The Babies!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Waiting for Snow

So it seems there is a big winter storm headed in my direction. Every year, we get a couple of these dire winter storm warnings for southeast Virginia and they usually amount to a dusting of snow that melts as soon as the sun peaks out from behind the clouds. But it seems like this time it might be the real deal with a possibility of up to twelve inches of snow. I'll believe it when I see it, but I love the sense of anticipation of a winter storm. A week ago, I was going a bit stir crazy from being cooped up in the house with a baby and a bug (the sickness bug, not the mutant cockroaches I wrote about last weekend). Now, I'm kind of looking forward to nesting for a few days.

It's a been a good week, give or take a couple of late nights of baby fussiness. I've gotten out of the house every day this week-- which didn't seem possible a month ago. Funny how things change. But Patrick has gotten a little older and is a little more predictable, which makes scheduled outings a little easier. I've gotten my coffee fix several times this week, which is lovely. Oh, how I've missed my coffee! Between pregnancy, gestational diabetes and a newborn, I haven't indulged my Starbucks cravings nearly enough in the past six months. (Though I do wonder if Patrick absorbs the caffeine by osmosis while we're there because his fussy nights seem to coincide with a trip to Starbucks.) Getting my coffee, doing a bit of writing and plotting, seeing some friends, feeling like I'm finding a new routine-- it all goes a long way to improving my overall mood.

Patrick is eight weeks old today and weighing in at a whopping 13 pounds. He goes to the pediatrician next Friday for his two month checkup, so I imagine he'll be weighing a little more by then. It's not all sunshine and rainbows (those fussy nights are truly exhausting and my back is in a permanent knot), but it's gotten more manageable. Enough so that when I saw my doctor earlier this week for my postpartum appointment, I mentioned that we might actually consider trying for another baby in the next year. Crazy, huh? Crazier still that my doctor was positively delighted. We'll see how I feel in a few more months. Two babies under two? I think the sleep deprivation is getting to me.

So here I sit on a Friday night, baby sleeping beside me and snow on the radar. I'm soaking beans to make a hearty bean soup for tomorrow and I'm feeling the urge to bake a pan of my kickass brownies. I got a writing check in the mail today and I got to see Jae and Shannon's baby girl tonight. There are things I wish were different, a certain melancholy I just can't shake, but life is good and peaceful and (for the moment) quiet.

Bring on the snow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Magic Six-Week Mark

We've passed it, actually. Patrick turned six weeks old on Friday. I have heard that six weeks is the magic milestone where babies (and life with babies) get easier. Of course, some people say it's eight weeks, others say it's three months. At least one person told me six months, but that balances with the one person who told me two weeks. Still, six weeks seems to be the most frequently quoted age. I'm here to report... they're right. Sort of.

After Patrick's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day last Tuesday, the week took a turn for the better. In fact, every day since Tuesday (knock on wood and whatever superstitions necessary) has been a pretty good day. By pretty good, I mean there have been no extended periods of fussiness or crying, no times when he couldn't be consoled by holding, rocking bouncing, changing or feeding him. After last Tuesday's all-day meltdown, this is a minor miracle not to be taken for granted.

The icing on the happy (or at least content) baby cake is that Friday night was the first night that I was able to put him to bed without a prolonged bout of fussing and crying. Previous to that, every night was a 2 to 4 hour chore of trying to get him down for the night. He's been sleeping in his crib since day 1, but he naps downstairs in his rocker during the day. The transition was a bit of an ordeal, no matter what time I attempted to put him to bed. I thought maybe it was something about his room (too quiet, too warm) or his crib (too big, too flat), but he wasn't having any problems sleeping once he was actually in there. I still don't really know what the issue is, but I've found the fix-- or at least a fix that has worked for the past three nights (and I'm knocking on wood again). Last night was his best night ever in terms of going to bed easily and not needing to be soothed once he was there. Of course, today he's waking up every hour or two and eating more than usual, so I assume it's his six-week growth spurt. He's fussier than usual, but nothing like last Tuesday. This is manageable and I don't feel like I'm losing my mind.

