Thursday, March 28, 2013

10 Days in the Loony Bin--or, Spring Break 2013

Ah, spring break. For NYC public school kids,  it's an unusually long one this year. Seven whole school days off.

As with any major break, I made a plan for what we were doing each day. This way we make the most of the break and we don't spend too much time idle, which starts to drive us all crazy after a while. We are in the middle of our spring break right now, except we haven't done anything on our itinerary, because my two older kids are sick, and the little one has consistent diarrhea (yum. Aren't you glad you're reading this?). No one is seriously ill, just low grade fevers and yucky cold symptoms. But it's enough to keep us quarantined for a few days.

When you're stuck inside with three sick kids, you can get tunnel vision and forget that life exists outside of what's happening right now (which for us thus far has been: fever. Barf. Sneezing. Coughing. Diarrhea. Repeat). I'm all for a little "mommy needs a cocktail" humor, but as I've found myself actually needing a cocktail the last few days, I've decided that I need to change my outlook and my attitude. And I've realized there are many reasons that I'm grateful to be stuck inside with my sick kiddos.

For one, we are getting to spend an inordinate amount of time together. There are tough moments throughout the day, but I genuinely miss my two older kids when they're in school, and it's been so nice to have them at home. They're funny, smart, and endearing, and the days are never dull when they're around. The wonderful way they play together makes up for the amount of fights I have to break up between them. I love hearing them play on their own, too--just yesterday there was about an hour where they were each completely engrossed on their own made up worlds, playing separate imaginative games.

It's also been great not having to run around anywhere. None of our regular classes are running because of the break anyway, but we had social engagements scheduled that would have definitely necessitated that we be up and out the door at a certain time. We have an incredible amount of activities during the school week. In my quest to enrich my children's lives, I run the risk of doing too much. Sometimes it seems as if we never stop running. Much as we love our friends and activities, it's been a relief not having to *be* anywhere but here this week.

The baby has diarrhea, yes--but at least she's still safely in the land of diapers, which means that I don't have to do much except change her. OK, I have to change her three times an hour, but the other plus is that since she's in cloth diapers, all I have to do is wash them--no running to the store for more disposables. Bonus!

When life gives us lemons, we make crafts. We have a whole host of crafting activities that we've been saving for a rainy day, and now we have a week of rainy days! Both the older kids adore crafts and they're always so proud of their creations.

Since I don't have to rush around in the morning, I've shaved my legs twice this week! Yes--my legs do not resemble those of a grizzly bear's. You may not care, but I assure you my husband does. (The older kids watched a show this morning and V hung in the bathroom with me while I showered. Judge me, I don't care. My legs are smooth).

Being home, I've had a chance to do some self-evaluation. The last few months have been a challenge, and admittedly, I haven't been handling the adversity well (see cocktail comment above). I've had plenty of time to think and regroup. Things aren't going to get easier. I just have to adjust my expectations, my reactions and parent my children with love, respect, and remain connected to them, even when things are running amok. I'm grateful to have had the restful time I've needed to make those realizations. There's still a whole week of the break left. I'm still in good health, and will hopefully remain that way--though now that I've pointed it out, I will probably get the plague tomorrow.

If I don't, however, this means that we have plenty of time to get out of the house, see our friends, and go to the park. And when the crazy hustle and bustle starts again next week, I know I will miss these few days when we just hung around and did nothing.

Because sometimes, we need to do just that.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Simple Changes, Big Results

I've written recently about the tribulations of age 3. I didn't content myself with complaining though, seeing as that helps no one! So I hit up some of my favorite parenting websites, revisited some of my old favorites in terms of books and articles, and came up with a few small adjustments that we've been working on in the Meegs household. We've seen some pretty big results.

The first step for me what identifying what times/issues were giving us the most stress, and breaking it down from there.

The first for us is transitions. Honestly, I didn't even identify this one until I was reading about developmentally appropriate behaviors for this age, but as soon as I saw this one it clicked. Developmentally they are learning about control; control of their bodies, control of their actions, control of their life. Big or small, they want control... so when you say we're done doing x to do y instead, well, it can be very frustrating for all. This however, turned out to be one of the simplest changes to implement, with some of the best and fastest results. We've started giving advanced notice of "mandatory" transitions, letting her know from the start if she only has a few minutes and letting her know what is coming next, warning her at the 1 minute mark, then counting down the last ten seconds. This gives her ample opportunity to adjustment to the idea of moving on, and lets her feel informed instead of forced. And if the transition isn't mandatory (ie. I'm going to do something upstairs, but she's welcome to keep playing downstairs) then I leave the choice up to her.

