On Saturday, the big brother turned 10.  He’s in fifth grade, which is the last grade of elementary school in our school district. Since I moved in with the kids, one thing that has always been my responsibility (and one of my favorite things) is making their birthday cakes. Some years, they try to out-smart me by asking for super-elaborate designs, but I always come through.  This is one of the ways I show these kids how much I love them.  They can have whatever birthday cake they want, no matter what they come up with. This year he asked for two kinds of frosting, strawberry and vanilla. Not too complicated.

On Thursday, I made cupcakes for him to bring into school on Friday morning to celebrate his birthday. I try to make the cupcakes the same as the birthday cake.  Of course, we did not have the strawberry and vanilla frosting, so I had to run to the grocery story Friday morning after drop-off, and finish the cupcakes to get them to school before snack time at 10.  This is nothing compared to what I have done in previous years.  Once, I got stuck working late and had to bake the cupcakes at 2 am.  Once, I accidentally turned all of them a frightening shade of hot pink (it turns out you can’t really make things red with food coloring — they just get more and more pink).

Thursday night, Bumby’s new reflux medicine finally kicked in. For the first time in his life, he slept five and a half hours straight.  If you’re obsessed with baby sleep, you realize this is the clinical definition of sleeping through the night.  We did nothing differently — no different bedtime, or routine, or soothing method, or periods of crying.  He just wasn’t hurting anymore, so he slept.  I woke up Friday morning giddy with sleep. My little baby was finally sleeping the way a 7 1/2 month old baby should be sleeping.  He was so happy, and comfortable. Even when he did wake to eat, he didn’t scream and writhe around the way he used to. He just fussed, nursed, and went back to sleep.

My happy, well-rested little guy crawled around the kitchen and poured the dog’s water on the floor as I frosted the cupcakes. This is when it hit me. These were my last cupcakes. Big Brother was in fifth grade, and wouldn’t be allowed to bring cupcakes to school the next year. The guy who used to be the baby wasn’t a baby any more. Bumby won’t be at the elementary school for five years, so for five years, I don’t get to make the cupcakes.  Five years from now they probably won’t even be allowed cupcakes — they’ll have to bring in birthday carrot sticks or pretzels.  Making them at 2 am, turning the whole batch hot pink, and every other cupcake mishap was now water under the bridge.

Big Brother finished out his cupcake years on the same day that Bumby slept through the night.  Sometimes, the milestones feel good. Sometimes, they feel sad. Either way, they just keep coming.

nursing my seven month old baby

Early nursing had plenty of the trials and tribulations you would expect. Bumby had to learn to latch, I had to learn to relax, my body had to learn how much milk he needed. We figured it out, together. I thought we had the hang of it. 

But like all things, it turns out it isn’t a straight line from A to B. Bumby is now 7 1/2 months old, and we are struggling again. He doesn’t really like to nurse during the day. He arches away, sometimes bites, and gives me the stink-eye if I try to talk while he’s nursing. He’s dropped nursing sessions, so he’s down to one either when he wakes or before his first nap (depending on whether I work) one at around 1:30, and one at 5ish. The 1:30 and 5 are often really short and he doesn’t really want them. He doesn’t want to nurse before bed anymore — maybe because he’s full from dinner (he eats with the family, which is pretty much right before bed) or maybe for some other reason, I don’t know. He nurses like a CHAMP overnight. Of course. Once around 10:30 when I’m going to bed, around 1, and again at 4 or 5.  Sometimes he consolidates the 10:30 and 1am feedings into a midnight feeding, but not often. These are long, languid, relaxed, full nursing sessions — the kind I used to get at every feeding. 

So if it were up to Bumby, he’d eat once or twice during the day, and like 4 times at night or in the early morning. This is not super desirable. Obviously. 

It’s all complicated by the fact that two days of the week he gets multiple bottles, and two other days he gets one bottle or maybe two. The first day I worked a full day, he drank 2 ounces of milk from the bottle. The nanny was offering it after food, and it seems he was just not interested. The next time I worked (the following week), I asked her to give him as much milk as he wanted, but no food until he was done with milk. That day he drank 20 ounces in 7 hours. 

Neither of these affected how much he ate at night. Each time, he wanted 2 or 3 nursing sessions at night. Finally we have settled on many small bottles throughout the day so that he’s getting 12-15 oz of milk while I work, with food mixed in. The trouble is, I can only get 10-12 oz from the pump in a day, pumping 3 times. So the freezer stash is slowly dwindling. 

