Monday, March 28, 2011

How I'm Keeping Myself Quasi-Sane

Things are definitely starting to look up around these parts! Looking back on it, I think last Monday, the three-week mark, was the start of the upswing in our trajectory. The day before, on Sunday, I called a dear friend (and former colleague) of mine to chat about the difficulty of being a new mother. Our whole conversation was helpful, but she said something in particular that really resonated with me. She said, "You know, Sara, we're the kind of people who typically get good results when we put in a lot of hard work and effort. But being a new parent isn't like that."

From that point on, I made a concerted effort to connect with other new moms every day. So on Monday, I invited myself over to my neighbor's house. She's a second-time mom who delivered in January. We did prenatal yoga classes together. She explained that she uses the BabyWise approach to creating a rhythm to the day, and she let me borrow the book. Although there's lots that I disagree with in the book (like the use of play pens, which are not used in Montessori environments), I really appreciate the general recommendation to follow a feed, play, nap routine every 2.5-3 hours. The book explains that if your baby needs to eat more frequently, then, by all means, feed him/her, but, in general, babies tend to fall into a routine pattern.

In general, Henry does follow this pattern, and I enjoy having a sense of flow to our day. Reading the book really helped me realize that there's more for me to learn that can help me navigate new parenthood. I'm not suggesting that I'm subjugating my instincts and intuition to the "expert" advice in books; instead, I am simply exposing myself to different ideas to try out, especially since things might work a few days with a baby and then stop working. I like reading books to build up my toolkit. Then I can pull out whatever will seem to work in that particular situation.

Our biggest issue right now is that Henry cannot soothe himself to sleep in any way, shape, or form. For example, after he breast feeds and then plays for about 15 minutes, he starts yawning and indicating that he is ready for a nap. However, the only way for me to get him to fall asleep is to strap him into the Ergo (with the infant insert) or the Moby wrap. In general, he will fall asleep right away, but then Matt or I have to wear him for the duration of his nap (usually another two hours). If we try to transfer him out of the carrier, he wakes up and cries. Once, after he woke up this way, we tried to let him cry himself back to sleep, while I laid next to him--talking and touching him, but he cried for an hour and fifteen minutes. Clearly, he's not ready to soothe himself through crying.

So our two carriers have definitely helped us stay sane. Additionally, here are some things that have helped:
  1. Seeing Other New Moms Every Day: I now make it a point to see someone every day, preferably another new mom. Because of my prenatal yoga class, I was able to meet a ton of new moms in my neighborhood. On Tuesday, three of us met up at a coffee shop. Wednesday, I visited one of them for lunch. Thursday, I met back up with the two from Tuesday, but we went to someone's house to breastfeed together and then eat lunch. I even got a breast pumping demonstration! Friday, a dear friend of mine brought lunch over to my house. Getting out every day and connecting with others who are going through a similar experience is absolutely invaluable. I cannot underscore this enough. I think it's completely absurd the way we tend to isolate new mothers within nuclear families.
  2. Getting Outside: I'm still bleeding, so I'm not officially supposed to be walking a lot, but I definitely get outside every day for sanity's sake. I take Henry into the backyard during his brief intervals of awake time (although I have to vigilantly keep the chickens from pecking at him!). We also go for short little walks around the neighborhood.
  3. Watching Bad Movies: Matt and I don't have a TV, which I have never regretted until this point! There was one day when Henry breast fed for a total of seven hours. How I wish I could watch a little DVR! However, I started watching instant movies on my computer via Netflix. Really bad (but good) movies, like Message in a Bottle. Matt and I still watch good movies together almost every night, like Lars and the Real Girl.
  4. Taking Naps: I really do try to take one nap every day. It's hard because I want to use my free time to do things like write blog posts or read, but I know I absolutely have to nap to keep myself as physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy as possible.
  5. Showering Every Day: Just like taking naps!
  6. Working as a Team with my Partner: Matt has been an absolute gem throughout this entire process. We work together day in and day out. We are always offering to take over for each other. We try to be as supportive and loving as possible throughout it all.
  7. Appreciating the Little Things: As I type this, little Henry is nestled against my side, napping. If I move away from him even an inch, he scoots his body over to close the gap. His hand is resting on my belly. Now I'm crying as I think about the amazing opportunity that I have been given to nurture another life and help him find his way in the world. I know this will all go by so fast. I need to savor each stage to its fullest.

