Monday, May 23, 2011

The Waiting Game

Hypersensitive to my son's cries, I routinely wake up at the slightest sniffle, snort, or wail. Unfortunately, my son does not. Night after night, I find that in the time between hearing him complain and getting to the door of his room, his face has returned to a peacefully slack visage. Because I am trying not to raise a second child who wakes up two-three times a night until the age of two, I now spend at least an hour or two each night shuffling between bed, the bathroom, and Benjamin's room, trying to wait until he's actually awake to pick him up out of bed, change his diaper, and feed him. In fact, minus the actual baby, it's not a whole lot different than when I was pregnant.

I even tried not changing his diaper, in an effort to wake him less and try to shorten the length of time I was awake with him (and therefore, he was awake with me). That effort was rewarded the next time I fed him by a soaking wet baby, blanket, sheet, and mattress pad. Every. Time. I. Tried. It. And I tried it numerous times, hoping for a different outcome each time. Adding insult to injury, even when I woke the poor kid by changing his diaper (which includes exposing his delightfully warm body to the cold night air), he was sometimes still too sleepy to eat well--and thanked me by waking up two hours later to eat vigorously and intently.

Short of sound-proofing Benjamin's room, I'm not sure how to curtail my own night wakings. One thing it makes me acutely aware of is how "normal" it is to wake at night--and even to want to wake someone else to share the insomnia with. Already I can thank child #2 for helping me better understand child #1--even though I stand firm on insisting both sleep in their own rooms, with the doors closed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Booby Traps

When I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed my child. I cringed at the thought of formula-feeding--not just my baby, but any baby. I was an insta-advocate. I don't know why I was so convicted, or where I got the idea that formula was poison, or how I became such an advocate for breastfeeding, both in the personal and political sense. But I was, and am, and I armed myself with knowledge and support long before my daughter was born. I bought a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and read it cover to cover during my pregnancy. I looked up my local La Leche League Group and began attending meetings even before my daughter was born. I chose a pediatric physicians' group that had a lactation consultant on staff, and I made sure I knew who the independent lactation consultants in the area were. I thought, as with preparing for an unmedicated childbirth, that if I were educated, I would be prepared to beat any challenges that presented themselves.

What I wasn't prepared for were the bruised and battered nipples that were a result of my daughter's narrow latch and vigorous suck. I wasn't prepared for breasts the size of cantaloupes, or the pain of carrying around cantaloupes in my bra, or the difficulty a baby might have latching on to cantaloupes, or cantaloupes that could spray milk two to three feet in every direction during letdown. I wasn't prepared for my milk to let down at random times and soak my shirt, such as when I heard other people's kids cry, I saw a sappy commercial on television, or I heard an ambulance siren, and I was less than thrilled to realize I would be wearing nursing pads in my bra for as long as I would continue nursing. I wasn’t prepared for the fever and chills that could accompany plugged ducts, the pain and swelling that signaled mastitis, or the daily breast maintenance that was required to avoid both of these.

As it turns out, I wasn’t prepared for a lot.

While my pregnancies may not have been pretty, I have been blessed with many things: easy labors, quick deliveries, and an overabundance of milk. I didn't realize just how abundant my milk supply was with my daughter, because I had no occasion to pump my milk on a regular basis, and never around the clock for any 24-hour period during the entire 26 months of our breastfeeding relationship. When our son was born five weeks early, he spent two weeks in the newborn special care unit, so I began pumping every three hours around the clock from the time he was born. The postpartum nurse was proud of me when I pumped a full ounce of colostrum three hours after delivery, but I cringed, remembering how difficult it had been to regulate my milk supply for Ella. And yet, I worried about not being able to pump enough milk for Benjamin, especially since we were separated and would only get to spend at most eight hours a day with each other, and not even with skin to skin contact. So, I dutifully pumped for 15-20 minutes every three hours around the clock. By the third day, I was bringing enough milk to the nurses that I had filled up two drawers in the hospital's freezer. When I came in the fourth day, the nurse told me I could start leaving what I was pumping at home, at home.

