Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Good night.

It’s been awhile. I have only the excuse of a small person with a virgin immune system who licks and paws at the faces of other small people at daycare. We’ve all been sick. Many times over.

And to be honest, we weren’t sleeping all that well.

In many ways, I over-prepared for having a baby, which is what I tend to do when I’m anxious. This method seems always to net the same result: I relax when the actual thing that I’ve worried so much about happens. And I relaxed, in most ways, once Augie arrived and we found our way together. I had thought about many things: feedings, playtime, diapering, bathing. But I hadn’t spend much time thinking about his sleep, figuring, I suppose, that it would be catch-as-catch-can in the first months and then we’d somehow work it all out thereafter.

Well I guess it’s not totally true that I hadn’t thought about it, but beyond knowing about co-sleeping and knowing about Ferberizing and assuming that there was a lot in between, I hadn’t come to any conclusions about how it would play out in our house.

Here’s how it did: somewhere around three months, Augie and I discovered side-lying nursing and everything changed. Finally, I could nurse and rest simultaneously, and Augie could sip and sleep endlessly. We spent hot summer afternoon naps in this fashion and both of us seemed to thrive. He finally agreed to long naps and I no longer needed to support his quickly expanding body. This worked so well for naps, that we started beginning bedtime in the same way. After a bath, a lotion massage (oh the beloved lotion massage), and swaddling, Augie and I would cuddle and nurse in bed until he fell asleep at 6:30 or 7. I’d then creep out of bed and leave him in the center of the mattress—fortressed in by pillowed walls—until I was ready to go to sleep, at which point I’d delicately transfer him to his cradle, right next to the bed. And he’d keep sleeping, usually until 6 am. Josh and I were convinced that we’d organically stumbled upon a flawless sleeping regime. At 6, I’d bring him into bed for more napping and nursing and then we’d all rise around 8. It was perfect.

Then everything shifted, because everything shifts in those months.

Just when you start to breathe, you’re reminded to hold your breath once again. He started waking in the middle of the night, first once and then twice, and then every two hours. By August, it was like we were back in April. School was starting, I was headed back to work, and I had no idea how to get us back to sleeping through the night. It was then that I started bringing Augie into bed with me during his first wake-up at, say, midnight. He’d then sip and sleep for the rest of the night and I’d easily fall back asleep between the feedings, if not during them. It wasn’t great, sometimes I couldn’t really remember my students’ names, but at least Augie seemed rested and I was able to function decently.

We continued in this fashion, with small revisions, like moving his crib into the nursery and starting him off there, but we kept ending up with him in bed, at the breast, for most of the night. I started to worry that he’d be in my bed in high school and that I’d never be able to wean him (to be honest, that fear persists). At the same time, even in my bleary-eyed exhaustion, I was aware of savoring the middle-of-the-night feedings. I actually really loved having this sweaty little bug curled up next to me and part of me couldn’t bear the idea of pushing him off to that lonely old crib.

But then I got sick (again) and this time I couldn’t shake it, the laryngitis, the bronchitis, it all seemed firmly lodged in my chest. I was convinced that I couldn’t shake it because I hadn’t slept well in months and months. And then I went away for a night and Josh was up all night with a baby who couldn’t sleep without a breast in his mouth. I started to feel like an abject failure as a mother. I had so thoroughly trained my baby to need me at night that even his father couldn’t get him to sleep. This seemed to call for action.

I agreed to try a kind of modified cry-it-out, one in which Josh would comfort Augie in staggered intervals until he fell asleep. I continued to nurse him in bed after the bath, but then move him to his crib (in the nursery) while he was still awake. I consented to sixty minutes of crying in total. I knew that was all I’d be able to bear. If it went beyond that, I’d call the experiment off.

The first night, Augie cried for 24 minutes over three intervals. I cried for 12. I went downstairs, blared NPR, and put in earplugs. Josh stayed upstairs to monitor Augie. The second night there were 6 minutes of crying, the third 4 minutes. Last night was night 10 and there were 12 seconds of crying. Now Augie seems fine with the idea of putting himself to sleep in his crib. Like all things thus far in childrearing, the reality was much easier than my imagined scene of horror.

Cry-it-out hasn’t been a cure-all. Augie still wakes very early in the morning, around 4 am. But we decided that if he made it to 4, he could then come into bed and nurse. This seems like a reasonable compromise to me, and frankly, if I gave this up as well, I think I’d be the one losing out. We still need to make this change for nap times when he’s at home. That may prove more difficult, but I think we’re nearly ready to try.

