Retail Reflections

Retail Reflections

fleamarket

I cemented something for myself last week – I hate the mall. Noodle was having a really fussy day, and Nekky was at a lunch meeting for most of the afternoon, so I packed up and headed to Yorkville Mall because I knew I’d get nothing done at home.

Shopping is the last thing I should be doing during these very frugal days, but I had a stack of gift certificates for Gap Kids and Gymboree, so I decided to take advantage and see what I could find for the monkeys. Noodle and I caught a lift with daddy, and soon we were fully immersed in the artificial oasis.

I’ve been doing a lot of thrifting lately. Most of the kids’ clothes, almost all of the baby’s clothes, and a large chunk of my maternity clothes were second hand. The women in my family have always loved a good treasure hunt. My mom and her sisters grew up very poor, and my clever grandmother managed to turn salvaging other people’s cast offs into a fun adventure. The glee with which my aunties can pour through a Value Village or Salvation Army was contagious as a child, and now I share that love of discovery.

I remember frequent trips to the nearby Amity with my Grandmaman when I would come to visit. We were allowed to pick out a simple toy to add to the toy box in her modest little apartment, and the result was a constantly refreshed trove for her many, many grandchildren to enjoy. One of my favorite playtime activities while visiting was to hand wash an entire vintage pillow case full of baby doll clothes using my grandmother’s own wash board. Then I would lovingly hang each tiny item to dry on the line she kept on her balcony. It’s no wonder that laundry is a chore I actually still enjoy.

My aunts invented Shabby Chic long before it was ever a thing. Each of them owns a collection of unique treasures discovered at antique markets, yard sales, and estate auctions. They’ve worked these gems into their décor with seamless elegance and whimsy. With a tilt of a head, they can re-imagine a sturdy chair with a new coat of paint or refreshed upholstery. They are such wonderfully creative women. market6

As Noodle and I strolled from one brightly lit store to the next, assaulted by the loud, obnoxious music, and overly friendly staff I began to feel more and more stressed out. The prices seemed ludicrous, even on the sale racks, and I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to use the gift certificates on. Soon Noodle began to fuss, because I think he felt affronted by all of the obnoxious over-stimulation. He began to return the overzealous employee greetings with stink-eye, and started trying to rip clothing off the racks while grunting like a little ape.

It was inevitable that I would soon feel the guilt creep in, I am a fallen Catholic after all, and I began thinking about all of those poor people in Bangladesh who died so horribly because they were neglected by a property owner who only cared about making money. In a sense, they died because we want the cheapest deal on manufactured goods, but so many of us are too proud to be caught re-using perfectly good items that are available everywhere for unbelievable prices.

The cheap labor debate is one that I have mixed feelings about. Some overseas factories really do offer people a livelihood and a means to support their family in the face of some seriously heinous alternatives. This is no excuse to neglect people or take such horrible advantage of their position. I think so many of us get caught up in our tendency towards commercialism that we don’t think much about how those much-coveted items arrive in our malls and how lives are affected in the process.

Of course I want adorable clothing for my kids. I also don’t want to waste some perfectly good gift certificates that were gifted to us. I LOVED the Joe label before this Bangladesh catastrophe gave me pause, but how can I spend money on their products when 300 people died and Joe doesn’t seem in any hurry to make their factory conditions better? The company website states that in the face of the Bangladesh tragedy they are “taking steps” to ensure better conditions, but I’ll be more impressed if they dedicate a portion of their website to seeing how that plays out. A carefully crafted press release feels a bit like lip service to me.

I’m not militant about these things. I’m lazy, and cheap, and I’m sometimes a real consumerist pig. I love Target for example, and I’ll probably keep shopping there, but we need to think about this, don’t we? How badly do we need “stuff”? Is it worth taking advantage of people who are already struggling so that we can get a cheap deal? Can’t we cough up a couple of additional dollars so that they can make a more decent wage?

It’s easy to just hit Walmart and drop some dollars to get the best deal. We do it every week for our groceries because the savings is unbelievable. How does a family of six justify spending hundreds of dollars more each week to buy locally raised meat and local produce? Costco has saved us SO MUCH MONEY!

