Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Happy Birthday!

Ellis turned one this past Sunday - I can't believe it, but at the same time, her newborn days feel like they could be years ago. Who was that tiny squalling baby? Who were WE?

Ellis is teaching me so much. She is such an extravert, and that experience is foreign to me. I babysit a 20-month-old who is an introvert, and the differences between them are incredible to watch. He's king of his house, but is slow to warm up when we go out. He explores cautiously, or keeps close to me and stays very still when there are other people. Ellis lunges head first into everything she can, and she waves maniacally to get strangers' attention. We take a music class together on Tuesdays, and she crawls right to the middle of the room while my charge curls up in my lap. She just has to check in at home base once in a while. She'll come crawling quickly back to me, screeching and her hands slap slapping against the floor, and hold onto my leg while she watches back to the action. Or she'll want to nurse for a bit and then go back out. She is energized by outings and socialization.

My parents came to visit for her birthday, and my dad was so surprised when I suggested he take her in the stroller on his errand to the drugstore across the street. He had expected her to get fussy or need to be distracted. But she's completely fine going off with someone. She gets really excited to see me again when she returns, but she has a blast while she's gone.

Her physical changes have been awesome to watch, too. The words she has are: hi, baby, car, papa (her grandfather), dog, ball. She  recognizes a ton more words, which we actively try to teach her, such as trees, flowers, cat, banana. She understands some phrases like "brush teeth." She can follow instructions when I say, "kiss the baby." She understands "no" and even just tone of voice when I warn, "Ellis" as she goes close to the cat food.

She used to wave with her whole arm, her hand flopping limply, and now she waves more with her hand too. She signs for milk and water and "all done." She has a pooping spot - the landing of our stairs - and then crawls into my lap wanting a diaper change. She loves food and gets SO MAD and impatient waiting for it. As soon as she sees it, she starts grunting and gets red in the face and tenses her body, and she only gets louder until we give it to her. Sometimes we just can't cut something up fast enough as she eats what we just put down! She gives open-mouth kisses, but can be stingy with them so they're so meaningful when you get them! She'll kiss a favorite toy three times in a row because she's so happy to come upon it, but turn her head the other way when you ask for one. So when she spontaneously kisses, or kisses my breast before nursing, or kisses my leg before pulling up to me, I just melt.

She's started to closely observe routines and tasks we perform, and will try to copy them. She takes silverware out of the dishwasher and then puts them back in. She wipes the table with a napkin while we're wiping it down. She picks up food off her dish and puts them into a spoon and then brings the spoon to her mouth - the spoon might be upside down and might miss her mouth, but she knows what it's meant for!

She is joy. She delights in the smallest things. Balloons, flapping flags, birds, watching my charge chase his dog in a circle. She pants open-mouthed with her hands tense with excitement, her eyes wide blinking furiously.

It has been such a privilege to raise her this year. I wish I could reflect more on this first anniversary of her birth, but our girl is still not a good sleeper (up every couple hours) and I'm fading quickly. It was such an effort to even bring out the laptop so I could make any sort of update in acknowledgement of her birthday!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Re-Entering the Work Force

In December, my wife and I started talking very seriously about how much longer we could afford for me to stay home. We both value not having Ellis in day care as an infant when she requires such constant one-on-one attention (and likewise we both value it FOR her once she's more mobile, independent, and interactive with other children). I personally wanted to be home and present for all the milestones that happen in the first year, especially since she may be our only child and her babyhood is like water through our fingers. And I also wanted to be able to breastfeed her without stressing about pumping and getting her to take a bottle. 

It is such a luxury that we could make this dream come true and that I could cherish all of the above privileges, but we had to revisit it a few times to make sure it was still doable as different things about our situation changed. In December, as we were stressing about this and discussing how we could get til May, my friend who lives in the neighborhood called to ask if I would consider babysitting her 18-month-old until the end of June. Her babysitter was moving to France, and he would now be on his third. She planned to sign him up for day care in September, but needed to get him through the end of this school year (she's a teacher). Her sister would be coming on Mondays to help out, so it would be Tuesday through Friday from 6:45 to 3:30 with a winter and spring break.

I was so anxious about how I would watch two babies - how I would get her to nap in a different environment when we were just now transitioning her to the crib instead of nursing to sleep on me, how my fussy high needs baby would tolerate being alone in a playpen for about ten minutes while I do the toddler's nap routine, how I would keep from going crazy without the ability to get out of the house all day. (No more driving randomly to the grocery store, going on play dates, etc.) I'm also not an experienced babysitter and was nervous about caring for a toddler. But my friend had faith in me. I was open about all these concerns, and she said she would do whatever she could to make it easier on me and that it would be an adjustment but we would be okay. She knew he would be safe and loved with me, and everything else would be on the job training. 