So at nearly ten months, we’ve shifted once again and this time in a direction that feels sustainable. I think my little baby will sleep on his own before high school and I’m planning to get 8 straight hours before spring arrives.

Monday, October 21, 2013

six, err.. seven (!) months

six  err.. seven (!) months

I didn’t mean to be absent for so long. It’s just that the autumn yucks set in about a month ago and we’ve all been afflicted. When we first talked about sending Augie to daycare, we worried about his getting sick, but the pediatrician assured us that it was either now or in kindergarten. Somehow it never occurred to us that we’d be sick too. Josh has had a month-long cold and cough that has left him still hacking, even after weeks of extra rest and a z-pack. And every time I recover, I end up with another cold three days later. Strangely enough, Augie seems the least bothered. I guess that tells you something about our “mature” resilience.

At seven months, Augie is just now starting to develop emotions other than extreme and constantly delight. He’s still a remarkably happy baby, but this week, we’ve noticed him emitting little grunts of displeasure every now and again. It’s as though he’s finally cultivating preferences. If anything, this is reassuring. We’ve worried — mostly in jest, but come on — that anyone who is as happy as he is must be a little “off.”

When I was helping a friend at a work party last weekend, I got paired with an old hippie. We got to talking about Augie and his happiness, and she asked if either my husband or I was anxious or a little depressive. I laughed. Yeah, of course. She then launched into a theory about babies knowing what’s needed of them. In her reading, Augie is always happy because he just knows — preternaturally — that that’s what we need. That that’s what we can handle. Maybe.

But on to the stuff I don’t want to forget:

:: after introducing solid food at 5 months, we’re giving it up at 7. Augie just isn’t interested and it’s making us all crazy. We’ll try again in a couple weeks.

:: the little mister sits up well on his own (that was a 6-month milestone) but shows no real signs of scooting or pulling up.

:: he laughs and squeals all of the time, but I can’t discern any word-like utterances. He loves to say “geeeee,” which I think he’s picked up from “Augie.”

:: I’m not sure where we are in terms of sleep. He still wakes up after about 7 or 8 hours and then comes into bed with me to nurse for the rest of the night. I’m guessing that we could break this habit, but frankly, it’s fine with me and I end up falling back asleep. And now it’s so cold at night that I’m struggling to figure out how to keep him warm enough to even sleep that long.

:: he loves to play peek-a-boo and he loves to dig for toys in his basket (i need to get pictures of both this week).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Just dropping in for a second to confirm that we’re still alive. In the last two weeks, we’ve weathered a major flea infestation (thanks Homer), a visit from Nana (who stopped by to purchase a house Yay!), a first real sickness (a 102 degree fever and all), and a semester in full swing (breathe, breathe).

We’re finding a rhythm, but man, it’s an exhausting one.

By Thursday, I’m just completely wreaked and need three days to catch up on sleep, not to mention reading and life. Josh has started cooking for the week on Sundays and this has helped enormously, especially when it’s 5:30 pm and we’re starving and have a ridiculously tired baby just home from daycare. The sleep loss, though, is real, even with a baby who wakes up just once, at 4 am, to nurse and snuggle in bed with us. While I was on leave, I was fine functioning on fewer hours, but when you have an intellectually challenging job, it’s really tough to work on three-quarters of your normal rest. We all need to start going to bed even earlier, like before 9 pm, and accept the temporary mediocrity of our work.

Our baby, fortunately, is anything but mediocre. He cracks us up. He rolls. He almost sits. He squeals. He squeaks. He listens to old time music. He laughs like an old man. He eats with spirit. He rumbles in the bath. He smiles ALL THE TIME.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

5 months (and 4 days)

At just over 5 months, Augie is:

:: Eating rice cereal. We were going to skip it, but then he started eying our plates like a starving orphan and we decided to go for it. It seems to be a rousing success. He eats. He smiles. His poop now smells.

:: Rolling over. Finally. In fact, it just happened today. Twice, in fact.

:: Consolidating his napping, but only at home and only on the weekends. Thank god for the 2+ hour afternoon nap when we need to prep for classes.

:: Going to daycare. This has been a tough transition. He still hasn't taken a good nap there, but I'm hoping that changes this week. His teachers seem kind and caring. He doesn't fuss, but he just won't sleep.

:: Playing contentedly by himself on the floor. This seems legacy of the first two weeks of daycare. We'll take it.

