Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Waxing, Weaning

As I sipped my morning coffee, my sixteen month old daughter nudged my leg and handed me the instructional manual for my breast pump. I don't know how she ever got her hands on it, but like so many innocuous household objects it's become one of her cherished "found" toys. And she wasn't content to have me say, "Thank you," before promptly handing it back. She actually wanted me to read it to her. "Okay," I said as I pulled her to my lap, "here goes-"

"Congratulations on your new Swing breastpump! Swing is small and lightweight, and easy to carry anywhere. Swing is a single electric pump ideal for..."

I paused, expecting her to demand some other form of amusement. She remained still, her eyes fixed upon the page. I continued, describing the various pump features, as well as the scientific basis behind their patented two phase expression technology. Her attention was steady.

Then we got to the diagram - motor unit, body, breast shield, tubing, valve, membrane, etc. That was when she began to lose interest, just as I was overtaken by bittersweet nostalgia. I remembered the first time I assembled the pump, when that diagram overwhelmed my sleep-deprived brain. Everything is new when your only child is seven weeks old because their growth outpaces the establishment of standards. All that change, all at once... it's terrifying. I distinctly recall sitting in the wicker chair across from the Christmas tree, stunned to see the three ounces of milk I'd just expressed, then realizing I hadn't sterilized the equipment as I should have. In other words, I had to dump it. Considering the many pints I've pumped since then it seems silly that I cried, but I felt so incredibly frustrated. Why didn't I read the entire manual first? Or had I? I couldn't remember.

And here I am now, missing that moment. Okay, not exactly. That moment was bad. If there was one constant in her little life, one touchstone to organize those wild, unscheduled days, it was her breastfeeding patterns. When she called, I responded, and my body was always ready. Suddenly, there was this other element. What about those three wasted ounces? Would my breasts be ready the next time? What if they weren't and what if she kept crying and then what??

Turns out, I was ready. She was fine. I learned how to manage the pump and it quickly became my reliable sidekick. Through it, I fully embraced my role as a milk machine. I was good at making baby food! I even researched wet nursing, wondering if I'd missed my calling by a couple hundred years. When I think back on the early months of 2012, it's mostly a nursing blur - feedings punctuated by circular walks around the house and Beatles karaoke, pumping during episodes of "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" as she napped in her vibrating chair, eating, drinking water, feeding some more. My life centered around lactation. I don't remember many of the details. Why should I? It was such a simple existence.

It is now a year later. She feeds once in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon, too. Approaching the end feels weird, though I'm honestly surprised weaning is even mildly mournful. I never understood when other moms talked about missing it, especially in the beginning when I was feeding her twelve times a day. "This sucks," I thought. "Ha ha. No, really. I'm glad I'm nourishing her and that I have the opportunity to make this the center of my life for six months, but why would anyone long for this? I can't leave her for more than a couple hours. I leak. I have to wear a bra and nursing pads 24/7. There's this mini person appendage stuck to my chest half the day. It's just plain bizarre." Of course it got easier, less demanding. But even now, I wonder if I experience the loss the same way other women do. I agree that the sense of intimacy is like no other human relationship and I'll always cherish that memory. But I enjoy physical autonomy and a quick morning session to her occasional hour long jamborees. It isn't the cuddliness I miss so much, I get that in other ways. And geez, it isn't the hormonal shifts, either. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are like puberty with perspective. It's disturbing enough going through all those emotions without having the rational wherewithal to know such feelings have nothing to do with the external events of your existence.

I suppose I miss nursing for the noble endeavor it was. I've never operated with such a clear purpose or felt more needed. I'm not an especially altruistic person. I enjoy being helpful in little ways, but I don't do much to better the lot of humanity. Given that, it's still crazy to me that for her first half year, my daughter's entire sustenance came from my mammary. I don't intend to have that experience again, but I'm so grateful I had it once. Motherhood seems to be making me a better person. Perhaps that utter submission to her need was part of my improvement.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My P90Xistence

In a recent blog post about being an introvert, I mentioned a three-day-a-week P90X fitness class I was attending at the time. I wrote about sticking out in that mostly housewife crowd but still managing to find a pleasant bubble of solitude in the far back corner of the gym. I persevered despite my general discomfort with big group dynamics.