I am so happy to report we are on the upswing (for now!). I was worried that I was developing post-partum depression. For a few days, I was erupting into tears a lot and having a difficult time mustering the motivation to do anything with the little free time that I did have. I think it was just the "baby blues," instead of full-out post-partum depression. But I'll keep you updated if the blues come back and turn into anything more.

In my free time, I'm planning a women's retreat like this one. I can't wait! It gives me something fun to think about when I'm breast feeding in the middle of the night.

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on April 3. Register today!

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Anonymous said...

A baby that tiny can not self-soothe. It's not an "issue," it's how babies are. I really can not believe you'd let a 3 week old cry for over an hour. I like you, I like your blog, but that just seems... very wrong.

Since you like to arm yourself with information, here's a few articles about Babywise. I would never recommend that book to anyone.

Issues with Babywise and breastfeeding:

A spoof and several linked resources:

In praise of on-demand feeding:

My own recommendation is Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology & Culture Shape the Way We Parent

Carrie said...

Thanks for the update, Sara. I think your #1 smart thing is the daily activity with someone else in a similar situation.

Marty said...


There's nothing wrong with the way you are raising your baby! I don't have a child, but I'm sure it takes so much trial and error before you find out what works for your little guy. And babies cry.

I hope babycarecraziness continues to get easier for you! You are so brave to talk about private struggles on the internets.

Kara said...

Oh Sara--these first few weeks/months are so hard! I loved the Happiest Baby on the Block 5 Ss for soothing:
side/stomach (for soothing/not sleeping)
Also, we would put a prefold under my daughter's head, tightly swaddle her, then nurse to sleep and then move her, WITH the prefold. Kept her from startling so much. Also, we let her fall asleep on a flattish pillow and let her sleep on that if we were going to be in the same room with her. Again, kept her from feeling the heat change which I think makes her startle.

Hang in there!
Oh, and definitely check out AskMoxie about sleep!

Rachel said...

If you're going to try "cry it out", learn from the medical experts on the subject: Ferber and Weisbluth. Both tell you to wait until your baby is 4 months old to let him cry it out. One month is certainly too young to try.

And from what I remember, both recommend soothing a baby to sleep to establish good sleep habits when he's young.

Kelsey said...

Glad to hear that you're finding a bit of a rhythym. I agree that it seems so strange that new moms end up being so isolated - very smart to spend time with other new moms.

Word said...

Wishing you lots of luck and a little bit of sleep! The combination of lack of sleep and surge in hormones can make it rough in the beginning, but I know for me that one good stretch of sleep helped enormously. My daughter loved the Miracle Blanket the most, and being held by either of her grandmas. For some reason their rocking and shushing worked wonders, a la Happiest Baby on the Block.

Carrie said...

If you attempt to have him nap with you not holding him, are you swaddling him? I recall your being opposed to that awhile back, but I cannot recall your conclusion on the practice. My baby napped quite well swaddled. I would have gone insane if I had to hold him for two hours every time he napped! Swaddling provides some of the tight, close, warm feeling that they go for at this age. I also took Kara's approach with the 5 Ss, and it worked for me. When I show other new parents how to do it, they are shocked at first with how vigorously you sway/bounce the baby on his or her side and how loudly you shush him or her with this method, but then they see the positive results that usually happen--a quiet, sleeping baby. It is worth a shot (or several shots), in my opinion.

Sarah said...

Sounds like you're doing really well adjusting to all of your new lives. I agree that connecting to other new moms is really important. I feel lucky that I have several friends entering parenthood at the same time that I am (although they don't live nearby) and have made connections to nearby moms through prenatal yoga. Your blog is another way to connect online. Thank you!

Steph said...

