Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Life is a Luv's Commercial

Do you remember those old Luv's diaper commercials about the people who had rose-colored expectations about what having a baby would be like? The tagline was like, "Get real, and then get Luv's." Because Luv's were the Suave shampoo of diapers, cheaper but just as good. I feel like the ad agency that came up with that campaign must have been populated with actual parents because it's exactly how I feel. My expectations were all earth mothers filmed through cheese cloth - I was going to have a natural, drug free labor; I wasn't going to let that baby leave my sight in the hospital; formula was never going to touch his lips; breastfeeding was going to be second nature; I would never hear him whimper and think, "maybe he'll go back to sleep"... But not everyone can be that softly lit earth mother. Mom has always said that when it comes to having kids, "never say never." But before you have a baby, those nevers don't seem unreasonable. They even feel like common sense.

In reality, after 18 hours of labor I consented to an epidural (total labor time: 22 hours). In reality, after being up for more than 24 hours (laboring for most of them), the endlessly wailing infant became too much and we took the nurses up on their offer to take him to the nursery for a couple of hours so we could sleep. In reality, breastfeeding was not a natural, easy process and Walt didn't gain enough weight, so we had to start supplementing with formula at 7 weeks. In reality, it just isn't possible to leap to every sad little baby noise. A lot of them aren't even actually sad noises, they're just the baby practicing different sounds to see how they feel. And in reality, at some point, you really just want to get a little more sleep.

There are some fantasies even I don't harbor - making my own baby food; banning tv from any room the baby is in; hiring a Chinese nanny so he'll grow up bilingual and really for a world market in which China is king... But I do think I'll try to keep from introducing sugar until he's more than a year old. And I want to expose him to as many different vegetables as possible. But that seems reasonable, doable to me. When I was growing up, Mom cooked us lots of meals with ingredients we didn't recognize. Her rule was always that we had to try everything, but it was okay if we didn't like it. I hope I can be like my mom, that I can be a creative cook for Walt and not take it personally when he complains about what I've made. But never say never... :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Worst Sound in the World

Yesterday Walt had his two month Well Baby appointment and received his first vaccines - three shots and one liquid. Your parents warn you, "It's harder on you than on your baby." Your pediatrician tells you, "He forgets almost immediately, so it's the parents that are really hurt when baby gets shots." Intellectually, you can know that it will be hard. But nothing can adequately prepare you for your baby's first shots.

I thought I would do okay because I made it through the heel sticks at birth without tears. And Walt had "slow blood," so it took multiple pokes and several minutes to complete each stick. But his reaction to the two shots in one thigh and one shot in the other was so awful; I was completely unprepared. His scream was this high pitch wail, different from any of his normal cries. His entire body turned bright red with the initial two shots, which were done rapidly, one after the other. His redoubled scream with the third shot was cut a little short as he ran out of air. And there was nothing I could do to make it any better. I really didn't think I would cry, but how can you not when your baby is in such distress?

I said out loud, as if to reassure myself, "It's better than whooping cough. He might not know it, but he doesn't want polio." But that's small comfort when every fiber of your being says, "There has to be a better way to do this."

We survived and Walt spent much of the day sleeping off the experience. I told Pete that next time, he's coming too because I can't contemplate listening to that alone again. I don't know why I think having Pete there will make it any better, but perhaps that's another mystery of early parenthood.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nursing clothes: do designers not talk to each other?