So. Is this a nursing strike? Maybe. He does eat, just not well. Is he reverse cycling? Maybe. He would take more bottles in the day, if we’d offer them, but I can’t seem to make enough milk for that. He just doesn’t seem to want to nurse. 

I hope he comes through this. I need him to nurse during the day in order to make enough milk to keep it up — my boobs and the pump seem to hate each other. I love nursing him. I don’t even mind doing it at night, although now I am just so relieved he’s nursing that could have something to do with it. I’d love to get him down to one or two night nursings, but I’m afraid of what that will do to my supply of he continues to nurse so poorly during the day. In the 6 weeks I’ve been working, my pumping has gone from 6-7 oz per session to 2-4 oz per session. 

My wife tells me to relax, it will work itself out. But I want so badly to nurse him for another year at least, and if things continue like this, it’s hard to see how that will happen. 

my biggest fear

Before I was pregnant, I knew how much I wanted to be pregnant. I had always wanted to be pregnant. From the time I was about 16, I was envious of pregnant women I saw walking around in public. Being pregnant! How lucky.  What I never thought much about was the baby part. I knew this was an error, but I couldn’t help myself.  I sometimes thought of myself like those twenty-something year old brides, consumed with the wedding but not a thought about the lifetime of marriage. This is analogous, because there is nothing quite as life-long as becoming a parent. So, my biggest fear was that I was going to absolutely love being pregnant, but not be able to love the baby.

I love sleep.  I love time to myself. I do not like to be touched much.  I get cranky when other people eat a food item that I want.  Maybe I am selfish, too selfish to be a parent, I would sometimes think. I would see these other parents with their kids hanging all over them, sharing what was on their plate (often the best thing! The thing with cheese!), laughing about how when you become a parent, you never sleep again, and I would think, I can’t do that. I won’t be able to do that. I am going to get pregnant, and it’s all going to be fine, and then the baby will come and my life will be over. And because of it, I will resent the baby. Or hate the baby. Or just not love the baby.  I was pretty confident I would not love the baby.

I have been a parent before, yes, but the kids are bigger.  I can explain my boundaries to them, and while they might not understand them all the time, they do their best to respect them. I am still me, you see. Who does not like to be touched much and who wants you to knock before you come in the room. And who wants the cheesey thing for myself.

Recently, one of my besties posted on facebook about how harmful it is to bombard new parents or parents-to-be with negative messages about how life as you know it is over when you have a baby, and you will never sleep again, and all the trite things we tell each other about how horrible new parenthood is.  I guess I didn’t realize how much I had internalized all of that, because this fear loomed larger and larger as my belly grew larger and larger. I was not excited to have the baby. When people asked me this, in a small-talk kind of way, it was like a punch in the gut.  Haha no. I don’t really want to have the baby, thanks for asking. It can stay inside, thankyouverymuch. I love those little kicks and flutters, but not so much what’s about to come after.

I didn’t tell anyone about this. Not my wife, not my therapist, not my new mom friends. It seemed too big and too dark and too scary to admit it to anyone.  What kind of pregnant woman thinks she is not going to love her baby?  Especially after taking nearly a year to get pregnant in the first place.

And then he was born.  I have really, legitimately, never slept again (although many parents do by now).  Some small guy is already grabbing at my food with his grabby little grab hands.  I am almost never alone, and when I am, there is a corner of my brain, an edge of my heart that is elsewhere, where he is, following him, a little distracted.  Even when I’m supposed to be sleeping, there is sometimes a 23 pound weight on my chest and/or shoulder, cutting off the circulation to my arm and giving me chronic back pain, or at a minimum, I have one ear on the monitor for his eh-eh-eh that comes before the cry. Breastfeeding was painful and hard at first.  I once cried in the night, while he tried to nurse, and woke my wife up just to yell at her for having the nerve to sleep when SOME OF US were trying to BREASTFEED OVER HERE. All of this is true.

And I have been filled with the most awe-inspiring, heart-exploding love for the last seven and a half months. It is more than I can even put into words. Sometimes I want to cry because my heart is breaking into a million pieces because it has just exploded from so much love.

I don’t give two shits about the food.  I love having him hanging off of me like some kind of little primate. I don’t even notice all the ways he touches me, unless he has cut the inside of my nose with one of his sharp little claws or has pulled my shirt down in public. I am pretty fucking tired, yes, but I already know from experience that this actually will get better at some point, and frankly, I have amazed myself with my ability to cope with sleep deprivation. I love nursing, and if I didn’t, I would stop by now.

