Tag Archives: newborn

The Thing I Sometimes Forget About Professional Advice

This past week, I struggled with feeding my son. He didn’t gain as much weight as they would have liked, so I was advised by the midwife who came to visit me that I needed to feed him every 2 hours.

I did so for two days, and described to another midwife who came next to re-weigh him how a 2-hours system allowed him very little sleep, since he took a long time to feed, and then didn’t have much time to sleep before I had to wake him up again and try to force him to eat once more. (Before I started forcing a feed every two hours, he was sleeping four-hour stretches each night, so I’ll admit, it also just felt in violation of every instinct to wake a sleeping baby in the middle of the night when I’d been handed such good fortune!) She said I could feed every 3 hours instead, and maybe allow a 4-hour stretch once per night.

Two days later, this seemed to be just as bad a situation as every 2 hours, and I called the midwife paging service, hoping for some additional advice since I felt stressed out. It felt like our day was just an endless cycle of me forcing him awake, trying to force him to eat even though my breasts didn’t feel full yet, him sleepily not eating a whole lot, him being more awake in between attempts to latch him but then mostly just falling back asleep on the boob every time we returned to it. Then we’d start the whole cycle again after about 40 minutes of sleep. I had no idea what my kid’s natural rhythm was so I wasn’t even sure where to start on getting us into something that felt better.

Midwife #3 listened, then had a completely different response: “Stop waking him up,” she said. She explained why, based on everything I’d told her about our experience and my son’s health thus far, it would be okay to try for a few days going with his schedule, letting him decide when he would eat. If that worked and he still gained weight at the next re-weigh, then we had our answer. If he didn’t gain as much as they’d like, then we’d address it then, and that would be fine, too, since the next visit was only two days away.

If Plan A doesn't work

When seeking expert advice, I’ve always personally felt going to a professional seemed the safest bet – after all, the profession would have equal training across its population and a set of ‘best practices,’ wouldn’t it? The thing I seem to forget sometimes is that professionals are, in fact, a group of individuals like any other group – which means each individual brings their own experiences, preferences, and beliefs to the table in the context of their professional training.

Oddly, I seem to continually forget this each time I seek professional advice, despite the fact that with everyone ranging from physiotherapists, doctors, midwives, teachers, and mortgage brokers, I’ve had personal experiences where one professional will confidently tell me is what needs to happen, only to have the next professional tell me to forget everything I’ve heard about x, because is what needs to happen. Yet when I first hear x, I obediently latch onto the instructions and follow them as closely as I can. Then when I hear y, I get stressed about why I’ve been doing x so far instead.

But this isn’t a flaw in the professionals, or a suggestion that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or an implication that some are right and some are wrong. It’s a reflection that when seeking advice, I really have to take everyone’s with a grain of salt – even from a professional – and allow that one person’s advice is based on a specific combination of training, case experience, personal values and individual conclusions they’ve reached as a result of all those things combined.

I also have to remember that any piece of advice isn’t guaranteed to work, even if it comes from a professional, because my kid (and me) are also individuals bringing other factors into the equation. It would be more comforting to have consistent advice from all professionals in the same field, to not have such things as ‘second opinions.’ But if the problems we brought to professionals were that simple, we wouldn’t need professionals at all – there would just be one standard instruction book for Renovate Your Kitchen or DIY Therapy or Raise Your Child and one size would fit all.

Remi sleeping

Turns out the third time was a charm for me and my kiddo. Following the final midwife’s advice did the trick – and after a day and a half of longer sleeps, my wee one started gravitating to 3 hours between feeds all on his own. I guess he just needed to reset and catch up on some of the sleep he hadn’t been getting first.

And, luckily, he still usually gives me one 4-hour stretch between nighttime feeds (phew!).

A Little Re-Frame Changes the Whole Picture

Sometimes we get stuck in ruts that suck. There is a certain situation or environment that is constant or recurring in our lives, and it sucks… worse, sometimes, we know we suck in it. Those circumstances that bring out the worst version of ourselves, but we can’t avoid them because they are necessary to our lives. They could be at work, at home, with relatives, with friends, or with our kids. My own awful circumstance that I’ve been re-thrust into this week is the Dreaded Newborn Night Wakings. My son was born one week ago (hurray! I’m finally done being pregnant!), and nighttime feedings are once again part of my routine (ahhh! I’m a terrible person when I’m tired!!).

Night wakings with a baby are the circumstance that brings out the worst in me. So re-entering this space (my older kid has been sleeping through the night consistently for several months now and it’s been blissful) suddenly sparked an all-too-familiar, trigger-happy, irritable anxiety that only manifests between midnight and 5am. In this space, an uncooperative support pillow lights a match of rage in my throat, and a refusal by my days-old child to immediately go back to sleep after a feed ignites the urge to throw a toddler-esque tantrum and whisper, “Fine! We’ll just sit up all fucking night then!” Like I said, I’m a terrible person when I’m tired. I long ago accepted this about myself, and always try to get enough sleep to avoid the monster coming out. This tried-and-true strategy of consistent bedtimes and eight hours of sleep is just not an option for the near future, unfortunately.

