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!