Archive of ‘Personal Life’ category

Personal Post: Giving My Daughter Space to “Do it Wrong”

35 mm Film Photos Door County Raising a toddlerTalking about parenting right now means putting a vulnerable voice out into a critical culture. This isn’t to say our generation is somehow more judgmental than past generations; we just see more of one another’s lives thanks to social media. So now instead of collecting “feedback” from your auntie and mother, you can also collect it from that friend-of-a-friend from high school and someone you used to work with. Oh joy. And whether or not you choose to post to social media or comment on the posts of others, you are probably still consuming the media and drawing your own conclusions.

The good news is this criticism has sprouted from the best of intentions: concern for the safety of children. But when concern for safety becomes concern for lifestyle and we aren’t prepared for how to interact in this culture, we end up stuck in a place of shame, guilt, and fear of “doing it wrong”.

Parenting in the Toddler Years

That said, I know some people will find my parenting too hands off (I get looks as my daughter runs through the farmer’s market 20 feet ahead of me) and some will find me too rigid (really mom, she can’t have any juice?) I’m sure others will find ways to see me as overprotective, old fashioned, or crunchy, but for myself, I am quite surprised at the kind of parent I turned out to be.

When I thought of the future, I imagined myself fretting over my child’s every move, holding my arms around her to protect her from bumps and bruises, chewing my nails and saying that warning phrase one extra time to give myself peace of mind. But what I failed to account for when I imagined myself as a mother, is that I would be a mother to a little person with a personality all her own.

Juniper is fast and loud. She climbs everything, devises complicated ways of stacking things to reach what she wants. She likes the fastest rides and the biggest challenges. At two, this kid eats more at a meal than I did in middle school. She is bold and talkative, and usually searching the house for her galoshes so she can find a way to be outside…even if it’s raining…even if it’s 6:00 am…even if it isn’t her house. She. Is. Wild.

But this wildness comes from her curiosity and her passionate impulse to consume everything as though life is something to be swallowed whole. And can I just say what a gift it is to see life this way?

Leaving Room for Imagination

Things I haven’t the smallest interest in, she will find deeply fascinating. Toys which have a specific use will gain new life with her interpretation of their purpose. She wants to reorganize the crayons instead of coloring with them, use the bath boats as teacups, and make car noises as she pushes the doll stroller. And I’m going to let her. Just like I’m going to let her eat the uncooked zucchini that fell to the floor as I was making dinner and wear swim diapers over her clothes. She can ride in the cargo portion of the stroller, wear all my jar lids as bracelets, and refer to every full grown dog as a “little baby puppy” (with her voice high and her nose scrunched).

Doing these things “wrong” isn’t going to hurt her or anyone else. She’s learning what it means to make her own decisions and she’s figuring out how things work (or devising new ways for them to work). And, when it comes right down to it, it would be pretty self-important of me to tell her the “right way” to play.

What Does it Mean to “Do it Wrong”?

My grandma has a story from when she was a little girl that has always stuck with me. She was at school in art class drawing a sky filled with pink, fluffy clouds. When the teacher saw it, she told my grandma it was no good because clouds aren’t pink. Imagine all the ways we can crush a child’s spirit in the name of teaching them the “right way” to do things.

And whether those clouds were pink or neon green or floating underwater or made of cotton candy or drawn with dandelion rubbings, I never want to be the person who makes the world a little smaller by closing the door on possibility and imagination. Grandma gets her revenge every time sunset turns clouds from white to yellow, yellow to orange, and from orange to a bright, rosy pink.

I guess what I’m saying is, Juniper will have plenty of opportunities to learn the correct pronunciation of the word, the right purpose for the tool, the proper way to respond to the circumstance, but for now, there is play. There is big, big play. And I’m going to give Juniper all the space I can to “do it wrong”.


Film scans above from this summer (May-July) from 35 mm Kodak Portra negatives.