It was worse than I thought in the beginning, but got better more quickly than I had anticipated. We have our routine now, and I didn't realize how much I needed that. I've been working since I was 15, and having open-ended, unstructured days was driving me out of my mind. I would try to make schedules for the week so that I didn't get that Sunday night pit in my stomach of what we would do all week. I have a very fussy baby if she isn't being entertained. She is active and social, and staying home leads to crankiness, but you can only make so many trips to the grocery store, and I didn't have money to be going to classes every day. Now we had somewhere to go every morning, a friend for her to play with, busy activity for me (coordinating their naps and his snacks and meals takes up most of my day; the busy work is good for me), just enough time afterward to do something together before dinner and bed, and Mondays off for everything else. 

The Mondays off have been key to my sanity. I have one extra day before my work week starts to ease back into it after a full weekend. I can do some chores, have play dates with my mom friends whom I've missed since starting this gig, and spend some quality time with just Ellis. Working the rest of the week makes me so appreciate that day off together, and makes the time with her so high quality.

And I'm guaranteed to be home with her until after her first birthday in late May. I'll be looking for work starting in June, and hope to be back by late summer/early fall. I'm so excited! I'm going to miss her like crazy, and I can't imagine not being together all day. We are so attached. Because she's refused bottles and because I hate the pump enough not to push the issue even now that she's gotten more flexible, I really haven't been without her for more than an hour at a time. The idea of that separation is really hard for me, the same as I imagine it would be when she starts school. But I look so forward to having routine and structure to my days and weeks in the adult world, in the field about which I'm so passionate and have worked so hard to enter. I miss the office environment. I miss weekends and holidays and vacations feeling so special because they were so different from the norm. 

I'm also really excited for Ellis to have the day care experience. I hope to use a small family day care rather than a large day care center, and the one I was looking into last year seems so wonderful. They provide a schedule of snacks and lunches online for parents to look at each week. They have a lot of outdoor time and free play as well as some structured activities. And she just so loves other children! The busy nature of day care as well as the social aspect are going to be so great for her. I actually prefer day care to a private babysitter for this reason. I don't just want someone watching her at home like I would do. I want her to have a different sort of experience, and then be able to come home as her home base. (If I was looking for childcare for her as an infant, I would prefer a babysitter where she gets the constant individual attention she needs. But her needs are changing as she nears toddlerhood.)

I don't feel guilty for going back to work, because I think it will be great for both of us. But I feel guilty for WANTING to go back. I feel like I'm supposed to say I'm just doing it because I have to, but that's not true. I do wish I had a job from 9 to 12 every day and got to spend more time with her in each day. But if I can't have it all, I would rather work outside the home than not. Fathers are never made to feel guilty for providing for their families and not being hands on at home all day, yet as mothers we are expected to feel or do differently. That bothers me, and yet even as I criticize it, I'm a victim of it. That's going to take some work. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

I'm Still Here!

How was my last post October 20?? The lack of time or energy to write is one of the most surprising sacrifices of motherhood. If it can't be done by smartphone, it generally doesn't get done. I miss reading and writing, sorely. I have even less downtime than I envisioned because Ellis is relatively high needs and wants to be held and entertained most of the time. Sitting up has helped her start to play independently, and that has been a sanity saver, but it's also fleeting. Once all her toys are thrown or rolled out of reach, I have to be right there to bring them back to her since she doesn't crawl yet. (And once she's crawling, there won't be any resting anyway!) She's also over it pretty soon and wants to be in my lap again.

She's a poor napper, and only recently has been able to take most naps on her own (after a week of gentle transitioning, which I knew I had to do as she started to have more trouble falling asleep on me). Those naps are usually 30 minutes, so I just barely get her down and she's up again. Sometimes I try to rush in chores, but since I know breaks are fleeting, I try to do what chores I can while she's awake and use her naps as a real time to unwind. I'm on the clock literally all the time since she won't take a bottle and is up every couple of hours throughout the night, so those small breaks are desperately needed for my emotional and psychological well-being.

