Q+A with Breastfeeding Mama, Wendi Iacobello | Founder of Strength 4 Spouses

January has already thrown quite a few challenges our way, hasn’t it? How can we reflect and learn from 2020 to make us stronger and more resilient to anything that might get thrown our way this year? Well, we have a SUPER special breastfeeding mama with us today on the blog who is going to tell us exactly how. Wendi Iacobello is an Army wife + mama, and the founder of Strength 4 Spouses – a blog and community that fosters strength for those living military life (like me!). I am super excited that we get to spend some time with her –she has a powerful message to share, so let’s get to it.

Ailana J.: Hi Wendi! Thanks so much for being a guest on the Ailana J. Blog. Tell us a little about yourself! And we want to hear all about your sweet baby, Roman, and your breastfeeding journey with him. 

Wendi Iacobello:Hi everyone! My name is Wendi. I am an Army spouse of five years and mom of two boys. I have an angel son in heaven and my miraculous rainbow boy, Roman, here on earth. My professional background is in higher education and my passion project is my blog. I have always loved writing and enjoyed teaching students the art of the written word in my time in the classroom during my nine year career in education. Since starting my blog in 2017, I have had multiple opportunities in freelance writing and most recently, in 2020, became a published author. 

Now, about my greatest blessing, my baby boy. In the fall of 2019, we celebrated the arrival of our special rainbow baby boy who is now approaching his seventeenth month of life. We are still going strong on our breastfeeding journey. It has truly been one of the most rewarding and empowering experiences being able to breastfeed him for his first year of life and more. I believe breastfeeding is a gift. It isn’t easy, but it IS possible. Like anything else in life, you have to stay the course, do your research, enlist support, find an empowering community to be a part of to encourage you on the tough days, and persevere. There are a tremendous amount of positives that breastfeeding offers to you and your baby, so hang in there mamas.

AJ: That is amazing and such an accomplishment -breastfeeding is definitely not easy! 2020 was tough all around, but one BIG positive is that you’ve had such a beautiful breastfeeding journey with Roman this year! What advice do you have for mamas who want to breastfeed for a year or more? 

WI: It was such a major milestone to be able to breastfeed my son for his first year of life. We are still going strong too-almost 17 months! Breastfeeding was not easy at times, but we made it. Our success wasn’t without the help and support of friends, my husband, online groups, encouraging Instagram accounts such as yours, and a very dear lactation consultant in Fayetteville, NC. My best advice to other breastfeeding mamas is to stay the course, even on the tough days. You can do this and do not be afraid to reach out for lactation support when you need it. There are some great professionals out there waiting to help you and encourage you on your breastfeeding journey.

AJ: YES YES YES to a lactation consultant! There is no shame in asking for help – I did the same and it was such a game changer. Okay…let’s get to the nitty gritty. Although there have obviously been some wonderful blessings, I know your year was more dynamic than ever! What did 2020 really look like for you and why was it so darn tough? Tell us all the things – the good, the bad, and the ugly…even if most of it is the latter! 

WI: Adjusting to motherhood is not always easy. As mothers, we see a lot of mushy gushy, picture perfect images on social media and nothing really talks about the tough days of motherhood. That can make you feel very alone. Then, with the addition of the pandemic, it was a super isolating time. My son was only seven months old when we went on lockdown in North Carolina due to the pandemic.  He was a very colicky baby and sleep was not something he loved either. We tried EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING to help him sleep better. Sleep deprivation is real and can really affect you horribly. Add in post-partum depression and it's a recipe for disaster. I would call my husband in tears every day asking when he was coming home from work and you know with the military, they don’t always have a predictable schedule. It was a very tough time for us as a family. We ended up taking our son to a pediatric chiropractor at nine months old and it started making a huge difference in his sleeping, which made quality of life for all of us so much better. He still didn’t sleep through the night, but instead of waking every two hours, he was waking every four hours, and as time went on his sleep stints got longer to five or six hours long. What a gift that has been. 

In addition to the pandemic, adjusting to motherhood, and solving our family’s sleep crisis, we had another major challenge to undertake –a PCS across the country. I’ll save all the messy details of that one and just refer you to a poem I wroteabout that experience. All I will say is that we had to move twice, once from North Carolina to Oklahoma then again once we arrived in OK. Once we made it through that last challenge, life started looking up again. Whew. What a year, but I am so glad it ended on such a positive note.

AJ: OMG yes…I think so many moms felt so isolated during quarantine. Support is something that was lacking for a lot of moms this past year, but, as milspouses, that’s a challenge we face pretty regularly. How did you cope with the double whammy of COVID and being a milspouse, who PCS’d in the middle of the pandemic? (For those of you who don’t know, a PCS is a permanent change of station – essentially a military-ordered relocation)

WI: I, like many other people in 2020, had to seek out counseling. Covid shut all of my outlets down. I was a group fitness Instructor at Fort Bragg, and that was a great outlet for me as a mom. I taught Stroller Fit classes, which helped me connect with other moms and I could bring along my son to that class. In addition, I taught aqua cycling classes and that was my Saturday thing away from the baby. Volunteering in my community is a huge passion. The USO of NC storytime was one of my favorite volunteer activities and allowed me to connect with other moms. When all of that shut down, I really felt so isolated and alone. I cried a lot and had to find new outlets to handle the stress and loneliness of motherhood. I baked a ton of cookies and invested in a mountable infant bike seat. Then, I borrowed a bike from a neighbor, and began biking my son around our neighborhood two times a day. Between the counseling, cookies, and bike rides, my soul was finally getting fed again.

AJ: I am so happy you found healthy ways to feel good again. It is SO hard for many moms to ask for help, but having the strength to do so can make the world of difference. Unfortunately, just because we’re in a new year doesn’t mean much has changed quite yet. I think a lot of the challenges we faced in 2020 are still with us here in 2021. It’s not too late to ask for help if you’re reading this and are struggling! But I do feel like the new year brings a fresh perspective on things! What were your biggest learnings in 2020 that will help you thrive as a milspouse mama in 2021? How will some of the challenges you faced actually make life EASIER for you going forward? 

WI: The year 2020 really chewed me up, spit me out, and then some. Haha. I would say the biggest lessons I learned from last year were: adaptation, flexibility, embracing the messy, trying to squeeze out the positive in every day, and letting go of perfection. I really grew in my role as a mom in 2020 and created an amazing bond with my son. The strength and confidence I gained from the hand I was dealt in 2020 will definitely help me through this new year. That’s just it, whatever you survive makes you stronger and more resilient to other things that might come your way later.

AJ: 100%! I think once we shift our mindset, we give ourselves the opportunity to thrive. It’s all about learning and giving your mind the muscle memory on how to deal with tough situations and come out stronger on the other end! I totally have faith that this year is going to turn around for you! You help so many milspouses and mamas find strength in military life and motherhood – what goes around, comes around, right?! Tell us all about your blog, where can we all find you, and how we can connect with you.  

WI: Even though this year has started out rocky in America, I still have faith and optimism in the good and positive. As mothers, I think we have to really look for the bright spots every day and we can usually find that in our children. 

Strength 4 Spouses is a place to find some daily inspiration to help you find your strength through four pillars: fitness, faith, volunteerism, and finding purpose. I am real about military life and about motherhood while sprinkling in faith, some encouragement for your soul, and empowerment to be your best self. 

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Photo credit: Kerry Ludeman | www.kerryludeman.com

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