A Haitus

Lately things have been spinning out of control. The Sprout won’t sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time, and even then, it has to be latched on to my boob, with me contorted into uncomfortable, impossible positions while I attempt to grab sleep in little spurts. Everything is falling apart and I can’t manage it at all.

Every week I compile my list of things that need to get done. I have been failing, spectacularly, at all of them. Updating this blog is one of them, in the ‘maintaining sanity’ category, since writing things out helps me cope with the flotsam spinning around in my head. So of course it gets pushed back, and pushed back, and then it just becomes another one of those things on my to-do list that I push off tomorrow, another source of stress and guilt.

So for the time being, I’m putting this blog on hiatus. It’s supposed to function as a release, but now it’s just another thing making life feel harder, which is ridiculous because updating a blog is pretty much the epitome of un-important tasks.

I feel guilty not following through on this – I really, really hate starting a project and not giving 100% to it, to failing to finish things once I’ve decided to move forward. I detest flakiness, waffling, hemming and hawing, but I acknowledge that everyone has to ocassionally fall into valleys of depravity to get through life. I’m trying to learn how to let things slide, and this is one of the most obvious and least harmful places I can do that.

So for the time being, I am no longer updating my blog weekly. At some point, I’ll pick it up again. This post is an attempt to feel a bit less flaky. I know there aren’t many readers, and this certainly isn’t the type of place a reader depends on and misses (Unlike Hyperbole and a Half, which I religiously check every couple of months in the hope that Ally has decided to bless us with her brain-gifts once again.) But I feel better giving an excuse for inconsistency.

Meanwhile, if you’re bored and looking for something to do between the hours of midnight and 6AM, feel free to stop by and keep me from murdering this adorable bundle of baby.

Week 8 – Losing it

This is part eight in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

As the Sprout celebrated his 2-month birthday, he entered a particularly nasty fussy phase. He’d start out each day with a 1-2 hour screamfest at 4AM. Then again, periodically, throughout the day, like clockwork. It was…difficult to deal with, to say the least.

This was the month that I started to sympathize with parents of shaken babies. After severe sleep deprivation, when all you want to do is lie down, while your body is aching from the exercise of baby-hefting, nursing and still recovering from child birth, that little creature is scrunched up in a ball of fury, shrieking at you to get a grip and quit being such a failure as a parent.

I tried to take the advice many books and parents had given me – put the baby down in a safe place and walk away. Instead of calming down, the screaming would pierce through me while I just wanted a respite, and I would grow more and more furious. Slamming doors, punching walls, kicking appliances and pillows and pretty much anything nearby didn’t release any anger, it just intensified my rage.

Because of my reactions to these situations, I quickly realized that even if I did decide to resort to any controlled crying methods (which I had no interest in anyway), the practice would be more than just traumatic for both of us – it’d be downright dangerous. I am continually frustrated when I try to explain this to people who advise me to subject the Sprout to controlled crying. It’s not that I’m against it. It’s not that I don’t think it would work, or that I think it’d be traumatic for the Sprout or that it wouldn’t be great for other families. The issue isn’t that it’d be difficult or that it would make me sad to hear him cry. It’s that subjecting our family to it would set up the environment for child abuse. So for me, controlled crying is not a choice, it’s a matter of keeping my son alive.

I am grateful, very, very grateful, to not be a single parent for these reasons. If my partner hadn’t roused himself from a deep sleep to remove me from the room while I slammed furniture around and screamed at a terrified infant, I don’t think the Sprout would be alive right now. Even today, after almost a full year of parenthood, I find it impossible to keep my composure at 2AM while he screams at me and my brain is a tired, muddled mess of shoulds and can’ts and personal needs and guilt and failure. Recently my partner had to turn down his mother’s request to fly across the country to attend his grandmother’s funeral – I was too terrified to be left alone with the Sprout for two nights, honestly worried that I wouldn’t be able to control myself if the Sprout decided to make the night a tough one. I feel awful about this – the selfish demands to keep my partner chained to the house because of my weaknesses. But when the date came and went, I was grateful that he stayed – the funeral was scheduled smack in the middle of a particularly trying sleep regression month.

Prior to this year, I never quite understood how someone can just lose control of themselves. When ‘losing’ my temper or doing something risky or dumb in the past, I had always had a calculated motivation, or thought that raising my voice or lashing out was just the socially normal thing to do to express displeasure. Only after many years co-habitation with my level-headed partner have I learned that these kinds of aggressive behaviors are never really necessary in place of more constructive actions. Over the last decade, I’ve become more or less calm – no dish smashing, yelling or storming about the place – I just chose not to do these things and it was fairly easy. Until now.

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but lack of sleep enters into the equation. After a few fragmented hours of sleep over the last 48 hours, dealing with a screaming infant becomes monumentally difficult. On top of the noise and feelings of inadequacy, there are the pressures to not give in, to maintain consistency, to adhere to limits, theoretically with the end goal of giving the baby some guidelines of how futile screaming really is so he won’t do it in the future. In the early hours of the morning, I become hopeless, unable to differentiate between the clear and reasonable plan of action I set out to do at the start of the night and plain neglect.

At least during those rough periods when we’re weaning him from something – such as nursing every 45 minutes throughout the night, I can just give in and put him to the breast. Oddly, after a few hours of torture I tend to get too confused to realize it, becoming even more entrenched in the idea that I need to hold steadfast or else we’re doomed to another several weeks of agony. So in the end, we have several hours of me screaming and stomping around the house breaking things until my partner rescues us, whereupon I rest for a few minutes and then of course, give in and nurse him to sleep, feeling terribly guilty and abusive, cooing apologies and often crying in shame, upset with myself setting such a terrible example and frightening this little person who is entirely dependent on me for all of his needs – taking away his only source of comfort and replacing it with a screaming boogey monster.

The tough days and nights are the ones in which he’s inconsolable. There is no last-resort action to give in with, he just screams. And screams and screams. Really, I’m amazed that infanticide isn’t a common household occurrence, like ice dams or termites.

So how do you manage it? Do you have a hero in the house who saves you? Do you utilize outside resources? Or is your baby just less of an dick?

Week 7 – Getting off the Sofa

This is part seven in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

To take advantage of the Sprout’s new wakefulness, I made a few forays out of the house. Not content to relax and gradually introduce myself and my infant back into the world, I had started errands and social callings within a week of the Sprout’s birth, even outfitting him in a onesie-tux for a wedding when he was two weeks old. In the future, I’ll probably wait until week six or seven – once I’ve had a chance to heal properly from the cesarean surgery, regale in the slow pace of life with a newborn, and adjust to the harsh sounds and flashy sights of the outside world.

As we’ve learned from science, movement stimulates the vestibular system of infants and aids in later motor development. This was a win-win for us. Walking around with the Sprout nestled into a sling, I was able to distract him for up to thirty minutes at a time between feedings as he soaked in whatever it is he could sense from the outside world.

He would stare and smile at strangers who leaned in close enough for him to focus on them, perk up at sounds, wiggle when he felt a breeze and nuzzle into my chest when tired or hungry.

By necessity, I figured out how to nurse in a sling while walking around. It saved me a good deal of sanity, finally having a break from the sofa and my nursing pillow. In the first few months, I had the most luck nursing with a ring sling from Sleeping Baby (she also includes detailed and safe instructions for how to make your own, if you are so inclined). The ring sling was fantastic for nursing while walking and even through the cocktail reception of the wedding, but got uncomfortable during longer forays as the Sprout grew heavier. For longer walks I would use the K’Tan, (similar to a Moby wrap, but without all of the origami moves) which distributed his weight comfortably and was great for lugging him around while I did chores, but I found difficult to nurse with. I quickly got too hot during the summer wrapped in all of that fabric and switched to the Beco Gemini,  which I still use at the time of this writing (with a 20 lb, 10 month old pre-toddler). In addition to being the most comfortable and easy to use, it’s also the easiest sling to nurse in (for a baby with head control). With the next baby, I’ll just start out with the Gemini and pull out the ring sling for dressy occasions or very hot days (I got the linen fabric for summer breathability).