:: Sleeping without his beloved swaddle. I was terrified of weaning him from the wrap, but it was time (I found him banging his head against the crib rails with no way to move away from them) and the first two nights have so far been pretty smooth. He's growing up so fast that the next thing I know, he's going to want a waterbed and a disco ball in a den bedroom a la Greg Brady.

:: Slow down my babe. Slow down.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

On the cusp

Augie starts "school" on Monday.

I'm not ready. I don't think I'd be ready in another five months and maybe not even in another five years. I accept, of course, that he has to go. I also accept that I have a certain responsibility to myself, to Josh, and even to Augie to go back to work. But there's really not one part of me that's looking forward to dropping him off on Monday morning.

This is even after I read this at 3 am, when I was up for the second time the other night.

No one is more surprised by this hesitation than I am. Before he was born, I told friends that I wasn't looking forward to the baby phase. I thought I'd muscle through until he could talk. I had no idea that I'd lose all my defenses in his infancy. I had no idea that I’d feel so completely fulfilled by caring for his little pre-verbal self. Now I cry when I look at pictures from his first days and weeks. I already miss that little baby. He and I talk a lot about the days "when he was young."

And so as Monday approaches I've been thinking: I find motherhood the most deeply, magically liberating thing I've ever done. So much of the last twenty years has revolved around my managing my anxiety, my ambivalence, and my depression. And while a baby isn't, of course, a remedy, he has been the closest thing I've ever found to a cure.

Everyone always told me that a baby doesn't fix anything. I think everyone might be wrong in my case. 

There were hints of this in my decade with a hound named Arlo, a mutt so attached to me that he went on hunger-strikes when I left him for the weekend. He forced me outside and onto the wooded trails every day. We logged more miles in those years than I’ll accumulate in the rest of my days. Caring for him made me feel alive; it relaxed my nerves.


Caring for Augie feels a little like that, but also so much richer and so much more satisfying. He lends a shape to my days that feels both new and completely familiar. And the care that he requires, so simple and so immediately satisfying, feels the perfect counterweight to work I do and am supposed to be doing more of, namely writing and thinking about American literature.

That work has always come with ambivalence. I enjoy it in moments of clarity, but I dread it for long stretches of fuzzy thinking and scholarly malaise. Working with students feels vital, but the rest remains a painful struggle.

It’s this ambivalence that Augie has begun to wear away. When I’m with him, I’m liberated from the static in my head. Instead, I think about showing him new colors or changing his dipe, or talking to him about the cake that we’re baking. I’m not plagued by the frenzy of feeling like I need to keep up with the critical conversation. I’m happy to have a reason to “opt out,” if only for an afternoon.

I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m using my baby to spell myself from my career struggles. Instead, it feels like what he’s doing is both concentrating my energies (I work much more efficiently when I know that I only have an hour before I need to take back over) and making my downtime really downtime.

I'm not sure how daycare will affect this rhythm we have going. I worry that it will both make our time together feel much more urgent and that it will tarnish my work time with guilt. I hope that I'm wrong about both of these things, but I want to remember this struggle in any case.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

for armistead

My friend Armistead is expecting a little boy in December and she’s been asking about the things that she really needs. When I was pregnant a few friends sent lists, all of which totally overwhelmed me, and so this is my attempt to massively streamline the list to the bare essentials, knowing that there are dozens of other things that are nice to have, but they’re also totally unnecessary. Needless to say, these are the things that worked for us, but I'm sure that every baby has his own preferences.

1. Swaddle blankets, or better yet, the miracle blanket. We started with the aden + anais ones and totally love those for other things, but they were a bit unwieldy for nightly swaddling, even after watching this video. So we switched to the miracle blanket and really loved that, at least until Augie got too big. Now we're on to these, but he's already straining at the seams. If only his arms spasms would calm down. I fear we may have to try these next.

2. A bath sponge. We found that it was too difficult to bathe Augie in a baby tub when he was super little. In fact, we just started using one at four months. Until recently, I'd get in the bath first, soak for 10 minutes (a blessed ten minutes alone), and then Josh would bring Augie in and I'd sit cross-legged and hold him on the sponge. We'd then both be able to wash him. Thankfully we have no photo of the sponge set-up, but here's the big boy arrangement (with the bath sponge now as a pillow).

