Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Post Sleepism

I've given up on anything resembling a normal night's sleep. I feel pretty good about this, which indicates to me that I must be getting at least a reasonable amount of sleep since I'm not feeling totally wasted and homicidal. I've stopped looking at the time at night; stopped trying to figure out how much I've slept. This is a bit disorienting but maybe preferable. I'm just trying to relax into...this new post sleep world. By the way, this is something my unconscious did for me. My rational brain would still be busy trying to figure this all out, stressing about it, weeping in frustration. But this last month has been weird enough sleepwise that my unconscious kicked in and told every other system to just kick it and sleep when I can. Nice. Also, totally outside of my control.

I should say that all this was working beautifully until a couple nights ago. Ila has been waking a lot and whimpering sadly when she's awake. She also doesn't want to nurse, which is unheard of...and undermines my best night time strategy. All this, plus the determined ferocity she has shown in gnawing on various objects, made me ask her, "Are you teething?" She has one of three answers for all questions put to her. She stares intently at me - maybe she's trying to communicate telepathically? - OR she looks away coolly as though my question is both boring and beneath her OR she babbles and screeches in her native language, which, based on the drunken slurred sounds and guttural inflections is some form of baby pidgin Russian.

So, obviously, I had to feel around in her mouth. This sort of works, meaning I glean no concrete information but a hunch of sorts about some knobby and raised parts of her gums. However, this works better than trying to look in her mouth. She frantically tries to suck my finger when I try to hold her little lip back to see her gums. The first three days I tried this, I couldn't see anything. Finally, I saw FOUR teeth coming in! Her top front four. At first, I could only see the two side front teeth - not the middle teeth. I thought that I was going to have a little hill billy baby for a while - two middle bottom teeth and two teeth off to either side. Hmmm. That's a good look. But, I think she's getting all four front teeth at once. Ouch. Needless to say sleep is a little bit of a joke right now.

Fortunately, this all started after our recent trip. Ila had her first adventures on an airline. We flew up to San Francisco, and it went very well. I think she slept better in the hotel than she had anywhere else for the preceding month. (Lesson: Maybe we should live in a hotel? Screw the expense!) We did lots of exploring and visited with some lovely people. I learned that I CAN carry a twenty pound baby in a front pack and a diaper bag on my bag and not die. I did feel a little like a camel, but it was surprisingly manageable. She frequently fell asleep in the front pack; it was lovely and sweet and kangaroo-like to have her little body nestled against mine. However, she liked to wake up - shocked to find herself strapped to me and with limited mobility - on crowded buses and scream and holler until I took her out, under the irritated glares of our fellow passengers. Ah well. It was, all in all, a lovely first big trip with a baby.

One nice part of being on a trip is that I was constantly with her - holding her, interacting with her - without any real distractions. Now that we're home, there are all these boxes to be unpacked...and chores to be done...and just all the gobbledegook of daily life to attend to. I find myself sometimes looking at Ila with a feeling of sadness, like I'm not just basking in the wonderfulness of having a sweet little baby. It's hard. I can't imagine doing other work -outside the home - in addition to basic baby care and life work; I think I would feel racked. Or maybe I would feel totally fine with it? Who knows. I guess I should just focus on my actual experience rather than being sad about what I'm not doing or feeling compassion for the imaginary version of myself that has to work 40 hours a week away from Ila and misses her terribly. Seriously, how schizoid can I be? I'm beginning to think I'm not necessarily all that well. I mean, I think I'm really afraid of grief and loss (so, basically, I'm human)...but to be worrying about grief and loss that I am not and will not be feeling. I don't know. Maybe it's time for therapy. Until then, I guess I'd settle for a little more sleep.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sweet & Sour

The last several nights, Ila has been bent on torturing me. She wakes 3 or 4 times to nurse, actually whine-cries (she's never really been a night crier) when she wakes and the boob is not instantly in her mouth, and sometimes rustles around for a while after eating before falling back to sleep. Needless to say, these are grounds for being put outside on the front porch...but she's also been doing something so indescribably sweet that I'm totally disarmed. Sometimes when she wakes and I lie her down next to me, she doesn't actually want to eat. Instead she wiggles her little body so close to mine it's touching and then nestles her head into my chest. Then, her whole body relaxes and she goes back to sleep. This is unspeakably endearing and lovely.

It reminds me of something I read in a Penelope Leach baby book about when babies are first smiling. In the manner of a total wet-rag of disappointment, Leach says don't be fooled by those first real smiles! Babies do not smile because they love you. No! It is just an evolutionary mechanism our species has adapted in order to continue to get fed and loved despite screaming for three hours a day, puking on every article of clothing you own, and keeping you up all night. Well, Penelope, it works. The same basic thing is going on with Ila's little night snuggles. It's finally gotten cold here, and she wants to board the mama train for warm, well-fed dream land. It's not about love; it's about surviving the "harsh" winter conditions. Although this is all true, having her sweet little body next to me really does make me feel a little equanimity about the whole not sleeping, I guess I'm a total sucker. Such is motherhood, I suppose.

In fact, this all makes me thing about the general work of parenthood. It seems that I'm really being heated by the furnace of my own love here - I mean, it's creepy and weird when parents are trying to get something from their babies, be it a sense of love, peace, a reason to live. You can get these from parenting in a functional non-damaging way, if you are really getting these feelings from your own ability to love; your own generated warmth and nurturing and care for another little being; from the power of learning to truly love someone unconditionally.

Let's just admit to ourselves that really parenting is about giving, fairly one-sidedly, for the first 25 years or so. This isn't based on what I anticipate with Ila, rather it's based on my memories of me growing up. (Actually, being a teacher also brings this lesson home, too.) The amusing thing, that Penelope Leach would smile patronizingly at I'm sure, is that I totally think it really won't be like that with Ila. I guess I sort of acknowledge parenting is sometimes a thankless task...but you're so high from loving your baby other times that it all evens out.

This is all essential because, in addition to being a very demanding little being, Ila is sometimes just strange and uncanny. Last night when I went to bed, I moved Ila into her own little bed and settled myself down to sleep. I couldn't really relax and felt like I was being watched. I opened my eyes to see Ila staring unblinkingly at me. The light was dim, but I could see her little mole eyes boring into me. I smiled and even whispered to her, but she just kept staring at me. It was a little Omen-esque or how I imagine Rosemary's Baby must have been staring back at Mia Farrow's dopey-eyed look at the end of that I had to reach out and touch her to make sure she wasn't actually turning into a little Stephen King baby before my eyes. She did some slow blinks upon being touched and looked a little less like demon spawn. But, these moments it really hits home that I have no idea what is going on her mind, or even what the landscape of her thoughts could possibly look like, being pre-verbal and all. What is it like in a baby's brain? How can I possibly even imagine it?

The world is certainly new and enormous to her in a way that I can't fathom anymore. For instance, we've given her a little banana and apple in the last week. What this means is that she has gnawed, slobbered and sucked ineffectually on the fruit while I held it in my hand. We haven't really started solids in earnest, but I was curious to see what she thought of these things. She did some spastic twitch upon tasting the banana, like she was encountering something wild and not entirely acceptable. But she grabbed at the banana for more...then proceeded to grimace and gag, probably only swallowing a few mouthfuls of lightly banana-flavored slobber. Still, she finally gagged and spit up copious amounts of fruity saliva. Charming.

I guess when you're used to a liquid diet that is delivered in a warm and snuggleable package, real food is bizarre and hard to understand. In that vein, I love when she's nursing and her little eyes roll back in her head. It's like she's mainlining a liquid form of happiness and love. Pretty cool. My aunt mentioned to me recently that the parts of the brain that register pleasure from love and food are very close to each other. Watching Ila nurse, it is not hard to believe this.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who put the plates where the towels go?

So, moving is no fun. That's my banal yet horribly true observation for the day. We're in the middle of moving and, as I used to say when I was seven, it's the pits. I also used to say, when I was about three times that age, that moving was one of the worst things you had to do over and over again in life - third to breaking up and finding a job. Now, I'd have to add giving birth to that list, though, I suppose you can choose to avoid that entirely if you want. Along that line of logic, I suppose you can also choose to avoid heartbreak by...becoming an emotional eunuch? Okay, so I think we're coming to my second banal yet horribly true observation of the day: if you want to experience probably the most amazing part of being alive - deeply loving other humans - then you risk heartache, frustration, difficulty...and two minute contractions that come right on top of each other for four hours straight followed by months of sore nipples and exhaustion.

