Monday, December 20, 2010

Winking and Blinking: Where's Nod?

I have two things I'd like to write about, one seasonal, one foundational.  I'm going to do the foundational one first.  I'd also like to say that this story, as it is, does have a happy ending.  Mostly.  It's not over yet, I guess.  I should also say that the events depicted below may be a little hazy.  Not sleeping will do that to your memory.

I am the mother of a child who has never slept well.  Ever.  I just want to get that out there.  The only time she slept well was when she was jaundiced.  That doesn't really count.  After that, I had to wake her every 2-3 hours to feed her to flush her system and make her not-yellow.  Oh, she wanted to sleep in those days - I remember many times when I would have to take off everything but her diaper to wake her up enough to eat.  Poor ickle munchkin.  She would semi-frequently sleep for about 5 hours overnight up until she was 3 months old or so.  Since then, it's been about 3 hours at a time, maximum, with a few lovely exceptions where she has gone 5 or (gasp!) 7 hours.

It's not just that she doesn't sleep for a long period of time.  She has, historically, been very tricky to get to sleep.  There has been a lot of swaddling, white noise, swinging, and nursing to sleep.  All 5 of Harvey Karp's S's, just to get her to sleep for a few hours.  Also, lots of crying.  Not me letting her cry - her crying in spite of everything.  I like to think that she at least knew one of us was with her, instead of her going through this neurological nightmare by herself.  I am pretty sure she wanted to go to sleep, but wasn't able to.  It's a skill, just like walking or doing math or not pooping in your pants.  (She can do one of those things fairly well, one of them not at all, and one of them when I catch her in time to have her do it over the toilet, but that's another post.  Hint: the last one isn't math.)

So what are our sleeping arrangements? There have been a few.  Newborn Bee slept in the bassinet of her portable crib next to the bed.  It took a Herculean effort for my still broken body to pick her up out of it, and she would often wake when laid back down after eating.  That was my first shock:  babies don't just magically go to and stay asleep.  We used the bassinet for... uh... I honestly don't remember.  Until we couldn't, probably.  Anyway, at some point I finally just started keeping her in bed with me and nursing her lying on my side.  Much happiness and sleeping for everyone!

When we got settled into the new apartment in DC, I thought, "I'm going to try to get her to sleep in her crib for naps and a few hours at night.  Maybe she'll sleep better!"  So after tubby time, it was jammies, nursing until almost asleep, walking around the nursery in the sling until asleep, then laying down and shushing off to sleep.  It worked pretty well - for 3 days.  She would go right to sleep minutes after I laid her down!  She slept for 3 hours!  (She hadn't been).  On day 3, however, as soon as we even approached the crib, she would start to wail.  She would only sleep for 45 minutes at a time.  I wasn't even trying to get her to sleep in her crib all night - just a few hours, and then I quite happily brought her into bed for the duration of the night.  I kept the experiment up for a few more days and then gave up because things were just getting worse and worse.

What happened after this is a total blur, which brings us to the present.  Here are how things currently stand:  we have the bed set up for safe, easy co-sleeping.  It is a queen bed.  We have it pushed up against the wall (and the crib bumper jammed in between it and the wall, although there really wasn't much space there), and it's not very high.  At this point she can dismount safely anyway.  She naps in there, on the wall side.  (My side).  I put her to sleep at night in there too.  She sleeps either betwixt me and the wall or me and the husband - either one works.  She goes to bed around 7:00.  It's tubby, jammies, story (sometimes), nursing until she loses interest (all of about 10 minutes), then sleep.  Under ideal conditions, the whole thing only takes around 30-40 minutes and involves hardly any crying.  It's some kind of magic - I lay her on her tummy and she rolls her head over and just goes to sleep.  If she wakes up before I am ready for bed, it takes a little back patting and she's right back to sleep in minutes.  Yes, she wakes up for boob a couple of times a night - but that probably only "robs" me of a grand total of 15 minutes of sleep.

