Friday, May 15, 2020

Giving birth during COVID


I’m a little reluctant to share my birth story because I think there’s enough panic out there right now for pregnant women, and there are so many people who are having perfectly normal births despite the circumstances. When people ask me how it went, I tell them it was hard but we’re fine. And we are fine. I’m usually a results driven person, so I tend to focus on the outcome and not the process. So it’s natural for me to tell myself that it’s fine because in the end I am here and I have a baby and we are okay. 

But I’m also not okay. The actual birth was a perfect storm of circumstances that led to the worst few hours of my life. It’s going to take me a while to process it, but right now I’m just accepting that it was scary and I can feel angry about it. 

I was scheduled for a c-section on Wednesday, which I knew was pushing my luck because Thursday was my due date. But Adrian had been a full week late and I really wanted to schedule with my own doctor, so I decided to do that thing where you trust in the universe and just believe that it will be okay, which is very out of character for me. I told myself that this baby would wait, I visualized a smooth hospital experience. I knew Dustin wouldn’t be allowed in the actual OR with me, due to the COVID precautions, but he would be there as I was prepped and he would be there in the recovery room. We asked my mom to self-quarantine for two weeks prior so she could come up and watch Adrian for the day. Our back up plan was to drop Adrian off at her in-home daycare, which has been closed since mid-March, but had offered to watch her during the hospital stay. 


On Sunday I packed a small hospital bag, and typed up an obsessively detailed explanation of Adrian’s schedule, food options, and stuffed animal preferences. I got in bed around 9pm, feeling peaceful and truly believing that this whole trust exercise thing was working, looking forward to our last couple days as a family of three. And then my water broke. Thanks, universe. 


The contractions started right away but they were still 10 minutes apart. I talked to the L&D nurse and she said to monitor for an hour. I called my mom and told her I was pretty sure this was it. I showered and washed my hair and got dressed. By 9:45pm the contractions were 3 minutes apart and I knew we couldn’t wait to go to the hospital. My mom got in the car and we called a friend who lives close by to come sit with the baby monitor until my mom could arrive. We were at the hospital by 10:30pm. 


I was prepared for the screening at the hospital entrance, where they check your temperature and ask a few questions to assess COVID risk. But when Dustin tried to pass through they stopped him and told him that partners weren’t allowed in L&D until the patient was actually admitted. I tried to explain that I was having a c-section and was definitely going to be admitted, but they told him he’d need to wait in the car for the time being. I was so desperate to get upstairs that I accepted it more quickly than I might have otherwise, but I remember standing in the elevator alone as the doors closed and just crying. 


I went through the intake process and got settled in a triage room by 11pm. A frazzled young doctor came in to check on me, apologizing and saying that they were really busy that night. I was 5 – 6 cm dilated and having contractions every 3 minutes and he confirmed that my water was ruptured. The next hour is a blur. I was in a lot of pain, more than I remember from my labor with Adrian. The contractions were starting in my lower back and wrapping around my abdomen and I was feeling like I couldn’t manage them. A nurse came in and put in an IV, the doctor came back and swabbed me for COVID. I have never come closer to hitting a medical professional than when he reprimanded me for not holding still enough while he was reaming my brain out through my nostril and I was having a contraction. By 11:45pm I was starting to panic. The anesthesiologist was still busy, the pain was increasing quickly and I was starting to feel like I needed to push. With Adrian, I’d managed the contractions by having Dustin watch the monitor and tell me when a peak was coming and talk me through it as it eased off. I tried to do it alone but everything was hazy. I was distracted by pain and couldn’t figure out which monitor was tracking the contractions and which was tracking vital signs. All I could hear was the baby’s heartbeat, thumping and speeding up and down. I wanted to get up and move. I called out for the nurse and told her I needed to get up and go to the bathroom. The doctor came in and asked if I was saying I needed to push and I told him I didn’t know but I couldn’t sit here. He sighed and said he’d check my progress, telling the nurse as he was gloving up that he was only checking because I said I needed to push. And then he said what you probably least want to hear when someone has their hand inside your body, which is “Oh shit.” He told the nurse to get me into the OR immediately, that I was over 8cm dilated and they needed to move. The nurse reminded him that the anesthesiologist wasn’t free yet and the doctor said they’d get him to meet us, and if need be they’d just put me under general. 


At this point I freaked out. Looking back I realize it wasn’t totally rational, because I was at a good hospital about to undergo a routine surgery. But I was suddenly terrified that I was going to die. I didn’t trust the doctor, there was no way I was going to agree to general anesthesia when I was alone and had no one to advocate for me or the baby. I was in so much pain, and I thought about bailing on the whole surgery but I knew that if I did I would be having a completely unmedicated birth, possibly alone, and I was in no way prepared for it. I’m not sure I can really communicate the level of desperation I was feeling in that moment, when it just seemed like I didn’t have any good options and no one was listening to me anyways. 


I was in the OR by midnight and the luckily the anesthesiologist was the kindest and most reassuring presence I’d encountered since I got to the hospital. I was sobbing and telling him I wasn’t sure I could hold still for him to place the spinal block. My contractions were coming every two minutes and they felt like they were ripping me apart but somehow he managed it and as the pain from the contractions eased up my mind started to clear a bit. The surgeons came in and there was some consternation over the fact that my COVID results hadn’t come back yet and they tried to figure out what to do because they didn’t feel like they had enough time for everyone to get the additional PPE needed if I did have COVID. Just as they were deciding to move forward as is, the results came in negative and everyone cheered. The rest of the c-section was uneventful, and pretty similar to Adrian’s, except that I was alone and the surgeon was less communicative and I cried a lot more. Ian was born at 12:39am and we were in the recovery room by 1:30am. I thought Dustin would be allowed up but they told me that he’d have to wait until we were actually taken over to our hospital room, so I held Ian and just luxuriated in the knowledge that we were both alive and safe.

I was moved into a room around 4am and Dustin was allowed up. They reminded us that he was allowed to stay as long as he wanted but once he left he wouldn’t be able to re-enter. We were already prepared for this and knew that he would be staying for the day and heading home in time to put Adrian to bed. We were worried about how she would react to both of us suddenly disappearing when we were the only two people she’d seen in two months. 