3. A nursing pillow. We were gifted a Brest Friend, which I wanted to hate because of the name, and we borrowed a boppy. There was really no competition. The former is way better. With the boppy, Augie would sort of fall between it and me. But with the brest friend, god is that the worst name, he could lie on the flat surface and feel pretty secure. I never used the waist band. That thing freaked me out.

4. A bouncy seat. Strictly speaking, this isn't a necessity, but if you ever want to be able to take a shower or fix a bowl of oatmeal, you need a place to stash the little guy. We borrowed this from friends and we've loved it, used it every day, and return it when he can sit up on his own. But I'm getting that thing back if we ever have another baby. This is the one we had. It's pricey, but I have no complaints. He now loves this spinning thing. (Oh and the blue soft blanket seen below was his absolute favorite. I'll try to remember who makes it.)

5. Wraps. Back to that bowl of oatmeal. When you're ready to eat it and he's had enough of the bouncer, you need to be able to strap him to your body and chow down. We have the k'tan, which was perfect for the newborn stage and still super easy to use. Here it is in action.

Don't mind the head scarf. We also have and use an Ergo and I sewed a ring sling out of linen yardage. These days, I use the ring sling most often, but I still grab the k'tan for grocery runs. The ergo is good for hiking and more adventurous baby outings. If I had to get just one for the first six months, it would be the k'tan.

6. I've been saving the most essential for last: diapers. For the first two weeks, we used paper diapers. We figured that we'd sort out having a baby at home before we tried to keep up with diaper laundry. I'm not sure this was totally necessary, but it wasn't a big deal to buy one case of newborn dipes.

I spent about six months reading hundreds of reviews of diapers. I also talked to a bunch of friends who had tried all sorts of brands. I ended up buying all of ours on Black Friday, which seems to be the only day of the year when they're seriously discounted. We bought these, these, and these. Altogether, I think we have 32 diapers. That's enough to do laundry every other or every third day. They should last for several more children, mine or someone else's (the resale value is excellent). We end up using the 4.0s double stuffed at night and the flips during the day. I also bought a few dozen prefolds that we use as both spit-cloths, and trifolded, as inserts in the flips. I have absolutely no complaints about them. Oh, and we bought mostly snaps, but a few with velcro and we like them all. We also use cloth wipes because it's just as easy to throw them in the bag with the dipes and they work so much better than disposable ones. We keep them warm in here with water and a drop of tea-tree oil. We also use this miracle stick to prevent any sign of diaper rash. Oh and we wash with Charlie's (Maura's brilliant suggestion), which we use for everything now.

I think that about does it. Everything else is a bonus. I'll try to do another post on newborn and infant toys that Augie has loved. And you know the good books.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

4+ months

At four months and a week, Augie is:

:: growing fatter and fatter. He topped the scales at nearly 17lbs on Thursday. But he's still short, of course. 

:: all head. That noggin is so big (this he must get from my side) that is seems to impede his ability to roll over, which he does not do.

:: growing out of his nystagmus! Our second opinion in Michigan suggested that his nystagmus was an anomalous tick of his development and we think he might be right. I haven't seen it in over a week. 

:: laughing like and with his dad. Josh gets him cracking up (video to come) and it's the best thing in the world. 

:: still sleeping through the night, but now in a big playpen next to our bed because he grew out of the cradle and I'm too nervous to have him sleep in a crib in his room. 

:: recovering from his first real cold (that I gave him in the midst of dental hell). He was a total trooper. 

:: getting ready to start daycare on Aug. 12. I'm dreading it. Josh can't wait. And Augie has no idea. I know it will feel good on some level to get back to work, but I'd really rather stay home and hang with the little mister. But alas, it's off to daycare he'll go. 

:: skipping the 4-month rice cereal thing. We'll exclusively breastfeed for 2 more months before we introduce some veggies. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Trials and Travels

It's been one of those weeks, the kind that you'd rather forget. Just when we were enjoying a lovely visit with Josh's college pal and his parents, I accidentally mowed over a yellow jacket hive in the back yard. At first I didn't know what was happening. My legs started to sting and I looked down to a patch of yellow creatures swarming my shins. I sprinted, leaving the mower to sputter out on its own. Fortunately, I got ice on them right away and the actual stinging lasted just an hour or so. But then the itch-to-end-all-itches set in and I was miserable for the next 72 hours. I was so drugged on Benadryl that I can't really remember what happened. Somehow I kept feeding Augie, and fortunately, he wasn't mowing with me.

