Nursing Nightmare and My Bovine Period

Before I made the transition to becoming a Panda Mom, I had to go through a brief period where I morphed into a cow. Yes, kind of like Bessie. I call it the Bovine Period of my life.

Shortly after giving birth, my body began the amazing process of making milk. Although my mother raised me on bottles — not judging here; it was the trend back in the day — I was going to do this The Natural and God-Ordained Way. I was going to nurse my babies to perfect health and high intelligence, because every literature I read while pregnant (oh boy, did I read a lot of books on what to expect!) indicated that nursing was far superior to bottle feeding. I was going to do this right because, well, I was going to be an all-around superior mom. A Tiger Mom.

Within 24 hours after delivery, I began to lactate. I was happy to be able to make milk, because some mothers have difficulties making enough of it. There was no mistaking that I was making plenty of milk. I was ready. I sat down at the comfy sofa, I opened my book to the chapter about nursing and, following the pictures and directions on the page, I shoved my baby’s face right onto my mammary glands. Latching, I believe they called it.

A major problem immediately cropped up. This baby was no good at latching at all! He had no idea what to do with this thing on his face. He immediately began to cry. “Come on, sweetie, you just have to latch on and suck on Mommy,” I begged. He looked at me through his tears as if to say, “What are you doing to me?” and continued wailing. I sensed a slight bit of resentment well up within me towards the rogue nurses at the hospital who slipped a few sips from a bottle to my newborn while I tried to get some sleep. They ruined my baby’s sucking mechanism, I suspected.

I went down the check list in the chapter addressing common problems with nursing a newborn, but to no avail. In all the pictures and descriptions in my many sources, the babies looked content and the mothers smiling. None showed a wailing newborn and a disheveled mother looking desperate, which was exactly how we looked and felt. No matter what I tried, He just couldn’t latch on very well, and he certainly was not very good at sucking. He really tried to get some nourishment but could only manage a few drops. After several tries, he was getting hungry and frustrated and so was I. Ironically, in spite of the fact that the baby was not getting out much milk from me, my body didn’t get the memo and steadily continued to manufacture milk at about a gallon per hour. I felt ready to explode.

We had only been home from the hospital for a short while when it became apparent that we needed some help immediately. My doctor husband looked at our baby’s skin and declared that our son is looking jaundiced. “But he’s an Asian baby, honey,” I tried to reason through my own tears. “He’s not eating and his bilirubin count must be getting too high,” my husband said. Who is Billy Ruben? And what does this have to do with my baby not eating enough?

“We have to get him to the lactation consultant at the hospital!” With that, he whisked me and our newborn back to the hospital to get some help. I had heard of lactation nurses and consultants before, but I couldn’t believe I was going to be needing their help. This should all come very natural to us moms, right?

A fifty-something woman with a German accent and a reassuring smile came in to the exam room. “Let’s see what’s going on here.” She took one look at my baby and exclaimed, “Oh, he is so jaundiced!” Billy Ruben was letting me down again, and I felt like a major failure as a mother. I could hardly think, as my brain was quickly filling up with milk. I think even my tears had a hint of that creamy white substance.

“I see he’s having trouble getting out your milk. Tell me sweetheart, do you have a reason why you might have trouble nursing?” Uh-oh, I’m getting interrogated.

“Have you had breast cancer?” Thankfully, no breast cancer. And no family history, either.

Any injuries to your breasts?” No, not that I can remember.

“Breast augmentation?”

Under normal circumstances, one look at my flat chest would immediately render that question moot, but at that moment I had two water balloon-like knockers on my front, ready to pop. Before I could think this through, however, I uttered the only answer which came to my completely altered, milk-soaked mind:

No, but my sister has.”

Family history. That must be it! That’s the reason why I’m having trouble nursing my baby! I had to blame this nursing nightmare on something…anything.

The lactation consultant only gave me a faint smile but didn’t flinch. In her many years in the biz, she probably had heard just about everything. She gently guided me and the baby to become a better nursing pair, and she also reassured me that it’s okay to use the bottle on occasion. In fact, it was imperative in this situation to bottle feed for a while until he worked through his problem with jaundice.

What? Bottles are okay? I’m not a failure as a mom if I use it?

Another opportunity to lower my standards, even just a little. Another life lesson in letting go of my expectations, well-intentioned though they might be.

Thus began what eventually turned out to be a successful and long season of nursing my baby. After some coaxing, he did eventually figure out how to latch on, although he continued to be a very inefficient sucker. More on that later. Half the problem might have been my own, because when I allowed the bottle into my “All Nursing, All the Time” mindset, I actually began to relax a little, just enough for the baby to also relax…and latch on.

Little did I know that this was only one in a long series of lessons in letting go of my expectations for my kids. This is why I now look back fondly on my Bovine Period as a very important transition time on my eventual journey towards becoming a full-fledged Panda Mom.

It all started with the Apgar scores

I wasn’t always a Panda Mom.

Anyone who knew me before I became a mom would definitely have predicted that I would one day be your quintessential Tiger Mom.  Most of my school-era friends would attest to the fact that I was driven.  I was a perfectionist.  I got good grades and ran for student government.  I then went off to college and worked hard for my degree.  Then I worked hard in my career, plotting towards my goals.  I wore panty hose and dry clean-only clothes.  I actually began and completed many tasks.  In fact, I followed my to-do list which I made in the morning, and I crossed everything off by night time.   I demanded a lot of myself, and I suppose I demanded a lot from others as well.

My husband is also accomplished in his career and has worked hard most of his life to achieve his goals.   He was a valedictorian at his high school.  In college, he was so single-minded in his academics that his dorm mates called him a “study animal.”  He is as much of a perfectionist as I am, perhaps even more so.

