Thursday, October 13, 2016

Adjusting - Our New Normal

Oh how life has changed! If I could have the best of all possible worlds, I would be able to pick Ellis up from day care around 2:00 after her nap each day, and just have more time with her than I do now. But in the absence of that possibility, this is the next best. We are all so happy.

When I first started dropping Ellis at day care, she cried and clung to me a little. She would ask to nurse, presumably for the extra snuggles as well as trying to delay the inevitable. I gave her kisses and told her I would be back later, and then I left to sob on my way to the car.

In just over a week, she was no longer crying at drop-off. She would give a little sad look at me over the staff's shoulder, but she would reach for them as I handed her over, and she didn't cry. In less than a month, she was kicking her legs with excitement to see the other babies she recognizes (10 kids between the ages of 7 months and 2 years) and snuggle into me with a shy smile as a couple of them called her name excitedly.

All the mixed emotions! Mostly I felt (and feel) just so, so happy and relieved. I have seen her reach out for each of the three staff. She feels comforted when they hold her (she doesn't let just anyone hold her) and reacts with giggles and smiles when they get playful with her. She looks forward to seeing the other kids, and it's wild to me to hear them saying, "Ellis!!" and running up to hug her. (Most of the parents are teachers, so they've mostly been there an hour already when she arrives, and she is usually the last to be picked up.) She eats and naps really well for them - the power of routine!

Staff told me that the first couple of weeks, she would occasionally go to the door and fuss and sign to nurse, basically trying to find me or figure out when I would come back. Then she would start to go to the door saying "mama, mama" after other kids would start getting picked up. After a week or two, she didn't blink during the day, and now runs excitedly into my arms and asks to nurse, but then afterward wants me to put her down so she can keep playing! It's like she's excited to have me join her there, but kind of wants me to stay there with her, not take her away. I couldn't want anything more for her than that.

Mondays and Tuesdays I work from 1:00-9:00. We get the whole morning together, and it's amazing. We have music class at 10:30 on Tuesdays, and then Mondays are free for doctor's appointments or little fun activities, like the park or a botanical garden. My wife picks her up after work and we try to have an easy dinner setup for those nights, because I know from experience that nighttime can be so hard on your own, between dinner and bath and bed and feeling exhausted yourself. I try to make it as easy on my wife as I can, such as by setting out her pajamas and diaper and towel on the bed. My wife struggled at first to get her to bed, because Ellis was used to nursing to sleep and would keep crying for me. It took her a couple hours the first few times, until Ellis got used to it. Just like with day care itself, she had to learn what to expect. She soon learned that I would always come back, that she would wake up later in the night and I would be there and she could nurse. She now falls asleep for Nicole much faster than she does for me - this past Tuesday, it took ten minutes!

I'm impressed with Ellis's resiliency as much as my own. I'm kept very busy at work, and it's work that I'm enjoying. Being busy makes it easier, because the day speeds by and then I'm power walking to my car to get to her as fast as possible, and that reunion feels soooo good. Weekends and days off are like total treasures. I have so much more patience when she is fussy or clingy, because there is too much time where I'm not around to indulge that. I'm more attentive, more involved, more hands on. Less "biding the time" and more being fully present with her. She gets nurturing and attention and free play and reading and crafting during the day, and then she goes back to a mama with endless affection and doting and attention. I feel more exhausted in a lot of ways, working full-time and not getting to then come home and kick my feet up with Netflix like I used to before I was a parent, but I also feel more re-energized in others.

I have occasional guilt, which I try to work on even as I try to accept that it's normal and the maternal condition, whether employed outside the home or not. As explained on an episode of my favorite podcast One Bad Mother, we're all exhausted and fighting guilt and trying to find time. That's mothering, no matter what our differences.

We couldn't afford for me to stay home full-time. There weren't enough corners to cut to make up what we would lack once our renter inevitably moves out. (We've had a roommate, a close friend, for the past almost year, and she will be here probably another six months.) We were struggling even with that income, and without it, forget it. But the guilt comes in as far as the fact that I'm happy with this lifestyle, that it's not "just" because I "have to," but rather a family routine and situation that feels very comfortable and fulfilling. I miss Ellis every day, but I feel so lucky I got her first year home. I'm so grateful that I witnessed her first major milestones, and that I was there for round the clock one-on-one care that she couldn't have gotten in a day care setting. Not everyone has that luxury, and I may not a second time around. I'm so glad that she's there at an age where she can run around screeching with her little friends, play outside, do simple crafts. And I'm glad I get to enjoy a career that I love, where I feel helpful to people and have already seen rewarding outcomes with work I've done with clients, and which afford us the ability to breathe when it comes to basic necessities, and also a little bit extra.

