Personal Post: breastfeeding, the hardest thing I have ever loved

As a pregnant woman, the idea of being a parent was still beyond my understanding. I could barely grasp the concept of life with a baby, let alone imagine what our baby would be like in personality and temperament. My conception of motherhood was theoretical at best, and so I didn’t make big goals or dedicate myself to parenting philosophies, and, if I’m being honest, I never felt 100% committed to the idea of breastfeeding. I planned to try it, and imagined it to be a sacrifice I might make for the wellbeing my baby. If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out.

When Juniper arrived, breastfeeding was off to a rocky start with latch issues, low production, and discomfort. The nurses would put her to my breast and she would partially latch while pressing her tongue to the side, sending waves of pain. I would attempt to pump instead, and fifteen minutes later the bottle would be completely empty; I would run my finger along the flange to pick up residue and that would be all I could feed my baby. I was discouraged, but the nurses said not to worry, my milk would come in.

Juniper’s latch improved and my milk came in a few days later. The pain wasn’t as severe and I thought things were going well. I loved holding my warm, sleeping baby against my body. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why she would scream partway through nursing. At her first doctor’s appointment, I found out she had lost 12% of her body weight (beyond the acceptable amount) and was crying from hunger. When she would cease to nurse, it was out of exhaustion rather than fullness. I was crushed. I remember leaving the hospital room with a brave face and slipping my sunglasses on in the lobby, hoping they would cover the tears streaming down my face.

I felt incapable. My body couldn’t provide what my baby needed… and what kind of a mother was I to listen to her scream and not understand she was still hungry? I was full of ugly thoughts. Nobody ever mentioned anything to me about how difficult breastfeeding could be beyond the initial discomfort. I fell into the appealing trap of thinking breastfeeding was natural and womanly, and therefore something my body should just be able to do. In my mind, it had simply been a choice women made – “Are you planning to breastfeed or formula feed?” I was deceived in the same manner women are when they imagine starting a family to be nothing more than a decision born of will and fortitude, overlooking challenges they may face like infertility, miscarriage, or simply life not going as planned. But it wasn’t simple, and I couldn’t will my body to do anything. And, if you don’t know already, breastfeeding is f*cking hard.

I gathered advice from everywhere I could get it: lactation consultants, pediatricians, nurses, friends, forums. I was pumping after every feeding and power-pumping at night. I took every supplement, drank every tea, and made every lactation recipe you can imagine. I ate endless bowls of flavorless oatmeal, changed my diet, drank water, and put Juniper to my breast over and over and over again. And guess what… I still didn’t make enough milk for my baby.

The truth is, I didn’t think I’d feel so invested. I imagined that if it didn’t work out, I would feel like it just wasn’t meant to be, cease breastfeeding, and move happily along to formula, but that’s not what happened. And it wasn’t “mom guilt” that kept me going; nobody does something that hard for any reason other than love. Once we made it out of those initial days of darkness, I found that I loved nursing Juniper. I loved how she closed her eyes the moment she latched and how her whole body would instinctively relax. I loved being skin-to-skin with her and making something that would provide nutrients and antibodies to keep her healthy. Nothing made me feel more connected to my brand new baby. It was my favorite way to love her.

We added formula to her diet to get her weight up and her bilirubin levels down. We started with a syringe, hoping we only needed to supplement a little for a short while. When that wasn’t enough, we used an SNS tube so I could breastfeed and supplement at the same time. And when it was clear that supplementing was going to be longterm (and quite honestly that “supplement” wasn’t even the right word because formula was, in fact, half her diet), we gave ourselves over to bottles.

I wanted to make breastfeeding work, and so I was up in the middle of the night nursing, supplementing, and pumping in succession every few hours. I was exhausted and hormonal, and doing my best while feeling like a failure.

I was surprised by my passion for breastfeeding, and overwhelmed by my inability to produce the amount of milk Juniper needed. It had been months of trying everything to increase my supply, and with the nurse-bottle-pump cycle, I was starting a two hour routine over every three hours. So I let it go. I let the stress and the pressure go; I let myself get some sleep, and began to consider formula part of our permanent plan. I cried many tears, but I knew Juniper was going to be just fine and so was I.

Breastfeeding is heavy with emotional baggage. Whether you have an undersupply, oversupply, or skip breastfeeding altogether (by choice or otherwise), there is no denying that the feelings associated with it are complicated ones. The babies we grew, who relied on us for everything, are now out and about in this great big world, receiving care from people other than us. Breastfeeding can be the red ribbon that keeps us connected just a little bit longer — something only we can provide.

I know our breastfeeding journey will end at some point, whether it be a few weeks or a few months, and when I think about it too much, it’s hard not to flush with tears. It’s a reminder that our babies grow up, and motherhood is a lifetime of letting go little by little.

