Traveling without Baby, at Five Months

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Ducky with Littlest’s gift from Ireland, a sheep apparently named Daisy

Back when I was pregnant with Littlest, my colleague told me he was planning a trip to Ireland this year, including Northern Ireland and its Giant’s Causeway. I love Ireland, as I may have mentioned, and have been dying to go to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway for a few years. There were also some students I really love going on this trip. When I told J it was basically the trip of my dreams, he told me to go.

Of course when I said yes back in September to going, I hadn’t really thought out a couple of things. Number one: breastfeeding. Number two: How hard it would be to leave Littlest behind after carrying him in my tummy for nine months and then leaving his side only for work and the occasional coffee or rehearsal for five months.

1 As for breastfeeding, I tried to build up a stock of frozen breastmilk once I went back to work, by giving the nanny one less bag per day than I could have, and replacing that with formula. By the time I left, I had about thirty bags of milk in our downstairs freezer. Now, thirty bags of milk did not mean thirty full bottles, especially since he had upped his intake to about 200 ml/bottle the week I left. So he was drinking half and half. But J and I were both surprised that there was still milk left when I got home.

Unfortunately, some of it suffered from this weird lipase souring effect from the freezing, and Littlest (understandably) didn’t like the taste. So some of it went down the drain.

The other concern was keeping up my supply while traveling. I took my little handheld pump with me and pumped mostly in the bus toilets. It was NOT glamourous and often stank really bad. The good news is that your nose adjusts to bad smells pretty quickly. The other problem was being jerked around every time we went around a roundabout. All in all it will not have been my best pumping situation, and the hand pump took a long time. I also had to get up at 6:30 every morning to spend a half hour pumping. I’m still not sure my supply is as high as it was when I left, since pumping isn’t giving much this week—but I hope the coming weekend and vacation will set things right.

2 As for leaving Littlest, it was really hard. I wasn’t sad about it until the day before, which was my weekly day off with him. I took him on a new walk down by the village hall (where J and I got married), cuddled him lots, and sang him a new song about how he was sweet and giggly, which cracked him up. I got sadder and sadder as the evening went on. The following morning I had meant to keep him with me until I had to go to school at 9:30, but I ended up dropping him off at 9 because I realized I was just going to spend the whole time crying. I started to wonder if I was making the right choice, and had to remind myself that it was good for me to spend time without him, that J was a great dad, and that they would have a good time together bonding without me.

They did indeed have a good time bonding together without me, though I think J is happy I’m home, especially since Littlest has gone back to waking once most nights and the boob is way faster than the bottle. J said he spent a lot more time communicating and playing with Littlest than he does when all three of us are at home.

I got over the intense sadness within a day, though I continued to miss him all week and got really excited whenever J sent me a photo (at least twice a day). I bought Littlest some Ireland-themed onesies and a stuffed sheep (see photo). I pumped six times a day watching videos of him and dumped my hard-earned milk down the drain.

And then I came home. I’m not gonna lie, I was driving over the speed limit on my way home where I scooped him up in my arms and shed a few tears. He, on the other hand, was definitely mad and wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. I nursed him and put him to bed without getting a single smile!

The next morning things seemed slightly better, and by the time I picked him up to spend the afternoon with him, he was definitely thawing. By the end of the day I felt like I’d gotten my boy back, and I even feel a little reassured by his reaction, as though I know he felt my absence, the way I felt his.

I’ve noticed changes for him and J, as well, as though they’re closer now, and J likes to do things he didn’t usually insist on doing, like put him down for naps, and play with him while watching TV. So overall, I think it was good for us… and I’ll keep thinking that as long as my milk supply goes back up!

Ireland (with students)

I fulfilled a long-term wish of mine this past week and got to go back to Ireland. Traveling with students is always different from traveling on your own, though, and I don’t really feel like I got my fill, so I would really like to go back sometime in the not too distant future with my family.

Part of why I was so drawn to chaperoning this trip was that my colleague was taking us to Northern Ireland, where I had never been. In 2007 when I toured Ireland, Belfast wasn’t on my radar, but I heard good things about it. Since then I’ve started teaching about it to my tourism students so I’ve been dying to go.

