Lessons from Sir Henry: things I didn't know before motherhood
February 19, 2015
I was not the kind of expectant mother whose Kindle was filled with parenting books and weekends were filled with new parent classes. (Actually, I don't even have a Kindle. I like the way books smell. But that's another story...). I halfheartedly slogged through parts of "what to expect" and then went back to binge watching Fixer Upper on HGTV (Best. show. ever.) I figured that babies and mamas have figured out a way to co-exist for a long looong time, so I would let nature and my instincts guide me along.
For the most part, that has worked out really well for Henry and I. Babies don't come home from the hospital with a user guide but they do come home with parents, and for the most part we can trust our instincts and that is enough. The best advice I received was just that- "You know best. Listen to your baby, and listen to your heart." I have learned though, that there are times such as 3 hour long evening "purple crying" sagas when the guidance and learning of the moms and dads and even scientists who came before Henry and I could come in really handy. And so, I'd find myself trolling the blogosphere at 3 am while nursing, because that is the only time I had to read about the issue of the week that we were facing.
In hindsight, perhaps some of this learning could have taken place as preparation during pregnancy . Perhaps those Kindle loving mamas had the right idea. Or perhaps I would have no way of knowing what I needed to know until I needed to know it. Whatever the case, whether you are a soon to be mom or dad looking for advice on the adventure ahead, or a mother in the throes of a middle of the night google fest who came across this blog, I hope that the lessons Sir Henry and I have weathered will be of help.
#1- Swinging, shushing, swaddling, side, sucking. The 5 s's or "cuddle cure" is outline in the book the Happiest Baby on the Block. My mom brought me this book from the library and showed me the popular youtube video how to calm a crying baby in 5 seconds. During that purple crying phase, this method was invaluable to us. Proof that Grandma knows best!
#2- Your baby needs sleep like he needs food. It is essential to his learning and development, his mood, and his health. Well, I sort of knew that. But here is what I didn't know- past 2 months or so of age, and your little one is probably going to need your help with sleep. Most babies at that age will have grown out of the "I can sleep anywhere, anytime, all the time" stage. The book that was recommended to me that helped me learn how to help Henry sleep was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. The book explains how sleep works for a baby (spoiler alert- VERY different than our adult sleep!) and how to help your child sleep. It is the Weissbluth side of the Weissbluth v. Ferber showdown, which you've probably heard about if you've also been googling around the interweb at 3 am desperately seeking sleep. His research and advice remains a useful read, whichever side of the debate you are on. I can vouch that the advice within this book was incredibly useful to us, even though we have not yet chosen to "cry it out." We opted for the graduated check in method and Henry adjusted really quickly to the bedtime and nap routines we established, resulting in very little crying. Now, Henry goes to sleep with very little protest, about every two hours or when he seems tired. Usually by the time we change him, read a book and begin zipping him into his Zipadee Zip he is smiling and cooing, thankful to be taking a nap! It blows my mind. He is a child who loves routines, and has really put US on HIS schedule, not the other way around. The key take away from Dr. Weissbluth was this concept: sleep begets sleep. People generally have an adult idea of sleep, and so figure that if they keep a baby awake during the day, it will result in longer or deeper night sleep. Dr. Weissbluth explains the flaws in this method, and we have seen the results in our house with a very well rested, no longer "Cranky Hanky." Another excellent sleep resource for us was the website troublesome tots. Bottom line is, find a way, whatever way works for your kid, to help your baby sleep. Well rested babies= happy families!