Seriously, though, moving isn't fun. However, I think I'd probably update that list of mine from when I was 21. I think "getting a job" would change a bit to "truly pursuing professional choices that both keep you off the streets and don't make you feel dead inside." I'm working on that one. I have a bit of distraction in the form of an infant at the moment, which is probably good as I don't think I could swing figuring out my next life move while getting so little sleep.

Incidentally, I was talking with some other new mamas recently about hearing folks who do not have children gripe about not getting enough sleep. Now, if someone has a sleep disorder, that's fine. But, when someone says to you, infantless person, "Wow, contrary to what I've always believed, I've learned I can function without dying on a few hours of broken up sleep," do not say that you also haven't been sleeping well. I've always believed I am more generous and understanding than this, but I'd like to land a well-placed kick to the shins when someone without an infant complains about lack of sleep. Until you've had a child that, no matter how desperately wasted and exhausted you feel, you must take care of...a child that thinks it's okay to nurse three or four times a night for a week, then spend a week waking up every night at 2:30 AM for an hour or two, just to keep you feeling like you're being subjected to some sleep deprivation experiment...well, if you haven't experienced life with an infant, I don't really want to hear about your sleeplessness. Go to bed earlier! Take a fucking nap! Does that sound grumpy and bitter, or what? I also have always nursed this belief that, if stranded on an island with a bunch of other folks, I'd be one of the level-headed, fair, thoughtful ones. I'm beginning to see that that is perhaps a delusion on my part...

To be perfectly honest, I don't really understand where this idea that I'd be one of the calm and collected ones in a disaster even comes from. I think "finding a job" made it on to my list because I secretly believe I'm not really capable of taking care of myself. I feel so indebted to all the wonderful people in my life who help me with everything from the mundane - making dinner - to the more complex of comforting tasks - listening to me rant about, say, sleeplessness...or just reminding me to live in this moment now, instead of in some deliriously grand, imagined future or some cheek-burning, embarrassing memory. I don't know; maybe I'd do okay on the island with the other people...but a Castaway situation would really be the end of me.

As contradictory and strange as this sounds after detailing my irritation with people for the minor offense of complaining of sleeplessness, I think I do really love and care about people. I hope that Ila also has this deep, compassionate love for other beings, even for the really selfish, hurtful folks. This is, of course, why the risk of heartbreak, why being in a long term relationship or having a child is worth it - because love is the best part of life. For instance, when you are drained from crazy, erratic baby sleep and also trying to do the dumb things of your waking life - like finding all those things that you've misplaced while moving - it's amazing to have other people who love you around to carry your hefty 19 pound baby about, make her smile and keep her safe...while you slowly regain your grip on all those lost objects - the salad bowl, the camera, and even a measure of sanity...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sitting Up and Falling Down

For some reason it comes as a surprise - most nights at about 2:30 AM - that I am, in fact, going to die. You'd think I would be used to this idea...or, at the very least, trained to ignore it...and I was, once upon a time, before I had a baby. In the last few months, however, I find myself increasingly experiencing the chest compressing dread of the coming extinction of my consciousness.

This sounds over the top...but I'm NOT being melodramatic...that's the trouble. This fear is a totally rational fear. Look, if I were terrified of sharks or even plane rides...those are basically irrational, meaning the chances of any kind of harm coming to me from boarding an airline or splashing around on the beach are incredibly low. I think I could calm myself partially with reason there...but it is 100% guaranteed that I will die, that my essential being will just shut off like a light...and I will go into...nothingness. Brrr. Okay, to be fair, phobias of sharks and planes and small spaces are also not really responsive to reason. And, a fear of death that is overwhelming your life...or at least the sleeping portion of it is not really rational.

Along with this, I also have fears that Ila will contract some terrible illness or lose a limb in a horrible car wreck...or secretly get a concussion, go to sleep and never wake up. I don't feel these thoughts are out of control...but it's wild how they will just pop into my head. I understand why I might have knee-weakening and heart-clenching thoughts of something happening to Ila. She's this new, wonderful little being that I love deeply...and thoughts of something hurting her are understandable horrifying. However, what's the deal with this fixation my brain has on my ultimate demise? It makes me a little queasy even to refer to it! At these times, I just feel the reality of the end of me...and how quickly I will get there (time goes alarmingly fast)...what IS this?

I was asking other new mothers about these things and one of my friends reminded me of something I read a while back - dopamine is suppressed while you are breastfeeding. Well, dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that regulates fear - whether we perceive it, etc. Interesting. Ultimately, I cannot change the fact that I will die (I know; obvious...yet surprisingly shocking in the wee smas of the morning), so I have to change my relationship to this fact. Ugh. Sounds like work; breathing, being present, blah blah blah. Can't somebody just fix this, for god's sake? I guess it is a little helpful to tell myself that this focus on this fear of death is really just a neurotransmitter problem - that the fear is, essentially, a product a what's happening with my hormones. We'll see.

People like to tell me to enjoy each minute of this parenthood journey because it goes so quickly. Well, I think I'm a little too aware of that fact right now. I am, on a daily basis, sort of horrified by how quickly time goes...

That being said, I have been feeling a panicky need to update this blog - make sure I don't forget/miss anything. Yikes. What a ball of anxiety I sound like! We are in the process of moving - ugh again - so, that may be the origin of some of this frenzy I've been feeling.

At any rate, Ila is sort of sitting up now. "Sort of," meaning she can stay up for a while if I put her up. She can't get up on her own...and she will topple over if she moves too much while sitting, which is sometimes frustrating for her! But she's liking this position more and more, which is a good thing for her bald spot. Maybe we can get some hair growing back in her little "reverse monk" bald ring around her head. Maybe.

She sometimes sort of launches herself forward when she is sitting and wants something. I can see that soon she will really want to be moving on her own. It's very exciting to think of her crawling...and also stressful since nothing is child proofed around here. However, she still isn't really rolling over I think we have a little time.

As exciting as these coming developments are, I'm trying to just enjoy this time when I can force my affections on my daughter without much protest. I can squeeze and kiss and hug her and she mostly just rolls with it...I know that she will soon be too busy moving and shaking things up for a lot of kissing and loving time. That is, I suppose, in the nature of parenting...changing what you give you children based on their needs...even if you are a little sad that they don't want constant squeezing and hugging anymore.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Costumed Cuties

So, Ila and some of her little baby cohort got all dressed up for Halloween...well, with some help from the parents, admittedly. Then, we laid them all in a little circle...and a raucous chaos ensued, as seen below. What's amusing is how different they all behave. Charlotte, aka Little Bunny Foo Foo (and Ila's birthday twin!), seems perplexed by all the rowdiness. Liana the Little Chili Pepper kept rolling over and then loudly protesting her arrival back on her back. Griffin the Bumblebee did not love the noise and Juniper the Bunny just took it all in...surprisingly mellowly! Ila is just...well, being Ila, breathing excitedly, kicking her limbs and making little squeaks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Call and Respond

Ila has a lot to say, primarily in shriek form. She is also, apparently, impervious to Kiyomi's stern voice, as witnessed by her pure amusement of Kiyomi scolding our cat Bandit. This does not bode well for Kiyomi disciplining Ila perhaps...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ila loves Roo; Roo loves Love

On Saturday Ila began rolling over consistently from from to back. She's done it once or twice before - fueled mostly by the rage that fills her little being when she's laid down on her stomach for tummy time. As far as I can tell, "tummy time" is "get in touch with anger" time for Ila. Well, now she can generally roll right over to her lounging back position. Though, actually, once on her back she does often do her little baby pilates because she really wants to be sitting up. This is something she hasn't quite mastered yet however.

Her adventures began bright and early on Saturday. She got us up at about 5:30. We all decided to get out of bed at about 6 - after trying, unsuccessfully to lull Ila back to sleep with some nursing. Instead, she visited with our cat Roo - and found the whole experience hilarious. She was giggling and reaching for Roo, who didn't seem to mind too much. I actually managed to catch the tail end of the laughing here. Yay! My friend Amanda also managed to get her to laugh during her visit today. So, that's Deb, Amanda, and Roo. We can sometimes get her to laugh...but I think we're a little too run-of-the-mill for Ila's taste.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seven Minutes, Seven Thoughts

Some of our across-the-street neighbors just had a baby. I think they're visiting with our next door neighbors right now, and their baby is fussing a bit. I can hear him crying, and it keeps tripping me out - is it Ila waking from her nap?? But...the voice is wrong and...sort of younger somehow. It sends waves of exhaustion and desperation through me - I remember those newborn cries. God, I'm glad Ila isn't quite so new anymore. It's weird how long 4 months with a baby is; how old she seems compared to her earlier self. But, she's so different than she was...and, most importantly, I am not nearly so exhausted.

