Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fleeting Moments of Infancy

Monday marked the beginning of Sam's eleventh week of life. I am having a tough time accepting that she is already eleven weeks old, and at the same time cannot believe that she has only been in this world for such a short period of time. How did I live before her birth? I love her so much I cannot conceive of a world without her although I remember the world before.

At eight weeks she was able to hold her head and chest up, when placed on her tummy. When the pediatrician put her on her belly and she pushed herself up, her dad and I almost started clapping. Actually, I think we did clap, or perhaps cheer.

At this point Sam desperately wants to move. She is no longer content to walk around the neighborhood in her stroller, insisting instead on the Baby Bjorn carrier, facing outward. This is also how I shop these days, which is an interesting way to navigate store aisles as I try not to whack her arms and legs against anything. She gets bored with spending the day in her room and seems to prefer outings that involve us walking around. Most importantly, she is trying to sit up. And stand. And crawl. All at the same time.

We do our best to help her develop these skills. She has been trying so hard to sit up that I thought she would enjoy a "success" and propped her up in the cavity of my Boppy nursing pillow. I bent her legs inward and placed her hands on her thighs, showing her how to hold herself up. Sam managed to keep this pose for a few seconds, and then slowly started leaning forward, as her arms muscles are not yet strong enough to prop up her body for long. I took pictures and shared them with our families and just about everyone thought she was sitting up on her own. She is good but she isn't that good!

When placed on her tummy, Sam makes the motions to crawl, and grunts with the exertion of her efforts to do so. She isn't strong enough to lift her entire body up, so hasn't yet made the big leap from laying there to crawling, mainly because her arm muscles are too weak. I exercise her legs constantly, making them very strong, but she enjoys sucking and chewing on her hands so much that I rarely have a chance to exercise those limbs for her. I discovered this muscular imbalance today and have begun to work on her arm muscles already. My baby wants to move and I will do what I can to help her achieve this goal.

Yet, as excited as I am at the prospect of Sam crawling, of her sitting up on her own, of standing up and eventually walking, I realize that with each new development she makes, she will be less dependent upon me. Right now I am her whole world. I am her source of food, I am her comfort, her home. She sleeps in my arms, totally at ease and confident in her safety. She clings to me as I carry her around the house, smiles with glee when she sees me. Sam loves her daddy, and has a lot of fun playing with him, but many times will transition from playful coos to crying if I leave the room. It is limiting, to be sure. It would be easier for me to get things done if she was happier about spending time with others while I am not in the room. Now I see that it is all part of the package. If she is happier spending time with other people that means she is no longer so dependent upon me. Her world will expand, will grow to encompass so much more than just Mommy. Am I ready for that?

I have really enjoyed her dependency. Every insecurity I have ever felt in my lifetime melts away when my sweet baby girl looks at me and lights up with a smile of pure happiness. She gurgles now, too, and chatters in a language of long sounds. We spend time every day talking - I tell her how much I love her and how beautiful and smart she is and how happy I am to be her mommy, and she tells me her stories, smiling and gurgling the whole time. She has brought new meaning to my life and I am so very grateful not just to be her mother but to be able to leave the working world for a little while so I can spend this time with her, the one time in her life when she is all mine.

As I watch her struggling to move I am excited to see her developing so well. She is a strong baby! Then I realize that her full-time dependency on me is coming to an end. Once she can move on her own it will be the beginning of her flight from mommy's arms. She will be off and running, getting into everything and exploring the world on her own. I will miss these days. I do my best to enjoy them, to soak up the joy and pleasure of this time in Sam's life. We take pictures, record videos, but is it enough? Can it ever be enough? Is it possible to savor this time well enough that it will carry me through?

I think this is the real truth to why people have more than once child. Babies are tough, just as pregnancy is tough. When I was pregnant and uncomfortable for months I wondered how and why people did that more than once. When we brought Sam home from the hospital and spent the next 4-6 weeks barely sleeping and hanging on by sheer will as she cried day and night, I wondered why anyone would want to have a baby once they knew how hard it was. What possessed them to revisit these days? Now I know. Or think I know. Subsequent children are a way of revisiting the early days of pure innocence and love. The days of wonder and awe. Once a child gets past that stage there is no going back to it, they only move forward. Having another baby is having another visit to the days of full dependency and all of the beauty that goes with it.