So my sleep strategy is this:  a routine is good, but basically just roll with it and do whatever maximizes sleep and sanity for everyone.  Don't feel like a failure because your kid doesn't sleep long, or in a crib, or always cries no matter what you do (assuming there are no health problems).  Things will get better.  They'll get worse again, but then better.  It's not a linear progression, it's more of a roller coaster of good and bad, and usually just at the moment you think, "I MUST change something NOW!" things settle down. 

I do highly recommend getting a sidecar crib for tiny babies and regular in-bed cosleeping for bigger babies (say, once they can roll over and it feels safe to you).  Do your research and make your bed safe.  (Yes:  I am advocating not getting a big wooden crib that is expensive and may just turn into a giant laundry basket/storage bin, or getting moved to your in-laws' house in Virginia).

You should forget everything if there are teeth or developmental milestones happening.  The dirty little secret of sleep "training" is that teething, traveling, sickness, and developmental milestones frequently undo all that tough cry-it-out work and it has to be redone.  Not only that - it doesn't actually do much as far as waking up during the night goes.

I've offered no magic solutions, but maybe I've at least helped to erase this bizarre perception that babies should sleep like adults.  They aren't, they shouldn't, it's not in their best interest, and just try to slog through it until it ends.  Getting out of the house and commiserating with a fellow traveler are the things that help me most.  Sweet dreams!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What a World

First, I have failed at my two-post-a-week goal.  But I shall try to meet it henceforth.  Second, I realized that if something keeps bouncing up in my mind, it's probably worth writing about.  Third:  the forthcoming rant is related to having a child.  More or less.

Why do people become professional athletes?  I'm starting to think it's because they are dreaming of having a status where the rules no longer apply to them.  In high school, I read a science fiction story set in a future where instead of having wars, there were regularly scheduled war games.  People still died, but it contained the mess.  The survivor(s) of those games could do whatever they wanted to after the games were over.  They were heroes.  The story ended with the survivor raping his underaged neighbor because she was just something he saw and wanted, and no one could tell him no.

Enter Ben Roethlisberger.  #7, because typing his name is a pain, and I don't like saying it.  Clearly he read the same story (if he, you know, reads) and instead of being saddened was intrigued.  The man has thrice eluded very well documented rape/assault charges.  How?  A small army of well-paid attorneys and the might of the NFL.  The NFL, which suspended another player a year for DUI-related vehicular manslaughter.  Yep, a year, for killing someone with a car.  Given that precedent, perhaps the lightness of #7's suspension should not be a surprise.  And, in the end, they are just a business, and can do what they please with their employees.

However, society as a whole... did not rail against #7.  This bothers me.  We live in a world where so many actions have a clear message:  women do not matter as much as [fill in the blank].  In this case, women do not matter as much as a professional athlete.  Am I saying the women involved are poor innocents who couldn't have known better, or who were conducting themselves like nuns?  No.  But I will very firmly defend the idea that no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.  Ever.  No one is asking for it, or being a tease.  A mistake in judgment or a flaw in character should not result in your being violated.

Out and about this weekend, I saw a little girl in a pink and white #7 jersey.  That prompted a big "what the heck?" from me.  We need to teach our daughters - AND our sons - that women are just as important as men.  We are not second-class citizens.  We need to teach them that just because someone can throw a touchdown or hit a home run (skills which are ultimately not that useful), they do not get to live by a different set of rules.

So I'm glad that rapist had his nose broken.  I doubt it will make him respect women, and it's a far cry from his being jailed and having his livelihood taken away, but it's something.  And parents?  Maybe don't put a rapist's jersey on your little girl.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Like a Frog in Cold Water

If a stranger had walked into Highland Hospital on October 3, 2009, and flashed me a picture of myself nursing a 13+ month old, 31" long, nearly 20 pound baby wearing snowman pajamas and clambering over me, I think I would have said, "Nice jammies, but I doubt I'll still be breastfeeding come next Thanksgiving."

