The Menschkin
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Of work, leisure, and laughter
Wow, it's been a long time since I last wrote. In the last two months, Tim left his previous job, found a new job, and started work. In between, we had seven blessed weeks of TWO full-time parents. It couldn't have happened at a better time. For anyone with good prospects of finding another job, I might even recommend it, especially if your current job happens to suck.

Petra has passed the second mommy-reward milestone: fits of laughter! I tell you, this is amazing. The first one happened one day when I put her on my lap with her feet pointing away from me and looked, upside-down, into her eyes. She thought that was funny and started laughing, and that got me going, and it was a mutual giggle fit of at least 30 seconds. *Very* cool. She's progressing in all sorts of ways: working her way toward sitting up on her own, grasping things and manipulating them somewhat, putting everything in her mouth, babbling (with consonants and everything! My favorite sound so far is "eeeeaaaaaawwoooooooommm!" Sort of like a long "meow," but with the M at the end).

On the difficult side, we're facing our first low-milk-supply problem. Petra is ravenous in the evening, just when my milk comes the slowest and most scantily. She doesn't go to sleep without filling her tummy, and the results for bedtime are predictable. We've started supplementing with a bottle of pumped milk, followed by me pumping later to keep up supply (that is, both our stored milk supply, and the amount of milk I produce). I'm also taking fenugreek. Lots of it. This has the interesting side effect of making my sweat, and milk, smell rather strongly of maple syrup. Apparently mammary glands are modified sweat glands, so one way to know you're taking enough fenugreek is to notice that your usual odor has been supplemented by a nice touch of maple. Petra doesn't seem to mind, and it's maybe helping, so that's fine.

The adjustment to Tim working has been difficult, after having the luxury of near-full-time available help. We've started having a babysitter come at least one afternoon a week, while I'm around, so I can get things done that I can't do while caring for Petra. Maybe I'll finally get to finish the curtains that didn't get done before Petra arrived. We have yet to find a babysitter who's available to work evenings, and that's hard. I'd really like us to have a regular date night, having been informed by my sister (though not in so many words) that this is the kind of thing that can save your marriage from the effects of having a young baby. Maybe I should use tomorrow's babysitter time to call more candidates!

In other developments, I've begun knitting for fun. This has the dual effects of making me get less done, and making me get more rest. It's a good tradeoff; it keeps me from running myself ragged as I used to do too much. I've asked several of my nearest and dearest whether it would be possible to knit them Christmas gifts that would not actually be white elephants. Now I have a list of knitted things people actually claim to want! That's a new, and welcome, state of affairs for this crafty person.

I've been meeting new moms in my neighborhood as fast as I can, by walking around all the time with Petra in the stroller. It's great. Sort of like dating, but without so many of the associated pressures and awkwardnesses. More on that later, maybe.

Gotta go. Time to pump.

Sunday, August 15, 2004
That's what daddies are for
Hey, folks. I had to let you know that times don't stay hard for long.

Right now, for instance, Petra is being ferried around on her daddy's shoulders. Yes, she's 2.5 months old, and she loves it. She also loves it when he talks silly-talk to her, counts her body parts, makes her "fly" when she pushes off with her feet, shows her around his home office, and so many other things.

She loves "flying" so much that she pushes off almost every time she ends up on his lap. The other morning, Tim said to me, "I'm doomed, aren't I?" But you can tell he loves it, too. And as I keep telling him, it's a built-in upper-body workout, with built-in gradual increase in resistance as she grows.

I used to think I would feel jealous when Petra discovered, as so many kids do, that her daddy inevitably had more energy for rough, all-out play (after Mommy had done 8 or more feedings in 24 hours, carried her around most of the time, et cetera). Right now, though, I mostly feel grateful. I feel grateful because there's something Tim enjoys doing with Petra and is good at, I feel grateful for the breaks that their play gives me, and I feel grateful that someone else is helping her go through her ever-growing supply of energy. (I swear, children must still be connected to some cosmic source of energy that grownups gradually forget how to tap. If only they were erudite enough to preach about it, they'd convert the world in no time.)

So I love watching them play. And at least until I get the rest of my strength back, that's what daddies are for.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Hard time baby, don't ya know...
Some days, babies (and their parents) sing the blues. Tonight was such an evening for us. Petra was inconsolable for short stretches throughout the evening. At one point I was inconsolable along with her.

What causes these bouts with the blues? Actually, it's not knowing that's the hard part. Probably she has gas or some other internal difficulty. Often the hard times end with a loud, satisfying poop. But in the meantime, Petra has no way of telling me what's wrong, and I often have nothing I can do to make her more comfortable. During these episodes, time slows to a crawl and the screams seem like they'll go on forever. You can despair of ever being able to be entertaining, or comforting, or useful in any way to your child. You wish you'd read the owner's manual more carefully. You wish there were an owner's manual. You sink emotionally, and as you sink, you become even less useful to the child, who may need creative thinking and/or a smile to help her out of the woods.

