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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another sappy rendition of how much I love my child, that, and some commentary

A recent post on doubleX has got me thinking about my initial days as a mother.

When I first read the essay, which parallels Katie Roiphe's first days as a new mother to an opium den, I marveled at the the beauty of her description of newborn/mother love. I remember feeling this way.

Apparently there was some backlash about the essay, saying that it wasn't an accurate description of the newborn days and that the narcotic effect of the pregnancy hormones doesn't last for long, then drudgery sets in.

I thought Roiphe's essay was a beautiful description of the newborn days, even if it isn't completely accurate.

Annika's birth commenced an epoch when my arms became a cradle of motherly love, depth and warmth. My breasts ceased to be sexual objects and became a form of nourishment, comfort and consolation. Gone were/are the days when the public cries of children are an annoyance.

During Annika's newborn days I remember thinking that somehow the presence of my eyes upon her face, even while she slept, was a necessity to her development. And even if I hadn't thought that, I couldn't look away. The magnetic draw to stare at her was instilled so powerfully in me that I often wondered how I would ever be able to tear myself from her side when the time came. The image of Annika's minuscule newborn fingers and toes are etched in my memory for life. I can still feel the smooth glass-like quality of her soft skin under the soft touch of my stroke.

Truthfully, I also remember having a crick in my neck so bad that only a chiropractor could alleviate my pain. Pregnancy left me with plantar fasciitis, not to mention that the newborn days are filled with worries about weight loss, and a number of other standard physical ailments left from pregnancy and labor.

I also remember crying and telling Toyin how desperately I needed to be able to leave for an hour to go the gym.

I agree with Allison Gopnik where she writes In Defense of Katie Roiphe that the essay is akin to a love poem. While Roiphe's essay may not be exact, what is significant to me is the depth of love and bonding she experienced. It is the beginning of their attachment relationship. And remembering her son's newborn days with the honeyed glow of intense craving is more important than remembering with factual accuracy how tired she was or her body's aches and pains.

I am in the throes of missing the newborn days because I see the baby days slipping away day by day as my baby morphs into a little girl.

But the feelings I felt then, the keen craving to be close by my infant, are still intense for me.

Even now, 15 months later, I ache when I am away from Annika for a few hours. This morning when I left the house, she was gone with Toyin on a shopping mission. It is the first time I have ever left while she is gone and won't be home when she gets returns.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It looks like this is going to be harder than I thought

Day eight of weaning from the human pacifier.

I made a major boo boo last night. I was the one who backslid this time. Consistency is key when trying to institute a new standard, especially when one is dealing with an almost-16-month-old who is not at all happy about the new rule. And I was not consistent last night. I pulled a fast one on Annika, which was not cool at all.

Last night Annika fell asleep on my chest nursing while I watched TV. I managed to pull her off my breast without waking her. Toyin had gone out for a rare evening to meet some friends in from out of town and I was feeling very put upon, even though he totally deserved to go out and have some fun. So I decided to keep her on my chest and continue to watch a Reba marathon. Seriously, I know, it's Reba McEntire as a divorced mom, whose adult children still live with her, and her ex-husband his ditzy wife live nearby and are always popping in and out. Sometimes I think I must have a short in my brain, but when I am tired and cranky really stupid TV shows are like crack to me.

So anyway, Annika woke up an hour later and stayed up for another hour and a half. Apparently, she wanted to watch Reba too.

When I finally took her to bed, I fell asleep and slept through the suckling. And so, two hours later, I awoke to find her on my breast still.

"Uh oh," as Annika says now.

I tried to unlatch her and she demanded more nursing. So I let her nurse.

Then, I fell asleep, again!

Two more hours later I awoke and unlatched again.

There were some tears, and I nursed her back to sleep, finally managing to stay awake so I could unlatch her.

Well, at least I'm sleeping again.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Adventures in backsliding and tearing up Band aids for fun

Here it is Friday afternoon, one week since I started weaning Annika from using me as a human pacifier. We've had a couple of not-so-good nights. But right now she is napping, alone, without a breast or a warm body to snuggle up to. She also ate a proper lunch, which she doesn't always do. So I am considering this nap a success, even if she only sleeps for an hour.