We've adjusted and we've got a good thing going for ourselves. We're doing a good job with this family thing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ellis at 14 Months

What a joy Ellis is! She's changing so fast that I feel an urgency to write about some of her quirks so I can remember them forever.

She is talking so much! Her first word was "hi" at 11 months, followed quickly by "baby." Now she also says ball, Momo (Elmo), bye, hello (when the phone rings!), mama, Nana, Papa, Baba (how she tries to say Gramma and Grampa), cart, no, gee (geese), got (goat), kack kack  (quack quack), and others. She is constantly babbling, sometimes saying things with such emphasis that I feel an urgency around trying to figure out what it is! She'll have her eyebrows lifted so high as she enunciates gibberish.

She is so active and wants to run everywhere. She took her first steps just after a year, by 13.5 months was doing the zombie walk, and by 14 just taking off. She's incredibly social, waving and saying "hi" to adults and children alike, even past the age where babies generally start to get a little more reserved. However, she only wants to be held by people she knows well.

She looooves reading. I waited so long for this! Peers would talk about their babies loving books and she just didn't. We could maybe get through a couple pages, but they didn't hold her attention. (Same for TV shows - I would hear about someone else's 6-month-old's favorite show, and I could barely distract Ellis with something long enough to trim her nails.) Then suddenly, just around her first birthday, she got so into them. She was able to focus for longer and just became interested. She brings us the same ones to read over and over, and it can be hard to introduce a new one now. She'll smack it aside and hand you a familiar one. I used to wonder if I had done something wrong. Maybe I didn't read to her enough early on and she just wasn't going to be into books. But she just had to grow into them, and that was at a different rate than other babies.

Ellis has gotten so smart. According to Wonder Weeks, one of her recent developmental leaps ended with her having the ability to think more into the future. So she could plan and manipulate. I don't mean that with a negative connotation, but rather that she can figure out how to get her needs met. Does Mom respond more favorably if I whine and nag, or if I act sweet and affectionate? What will a smile get me?

The first time I noticed it was when I was trying to transition her to the crib for naps again in preparation for day care. She would sign "more," which she does mostly when she wants food, and I took her downstairs for a snack. Putting her down hungry just seemed like it would sabotage my efforts. She ate almost all of her snack, but then signed it again when I put her back in the crib. That's when I knew she was trying to think of how to communicate to me to get me to take her out! "Hmmm, if I ask for food, she has to take me out of the crib to feed me." Smart little cookie. But I know she understands enough for me to tell her why I can't meet her demand. So I would say, "No, baby, it's all done. Sleepy time now." ("All done" and "sleepy time" are very familiar phrases.) And she would let out a loud cry, because she knew what I was telling her and did NOT like it! Being able to interact like this is incredible. For her to think that much into something and for us to figure out how to communicate that to each other. It's amazing to witness.

She's also been trying to figure out how things work around her. Stacking things, putting things together, playing with buckles and Velcro. She wants to push ALL the buttons around her, and gets absolutely ecstatic at the sight of an escalator. She says "Whoaaaaaa!" and "Wowwwwww!" very dramatically when something piques her interest. It's always in context and tends to make people around her crack up.

She's such a spitfire, wild and adventurous. But she's also clingy and affectionate. It's a high needs combination that fills my heart just as much as it drains my energy. I love this sweet girl more than life itself. There has never been anyone like her ever in the world.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Back to Work

The day has finally come. Our goal was for me to be home Ellis's first year, and we made that. She is 14 and a half months, and I start my full-time job on Monday.

