Tales of Addiction

Photo: Aleksey Lisovsky

It started innocently enough. One half-cup of coffee on Sunday mornings, mixed with hot milk. A once-a-week treat, since I was still nursing. I had gone caffeine free while I tried to get pregnant (seven months), throughout the pregnancy, and for a good bit of time afterwards while I nursed my colicky infant. Since I’m an extended nurser, I couldn’t keep this up forever. How cruel, to deny exhausted, nursing mothers the sweet relief of caffeine! I succumbed, slowly. One café-au-lait while my husband and I attempted to read the Sunday paper. It was a simpler time.

Before the baby was two, I was pregnant again. This time pregnancy happened nearly carelessly, and I never once thought to give up caffeine entirely. Once visibly pregnant, I would order a coffee and the counterperson, as likely as not, would pointedly ask, “Decaf?” In my sleep-deprived state (pregnancy insomnia hit me early and hard), I would think, what’s worse? To add a little caffeine to the baby soup, or to fall asleep on the highway with my toddler and fetus in the car? Caffeine it is!

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Oh, I tried to keep up my habit when the new baby came, six weeks early. I gave us a break for a month or two, but, Rhode Islander to the core, I needed my iced coffee fix in the summertime. I began ordering them half-decaf, half-caffeinated. A lactation consultant assured me full caffeine would not hurt my nursling, but he had other plans. Although he showed no other signs of distress due to caffeine, he began having the dreaded green poops. No! Breastfed babies have yellow poop! Everyone knows that! Deep in my heart, I knew the cause, and sure enough, once I gave up the iced coffees, the poop went back to normal.

Fast-forward two summers later. My big toddler man, while still nursing, has long since outgrown any sensitivity to caffeine. He still nurses at night, and I’m too much of a softy to wage that particular battle right now; my last full night’s sleep was sometime in early 2001. I am the full-time caregiver to two energetic boys who have not napped in longer than I can remember. I start my day with an iced coffee, and I need another fix in the late afternoon to get me through the whole dinner-bath-bed routine, which I orchestrate myself before my husband gets home. I keep coffee cold in the fridge in the summer, and I often engineer my days to get my fix (if we head north, we can go by the good coffee shop, but if anyone falls asleep in the car, we’ll need one with a drive through…Are there any coffee shops on the way to that playground? Maybe we can meet at a different park… and so on). The consequences are dire when my needs go unmet.

Just the other day, the two-year-old, playing with ice on the deck, decided to add his dirty, disgusting ice cubes to my iced coffee. Of course it was my fault for leaving my fix unattended while I went inside to wash grapes for their snack. Of course I didn’t have any more cold coffee in the house. Of course I threw a hissy fit. “NOOOOOO!” I cried, as if my child himself had fallen off the deck. I dumped the ruined coffee – I had only taken two sips! – down the sink. I threw the bowl, now empty, that had contained the offending ice cubes over the railing, sailing it onto the lawn. I said, very sternly, very seriously, “Do. Not. Mess. With. Mama’s. Coffee. Do you understand??” My toddler looked up at me, a bit astonished. “Yes,” he said. “No Mama coffee.” I went back into the house. What was this craziness? The acts of an addicted woman, obviously. I headed back out to the deck and patiently explained to my children that without steady doses of caffeine I turn into evil Queen Jadis (my oldest is currently listening to the Narnia books for the second time). I grabbed my keys and my children, leaving their shoes and toys strewn about the deck, and we drove to Tim Horton’s for a drive-through coffee. As we approached the intercom, my four-year-old piped up, “I’d like a medium iced coffee with cream and extra sugar, please!” At least I’m teaching him to say “please.”

And now here we are in the midst of a stomach bug. My toddler and I are eating mainly crackers, cereal, and water, although he seems far less worse for wear than I. I enter mid-morning with a crushing headache brought on not from this particular virus but from caffeine withdrawal. It goes against all known sense to drink coffee when stricken by a stomach virus, yet for the second day in a row I have succumbed by 11 a.m. and fixed myself a small coffee, just enough to take the edge off, to send the withdrawal headache to the edges of my brain, and to send me running for the bathroom within a half hour. I can no longer deny the obvious; I am addicted to caffeine, and I could not survive motherhood any other way.

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