I still don’t know if that was the right decision. The first night alone was incredibly difficult. Ian was having trouble regulating his blood sugar, and they needed to test him before every feeding, and then they wanted me to triple feed him each time (breastfeed, hand express and feed with a cup, then give formula). At this point I had been awake since 7am on Sunday morning, nearly 48 hours without any sleep at all, and I was starting to feel like I was losing my mind. He cried most of the night, and instead of being able to just feed him on demand I’d have to call and wait for a nurse to come in each time for the blood sugar checks and they kept reminding me that if he didn’t get three good readings in a row they’d take him to the NICU and I wouldn’t be able to see him. I was struggling just to be able to sit up with the c-section incision, and having to get up to change diapers and walk him around the room felt like a brutal physical endurance test. 


On Tuesday morning when the doctor came to check on me I just couldn’t stop crying. Physically I was okay, and able to move around, but I was deliriously tired and missing Adrian so much and just feeling like I couldn’t take much more. The doctor told me that she’d be willing to discharge me earlier than normal, as soon as Ian was cleared to go home. And then Ian miraculously got a couple decent readings in a row and the pediatrician agreed to discharge him. We were out at 1pm on Tuesday and I have never felt so relieved. 


The first week at home was hard, of course, with a very active toddler and a newborn and the c-section recovery, but I did much better than with my first one, probably because I was more aware of how careful I needed to be. 


In our second week we’re settling into a routine and just missing the presence of family and friends. I’m so grateful for how well Adrian has handled the transition. She’s excited about her baby brother and just loves seeing him. It makes my heart ache to not be able to lift her up, but it isn’t as bad as I was expecting. We explained to her that I have a boo-boo and in a few weeks I can lift her again, and in the meantime she can always snuggle with me on the couch and I’ll read to her. 


In retrospect I would have scheduled the c-section for 39 weeks, I would have gone to the hospital immediately instead of waiting for an hour. In short, I would have trusted my own instincts and not just hoped for the best. 

Again, I don’t think that my situation is representative of giving birth in this time. My labor was moving quickly, there were way more patients than usual which spread all the staff thin, and it would have been a stressful and painful situation even if everything else in the world was normal. The only difference COVID made is that it was a stressful and painful situation that I went through alone (and that’s huge – I know that it would have been so much better if I’d had D with me to talk me through it and help advocate for me). I am grateful that everything worked out, and I’m also allowing myself to acknowledge that the process was really fucking hard and it’s okay for me to not feel okay about it.


If you’re pregnant right now and feeling anxious, I will say that the L&D department felt safe, so the precautions do seem to be helping. Every hospital has different restrictions and they change as the current situation changes, so I think the only thing you can do is keep in touch with your doctor as the birth approaches so you know what to expect. And if it’s at all possible, I would recommend having someone with you. I thought (and still think?) that I probably could have handled the scheduled c-section on my own, if I had my own doctor and I wasn’t in labor it would have been hard and sad but okay. But laboring alone was terrible, although I admit that I’m not the best candidate for it, since I had an emergency c-section pretty early on with Adrian and was not mentally prepared to labor with this baby. Right now, I am just very grateful to be home with my family, and the birth experience gets a little further away each day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Loss and closure

Summer 2019 was a whole thing.

I got quarantined by the department of public health due to possible measles exposure and wasn't allowed to leave my house (thankfully lifted after a week when they were able to run additional tests and confirm that I had immunity but it was a whole bunch of drama).

Dave died at the end of July, almost 11 years after the accident that made him into a totally different person. The actual death was sudden, although it feels strange to describe it that way when really it feels like it happened in slow motion. I used to mark the anniversary with a post each year but I stopped after year six, when I realized that nothing about that situation was fixable and I needed to spend some time working on acceptance. What that really meant, for me, was accepting that Dave was gone in most of the essential ways. I never was able to let go of the resentment I felt for the new person that took his place. I've tried to stop feeling guilty about that. If we're being honest, the new person was generally an asshole. That wasn't Dave's fault, and it wasn't the new person's fault, but it wasn't my fault either and it was the truth. It's hard to keep loving someone who is more often than not, obstinate, irrational, and mean. In many ways, I still resent that person, because I feel like the last decade has slowly stolen even the memories of Dave away. If he'd died in the accident, it would have been sudden and horrible and we would have grieved deeply but he would have been frozen in time at that moment. Instead, the memories of Dave pre-accident are all buried and mixed up with years of resentment and ambiguous grief. Now that he's truly gone, I'm hoping I can slowly let go of the anger and try to remember him as two separate people. Brain injury is complicated and individual and it'll probably take all of us years to process this experience. I feel like this paragraph reads as cold, a strange, dry ending to what was a huge chapter in my family's life, but that's where I am right now. I have some work to do, clearly.

Moving forward to unambiguous grief, our beloved Circe died in August, and we're still missing her feisty presence every day. At 14.5 years old, she'd been dealing with complicated health issues for a while, and we'd finally gotten a definitive diagnosis of Cushings disease just a week before. That Saturday I'd put Adrian down for a nap and I was freaking out because we'd just noticed the telltale red spots that signal hand, foot and mouth disease, and I was anticipating all the misery that would entail. So I was standing in the kitchen feeling stressed when Circe walked in, stumbled and then collapsed on the floor. I panicked, cradling her in my arms and shouting for Dustin. She was alert but not able to stand, so I rushed her to the vet's office, crying the entire way. They ran tests and checked her out but nothing was "wrong" - other than the clear fact that she couldn't walk and seemed to be getting less responsive. She was peaceful and didn't appear to be in pain so I decided to bring her home and let her pass in her own time (although we did call a vet who could come out to our house to euthanize her, in case she started to seem uncomfortable). It was a bizarre day, because we were hosting a family birthday party and everyone arrived just minutes after I rushed to the vet. So I came home, with a dying dog, and we just took turns holding her all day and eating cake while watching Adrian's spots get progressively worse. Circe finally passed away in our bed, early Sunday morning. We took her to back to our vet's office because I couldn't stand the thought of having her taken away by strangers. Our vet was there when we arrived (she doesn't work on Saturdays so we hadn't seen her the day before) and she hugged us and cried, and told me she'd reviewed Circe's chart first thing that morning and she felt sure it was a stroke, which was what I'd suspected as well. I'm still struggling to adjust to not hearing her little nails click as she walks around the house, to not having her snuggled up against me at night.

