Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bad Baby!

For Charlotte’s first Halloween, my mom is going to turn her into a devil. Growing up, my mom always made costumes for my sister and me, and she graciously offered to do the same for Charlotte. Why a devil? Well, it’s a pretty typical costume for kids. In fact, my little sister was one for her second Halloween (She was, like, weeks old for her first Halloween). There is a rather famous picture in our family of Allison all bedeviled, with a mouth full of candy, looking at me like, “Dude! Why didn’t you tell me how awesome this is? We get to do this EVERY year?"

But honestly, we didn’t randomly pick a standard baby costume for our daughter. We picked a devil because it is so appropriate. Oh, relax. I don’t actually think my daughter is the anti-Christ or a spawn of Satan. Although

All I’m saying is we picked the costume because our child is such a pain in the ass. If you’re offended by my choice of words, you have not met my daughter. To know Charlotte is to adore her, but it is also to wonder aloud why she’s SO BAD. In some ways she is very much like her mother. I, too, am a pain in the ass. Just ask my husband. I’m restless, impatient, don’t sleep well, and I’m spoiled. Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, and, oh yes, Charlotte. We are willful creatures who usually end up getting our way with Chris. She does it with tears, and I do it with…well, let’s just say I keep him happy. I would pity my husband, but he actually seems rather satisfied with submitting to the batting eyelashes of his wife and daughter.

Like many first-time parents, Chris and I spent Charlotte’s first day on this planet marveling at what a good, quiet baby she was. She slept most of the day, and when she was awake, she just stared deep into our eyes. We thought we had it made. Of course, that lasted all of twelve hours. Soon she began screaming every time we changed her diaper, screaming whenever she wasn’t attached to my cracked and bleeding nipples, and screaming because, well, screaming is fun, right?

After a few days in the hospital, we decided to take her home despite all the screaming. Over the next couple of months we were treated to even more screaming: in the car, when anyone besides Chris or me held her, and of course every night at six until midnight during her colicky phase. Soon, she and I would come to blows over breastfeeding, but I’ve already covered that here. So, I will only say this: I have read about a breastfeeding mother and her child as being referred to as a “nursing couple”. Well, if Charlotte and I are a couple, we’re the Odd Couple. We’re Sid and Nancy. We’re star-crossed.

I think part of the reason Charlotte is so difficult is because, in some ways, she’s so independent. At six months she would rather drink from a cup than be cuddled and fed a bottle. She has decided that she will eat her vegetables and rice cereal, but only if she can hold the spoon. She is also eager to move and has been scooting across the floor since she was three-months old. If you pull her to a sitting position, she’ll do you one better and pull herself to a standing one. Now that she is a bit older and can do so many more things on her own, she is a much happier baby. In fact, most of the time now, she is more likely to be found smiling, laughing, or growling like a monster than screaming, which has been nothing short of my miraculous rescue from the brink of insanity.

In a way, I am proud of her independence. I beam when she grabs her sippy cup and clumsily tilts it to her face. I am happy to clean up the extra mess she makes while eating because I want to encourage the autonomy she shows by feeding herself, quite handily, I might add. But, like everything else, my feelings on this are complicated. When I look into the future, I see a bright, capable girl. One who takes initiative and conquers obstacles. I want this for my child, but I also want her to need me. I suppose this is the Achilles heel of all mothers. Our job is to create self-reliant and functional adults. So, we should delight in anything our children can do without our help. It means we’re doing something right. But, so much of our identity is wrapped up in being caregivers for our children. Who are we if we aren’t boo-boo fixers, arms to sleep in, a source of nourishment or comfort?

