Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mother's Day Confessions - Loving "Being Mom" vs. Loving Your Kids

My first Mother's Day was memorable. My newborn daughter was about a month old, and I still had the anxious, first-time mom cloud surrounding me most of the time. As we sat down to eat a nice Sunday dinner with my husband's family, my baby woke up and cried to be fed. I spent the next 45 minutes nursing her in the next room, listening to everyone enjoying their meal and having conversations. She finished off the feeding session with an exploding poop that required a full outfit change (and, as a rookie mom, I wasn't fully skilled with the blowout-clothing-removal tricks yet, so I'm pretty sure I made it worse). By the time I was done, everyone else was eating dessert, and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

My second Mother's Day was spent, quite literally, physically miscarrying our second pregnancy. The kick to the face of irony gave me a dull ache inside. I had known for almost two weeks already that our little one didn't make it, and I'd been waiting for my body to complete the farewell process. In all honesty, by that time I welcomed the physical closure. I had already grieved emotionally, and needed to be able to move on. I was sharply reminded of how vulnerable motherhood makes you.

Did I get flowers, cards, and gifts on those days? Probably. But it's those emotions and disappointments that got burned into my memory. Everything about feeling defeated on a day meant to honour you leaves a scar to match the ones fading across your belly. Mother's Day brings a host of complex emotions to the surface -- gratefulness and appreciation, but also inadequacy and loneliness. It's hard to understand my own feelings, let alone explain them. I will try.

I am often told (not asked) that I "must love being a mom." My kids are cute, I take fun photos of them, we do cool stuff together as a family, so I must just be loving every minute. Sure, you're tired and busy, but you love who you are, right?

Cue guilt. Do I love being a mom? Honest answer... I don't know.

Ooof. That's not easy to say out loud, is it? I've never been good at hiding my real feelings. Before you gasp and judge me for being a cold-hearted and insensitive brat, let me interrupt by saying that I LOVE my kids. I love them for who they are, and who they someday will be. I love their smells, their skin, their little noses and sparkling eyes and eyelashes and pinchable bums. I love the silly and innocent and ironic things they say and do. I know I am blessed beyond what I could ever deserve, being entrusted with three beautiful, smart and healthy children. I know the struggles facing countless women who wish to hold a baby in their empty arms. Do not think for one second that my heart doesn't ache for those friends (and there are many). This post is not about being ungrateful for what I have, or wishing I wasn't a mom, or complaining that my very fortunate circumstances aren't good enough for me; rather, it is about dissatisfaction with myself in a role I thought I'd be better at, and how to reconcile those feelings with my mandate as a mother and with the immense love I have for my children. Motherhood can be a very identity-confusing place to dwell.

I'm not the first to write a "don't beat yourself up, moms, we've all been there" revelation. But I specifically want to talk to/about those of us who found motherhood a surprisingly difficult transition rather than the realization of our life's purpose. Some women are just meant to be happy, fun moms, and excel at it -- none of us are perfect, but some seem to have been given that extra dose of patience, and enjoyment of childlike activities, and mothering with all its chaos brings out the best in them. I sometimes see the really obvious "love being a mother" bloggers or friends posting photos of their oldest child, with a caption along the lines of "the one who made me a mama," as if it was something they had always dreamed about, and then it came true, and all the pieces fell into place. I always knew I wanted kids; but somehow I never really envisioned myself being maternal. I was adamant that having kids wouldn't change me.  I'm the one who would rather be researching strollers and feeding philosophies and creative discipline than sitting on the floor doing a puzzle with my child, or busting out the craft supplies. Not that I don't do those things and engage with my kids, but it's not my instinct. I have to be intentional because I know it's what they need. When I had my first baby and realized I knew nothing about kids, I set to work learning everything I could, and haven't stopped since. Now six years in, I am confident about most choices we've made and paths we've followed. But do I love who I am, who I've become, what my daily emotional snapshot looks like? Who am I? Essentially, my question is not whether I like having children, but whether or not I like the mom version of myself. And most days, I think I don't. I'm not talking about the tired, no-time-to-do-my-hair, yoga-pants version of me; I'm talking at the soul level.

Let's all think for a minute about those cliche mother's day jokes and cards that refer to the lousy pay and vacation time, zero sick days and cranky coworkers. Nothing new there. But go with that thought - that your role as a mother is your job or title. What does being that person look like? What emotions are tied to it? Personally, I never expected to feel so many difficult things. I feel like motherhood brought out the worst in me. It's not the stereotypical "mom jobs" that get me down. I don't care about changing diapers, washing dishes, folding laundry or vacuuming. I would rather attempt to sew a patch on the knee of my son's jeans than face the real-life drama of trying to figure out how to patch up his feelings after I broke down and yelled at him for something. It's so much more than aprons, ironing, carpooling and sandwiches. It's raw, human frustration and hurts, every single day. Some would think that the hardest things about mothering are that it's tiring and that it's thankless. But I don't need gratitude or more sleep (though either are welcome, in abundance). I need emotional first aid.