circe + squirrel

And yes, I know it's strange to post about losing a person and losing a dog in the same breath, and I realize that I'm grieving Circe far more than Dave right now. That's where I am. Missing Circe is uncomplicated, pure grief and it's easier to process. She was such a constant presence in our lives, and I'm grateful that she was happy right up until the end, and I feel lucky that she had her stroke on a Saturday because I don't know how I could have handled the irrational guilt if I'd come home from work to find her there alone.

Loss comes in so many shapes, and my struggle is always to accept it, to let myself feel it and to stop trying to rationalize it.

P.S. - Adrian did indeed have a raging case of hand, foot and mouth, and I can say with authority that having to wake up multiple times a night to slather cold yogurt all over your hysterical toddler in the bathtub (because you read somewhere that maybe, possibly, it could help) provides a bit of temporary distraction in the midst of grief, or at least makes you wonder what the fuck you did in a past life to deserve this.

P.P.S. - I know I keep promising posts to people and then forgetting to write them. I'm sorry! If I promised something and didn't do it, let me know! I have a bunch of drafts that I'll try to revisit and polish up when I get a moment (although my moments are few and far between these days).

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Traveling with a 16 month old

UntitledI was super nervous about our first cross country trip with a toddler. Adrian is an extremely active (read: rarely sits still) 16 month old and I was dreading the 5.5 hour flight. We didn't get her a separate seat because we are cheap and I knew we'd be spending more money getting to and from the airports.

For this trip we were flying into NYC and spending five days there before taking the train down to DC and staying there for three days. We were visiting friends, so we didn't have a crazy long list of places we needed to see and we tried to balance out activities we'd enjoy (museums, happy hours) with things she'd enjoy (splash pads).

I am definitely not an expert but I wanted to share some of what worked for us on this trip, in case it's helpful to anyone else.

I know I should probably break this post up but all I have time for right now is a brain dump. I'm sorry!



Packing - I tried to keep it light but there's a certain amount of baby gear we just needed. This is what we packed (in addition to clothes and diapers).
  • Travel crib (Baby Bjorn) - I like this one because it's pretty lightweight vs. a pack 'n play. You can almost always find them on Craigslist, which is what I did. 
  • SlumberPod - this was a game changer. I can post a more in depth review if people need details but let me just tell you, this magical black out tent + the exhaustion of vacation somehow got her to finally drop her middle of the night bottle and sleep straight through. I had been dreading the process, and hoping that she'd just decide to do it on her own and guess what - avoidance totally worked! This time. Not sure I can recommend it as a general life strategy. (Heads up - this product is still fairly new, and I had zero luck finding one used so I had to suck it up and purchase it full price. It was worth every penny.)
  • Hatch Rest - wanted to keep her sleep environment as familiar as possible. 
  • Baby monitor - I know it seems over the top to travel with it but I really prefer being able to see what she's doing in there. 
  • Travel stroller - I bought a Summer Infant 3D Lite because it folds up fairly compactly but still reclines. I found one on Craigslist easily. We ended up not doing many on the go naps but did use the recline if she needed a little time to chill out.
  • Baby carrier (Ergo) for getting through security and making it easier getting on and off the plane. 
We opted not to bring a booster seat or high chair and it was fine for us.

Transportation - getting to and from the airport is so much more complicated with a baby because of the carseat issue (and the extra luggage, ugh). I really, really didn't want to take a carseat with us, because I knew we weren't going to rent a car on our trip and we were already lugging around a travel crib and a stroller. We do own a lightweight carseat (Cosco Scenara) which is a good option for travel but still a large thing to haul around if you aren't going to use it every day of the trip.

Driving/parking at LAX - I used a valet type service, where you swing by and pick up a driver on your way to the airport, get dropped curbside in your own car, and then they park the car for you and pick you up when you get back to town. It was pricier than self-parking (about $30/day vs. $12 per day) but so worth it. No waiting for a shuttle, no transferring your luggage. It saved us at least 45 minutes and a lot of schlepping on each end, which doesn't sound like a big deal unless you're traveling with a tired baby.

Getting from Newark to Brooklyn - I sucked it up and hired a car service and I was so grateful. The ride ended up only taking 35 minutes and they had a comfy, very clean car seat installed. I used Empire Limo.

Getting from Brooklyn to Penn Station - Lyft with car seat (this is an option in NYC). It's also legal to go without a car seat in the city but personally I wasn't comfortable being on the expressway without one.

Getting to the airport in DC - Uber with car seat (Lyft doesn't do car seats in DC, weird).

Surviving the flight - I think the best advice I read while I was preparing was to just accept that at no point during travel will you get to relax. I went into it with that mindset and it was better than I expected. Adrian doesn't like sleeping on the go, but I did manage to coax her into taking a one hour nap on the way over, so we felt like we got a little bonus break. Other than that we were definitely ON the whole time and she did pretty well. Our seatmates on both flights complimented her traveling skills, which was nice because I'd been so stressed out in the week leading up to our trip.

We prioritized flight scheduling over all else, which is why we ended up flying into slightly inconvenient airports. On the way over we took a 7am flight, which did mean we had to wake her up a little early but also meant she was more likely to take a nap on the plane, and ensured we'd be all settled in before bedtime. On the way home we took a 4pm flight, which meant that we landed just before bedtime. She fell asleep in the car on the way home and we were able to transfer her to her crib and she slept right through the night. We avoided red eyes because we both hate them anyways, and because we knew Adrian would struggle to sleep well in an exciting environment. I'd rather deal with a toddler who skipped a nap than a toddler who only got a couple hours of overnight sleep.

