Beware the Jabberwock

I have decided that, if Morgan has a Jabberwocky, it is naptime.  Not bedtime, mind you; just naptime.  I was walking her around last night on my shoulder after feeding her and she fell asleep, so I slowly sat down and leaned back, only to have her start fussing.  I moved her from my shoulder to my lap and found that her eyes were closed, and I, like a terrible parent, sat there and watched for a good minute or two as she fussed and gave small cries with her eyes closed before getting her back on my shoulder and walking her around again.  I couldn’t help it – it was so absurdly funny that it bordered on ludicrous while still being absolutely endearingly sweet.

Walking around put her back to sleep in pretty short order, this time for a good couple of hours, but it just made me stop and wonder what it is about naptime that can put so many kids into a bit of a cranky mood, and that’s when the thought of the Jabberwocky struck me.

That extra need for sleep when the world is so new and fascinating must seem like the greatest inconvenience imaginable.  Sure, they’re happier after a nap than they are if they don’t get one, but their minds aren’t entirely logical yet, so the correlation between nap and better moods isn’t a concrete one for them yet.  Instead, this lurking monster of sleep comes creeping up on them when they least expect it, taking them out of the world for an hour or two.  At the very least, that has to be annoying, but to have something so far out far out of your control when you already have so little control has to be a somewhat fearful thing.

Walking around bobbing up and down, rocking back and forth can help distract from that creeping sleepiness, which Jen and I are all too happy to do, but it seems like once Morgan is aware of the Jabberwocky’s presence, only sleep can make her forget it.  At least this Jabberwocky is really good, because she always comes back happy as a clam!

Fresh off a trip to see the Jabberwocky

Fresh off a trip to see the Jabberwocky

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Changing The Worldbuilding

Absolute Bliss

I was reading a Cracked article earlier today, 5 Popular Excuses That Are Totally Meaningless, and one of the excuses really got me thinking: “I’m too selfish to be a parent.”

Now, you know what?  I know some parents who should have had this thought before having kids.  At the same time, though, I can honestly say that I don’t know very many parents I would consider to be terrible, and part of that is because having kids changes you in some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) ways.

Of course we all know that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the release of oxytocin helps to cement the powerful relationship between mother and child, but that sense of euphoria doesn’t explain the way mothers seem to instinctively know what to do with their own child(ren), even when the mere thought of holding a friend’s child sends child-fearing women running for Depends.

Let me give just one example: Jen and I own two cats.  We’ve owned at least one cat constantly since shortly after we got married.  Both of our cats are capable of delivering toxic stenches bordering on the biohazardous.  In that time, we have never gotten used to that stench, and will frequently move to get away from the stench of their emissions and deposits.  Before Morgan was born, my experience with diapers consisted of 1: Standing outside of nurseries holding my nose at the stench while friends changed their younger siblings’ diapers, and 2: Almost passing out from the stench of changing my nephew’s diaper when I had to watch him for a few hours one day and having that stench seared indelibly upon my olfactory memory.  I don’t remember anything about changing that diaper beyond the horrifying stench.

Morgan has had some pretty stinky poops in the past 6-1/2 weeks, but you know what I remember about changing her dirty diapers?  How hilarious it is when I open her up too soon and she’s still pooping, or how shocking it is that someone so small can produce so much poop.  As soon as a stinky diaper is changed, the stench is gone from my memory beyond a vague footnote that, “Oh yeah, that didn’t smell very good.”  I remember the taffy-like consistency of Morgan’s first Meconium-infused bowel movements far better than I remember the odor of the huge poop she had last night.

I don’t have the excuse of a bliss-inducing hormone addling my senses so much that disgusting poop no longer disgusts me, but the fact remains that 6-1/2 weeks of having a baby has addled my senses in a way that 7 years of cat ownership could not, which makes it clear to me that there is more than a hormonal euphoria forging the bond of love between parents and children.  And yes, the cats are still capable of dropping bombs of horrific proportions that leave me looking out the window for UN inspectors investigating violations of the Geneva Conventions.