When I search for nursing shirts, I find every them in every kind of v-neck, wrap and button down, because that's what makes it easy to free your breasts when baby's hungry. A crew neck just doesn't make sense. But when I search for nursing bras, I have to wonder why no one explained this to bra designers. I bought four nursing bras in four different designs; one of them works with a deep v-neck shirt. Two of them don't work at all with even a normal v-neck. And they're not attractive bras designed to peek out of the neckline. They're more like industrial bras, the kind of thing I imagine Soviet collective farmers wore. I understand the difficulties faced by designers of nursing bras: underwires can lead to blocked ducts, lace doesn't feel very nice on sore nipples, a demi-cup leaves nowhere for breast pads to adhere... But it seems like they could have gotten together with the designers of nursing shirts at least once and had a little conclave. There's really no reason why my bra needs to cover my whole sternum, although to be fair, there's no reason why my shirt needs to expose my whole sternum either.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Google: Xanax for the paranoid parent

I am endlessly grateful I'm having babies in the Internet era. There is no way anyone can prepare you for all the weird stuff babies do and I can't imagine what things were like when you had to gather your own information about what qualifies as normal and what is a signal to rush to the doctor's office. Google is particularly effective at quelling my more paranoid impulses. Entering a string of search terms and seeing them pop up in Google's auto-complete suggestions provides a wave of instant relief. Even if whatever I'm searching turns out to be something worth bringing up with the doctor, at least it's really common. And most of the time if that many people are searching for it, it's not only really common, but perfectly normal. For example, when Walt spits up a lot of milk all at once, he usually manages to puke some out his nose. I asked my mother if that was normal and she said she didn't remember if I or my brother had done that, which made me a little worried. I can't imagine forgetting that my baby blows milk out his nose when he burps a little too violently. (On the other hand, I kind of hope that isn't my number one memory from his babyhood.) So I searched for it and got so many links to professional association websites and to forums with parents discussing exactly the same thing, I immediately felt better. Now it can go on my list of things to mention at his 2 month well baby appointment rather than generating an immediate call to the advice nurse. There is a lot to be said for just knowing that you're perfectly normal, perfectly healthy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

In praise of (and with deep loathing for) nipple shields

I have never in all my life been so conflicted over a product as I am with nipple shields, or as Pete calls them, "boob sombreros."

They're flexible silicon nipple covers meant to help baby latch during breast feeding if the nipple is flat or inverted. They also protect damaged nipples allowing them to heal. Or in my case, they provide a better latch for a struggling baby and a mom with otherwise normal nipples. I don't know what people did before this product existed. Without it, I'm sure I would have given up breastfeeding almost immediately for Walt's sake - he would have lost even more weight and that would have been really awful. I am deeply grateful for the existence of this product.

I loathe nipple shields. I hate them so violently it's a little shocking. No matter how much they've done for me, they're one of the most frustrating products I've ever used. If Walt so much as grazes the shield, it falls off. Unlike the breast, which responds immediately to baby's sucking with milk, the nipple shield has to adhere to the nipple first and milk has to make it to the tip before baby can taste it. This means when Walt is at his hungriest, he interprets my attempts to feed him as a cruel, food-less joke. Hand expressing into the nipple shield is an exercise in irritation. They also appear to be messier than feeding directly at the breast. Somewhere between 10 and 25% of the milk Walt sucks dribbles out the bottom of the damn shield. My shirt is damp, Walt is damp, the towel over the nursing pillow is soaked most of the time...

Once we started supplementing each feeding with an ounce of formula, following our pediatrician's advice, Walt became a lot calmer. For a couple of days, anyway, this seemed like a godsend. But over the last couple of days, reaching a fever pitch last night, Walt has become increasingly intolerant of the breast, and increasingly greedy at the bottle. I don't blame him - bottles are way less work. I love my son more than anything, and if it came to it, I would swallow my distaste for it and pump breast milk to bottle feed him if that was the only way he could get it. But I hate that idea even more than I hate nipple shields. Pumping is exactly as glamorous as it looks, and about half as fun.

Last night was just the worst of the worst. He slept really well the night before last, so I had been up since 10 am with no nap around dinner time. Last night he slept hardly at all. He wanted to feed every hour, but screamed like I was hurting him every time I lined him up with the nipple shield. At most, he'd nurse poorly for about 10 minutes, pulling off all the time to register his displeasure with the process. But right around the 10 minute mark at the first breast, he'd fall asleep, like he was passed out cold. 10 to 30 minutes later, he'd wake up and we'd go through the same process at the second breast, only he'd finish by screaming instead of sleeping. He was burping poorly too, so I can imagine there was some discomfort playing into it as well.