Our Travels to Iceland

Iceland travel photographyhiking iceland babyreykjavik vikWhen you see pictures from Iceland you think “it can’t really look like that, can it?” and somehow it does. While visiting, I found myself snapping pictures of everything in a panic, the way I do when I know I can’t possibly capture something in its entirety. It happens during major changes in Juniper’s babyhood and it happens in moments of great beauty like this.

Reykjavik, Iceland

We didn’t book our tickets because Iceland was our next most longed for county. It was actually that we wanted to take Juniper on her first international trip and after asking around, our well-traveled friends recommended Iceland as an easy, “kid-friendly” destination. We had never been anywhere in Scandinavia, and were intrigued by the black beaches, waterfalls, and culture. The night flight over was shorter than expected, and direct to Reykjavik where we had the cutest two bedroom apartment for Ben, Juniper, myself, and my brother, Josh. We settled in, did our best to adjust to the time change and 22 hours of daylight, and the next day we were off on our first adventures!

Reykjavik is a very walkable city, small and beautiful. Our apartment was near Hallgrimskirkja church which was designed after waterfalls and is very tall and identifiable. Every time we headed uphill toward the church, we were going home, and every time we headed downhill, we were going toward the city center and waterfront. Juniper also adapted quickly. She learned the routine of how we did things there; stand-up showers instead of baths before bed, European high chairs, and Icelandic food were all taken in stride. By day four she knew to go downstairs to get to our apartment when we entered the building. It really was a testament to how adaptable kids are. The heated public pools were Juniper’s favorite part of the city and if there was something I could bring back home with us, that would definitely be it.

The Golden Circle

We took a day trip around the Golden Circle with stops at the Icelandic Horse Center, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Gulfoss waterfall, and the Geyser.  Icelandic horses are famous because the country has not allowed the import of horses for a thousand years (this type of history is astounding to me growing up in the young USA). The breed is small (almost like ponies) but sturdy; I think they look like miniature Belgian work horses. They also grow long hair over their coats in winter and are super friendly. I’m not so much of a horse person, but these horses were more like dogs in their affection and need for scratches. It was Josh’s favorite part of the day.

The waterfalls were beautiful, and we particularly liked Seljalandsfoss because you can walk behind it. The drive itself was amazing with mountains, fields of lupines, and sheep and horses running about without boundaries. Iceland is made for road-tripping, and we were very happy for a baby who does well in carseats and loads of snacks for the long rides.

Icelandic Cottage Life

Other trip highlights include hiking a glacier where we drank straight from the spring and smeared volcanic ash on our faces, taking a puffin sight-seeing cruise (they are so tiny!), seeing the black sand beaches, and exploring Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon by amphibious car (my favorite!). For the last two days of our trip, we rented a tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere. To clarify, when I say “nowhere,” I mean this: drove to the last town with a gas station, then drove two hours north until the road turned to dirt, then continued 6 miles, crossed a questionable bridge, scared the living daylights out of sheep who aren’t used to cars, then arrived at cabin and debated if the fog rolling over the hills looked like the start of a horror movie. It’s safe to say I chose the cottage completely based on how beautiful the view would be, and I don’t regret it.

On our last night, we put Juniper down for bed and the three of us gathered up snacks, tea, blankets, and other cozy items and spent the evening on the porch watching a telenovela and the three hour sunset. An hour and a half later I woke up to see the sunrise. It was surreal and magical, just like everything else about the trip.

Toddler Travels

I know many people will read this and think, “Why take an 18 month old on a trip like this when she won’t remember it.” And honestly, I don’t understand. With this logic, I think, “Why take my kid to do anything until she is five and creating substantial memories?”

My “why” is twofold. One reason we are traveling with her young is to teach her skills. We take Juniper to swimming lessons so she learns not to fear the water, we take her to baby gym so she learns balance and coordination, and we take her traveling so she learns adaptability, gets a bigger sense of the world, and develops a love of adventure. These things don’t just appear in our personality when we’re 25 and have saved the money to backpack across Europe; they are learned.