Speaking of being an amazingly mature, grown-up baby, Ila sort of sat up on her own last night. Well, I set her up and she stayed up. Very exciting. She didn't have her huge cloth diapers on...or any clothes, for that matter. So, I'm thinking this might be a naked only trick for a while. Sounds tawdry, I know...

She really does want to be upright these days, though. She used to be a real lounge-a-piller - always on her back and happy that way. In fact, I was a little worried she would never roll over (she still really hasn't) and wanted to just laze away her life on her back. Now she does this baby pilates move where she holds her head up like she's trying to get upright. She also does this when you put your hands under her sides to pick her up - like she knows what's happening. Pretty cool.

Her grip and grabbing accuracy are improving...which means she is more liable to want and reach for things that are not offered - glasses, hair, cameras...and she's more likely to actually get them:

Since she's so grown up compared to her little fetus and newborn self, I've changed the blog title to the completely boring and unoriginal, "The First Year." It's too much pressure to give it a cooler I went with a simple statement of fact. Kiyomi thinks I should call it "The Poo Rules." As in, rules we have had to make about poop in our house since we introduced a being into our lives that scorns toilets. Really, when you're using cloth diapers and wipes there are all these new rules about poop - washing, rinsing, cleaning up. And, there are moments where our lives do seem dictated by things coming out one end or the other.

I think we are finally willing to venture a guess about her personality. Okay, by "we," I mean only "me." Other folks have decided things about her already - she's strong-willed or curious or impatient or stand-off-ish. (The list sound very negative to me, which is interesting in and of itself.) I think Ila may be a bit shy. When confronted with new people or people she doesn't see on a daily basis, she often looks away. This is a pretty typical baby move when they are overstimulated or overwhelmed...but Ila will then look back and stare at the person if they are NOT looking. As soon as they look, she looks away. Maybe this is also a typical developmental step in becoming a social being...but she is a little more reticent than other babies we hang out with to just gaze and smile at new folks...and, at the same time, she is curious and attentive to the people around her.

Interestingly, my mother noticed this a while ago...and seems very queued into the fact that Ila does this to her. What amuses me about all this is that, according to my grandmother, my mother did this same thing. So, I have to wonder, what would it be like to raise my mother???

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If I had a hammer...

Once again I am writing after a not-great night of sleep for Miss Ila. It's fortunate that since the last post here, she has pretty much slept well...but last night she woke every two hours to nurse and then stayed awake for an hour at 3:30. Not my favorite sleeping pattern, certainly. However, she got her 4 month shots yesterday, so a little sleep disturbance makes sense.

We have fully adopted the method for the middle of the night waking that involves doing nothing. Since she is very calm and quiet when she wakes up, I just let her lie there awake - comfortable, full and safe - while I try to fall back asleep (with varying degrees of success). This is, I believe what I'm "supposed" to do. You are supposed to communicate to the baby, "This is SLEEP time. We don't turn on lights, get up, talk, play, etc." I'm not sure how well that works when your child wakes up screaming or just being extremely active. But, we are blessed so far with a baby that, while occasionally still awake at some unreasonable times, generally relaxes in the bed until she falls back to sleep.

Actually, this is all easier because of one little fabulous device: the pacifier! She only started taking a pacifier last week in the midst of a bout of major fussiness. Normally, at home, moving through our regular routines, she does not scream or holler or even fuss much until it's time to take a nap. Then she whimpers a bit and, if you get her into bed quickly enough, that's it. Otherwise, she'll sometimes yell as you get her ready for sleeping. However, generally, she is calm and contented. That particular afternoon, though, she had a constant low level moan and crying thing going on. She kept trying to shove things in her mouth with even more than her usual zeal. This didn't seem to actually satisfy her, so she would then get very angry and gritchy. So I gave her the pacifier. BING! It worked! She was very happy to have it!

All this vigorous stuffing of her mouth made Kiyomi wonder if she was teething. I was incredulous mostly because I was trying to will her to teeth at 6 months...thus sparing my nipples some months of pain. But, alas, she is in fact getting her first two teeth - the two bottom front teeth. While I am sad for my nipples, I am excited to see her little teeth. She will look silly and adorable with just two tiny chompers.

Anyway, I'm excited about the pacifier. I know some folks are very anti-pacifier, which I find a bit reactionary. It's a great tool - any tool can be overused, I suppose. However, this weird categorical reaction to any helpful device is irritating. I went to a La Leche League (LLL) meeting last week. One woman brought up nipple shields because she has to use one right now. I also had to use one for two months and, while it is frustrating in some ways, it is a life saver in many. I could tell the LLL coordinators were not so thrilled by those of us piping up about using them and telling this woman not to worry - that she will be able to get rid of it when she needs to. I now know 4 people who've used them and very easily weaned the baby off of them. But, there is this paranoia that you will destroy your child's ability to latch if you use them. This is extremely unhelpful as it serves to make you more anxious, ashamed, and worried about breastfeeding - which is challenging enough at the start.

The LLL coordinators also pooh-poohed my question about not getting Ila to take a bottle. They were saying that you don't want to give your kid a bottle for the first three months because the child will not be interested in taking the breast when I asked. Okay, guess what folks, I have not yet met a child that does this. However, I am one of about 10 people I know whose child will not take a bottle because he or she prefers the breast. Yet, when I said this, the coordinators were like, "Well, it's such a short period of time that you are exclusively breastfeeding..." So, she obviously meant, just suck it up and never leave your child for more than 3-4 hours! Awesome advice, ladies, especially for working moms. Bottles are very useful, why is there this fear in a group of women obviously dedicated to breastfeeding? I mean, I get the fact that formula companies can be evil and insidious...but I'm well into breastfeeding; I love it, in fact. I'm not about to be swayed into weaning Ila before we're ready. However, I'd also love for Ila to take a freakin' bottle of my breast milk!

If I could send one message back in time to myself at the start of this, I would say use the tools that are handy and make sense for you AT THE TIME without guilt or anxiety. You can stop using them, change plans, re-evaluate as necessary as you go along. So much wasted worry about pacifiers, bottles, nipple shields.

So, we pacifier it up and love it. I can't believe how happy she is to have it. It's funny, too, because she just wouldn't take it before. I think this is a sign of maturity. She is able to identify it and remember that she likes it. Pretty cool.

She's just growing like a weed: teething, loving her pacifier...and also, more literally, growing like a weed. She's in the 97th percentile for height and weight. She's huge and on a steep growing curve. This is, really, of no consequence beyond the fact that she is healthy and thriving...but I have been thinking lately, as I look at other babies our play groups, that she IS giant. It makes me feel very aware that she is no longer a tiny baby...which, in turn, sort of makes me feel nostalgic for her tiny self. I mean, mostly I just want to try and remember when she was only 8 pounds. I'm not sure I want to go back to that level of sleeplessness and exhaustion, but I do feel very curious about what she was like then because I can't really remember. Isn't that odd? It was such a short time ago. So, I've decided today, to close out with a picture of her when she was brand new. I can't believe how little she was!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sleeping and Waking

I was planning an entry about how sweet and moving being a mother is...then, Ila was awake last night from 3:45 to well past 5 AM. It's hard for me, at some moments during times like these, to remember that Ila is not being "bad." She's just doing something I don't particularly want her to do. In this case, she's keeping her little mole eyes open and her little limbs thrashing. I tried last night to not be overwhelmed with frustration or anxiety that this is the first step down a long road of not sleeping. I just tried to be present - Kiyomi and I lying quietly in the dark, silently willing Ila to follow our lead while hearing her little piglet grunts and mousy squeaks and feeling her little legs doing mermaid kicks on the bed. But, it's hard to be present in a present you don't like.

I feel that, in general, I am a fairly relaxed first time mom (is that an oxymoron?). I mean, I didn't know what to expect - I didn't know if I would be anxious and worried all the time. Fortunately, I am not too much of a worrier. However - and I did not anticipate this at all - I feel guilty with great frequency. When I lie Ila down to coo and gurgle and bat at her little toys while I run out to get the laundry, bring it in, fold it and put it away, I feel I'm being wildly irresponsible and a terrible parent. I feel guilty that I don't hold her enough, talk to her enough, stimulate her enough. Yesterday, for instance, I had her lying on the front bedroom bed while I tidied up in that room. The chaos of that room was driving me crazy, but I felt guilty doing it, like I should just be lying on the bed with her the whole time talking and playing - which is a pretty tame form of playing at this point in her life, mainly consisting of trying to grab and pull anything and everything to her mouth. She's happy for quite a while lying on her own - especially if I'm in the same room...but I feel guilty that I'm not - I don't know - constantly in complete attendance.