I've loved watching her grow and change. So much has happened in just the past month that blows my mind. She started sitting around five and a half months, and from there has progressed more and more toward crawling. She stretches for toys without toppling and moves her hips and legs to try to move. She's taken to drinking from a straw cup, catching on immediately. We've been making her baby food and just started putting some into pouches, and she caught onto that immediately also - smiling and giggling with glee, like she couldn't believe that food was coming out of the straw instead of water or milk. She laughs and babbles so much. She still has her fussy moments, but that used to be almost all the time. Now she spends so much of the day giggling at everything. Everything! She laughs and kicks her legs when she sees bushes, flags flapping, balloons, a shadow, light fixtures, and often things we can't even figure out. She has started using consonants so that her coos are now babbles - mamamama, babababa, dadadada, bwawawawa. When we mimic the sounds back to her, she stops and then grins or laughs.

She plays mostly by turning a toy over and over in her hand to inspect it from all angles before putting it her mouth while bouncing/rocking happily, or by banging two hard toys together over and over again. She doesn't have interest in soft or plush toys at the moment. She looooves physical play - being tickled, tossed, nuzzled. When she's tired, she sometimes rubs her face back and forth against my face instead of rubbing her eyes with her own hands. When she's tired or just content and low energy, I repeatedly give soft kisses to her temple and she just leans her face into me and calms while I do it. She raises her arms when she wants to be held. She playfully leans toward Nicole from my arms and then smiles and turns back into me when Nicole tries to take her, but then does it again if Nicole retreats. She's started to get super excited at the anticipation of something happening; her eyes and mouth open wide and her hands lift and tremble like she just can't contain her excitement. The anticipation is often unwarranted, and we try to figure out what she was hoping for and offer it! She does it every time my mom answers FaceTime calls and I just melt.

Life with Ellis is amazing. I have no time for my three favorite things - reading, writing, and movies - but I remind myself that there will be so much time for that all too soon. The first few months were so, so difficult with our high needs baby that I don't want to miss a single joy of how she is now. I feel constantly on cloud nine, and no sacrifice seems too difficult because I can truly appreciate and enjoy every moment with her now with the sharp memory of how excruciatingly hard it all was not long ago.

This post is disjointed because all the great ideas I have for topics while busy with Ellis never get touched, and now when I have a minute to pull out my laptop while she's sleeping next to me, I can't think of any of them and my mind is a fuzzy cloud from having gotten up with her at 5:20AM. But I needed to seize the opportunity so I just loosely wrote about some of the things I want to be able to look back on later.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Our Breastfeeding Journey

By the time I went into labor, I was both very anxious and very prepared and informed about breastfeeding. It seemed like everyone I knew had had difficulty. You don't hear often about successful breastfeeding experiences, at least in my observation. I kept hearing stories about problems with latching, problems with supply, problems with pain. People would ask me if I planned to breastfeed, and when I said yes, I got unintentional discouragement instead of support, in the form of comments like, "Well make sure you get bottles and formula samples just in case it doesn't work out for you." I took a breastfeeding class and read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which is put out by La Leche League, and I found a local support group on social media where I knew I could ask questions or express concerns postpartum and get support.

It all paid off, plus I had a bit of luck. I was able to have skin-to-skin for a glorious four hours after a vaginal delivery, which gave me a great head start. Ellis lay across my chest and her fist closed reflexively around one nipple as she lay in the flat area between my breasts. When she seemed to be wiggling and searching, I moved her over to help her find my nipple with her mouth, and she latched immediately. This was less than an hour after birth, and my heart soared. I knew we would be okay.

During my hospital stay, however, I encountered some discouraging setbacks. Several times she would be crying and trying to latch but couldn't. I knew she was capable of latching so I didn't understand why she wasn't. She would gum and tongue at my nipple but not latch, and her head would shake violently from side to side as she got more frustrated and then she would scream and cry. I was a wreck trying to figure out what was wrong. 

With the help of a lactation consultant and our own observations, we figured out that she couldn't focus enough to latch if anything else was bothering her. She would be hungry and would want to but just couldn't. Sometimes that was as easy as checking her diaper (she had NO tolerance for wet diapers the first few weeks when that was such a new feeling to her), but other times it was gas bothering her, which would take us a while to figure out and which we couldn't always help her with. 

As I'd learned should be done, I offered it to her anytime she was awake, and she was at my breast round the clock. With all that suckling my milk came in at two days out of the two to five day timeframe I'd been warned of. I was so grateful, because no matter what I was told, I couldn't imagine drops of colostrum being enough to satisfy her for five whole days! 