I don't obsess about Sam growing up and away from me. I am taking a rare moment right now to delve in these thoughts and feelings. I prefer to just enjoy the time while I have it, to revel in each new discovery Sam makes, to have as much fun every day as we can, and to tell her constantly how loved she is. With every diaper she fills and every ounce she gains I take pride in knowing I am doing a good job nursing her. With every motor skill she refines and advancement she makes I take pride in knowing we are doing a good job parenting. I am sure we make mistakes and will continue to make mistakes, but that is all part of the journey. The important thing is to have fun and continue to learn and grow. Enjoy the ride, it is shorter than we think.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The "C" Word

Colic. What a horrible word. It is a curse, a sentence of doom, to both child and parents. And a cop-out, in my opinion. Colic is the label applied to long bouts of unexplained crying. When your child is not hungry or wet, cold or hot, when you cannot find any way to soothe the babe's cries and yet still she cries. When this happens not once or twice but regularly, the doctors and grandmothers will all label your baby as 'colicky.'

I once had a car whose 'check engine' light went on one night and never went off. I took it to the mechanic more than once to discover the reason behind this light going on and was told repeatedly that they could not find anything wrong with the car. According to the mechanics there was 'no reason for the light to go on,' a declaration that annoyed me to no end. There might not have been anything mechanically wrong with my car but there was most definitely a reason for the light to go on - perhaps a short in the wire, a loose sensor, etc. There had to be a 'reason' for the light to go on as it did not magically go on by itself.

This is how I feel about colic. When a baby cries incessantly there is a reason for it. The baby is obviously uncomfortable. The cause of this discomfort may not be easily ascertained but it exists nonetheless. When it gets labeled as colic to me that is an indication of giving up on the investigation. Babies are unable to articulate their feelings, they do not yet have words to describe their emotions and states-of-being. All they have to communicate is their wordless voice. So they cry. Regardless of the cause, an uncomfortable baby will cry. In their first weeks this crying can be largely the same. Sam screamed if she was hungry, wet, cold, hot, gassy, etc. She had two states of being - comfortable and uncomfortable. The former was indicated by silence, the latter by crying.

As she has matured she has expanded her repertoire of emotions to include happy, bored, hungry, lonely, and several levels of discomfort relating to either tummy or diaper issues. When she was six weeks old we were at the doctor for her one-month check up (I failed to make the appointment in a timely manner) and we hadn't yet worked out all of her tummy issues. By that time I had discovered if I consumed gassy foods or dairy Sam would get gas, but there was still something I was missing. We still went through hours of crying at night and couldn't figure out what the problem was. I brought this up to the pediatrician and was told she was probably colicky. Excuse me? That was it? Colicky? This did not sit well with me.

The next week Sam and I were at the Midwives' office for my six-week post-partum check-up. The midwife asked me how we were doing and I described the issues we were still dealing with. She asked about the foods I was eating and I described last night's dinner -- spaghetti, with fresh cherries for dessert. Both foods are highly acidic, and Sam had been miserable. I started reviewing past nights and realized that I regularly ate acidic food. So I cut it all out. Now I am off gassy foods, dairy, acidic foods, and raw fruits and veggies (all being either gassy and/or acidic). The difference is remarkable. Sam is a new baby, happy and comfortable. We no longer suffer through hours of crying a night, every night. I am no longer crying every night, wondering what I am doing wrong and why my baby is so miserable. Eating is now challenging, to be sure, but it is worth it. I occasionally make a bad dietary choice, such as the night we had popcorn, but these nights are rare and the problematic foods are easily identified.

Had I accepted the doctor's - and my neighbor's - diagnosis of colic I would have resigned myself to my fate and given up looking for the cause. But I didn't. I knew there had to be some catalyst to Sam's crying and would not give up looking until I found it.

It wasn't a solitary journey by any means. We had input from friends, family and the midwife, all listening to our problems and giving suggestions. My husband was instrumental in discovering the source of the problem - gas versus acid reflux. My solution to Sam's crying was always to offer a breast to nurse her. It often worked, providing her with comfort even if she wasn't actually hungry. Without this magic tool J had to rely on his skills - observation and analysis. He could tell by her behavior if Sam had gas or some other problem, and then discovered what position brought her comfort when she was gassy. Together we solved the mystery to our baby's 'colic.'

Food isn't the answer to every baby's colic although it is probably a frequent factor. A newborn's digestive system takes several months to mature and become fully functional so a nursing mom's diet choices can have great affect on her baby. However, sometimes the answer isn't that simple. There could be a medical reason behind a baby's constant crying, a problem that could be missed if the parents accept the colic label and stop searching for the real cause. Telling parents that their child is colicky and the problem should work itself out by four months of age is a terrible answer to the colic problem. This response robs both the child and parents of months of potential happiness.

We used to spend our evenings pounding on Sam's back to relieve her gas or walking her around the house while she cried and cried and cried. Now our evenings are spent playing, as Sam is learning to reach and grab at objects. The music of our nights are coos and giggles instead of cries and sobs. Sam is a different baby now, a happy baby, and my limited diet is a small price to pay for this happiness.