So yes, the six-week mark was a turning point of sorts. But I don't know if it's because Patrick has gotten easier or because I've recovered from having him and gotten a little better at this parenting thing. He is certainly interacting more with me-- smiling occasionally, making prolonged eye contact, snuggling against me-- which helps. But he's also crying and fussing less. Is that because he's six weeks old or because I've figured out what to do to keep him content? I don't know, but I'll take it.

This is not to say that it has gotten easy. Hardly. I'm exhausted and averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night. Part of the problem is how long it takes me to fall asleep-- if he sleeps for 3 hours, I might sleep for 2. Last night, he never slept more than 2 and a half hours, so I never slept more than an hour before I was getting up with him again. Tired. So very tired.

I had a much needed break planned for Saturday, with a massage and a movie scheduled, but my plans were derailed by illness (my generous babysitter, not me). I didn't realize how much I was looking forward to a break until it was taken away. Talk about inconsolable (me, not Patrick). Jay is nudging me to hire someone for part-time childcare. I keep thinking if only I had a few hours to myself I'd be able to forge ahead for another month, but I can't even get that little break right now. So I'm contemplating the options. I'm pretty sure I can't keep going like this until May or June when Jay gets home. The reality is that there are very few people I trust to watch my child and, for one reason or another, the few friends I do trust aren't available. I'm not sure how I can hire a stranger to take care of him, but that may be what I need to do. I've been resistant-- partially because Patrick is so young and partially because it's so expensive-- but I'm starting to think it might be the best thing for my mental health. Falling apart when a friend lets me down (even when it's unavoidable) is not good mental health.

So here we are, at just past six weeks since Patrick was a born and a month since Jay returned to Dubai. It's gotten a little easier and more manageable, to be sure. He's an amazing little creature, which makes up for a lot, including the sleepless nights and the assorted aches and pains associated with carrying a chunky baby for hours every day. I'm even managing to think about writing, editing and book promotion, so that's something. Maybe-- for right now-- it's enough.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baby Had a Bad, Bad Day

Patrick had a horrible day yesterday. He cried, he fussed, he screamed, he wriggled and fought the air with his little balled up fists. I have absolutely no idea what the problem was and, as I discovered, I had absolutely no idea how to resolve it except to wait it out. Which I did, but just barely.

With the exception of one one-hour nap in the morning and two or three fifteen-minute catnaps in the afternoon and evening, he was awake from 11:30 AM to 10:30 PM. That is a long time for a little baby to be awake. That is also a long time for a tired mama to be rocking, holding, feeding, cuddling and talking to a little baby. I fed him when he was hungry, changed him when he was wet, held him when he seemed to want to be held, put him down when he seemed sleepy, burped him, bicycled his legs for gas, kept him warm (but not too warm), checked his temperature (no fever), swaddled him, gave him a pacifier, moved him from downstairs (too much light and noise, maybe?) to upstairs, dimmed the lights, sang to him, hummed to him, stayed quiet… and nothing worked for more than five minutes to keep him calm. Finally, for no real reason I can discern except sheer exhaustion, he fell asleep (swaddled) around 10:30 and slept until after 4 AM. Thank god and whichever saint watches over frazzled mothers. Seriously.

It’s not just the crying that sends me around the bend-- though it’s certainly the main problem since I have such a low tolerance for loud noise-- it’s the constant physical contact. I’m not used to having my personal space invaded with such frequency. Yes, I know this is my baby and any idea I have of personal space went out the window when he took up residence in my uterus, but… still. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hold him when he’s calm and sleepy and warm. It’s soothing to have his little head nestled against my shoulder, his fingers clasping mine. That’s wonderful. It’s when he’s fussing and crying, when the arms are flailing about and the legs are kicking and he’s struggling to lift his head and manages to clip me in the jaw that I feel like I’m on the receiving end of a violent attack. It doesn’t seem like it should hurt, but it does. I feel like my body is bruised after yesterday. Swaddling helps a little, but he still manages to wriggle and twist and push against me so hard I have to hang on tight. It’s physically exhausting. Thankfully, my incision isn’t as tender as it was a couple of weeks ago because those belly kicks hurt.