I have to say it was pretty shocking. It’s probably naive, but what with the Good Friday Agreement and growing tourism in Northern Ireland, I just sort of figured things were sorting themselves out. We had a really excellent tour guide who took us out of the city center (where this stuff isn’t obvious) and into the segregated outskirts and basically explained that, no, things are NOT sorting themselves out, and in his opinion, won’t anytime soon. I am really glad I went and visited these places since I now feel much less ignorant on the matter, but it is a shame that they still exist.

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One of the murals seen through the bus window

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The gates that still close at night

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The peace wall, which keeps getting higher and higher

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Tourists write messages of peace all over it

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Our message

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In the Protestant area—imagine growing up with these images

We also spent an afternoon in Derry visiting the Bloody Sunday Museum, or, as it’s actually named, the Free Derry Museum, which was fascinating (one of our tour guides was the grandson of one of the men killed) and also made it clear that the wounds are still fresh.

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A mural near the Bloody Sunday Museum

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The iconic sign in Catholic Derry, which has been used to represent other civil rights movements (notably anti-apartheid, for example). This graffiti dated from the day before. Apparently the sign is often written on.

The Free Derry Museum is very moving, and it’s also growing and will be even more complete in the coming year.

We had some time for more un-controversional sightseeing too, including the Giant’s Causeway, and “down south” (as northerners seem to say), Glendalough.

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Glendalough

We ended the trip with a stop at the Dunbrody Project, which is a reconstruction of one of the “coffin ships” that took the Irish away from Ireland during the Potato Famine. This was especially touching for me since I know certain of my ancestors left Ireland at this time. The visit only takes about 45 minutes, but it gives a good idea of the desperate conditions on the ships and the extreme luck of those who survived to lead successful lives in the United States.

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Down below, in steerage (but the ships were so small, even first class was right nearby, and depressing)

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Hard to get the whole ship in one shot

It was a fascinating trip, full of new sights for me and a lot of insight into the current situation and the history of Ulster and Northern Ireland. But if I get the chance to go back anytime soon with J and Littlest, I’ll return to the southwest where I found Ireland to be at its most stunning and charming when I visited in 2007.

 

Pumping at Work, as a Teacher

Back when I was pregnant I was very confused about how pumping at work could possibly go. I knew employers in France were required by law to give you an (unpaid) hour to pump or breastfeed (if there’s a company nursery for example), but as a teacher, that’s a joke. I mean where exactly in your schedule are they going to slide that hour?

When I got my schedule last summer I immediately calculated which times I would theoretically have enough time to pump, not knowing yet how long it would really take or where I would be doing it. My schedule this year works out pretty well, in that I never have more than three hours of class in a row without a long break.

Here is how pumping, as a teacher in a lycée in France, has turned out.

Supplies

I got a prescription from my midwife the first week of Littlest’s life for a Medela Symphony double pump that I rent from the pharmacy. It’s 100% paid for by the sécu so I pay nothing. I did have to buy what they call the “kit,” which is the reusable plastic bits that hook onto the expensive machine, including two 5-ounce bottles.

I bought two milk coolers from Amazon. They’re really convenient and quite compact, with ice packs that fit in built-in pockets. They’re supposed to stay at fridge temperature for up to 8 hours.

I’m currently putting the milk into Avent brand plastic bags. I go through them quickly at three or four per day, so I’m hoping after the Ireland trip (when I won’t be freezing them anymore) to use mostly bottles.

I also bought a little plastic caddy to carry the kit pieces around when they’re dirty.

Finally, I bought some dish soap and a sponge.

I leave the pump, caddy, bags, sponge, soap, and kit in the pumping room, along with a big plastic bag and a ball point pen (for marking the bags). I leave a tall tupperware container on the counter of the teachers lounge kitchen space.

I also have lots of cute pictures of Littlest on my iPhone that I look at toward the beginning of each pumping session, because they’re supposed to help with let-down. I don’t think I actually need them, but they make me smile.

Timing

I pump three times a day for now, for twenty-ish minutes, during my breaks. Up till this last vacation I had class twice a week from 1:35 to 4:20, which meant I didn’t really have time to fit in a third pumping session before going to get the baby at 5. Fortunately since last vacation my schedule has changed just enough that I now pump in the morning, at noon or 1, and at 3:30.

It does take up a significant amount of my work time—about an hour. Fortunately I’m good at time management, but it’s true that it takes dedication.