#3- breastfeeding during the first 6 weeks can be difficult. For many moms and babies there is an adjustment period where they're both learning how to do it. This is also the time when a baby needs to eat the most frequently. I think a lot of people are afraid to tell you that it can be tough, in fear that it will be discouraging. I disagree. For me, setting small goals has always helped me work towards a bigger end and feel encouraged by hitting my accomplishments along the way. I'd rather know what lies ahead and then challenge myself to get through the tough stuff. I remember nursing Henry half awake every two to three hours each night for the first couple of months and reciting to myself aloud the benefits of breastfeeding to keep motivated. "Best nutrition for baby, reduces allergies, gastro-intestinal issues and increases immune system for baby, bonding for mother and child, helps the mother's healing process, linked to reduction of ovarian and cervical cancer in women..."For me, and for most new moms I know, there is an initial adjustment period to breastfeeding. It may seem hard, or really tiring. This makes sense and its ok, after all, we've never kept anything alive solely using our body's natural resources before! Similarly, our babies have never had to think about eating in utero, so learning to eat is a pretty big deal. To keep myself encouraged and accountable to my goal of breastfeeding Henry, I first set my sights on making it through the first 6 weeks. Having support during this time from my mom friends who I could text at 2 am with feeding questions made all the difference! I also visited a lactation consultant once to help with positioning and to ensure Henry was eating enough. After the first 6 weeks, Henry and I had it pretty well down and I set my sights on continuing to breastfeed for 6 months. Now, at five months, I find it easy, convenient and incredibly bonding. I hope to continue breastfeeding through his first year. I recommend breastfeeding if you can, and highly encourage anyone who is having a hard time to reach out to me through the comments. I'd be happy to send you lots of praise and virtual high-5's, even at 3 am. You got this, girl!
#3- You be You- I went through a bit of an identity crisis a few months after Henry was born. Thankfully it was short, but it was telling. Behind on world news, sick of yoga pants (a borderline sacrilege thing to say, I know, as yoga pants ARE amazing and critical wardrobe pieces for every girl), and obsessing about my child's schedule I wondered where the girl my husband had married had gone to. Where was the girl who scheduled time for yoga each week, was praised at work for her competency and creativity and kept up with the cool kids? Especially since I knew I would be returning to work soon and spending more time away from him, I panicked at the thought of being away from him unnecessarily. Well, I think its pretty normal for moms to be obsessed with our children, that's just the natural order of things. But after a few months of new mom obsession, I started to realize that it was time to expand our perfect little world a bit. By four months, Henry was a happy, growing and cooing little boy, but my hair was accidentally ombre!(That's what 4 months of grow out + prenatal vitamins will do to a lady!) It was time to take advantage of all of the free babysitting offers we are so fortunate to have and it was time for a cut and color. Finding a balance of motherhood, wifedom and personhood is my current goal. I try to incorporate Henry into the activities I already love, so that we still get time together and I can still be a hip and with it, and over all happy mom. I've started doing some yoga with Henry in the Boba wrap. I'm downloading podcasts and listening to NPR sometimes instead of talking to him for the entire car ride. I treat myself to lunches, coffee, and BEER with friends often, even if it means swapping a crib nap for a carseat nap. When Henry goes to bed, my husband and I try to take time for one another, just talking, hot tubbing, eating dinner or catching up on shows. Henry and I are also starting kindermusic class so we can spend time singing together with other moms and babies. (I am aware that for some people singing children's music in a room full of toddlers and babies and tambourines sounds like motherhood hell, but we both love music and I can't wait!) The bottom line for me is this- I am a better mom and wife when I am also a woman who can define herself beyond those two things. And I have to keep reminding myself that. 'Cause he is really cute and its easy to get lost in those big blue eyes.
#4- ignore the percentile growth charts. If your child is eating, and going through 6-8 wet diapers per day, they are probably just growing at their own pace.
#5- buy bagged salad. I never would have guessed while pregnant that I would crave salad in those first few weeks home from the hospital. At the end of my pregnancy, normally veggie loving me wouldn't touch the stuff. After he was born, we had awesome meals dropped off from family and friends that were super helpful. But my favorite part was always the salad. Why? I craved the satisfying crunch of fresh salad badly and salad is time consuming. Veggies have to be washed, chopped and dressed and that is hard to do in the little time you get to eat. In the past, I had a full garden and lots of time and made all of my own dressings. For now, while he is little, I just buy pre-bagged salad. And it is GOOD, y'all. This lesson applies to more than just veggies though. In general, relax a little. Let things go (sing it with me, now!) Let household chores and strict principles fall by the wayside. Buy your veggies pre washed, chopped and packaged if you need to, for this is a short season.
Here are my secrets for pre-batching drinks for parties. As a former cocktail caterer who has served drinks on mountain tops, in the woods, in horse corrals, backstage at music festivals, and to thousands of thirsty wedding guests, I have some tips for making batched cocktails for events.