This is why we would have expected our firstborn to receive perfect 10s on his Apgar scores, both at 1 minute and 5 minutes.  After all, David and I both scored high in most standardized tests, so why not our baby?  I pictured nurses and doctors all holding up signs with a big “10″ written on them and rejoicing with us as I effortlessly popped this baby out.  I fully planned to mention his high Apgar scores on his college applications alongside his SAT and GPA; I was sure that there was some sort of a correlation between your Apgars and your credit scores.

I had a very smooth pregnancy and was healthy and glowing for 9 months.  There was no reason to think that this newborn would be anything but…perfect.

But then it happened.  He came out all blue!  Deduct one point.  The staff whisked away my just-delivered bundle and began working on him.  I heard the doctor slapping him around and saying, “Come on, come on, breathe!”   Deduct one point.  A few seconds later, I heard the sweet sound of this baby’s very first cry, but it took a few seconds too long.  Deduct another point.  The judges took away yet another point on some technicality, and the final score at the first minute was only a six.

Of course at that point, I did not care one iota about the darn Apgar score; I just wanted this kid to get some oxygen in his brain so that he could someday learn to walk, talk, and eventually live a normal and productive life here on earth.  At the moment, I could care less what college he went to or that he ever became the student body president.  All I cared was that this poor little thing would simply be…normal.

(This was the first sign that maybe, just maybe, I was letting go of some ridiculous standards I had set for my offspring.)

A few minutes later, the doctor determined that his Apgar scores had gone up to an eight.  Eight?  Well, that’s a very respectable and solid B!  As he handed us this sweet little bundle, he said, “We were worried there for the first couple of minutes, but I think he’s going to be just fine.  He’s beautiful.”

The doctor was right — he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and I was completely overwhelmed by love for this child.  It was immediate, and I knew it was permanent.  Nothing was going to change that — no, not even low Apgar scores, SATs, nor credit scores.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love…”  Since becoming a parent, I have gotten a much clearer picture of what that means.  It also opened my eyes to the fact that I did a whole lot of striving in my life in an effort to please God, when in fact He was already completely pleased with me, with or without my accomplishments.  I was similarly head over heels in love with this little baby who simply existed, accomplishing nothing (except a whole lot of pee and poop).  Could it be true that God actually loves me this much, too?  Maybe more?  Yup.

On that day, this mother who once resembled a tiger slowly began the slow process of morphing into a panda.

And it all began with the Apgar scores…

The Bilingual Dilemma

“Mommy, why didn’t you teach us Japanese when we were younger?”

“Yeah, why didn’t you talk to us in Japanese when we were babies so we could learn to speak it like my friends at school whose moms are Japanese?”

 Why didn’t I, indeed?  I am certain that if I had spoken to our kids exclusively in Japanese as babies, they would have become native speakers of the language by now.  It wouldn’t be a foreign language to them, which is how they view Japanese in spite of the fact that they’ve been enrolled in Japanese school once a week since they were each in kindergarten.  The word they know the best? “Shizukani! Be quiet!” the term they most often hear from their Japanese teacher during their 90-minute weekly class.

We do have friends who spoke their native language exclusively to their babies, which requires some diligence and patience, as these kids often become late talkers.  Gulp – who would wish that on their baby?  But from what I understand, eventually they do open their mouths and start speaking…in their mother’s native tongue!  They also pick up English just by being immersed in it, and the end result is a bilingual baby.  In fact, we know one couple who spoke two different languages, and they did this experiment on their child with the amazing result: their child is trilingual!

I’m ashamed to admit that our children also could have been trilingual, as David speaks Cantonese and I speak Japanese.  However, we both emigrated from our respective countries when we were fairly young – 8 years old – so that English has really become our primary language, particularly around our household.  It just would be odd for me to be talking to our babies in halting Japanese.  But perhaps I should have, anyway.  Babies wouldn’t know that I was speaking in baby Japanese.  Now the window of opportunity has passed, and they will forever lead their doomed life speaking in only one tongue, English, all because their mother failed.  Big time.

I must admit that life was crazy when we had two very young children at our home, and we were simply trying to make it day by day.  Yes, we were in survival mode!  If I could fit in a shower and some sleep between all the diaper changes, I was good.  Are the kids breathing?  Check.  Are they clean?  Check.  Are they fed?  Yes.  The last thing I needed was the added stress of trying to talk to my babies in my no-longer-native language.  In addition, the thought of having a slow speaker was scary enough.  Even this Panda Mom has a little tiger left in her.  All of my friends’ babies were reaching their mile stones at a much faster rate than our child – sleeping through the night, rolling over, crawling, sitting up, walking, etc.  I couldn’t imagine delaying our kids in this major milestone, one of the most basic skills that a human could possess: speaking.  No way!

All that amounted to our kids now blaming us for not raising them with multilingual skills.  I do take solace in the fact that a) I learned English late, yet I now sound like a native, and b) I know quite a few Caucasians who decided to learn Japanese later in life and have succeeded.  Many of our missionary friends, for example, now speak much better Japanese than even I do, and they didn’t get started until college or even later!  Therefore, I reason, if my kids eventually want to become native Japanese or Cantonese speakers, they can become missionaries and go live in Tokyo or Hong Kong and learn the language themselves.

They do speak English quite well, sometimes too well now that they are entering their teenage years.  We’re just pleased that they are basically well-adjusted young people who can communicate and express themselves just fine.

I’m obviously not a Tiger Mom.  I’m just glad they were eventually potty trained, and now I get enough sleep at night.  That’s good enough for this Panda!