Obviously, I am getting ahead of myself. Charlotte is a baby, and needs me for almost everything. In fact, with her current refusal of the bottle, I can scarcely leave her for a couple of hours without her screaming bloody murder. There’s also her need to be close to us at all times. She would have me hold her in my arms the entire time she sleeps if she could. Instead she settles for sleeping in bed with us. It’s the only way she’ll sleep through the night, and even though ultimately I’d like her to sleep in her own bed, I am happy to be her teddy bear for the moment. And I adore watching her smile when she wakes up and sees she’s not alone. I’m just trying to prepare myself for the inevitable heartache of watching her learn to do more and more things without my help and eventually flat out refusing my assistance or even presence. But, I guess the best thing to do is to enjoy every minute of her neediness now, while still encouraging her independence. Which reminds me, it’s time to go hand her a spoon and watch her shove some squash into her mouth. Or her eye. She doesn’t care. As long as she’s doing it herself.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Throwing Stones at Glass Houses...or Something

Well, it's been longer than I had intended since my last post. I vowed to update at least three times a week, and I'm already slacking. I have my reasons. Let's just say all that optimism that was oozing from my breastfeeding post has since disappeared, and we will be starting Project Wean presently. I'll talk about that next time. Right now I simply can't discuss my breasts any more than I already have these last few days.

Instead I would like to discuss something that has been weighing on my mind lately, and that, my friends, is being judgmental. It's a dirty word, sure, but one that I will freely admit describes me and, I think, if we're all honest, all of us.

I'm thinking specifically about the way we judge parents, and maybe especially mothers. We all know better, don't we? We know that that child is far too old to still be sporting that "binky". We know that the woman peeling her screaming toddler off the floor is a lousy mother. We know which babies are dressed too warmly, which ones are freezing, and which ones need a hat. We know who should be breastfeeding and who's been breastfeeding too long or not long enough. We know when it's time for mommies to go back to work and when they're abandoning their children by doing so.

We're just so damn smart, aren't we?

I'm guilty. In fact, I may just be the biggest offender I know. It didn't matter that I didn't have kids. I knew exactly what everyone around me was doing wrong, and I knew exactly how I would do it differently. It wasn't until I had Charlotte that I realized what you intend to do, isn't necessarily what you end up doing. I recently polled some mothers I know, asking them to tell me what they, as parents, have found themselves doing even though they swore they never would. Some said they didn't think they would be as paranoid about germs and other kids as they turned out to be. Some (including myself) thought they'd never let their kids sleep in bed with them. And, others never thought they would tell their kids to "shut up" or utter the dreaded "Because I said so". And I wonder how many of us criticized other people for doing what we ultimately would end up doing?

So, why do we do it? Well, I'm no psychologist, but I'm willing to venture a couple guesses. Firstly, and maybe most obviously, we do it because we're insecure. I might not have lost my baby weight, but at least I don't let my kids watch so much television. I may not keep my house clean enough, but at least I'm not that woman spanking her kid in Target. And so on. We might not be the best parents, but at least we're not those parents. And, hell, we don't even have to be parents to fall victim to this. Personally, I think I was so hard on the moms I encountered pre-baby because I wanted to be one so badly.

Another reason we play the judgmental game is that, well, not all judgement is bad. Face it. In this world, there is right and there's wrong. When we see a child being emotionally or physically abused, we judge. And hopefully, we also take action. Even on a less severe note, when we see kids being ignored, abundantly indulged and spoiled, or undisciplined, we notice. And we judge.

And finally, though not many of us would be willing to admit this, we judge because it's fun. Come on, who doesn't get a little thrill rehashing the parental crimes of Britney Spears or the Gosselins? We live in a tabloid society, where you may be fat, but not as fat as Kirstie Alley. I might be a bitch, but not like Lindsay Lohan. We thrive on the failures of others; it's entertaining as hell. Is this healthy? Probably not. Are we going to stop reading about the drug problems, affairs, weight gains, and the like while waiting in the checkout line? Of course not.

But, that doesn't mean we can't try to be a little more open-minded. A very pretty and youthful friend once told me that whenever she is out with her one-year old daughter she invariably gets an incredulous, "You're her mother?". They assume that she's a high school student and therefore far too young to be a mother. Now, she says she thinks twice before shaking her head at the teenage moms in the mall. Partially because they may not be as young as they seem. And also because, even if they are, she knows what it's like to get those dirty looks. And it doesn't feel good.

