My baby is a crap napper. At least from the point of view of what I read online at baby sleep sites (I told you I couldn’t stop googling this even for my own good!). She is not quite three months old, but per many sites and forums she should like clockwork sleep 1.5 hours 3x/day, not a minute more or less. I so want to be that perfect mother and follow the E.A.S.Y schedule, but I’ve learned the only way to be an A student in the E.A.S.Y method is if your darn baby cooperates and takes long, meaty naps regularly throughout the day. It’s penciled in right there in the S category. They have charts! And per those charts the S block should be approximately 1-2 hours.
So what kind of F students are my baby and me if sometimes our S block is only 15 minutes!? Clearly the model we took home from the hospital has a manufacturer’s defect, and I must soon return her for a baby that actually does what she is programmed to do.
In all seriousness, sometimes Ryley excels at naps, although only for the first nap of the day. In the last few weeks she has taken one three-hour nap for me in her crib, several 2+ hour naps, and frequent 1-hour naps. The rest of the day she typically will nap 30-45 minutes. I know I should feel good about this, because we’re already doing something right if she can nap at all in her crib. She has even achieved that golden and elusive parenting dream of falling asleep when put down “drowsy but awake” on a handful of occasions. And she almost always can fall asleep in the crib if I stand there holding the pacifier in place for a few minutes.
And yet in spite of this, I cannot describe the angst I feel when, especially for that first nap of the day, she wakes up after only 25 minutes. Often I am able to get her back to sleep if I go in and rock her for a few minutes, but that only makes me feel worse, because obviously my baby is not capable of self soothing herself back to sleep which means that she will grow up as a totally dependent personality and probably attach herself to some charismatic cult leader.
I reassure myself at times by re-reading those other parenting sites, the ones that build you up instead of tear you down, the science based ones that emphasize how for the first 6 months of a baby’s life sleep, including naps, is a total CRAP SHOOT. They say that biologically at this point babies are simply not capable of regular and dependable lengthy sleep episodes.
And yet, and yet, why do I still spend so much time stressing about naps? Despite the amount of babies I have cared for as a babysitter, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much of your day with an infant revolves around getting them to sleep, especially when they take micro-naps and need to sleep 5-6x/day (another way I have failed as a parent per so many online charts, my baby is supposed to be in the 3-4 naps a day category that some rando arbitrarily decided for no real reason other than it sounds reasonable). I can almost swear I see a path worn into the rug in the nursery from the miles I have walked with the baby to put her down for naps. My heels are sore. I didn’t know heels could be sore, but they are sore from all the hours of bouncing accumulated at this point.
I want my daughter to regularly take long and replenishing daytime naps, and I know she will get better at this when she gets older and her circadian rhythms sort themselves out a little more. And I am trying to just accept that right now and for probably a few months longer things are not going to be regular and dependable. And yet there always creeps in those feelings of frustration and inadequacy that are particularly compounded by “helpful” advice I mistakenly seek out online.
One of my favorite of these tips is to not let your baby get overtired. Which is reasonable. And it pops up again and again. But the best part of this advice is that inevitably the author will talk of the window of time you should put a baby down to nap. You know the one. Apparently at the very first signs of sleepiness a giant countdown, game clock style, will suddenly appear in the air marking down the number of minutes you have to get that baby to sleep. And you better stop whatever you are doing, grab the baby even if she is perfectly content, and sprint toward the nursery. OR ELSE.
Sounds easy enough right? Baby yawns or fusses=she is tired=put her down for a nap. Well think again you fool! If your baby yawns you have completely missed the signals that she is tired and she had crossed over into the OVER TIRED zone. The authors of this advice never really define what the super secret baby secrets of early tiredness are. They only tell you that a good parent would never the late ones occur. The late ones are of course the universal human signs that someone is tired like crankiness or yawning or rubbing eyes. Your baby should never yawn or rub her eyes, because this means you obviously missed your baby’s subtle, early cues of impending tiredness and need to go to some kind of parent remediation to get your act together.
We are three months in and I am sorry to say that I clearly do not know my baby, because I am still puzzled as to her mysterious early signs of tiredness. Somehow I am missing the signals, because she will be playing and cooing happily on her playmat and then yawn, and bam, just like that we have missed our window people. Obviously somewhere in that happy period of playing, she must have winked at me or babbled out a code word to signal her approaching sleepiness. Is there a hand gesture of some kind I’m not picking up on? Does she kick her legs out in morse code to spell out “MOM I AM ABOUT TO BE TIRED. STOP. PUT ME TO SLEEP BEFORE I GET OVERTIRED. STOP. WELL 15 SECONDS HAVE PASSED SO YOU MISSED IT MOM. STOP. NOW I WILL YAWN TO SHOW YOU WHAT AN IMBECILE YOU ARE. STOP. ALSO I JUST POOPED. STOP.”
So inevitably I miss the early “signs” and the baby yawns and starts to fuss and apparently this means something really horrible. Because sleep experts also inevitably say that there is a specific window of time between when your baby shows signs of tiredness and when you have to put her to sleep. And I kid you not some of these people say this window is like 10 minutes long. They are always really vague as to what happens when you miss the window, other than to make it sound slightly apocalyptic. The more generous experts will give you like 30 minutes to get your act together and put the darn baby to bed already, but if you miss out on that 30 minute window apparently you are royally screwed and might as well not attempt to put the baby down for a nap again until they are 16.
Because I guess by now your baby is “over-tired” which is like the #1 worst thing for a baby to be according to interwebs. Forget starvation or sickness or neglect, there is literally NOTHING worse for a baby than being over-tired, and you are a monster if you let your child get to this point. Apparently if you are such a dumb dumb that you miss your baby’s secret sleep cues and sleep window and the worst case scenario occurs and they get over-tired, then they will never sleep again and possibly turn into a gremlin.
At this point sleep experts usually wring their hands, shrug and offer little advice other than to tell you that the End Times have arrived. They may half-heartedly suggest that you call a priest to the house because your baby is now a full-fledged demon and an exorcism may be the only way to get them to sleep.