And the other reason is for our own benefit. One of the greatest pleasures of parenthood is sharing new things with our children. Yes the stakes are higher on a six hour flight, but seeing Juniper’s reaction to something as I also experience it for the first time is like a multiplier of joy. We can love something on our own, but we love these things even more when we see someone we love love them. We are blessed to be able to travel and we are more blessed to be able to share it.


Photos above from our June 2019 trip to Iceland. For details, suggestions when planning your own trip, or licensing information, Contact Us.

Personal Post: Travels To Savannah Georgia

Travel Photography Kasey and Ben TravelI love packing for a trip. Let me rephrase that, I love planning outfits for a trip. Rolling up clothing and puzzling it together in the suitcase brings me great joy, and having just the right number of pieces to mix and match lights up the “type a” planner in me. This was even more fun for my trip to Savannah because I was traveling with my mom — no hubby to plan for, no baby stuff to pack. I knew I would miss my little family while I was away, but the luxury of packing carry-on only and thinking only of myself cannot be denied.

I was headed to Savannah for a business retreat with other lady bosses from the Green Bay area as part of Rise Retreat. For three days we stayed in the gorgeous De Soto hotel in the historic district expanding our ideas of what we are capable of, sharing openly with one another about dreams and struggles, and taking notes like wild women so we would be ready to make big leaps when we returned home.

Savannah, Georgia Travel Photography

I invited my mom to come along, as Savannah in spring seemed like the perfect girls’ trip and she is an excellent travel buddy. In the days leading up to the retreat she and I walked the squares, ate lots of food, and spent time by the water (including a beach day at Tybee!) It was easy and blissful. I was able to get some sketches in, enjoy warm weather, and soak up the history and arts culture of the city. It’s amazing what a break like this can do for the spirit. Sometimes we need a little reminder of who we are as powerful, capable women. I think this is especially true for us moms whose identity can get consumed by one title. Savannah was the perfect little reset before the busyness of summer!


Film scans above shot on Kodak Portra 400 35 mm film and developed by Dwaynes Photo.

Personal Post: Living in the Fog of Grief

Trigger Warning: Infant Loss / MiscarriageInfant Loss MiscarriageThree years ago in April I was losing our first baby.

We conceived on a trip to California and brought home this special secret. I loved knowing I had this little being to care for who would be with me on all our adventures. Ben and I didn’t know whether the baby was a boy or a girl, but we called her Sweet Pea. Together Sweet Pea and I made maple syrup, attended a cooking class, celebrated Easter, taught photography classes, and road in an airplane. We only had ten and a half weeks together, but I can tell you from experience, ten and a half weeks is a long time. It’s long enough for priorities and plans to change, and most importantly, for one’s identity to shift. I was mom to that little baby.

There are things I remember so vividly about the beginning. I remember singing Sloane’s Song in the shower while rubbing my belly to send in a little extra love to the baby. I remember lying back in the ultrasound room and seeing her heartbeat for the first time. I remember my world crashing down as the doctor explained that the baby looked small, but we would have to check back to know more. The wait was excruciating. Each week brought worse news, and on April 19th, we were told the baby no longer had a heartbeat.

I was grief-stricken, and the process of physically miscarrying made it all the more traumatic. After losing the baby at home, I ended up needing D&C surgery because of continuing tissue loss, and after the D&C did not remove everything, I spent weeks, then months continuing to lose blood and tissue. As I was trying to heal emotionally, I was facing a constant physical reminder of the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

During this time, life went on. I tried to fake happy through my birthday just two days after the surgery; a week after that I stood up in my best friend’s wedding, then busy season hit, family holidays came and went, and it wasn’t until the end of July that my body finally healed. And when it was healed, I didn’t care.

My body had failed me. I had done “everything right”; I had loved that baby with all I had, and yet there I was, empty. I didn’t want to care for a body that didn’t seem to care for me in return. I was depressed, living in darkness, and completely unable to see anything beyond that. All I wanted was to make it back to who I was before that happened.

I’m sharing this now, not for closure (I don’t really think that’s possible) because I’m not in that dark place anymore. Eventually I could see past the fog of grief, not all at once, but gradually. I began to care for myself and my body again, I began to look forward to things (a feeling I thought was gone for good). I never made it back to who I was before the miscarriage, but I found my new identity somewhere along the way.