Imagine going to work every day at a typical "job" and feeling like the people you worked with constantly yelled at you, didn't listen to your instructions, lost things you gave them, and came by your work space periodically to undo everything you'd been working on all day. Frustrated and impatient? Abused and invisible?

You second-guess yourself for letting your baby cry herself to sleep. You doubt your own ability to decide on whether to vaccinate. You feed them a packaged or fast-food meal when you know your friend's kids are getting organic whole foods tonight (and every night). Guilty and confused? Intimidated and insecure?

You lose your temper and yell. You repeat yourself and complain about having to repeat yourself. You look at all of your tasks, trying to muster the energy, motivation and time to get them done. Disappointed, angry, regretful, mean?

You console your daughter whose feelings were hurt by a friend. You wonder if you dressed your son right for the weather. Is your baby too cold, too hot, in a place that's too loud or stimulating? Does everyone have a hat, sunscreen, snacks, enough water? Protective, overwhelmed, forgetful, indecisive?

You have to figure out a consequence for your daughter disobeying her dad. You have to figure out a way to get your son to stay dry through the night. You have to figure out why the baby is still waking up, and whether or not to just cuddle and feed her, or teach her to get back to sleep. Ignorant, confused, useless?

You have to get the lunches packed and the kids to school on time, but no one is listening and someone takes off upstairs to find a stuffed animal right as you head out the door with your arms full of bags and carseats. Panicked, stressed, impatient?

Your friends are going to a really cool event, and you can't find a babysitter...again. Your baby won't take a bottle. You haven't been on a date with your husband for months. Trapped, resentful, left out?

You spend 20 minutes trying to get the baby to sleep, and just as you lay her in the crib, your 3-year-old screams that he needs help going to the potty, and wakes her up. All your children are screaming/crying/talking/pulling on you at the same time, while you talk on the phone with an important call. Rage, defeat, frustration?

One of the kids has a high fever in the middle of the night. Your husband is away and there's a raging storm outside. Someone wakes up crying in an unusual way. Fear, worry, paranoia?

Quite simply, if we were in a romantic relationship with a person that made us regularly feel this complex negativity, we would have broken up with them by now! Time to move on and find someone that makes you feel empowered, intelligent, and confident. I don't like this angry, discouraged edition of myself. But that's not how this works. I have to figure out a way to love "mom version" of me, because they're just being kids and it isn't their fault. I can only equip them so much at a time. It would almost be easier to be robot mom -- no emotions, nothing to get upset about. Again, I'm not trying to whine about how hard it is. I just haven't figured out a way to process these emotions so that I can be consistently joyful and less stressed in the presence of my children. The older they get, the more I fear my own discouragement and stress will rub off on them, creating worries and insecurities they don't need. I need to choose joy--but that statement in itself reveals the difficulty moms are up against. We have to choose it.

Before I had kids, I think I was a pretty stable person. I liked my job for the most part, I had a solid spousal relationship and together we had friendships and activities that were conflict-free and enjoyable. I rarely lost my temper or yelled at anyone for anything. I felt confident about my accomplishments and daily decisions, and I was nice. I was always on time, early even. I wasn't often angry, resentful, frustrated, overwhelmed or guilt-ridden. I wasn't hating the sound of my own nagging voice. I didn't make people regularly burst into tears just by asking them to lift their chin so I could rinse the shampoo out of their hair, or by telling them we're out of popsicles. Some days, I could even call my former self fun to be around.

Around my house now, I feel like the resident a-hole. I'm not fun. I'm the one ending the fun, asking/telling/reminding people to do things they don't want to, warning them about dangers and consequences that worry me, keeping things on time and organized yet trying to keep it pleasant and low-key. Most times that I'm intentional about being patient, fun, or happy, it ends abruptly when I reach a threshold of whining, complaining, disobedience, injuries, spills, or fights. I crack. I'm the jerk again. When I send my kids away for a break or peace,  it's not even about needing audible quiet or to be away from them. Sometimes I need to be able to turn off my own brain, get away from my own "momness" for awhile so that I can remember the parts about myself that I like. My mouth may be calmly saying "That wasn't a good choice... do you want to try again? What did we learn here?" but my brain is screaming "ARE YOU AN IDIOT? What is the MATTER with you? Why don't you ever LISTEN?!" That is not a pleasant internal dialog to constantly suppress.

