Friday, September 30, 2011

Sharing the love (i.e. breastmilk)

World Milksharing Week
To date, Ilse and I have had so few nursing issues it's ridiculous. She's a super nurser, and I've had massive amounts of milk.

But I think back to 2008. My sweet newborn Uli. Such terrible, terrible troubles feeding her. A very small mouth that couldn't latch well despite several visits with different lactation consultants. And my milk supply simply refused to come in, whether it was the c-section or the medications or just me... ugh, it didn't matter. It was awful. For a mama who wanted to breastfeed exclusively it was more than disheartening, it was nightmarish.

I pumped round the clock to build my milk supply until she could learn to latch, but we had to come up with some way to feed her in the meantime. Our midwives had connections with a for-purchase milkbank, and I was very grateful for the breastmilk we were able to buy from them. But at $4/oz we weren't going to be able to afford it for long, and I worried my supply wasn't coming in quickly enough to meet Uli's needs.

Have you milkshared? There's a chance this was your milk!

I tearfully told one of my friends my situation during a phonecall, and she showed up at my door that same week with nearly 40 oz of her own expressed breastmilk. I felt blessed. Her gift, along with the purchased milk and what meager amounts I was pumping, was enough to feed my hungry little one until she finally grew enough to latch and my milk finally had a chance to come in. It took nearly six weeks, but we did make it. We were a nursing pair!

And then I went back to work. And my supply that had been doing so well with direct feedings dipped once more. The anguish! So I upped the number of times I pumped per day. And took fenugreek. And dropped by the daycare mid-day to get a dose of milk-making baby vibes. And pumped more. And nursed and nursed and nursed whenever my baby and I were together. And it was just enough.

Until one day, it wasn't. I showed up at our daycare provider's house, and I didn't have enough milk for my daughter for the day. The freezer stash I'd carefully built before returning to work had been wholly depleted, and I hadn't gotten enough from pumping the day before. I handed our provider the few ounces I did have and broke down in tears. I didn't know what to do. I was so embarrassed to find myself crying over breastmilk. What would this woman think of me? I imagined her rolling her eyes and telling me to just buy some formula already. But she didn't do anything of the kind. Instead she hugged me. And then offered me something I hadn't expected. She said her daughter (just a month older than Uli) refused to drink from bottles, and thus she had unused expressed milk in her freezer. She offered to share her entire freezer supply with my daughter. I can't fully describe how I felt at that moment, my feelings of gratitude. It was amazing, her gesture. Amazing. I accepted wholeheartedly and Uli thrived.

After that I upped my fenugreek supplementation and pumping sessions. Uli began to eat solid food during the day and nursed more at night. Once she turned a year old we introduced goat and cow milk and then I breathed a sigh of relief. I continued to pump for a few months past her first birthday, but eventually felt okay giving that up. She gradually reduced her time at the breast, eventually nursing only at bedtime.

Uli nursed for the last time earlier this year, when I was a couple months pregnant with Ilse. The first night I didn't nurse her to sleep she asked for my milk a few times but soon accepted that I wasn't able to give it to her. There were no requests the second night. She was weaned. Just like that. I'd imagined the end to our nursing relationship was going to be as dramatic as its beginning.  But instead it was simple and sweet. To be cherished.

I am so thankful to the other mothers who shared their milk and helped make Uli's and my nursing relationship possible. If it hadn't been for them we may not have been able to nurse in the first place. Or our nursing may have ended earlier in frustration and with feelings of failure. But instead, my daughter was provided with the breastmilk she needed and I was given the time my body needed to build and rebuild my supply.

 Milksharing. It's a beautiful thing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Past Six Weeks: A Review

I was pregnant.

41 Weeks Pregnant

And then I wasn't anymore.

Ilse Louise

My firstborn has a little sister.

Two beautiful girls!

I have a nursling!

Lots of snuggles

Ilse has tons of hair.

Swoopy Curl care of Neko [the cat]

I think she looks like her daddy.

Uli is taking it all pretty well. (As well as a nearly-three-year-old can.)

The new "smile for the camera" smile

We Propsons are a happy family of four. :-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Did I Want the Placenta?

Nope, I still haven't written Ilse's birth story. Workin' on it. ;-)  But I thought I'd write about something else in the meantime. Of all the comments/questions I received about my birth plan, there was one most common. What on earth can you want with the placenta? several people asked (in varying tones of panic).  At the risk of alienating a few readers and frightening my family and friends, I've decided to tell you.

I wanted it for this:

Shakes. Smoothies. Of placenta (and juice and fruit).

