Ok, here goes. This is the post- the one I’ve been dreading. Even though it’s partially the reason that I started this entire blog to begin with, it’s also the hardest for me to talk about. Why am I bothering to, then? Well, if there is someone, anyone out there that may benefit from reading this, then it will have been for good. Also, I feel that the act and process of writing this out is helpful for my own reflection and learning. We all have unique stories to tell about starting the journey of parenthood, which, if we’re honest, probably include all emotions on the spectrum and then some.This is about our first few months with our little baby as painfully wonderful as they were…
I remember driving home with our sweet boy from the hospital in the dead of winter. Jake and I could not believe that just two days ago it was just the two of us, and then a hospital stay later, we were driving home with a tiny baby…our baby. I’m sure that many of you can relate. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, surreal moment. We bundled him up so tightly that I thought we were going to inadvertently suffocate him. Our gracious nurse assured us that Joel was adequately bundled and buckled up properly.
|All buckled up for the ride home!|
And then there were three. Three of us at home – five including our two sweet cats. At any rate, Joel was fast asleep by the time we arrived home. We wondered – do newborns really sleep this much? I decided to breastfeed Joel, and for each feeding, we struggled to keep Joel awake, or he would want to snack all the time. Then each feeding, we’d change him (that kid had some MAJOR diapers, even at such a young age), wrap him in his swaddle, rock him, and he’d be fast asleep. Rinse, repeat. Newborns are so easy in some ways, aren’t they? Our first task was for Joel to kick his nocturnal ways and become diurnal. Until then, we knew that we had to be night owls as well. Thank goodness for some sweet friends who visited before we arrived home and delivered meals/cleaned our apartment before we came home so that we could some semblance of rest. Anyway, other than the sleep deprivation and my recovery from labor, things went fairly smoothly. We felt like we were in the “honeymoon phase” of having a baby. I remember sitting with while my husband, Jake, was rocking Joel, and we awed over how soundly Joel would sleep! Of course, he required us to hold him a lot, but we knew this and happily obliged him at the time.
Those two weeks were utterly amazing and also difficult. I’m having a hard time jogging my memory for a lot of details, but maybe that’s ok. What occurred after that was something that I’m not sure that anyone or anything could have prepared me for. I read several books and articles on pregnancy, childbirth, and babies, you name it. However, no book, conversation, or advice can fully prepare you for parenting, in my opinion. No baby is perfect, and babies are not equations to be calculated, nor are they puzzles to solve. They are humans, as imperfect as we are, and they are also completely helpless.
These realizations really hit me when at around three to 4 weeks, Joel seemed to exhibit some odd behaviors. He would cry as normal, and we’d go down the checklist (diaper change, hunger, gas, sleep, etc.) to see what need had to be met. Joel, it seemed, would cry at anything and at nothing, though. For example, after not nursing for 3 to 4 hours (which is the average time in between feedings for a newborn), he would happily eat for a few seconds and then push away and scream. At first, I thought that he was maybe not hungry, or too tired to eat, etc. I’d go down the checklist again and again to try and find out what was the matter. Except that he’d do this at almost every feeding. I went into see a lactation consultant several times to find a solution for us. I became so fixated on finding a solution for this “problem.” Seeking a reason for our present predicament, Jake and I chalked up the unusual fussiness as a “growth spurt,” which supposedly happens at around the one month mark.
But then the crying continued on. And on. No, it wasn’t every minute of every day.. Joel just loved to be held and rocked…but sometimes even that wasn’t enough. Yes, I know and understand that babies cry. I have been around many, many babies. I just could never remember them crying most or almost all of the time. The crying was worst in the middle of the day and then extended endlessly into the evening hours, it seemed. All of this crying made me wonder if our baby was “normal” in respect to the amount of crying he did per day, or if there was something wrong. Unfortunately, I became worried and fixated on this, which caused me to feel stressed emotionally, mentally, and physically. In one word, it was just awful.
|A familiar sight|
To say the least, Jake and I were quite frustrated about how things were going. We sought resources and books to figure out was wrong. To the best of our knowledge, which our doctor eventually confirmed, Joel had “colic.”The criteria for colic are:
· Predictable, recurring crying episodes: A colicky baby cries around the same time each day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. Colic episodes may last from just a few minutes to three hours or more on any given day, although babies with colic are likely to cry as long as two to three hours several days a week. The crying usually begins suddenly and for no clear reason. Your baby may have a bowel movement or pass gas near the end of the colic episode.