I continue to nurse Juniper on demand and fill the gaps with bottles. Initially, supplementing made me feel like I couldn’t celebrate our breastfeeding milestones, in that same ugly way we women so often feel we are not enough, but I am fighting against that, and celebrating five months with my baby girl. Although five months means she is all waving arms and wiggling toes, when she latches on she closes her eyes just like she did when she was new and tiny. In that moment, we belong to each other.

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Photos above celebrating five months of breastfeeding in sunny Flagler Beach, Florida.

Personal Post: the gift of curiosity

Since it’s off season for us, I have yet to really try my hand at the artful act of balancing life and work. It’s an intimidating task and one with few examples to follow as my job doesn’t give me a 9-5 schedule or any difference in work and living space. This is both a blessing and a curse as it means I can work in my robe and pajamas (please don’t come knocking on my door unexpectedly), but I have to use my judgement to know when to call it quits, shutdown the computer, and turn off email notifications.

On the slow days I’ve been thinking about the kind of parent I will be. And although it’s likely I have little choice in the matter, I can’t help but consider what I want Juniper to receive from me beyond a warm house and a full belly. And it comes down to one thing: curiosity. The gift I most want to give to her is the ability to look at the world with an open heart and curious mind — exploring, daydreaming, wondering. Curiosity means probing into the things we take for granted and asking questions. It means walking off the path, getting dirty, and breaking rules.

Juniper comes from a long line of well-intentioned rule-breakers who are curious to their core. Curiosity leads to passion, and when people we care for love something with great passion, we learn to appreciate what they love because their loving it makes it special. There are a million things I want to share with our baby girl: hundreds of books I want to read, scores of cities I want to bring her to, and many acres of land I want us to explore. But whatever her interests, whether they overlap with mine or not, I hope to pass along this great gift. That way she can love whatever she wants to love and chase whatever she wants to chase, and curiosity will call her to dig deeper every time.
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Film Scans above from hikes in February 2017 at Cave Point, Newport State Park, Potawatomi State Park, and Whitefish Dunes in Door County.
In the top photo I am pregnant with baby Juniper but don’t know it yet. <3

Personal Post: when the new year means grace over goals

In my twenties I spent every new year setting elaborate resolutions. There were categories for the resolutions (adventures, skills, business achievements, etc) and every goal had to be set in measurable terms. I would write them down and exchange them with friends so we could keep each other accountable. [Type A? Who, me?] Every year was going to be my year. I was going to “hustle”, and “crush it”, and through the magic of goal-setting I was going to miraculously transform into my best self, finally reaching my greatest potential. Every year.

Then came 2016, and it was hard. There were many small challenges, but mostly, I spent the year coping with the miscarriage we experienced in spring. I was devastated. Never had I invested so much hope, and experienced such great loss. It was 12 months of just trying to keep my head above water. So when 2016 ended and it was time to write my 2017 resolutions, I came up dry. I didn’t want to jot down how many books I was going to read, or elaborate on a skill I was going to learn. I didn’t want to set arduous business goals or demand some new level of personal growth. I couldn’t get myself to write a single resolution because I spent 2016 learning how little control I have over the most important things.

I think sometimes we set resolutions – new year’s, or otherwise – believing we can bend the universe to our silly, human will. And as an introvert, I get it. There is nothing I want more than a great plan which falls into place as designed. But while we’re busy trying to figure out how to do more and be better, we ignore the grace that comes with understanding we can only work for so much. It’s goal-setting season again, and although I’m not casting resolutions aside as humanistic hogwash, I am examining my ambitions more carefully. There will be plenty of good and plenty of bad in my life, and I feel certain that the biggest of each will not be mine to choose.

So cheers to the year that brought us our beautiful baby girl, a blessing beyond measure. We are one year wiser, two months sleepier, and incredibly grateful for both goals to achieve and gifts that were never made to be earned.

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Top photo by Riverland Studios. Middle photo by KL Creative.

Seniors: emma, areva ridge acres horse stable, de pere

Emma’s session was originally planned for Lambeau Field (she’s a huge Packers fan), but with a rained out session and a change in plans, she decided to move to the stable to share one of her other great loves: horses. Emma has been showing horses for six years and has been riding since she was a little girl. It was only natural that her partner, Harley, got to be a part of her session. We ended up with a perfect, sunny evening, and Emma’s boho floral dress was the perfect fit for a location with fields, barns, and fenceposts.

Portraits: fall family session at barkhausen waterfowl preserve, suamico, wisconsin

We were so happy to meet up with this family in early fall. It had been a few years since their last session and so much had changed. We walked the trails at Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve in Suamico and took portraits of Kayla, Mike, and Dezi. There was a lot of teasing and playing as well as noticing things in nature. Although we needed to duck out of some unexpected rain partway through the session, everyone was in good spirits, and the night ended with beautiful sunshine peeking out from behind the trees.