I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m not going to be a preachy hypocrite. I think it’s because I’m feeling my own disgust at all of the stuff we’ve amassed over the years that I feel so grossed out by consumerism. How do we make these issues better without extending ourselves beyond our means?  What can we actually do?

I suppose a place to start is buying clothing more responsibly. Here’s a great article from the National Post with some ethical shopping tips. I’d love to hear from readers about how this. Are you shopping ethically? If not, what’s stopping you? If so, can you give us tips to make this work for our large family?

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Making Our Beds

Making Our Beds

sledgehammerThis past weekend, we ran away from the city to begin work on our vegetable garden at the Niagara house. Our goal was to build four raised beds – three for veggies and one for cut flowers – using this tutorial from the awesome Pioneer Woman blog. We packed up the car and a small mountain of laundry (our city dryer has been broken for over a month and it’s hard to keep up with the laundry demands of six people) and we set out at seven p.m. which is the time to travel on the Friday of a long weekend.

Saturday was a late start. I needed the extra sleep, because the Noodle has taken to waking as of 2:30 each morning, and then every hour or so after that. At first, he was just interested in eating during these waking moments, but now he’s into trying out all of his new moves; scooting, crawling, sitting up, standing, all with his eyes closed and mostly still asleep. Thankfully, on Saturday he was into sleeping in, and when he was done, extra hands made it possible for me to get a little bit of extra rest. After a leisurely breakfast, Nekky and I set out for the Home Depot at around noon, while Mamma S stayed behind to tackle the epic chore of lawn mowing. Both adventures turned out to be day-long investments.

The finished product

The finished product

Nekky and I took Noodle with us because he’s a fussy monkey these days. His little teeth are ready to burst forth, and he can fight a nap with UFC flair. Once he was secured in his car seat, he was k.o’d and remained that way for the two hour duration of our Home Depot visit, where he slept in a cart, still in his car seat. He really must be a man’s man (whatever the hell that means) because the smell of sawdust and paint and dudes really lulled him into deep sleep. Not even my stacks of garlic and onion bulbs disturbed him from his reverie. Also, if you want to see cute, take a wee baby to a hardware store. Even the burliest men were cooing at him, and straining to get a look inside the cart to watch him sleep. 260355_10151635320720535_312581582_n

We cut down on some material costs by choosing untreated fir over cedar or pine, and we’ll be sealing it with an Eco wood treatment. Our real surprise came in seeing just how much wood we ended up with. There was no way it was fitting in the car, so we had to rent a Home Depot van to drive it back to the house, ten minutes away.

Of course the baby’s car seat wouldn’t work in the cargo van, so I hung behind with the Noodle, who was still out. I grabbed myself lunch at Subway, and got three quarters of the way through it before the baby woke up, all smiles and game show host charm for the seniors lunching around me. Man this baby can work a room!

He can also work his shorts, and so after I finished lunch, we wheeled back into the Depot for a bum change and some boobie. By now we were on a first name basis with the staff, who were all happy to see the awake Noodle, riding in the cart like a pageant queen on a pride float, clapping his hands and squawking with glee. (Our baby is so happy to have everyone’s eyes on him. I don’t know where he gets that from.) The restroom was kitted out with a big comfy leather chair so we had more privacy than the patio furniture section afforded – this is where I’d scoped out some breast feeding real estate earlier.

After Noodle’s snack we waited for daddy (and Ayla, who decided to come for phase two of the shopping excursion, which was Costco) in the garden centre. Noodle loves flowers, birds and old ladies and all were plentiful in the garden centre.

So, yes we tackled both Home Depot and Costco on a long weekend Saturday and lived to tell the tale. Needless to say, not much building got done on day one, though us three parents ran outside after dinner to take advantage of the waning sunlight and cooler temperatures. We got quite a lot of the more tedious stuff knocked out too – measuring and drilling pilot holes and such. There was also some beer drinking, which we all know is essential to any home improvement project.

building2Sunday was building day, for real. We got a much earlier start and got a lot of work done before noon, when the sun became unforgiving. There isn’t a lot of shade at the Niagara house, so our veggies will be happy, but us laborers were not. Coconut water has become a staple for us and the kids. It’s a greater source of electrolytes than those sports drinks, and it’s delicious, especially with vodka and a twist of lime. No, the kids don’t get vodka.

