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babies

The Best Last Baby

My third child is the best last baby I could have asked for. But probably not in the way you are imagining.

You see, somewhere along the line I got the impression that third babies are laid back, chill babies. They handle the chaos with grace and sleep through anything because they have to. They are born into a busy bustling family dynamic that is already firmly in place, so they don’t come along expecting to change anything. They just find their place in it.

So naturally, I expected a chill baby who slept through the night and smiled all the time and never fussed about anything. This misinformation probably contributed to my hesitation to officially call her our “last baby”. Deep down, the idea of having more than three made me gulp, for a variety of reasons. But when I felt her little kicks in my belly and imagined holding my sweet sleeping darling I couldn’t imagine closing the door on the stage of life.

Then she arrived.

And she is just as sweet and precious as I imagined she would be.

Aaaaand from day one she shattered my idea of what a third baby would be like. She didn’t slide quietly into our family dynamic. She marched in and dramatically planted her flag so that no one could possibly overlook her arrival.

And even though it was a shock to adjust my naive expectations to the new reality, as I sit here cradling her sleeping body on the six month anniversary of her birth, I can now see that she is the perfect last baby.

Because she has made it very clear to me that she is our last baby.

After two smooth pregnancies, hers came with complications, reminding me how nerve wracking growing a human can be.

After a night in the NICU for jaundice, she reminded me how heartbreakingly hard parenting can be when you have to watch your kids go through something difficult.

After six months of still not sleeping through the night she reminded me of the limitations of my own sanity.

After months of fussing every time I set her down she reminded me that my other children don’t stop needing me when a new one comes along.

After months of remembering how hard nursing is, after weeks of trying to convince her to eat baby food to no avail, after realizing she is going to start crawling soon in the midst of our lego-and-shopkins-and-Barbie-shoe infected living room, she reminded me that this parenting gig takes guts. Guts and heart and laundry detergent and wine.

After all this and more, I know in my gut that she is my last.

Sure, some of it has to do with finding my own personal limit to the number of children I can adequately parent. But actually, it’s more than that.

It’s about appreciating what I have.

She reminded me that pregnancy is hard, but she also reminded me that modern medicine is miraculous and that my own body is miraculous and that because of a combination of those miraculous things I have three beautiful healthy daughters.

She reminded me that parenting is sometimes so painfully hard that you can only survive it one hour at a time while you wait for the sun to come up after the longest night of your life. But she also reminded me what a blessing it is to love another human so much that it changes you.

She reminded me how much I need sleep to be a decent human but she also reminded me how beautiful the quiet night is.

She reminded me that children aren’t always what you expect them to be and that there’s a chance for me to grow from the things I can’t control.

She reminded me how hard the first few months of a new life can be. And she made sure that I slowed down and snuggled her long enough to see the beauty hidden in the struggle.

She is the perfect last baby because she reminded me why it is time for us to be done with this stage of life and she also reminded me of the beauty in being done with this stage of life.

Six months ago this tiny little five pound human showed up, planted her flag in my heart and woke me up in ways I didn’t even know I needed.

She’s been waking me up ever since.

(Literally. 😉 )

Announcement/Excuse

In case you’re wondering why I dropped off the planet for a few months, this happened.

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At which point I had a mini heart attack, because I definitely didn’t do cardio that day.

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And then I threw up for a few months.

And then we found out it’s another baby girl, so we basically have our own cheerleading squad now. And she started kicking me in the bladder.

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And now I’m back-ish, and will probably be bombarding the site with the last shreds of my sanity (or at least my best impression thereof) before #3 arrives and I’m too tired to ever write another sentence again.

An Open Rant to My Fellow Parents

Dear Fellow Parents, 

Babies are cute. I get it. So is your toddler. So cute. And it’s so sweet that they love babies. Adorable.

But could you please not let your fucking toddler grope my baby?

You’re a parent. You know what it’s like to feel the protective instinct over your young. To see every germ and every poke and every potential danger.  

So it’s hard not to notice your sweet little one crawl across the floor with their hands in their mouth as they make a beeline for my little helpless infant. Slobbery hands poking her face and eyes and rubbing her head like she’s scrubbing leftovers off the dishes. Her giant clumsy body trying to crawl in the car seat with my significantly smaller offspring. 

No. 

