Tag Archives: Babies

Months Seven & Eight: Home & Forever

“Can we stay here forever?” Her sister asks.

She’s obsessed with the idea of forever lately. “Can I keep you forever?” is her daily, heart-wrenching request. Three and a half years, and eight months. If I could keep them forever, I would. The first time she asked, I cried silently in the darkness of our shared bedroom. It was time for sleep and I was thankful she couldn’t see my tears.

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“Mom, take this picture!” she commands and I listen because she’s right. These are moments I want to capture.

Now as we settle into our new home, I just want time to stand still. Eight months have escaped through my fingers, despite my whole-hearted desire to hold on tight. The first time, those baby months moved slowly. The second I can hardly believe I’m already chasing a wiggly body across the floor.

In April, we found out we had to move. We knew it was a temporary home, but a new baby had me more deeply nested than I ever expected. As I stood on the front porch in my pajamas, reading the notice in sleep-deprived disbelief, I felt cheated.

My baby was not even three months old and all I wanted to do was snuggle and drink her in. We were finally finding our groove as a family of four and the last thing I wanted to do was spend a month of my life packing all our worldly belongings and looking for a new place to live. Even the little strawberries E tended outside our front door pulled at my heart, tears when I saw they’d finally ripened for her the day after all our stuff had been moved.

Little did I know it was exactly the push we needed.

A couple years ago I drew a picture. Four stick people stood happy in front of a simple home with two dogs, a large garden, and chickens. The smallest stick figure was a baby I didn’t know yet. A baby we had yet to create. Nearby I drew a Waldorf school. In my mind I was drawing a life somewhere far away. Oregon, maybe. I had no idea this would all come together just 15 minutes down the road.

Around the same time we started packing, a sweet friend found out she had to move for her husband’s job. I’d loved their huge backyard and an idea hit me—maybe we could buy their house if the timing worked out. Shyly I texted her and then kept on packing. It was then I found the picture, long forgotten, but still very much alive in my subconscious.
And, sure enough, all the pieces came together. We lived with family for a few months while we waited and then moved into exactly the house I’d drawn years before. Even the mysterious fourth family member had materialized, the Waldorf school, and the chickens. To add to the magic, my friend told me her daughter had started praying for E months before we even knew we had to move. I think her prayers helped bring us here.

Sometimes life feels too good to be true. I always get nervous when I have this feeling, like if I start breathing again I’ll wake up from the dream. So as her sister asks if we can stay forever, my heart aches a little. We’re in a sweet spot right now, even as the outside world seems to crumble around us.

Month eight and she says, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” in her little baby voice, again and again. I don’t know how she’s gotten so big already, but then I look at her sister and know how quickly everything changes. If I could really keep them both forever, I would.

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Simple, happy moments in our new backyard… And, no, those aren’t both my beers.

Month Five: Good Morning, Early Bird!

19840527_10105756390933253_769463836_oEach morning as the sun rises, I feel her little body start to squirm beside me. Soft, chubby hands pat against my back, followed by stubborn, kicking feet. I stay still for a few minutes, hoping she’ll settle to sleep again. If she doesn’t, I reach over and place the palm of my hand against her belly to try to will her back to dreamland with my touch.

Sometimes it works.

More often than not, she starts to coo and giggle, ready to meet the morning with joyful predictability. She smiles wide when we first lock eyes, knowing she has won and the day has officially begun. I quickly pull her to me and skitter out of the room to protect those still sleeping. Our bedroom has become a family space and I’m enjoying the closeness while it lasts.

19814102_10105756402634803_534439573_oThe six o’clock hour belongs to just the two of us. I practice yoga on the floor while she puts every ounce of will into learning how to crawl. Occasionally she’ll get her legs just right and inchworm a couple inches forward. Mostly she just wiggles and yells, upset it isn’t coming more easily, determined to learn to move like her big sister. No sooner do I roll her onto her back for a break than she flips right back over to try again.

And again.

And again.

19830021_10105756404870323_189563233_oFinally she grows tired and I put her in a carrier to help her fall back to sleep for a cat nap. I write while she slumbers and then somehow, she and her sister both wake up at precisely the same moment, even in separate rooms. They see each other and her whole body moves in excitement. Our morning together is done and my early bird is ready to play with my lazy daisy.

Five months and already so animated, so wiggly, so smiley, and so determined. Everyone wants to hold her at parties, enchanted by her happy demeanor and thick, dark curls. A happy baby and those curls, everyone remarks, again and again. Five months and I’m starting to get glimpses of the person my early bird will become, and I couldn’t adore her more.

Month One: Settling In

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      Bright eyes, squeaky noises, and so many expressions.

E is out with Grandma and M is asleep in her swing. It’s hard to put her down but there’s more to get done these days than there was with her sister. I’m slowly accepting that second children spend a little more time on their own.

The attachment parenting voice in my head says I should hold her against me while I write, but the realist tells me to save the babywearing for when I need it, for when the dishes are piling up or I have to chase her sister. Besides, she’s peacefully asleep over there.

Everything has felt easier this time around, except for the division of attention. M receives a little less than her sister did, and E has to learn to share. A friend  reminded me E got to be the only child for almost three years. M will always have to share me. Somehow this makes me feel better when one of the girls has to wait.