The scoop in the formula makes 2 oz of liquid, so we've been making up a 2 oz bottle, feeding him half and refrigerating the rest for his next feeding. Each time I gave him the bottle, he'd scream bloody murder when I tried to remove it at the 1 oz mark. And then he'd cry and cry and cry like he was still starving. This went on from about midnight through 6 am. At 4 am, I just let him drink the whole bottle and he was calm for 10 or 20 minutes, but between diaper changes and gas pains and whatever else, he was back to crying again. I was finally so exhausted and so sick of struggling with the nipple shield, around 5 am I pulled it off and shouted something along the lines of "I hate these stupid things!!" and hurled it at the wall. "That's IT!" I vowed. "No more nipple shields! EVER!" And by god, Walt breast fed without one, possibly out of fear. But more probably because he was really hungry and nursing without one isn't impossible, just difficult. After Pete got up to go to work, Walt and I retired to the bedroom and both slept from about 7 until maybe 11. Maybe just 10:30. And when we got up to nurse again, will wonders never cease, Walt ate well without a nipple shield throughout the whole feeding.

Walt has nursed better directly at the breast today, and we're still not fully done with the shields, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. He's also appreciably bigger today than he was yesterday, so maybe some of last night's trouble were growing pains. The thing I (and probably most people) find most difficult about being a parent is deciding if I'm doing the right thing for my child. Walt isn't gaining weight fast enough, but overfeeding him can't be good. But if he's actively growing and needs more food, how will I know if it's overfeeding? And how much is it worth it to struggle at the breast if he's decided he really won't eat? Should I just give him a bottle and hope it calms him down? Should I let him cry and insist that he nurse at the breast? Should I let him cry and pump so that we both (eventually) get our way? Is modern formula good enough for it not to matter if he wants to insist on a formula-only feeding once in a while? How much should I let Walt determine his own eating patterns? There are lots of opinions on these questions out there - some of them are evidence based and some of them are just personal preference. It's hard to know who to turn to, what's over protective and what's just common sense. It's a little discombobulating to realize that "common sense" is actually hard to identify when it comes to your own kid.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bureau of integrated activities

Having a newborn has really redefined "multitasking" for me. It's no longer about being efficient - it's now about meeting basic needs. Nothing is less conducive to efficiency than an infant. Walt doesn't like me to set him down unless he is really truly asleep. (Pete can set him down and get him to go to sleep because Pete is The Baby Whisperer, while I am Lunch.) So I'm learning how to do two things at once at all times. Usually one of those things is Baby Holding, but sometimes it's eating, drinking or basic personal hygiene. I have learned that I can load the dishwasher while holding a baby, but I can't empty it - too many dishes require two hands to put away. I can sort laundry while holding a baby, but I can't get it in or out of the washing machine or dryer, and I can't fold it. I can make up a bottle, text, send brief emails, check the news, change channels, apply face lotion (kind of - that one is much harder than expected) and eat fruit leather while holding a baby (though not all at the same time).

There are some things that require two hands, though, and I try to double those up now too. Pretty much anything and eating, although evenings when we have a real meal and I'm able to sit down and do nothing but eat with a fork and knife feel pretty decadent. I'm trying to get smarter about things like laundry - folding it directly into drawers rather than into the basket and then moving it to the bedroom. But most of my multitasking consists of doing one two-handed job very quickly while mentally planning what task to poorly execute next. Things I have not figured out how to accomplish include vacuuming, playing piano, really putting things away rather than just dusting the piles of crap, cooking (nothing makes Walt desperately hungry quite like the sound of me chopping and sauteing), ironing and thinking substantively about work. Some of those tasks are noisy and I fear they will wake the baby, thus ending my two-handing time. Some of them take brain power, and I just don't have any. (I have so little I can't even think of something clever or pithy to illustrate the point.) But the rest aren't happening because I have become utterly obsessed with showering.