I can’t say that I ever looked at it this way, but I have heard some non-parents talk about having a baby in the same way they talk about owning a pet.  On a purely cognitive level, I understand some of the parallels, but I also understand that this kind of statement comes from the same place as that “I’m too selfish” excuse: inconceivably vast ignorance.  Owning a pet is something you do for companionship.  Having a child is not something you do for companionship.  Even the worst pet does not have the potential to fill you with joy or break your heart like a child can.

Ultimately, having a child is something that you do when you have matured to the point that you no longer want to be the main character in your own story.  Plenty of people have children before they reach that point, but it is the mark of the greatest parents I know that they are no longer the protagonists of the story of their life, but rather the key supporting cast in the story of their children’s lives.  You can still live a rich, fulfilling, and important life as a supporting character, but you can never look at yourself as the most important character again for as long as your child is in the picture.

Ultimately, this is what someone who thinks they are too selfish for a child truly means.  As Cracked points out, that excuse itself is insane.  After all, if you’re too selfish for a child, what makes you not too selfish to have friends?  The truth is, these people aren’t selfish, they’re simply unwilling to cease being a protagonist, because they realize that, in actuality, a child is nothing like a pet.  You don’t have a child to support your own needs and desires (certain celebrities notwithstanding), you have a child to support their needs and desires and to give everything that you have to give to the process of creating another beautiful human being for this crazy world.  You have a child because, no matter what they ask of you, it’s never too much, because you love them with every atom of your being.

It isn’t selfish to be unwilling to do that, and if you feel like you can’t do that, you absolutely should not try.  There is nothing wrong with being unwilling to have a child.  Absolutely nothing.  If you need to spend the rest of your life as the main character in your story, then do so and be happy!  But if you one day wake up and realize that nothing would give you greater joy than seeing someone else skyrocket to greater success than you ever could have had, well, you know what to do.  Evolution will handle the rest.

Sick days? What are sick days?

Jen has been dealing with a sinus infection all week long.  Yesterday, I gave her a sick day.

The thing about parenting is that, unlike any other full-time job out there, there is no such thing as a vacation day or a sick day.  If one parent is a stay-at-home parent, they are responsible for the child(ren) no matter what.  If the other parent is working, the parent at home has no choice but to take care of everything else.  Yeah, yeah, “No kidding!”  Even if the other parent is at home, a crying child can make it difficult for most parents to rest.  You know, because evolution.

When I started a full-time job that actually obeys the law and gives employees sick leave and vacation days, I found out something that was a little surprising for some reason: taking time off to care for a sick family member other than yourself is not a sick day – it’s a vacation.  Giving Jen the sick day she so desperately needed means taking away from non-sick family time at some point in the next year, but that’s not a problem, just something to consider when we plan our family time next year.

But more to the point of Jen’s sick day: for most of the day, I handled the majority of Morgan’s care.  Jen fed her for most feedings, but I held her, carried her, changed her, etc.  Jen tells me that this really did allow her to rest, and she was feeling better last night than she had in a while.  I even got the Christmas tree put up and finished some housework that one of our helpers had promised to do and never done.

The housework really drove home just how much the parent at home has to do.  In my mind, just taking care of Morgan was more than enough to qualify Jen as the harder-working parent of the two of us, and my 10-1/2 hour workday (counting driving time) still leaves me feeling so tired when I get home that I want nothing to do with things like a sink full of dishes or a house in need of vacuuming, especially when the sink and vacuum are “normal person” height, which leaves my 6’4″ frame with plenty of back pain.  Even with an infant in a sling, a stay-at-home parent has to juggle precariously to do housework while they’re home alone, and if baby wakes up fussy, the housework stops until she can be comforted.  I accomplished what domestic chores I accomplished by letting Jen watch Morgan while I was doing them.

I know it goes without saying, but housework is nearly impossible when a child is first born.  Even ignoring the fact that the mother often has a pretty serious tear/surgery to heal from (which, by the way, you should never ignore), newborns, at least OUR newborn, have this interesting habit of waking up as soon as they are laid down.  While some may stay asleep for a while, it is virtually guaranteed that they will wake up as soon as any real housework is commenced – especially housework involving loud appliances.