I’m sure (or at least I hope, even just so I can feel less terrible about it) that most of us have these situations – certain circumstances that get under our skin and change our reactions and behaviour for the worse. Yesterday, however, I decided to try to do something about it, and I was amazed at how calm and peaceful last night was as a result! So I’m feeling pretty great about it today and thought I’d share.

The first thing I did was re-frame the purpose of the situation. Instead of thinking about The Impending Horrible (night wakings) as drudgery, as simply a necessary, sacrificial duty of my life, I decided to think of them as a opportunity for long-term gain. As I imagine all parents of newborns are, I’m very invested in helping my son learn to sleep well, calmly, and most importantly, through the night. And as a second-time parent, I’ve already noticed myself being much more calm and collected during the day in moments that distress him as a newborn, than I was with my first. So if my son experiences me as calm and reassuring during the day, but as anxious and on edge during the night, he might learn that night is a time for being on high alert, for worrying about things – that nighttime, in short, is bad… which probably won’t help him feel at ease about sleeping through it. Keeping this big-picture purpose in mind helped me last night to stay calm throughout our feeding and awake time, even though I was just as tired as the nights before, and could have easily reacted in my old patterns.

The second thing I did was re-frame my expectations. I realized I had been going into each night waking hoping for the best (ie. that he would eat quickly and go right back to sleep) but focusing on and anticipating the worst (my exhaustion and the possibility that he would stay awake all night). I took a look at my baby tracker app, and noticed that his average time awake per instance at night, is around an hour to an hour and ten minutes. So my expectation that we would feed for thirty and then both be back to sleep was simply unreasonable. I was setting myself up for failure and irritation every time. Looking at the clock when he woke up last night, and expecting that I would be awake for up to an hour and fifteen minutes more, helped me to not feel anxious the whole time about when the feed would end, if he was eating fast enough, etc. And when he did go back down faster than that, it was a pleasant surprise instead. By being realistic about the crappy situation that I normally approach with wildly idealistic expectations but a sour, pessimistic attitude, the whole thing got a lot better.

I’m going to try to remember these two approaches to other situations that I find grating, irritating, or generally rut-like in my life. Because being calm and moving with what felt like a little more grace through this rut last night was not just easier on those around me (my son, but also my husband, who gets up with me at this stage to pass the baby to me, change his diapers when needed, help soothe him back to sleep, etc.). More importantly, it made me feel more in control of myself, instead of like the sleep-deprived monster I never seemed able to keep at bay before.

What about you, lovely readers? What are your ruts or your recurring, inner-monster-inducing spaces? How do you help yourself move through them as best you can?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… Again

Finding out you’re pregnant with your second child is different than the first time around. At least, it was for me – and not the way I expected it to be (surprise, surprise, like everything else about motherhood). I’d seen things like this Coke commercial and thought Good News Round 2 would be simply an ecstatic air-punch, because yes, although my partner and I were both tired beyond belief and being parents was in some ways the hardest thing we’d ever done, we’d know what we were getting into this time, and all the true wonders of a new child would overshadow any trivial worries we might have had as parenting-virgins.

Instead, I saw the little blue cross in the window, did the 2nd test in the box just to be sure, then went upstairs to where my husband was still sleeping and said, “Uh, John, it’s positive.” I was stunned. I’m not even sure if I was happy at that moment. I was instantly overwhelmed, and I wasn’t sure exactly why. Sure, Arlo was only just a year old, and it was earlier than we were planning to have our second. But we already have all the needed stuff for a baby – the toys, the furniture, the gear, the clothes. We’ve experienced recurring thrush infections, sleepless nights, sleep training, traveling with an infant, introducing food, and teething. We have family nearby who are always ready to help out and a fantastic support system of friends. I thought I should feel ready to tackle this next phase of life – after all, we were going to get the ‘baby years’ and all their ensuing difficulties out of the way much faster than anticipated, which should be a good thing, right?

After several hours, I felt some moments of happiness about my pregnancy – I did, of course, remember all the bliss that went along with having a newborn, after all – but I still had this underlying, nagging worry. I couldn’t pin it down to any one specific thing: I thought about how to get two kids to share a room, how and when to wean Arlo off breastfeeding before needing to nurse another tiny person, and how we’d ever get some rest if our kids just took turns not sleeping through the night. For every one of these worries, though, I knew we’d find solutions, and if we didn’t, the worst would only be temporary. So what was this overarching anxiety I felt?

The reason I couldn’t identify my fear is because I assumed it had something to do with the babies. Really, what I was afraid of was myself. There were some dark days – some very dark and twisty days – when Arlo was in the 4-6 month window. I remember feeling helpless, out of control, and like I could no longer see the adult person it took years to become but whom I love very much and of whom I’m quite protective.  Instead, I saw a sleep-deprived, crazed, insecure ghost of a woman, who cried without explanation and lost her temper at the drop of a soother, who was unpredictable and went from loving life to wondering why everything was so fucking horrible in two seconds flat, who was unreasonable and couldn’t seem to rise above the chaos to just love her sweet, entirely perfect little baby. Those moments were, undoubtedly, the worst I’ve ever felt about myself, which is saying a lot, considering the self-esteem issues and anxiety I faced in adolescence.