· Activity: Colicky babies tend to draw their legs onto their abdomens, clench their fists, tense their stomachs, or thrash around and appear to be in pain during crying episodes.
· Intense or inconsolable crying: Colic crying is intense, not weak or sickly. Your baby’s face will likely be flushed, and he or she will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to comfort.*
Based on the above, Joel fit the bill. Certainly, he had his sweet moments and he didn’t cry every second of every day – he had to sleep sometime.During his waking moments, though, he cried almost immediately without his pacifier or if you weren’t constantly swaying or rocking him. We survived (barely) using the “5 S’s” (swaddling, side-lying, sucking, shushing, swaying), as termed by Dr. Harvey Karp, in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. We felt so fortunate to have seen a video on these methods in our birthing class, and again before we were discharged from our hospital stay with Joel. Though he fought it, the swaddle helped. And though it was hard to maintain for hours, Jake became an expert at gently swaying/rocking Joel while holding him in the side-lying position and holding the pacifier in his mouth. It looked like a comical balancing act. We’d also “shush” in his ear, as white noise is proven to also be effective in calming fussy babies. Watching us was surely comical, and I think that some of our friends and family thought were were positively nuts for having white noise on in our house at all times (we still have white noise on for him at 10 months old!). If we could maintain all of the “5 s’s” all day, every day, I think that Joel would have cried less. We did it as much as we could, and I also would carry him around in my Moby Wrap or Baby Bjorn constantly. I LOVED carrying him around in the wraps; I would even blow dry my hair in the morning while he was snuggled against me. It was so sweet to develop this attachment with Joel, but we quickly grew tired of the crying.
Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly be, they became worse. Breastfeeding became a huge problem. Joel would not eat without screaming, and I felt horrible for feeling like I was forcing him to eat. I would get frustrated, and then call the nurse hotline again. They were very helpful, although Joel for some reason was still crying during our feedings. I remember many teary moments of forcing myself to get out of bed and feed my baby, dreading each time, as I knew that it would be a tense time. Breastfeeding was tough for my relationship with Joel, and I believe that’s more commonly the case for mothers and babies than I originally thought. I just didn’t expect that I’d have to play in a wrestling match with my son in order to get him to eat, which he did so with quite a protest.
I was more than ready to give up and just give him a bottle, but Joel also wouldn’t take a bottle without screaming. We tried on several occasions, feeling terrible as loving parents do when they’re children are crying. Maybe we didn’t try enough. Maybe we were doing it incorrectly. Perhaps. Or maybe Joel was so stubborn that we didn’t know what else to try. We also used all the supplementary bottles, tube feeders, but Joel just spit it out. I even tried formula to see if he’d enjoy that more. Jake and I always joke that Joel has really only had one successful bottle in his lifetime so far, and that was his first one. He really hasn’t since, at least not without a fuss. To this day, he will not have milk unless it’s from me, and even then it’s hit or miss (solids are a work in progress, more on that in a later post).
|Joel’s first and most successful bottle|
Jake and I can be natural worry-ers, so going out in public proved a challenge for us too. We’d go to the mall where there is just so much white noise that you couldn’t really be able to tell if Joel started crying. Since he was born in the dead of winter, there wasn’t much to do with him, especially since I’d have to stop and nurse every hour or two with a screaming baby. NOT fun. The best part, though, was just being able to walk around with Jake and feeling like we had semblance of alone time if Joel happened to catch some z’s during our excursion. And of course, there’d be coffee to be had or a soft pretzel for Jake, so all was well.
