmilk, so I hadn’t totally failed, right?
It didn’t get easier overnight, but at four months we had finally gotten into the swing of breastfeeding and pumping at work all while being sleep deprived. My milk production peaked and I was able to keep up with his demand and have extra to freeze when we started solid foods. The new life with a family of three had hit a rhythm at 7 months. He was teething and being extra rough on my nipples. One morning he bit me so hard my nipple bled! For several days, it was pretty painful, so I had to only pump while keeping the area super dry and clean for fear of getting a yeast infection. I was pumping enough for 6 bottles but noticed by day 3 that my milk production had dropped by a full bottle. After 10 days I had completely dried up. I was devastated. All that work just to hit our stride and, BAM, another curve ball. I didn’t know if it was psychological or my body’s way of saying all done since I was back to my skinny pre-baby body. We had no choice but to deplete my freezer storage and move to formula. Everyone survived, happy and health, except my ego.
Baby #2 was my only planned pregnancy. She was the easiest laid back little angle. After that first kid experience, it was amazing we had more! After a short 4 hour natural delivery she latched on before the umbilical cord was even cut and slept all night from birth. She never left my side at the hospital and I bonded instantly to that little girl. My absolute favorite photo ever was taken minutes after her birth. She was laying on my chest, still messy, clutching one finger from both Jeff and I in each tiny hand.
I was definitely more relaxed as a mom and I think it helped tremendously. She was fed exclusively by the breast until I returned to work and had to begin pumping again, but at 7 months old, my milk factory just dried up again. No trigger, no teething, my body decided it was done. I was heart-broken again that I couldn’t make it to a full year, so we transitioned to formula mixing it with my frozen breastmilk I had pumped. Again, everyone survived, happy and health, except my self-image. Why couldn’t I make it for a full year I thought? If I had had children in the 1700’s, would my kids have even survived? Thankful for the modern age, but the though still didn’t give me much more comfort.
Fast forward 5 years, yes a full 5 years, oops, and baby #3 was on his way. My husband was stunned, but after a few hours was happy about it. We had to move bedrooms and finish the room over the garage, get a new SUV to carry us all. We had sold or given away all our baby items from the highchair to cribs that would all need to be replaced. The kids were so happy to be getting another sibling. Our son wanted a brother and our daughter a sister. Jeff and I really didn’t care either way, just as long as it was healthy. We learned the sex of the baby was another boy at week 16. Our daughter cried for 2 days! She kept saying, “Mom, how could you do that to me? The next one will be a sister.” She was so certain. I was pregnant with the boy and she would tell her teachers, grandparents, even the stranger in the line at the grocery store that she was getting a sister!
At 26 weeks pregnant we found out I had a Placenta Previa, a condition where the placenta had attached itself in the way of the birth canal and every time I was on my feet, the weight of the baby was tearing at it trying to pull it away from my uterine wall. It was a dangerous situation for both me and the baby because of the heavy bleeding and the doctors tried to convince me to have an emergency C-section that very day. My mom instincts were on high alert and after an 11 day hospital stay, the bleeding had stopped, and I convinced them that with bedrest I could carry this kid to full term. Because of those last 11 weeks being on constant alert, I bonded with this little one even before birth.
No one, not even my husband thought I could do it. With a first grader and preschooler at home it was hard to sit still. I had even rented a wheelchair and slept downstairs on the couch. I would read books to them, play with playdoh, color, watched way to many movies, anything from my seat on the couch. At 37 weeks and 1 day my water began leaking and we headed to the hospital. We thought I could deliver naturally because the placenta had moved with the growing baby but, when we arrived, the bleeding had started again and I was rushed to surgery to have a C-section. A few quick minutes that felt like hours and another healthy baby boy was in my arms, but my milk didn’t come in like it had for the other deliveries. It took about a week before I had enough to feed him, so once again, I had to use formula. And in true fashion all my kids were totally different! This little guy preferred the bottle not my breast because of that first week. I pumped and fed, pumped and fed, but suddenly at 5 months, my milk dried up. I wasn’t even working at the time! I was a stay at home mom who got her period back and hormones took over. Again, we all survived, and the mom guilt was heavy on my shoulders.