I had my own little meltdown around 9:30 last night, holding him and praying he would go to sleep so I could get some sleep myself. It wasn’t long before he was sleeping peacefully and looking like an angel, but of course I had no idea that was coming when I was melting down. In that moment, after ten hours of constant care of a fussy baby with barely a break to feed the pets and myself, it felt like it was never going to get better. Ever. Like I was trapped in that nursery, in that chair, with that crying baby forever. Horrible, helpless feeling, that.

But today is a new day and so far, so good. He slept last night, I slept last night, the pets and I have been fed well before noon (as opposed to the 4 PM and 9 PM of yesterday), the sun is shining and Patrick is taking his usual morning nap (and waking up, it sounds like). I feel like I can do anything right now. Maybe even write something that isn’t baby-related.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bought the Ticket. Taking the Ride.

Pardon the bad picture, it was taken with my phone yesterday evening. I'm pretty sure it was Patrick's first real smile and I wanted to capture it, especially since he hasn't had much to smile about since. This will be a good reminder for those nights (tonight?) when he's been fussing for hours and I'm at the end of my rope. Patrick has been smiling off and on for weeks, but it was those little random baby smiles that appear out of nowhere (sometimes when he's sleeping) and disappear just as quickly. This time, he actually smiled in response to something I did and it lasted for a good minute or two. Until I tried to take a picture of him, of course.

It's been a rough few days of little sleep (for me) and a lot of crying (for him, though I feel like I could cry). Monday and Tuesday were lovely, but it's been downhill since then-- some bad nights with short periods of sleep and a lot of fussiness and crying and seemingly endless hunger and parts of the day that aren't so great, either. He seems to have gas after he eats, but I've done every trick in the book to help him with that and still he cries. Another growth spurt? He's gaining weight at a pretty good clip, but I just don't know. He still wanted to eat last night even after he ate three times in less than 6 hours. He sucked on his fingers, but kept losing them in his flailing, so I gave him my finger and he sucked on it for nearly an hour before falling asleep. Maybe he needs a pacifier? I'm afraid to even say the scary word colic because if this goes on for weeks or months I will lose my mind. More than one person has told me that babies cry more in the 3 to 6 week period (or 4 to 8 week period, the anecdotes seem to vary), but no one said why. Just that it does get better. I'm a fix-it girl and I don't know the fix for this except to wait it out, I guess.

Strangely enough, after fussing and crying for over 5 hours last night, he slept from 1:30 until almost 8:30. That's almost seven hours after two nights of not sleeping longer than two hours and never having slept longer than four and a half. I didn't sleep anywhere near that long, of course. It took me at least an hour to unwind (listening to a baby cry is stressful and I have a low tolerance for noise), then the dog woke me up at 6 and then I was freaked out that Patrick hadn't woken up, so I had to check on him. He was fine, so I went back to bed and did get about another hour of sleep before he started making wake up noises (and I honestly think he would soothed himself back to sleep if I hadn't gone in to get him). There's a part of me that wonders if he did wake up in the middle of the night and I was just too exhausted to hear him and that makes me feel impossibly guilty. How would I know? He didn't seem any more hungry than usual this morning. I figured he was just worn out from the past couple of bad nights.

When you have a baby, his bad days are your bad days, so I'm a bit of an incoherent zombie today. I did get a bunch of stuff done around the house yesterday because his late morning and afternoon naps were peaceful (if short). I was running on some magical reserve tank of energy that I don't want to examine too closely for fear it will fail me when I need it. Despite the previous bad night's sleep, I felt pretty good and positive about the day until around 6 PM when the cycle of fussing, feeding, crying, soothing, fussing started again. (Which was, coincidentally enough, about 20 minutes after the above picture was taken.) I guess that's something, though. A few good hours in the midst of the chaos. And, despite how tired I feel now, I did actually get about five hours of sleep last night followed by another good hour, so that's about twice as much as I've been averaging. I suspect it's depression and not fatigue that's making me feel tired today, since I don't know how the rest of the day and night are going to go. I'll rally, though. I always do.

I'm looking forward to that mysterious time frame known as "it will get better." Hopefully sooner, rather than later. I was spoiled for those two weeks when Jay was home and I was getting a stretch of sleep every night. I even got used to the 2-3 hours between feedings of the past couple of weeks (punctuated by a couple of very bad nights). Can't I have those back, at least? (Yes, I'm whining.)