There are things that still hurt even now, three years later with a baby in my arms. I can’t listen to Sloane’s Song and I wince when people refer to Juniper as “such a ‘sweet pea'”. When someone asks if J is my first, I pause, because that questions is harder than the asker means it to be.

I feel things deeply and I think this makes me responsible for sharing my story. I got a big dose of sensitivity from my dad, and extra empathy from my mom, and the end result is that I feel everything at 100% whether it’s mine to feel or not. It took me a long time to find my way out of grief, much longer than the world around me assumed was necessary. And I faced it without sharing, somehow fearing the acknowledgment of my pain would make it all the more real. So, right now, I’m just here to say, if you’re struggling with miscarriage, infant loss, or something else that has you in that dark place, I want you to know I see you. I’ve been there, and it’s okay to not be okay.


If you are facing grief or mental health issues, don’t be afraid to ask for help through support groups, grief counseling, or call the free National Helpline for someone to talk to 24/7 1-800-662-HELP.

If you want more on this topic, read blogs Loving a Baby After Losing a Baby and Joy for Joy, Pain for Pain (written while losing our first baby). Film scans above from February and March 2016.

Personal Post: in gratitude for puddles and potholes

Potawatomi State ParkDoor County, Baileys HarborOutdoors Maple SyrupI am so ready for spring. Even more than past years, I feel as though I’ve spent all of February trapped inside breathing the same stale air and dreaming of warm weather. Usually winter doesn’t stop us from getting outdoors — hiking in state parks, sledding, skating, etc, but this winter brought such frigid temperatures that even our regular outings seemed daunting. There are only so many layers you can put on a baby.

The unusually cold days and heavy snow means our spring activities will be delayed (no maple syrup tapping for a few more weeks *sigh*). Yet I am still excited for any sign of spring. This morning as I left the house I was thrilled to see my flooded driveway because, even though the inch of standing water is not ideal, I’m just glad it’s no longer an inch of solid ice. I guess that’s what it means to be in a position of gratitude. We have are given an option: we can be mad because the puddle gave us wet feet and the newly-revealed potholes made for an annoying commute, or we can be thankful for above freezing temperatures and melting snow. It’s not always easy, but I know which option I want to choose.

Kiddos can be a good reminder of this. For Juniper, the sound of water dripping down the drainpipe was enough to elicit raised eyebrows and an excited gasp of air. I can only imagine how thrilled she’ll be to see birds return to the yard, buds form on the trees, and snow melt down to a level that she can actually walk on top of it (we’re not there yet!) She will remind me what is amazing, and she will remind me to be grateful for all of it.

So as we splash our way through the rest of this wet, dreary March, I’m going to appreciate my flooded backyard (warmer temperatures), the baby who stays up too late (longer days), and all the yard work yet to come (things are growing). Because life is just better when we live in gratitude.


More like this: A Midwesterner’s Spring, Making Maple Syrup, or The Gift of Curiosity. Film scans above ^ from winter and spring activities in February and March 2017 in Door County, Wisconsin.

Personal Post: crazy sort of love

This wasn’t Juniper’s first Christmas, but it kind of felt like it to us. Last year we were still in the crazy first few months of life with a baby — living on no sleep, recovering from labor, and just keeping our heads above water in the chaos. This year Juniper was able to participate in many of our holiday activities (or at least stay awake for them).

We have a very tradition-oriented family and so there are many things we do together to celebrate the seasons. Sometimes the “season” can be as simple as “that cold boring time” (aka: February — Potawatomi State Park hike) or “that time it’s supposed to be spring, but really isn’t” (aka: March — maple syrup tapping), but when it comes to holidays, it’s even more serious. In December there is St. Nick stocking opening, picking out our trees together, a Christmas day hike in the woods, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life in our pajamas with grasshoppers or hot cocoa in hand. But most important is Christmas Eve, with church followed by dinner and gifts at our grandparents’ house. This is where I’ve always found my Christmas spirit.