Look, there are some truth nuggets buried beneath all of the hyperbole. Yes, babies are harder to sleep when they get over-tired. Yes, it is good to loosely keep track of how long your baby has been awake and put your baby down for naps because they won’t just curl into a ball and fall asleep when they feel like it.
But naps don’t have to be such a herculean task, right?
I really am asking, because right now I am in the thick of “nap training” and some days I feel like I will spend the rest of my life in a lather-rinse-repeat cycle of naps and wake ups and putting baby back down for naps. I would like for the success of my days to be measured less by how long her morning nap is, because right now I literally want to high five everyone I see on the days when she takes multi-hour naps and vent to everyone I see on the days she only takes 15 minute naps.
I think new moms must stress out so much about naps, because these little periods of time are sometimes the only time in a day when we are not holding the baby or feeding the baby or playing with the baby. They are brief reminders of life pre-baby when you could do anything you’d like. They are also the time in your day when you can do all the things around house that need to be done like cooking and cleaning and laundry. I think in a lot of ways naps are the key to a mother’s sanity just as much as they are the key to a baby’s general demeanor and happiness.
And so of course when your sanity hinges on them, you can get a little fixated. I, for one, am trying to be less obsessed with the whole nap thing and just let those long, chunky naps happen naturally when the baby is ready to nap like that. Right now we are still in the season of catnaps, and that’s okay too.
I remind myself that a 20-minute nap is not the end of the world. I am not a bad mom if I cannot read my child’s mind to the point of knowing she is tired before she exhibits overt signs of tiredness. The baby will not transform into a hissing goblin if I miss her sleep window (or at least she hasn’t has of yet).
It will be okay. One day I will look back and laugh at how much of my time was spent thinking about naps. And for now we will both just do the best we can.
I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I currently co-sleep with my daughter, Ryley. I have also mentioned that this is not something I ever thought I would do. I know in fact that I said out loud several times that I would never do it. I’m a nurse. I know the laundry list of reasons why co-sleeping is “dangerous” and increases the risk of SIDS and yada yada yada. I also like my own space to sleep. We bought a bedside bassinet. We got the nursery ready for when the baby moved in there (at the time I naively thought this would be a few weeks after birth). I was ready to be a fully committed non co-sleeper.
And we were the first few days home from the hospital. This honeymoon phase was when the baby was still in newborn coma mode and slept for long stretches no matter where we put her (other than that darn bassinet, she never slept on that thing). I remember somewhere in the first two weeks literally bragging to friends that my baby had slept four hours in the rock n’play the night before. What were people talking about newborns being hard at night? Clearly not our newborn. She was obviously a sleep prodigy. I still woke up frequently at night, but for a brief period of time I slept in the bed and the baby slept happily in the rock n’play between feeds.
And then the coma phase wore off. And it wore off HARD. Suddenly our sleeping angel who would conk out for long stretches of time in the good old rock n’play no matter the noise around her, was instead an alert little infant who did not like being put down, at all. If we did manage to transition her to the rock n’play at night, she would inevitably wake up in 10-15 minutes and no amount of shushing and rocking in our arms would get her to sleep again. The only thing that would let her sleep was my boob (aka the human pacifier).
I still was firmly in the non co-sleep camp, but out of desperation one night I nursed her in the bed and then once she fell asleep on the Boppy, I let myself snooze as well (propped up with pillows as well as a little makeshift pillow fort surrounding the Boppy on the off chance our 10 day old suddenly discovered the ability to catapult herself into the air). I slept this way for like three solid nights, which was long enough to absolutely destroy my spinal cord.
So one night after multiple failed attempts to get the baby to stay asleep in the rock n' play, instead of nursing her in the Boppy, I did what a very kind nurse in the hospital had shown me to do when I called her into the room at 3am because I was so physically exhausted that I literally did not know what else to do. I lay Ryley next to me in the bed and nursed her while I was lying down. I kept the blankets far from her face and positioned myself on my side. She fell asleep. I fell asleep. And we stayed that way all night (minus feeds when I would turn her to my alternate side).
That night both the baby and I slept better than we had since she was born. For a couple of weeks I still tried every night to get her to sleep in the rock n’play or pack n’play (why does every baby item apparently end in “n' play”?). And sometimes she would sleep for little stretches, but never longer than 30 minutes. Inevitably I ended up taking her into the bed with me where she would fall asleep quickly into a nursing session and sleep soundly and happily between feeds all night long
Almost three months later and this is still our happy routine. I still attempt each night to put the baby to sleep elsewhere. We do a little bedtime routine with a bath and books. I rock her and shush her in her nursery, turn on the white noise, zip her up in her little magic sleepsuit (more on this in another post), and lay her down in the crib (she naps like a champ in her crib during the day). But at this stage crib sleeping at night does not last long. At most she will sleep 45 minutes to an hour in the crib before waking. Some nights I try to put her back down, but most nights I take her into the bed because let’s face it, we are both tired and fighting her all night is not something I’m ready for at this stage.
However because I work some night shifts and my maternity leave is rapidly coming to an end, I know this will have to change. I am already anticipating a pretty rough week of some kind of (gentle) sleep training so that when I work a night shift both the baby and my husband are able to sleep without me. Our nights together snuggled in bed our numbered. And even though I am now faced with the challenge of transitioning her to a crib, which will be a struggle, I honestly would not take back the last 3 months of co-sleeping for anything. Because:
1. I will never have this much time with her again. I am going to be back at work soon, and even though it will only be part time, I will still be away from my baby for long days/nights. And eventually at some point she will start going to some kind of school or we will have another baby. Life is going to move quickly, and there will be reasons why I will not physically be with my daughter all the time. The last three months, except for little excursions here and there, I have physically been with my daughter ALL the time, even at night. This might seem like overkill to people without children, but if you have a baby I think most people can understand how it’s possible to spend that much time with a baby and still feel like it’s not enough. I am so grateful I have been able to have so much time with my daughter. I am grateful for every minute of time with her, even the ones spent next to each other sleeping.