The fact is, we don't really know anything about the people we see. We really don't know how we would behave if we were in their situation. And we have to accept that even though there is right and wrong in this world, telling the difference is a tricky business sometimes. So, I'm suggesting that we watch the amount of vitriol we spew when we see or hear about something we don't like. This doesn't mean that I won't roll my eyes when I see someone buying a candy bar to suppress a tantrum. It just means that I'll roll my eyes, then admit that maybe that will be me someday. Because I'm having a horrible day and have a migraine and still have to pick up the dog from the vet and make a science project and my kid is screaming and everyone is looking and FINE. HERE. Have the damn candy bar. You know? It's not the right thing to do, but maybe I slipped. It happens.

I admittedly won't totally kick this most toxic of habits, but then again, maybe a little judgement helps keep up in check. Maybe seeing others do "bad" things reminds us not to do those same things. Maybe speaking your mind when you see something you don't agree with will help someone see the light. Or maybe we should just all keep our mouths shut. You be the judge. Ha!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pondering Prunes and Other Matters

So, a funny thing happened to me yesterday. See, we started Charlotte on solid foods this month. We’ve been doing the rice cereal for a few weeks now, and yesterday we added a fruit. We hemmed and hawed for a while about what to choose for the big premiere, and after a cautionary blessing from my friend, Alexis, (whose advice I sought on the matter) we chose prunes. Cautionary, in case you were wondering, because of the effect it might have on the princess’s bowel movements. So, of course, Charlotte had a delightful smear of prune-mush painted across her grinning face, requisite photos were snapped, and clothing was soiled. Chris and I enjoyed the moment as much as any team of parents would.

But, that’s not the event to which I am referring. It’s what happened after the moment had passed that struck me. Chris had taken the baby to her room for a wardrobe change, and I retired to the laundry room to spray some OxiClean on her bib and pajamas. And while I was doing this, I became irrationally and passionately HAPPY. I’m not exaggerating. I stopped for a moment to take in what I was doing, and I just felt so grateful and overjoyed that I had a bib to spot-treat, that I cried a little. Just a little.

Most of you will know where I’m going with this. As a former infertility patient who waited three years to have a child before finally giving birth to my daughter, I often find myself appreciating the smallest tokens of motherhood, tokens that maybe some people might never notice, and possibly not appreciate, either.

Of course, three years is a drop in the bucket to couples who have spent closer to a decade trying to conceive, to anyone who has attempted to raise the inconceivable amount of money needed for adoption or fertility treatments, to those who endure the scrutiny of their lives and homes at the hands of case workers and adoption agents, and especially to those same-sex couples who do all this AND contend with unfair discrimination, to boot. We were lucky that our insurance paid for all our treatments. We were even luckier that when they didn’t work, we were able to conceive naturally. But, those three years were the hardest of my life. Of our lives. I will never forget the pain of watching the parade of strollers pass by me in the mall, the effort it took to plaster on a smile at countless baby showers, the strength I had to muster to offer a simple congratulations to a friend, and the guilt I felt at not meaning it.

It was a painful chapter in my life, but it is a story for another time. This is a happier story. This is the story of how much I appreciate every moment of the amazing gift I was given. This is not to say that I think I, or anyone else in my position, loves or appreciates their child any more than someone who took one look at those cheerful, pink lines and thought, “Oh, SHIT!” I have seen parenthood shape and transform people. I know that it is, in some cases, the greatest thing that you never knew you wanted. And once you have it, you appreciate the hell out of it. I just think when you have to wait a while for it you gain a little perspective. And then you cry while doing laundry, apparently. I know. I’m very wise.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t have truly awful days. Today was a truly awful day. Hell, last week was a truly awful week. I’ve been sick, and I can’t deny that I miss the days when I could call everything off, drown myself in Nyquil, and sleep until I felt better. Would I trade places with someone who can? Hell no! But, sure, it can be hard when all you want to do is sleep, recuperate, and wallow, and you have to wake up SEVERAL times throughout the night to rock, burp, or nurse your baby, beautiful blessing that she is. It can really suck when she won’t nap all day, refuse to nurse, then throw a tantrum because she’s sleepy and hungry. It totally blows when you can’t get the rest you need, but you have to get out of bed and suck it up. I feel sorry for myself sometimes. I cry out of frustration and even anger.