Every 24th of December my family attends the candlelight service at Sturgeon Bay Moravian. The tree at the front of the church is covered in hundreds of paper stars and we hold lighted beeswax candles, singing carols and waiting for the last verse of Joy to the World where we all raise our arms up high before extinguishing the flames. As a kid, I remember being sad the moment we had to blow the candles out, holding it just a little longer hoping to preserve that feeling of incredible joy and togetherness. One of the gifts of parenthood is getting to share these traditions with our children — getting to see Juniper mesmerized by the dark church filled with glowing lights, watching her try her first bites of my mom’s homemade pie, and hearing her elated giggles over her favorite toy (the step-stool intended for my office).

As a parent everything is more work, the holidays included. There is more stuff to carry and less arms to carry it with. There are nap schedules and picky eaters to consider, and gone are the uninterrupted board game marathons and quiet evenings under the tree. Instead we look up from our movie to debate whose turn it is to intercept Juniper as she climbs from floor to chair to table to access the bowl of Chex-mix. Everything is more work… but it’s worth it. And I don’t say this as a martyr like “it’s worth it so they can enjoy the holidays” or in an attempt at banking future happiness like “it’s worth it because once we make it through this we can enjoy our family as they grow older”. I mean it’s worth it right now.

If sharing traditions is the gift of parenthood, the power of parenthood is in a crazy form of selective memory. The day might filled with chaos as we discover which toys are small enough to fit in Juniper’s mouth, wrestle and bribe our way through diaper changes, and try to convince her to nap in unfamiliar homes while there is clearly a party happening next door; but when the day is done the only part that remains in our memory is the good stuff.

This past summer when Juniper was cutting her first tooth she had a particularly hard night. She was crabby, awake on and off for hours, and then she was up for the day at 5:00 am. I was exhausted and counting the minutes until 8:00 when I could drop her at the sitter. And the moment I pulled out of the driveway, leaving Juniper behind, I missed her. She kept me up all night, woke me up at 5:00, and I missed her immediately. This is the whole thing in a nutshell. Love makes good stuff more powerful than the hard stuff, even when it’s mostly hard stuff. And parenthood is a crazy sort of love.

So I’ll take the chaos that would normally unnerve me completely; we’ll stress-sweat through our dress clothes and say “no thank you; hand’s aren’t for hitting” for the thousandth time, and we’ll breathe a sigh of relief as we tuck her into bed. But I guarantee you as I lay down to sleep at night, Ben and I will reminisce about the best parts of the day and I’ll be flipping through pictures and videos on my phone, already missing that little girl asleep one room over.


Pictures above from some of our 2018 Christmas traditions. 

Personal Post: juniper’s first birthday

And just like that, a year has come and gone. One year ago we were in the hospital meeting our baby girl for the first time, trying to settle on a name and realizing, awestruck, that life would never be the same. This year, I am watching Juniper run from room to room with an excited gallop-skip, shrieking just because she likes to hear the sound of her own voice. Time is a crazy thing.

A few weeks ago we gathered together with family for a first birthday party at The Art Garage in downtown Green Bay. Juniper was in a wool pleated 1960s-ish dress we found at Little Bird and the theme was lemons with lots of bright yellows and soft pinks. We had lunch with a lemonade bar, and a little photobooth area for guests to take snapshots with our Fuji Instax. Juniper liked eating watermelon and playing on the floor with her friends. She was very excited to see people she knows and likes everywhere she went as she cruised the room. Grandma Jeanie made a three-layer lemon and raspberry cake for guests, and I made Juniper a simple white smash cake. She tasted the frosting and little bits of cake, but wasn’t wildly excited about it until daddy started helping her smash it. It was a fun way to celebrate her first big milestone. Happy Birhtday, Baby J!

Personal Post: “pictures of the summer to prove that it really existed”

Fingers crossed and saying my prayers for safe transit, I packed up the film I shot all summer long and shipped it out to be developed. When the package arrived, Ben and I sat in bed together and flipped through the prints, my heart exploding with every photo. This summer wasn’t just any summer, it was Juniper’s first summer, something I anticipated since that second pink line appeared 18+ months ago.

