Preparing Myself for A Winter in Isolation

Yes, there is still a global pandemic happening, and yes, we are on the brink of cooler weather here in Canada. These two facts have got me a little terrified lately, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in love with my life and my family, but the prospect of being housebound for an entire Canadian winter (approximate length: Nov-April) with three children under school age is a little daunting, especially considering that Tom and I are struggled to keep our heads above the chaos for the last month even with both of us at home full-time.

The fear of him going back to work in mid October has been so intense that I’ve had to fight this past month to stay in the joy of the present moment. In an effort to alleviate some of the dread and anxiety I’ve felt about it, I’ve been trying to prepare myself in advance. For me this means two things: 1. coming up with a plan and 2. putting that plan into list form. Type A’s you feel me? So here are some ways I’m hoping to soften the blow.

Setting Myself Up for Success: on a very basic level, figure out what the most difficult parts of your day are. For me with two kids plus a newborn this is easy to figure out: I don’t have enough hands for the amount of kids I have! My challenges this winter will be feeding the kids (and myself) when I don’t have hands, and putting the newborn down for a nap (it can take a while, and the other two will be either destroying the house or standing outside the door screaming). To prepare, I’ve been focusing on stocking up on one-handed snacks and meals just like I did when I was in university. Overnight oats for breakfast and pre-made burritos and salad in a jar for lunch. I’m also preparing the kids lunchboxes the night before just like I would if they were going off to school, which saves me from having to think about feeding them during the day. This past week we’ve also attempted to get our one-month-old onto a (very loose) nap schedule (lol, a losing battle). Other than that I’m keeping expectations very low and as long as we make a small amount of progress over time I’ll be happy.

Giving Myself Something to Look Forward to (however minor): I’m an introvert and a homebody and I still find it depressing af to have what I call “empty day timer syndrome” (aka nothing to look forward to for an entire winter except for maybe a chat with a public health nurse when the baby goes for her 2 month shots). Ideas could include: a nice morning coffee ritual, date nights at home, a weekly rain-or-shine meet-up outdoors with a friend, a regular virtual coffee date with your mom, Saturday morning Starbucks, a new season of a favourite show, Sunday morning hikes, or outdoor bootcamp classes if you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere that’s on the warmer side in the winter. I’m making sure I have something small planned for each week; it’s nice to have a reason to do your makeup once in a while, even if it’s just for a Zoom hang.

Giving My Day Some Structure: since we have no kids in school or preschool this winter there is no structure whatsoever to our days, especially Monday to Friday while Tom is working. As much as we talk about kiddos thriving on routine I think I need it even more. I know that listlessness for me always seems to lead to sadness (boohoo!) so I try to carve out the most minimal of routines without putting too much pressure on myself (because the fourth trimester is tough enough). Taking the kids for a walk each morning, baking on Mondays, painting projects on Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays (just kidding, not really), movie nights on Pizza Fridays, just finding any way to keep the weeks tickin’ along!

Making Some (Regular!) Time for Myself: this is something I have previously been so bad at. Like..I haven’t done it yet and I’m on my third child. When I read the part of “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle where she talks about how our children need “a model not a martyr” it really resonated with me, but I haven’t put it into regular practice yet (I’ll blame pregnancy and postpartum for that). I have an appointment with my pelvic floor physio coming up and I’m hoping she’ll clear me to start running again – this activity, for me, is the holy grail combo of exercise + therapy (cardio is stress relief!) + getting out of the house (SAHM’s need time outside of the house) + no cost + pandemic friendly + can do it year-round.

Treating my SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder): I have always struggled with this, but I no longer “treat” it by going to a tanning salon (ugh! Can’t believe I used to do that so often!). I’m thinking about trying Light Therapy this year and maybe Vitamin D pills as well. Please let me know if you’ve made any strides treating SAD! I’d love to hear some success stories.

Practicing Gratitude (at least more often than I practice negativity): the focuses that we feed become bigger over time, and being thankful for what you’ve got is a practice that you can strengthen like a muscle. It can be stress-relieving to have a good rant once in a while but I’ve been trying not to get too caught up in all of the things I can’t do this winter and all of the negative aspects about this pandemic. During a really tough time in my life I started writing down 3 things I was grateful for in a little dollar store journal every day, and I highly recommend it for anyone who feels bogged down by negativity (it’s a practice I stole from Liz Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love”).

I’d love to hear any ways that you’re preparing yourself for the upcoming winter, especially if you also live in a place with a long winter! Hopefully we will all emerge in the spring time with our sanity intact, freshly vaccinated against Covid-19 and with good habits and wonderful tools for self care.