Up until Tuesday, Annika did really well with sleeping on her own at night for a few hours before I came to bed. Then hump day came along and she was no longer interested in accommodating our new arrangement. To be fair though, it was due to some congestion in her throat. So, Wednesday night, as she tried to fall asleep nursing, she kept coughing and gagging from the milk as she tried to nurse. She was very frustrated, so we got up and suctioned out her nose, blew it, and then nursed to sleep. I stayed with her.

Last night, all bets were off. She flat out refused to even try to nurse to sleep. She'd lie down with me, look at books, start to nurse and then as soon as her little eyes fluttered close, she'd roll over, hop up on all fours and smile in the most beguiling way possible and go get some books to look at. Even though it was dark and we could barely see them.

Finally we got up and went in the living room and put on Planet Earth. This was a recommendation from a friend of mine who uses the DVD to calm her own son, who is the same age as Annika. It works with Annika sometimes, but it didn't last night. She kept running around like a mad woman. We finally went to bed together at 10:30 p.m.

No big deal. See, if I've learned anything since becoming a parent, it's not that being a good parent means you have a perfect kid. It just means that you know your child. I wasn't surprised that Annika had a rough couple of nights. I've learned that sometimes I just have to give her space to do her thing. Trying to force her into what I want doesn't work. So I give in. I let her have her way sometimes and tonight, we'll go back to trying to do things my way.

Annika's new favorite thing to do is tear up Band aids. She is fascinated with pulling them out of the wrappers and then pulling the tabs off of the sticky part. But if she gets the sticky part on her, she freaks out. If anyone knows of a good toy that would simulate something like this. Please let me know.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How we got from there to here

Annika's sleep habits have been the hardest part of the first year of her life. Other than sleep issues, Annika has been a super easy baby. She's a happy-go-lucky kiddo. She smiles all the time. She gives hugs and kisses. She's curious about the world around her. She loves to laugh.

But sleep has been an issue. For the most part of her first year, I have been pretty sleep deprived. Well, after the first four months anyway.

So here goes.

I am embarrassed to admit that during my pregnancy I didn't do much reading up on sleep habits of infants. I had no idea that infants can't just fall asleep on their own. And I had no idea that they wake up a lot. I mean, A LOT. You know that saying, "sleeping like a baby?" Whoever said that was a moron... or didn't have kids... I mean.

When we brought Annika home from the hospital, the first night I nursed her to sleep, put her in her crib and went to bed. She awoke around 2 a.m. And I sat up in the rocking chair nursing her until she went back to sleep. I remember moving to the couch staring at her for awhile while she slept. I was able to carry her around and she'd stay asleep. I thought this was how it would be.

Little did I know that newborns are very sleepy during the first week or so. It makes sense if you think about it. They've just had a major move. They went through some major trauma, essentially being evicted out of the womb.

But after a couple of weeks, all of a sudden, sleep doesn't come so easily. And I quickly learned that the easiest way to put her to sleep was to nurse her all the way down.

I never planned on co-sleeping. I'd heard all of the negative things about it.

“You'll never get them out of your bed if you co-sleep.”

“They won't learn how to sleep on their own.”

Yada yada yada.

I was going to have none of that.

Well, after waking up every night around 2 a.m. to nurse and then again around 6 a.m. again, to nurse. I realized one night that I could just take her to bed with me when she awoke at 2. I decided to ignore those stupid voices in my head that said she'd never want to leave my bed. Plus, I'd been reading Dr. Sears and he promotes the hell out of co-sleeping.

I decided Dr. Sears and myself were right. It would be easier to bring her to bed with me. So I did. And we were happy. I was getting plenty of sleep. I'd wake up easily when she woke me at 2ish. She'd nurse and I'd watch her dreamily and stroke her hair while she nursed; then when she was done, I might get up to go to the bathroom; then I'd go back to sleep for another nice four-hour chunk of sleep.

It wasn't long before I was skipping the crib altogether and just nursing her to sleep in my own bed. Often, I stayed in bed with her. I was tired, she wanted to nurse. It made life easier.

I wondered why people said newborns didn't sleep well. When people asked me how Annika was sleeping, or commented on how I must be tired. I'd say, “No, I'm not tired. I get plenty of sleep. It's not good quality sleep. But I get plenty of sleep.”