Such a simple change, its no hardship for me to give her warning, but our end of activity screaming tantrums have all but ended.

The second thing for us, which has been a little bit harder to implement, is addressing the mornings and our expectations for each other. Gwen's sleep has always been varied in the morning, but especially since the DST adjustment she might wake up anywhere between 5:50 and 7am. Obviously this changes whether we have time for some Sesame Street in the morning, or even whether she eats breakfast at home or in the car. Most of the time its her wake up is around 6:30, but even when she wakes up exactly then she'll change her mind daily about who she wants to get her ready, or even whether she wants to get ready or not. Then when she finally is ready, she doesn't understand why she doesn't have time to play before leaving.

The adjustments here have been multifaceted: talks with Gwen about our expectations of her and her level of cooperation, but also adjusting our reactions when she doesn't cooperate as we had hoped. First, we starting having simple, short discussions with Gwen during non-charged moments, about how mornings are easier if everyone helps and cooperates. We told her that when she cooperates and lets Daddy get her dressed, that we have time to watch some Elmo or play before leaving. Then we adjusted our reactions... getting rid of the raised voices (which we all hate), and instead talking calmly about the natural consequences of her choices and actions. ie. Gwen you may chose whether you want Daddy to help you get ready or wait for Mommy to get out of the shower, but if you wait then there will be no time for playing after you are ready, it will be time to leave right away. This one has taken some more time and effort for all of us, but we are seeing results here as well.

With this second item, for me the results are two-fold: not only are we having more pleasant interactions, but we are recommitting to this AP lifestyle we've chosen, recommitting to how we want to parent our daughter, not just as a helpless baby, but as a preschooler and beyond. We are seeing how things like natural consequences, and age appropriate expectations and conversations, can work towards a more harmonious household where we all feel respected.

Do we still have our unhappy, irritated and angry moments? Of course! I'm no expert on parenting; maybe there is no such thing. But this has worked to make our house a lot more peaceful, and I wanted to share.

Now if anyone has a suggestion for "the witching hour" at the end of the day (right around dinner time), when she's tired and cranky, and everything is a big deal... I'm happy for you to share what's worked for you too!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sleeping Like a Baby

When pregnant with Baby #1, Dear Hubby and I researched cribs and crib mattresses as if world peace hinged on our decision. Of course, we also had a bassinet for our room, where we figured she might sleep for "a few weeks, maybe" until we moved her across the hall to her own room, because . . . that's what parents do, that's what parents need, that's what babies do, that's what babies need.

Baby #1 (aka, Agent E) had a different idea.

I'll spare you the saga of long nights sitting up with E, attempt after failed attempt to get her back in that bassinet. How I swung back and forth between letting her "really" wake up (i.e., get mad enough to start crying) and grabbing her immediately at the first whimper. How it took me weeks (months? It's a blur now.) to realize that her night time needs were not going to go away, and I needed a sustainable plan for dealing with them while maintaining my own sanity.

Someone had given me a copy of a very nice sounding book about infant/child sleep. I won't mention it specifically, but let's just say it implied that following its recommendations would not only lead to "better" sleep all around, but also health and happiness. So promising! And then I actually read it.

Truthfully, it made me queasy. Forcing baby into a strict schedule to fit your needs (not hers), solitary sleep in a dark room with no contact presented as the only option, listening to your baby cry for up to an hour, even if she made herself throw up. I had a hard time believing (to put it mildly) that people read this and think, yeah, that sounds about right.

I knew there had to be another way. I wandered the "baby and child care" section at the nearest bookstore looking for something to pop out at me. I came home with a copy of The Baby Book by Dr. Sears. I began reading it a little at a time during E's nursing sessions (which were plentiful, and new-mom confusing in their own right, another post). 

Holy light-bulb moments. I nodded along so much with the text, at one point I might have been mistaken for a Breastfeeding Bobblehead.