I'm not complaining, truly. Okay, I am, but I don't mean to. I'd love to write about something else and as soon as my brain isn't foggy and I can think of something else, I will write about it. I know it could be worse (that dreaded colic-- I've heard anecdotes of it lasting nearly around the clock for weeks) and I'm grateful for these little stretches during the day where I do get a few things done and manage to feel somewhat human, if an incoherent human. And I have that little smile above to remind me that it isn't all crying and fussing, even if it seems like it sometimes.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about my blog post title, Alison Tyler has a post today titled "Buy the ticket. Take the ride." It has nothing to do with babies and sleep, but it seems to fit my situation. I signed up for this and I even knew what I was in for (minus the absent spouse, the Cesarean section recovery and the inability to resolve every bout of crying), so I can't complain now. Buy the ticket. Take the ride. Yeah.

It's a hell of a ride, I'll tell you that.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Letter to Patrick, One Month Old

My sweet Patrick,

You’re one month old today, baby. On this very cold January day, you and I are at Starbucks—one of the few places I’ve taken you—and mama even brought her computer for the first time. Of course, I’m writing a letter to you instead of getting any real writing done, but it’s still quite an accomplishment right now for us to get out of the house! We are a team, you and I, until your father gets home from his deployment in Dubai. I’m counting on you to be very forgiving as I make mistakes over the next few months. After all, I never changed a diaper before you came along—and even then you were four days old before I changed the first one! Despite your young age, you probably have figured out I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe that’s what those little smirks are that you give me sometimes—I just thought it was gas!

It’s been amazing watching you grow and change this month. You have outgrown most of your newborn outfits and have developed a little round belly and chunky legs. I’m not worried about your weight the way I was in the days after your birth. You no longer feel like a fragile newborn, though you are still so small and helpless and your head wobbles around if I don’t support it. You still have that adorable “startle” reflex where you throw you arms up in surprise (often while you’re sleeping), though it doesn’t happen as often as before. Thankfully, you sleep pretty soundly through the dog barking and the phone ringing and the television commercials that are so much louder than whatever program I might be attempting to watch in between feedings and laundry.

I’m so very tired, baby. I know that’s the way it’s supposed to be with a newborn and I try not to complain, but how I wish I could sleep more! It was certainly easier before your father left—having two people to take care of you made it seem almost effortless. But it’s been just you and me for the past two weeks and the exhaustion is a bit overwhelming at times. I never take it out on you, though I did have to put you down and walk away for a few minutes one particularly bad night when you were gassy and crying, but I can’t say the same about others. Everyone and everything gets on my nerves right now and I know it’s sleep deprivation and hormones. I’m recovering quite nicely from your birth, but I will be happy when you’re sleeping a bit longer at night and my hormones stop careening around out of control.

You’re too little for toys just yet, but you do love to stare at the ceiling fan. You’re also quite fond of lights—whether it’s sunlight through the window or the Christmas tree lights before your father took the tree down. Even the light from a lamp will mesmerize you for awhile. We bought you a swing before your father left, but you didn’t like it very much so we exchanged it for a simple rocker to put in the living room. You seem to like that well enough, especially when I rock you (it’s manual, so I have to do the work). Perhaps when you’re a little bigger you’ll enjoy the rocking and vibrations and music of an electric swing. It’s okay if you don’t, though. I’ll keep rocking you in the rocker for as long as you like it. Sometimes it soothes me as much as it soothes you.

You love your hands and wave them around like a symphony conductor or a painter wielding a brush on an invisible canvas. Sometimes you thrust your fist in the air while you’re sleeping, your lips pursed defiantly like a little rebel. I wonder what you’re rebelling against in those baby dreams? There are pictures of you with your hands in your mouth just moments after your birth. I love that you are a self-soother, even if it means that you resist being swaddled. I hate that you had to self-soothe in the hospital because I was in recovery and couldn’t hold you. But you’re already showing your inner strength, my sweet boy, and you took care of yourself when I couldn’t. I think your fondness for using your hands is a hint that you will end up with some streak of creativity. I can’t wait to find out what form it takes.