When I started feeling like I was carrying a ton of concrete in my bra engorged barely two hours after I last pumped, I started paying attention to exactly how much milk I was producing. Within ten minutes of pumping, I had ten ounces between both bottles. I started doing the math, and realized that if I was pumping eight times in 24 hours, 10 ounces each time, I was pumping 80 ounces of milk per day. I knew newborns didn't drink much and vaguely remembered the nurse showing me small balls that represented the size of their stomachs at one week, one month, and so on, but I didn't know what a "normal" amount of milk was. I did, however, know that I had more than whatever “normal” was. I immediately contacted the hospital's lactation consultants, who practically choked when I told them how much milk I was producing and how painful my breasts were. When I filled them in on some of the oversupply challenges I'd experienced with my daughter, they immediately suggested that I change my pumping routine, and that I begin drinking sage tea.

So, I started “pumping to comfort”--meaning, I tried to only pump for about 5-7 minutes, since in that time I was still producing at least 5-7 ounces, and since “comfort” being a relative term, I couldn’t gauge by that standard. And I started drinking sage tea. It’s like trying to enjoy a relaxing cup of chicken stock--only without the salt. Needless to say, it’s not the most palatable drink. Thankfully, I didn't mind the taste, especially as a sage-peppermint iced-tea sweetened with just a bit of honey, because I needed to drink about 8 cups of it a day in order to keep things under control. And if this time around was going to be similar to the last time, it would take 2-3 months before I could safely cut back, and then completely stop, drinking the tea.

When the doctors at the hospital finally gave the okay to bring Benjamin home, I was anxious about establishing our nursing routine. Everything I’d learned the first time about not using pacifiers or bottles until nursing was well established had to be revised, since in the newborn special care unit they don’t spoon- or dropper-feed breastfed babies, and since sometimes the paraphernalia required to keep the little ones alive and well restricted the ability to soothe and comfort them by touch, a pacifier was the only tool available to keep them calm. In addition, the lactation consultants at the hospital had recommended I use a nipple shield to help Benjamin latch, since he was so little and trying to nurse required so much energy. Everything was about energy--he couldn’t expend too much energy trying to eat or else he’d burn up all the calories he was taking in. 

I fully expected, given what I had learned with Ella, what I was learning from the hospital staff, and what I was experiencing with Benjamin, that I would be tethered to the pump for weeks. I worried about finding time to pump milk and nurse Benjamin while trying to also care for Ella. While I knew I had the determination to help Benjamin become a successfully exclusively nursing baby, I was exhausted just thinking about how long it might take and how frustrating it might be to get us to a place where we could just sit down together and nurse, when my breasts didn’t feel like rocks an hour after nursing or pumping, when I could just pack up the damn pump, throw away the nipple shield, and forget about the bottles altogether. I knew the day would come, but I assumed it would take weeks.

The funny thing about knowledge is this: no matter how much you know, there is always so much more to learn. And luckily, some things don’t even need to be learned. Because for everything I knew, my son knew better. Before he’d even been home two days, we had stopped using the nipple shield. Within four days, he was nursing at almost every feeding. By the end of the week, not only did I not need to pump, but my 36F cantaloupes had shrunk back down to a far more respectable and familiar size.

I keep learning again and again that when it comes to parenting, you can never really be prepared; knowing about the booby traps so that you will be equipped to avoid or deal with them is the best that you can do.

Monday, May 16, 2011

(Not) Sleeping as a Family

When Benjamin came home, Ella had been sleeping in our bed for at least half the night, more nights than not. So, with the baby sleeping in the bassinet next to our bed, we found ourselves spending at least half the night with four people in bed. And while I loved the idea of everyone snuggling in close and feeling safe and secure, what I didn't love was the amplified snoring that I found myself listening to at 12, 3, and 6 am. To make matters worse, my son was a grunter. He grunted and groaned all night long, adding a strange cacophonous melody to Mike and Ella's rattles, rumbles, and snorts.
Since the lactation consultants at the hospital had me terrified I would miss a hunger cue and allow Ben to get too worked up to eat, I misinterpreted every grunt, groan, and sniffle I heard that first week as a hunger cue. My sweet, mellow, go-with-the-flow baby went with it, and dutifully nursed every time I woke him up. Which, I realized, was exactly what I was doing: waking him up. Because I was already awake, listening to the throaty musical in my bed, I was hypersensitive to the noises he was making. Instead of waiting until he was truly awake to snatch him out of the bassinet and bring him into bed with the rest of us, I was preemptively feeding and changing him. In thinking about the way I'd reacted to Ella when she came home, I now realize why she didn't sleep through the night for two years--because I wouldn't let her!
Determined to do things differently this time, we started talking to Ella about how it was time for everyone to get back to sleeping in his/her own bed. I warned her that when Ben was big enough to sleep in his crib in his room, Ella would need to go back to sleeping in her own bed all night long as well. So, wistfully, after three weeks home, baby Ben was sent off to his room to sleep. Of course he was still waking up every two to three hours to eat, but at least now I slept in between each feeding--and did a better job of waiting until he cried to get him out of bed. Like Ella did as a baby, though, he cries intermittently while still fully asleep, so I still feel like I am ready to get him before he is ready to be gotten. And I still don't know what a full cry sounds like, despite having him home for over a month now.
When grandma came to visit, I worried that Ella would jump at the chance to regress and jump back into our bed the first chance she got, so we set up her trundle bed in our room, on the other side of the bassinet, which we hadn't yet moved from the room. For the few days that grandma visited, we all returned to the family bedroom, and yet somehow we all slept better, perhaps because we knew it was only a temporary arrangement.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Farewell Diaper Bag, Hello Scrunchie Tote!