I'm so emotional. I was in denial for so long, until I went to visit the office and sign some documents. HR had said the earliest I would be able to start was the second week of August, due to all the clearances they would need. I told myself that organizations tend to be a bit chaotic, so it would probably be the third week, and since I would be going on vacation the week after that, maybe I could tell them that because of childcare, I couldn't start until after Labor Day. I chose the latest possible fingerprinting appointment, and stalled on bringing in my marriage certificate (they wanted it to prove my change of name since my diploma is in my maiden name, and asked that I bring it within a week; I waited exactly a week). Despite all this, when I went to visit the office, my new supervisor said he had already scheduled a client to see me on August 8, in case I wanted to come in for a day or two the week before to get acquainted before jumping in. That made it really real that I would be starting in A WEEK, and I cried the whole way home, and then off and on for several hours afterward.

It finally hit me, and I felt all the emotions. Anxiety and insecurity about the job weren't even at the forefront. It was all about leaving Ellis. Devastation at being separated from her so soon. Disappointment at all the things we would miss out on now that she's old enough to do more. Guilt and sadness at leaving her with other people the majority of her day and just getting her in time for dinner and bedtime routine. I wanted this baby SO BADLY, and tried so hard for her, and now I'm handing her over to someone else for most of her good hours, for most of her early life?? It feels so unnatural!

And then I remind myself that I've been relishing our time together in a way that isn't sustainable. We got a cleaning lady a few months ago, which has been critical to marital harmony. But I was using babysitting money to pay for this service, and we can't keep her if I'm not bringing in income. There is no room for it in our budget otherwise. And before we finally broke down and hired her, we spent most of a year fighting over cleaning. Ellis is high needs and clingy, crying and grabbing at my legs just while I make breakfast in the mornings. Cleaning has been next to impossible. I also just suck at it, to be honest. I can't keep a schedule, and I spend every day feeling guilty about all the things I SHOULD be doing and postponing them to the next day.

I remind myself that it's summer, and it's easy to be sentimental when we can be outside all day every day. Ellis is SO happy outside. I remind myself of what winter was like, feeling stir crazy and yet not knowing what to do with her in the cold. Dreading bundling us both up just to, what, go to the mall again? Another library? If I'm not working, we can't afford regular trips to children's museums and play spaces. We can't afford classes or groups. I felt a rock in my stomach every Sunday evening at the emptiness of the week ahead, not knowing what to do with her every day. I started to write out a schedule so I wouldn't go crazy, and some days it was just "dry cleaning and grocery shopping" and I didn't know what to do with the rest of that day. It's easy to forget that right now when I can just sit outside with her in the sunshine all day or go to the pool.

I remind myself that the grass is always greener. That with no change on the horizon, I sometimes felt an existential panic. That it's only with a deadline, an end in sight, that I'm panicking and appreciating every second. Living like I was dying, as the song goes. I don't care if I use a ton of gas driving to all the new parks and places. I don't care if I charge lunches on my credit card while we're out. It doesn't matter because soon our time is over. If it WEREN'T soon over, I would still have that Sunday evening knot in my stomach about how to fill our days, ALL THOSE HOURS, in the upcoming week. It's the deadline that's making every moment so precious. That's just the truth.

The reality of staying home with Ellis would include a lot of things that I spent a full year trying and failing to do. I wouldn't be able to afford to take Ellis places (not many free indoor places in the winter, and I really struggled with cabin fever last year) and would have to be really on top of housekeeping, which I kept telling myself I would get better at and just couldn't seem to. It just wasn't a lifestyle that was working for us. I'm going to miss my baby terribly, but I need to stop feeling anxious about my shortcomings and create a new normal that works better for our family and makes us all as happy as possible.


The above was begun the weekend before starting my job, and I didn't have time to finish it, as so often happens when I try to sit down and write. Ellis is not a good sleeper, and I'm lucky if I clean up the kitchen and her toys and sit down with a snack and TV for an hour or two before she's up and I just go to bed for the night.

But now it's Friday of my first week at work. So the rest of my thoughts and feelings that were in anticipation are lost now, but I can write from a different place.


Choosing a day care was tough, but I found a great spot walking distance from home. It's a licensed family group day care, a smaller and more intimate setting than day care centers. A space will open up after Labor Day, but she spent two days there while I was at new hire appointments, and she did so well. She had a blast with the other kids and the toys, she ate well, she napped well. This reduced my anxiety so much. She cried when I returned and clung to me nursing for a few minutes, but then wanted back down to play. She would just check periodically that I was still there and come back for a quick nuzzle occasionally.