For the flights themselves I did pretty much all you can do, which is to pack new toys and books and slowly bring them out as the flight progressed. We also packed snacks but A is not super food motivated, so that was not as useful to us. What worked for us:

Window clings (monsters) - these were the biggest hit and totally saved us. They held up really well to multiple uses and we'd stick them all over the wall of the plane and on us and let her peel them off and restick them. I did NOT stick them on the back of the seat in front of us, because I knew that wouldn't end well. We did our best to pretend the seat in front of us didn't even exist so she wouldn't start touching it. I am completely failing at finding the exact ones we bought, but searching for window clings will turn up a million good options.

New board books - Adrian loves books so I will find any excuse to pick up a few new ones.

Pill box full of small snacks - I read this tip somewhere. I got a one week pill organizer and put blueberries in each slot (plus some for refilling). She enjoyed opening and closing all the slots and we'd get 15ish minutes out of each session. My one hesitation with this was that it's probably a bad precedent, teaching her to eat things out of pill organizers. But then I realized that if she manages to get her hands on a pill container she is 100% going to eat whatever is inside of it, regardless of whether she's done it before, because she's one of those kids who has to put everything in her mouth and we always have to be incredibly careful about what we leave lying around. Soooooo I'm still on the fence with whether or not this is good idea, honestly.

No mess marker book - not a huge hit. She hasn't really hit the coloring book stage yet, and this didn't hold her interest. I just grabbed a random one from Target but apparently the Melissa & Doug Water Wows are the ones you want, FYI.

Buckle toy - semi-interested? She loves the buckle on her backpack but wasn't as interested in this toy. Maybe a couple months too young for it.

iPad - we packed my iPad and downloaded a couple things from Netflix as well as the Petting Zoo app but it wasn't a huge success. We haven't started giving her screentime at home yet (I'm not against screentime but we both work full time and only have a few hours with her each day, so it hasn't felt necessary/helpful) and it just doesn't hold her interest right now. On the way home they still had the little TV screens in the seat backs and for some reason she was way more interested in that, so we put on some kids movies and they helped distract her a bit. Have to say, I am really looking forward to the day when we can just put on an in-flight movie and she'll be fully absorbed for a few hours. 

Other stuff we had on hand that we didn't end up needing - crayons + paper (didn't use them), post it notes (apparently kids like to play with them but I think the cling films served the same purpose), bandaids (ditto).

Things we did NOT do: Use our tray tables. Allow her to walk in the aisle (or get out of the seat for any reason other than one quick diaper change). We know our kid and I'm 100% sure that if she knew the tray table existed she would want to open and close it a million times and there would be angry tears when we told her no. Same with walking the aisle. For me it's just easier at this age to not let her know things are a possibility vs. trying to enforce reasonable boundaries/limits, which are incredibly hard to explain to a stubborn toddler. I don't mind working on limits at home but I wasn't willing to do it while trapped in a flying metal tube with a hundred strangers.

What I wish I'd done: Remembered to grab a steamed milk in the airport before take off. I meant to but got distracted with gate check stuff and that sucks because it would have helped her nap more easily on the plane. There's no milk on board the plane. On the flight back I had some shelf stable milk cartons which was great for the flight but hell for security. You're allowed to bring fluids for babies but because the cartons aren't clear they have to open them for testing OR one of the parents can opt for a full pat down. Thanks to D for taking one for the team but the delay sucked. Next time we'll definitely just buy milk in the airport.

Handling the time change: The joy of traveling west to east on vacation is that we didn't have to change her sleep schedule. So she slept from approximately 10pm to 9am, with a nap from 3 - 5pm. She'd been slowly transitioning from two naps to one nap for a couple months, vacation was actually a great way to fully move to one nap because she was so distracted in the mornings. The later bedtime (and wake up) was lovely because we could eat dinner at an adult hour and then sleep in a bit in the morning. We had initially thought she might nap in her stroller if she needed a morning nap but we quickly realized that she was doing great on one nap, so we just made a point of always getting home by her nap time. She took a cat nap in the stroller once, but that was it.

Random tip: When we got to NYC we picked up some shelf stable milk cartons at Whole Foods (same kind I keep in our earthquake kits) so that we'd have them available in the diaper bag. Adrian doesn't normally drink milk while she's out and about at this point, but all the excitement and distraction made it harder to get her to settle down and eat real meals, so she'd sometimes get overly hungry and having quick access to milk was a lifesaver. Yes, you can buy milk cheaper in a corner store but that doesn't help when you're trapped on the subway due to a train delay. We only had to use the cartons a few times but I was really glad to have them.

It was definitely a different type of vacation, and required so much more planning and strategizing, but it felt incredibly special to get to show her some of our favorite places with some of our favorite people.

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{hanging at the Met Breuer, formerly the Whitney, perpetually our fave}

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Parenting, one year in

Apparently I wrote this post back in April, then forgot that I wrote it and recently started a new post that I titled "Parenting at 14 months" (clearly, my post titles are very creative) and then ignored that post, and then just logged back in and found both of them. So I'm just going to publish this one and then maybe update again later? It's funny that this is two months old and already feels out of date. 

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Honestly, we were nervous about having a kid. I was particularly worried because I'd spent most of my twenties doing a lot of caregiving for my parents and while I wouldn't have done it any other way it was both emotionally draining and meant that I'd already been trying to balance my career with a fair amount of family leave. I was worried about voluntarily signing up for a lifetime of taking care of another person. We were both worried about upending our lives, about losing all our free time, about never being able to spontaneously go out to a bar with friends on a Wednesday night.

And here we are, one year in, and it's true - having a baby has completely taken over our lives, and we are very tired, but somehow it feels amazing.

She's the center of our world right now, and 90% of our conversations are about her and it isn't boring (to us). We still haven't figured out the babysitter thing so we haven't been out alone in a year, other than sneaking out after bedtime for a couple hours the night before Thanksgiving when my sister was staying with us, and while I'm sure it will be great to have a date at some point it doesn't feel like we're trapped. Once we got bedtime mastered it felt like our world opened up again because we get a couple hours alone in the evening most nights and right now that feels like enough.