At 6 weeks, the sprout also became eligible for free mommy and me yoga classes, which became the highlight of our day. Getting out of the house to meet other new moms, to have an experienced instructor tell me how I could move his limbs around without fear of hurting him was a nice way to break up the day. Before taking up baby yoga, I was afraid to so much as hold his hands down as he waved them about, unsure of what kind of touch would bruise his tiny limbs.

Even with the walks and the daily yoga classes, I went a little stir-crazy. Part of it had to do with the sprout’s alertness – suddenly he needed full eye contact, all of the time, and I was too exhausted to come up with better ways of entertaining him than filling his days with outings. I spent an exhausting several months constantly swaying and holding him, or propping him in my lap, staring back into his eyes, keeping up one side of an exhaustively one-sided conversation. I later learned that some of this was ‘obligatory looking,’ when an infant can’t pull his gaze away from a stimulus (such as a light, or mobile) and I could have parked him under a shiny object and bought myself enough time for a nice shower.

According to some forgotten and dubious resource, the baby would sleep when he was tired, so I had no idea that I was probably stimulating him to the point of over-tiredness. I couldn’t read his signs, and in retrospect, that might have been a great time to start him on a schedule, which I had been against because of how artificial the concept seemed to me at the time. When I grew too exhausted to walk or converse with him, I’d nurse him some more just for the chance to sit down. Around this time, he stopped napping during the day – which I didn’t realize wasn’t normal until it was too late and he’d made a habit of it.

With the next baby, I’ll set her up in a nice cozy corner with a mirror and an octahedron mobile to practice her pre-reaching and prune those neural pathways. I’ll invest in a bouncer seat since I’ve realized breaking skin contact is not neglect, I’ll keep an eye on the clock to develop a routine so she’ll nap during the day, and I’ll enjoy every moment of those tiny-baby nuzzles before she gets head control and no longer rests her head under my chin for a cuddle.

Week 6 – Smiles and baby-puberty

This is part six  in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

As I mentioned in my last update on week 5, the Sprout continued to blossom from a sleeping loaf into an active organism during his second month. On week 6, his eyes popped open, his neck strengthened enough for him to push his head up and look around, and his smiles(!!) showed up.

There are huge leaps in growth around the 6-week mark – not just physical growth, but neurological. In The Wonder Weeks, van de Rijt and Plooij detail some of the things you can expect after this latest growth spurt (they call them ‘mental leaps’). In the Sprout, I noticed a distinct increase in alertness, which supposedly comes along with new abilities to receive and process new sensations. Suddenly, the Sprout was not content to nuzzle under my chin while I walked him around in the sling – he insisted on poking his head out to experience the outside world. Laying cradled in my arms on the sofa all day was no longer acceptable. Thus began my new career of maintaining a steady one-sided conversation complete with hours of eye-contact, animals sounds and swinging lunges to keep him content.

As a parent, this leap was a huge milestone because he could finally interact in a huge way – he started smiling. Chasing smiles became my primary hobby. Finally there was an instant reward for the efforts of parenting in those small, soft cheeks and that adorable dimple.

Among the many, many difficulties facing parents of preemies, I once heard a mother of preemies discuss how extra grueling parenting could be due to the fact that she had to go through that many more weeks before being rewarded with the delightful feedback of a gummy smile.

As someone who doesn’t derive an instinctual joy from receiving a smile, I still found it to be a wonderful experience – to know that my son was enjoying himself and able to express his pleasure in this simple act of communication. With so many ambiguities to parenting (why is he crying? too hot, too cold, wet, dirty, hungry, gas, or is he just a jerk?) it was a relief, to have a few moments when I knew, at least temporarily, that he was doing OK.

The smiles were charming and radiant, and they came just in time to mitigate his transition from a handsome newborn into a rather ugly baby.

From first hours on earth, people would pull my aside and insist on informing me that I was blessed with a very good looking child. Not just a cute baby, but particularly stunning.

‘Oh sure, that’s what you say to all of the babies,’ I thought. I must have heard “What a handsome baby!” from every single person I met. It was obviously just a thing to say, like “When is your due date?” When the inquisitor really couldn’t care less. (Also puzzling: the response to “How old is he?” with a gasp of awe, as if being three days old is an impressive task, like everyone who has ever lived more than a week hasn’t been three days old once. We should be impressed by the 80-year-olds. Not everyone manages that.)

Could newborns even be anything but wrinkled and kind of creepy? Sure, for a newborn, my son sure was captivating to me (although I still thought the cat was just a little bit cuter). But I’m his mom. I am hormonally disposed to believe so. In fact, I tested this theory – toward the end of my pregnancy, I googled images of newborns and considered my reaction to them, noticing that they were significantly less disgusting than I used to find babies. A week before the Sprout was born, his friend Spatch was welcomed into the world, and when I saw her photo, she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I was floored with how gorgeous she was despite my previous aversion to babies. Sure, Spatch happens to be quite a looker, but at least some of it must have been the pregnancy hormones talking. When the Sprout was three days old, I googled the same newborn pictures and discovered that not only did I not find them repulsive, I found the babies adorable. Not as adorable as my own son, but cute enough that I bothered to linger and internally coo over the images the way I tend to do with videos of clumsy pandas.

So when people told me my baby was cute, I assumed they were being nice, or they too, were full of hormones. Then week 6 happened, and the sprout went bald in a particularly unforgiving pattern, then broke out into a rash of acne that rivaled my middle-school complexion. He bore a startling resemblance to Wallace Shawn and friends took to shouting ‘Inconceivable!’ at him because of his resemblance to the Princess Bride villain. Even as his mother, I found him pretty grotesque.

People still pulled me aside and proceeded to coo over his toothless grins and blue eyes,  but no longer did people tell me how handsome he was. Instead, the phrase “What a sweet baby!” followed us everywhere we went. I was pleased with the change in word choice, as it meant no one was outright lying to me. Although – I don’t know how they gleaned how sweet his disposition was just from a few smiles and blinks.

As an admittedly shallow person, it was nice to see that I still loved my son and felt as attached as ever, but it was nice to have those smiles show up when they did, right when I was questioning my choices in breeding with someone who could produce such homely offspring.

Week 5 – The New Normal

This is part 5 (as in the fifth week of parenting) in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

The first month of your life as a mother was an adjustment period – all of us live in yoga pants and wear the same spit up-soaked shirt for days on end. No matter how together you keep it in your pre-baby life, things are some level of chaos in that first month with a new baby.

The second month is a transition period, an early (but by no means definitive) test of how well you can balance your role as a mother with your role as an independent human. If you get together with other moms this month, you’ll see the occasional mom who often gets mistaken for the nanny – there are no bags under her eyes (in fact, did she find time to put on mascara?) her hair is shiny and well-groomed, her stomach is flat, and she is wearing a different shirt than the one you saw her in last week. We don’t just envy these women, we gape at them in puzzled awe.

This is when we, as mothers, get divided into two camps – those who have our shit together, and those who do not have their shit together.

As a member of the latter group, I still can’t tell you what secret these put-together women employ to appear so flawless. I suspect it’s a special mix of outside help, previous experience with children, relaxed attitude, tenacity and talent. I know about the mommy wars, about the constant sniping and judgment women tend to direct toward each other when it comes to parenting and lifestyle choices, but I just don’t buy into it, and I don’t think most moms do either. Celebrity moms get a lot of flack for caving to pressure and setting unrealistic standards on the covers of tabloids, but it’s their job to appear super human and I can’t begrudge them using extraordinary resources to do it.

As someone who used to have her shit together, I know how much work it is to always be on time for appointments, to maintain a flat stomach and a cute haircut. I don’t see their relative perfection as a reflection of my inferiority, but rather as a celebration of their own awesomeness, which in no way hurts me. I applaud these women.

I also applaud those of us who can’t quite pull it together to make it to the pediatrician on time. Those of us who are still wearing our maternity pants and those of us who smell kind of gross.

All of us are mothers. All of us are women who are muddling through and kind of confused and still a bit dazed and occasionally (or always) frazzled. It also helps that there isn’t a point or reward system. At the end of the day, all of us have our babies so we all win (but especially me, since mine is the cutest.)

The second month of motherhood is a time to establish a new normal – a constantly changing, nebulous cloud of routines and ideals that is, no matter how easily you’ve switched back to your pre-pregnancy jeans, completely and utterly different from your old life.

For me, the pace got slower. I used to get 5-15 productive things done a day, including 1-5 hours of exercise, 11.5 hours of sleep, the occasional hobby, a bit of lucrative work, some time with friends and maybe a few kisses from a cute boy.

Pre-motherhood, I had a bulletin board in my house, about four feet square, on which hundreds of little pieces of paper were pinned. On these pieces of paper were the many, many things I wanted to get done, from small repairs around the house to huge renovations, from routine haircuts and weekly chores to career milestones years in the making. Every night I would shift these papers around, step back, take a look, and head to bed with a plan of attack for the next day. The next day I would wake up and get things done.

These days, I set a maximum of three goals a day. Occasionally, one of those goals is something like ‘take a shower.’ More often than not, I’ll only meet 1 or 2 of the goals. But now I get way more kisses from cute boys.

It was about by the fifth week of motherhood that I realized that this painfully slow pace was my new normal, and it was going to last for more than a few weeks. Even after setting the new bar much, much lower than its previous position, I still mess up. I’m often running late, despite hours of preparation. I find myself out of the house without diapers, mandatory pacifiers or sometimes I even head out the door juggling my bag, baby and keys, with just enough time to get to baby yoga only to realize that I forgot I didn’t have the car that day.

It was agonizing, slowing down and accepting my new limitations. It was also freeing, like a reverse-makeover, allowing me to re-invent who I wanted to be for the next few years during my career as a mother of a young child.

The image of a phoenix rising through the ashes comes to mind, but that’s not quite right. Sure, there is a trial by fire in new motherhood, but my old life isn’t rubble, it’s just set aside for a bit. I’m not a phoenix, I’m a magpie, using my collection of interesting habits to decorate a nest in which I’ll raise my young. My old goals of climbing a 5.14 and publishing a book of photography aren’t gone, they are just paused. Meanwhile, I will use these skills – my stamina as a climber, my talent as a photographer, in my new life as a mother.

My personality has changed, somewhat drastically. In the first months, it was mostly exhaustion. I could feel my brain sluggishly chugging to compute basic instructions. Some of it is breast-feeding, the post-menopausal hormone levels causing me to be perpetually level-headed and calm (except at 4AM after a three-hour fussy session with the Sprout, even I have my limits.) I’m not done transforming, and I doubt I’ll ever be ‘finished.’

I’m still figuring out the direction I want to head in – not just as a mother, but as an individual with motherhood experience outside of the family realm. Right now my career as a parent is all-encompassing, but already I can feel the instinctual pull of motherhood ebbing slightly as my son becomes more independent and I gain a bit of footing back into the real world.

The second month of motherhood was my transition month, when I began to establish a new personality, a new normal. It was also the month that the Sprout’s personality started to emerge. Studies by Dr. Jerome Kagan indicate that humans tend to show some consistent temperament traits throughout life, and the fifth week is when the Sprout started to shed the sleepy effects of his early jaundice and stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time without screaming. In the inhibited (shy, timid, fearful) to uninhibited (bold, sociable, outgoing) spectrum, the Sprout clearly demonstrated a tendency toward the sociable side, taking after his father. As someone who has always tended toward the fearful side of the spectrum, it was with great relief that I recognized this. While I’m hesitant to label one type of personality trait as fundamentally ‘better’ than the other, I’m hoping he’ll have a better chance at chasing happiness in a culture that values more brazen personalities

I’m interested to see if this experience is similar for other families. What surprising changes did you find to your personality or lifestyle as a mother/individual? At what week did your infant start showing signs of his personality? What started to tip you off?

And if you are one of those put-together moms, share your secrets with us on how you applied that mascara without getting distracted halfway through by a screaming infant.

Week 4 – Doing It Wrong

This is part 4 (as in the fourth week of parenting) in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you,* so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

*Never take any advice from me, I obviously have no idea what I’m doing, as you will realize…

After writing and reading this post, I realized that the misery I shuffled through during the first six months of the Sprout’s life was caused by a combination of information-overload, sleep deprivation-induced stupidity, and taking things too literally. Looking back, I feel pretty dumb for not figuring things out earlier. Sitting here now, the parent of a healthy ten month old who somehow survived my early months of terrible parenting, I am dumbfounded by my own mistakes. If this sounds similar to what you are going thorough, hire a babysitter, get a day’s worth of sleep, and learn what not to do.

 Baby Days

Depending on your circumstances, you are likely to fall into a natural routine of ‘baby days’ as my partner and I called them in those early weeks. According to Tracy Hogg, the routine of eating, sleeping and activity should repeat itself every 3 hours or so (or every 2, if your baby is under 6 lbs) and should stay in that routine until your kiddo is about 4 months old, at which time your baby days will grow into longer 4-hour cycles. Always one to take things overboard, I missed the memo on that one. To be fair, no one told me.

In that first hectic month during which life was a non-stop routine of nursing, pumping, cleaning bottles, syringes and pump parts, (also trying to catch some cat naps,) we aimed for a solid 2-hour schedule (that’s 12 ‘baby-days’ per earth day) because of my low milk supply. Despite this being the recommendation of lactation consultants everywhere, I wish I had ignored them. Two hours is simply not enough time between the start of each feeding, leaving less than 30 minutes to catch sleep in between all of the work. It wasn’t just me who was exhausted – the Sprout hated it too. Since he had to be up for about an hour between the breastfeeding and supplementation, he had only an hour to sleep between feeds, and that just isn’t enough for a newborn.

When the Sprout was about four weeks old, here is what my schedule looked like (Note that this isn’t an exaggeration, this is an exact report of my activities on June 20th, 2012):

12:00 AM: Nurse for 20 minutes per side, supplement the Sprout, then pump for 20 minutes (90 minutes total, including diaper changes, setup and washing of the bottles, etc.)

1:30 AM: Shower while the Sprout sleeps

2:00 AM: Nurse for an hour

3:00 AM: Sleep for three hours (Sometimes I was just so exhausted there was no way to wake me for a feed, so this is the one I occasionally, and guiltily, skipped, while my partner supplemented him).

6:00 AM: Nurse, supplement, pump for another 90 minutes

7:30 AM: Laundry (Due to a broken basement door, this involved going outside and entering through the bulkhead, soaking and scraping poopy diapers before washing them, then hanging the clean diapers on a line outside, which took about half an hour, all while lugging the Sprout around in a sling. I was too environmentally guilt-ridden and exhausted to realize that the dryer was a viable option).

8:00 AM: Chores (dishes, watering plants, etc), with the Sprout in the sling.

9:00 AM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes

10:00 AM: Tummy time for the Sprout

10:30 AM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes (Cluster feeding to make up for my cheating overnight)

11:30 AM: One-handed lunch, dropping crumbs all over the Sprout. (This is my first meal of the day)

12:00 PM: Nap for 90 minutes, followed by guilt after realizing I slept late.

1:30 PM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes

2:30 PM: Attempt to get the Sprout to stop screaming

3:30 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes.

4:30 PM: Laundry (pulling down the dry diapers from the line, sorting everything, scraping more poop), Sprout in the sling.

5:00 PM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes

5:30 PM: Start cooking for 30 minutes while my partner takes the Sprout

6:00 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes

7:00 PM: Continue cooking for 30 minutes

7:30 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes

8:30 PM: Shower, brush teeth (for the first time in the day) while my partner takes the Sprout.

9:00 PM: Finish cooking for 30 minutes, eat (second and last meal of the day, again covering the Sprout in crumbs).

9:30 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes

10:30 PM: Read email, take notes on the day, regroup, while Sprout sleeps in my lap

11:00 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes

DO NOT DO THIS. This was my schedule with a partner available to me to help with dishes, kitty litter, errands and supplementation. I can’t imagine what life would have been like as a single mother, or with a less helpful partner. Even despite my best efforts, I was unable to meet that 2-hour cycle. Occasionally I’d try and cluster-feed to make up for it, but sometimes I just needed to sleep. The most damaging thing about the prescribed 2-hour cycle is that lactation consultants never tell you when you can stop. And despite my repeated requests for logical exceptions, all of these LCs demanded the 2-hour cycle from the start of one feed to the next even if he took 90+ minutes to nurse.

At the point of this sample day, I had been at it for four weeks and had grown a little more lax in the schedule. I still had to supplement and pump after some feedings, but it was nothing compared to the first two weeks when supplementation and pumping was mandatory after every feed. Since the Sprout was so exhausted, his feeds often took an hour, I kept having to massage him and wiggle his limbs wake him up as he ate. Looking back, it seems pretty cruel.

This sample day was a ‘cooking day’ and I managed to cook for the next seven days within a cumulative 90 minutes. On other days, this ‘spare’ time was spent on pediatrician visits, lactation consultations, errands, chores – in other words, this there was no time for anything actually pleasant. Note that my cumulative sleep was 4.5 hours. I spent 12.5 hours with either a pump or a baby attached to my breasts. There was much soreness, blisters, bleeding, ugh, I can’t believe they weren’t permanently mauled.

In hindsight, here is what I wish I could do (sadly, it won’t be an option with the next baby since I’ll have a toddler to take care of):

12:00 AM: Nurse, unless the poor kid is too tired, in which case, I’ll just let her sleep.

1:00 AM: Assuming she’s as slow of an eater as my first child, I’ll finish up nursing and sleep for 2+ hours or whenever she wants to wake up and eat, not according to a prescribed schedule.

4:00 AM: Nurse

5:00 AM: Sleep again for another couple of hours

7:00 AM: (Or whenever she wakes up for the day and refuses to go back down) Nurse

8:00 AM: Enjoy the baby – tummy time, cuddling, staring into her eyes and enjoying her.

9:00 AM: Put the baby down (awake or asleep, either way). Eat breakfast

10:00 AM: Nurse

11:00 AM: Throw the baby in a sling and run some errands, take a walk, or let her hang out on the floor with a Munari Mobile to entertain her while I do something pleasant and fun, like sewing or reading.

12:00 PM: Eat lunch

1:00 PM: Nurse

2:00 PM: Enjoy the baby – tummy time, maybe listen to some music, or visit some friends

3:00 PM: Put the baby down. Goof off on the internet.

4:00 PM: Nurse

5:00 PM: Enjoy the baby some more. Maybe some light dancing or taking a walk with baby in the sling through the witching hour.

6:00 PM: Cook dinner (something fresh, not disgusting bulk leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge all week).

7:00 PM: Nurse

8:00 PM: Read the baby a story, maybe a bath, change her into PJs, snuggle

9:00 PM: Put the baby down for the night

10:00 PM: Nurse, if the kid wakes up for it, otherwise sleep.

11:00 PM: Sleep

Or course this is an ideal schedule, and not all of it will work out. She’ll get cranky, she’ll want to cluster feed at points, things happen. Most people would start the bedtime routine a lot earlier, but it depends on your kid – the Sprout liked to naturally start his nights at 8PM and both my partner and I are night owls. The difference, however, is that with an extra hour thrown into each ‘baby day,’ and by giving both me and the baby a break, there would be time to eat a whopping three meals, get about 7 hours of sleep, and there would be time to enjoy the baby and the rest of life, instead of just scrambling to survive. Most of all, I wish I had known that it is OK and often healthy to put the baby down once in a while.

I also wish I had ignored the lactation consultants on the pumping. Rarely would I pump more than half an ounce, and it would always be in the first 5 minutes. The consultants insisted that 20 minutes was the goal, each time, after every feed, and I needed to keep pumping even if nothing came out. I really don’t think that helped. What I think would have helped was some sleep, some food, and some sanity. So if you hate pumping, if it takes up all of the time you’d rather spend with your baby, watching reality TV, or you know, having a life, then maybe you don’t have to do it.

The four-week mark is when I got it. That’s when I finally got fed up and stopped listening to what I should be doing and did what I thought made sense. After I stopped pumping and started exclusively breast feeding and supplementing with donor milk (which coincidentally(?) quickly became unnecessary) I suddenly had all of this time to kill.

 

The screaming

Sure, it wasn’t leisure time. There was still a baby to take care of. Nursing to do, diapers to scrape, screaming to soothe. Unless you’ve got a colicky baby (and screw you, attachment parenting guides, it does exist and not every baby can just be attached out of it), that uncontrollable, unexplainable, frustrating style of flipping-out should peak around 4-6 weeks and then start to taper and then end around 4-6 months. So there is an end in sight, just hold on.

Meanwhile, instead of feeling guilty that your baby is crying, try the 5’s (Swaddling, Shushing, Swinging, holding him on his Side, and Sucking) to get him to calm down. Most of the time, it will work. I did not do this often, I wish I had.

The Sprout, despite meeting the technical definition for colic (multiple hours of screaming multiple times a week for multiple months), was not colicky. He just had a dumbass mom who had no idea what she was doing.

Sadly, I was polluted in the early days by bad advice – specifically the kind that warned against using ‘props,’ starting him on a life-long dependency on outside help to get to sleep. As if when he’s in college, he’s going to need to sleep in a giant swing or else suffer from sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately I was too sleep-deprived myself to be critical of this advice. I was worried about pacifiers creating nipple confusion, having read that if he needed to suck, it would be best done on the nipple to help my supply (unrealistic and terrible advice via The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) leading to six-hour nursing sessions and sore, blistered nipples.

I was worried that sleeping in a swing or car seat was dangerous so I didn’t buy a swing (until I came to my senses much later) and would take him out of the car seat once we got to our destination, even if he had fallen asleep. Even in the crib I was terrified of SIDS, so I spent my days in a fog, shuffling around with him in my arms or weighing down shoulders in a sling.

This mix of intense attachment-parenting/la leche league guilt and fear of ‘cheating,’ didn’t help teach the Sprout how to fall asleep without props. It just forced me to live in a cloud of utter exhaustion and taught the Sprout how to never sleep at all. It replaced easy props with props that wore me the heck out.

I’m being hyperbolic. He slept. He slept in the sling, while I walked him up and down the street while wishing I could just rest for a few minutes. He slept attached my breast, while I contorted into uncomfortable positions and caught sleep in 45-minute chunks while propped on my elbows. And when he wasn’t sleeping, he was screaming from exhaustion (which of course I took for hunger, my milk paranoia going wild). After a month of us waking him up for the ridiculous 2-hour schedule, he had been trained to never sleep for more than an hour. With the exception of about 10-20 minutes each morning, every waking (non-nursing) moment, he cried.

Since he never learned to link his sleep cycles (which typically last 45 minutes each), he woke up every 45 minutes all night until he was five and a half months old. That’s right – except for the twice-a-week ‘bender’ of a 3 hour nap while my partner took over, I didn’t sleep for an uninterrupted hour for almost six months (yay for swings!) The only tool I thought I was ‘allowed’ to use was nursing, so I’d latch him back on and fall asleep with him on the boob, only to switch sides and do it again 45 minutes later. During the day, he took a few 15-minute micro naps on my lap, while I would sit extremely still, wishing desperately that he would stay asleep while also wishing I had some way of getting to a restroom. I was terrified of the crib or bassinet, seeing it as a giant SIDS cave where sleeping babies entered and dead babies came out, and I think the Sprout picked up on my anxiety, screaming like crazy every time I attempted to lower him into one.

I was so tired, there was no way I could have realized how dysfunctional my life had become. I knew other moms slept more. I knew other babies had awake time that didn’t involve screaming, but I thought they were the exception rather than the rule, or it was because I wasn’t feeding him enough, or that they were just better parents (they are). The only people who offered me advice were proponents of the crying-it-out method, a tall order for even the most well-rested parent, never mind someone as paranoid of SIDS and brain damage (later debunked) as myself. It took everything I had and a good deal of intervention from my partner not to put the baby through the wall after one of his hours-of-crying fits, how on earth could I subject him to controlled crying if I knew I could soothe my starving baby to sleep with the breast?

So in other words, my first month of motherhood was tough. It took about four more months before it got easier. But it did get easier.

Week 3 – Constant Vigilance!

This is part 3 (as in the third week of parenting) in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

You’ve got two solid weeks of motherhood under your belt and now your baby is entering his third week. Hopefully you’re starting to recover from the shock, both mental and physical, of childbirth. At three weeks, I was completely physically recovered but mentally a mess — the sleep deprivation had caught up to me and I was still scrambling to catch up and establish a new normal. It felt like the pace of life was going too fast, I was rushing just to maintain. I’m hoping things are easier on you, but if they aren’t yet, just keep reminding yourself that these chaotic first weeks do eventually end and you will find your bearings sooner than you think (but later than you would rather).

Odds are, the breastfeeding thing is still confusing, painful and tiresome, but if you’ve got some support and a good lactation consultant, you’re on your way and it will get easier. Or you’ve moved on to formula and are now able to focus on the baby. Do whatever works. Now let’s focus on that baby!

Your baby is a glorious example of evolution, tailored to manipulate you on an instinctual, emotional level. If you’re neuro-typical (I like to call you guys “Happy Puppies” after my mating partner’s demeanor), aka ‘Not Autistic,’ you can probably just relax and let your instincts kick in.

I find the natural abilities of the Happy Puppy magical and baffling. Did you know that if person A smiles, and person B sees it, person B feels happy not just on an intellectual level (because they enjoy when person A is pleased), but as an instinctual response to the visual of smile?

I don’t do that. Apparently that is what emotional empathy is, probably why I’ve always had a hard time telling the difference between empathy and sympathy. That isn’t to say that I don’t feel happy when I see someone smile, it just takes me a split-second longer to process it – I like person A, so I am happy that they are happy. Personally, I feel like my version of empathy is a little more genuine – it’s not just a primitive reaction. For the same reasons, I also don’t mimic others’ body language, facial expressions or unspoken (often illogical) social rituals.

This…complicated my interactions with my very primitive, possibly Happy Puppy new baby.

A baby is designed to communicate with you using cries, body language, and facial expressions. At birth, a newborn’s facial expressions are almost fully mature and functional (they have been found to display joy, sadness, fear, disgust, interest, surprise, anger and affection).

Since my knowledge of feelings as expressed by the body and the face is learned, not innate, I have to consciously figure out what the Sprout is trying to tell me – I don’t just feel sad when he feels sad, or angry when he feels angry.

Knowing this compounded my burden as a new mother – I was constantly anxious in his early months because I knew he could miss out on timely, appropriate responses from me when he was in distress. Knowing that he could be a Happy Puppy like his father, I worried that if I let the stresses of new motherhood show on my face, his feelings would instinctively mimic mine and he would in turn feel distress. I spent most of his early months with my face more or less permanently twisted into a rictus of a smile, trying to work all of my orbicular muscles just so to fully mimic an authentic ‘happy’ smile so he could reap the effects of reflected contentment. When he changed his face to an identifiable emotion, I would also copy it for a second, then move back into the smile in an attempt to relieve him, as I’ve read most happy puppies do without thinking. In sporadic, day-to-day interactions with adults, I am really good at this – so much so that most people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m autistic. Doing this every moment of the day is a little harder.

I worried that I was missing the early signs of discomfort, anger, and sadness on his little face, forcing him to resort to crying or screams to tell me what he needed. While Happy Puppy moms can instinctively read and then comfort their infants before a bad situation causes too much trauma, I probably missed many of his earlier subtle cues. To compensate, I spent what little power my sleep-deprived brain reserved to study every twitch of his facial muscles, running it through the mental legend I’ve developed over the years to translate the feelings of others.

It was, to say the least, exhausting.

All of that eye contact was probably great for him – newborns prefer the sight of a face (especially mom’s face) in those early weeks. In fact, in the first month of life, newborns are pretty blind – they can only focus about 8″ away, most of the world appearing as if through frosted glass. I know ‘they’ say you can’t spoil a newborn, but I have my suspicions. Maybe he was born in constant need of the kind of social stimulation that I find so exhausting. (From birth he only seemed happy in loud crowds with lots of eye contact and conversation, all of which I find draining.) But I suspect at least a little bit of his wonderful and yet exhausting personality might be from the over-vigilance I exercised in responding to his every need as soon as I possibly could, in keeping him literally (the real meaning of the word) attached to another human at all times of the day, and in staring, staring, staring at him with  that smile, doing my best impression of motherese (which also didn’t come naturally) for those first couple of months.

In addition to the vigilance, I also attempted to manufacture an understanding of his cries – I studied the Dunstan Baby Language and later found out the benefits of ‘The Pause‘ utilized by parents with more confidence than I can ever muster.

I’ve since learned both by study and trial and error that hungry cries tend to be rhythmic and repetitive, anger is demonstrated by a loud, prolonged wail, and pain starts suddenly, with gaps of held breath. After months of motherhood I’ve worked up a stronger hide to the Sprout’s anguished screaming (never whimpering, he always goes from 0 to 60 in seconds) but after too many attachment parenting books and a the months of nagging fear that I was starving him, I’ve become conditioned to jump if he so much as inhales as if to cry.

Proponents of the attachment parenting movement try to tell us that cries are an alarm for a need and no cries should be ignored – that these needs should be met consistently, every time, and as soon as possible. After months of attempting this, I’m not so sure I agree.

For one thing, it just doesn’t feel right. I know it’s supposed to feel natural to want to hold your baby all of the time and to respond immediately to every cry, but if I hadn’t had such a dysfunctional milk issue, I wouldn’t have assumed that every cry meant hunger the way I did for the first six months. If I had gotten out to a normal start, I probably would have let him fuss for twenty seconds so I could stop to spit out my toothpaste, wipe my ass or sigh and collect myself before another few hours of acrobatic baby squats – the only thing that would guarantee a temporary respite from the screaming.