I realize now just how lucky I was in those first few months. Sometimes I wish I had realized it then. But how could I have?

When I told other parents how well Annika slept, they said, “Oh you are so lucky to have a good sleeper.” In some way I knew it. But I didn't really get it. I couldn't have. I had no idea that I was resting up for what were to be some of the hardest, most tiring days of my life. Nineteen and a half hours of back labor had been a cake walk compared to this.

At this point I was just about to write that it's probably a good thing I didn't know what I was in for. But then I revisited that thought. No. It is not a good thing I didn't know. It is a very bad thing I didn't know. If I had known. I think, I hope, that I would have prepared myself better for it. I would have asked for more help. I would have done more research. I would have been better prepared and maybe it would have gone more smoothly. Maybe it wouldn't have lasted so long. Maybe she would be sleeping better now and I wouldn't have to wean her from using me as a human pacifier.

But, as they say, kids don't come with manuals.

Becoming a parent is like getting an Ikea bed off of Craigslist with no directions and no picture of the final product. You've got all these crazy parts. Everything looks the same. All the holes fit together, so you're not really sure if you've got the right parts attached to each other and just when you think you've got it put together right, you look down at the floor and see this tiny little bolt and you figure, oh, it's no big deal, the thing is put together. It seems fine.

Then you go to sleep that night and in the middle of the night the bed comes crashing down around you. You are running through the house crying because your nipples are sore and you are tired of nursing, and your neck hurts and your back aches, and you are tired of getting woken up just as you drift off to sleep, so you are trying to get the bed some water thinking that might pacify it, or maybe you just want to go to the bathroom, meanwhile the bed is screaming from the other room as if its going to die and then this random thought floats through your mind that if only you'd found where that bolt went, maybe you would be sleeping happily in a safe and secure bed right now. But you have no idea where the bolt even is anymore and even if you knew where it was WHERE THE FUCK IS THE SCREW IT FITS ON?! I DON'T KNOW!

That paragraph is a horrifying metaphor of several nights I had around the six month to eight month mark of Annika's life. And maybe a few between eight and 10 months, although I don't think they were quite as dramatic the second time around. Maybe it was because it wasn't as bad. Or maybe it was because I was used to getting woken up for the seventeenth time to nurse for five minutes or an hour, or three seconds and then two minutes later, again for 20 minutes. And then 30 minutes later just as I was about to drift off again for the seventeenth time that night OH MY GOD SHE WANTS TO NURSE AGAIN I AM IN A LIVING HELL!

Ok, so, yeah, that basically describes the sixth month, most of the seventh month and some of the eighth month.

I didn't dream at all during that time and most of the time I felt like I was living under water. The world was right in front of me, but I was detached from most of it. I lost words mid-sentence. I couldn't quite see what was right in front of me because often it was blurry, or there were dark swirly waters and waves drifting in front of my face.

I think for the most part I had just gotten used to it and started sleeping through some of the night wakings because I know that during eight months to a year, Annika still woke up a lot. I mean, a lot. But it wasn't every night. We'd have a bad night or two, then she'd sleep ok for a night or two, or sometimes a week, then we'd have a bad night again. But these nights weren't so bad because I knew what to expect. I knew that if I got up, it would just get worse. So I'd lie there and stare and think.

I found ways to enjoy the time while Annika nursed and slept. I spent a lot of time staring at her dreamily and reminding myself that she would not be this little for very long. I cuddled with her. I stroked her hair and kissed her face. I kept the light on and read parenting books. Toyin bought me an iPod Touch for Mother's Day, which was one of the best presents he's ever bought me. And he gives good presents.

So, we got through it. Now we are in a new phase. I know she might backslide and I'm okay with that. The cool thing is I've realized that these days were a good thing because I've learned a lot. I am much cooler under pressure. And I've realized that the infant days are prep work for the future. I feel like we've prepared a good solid foundation.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Update on weaning from the human pacifer

So far, so good.

I can't believe it's going so well this time. See, I actually tried this before, when Annika was eight months old. At that time, it was two months into the human pacifier habit, and I was feeling really frustrated. We went through some really rough nights around that time. So at eight months old, I tried the No Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley. This is not a judgment on Pantley's advice, I've heard lots of mamas sing her praises, but it didn't work for us. Not one bit.