I'll admit it, I'm a control freak. Maybe that's part of my problem. So much about mothering is out of our control, and while I've forced myself to let a lot of little things go, that's still not my instinct to go with the flow. If I plan things out a certain way, and prepare the best I can, it's pretty defeating to have things not line up or fall into place most of the time. I was a good student growing up, and I was used to being the best or winning (uh, not at sports... don't be ridiculous). Group work wasn't my favourite though, because the weaker link always seemed to bring us down and thwart our success and productivity. Now I'm living in "group work" land every day, my little links are weak, and I'm feeling thwarted. I need to redefine what success means. Can I love them without loving what I do?

While someone else may do the dishes and cooking on Mother's Day, and give you a card and flowers to thank you for doing their laundry and helping with homework and finding that lost library book every week, I hope this explains why those things, while appreciated, cannot come close to shouldering this burden of emotion and guilt we carry. I don't want to be pitied for this; I want to come to terms with not liking the "mom version" of me so that I can do something about it. There are beautiful positives that come with having little people love you and depend on you, but so often it's hard to push past not liking your "job" a whole lot to savour those moments. Glennon Melton over at Momastery wrote a fantastic post about NOT "seizing the day" because it's impossible to enjoy every single second: "I think parenting young children (and old ones, I've heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they've heard there's magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it's hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up." She reminds us that to acknowledge this difficulty isn't being negative--it's being honest. She points out that we can't dwell on our lack of enjoyment in every moment. We have to look for the meaningful, amazing moments and commemorate them.
"There was a famous writer who, when asked if he loved writing, replied, "No. but I love having written. And I love having parented." (Go, read it. Read the whole thing).

We find comfort in bloggers and mom friends like these who share our feelings of inadequacy. We compare whose child has the most food crusted on their face, and whose kids have gone the longest without a bath or diaper change. It's good to laugh about these insignificant failures, because they truly don't matter in the big picture. When I'm having a bad day, I have people in my life who will tell me, "you're an amazing mom!" I accept their kind words hesitantly, and I'm sure my children would say the same thing. I just wish I could give my kids a mother who didn't feel like a dark cloud all the time in her role. I want them to look back and feel like I loved being their mom, that I wasn't frustrated and angry all the time, and that I had more grace and forgiveness. That I enjoyed what I was doing more often than I was upset. That though it was treacherous, they could tell that they took my breath away.

Back to my original motivation for writing this, I will end with this thought. Celebrating Mother's Day often leaves me with mixed feelings because I'm still in the middle of the climb. I'm huffing and puffing and wanting to collapse. It's not pretty. I don't love stressed-out me. So to be honoured for that "accomplishment" just feels misplaced, like it's meant for someone else who already reached all their goals, has had a moment to catch their breath, is smiling. Do I really want to celebrate being transformed into this grumpy, exhausted shell of my former self? We mothers are praised in spite of the journey being ongoing, but please remember we still see the summit looming above us. Whatever tokens you may hand us are appreciated, but nothing can truly carry us up that mountain. And be warned that we may curse the rest of the way up, and feel like ungrateful turds for not enjoying it more. Some may point out that many jobs are stressful and cause us to dislike things about ourselves. It's true, there are harder jobs out there, and ones that bring out the worst in people. The kicker comes when you remember that this "job" is your flesh and blood, who you love and are called to protect and raise into decent human beings. Daunting? Just a little. Every day I am reminded that my every action and word teaches them something. If I'm inconsistent, it matters.

Those of you reading this, I can imagine having three different reactions. The first will be those who feel like I do. To you, I say let's figure this out and talk about it. We need to recognize our feelings and do something with them. The second will be those whose experience is nothing like mine, and probably think I'm depressed or ungrateful or ignorant. To you, I say you have a wonderful gift of enjoying your role and identity as mother. Please understand it's more work for some of us to like our mom selves. You have an exceptional ability to genuinely find the positive in everything. The third will say, "Oh come on, you're too hard on yourself! All moms have those feelings, it doesn't make you a bad mother. You still deserve to be recognized on Mother's Day." But you know what? My kids deserve better. They deserve to see the side of me that doesn't frown at every mess they've made, or sigh at every post-bedtime request. As you can tell, my thoughts are a little scattered. One minute I'm justifying my frustration, and the next I'm saying that I have to do better. One minute I'm referencing Mother's Day, the next I'm trying to wade through my own identity crisis. All I can say is that this is what was on my heart, and I hope that admitting and explaining it will help somebody else, as it has helped me to write it. The best thing I can do is be aware of the traits I don't want to have, and push them aside when they well up. I can experience them, but be careful not to let them define me.