Okay, the rational side of me understands (sort of) that it's good for her to be able to amuse herself - safely and with a parent close by - for increasing amounts of time. But, I obviously don't really believe that. Maybe I feel guilty because talking and playing with a 4 month old is a little boring for me, and I'm ashamed to want to say, fold laundry or sweep the floor as a diversion. I mean, for chores to be more engaging is sort of a sad statement, no? Anyway, the guilty continues...but at least I can tell myself that all these feelings are probably totally normal...without necessarily believing it. It reminds me of one of my favorite Lydia Davis stories: "But it is curious how you can believe an idea is absolutely true and correct and yet not believe it deeply enough to act on it."

(You should read the whole's three paragraphs; the last piece on this page)

Despite all the not sleeping and the guilt, there are profound moments of sweetness in being a mama. The entry I was dreaming up yesterday morning was very different than today's. I was nursing Ila, lying on the bed, after her morning nap. This is a sweet time anyway, but I was particularly attuned to the lovely tenderness of seeing her little sweet face and feeling the little flutterings of her soft hands against my arms and chest. It is breathtakingly wonderful to be her mother. I feel so attached to her that I, of course, find myself ruining these thoughts with flashes of her being hit by a car or being diagnosed with childhood leukemia. Fortunately, unlike my guilt, I can fairly easily tell myself that these worries are profitless and unnecessary...and I can more easily believe myself.

Anyway, yesterday morning, I was awash in deep love feelings for Ila and it made me think about the fact that my family is not so great at being tender. I'm including my extended family on both sides. I can actually think of instances of my father being tender, more so than other adults in my young life - I think he was a pretty affectionate person when I was little. I suppose, this doesn't quite balance out the fact that he left my brother and me when we were young. Still, his earlier, sweeter actions had their effect and were important, I think.

My mother was also very physically affectionate and tender...but it was easier for my father to verbally be tender and loving. I know my mother's family much better than my father's, and I can safely say that it is very difficult for them to be tender with each other. Some interactions of the family have, in fact, made me vow to let myself love the people in my life in an unguarded, open, and expressive way...which, I acknowledge, is not always easy. However, the moments of awkward vulnerability that come along with open and affectionate expressions of care are worth it. I have had enough interactions with my mother's family to think that a lot of us could use a little more tenderness and unequivocally supportive gestures from each other.

Perhaps this is not uncommon. It is uncomfortable sometimes to really open up to those vulnerable, gushy, soft feelings like tenderness. Most of us humans may be a bit hardened. Perhaps, my family is not unique in its awkward uncomfortableness in the face of sweet, loving feelings. Whatever the case, I want, very consciously, to create a family environment for Ila that does not require protection and hardening, that allows those softer feelings of love and affection to be voiced.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Laughin' and Lickin'

Ila laughed! Neither Kiyomi nor I made her laugh - it was all our friend Deb. Kiyomi claims that Ila likes Deb because she's very close to Ila's size, which is a slight exaggeration...but only slight. Ila's beefy 17 pound body was taxing for Deb to carry around.

Needless to say, Kiyomi and I have spent the last 12 hours trying to get her to laugh again. It hasn't worked. I even had the camera in my hand, but alas I didn't capture it. How can we know it was real, if I didn't get it on video???

Yesterday was a big day. In addition to chuckling, Ila also grabbed her toes for the first time. I have been putting her toes in her hands for a few days now. She is indifferent to this and releases her foot as soon as I take my hand away. However, yesterday she spontaneously grabbed her foot without assistance!

She is definitely making some serious leaps and bounds in skill level. Quite literally, actually: she can really jolly jump now...instead of simply dangling in the doorway and aimlessly fluttering her feet, she really kicks! When she grabs things, too, she is looking less like a terrible spinal cord injury victim learning - painfully - to use her limbs again. Still her most refined skill is licking. Anything that comes near her mouth gets jabbed with her tongue quickly and a little dog...or snake... As you can imagine, I am a gleaming and proud mama! Kiyomi loves to say she is so "advanced." And, perhaps in the slobbering department she is!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cha Cha Changes

It's hard to decide what to say today – everything is all jumbled up in my head. First, I want to acknowledge that our wonderful friend and landlord, Jack Dicey, has passed away of cancer. He was a truly lovely human; he spent much of his life working with homeless folks and veterans. He was also just a funny guy who loved people and enjoyed life. It's hard to comprehend – a year ago he was, seemingly, fine. A little over a year ago, we visited him in the hospital after his last major surgery. Around this time, we told him that I was pregnant – and he told us that the doctors gave him a year or less to live. It was bizarre and sad to see him when I was pregnant. I was so antsy for the future – the birth, the infancy, the youth – of my child. Yet, the same short time that I had to wait through with eagerness and anticipation was certainly the final chapter of his life. It is so alarming, at times, how disparate our experiences are – even when they are happening concurrently. I very much regret that we didn't get to see him one last time – with Ila, would have been nice. Though, I know this grief is really for me – he is beyond any concern in the matter – I certainly would have liked to see him and say goodbye.

Perhaps this has a hand in my brain's apparent obsession with death and endings. I am still having nightmares almost nightly Рusually including the death of someone I love or myself. To say, as a human, that I don't do well with change, is perhaps a clich̩ and not even worth expressing. But, it is true. And there is something truly dynamic about being with a child. While it is, in one way, the epitome of life to be with a little one who is discovering and growing every day, it is also to be constantly exposed to change, endings, even to death in some small, metaphorical sense. First, your notions of your own life must change and give way to others, then, every little stage of your child's life is so short.

In this vein, I wish, actually, that we had taken video earlier than we did. Ila is all about grabbing things now. She is not great with objects that are at an arm's reach away, but things that are held a little closer in, she generally successfully snatches up and brings them to her mouth. This means that I can basically hand her things now. This is so new and exciting! It's hard to remember when she wasn't even focused on objects, when she didn't gaze at you and smile, when she couldn't even bring her hands to her mouth, let alone things! It would be nice to have even just a little video from the very early weeks, just to see and remember what was, temporally, very recent and yet developmentally has completely been supplanted and erased.

As a result of being able to grab things, I think she is a bit easier to entertain...or to let her entertain herself even! We took a trip up to Flagstaff to see some of my family, and she was generally pretty happy in the car. I believe part of this is certainly related to the fact that she can suck on her own fingers or grab at her little pink pig and little bumble bee toys that hang in front of her in the car. Her sleep has been a little funny, though. She's woken up a couple times 2 or 3 times at night instead of her customary one. This too is all about change. I try not to get used or, or count on, her sleeping a certain amount or set of hours at night...yet, it is inevitable. Perhaps it is a growth spurt – perhaps even the monumental task of really being able to reach out and grab things is taxing her little system. Whatever is altering her sleep patterns, it is a lesson, once again, in how temporary and shifting everything is. I'm just not so fond of learning this lesson at midnight and then again at 2:30.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vampire Baby

When confronted with a smiling face coming at her own, Ila opens her mouth wide and crinkles up her nose like she's going to bite it. Meet Vampire Baby. Maybe these crazy open mouth kisses, as we call them, have to do with the rooting instinct? Maybe they are just part of her overall desire to put anything of interest into her mouth? Whatever it is, it is very cute.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I'm not sure what prompted this, but I have been thinking back to the beginning of this whole caring for an infant thing. While talking with some other new moms, I recalled my deep desire - in the first two weeks or so - to believe in god, some god, any god. I remember catching myself praying that this would get easier - that I wouldn't dread the night, the endless cycle of short spells of sleep always followed by excruciating sessions of nipple torture. It was overwhelming at the start - the reeling, dizzy feeling that nothing could really be counted on except exhaustion and pain. I mean, sure, there were also amazing moments with the new little being, but there was also this fleeting, bizarre, fervent desire to be religious - to not only pray, but to believe something might happen as a result of the prayer...I might be granted some relief, some sense of trust in the universe that my petitions were being heard. I felt very alone, in some profound way. Kiyomi was there with me constantly - also tired and awed and completely bowled over - but I felt alone in some deeper way, like I was meeting some reckoning with a set of responsibilities that could never be shifted or altered.

Whew. That's all I have to say looking back at that. I still feel tired or overwhelmed or confused at times, but there was some kind of abject shock that I'm happy to say seems to have passed.