Annika is a lot like me in the respect that she knows what she wants and she is going to get it come hell or high water. I admire her strong spirit, but when our bullheadedness clashes, it is not pretty. I am already thinking ahead to her teen years when I will likely be going through menopause. Lord help us all when that time rolls around. In about 15 years if Texas starts having earthquakes, you'll know why. That will be me and Annika duking it out over who gets the car that night.

So, yeah, it didn't work well at eight months. But now, it is working like a dream.

I was able to get up during her nap yesterday. I did have to go in and nurse her back to sleep once, but I was able to get up again. And SHE STAYED ASLEEP. That never happens.

Then last night, I was able to watch almost an entire movie after she went to bed.

It is truly a miraculous thing.

Balance is good. My brain is feeling clearer and the days are looking brighter. I no longer get that sense of dread when it is 7 p.m. and I have to get myself ready for bed because there is no telling if I'll be able to slip away in order to brush my teeth.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weaning the human pacifier, night two

Tonight went much easier than last night, so far.

At 7 p.m. I took Annika into the bedroom. We read three books and then she was ready to nurse. By 7:30 p.m. she was sound asleep. She even unlatched on her own. Her mouth had fallen open in a rare deep sleep where she is no longer nursing.

I waited a few minutes, then tried to get up. She started awake and immediately began to root around for my breast. I decided to let her have it. I figured I should have waited longer to try and get up. I let her nurse for five minutes. She was sleeping, but still nursing. I unlatched her.

Knowing that she was not fully asleep, I felt more emotionally prepared for what was about to happen, than I did last night.

As soon as I stood up, I could tell that she remembered last night. Even so, I attempted to sing and sway. She was having none of it. This time she fought me harder. She arched her back and wailed. She pushed away from me in a mean tantrum.

As I swung her around, trying to sing, I felt a nervous laugh well up, I tend to laugh when I am nervous.

Standing there, grimacing, with my 15-month old thrashing around upside down, kicking and screaming, I had a moment of clarity. One of those moments where you can see yourself and you are in full and total control of your actions and emotions.

I took a moment to wonder why I was nervous.

Was I nervous because I wonder if I am doing the right thing? All along this sleep process I have been listening to the advice of other attached parents. The basic idea is that most kids who need to sleep with a breast in the mouth or right up next to you with full body contact, is that they will eventually outgrow it and begin to sleep longer and easier.

Other parents have told me this and they tell you all kinds of ways to deal with it. Watch TV with close captioning on, use an iPod Touch (which I have), bring your laptop to bed with you, take turns with your partner, keep the light on and read, keep your kid up until you are ready to go to bed, get an Amby bed (it's a cradle-type contraption that sways).

All of these are good ideas, and I have used some of them over the past 15 months.

But as I stood there swaying and holding my thrashing child, I knew that continuing this way of life was not an option for me. I feel resentful and impatient when I am lying in bed with her when I am not tired, when I have other things to do. I know I will be a better mom to her during the day if I can get some things accomplished while she sleeping. I will be more attentive and happier. Therefore, she will be happier.

And I knew that Annika would be okay if I did this now, even though it would not have been okay before. She might be angry, but she will not feel scared or lonely. She knows that I will come to her when she cries out. I have told her what the plan is. She understands me. I am not always sure on what level, but she understands. So, she might be unhappy about it, but she is not confused, or losing trust, or feeling unheard. She's just pissed. I can deal with that.

Even though I listened to all these other parents and their advice for the past 15 months there was always this little voice inside my head that said, "They are wrong. You know what's best for you and Annika."

So maybe, I wondered, am I nervous because I am finally listening to myself? It's something I've always struggled with.

Despite myself, I have often ignored my inner voice. That has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.

So, nervously, I did what I knew was right for our family.

After a few minutes of struggling, I took her out into the kitchen, wiped her face and offered her a drink of water, which she angrily turned down.

We went back into the bedroom. As I approached the bed, she laid her head on my chest asking for comfort. I put my hand on the back of head and kissed her. Then we laid down, and I nursed her to sleep.

She has now been sleeping for almost an hour. Alone. Without a breast in her mouth.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weaning the human pacifier, night one

Toyin and I had a long talk tonight and we have decided, or rather, I decided and he agreed to go along with it, that enough is enough. It is time for me to reclaim some consistent me time.

