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.