The thing is, I hadn't considered sleep "options" at all while pregnant. In my mind, there was only one thing to do: solo sleep, bassinet to crib as quickly as possible, baby in her own room basically from the get-go. I didn't even realize there were choices: bedsharing vs. co-sleeping (no; they're not the same), crib in the same room vs. crib in a separate room, starting out the night in one place and moving on the first wake up. It seems ridiculous to me now (and even a tad embarrassing) that it never occurred to me that I could do whichever one of these worked for us as a family and it would be fine.

Still, I hesitated. If I bought a bed rail, did that mean I couldn't change my mind and move her out of our bed later if it weren't working? If I asked Hubby to dismantle the crib and refashion it as a sidecar, did that mean I had to commit to this idea long term?

I know a huge part of the problem I had reconciling my choices at first was that conventional wisdom about babies and sleep led me to think in absolutes. I was confronted from every angle by if . . . then statements. If you bring baby into your bed, then she'll never want to leave. If you don't teach her to sleep on her own, then she will depend on you to fall asleep forever. If you always nurse to sleep, then she will always expect it.

The major flaw in this logic is that it assumes babies (and children, and parents for that matter) are inflexible and stagnant. This is simply not true. Babies' needs change. Parents' needs change. Everything changes.

The other flaw is that it imposes an unnatural sense of urgency on a natural development. The belief that simply waiting it out is not good enough. That you need to take action. Speed things up.

The truth is, it is okay to wait. It is okay to allow your baby (or toddler, or preschooler) to ease into solo sleep following his or her own timeframe. Really.

As for my little Agent E? The one whose newborn night time needs caused me to re-evaluate? She'll be seven soon. Contrary to what well-meaning folks tried to warn me about, she sleeps well, all night (barring any illness or nightmares), in her own bed, without coercion. Oh, and she weaned a long time ago, mostly of her own accord. As all children eventually do, she gave up nursing to sleep, she no longer needed me to be near her all night, and she learned to not just tolerate but actually love her own bed in her own room . . . when she was ready.

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

p.s. How serendipitous that as I was drafting this post (and puttering, ahem) a status from SortaCrunchy (awesome blog, BTW) came through my newsfeed about a Facebook group, "Wait It Out" Method Support (Toddler/Infant Sleep)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday {after dinner walk}

After dinner walk with the Mei Tai.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nursing My 3-Year Old

If there is one thing that parenthood has taught me, its to take all my expectations and throw them out the window! Another, everyone has an opinion about how you're doing it wrong. Both of those are certainly true in regards to Gwen's and my nursing relationship as well.

I never thought I would be here, almost a month past celebrating my daughter's 3rd birthday, still nursing twice a day. I'm surprised, delighted, a little nursed-out, but still with the warmest of feelings towards this amazing journey that we've taken together.

I'm also finding myself slightly more wary to talk about this beautiful thing we share. That makes me sad. Something that is so normal, something with so many benefits (to mama and baby), should be celebrated, not stigmatized. Yet because my baby is 3, and not a baby anymore, I get judgement from many. "She's too old, you're stunting her independence."  "Its not nutritional anymore!"  "Its clearly only for you at this stage, let her grow up."

Thankfully, for every naysayer I've encountered, I've also found a supporter. Expected sources, like my family, who know that there is still some good nutrients in breastmilk, despite Gwen's age. Like my husband, who expressed how he hopes I'm still planning to let her self wean, since she gets so much comfort and joy from her nursing sessions. Like the doctor who said that nursing while I had a minor illness was a great way to pass on some antibodies to keep Gwen from getting it as well. Some expected sources as well, like the mother of one of Gwen's former classmates, who asked if we were still nursing, and told me what an awesome thing it was!

My 3-year old is a healthy, happy, thriving, very independent and spirited girl. We have an amazing bond, which is strengthened by this special thing we share. I'm making less milk now, and I know our days are numbered, but I'm going to try and enjoy every one that we have left. And I invite anyone to keep their mind open, and there judgement to themselves!

Just a note to say that I am a big supporter of breastfeeding, but also a big supporter of doing what is best for your individual family. If you were unable to or chose not to breastfeed, or chose to wean at an earlier age, please don't take the above as an indictment. I only ask that you extend the same non-judgement to me, as I do to you.

For more information about ages of weaning, what primate physiology tells us about weaning, and other breastfeeding statistics, check out these resources:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Being Proud of Our Bodies: Part 1

As women, especially after having children, it's easy to see the flaws in our bodies.  The extra sag, the stretch marks, the bags under our eyes, the hair that has been rinsed in the sink for a few days, the makeup you haven't taken out of the case in months.  It's easy to get caught up in the fact most moms don't look like supermodels do after they have a baby.  We aren't a size 2 with perfect breasts and a tight stomach six weeks after birth.