But unfortunately this horror overlapped with some shoddy Kentucky dental work and I ended up with a bad crown that has now morphed into head/jaw/neck pain (e.g. the give-me-the-root-canal-now pain). This particular pain recalls another dental misstep in my past: the elective "operative procedure" that I allowed a UNC dental student to perform on the same bad tooth so that she could graduate. That was a pity filling. This is a crap crown. Tooth #29 has always been my Achilles' heal.

With my itching legs and a throbbing face, we drove to Michigan yesterday. Our usual trip took just an extra hour or so. Augie was a great traveler and he slept most of the way. We pulled up at dinner time and immediately breathed deeply and started to relax. I'm hopped up on Advil, and I may need to find an emergency dentist tomorrow or Monday, but at least it's not 90 degrees and humid. Instead, it's 64 and I'm sitting on a porch looking out over the lake. I have a couple dogs asleep at my feet and two yellow finches at the feeder. I'll watch fireworks over the bay tonight and introduce Augie to his youngest aunt.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On nursing

Writing about breastfeeding is like writing about Moby Dick. It's well worn stuff and the best insights have been down on paper for generations. So what's here isn't news to anyone, except, perhaps,  me. 

 I read a whole lot about breastfeeding while I was pregnant (Martha Sears, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, kellymom.com, lots and lots of blogs). I was worried, as I'm wont to be, about finding a rhythm with Augie. I was concerned about my breasts and I was nervous about the infamous underproduction problem. I wanted to be well prepared and so I bought everything I thought I might need (a shield, breast pads, "booby tubes," etc.) and assembled myself a little nursing kit. As it turns out, I've hardly needed a thing. 

As prepared as I felt, the first days in the hospital did little to assuage my worries. I had Josh call an independent lactation consultant within hours of giving birth because I was terrified of the hospital giving him a bottle and the recovery nurses were utterly unhelpful. Our birth instructor warned us that all Kentucky hospitals automatically stick bottles in newborn mouths, and so I felt like I needed to be on guard and proving to the nurses that I could do it. I thought nipple confusion was as virulent as malaria--there'd be no recovery. 

This is not a good way to begin nursing. 

I also struggled with a very sleepy baby and a body less ready to start nursing. C-sections before natural labor pose all sorts of challenges to breastfeeding: it takes longer for your milk to come in,  you have to negotiate your incision, you're on industrial-strength narcotics and dull the senses. 

But Josh was patient. The hospital lactation consultant who appeared on day two was an angel sent from the breasts above. A friend showed me how to put Augie in the crook of my arm. And he eventually woke up and figured it out. In all the early struggles, I never once thought about throwing in the towel. If I couldn't have the birth I wanted, I was damn sure I'd have the nursing. 

 For the first five weeks or so, I obsessively tracked Aug's feedings on an iPhone app. In those early weeks I was nursing 14 or 15 times a day and for long stretches. I'd check my app at 9 pm and he would have already spent 7 hours nursing that day. He'd "dine and doze" or "sip and sleep" or "nurse and nap" for hours and hours (alliterations littering my head the whole while). Those days all felt really long. My body was sore from the c-section and the cracked rib. I was exhausted and it took a month before I felt halfway normal again. My body still feels like a foreign territory. 

Now looking back, I think it was the breastfeeding that slowed down the days. Usually I'm thinking about the twenty things that I want to get done. I'm making lists in my mind and reordering them continuously. I multitask and floss while driving (that's gross, right?). But when I'm nursing Aug, the lists dry up and the urgent need to get anything done goes silent. Nothing feels as pressing as it normally does, and I've relished that new calm. 

I like the feeling that when I'm feeding him, I'm the one being nourished. 

Of course he's being nourished--fattened, really--too. We're both being calmed, immediately and profoundly. And that calm feels like the best thing I've ever produced. Which is fortunate because one of the most obvious changes since his birth is my utter lack of normal productivity. 

I haven't been working, of course, but I also haven't been doing anything with my hands. This is probably the longest stretch since my childhood when I've been without creative projects. In fact, when we were flying last week, I realized that in place of knitting in my hands, I had a baby. And I actually didn't feel the urgent need to knit in order to calm my mind, even during the take-off and the turbulence. 

My garden is overrun with weeds and the whole mess desperately needs to be trimmed and tamed. But even that urge has been quieted in these first months of mothering.

 I relish the proficiency I feel in nurturing Augie. It feels like the first thing in a long while that has come naturally and automatically. I know there are challenges ahead, but for now, I'm just deeply grateful that we figured the nursing thing out.