No she can not share her pacifier. No your one year old can not hold my infant. Or carry her around. Or sit in her bouncy seat with her. No. No. No. 

She can certainly come see the baby. But for god’s sake, teach her what is appropriate and what isn’t. Please. Teach her about germs. Teach her not to jab her hands in my baby’s eyes or nose or mouth or to poke her delicate head. Teach her to respect babies and parents by observing gently, by honoring space. Teach her. 

And if you don’t, know that I will. It’s just that simple. My own preschooler has been drilled time and again how to appropriately interact with her baby sibling. So if your curious toddler rolls up out of nowhere and is groping and poking and jabbing, know that I will correct them as if they were my own child. It will be gentle but it will be firm. Because this is non negotiable. This tiny human can’t defend herself, and as her mama it is my job to defend her space. And I will.

But it would be cool if I didn’t have to protect my child from yours. It would be cool if we all just learned to respect each other, no matter how big or small we are. 

So if your child invades our baby bubble, no need to be embarrassed. Kids are kids and they don’t know. Unless you stand there and watch and say nothing. Unless you ignore the teaching moment to instead brag about how cute it is that your toddler loves babies. Then you can be embarrassed. 

Seriously.

Really??

ok. I’m sorry to be the person who posts this. I know that all little babies look like boys. 

But when a baby is dressed ENTIRELY IN PINK and sitting in a PINK CARSEAT surrounded by PINK BLANKETS and you’re still like, “What a cute little boy!”

Seriously. 

Even the student doctor came in the other day and was all like, “ah is this your baby brother?” and my four year old literally said, “uh, she is wearing pink.”

Don’t get me wrong. Boys can wear pink and shit. But shouldn’t you, as a doctor, look at the chart and know whether you are examining a male or female before you walk in the room?

C’mon, people. 

“Sleep Training”

First of all, can we just take a minute to laugh hysterically at the phrase “sleep training”?  It’s a seriously ridiculous and misleading phrase. As if you could “train” a child to sleep. “Control-all-the-circumstances-you-can-and-pray-like-your-life-depends-on-it” maybe. But if that kid decides they are not sleeping, “training” is futile. 

That being said, I believe in sleep training. 

“But you just said….?” Listen. I know what I said, ok? I’m tired. And we are not here to talk about me. Try to focus. 

I have this book called Babywise. I got it before my oldest was born on recommendation from the woman who inspired me to want to be a mom myself. It was my bible. Even on my second child, I clung to that book like my life depended on it, reading it again and again in the weeks before she was born, pouring through it while I was rocking her back to sleep in the wee hours of the night. Two and a half months in and I still go digging for it, panicking if it’s not in the place swear I left it because my brain no longer functions at full capacity. I’m sure I subconsciously believe that if I read it enough it will just magically happen and that my baby will miraculously follow the exact expectations for each age level outlined in the book. 

I guess I should probably take a moment to tell you what the book is even about.

It’s about a lot of things, but the primary message is a suggested parenting approach: “the Babywise method”. The Babywise method is not necessarily child-led (feed them whenever they are hungry) nor is it schedule-based (don’t feed them unless it’s time even if they are hungry) but rather a balance between the two. It uses both the guidance of the clock and cues from the infant to determine baby’s schedule. 

The foundation of the schedule is this: feed, wake, sleep. And then the cycle repeats. This means that the baby sleeps, is fed when they wake up, and then has awake time before being put back to sleep. The reasons behind this are pretty solid. It may sound like we are talking only about feeding, and as parents we are often focused on how much nutrition baby is receiving. Which is good. But the hidden goal behind this strategy is to get baby to sleep well. To have long enough naps to complete the necessary rem cycle. Human growth hormone is released during sleep so for babies to grow and be healthy, sleep is beyond critical. 

Here’s the danger that the Babywise cycle tries to prevent: if baby nurses them self to sleep or is tired at a feeding, they don’t get a full feeding. Which means they are hungry again sooner, which cuts into their nap time. Then when it’s time to eat again, they haven’t had a full nap so they are tired. See the pattern? Before you know it, you have an overtired baby who is fussy and can’t settle down, causing even more sleep disturbance. Getting enough sleep leads to full feedings. Which leads to better sleep. They are connected. 

Sleep training starts with training the parents to understand the importance of sleep. To set up all the factors they can control in order to protect baby’s sleep. 