I do realize how good we have it. Knowing a bunch of other moms through mom's groups, church, postpartum yoga, and so on provides some perspective. I know moms whose babies are failing to thrive, or have colic for hours every night, or have seizures, or.... What I'm saying is, I know it could be a lot worse, and I'm thankful it isn't. Also, after I go through a few hours of singing the baby blues, I'm usually rewarded with a sleeping angel. Or even better -- tonight, Petra ended her crying jag with a good session at the breast, followed by soulful looks and calm smiles at me. When that happens, I feel like the luckiest mom alive.

But just for a little silliness (as it often provides relief in my experience), here's a little 12-bar blues for the time in between.

Oh she's a hard time baby, hard time baby, don't ya know.
Yes she's a hard time baby, hard time baby, don't ya know.
I can't tell why she's screamin', and it's wearin' me out for sure.

Oh she's a hard time baby, hard time baby, don't ya know.
Yes she's a hard time baby, hard time baby, don't ya know.
But when she gets to smilin', feels like findin' that ol' pot o' gold.

Oh yeah.

Monday, July 26, 2004
Why we keep our babies
I just finished reading a very interesting book, though perhaps not every new mother's cup of tea. It's Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection, by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (not a typo). Turns out one of the biggest selection pressures on infants through human history (and the history of some other primates) is infanticide, by mothers or other members of the infants' own species. Hrdy talks a lot about this, and about the traits that have evolved in both infants and mothers to keep us from leaving more babies in the bushes.

Well, Petra is showing off some of those traits now, as you can see from the photo of her with her great aunt Cindy. Not that she was in any danger of being left in the bushes, but her frequent smiles do a lot to balance out backaches and sleep deprivation.

Actually, since I am supported by Tim these days and therefore can usually sleep in when I need to, it's more the absence of a life beyond childrearing, not sleep deprivation, most of the time. But we are managing to get out more now. I started going to a mom-and-baby group this week that shows promise for finding friends and babysitting-exchange partners.

But back to the Menschkin! She's also showing signs of recognizing a couple of words like "hungry" and "fresh diaper." When those reflect her current needs, sometimes if we ask her, she'll calm down and smile, giving us the ultimate reward for our correct guess. Get back, new cars and Hawaiian vacations! My daughter is smiling at me! Hey, she's laughing! I won the bonus round!

Books are also getting to be fun. Petra looks at the pages as I read to her, especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and often smiles at a pretty picture or a particularly enthusiastic delivery. For some reason, the cocoon is a big hit.

Oh, yeah. Some behaviors are endearing or the last straw, depending on how I'm feeling already. Clinging to my hair would be one of those. A perfectly good little primate adaptation that makes tired, frustrated mommies cry. So, following in the footsteps of my mother and sister, I got a haircut. Tim says it's very mommyish. Picture to come later.

Saturday, July 03, 2004
Life is good
No amount of money could buy the sigh that just came out of our daughter's mouth as she lay sleeping in my arms.

Petra is finally feeding really well. We were confident enough to give her a bottle for the first time yesterday, and she took to it quickly. It will be nice to retire the SNS (the supplemental tube feeding system we used while she was getting up to speed on breastfeeding).

If only lining up babysitters were so easy.

Thursday, July 01, 2004
Some of the joys of new parenthood
I've been having lots of chances to hang out with Petra and fall in love. Here are some of the things I've been struck by in the past several days:

Petra started giving us social smiles on her one-month birthday, two weeks before I expected them. They get more frequent every day. I am incredibly motivated by this to do exceptionally silly things. Who knew I could scat? I'm actually getting pretty good at it. I think this is fundamentally good for me. If you know me, you probably know that I am way too earnest. Thus, I think, do infants train their parents to be as silly as they need us to be.

Time to go. The Menschkin needs feeding.

Monday, June 21, 2004
Petra's birth: only slightly abridged
Well, the last few weeks have been quite a blur. Petra Katharine was born on her due date, by Cesarean section as expected -- but not scheduled C-section. (Yay! I really wanted to be able to experience at least part of a natural labor.) I went into labor the night before, just as we were having a conversation about what to do if we didn't go into labor soon. Probably I'd been in labor since the afternoon, but I didn't recognize the feelings I was having as contractions rather than some kind of GI problem until 8:30 p.m. Tim and I timed them and found them pretty close together, so we called our doula and the hospital and got things moving.