Location

I now pump in an empty office near the teacher’s lounge, and one of the secretaries put a schedule on the door for me, so it says it’s reserved at the times I’m typically in there. (If I’m there at a different time, I put a heavy box in front of the door just in case.)

I use the teachers lounge fridge. I’ve got a tall tupperware container marked “Please do not touch” that I put the filled bags in during the day, in the fridge. I put my ice packs in the freezer compartment and leave the empty cooler on the counter where other people leave lunch boxes.

After pumping, I throw all the used plastic bits into the caddy, put them into a plastic bag, and put it in the fridge along with the bag I’ve just filled with milk. I then wash the kit parts in the bathroom sink after my last pumping of the day and leave them to dry on some paper towels in the empty office.

To and From 

So in the morning I arrive with an empty cooler, and put the ice packs in the freezer compartment of the lounge fridge. In the afternoon I take all the filled bags out of the tupperware container in the fridge and put them in my cooler, which I then take to the nanny’s, unless J is picking him up that day, in which case they go to her the next morning (hence the need for two coolers).

I do carry bags of breast milk to and from the teachers lounge and the empty office. No one seems to notice.

I am thrilled with this system and so happy it’s working out. Despite the laws in place to help breastfeeding moms, I think this could have turned out much more difficult. I wouldn’t have been too excited about trucking the pump back and forth every day, for example.

Off to Ireland!

Despite being so attached to my Irish roots that I basically named my firstborn for them, I have only been to Ireland once. It was a fantastic trip and I’ve wanted to go back ever since, of course, but we have so many travel goals that with one thing or another, I haven’t made it back.

Back in 2008 when I went to Ireland, I didn’t make it up to Northern Ireland, and since then, I’ve started teaching a unit on it in my post-bac classes. Teaching about Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway has of course only increased my wanderlust.

I wasn’t supposed to take a school trip this year. But when my colleague started telling me about his trip with the 11th graders, and I told J that it was basically the trip of my dreams, J told me to go for it.

So tomorrow I’ll be leaving my little Paddy to go see lots of other paddies, helping my colleagues take 50 students across the water and to Belfast, the Antrim Coast, Derry, Dublin, and Wexford.

I am so excited, and I hope my little sweetie won’t forget me by the time I get back, with maybe some Irishness rubbed off on me.

The Past Weeks

The past weeks have been pretty humdrum except that… wait for it… Littlest is sleeping through the night! I didn’t want to jinx it by saying anything, but it’s been almost two weeks now since he last woke to eat in the night, and he did four full nights before that last waking, so I think it’s his new thing. I really did not expect it this early, and was fully prepared to go on with the night nursing sessions for a while, but I’m certainly not complaining. It means he tends to wake a little earlier of course, around 6 or 7 am, but on the weekends we just put him back to bed because he needs more sleep than that anyway.

As parents I know there will always be the risk of a night-time awakening, be it a sick or teething baby, or a toddler tummy-ache, or a little kid nightmare. But I can almost not believe our luck that Littest is doing this.

Granted, Littlest was a truly crappy sleeper his first two months. If he hadn’t been so bad at it, I probably wouldn’t have put in place my strict 90-minute wake time rule (which has since reduced to 75 minutes!). Maybe in the end that routine helped. Or maybe it’s all in Littlest’s mysterious baby wiring and nothing we did has made any difference.

In other baby news, his current passion is trying to touch the diaper pack behind his head while being changed. It involves twisting almost onto his tummy and back behind the changing pad. It is way more interesting than his stuffed bunny though he does like to put him in his mouth. #goals

I leave for Ireland next Tuesday—ermagerd. I’m simultaneously excited and in denial about leaving Littlest behind. I counted all the frozen breast milk that’s in the freezer, and it made my hands really cold. There are only 29 bags which means how many bottles (not 29)? I don’t know, and I’m leaving J and the nanny to figure that out themselves.

Here’s this awesome video of an interview with Fatou Diomé. “Je n’ai pas peur de [Marine le Pen], c’est elle qui a peur de moi.” YES.

Welcome to French Bureaucracy, Little Boy

Back in January we went down to an off-site embassy day in Bordeaux and successfully applied for Littlest’s American passport, despite not having exactly the documents they wanted. We were able to e-mail them directly to the embassy that night.