We took a break for lunch, and then hit Home Depot again, because one trip is NEVER enough, no matter how thorough you think you’ve been. After lunch I got to learn how to use a jigsaw (terrifying) and a drill. Yes, it’s true, I’ve barely used power tools. I’m more of a sanding, staining, finishing, painting kind of worker bee. I’m also really good about planning, and I quite like being the foreman.ayladrill

I’m very pleased with the results of our efforts. Lulu got in there and worked with daddy, and was very proud of herself. She was also thrilled when I pointed out that she’d been in homeschool wood working class all day.

Next we’ll need to seal the beds and line them with landscaping fabric, then order dirt and compost and get planting. I can’t wait to get my hands in there and plant our little seeds. I’ve never attempted a vegetable garden before, so I have no idea how successful this project will be, but it’s really been wonderful working together towards a common goal.

Zombies, Boobies and Bamboo

Screen shot 2013-05-14 at 8.39.04 PMSome pretty bizarre things can occupy my brain space, and this week has been no exception. Have a listen and let me know if you think I’m nuts.

 The Walking Dead

We’ve started watching the AMC series ‘The Walking Dead” and of course we’re hooked. We polished off season one last night, and though I love the show, I feel consumed with guilt because Noah is usually up while we’re watching. We don’t let him actively see the TV, because none of our children watch much TV, and because I don’t think his infant brain should be exposed to rotting animated corpses, but I’ve convinced myself that the mere sounds of the living dead eating human flesh will corrupt him.

Today he began making this low, grunting noise all day long. At first we were jokingly calling him Randy Macho Man Savage. However, watching him sitting at the head of the table, half asleep with a glazed expression, gaping mouth waiting for the next spoonful, growling loudly, I could only think one thing. Zombies. I worry that despite all of our careful efforts, the wrong ideas are still seeping into our kids’ melons.

Further evidence to this fact was Hannah watching daddy prepare the massive beef tenderloin he grilled for dinner tonight. She squealed with delight and said, “Daddy! Pick up the knife in your bloody hands again! You look like a murderer and the tenderloin looks like the leg of a sexy lady!”

Jesus. Christ. How much of Dexter was wafting up the stairs and permeating their sleeping minds??

 

Angelina’s Boobs

You’ve all heard the news by now, of course. If not, check out the scoop here. I woke up this morning feeling pretty impressed by Angelina sharing her story so publicly. In fact, I will freely and openly admit that her actions inspired me to also get tested for this gene at my next physical. I will also admit that because an enormously famous sexy babe elected to have her breasts removed (and no doubt replaced with a pair of awesome fake boobs) I absolutely feel like that decision is one that I would be just a bit more comfortable making for myself.

What does that make me? A lemming? A sheep that is too easily influenced by the media? I don’t know why Angelina suddenly made lopping my boobs off okay. Actually, I do. It had little to do with Angelina and more to do with how cancer has ravaged too many people who I am genetically linked to, and taken them away from us too soon. Something about a superstar admitting so publicly to their own bold decisions to protect their family from the tragedy of cancer was inspiring. The end.

 

Bamboo

Our eldest daughter has been working hard at her first independent study project this week. Her class each had to choose a traditional home structure to research and build on their own. The structure needs to be one that is man-made and the materials used in this project had to represent these kinds of materials. Hannah chose an Iraqi reed house.

She determined that woven materials would work best for building the house, which is made entirely of reeds. We determined that Chinatown was the most obvious place in the city to shop for woven things. Nekky and I grabbed the girls from school and set off, planning to have Mamma S meet us there for dinner when she was done work.