The first night I was home from the hospital, I noticed a difference during a 2AM feeding. It seemed like she was swallowing more or differently, and after she unlatched, I touched the drop that leaked from my breast and noticed it was white. Milk!! It was the best feeling to know she was getting that. I couldn't help but wonder what that change was like for her, having only experienced the little bits of colostrum and now suddenly having milk flowing. I woke up the next morning engorged. I resisted the urge to pump (in hindsight, I could have pumped just a little for relief - but to be honest I was intimidated by the pump and afraid to try it for the first couple of weeks) and just kept offering it to her. It was so painful, and strange to see my typically small, flaccid breasts so big and full and hard.

The nipple pain started about a day into nursing and I kept receiving conflicting information. I would read or hear that it's normal until your nipples "toughen up," and then I would read or hear that it should never hurt and that means the latch isn't right. I didn't know what to believe, but I felt like she was latched well so I just tried to power through. I used cooling gel pads and nipple butter to ease the sting. Sometimes my nipples even cracked and scabbed, and then the scab would come off when she next nursed and be even more raw and sore. So painful! Just when I thought maybe I should call a lactation consultant, the pain eased up, about a week in. So now I think that was truly my nipples getting used to so much action. Now I barely feel it, it's such a gentle tugging that I can even sleep through it after pulling her into bed late at night.

Initially the lamp went on as I fumbled with her diaper and then went to the rocker to set up my nursing pillow and feed her. I would struggle to stay awake for the 30-40 minutes, often snapping my head up after realizing I was falling asleep over her. Within a few weeks, I got more comfortable and was able to change her diaper by nightlight without having to light up the whole room, and then would nurse her sidelying in bed. I would fall asleep and then put her back in the bassinet at whatever point I woke up.

My first real moment of pride came when I had to nurse her in public unexpectedly. We were at the pediatrician's office when she was just four days old. Then and to this day, she loves being out and seeing new places and people, so she was overall very alert and content. But she started to fuss and I knew she must be hungry. I had a moment of panic because I didn't have my home setup and my nursing pillow. But I sat down and held her up to me and fed her while the doctor spoke. It was such a rush and so good for my self-confidence as a new nursing mother to know I had it down enough to be able to meet that need spontaneously. It was an empowering realization that I could keep my baby alive and nourish her no matter what the environment. I'll never forget that feeling!

I knew I would love breastfeeding, but I had no idea how I would LOVE breastfeeding! It's one of my absolute favorite parts of being a new mother. That oxytocin is powerful stuff, and I feel so in love with Ellis every time. I don't want her to ever stop! In the beginning, when she wasn't quite connecting that her food source and her mother were the same entity, she would catch me gazing at her and pause, narrowing her eyebrows in an epic glower at me, and then resume sucking fiercely. Like, "Hey, I know you're warmth and safety but am still not REALLY sure who or what you are, and I'm not sure if I trust you hanging over me while I'm eating and seeking comfort." Then this evolved into her catching my gaze and grinning so hard that she unlatches and then coos softly at me. Melt my HEART! She also now pets my skin with one hand back and forth while she nurses to sleep. Or while awake and alert, she just flails it around, sometimes grabbing my face, while her top leg kicks and flails around. And when we're nursing in bed sidelying, I feel her leg kicking up and down against my leg and I just die. It's like the biggest rush, like absolutely falling in love every time.

 figuring it out in the hospital - she was a natural!

 my first time sidelying in bed - lifechanging!

 at Target - one of the biggest surprises for me was how little I care about public breastfeeding

 one of six images from a $15 breastfeeding photo session by a local photographer - something I will never regret having!

 learning how to nurse while babywearing was a game changer

 the most comfortable and natural position for both of us - just laying back with her against me

that skeptical look from the early days

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Don't Blink!

I want to write a post about our breastfeeding journey and also one about our first months with baby. And maybe one about the struggle it has been coparenting with opposite approaches to and perspectives on so many things. But I seem to never have time to write now, so in the meantime I want to write another quick catch-up like I did two months ago so I can remember the little things later.