I have read plenty about regular weaning and night weaning, but I haven't ever read much about what to do when your toddler is addicted to suckling your breast while she sleeps.

I have no inclination to night wean yet. But for some reason, that seemed to be the only option, until I realized what it was that I wanted the most was not so much to not get woken up in the middle of the night, but to be able to sleep next to my child WITHOUT my boob in her mouth. And most of all, what I want is to be able to put Annika to sleep and then get up and be an adult for a few hours.

When this all started around six months of age, I thought it was a phase. That's what everyone told me. "Oh, it will only last while she's teething. She'll hit her developmental milestone and she'll go back to sleeping the way she used to."

Well, here it is nine months later and she's teethed and not teethed, milestones have come and gone, and she's still doing it.

It is a habit now, a habit I need to break.

Over the past few months in particular I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. When she was coming up on a year, I figured I could wait it out. Everyone said that babies start sleeping better after they start to walk and after they turn a year old.

Maybe some babies do, but mine hasn't.

We decided to start the process tomorrow night, which is a Friday. But tonight, as I laid down with her, she fell asleep and I was able to get up. Five minutes later she was crying. I knew what I was in for. She was going to take my breast in her mouth, latch on, wrap her hand around my breast, sling her leg over mine and settle in for the night.

NOOOO, my brain screamed. NOT AGAIN! I MUST BE FREE!

So I went in, nursed her and sang for a few minutes and then pulled her off my breast. She protested with a screech and stiff body, then settled back to my breast waiting for what she usually happens. Me offering the breast.

This time I said no.

I picked her up and began to sway and sing.

Oh no, no mother. She wanted none of that. For a few minutes she screamed, arching her back, pushing away from me all at the same time leaning her head in toward my breast. This went on for a few minutes. Then we left the room to clean her snotty nose and give her a drink of water.

I did this four times before she finally gave in and nursed all the way to sleep. The last round of it, she threw herself around the bed, stiffening up and screaming and running for the door several times before she finally allowed me to take her in my arms once more and give her the comfort she was looking for.

The whole process took about and hour and half. I'm hoping it's less tomorrow.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Slowing down to smell the stillness, re-energizes

I just used up a bag of flour that I've had in my pantry for the past couple of years.

I only had it for the occasional sauce thickening agent, or... uh... why did I have that bag of flour? I guess it's just one those things that is expected. One must have flour, or you cannot consider yourself a member of polite society, or something like that.

The point is, I used almost all of it in the last month.

I actually used the flour -- to bake.

Since becoming a mother, I have gone through a metamorphosis. Recently, I have emerged with a fresh desire to actually experience such ordinary activities as eating and dressing.

I want to avoid flat, lifeless experiences like shopping in a grocery store with tinny muzak playing in the background, dead air circulating, and food rotting in piles with Sale signs flashing in front of my face.
I want to roll my own flour tortillas from scratch, and make fresh pasta.

I want to grow a fall garden and sew my own clothes. I want to keep chickens in the back yard, (yes, we can do that in Austin, Tx, I think...) so I can eat fresh eggs every morning. I want to avoid buying things that come in packages.

I realized that somehow, this all ties in to my last post here.

In my last post I wrote about how I am feeling free-er than I have in months because I am finally able to get up when Annika falls asleep.

But the truth is, it has only been recently that I have even wanted to get up again.

For the first months of Annika's life I sat with her during most naps and held her, breathed in her sweet newborn-ness. I loved snuggling with her and most nights, I couldn't wait until bedtime when I could snuggle with her tinyness. I loved the moment she fell asleep when her solid little legs would stretch out on top of my legs, her soft breath slowing, and her little eyes would shut and I could see her dreaming and happy because she was in the crook of my arms.

Something about becoming a mother has made me stop, take a look around, and really be here, right now, something I have been attempting, and failing miserably at, for several years.

Having a child has breathed new life into this world, into my world.

When I first thought about having a child, I thought I would stay at home with her, for her. Not for me. I looked at it as a sacrifice.

There is a common expression, "gift of life." I always assumed that meant the parent giving life to the child. And now? I see it the other way around.

My first attempt at homemade tortillas.