The first shop we hit was Plaiter Place. We had our big stroller to contend with and a sleeping Noah inside, so Nek parked it as strategically as he could near the cash. The store was tiny, but we managed to find a spot that didn’t block the cash from the customers or block in the lady who was working at the counter. The store was a goldmine. We found all of the supplies we needed in short order, and then a whole bunch of other beautiful things for our homeschool classroom, and a couple of fun trinkets for Ayla.

As we respectfully made our way through the shop, admiring everything, I noticed a man who was working there in some kind of serious frenzy, racing around. He seemed very irate. While Nekky and Hannah were making their final decisions at the back of the store, Ayla and I headed to the front of the store to check on Noah and to decide on which little delight she would go home with.

Irate shop-keeper man came charging to the front of the store, and rather than going around the stroller, or letting me move it out of the way, as I clearly offered, and he ignored, he shoved the stroller and rushed past it, knocking over a basket full of little wallets. As I stooped to pick them up and collect my baby and my Ayla, the shopkeeper revealed that he did, in fact, speak some English when he uttered “FUCK!” In front of my seven year old.

I ushered Ayla and Noah outside, texting Nekky to let him know what happened. He sent the girls and I ahead while first he checked the next store to make sure they had supplies we could use, and then he exchanged some choice words with the shop-keeper at Plaiter Place. In front of some more would-be customers.

We used this as an opportunity to teach the girls about customer service, and how we only spend our money in places where they treat their customers respectfully. Ayla was a bit stunned at how rude the guy was. Hannah was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find materials elsewhere.

Fast-forward to after an exhaustive hunt of Chinatown with two sleepy girls followed by a fairly epic Korean feast when we realize that one key piece we’ll need for windows can only be found in Plaiter Place. What were we to do? Send Mamma S on a covert operation of course! Yet another instance where three parents give us an advantage.

Of course the kids IMMEDIATELY figured out what was happening, and totally called us out with a classic “But YOU said…” We’re not perfect. Not by any stretch, and so I used our hypocrisy as another life lesson and said that we would go to great lengths to make sure our children succeed with all of the projects they tackle in life. Sigh.

Project reed house has blown our minds. No surprises, Hannah is brilliant. I’ll share some of her mad skills later this week. Meanwhile, let’s pray my children don’t start eating brains, stalking hookers, or getting into fist fights with shopkeepers.

 

 

 

 

Allowing Allowance

BFA-Child-Financial-Planning

Our girls are now nine and seven, and lately our eldest has been asking for an allowance. All three parents grew up with allowance once we reached a certain age, so we weren’t opposed to this concept, but we definitely wanted to have some shared goals in rolling this out to the kids.

 

 

  1. We didn’t want to tie doing basic helping tasks to a monetary reward. We all help take care of our home because we love our home and each other. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are getting paid to do the tasks that we’d like to nurture some pride in.
  2. We didn’t want the girls to get competitive over allowance. Rather than tie monetary value to chores, we agreed on a set amount per week that was the same for both girls. These two monkeys will compete over who can get the most air. Homeschooling them is going to be a real trip.
  3. We wanted to teach the children smart money management, social responsibility, and some value around money.

Here’s what we did:

Using the Melissa and Doug Responsibility Charts that we bought for the girls a while back, we create a list of suitable household responsibilities that were the same for both girls.

On a Sunday night after dinner we let them know that now that they are seven and nine years old, we felt like they were at the right age to take on some added responsibility in our home. We directed them to have a look at their charts and had a chat about what their responsibilities were, and how we expected them to take pride in caring for our home together.

We let them know that another part about growing older and more responsible was being given the responsibility of a weekly allowance (here there was much cheering and celebration) and that every Sunday they would each receive five dollars.

Then we explained that an allowance was a great responsibility because it helped them learn how to be respectful of money. We let them know that they could spend or keep two dollars of their allowance, and that they would save two dollars of their allowance, and give one dollar of their allowance to our family charity of choice – the Aga Khan Foundation .

To keep their allowances straight, I got them colour-coded glass jars from Dollarama, with one for each portion of their earnings. We’re also keeping track of our wages in a spread sheet, and (probably after the move) we’ll open a bank account for each girl.