My last pregnancy I felt better than I had in years. I gained over 30 pounds, which for me is a big deal, and then in a moment that still amazes me, I pushed her out in my living room.

However, this isn't about my whole body. Just my breasts. I know it may seem strange, but it's hard to appreciate my new body when I take everything in at once.

When I'm nursing or pumping, I thin down fast but look like Pamela Anderson when I'm engorged. Even nursing they aren't perky anymore and each time my milk comes in and then I stop nursing or pumping, my breasts are a bit flatter and a bit saggier than before. Think of two empty wallets, barely big enough for an A cup.

To help love my entire body, I've decided to think of all my breasts have done.

I nursed my first daughter for nine months, and then again for one month 29 months later. I exclusively nursed her for four months, and pumped when I went back to work when she was six months old. I grew her, inside my body and then outside.

I gave birth to a baby at 13 weeks 5 days, and three days later my milk came in. I went on to exclusively pump for two and a half months and donated to three babies in need.

My rainbow baby was born after Thanksgiving, and I have exclusively nursed her for 14 weeks 2 days, even with the rough first six weeks we had.  I have also in the last two months pumped to donate to very good friends.

In the last almost six years, I have pumped a total of just under 12 gallons of milk to donate to what will be seven babies, and then topping out at 15 gallons when I add what I pumped when my first daughter was in the NICU and when I went back to work when she was almost six months old.  I have grown two babies through nursing, the second even has the most amazing chub.

My breasts may be covered in stretch marks and not perky, they may be tired and battleworn, but they have done so much.  I may not look like I did seven years ago, but they are serving the purpose they were made to serve.  For that, I can love my body even more, and be proud of the work it has done.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Six Things to Do While You Wait to Give Birth in the Final Weeks of Your Pregnancy

So, babies come on their own schedule and this baby seems to have a plan completely different than his/her brother did. You see, this baby has already been in an entire week longer than my son was. Also, this time, my body seems to have learned its lesson on having no pre-labor and just trying to do everything at once and, this time, seems content to do lots of prodromal or pre-labor. (As a matter of fact, for the last three days, my body has decided to work on labor for about an hour or two every night at about the same time and then just decides "that's enough for the night" and quits.) I know that this baby already has a birth date in mind for him/herself, and that it is very important for the health of the baby and the success of my VBAC to allow this baby to come to fruition in his/her own time, but, in the meantime, I'm left with a lot of waiting that I didn't have to do with my first child and I have to come up with ways to spend it that won't (A) overtax me because I could go into labor any day now, (B) won't cause ongoing stress if I were to go into labor any day now (so no "big projects" that would have to lay around messing up the house for months while I have a newborn and no time to finish them), and (C) still allow me to do the things I need to do to keep the house stocked and ready for that moment when the baby does come. All this is in addition to ignoring the well meaning prods from people I know about why I can't just have that baby already and trying to keep my sense of humor intact as the baby grows ever larger, my body grows ever more tired, and I become ever more uncomfortable and feel less and less like doing anything. If you are in this same boat with me, I present this list of things to do while you wait in the final weeks with both sincerity and humor. Just keep reminding yourself that all babies come out . . . eventually!

1. Indulge in Your Favorite Hobbies.
Whether this is your first baby or not, it's sometimes hard to fathom the amount of "me" time that you will no longer have once you are caring for a newborn. An avid reader, pre-first child, I could not fathom that there would be days when the only time I would have available to me to read might be the two minutes in which I brushed my teeth at night while my husband held our son. There are days when a five minute shower is a luxury that must be fought for and must serve as your "alone" time for the entire day. I imagine this must be doubly true when it is not your first child you bring home, but your second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.). So, spend these unexpected days of waiting indulging yourself a little. I've been embroidering and sewing a lot because it took me nearly a year after the birth of my first baby before I was able to embroider anything again. This time it may take longer. Might as well tackle the little projects that would ordinarily get put off!