If you are reading this and you don't have an infant, please really take the time to enjoy your next shower. Are you taking it when you want to, not when you manage to convince a baby to nap for ten minutes somewhere other than your arms? Is it the duration you prefer because there's no potentially hungry baby screaming at you from the next room? Do you remember to do all the different parts of showering - shampoo, conditioner, body wash, rinsing? Seriously: take a deep breath, close your eyes, and just really appreciate how great showering is. I have showered every other day enough times now that I take any opportunity, unless I'm so tired I can't keep my eyes open, or so hungry I can't think about anything else. I find myself day dreaming about showering while rocking Walt to sleep. Every time I step out of the shower and into clean clothes, I feel human again.

The real killer of multitasking is exhaustion. If I know I don't have enough time for a nap or a shower, but I'm too tired to effectively complete a given task, I just give up and watch more crappy daytime or late night TV. This is self preservation. Eventually I'm going to climb into the shower with a hot pocket and I know I don't have the strength of will to keep that story to myself. In order that I should not become the Hot Pocket Shower Lady, I will watch yet another episode of Perry Mason, Law and Order Criminal Intent or NCIS. If Walt grows up to be a lawyer, policeman or writer for a police procedural, I won't be the least surprised. Speaking of, the baby stirs, so I must fulfill my primary function: lunch.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On feelings of inadequacy

In the short time I've been a parent (less than two months), I have never been made to feel so inadequate in so many ways that are completely outside my control. I had the easiest pregnancy and a fairly easy (if long) delivery, but since then things have not been so simple. Walt's been colicky and breastfeeding has been difficult. Neither of these are terrible problems, but listening to your baby scream and being unable to do anything about it is equal parts frustrating and heartbreaking. I can't help but think, "Am I doing something wrong? Is he in pain, should I be rushing him to the doctor?" I check his diaper every ten minutes just for the momentary relief of identifying a problem I can actually solve. After a certain point, I can't tell if he's hungry or not, but it's getting closer to a time when he should be, so I try to feed him. Sometimes this works and for 30-40 minutes he's quiet and content. Sometimes it doesn't work and it makes him even more furious. Imagine having a house guest who never tells you what he needs, but if you offer the wrong thing, blows an airhorn for anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours.

Today we had a weight check appointment with Walt's doctor. Breastfeeding hasn't been easy - the lactation consultant said we incompatible anatomy, so I have to use a nipple shield every time he nurses and he only latches if I'm sitting up, with a nursing pillow - and Walt lost a lot of weight in his first week. He's healthy and he's been gaining weight since then, but today we learned he's not gaining quite enough. I want to say, "but I'm doing everything I can!" They know that, and there's no judgement when the doctor suggests that maybe we want to supplement with a little formula at each feeding, just until his weight catches up with his height. He's right on the border - they'd like to see him gaining 6 oz a week, but he's only gaining 4 so far. Part of me is relieved; maybe supplemental formula will help with the colic. But part of me feels sad that things aren't easier, for both of us. I worry that a lot of the times he's been crying, he's been hungry. Should I have known that? Should I have given in and given him a little formula before now? It's silly to expect myself to know any of this; I've never had a baby before. Talking to Mom on the phone this evening, she said, "This your first lesson in 'you can't win.'" It's true: it gets me coming and going. Exclusive breastfeeding: he's not gaining enough weight. Supplemental formula: I'm failing to provide for him the way I feel I should be able to.

What makes it possible to get through all these feelings of inadequacy is my support system. Pete is there to sooth a colicky baby so I can sleep for a couple hours; I can call various female family members, but especially Mom, with questions; friends and family have spent hours holding Walt so I can shower or sleep or eat. I don't know how single parents do it. Newborns are a full time job, and for the first six weeks, they're really a full time job for two people. I keep reminding myself that the goal is a happy, healthy baby. However we get there, we're doing it right. But that doesn't keep me from doubting myself a hundred times a day, in a hundred little ways.