I think every dad should have to spend at least one day every year taking care of running the house (including the kids), and they should do it using a list left by their partner detailing everything that has to get done that day.  I have heard all my life of men who think their wives do nothing at home, and I always thought this was an insane notion, perhaps in part because my mom homeschooled me and my brother – her laziest day was as busy as my worst day at work.  It’s a lot harder to think a stay-at-home spouse is shiftless when you actually take over their responsibilities for a day.

Seriously, guys – just because we might spend all day playing games if we were at home doesn’t mean that our partners do.  I’m amazed at the job that Jen does every day, and I’m even more amazed that she’s done it with a nasty sinus infection this week!

The things nobody tells you

Going into parenthood for the first time, Jen and I researched, talked to people, and tried to do everything we could to get ready.  Jen was 10 and 15 when her younger sisters were born, so she thought she had a decent idea what to expect.  All the same, there were simple and apparently common things that totally blindsided us.  We found plenty of information once we started searching, but, strangely enough, it all started with someone saying, “Help, I don’t know what to do!”

Fussy Time:
Of all the things you’d think you might get warned about, this one’s a biggie.  Apparently, at some point between 1-6 months, almost every baby has a fussy time where they cry for no apparent reason for a couple of hours each day.  This is not colic.  It’s not gas.  It’s not hunger.  It MIGHT be fighting sleep.  The first time this happens, you spend hours searching online in worried parent mode, only to find out two things: it’s normal, and experts have no idea what causes it.  Seriously, fussiness with no cause that starts and stops on its own, and nobody thinks to warn the new parents?  We heard plenty of glowing comments about how we would soon be able to understand Morgan’s every cry, but never a mention that there’s one cry that just means, “Nope, nothing you can do about it, I’m just gonna cry.”

Clusterfeeding:
Oh dear god, clusterfeeding!  Neither Jen nor I had ever heard of clusterfeeding before Morgan started doing it.  It often coincides with “fussy time,” and it is absolute hell on the mother while it happens, because the baby is essentially grumpily snacking almost constantly for anywhere from several hours to the entire day.  Even in non-fussy babies, clusterfeeding is very common during growth spurts.  To give you an idea of how rough this is, I’ve also heard it called “Little Devil Syndrome.”  If a mom doesn’t know it’s coming, it can be devastating to her confidence.  Even if she does know it’s coming, the first thought is that she must be doing something wrong or her body must not be producing enough milk.  Nothing is further from the truth, and this is perfectly normal.  It goes away in a few days and things get back to normal, but the stress on mama in the middle of a clusterfeed time is incredible, and it can be terribly frustrating for women who are used to being independent, because clusterfeed days become almost exclusively devoted to feeding and comforting.

The difference between formulae:
You may be planning to breastfeed, and if you are, that’s awesome. If you can feed and pump and do everything that way, by all means, do so.  But you may find you have trouble with your milk supply, or maybe you have trouble producing for a breast pump, so you may find yourself supplementing formula.  Or you may decide not to breast feed at all, in which case you are going to rely solely on formula.  Then you go into the baby formula aisle at the grocery story.  That’s right: formula aisle.  You may have a baby with a stomach of steel who doesn’t care if you buy the cheapest crap in the aisle, or you may have a baby that suffers from reflux or, god forbid, GERD.  The good news is that babies with reflux and GERD get over it.  The bad news is that, until they do, trying to find the right formula is going to feel a lot like something out of The Exorcist.  Similac and other high-end companies make formula specifically designed for spit-up and GERD.  Not surprisingly, it’s a lot more expensive.  A quart of Similac’s alimentum (supposedly the best formula for GERD and reflux) is usually about $3-4 more than a quart of standard formula.  That adds up fast.

The thing is, though, your baby may not need the most expensive formula if they are spitting up badly.  The first thing you should try is simply switching from powdered formula to ready-to-drink formula.  Ready-to-drink is thicker, and that thickness is often enough by itself to fix the problem.  Even if it’s not, get small packs of several types of ready-to-drink formula to test.  Morgan spits up frequently with alimentum, but she handles the cheap Gerber Good Start formula just fine.  