2. Let Yourself Be a Little Lazy
This is one I'm really struggling with because I really want to have the house in good shape when the baby comes so that when I have to let it slide, it won't have as far to slide backwards. However, that said, I've been earnestly trying to let myself spend the day sitting if I feel way too tired or I've been trying to limit the amound of crazy cleaning/shopping/etc. I do on days that I have lots of pre-labor going on because I know that I have the marathon of labor in front of me and I want to be in top physical shape for it. So, when I feel I need to sleep/nap/rest I figure that I should because labor will wear me out and the more energy and strength I can bring into it, the better shape I will be in on the other side of it.

3.Eat Your Favorite Foods
I have terrible pregnancy reflux right now and am eating dairy free, so I can only do this within reason, but I've learned to look at every meal as if it is my last. I don't necessarily indulge myself by letting myself always have the fatty, sugary treats I might want, but I do make for myself my favorite protein rich, nutrient rich meals like spinach and sundried tomato omelets or homemade dairy free chicken pot pie, or even let myself eat out once in awhile. Those first few months after I have the baby, I know that we will mostly be eating the meals I have pre-frozen for us, but for now I look at each meal as my possible last meal before I go into labor. Why skimp and eat crap if I know that I could need whatever energy I get from that meal to carry me through who knows how many hours or even days of labor? My last labor I found that after the first ten hours or so, I just found it impossible to make myself eat anything, so in case that happens again, I'm trying to be very kind to myself right now. Besides, if this baby likes to nurse like my last one did (at every meal time), these may be the last warm meals I have for the next year or so!

4.Amuse Yourself by Considering Giving Honest Answers when People Ask "How are you doing?"
Okay, so maybe this is just my private hobby, but I sometimes get some good giggles by considering actually answering the cashier who notices the strange look on my face as I get a strong contraction as I'm checking out at the grocery store with an honest answer. "Ow, my uterus!" or "I'm okay. Just my cervix hurting as it ripens a little at a time." or "Everything's okay. I was just determining if I was really going into labor or not and trying to see if my water was breaking." The internal monologue of a very pregnant, "due" woman is not something that most of the world is ready to hear about, but it makes me laugh to think of telling them anyway just to see their reaction.

5.Read a Book/Watch a Movie About Climbing a Mountain or Some Other Inspiring Feat
Currently, I am reading a book about George Mallory (the climber who attempted to climb Mt. Everest three times between 1915 and 1924 and whose body was found on Mt. Everest in 1999 who may or may not have been the first to reach the peak, but there's no evidence as to whether or not he actually made it on his last attempt). Why I like doing this right before I know I'm going into labor is two-fold. One, it's entertaining and it reminds me that there is a world outside of whether or not I am going into labor today and two, I get a kick out of thinking about the challenges people put in front of themselves to conquer and the passion and the lengths they will go to in order to reach their goal. (I consider my VBAC my own, personal Everest.) This is especially true for men, in particular. I really wonder if Mallory would have been so intent to climb all those mountains if he had just been born a woman and could realize the challenge and satisfaction to be had in giving birth! Maybe he still would have needed mountains to climb, but maybe not!

6. Spend a Little Extra Time Enjoying Your Life

A new baby is a new beginning for your entire family, but it is also an ending. Something I wasn't really prepared for when I had my first baby was the way I would miss and mourn my former life. As much as I was ready to be a mother and desperately wanted that chapter of our lives to begin, life with my son irrevocably changed our life as a couple. There were growing pains on both sides and sometimes it was quite a struggle to see where "we" had gone. I am better prepared this time to understand that whatever amazingly good that may happen in the next few hours/days/weeks, I will also have to say good-bye to the life I love that consists of just my husband, my son, and me. So, I'm trying to soak up the bittersweet hours where it's easy to find time to wrap both arms around my (currently) only child and spend a little extra time looking at and talking with my husband before there are two little voices to drown him out (temporarily, but still!). I'm trying to enjoy outings that are much simpler without all the paraphenalia a newborn entails and with only one nap a day to plan around. I know that having another child is abosolutely the right thing for us and is everything we want to have happen any day now, but I also want (this time) to recognize, enjoy, and savor the final joyful days of being a family of three. I know that these days will seem like simpler times when our fourth arrives. It's a little like enjoying the last days of summer before moving on to the next grade of school. Sure, you are excited about what the next year will bring and you want to see the challenges you know that you are ready for, but it does feel good to sleep in those final days (or sleep at all in the case of impending newborn motherhood!).

Thanks for Reading!