Generally, it’s going very well, with the exception of the time we were over a week late with paying out, and my mother suggested we add a dollar of interest. The kids definitely thought that was a good plan!

How have you handled allowance with your kids? How are you teaching them to be responsible with money?

School of Mom

Things my children have taught me:

  • The importance of play, even for grown-ups
  • How to inject new life and meaning into household tasks/chores
  • A whole new pleasure in cooking for (and with!) my family
  • How to view everything like it’s fresh and new
  • How to slow down
  • How to lower my expectations of perfection (from myself)
  • How to be okay with not being on time sometimes
  • How to be creative and make art every single day
  • To enjoy sewing!
  • To be thrifty and frugal
  • Patience that I never thought I’d have
  • How to laugh at myself
  • To turn inward and really work on my own struggles
  • To respect money and resources
  • That I want to be a writer, who writes books for them to enjoy
  • To be reverent and terrified of the passage of time
  • That there are one million outlets for my imagination
  • That their opinion of me is the only one that matters (after my own)
  • How to melt away my hard exterior
  • To (always try to) speak with love and respect even when I’m feeling frustrated or tired
  • That their ideas, insights, theories and notions are often more touching, profound, brilliant and pithy than those of most adults I know
  • That I am a good mother and dedicated parent
  • How to (strive to) make them feel how loved and cherished they are all of the time
  • That I belong somewhere, to someone
  • That my family, in all of it’s quirky, evolving, unusual glory is the most important thing in the world to me
  • That their amazing, delightful, beautiful selves are proof positive that I am good and doing something good for the world

Weathering the Shitstorm

Five great reasons to get my act together.

Five great reasons to get my act together.

Calorie counting, which I am mostly diligent about, but have taken a break from because my father-in-love is in town and he equals FOOD, has helped me shed about fifteen pounds since I last wrote here. I’ve limited myself to 1600 calories each day because I’m breastfeeding, and I’m generally staying away from complex carbs and refined sugar. Right now I’m about ten pounds away from my target, and I’m now seriously contemplating exercise each day. Note that I haven’t said I’m going to start exercising each day. That’s more commitment than I can handle, and the careful food choices seem to be working well. Score one for me.

I’m back to work (part time, I guess), and back on stage with the Coquettes, and about to head to Alberta with them for our first out-of-province shows. My experience with becoming a mother, birthing a baby, and watching my body turn inside out and upside down has created this insane confidence on stage. More than ever, I feel like I’m there to have fun, help the audience have fun and I really don’t give a shit about what might come out of my mouth in the process. This has made for some great shows as far as I’m concerned. That edit button is gone it seems, and hilarity ensues. Score two for me, I guess.

Noah is thriving, and smiling like a maniac nearly all of the time. The little monster is only four months old but fitting comfortably into nine month clothing, all while exclusively breastfeeding! He’s so long, I think he may end up a giant like my 6’7 brother. His sisters are wonderful too. I just had the absolute pleasure of two glowing parent/ teacher interviews where both teachers sang the praises of our wonderful children and our wonderful family. Score three?

I’m giving myself this cyber pep-talk because in therapy I’m experiencing what you might call the eye of the storm. The work I’m doing there feels like complete and utter shit. It feels like teenage days all over again. I sort of hated high school, so on Sunday nights I would feel absolutely sick with dread knowing that I had to return there on Monday. This is the same feeling I get now on my pre-therapy days. What’s going on there? Well, the simple answer is when I’m faced with difficulty, criticism and my own short comings, guess what I do? I go stony, I detach, I shut down. I do this because I  feel like I’m a terrible person and everyone around me is better off without me. I want to crawl in a hole and run away. That’s what happens inside. Outside I look like a cold-hearted bitch who doesn’t care about anything.

When there is a problem in your relationship, you want your partner there with you. You want them emotionally present to help work through difficulty. I can’t do this, or at least I haven’t been able to do this. I hate this about myself  and now I’m taking a very critical and thorough look at where this comes from and how I can stop it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and it hurts like hell.

So, how does a Schnoo deal with such a difficult emotional place?