Parenting Advice:
This is a weird one, but Jen and I both noticed that the parenting advice given to us post-partum, especially the written advice, quickly turned from the happy, joking advice we had received leading up to Morgan’s birth to a very dark place.  The pamphlet the hospital sent home with us suggested in all seriousness that, on those days you feel like throwing your baby against the wall, you should lay her down in another room, leave her crying, close the door on her, and retreat a few rooms away so that you can’t hear.  Jen saw similar advice from several more post-partum advice sources.  Besides being somewhat scary that parenting advice has to mention feeling like you want to throw your baby against the wall, it seems like this advice (likely designed to help mothers who are dealing with post-partum depression cope with some of the issues above) goes to an even darker place than a PPD mother already occupies, to say nothing of the fact that this could start parents trying to force their kids to “cry it out” way too early (most research shows that the “cry it out” approach simply teaches a child that her parents do not care about her and will not listen to her – especially when that child is still learning how to differentiate her cries enough to communicate.  Essentially the body of research now thinks that making a baby “cry it out” does not teach them independence, it simply demolishes their spirit).

There are plenty more things that blindsided us, and I’m sure even more will come in the future, but these were some of the big ones that may just help someone else be that much more prepared when their own son or daughter gets here.

Say the breast is best or die like the rest!

One month and one day old.  I wonder if they make Jedi robe towels kind of like that ducky towel?

I’ll admit, the title is a little dramatic, but Jen’s experiences with the heartache of trying to overcome breastfeeding hurdle after breastfeeding hurdle for the past month, coupled with my own experiences with the quality of some of the “advice” you can get online, makes me feel justified.

Let me say this up front: breastfeeding is amazing.  The bonding experience is wonderful; the nutrition is (slightly) better; the fact that your body produces a few antibodies that your child needs is fantastic.  If you can breastfeed, by all means do it.

Let me also say this up front: breastfeeding is hard work.  It removes dad from the all-important feeding aspect of the caregiving equation entirely unless you are pumping and regularly using the pumped milk; it requires a constant commitment or else some talented baby-juggling, because it takes longer to breastfeed and breast milk metabolizes faster, meaning mommy may be stuck unable to get anything done.  “But Tim,” you opine, “shouldn’t mom only be focused on the baby?  Other people can come help with the housework and the cooking.  Mom SHOULD be devoting her full time to the baby.”

Even one month in, that view just seems so naive.  The number of people willing to come help a new mom MIGHT be greater than zero the first week.  It might even be greater than zero the second week, but as time goes by, the number of people willing to come help a new mom rapidly declines until it reaches zero.  Even when people are willing to come help, that’s on their schedule, not yours.  If dad is working, there are 8.5-10 hours (depending on commute) every day where mom is on her own, and there’s only so much that dad can do between when he gets home from work and when it’s time for everyone to go down for the night.  Chances are good that those 8.5-10 hours that dad is gone are the same 8.5-10 hours that the people willing to help are otherwise engaged.  There are also about 4-8 hours every night where a breastfeeding mom is, by default, on her own.  Say what you will about how the breast is best, but I’m willing to bet that moms who bottle feed kind of like being able to roll over at 3 AM and say, “No, honey, it’s your turn.”

That’s a lot to get out of the way up front, eh?  As Jen and I have found out in the past month, breastfeeding is hard, and it is frequently hard for reasons besides the possibly-selfish-sounding reasons above.

When Morgan was born, an overzealous lactation nurse decided she had gone too long between feedings, so she had us try to feed her.  When Morgan resisted and started to fuss, the nurse waited until Morgan opened her mouth to cry and then grabbed the back of her head and shoved her face into Jen’s breast.  That was the last time that Morgan breastfed unassisted for three weeks.  She would scream, thrash, and pull away every time Jen offered her breast.  We had a little bit of luck using a nipple shield to help her latch on, but even with the shield, she would only latch on for a suck or two and then come off to cry.  At first, Jen was able to pump to meet most of Morgan’s feeding needs (she came up a few ml shy at each feeding), but then, about a week after we came home from the hospital, pumping quit working.  She went from producing 40 ml per breast to producing a total of less than 20 ml.  Suddenly, we weren’t making up the difference with formula, we were primarily feeding Morgan formula, and she still would not latch on and take the breast.