2. Both myself and the baby have been far better rested than we would have been otherwise. In the early weeks especially people asked a lot about how I have been sleeping, and I think they were probably surprised when I answered pretty well. I honestly have slept better since having a baby than I did the last couple of months of pregnancy when I was waking every freaking half hour to pee. It’s not like sleep was before I got pregnant (I don’t think I will sleep like that again for probably another couple of decades, if ever), but other than brief awakenings to reposition the baby and help her to latch when she’s hungry, I sleep consistently through the night. We both do. I cannot imagine how I would feel and would have felt if I had spent the last three months waking up to a baby’s cries, dragging myself out of bed, sitting upright to nurse, getting the baby back to sleep, again and again every night. I think I would dread nights and spend a huge chunk of my day feeling anxious about the night to come. Instead since I started co-sleeping I look forward to nights. Especially between 4-8 weeks when the baby was at her peak fussiness and days could really be a challenge (some days were spent pretty much either feeding the baby or walking/dancing around the house with her), nights were always a reprieve. At night things didn’t have to be hard or exhausting. Co-sleeping made nights easy, peaceful and actually restful. And because I was reasonably well rested physically it’s made it a much smoother emotional transition. I haven’t had the crazy mood swings or hormonal meltdowns I anticipated. I’ve felt pretty calm and good even amidst the seismic change of bringing home a newborn, and I attribute a lot of that to not being up all night long fighting to get a baby back to sleep.
3. Baby snuggles. There really is just nothing better than when I wake up in the middle of the night and look and see her little face sleeping next to me, the way her eyelids flutter or how her mouth softens so totally in her deepest sleep. Or when it’s morning and she wakes up, blinks furiously, looks into my eyes, and smiles. Some of my happiest moments on this earth have been our mornings together when my husband is off work and before anyone has gotten up or gotten coffee we just hang out in bed snuggling as one big family.
Listen, I do want my bed back in the near future. I know my husband does (we do have a king size bed and he can sleep far enough away from the baby to worry about him rolling on her, dad’s don’t quite have the same instincts as moms about these things). I know that it will be good for her to have a long, uninterrupted night of sleep in her crib as soon as she is ready to give up night feeds. I do not plan on having a “family bed” when the baby is a toddler and can ninja kick me in the face. Soon, very soon, we will have to move her into the nursery in preparation for my night shifts.
I think it’s totally fine if you don’t co-sleep, if the idea seems crazy to you and you prefer to have your baby out of your bed from day one. Like I said that is always how I imagined it would be for me. And I’m sure that works great for a lot of families. It just plain didn’t work for us.
I will be 100% honest, for me a lot of it came down to what was easier at the time, which I’m realizing more and more as a parent is how a lot of decisions are made. So much of having a baby is hard so when something is easy you often just take that route. It came down to needing time to recover from labor and not wanting my nights the first few weeks at home to be these long and exhausting ordeals. It came down to it just feeling right and natural, way more than I would have ever thought possible. I knew the risks and was as safe about it as I could possibly be. I would never in a million years keep her in the bed next to me if I was intoxicated or took sleeping pills or was a crazy heavy sleeper.
There are a lot of choices I will make as a new parent that I will probably regret or at least second guess. Co-sleeping these last few months is not one of them. I fell into this accidentally and unexpectedly, and I have loved it more than I would have thought possible. The nights I have spent with my daughter beside me are nights I would not trade for anything in the world, because I will remember those nights and cling to the memory of them when she is a teenager who thinks her mom is the worst.
In the spirit of forcing myself to more regularly post, I thought I would start a weekly roundup of five things I am obsessed with right now (not the most original idea as pretty much every blogger out there does something similar, but as they say, good writers borrow, great writers steal outright). So for our first edition:
This is an app that basically takes your 50 most recent iPhone pictures (or any 50 you’d like-I put together an album every month and tell the app to use the photos from the album) and then turns it into a high quality photo book/magazine that is mailed to your door. I subscribed because I wanted a physical copy of the gazillion phone pictures I take of the baby on a daily basis. We have two months of Recently albums already and I know that this is one of those things I will be so happy I did down the road. You can keep all your pictures on your iPhone and never get prints, but there’s something about being able to physically hold a photo in your hand that just feels more special. I’m not sure if we will do this forever but especially in the first year of Ryley’s life it’s already so neat to look back at our 1 month book and see how much she has changed.
2. Blue Apron.
I was always a little skeptical of Blue Apron just because I heard SO much about it and figured it must be over-hyped. However I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I love it. We started a few weeks after the baby was born with the thinking that it would be nice to not have to grocery shop/menu prep/come up with recipes with a newborn. We’re about 6 weeks into it now and I can honestly say there has not been a recipe I haven’t enjoyed. Many I have absolutely loved and have even been kind of shocked as the quality of meals that my husband and I have been able to cook. Even better I feel like in general I’ve become a better cook thanks to tips and suggestions used in the Blue Apron recipes (like how they always use the cooking water from pasta to make a sauce or cook all the meat in a pan with olive oil versus baking to get a nice sear). I’ve also used ingredients that I’ve never dreamed of cooking with before (demi-glace, exotic spice blends, a kind of soft cheese called labneh, etc). The recipes are not crazy low calorie by any means (typically between 500-800) but lower calorie than most restaurant or take out meals. And because you end up cooking exactly two portions you don’t go back for “seconds” which I typically do on the “healthy” meals I cook, doubling the calories anyways.
3. Califia Farms Almond Milk Cold Brew.
Caffeine is really my best friend these days, and there’s nothing I love more than finding new and creative ways to ingest caffeine. My typical routine is two big cups of hot coffee in the mornings, but when it’s hot out I’ve started to enjoy subbing the second cup for something cold instead. Enter this almond milk cold brew. I’ve tried the mocha as well as the latte flavors and they are amazing. I pour it over ice to make the whole thing even more refreshing. And at 90 calories per serving they’re a lot more nutritious than getting a sugary coffee drink at Starbucks.
4. Summer plans. I spent the majority of last summer pregnant in the throes of early pregnancy (i.e. lots of nausea and vomiting and feeling exhausted). Thus most of the summer was spent either working or napping. This summer I plan to make up for it in earnest. In July we’re heading to the Jersey Shore (not the Sookie one, a much nicer and prettier Jersey Shore that is not too different from my beloved Southern beaches other than the fact that you have to buy a ticket from the government to sit on the beach which I find violates everything good and pure about the liberty of our nation, but I digress) for a little beach vacation with my in-laws. At the end of August we’re renting a river house in Gloucester (Northern Neck kind of area) with my parents and sister’s family. In September we’re planning a girls day at the Charlottesville wineries. And in between all of that I plan to visit lots of breweries, attend outdoor concerts, eat at food truck food courts, go on walks by the river and just generally enjoy not being pregnant in the summer.
I feel like I’m kind of late to the whole Birkenstocks are trendy again, but my wide feet are absolutely THRILLED with this development. These shoes are not attractive. Like at all. But like Uggs a decade or so ago or Bean Boots recently, function has unexpectedly triumphed over fashion and they have been deemed cool. And these shoes are really made for a wide footed gal. They are sturdy and don’t have tight straps. They look like something a cult leader would wear, but I don’t care because I can wear them for long periods of time and not get blisters unlike almost every other shoe in the world. My favorite thing to do is wear them when I have the baby in a sling and just embrace the granola of it all.
A week ago I spent the night in the hospital with Ryley. And I think it has taken about a week to breathe fully again. I cannot overstate how profoundly my view of the parents I take care of at work has changed (when I go back at the end of my maternity leave). I think differently of them all, but particularly the parents of our severely or chronically ill children. What I went through was a mere blip compared to what they experience for months, years, and sometimes decades. I do not know how they function, let alone handle these situations with the grace and even humor I have seen. I was impressed with them before. Now I am awed.
It started suddenly, as illnesses with very small children usually do. I had just returned from visiting my best friend and her new baby and put Ryley down for a nap in her room. She was her usual smiley self and went down without much fuss. However she woke up about ten minutes later. I went to try and put her back down, and as I was holding her and rocking/walking around her nursery she coughed and let out a huge stream of vomit that went all over her front, all over my shirt and shorts, and the floor. I paused but wasn’t too alarmed, more puzzled. Thankfully my baby is not a spit-upper. She spits up maybe 2-3 times a week, max. And when she does it is usually a very small volume. This was a huge volume, but she had gotten a bottle from my husband while I was away, so I assumed she had simply eaten too much when faced with a bottle versus the usual boob.
And then she puked again, also with a large volume and force. I called my husband down from his office to ask about how she took her last bottle, and as he was holding her she vomited again. At this point I was worried but still wasn’t overly alarmed. I assumed she had again either eaten too much.
My husband went to take a shower while I took the baby out to our sunroom. I sat down with her in the rocker and at this point noticed the change in her. She was very still and quiet, and there was no wiggle or squirm to her as I held her in my arms. I reminded myself that she had only napped for ten minutes and this along with the puking just meant she was overly tired. As my husband came out to check on us a few minutes later, she vomited again, again all over me, the chair, and the floor.
I gave her to him and went to change my shirt and get a cloth diaper to clean up the baby. When I got back I could immediately see the worry on my husband’s face. He sat in the chair with the baby, and again she was totally calm and still. I’ve been a pediatric nurse long enough to know that with infants, quiet is what stops you dead in your tracks. We like crying. Crying and fighting and squirming means energy and lungs full of oxygen. Quiet and listlessness is far more concerning.
With mounting anxiety, I decided to call our pediatrician’s office to get their opinion, described the situation to the receptionist, and was told a nurse would call back. Somewhere in this Ryley vomited again, only this time there was green and yellow bile in her puke. Once again I know enough as a pediatric RN to know this was not in any way normal for an 11 week old. I also know the assorted laundry list of terrifying reasons why an infant might vomit bile. However I was even more concerned about her demeanor. I took her in my arms and there was no other word for it, she was puny.
Puny is the word we use at work to describe a kid who just looks sick, not just normal childhood illness sick, but sick in a way that makes you page the doctor to come to the bedside. Her eyes were glassy, her skin was pale, and she was totally limp. She was also lethargic. Her eyes fluttered open and closed. Now my baby is not the type of baby to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Usually it takes a lot of rocking and swaying to get her to sleep and she fights it. Seeing her this drowsy was not a way I had ever seen her before.
The anxiety at this point turned into terror. My husband, who is a physician, was also very alarmed and we decided not to wait for the pediatrician’s office to call back. We left the house in such a hurry I’m shocked we remembered to close the door or put the dog in the crate. As we were walking out the door she puked more bile and we had to stop for a while on our stairs to turn her upside down and prevent her from choking.
I sat with her in the back and we briefly discussed Kid Med (doc in the box for kids), but as she grew more and more lethargic (asleep and not opening her eyes even with stimulation) my husband drove past the exit and instead headed to the nearest pediatric ED at St. Mary’s.
The weirdest part in all of this is that despite the fact that a huge part of me felt suffocated with fear and worry, I also experienced a preternatural calm. It was the same feeling that I experienced during labor when the baby showed fetal distress and all the people rushed in the room. I cannot really explain it other than in these moments, I just know she is going to be okay because I do not believe in a world with any other outcome. And trust me, I know how faulty the logic is in this kind of thinking, because I take care of very sick kids whose parents probably felt the exact same way. Maybe it’s denial or adrenaline. But for whatever reason, I’m grateful to find that in these moments instead of falling apart, I go into almost an out of body composure. I think as parents it must be an instinct to not lose it when something is wrong with your baby, because they need you to be together in that moment.
We got to the ED and I was thrilled to see the waiting room was completely empty. We were quickly ushered back to the exam room and met by an RN and a only a few minutes later the doctor. We put the baby on the stretcher, and she lay there completely still. She was in and out of awakeness at this point with all of the activity around her, and again it was her calm and stillness that scared me the most. Instead she simply lay there limply while her BP and other vitals were taken and while the doctor examined her. Also during the exam she vomited more bile. I think it was at this point the doctor became alarmed, because she immediately ordered a slew of tests including chest and abdominal x-rays, an ultrasound, blood and urine cultures, a ton of labs, and a fluid bolus. She also said she wanted the baby on the continuous monitor.
The next couple of hours were spent in and out of the exam room with a rotating assortment of people. The nurses took urine, drew blood and started an IV (I felt so bad for them, knowing that as a peds nurse the most stress inducing situation is starting an IV on a kid whose parents are in healthcare, particularly if one is a nurse who starts IVs; however they were awesome and got the blood on the first try and the IV on the second, I typically take care of bigger kids and if I have to do a stick on an 11 week old I usually ask someone else to do it, because they have TINY impossible baby veins). We went with the baby to X-ray where we had to contort her in a variety of poses to get the imaging they wanted (we were able to go with her to all of her tests and were given lead aprons so that we could be there the whole time, thank you St. Mary’s for showing such commitment to family centered care!)
Through all of this Ryley was an utter champ (largely I think because she was so sick and dehydrated and didn’t have any fight in her). She also discovered the magic of Sweet Ease (hospitals dip pacifiers in this mixture of sugar and water and give it to babies to keep them calm during procedures or tests) and I’m pretty sure formed some sort of worrying Sweet Ease drug habit. At one point the doctor came in and told us she was worried about intussusception based off the x-ray (a condition that occurs in babies where suddenly one part of the intestine sort of telescopes into another part, it sounds really scary but can actually usually be fixed with a barium enema). However she was also worried about other causes of obstruction that would require emergency surgery so she wanted to do a fluoroscopy (another type of imaging using contrast dye to see how it moves through the GI system and identifies any possible obstruction). Yet again despite this very alarming news that my baby might require emergency GI surgery, I felt that weird calm (I swear I didn’t sneak any hospital xanax).
I can’t explain it other than again as parent I felt almost that I could simply will Ryley to be fine. I couldn’t fully process my fear or worry, because I would not allow any outcome other than her being okay. I know that is foolish and basically denial, but it kept me together through all of this so I’m grateful for it even if it was just denial.
Somewhere in all of this my wonderful parents had arrived (I called them to help with our dog because the doctor told us regardless of the cause, we would be spending the night because of how acutely sick the baby got and because of her age). I also desperately needed my breast pump because it was 8pm, I hadn’t fed the baby since early in the afternoon, wasn’t allowed to feed her until we knew what was going on, and didn’t want my breasts to leak all over me (I was covered in puke and diarrhea so I’m not quite sure why I cared about my shirt being covered in breastmilk, but I guess I drew the line somewhere). They stayed with us while all of the tests were going on and even went out and got us chik-fil-a.
She was still a little on the puny side, but once Ryley got a bolus of fluids she started to look a lot less terrifying. Her color came back and she wasn’t so lethargic and limp. She also started to have massive amounts of diarrhea which despite coating my pants (I was given lovely paper scrubs to wear until my parents brought me clothes) was incredibly reassuring because it lessened the likelihood of a serious obstruction and pointed more toward a GI bug.
The last thing we did in the ED was take Ryley for the fluoroscopy study. The sweet techs there went over the procedure in detail, because I think they were worried we would be horrified. They basically have to tape the baby like a mummy to the table, because the table itself rotates and flips during the test (in order to get the contrast liquid to flow through the baby’s GI system while the radiologist watches). At this point she was getting a little feistiness back but she was appeased with Sweet Ease despite having to be a human equivalent to a rotisserie chicken on a spit during the test (seriously why don’t they SELL this stuff at every baby supply store, we would stockpile it). With the radiologist in the room we were able to get instant confirmation that things were moving the way they were supposed to and there was no intussusception or obstruction.
Back in the ED exam room the doctor told us the good news but did say she still wanted us to be admitted for the night so Ryley could receive more IV fluids and they could monitor her.
We were taken up to the floor by our ED nurse and met our night nurse. I was enamored with her immediately for two reasons 1) She brought me a giant plastic hospital jug of water and told me I had to drink it because I was breastfeeding 2) she let me finally feed the baby (we had given her 2oz of pedialyte in the ED that she tolerated fine). After a brief visit from the pediatrician on the floor, we were more or less done for the night except for check ins from the nurse. Our wonderful nurse had brought us a cot as well as a chair that sort of functioned as a rocker. I briefly tried to put the baby in the little hospital crib before realizing that of all the nights to try and get her to sleep through the night in a crib, this sure as hell wasn’t going to be it.
Instead I brought her (and her IV pole) to the sleeper chair and lay down with her on top of me while I was half propped up with pillows. My back is still angry at me for staying in this position for the entire night, but the important part is the baby slept. I mostly stayed awake, too wired by everything that had happened and too in tune to Ryley’s every little twitch and sigh. I was also scared that our nurse, despite being so wonderful, would yell at me if she came in and I was sleeping with the baby (oh how I wish I could take back every time I’ve judged a parent for sleeping with their baby in the sleeper chair or even the times I’ve walked in to see the parent in the crib with the baby, I now realize how little I knew). I watched the sun rise out the hospital window and held my baby close as she slept.
The morning was relatively painless despite a lot of baby diapers full of diarrhea. We hung out for a while waiting for the doctor to round. I gulped down a Starbucks venti latte like it was manna from heaven. If I could have started an IV on myself and filled it with coffee I would have. When the doctor stopped by she mentioned that she wanted us to wait for the baby’s blood cultures to come back (which wouldn’t have been until the evening), but after talking to us and learning about both of our healthcare backgrounds, she said she would be okay with us going home since she trusted we knew when to call if anything worrisome happened.
We got home around lunchtime and I briefly considered making a sandwich. That lasted for about five seconds until I decided on a new plan. I handed my husband the baby while I showered, took the baby back, and then got in bed with the baby. Both of us then proceeded to take perhaps the most glorious nap in my entire life. I cannot overstate how beautiful it felt to be back in my bed with my baby beside me, safe and sound and not in the hospital anymore. If I could have stayed in bed with her for the next week I would have.
Later that night we got a call from the doctor telling us that her stool tested positive for campylobacter, a type of bacteria normally responsible for food poisoning. It can be passed person from person, or as we suspect in this case, from pets to their owners. Considering the fact that our dogs routinely lick the baby on her mouth and often routinely eat poop and sniff each other’s butts, I think we might know the source of the baby getting sick.
If I haven’t said it enough in the last couple of months, DAMN IT GEORGE.
After a couple of days of diarrhea followed by a couple of days of constipation, baby is doing great and back to her normal feisty self. As for me, my perspective on a few things shifted.
1. Before this I was getting really stressed out about the sleep situation. Whenever Ryley had bouts of short naps I felt it was the end of the world. I felt like a bad mom for not having her sleep in her crib all night long. It was a constant source of anxiety. Let’s just say after this little ordeal I have never cared about sleep less. Of course I want my daughter to sleep, but I could give less of a crap right now if it’s in the crib or my arms or in the sling. I also don’t really like the idea of her sleeping all night in her nursery away from us right now, because of course the paranoia factor has ramped up considerably.
2. I knew babies get sick fast. I’ve seen babies get sick fast. And yet I was still mentally unprepared for just how fast a 10 week old gets sick. It is terrifying.
3. I was really concerned about using “organic” “non-toxic” cleaning supplies before this. I was all into the Honest Company and Simple Truth like probably all first time moms easily persuaded by advertising. The day after we got home I bleached the crap out of my house. If I could have SOAKED my entire house in bleach I would have.
4. The dogs will never again be allowed to kiss the baby on the face. And we will be sending them the hospital bill.
5. I’ve spent a lot of time making jokes about parents who bring their kids to the ED too quickly. And yes, that does happen. But I also have a newfound understanding of what it means to know in your gut something is truly wrong with your baby and also know in your gut that your baby needs help immediately.
Thankfully everything turned out fine, the worst-case scenario did not happen, and we were in the hospital less than 24 hours. On the scale of scary things that can happen to your kids, this ranks very low. It was however still the scariest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. And I hope it is the first and last time we spend any time in a hospital.
To all the parents who deal with sick kids on a daily basis for months or years, you are super heroes. I look forward to going back to work only so that I can do everything possible to be that calm, reassuring nurse who helps make your experience even just a tiny bit less frightening.
10 weeks in to this whole mommyhood thing, and I am as far from a parenting expert as it gets. I still feel like half my days are spent fumbling and making it up as I go along. However I do feel like I have learned some things in the last two and a half months. In no particular order:
1. Try to start the day with a shower. Okay this might seem silly or unimportant. However I have managed to shower almost every day since having Ryley (early on when my husband or family member was there to help, and now when she naps, (usually we manage at least 20 minutes of napping in the rock n’ play or crib)). I am not an obsessive shower person. I do not think it is horrible to go more than one day without showering. And yet for some reason after having a baby it has become one of my priorities. The first few weeks it felt essential just because you’re so physically spent and feel so gross (one word: pads, and another word: blow out diapers, oh and throw in spit up there too) that a shower can be the only thing that makes you feel like a somewhat functional person. And now whenever I shower in the morning I feel like I start my day with a victory. Even if the baby refuses to nap again in the crib and I don’t get all the other things done I need to that day, at least I managed to get in one thing that is entirely for me and my sanity. It might be “selfish” to take that time to shower when I could be, oh I don’t know, cleaning the windows or exercising the dogs in the yard, but I think a new mom needs to do at least one “selfish” thing every day, whether it’s a shower or a glass of wine (heck bring the wine in the shower and really make a day of it!). And honestly it’s not really selfish because neither the husband nor the baby want me to be smelly.
2. Not all babies fall asleep in the car. I feel like this is one of those truisms of parenting you always hear, that a car ride will instantly lull a baby, and that with a fussy baby all you have to do is put her in the car and she will become a sleeping angel the second the wheels start rolling. This may be true for some babies, even most babies, but it is not true for my baby. She does not care for the car. On our best trips she treats it with open disdain before eventually sleeping in fits and starts (if we time it really well and she has just eaten right before we get in the car). On our worst trips (and we drive a lot because we live in the burbs bordering on boonies, and I like the city and doing things in the city), she screams like a rabid hyena for the entirety of the drive. I play music. I roll down the window. I wedge her pacifier (the kind with the stuffed animal attached) under her car seat strap so it stays near her face. When there are two of us, I will sit in the back and physically hold her pacifier in her mouth. And yet in spit of all of this, she sometimes still screams like she is a baby POW being water-boarded. At the end of these trips, we are all frayed nerve endings in desperate need of a drink (even the baby I think, if babies were allowed such things). At times this has made me second think ever leaving our house. But instead of turning to agoraphobia (which again, is SO EASY these days thinks to Amazon Now), I have steeled myself and continued to venture out into the world, hoping desperately that she doesn’t still scream her head off during car rides when she is 17.
3. Pregnancy hormone fun does not stop at childbirth. I kind of thought I was done with all the fun hormone related things when I delivered the baby. I was wrong. That continues apparently, possibly forever. The highlights so far: menopause like night hot flashes that leave me drenched in sweat, teenage-like acne erupting all over my chin a couple of weeks ago, and recently my hair falling out in huge clumps. The fun of being a woman never stops right?
4. Those first smiles are one of the few things in life that live up to the hype. You read it in every baby book, that a baby’s first smile makes all of the hard stuff, the sleepless nights and endless diaper changes, totally worth it. Everyone who has had a baby tells you the same thing, that even the hours of crying and rocking and bouncing will be rendered suddenly unimportant the moment your baby truly smiles at you. And I hate to state the obvious, but it’s all true. Oh those smiles, when all of the sudden your baby locks her eyes on yours, looks at you with a sudden and intense concentration and intensity that you’ve never seen before, and then without any warning or provocation erupts into a smile so huge that it crinkles her eyes and lights up every inch of her little face. Of course, after that first, amazing smile there is usually a dry spell without any smiles that leaves you wondering if you hallucinated it due to sleep deprivation. You tell everyone you know about it, but can’t get the baby to replicate it again, even for your dubious husband. But eventually it comes back. And then after a few weeks it becomes a dependable event. Ryland goes on smiling sprees, happy blocks of time where all I have to do is look at her to get oodles of those big, gummy smiles. I feed on these smiles. I’m fairly convinced that someone starving on a desert island might be able to subsist on baby smiles alone. They are that good. One smile just fills up your soul to the brim with happiness. Maybe instead of negotiations and treaties to end world conflicts we should just start bringing a convoy of smiling infants to the front lines. I’m pretty sure we would have world peace almost instantaneously.
5. Having a baby will make you temporarily (I hope) hate your pets and then make you feel like a bad person for hating your pets. I love our two dogs. I really do. Before having a baby, our golden retriever George was my fur baby. We used to spend hours snuggling. I convinced my husband that it was a GREAT idea to get a puppy a year and a half ago, even though we knew we would have kids soon. My exact logic was that we should get a puppy at that point in life, because there was no way in hell we would want a puppy once we had children. Even though we already had a lovely, sweet, neurotic 4-year-old dog, I was convinced we should add a puppy to our lives and at the time tiny house, even if said puppy would grow into a 75-pound adult dog eventually. I had never had a puppy and this was fulfilling a childhood’s worth of Christmas and birthday lists where “puppy” was always #1. I was so, so dumb. Like monumentally dumb. Because the way we timed it was that our golden was just over a year old when we welcomed our baby. Do you know what’s harder than a golden retriever puppy? A golden retriever one year old. They have more energy than puppies. They are 10 times the size of puppies. And they still act like puppies! I honestly feel like I have three children, because sometimes the dogs are harder than the baby, not just George our golden but our older dog, Sandy, too. A typical morning routine goes like this: wake up with the baby and bring her out to the family room, let George out of his crate in the garage, get jumped on by George (who again, weighs nearly 80 pounds), chase George into the house to prevent George from in his exuberance accidentally trampling the baby on her play mat, separate George and Sandy who are now wrestling in their excitement and in the process knocking over furniture, feed the dogs (more wrestling and jumping and knocking over things because apparently they have never been fed before in their lives), let the dogs outside, peek out the window a few minutes later and see that George is eating our patio furniture and Sandy is tearing up the sod by the house in her frenzied efforts to get to a speck of light that was reflected there 6 months ago (for the 50th God damn time), yell at the dogs and bring them in after a furious few minutes wrestling with them to get the dirt and sod off their paws, spend the next 5 minutes trying to separate them while they again tackle each other and wrestle, spend the 5 minutes after that spraying George with a squeeze bottle of water because he will NOT STOP BARKING at Sandy, then spray Sandy with the squeeze bottle because a neighbor dared to walk by our house and now Sandy WILL NOT STOP BARKING at the window and now the baby got startled by the noise and is screaming. And then I will repeat this process over and over again all day long until I have elaborate fantasies about murdering my dogs. On that note, does anyone want a golden retriever? I kid, kind of. Honestly if it were an option to send dogs to boarding school, they both would have packed their trunks and been sent to some scenic New England institution by now. All of the things that are small nuisances before a baby become the bane of your existence post baby. Like dog hair, dog hair that coats our rug so quickly that I have to vacuum daily to keep up with it and ends up on all of the baby’s toys and pacifiers and in her mouth. Or the barking? My God the barking. George only barks at Sandy and Sandy only barks at noises or people outside, but between the two of them that means there is pretty much always some dog barking, which is not ideal when you are trying to get a baby to sleep. Or the licking the baby, which is sweet, but less sweet when you think about the fact that these creatures often eat their own poo.
I know this is temporary. I know that it shall pass and once the baby is older it will be so sweet to see the dogs interact with her (George in particular, who for all his annoying traits, is also the happiest and most loving dog in the world, to the point where he smothers you with his love). I know it is not their fault, and they have been abruptly shoved to the side in terms of their importance in our lives, and that this is not easy for them. And I remind myself of these things about 20 times a day, which is the number of times I dream of ways to get rid of them.
6. You will learn to eat faster and more disgustingly than you ever have before. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but I will say that you will never eat faster than when you have a newborn who is briefly sitting happily in her seat or asleep in the crib. I have literally unhinged my jaw to down a full dinner in like 2 minutes. There is no such thing as a leisurely meal with a newborn. And at restaurants? Forget it. If your baby is actually sitting in her car-seat not crying and you have a restaurant meal in front of you, you will eat so fast that you should probably just have whoever is with you standing by to do the Heimlich. This is one instance I should say where I am appreciative of our dogs, because typically my meals are eaten in such haste and with such wild abandon, that there is a pile of debris on the floor by the end of it.
As a side note to this, I met up with two girlfriends from nursing school the other day for lunch and we all had our babies with us (their babies are 1 and 3, so not quite so much babies). At one point I looked around and had to laugh, because I was standing up in the middle of the restaurant rocking Ryley who had had enough and was crying, my other friend was trying to feed her 1 year old who was not having the highchair, and my third friend was chasing her 3 year old around because she wanted to visit every table in the restaurant (and she’s so cute that of course everyone was thrilled to meet her). I thought back to our lunches 4 years ago where we talked uninterrupted for hours over mimosas. Times, they have a changed. And yes, we were those people I probably used to snidely groan about when I was trying to enjoy my pre-baby meal in peace and quiet. Karma is a bitch.
7. There is no such thing as a “quick errand.” I feel in some way this is the strangest thing to get used to. Sometimes I will be heading back from somewhere with the baby and remember that I need say, toothpaste, or to pick up a new pair of sandals. I’ll just stop on the way back, I think. And then I look in my rearview mirror and notice the baby and remember that there is no “stopping by” anymore. Any “stop by” is a full-blown production that requires elaborate planning, possibly with a detailed map and spreadsheets. There are just so many decisions to make. Do I bring the baby in her car-seat to run in somewhere so I don’t have to unbuckle her and really piss her off? If I do that I am immediately handicapped because the car-seat, which seemed so light when we purchased it, feels like it weighs about 100 pounds when I am lugging it around the supermarket. Do I put her in the sling? This works, but then I am faced with the whole getting her in and out of the car-seat which will guarantee some fussiness. Do I even bother bringing the diaper bag in? What if she has a blowout in the middle of the store and the diaper back is in the car? I will debate these things for a while until typically I drive right past the place I wanted to stop, go home, put on yoga pants and order whatever I needed on Amazon Now.
8. You will lie to your pediatrician. I’m sorry but unless you are textbook “perfect” parent (which according to baby forums there are plenty out there), you will probably lie to your child’s doctor. I’m not talking about important stuff here, like if your baby is having wet diapers or eating enough. I am in healthcare. Do not lie if your kid is having say, neon orange poops or spiking fevers every other day. Your doctor needs to know these things. But when it comes to the lifestyle, parental judgment type things, the stuff that is not really a doctor’s expertise versus opinion, you will probably fib a little. I certainly have. According to my doctor my baby sleeps angelically in our bedside bassinet and eats 6ish times a day. The reality is that the baby sleeps next to me (at least for now, we are working on transitioning!) and sometimes still eats 10-12 times in 24 hours. I’m not perfect. My baby is not perfect. We are still figuring things out, and right now that means doing things that are not textbook all the time. I’m not an idiot. I know what’s generally okay versus just stupid. So yeah, I do occasionally fudge things a little with the pediatrician, and I’m guessing that most parents out there will at some point do the same. Unless you are one of those perfect online forum parents that does everything perfectly. In which case, you are probably so horrified at my hippie, loosie-goosie parenting style that you have stopped reading already.
9. Don’t get so hung up on schedules. I am type A. I am a planner. And a perfectionist. I love schedules and itineraries and am never late. Needles to say it has been difficult for me to accept that at least for the first few months, scheduling a baby is near impossible. Oh but there are people out there who will tell you this not true, that you can in fact schedule an infant to within an inch of their teeny lives. There are “experts” who will swear that a baby can be as regimented as a little soldier. And you know what, some days this will be the case. Some days you can “EASY” a baby (eat, activity, sleep, you time) and they will follow this and you will feel like the most accomplished parent in all the land. You will get an entire day with this pattern and be on top of the world. But then the next day it may all fall apart. Your baby will fall asleep immediately after eating, and no amount of encouraging “activity” time is going to make your baby want to play instead of sleep, because as much as it’s hard to admit, your baby at this stage in her life is the BOSS. She is not your employee. You cannot hand your baby the itinerary for the day in the morning with strict instructions to stay on task. Newborn babies eat when they want to eat, sleep they want to sleep, and poop when they want to poop. And you can spend the first few months of a baby’s life fighting this tooth and nail (I am not immune to this, I have spent many moments stressed out because my baby didn’t have as much active alert time as I feel she should have), or you can accept that babies are as unpredictable as wild animals and go with it. Also I’ve learned that every second you spend stressing out over your 2 month old’s schedule is a second you are not enjoying your two month old. If she falls asleep after eating enjoy that nap with her in the Boppy, because a ten year old is not going to sleep in your arms. If she wants to eat more frequently than normal, go with it because she is probably in a growth spurt and needs more nutrition. Again I am by no means great at this (see Type A personality) but I try to remember that this newborn time is so short and that the more Captain Von Trapp I am about it all, the more of the good stuff (no, actually great stuff) I will miss.
10. Don’t google sleep. Just don’t. Really. This is one thing I have learned again and again and yet I KEEP DOING IT. And every time I google anything to do with sleep I get stressed out. The internet is a great place for many things. Pinterest recipes. Stalking pictures of people you barely know. Irreverent TV recaps. But it is a bad, bad place for the parent of a newborn who just wants their baby to STTN (don’t know what that acronym stands for, yeah that’s how I feel every time I read a baby message board riddled with these acronyms, I finally learned Sleep Through The Night, but am still mystified by so many of these little codes). The reason the internet is so bad is that it is full of advice, both from experts and from randoms on blogs (like me!), and this advice contradicts itself, constantly. This is just a mere sampling of this “expert” advice: a 6 week old should be able to sleep through the night, without eating, in a crib, preferably in Siberia, 6 week olds should be fed on demand and preferably in the bed with the mom or if possible put back in the womb all together for the night, 8 week olds should never be put down to sleep unless they are “drowsy but awake” or they will NEVER LEARN TO SLEEP ON THEIR OWN even when they are teenagers you will have to rock them to sleep, 8 week olds do not have the biological ability to fall asleep on their own and if you attempt this you are a monster who deserves to go to jail, babies should never be put down with pacifiers, babies should ALWAYS be put down with a pacifiers to reduce SIDS, swaddling and sound machines are essential, swaddling and sound machines are props that will one day make your life a living hell when you have to get your baby to sleep without them, a bedtime routine should be started preferably as soon as the cord is cut, bedtime routines are a waste of time and energy, babies should be put to sleep at 7pm every night even if the house is on fire, babies should be put to bed whenever they give you the signal (and if you can’t interpret signals from a newborn you are a failure at life). And on and on and on it goes like this. Forever and ever to eternity. And it will drive you crazy. Same goes for sleep books (but who are we kidding, it’s the modern world, we all read our books online). Yes there are times when some of this information can be helpful. If you are a rational, well-rested adult you could even parse through this information and take from it useful bits to use and discard the rest. But new parents are not rational, well rested adults. We cannot use our brains with such precision. We are tired and confused and just want our babies to sleep. And we will read about Suzie Q.’s baby on such and such website who STTN (again with the acronyms) at 4 weeks and takes 4 hour naps, but only because Suzie co-slept or sleep trained or cried it out or did the no cry method or fed her baby a beer every night. Any person who swears up and down that only one method of getting your baby to sleep will work is an idiot. Because babies are humans. They are individuals. Sure they have some similarities. Some tricks or methods will work on a vast majority of babies. But they will not work on ALL babies. And if you are the parent of one of these babies you will feel like a failure because a parenting “pro” told you that any baby who is rocked upside down for 45 seconds every other day will sleep through the night immediately. I cannot tell you the time I have wasted googling every possible thing about sleep. It’s just not a science. There is no magical solution for everyone. It takes time and every baby and family will develop their own routine. So just for your own sanity, stop googling. Stop reading message boards. Put the phone or computer down and instead hang out with your baby (and I will do my best to follow my own advice).
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.