We're piecing together childcare until September, and this week she went with my mother-in-law. I work 1-9 Mondays and Tuesdays, so I got a half day with her before dropping her off, which I loved. However, it made me feel BEYOND exhausted at the end of the day because I felt like I had a pretty full day of parenting, a full day of work, and then no time to unwind before bed and doing it all over again. But it was worth it to have two half days less of her being in someone else's care, and to have that extra time together. My wife put her to bed those evenings. She was in charge of the whole nighttime routine, which I know from experience is difficult by yourself. When Nicole would have late meetings in the city, I dreaded the evening, even though I was alone with Ellis all day just fine! Evening is just so much tougher on your own, between dinner and bath and bedtime. We have a good team routine set up.

Ellis had a tough time falling asleep without her usual routine, but the second night was already much better than the first. Nicole was a trooper, really coming through to help make our family's new life work. She just carried her straight to our bed (usually she spends her first few hours in the crib and we bring her in after the first or second wakeup so that everyone gets more sleep), and I came home and curled up next to her.  At her next wakeup, she couldn't believe I was there, and waved at me as she sleepily latched on and closed her eyes. It was just what we both needed. Bedsharing has become an incredible source of connection for us after a day apart, and I don't want to give it up anytime soon.

The 9-5 days were much easier, even though it meant a full day of babysitting for Ellis. I had so much more energy at work and got to enjoy our regular evenings at home as a family - because though I get Monday and Tuesday mornings with Ellis, I don't see Nicole really on those days.

On Monday, I dropped her off at my mother-in-law's and she had a really hard time. She was fine 20 seconds after I left, but that leaving is HARD and probably always will be. When I came home, she smiled at me and hugged me gleefully before asking to nurse. She then clung to me the rest of the time we spent there. Tuesday, she clung a little less. She did frequent check-ins, but wanted to play. Wednesday and Thursday, she was so secure that I could cry. She walked around the whole house, going into rooms where we weren't. She didn't think I was going to leave again, because I haven't been. She's observing the routine of our days now. She knows we'll spend a little time there, and then go home together. My mother-in-law said Ellis doesn't let her out of her sight during the day, wanting to be underfoot if my mother-in-law is trying to do a task, which is also how she's always been at home with me but not really with others. She transfers that right to my mother-in-law when I leave. But when we're both there, she's just so free.

I like our new normal. I'm enjoying my job and it keeps me busy enough that I don't just sit tearfully at my desk like I thought I would. It also helps knowing she's safe and loved and having a blast. The only thing I wish I could change is the amount of time. I do hate that it's time for dinner, bath, and bed when I get home. I wish I could be home by 2 or 3 and still have some playtime. But I'm grateful for the two full mornings a week we have to still go to music group and do other things together.

It's also hard to miss some things. I'm so lucky that I was home over a year and got all those major milestones. I'm beyond grateful. But in just a few days, she's already walking so differently! She has so much space at my mother-in-law's, and there's also a dog there she likes to chase and play with, so she's just had so much free practice. I came to get her Thursday and she was racing around like it was nothing. I wanted to cry thinking how that progress just happened and I wasn't there. I don't know how much I would have noticed it if I was there, it's the absence that makes it so obvious, but that makes me feel like I was gone for such a long time and missed so much!

Last weekend when I was getting emotional about going to work, I thought a few times, "This is just so unnatural! To hand over our small, developing children to someone else to take care of for the majority of their day." I knew that it was necessary for us. I knew that it was necessary for ME in so many ways. And I knew that non-primary caregivers have to work and aren't expected to feel that same strain. Nicole went back to work two weeks after Ellis was born. She's ONLY gotten evenings, weekends, holidays, and vacations with Ellis practically since birth! But it's not expected that that should feel so unnatural for her. It's just how life works. You gotta work to live. But at least she knew Ellis was home with me, and it would be easier on me too if I knew she was home with Nicole instead of in day care. There is so much great about this that makes me know rationally it's the right choice for us, and that Ellis will not only be fine, but thrive. But it does not come without serious emotional conflict.

The silver lining is I don't feel anxious about a single second with her anymore. I don't feel bored and then guilty about feeling bored. I don't feel antsy. Every hour is precious. I've been working since I was 15 years old, and having a routine and living for the weekends and holidays and vacations is comforting.

WE MADE IT. And we'll continue making it. Our family is healthy and whole and adaptable and solidly bonded. We're making it through life together, and it feels wonderful.

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