Like any concerned dad with a modicum of tech-savvy would, I went digging online.  I found breast-feeding communities online and asked for advice. We received a lot of good advice, although some of it wasn’t quite practical for our purposes (for example: “Have your wife just walk around topless so the baby always has access to her breast!” Thanks to the layout of our house, that would have either meant constantly flashing the neighbors or staying in the bedroom all day long, but the intention behind the idea was good).  We received a lot of support and concern with this first issue, but we also received some very bad advice.  Specifically, we had people telling us that, if we were really serious about breastfeeding, we would stop offering Morgan a bottle right away and only give her the breast.  I’ll get back to this piece of horrendous advice in a moment.

After about 2 weeks, Morgan started latching better, but only with the nipple shield, and she was always hungry after she “finished” with the breast (still rooting and crying), so back to the internet I went to praise her progress and ask for help making more progress.  As before, there was a fair amount of support and good advice, but the bad advice really came out this time around.  I had people telling me that I was messing up my daughter’s ability to breastfeed by trying to figure out whether or not she was full (to the point that I was even told that the only reason she wouldn’t breastfeed was because of my “misplaced anxiety” over whether she was getting enough), and I was told that we were too reliant on the nipple shield, so we needed to just throw it away, because if Morgan could latch WITH it, then obviously she could latch without it.  I was told the only reason Morgan wasn’t happily latching without the shield was that we offered the shield too much; I was told that Jen must just be holding her wrong, and that if she would just go to a La Leche League meeting and have other mothers show her how it’s done, that would fix everything, because our problems were probably just coming from not understanding the “mechanics” of breastfeeding.

Out of all the replies I received to my concerns that second time around, the only sound piece of advice was to be patient and keep offering her the breast without the nipple shield.

And that’s the only piece of advice I heeded.  That’s the only piece of advice I even passed on to Jen.  The rest I ignored as obstinately as I’ve ever ignored anything in my life, because it was, quite simply, ignorant crap given from a (well-meaning or not) stance of ignorance.

Among the breastfeeding community, there is this idea that if you CAN breastfeed but don’t, you must be a horrible parent.  Maybe it’s the husband’s fault for overthinking things, or maybe it’s the mother’s fault for not being willing to be a glorified milk carton 24/7, but clearly, something is wrong with you.  The community is very sympathetic when someone CAN’T breastfeed, whether because there is no milk supply or because of insurmountable issues, but even there you occasionally see the community ganging up on the wrong people.  I saw a post from a mother whose infant had been classed as “failure to thrive.”  Her pediatrician wanted her to start supplementing with a little formula, and she was looking for advice because she didn’t want to feed her baby formula and he was “only a little” below where he should be.  Almost to a person, every single reply told her to find a new pediatrician because hers obviously had no idea what he was talking about.

So with this in mind, I wanted to actually address some of the advice I received and explain why it was so horribly bad.

Stop offering your baby a bottle right now and only give her the breast: 
At the time we received this advice, Morgan literally would not take the breast (with nipple shield) for more than 60 seconds at a time.  I think Jen may have gotten her to stay latched for 5 minutes once.  Jen could sit there with her for an hour and she would cycle through sucking, thrashing, and screaming the entire time.  Or, we could get a bottle ready, feed her, burp her, and have a mostly content baby (she gets gassy sometimes).