I think the hardest part for me is feeling like almost nothing is optional anymore. I always tried to be an adult and make sure that we had a meal plan and laundry and a clean house and we managed most of those things, most of the time. But in the back of my mind there was always an option on any given night (or week, or month) to just let things slide. I could bail on the cooking and the dishes and the laundry and just lie on the couch after work and watch Netflix. In fact, after my dad died, I did that for months. I'm not saying it was healthy, but it was an option.

But the daily life of being a working parent to a baby feels like a treadmill. Our weekdays are so scheduled and there really isn't much room for error.  If I don't do the dishes tonight then there will be twice as many tomorrow and I'll have to stay up late, or D will have to do them in the morning and he'll be late to work. (He usually does the morning dishes and I come home to a clean kitchen and then I do the evening dishes so we have a fresh slate for the morning)

I wake up around 5:30am, shower and start getting ready for work and making coffee. I listen for Adrian because I'll breastfeed her as soon as she wakes up, hopefully right around 6am. D takes over after he showers and I'm out the door between 6:30 and 6:45.

I work until 3 or 4 pm, usually don't take a lunch. If I make it out by 3pm I have one precious hour and I can do a chore (at least one day a week I go grocery shopping) or take a walk outside before I pick up Adrian.

I pick up Adrian between 5 and 5:30pm, depending on traffic, and take her home. We get inside the house, and I usually try to start dinner immediately (pre-heat the oven or start rice) and then I'm going back and forth between playing with her and prepping dinner. If she's having an independent day where she's mostly interested in playing alone then I'll let her do that and I'll take advantage and start putting her lunch dishes in the sink and her daycare clothes in the laundry. If she's having a day where she wants me to focus on her I'll bail on the other chores and play with her on the kitchen floor, and hold her on my hip while I make dinner (my version of "cooking" these days is ridiculously simple because I don't want to count on having any uninterrupted time).

Ideally I have dinner ready between 6 - 6:15pm and we eat together (if D is coming home on time that night I'll just have a small portion as a snack to keep her company).

In the bath between 6:30 - 6:45pm, then pajamas, breastfeeding, a book or two, and into bed by 7pm. She usually falls asleep within minutes after I leave the room.

I go back out and watch her on the monitor to make sure she's settling and then I clean up the house, run Roomba, do the dishes, pack her lunch for the next day. This stage is so hard on clothes that she goes through a couple outfits a day so twice a week we need to do a load of her laundry. I also check back on my work email and deal with anything urgent that came in between 5 and 7pm.

D usually gets home between 7:30 and 8 pm and we eat dinner together, catch up and then he often has a little more work while I get ready for bed.

It sounds like such a grind and sometimes it is. But it's also pretty joyful. She's started getting excited to see me when I pick her up from daycare and that is the sweetest. And there are moments, totally mundane and unimportant, especially when we're all sitting on the kitchen floor on a weekend and the light is coming in and it's warm and I just feel like nothing has ever felt this right in my life.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

One year

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My baby is turning one this week and every single thing I can say right now is a total cliche. I marvel at her every day, I can't believe we get to do this, that she's ours. I love her little face so much that sometimes I scare myself. She is walking and has a few words (agua, mama, dada, baba - which could refer to Circe, her pacifier, or my boobs, we're having trouble figuring that one out). She is just the sweetest.

Also, I'm exhausted a lot of the time. Sleep training was a godsend for us, but we still have bumps here and there and let me tell you, it is SO much harder to recover from a couple nights of truly bad sleep when your average sleep is still not that great. I usually feed her once or twice a night which means my best case scenario these days is generally one 4 hour stretch plus a shorter stretch. And then she basically refused to sleep for a couple nights the week she took her first steps and things got dark quickly. I know I'm probably going to need to night-wean for my own sanity at some point, but it feels so hard to take that step!

We decided not to do a big birthday party for her this year (read: we waited so long to decide that we ran out of time) but we had close family over for coffee and donuts on Sunday, in honor of her favorite book Please, Mr. Panda. Also in honor of our lack of time, because this was pretty much the easiest party ever.

Did I want to run with the donut theme and make it adorable? Hell yes. Did I have time for that? Hell no. The week before I "designed" an invitation using Instagram stories and then texted it out - the whole process took up 15 minutes of her morning nap, leaving me nearly an hour to browse donut themed party items before realizing nothing was going to arrive in time anyways (okay, I did cave and order a bag of two dozen plush donuts, figuring they'd look cute and we'd get a lot of play out of them after).

We scheduled the "party" for right after her morning nap and ran out to pick up a ton of donuts (plus some bagels) first thing in the morning. I had kind of let myself believe that I might have time to make some pickled shallots and cucumbers to top the bagels but that definitely didn't happen and it was fine.

I did give in to my desires and made it pretty by putting the food on platters and using our real plates and cups instead of buying paper. It was a little more work to clean up at the end of the day, but it wasn't too bad and it made me happy. I managed to snap a couple photos right before people arrived but then failed to get any photos of the party. Luckily our guests were on it and sent us plenty of photos afterwards and I had so much fun looking through them after we put her to bed that night.