  • Ellis learned how to make a gargling sound between two and three months old and was so proud of herself. She would make this gargling at the back of her throat with a huge grin and then practically turn inside out with smiles as we responded to her. This was her primary way to communicate with us when happy, and we would go back and forth with her endlessly. It only lasted maybe a month. Now she vocalizes in a way that sounds like "ohhhhhhhhh" and she doesn't do it interactively as much, mostly just to get our attention or just to make sounds and try out her voice. I so miss the gargling!
  • Ellis also learned how to screech. She could make this shrill, ear-piercing shriek that startled the cats until they got used to it! She sometimes replaced other fussing noises (like whimpering and un-distressed crying) with this screech. Or used it when excited. Or used it when frustrated or bored or lonely. It was usually used to call our attention to her when she needed something. She still does this, but it has dropped off in the past week. 
  • She found her feet while sitting in Grampa's lap on a family vacation to Myrtle beach. She had just turned three months. She looked at them in total fascination, and it was awesome to watch. Now she grabs at them at almost every diaper change, and I just don't get tired of watching her discover and enjoy her own body!
  • She loves physical play. She can entertain herself for a little while in the activity gym, and can sometimes listen to a book even though she's a bit young to really focus on it, but what she never tires of is airplane, tickling, nuzzling.
  • She loves being out, and being worn. She doesn't mind the stroller (she hated it as a newborn, but that's not a surprise at that stage of development) but she really loves the view she gets from my chest and being able to see the world while feeling my warmth and smelling me and being able to nuzzle into me when overstimulated, even for a few seconds. I'm dreading the cold weather because walks with her have saved us from many a fussy moment!
This post is disappointingly brief to me. It feels like a skimming over of our life and like so many moments are not captured. But it's all I can manage right now. She slept terribly all day today (a total of an hour and a half compared to her usual four to five hours!) and gets up around 6 AM and it's already 10;15 and I still have to finish a load of laundry and try to get upstairs before she wakes to eat. And this is how it happens! 

Friday, September 4, 2015

First Three Months

I'm writing about a quarter of a year at once. So not my pre-baby writing frequency! Argh. My laptop hardly ever comes out anymore.

The first few days at home were so peaceful compared to what we'd dealt with at the hospital all weekend. My mother stayed with us for two weeks and my wife was off of work those same two weeks. We were a great team. My wife cooked dinners when we didn't have any from kind friends and family. She went out to the stores to get anything we needed. My mother helped with laundry and dishes and watched the baby so I could get in a nap, just calling me if she woke and needed to eat. Ellis slept most of the time, and in those first few days would sleep wherever I put her. So I did a lot of what I used to do. I went on my computer, I called friends at work because I missed my old normal, and even checked some work emails. But having time for all that was very short-lived.

I had a really hard time with my "normal" being totally upended. It just seemed to happen so fast. I had just been sitting around in my usual environment, calm and even bored that first week of my maternity leave that started on my due date, and now baby stuff was everywhere and I felt emotionally and mentally and physically exhausted and I could never clock out of this job and everyone at my OLD job was going on without me and I couldn't leave the house and my nipples hurt and I was "on call" all night long, falling asleep in the rocker while hanging over my nursing baby. I vividly recall how strange I felt, how everything around me felt strange. It was like this wasn't my home anymore, and this wasn't my life, and I was in some strange reality that I couldn't get out of. I would freak out and melt down and cry, telling my mom and wife about these feelings and texting with my sister and my best friend. I was very open with what I was going through because I was even more afraid of being isolated in these feelings. Dealing with very little sleep made my emotions particularly raw and made it much more difficult to cope.

That started to pass after about a week, and I got into our routine. But our routine was rough. Ellis had seemed so laidback in the hospital. She only fussed when something was wrong, and we seemed to be able to figure that out pretty quickly and then she was okay. Now she seemed to be fussing more often than not, and we couldn't figure out why or how to help her. When she fell asleep, I lived in fear of her waking back up. We had nursing down pat, but if that didn't help her, I was at a loss as to what else to do. Nothing else seemed to come naturally.

Nights were the hardest. Every evening we spent hours and hours trying to get her to bed, walking her up and down the block as she screamed and wailed because being outside soothed her a bit, but then she'd become agitated again once she came in. We followed what we'd read about helping babies distinguish night from day. We gave her a routine and kept our room dark and quiet at night. When she'd be awake from, say, 2:30-4:00AM, I wouldn't play with her, but would just hold her and be with her so she would learn nighttime wasn't play time. I've also read that breastmilk helps them make this adjustment more quickly because your milk at night is different and the same hormones that help you sleep helps the baby sleep. She figured out night from day pretty quickly, but was awake at least every hour or so. She was very sensitive to wet diapers and would scream the second she felt it. She was hungry all the time. She had gas and couldn't figure out how to pass it.

It's all such a blur now, I know we felt closer than ever the first two weeks when my wife was home. We'd be up in the middle of the night together trying to soothe Ellis and get her back to sleep, and we felt like such a team after any success. I know our relationship suffered for a while after my wife went back to work so soon; I was home alone ready to pull my hair out or jump out a window, while she started dreading coming home because she missed any of Ellis's good time during the day and just got there in time to experience the evening hell. It took a toll on us, and we started developing different ideas of how we should respond to her. We couldn't agree on it, and ultimately my preferences trumped hers because I was the one home dealing with her all day, and I couldn't do that 24/7 in a way that didn't feel right to me. So my wife got on board reluctantly because she didn't want us to send Ellis mixed messages, and we found ways to compromise where possible.

Ellis wanted to be held all the time, and I loved this most of the time until it made other things more difficult. I loved spending my day with her sleeping on my chest; it helped re-solidify our bond after hours of my nerves being utterly frayed. But when I wanted to shower or throw in a load of laundry, it was very difficult. She would scream the second I put her down and I felt guilty that I was home all day but unable to get much done, and that my wife would have to come home from a long day at work to a screaming baby, a crying wife, a messy house, and no dinner.

All of this passed, and more quickly than I'd dared hope. We turned a corner around five weeks, and it's only gotten better since. We developed a bedtime routine that worked for us; it still took us hours to get her to sleep (now it takes just about one hour), but suddenly we weren't having to take her outside pacing up and down the block anymore. Suddenly she was fussing and slapping at my chest as she nursed to sleep, but not screaming bloody murder throughout the house.

Looking back on those early weeks, I learned this:

Our struggle with Ellis was not unique; nothing was wrong with her or us. Newborns are fussy. Newborns need to be held. Newborns are gassy and they don't know how to pass it or what that scary feeling is. They aren't familiar with the feeling of a wet diaper and it upsets them. They can't see six inches in front of their face so they panic if they're set somewhere and can't see you. They've only known the warmth and close comfort of your womb, and can't be expected to be able to sleep on their own without the comfort and safety of your smell and your skin and your voice. A parent's job is to accommodate these needs to the extent that you can until they begin to adjust to the world.

It helped to hear from other new parents that the nightly crying ("witching hour") is normal among all babies, that all babies have a tough time adjusting to the world outside the womb and there's nothing wrong with your baby; you just had no idea how much they cry and how difficult it is for you to cope with that when you're exhausted and drained. You just can't anticipate it, no matter how much people might warn you (and they generally don't!).

It helps now for me to know this really doesn't last forever, and that babies go through their stages of growth and development without you pushing it. Ellis needed to be in bed with us the first month because she freaked out if she couldn't see and smell us. She felt utterly unsafe and alone in the bassinet. But soon she started to see and recognize her surroundings, and now she actually sleeps better in the bassinet. I bring her into bed to nurse so that I can get sleep, but I often end up putting her back in the bassinet at the next wake-up because she wants to stretch out flat on her back with her limbs akimbo more than she can do when squeezed in next to us. Bedsharing is for my convenience with breastfeeding, not because she needs it anymore. She used to only be able to nap on me, and would almost always wake up if I tried to transfer her elsewhere. The past three days, she's had at least one nap a day where she can't get comfortable on me and squirms and fusses til I set her down, at which point she is able to be soothed to sleep if I stay nearby keeping eye contact and making shushing sounds. I follow her lead and try to facilitate her growth as it's happening rather than trying to force her into a stage she's not ready for or keep her in one I'm not ready for her to grow out of. Trying to make her sleep on her own before she was ready would do nothing but keep us in an exhausting battle that distressed both us and her, and I'm glad I insisted on bedsharing while it worked for us.

I knew a lot of this theoretically, and would remind myself and defend it to others who I didn't feel were supporting my choices. But my confidence was not as strong as I attempted to project, because really I didn't know how any of my choices would turn out. Now I can see that she has developed a secure attachment to us, and because of it, is becoming independent more quickly than I'm even ready for! She knows we will do our best to meet her needs, that we won't just leave her to scream and cry when she's unhappy or lonely or scared, so she feels capable of being more adventurous. She spends more time doing things on her own (being set down in a bouncer or playing under her activity gym) because she knows we'll respond when she tells us she's done or needs something else. My choices have been exactly right for us, and I regret anytime I veered from it out of pressure from others or self-doubt. It's the only reason I would wish it upon myself to go through that rough first period all over again, so that I could do it with more confidence!

"If I knew then what I know now..." Isn't that what parenting is for everyone?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Our Hospital Stay

I got to hold my baby girl for a glorious four hours before they took her to the nursery. They had told me about two hours, so I was thrilled to pieces. We'd been told by several staff that it was very busy that weekend; it had taken quite some time of laboring in triage before I'd gotten a delivery room, and now they were waiting for a recovery room to be made ready. She was born at 12:57 and they took her from me at 5:00PM, after placenta delivery, stitching up, checking her APGAR (9 and 9!), and then several hours of cooing relatives after the room and myself had been cleaned up. (I never saw the crime scene that was described to me - ninjas must have cleaned up before I sat up!) My wife went to the nursery with Ellis because I was determined that she not be out of our sight for even a minute.

When they first took her, I ordered food since I hadn't eaten anything but a cup of blueberries at 11PM the night before. I ate and just tried to get myself together and absorb what had happened and that I had a BABY, and was fine for a while...but then it started to feel like a really long time without her. I'd never been separated from her before, and it ended up being an hour and a half that she was in the nursery. No one was talking to me OR my wife about what was taking so long, and I was getting really antsy! I finally got my baby and my recovery room.

The weekend was really rough. We were there from the wee hours Friday until Sunday night. Every day and night was full of interruptions, and we got far less sleep and recovery than we would have at home.

We finally learned that the reason Ellis had been in the nursery so long was that she had a periurethral cyst, and no one seemed to know what it was or how serious and hadn't seen it on a baby. They were all looking at it and calling in other people to look at it. When we finally saw the pediatric urologist late the next night, he reassured us that he'd seen it a million times and they almost always disappear on their own. But everyone before him that rotated in and out of the room had made us anxious. The first we even knew of this was when an adult urologist came in to look at it. We'd been asked frequently whether she was wetting diapers but had no idea this was why they wanted to know. We had to strip the baby down and take off her diaper for the doctor to look at it, and she said we needed to track the wet diapers to make sure the cyst wasn't blocking the urethra or making it painful to urinate so that the baby was holding her urine and damaging her kidneys. We were told she would need a sonogram to make sure of this also.

We finally got the crying baby swaddled (with the help of a kind and patient nurse - ours were never snug enough) and back to sleep, and then another woman came in, introduced herself as a resident, and asked to check out the cyst. I am normally pretty passive and afraid to say no to people who seem in authority, but the mama bear in me flared up. Babies sleep about 22 hours their first day of life, giving both baby and mother time to recuperate from birth, and no one was letting the poor girl rest! (They also frequently interrupted us while breastfeeding.) I said, "Someone just looked at it." She said, "yes, but I need to call the pediatric urologist about a sonogram and describe it to them." I said, "We just got her calmed and back to sleep again. I don't want to unswaddle her and strip her down again. Ask the last doctor about it." She said, "I really need to be able to see it for myself so I can describe it in detail." I said, "Then you should have come in with the last doctor and looked together. Have her call it in since she saw it. I'm not waking the baby again." She said she would check with the other doctor, and I never saw her again.

Meanwhile, they also kept unswaddling her to prick her heel to test her blood sugar. I know this goes with the territory of gestational diabetes, but I had kept to the diet so well so I knew she wasn't overproducing insulin (and sure enough she tested normal each time) so it was really frustrating to see them needlessly waking her so often. Then they would do weight checks after midnight. I was hooked up to a catheter and an IV after my blood pressure situation, and they kept coming to monitor me too. Neither of us got much sleep even when we could and should have! I remember clearly one time when a nurse came to do all this and left the light on. It was the one light not controlled by my remote, and I was bed-bound because of being hooked up to so much on both sides of me. I rang the call button three times in 45 minutes pleading for someone to just come in and turn the light back off - 45 minutes!! The sun was coming up some after 5:00 by the time someone came to turn it off, and I was near tears begging in that last call. It was the only thing I needed to try to finally get some shuteye and was such a stupid barrier to getting rest!!

Our stream of visitors was absolutely perfect. Only people close to us came by, and they kept their visits short and sweet. It was just enough to help us feel supported and not lonely or bored, but not so much that we would feel overwhelmed or stressed. I felt surprisingly comfortable nursing with people around and just assumed they would leave if THEY felt uncomfortable. (That has remained true.) My mother stayed with me the entire day so that my wife could rush out to feed the cats, get a change of clothes, etc. without me ever being left alone.

There was one morning they both were going to go somewhere, but Mom said she would stay with me while my wife went. I encouraged them to both go because I had the help of nurses and would have to practice being on my own a little bit with Ellis anyway. It was a terrifying hour or so!! She started crying and I couldn't figure out how to help her. When I tried nursing her, she would try to latch but just couldn't. I knew she knew how, so I didn't understand why she wasn't doing it. She would act hungry (they eat CONSTANTLY in the beginning) but would get so frustrated and angry. She would be at my breast with her mouth around my nipple but not closing on it and shake her head violently with frustration and scream. I felt lost without my wife who would pace the room and comfort the baby while I could barely stand even after being unhooked from the machines. I felt panicked at my lack of instincts in how to help her and comfort her. I felt so responsible for her distress and so helpless!

I called for a lactation consultant, and she didn't come for almost an hour which felt like torture. She was very reassuring, though, and said that something was distracting Ellis from being able to latch. We checked her diaper and she did "bicycle legs" in case she had gas and rocked her around and then we tried again, and she latched. She said that you may never know what it was that worked, but just keep trying different things and then offering the breast. I soon learned that Ellis wouldn't eat (would WANT to, but couldn't focus enough to be able to, thus the frustration) if she had anything else wrong, so I had to check everything and just keep trying. When my mother and wife returned, I burst into tears, so grateful for their return, which probably confused them because we appeared to be calmly and successfully nursing!

The sonogram experience was terrible. We'd been seen by the pediatric urologist finally (Saturday night) who was surprised that it hadn't already been done that day, but said he didn't even think it was necessary. What he saw was so commonplace and benign that he wasn't worried, but he said to go through with the sonogram since it had already been ordered and it would put our minds at ease. (The cyst was gone by the time her pediatrician saw her that Tuesday.) We were told discharge would be around lunchtime Sunday, but by 5:00PM they still hadn't seen her for the sonogram! I was so tired and annoyed by then. Every nerve was frayed from lack of sleep and the anxiety of all that was happening nonstop at the hospital all weekend. I just wanted to get home! We were told that the sonograms were backed up because it was a holiday weekend (Memorial Day) and they would get to us soon.

When they finally came for us, they put her in this rolling incubator type thing that enclosed her completely. The place we had to go was so far from where we were, and walking behind her hearing her muffled wails was absolutely heartbreaking. It took forever to get there, and as soon as we did, I asked to hold her until they had the equipment ready so I could comfort her a little. Then the sonogram itself seemed to take forever, and back into the incubator she went. It was absolute torment, seeing her left alone in there, separated from all caregiving adults by plastic, not being held or even touched, no one responding to her desperate cries. She had to be so scared and lonely. What a traumatic early experience! And knowing the sonogram probably wasn't even really necessary just made it all seem that much worse. I couldn't bear it.

We then had to wait for the results to be reviewed and discussed with the pediatrician before we could get cleared for discharge. It was 9:00PM before that happened. We were all absolutely exhausted, and also disappointed that our homecoming would be nothing like we had imagined. When we finally received approval for discharge, my wife went to get the car and my mother and I put Ellis into her coming home outfit (anticlimactic so late at night). We were then told that no one was yet available for "patient transport" (to roll me in a wheelchair downstairs) and they couldn't tell us when they'd be ready. So I sat down to feed my always hungry newborn. While she was still eating, patient transport suddenly arrived. I explained that she would probably be done eating soon, and I didn't want to unlatch her and leave her hungry when she'd been interrupted from sleeping and eating all weekend (SINCE BIRTH). They said they couldn't wait and we had to leave now. So I unlatched my two-day old infant from my breast and buckled her screaming into the carseat. She screamed and cried hysterically all the way home, where I rushed her to the couch to feed her again.

All in all, it was a terrible experience. We were already anxious new parents trying to figure out our newborn who was terrified at this new world, and with having not slept in about two days, and on top of that we had staff constantly interrupting the baby's breastfeeding and sleeping. She'd be crying endlessly, and we'd be trying desperately to soothe her, with no sleep and no experience and no energy left, and finally would have her settled nursing or swaddled and sleeping, and someone would come in and wake her up and then leave us to have to settle her again. I felt like I would go crazy.

The second we got into our house, I felt such relief. We were in OUR space, with our baby in her own clothes and with her own things around her, and suddenly I could really connect with her. Suddenly it wasn't just about soothing this screaming creature that was dependent on us and for whom we were responsible, but it was about us being a family with our daughter and beginning the process of raising her. And I immediately understood why many women choose to give birth at home!