As the weeks progressed, I realized that I was tired, burned-out, and resentful. Yes, I resented my son at times. I was definitely not happy about that fact.. I’d have moments when I just wanted to scream because I just couldn’t handle the crying, not even for one more second. Then, the guilt set in. There were many times that I had to put Joel in his bassinet and take a time-out for myself and let him be. As hard as that was to do, I would take ten minutes to breathe, pray, or take a quick, vacuum, or shower (so as to not hear the crying). I felt trapped and given all the crying and difficulties with trying to ensure that Joel ate enough, I was stressed, and I’m not sure that I realized it.I just felt terrible, like I didn’t love my baby enough or something, even though everyone else knew that wasn’t true. I just couldn’t see it; I refused to.
How could I feel that way about my beautiful baby boy – the same sweet baby that I snuggle, kiss a million times, swoon over, and am in love with? I felt terrible and didn’t want to let anyone know that I felt this way. “Doesn’t this make me a bad mom?” “What will others think of me?” These are just some of the thoughts I had about the situation throughout those first months. What’s more, is that Joel’s sensitive temperament and the colic didn’t just last for the three months that I had anticipated. It went on to about 6 to 7 months, until about the time he was able to sit up and then eventually crawl at 8 months. By the summer, I was tired I guess, so my body decided to retaliate, and I got shingles. Apparently, you may get shingles if you’re: a) stressed, b) have a lack of sleep, and c) if you’d had the chicken pox before. Bingo. It was indeed the perfect storm, and it was painful and long.
Not every moment was terrible, of course. Though Joel was fussy, I noticed his first smile at 5 weeks – he smiled for me on the bathroom rug, which was one of the few places where he was happy. If he wouldn’t stop crying, we’d lay him there and sing/play with him. He’d watch the lights and coo at us. There were so many magical moments of snuggling together as a family, and holding our little bundle, and Jake and I would look at each other in awe of what a blessing our son was. I also had moments that I was so in love with Joel that I couldn’t contain my joy. Those moments are a blessing of parenthood. It just doesn’t mean that you will get by without your share of times that are just plain hard.
Ok, so, how am I doing now? I’m doing wonderfully. Things can still be difficult, and there are days when I just have to prayerfully choose to be joyful (I’m not always the best at this). However, my sweet husband, friends, and family were really there for me, giving me breaks when I needed, even when I didn’t ask for them. They wanted to support me. I now can clearly see that I’m not alone, and that many people have and would struggle given that situation. I mean, you get so excited to be a parent and then when there are few moments to be enjoyed, anyone would be bitter and disappointed. Though I’m not proud that I had them, nor do I condone how I handled the situation, I’m a work in progress. I know that through Jesus I can stand in His grace because of His sacrifice.
If there’s anything I can say about those first few months as a new parent, it is to accept whatever help people offer you and to get in touch with others in similar situations. There are so many baby blogs, moms groups (both on and off-line), and friends that have been in a similar situation. As I opened up more to friends and family, I found other moms who had similar situations, and I began to feel more supported. I was also blessed by ones whom I love that just lent their listening ear and much grace. To those who helped me through this time, I love you all. Thank you.
To end on a lighter note, Joel is doing wonderfully now. He’s a mobile, happy, smart, cute, clown of a baby. He’s always moving – kicking his feet and waving his arms (maybe a future swimmer?), and he just loves people. He’s my little side-kick whom I love to bring places or stay home with, snuggle, and read to. What’s more, is that our family is sleeping a lot more, which means we’re all happier. Jake and I are relishing these moments, as almost everyone we meet tells us, “The time goes by so fast. Enjoy it.” And we are. We love laughing, tickle fights, what we term as a “Joel sandwich” (family group hug), morning snuggles, play time at home, and trips out anywhere with our Joel. He makes others light up, which makes us happy too. It’s these precious, priceless moments that get us through the tough ones.
|No caption needed!|
We still realize and accept more and more that our son is very spirited, strong-willed, and focused. And as he grows, he will continue to teach us how to be patient and to love unconditionally. Things can still be hard, definitely hard. If you’re going through a similar situation right now, you will get through it. It’s ok to have feelings about the situation. You are human; you are finite. Remember this.
Feel free to send me a message if you’re going through a similar situation and or would just like to chat about life as a parent, I’d love to listen. Or, feel free to post comments to everyone below
* Karp, Harvey. (2003). The Happiest Baby on the Block. New York: Bantam Books.