If I had given myself some slack, the Sprout would be better at self-soothing – something that gets harder and harder to teach him as he gets older. After interrogating the mothers of babies who put themselves to sleep – the ones who didn’t have to resort to crying it out methods, they all used some form of ‘the pause‘ such as the one detailed in ‘Bringing Up Bebe‘ by Pamela Druckerman. I wish (ahh, retrospect!) someone had told me about this concept before he turned four months old, when I finally realized I was a little over zealous in my attentions. At nine months old, the Sprout is finally on a regular and somewhat reasonable sleep schedule. But it took a lot longer than it needed to. As it is, he could be much better at linking his sleep cycles (his father is up every couple of hours or so to soothe him back to sleep or re-insert a pacifier) and I think knowing how to pause early on would have helped.

Which brings us to the concept of independence. Self-soothing is a part of that, giving your baby a moment to collect himself, offering him some time to learn to deal with things himself. In this, I also agree that you can spoil an infant. A few moments alone, especially at this young age when he won’t really register your absence, could be beneficial. As a new mom, I was terrified to leave the Sprout alone, even for thirty seconds. I went to the bathroom alone once (once!) in his first month, leaving him in his bassinet five feet from the bathroom, positive that he would be dead of SIDS by the time I got back. He was fine, obviously. At the time, I thought he needed me, he demanded my attention. Keep in mind how little sleep I was getting (less than five 20-minute naps a day) so it was hard to separate my fears from his actual requests. In ‘Montessori From the Start,‘ Lillard and Jessen detail the benefits of starting to train infants in autonomy and independence early. It makes sense to start what I like to call ‘independent study’ early. I want the Sprout to know that being alone isn’t a state to be feared, but to be savored. Time to focus on a task, to daydream, to rest, to participate in unstructured, creative play, even to be bored – it’s sparse in our culture and I hope to give him lots of these opportunities as he grows up.

The Principles of Montessori are a stark contrast to the popular Attachment Parenting movement. To be an ‘attached’ parent, according to proponents such as Dr. William Sears Family Empire, involves lots of hands-on contact – the baby spends most of his time in his parents arms or a sling, co-sleeping and breastfeeding are encouraged. Fostering a baby’s trust in his parents through touch and responsiveness, in theory, will make for a more confident, comfortable individual later on.

I think there are a lot of good ideas in the movement, but there are also many opportunities to take things overboard, and that’s where I have an issue. Other than telling parents (specifically, mothers) that burnout is a risk and to be avoided, there is no suggestion for how to determine how much is too much, no ideas on how to balance your own needs with your child’s, no allowance for the idea that maybe babies just cry for no reason and it’s not your fault. Sure, they point out that if you are burning out, they offer not-so-helpful vague suggestions like ‘burnout means its time to make a change’ or ‘get outside help’ or even to take a few days and rest up – as if any of these are options for most families. To the best of my knowledge, most parents are just scrambling to get through – if they believe they are doing everything in their power to get by, what exactly should they change? If ‘outside help’ was a possibility, wouldn’t they already be using it? And if spending a couple of days resting up were an option, I wouldn’t have been drunk from sleep deprivation like I was in the first six months of the Sprout’s life. The principles of attachment parenting are like communism – they are great theories, but they don’t work in real life where parents don’t have extended family with free time for babysitting, unlimited maternity leave, a nanny, and the core-muscles of an acrobat. Sure, there are some people for whom the principles work, but those people have calmer, healthier babies from the start, seemingly unlimited patience, and a serene temperament that doesn’t come naturally to me, and I suspect, to most of us.

If I had it to do over again (which I hope to, as I’d love to have a multi-kid household), I’d pick something more balanced, something between the Montessori independence and the attachment parenting coddling. I would love to spend some time stimulating her vestibular system in a sling – but this time I’m investing in a nice bouncy chair to give my arms a break. I’ll probably co-sleep for the first four months like I did with the Sprout so I can get some sleep between feedings and to reduce the risk of SIDS, but I’ll attempt naps in a crib, instead of in my lap, to give me enough time to perform basic life functions. I’ll give her some time alone, in a safe place, where she can ponder the lines of a mobile and think her thoughts without interruption. And the smiling? Well, that’s what big brothers are for.

Have you been through week three? Tell me your thoughts, your tips for getting through it, and your take on the autonomy vs. attachment debate.

Week 2 – Priorities

This is part 2 (as in the second week of parenting) in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

From the outside, I don’t think there was much of a difference between the Sprout at week 1 and week 2 – he was still just sleeping lump of hungry baby. But by the end of his first week, I had figured out what caused his jaundice and had developed a game plan for fixing it – my milk didn’t just come in late, it didn’t come in at all. Many of the books I read hadn’t prepared me for this – in fact, most had assured me that it wasn’t really a possibility (this is why my list of approved breastfeeding books has been narrowed down to the kind that won’t get you into the same predicament I found myself in).

I attacked the problem in force. I consulted every lactation consultant in the city. I poured over all of the books on milk supply issues that I smirked at in the past (previously believing that my milk would be ample enough to slip into his cereal until middle school.) I dragged my sloppy, bleary-brained, new-mom self to every lactation support group, researched importing experimental drugs from far-off lands, implored my doctor to write me FDA-banned prescriptions, started acupuncture, ordered every herb I could get my hands on, and subsisted only on milk-enhancing foods like oatmeal and brewer’s yeast. I swore off anything linked to a decrease in milk like sage, parsley and mint – a surprisingly difficult task, once I realized that there is mint or parsley in pretty much everything, from toothpaste to all Italian food. I breastfed for 20 minutes per side and pumped for an additional 20-30 minutes while my partner fed the Sprout with a syringe, washed all of the equipment, attempted to sleep, eat, do laundry or shower for twenty minutes, then started it all over again, day and night.

Meanwhile, while I waited for my illegal drugs to ship in from New Zealand and my Milkin’ Cookies to be baked, I figured out how I was going to feed the baby.

This is the part that makes me cry with gratefulness, even now.

I was lucky enough to have friends with other babies who each donated some milk to help us get through the rough patch. They in turn also had friends with over-supplies who donated even more. There was one wonderful woman we found on the facebook group, Eats on Feets who donated a month’s worth of milk. We were blessed with so much kindness, and so much generosity, that when the Sprout was about a week old, we took our first trip to the store as a family and bought a chest freezer to store it all safely. Between them all, we hauled a solid month’s worth of milk.

By either coincidence or the first dose of domperidone kicking in, once we got enough milk stored that we weren’t obtaining bags of milk day-by-day and I knew no matter what, the Sprout would be breastfed for the first month of his life, I started to calm down. I was finally able to take a deep breath and realize that we could finally start to live life like everyone else who has a normal, healthy baby. Within hours of obtaining that month’s-worth of milk, when the Sprout was two weeks old, my milk finally came in and for the first time. I pumped enough milk to feed him with fresh, warm milk for an entire feed. It felt amazing. By the time he was two months old, I was no longer supplementing him with donor milk at all.