1. Binge eating. Yes, I allow myself to completely and totally pig out, but only for one day. I know I can get back on track quickly, so I just go for it. Emotional eating is never a great idea, but sometimes only chocolate and popcorn can make the pain go away.

2. Maid mode. Today, after gorging myself last night, I have been a cleaning maniac. Cleaning through stress is the best thing. It’s a physical opportunity to scrub away all of the ugly, and it feels so good to take care of it while my partners are hard at work earning our bread. This morning marked the best on-my-hands-and-knees-in-front-of-the-toilet catharsis yet.

3. Makeup. If I feel like shit on the inside, I can’t stand to look like shit on the outside. I try to take extra time to focus on the things I can control, like glowing skin and bright eyes. I love makeup, I love the art of makeup application, and I love how this simple act picks me up.

4. Writing. It’s like puking the contents of my head onto paper, and I swear it’s the greatest gift I was born with. No other physical act makes me feel better.

5. Fresh air. I need to leave my physical space when I feel like crap. I used to take my iPad to the cafe near by, but with the little Noodle as my constant companion, I can’t indulge in out-of-the-house writing excursions these days. Instead he and I are going to drag daddy out to the new diner around the corner for lunch where I will sport my fresh and dewy face, indulge in a milkshake, and try to not feel like such an asshole.

If I have these wonderful people in my life who say they love me, and who are trying to build a world with me in it I can’t be so horrible, right? Is it shame that I feel in the face of making them hurt or feel frustrated and disappointed in me? Why can’t I let myself make mistakes and be a ‘work in progress’? Why can’t I just say “Yeah, that IS shitty, let’s fix it” instead of wanting to run away and hide?

I used to question the logic of  my friends who would start therapy and then quit, but now that we’ve scraped well beyond the surface and am digging into the meat of my psyche I can totally understand the impulse to stop the process. I won’t though. Somewhere beyond all of this crap-ass feeling is the realization that I (and all of those I love) will be better for it. Somewhere my mind knows that crying like a maniac is actually better for me than going all stony and hard so I don’t have to feel things. Therapy is best approached like a very sticky bandaid – get in there, rip it off, and deal with the pain rather than gingerly peel it back, or see if it will eventually fall off in the shower. That last one always ends up a dirty, stinky mess, doesn’t it?

Spring time goal: getting rid of the hard candy shell to enjoy the gooey centre.

Breastfeeding Sucks

Noah shares his thoughts on the breastfeeding experience thus far.

Noah shares his thoughts on the breastfeeding experience thus far.

The following post is a detailed account of my initial experiences with breastfeeding. Skip this if you’re squeamish.

Glossary (for the non-baby-having readers)

Nipple: The little nub at the end of a breast. Usually two, in my case this became four

Areola: The area surrounding the nipple. Slightly darker than the skin of the breast unless you go all National Geographic like I did and end up with what look like deli slices

Latching on: The act of baby positioning himself on areola and drawing nipple all the way back to his soft palate without choking, bucking, coughing, punching or biting you

Let Down and/or Milk Ejection Reflex: The hormonal response of the milk ducts releasing milk after stimulation, usually from looking at your baby, or hearing your baby cry. In my case this reflex is triggered by; the wind, getting out of the shower, getting into the shower, hearing my kids fight, watching sad TV, singing or hearing other people sing, drinking hot liquids, looking at pictures of kittens, smelling baked goods, thinking about my feelings of failure, laughing really hard, and Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Lanolin: A natural ointment made from sheep oil to coat your nipples post-feeding and keep them from cracking. This product has been udderly (hahah) useless to me until only this week. It also happens to be the best lip balm I’ve ever used.

APNO: All Purpose Nipple Ointment is a prescription nipple cream to be used post-feeding that contains antibiotics, a steroid, Ibuprofen, and an antifungal but is somehow still safe for baby. Developed by Toronto breastfeeding god Dr. Jack Newman, this shit has saved us from formula feeding thus far.

Breast Pads: Highly absorbent disposable pads with an adhesive backing to line one’s bra and catch leaking milk.