All I can do is keep loving my little family, looking for ways to put myself back into "mom me" and look for the magic in the climb. It's got to be there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

16 Things I Wish I'd Known About Babies Before I Had One

I am not a baby expert.

In fact, when I had my first child, I knew very little about babies. There were a lot of logistical and developmental things I had never heard about, and a lot that surprised me. Now, with my third child at 3 months of age, I can look back to my first experiences with some trench perspective, and think about the things I REALLY wish someone had told me about that first time. Because knowing what's 'normal' can make it soooo much more likely that you will not want to stab yourself in the eye with a baby monitor. 

Hope you find this helpful!

1) Your baby may not like the carseat, or may wake up whenever you stop driving. You picked out the perfect coordinated travel system in the colour/pattern you wanted, and the child in the photo on the box is either smiling or sleeping. The handle is decked out with a fun musical toy, you've got padded shoulder straps and an extra headrest for that sweet, floppy little neck. Then you buckle her in and she screams - every time. Or she's fine as long as you're moving - but how dare you stop! I've had two babies fall into this category. Both of them would start to stir at every red light or stop sign, and I would perfect my "inching forward while pumping the brakes" routine to avoid the full waking/crying that always seemed to follow. I've been known to twist my arm around behind me and gently shake the carseat to mimic motion. It also even affects what route I take on a car trip - downtown areas with a lot of stops are not my friend. Take the long way around... wouldn't you rather add an extra 20 minutes of peace than listen to 10 minutes of screaming? Ten minutes seems VERY long when your dear little nugget is choking on wails and making that desperate, breathless, shaky-lamb noise. Other friends of mine have had the babies that just plain hate the carseat. Once those straps start slipping up over their arms, it's freak-out time. See what you can do to change the way things feel (remove extra padding or add it, change the seat angle a little, while still keeping it in the safe range), or try to always leave the house when baby is tired and about to fall asleep. But it may just take time for the little one to get used to it. You're (probably) not doing anything wrong. If it keeps you from wanting to go anywhere, try just letting her lay free-style in the flat stroller bottom and go for a walk instead.
2) Your baby may only sleep well if he is on you/beside you or in a swing, and may hate the crib/ bassinet, or sleeping on his back. I had to laugh at my 5-year-old when I was pregnant with my third and she told me "I know how to get babies to sleep!" Yeah, sure you do I said to myself with a smirk. Good luck with that! You know that image you had in your head of you sweetly humming a lullaby, while rocking your baby in a rocking chair, then setting him gently down on his back in a quiet crib, limp arms up peacefully by his head? And enjoying three hours of free time while he naps? Only the lucky ones, I'm afraid. The majority of babies need sleep aids to get to dreamland (and to stay there): nursing, soothers, swaddling, white noise, motion, or human contact are all things to try, alone or in combination. I always assumed babies cried because they needed a clean diaper, were hungry, or were in pain. Not once did my kids cry over a soiled diaper; no, the majority of tears and screams happened when they were tired (or bored), and I was trying my best to convince them that sleep helps. It's also good to realize that your baby might fall asleep nursing or drift off by simply being held at first... but this can change as they get older and more aware. My firstborn was about 6 or 7 weeks old when she stopped falling asleep nursing, and I had no idea what she wanted or how to get her to sleep anymore. After that, we developed an "eat, awake, sleep" routine, but I really had to figure out which aids worked best for her (umm... all of them). Even with the assistance of some tools, she still fought me on pretty much every.single.nap until she was three (and stopped napping altogether). It's not your fault; some babies just don't love nap time. You may find yourself in tears, beyond frustrated holding a flailing, tired, angry little person. You may for the first time understand the need for anti-baby-shaking awareness campaigns (which is a serious thing, and not to be taken lightly. If you worry about the rage you're feeling, put baby down in a safe place and WALK AWAY. Go in another room and scream or bite down on something, hard. Cry. Cool off. Regroup. Try again. Feeling this way does not mean you don't love your baby).
3) Swaddling is worth trying.
And I don't mean some half-effort, arms-out packaging job with a flannel receiving blanket the size of a washcloth. A good swaddle takes a large blanket (or two), and tight wrapping. Thin muslin ones are great for this, and you can find tons of online tutorials if you can't get the method figured out. As baby gets older and stronger, you might want to invest in a commercial swaddling blanket like the Miracle Blanket or SwaddleMe, which feature things like inner arms flaps and velcro closures. And listen, if baby cries when you swaddle her, it doesn't mean she hates it or that you shouldn't keep trying. Most will struggle the first few times. If your baby sleeps great without, be glad; but if she's waking up every 10-15 minutes and crying, chances are her arms are startling her awake and she needs them tucked in tight. My 3-month-old now smiles at me after I swaddle her. Go read this if you don't believe me. My son never needed swaddling, but both of my daughters needed constant straightjackets to get any decent sleep. Speaking of sleep...