I can't imagine coping with a colicky baby for months on end. I couldn't deal with it for a few weeks, and my desperation is what fueled my investigation. We were lucky to find the answer in food, for had we not I am not sure what our next step would have been. I do know there would have been further steps, though, for colic was not a diagnosis I was willing to accept. It is a non-diagnosis at best. Crying takes a great deal of effort and I refuse to believe that any baby will cry for no reason. There is always a reason. It may be physical pain or it may just be loneliness, but there is always a reason. There just has to be.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our Crowded Bed

Somehow we ended up practicing attachment parenting. I'm not sure how it happened; it certainly wasn't in our plans. This was not a topic I delved into during my pre-birthing research but what little I knew about it didn't appeal to me. How would I get anything done if I held the baby 24/7? I definitely didn't want her sleeping with us - too dangerous. Babies die every year as a result of co-sleeping and it seemed like an all-around bad idea to me. I didn't want to raise a needy, clingy child who was afraid of letting go of my hand.

The reality of parenting is far different from what is presented in books. For one thing, newborns are unable to sit up on their own so unless you leave them in cribs, car seats, bouncy seats, etc, all day long you are holding them. Little Sam had a tough time adjusting to the harshness of life outside the womb, and was very fussy. To calm her we would hold her, rocking her, bouncing her, soothing her any way we could think of or was suggested. And once she was calm, it was natural to continue holding her, reveling in her sweetness, the wonder that is life, feeling the love flowing from our every pore for and to this tiny being. I was frequently nursing her through our own meals and thus we would put her down only for diaper changes and to sleep. Not that we were against putting her down in her bassinet at other times, but she objected to that rather loudly and we couldn't bear for her to be upset. Thus we end up holding her most of our waking hours.

The feeding-on-demand was easy and encouraged in the hospital. When you are breastfeeding and your baby is crying, it is the most natural thing in the world to offer her a meal and see if that is the balm to her discomfort. In addition to nourishing, breastfeeding is very comforting to babies. There were days and nights that she was otherwise unconsolable and I would nurse her for hours - she would erupt into screams if I removed her from my breast. I don't know if she was hungry and I wasn't producing enough or if she was just upset at life and found comfort in this act. Regardless of the reason, I fed her whenever she wanted me to and continue to do so. It can be difficult to schedule activities, or to leave the house, for that matter, but after a while I began to see her eatting pattern. As she gets older it is easier for her to wait a few minutes for a meal, allowing me time to leave a store and find a place to nurse her without her screaming hyserically until the meal is provided.

The co-sleeping took a little longer, and again happened accidentally. We had set up the pack & play in our bedroom, with the bassinet insert attached and ready for sleeping. It was right next to my side of the bed and with our platform bed the height worked out quite well -- the edge of the pack & play is the same height as our bed. I could sleep with one hand on her, so she could feel my nearness without the danger of her sharing our bed. The perfect set-up, or so I thought. To feed her in the night I just had to reach over, pick her up and feed her. We even had the changing table attachment set up so there was no need to leave the room to change her diaper.

Our second or third night home from the hospital found me dead tired during one of those late-night feedings, and I started nodding off. Fearing that I would fall alseep and drop her I laid down to feed her. And promptly fell asleep. When I woke up I put her back in her bassinet, but of course at that point it was time for her next feeding and so I picked her back up and laid down to feed her, again falling alseep. After that I couldn't get her to sleep on her own. Why would she? She spent the first nine and a half months of her existence sleeping next to me and now that she was born, no longer held, fed and kept warm automatically I was asking her to sleep alone, on top of all of the other adjustments she was forced to make. Our little girl has a strong mind and she wasn't having any part of that.

Fast-forward two months to the present day. Sam and I are always together. Always. I have left the house once in her lifetime without her, and that was for a trip to the supermarket. She was sleeping when I left so her daddy stayed home with her. While that trip was quite glorious in its freedom, I miss her terribly when we are apart. She often naps in her swing in the afternoon, which is set up in whichever room I am in, and will sleep for hours in it. I get a lot done during those naps but am always glad when she wakes up and I am holding her once again.

Her bouncy seat is another source of pleasure for her. It is a sling-type chair that vibrates and has an activity bar attachment that plays music and lights up when the dangling toys are moved. This occupies her for about 10 minutes, sometimes longer, and gives me the time to bathe and sometimes prepare dinner, two activities for which I need both hands.

I've done a little online research on the subject of attachment parenting and co-sleeping since Sam's birth and many people feel that the constant companionship and immediate addressing of a baby's needs makes for happier, more secure children. By never making your baby wait for comfort or pushing them to be independent before they are ready they grow up confident in your love and support, and are then free to explore the world without fear or insecurity. Perhaps that is true, perhaps not. I do feel that it can only be beneficial to a child to feel her parents' love and acceptance continually.