I need to stop here and point out something important: At no point was the Sprout in any real danger of starving. Formula is a fantastic, wonderful, miracle elixir that saves the lives of many babies and the sanity of many moms. I obviously wanted the few extra perks of the Sprout being an exclusively breast-fed infant. I wanted him to be breast-fed not because I demonize formula, but for my own selfish reasons – I wanted my body to do this one thing right, after failing me so many times in so many important ways – the Sprout and I had a bumpy, high-risk pregnancy with multiple scares after several years of infertility and two losses before him. I happened to have the resources to keep the Sprout on breast milk, and felt a drive to use those resources to complete a hope that I had as an individual, not a social belief. So if you are a formula-feeding mom, then please don’t take my preferences, or the extreme lengths I went to breast-feed personally or as a judgment on you. I know many formula-feeding moms get a raw deal from sources both external and internal. Your experience has led you to formula, and you have made the best decision for your family. Anyone who tries to shame you for it, or who has terrible things to say about formula can go eat a bug.

Among my many, many lactation consultations, the best advice I got was this:

Your Priorities

1. Feed the baby

2. Enjoy the baby

3. Breastfeed

I hadn’t realized it until the lactation consultant pointed it out, but I really had it backwards in those first couple of weeks. I was obsessed with the breastfeeding – after all, so many of those attachment parenting books and La Leche League guides had pointed out that if I just breastfeed, everything would fall into place – both the baby and I would be healthier and calmer, cloth diapers would be easier, colic would be eliminated, blah blah blah. I thought if I could just get a handle on breastfeeding, I could then start in on the rest of the motherhood tasks after. I wasn’t enjoying my baby at all. At times I thought about just leaving – abandoning this new life I had worked so hard to create and leaving him in the competent hands of his father – who wouldn’t have breastfeeding as an option and could therefore resort to a less complicated and more serene life of formula or donor feeding. I was feeling the opposite of motherly joy and love.

In small moments of clarity interspersed between my addled and exhausted thoughts, I saw the logic in these priorities, but it was hard to remember. I ended up writing it down in the notebook where I cataloged all of the Sprout’s sleep, input, and output in (to the minute and the cubic centimeter, 24 hours a day) every day at the top of every page to make sure I didn’t forget it. And when I saw it, it made my perspective a lot less warped and my life somehow easier.

So for his second week on earth, the Sprout was sleepy, very, very sleepy, and very, very yellow. I still feel awful for accidentally starving him for the first week of his life. All of the nurses told me my milk would be in any minute and most of the books told me do not supplement with formula lest my milk dry up. I still regret it and wonder if he wouldn’t be healthier, taller, fatter, be less bald, or crawling and speaking by now if I had just supplemented him earlier and with more than the bare minimum. It’s week two of motherhood, welcome to your new world of regrets and hindsight. There will be much, much more to come. Meanwhile, enjoy the baby.

Week 1 – Oh my god you had a baby

This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you, so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.

So you just pushed this REAL LIVE HUMAN BEING out of your body (or had it removed, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine). Congratulations!

During my pregnancy, I thought about what kinds of beautiful things I could say to my newborn son the first time I met him out of the womb. I didn’t bother scripting anything because I knew my hormones would be flying, the world would be full of rainbows and puppies, and it would be just like in the movies where you fall instantly in love and something profound and sentimental comes spewing forth when your eyes lock for the first time and then fade out, then you live happily ever after.

Instead, after about a day of labor and an unplanned cesarean, pumped full of adrenaline and sport beans, exhausted, shaking and covered in my own bile, I heard a sucking sound from behind the drape separating my head and shoulders from the rest of my body. Then more sucking sounds. I realized, that wasn’t my organs being slooshied about, that was a human making that sound. The loud, wet sucking sounds transformed into cries and the doctor held my little dark-haired, surprisingly plump baby above the drape for me to see. In those moments, my maternal, frizzled brain decided to go with (please pardon the language):

“What the fuck? What the FUCK?!

Followed by “Who did you steal that baby from?”

I still, at that moment after a day of labor and 40.5 weeks of pregnancy, did not expect to get a live baby out of the situation.

Years of infertility, miscarriages, loss, frustration and failure had not set me up for success. I was blown away. I expected something to come out, sure. Like, a dressed butterball turkey, or perhaps a dead baby. Something was filling that belly of mine and doing flip flops and somersaults for the last two trimesters. But a living baby? With arms and knees and crevices, crying and making sounds and all that? I would have bet you money against that result.

So my advice, in your first week with your baby, is just to let that settle in. Let it sink into your brain that you just managed to form an entire individual, for whom you are solely responsible. Let the deliciousness of knowing that you are no longer waddling and huge-uncomfortable (although you are still going to be uncomfortable, motherhood has its aches). If you dealt with the nightmare monster that is infertility, revel in knowing that you beat that monsters ass and you beat it good.

I wish I could say I was completely focused on the Sprout from the moment I saw him. But I wasn’t. After popping him over the drape for a quick hello, they took him away for five minutes while they attended to his cesarean-baby needs, and I spent that time sobbing my eyes out. It wasn’t sadness over the delivery gone-askew, it wasn’t happiness over my new status as a mother or meeting my awesome son, it was just relief.

Relief that the infertility was finally, finally over. Relief that I could get on with my life, make plans, stop watching everyone else move forward while I stood still in limbo. Relief that there were no more shots, no more pills, no more blood lettings, no more dong-cam ultrasounds at ass-o’clock every morning, no more what-ifs and avoiding pregnant women and small children because they made me sob for days after seeing them.

And there was gratefulness, oh, there was gratefulness. I cried a lot in that first week. Quiet, leaky tears when I looked down at this sleepy bundle, as I drove away from the hospital to close the terrifying and painful reproductive chapter of my life, many happy little salty tears that freaked out my mating partner and new son alike.

So find some time, in between all of the breastfeeding trials and diaper changes and hushings and cooings and worrying and celebrating, to let your mind re-orient itself and get a handle on your abrupt status change from independent star to sun with a precious,  life-bearing planet revolving around it. This little planet is dependent on you for everything – his warmth, his sustenance, his byproduct removal, an ever constant responsibility that you will have for the rest of your life.

I wish I had saved some time to sit back and fully enjoy the high that came with these grateful realizations. Instead, I was on an adrenaline kick, terrified that I was racing against an imaginary clock to get breastfeeding started, get the baby safe, get the hell out of that hospital and into a quiet normalcy, get things started properly before it was all too late. Reeling from the shock of an unplanned surgery didn’t help. Reading too much about breastfeeding caused a little of my paranoia, actually having a real, physical breastfeeding issue that some of the books said I couldn’t possibly have caused the brunt of it.

I figured, I’ll get this breastfeeding situation sorted out, then I can deal with the rest of it. As breastfeeding got worse and worse, as I stumbled over nurse after nurse who certified that there was no problem at all and I just had to keep at it and that no, I didn’t need to see a lactation consultant, my baby got smaller and yellower. I obsessed over his latch, popping him on and off over and over, screaming in pain while he nursed for hours on end with short 15-minute micronaps for three days straight. I begged to see a lactation consultant. I threatened and cajoled, sent my mating partner to the store for milk-inducing supplements and teas, pumped and nursed and nursed and nursed and nursed.

I figured, with my luck – so many years of infertility, two children in the ground, a high-risk pregnancy and a natural delivery gone-awry, plus the comically enormous and cumbersome breasts I sprouted at the tender age of eight, there was no way I could have milk issues – issues all of the books told me were extremely rare and most likely my imagination. No way the universe could be so cruel.

It was. Goddammit, universe.

I won’t get into a long tirade on breastfeeding here, but here is what I would love for you to know, heading out of the gate. There are some books that are good, there are some books that are better, and there are some books that are downright dangerous. Of the 40 hours clocked and ten books on breastfeeding I devoured during pregnancy, I only recommend one book, and it was ‘Breastfeeding Made Simple’ by Mohrbacher & Kendall-Tackett. After the baby is born and you suspect that you have a milk supply issue, ‘Making More Milk’ by West & Marasco is a great resource, but not something you should bother reading until you really need it. I read both during pregnancy and after I was diagnosed with a low milk supply due to PCOS, just to be sure I had my bases covered. And I’m happy to say that I’m still successfully breastfeeding the Sprout at nine months at the time of this writing.