I even love my wife more, because if my heart explodes from watching that little baby try to pull himself up to standing but failing because his fat little foot is stuck on his blanket, my heart doesn’t stand a CHANCE against the woman I love more than life itself untangling that foot and laughing with him as he gets it right for the first time.

So yeah, I would say it’s pretty damaging to tell new parents or parents-to-be how awful parenthood is. I could have spent that last month of my pregnancy excited instead of afraid.  I probably would still have been a little afraid, but more in the sense of how is this 9 pound ball of baby getting outside of me without ripping a hole in some vital organ, and less in the sense of what if I can’t love him because he takes too much of me and parenthood is horrible.

So I am here, from the other side, to tell you.  I am still me, and I am still a pretty selfish person.  But parenthood is not horrible.  Parenthood is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Operation Bumbysleep: Adventures in GERD

Wondering where I have been these last few months? Well. I will tell you.  I have been trying to get my baby to sleep. Or sleeping myself, in the rare event I have been successful.

Bumby is a fantastic baby. He barely ever cries. He eats well. He laughs a lot and loves the kids.  He is very fat and adorable.  But he does not sleep, at all, ever. He falls asleep easily, but if left unattended, rarely stays asleep for more than 40 minutes during the day, and rarely sleeps more than two hours in a stretch at night. Still, at seven months old, this is the case.

At around four months, I took Bumby to Michigan to visit some family and friends. I may have mentioned that one of my friends, who has reflux herself, and is blessed with two babies with severe reflux, watched Bumby playing for about an hour, heard me complaining about my lack of sleep, and said very definitively, “He has reflux. Get him to the doctor.”

After a bit more hemming and hawing, I finally did it. They gave me a prescription for very low dose of Zantac and told me to have him sleep on an incline (which we had been doing, with no success). The Zantac did nothing, so we went back for more. They quadrupled his dose, and he stopped projectile vomiting 15 times after each meal. This was a success!  However, he became very constipated, so he still. did. not. sleep.  We started giving him prunes, and water. The poop started moving again, and at last our baby was comfortable. He still needed to learn to sleep well, but the intervals started stretching out.  First it was a three hour chunk of time, then four. We transitioned him to the crib, and the four hour chunks became somewhat reliable. A few blessed times, we heard him stirring and talking on the monitor, then… nothing. He put himself back to sleep, waking only once in the night to eat.  I was giddy, drunk on sleep.

But then… for those of you with reflux babies, you know what happens next.  Bumby ate, and grew, and gained weight. His body adjusted to the Zantac. The four hour chunks of time dwindled to three, then two and a half, then he was waking every hour again. What is going on?  Is this a normal developmental night waking problem (he’s teething, he’s learning to crawl, he’s growing)?  Or is it the reflux?  Finally, the last symptom would come back — he would start coughing and choking, then spitting up, a little at first, then after every meal, then many, many times after every meal. Back to the doctor, weigh the baby, increase the dose. Enter constipation.  Then his little body adjusts. A few weeks of sleep, and then the long stretches of sleep start to decrease as he gains weight and the medicine loses effectiveness. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s miserable for us. But if I am tired, what must it be like for a seven month old baby getting this little sleep? His eyes are constantly red-rimmed. They have a little rash around them because he sucks on his hands and then rubs his saliva in his eyes so often. Sometimes when he wakes from a nap, he looks up at me, miserable.  Mama, I’m tired.  And yet, he doesn’t cry. He laughs a lot, and loves his siblings. I think he is being quite a trooper through all of this.

We are currently in the “adjust the dose” period, which means that he has now gone about 3 weeks without sleeping more than two hours at a time. It always takes us a few weeks to assure ourselves that his night-waking doesn’t have another cause, because we hate to medicate him more than is absolutely necessary.  And he is in fact teething, and learning to crawl.  But yesterday, we upped his dose just a little bit on our own, pending a call to the pediatrician, and he slept for four hours straight before waking to eat. When he did wake, his shirt was soaked in spit-up.

I feel so bad for the poor little dude. Slowly, we are learning though. Next time he starts waking, we will take him to the doctor first, not only as a last resort. We will offer more and more prunes as we adjust the dose, to stave off the constipation. Probably just as we get our heads around this challenge, he will outgrow it though, right?