I don't hold my baby constantly or feed her when she says she is hungry for the future security some experts say it will provide. I do it because I want to. I hold her because she is the most precious gift I have ever been blessed with and I cherish her very existence. I feed her because she is hungry, no matter that she last ate a few minutes ago. Her body is still developing, her digestive system hasn't learned how to store food yet so she is frequently hungry. As for sleeping with her, it makes for a crowded bed, true, but I miss her when we are apart and don't wish to be parted for the night. I sleep better with her lying against me. I can hear and feel her breathing and it comforts me. I wake up when she is distressed and sleep when she is calm. She was a part of my body for nine and a half months and I am not ready to be separated from her. Not yet.

The day she leaves our bed is coming soon. Once she learns to roll over she will have to sleep in her own bed, for her own safety. We cannot put a rail on our platform bed so have no way of preventing her from rolling out of bed. It will be a tough transition, one I am not looking forward to. My husband would prefer to move her out of our bed sooner, for it is quite crowded with the three of us and the cat, but yields to my desire to keep her with us. In truth, I am paranoid for her safety and worry that she will stop breathing if I cannot hear/see/feel her doing so, and this paranoia fuels my conviction to keep her sleeping with us. I will have to get over it, as she will have to deal with sleeping by herself. It will be difficult for both of us, but necessary for our healthy development as mother and child.

I find my reluctance to remove her from our bed humorous when I recall my original stance on bed-sharing, just as I scoffed at people who spoke of attachment parenting. Thankfully I scoffed silently, to myself, for here I am now happily ignoring my own parenting plans. I've been wrong before, I just hate to admit it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

No More Chocolate for Me

This is my first child & I'll be honest - I don't have a clue. That's not to say I haven't looked for a clue. I read books; I talk to other, more experienced moms; I regularly do research online. All in an attempt to figure out what the hell I am supposed to be doing with, for and to this child of mine.

It took three or four weeks to discover that her almost-incessant crying was due to gas, as a result of the foods I was eating. It took another week to figure out how to help her with the gas as I was still discovering which foods bother her. Just when we had the hang of that she started spitting up excessively - so badly that she spit up almost everything she ate at night and spent the rest of the time crying. A week or two later I found the solution to that and after 3 days was feeling that I was making progress and finally getting the hang of parenting. Famous last words and they weren't even verbalized.

That very night she was inconsolable and we were up until 3am - a new record - until she was finally comfortable enough to sleep. The culprit? Chocolate, of which I had consumed copious amounts from the afternoon until late in the night. Chocolate, my beloved friend who brings me such pleasure, is now on my taboo food list. The signs had been there for weeks, signs I purposely ignored, choosing instead to eliminate various other foods and administer an almost-daily dose of gripe water to the wee girl, all so I wouldn't have to face the simple truth that chocolate bothers my baby. How did this happen? How did my body create and grow a person who doesn't like chocolate? To be fair, it is not the flavor that bothers her but whatever chemical components that pass into the breast milk. I should have known, I should have seen this coming. During my pregnancy I developed an aversion to chocolate ice cream, opting instead for vanilla-based mixes. When the Girl Scout cookie order form circulated my office I bought a box of every flavor save one, and it was the non-chocolate types that appealed to me. My old favorites didn't taste right and never settled well, although I ate every last cookie of course - who wouldn't? So, as I said, the signs were there, I just didn't want to read them.

We set a new record last night - 5:30 am. Yes, technically that is today, this morning, but in my book the day is not reset until slumber has been achieved, or a new work/school day begun. I am not sure what went wrong last night. When the gas issues started after dinner I reviewed my chocolate-free (sob!) day, looking for the culprits. A small amount of chili for lunch and broccoli at dinner seemed likely, although I had taken Beano with each meal to forestall any negative effects of those foods. When we passed 3 am I decided to try to force sleep, thinking perhaps sheer exhaustion was part of the problem. That lasted about 15 minutes before she loudly filled her diaper. A clean diaper brought smiles and I thought we were on the right track when I fed her and again went to bed, around 4. Which was also short-lived, ending in a large episode of vomiting. All over my bed. And me. And her.

I'm still not sure what provoked last night's tummy ache, from which she hasn't yet fully recovered. Perhaps it had nothing to do with what I ate and was more a result of yesterday's heat, or perhaps it was set off by something else entirely. Sometimes all I can do is record and file away the details of the day, waiting for the next time we have a night like last night to compare the two, looking for the similarities. I do know that these sleepless nights and vomit-soaked sheets don't matter in the least when we finally solve the problem of the hour, when the discomfort has passed and my sweet baby girl looks up at me with those big, brown eyes and smiles. For that, my friends, is worth more than all the chocolate in the world.