Now, to some of you placentophagy (ingesting the placenta after childbirth) isn't a foreign concept. You're probably the ones who, like me, have been frequenting some crunchier online forums, edgier mom's groups, or reading the more natural parenting magazines. You may or may not have consumed a placenta yourself, but you're aware of the practice and probably know other moms who've done so. 

But if you're hearing about this for the first time or are firmly entrenched in more mainstream customs you might be... alarmed by this idea. I understand. I was once alarmed (i.e. totally disgusted and freaked by the thought). Before you gag on what you're eating or throw up bile or whatever you are going to claim happened to you just now,  just keep reading.  Because, while I understand it sounds unusual, it's not as gruesome as you may suppose.

I'll first mention that many women who ask to keep their placenta do not intend to ingest it. There are other reasons to want a placenta. 
  • You might want to make a placenta print (which looks remarkably like a tree. Tree of life. Call it a birth tree, etc.) with the placenta as an art piece commemorating the birth. You can see a woman providing instructions on this here on YouTube. They can be quite lovely and a truly unique piece of artwork.
  • Others may plant/bury their placenta. They may intend to hold a ceremony (and say a few words about birth/their child/motherhood) or they may simply dig a hole and perhaps plant a tree over the placenta.
  • I'm on a forum where one mother, though vegan, cut up and fed the placenta to her dogs, believing that to allow it to be incinerated at the hospital was to unduly deny her pups a meal of ethically obtained meat.
  • And there's always the placenta teddy bear. Seriously. Click here. (Or don't. I actually find this one mildly disturbing.)

But back to consuming the placenta. It's claimed that there are nutritional benefits to the practice:  
[T]he placenta contains vitamins and minerals that may help fight depression symptoms, such as vitamin B6 ...[and] the placenta is considered rich in iron and protein, which would be useful to women recovering from childbirth, and a particular benefit to vegetarian women.                         
Beyond iron/protein, it has been claimed the hormones found in the placenta may ward off postpartum depression.

Now, some say that these benefits are only really helpful to an undernourished mother and that we modern humans don't need (and thus should turn away from) any sustenance which may be received from the placenta. And I would agree that most of us mamas don't *need* the placenta as a meal like, say, a mama cat might. After I give birth my husband and family brought me other nutritious food. And even if they didn't, I'd been well fed prior to labor and I wasn't birthing out in the wild in need of a sudden jolt of protein so I could be on the alert for predators. Nevertheless, there are nutrients and hormones in the placenta and consuming them may provide the new mother with something necessary (and possibly even unstudied/unknown). The social rules disproving of a mother's ingestion of the placenta seem unfortunate. If there's a chance to receive benefits from the practice I think a mother should be able to receive them without censure.  

Of course, the benefits I've received may all be from a placebo effect. I'll give you that. But even if it's a placebo effect, I do feel better emotionally after this labor and birth than I did the first time around. Was this birth different? Absolutely. It was a gentle birth at home vs. an unwanted c-section. Is healing from my vaginal birth taking less of a toll on me than the surgery? Yes, and I suppose that's true for most natural births when compared to cesareans. Is my avoidance of court TV a benefit to my mental health? Absolutely;  People's Court and Judge Joe Brown did not contribute last time to a feeling of wellness or peace or foster a positive outlook about our country. But might some of my happiness and energy be from my shakes? I think so. I truly do. And (according to some viewpoints) if I think so, so it is. And that's good enough for me.

There are three main ways to consume a placenta: 
  1. Raw (which includes being frozen and blended into smoothies)
  2. Cooked (It's just meat, after all. Click HERE for actual placenta recipes to cook. Even if you're squeamish, don't worry:  no pictures on this particular link)
  3. Dehydrated and encapsulated (I've found this is by far the most socially accepted way to consume a placenta, but it also costs money--about $300 in my city. That is, it costs money if someone else does it for you. You could give it a shot yourself and try it for free. See HERE or HERE for a tutorial on how to encapsulate a placenta at home)

I chose option one. My midwives offered to cut my placenta into small pieces and those pieces were placed into mini ice cube trays which were themselves put inside Ziplocks and then into our freezer. Because the pieces are small and frozen I'm able to pop them into my smoothies without any gross-out factor. Easy and gives me some voom each morning. 

My basic recipe is:
  • 1 cup juice (I prefer orange or pineapple but apple is also very good)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons yogurt (whole fat vanilla is my preference)
  • Mix of frozen berries 
    • 1-2 Tablespoon raspberries
    • 1-2 Tablespoon blueberries
    •  2-3 large strawberries
  • 1/2 banana (optional)
  • 4 pieces of frozen placenta

It's good, I swear. You taste only juice and berries. 

And that's why I wanted the placenta. So now you know. 

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