Monday, March 17, 2014

The Milk of Human Kindness

          Got milk? You'd better. Milk is the most essential aspect of this whole baby business. And, as you may know, I'm not talking about that gallon of Grade-A-Vitamin-D you pull out of the fridge to put in your coffee or give to the cat. No, it's a little more complicated than that. And by "complicated" I mean inconvenient. We may be the top of the food chain, the alpha species, masters of the world, the pinnacle of creation and the image of God, but like the rats and the dogs we're still mammals and in at least one respect that sucks.

          Yep, we're talking mother's-milk here. Nursing. It's all the rage these days. Everyone is doing it. Pediatricians recommend it, in fact they practically insist upon it. And that has a big impact. In generations past young mothers relied on the advice of their own mothers when it came to baby care. Now they rely on the advice of pediatricians. That's all well and good but don't be surprised when your babies have their own babies and the doctors are giving them advice that is completely different from what they're giving to you. That's because their advice is based on the latest clinical study rather than experience. Science doesn't know everything. Still, I'm all for whatever is best for Kiley, and it seems only logical that the milk that comes from Mom would have the optimal amount of everything needed for a healthy baby. God engineered it that way through millions of years of evolution and who am I to argue with God or with Darwin for that matter. But what's best isn't always easy and there is a lot of downside to the mother's-milk equation.

          Essentially, it boils down to the logistics of it all. You can't just go out and buy a gallon at the ACME. (Though, now that I think of it, there might be a revolutionary, new business opportunity there. Some kind of farm would have to be involved. Hmmm, let me jot that down.) No, this is all home made stuff, a completely individualized commodity. In earlier times this was not a problem, in fact it was an advantage. Milk for the baby was always available, on tap. Conversely, the baby was always available for the milk. But that was when mothers were working in the home. Most of us can't afford to do that anymore, and mother and baby are routinely separated for long periods of time. (I haven't figured out who to blame for that yet, but I will.) Necessity being the mother of invention, the "pump" was born. So now we extract the precious substance through mechanical means, bottle it, and it goes along with the babies wherever they go. Ah, the modern age!

          Now, if that were all there was to it there wouldn't be much of a problem, but that's not all there is to it. Babies run on milk the way that our civilization runs on oil. And, as with every other commodity, there needs to be a balance between supply and demand. When the demand for a commodity exceeds the supply the price goes up. With Saudi Arabian crude that price is delineated in "dollars", with mother's-milk it's delineated in "cranky-baby".  

          Unfortunately, I've found that, quite often, demand is greater than supply. Babies are always hungry and mother's milk doesn't seem to go very far. It's not the same as whole milk. Maybe it's my imagination, but it even looks a little thin – unsubstantial. Kiley's mother sends me enough milk for her to drink four bottles per day, one every three hours. That's her feeding schedule at home and her mother wants me to maintain that schedule when Kiley is with me. And though this seems like it should be enough, sometimes it doesn't seem to be enough. Kiley always wants the bottle. Usually, when she's not sleeping she wants to eat, and when I don't feed her when she wants it she rebels. Still, it is important to keep babies on a feeding schedule. If you let them, they would "graze" all day long like cattle, and that is the road to a fat baby.

          But it's a problem. Some days I spend most of my time "holding her off" in any way I can until the next appointed feeding time and this is not always easy to do. I play with her and give her the binky. I sing to her and give her the binky. I put on Mickey Mouse and give her the binky. I dance her around the kitchen, I walk her up and down the hallway, I put her in the stroller and push her up and down the hallway and I give her the binky. I do everything I can think of to distract her until feeding time, but as the hour approaches my strategy becomes less and less effective until nothing will calm her but the bottle and sometimes that moment arrives as much as an hour before feeding time. If I feed her too early then the time until her next feeding is even longer and harder to manage. When I put her down for a nap I pray that she sleeps good and long because that gets her closer to her next feeding. If she wakes early I've got a problem. These days managing milk is sometimes the hardest part of a caregiver's job.

          It wasn't always this way. Back in the early seventies, when I was first becoming a mother, no one breast fed. It just wasn't done. We were modern girls raised in the scientific age and science was always making life progressively easier. When they asked you in the maternity ward if you were going to breast feed, you looked at them like they were speaking a foreign language. 'Breast feed? What is this the dark ages? How barbaric! Next you'll expect me to take my wash down to the river and pound it on the rocks. Nobody has breast fed since Buddy Holly died. Breast feed? Hell no, give me the shot!'

          Why would anyone breast feed when we had baby formula "scientifically formulated for maximum infant nutrition"? Wonder liquids with scientific sounding and vaguely suggestive names like Similac (similar to lactation) and Enfamil (infant meal). Pediatricians recommended it, in fact they practically insisted on it. (Sound familiar?) And it was so easy! We fed them formula for the first three months then, boom! right to whole milk. Not satisfied with that, we mixed baby cereal in with the milk until it was the consistency of loose oatmeal, cut the hole in the nipple bigger and let them go to town. That stuck to the ribs, yeah boy, and oh did they sleep good!

          But those days are gone, at least for now. It may swing back around again, these things usually do. There are few things more transitory than pediatric wisdom. But for now its mother's milk all the way, though I must admit slipping a little whole milk in there now and then sounds pretty tempting, if only to create a quiet afternoon. But I'm not Kiley's mother. I'm just her "Nan". Her mother wants her to be raised a certain way and when it comes to Kiley her mother's word is law. There is nothing more "ours" than our children and to go against the wishes of Kiley's mother in this, or anything else concerning Kiley, would be a betrayal unworthy of women who respect each other.

          So fire-up the pump and keep it coming. I can hear that baby's stomach growling from here. Before we know it she'll be eating carrots and spinach in a high chair, then mac & cheese from her own spoon and a fistful of cheerios for a snack. Then it will be a lot easier to make her wait for lunch, but for now Kiley's still in control. She's calling the shots. The trouble is I think she knows she has me over a bottle, and she's milking that for everything it's worth. Wish me luck.


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