The day before I had also applied for his French ID card, which went even more smoothly.

We did all this with pictures taken at home using smartphone apps, and printed off on photo quality paper at our home printer.

Today J finally ran into a classic hiccup of French bureaucracy: the guichet blocker.

All in all it was a super fun experience for him. He packed up Littlest at 10, drove into down, parked at the parking garage, and ran into two elevators that were out of service. So first he wasted a few minutes crossing the parking garage with the stroller to find the one working elevator.

Then he got to their appointment and learned that the CERFA forms we had printed off and filled in online were of no use, because Poitiers doesn’t use that technology yet (what’s that about nationalized administration in France?). So he got to fill out the form again.

Once he’d finished filling out the form, the woman looked at the picture of Littlest and said it wouldn’t work because it was “digital” and we had taken it ourselves.

No amount of explaining would convince the woman that it would be accepted by the passport software (most notably because it had worked for the ID software two months before). She even asked her coworker who definitely gave the impression he would have been fine with it.

She told J he had to go to a professional photographer or a photo booth (LOL our baby can’t sit up) and if he could do that within his 30-minute appointment slot, she would accept it today.

Except of course she had already used up 10 minutes of his appointment making him fill out the form again, he was pushing a baby around in a stroller in a building that’s barely accessible on wheels, and oh yes, most business are closed on Monday mornings.

I’m not sure what world this woman lives in but I qualified her as a moron when J told me the whole story.

So we get to make another passport appointment, find a photographer, take a picture and pay for it, and drag Littlest back to the centre ville to do it all over again.

Which is really fine. It’s just the principle of the thing—how can someone with so little connection to reality get a job that requires a minimum of lucidity? I mean did she really think that professional photographers go to the trouble of “developing” ID photos?

Welcome to French red tape, baby boy.

Breastfeeding, 2

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Baby toes, or, as I call them, “toeses woeses”

I wrote about some aspects of my breastfeeding experience back in January before I had gone back to work. I feel like an update is in order.

Littlest is still breastfeeding like a champ at almost five months. I am so happy we didn’t quit at 2 months because it goes so smoothly now, and it gives us some nice cuddles that we wouldn’t otherwise necessarily get. (Littlest is so “tonique,” as the French say, that he’s not that easy to cuddle.) It’s a nice way to reconnect after the work day and it’s also really practical.

1 Formula

We stopped the nightly bottle of formula the week before we went to Spain, because it was finally ten times easier to nurse him. We also started putting him to bed earlier so I don’t mind “waiting up” to nurse him before bed (it’s a top-up feeding, not a full one, but he’s always ready for a cuddle feed before bed even if he’s not really hungry).

He gets a bottle of formula at the nanny’s sometimes when I haven’t given her enough milk (something I’m doing purposefully for now because I want to put a bag per day in the freezer for my trip to Ireland), and when I happen to be out and he wants to eat.

2 My pumping situation at work went downhill.

Turns out pumping in the infirmary wasn’t all that practical because, duh, there were often sick students in there! I was sort of okay with it when it was a girl, since there is a screen I pulled between us, but yesterday it was finally a male student so I went to my boss for help. (I also realized that in terms of hygiene, pumping around sick kids wasn’t the greatest.) My boss talked to her boss who has opened up an empty office for me. I pumped in there this afternoon and it’s WONDERFUL: sunlight, peace and quiet, near the teachers’ lounge… ahhh. I’ll have to use the teachers’ lounge fridge which will mean extra labeling (ie Do not touch) but I am way relieved I don’t have to share the room anymore.

In case anyone out there is wondering, here is the law on pumping at work. (That site is great, btw, I wish I’d found it before going back to work!) Oddly, your employer is required to furnish hot water, but not a fridge or guaranteed privacy.

3 Here are some comical things Littlest does when nursing now.

  • Be not hungry at all, then get set down in front of me on the nursing pillow and PANIC TO BE FED. It’s super cute because he wiggles his right leg back and forth when it becomes URGENT (though he was unaware of this need five seconds before…).
  • Wave his hand in the air while nursing, or grab my sweater or shirt. He was always a big arm-waver, but it’s gotten more targeted since he controls his movements better. He thinks it’s hilarious when I put his fingers in my open mouth.
  • Every once in a while, stop nursing and just look up at me, like he’s remembering that I’m there.