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The stars aligned and Adrian took her naps exactly on schedule that day, which meant she was wide awake and happy for the whole party - we scheduled it based on her usual naptimes, but that's never a guarantee, so this was a happy surprise. We had some simple activities set up for the kids (crayons and paper and books in the living room, a small borrowed ball pit in the nursery which was a big hit, a bubble machine and sidewalk chalk in the backyard). Adrian was in her element, crawling and toddling all over the house and yard, watching the big kids and checking everything out. She got super excited when she saw the panda with plush donuts and immediately started trying to feed him. We took the easy route and skipped the birthday cake, figuring that the donuts were good enough. Adrian was very curious about the candle but was not super into the actual donut, so she only took a couple little bites.
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My favorite part was her big birthday gift. They have a little Schoenhut piano at daycare that she's obsessed with and I really wanted to get her one but they were way above our budget. I stalked Craiglist for months, hoping to find one used but nothing was coming up. And then three days before her party one popped up in perfect condition for $40 and I nearly cried. D had to drive 30 minutes south on a Thursday night and pick it up in a Walgreens parking lot off the 405 and I was a little afraid he'd get murdered but he didn't so it was all worth it. We were so excited to give it to her but kept reminding ourselves that baby reactions are unpredictable and she probably wouldn't be nearly as enthusiastic as we were. But when we showed it to her she totally got it and her little face lit up and she immediately sat down to start playing with it. It was the best moment of the day, feeling like we had really understood what would make her happy and had been able to give it to her. Heart bursting. We love this girl so much, and I can't wait to see what the next year brings.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Sleep training at 9 months - Happy Sleeper method

I feel like I've thought more about baby sleep than anything else since this kid was born. It just becomes all consuming. Even when she was tiny and I was home and we had zero schedule my brain suddenly turned into this nap calculating machine - how long has she been awake? how long before she needs to go to sleep again? how long did she sleep? (Side note - learning about age appropriate awake times was hugely helpful to me early on and our days improved immensely once I started paying attention to them)

My sleep philosophy is to do whatever is (safely) getting everyone the most sleep. Every baby is different, every family is different, and baby sleep goes through all kinds of stages. I have zero loyalty to any particular method. So in her short life, we've used the SNOO, we've done bedsharing (on and off starting around 11 weeks), we did gentle self-soothing training to get her in her crib around 5 months, we went back to bedsharing during a sleep regression (in her room this time, so that we could at least take turns getting decent sleep), and then we realized it was time to sleep train for real.

Why did we decide to sleep train? This decision is so polarizing, because I know plenty of people (people I love!) who fall into fairly extreme camps on this, either feeling like the baby should never be allowed to cry themselves to sleep because they'll end up traumatized, or those who sleep trained their baby super early and never looked back and think the rest of us are crazy for not doing it.

At around 5 months, it became clear to us that bedsharing wasn't working for us anymore. Before that, Adrian would happily curl up against my chest and instantly fall asleep, and sleep well for long stretches at night. But once she started rolling over, it fell apart. I think she needed more space, and when she woke up at night she'd notice us and then instead of falling back asleep she'd get excited and want to play. So we did some gentle self-soothing training and it worked! She transitioned to her crib, and sleep was up and down but overall decent for a while. She even occasionally slept through the night without waking up to eat. I could set her down in her crib at night awake and she'd quietly roll over and get into a comfy position and then just pass out. It was amazing.

And then 8 months hit and we regressed, big time. She wasn't falling asleep on her own at night anymore, and we had to hold her for a long time to get her to sleep and then half the time she'd wake up as soon as we set her in her crib and we had to start over. The other half of the time she'd sleep for an hour or two and then wake up, and the only way we could get her to sleep was by lying down with her (and then staying there all night, because she'd wake up multiple times and look for us). This was slightly bearable on the nights when she actually slept decently with us, but on many, many nights she would be awake from 1am - 4am babbling non-stop and trying to play with us. A babbling, smiling baby is adorable, but not at 1am. NOTHING IS ADORABLE AT 1AM. And when we'd refuse to wake up and play with her, the babbling would eventually turn into disappointed (and exhausted) crying that could go on for an hour or more. I can't describe the level of frustration we were experiencing. When you are doing everything in your power to comfort a baby who just will not stop crying, when you are willing to feed her and hold her (all night!) and that still isn't enough somehow - on hard nights it would get so bad that we'd sometimes just have to tap out. I'd reach this breaking point and I'd have to set her down in her crib, still screaming, my teeth clenched so hard I thought my jaw might break, and D would come in and take over and we'd just trade off every few hours until morning. We both work full time, neither of us is getting any naps during the day. The only way we were functioning was by trading places each night, with one of us sleeping with her in the nursery guest bed and one of us getting a full night's rest in our bed (unless it was one of those really bad nights in which case neither of us slept much and we both wanted to die). Since D gets home around 7:30pm, there were lots of nights were we didn't even get to see each other, because I was already trapped in the nursery for the evening by 7pm. I was starting to get depressed and a feeling of hopelessness would ramp up each evening, as I wondered if I'd get enough time to wash my face or shower or eat something before I had to go to bed. I tried moving her bedtime up, then pushing it back, I obsessed about the length and timing of her daytime sleep, her milk intake, etc. - nothing made a difference.

This was when we knew we needed to sleep train. None of us, including her, were sleeping well.

We had to wait a couple weeks to start because she and I both got a cold that seemed to last forever, but once she'd recovered we dove in, using the Sleep Wave method from the Happy Sleeper. Basically, you come up with a bedtime routine and a reassuring script and then you lay them down awake. If they cry, you go in at 5 minute intervals and say the script, then leave again, no touching. There are a lot more details, you definitely want to read the book before attempting. (Also worth noting - this method doesn't require that you night wean, if you want to keep your night feedings which was important to me since she'd struggled with weight gain).

It was hard. I heard all these stories from people who said it was heartbreaking to hear their baby cry for 20 minutes but by the third night it was all worth it! Well, Adrian cried for over an hour, for a freaking week. She wouldn't even lie down, she'd just sit up and wail, and then eventually pass out while still sitting up and then finally fall forward and that would wake her up and it would start over. By the third night she understood that our bedtime song meant crib time, and she'd start getting agitated while we were singing to her, spitting out her pacifier and trying to climb out of our arms, crying before we'd even set her down. I can't really describe how heartbreaking this was. I felt like a monster, just writing about it makes me want to cry again. But I also felt trapped - I knew that if we stopped we'd just go back to not sleeping and I couldn't handle that either. We decided we'd stick it out for two weeks and then try a different method, but it was slowly killing me and I was worried that we were just breaking her spirit. The book even says that most babies adjust by five days. But then it started gradually getting better and by day 8 she would lie down and settle herself with barely a protest and she no longer seemed agitated or upset at bedtime.