Nipple Shields: A thin piece of silicone shaped like a nipple that covers the nipple like a little dome while breastfeeding allowing milk to flow through and providing the nipple with protection.

Standing here at the almost-two-month mark of new motherhood, I have often remarked that I wish someone had been completely frank about the various challenges I might face in pregnancy, labor, and with a newborn. I’m not sure yet if some of my mommy friends were seriously sugar-coating their experiences, or if we all hit a point where we find a rhythm, the pain goes away, and we are left with such baby bliss that all of the serious bullshit feels like a fuzzy memory. Whatever the case, I’ve taken it upon myself to share in candid detail some of my early postpartum pitfalls because I’m the kind of person who likes to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Breastfeeding has been the suckiest experience of motherhood thus far.

Today my son is nearly seven weeks old, it’s Friday, and we’ve had three largely pain-free days of breastfeeding. This feels nothing short of a miracle. Notice that I haven’t said that these days were free of mess or horrifically awkward attempts at the so-called “womanly art” of feeding. Each attempt continues to be a frothy, violent, milk-soaked debacle unless I catch baby at just the right semi-sleepy moment. I must also be armed with an arsenal of props that includes bibs, burp cloths, saline solution, lanolin cream and super absorbent breast pads. We still feel very far from being able to pull this off in public with any degree of grace, but I’m grateful that we’re making little steps forward.

If you read my birth story, you’ll know that we had a very short hospital stay. In the moment, I was happy to be sprung early and sent home. In hindsight those additional 24 hours probably would have saved us from the agony to come because we would have been granted a visit by the lactation consultant on staff.

I should have realized we were headed for trouble when my very first attempts at breastfeeding left me with dark purple hickies on the tips of my nipples. Feeding didn’t feel exactly comfortable at first, it was quite pinchy, but I thought I was doing everything right. I bathed my nipples in naturally antibiotic breast milk and slathered them with some lanolin after each feeding. Despite these efforts, those purple hickies eventually became deep, bloody cracks. The cracks scabbed over because I was trying to be topless as much as possible, as per the Dr. Jack Newman website (this guy is supposed to be THE authority on breastfeeding) and thus, each time we fed, the scabs were ripped off afresh.

Soon the pain became unbearable. My nipples were red and inflamed, and I was popping Advil like some kind of junkie. This coincided with when my surge of postpartum hormones kicked in, and so I began to spiral downward into despair. With each attempt at feeding, I’d be in tears of pain and frustration. The baby would be stressed out. I would be swearing and sweating profusely. Our existing children looked on in horror. I felt like such a failure, and I was beginning to worry that I was doing permanent liver damage with all of that Ibuprofen. Showering felt like I was being slashed with razors and life was pretty damn miserable. Each night at about 8pm after the girls were in bed, I’d sit in the bathroom (having a sitz bath for my stitches) and sob. I really began to fear that this was the new normal but I was determined not to give up.

I showed our midwives the state of my nipples. Strangely, they didn’t have much to say about it beyond advising me to keep working on the latch. On a day when they were particularly awful (my nipples, not the midwives) the midwife who came for my home visit witnessed the horror, but nobody bothered to call me and follow up. This was about the time that my lovely next-door neighbour, a fellow mom told me about the Jack Newman all-purpose nipple ointment. This cream was apparently a miracle, but only certain pharmacies could concoct it, and it required a prescription. One of the moms at school who had been noticing my Facebook posts about breastfeeding let Nekky know that our neighborhood pharmacy could dispense the APNO. I called my midwives immediately and asked for a script, wondering with more than a little irritation why they hadn’t thought to mention this remedy to me. Hours later, when I had the cream, the irritation I felt with my midwives turned to anger as I realized how immediate the relief was. I was moments away from deciding breastfeeding was impossible, but this cream made all of the difference. Each new mom should be handed a script for the APNO before they get their baby because once you need it, you need it urgently.