In its place, lately, I have been thinking about how quickly this baby stage will pass, how quickly I will grow old and all the little pleasures and pains of being a new mother will be gone. I think this has wormed its way into my subconscious because almost every night I have nightmares about - in some way or other - people I love dying or myself dying. It is all somehow anxiety about time passing, I suppose. One of the worst nightmares involved Ila having a high fever, followed by seizure, frothing of the mouth and cessation of breathing. I woke up sweating, seriously. The night before I had dreamed that my mother was dying of cancer.

The worst part about these dreams is that, when I wake up, I can't shake the belief that the dream was a presentiment, that there is some secret message about the future in the nightmare. Even if the exact events don't happen; I'm sure something horrible is coming. Recently, I have decided I probably have MS or some horrible tumor, and my mind is trying to give me hints about this through dreams and odd twitches of my body. Don't ask me to explain it; I can't. It's absurd, but I just feel like there is something wrong with me. My nightmares - which I have with some frequency - seem an indication that I am right...somehow. For some reason this is all very convincing to me, especially at 2 AM after having had a nightmare.

I've been reading The Science of Happiness and recently watched a documentary about happiness. It's fascinating - especially the fact that pleasant and unpleasant feelings are generally handled by opposite sides of our prefrontal cortex. The right side processes negative emotions and the left handles positive emotions. Some researchers have also found that people often favor one side over the other. About one third of folks have much more active positive sides of the prefrontal cortex (left), one third have more active negative sides (right) and the remainder are evenly divided between the two sides of the brain. Of course, especially after these nightmares, I assumed that I must be on the right here - that my brain rushes to worry, anxiety, fear, sadness more quickly.

I'm not sure I'm actually very objective, though. I always assume I'm in the most pathetic group. When I read, A Primate's Memoir, which describes in great detail the logistics of the social hierarchies of baboons, I immediately identified with this young sort of "second class" female baboon and her mother. I was struck, suddenly, with the realization that I was a second class baboon. These baboons were less popular in the group - meaning they were not the first pick of the finest males during mating. They, as a result of this, also didn't get to eat the best foods, have more safety in the group, etc. The less prestigious female baboons are more worried, less confident, more anxious, more indifferent as parents and less influential as members of their group.

Now, when I try to be objective, I think I am not really the mousy, pathetic, weak lower order baboon...but why am I always assuming I am? Maybe THIS is proof that I go to the right side of the emotional processors in my brain more quickly. See? I am determined to see myself as somehow crippled by negativity. Maybe I'm not actually very negative, but I am obsessed with seeing myself this way? What is that?

In all of this, I keep hoping that Ila will, of course, hang out more on the left side of this particular region of the brain. Apparently even ten-month-olds prefer one side to the other in processing emotion. The happy-go-lucky left side set are more confident, less fussy without mom, and more willing to explore and encounter new people and things. Let's hope my apparent determination to see myself as negative doesn't cripple our daughter! She has been sort of fussier lately, which is probably neither here nor there...but I am watching with some consciousness to see signs of greater tendency toward negative emotions. Probably I just need to stop thinking so much, exercise more - take the brain a little more out of the equation here.

Lisa, along with Henry and many of her family members were in town for Lisa's grandmother's funeral this weekend. The last morning they were here, we brought Ila to say goodbye to them and she was, as usual, unwilling to stand in one place. She likes to be moving around – preferably outside – and not simply standing still. She wasn't in a bad mood, but she wasn't really in an easy-going mood, either. So, we had some fun snapping pictures of her complaining faces as well as her smiles.

When she hasn't been fussing in the last week or so, Ila has been practicing getting her hands to her mouth. But, in addition to this, she now loves to put any kind of fabric that I lay across her belly into her mouth . She can't look at an object, decide to grab it and take a swing, but she can grab objects that happen to bump into her hands. So, a little tag blanket across her belly or a dangling toy that happens to touch her fingers or hands will get clutched at. Still, she's not really looking at the objects she grips. Instead, she seems to have no idea - or interest - in how they got there. It's as if the gods have just miraculously placed them in her hands for her to get to her mouth and slobber away at. She does look at objects with the obvious desire to snatch them up because she starts opening her mouth, looking intently at whatever it is, and making little noises. But, alas, her hands hang uselessly at her sides. She knows she wants to get things into her mouth - she just hasn't connected her hands to the whole effort.

Even though I don't want to, I think I feel a bit self-conscious when Ila gets crabby in public. I am trying to just relax and accept it – mainly because I don't want to be transmitting anxious and judgmental energy to her. I'm okay with her fussing at home; I understand crying is a big part of her communication at this point in her life. However, and this I wasn't really prepared for, I feel tense and inept when she starts getting upset in public. I think this will wear off – and I know that the people I'm around really aren't judging me, but I imagine they are. I am talking about friends and other new moms, so it's unlikely that they are looking askance at me and my screaming baby...but the mind does funny things.

I really do feel myself becoming awkward and doubting my ability to answer my baby's cries when I'm with a friend or in a different place. I so perfectly understand that it's okay for Ila to cry and get all worked up and maybe inconsolable for a little bit, but my emotions do not seem to follow this good understanding. They have a life of their own; a life that is, in this case, dictated by a fear that whoever I am with is wondering why I can't just figure out how to quiet her down and get to it.

I imagine this self-consciousness is extremely common for new mothers. Yet again, understanding this point and really believing it are two very different things. I guess it's an example of my perfectionism and the way that I harshly judge myself. I am trying to just see this discomfort and move through it because, at its heart, it is an unwillingness to accept myself as a new, learning mother and little Ila as a small, sometimes bewildered little baby. It's a wish for order and control at the sake of the messy process of learning to – in my case – be a sensitive and capable parent and – in Ila's case – a functional human being! I can't believe how many times I have to learn this lesson: be nice to yourself. Be patient.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Month Three!

At the beginning of last week - the first week of Ila's third month - I read that parents often find the third month to be easier than the preceding two because parents have acclimated and recognize their baby's cues, etc. etc. Well, last week was the hardest week I think we've had. Ila spent the beginning of the week refusing to eat and the second half of the week nursing constantly. As far as cues go, the beginning part of the week I was frantically trying to make out hunger cues - and getting screamed at when I tried to feed her too early. Later in the week, that same crazy shrieking meant that I had not gotten her to breast quickly enough! This behavior culminated in a Sunday afternoon nursing session of about hours - with little nap breaks (napping at the breast for 20 minutes). I guess when you eat substantially less for several days, you have to make it up somehow. Suffice to say, this is not my favorite schedule.

The baby books are of course fallible, as we've been over before, but it's fun to look at those developmental charts. In particular, I can't wait for Ila to grasp objects. She watches things intently, but has not lifted a finger yet. Last year a friend was talking with eager anticipation about when her little three month old would start grabbing things. I recall thinking that it was such a different existence to go from a competent, busy, stressed adult to someone whose excitement comes from whether a baby makes a conscious swipe at some little polka-dotted cow rattle. How funny, I thought, that this was engrossing. At this point, I would even take some aimless swings at objects.

One of my favorite descriptions on one of the developmental charts is how long a baby will clutch a rattle after you've shoved it into their little fists. It didn't really occur to me to force my child to play with her toys. I figured you just let them get to them in their own time. However, I've now seen other references to parents prying open the little newborn claws (I'm sorry, anything with nails that grow that fast are claws) to see if their babies would grip onto the toy. Well, Kiyomi gave it a shot and, I think, the results were predictable.

Another joy of the third month for babies is, of course, sucking on their own hands. Ila can now get her hand to her mouth - based mostly on luck, I think - but then has quite a hard time really getting what she wants out of the experience. Sometimes she gets her index finger wedged up between her gums and her front lip and thereby blocks entry for most of her hand. Then, once she gets her hand in her mouth a little, she tries to lift her head forward to get more of her hand in her mouth rather than just moving her arm towards her face more. Naturally, moving the head jostles the shoulder and arm and, again, results in the hand popping out of the mouth. It's fascinating to realize we were all this helpless - that we had to learn to move our hands to our mouth rather than our mouth to our hands. When she actually does get her hand to her mouth she just frantically licks at it. Anne Lamott's description of her son gnawing on his fist like a lion with a bone always comes to my mind. This past time seems truly satisfying to Ila - in all its slobbery, uncoordinated glory.

The downside of the start of the third month is the dreaded doctor's appointment replete with an array of vaccinations. I personally feel there are vaccines that are incredibly useful and kind of miraculous that we have. Yeah to no more children crippled by polio! Yeah to tiny infant airways opened, functioning and whooping cough free! Yeah to teenagers NOT dying of diphtheria! But, I think we do have a few that seem...well, not entirely necessary at this age. Hep B? What exactly are the odds that my child will be sexually active or sharing needles at this point? Hmmm.