Part of the joy of parenthood is sharing the things you love with this new little person. It may be your 200th visit to the beach, but it’s the first time she’s felt sand in her toes, and it may be your annual camping trip at the usual spot, but it’s the first time she has woken up to the sunny pattern leaves make on the tent walls in the morning.

This summer was full of “Juniper’s firsts”, and part of that was sharing places with her that meant a lot to us growing up. We visited The Farm where she held a kitten and giggled when she touched a baby goat. We went camping at Peninsula State Park where she rode in a canoe and took naps in a cargo wagon. She ate fruit straight from the orchard, visited beaches, parks, and pools, and soaked up the summer sun right in our own backyard.

Every outing required more planning and packing than any previous summer (babies come with SO much stuff), but as anyone who has ever loved anyone knows, the joy of wonderful things is multiplied when you see someone you love experience that joy. And we are closing out the summer with a heart full of memories and a head full of stories to tell as she grows up.

It’s amazing how children can change how we experience our world. Everything is new again — just like magic.
Photos above from 35 mm film scans July-September.
Blog title taken from song “People Take Pictures of Each Other” by The Kinks.
If you like this blog, check out The Family of Over-Celebrators and Summertime on Film.

Personal Post: why i need the pretty pictures

New parenthood is chaotic. Between diapers, feedings, and that classic baby-vs-sleep showdown, it can be a lot. And that’s without considering our own basic needs. It’s a turbulent world and sometimes it just feels like a mess.

For me, new motherhood meant the grace of letting go. My make-up routine is down to the basics and usually done while eating breakfast, pumping, and chatting with a babbling Juniper bouncing in her jumperoo. My hair is 50% dry shampoo at this point and my house is pretty much a hilly landscape of clean laundry surrounded by rarely swept floors. This is motherhood. We are trying to keep up, we are getting by, and all the while our babies are growing up.

From this perspective, nine months in, I have to say there is beauty in the mess. Yes, there is struggle, there is worry, and sometimes we may even think we’ve hit our breaking point. But then we push past and realize we are stronger and more capable than we thought we were. And even in the hardest times, we can find beauty. It’s in the first smile of recognition after weeks of lost sleep. It’s in a quiet day when we can sit in the sunshine and enjoy the outdoors together. It’s in sharing something we love with them only to watch them love it too and make it all the more meaningful. It’s magic and beauty, amid the mess.

Time has gone quickly, and I find myself flipping through pictures and thinking about each stage of Juniper’s babyhood. What I’ve come to notice is that the way things looked is often not the way things felt. Like anyone, my first weeks were a jumble of recovery, hormones, and learning what my baby needed, but the overwhelming feelings were tenderness, awe, and love beyond love. When I look back, I want our pictures to show me what those early days felt rather than how they looked. The pictures from our first week should smell like Burts Bees and fresh laundry just like my little girl. They should feel like her fuzzy baby hair and the cool breezes of autumn, and sound like the noises she made while she nursed.

Our experiences of motherhood are what matter most – that’s the reason we take the picture. My messy house, ill-fitting postpartum clothes, and unwashed hair did not speak to those feelings; instead, my experience felt more like bright natural light, a hot shower, a fresh onesie, and a tidy nursery. So we paused and we made those images.

As Juniper grows, the struggles are different. Just like every working mom, I’m chasing the unicorn of work-life-balance, trying to keep up and still make memories of our first summer as a family. But the lesson is the same. My photos won’t show my messy desk stacked with to-do lists and half-full water glasses, or the towers of laundry… and that’s not being fake, that’s knowing what’s worth remembering. At nine months these days smell like banana pancakes, feel like wiggling baby toes, and sound like shrieking giggles as Ben chases Juniper up the stairs, and I can only hope that the images we’re making right now will feel exactly like that.

Photos above from Juniper’s first two weeks.

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.


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

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