4) Your baby may take steps back in sleeping. I can't tell you how many friends of mine had babies that seemed to sleep through the night, or almost through the night, by a month or two old, only to start waking up multiple times a night at 4 months or 6 months. Here's the thing. Nothing about babies developing or progressing is linear. Two steps forward, three steps back, do the hokey pokey and pour yourself some coffee, because this baby isn't done turning itself around yet. I can't tell you exactly what your baby is going to do or what pattern he will follow, all I can tell you is not to get frustrated when setbacks seem to pop up. Developmental milestones, growth spurts, teething, illness, travel... all of these things can trigger a regression. If you expect and accept them, it's much less frustrating to deal with. No less tiring, but not as discouraging. Don't waste your brain power with the "why is this happening when he was doing SO well!" It doesn't matter; if there is an obvious solution or cause, try to fix it. If not, wait a few days or weeks and it will likely work itself out.
5) You need a network. That old saying about "it takes a village"? It's true. Our North American culture typically lacks built-in natural community and support for new mothers, so we have to seek it out and create it. I wish I'd known that earlier, because I was fairly isolated with my first. Find a local mom/baby group. If you don't like it, try another one until you feel like you mesh with the other people there. If you can't find supportive and friendly moms in your area, look online. Either existing friends via facebook or topical online communities are great options for reaching out. When I was pregnant with my first, I connected with a friend's cousin that I sort-of knew and we were having babies around the same time. Fast forward 6 years, and we each have three kids and have gone through pretty much every baby/toddler/preschooler stage and issue together  - all online. You need people who you can vent to and ask advice from, people who are willing to be real and non-judgmental. If the moms you've connected with pretend their kids are perfect and that they've never felt like jumping out a window... they might be the wrong friends.
6) Breastfeeding might hurt for awhile, even if you do it right. This myth really bugs me, because breastfeeding flag-wavers everywhere are perpetrating the lie that if it hurts, you're doing it wrong. Hey, I'm VERY pro-breastfeeding, and yes it will hurt very much if you're doing it wrong or have developed a problem like thrush or mastitis, and yes I recommend that people should power through and stick it out if they are able. But I would like to change the phrase to "breastfeeding doesn't hurt after the first month or two if you do it properly." I'm sorry, but an infant with a strong sucking reflex suctioning on your very sensitive boob all day every day, plus engorgement, plus potentially painful letdown (which I get, for several weeks, each time I have a baby) is NOT painless. I'm sure some people have no pain, and that is great for them. But I feel like too many people get discouraged with how painful it is, assume they're doing it wrong even though everything seems to be just like they've been told is the right way, and give up before it gets really great. Trust me, for the first month at least, I curled my toes and winced for the first few moments of every latch. And shielded my ultra-sensitive boobs when I stepped under the shower head.  It gets better. Just don't feel like a failure if you're not pain-free.
7) Babies grow. You must think I'm an idiot for not knowing this one. I did... I just had no idea how fast. My babies were all between 7 and 9 pounds at birth, but they were LONG. The size newborn and 0-3 month clothes lasted maybe two weeks, at best. If you have a tiny baby, you may get much more use out of tiny items; however, best to start with only a few pieces and add more if you need them. The 3-6 month stuff will likely get more use. When you're pregnant and shopping, don't buy every piece you like/want in the smallest size. Mix it up, buy some 6-12 and 12-18 month sizes so you have something to look forward to.
8) Certain cloth diapers may not fit at first. New babies often lack the deliciously chubby thighs that keep cloth diapers from leaking. You really have two options here: either buy a few newborn-sized cloth diapers that may get outgrown in 3 weeks (see #7, above), or use disposables until baby chunks up a bit and fills out the diaper size that will last them several months. Personally I've gone with the second option, especially because babies poop so much more often in the first couple of weeks and you would need about ten diapers a day to keep up.
9) There're these things called cluster feeding and growth spurts. So...bad news. That baby's only going to stop crying if you feed her. What, you just fed her 10 minutes ago? For an hour? Doesn't matter. It's all she wants. Hand her off to Daddy and all she does is turn her face and start sucking on his arm. Mine used to look at me apologetically and hand her back. Sorry to break it to you, but this happens and it's best to just accept it and park on the couch in the evenings for the first few weeks. Grab your remote, a snack, some water and your phone. Friends for company if you need them. Pray baby has a good latch, because she's probably just going to go from boob to boob for a few hours. There's nothing wrong with her, just take a deep breath and know that it's normal. Frustrating, but normal, and most often in the evenings.  
10) It's okay to sit and hold them while they nap on your chest, and okay to sleep with them in your bed (if you do it safely). If you enjoy it or everyone is happier that way, proceed. But it's equally okay to set them down and let them cry for a minute while you pee, or make coffee or speed-eat lunch with your hands free. You don't have to follow any set of rules when it comes to "attachment" parenting or fostering independence. Do what works. Bad habits can be broken later when everyone's had more sleep and baby is older and easier to work with. And no one is going to die from crying for three minutes. It's really okay. And on that note...
11) You might need someone to tell you it's okay to leave your newborn.
I had a friend message me one day to tell me how burnt out she felt with her baby, who was a few months old. She said she just never got a break. I said hand that baby to your husband and walk out the front door. Go anywhere you want, it really doesn't matter. She was almost shocked, and said "thank you. I had never really thought about leaving her before." It's almost like we need someone to verbally say we have permission before it occurs to us we CAN. I'm actually so glad my mother-in-law came over when my firstborn was a week old, and told me to go to the grocery store. To take twenty minutes for myself and just remember what it's like to feel like a human apart from my baby. It felt crazy, and I was hesitant, but I needed it. And I needed someone to actually SAY that I should. This is especially important for breastfeeding mothers, because we spend so much time glued to our babies and we emotionally carry the weight of their entire nourishment and comfort on us, so we end up thinking we can't be away from them for even a minute or they'll die. See cluster feeding, above. So it might be a good idea if your first time driving/walking away from your precious little one is in the daytime when you think she can go half an hour without a feeding. It has to be with someone you trust - your partner, a grandparent, your sister, etc. After this ice-breaking outing, you can work your way up to longer stretches of time apart from baby, so that by 2 or 3 months old you may actually be able to get two good hours and go out for dinner nearby! It's important to start early because leaving them for the first time isn't going to get any easier the older they get. If you wait until she's 2, you're going to be a wreck and so is she. Baby steps.
12) Overtired is a terrible place. So is overstimulated. Common sense might tell you that keeping a baby awake longer or tiring them out with activities and multi-sensory play would help them sleep better and longer. But it could not be more wrong. New babies cannot/should not stay awake for long periods of time (2 hours is probably too much until they're at least 3 months old, maybe older. Here's a great chart). A baby who is kept up for too long will get overtired, which means his adrenaline starts pumping to compensate. This results in a cranky, wired, impossible-to-put-to-sleep baby for a few hours. Overstimulation works similarly... little babies don't need 7 coloured toys hanging above them while music plays and lights flash. Most newborns, once they can see and respond to things, would be most content to look quietly at a single toy for a few minutes, then have it replaced with a different one once they start making complaining boredom noises. My youngest currently likes to look at and touch the corduroy on my couch cushions. If you're playing music or sounds for him, try to limit any intense visual stimulation at the same time. A baby with too much going on is not going to be a happy baby for too long. And trying to stimulate a tired baby's senses is just the worst thing you could do.
13) Some babies catnap. I've had two of these babies. Forty-five minutes is the length of one infant sleep cycle. Who knew? I did not. I couldn't understand why other babies seemed to sleep for 2 or 3 hours with no trouble, and I drove myself insane trying to get my first to sleep longer. Turns out some babies just biologically don't have the rhythm yet, and you kind of just need to go with the flow. It's frustrating, but it does give you a little more freedom to come and go and be busy. You don't have to block off a whole afternoon camped at home until baby wakes up, so that's a bonus. There is one trick I've found helpful, and that is to try stretching one of the midday naps into a 'double'. When she wakes at the 45-minute mark, go immediately and shush/rock/soothe her back to sleep as best you can. For my baby, this means I leave her swaddled and keep the loud white noise pumping as I hold her and pat her diaper, soother in her mouth. Allow about twenty minutes for her sleep cycle to go from light/unsettled sleep into a deep sleep, which will allow her to likely be set down again undisturbed. In that 20 minutes, she may cry or fuss for a minute, open her eyes, and make some strange faces before hitting deep sleep; mine follows a funny little routine where she squirms, opens her eyes a few times, then her soother falls out, then she does some weird breathing and makes CRAZY  FACES. I'm talking smiles, almost-laughs, cry sobs and eye twitches. In her sleep. Once crazy faces stop, it's usually been about 20 minutes and I can generally put her down and she'll do another hour sometimes. Worth a shot.
14) This isn't directly about babies, but you'll discover it quickly when you have one. There are a lot of opinions out there about controversial parenting topics, and people will tell them to you whether you want to hear or not. You probably found that out when you were pregnant. It's frustrating, sometimes insulting, sometimes hurtful, and only occasionally helpful. Bottom line: your choices on vaccination, circumcision, diapering, feeding or anything else are not going to make or break you as a parent. Educate yourself and do what you and your partner think is best. And think up snarky things to say to people who cross the line.
15) You might be the strangest combination of bored and busy that you've ever experienced. For me, this was the hardest thing to get used to because I thrive on balance. After the first few weeks when she started being awake for longer stretches, I didn't know what to "do" with her. She was still too young to play with toys or be responsive to much, but didn't just sleep all the time anymore and needed constant attention. It's an awkward phase, albeit short. And as a new mom, you're still figuring out how to do "normal" things like grocery shop or hang out with friends, so you maybe haven't quite figured out how to keep socially busy yet, despite feeling like housework and other commitments are piling up on you and adding stress. As a new mom, I was lonely but stretched thin; understimulated and somewhat unfulfilled, but not able to keep up with simple things like laundry and dishes some days. It's a unique phase of life and a challenge to juggle. I hope that just knowing other moms experience it will get you through to a time when baby is a little more interactive and a little less demanding of your time and body, and some balance is restored.
16) You'll be "that" parent. You know, the one that thinks their child is the first to ever roll over or smile. What's the big deal? Everyone smiles. Everyone knows how to pick up a toy. What's so amazing about milestones? Everything. Because you see firsthand that yesterday he was this little lump with a face that looked at you, and today that face smiles when he recognizes you. And that? That will grab hold of you like nothing you've ever known. Marveling at life as it develops in a tiny body is unlike anything else. So go ahead. Brag. Beam. Take photos. You're allowed to be this amazed.