I am, on the other hand, very happy there are vaccine watchdog groups. If anybody doesn't know the story of simian virus 40, look it up. It's scary shit - and many people have been exposed thanks to the old polio vaccine. I guess I don't believe that private, for-profit corporations should regulate themselves...nor do I believe that the "free market" will do that effectively for medicine either. So, we need people making a kerfuffle about any scary, unsafe vaccination practices.

That being said, I was not looking forward to the actual physical act of vaccination for Ila. She was PISSED and scared right after the shots, understandably. I nursed her right after, which was wonderful (thank you boobies!) because she calmed down and went to sleep. She was a bit upset though the rest of the day. And, I have to admit, there was some part of me that thought, all throughout Ila's weird unpredictable moods and cues last week, that the vaccines might have fouled her little systems up - at least temporarily - making her more grumpy and irritable.

The more fun part of the appointment - especially for Kiyomi - was finding out that Ila is in the 90th percentile for both length and weight. I am not sure why this is something to be proud of...but it feels like people are proud of this. I even feel it a little. How this is an achievement, I am not quite sure. I guess I could give Ila props for being a...good grower? Or, my breasts a gold star for nourishing her so well?

She's in the 75th for head circumference... but I can't imagine her head being any bigger. It's already astounding that her head is longer than her thighs and basically as long as her arms. Think about that for a minute. Those are some crazy huge heads babies have! I try to imagine the 25 percent of babies whose heads are bigger! (Well, at least the circumference is bigger...) What kind of crazy pumpkin heads are we talking about???

No, I think I'm going to reserve the gold stars for grabbing at things and neck control. Those are SKILLS I would certainly like to encourage...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ila the Hutt

Kiyomi likes to call Ila "Ila the Hut." These pictures pretty much explain why. This little girl certainly does have big cheeks. These were taken shortly after nursing - her cheeks and face look even more doughy after nursing for some reason.

I think this is adorable...but I sort of think these might be among the pictures that our daughter, when she is a teenager, will be sort of embarrassed by. She does look a little goofy - but so cute!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Spectacular Vernacular

So, we've finally captured a sample of Ila's dialect. It's difficult to explain the sounds...they're some coos, some squeaks...but there are these other sounds I don't know how to describe. I'm not even sure I could replicate them myself.

One of my favorite aspects of this new more socially communicative Ila is that when she's done interacting - when she needs a break - she turns her head away and refuses to look at you. This is apparently a common tactic babies take when they need a break from stimuli...but it's still amusing to see, like she's saying, "Look away! I'm done with you." Very diva-ish, I mean "diva" in the Diane Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway sense.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Smiles Times

"Make hay while the sun shines"...or, in my case, "update blog while the baby sleeps." Given these two situations, I could make a lot more hay than blog posts. Seriously, it took me about four days to write one email this week. Baby pace is just a slower pace, I suppose. While this is sometimes a little frustrating (and embarrassing, as in the case of the message it took me a month to respond to), this phase really is very short. So, I am trying to soak up as much of this bizarre tiny infant period as possible.

In keeping with this, I've started taking short videos of Ila - trying to catch her crazy drunken smiles and weird alien speech. It's adorable and, though I am not an objective judge here, I think quite fascinating and watchable...but she does not like to perform for the camera at all. I could pretend this has something to do with a personality characteristic - she's shy! she's stubborn! - but I'm not really sure I can tell anything about her from this. I think she clams up when the camera appears because my focus has changed. I'm not as available and focused on communicating with her...and she responds accordingly, focusing herself on the camera or some other object. It's wild how in tune babies are with their caregivers. Ila really does seem extremely zeroed in on you if you are actually cooing and talking to her. If not, she looks elsewhere.

The other fascinating thing is that Ila really does stare at the camera. When it comes out, her eyes go right to it. I am not so sure what is draws her attention. Maybe because I'm looking at it? Maybe because the lens looks like one great eye? But she does go right to it...I guess that will make getting pictures of her smiley face easier...once she will actually smile more regularly for the camera, that is.

I did finally get a few little snippets of video. I can't believe how much more verbal - I'm sort of playing fast and loose with the term "verbal" here - she's gotten in the last week. She makes all kinds of cooing, rowling, squawking sounds. Sometimes when I'm singing to her, she really gets her crazy watery squealing going, like she's singing her own slightly demented version of the song. It's hysterical...and extremely cute...and, again, something she won't really let me capture on camera. I've gotten a little bit of the noisy Miss Ila, but I'll keep trying to get the real show.

It's very exciting to notice these big new developments - like socially smiling and gurgling. I can't wait for grabbing and laughing and rolling over and sitting up. In many ways, she'll be a little more fun...certainly we will have more luck finding hobbies in common. And then it will be crawling, walking, talking, running. Crazy...and exciting. Still, though I look forward to all this growth, a weird part of me gets sad that this little goofy no-neck baby phase will be over so soon. I guess I should just enjoy each infant era while it lasts. (Let's see if I can think this when I'm nursing her tomorrow morning at 3 AM).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Sleep

Advice on the sleep of infants - how to induce it, particularly - is a topic that is of relative usefulness. By "relative" I mean some of it is helpful for some babies some of the time. Which words of wisdom may be relevant to your child at any particular developmental point is kind of anyone's guess since so much of what is written is wildly varied and often entirely contradictory to other pieces of advice. So, advice is perhaps something best avoided for parents on this subject. Yet questions about how your baby is sleeping are some of the first questions that come pouring forth from friends and family.

We are fortunate enough to have a fairly restful baby (at night anyway), but I still find the questions a little irritating. For one thing, when people ask how long she slept the night before, and I say a four to five hour chunk of sleep and then about an hour to two hours after being fed, some people balk as if that's not a great bit of sleep. It IS, folks! God, the first week of sleeping only an hour at a time was like some kind of torture. This is amazing! I'm trying to enjoy this because at any given moment, she could go back to sleeping in only little two hour stretches...or less! For some reason, the constant focus on "when will baby sleep through the night" is irksome. Realistically, infants and small children just sleep differently than adults...I am trying to just accept that. I guess I don't like resisting that fact...and, I don't know, imagining it is going to be wildly different soon. So, I'm not crazy about people reminding me that I'm NOT sleeping, say a solid 8 hours.

There are helpful tips, though. For instance, the oft given advice "sleep when your baby sleeps" is generally helpful. In fact, we could just say, when you become a parent, become a napper. Even a "night napper" as Kiyomi calls the style of sleep you get at night with a baby. When I can nap with Ila during the day for at least one stretch, I feel much better. That being said, trying to nap at the same time as your infant can be an exercise in torture. Once you are awake for the day, you've adjusted to a certain degree of tiredness. That is, you're resigned to being vertical and conscious. With this resignation comes a degree of comfort, at least you're not in that half-state of trying to wake up. As soon as you lay down to nap, you lower these defenses...and become very, very sleepy. If your child actually naps for a while - GREAT, you also get some sleep. If your child naps for twenty minutes...well, you will have to go through that miserable process of adjusting to being upright and awake all over again. If you can have a partner take care of the truant napper in case they run out on the sleeping session, then it works well. However, that means your partner has to drop whatever they are doing.

This week Ila is sleeping for what feels like tiny bits of time during the day...and longer at night. I try to focus on the "longer at night" bit of that statement. However, I wonder if this micro-sleeping is going to extend to the night soon. Should I look at what the books say? I think we know the answer to that...but just for fun! One book tells me that this is normal because, as she gets older, she will be more wakeful. Another book says if she's not sleeping enough during the day, she won't sleep for long at night. A third book - the one I'd like to believe - says that babies that are fed often on cue rather than a schedule and are held most of the time are more likely to cat nap during the day and sleep for longer stretches at night. God in heaven, please let this be the case. I'm just going to keep going by her cues...trying to get her to sleep when she's sleepy...and hoping that this is enough. Hopefully it will keep going well. Whichever way it goes, though, I promise to not give anyone any kind of advice based on it. Really. I promise.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ain't No Holla Back Girl

There is something inescapably now about having an infant. As one who sometimes wishes to avoid the Now...and, say, daydream about the future, analyze the past, or even obsessively construct plans for the future based on strategies I think I understand from my past, I am not always loving this whole in the present moment with the tiny baby thing.