It’s incredible how much you look like your father, from the strands of blond and red in your brown hair (which seems to have a bit of curl to it—perhaps that’s my contribution?) to the dimple in your chin. I have always had a hard time telling who babies look like, but I have thought you looked like your father since I saw your sweet face on my 34 week ultrasound. You certainly act like your father’s son—collapsing into a deep sleep after you eat and maintaining a relatively good natured demeanor even when your newbie mother messes up some crucial aspect of your care. If you grow up with your dad’s personality as well as his looks, I’ll consider myself the luckiest mother in the world.

Recently, you’ve been giggling and smiling in your sleep, giving me a taste of what’s to come. I’m looking forward to that first real smile you give me. It will be a hard won reward, I think! I’m in no hurry for you to grow up though, baby. I know that as much work as it is to take care of you now that it will be even more demanding when you’re mobile! I’m very content to wait for those big milestones until your father comes home and can experience them, too—and give me a break! Your mama is a bit of a free spirit and it’s been a big adjustment having to give up my freedom. You’re worth it, no doubt, but I look forward to leaving you in your father’s capable hands for a few hours—or a few days.

I’m sorry your father isn’t here to experience all these newborn moments. He wants to be, I promise you that. And, with luck, this will be the only time in your childhood that he won’t be home with us. The Navy has given us a good life, but this is not at all the way I wanted it to go, with your dad only here for the first eighteen days of your life. He will be home in June, if not sooner, and everything will seem a bit easier. He’s very good with you and has more patience than I could ever hope to have. That will come in handy when he’s teaching you to swim—and to drive.

Most of the time, you are an easy baby and I’m so grateful for that. You have only had a handful of bad nights in the past month—four, I think, including one night in the hospital. New Year’s Eve was pretty bad. You stayed up longer than you ever have—nearly eight hours!—and I decided that you just wanted to ring in the new year with me. Of course, I could have done without the crying (and on the one night when I actually had people over—such is the way of babies, I suppose) and bottomless hunger. Perhaps it was a growth spurt rather than a need to see the ball drop, hmm? I have no experience with babies, but I hear that some of them cry a lot and, with those few exceptions, you certainly don’t. I’m especially grateful for that, sweet Patrick. I love you dearly, but your inconsolable wails on those bad nights broke my heart. I hope nights like that are few and far between. I’ll try my best to make sure you never have a reason to cry.

I bought a bunch of books when we were expecting you so that I would know how to take care of you. Unfortunately, I’m so tired most of the time I can’t do more than look at them sitting on the bedside table and hope I’m not scarring you for life as I bumble onward. But I do have friends who give me bits of advice here and there, and that helps. And there are some things I just seem to know about taking care of you—like how to hold you when you’re fussy or to start a bottle when you make certain little grunting sounds and start gnawing on your hands. I’m starting to gain confidence that I can take care of you by myself, which means we’ll be getting out of the house more (once the weather warms up—you are only a month old, after all). My strength is coming back and I’m probably gaining some muscle in the process of lifting you and your carseat in and out of your father’s truck! How I wish I could put you in my Miata—I think you’d enjoy riding in a convertible when you’re older. (I’m not-so-secretly hoping you have a bit of your mother’s free spirit in you!)

At some point, you’re going to realize your parents are not like your friends’ parents. In the first place, we’re terribly old. In the second place, not only are we still married, but we’ve been married forever! Hopefully these attributes will count in our favor, even if we did name you after the dog. (But you have two middle names, so you shouldn’t mind if we gave you Henry’s name as one of them. He’s a pretty wonderful dog, after all.) We may not be traditional parents (and I’m most definitely not going to be a traditional mom), but we have big plans to show you the world and make sure you have a wonderful life. I think you will inspire both your father and me to take better care of ourselves so we can keep up with you. What adventures we’re going to have!

There was a full moon on December 31—the second full moon of the month, which makes it a blue moon. I wanted to remember that so I could tell you there was a blue moon in the month you were born. You are the kind of baby that comes along once in a blue moon and I am lucky you are mine. It’s getting late now and it is bitterly cold outside, so I better get you home before you wake up again and wonder why your crazy mother still has you out at Starbucks.

Happy one month birthday, Patrick. Mama loves you.