But then I look around my house. I look at the boppy, the burp cloths, the binkys she won’t take no matter how hard I try, the playpen full of toys. I go to her room and notice the half-read book I had to set down because she started screaming while I tried to read it to her. I see the indentation she left in her crib during her five-minute nap, and I think, “Hell YES! I am a Mommy! Finally!” I take it all in, the good and the bad, and I marvel that, at long last, I have everything I wanted.

Maybe this is something that every parent goes through, no matter how easily they became pregnant. We can never really know how we would feel if things had been different for us. All I know is that I may complain. I might have those days where I daydream about running away and drinking myself unconscious on a Mexican beach. I may even need to take a night off once in a while (like that’s even possible). But, I’ll bounce back. And then you might find me weeping for joy over prune stains, skipping a bag of diapers to the dumpster, or maybe dancing a little jig all covered in spit-up. Because I will never take for granted how grateful I am to be Charlotte’s mommy.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

When Boobs Stop Being Sexy

Here’s a fun topic: breastfeeding. Have I lost you already? I promise you, I’m going somewhere with this. Maybe.


The thing is, ever since I had Charlotte, breastfeeding has practically taken over my life. The first few weeks I obsessed about my “supply” and “nipple confusion”. Have you ever talked to a lactation consultant? Picked up a copy of La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding? It’s terrifying. Giving a baby a pacifier will cause nipple confusion, causing the baby to forget how to nurse, thus sabotaging breastfeeding. If you’re gonna pop one of those in your kid’s mouth, might as well follow it up with a bottle of formula because you have ruined your chances of breastfeeding. RUINED IT! And speaking of bottles of formula, don’t let the nurses give your baby any of that stuff in the hospital because this will ensure that your milk never comes in, or at least that your supply will never be enough to feed your growing baby. RUINED.

I was so smug while I was preparing to breastfeed. I had taken a class, read a book. I was educated. No pacifiers for my daughter, nor would she be sucking down any of that supply-reducing elixir they call formula. It would be easy. Yeah, until it’s 2 A.M. and the baby screams every time she’s taken off my boob and my nipples are cracked and bleeding, and the nurse is like “Do you want me to give her a pacifier?”, and I’m like “Nooooooo, it will RUIN breastfeeding”, and my husband is like “Give her a pacifier you neurotic woman before we all lose our minds”…then it isn’t so easy not to give her a pacifier. So I did. But, at least I turned down the formula! Until my baby was so jaundiced they weren’t going to let me take her home, and her billirubin levels were off the chart, and the doctor hands me a bottle of formula and is like, “Give this to her or you’re leaving the hospital without her”. Then it isn’t so easy to not give her formula. So I did. Well, actually my husband did while I wept uncontrollably, not wanting to watch. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think formula is poison or anything; it’s just that I had always wanted to breastfeed my babies, and, like I said, I was worried this was the beginning of the end.

Luckily, the formula worked its magic; she pooped out all the billirubin, and we were able to take her home. And, in fact, we gave her small amounts of formula the first week or so while we waited for my milk to come in. It always made me a little nervous, but we only gave her an ounce or so after she had already nursed, and pretty soon, she was being exclusively breastfed. I had heard that beginning to breastfeed was hard, and it was. There were nights when Chris would come home to find me nursing Charlotte and crying. I cried because it hurt when I couldn’t get her to latch on properly. I cried because I felt I wasn’t making enough to satisfy her. I cried because I was afraid she wasn’t pooping enough, wasn’t gaining enough weight. But mostly I cried because I was TIRED.

It did get easier. But, I am still surprised by how much my life is influenced by it. Going too long without nursing her can cause painful engorgement, which is why I have found myself using a breast pump in the parking lot of the Greek theatre before a concert, in the car while my husband drove us to San Francisco, in the family room of a mall, and at the houses of friends. It puts ridiculous restraints on my diet, as everything I enjoy seems to make her gassy or keeps her awake. I have endured the pumping, the breast infection and plugged ducts, the leaky boobs, the sacrifice of that second glass of wine, and the endless nighttime feedings. But, the past month has been particularly difficult.