Noah and I soldiered on for a week, using the APNO cream, but then the pain started to return. My nipples were so deeply cracked at this point that it looked as though I had four of them. The breast pump finally came out, and Noah was introduced to the bottle. He was still getting breast milk, but now there was an extra step. I was terrified that this meant he wouldn’t take the breast again. This also meant I was pumping all day long, and god forbid if I had anywhere else to be. A busy day meant I’d be up late into the night pumping to make sure all of our feedings were covered. I was also super emotional, and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t feed the baby the way I wanted to, so I was incredibly sensitive about the idea of anyone else bottle feeding Noah. Luckily, my partners were wonderfully supportive with this, and helped me explain over and over again to the kids why this was still a job for Mama C, even though it looked like something they could do.

I made a follow up appointment with the lactation nurse. She said she hadn’t seen nipples so bad in all of her eighteen years, and said she had no idea what I should do. I made her watch us latch. Part of my problem was panicking a little as the baby began to freak out with hungry wailing. I wasn’t patient enough to wait for him to present a nice, wide open mouth and was latching him on with too shallow a latch. I was also letting him hang out and pacify, which is great with healthy nipples because it stimulates milk supply, but in my case was bad news. The baby would grow sleepy while pacifying and would slip in his latch, resulting in a painful pinching. The lactation nurse recommended I try nipple shields, which were horribly awkward and painful to use. She agreed that if those didn’t work I should continue pumping exclusively until my nipples healed. I did this for two weeks. Then after two days of trying my left breast, then having to quit again I finally called my local chapter of La Leche League, the non-profit breastfeeding advocacy support group.

Ladies, if you’re having any trouble at all, or feeling remotely uncertain about feeding, don’t wait to ask for help, and go straight to the pros at La Leche League. I should have called them the second I noticed nipple hickies. They were quick to return my call, and the volunteer I spoke to was very sympathetic and encouraging. She emailed me some amazing resources, including the awesome Kelly Mom website and she also sent the dates for the next La Leche League meetings. They are next week, and I’m going to attend. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The thing that finally did it for me and got us breastfeeding successfully was moist wound healing. It sounds gross, doesn’t it? Its actually quite simple, and amazing. I quit the APNO and instead mixed up a simple saline solution. By this point my nipples were looking and feeling much better, and I made sure to have some milk stored in the fridge just in case. After each feeding I bathed each nipple in the saline solution for about a minute per side. The instructions recommended using warm saline, but I eventually settled with room temperature. After the saline rinse, I expressed a little milk with which I coated each nipple, and when this was almost dry, I applied a moderate amount of lanolin. This is working like a dream.

The Kelly Mom site also showed me how to latch. There I read the very sensible advice that all people, babies and nipples are different and so the “correct” latch is the one that feels the best for you. I tried the asymmetrical method where the nipple teases the baby’s top lip and then the baby is brought with an open mouth to touch bottom lip to the bottom of the areola and the nipple slides in after. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Here’s more detail if you’re interested. My midwives and the lactation nurse were showing me a method where the baby is jammed onto the nipple in a more centered position and that really just wasn’t working for me. I felt a bit dismayed when I realized that this asymmetrical latch is what I tried first with Noah, which the midwives quickly “corrected”.

Kelly Mom also gave me an obvious, but very helpful method for dealing with my overactive milk let down which would usually choke baby and have him violently thrash about with my nipple still in his mouth. After latching him asymmetrically in a cross-cradle fashion, I seat him upright instead of have him lie in my arms. Gravity helps with swallowing – something you don’t think about when everything else is going wrong.

I’m lucky that this baby can move smoothly from breast, to bottle to pacifier. I’m lucky that I’m producing too much milk instead of not enough. I’m lucky that I’m anatomically structured well for breastfeeding and that the baby is also built to eat this way. I’m lucky to have great resources available. If I weren’t so damn stubborn I may have thrown in the towel, but I really wanted to breastfeed this baby as long as I can, and I didn’t want to give up.

That’s the advice I’d give to new moms; stick with it and prepare for the worst. I’m sure most people have a much easier experience with navigating breastfeeding, but I find it so helpful to know that there are many of us for whom this so-called “natural” act seems impossible. Hopefully by sharing our experiences and resources we can all get to a place where everything is working just the way we’d hoped.