The ultimate surprise was baby number four almost two years later. It turn the hardest pregnancy with my age and three others at home. It amazing I ever gained weight because I couldn’t go more than a few days without getting throwing up. The day I found out I told the kids first when they arrived home from school and let them tell dad. He was a wreck! Sat down at the kitchen table and didn’t really speak to any of us for several hours. That night when we went to bed he spooned me and whispered, I love you, we will figure this out, but I am getting a Vasectomy. We would have to get a minivan and move to a new, bigger home. The kids were so spread out in ages and with opposite genders they couldn’t share rooms, we tried it the first few months of my pregnancy, it failed miserably.
No one was happier than our 6 yr. old daughter who had never stopped telling people she would have a baby sister one day. Four months before I was pregnant, her 1st grade teacher even went as far as asking me if I was expecting again because she had written a short story about it. When went to the gender reveal ultrasound, we all held our breath and rejoiced when we found out it was a baby sister. I knew I wanted another girl, but on the day I fell in love with that angel. After an 18 hour labor and delivery one day before her due date, with a carefully planned VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), my heart was so full of joy. I was the most laid back with this one, and it showed. I let her decide when and how she wanted to eat, sleep, and more. And a miracle happened, she preferred the breast more than the other three combined. She would hold me as much as I would cradle her. She wanted to nurse before bedtime, and as soon as she woke up. When she was upset she wanted to nurse. I enjoyed this baby more than the others because I just let her be her.
My oldest, now nine years old, was so small the doctors were worried so they said I “had” to feed him every 3 hours. My seven year old daughter slept through the night but ate on a schedule because of the older sibling. The now two year old son, we were always on the go, so I scheduled is meal times at home trying to be that perfect mom who sat at the dinner table… it was exhausting, but not this time. She was 100% breastmilk by the breast. We could be at the store, at the ball park, at a birthday party and I would just unapologetically whip out a boob. I didn’t realize how comfortable I was with my breast out until we were in a crowded elevator at church with several families and my oldest backed into my chest trying to make room and announced, “Sorry mom! I didn’t mean hit your huge mommy milk factory makers!” All while he grabbed his own chest doing a little dance. Jeff and I were horrified! HA! The laugh we had in the car lead us all to tears. Everything was going smoothly, I had been pumping too and had over 350oz in the freezer so when my body stopped producing I would be ready!
We went out of town for a weekend to visit family and returned to find that a spring storm had knocked out the power and the breastmilk had all spoiled…. I heated bag after bag testing it, and I lost it all. In less than 5 hrs, the individual thin bags had thawed just enough. I have never cried that hard. I sat on the couch breastfeeding my then 4 month old completely despondent. She looked up at me with those big blue eyes wondering what was wrong. I was leaving on a business trip in less than two weeks and would be gone for four days. She had never had formula. What if she was allergic, needed special soy formula, what if it gave her gas, constipated, or other tummy troubles? I fell apart. All that work, hours and hours of pumping and saving, wasted. That feeling of accomplishment, squashed. I was going to leave my husband home alone with four kids, and no breastmilk. After a sleepless night, I sat up with a plan, I would take supplements, drink tons of water, and pump 8x a day if I had to. I took the Youth Factor Supplements every day for 2 weeks and with the pumping I was able to have enough stored breastmilk just shy of the full four days. It worked out. My milk production was in full swing and I have been able to replenish some of my storage. My youngest is now almost 7 months old and I am bracing for the production to stop but it hasn’t yet.
The point of me sharing this story is that everyone is different, every parent, every kid and so on. I have four completely different kids from the same two parents and they all did it differently. As moms we put so much pressure on ourselves to be that prefect Pinterest, PTA, soccer moms that we forget to slow down and enjoy our newborns. I tried so hard with each baby to follow the picture of perfection I had created in my own dumb head and of course it was too hard and I failed. Don’t do this to yourself, listen to your own heart, and learn what works best for you and each individual baby. It will take time, you can plan all day, but until you have that little one and much trial and error, you will find your happy place too.