Babies cry.  It is known.  There is a difference, however, between crying and screaming. Morgan screamed when we tried to breastfeed those first few weeks.  It’s all well and good for someone who has never had a serious problem breastfeeding to say, “just stop giving your baby a bottle right now,” but they aren’t the ones who have to have that dagger plunged into their hearts over and over again for hours on end when the baby won’t stop screaming because she’s hungry and, for whatever reason, won’t take the breast.  If we had taken this advice, would Morgan eventually have taken the breast?  I’m sure she would have.  Eventually, if there’s only one option, anyone will take it, but it would have required starving her and traumatizing her to make it happen, and it would have made every single feeding a battle.  We weren’t willing to do that.  It was breaking Jen’s heart every time Morgan screamed at her breast.  I would have had to have been some kind of monster to say, “Well, you’ll just have to deal with that until she gives in and takes your breast.  I’ll be off at work while you listen to her scream all day.”

Don’t overthink things! The only indicators you should use to see if your child is getting enough milk are the number of wet/dirty diapers per day and whether she’s gaining 3 ounces per week:

That second sentence is the rest of what people said when they told me that my over-analyzing was messing up Morgan’s ability to breastfeed.  Now, I do realize that bottle-feeding can provide a greater sense of fullness than breastfeeding, but there is a difference between a cry that says, “Hey, I’m not quite full yet,” and rooting that turns into crying that turns into screaming because your baby is still hungry but won’t suckle anymore at the breast.

There’s a great indicator as to whether or not your baby is done eating: when they’re done, they don’t scream at the fact that they’re not getting more milk.  As a corollary to that, there’s a great indicator that you are overfeeding your child: projectile vomit.  The first time she suckled for a long time at the breast and still wanted more, I gave her too much “extra” formula.  She vomited almost as soon as I pulled the bottle away the last time.  After that, I was more careful, and only fed her until she was content.  One Linda Blair moment was enough for daddy to learn his lesson, believe me!

You’re too reliant on the nipple shield/you offer it too much.  If your baby can latch with it, she can latch without it:
How can you tell you’re receiving advice from someone who has no idea what you’re going through?  They speak in absolutes.  “Throw it away.”  “If she can do X, she can do Y.”  If we had thrown away the nipple shield, Morgan would have been exclusively bottle-fed in less than a week.  Any mother giving advice should know that it’s never a question of if a baby can do something.  Of course a baby can latch.  It’s an evolutionary instinct, for crying out loud!  If a baby won’t do it, however, you can’t force them to.  We kept offering Morgan the bare breast first and the shield second, and just a few days after receiving this horrible advice, she started latching on to the breast.  Now she only needs the nipple shield if she’s tired or cranky, and we only supplement her with bottles when I’m giving Jen a break.  Patience and perseverance did the trick.  This advice would have destroyed any chance we had at breastfeeding.

You’re holding her wrong.  Get another mother to show you how it’s done so you can “learn the mechanics”:
This was one of the most innocent bits of bad advice we received, but that doesn’t make it any less bad.  We were shown how to do things at the hospital, and we were shown several variations.  Jen had the mechanics down pat.  That didn’t change the fact that Morgan hated doing things “the right way.”  It took a lot of time and patience for us to find a way that worked for us, and it didn’t look very much like “the mechanics” at first.  If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, changing the way you hold your child is not likely to be a magic bullet.  No, it takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes sitting up near tears yourself as your child screams.  When you find the “right” position, there’s every chance that it won’t be very similar at all to what you were shown in the hospital.  As Strongbad says, “Everyone is different.”

This first month has been an amazing experience, and Jen and I are learning new things each and every day, but the biggest thing we’ve learned is that there will never again be such a thing as “normal,” nor is there any one “right way” to raise Morgan.  What works for someone else may not work for us.  What works for us may not work for other people.  As we progress, we are learning to trust our instincts and to trust Morgan.  Even if she can’t talk, she can tell us what she needs better than I would have imagined.  Jen can understand her better than I can, but I can still figure out ways to calm her and care for her far better than I could a month ago.

And that’s my advice to other new parents about breastfeeding and about raising your own geekling in general: listen to the advice, sort the wheat from the chaff, and then trust your instincts.  Evolution has given you an amazing set of instincts and tools when it comes to taking care of your child, and you should trust your instincts.  You are the only person who is with your child as much as you are.  You are the only person who sees your child as much as you do.  You know what to do much better than you may think you do.