For the first month I was a crazy person and actually made us track her exact timing (when she was put down, when she would cry, when she would wake up, how many times we would go in). I also refused to ever discuss how sleep training was going, because I was terrified I would jinx it.

But we're now at 11 months and bedtime has gotten easier and easier and I honestly think this was the best decision we could have made. Our bedtime routine is short and sweet and I can lie her down wide awake and she calmly plays with her pacifier and lovey for a few minutes before falling asleep. She almost never cries at bedtime unless she's overly tired and even then it's usually just a brief protest wail before she conks out. She will cry out a few times a night during light sleep cycles but she barely even wakes up, just feels around for her pacifier and puts it back in, often not even opening her eyes. She usually wakes up to eat once a night, which is pretty manageable for us since she goes back to sleep immediately after.

I don't expect that this means we have a perfect sleeper on our hands for all time, and we've had small regressions when she's teething or not feeling great, but honestly, just knowing that we can do this, and that D and I can eat dinner and talk about our day and then actually get some sleep, is worth it, even if everything changes in another couple of months.

Things that helped:

Have some words of affirmation ready for yourself, to get through the crying. The main things that helped me were knowing that a) she used to cry like this in her carseat and now she's usually content in there b) we had gotten to a point where there was a whole lot of crying each night even when we were actively trying to soothe her, so that wasn't working either. There was going to be crying and frustration either way. I'll be honest and say I'm not sure I would have made it through the process if we hadn't already gotten to this point, where I knew we were in for at least an hour of inconsolable crying around 1am if we didn't sleep train.

Have both people on board. D came home from work early for the first week, so that I wasn't doing it alone. We'd run through the routine, put her down, start a timer because she'd immediately cry, and then pour ourselves a drink and then take turns going in for the 5 minute checks. We wrote our script on a piece of paper and taped it up on the nursery door to be sure we were saying the exact same thing.

Have a video monitor. This helped us a lot because not knowing what she was doing in there was too hard. If she was quiet, we didn't know if she was lying down asleep or just sitting up and hanging out. If she was crying, we couldn't tell if she had her leg stuck through the bars or if she was just protesting. On the other hand it's heartbreaking to watch them at first when they're crying and reaching towards the door hoping you'll pick them up. But watching how cute she is when she comforts herself by picking up her lovey and rubbing her face with it and then using it as a pillow helps. Seeing her sleep process has really helped me realize that she's a much better sleeper without us, our presence actually makes it harder for her to sleep now, not easier. We got the Infant Optics monitor because right when we were trying to decide what to do there was that story about someone's Nest cam getting hacked and it turned me off all wifi options.

Decide how you're handling night feeds. We're not ready to stop feeding her at night. Her weight gain is still slower than it should be, and while I try not to stress about it I worry anyways. The book has instructions for night weaning, but is also totally supportive of not dropping feeds and has a couple different methods. You can preemptively dream feed, based on their schedule, or you can feed on demand but only if enough time has passed. I chose to feed on demand because I want to follow her lead. It worked out for me, because during the sleep regression she'd been eating every three hours at night, like clockwork. But as soon as she started sleep training she cut it down to once per night naturally, which was amazing for me. I keep a three hour interval, because I know that if she wakes up before three hours she's unlikely to actually be hungry. So if she wakes up, and it's been at least three hours since she's eaten, I'll go in and feed her (no 5 minute interval checks, although I always wait a couple minutes before going to her, because she wakes up several times a night and resettles herself within a minute or two). I know her pattern now, so if I see that her milk intake was low at daycare, I know that she's probably going to need two nighttime feeds, but if she eats enough during the day she only wakes up once per night and she will occasionally sleep straight through. I think I'll let her self-wean, but we'll see how it goes. The main thing here is knowing your baby, I think. Adrian isn't huge on comfort nursing and she's usually really good at self-settling when she wakes up at night, so I feel fairly confident that she's actually hungry when she wakes up and sits up and doesn't lie back down. There's no real rhyme or reason to her timing - if she wakes up to eat it's usually any time between 11:30pm and 5:30am, whenever she gets hungry.

Figure out the right bedtime. We're still playing around with this a little, but we tried putting her down as early as 6pm and as late as 7:30, and what we noticed was that when we put her down earlier she'd usually fall asleep around 7pm, regardless of when exactly she was set down. So now we aim to set her down just before 7 and she is usually asleep within a few minutes. She tends to wake sometime between 6 and 7am, which works pretty well with our schedule (I mean, it would be absolutely perfect if she slept until 7:30am, but my natural wake time is right around 6am so I wouldn't be surprised if this is just her schedule).

Side note - NAPS - we still haven't tackled naps and I have no idea if/when we'll do that. Honestly, I just can't get up the energy to care. She naps at daycare just fine but at home she wants to be held. If we hold her, she'll sleep like clockwork for 1.5 hours twice a day, and she rarely fights a nap. I just sit down on the couch with her and she drifts off to sleep, no rocking or singing or cajoling. Since that's working for now I just use it as an excuse to sit down and read and get some snuggles in. If it starts feeling frustrating or difficult, we'll figure out how to change it but right now we get so little time together that it's actually pretty sweet.

Other side note - sleep aids - you'll notice in the pictures that we didn't cut out sleep aids, as most sleep training methods recommend. She uses a lovey and a Wubbanub (we have three of each - one for home, one for the diaper bag, one for daycare) to sleep and they really do help her. If she wakes up at night she immediately reaches for them and soothes herself back to sleep almost instantly. She has a strong sleep association with them because we usually don't let her have them during the day (unless she's sick or having a really hard day). Will I regret this? Who knows? We did have a mild panic last week when she discovered it was fun to throw them out of her crib in the middle of the night and then she'd cry hysterically when she realized they weren't coming back. We didn't want to go in and replace them right away, since we were afraid she'd decide it was a fun game. Instead, we'd let her cry for 5 minutes and then go in, pick her up, sneakily put them back in the crib and then change her diaper (which she does not love) so that when we set her down after her diaper change they were just there. This seems to have worked (fingers crossed) and we haven't had any throwing incidents for a few nights.