But now that my February class is over, I can't deny that the group experience itself benefitted me in my winding road toward a state of better health. Being a reformed gym class loser, the kid who never tried and was always picked last for team sports, I never imagined myself willingly partaking in a communal fitness endeavor. Had I inexhaustible funds at my disposal, I would certainly prefer to hire a personal trainer and have them run me ragged every day instead. Alas, that is not my situation. I have, however, worked with trainers on a very occasional basis, the first of whom was Mr. T (not the one from the A-Team, though I'm sure he'd appreciate the reference). He easily convinced me that taking this course would be a good idea. When I think of him, I'm reminded of Liz Lemon's response to a question about her religion - "I pretty much do whatever Oprah tells me to." T is my fitness Oprah. I trust whatever he says is right and follow his lead. He works his students very hard but he's also a positive, funny, precise communicator who has never once told me how I should eat. He's the best.

I attended his first P90X session in the fall, which was just two days a week at 6am. It was an undeniable ass-kicker, especially because it required a 4:45am alarm. But the February session was much tougher. There were more people, with a dozen regular attendees instead of just two or three. Some of these ladies were mega fit, so naturally T was going to push past their ability. Also, everyone was more awake at 9am. I could immediately see that the bar was set much higher.

This is beside the fact that the P90X system is quite rigorous and always painful by design. It's an ever changing mix of cardio, core and weight training, which prevents you from developing muscle memory. The worst thing about it was that I always felt sore. The best thing about it was that I felt ten times more agile after the first two weeks and I never know what to expect. It would definitely be torture, but there's much to be said for the element of surprise. I didn't know what to dread.

Another weird perk is that it humbles nearly everyone. No matter how fit you are, you probably suck at some aspect of this system. I don't even mean that out of spite. I truly admire the rare individual who can approach every exercise with grace and ease. There's one woman in the class who was such a goddamn powerhouse, I overheard her describe it to a non-attendee as "fun" and not fun like, "Oh my god we just went skydiving and it was so fun!" more like, "Yeah, I ate some cotton candy at the carnival. It was fun." I don't think anything was too tough for her, but that just made her an ideal model. She usually stood in front of me and I always looked to her for some notion of proper form.

But for everyone else, there was some degree of struggle and for most of us it was intense. There's something comforting in hearing five other people grunt "Ugh!" just as you feel your body collapse. We were like war buddies, our bonds forged in battle against our own decrepitude. And BONUS - sometimes, I wasn't even the worst at some exercise. I can't tell you how exciting that was for me. I don't mean that as a dis to the person who struggled more than I did. I'm seriously okay with being the worst all the time, it was just exciting to be in that unexpected place of relative superiority because it has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE.

The only activities I passionately hated were sprinting and monkey drills, which are weird, sideways, squatty, jumpy things we would do across the gymnasium floor. While one half of the group did wall sits, the other half did drills. When it was my turn for the latter, I was always last. The wall sitters couldn't quit until I got to the finish line, which made me self conscious and gave me awful flashbacks to elementary school. But there's a big difference between then and now. I actually try now. I don't mind looking like a jackass and I don't think anyone resents my inability. It was a good opportunity to face a neurotic fear.

I've been extremely pleased with the results, though they're difficult to communicate in metrics. I don't pay much attention to my weight. It's somewhat irrelevant when I'm building muscles. I can say my belt is looser. My limbs are stronger. My belly is flatter and I have more energy. My body feels like a tighter, more efficient operation and I love it. This sense of vitality is something I want to feel more, and all the time. But it only comes with hard work.

So that was my February. I'm skipping the March session as my upcoming travel plans make it impractical. Returning to the April class will be the perfect 36th birthday gift to myself. In the meantime, I've implemented a strict five-day-a-week schedule that combines a weight and cardio workout at the gym with core workouts at home. I have to exercise that often to make up for the relative ease of my regimen. With T at the helm, the group environment is inevitably more challenging. I don't yet have the knowledge and discipline to push myself that hard all on my own, but I'm trying to get to that point. I'm excited for this month of solitude because it's good for me. Embracing the benefits of group support was a crucial step in this fitness journey. Taking responsibility for my education and diligence is the next step.