We were admitted to the hospital just before midnight. No dilation, even though the contractions were coming every 4 minutes or so for a couple of hours at home. They were easy ones, though. I breathed through a lot of them because it made them more pleasant to handle, but I could speak in sentences if I needed to, so I was pretty sure it wasn't full, active labor yet. Our doula (bless her heart for this and many other reasons) and our labor nurse convinced the doctors that they shouldn't wait until the morning shift or even later to do the surgery, as they'd suggested, because if I went into active labor and my water broke, we could be looking at a much more urgent situation. (We found out later that our doula had had such a situation, involving a breech baby and umbilical cord prolapse, in one of her own children's births, so she knew whereof she spoke.)

So -- they prepped me for surgery at 6:30 a.m., and by 7:04, we had our baby girl out in the open. The labor never got intense, and I never dilated. No, the scary stuff happened in the operating room. The thing is, I just took for granted that my anesthesia would be like that of friends and relatives who'd described their C-sections to me; that is, that I wouldn't feel a thing down there during the surgery, except when they pushed down on the top of my uterus to get the baby out (I figured that was different because it was up so high). But I found out, after entering the OR with no support person (anesthesiologists don't like audiences, I guess, so they didn't let Tim in until they were making the first incision, about 15 minutes after I went in), that the spinal block would only get rid of pain. I would feel every bit of pushing, pulling, and so on. I was NOT mentally prepared for that, and it scared the hell out of me. But then Tim came in and helped me get my head into a better place. I cried a lot after that, but it was for better reasons than being terrified. Our doula had called out helpfully, as I entered the OR, "You're having a baby!" She said she got some weird looks from staff: "What, does she think she's having her appendix out after all that?" But it got me focused where I needed to be: not on fear of the surgery, but on the result. After Tim got me out of my anesthesia panic, then, it was back to baby thoughts. Petra was out very quickly, and I was experiencing simultaneous, overwhelming feelings of "That's my BABY over there [on the warming table, with Tim holding her tiny hand]!" and "That's my baby OVER THERE!" Major tears. I would have laughed a lot, too, but I was afraid it would screw up the stitching, and oh boy, did I want to be in the recovery room with her ASAP.

Petra was born very healthy, 6 lbs 11 oz, a little over 18 inches long -- but because she was breech for so long, her little legs were firmly folded up toward her torso, and so she was hard to measure. They say that should loosen up over a few weeks or months, and it has started to. In the meanwhile, at least she's not putting her feet in her poop when we change her diaper, and she enjoys sucking her toes when she can get to them! She is, of course, the most beautiful baby imaginable.

A day and a half or so after she was born, Petra had an overlong interval between feedings that sent her into a hypoglycemic tailspin.(We were so thankful that she had a big feeding and then slept 4 hours, we didn't think about the consequences of a newborn not eating for 5-6 hours; though to be fair, we didn't know about the consequences until later.) She started feeding less and less often, taking less at each feeding, and sucking more and more weakly. After a day and a half of trying and trying to get her to eat enough at the breast, we started finger-feeding formula and pumping breast milk (on the advice of a great lactation consultant at Kaiser). We fed her on a tight schedule for several days, mostly just getting her to take in enough calories to get her strength back, so she could get back to her birth weight and get strong enough to breastfeed directly full-time.

Over the course of three weeks, she went from a sluggish, sleepy feeder to an eager, hungry babe who tells US when she wants to eat. She also regained her birth weight ahead of schedule and went into her 3-week growth spurt (read: feeding all the time, parents get no sleep) on time. Fortunately, the milk supply situation was great, so we didn't need any more formula after the first couple of days. As of midsummer day, Petra has a diploma from the lactation consultant for an honorary BS (Best Sucker) degree in "nursing."

Petra's urgent situation was mirrored by one for me, which fortunately was more easily resolved. I had been managing since the first day post-op with just Motrin, but when she slept so long, I also slept through my meds. It was very interesting to have the experience of unmedicated second-day post-op pain, but I wouldn't recommend the experience to everyone. It's one of those things that was sheer hell at the time, but it's not a bad thing to have stashed in my "I can survive this, too" file. To get out of the pain crisis, I went on Vicodin, which probably exacerbated the sleepy-baby problems. I got off it as soon as I could, and off ibuprofen not too long after. It was difficult getting around for a while, but my family has been a great help, doing anything that involved walking around or carrying things until I could manage.

Sleep deprivation is really something. We're mostly out of the woods now, but Tim and I each had one episode of near-psychotic confusion during the night due to sleep deprivation in the first several days postpartum.

My mom stayed for twelve days, my dad for a few. They were a HUGE help. In between helping with washing up feeding and pumping equipment, diapering Petra, making sure we ate, and so forth, they attacked the mess that was our house with gusto. When they were done, it looked better than I've ever seen it. I had to get around a certain amount of embarrassment to accept the help graciously, but my mom made it as easy for me as she could.

That's the news from baby central at 3 weeks, 2 days. Watch this space for our further adventures in parenting.

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