Ha, ha.  Let's pause and have a laugh, okay?

Before I had done any reading at all, I said I would breastfeed for six months.  After all, it's not like I was raised in an exclusive, long-term breastfeeding world.  Six weeks was more like the norm, if that.  Then I did some research and found that 12 months was the minimum recommendation.  So I said, I'll do 12 months.  We'll start phasing it out around nine months when she really starts eating solids.  That seems reasonable.

Then I met - really met, mind you, and got to know - my daughter.  She was a needy baby.  She is a needy toddler.  In addition to wanting to be held and walked around (just being held while seated did not, does not, cut it), she wanted to eat at least every hour, while taking about 45 minutes to do so.  This lasted for about four months.  Then it was about every two hours, maybe three.

So at some point, I said to myself, we won't try to phase anything out at nine months.  We'll do it at 12 months.  For one thing, she wasn't that nuts about large quantities of food.  She would try and eat anything, but not a lot of it.  This is normal, by the way.  Breastmilk is supposed to supply all of a baby's calories for the first six months, and the bulk of calories for the second six months.  It doesn't matter how big or how small the baby is!  (I love the two old wives' arguments, although I was never subjected to them:  your baby is too small, she needs solids OR your baby is too big for just breastmilk.  Really?)

There is also the fact that she would fall asleep with boob.  Those were sweet days - swaddle, insert boob, and sleep!  And of course it still works, for the most part, during the night to get her back to sleep.  (No more swaddling, though).

The 12 month marker has come and gone.  I have since found that two years, and as long as is mutually desirable, is actually the WHO recommendation for breastfeeding, by the way.  The reality of it - something I didn't really understand - is that breastfeeding a toddler is absolutely nothing like breastfeeding an infant.  We do it before naps and bed, maybe once late afternoon if she's a little cranky and needs some cuddle time and/or a snack.  Overnight a few times as well, but as I rarely wake up enough to really count, I will have to estimate that at two or three very short instances.  It is no longer the all-consuming task that it once was.  Oversupply?  Undersupply?  Is she filling enough diapers?  These questions disappear.  Some days she hardly touches her food, and I'm glad we have this wonderful back-up full of vitamins and protein and good fat.  It was great when she had a cold a few weeks ago and didn't want to eat.

I am still toying with the notion of closing the diner overnight.  But, frankly, I think the new policy on the subject is that we'll be done when we're done, and we'll do it on her schedule, not mine.  Also:  I like to avoid screaming babies who are pulling sad faces.

The point is, you don't just wake up one day to find yourself with a giant toddler latched on.  It ends up feeling perfectly normal.  Now I look at pictures of us when she was just a peanut, and I think, how did I ever manage to feed someone so tiny?!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Babywearing from the Beginning

Here is one big post that I hope will prove helpful.  It is my experience with babywearing.

Before the Bee came along, I read the Sears Baby Book.  I knew I wanted to wear my daughter from reading about all of the benefits - less crying, free hands, etc.  I'd still like to slap the man around a little for implying that babywearing is practically a panacea for whatever ails your child, but all in all it has been pretty wonderful.  I have used four different carriers - a Moby, a Bjorn, a ring sling, and a Beco (soft structured carrier).  Here is the low-down on each of them!

The Moby

The Moby is about 10 or 15 feet of stretchy, somewhat heavy fabric.  They come in many colors and even some patterns.  You wrap it around yourself like some kind of Star Trek-esque vest, and from just a few basic configurations you get tons of possible carrying positions.  Our favorite was the newborn hold, which keeps the little punkin nestled up against your chest, with the fabric all over her (including behind the head), and in a fully upright position.  Great for reflux-y babies; also no danger of positional asphyxiation.