Actually, mostly these days (I can only speak in a very limited time frame) I am feeling okay with it. The first couple weeks with, though, were rough. I found myself, at random moments during the day, gripped by a thought that this is it - this endless cycle of nursing, putting the baby to sleep, trying to assess what the baby wants and then nursing again, etc. all over again. This thought was, of course, accompanied by a terrible feeling of confinement. To be fair, this is a sensation that I've experienced at pretty much every job I've ever had. It's just that this particular job doesn't include legally outlined breaks and vacation or sick days, really. No ducking out or rashly deciding, after a dull day at work, to say "fuck it!" to going to the gym and "boy howdy" to getting a beer with a friend.

It is natural to feel this massive adjustment, I assume. To balk a little at the radical shift your days take after having a baby. To be honest, I feel pretty lucky. I feel like Ila isn't an extraordinarily demanding baby...and I also feel pretty content going through the repetitive little motions of each day, capable of reminding myself this is a phase and that I should enjoy Ila while she's tiny.

In that vein, I really am trying to notice as much as I can about her now. (In fact, sometimes I feel little pangs of sadness that she's changing - and going to change - so fast that I'll somehow miss some of it. It's weirdly a sensation of missing her when she's right in front of me.) For instance, she is getting more and more opinonated. She has started screeching and hollering when I try to nurse her when she's not hungry - or when she's gotten enough food. She throws her head back, turns red in the face, and yells. I was completely floored by this at first...I thought something was wrong. However, having paid attention, I've decided that sometimes I think she may be hungry when she's not. Instead of a polite refusal - however that would look in infantese - she screams about it. Fortunately, the screaming stops immediately when I just sit her upright or lie her down next to me.

It has taken some getting used to. At first, I was a little hurt - my breasts couldn't help but take it personally. However, now, I am trying to find some amusement in it. I mean, imagine being offered food when you're not hungry and instead of simply refusing it, you curse the person who offered it to you and throw the plate at the wall? It is absurd...but I guess everything is a little crazy when the only real way you have to communicate is screams and shrieks at varying volume levels. I can't wait for more cooing and smiling. These two things have started a little...but the grunting and hollering is still the preferred dialect. Isn't it funny that we all learn to scream and groan long before we learn to smile? It's supposedly for our survival...which, I think, says a lot about our species.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Second Month Begins

It is officially the start of Ila's second month of life - outside the womb. Perhaps this is admitting that I am incapable of the simple task of counting, but I am not exactly sure how we delineate the whole month thing. It seems that four weeks, in infant land, counts as a month. In adult land, the only month that is actually only four weeks long is that rascal February. So, today being July 1st (Happy Canada Day!), I can, with confidence say that it is, at least, the start of her second calendar month. Whew.

So far, in her first month of life, she has been a calm baby. Now that we're in the second month, I worry that colic will rear its ugly head...and suddenly my baby will be a whole new creature. One that screams and weeps and hollers for hours inconsolably. I may be jinxing us, but I really am amazed at how easy-going she seems. She does cry - but is usually very easily placated. She's hungry or wants to walk around the house or sit on your lap facing out (this is her favorite thing - she really likes to sit upright and gaze out...with her only semi-focusing infant eyes) or she is tired and needs to be helped toward sleep. Babies change so much in the first year, though, so who knows what's going to happen? (Hence my apprehension.)

She is definitely getting more vocal - she will get pissed and holler when something really does not agree with her. One of the most common - and sort of amusing - times that this happens is when she is nursing. She has, of course, no real control of her limbs. They just flail or loll about without much direction from her. She often throws her arm around at the start of a nursing session, sometimes bumping herself off the nipple with her own arm. Then, she screeches furiously and turns tomato red with anger. I quickly put her back on and try to restrain her arm...but I am often using both my hands to arrange and hold her to the breast at the start of a nursing session. So, sometimes she manages to bump herself off the breast a couple times. It is kind of funny - does that make me an insensitive mother? - except at 3 AM when I just want her to clamp on and get down to business.

Also, if she was a little worked up at the start or before nursing, she'll also grumble while she starts to nurse. This is entertaining, too. She is actively sucking and, at the same time, making a little gritching complaint sound in her she wants me to know she's not quite over it yet. That I need to know she does not approve of how this all went down, and I should work harder to get it right next time.

All of this is only amusing because she really doesn't ever cry for very long - and is very responsive to our attempts to comfort or distract her. We really have found Harvey Karp's five S's - from the ridiculously named The Happiest Baby on the Block - to be helpful. We do the loud shushing in her ear all the time when she starts to fuss. It's sort of amazing - her eyes get wide, and she stops wailing usually immediately so that she can listen intently - like there's some secret message she needs to catch in its entirety. Swaddling also really helps her calm down. She'll often wiggle and wriggle to free an arm, but she is instantly calmer when she gets swaddled.

Again, I feel, in typing all this that I am cursing us, that Ila will throw all this placidity off and shake herself into a roarin' and wailin' baby who is not comforted by anything. I suppose one take home message in all of this is how little control I have...I just have to accept that I have no idea how this little being will change...and how our days will unfold. I feel like I've typed this sentiment about 50 times in this makes for serious redundancy...but I guess that's the deal with life lessons: there are, like, three and you just learn them over and over. We'll see...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

So, that was really, really hard. (A story about labor.)

About a month ago, I had a baby. Labor. Hmmm. What to say? Where to start?

It really fucking hurt.

I guess that's a start. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting - I mean, I keep telling myself that it would be intense and painful...but I guess that's all pretty abstract and theoretical until you feel it. All I know is that all the classes and the books did not really give me any notion of what to do. I know they help a lot of people, but I felt my labor didn't really progress in a manner that made a lot of it recognizable from the descriptions. I mean, I know everyone's labor is different, but I felt mine didn't conform to anything I'd read or heard. Maybe everyone feels that.

On May 30th, by the middle of the day, I felt like I was sort of having contractions...well, not exactly contractions - my abdomen would get hard (uterus contracting) periodically...and I had crampy feelings in my lower abdomen, but not really coordinating with the contractions; instead they were kind of constant but bearable. The Friday before this, in the middle of the night, I thought my water might have broken. We went in to the birth center and had a ph test to see if I was leaking amniotic fluid. I wasn't - so, I was relieved that we weren't on the clock. (If your water breaks before labor - which is rare despite depictions in TV shows - you have about 12 hours to start labor naturally before they want to induce you.)

Anyway, over the next couple days, I felt mild contracting of my uterus...I had been joking with Kiyomi for days that I wouldn't recognize a contraction when labor really started...and it turns out I wasn't exactly wrong. All of Sunday afternoon, I sort of vaguely tried to notice when a contraction was starting...or how long it was...and they were very amorphous and didn't seem to peak...or have any kind of regularity. Sometimes they didn't even feel like a distinct contraction - just sort of intense cramping for four or five minutes.

Now, we took basically three separate birth education classes...and none of them really prepared me for the indistinct, hard to follow contractions. I mean, we finally decided to go to the birth center at about 10:30 PM because I just felt pretty awful. I still hadn't had any clear, timeable contractions. I thought that might mean that I wasn't really in labor yet. Nope. I was halfway dilated and completely effaced when I got to the birth center. My water then broke and after this, labor picked up. From about 11:30 to 2:30 AM, I had LONG (90 second to 2 minute) contractions very close together. After these three hours, it eased up a bit...and I thought, foolishly, that maybe it was the end of the first stage and I would be pushing out the baby soon (second stage of labor).

HA! I had another 3 excruciating hours of long contractions that were often only a minute apart. I lived up to all the cliches - I screamed some, I moaned that I couldn't go on, that I didn't want to go on, I asked about medication. Finally, the midwife checked my cervix and, encouragingly told me that I was at 9 centimeters (10 is when the second stage is going to start). I, very grumpily, told her that that last centimeter could take another hour. I wanted to tell her to fuck off...but I didn't.

Finally, I started pushing. This, according to books and many people's stories, is a relief...and that it is an "overwhelming, inescapable urge" and that "your body takes over." I wish. I felt that it was intensely difficult work that I had to FORCE my body to do. It took about an hour and a half to two hours...the last 40 minutes of which, everyone else could see Ila's head (just a little sliver of it at first). They were all saying, encouragingly, "She's so close." It took all my will to not tell them all to go fuck themselves because I knew she was not really THAT close and that I had a LOT of pushing to go. I wanted to shriek, "Tell me when her goddamn head actually comes out!" Every contraction, I kept thinking, "Is this it? Will her head come out now??? How many more contractions???" Of course no one can tell you that...but, god, I wanted to know so badly.

Finally, her head did come out - and thanks to the midwife's direction and my pausing during crowning - I only had a very small tear. Yay! The one small victory of my labor! After another contraction or so, the rest of her body was born and I had her on my chest. That was amazing. I loved her intensely immediately...I don't even really remember looking at her, I just held her against my skin...and it felt completely and wonderfully right.