There’s definitely more waiting happening around here. Thankfully E’s always happy to see her sister, even if she isn’t always happy to see me. I don’t mind, I’d rather receive the blame for the changes. Still, I’ve shed a few tears, alone in my room, remembering how we slept snuggled against each other until just a few days before her sister arrived. It doesn’t help that she still calls for me in the dark, sometimes screaming, others crying. She wants me to sleep next to her, but I can’t.

Instead, I spend my nights doing the newborn shuffle. Nursing and diapers and little blocks of sleep. M is still working on the difference between night and day. Sometimes she doesn’t settle in for a good stretch of sleep until the wee hours of the morning. The sleep deprivation is finally catching me, the cumulative affect of just four broken hours of sleep a night. Forget napping when the baby naps. I have a big girl running around this house.

That’s the thing, though. To someone who has never had children, it all sounds so challenging. I know because I used to be that person and hear these stories and think, “Oh, God, how will I ever survive that?” But you do, and with a smile on your face, most of the time.

I’m falling more in love with M each day. It wasn’t the same ripped open, crazy, knock you over feeling I had with E, but I’m certain that’s because this time I’d already transformed into a mom. With M, it’s a deep, familiar love, like it’s been there all along and each day I get the joy of rediscovering it a little more. I’d worried I couldn’t possibly love someone as much as E, but now I know you can’t compare the love for your children. It’s different, but no more or less than the other.

One month in, I still can’t believe I’m going on this adventure again. I’m doing my best to fill them both with enough love and attention. I know it’s enough, it’s just an adjustment.

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My heart is full, my eyes are tired, and it’s all worth it.

Nightweaning a Co-sleeping Toddler

Oh, sleep.

I’ve missed you.

Beginning with my fantasies of being able to press pause and take a nap during labor, my relationship with sleep transformed into something I desired without any real promise of attainment. I craved it. I daydreamed about it. I practically salivated over it.

Until recently.

After twenty months of co-sleeping and nursing on demand, I finally decided I’d reached my limit. I was fine continuing to share a bed as long as I could sleep without having to nurse every hour or two. While E had gone through stretches where she slept a few hours or more at a time without needing me, she was suddenly becoming more and more demanding again and my body couldn’t take it. Just as I always figured would happen eventually, I knew I was done.

Then, I hurt my shoulder and I was really done. Like there was no other option. I couldn’t lie on my side for hours upon hours. She was going to have to learn how to put herself back to sleep.

Now here’s the point in the story where I pause for a moment to tell you every baby and family is different. While we decided not to cry-it-out early on, I now have a new appreciation for the idea that maybe some moms need the separation earlier than others. Co-sleeping and night comforting was something that worked for us for a long time. I enjoyed the closeness. And, honestly, it was just easiest for me. We had shared a body, so it felt natural to share a bed. She was right there next to me, easy to put back to sleep. No need to climb out of bed in the middle of the night. You get the idea.

Even within the same family, moms report different techniques working for different kids. This worked for us. I’m not looking for approval or to suggest what we did was right. It was right for us until it wasn’t anymore. Of course, many people in our lives warned us it would be hard to get her out of our bed, but it was also hard for me to get out of our bed in those early months. To me, it has been worth the trade-off, even if it isn’t easy to transition her to her own space.

What we have done after two long months is get her to sleep for about 8 hours (on average) without needing anything from me. I still nurse her around 5 or 6AM and then she goes back to sleep for a few more hours. When you consider we were nursing hourly at some points in the last few months, this is a HUGE victory. However, it was hard-earned.

I’ve had a couple of moms recount their cry-it-out experiences as gentle fussing in the crib. This was never an option with E. For awhile she’d start her night in her own little Montessori bed on the floor, but as soon as you’d try to put her down in a crib she’d scream to the point of gagging. I’ve heard her gently fuss. This wasn’t it and we couldn’t take it for more than a few minutes. She would hyperventilate. She would freak out. It was too much for us so we didn’t push it.

Accordingly, I scoured the web for a “gentle” approach to night weaning. I knew putting her in a crib and walking away wasn’t an option for us, even if I’d tried it a couple times just to see what would happen, (and, as I described, could only take for a couple minutes!). So, I figured the first step was to get rid of nursing during the night and then worry about the bed-sharing afterward. Fortunately, my husband stumbled across this video and sent it to me:

Basically, the plan went as follows:

  1. Pick a 6-7 hour window to withhold milk as the source of sleep
  2. Nights 1-3 use any comforting you’d like to get her to sleep, nursing may be used to comfort but not put to sleep during the 6-7 hour window
  3. Nights 4-6 no milk during the 6-7 hour window, any other comforting okay
  4. Nights 7-9 no milk, no comforting

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to withhold her favorite source of nighttime comfort, but I had no other choice. It was time. And, it was terrible. She fought back, hard. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed, even though I was lying there next to her.

I tried everything. I sang songs, I ignored her. Nothing helped but time. While the plan in the video suggested 9 days, it really took us about 5 weeks with the first 2 being the most intense. Although the plan transitions to no comforting by night 7, it took us longer to get there as simply rolling over to “hold you” became her favorite trick.