What about you? What do you wish you had known or were surprised to experience?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Diapers - the Best of the Best

This post is a long time coming. Not only because I haven't posted in months, but also because some of these were sold to me as "testers" from a good friend who asked for my feedback on them! All of these diapers were purchased from re•diaper in Hamilton, Ontario. Fabulous store, lots of selection, will special-order from their existing suppliers, and they are more than happy to educate you and answer all your CD questions!

I have been cloth diapering for 4 years now, and I've tried (and re-sold) a huge range of different types and brands. The two styles I like best are fitted with covers, and pocket diapers (as opposed to hybrids, prefolds, and all-in-ones that I have tried*). For those of you that are new to cloth diapering, this isn't a diapering 101 lesson. I'll be using terminology that might confuse you, so I apologize in advance! There are some great sources out there where you can learn the basics. This post is aimed at those who know the ins and outs of cloth, and are looking for a great system. And here they are!

Bum Genius 4.0 One-Size with Snap Closure

(tested against Bum Genius 2.0 and 3.0 with velcro closure, Baby Kanga One Size, Happy Heineys, and Fuzzi Bunz Perfect Size)
This company has worked hard to perfect their diapers. You will still get some leg elastic weakening after a couple years of use, but they now have an easy-access opening so that you can replace it. The velcro damage and failure was the main problem I had with my 2.0 and 3.0 versions, so this snap option is the perfect solution. It's one size (three size options, with 2 inserts: newborn size and a bigger one that folds/snaps to adjust). The outer shell is PUL, the fabric that touches baby's skin is micro-fleece to help keep skin dry, and the insert is micro-terry for decent absorbency. You could stuff with bamboo or hemp for better protection. They come in a small range of colours and just introduced the Artist Series (pictured).

BEST FITTED (Newborns and Overall)
Newborn - Kissaluv Cotton Fleece, size 0

(tested against Bamboozle, Bumboo, Dream Eze, Kushies, Jamtots Eezi-fold Quick-Dry Organic Hemp Fitted)
I have used these diapers on both of my kids, and I could not ask for a better fitted diaper in those early months. They feature a snap-down front for the healing stump, and are made of soft terry cotton. Because the layers are all sewn in, they do take a bit of time to dry, but I like not having to fold up a loose insert attachment while diapering a squirming baby. The waist and leg gathers are very stretchy and soft, protect very well from blowouts, and the snap closures do up easily. It's a sized diaper, but I was able to use them from a week or two old until almost 6 months. And at that point, he actually could still fit into them but was out-peeing them (could have added a booster at that point). Comes in a range of soft colours. These do not win for Best Overall Fitted because the Size 1 didn't impress me as much; they are a wide diaper that doesn't easily fit under a cover of corresponding size (generally Large).

Overall - Thirsties Duo Fab Fitted with Snap Closure

I have only been using these diapers for about a month, but they have already become my favourite fitteds. The outer fabric is soft velour, and the inside that touches baby's skin is micro-fleece. The second photo shows how the absorbent layers function like a micro-terry insert sewn into the diaper, but with a tunnel design to allow for faster drying and for easy stuffing. This diaper is adjustable for size, but comes in two sizes because Thirsties believes that the range of child sizes supposedly accommodated by most one-size diapers is too great (and I'm inclined to agree). Comes in a range of lovely saturated colours.