I haven’t been worried about the logistics, the day-in-and-day-out details. I haven’t been worried about how John and I will cope, because we can get through anything. I’ve been worried about myself.  Nervous that having gone through this once won’t stop me from having a meltdown when I’ve almost got baby #2 asleep and the cat pushes open the creaky bedroom door, ruining my efforts. Afraid that when this new little one demands so much of my attention, I’ll have less patience for my sweet son, who will still be really, just a baby, but in comparison will seem like such a big boy that I’ll expect too much of him. Terrified I won’t have learned anything from the first go-round of motherhood and that, all over again, I’ll drag so many could-have-been-lovely days and moments through the mud with my hormones and emotional baggage.

This particular wave of nerves and fear has, thankfully, passed. I’m now over the morning sickness and unbearable fatigue of the first trimester (which helps everything seem more manageable), and as I’ve talked with more people about the second foray into motherhood, I’m starting to really believe that just as this new little one won’t be the same baby as my first, I won’t be the exact same mother I was my first time through. I will have learned some things, and I’ll hopefully be able to maintain some perspective and grace even through the tough moments with baby #2.  Will I have some dark and twisty moments? Probably. Is that still terrifying? A little bit. But being honest about my fears, even if they’re difficult to admit, has been a big first step in making them a whole lot less scary.

What about you, Mamas? Anyone scared about the next time around? Anyone had an unexpected reaction to a pregnancy? Tell us your story in the comments, or, if you have more to share, let me know – we’d welcome your guest post here at Raise a Mother!

The Importance of My Village

I came across an article at work the other day noting a recent study concluding that ‘less happy’ new parents are more likely to have smaller families. While this doesn’t seem all that surprising, the general modal number of originally “desired children” is two. This already seems like a ‘small’ family relatively speaking, so it is interesting to try to find out why, comparative to the earlier desired number, many people end up having only one kid.

What the study found was that over 70% of new parents experienced a decline in overall happiness in the first year after the birth of their first child.  Of course, as the authors acknowledged, “it is taboo for new parents to acknowledge feelings of unhappiness about childbearing;” there’s a lot of pressure for new moms (and dads) to feel happier, and to project that happiness to the world, which can only exacerbate negative feelings like depression, failure, and worry.

It’s difficult to acknowledge feelings of unhappiness post-birth even to ourselves, because at the same time as life is unbelievably challenging in ways we couldn’t have imagined, there have also been, or at least there were for me, moments of unbelievable joy and love that I never knew before my son was born. There can be a pressure to focus on only the happy side, the wonderful side, and tell ourselves to ‘suck it up’ when the unhappiness rears its ugly head, because after all, this is what we signed up for and we know we should be grateful for all the blissful bits.

I’m personally still in the ‘two desired children’ camp, but when I look back on this first year, I know I’m probably only here because of my village. My village of people, mainly women, but with some pretty fantastic men in there, too, who sometimes felt like the only thing holding me together – like a trellis keeping a fragile, ragged vine from withering.

My village kept me sane. My mom and mother-in-law taking my babe for naps in his stroller or just holding him in the living room for an hour so that I could have a shower or a sleep. My husband telling me (even when he had to repeat himself and raise his voice to get me to believe it) that it really was okay if I just needed to leave the house and go for a walk; he had things covered. My sister talking to me every day, also on her mat leave, and being my daily contact with another grown up on days when I didn’t make it out of the house.

My village kept me safe. The mothers of a previous generation who were living proof that things really would be alright, but who still listened with sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. The few courageous friends who shared with me the details of their own dark, twisty motherhood times as well as their moments of light, letting me know that the roller coaster I was on didn’t make me a bad mom, but was just part of my ride. My husband who, even on the really, really, REALLY awful days, the kind when we were both at our worst and it was hard to even look at each other, was always there bringing water while I breastfed, making dinner, or calling me from work to see how my day at home was going.

My village kept me connected to who I had always been long before I became a mother. Friends came to dance class, encouraging me to get out and shake it off even on nights when I was tired or overwhelmed. Non-parent friends listened about the trials of birth and mothering the way they would have talked to me about any other topic before my life changed, even when I gave gory details they probably didn’t want to know. One particular non-parent friend called on me for urgent love and support when she was in her own dark place, giving me the gift of still feeling that I had something to offer my friends in return, that someone other than my baby still needed me, too.

Being a new parent can be really, really, fucking hard. It’s often said that we mothers have an inner strength that gets us through anything with a newborn because we simply have to, and I suppose this could be true, but for me, my village has been the difference between coming through able to believe I can thrive again, instead of just barely holding my head up.

~ Lindsay

%d bloggers like this: