Apologies in advance to anyone who finds this post TMI, or who wishes I would just go back to writing about knitting. Writing is my primary way of processing things I go through, so you will have to forgive me if baby stuff takes over for a while.
As with knitting, I’m going to use terminology without explaining; I usually assume that you can google terms if you really care to know what they mean, and if you don’t, you’ll get the gist of what I’m saying.
A “babymoon,” at least when I use the word, is the period of time after your baby is born when you completely clear your calendar, stay home, and do nothing but get to know your baby and feed them as much as possible. It’s a hugely important phase of parenting because that’s when your breastfeeding relationship gets established, that’s when you learn what some of the unique traits and challenges are of your baby’s personality, and it establishes a rock solid baseline of bonding.
We had two babymoons.
Things started out pretty darn wonderful. The first week was hard; starting breastfeeding is always hard, and I had all the usual challenges of cracked nipples, having to learn positions, and the rest of it. But by the end of the first week, we were doing really, really well. I was feeling like the worst was over; we could start participating bit by bit in normal life. So we did; we went to school for lunch a couple of times (but not for class), we had to go out for some doctory things, and we had a couple of fun outings. We went to DnD twice; the boys set up a special room upstairs with an armchair, a space heater, and a lamp with a dimmer switch so I could take frequent breastfeeding breaks and catch up on the campaign afterwards. We had the bilirubin thing to deal with, but it got dealt with fine. We were sleeping great during the night, making sure we fed her every 3 or 4 hours, but she loved to sleep at night. We went to bed early and slept in late and felt fantastic. Jared went to school a couple days and left us home alone; she had some fussy periods that were difficult, but we handled it with an entirely normal amount of tears. All in all, I was feeling like things were going our way, like the ease of my baby was some kind of reward for all the uncertainty we had during pregnancy.
Then at her 2 week appointment, her weight gain had gone down a little bit. She’d gone from above the top level of expected weight gain to about the bottom level. Nothing to worry about yet, just to pay attention to. We were scheduled for an extra weight check. In the meantime, Jared and I both got a nasty cold, though Naomi thankfully did not.
At this three and a half week appointment, her weight gain had gone down again. The doctor had us schedule an immediate appointment for an amazing local place called the Breastfeeding Center (hereafter BFC), a practice supplied with lots of lactation consultants and pediatricians who are also lactation consultants. We made an appointment for that afternoon and only stopped for lunch on the way over.
We found out a lot of things in the course of the next 48 hours.
1) Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, also one of the active ingredients in Advil Cold and Sinus, my personal crack) is not good to take while breastfeeding. It doesn’t do anything to the baby, but it decreases milk supply. I was due for a dose when we arrived at the BFC, and asked before taking another dose, which they told me I should not do. I begged that pediatrician for alternatives I could take (I’m allergic to Tylenol), and she had the gall to say to me that she didn’t think cold medicines really worked. I think as I slowly melted down in front of her into a puddle of headaches and snot and abject misery as my Advil wore off, I may have changed her mind. She told me some alternatives. Cough syrup is gross.
2) Babies should be able to continuously suck and swallow at the breast for at least 5 minutes per side. I sorta thought this was what Naomi was doing, as she would hang out there long enough, but she would take long breaks. She’d have a five or ten minute feed, but maybe only suck twelve times.
3) Fresh newborn babies should not be sleeping for long periods after the first night or two. Somehow when I heard in our infant care class that “infants have a 45 minute REM cycle,” I interpreted that to mean that they sleep for an hour and a half at a time. Because the idea that one might only get 45 minutes of sleep at a time did not occur to me. That sounded too hard. So I was encouraging my already sleepy baby to sleep for an hour and a half at a time during the day, and letting her sleep for 3-4 hour stretches at night.
I apologize if this is TMI. But I didn’t know this stuff. And this is obvious, basic stuff. I read a lot of parenting and newborn stuff and got lots of advice on breastfeeding and the rest of it, but I missed this basic, basic stuff.
For the second and third weeks of Naomi’s life, I was having a good time. I took her morning fussy period as an opportunity to play video games while I bounced to sleep in the sling. I let her stay with Jared for an hour and a half nap while I went to class once. I got frustrated during her fussy times, but they were the only remotely difficult thing about her, since I didn’t know there was anything wrong with her feeding. In general, I was enjoying myself, and congratulating myself on being a laid back attachment parenting mother.
So when I found out that in the midst of all that, I had been making some very very rookie mistakes, and that my “laid back” attitude had resulted in poor weight gain, something snapped. I was watching her like a hawk; I was going nowhere; I was trying to feed her every chance I got; I didn’t put a shirt on for days. I analyzed her sucking and her sleeping, convinced everything was abnormal. I checked both her and myself for fever every few hours. I called my sister-in-law and my pastor and my pediatrician in the middle of the night with obsessive questions as I slowly realized the basic facts that I didn’t know but had assumed. It all came to a head on the night she turned four weeks; we were trying to wake her to feed her more often but just couldn’t do it. We had already started pumping to try to get my supply back up from the sudafed and her poor eating, and supplementing a few times, so I broke down and made Jared give her an entire meal by syringe. I was convinced something was terribly wrong with her; she was so hungry that her little body couldn’t wake itself at night. I sent out panicked prayer emails to friends and family every few hours, causing everyone else to freak out too. (Advance warning in case you are panicking with me: She was fine. YOU try going from waking 3 times a night to 6 times a night and see if you can manage it.)
My nerves were shattered. I realized sometime in the night that I had barely eaten; when I tried to eat I realized that I had messed my stomach up so much from anxiety that I could barely force-feed myself a bowl of rice. I spent the next couple of days drinking protein shakes because I couldn’t keep down solids.
(Oh yeah, and sometime in the midst of all this, my cold turned into an ear infection and my hearing went wonky for a week. Also we were told that Naomi had a staph infection diaper rash, which could have been a cause of her sleepiness; this is when we also were told that she had hip dysplasia.)
My nerves were shattered, I slowly realized, because my confidence was shattered. I had been trusting to instinct, but I had no way of knowing whether my “instinct” came from mothering intuition or an inclination toward selfishness. Clearly, the latter had happened too many times, so I couldn’t trust that. What’s more, I couldn’t trust Naomi’s instinct either. We have the terrible blessing of a heavy sleeper; she won’t demand to be fed until she hasn’t eaten for six hours, so it’s up to us to wake and offer enough times for her to get enough food. There’s nothing wrong with her, this just happens sometimes.
Life stayed on hold while we went to doctor’s visits and obsessively fed our baby. After a few days she had gone back to gaining the accepted minimum, and a few days later she had gained nothing. We upped our efforts. The nights were the worst; since Naomi wouldn’t wake us, we had to set an alarm for when we estimated she’d be in light sleep, wake up, watch for light sleep, then spend the next hour feeding and waking her repeatedly until she’d gotten a decent feed on both sides, then give her a supplement. And then every other feed I’d have to pump. Repeat in two hours. After a couple days of this we were sleeping through alarms, not least because I couldn’t hear them. Jared’s parents came up for a few days, then my mom came up for most of a week, because feeding Naomi was a full time job for three people if any of us were going to sleep.
Slowly scary possibilities were ruled out, and more reasonable diagnoses presented themselves. I remembered that the doctor had mentioned something about a tongue tie, and the more I read about it, her symptoms matched up with tongue tie the most. We focused hard on making the most we could of every latching and positioning technique we knew, and slowly her feeds improved slightly. We found out that, while her weight was deficient according to the CDC guidelines (which include both breastfed and formula-fed babies), it was in line with WHO guidelines for exclusively breastfed babies. Also, doing weight checks 3 and 4 days together is not actually a good idea.
The Tuesday after she turned five weeks, we had another weight check, and she had gained really, really well. She was scheduled for a tongue tie release on Thursday, which went fine, and her doctor doesn’t want to see her again until Friday. We were encouraged to let her sleep longer at night and slowly back off supplementation. After the tongue tie release her nursing continued to improve, but it had already begun an upward trajectory since I made a religious job of working on latching and positioning and switch nursing.
In retrospect, she was probably pretty much fine the whole time. They ruled out heart issues and acid reflux, and her staph (which was probably yeast) cleared right up with medication. She could have been gaining more at certain points, but she was never gaining little enough to worry the LCs at the BFC, who know more about breastfed babies than most pediatricians. And relatively slow weight gain fits with her body type. She doesn’t poop much, but some babies don’t, and she pees like a racehorse, so she’s nowhere near dehydrated. She sleeps a lot at night, but she’s plenty wakeful during the day (though we usually still have to wake her to eat). She has normal fussy periods, though not fussy enough to called colic. Her diagnosis of thrush was probably wrong. And she’s generally so vigorous and strong that it’s almost embarrassing to repeatedly go to the doctors and say she isn’t getting enough food.
What’s changed through all this is me. Day after day, when things got dicey, I had to dig down to the bottom of what I was capable of, then find a way to dig deeper. Then I had to do it again. Then I couldn’t. Then I had to anyway. Then I would hear about moms who had to do this kind of feeding schedule, or worse, for months. Or years. Even with lots of help, that prospect would shut me right up. And make me dig deeper.
I found my mama bear. I figured out how to ignore the whole universe to pay attention to my baby’s needs. I figured out how to put everything – everything – else aside, all the time. I learned that I can never abdicate the responsibility to be an adult decision maker. I learned not to trust the experts, since there appear to be two opinions on everything having to do with babies, but to do my own research and figure out who to ask. I learned how to ask for help, and I learned when to say no, I have to do this myself. I learned that a baby isn’t something you add to a scaled-down version of your normal life; a baby bulldozes your normal life, and then maybe you get to do normal things sometimes. I should say I started to learn how to do all these things. Just barely started. And I am learning them not from some inner compass, but from the people around me (in person and online) who are encouraging me.
And I’m slowly getting my nerve back, with lots and lots of hand holding and encouragement. I’m slowly accepting that I wasn’t a terrible parent and a horrible person; I had a few missing pieces of information and a few misinterpretations, and I’m human; thanks to the blood of Jesus, nobody but myself will condemn me for that. We are starting to enjoy Naomi more, playing with EC observations, and enjoying the many smiles that started cropping up a couple weeks ago. We are learning better how to handle her fussy times. We are letting her sleep longer at night, and experimenting with letting her tell us when she needs to eat. (After all, after the first few weeks newborns can go down to eating as few as 8 times a day. We were racheting it up to 10 or 12 only because we thought she wasn’t gaining enough.) I’m still pretty frayed around the edges. But tomorrow we are going to go to class. I’m bringing an audio recorder in case I need to leave and feed her, or if she gets inconsolable, or if I’m so distracted by her that I can’t take in information on the aorist passive tense.
And at some point tonight, I’m finally going to cast on that soaker.