Weddings: meghan & matt, simon creek winery and the english inn, door county

Meghan and Matt tied the knot at Simon Creek Winery in Door County this September. The winery only does a handful of weddings which made the event all the more unique for their family and friends. After a beautiful outdoor ceremony in the vineyard, guests mingled on the lawn with full glasses and an array of appetizers while the couple and their attendants explored the grounds with us. We loved photographing in front of the old vine-covered barn, tall trees, and in the rows of grapevines. The entire scene was made all the more stunning by the warm, fall sunshine.

Meghan and Matt’s reception was held at The English Inn in Fish Creek, a special treat for family traveling in from out of town. The venue was strung with lights and decorated in gold sequins and peacock accents, just as Meghan had envisioned when she started planning their special day. The small bridal party and 50 person guest list made for an intimate-feeling wedding, as well as the couple’s choice to have a “sweetheart table” in place of a head table. Guests mingled and enjoyed the live music and heartfelt words from family. Congratulations, Meghan and Matt!

Seniors: karlie, downtown green bay & bairds creek

It’s no secret how much we love fall! This year, with the arrival of baby Juniper, I knew we were going to miss most of the gorgeous color and warm fall light. Lucky for us, we had a couple sessions right before our baby girl arrived, like this one with Karlie! Karlie’s session was one of our favorites because she chose two very different locations which gave us really different looks – downtown Green Bay was all about the modern lines and urban textures, and Bairds Creek was filtered light and natural spaces. I adored her outfit choices (I mean, plum suede boots? Yes please!) and we had a great time exploring different poses and expressions with her. Karlie is on the swim team and throws for Ashwaubenon High, so we ended the session with a few photos in her letter jacket with some of her sports paraphernalia. Enjoy your senior year, Karlie!

Personal Post: welcoming juniper violet

On October 18th we welcomed our baby girl, Juniper Violet, into the world. Over the past month we have been getting to know her – what she needs and how she expresses it – as well as what it means for us to be parents. It is such a miraculous thing to give birth; one day it was just the two of us and the next, we were responsible for this new life.

I was blessed with an easy pregnancy (if we can forget about that morning sickness part) so my weeks were still filled with camping, canoeing, travel, etc just at a slightly more cautious level than before. We photographed our last wedding only a week before she arrived (with backup plans in place of course). I loved that I had a partner with whom I could share my experiences, especially as I got further along and she would respond to touches, sounds, and food. Still, little swishes of movement across my belly and a baby out in the world – squirming, crying, and learning to eat – are two very different things. I remember lying in the hospital bed the night she was born, looking at her as she slept between us in the little plastic bassinet, thinking how is this possible?

One month later, the feeling of awe still comes over me in waves. There are good portions of my day where I am too busy to dwell on it – one feeding will stretch into the next (punctuated by diaper changes) and suddenly it’s the middle of the afternoon and I still haven’t showered. And in quiet moments, when I’m deep in work or writing (or Stranger Things, let’s be real), and it’s easy to forget that she is two feet away snoozing in her rocker, I’m too preoccupied to dwell on it. It’s as I unwrap her swaddle blankets at 3:00 am that it will hit me. She will let out little squawks, arch her back, stretch her arms, and open her eyes, and I will think, wow, this is my baby.

There are so many worthwhile experiences in life, and rather than feeling that parenthood has trumped them all, I just feel like it has made each of them more valuable. I am looking forward to sharing so many things with Juniper – imparting a love of art, music, travel, and the outdoors, as well as watching her discover things to love all her own. But for now, we’re immersing ourselves in this newborn stage and learning to be flexible beyond our expectations so we can appreciate it, mess and all.

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Photos by KP Photography http://www.kirstenpetersonphotography.com

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Weddings: cora & eric, olde 41 vandervest, green bay

Cora and Eric’s wedding is one that I have just been bursting at the seams to share! We loved everything about it – the soft lavender bridal gowns, outdoor ceremony along Duck Creek, and all the little details (like the succulent takeaway gifts!) From the moment we arrived that morning it was clear how much time and heart Cora and Eric put into planning their wedding day.

Both the ceremony and reception were held at Olde 41 and after a handful of pictures the bridesmaids were back inside watching guests and groomsmen arrive from the windows. After some last minute moments with mom and a beautiful ceremony, the bridal party packed into the trolly and headed for Lambeau Field. Our favorite photos were taken back at Vandervest as the golden fall light passed across the creek. Cora and Eric are so sweet together and we loved capturing how they care for one another. Congratulations, Cora and Eric! Cheers to a lifetime of happiness!

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