I got a lot done wearing the Moby.  Dishes, laundry, vacuuming, shopping, errands... she used to sleep through it all in the Moby.  It is very secure and the weight is distributed really well, so I never got sore from it.  The flexible fabric is great for hugging your body and your baby's body, so it's a very customized fit.

The cons of the Moby are its learning curve and its unsuitability for re-wrapping once you are outside (it will drag on the ground, which is not so good in a salty-icy-slushy parking lot).  I also found it to be warm, which is good in the winter if your house is a reasonable temperature (the Rochester apartment was always too warm!) but bad in the summer.

Next time, I am just going to buy a length of semi-light weight stretchy fabric and use it like I used the Moby.  That plus a bootlegged instruction manual would make a nice baby gift!

The Ring Sling

I bought a linen ring sling from a now-defunct website.  It is what it sounds like - a length of fabric (sized based on your measurements, just so there isn't too much tail left) that is put through two rings.  The rings sit where a corsage would in most positions.  I do not recommend it for use until your baby has neck control - it's just not safe or easy.

Once you get that head control, though, this is a great sling up to about 15 pounds (probably more for a shorter baby).  It folds up into a small bundle.  Nursing in a ring sling is a breeze (though you may want to practice at home before taking the show on the road), and you can use the extra fabric (the "tail") to cover up whatever you want to  - belly or boobs.  I'm always more concerned about the belly, oddly enough.  Once the Bee hit about 6 months, we used the hip carry.  It was so easy!  Sling on, baby on hip, tighten, and GO!  It is, however, not a truly hands-free carry, but the ring sling can be used in many different positions that are hands-free.  It just never felt as secure as any of the other carriers.

The Bjorn

Ah, that most iconic of baby carriers.  As it turns out, I am not really a fan.  The husband liked it, but I suspect this is mostly due to its more manly appearance and relative immediate ease of use.  Those two things are really the Bjorn's only pros.

It is good up to only 25 pounds (less with a tall baby, because you end up getting head up in your face or getting foot in your groin, which I am told is no fun).  The weight distribution is awful, but this only becomes noticeable after about 12-15 pounds.  The "sporty" model looks more like a vest in back, so it's probably better, but still, you have a baby essentially dangling off the front of your body, sort of on another plane.  It really screws up your posture and your center of gravity.  And, in spite of not being good for very long, the Bjorn is quite expensive.

The Beco Butterfly II 

I have saved the best for last.  If you only buy one carrier, buy this one!  You can use it from newborn (7 pounds) to 45 pounds.  It can be used as a front or back carrier.  It comes with the required newborn insert to keep your tiny bundle fully upright and so very, very secure.  It also comes with a nap shade (just a little bit of fabric that goes over the head) and a wonderfully helpful DVD.  You can, indeed, nurse in the Beco.  It comes in plain options and very pretty fabrics (I went with the cherry blossom/purple one called "Natalie").  They are all made from a very soft organic cotton.  It is totally hands-free and suitable for looooong trips, be they urban or rustic (hiking).

There is a new Beco model, the Gemini, which allows for an outward-facing front carry and a hip carry (things the Butterfly will not do).  It has a foldable headrest (a la Bjorn!).  Other than that, is has all of the great features of the Butterfly at a slightly lower price ($129).  I will be definitely be getting one of these for the husband to use the next time around.

There are no cons to the Beco.  It is easy to put on, easy to adjust, and I have used it nearly every day since I bought it.  It is flexible and doesn't take up a lot of room in a bag.  It has kept me from being "that woman" who is trying to wrangle a baby, a stroller, and packages on the bus or Metro.  No stroller and no need to wrangle the baby, so it's just me carrying bags like a normal person!  I can zoom around a crowded store (or a "no strollers allowed" store).  I can go up and down steps.  Best of all, it is built like a hiking backpack, so you can get a good, snug fit that makes it feel like you aren't lugging around 20 extra pounds.

The best part of carrying your baby?  They are RIGHT THERE for hugs whenever you want them.  : )