Even now, I have to make sure I pack her full of as much food as possible during the day because she was clearly relying on night nursing for some of her caloric needs. Below are my journal entries from the first few nights to illustrate what a challenge it was:

Night One: Went to bed at 9, nursed but she fell asleep without nursing around 10, withheld nursing 5 or 6 times throughout the night, threw short fits then went back to sleep (still challenging), nursed once around 4 to relieve pressure, and again at daylight, slept in until 9:30+ and put herself back to sleep once after I got out of bed (heard her cry, but didn’t go to her)

Night Two: Ouch. We were off to an awesome start. I nursed her then used other methods to get her to sleep, (sing, cuddle, etc). She fell asleep after about 30 minutes without any fits around 10PM and slept soundly until 1AM when she woke up in a torrent. Nothing would get her back to sleep.

Unlike the fits the previous night, her screaming just kept escalating. A sippy cup helped calm her a little. Walking her around calmed her until my arms felt like they were going to fall off, (well, my right arm since I sprained my left shoulder and couldn’t put much weight on it).

Still, I kept refusing to nurse. I sang songs, tried to cuddle, until finally the screaming became too much. I asked her dad for help, (he was sleeping downstairs so he could face his workday). She just got angrier until the screaming became so intense that I felt like I was going to throw up.

At that point, I deferred back to the rules for the first three nights– nursing is okay to calm, just not to put to sleep. I calmed her with milk and then she went to sleep easily after I stopped nursing her. She slept without fits the rest of the night. I nursed her at 5AM since it was past the 7 hour milk-free mark (starting at 10PM). I just couldn’t handle another fit. She nursed again around 8AM and is still in bed now, (9AM).

Difficult night.

Night three: Repeat of night 2 but took 2 hours to get her back to sleep around 2, minimal additional waking, just one monstrous fit around 2 and a refusal to go back to sleep. Getting harder to want to keep going.

***

We basically repeated this for weeks. Some nights were fine and then we’d start all the way over again. It sucked, but I was determined. And, little by little, it paid off. We started to sleep through the night here and there. It was the encouragement I needed to keep going through the hard nights.

As she began to soothe herself back to sleep more consistently, it was amazing to see the shift. She’d cry for just long enough for me to question whether I should intervene and then magically put herself back to sleep. It made me appreciate the concept of self-soothing in a whole new way.

Eventually, she stopped night waking pretty much altogether. Now she’ll wake maybe once or twice, and put herself back to sleep quickly, as long as I’ve fed her adequately throughout the day. The other magical improvement is naps. She used to wake up in the middle of her nap and want to nurse. Now she generally puts herself back to sleep during her naps as well.

Parenting is such a personal journey. What works and has worked for us is definitely not for everyone. But, this is exactly the kind of blog entry I wish I’d read a couple months ago. It would’ve helped to hear that these plans don’t always work in a week or two. Sometimes they take months. Sometimes they take a lot of (comforted) tears. Our sleep plan is a work in progress. She’s a night owl. She’s still in our bed. But, one step at a time. I’m just grateful to be sleeping on my own clock again.

Welcome back, old friend.

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month

I will remember the night we spent in the pediatric wing of our local hospital for the rest of my life. E was just 4 days old and her jaundice had reached the highest level her pediatrician had ever treated. Not the best thing to tell first-time parents.

Even though we were reassured everything would be alright, my heart was ripped open. Here I was a mess of post-partum hormones being told I wouldn’t be able to hold my newborn baby while she cried in the glow of an artificial blue light. The nurses must have thought I was crazy. My tears just wouldn’t stop.

As I tried to settle into my fold-out chair for the night, my body still cramping in post-delivery discomfort, the sound of an emergency chime kept ringing in the hallway. Children in much worse states than my little girl needed immediate help. Quick footsteps and rushed voices repeated throughout the night. The urgency was palpable.

At some point in the early hours of the morning, worried about E’s persistence in peeling off her protective eye wear, I stumbled into the hallway in search of tape. The corridor was empty. Determined to find what I needed, I headed for the nurse’s station, but open doors caught my eye.

One stuck with me. The sock-covered feet of a mother who lay beside a crib, the room decorated with all kinds of items from home. These people lived in the hospital. A long-time patient, something seriously wrong. Suddenly my night of not being able to hold my baby became trivial.

It’s hard to think about sick kids but they’ve been on my mind a lot this week. A friend is raising money for a volunteer-run organization that directly funds innovative pediatric cancer research. Her friend lost her six-year-old daughter to a brain tumor.

After watching the video below, I couldn’t get the girl out of my thoughts. Her smiling, happy face. Her dancing in the midst of such darkness. Her mom wishing for just a couple more normal days filled with simple time together around the house.

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Four days left. If you’d like to donate to the organization my friend volunteers for, click here. I already did and am also giving 10 busy bags to our local hospital. If you’d like to send me with more bags to keep sick kids busy, click here.

And, if nothing else, take this post as a reminder to appreciate the people you care about. Laugh and play. Love and gratitude. Simple enough.