And if you do have a breastfeeding issue, know that you aren’t alone. I have met maybe one out of five moms who had no major issues with breastfeeding. The topic is complex and the task is difficult, so I hope to write more on it in the future. Meanwhile, if you have any questions regarding my experience with solving my low supply issues, feel free to leave a comment and I would be happy to share any information I have that could help.

There is also nothing quite like a solid, knowledgeable, experienced lactation consultant. Moxie over at Ask Moxie points out:

MYTH: A lactation consultant is a lactation consultant. As far as I know, no state in this country regulates lactation consultants. You can get tired of your career in furnace repair one day and hang out your shingle as a lactation consultant the next. This is part of why lactation support in hospitals is so uneven. You can find some wonderful nurses and LCs with a magic touch — and, more importantly, the ability to transmit same to you. You can also encounter nurses whose idea of evidence-based practice is “Good Enough For My Baby In 1982 Is Good Enough for Yours in 2006.”

Those nurses, however well-intentioned and experienced, caused my first four days of motherhood to be rife with stress and agony. Everyone told me what I was doing (which a nurse had instructed me to do four hours previously) was absolutely wrong and I should do it this way. I went through nine nurses, all with conflicting ideas. Get thee to a real lactation consultant, someone who works outside of the hospital if you can, someone who makes a full-time living doing what she does. Most likely it won’t be cheap, but if you find the right person, it will be a thousand times worth it.

And rest. Please take it easy on yourself. Your body just went through the most work and stress it has ever gone through. Give yourself some time to absorb this new alternate universe, give yourself some permission to lie back and quietly celebrate your victory.

More addictive information for your mind-holes.

While I was pregnant, I stressed the limits of the Minuteman Library system – every book on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and what to expect for my future life with an infant, I devoured. The information gathering actually started five years before, when I was deciding whether or not to have kids in the first place. I wanted to have an idea of what I was getting into. The fact that I initiated my intensive research into pregnancy, sibling counts and order and the pitfalls of motherhood before I legally secured a mating partner speaks to my obsession with the project.

During my pregnancy, after the agonizing 14-week wait of the first trimester when I  avoided any actions that could be mistaken by the fates as hubris, I spent every spare moment on research. Specifically, I delved into breastfeeding and childbirth during the second trimester and topics of interest regarding early infancy during my third trimester. There was a perpetual three-foot stack of books next to my side of the bed, my spot on the sofa, the dining room table, and the shelf in the bathroom. The result was information overload on a multitude of topics that might have hurt me just as much as it helped. Despite now knowing the dangers of overly-due diligence, I still can’t stop myself.

The one topic I just couldn’t find any good information on was what I was in for in the first six months of motherhood. There were specific books on infant sleep, infant cognition, and nutrition, and month-by-month guides on topical infant development. In addition to vague website guides on what to expect month-by-month, I couldn’t find any particularly great resource for exactly how I should be focusing my efforts and spending my days with the granularity I craved. The week-by-week newsletters and pregnancy books had spoiled me. The babycenter sample schedules and monthly guides were too brief and didn’t give me enough detail or any plans of action. Books like the wonder weeks were full of hypotheticals and theory that left me wanting more precision and tasks. Sleep books such as The No-Cry Sleep Solution were more for troubleshooting than a preemptive plan of attack, and all of those attachment parenting books were full of generalizations without limits – leaving my literal and exhausted new-mom-brain vulnerable to constant paranoia and an inability to balance some nice principles with the reality of time management. I literally (including during sleeping, toilet time, and eating) did not put the Sprout down for the first two weeks unless it was for a diaper change, and as much as I’m sure he appreciated the skin contact and vestibular stimulation, I had no idea how much was enough, so I tried to do it all.

In short, I am not one to sit around and wait for things to happen. I need to be doing.

I am happy with a plan of action. I couldn’t enjoy the Sprout’s early weeks of sleepiness because I was too busy attacking my breastfeeding issues with the single-minded zeal of…well, actually, I can’t think of a single thing that is so narrowly focused, tireless and intense as my role of mother in his early days. There was a steady, constant urgency scrolling through my head from the moment he was born, and it was ‘KEEP THE BABY ALIVE. KEEP THE BABY ALIVE. KEEP THE BABY ALIVE…’ as if there was some outside threat or possibility that if I relented my constant attention, he would slip quietly into death.

In the months before the Sprout’s birth, I purposefully avoided books on education, solid-feeding, discipline and anything I considered the purview of parenting a child over 6 months of age. There would be plenty of time, I thought, to study up during his early months while he loafed away his time as a sleepy newborn, leaving my arms and brain free to go about sewing cute baby clothing, researching the next chapter in his life, gardening and gently transitioning into a good parent. I hadn’t counted on my paranoia, inability to put him down, and his unusual alertness which required full-on eye contact and non-stop conversation during all waking hours, which were more plentiful than I had expected.

In the last few months, however, things have slowed down and I’m no longer pumped with huge surges of adrenaline and panic – there are no lions and we are not on the savannah, about to be stalked and eaten. I’m glad my body and mind has finally accepted that. Since the Sprout has learned how to sit and play with some toys, I’ve had a few spare moments here and there, time to make some tea, time to use the restroom without balancing a tiny infant in my arms, on rare occasion, even a few minutes a day to dawdle.

That’s where this blog comes in. That’s also where the research picks back up. Now that he naps (2 hours a day sometimes!) and my mating partner takes the Sprout on Saturdays, I feel my life is rife with luxury. I have time to drink a latte, do some laundry, repair things around the house, mend clothing, in other words, catch up.

Lately I’ve been looking for ways to fill my days, the endless monotony of handing the Sprout toy after toy, diaper changes, nursings, allowing him to climb over me, off of me, over me, pulling at my hair and clothing and complaining loudly because of his unknown frustrations. It’s endless, and I’m busy all day, but not with anything that feels even remotely interesting. I want some structure and I want the fun parts to start – the part where we devise fun games, play dress-up, go for walks and investigate vernal pools and learn about the life cycle of amphibians. I want to play with clay and blocks and make art using wax paper and fallen leaves. Babies are so boring.

Even though I had no intention of heading in this direction, I’ve been studying up on the Montessori method of education, which apparently starts at birth. I’ve also been reading about French parenting, slow parenting, tiger parenting, helicopter parenting and any other dogma I can get my hands on to give me a frame of reference on how I want to go about this business of raising a human being.

It turns out, I probably should have started this research earlier. After nine months of motherhood, I feel like I’ve already been left in the dust. There are so many useful things that would have been great to know from day zero, things I think would have been helpful in staving off the mistakes I made in the early months that might have made life easier today

I’ve always been a fan of the detailed week-by-week pregnancy descriptions, complete with 3D graphics and videos of what the Sprout looked like that very day. I understand why it isn’t feasible to do the same for babies – there is too much variation, week to week and month to month, too many possibilities for individualism to ruin generalized guidelines. That said, I would have found them at least interesting, if not applicably helpful.

So I’ll make one here. And hopefully it will be helpful, maybe pointing you to some helpful resources. Or maybe your child will be distinctly different in timeline and temperament, in which case, guh, babies are so hard, amiright? Either way, I suggest reading a month or even two ahead if you’re going through these posts according to your baby’s age, since at least half the babies I know are up to two months ahead of the Sprout in a lot of respects.