Best. Bag. Ever.
By Ubiquitous Mom from Fairfield, CT on 5/13/2011
5out of 5
Pros: Great Color, Good Organization, Attractive, Easy Access, High Quality, Good Strap Length, Enough Compartments
Best Uses: Computer, Anytime, Carry-on, Diaper bag, Traveling, Shopping
Describe Yourself: Stylish, Modern, Practical, Comfort-Oriented
Was this a gift?: Yes
I asked for this for Mother's Day because I wanted a bag that could be used as a diaper bag/kid bag/all-around everyday purse kind of thing. Packing for a four-year-old and newborn baby means a lot of random stuff that I want with me pretty much all the time, plus it's nice to throw a few things for me (wallet, notebook, cell phone, etc.) in as well.

I was so excited to actually pack the bag tonight. The front velcro-closure compartment is perfect for those things you want to grab in a hurry--keys, gum, tissues--and the enormous bucket-like inside pocket has great compartments on both sides. I love the oversized zipper pocket, and the smaller pen/miscellany holder on the other side is great too. I can even fit my Macbook in it with everything else!

This is really going to be a great bag for traveling as well as daily use--it's large enough to use as a carry-on with snacks, changes of clothes for the kids, and anything else I can think of! The straps are the perfect length and the bag sits really securely and comfortably on my shoulder--no slippage! If it holds up half as well as my messenger bag did, I'll be psyched.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Doctor's Orders

While most experts recommend women wait at least three weeks after a vaginal birth to begin any postpartum exercise, and it is recommended to wait at least three months before resuming any vigorous exercise classes or regimens, by the time five weeks had rolled by in a blur with our second, I started getting antsy. Unlike after my first child, I didn't feel like my insides were going to fall out if I walked more than half a mile. My body wasn't as tender and I didn't feel as fragile this time around. What I felt was flabby. And since I wasn't having any luck sleeping when the baby was sleeping (seriously who does???) I figured I might as well start taking advantage of the beautiful May weather by resuming the three-mile walks I'd been doing before the long, hard winter hit. After successfully completing the first three-miler, I figured it was probably safe to start hitting the weights. I not only wanted to get out of the maternity pants that were too big on me but still the only thing (aside from yoga pants) that fit, I wanted to lose the last twenty pounds and then some, just for good measure and because I wanted to get the body that I never managed to achieve after my first pregnancy.

The reality is this: I have no business exerting myself with strenuous exercise because it leaves no energy, patience, or strength to make it 24 hours around the clock with the baby and a four-year-old. While I may be able to get up to nurse the baby every three hours through the night, what I can't do is get up to nurse him and then stare lovingly into his eyes for the next hour and a half while he tries to figure out how to go back to sleep, then get up the next morning and start the cycle all over again. The self-pride I had earlier in the day when I made it through Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred workout paled in comparison to the fact that I threw my baby into grandma's arms, told my husband to give him a bottle when he got hungry, and trudged my sore ass to bed at 8:00 pm. I have been running out of steam by four p.m. most days, and can't seem to find the time to catch a nap. So, although my brain may be misinterpreting exhaustion for restlessness, it's obvious my body isn't quite ready to keep up the pace. I think tomorrow's exercise will be limited to lifting the remote control for the television.