Do I wish we'd done this earlier? I'm honestly not sure. As I said above, I don't think I could have gotten through the crying if we hadn't already gotten to a place where she was crying a whole lot in the middle of the night. On the other hand, maybe if we'd done it a little sooner she would have fought it less? There's really no way to know, and I don't really care at this point.

I'm mostly just posting this to say that you are not a monster if you need to sleep train your baby (conversely - if you are getting decent sleep while bedsharing, this isn't an indictment of your method - I loved bedsharing, until it stopped working for us). I'll update this in 20 years if she turns out to be a serial killer because we traumatized her, but right now I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Standing!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

My breastfeeding experience

Whew. Breastfeeding is such a huge topic. I honestly hadn't given it much thought while pregnant. If people asked about it (and they did, surprisingly often!) I would just say that I planned to breastfeed but I wasn't going to go crazy doing it. I've seen the full gamut with my friends, from people who had it come really naturally to people who struggled desperately. But nothing really prepared me for the intense emotions that you get caught up in when you're in that zone.

Sleepy girl
{5 days old}

So I'll say it upfront. I don't really love breastfeeding. I hadn't given any thought to whether or not I'd enjoy it, I'd only considered whether or not I could physically do it. I assumed that if you were able to breastfeed without massive struggles, that it would be a lovely, bonding experience. And for lots of people it is, which is wonderful. But it's also okay to just .... not love it, or to feel a little trapped by it. Once we got over the initial hump (which is a very mild way to describe an incredible blend of tears and pain and guilt and frustration) and settled into a routine it became bearable and even sweet at times, but it's still not my favorite thing.

I feel guilty saying this, because so many people desperately want to breastfeed and can't. But there it is. My experience is probably colored by the fact that my baby doesn't seem to love it either. She's almost always all business, eating fairly quickly every 3 - 4 hours and then wanting to get on with doing something else (other than in the first few months, when cluster feeding was real).

I did struggle in the beginning and somehow I wasn't fully prepared for that. My colostrum came in the night before I went into labor (I was a week overdue, not sure if that has something to do with it) and my milk had come in by the second day, but I still struggled to get her to latch in the hospital. It hurt, so much. The hospital lactation consultant came by regularly to check on us, but she just kept saying that if it hurt it meant she wasn't latching right and so she'd pop the baby off and we'd try relatching, but no matter what position we tried it always hurt and I'd finally just say that it felt fine because I was so damn tired of trying. I ended up hand expressing in a tiny cup a few times and we tried to feed her that way. I cried a lot. After 48 hours I was so stressed about it that we called to make an appointment with an outside lactation consultant for the day after I was released. This ended up being a great decision. Seeing someone in a private setting felt really different from the hospital and for the first month she would call regularly to check in so we felt like we had support. She did pre- and post-feeding weights, checked the baby's latch, showed D how to help get the baby in position, and told me that my postpartum bra situation was an actual travesty that needed to be remedied ASAP (shockingly, the $10 bralette I purchased from Target was not cutting it). It was a splurge (about $200) but well worth it and it was FSA eligible.

I never did find a magical way to make it pain free right away or get the perfect latch, even with that help. There were a lot of tears in the beginning. And I didn't fully believe all the people who told me that it would get so much easier, if I could just hang in there. I told myself that my goal was to make it to six months, and then if I got that far I'd try for a year. I just kept trying and it did get easier and easier and around three months I noticed that it had become pretty effortless for us. She had gotten bigger and stronger and better at latching. The evening cluster feeding had started to ease off.

There have been lots of ups and downs since then, and things got really interesting around five months, when she started getting more easily distracted and we went through a long phase where I could only get her to eat by sitting in a silent, dark room. We struggled with weight gain, which took up a whoooole lot of my mental space for several months (discussed a bit here, the good news is that everything seems to have settled out - she was just taking longer to find her curve). But I also credit breastfeeding with really helping out her immunity during her first winter in daycare, which happened to also be a pretty vicious cold/flu season. And now that we're at 11 months it actually does feel fairly easy and sweet for us.

I'm not an expert but if you're in that place, where you're lucky enough that things are (mostly) working physically but the whole experience is feeling more challenging than you expected, here's what helped for me:

Get outside support. If you can afford an LC visit, that's amazing. A cheaper alternative can be a breastfeeding support group (I did this as well), or a good online community.

Do what you need to do to get through it (especially the evening cluster feeding sessions). In the early days, I would watch Netflix and simultaneously play Candy Crush the whole time. My sister's (male) doctor told her that you won't properly bond with your baby if you multitask while breastfeeding, to which I say - spoken like someone who has never had to sit alone and feed a baby for 45 minutes out of every hour, for weeks on end. Also, fuck off, sir. In my (limited) experience, there are so many ways to bond with your baby. For me, breastfeeding was stressful, but babywearing was amazing. I spent hours every day wearing her in the Solly wrap and it was the sweetest experience. We bonded just fine, thank you.

Eyes on the prize. If you can do it without losing your mind, there are real benefits to breastfeeding that might make the initial struggle feel worth it. I mean, sure, the health benefits to baby and mom are the main thing, but you know what was more motivating to me in my post-baby state? Dishes. And time. Boobs do not need to be sanitized or scrubbed, beyond a shower. They do not need to be pulled out of the fridge and heated up in the middle of the night. By the time I went back to work and was dealing with the reality of bottles I was so grateful to be able to breastfeed at night, just because it was so much less work. And the immune benefits have definitely helped during this first winter in daycare. She recovers so much faster than I do from each cold we share, and that is amazing.

So here we are, just one month shy of my one year goal. I'm not 100% sure how things will transition in the next few months. I sometimes feel a pang when I feed her right before bed and realize that these days are numbered, but for the most part I feel pretty relieved that we're close to being done and that pretty soon I won't have to think about the pumping/feeding logistics. At this point, I plan to stop pumping at 12 months, but I'm going to try to follow her lead as far as breastfeeding goes. In my dream world we would just have a night and morning session, and then taper those off, but I'm willing to see how things progress.

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{first Sunday at home}