Unfortunately, the third stage, delivery of the placenta, which is supposed to be sort of barely noticeable, was complicated. It wouldn't come out and I kept bleeding. I lost probably between 1 and 2 liters of blood while they tried to get the placenta to birth...and then prepared me for the ambulance ride to the hospital. At the hospital, I got an epidural - as anesthesia before going to the OR to have my placenta removed manually. Ouch. About three people had already been rooting around in my cervix for the preceding hour (which is horrifyingly excruciating, in case you were wondering), so I was ready for some relief.

The irony of receiving an epidural AFTER labor did not escape me...nor did the lovely numbing sensation of the epidural itself. I found myself thinking, "Why didn't I want one of these during birth? What's wrong with a medicated birth?" (My friend Jenny commented, when I told her these thoughts, that she'd had the thought, "Why didn't I want a c-section? Why can't they just take the baby out?" after her natural vaginal labor.)

In the OR, they were able to remove the placenta pretty easily - and eventually I received a blood was draining (ha ha) and intense, but everything went smoothly after the whole loss of vast quantities of blood debacle. I was very...sort of drunk with love for all the nurses and doctors in the OR. I told the anesthesiologist that the epidural made me react like I did when I drink - I felt so much love and appreciation for all of them for helping me. He was amused...and I think kind of charmed because he kept making jokes with me while Dr. Mead dug around in my uterus.

I couldn't really think about the labor without shuddering for about 2 or 3 days. I felt like a failure...because I really wasn't able to use any of my breathing work or any of the strategies I'd practiced for labor. I just never got ahead of the contractions...they were fast, hard, and so vaguely shaped compared to everything I'd read...I just wasn't ready at all. A few people from my birthing classes have commented that their births were "smooth" and their partners have said these women were "calm and focused." I just felt like I was barely hanging on, to be perfectly honest. And, although it was the scariest part, the whole placenta thing and loss of blood did not frighten me at all compared to my memories of the pain and how incapable I felt at handling it. I know it's very harsh and critical of myself to say this, but I think I felt embarrassed at how "badly" I handled the pain. I just was completely floored by it. They say that the second time is easier...but I am going to have to get a LOT further away from it before I would consider doing it again. And by "further away" I mean, I will possibly consider labor again after a bout of amnesia!

I am so grateful that Ila and I are both well...and, obviously, it was worth it to have this little sweet pea in my life...but I am still finding it sort of challenging to integrate that experience into my memory...I didn't think I had a clear set of expectations for birth. I didn't have some specific scenario in my mind; I even thought that was sort of foolish because you have so little control. Maybe that made me feel superior? Well, I discovered that I obviously had SOME expectations...even if it was as simple as, "I will be able to tell when contractions are starting. I will be able to relax at all during labor." I am curious to see how I reckon with all these thoughts and feelings as I move away from them...and I am curious to see if I actually ever want to try it again...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Relaxing, sort of.

So, I haven't been working for the last week and half. Basically, I made it through the 14th. All these women I work with kept saying that they worked up until the due date, when I said I was taking off the last two weeks of my pregnancy. It's weird. Should I feel like a weakling? No, I'm just better at resting! It's a skill - a talent, really.

Actually, last week I ended up doing a lot. A lot of little errands and things...but I could punctuate all these tasks with naps, so it was pretty nice. Now, in my second week off, I am finding that my motivation has waned. I really just want to lie down...sort of all day. I guess I should lap this up because I'm about to have my hands full.

In my lounging hours, I have been watching some very questionable TV. So, I go through long periods where I don't really watch much TV...and then when I tune back in, I am always fascinated by what I find. For instance, A&E seems to have become the network of severe psychological disorders in the last year or so. I mean, there's the show on hoarders, the one on OCD and the show Intervention about addicts. What I love is that there are marathons of these shows back to back. Isn't it too intense to watch 7 straight hours of people who are severely broken? I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm as fascinated as the next voyeur, but, on paper, it seems weird to be like, "Let's show 24 hours of people who are profoundly and deeply struggling with simply being alive day to day."

I have been steering clear of the shows about babies and birth. I sort of want to watch, but I just feel all...antsy about when it's actually going to happen for me. I've started to realize I kind of don't even think it IS going to happen. It all seems so theoretical. Also, I am not sure I'll recognize early labor signs at all. I mean, I feel so many weird little pains and contractions now...I think I'll be in the thick of it before it clicks that it's all started.

I had quite an awful dream last week. I dreamed that I woke up to find that I had had the baby in my sleep. Now, those of you nervous about the pain of labor may think this was a good thing, but the dream was hideous. I woke up and the baby was all blue and cold - I realized that it could have been born hours before and was just alone and freezing to death. It was terrifying. Well, I hopped up and made Kiyomi fill the bathtub with warm water. I got in with the baby and she was okay...but I woke from this dream very unhappy.

In fact, in the last week, I've been having more thoughts that something will go wrong with the birth and the baby will not survive...or will be severely injured. It's so crazy because the baby is so close - only inches away from me - and yet it has quite a long journey to make it safely to the outside. Sometimes, I also think something might happen to me - like I'll have to have an emergency hysterectomy and will never be able to have another child...if we want one.

I'm finding that I remember all the stories and movies I've seen where something terrible like this happens. I saw this movie Everything Put Together with Radha Mitchell like ten years ago. The woman's baby dies...and it's a pretty psychologically intense depiction of this woman's break down. For years, I don't think this film crossed my, I keep seeing snippets of it in my head. Jesus. I can't believe how much I can remember. Crazy.

I guess this is normal. Apparently a lot of women have fleeting, anxious thoughts about what may go wrong. I've just had very few so far, so it's intense to have them now. I feel like...I don't know...the gods may not want me to be as happy as I am. I feel so lucky to be healthy, to have had a healthy pregnancy, to have a baby on the way, to have such a loving partner, and such wonderful, generous, kind friends and family. (I especially feel this after watching an episode or two of Hoarders or Intervention!) I mean...doesn't it anger the gods to see mortals happy?

And, what does this say about me that I think the powers of the universe want humans to be miserable? Hmmm.

I guess I should just enjoy it. Whatever "it" is...this week of calm...this time to relax...these blessed circumstances I've been born into...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

(Me at the computer!)

The other day Kiyomi was visiting with her colleague and friend Pam. (And by "visiting," I mean making Pam get all weepy talking about the baby coming). Anyway, after the last tears were shed, Kiyomi was leaving her office when Pam shouted down the hall to Kiyomi, "Let me know when Margaret starts labor." Two other women (strangers) were near Kiyomi and smiled and asked if Kiyomi was expecting. She replied that her partner was expecting. Then, one of them said, "So, you're going to be a.........parent," finally finishing. The moment was a bit awkward, but they both then congratulated Kiyomi after she said, "Yes, I'm going to be a mother." Amusing.

Well, we're not quite in time for this Mother's Day - which is fine, baby, stay in there! - but today I am officially full term! That's 37 weeks for those folks who haven't been reading What to Expect when You're Expecting closely for the last year or so. So, now were are free and clear to deliver at the Birth Center should I go into labor. That's a relief...though, I still believe she will come a little late. I hope to make it at least through the 19th - my last day of work!!! But, these things aren't really up to me!

I am a bit tired of being pregnant. It's just an occasional thought - sort of creeping up on me. I'll think, "Oh soon I won't have to pee 4 times at night..." or "I won't have this stuffed and suffocated feeling after I eat shortly!" Really, I haven't been miserable, but some days are hard. I don't feel huge when I look down at my stomach, but, gods, moving is harder! And my pubic symphysis is in full revolt at this point. When I turn from side to side in bed, I'm forced to grunt and moan as a claw my way over because my whole pelvic region is behaving as if it has just seceded from the union and no longer really needs to heed the direction of my northern half. And, once I've yowled my way over to the opposite side, I usually have to pee. Getting out of bed is also a grunting and creaky, I find myself longing for a catheter...or even a bed pan at these moments. For some reason, I am much more sore at night - maybe it's all the lying still? But, fortunately, I really am still feeling pretty alright most of the time!

Despite feeling okay, it's so hard to get much done...and, the reality is, I will be able to do even less in a few weeks with a little constantly eating, and pooping infant. So, I'm trying to just let the house get filthy and learn to live with it. I mean, I can barely clean now...and I won't be cleaning much, my recent thought has been just to immerse myself in clutter and untidiness as a preparation. We'll see how that goes! In fact, right now, I should clean the bathroom and finish the laundry...but I might just go have a nap!