Thirsties Duo Wrap with Snap Closure

(tested against Bummis Super Whisper Wrap, Bummis Super Brites, Mother-ease Rikki Wrap Covers)
You may have noticed by now that I have steered away from velcro (also called Aplix or Hook and Loop). My first covers were the Bummis velcro, and while they are a decent cover, the snaps are a much better option. Even with laundry tabs, velcro can come loose and damage your diapers in the wash. It also loses holding power over time, and the stiffer velcros can chaff baby's thighs when secured certain ways. The Thirsties cover is adjustable size and, just like the fitted diaper, comes in two sizes. The double leg gusset adds that much-needed protection from leaks, and helps you tuck in those edges of a thicker fitted diaper. Comes in a range of colours and some cute patterns.

BEST WOOL COVER - Little Beetle Organic Wool Diaper Cover with Snap Closure

(tested against Sugar Peas Double-Knit Wool Cover, Stacinator stretchy Wool Cover, Aristocrats Pull-On Cover)
Wool, though it requires some extra care, has many advantages to a synthetic PUL cover. First of all, it breathes. Second of all, it can contain even the most saturated diaper and not leak (often it will feel humid because it's evaporating the moisture out). This cover has everything I would want. It has a good amount of stretch, snap closure, and adjustable sizing (though it works best with a lower-rise diaper). This was the first cover I had tried with a double wool layer for the best possible leak protection. Absolutely no complaints. Comes in a handful of muted colours.

Jamtots Fleece-Topped Hemp Doubler

(tested against Kissaluvs Boosters, Jamtots One-size Hemp Stuffers, Bumboo bamboo boosters)
I don't often use boosters because I tend to use disposables at night or on long car trips, and I do frequent daytime diaper changes, but these are good to have on hand. The tapered bone shape of the doubler is comfortable for baby, especially because any booster or double is adding extra bulk between the legs. Also, the fleece top keeps baby dry, unless you are heading towards potty training; at this point you simply flip it over so the child feels the dampness on the hemp side. These doublers are also nice and long, which is great for boys!

*Additional diapers I have tried include gDiapers with gRefills and gCloth, GroBaby (GroVia) Shells, Soaker Pads and BioSoakers, Unbleached Chinese Prefolds in a variety of folds, Rumpsters all-in-one, and several home-made diapers. I'm probably forgetting a couple others, but these are the main contenders!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Skip Hop Mate - Stay-put mat & plate

Despite all the amazing and innovative highchairs on the market today, you might be surprised to learn that I have two old ones in my house. One belonged to me and my siblings when we were little, and it's a beautiful, worn-in wooden Roxton one. The other is a metal and vinyl '70s-style model that I got for $5 at a thrift store. I enjoy that the vinyl seat upholstery matches the formica tray pattern. I admit I've been tempted to splurge on new highchairs, with wheels, numerous removable and dishwasher-safe trays, height adjustments, padding, and so on. But I don't think I can justify it, and I do love the vintage quality of both mine.

Neither of these chairs have a lip on the edge of the tray, which can be a bit of a problem for early eaters. Food cannot just be placed directly onto the tray, or it goes everywhere fast. It has to be on some type of plate. With my older child (almost 3), we now pull her right up to the table without the tray (it just swings to the back on little arms). That works fine because she's older. My son uses the vinyl chair, and it has a metal bar around the tray, but a large food-hungry gap to go along with it. He just turned 1, and if I give him his meal on a small round plate, it generally ends up capsized or on the floor.

I wasn't looking for a solution to this problem, but I happened to see the Skip Hop Mate in a store while looking for birthday presents for my son. I had very few ideas for what to get a second-born 1-year-old, so I thought this could be great. I was right! It's a fabulous design. It fits really well on the little tray of his chair, and the 3 little plate sections let me keep things organized (until his chubby little fingers mix it all up anyways). A tiny fork and spoon fit onto the side nubs, and the inner white plate lifts out for easy cleaning. The coloured bottom mat is coated with a rubbery non-slip surface, although I wouldn't say it always stays put. The bottom of the mat does hang a little over the edge of our tray, so now he's able to grab it and move it if he wants to. Still, not as easy to fling or flip as a little round plate would be.

You have to be careful with tomato-based or very red/orange foods, because they can stain the rubber mat easily. Wash immediately to combat this.

I know that I'm really liking this product because I wash it between meals... that generally never happens with any of the plates I own!

Purchased at Cheeky Monkey for $24.99 (I think). Available in orange, blue and pink. BPA-free, Phthalate-free, PVC-free.