(And I’m over here like, “DON’T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT SLEEP IS RIGHT NOW.”)

Ahem. Anyway, my point is that “sleep training” starts way before you actually start “training” (Lol) the child.  

Ok. Fast forward to now (aka around two to four months of age). This is when “they” say that you can start “sleep training”. Except, as I mentioned, that phrase is filled with lies. If you focus on “sleep” as the measure of success here, you will probably give up. Maybe you will succeed, in which case woo hoo for you. But you might also fail miserably. 

Here’s the thing: you’re not actually training them to sleep. You are training them to self-soothe. Sleep is just a benefit that results from acquiring this skill. And again with the training… It’s not so much training as allowing them to learn to self soothe. Because you don’t really have to do anything other than give them the opportunity to learn this. Their own body will react and produce the necessary hormones to calm themselves down. 

Pretty neat, huh? And pretty important. Because if you don’t give them the space to learn to self-soothe, they won’t. Their little bodies won’t ever have to release that hormone. They won’t know how to. Can you imagine what a hard thing it would be to be a baby in this world and have to be learning all this stuff and taking in an overwhelming amount of information and not be able to chill yourself out when you get stressed? To be completely dependent on someone else to take care of your emotional needs, and not even have the ability to say what is wrong. All you can do is cry and hope they guess right?

Sounds shitty. It’s hard enough being a baby and a kid in this world. It’s our job to give them as many tools as we can to help them succeed. This is one of those tools: the ability to self-soothe. 

How do we do this? Let them self-soothe. Put them down when they are a little sleepy, but not upset. Give them some space to just be alone. (Supervised from a safe distance.) Come back to check in every few minutes. If they fuss a little, let them. Go back, reassure them, and then step out of the way again. 

Or maybe when you’re in the shower and they start to fuss, don’t do the naked-soaking-wet jump out to rush to comfort them. Talk reassuringly and finish your shower. Or if you’re cooking dinner and they start to fuss, talk reassuringly and let them be fussy while you finish your stuff.

Don’t rush to comfort them EVERY TIME they get a little fussy. Don’t teach them to be totally dependent on props like a pacifier either. It’s not going to hurt them to complain for a short period of time. They have to feel distress in order to learn to respond to distress. Period. They can’t learn it if they never have the chance. 

Now, because this is the Internet and I don’t know you, a few seemingly common sense disclaimers because I like children:

1. It’s not going to hurt your newborn to fuss for a little while, but they can’t really start learning to self soothe until around two months or later. If you need to finish your shower for your sanity, do it. But little babies need to be snuggled and loved and comforted so that when it’s time to learn to self soothe you have a trusting bond that will be the foundation for learning. Bond first, training second. 

2. No child should be left totally unsupervised. For any reason. There is a difference between giving your child space and neglecting them. Training means you are coaching from the sidelines, standing back to give them the space to practice. Not going to run your errands at Target and coming back hoping they got it figured out. 

3. I could have sworn I had more of these. Now I’m tired and this is becoming a long rant. Love and snuggle your baby and don’t abandon them. 

4. Oh and too much stress is not good.  Baby doesn’t need to get completely hysterical or distraught. 

AND I’m gonna stop you right there. This post is feeling more like a rant/know it all fest right now, which is not my goal. So LET IT BE KNOWN that I am in no way shape or form an expert in this. I am sharing what I have read and learned from others, a few shreds of common sense, and a teensy bit of my own experience. That’s it. 

My little one gets snuggled a lot. She prefers to be held to sleep some days, and will literally wake up from the deepest sleep if you set her down or even stop the car at a stop sign. This last weekend, it became pretty obvious that we were rapidly forming some bad habits. She wasn’t getting solid naps because I set her down, and she was waking up in the night, not because she was hungry but because she wanted us to comfort her back to sleep. Not cool. 

So today we started baby boot camp. I put her in her crib in her dark room for a nap. I laid her down before she was asleep. I checked back in every few minutes. AND SHE FELL ASLEEP. After a good uninterrupted nap, she ate well. So she napped better all day. In the evening I was rushing to get supper. She crabbed and fussed on the floor for a bit. I picked her up once, but I mostly reassured from a distance. 

And tonight, she slept ALL NIGHT. 

Tomorrow might be a totally different story. And I can’t promise that if you do this it will work so perfectly. It probably won’t. But for all the reasons listed above, it’s worth doing.