How to Support Your Breastfeeding Partner

Before I write this post I want to acknowledge that not everyone is able to breastfeed and a fed, loved baby is best. I can only speak about my own experiences so I’m never going to be able to write about pumping or bottle-feeding because those things just weren’t in the cards for me. So when I speak about breastfeeding it is never because I think anyone else’s decisions are wrong on uninformed, it’s just because it’s all I know. I’m also doing my best to use inclusive language here because not everyone with a uterus and milk ducts is a woman/mother, and not every partner is a man/father, so if you read “she” and “he” here sometimes, please know it pertains to anyone who might be fulfilling those roles.

The fact is that no matter who you are or how you feed your baby the first year is usually wrought with some sort of troubleshooting. Too much milk or too little, supply issues, schedules, allergies and intolerances, there’s just so much information out there and it can be super overwhelming, so always trust your gut instinct. I always defer to the KellyMom website for the best information but I’d highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant if you have serious issues that you need to work through. An LC helped me through Hennie’s reflux and diagnosed Wells’ oral ties when I was having recurring painful nipple blisters and clogged ducts. They really know their shit and if you run into problems and are absolutely determined to have a successful breastfeeding relationship it’s worth spending the money for a one-on-one consultation or attending a group workshop (once covid isn’t so prevalent). It’s much cheaper to hire an LC once than to pay for formula for a year! And again, I know this is a hot topic so let me reiterate that however you feed your family, I support you! There is a multitude of reasons why someone may not be able to or want to breastfeed and they are all valid.

The research shows though, that one of the biggest contributing factors to a successful breastfeeding journey, whatever that might look like for you personally, is having a partner who supports and encourages you in your breastfeeding relationship with your baby. You may have a whole village of supportive people around you but when the inevitable midnight struggles hit it’s generally your partner who is by your side. I have been extremely fortunate to have what I think is the absolute best husband in this regard. He is calm and confident as a parent and is weirdly naturally intuitive about breastfeeding for a man without breasts. So I’ve compiled a list of the many ways that he has continually supported me in my breastfeeding journey with three babies, just in case anyone out there wants to know how best they can support a breastfeeding parent.

  • STAY CALM. Like I said, my partner is nothing if not consistently calm, and this is a quality that I believe Is specifically important for breastfeeding. Babies take their emotional cues from those around them, so when mum gets frustrated while breastfeeding (and it will happen, in the first month and beyond) it can help to have a grounded, calm partner nearby to take the baby and calm him for a minute so everyone can gather their composure for another try.
  • STAY UP. At least in the first weeks as breastfeeding is being established, stay up with her and be there for moral support while she feeds the baby. She will be spending a LOT of time up in the night over the course of her breastfeeding journey and it can feel quite isolating. A little encouragement goes a long way. 
  • HYDRATE. Don’t ask your partner if they’re thirsty, just make sure there is water at their side whenever they’re feeding, especially in the first month when feeds can take a while. Breastfeeding requires heavy hydration and makes you so thirsty (and hungry for that matter). Keep the water and snacks close at hand, especially if your baby is the type to take a full 45 minutes to complete a feeding.
  • BE INFORMED. Read some research about breastfeeding. I was surprised at how important it was to Tom that our babies be breastfed if I was able. It turns out he had read about the medical (and magical!) benefits of breastmilk, like how babies receive the mother’s antibodies and immune system etc. I think if a partner knows the benefits of breastfeeding he or she is much more likely to encourage their spouse to continue.
  • LISTEN AND LEARN. Your partner has enough to focus on with their postpartum recovery, so when your midwife/doula/lactation consultant shares tips for breastfeeding or explains different breastfeeding positions, try to memorize them for when you need to remember them in the middle of the night. I can’t count the amount of times that Tom has corrected my position, pointed out a bad latch, or suggested I try something new that actually worked wonders. He has turned out to be much more intuitive than I’ve been with breastfeeding somehow (Rather than feeling emomsculated™ about this I actually love it. Y’all know I stan the crushing of gender norms).
  • STEP IN. When things are going poorly, ie when your partner and baby are both in tears or about to be, the best thing you can do is give them a minute to calm down before trying again. Tom always notices when I’m about to lose my cool. He asks to take the baby and will calm her down and give her back to me when she has stopped crying and I’m ready to try again. Then he sits beside me, quietly observing, and if he has an idea how to help he asks if I would like to hear a suggestion (lol, he’s so gentle with me postpartum when I’m at my snarkiest).

Where to Start:

  • I suggest learning what a GOOD LATCH looks like on day one from a maternity nurse, your midwife, doula, lactation consultant or any other care provider (they should all be able to tell you!). Please also know that if a latch looks good but doesn’t feel good, then it isn’t right. It’s normal to have sore nipples the first few days of nursing and sometimes when baby is cluster feeding but it isn’t normal to feel pain all the time. 
  • I’d also encourage you to get to know the BASIC HOLDS, which include the cradle hold, laid back position, football hold, and side-lying. There are lots more you can learn and some are especially suggested for certain ailments (like koala position for a baby with reflux or feeding laid back for a mama with hyper lactation issues like me). If you know the basics you can suggest a new one if your partner needs to change things up. 

Good luck, my friends!