When I feed Charlotte in public, I use a nursing cover. I don’t do it because of the way society shames the breastfeeding woman; I use it because it’s how I feel comfortable. Well, Charlotte HATES it. She doesn’t want to be covered by a pink drape; she wants to look around, see what’s going on! So, she screams. She screams and pushes herself away from me. In fact, even when I don’t use the cover, like when I feed her in my car, she is more interested in viewing her surroundings than in staring at my chest while she eats. It’s become a huge problem because we go out every single day. And it’s humiliating when people are already staring at you for having the audacity to nurse in a coffee shop, and then the baby screams like you are trying to kill her rather than nourish her. Add to this the fact that she started screaming in the car because I can’t get her to eat enough before we leave for our destination, and I had pretty much had it.

My reaction to all this nonsense can be summed up in two words: I quit.

I quit. I quit. I quit.

I considered weaning. I just thought, “Hey, I’ve given you my body for long enough. Maybe it’s time I got it back to myself”. But, because I wasn’t prepared to do that until she was six months, and because ONE time she took a bottle of expressed milk while sitting on my lap in a restaurant, I thought we could try bottles while we’re out, and that would be a good segue into her taking bottles exclusively. And since I wouldn’t always have expressed breast milk handy, she would get the occasional bottle of formula. Of course, this is not a decision to be made lightly, so I agonized, I talked to my friends, I obsessed, I talked to my husband, I agonized some more. Everyone was incredibly supportive.

Well, it turned out all this agonizing was for nothing, because she causes just as big a scene drinking from a bottle as she does nursing. It’s nice to be fully clothed when she is causing said scene, but it still sucks. She’s just never really taken to the bottle; something I knew about her, but in my naiveté thought she would magically get better at it in order to accommodate my plan. Turns out there is no easy solution to this problem. If there had been, I might have been well on my way to weaning. Then again, maybe not. Because even in the midst of all my breastfeeding angst, every time I started going over the logistics of weaning in my head, I would want to cry. It was really frustrating, but I had somehow really come to enjoy the bonding experience of breastfeeding, something I never thought I would understand.

At the moment, I am happy with my decision to keep nursing my daughter. I may have to cut some outings short, or cancel them all together. I may have to endure the embarrassment of wrestling her onto my boob in our local Starbucks. I may go clinically insane from a prolonged exposure to her constant latch-breaking and whining. But, someday I will have my body back. And I’ll also have the memories of an experience we both enjoyed…sometimes.

Oh. And the day she’s totally weaned? I’m getting TRASHED. Tequila shots, anyone?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

An Introduction

Here I am. Yet another blogger in the vast web expanses of mommies, political debaters, budding artists, and anyone else out there who needs to get his or her thoughts and experiences out of their heads, and onto the screen. Why should anyone care about me? I don’t know that they will. But, I just had a baby about four months ago, at which point my need to share my experiences with anyone who is willing to listen grew exponentially. I have never had such an intense desire to tell stories, share my insecurities, and maybe even get a little reassurance or validation or…something, as when I started being a mother to my daughter.

Before you induce vomiting, let me assure you that I will not be merely gushing about the wonder of her first laugh, or how my filled-to-the-brim-with-love heart burst when she grabbed my finger. Nor will my blog read as a clichéd sitcom script wherein, I, the protagonist stumble around with messy hair, in sweats, and with spit-up on my shirt, grasping for a new diaper after the baby noisily filled the last one with perfect comic timing.

Okay, so there will be SOME of that.

But, mostly, I would like to be straight with you, whoever “you” are. Maybe you are just my mom, maybe someday you will be a few strangers, maybe it doesn’t matter. I’d like to tell you how getting started breastfeeding almost made me lose my mind. Or how sometimes I am impatient to put the baby to bed so I can have my husband mix me a cocktail. I’d like to tell you about how we rushed into invasive expensive fertility treatments, only to get pregnant having drunken sex in our car which we had pulled off to the side of the road. And maybe about how I take my baby’s temperature for no reason and panic about the fan in her room catching fire.

I won’t be pretending to be perfect, nor will I pretend to be the stereotypical “bad mother”. I’m just someone who is doing her best to be a good mom, and I will make mistakes along the way, which I think is all part of the fun. Hopefully, someday this blog will reach people who will read about my experiences, and in turn, share theirs with me.