I just wanted to tell you that there is hope for the sleeping. My son is 11 months old, and for the first few months of his life my husband and I would follow his cues and do whatever it took to get him to peacefully fall asleep. Nursing, rocking, swaddling, cuddling, moby-ing, white noise, anything he needed. Those first few months he took the majority of his naps on me or my husband's chest or in a wrap or carrier of some sort. Around 4 months he stopped wanting to be swaddled and didn't need to nurse before every nap. At 6 months he stopped wanting any assistance whatsoever and would happily fall asleep if I laid him down wide awake (no crying involved) and he's been like that ever since. We have never resorted to letting him cry it out, and instead focused on creating positive sleep associations. He has a Montessori floor bed, so if he wanted to he could easily decide to forgo the nap and play with his things but he doesn't. As you are already seeing, time flies by so fast. SO FAST. Before long he won't need you as much, and I promise you you'll miss it. Believe me, I would be on cloud nine to nurse and rock my "baby" to sleep and sometimes it almost hurts my feelings that he's so independent now. Especially at such a young age I think its important to soothe your baby to sleep and make it a comforting and positive experience. I don't think 1 month olds "get" the whole self soothing thing. They just know they aren't happy and need something and the only way they can let you know is by crying. He'll be able to soothe himself to sleep when he's older. Also if he's only sleeping well in a carrier, it sounds like swaddling might be a life saver.

maya938 said...

Hi Sara,

I have loved reading your posts about being a new mom, especially as someone who is not yet a mom but would like to be more of an ally to my friends who have already started this journey and will start this journey before me. It's hard to know how to be good support for this life transition if you haven't experienced it or had a friend as open and articulate as you are with describing the experiences. I love that you are sharing the joy, the challenges and your search for tools. You've expressed yourself in a way that is easy to share compassion. When it's my time, I will definitely be seeking the Sara guide to resouces in Houston.

I'm thrilled to read you're considering a women's retreat. I would love to be involved if you are putting together a planning team. I have planted the seed of this idea with a few of my friends with warm reception. I would love the opportunity to merge our communities one day.

Take good care, you awesome Momma!

eliza said...

I am glad to hear that things feel on the upswing for you and love your ideas about connecting with others + creating time for yourself! And I love the advice from your friend re: the learning curve of being a new parent and totally agree that it isn't just about putting in hard work and effort. It is sooooo humbling!

One thing to remember, however, is that infants this young cannot self-soothe. They learn to self-regulate through contact with their parents. Some infants may have more sensitive nervous systems (or may just be fussier or colicky, etc.), but as a poster mentioned above, the fact Henry cannot soothe himself to sleep is totally normal! In time, he will be able to nap on his own.

I worry a little that books like Babywise (which I have only heard about, not read) create really unrealistic perceptions for parents re: what to expect from an infant. Now, some babies just easier to set down while they are sleeping, or have an easier time sleeping in general. That is just a fact of life.

Kylie D said...

Sara, It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job. No one tells you how hard parenting can be. It is so, so hard. But is it wonderful and amazing. You'll find your own way!

I am due with my second (any day now!) and wanting to do things a little more montessori this time around, so I am loving your blog right now.

From my experience with my first child, I agree with some of the other comments, Henry's behaviour sounds really normal. I hope this time passes for you and you can get some more sleep yourself.

Anonymous said...

It takes time to learn a new little human! You're doing a great job. Just remember that everyone parents differently... EVERYONE... and you will find your groove in time.

Anonymous said...

some tips i've learned recently while caring for two newborns:
-socks. baby socks. we always check three things - are they hungry? poopy? sleepy? but i often forget, maybe they are cold! socks (and sometimes handmitts too) seem to make a huge difference!
-swings. baby swings are genius.
-binkies. i was so anti-binkie when my daughter was born, but she had this need to suck and not to always be eating, and it didn't interfere with our bfing relationship at all. both babies i care for now have binkies, and great nursing skills. :)
-i second the s's from happiest baby! although, one infant i care for responds very well to it and the other not so much, but the first was "shhhhh'd" from a few days old, and the other was not.

i commend you for your bravery in reaching out to the internet world. i'm not a fan of babywise or scheduling brand new babies, but i also think that there are a lot of extremes on both sides of the issue, and that you should trust your mama bear instinct and do what you feel comfortable with. try new things. try one thing today, and another tomorrow, until you find something that works.

and yes, nap. rest. drink lots of water. hang in there. it will get better.

lindel said...

He really is too young to 'self-soothe' so please don't think that he needs to or that it is a problem. From my experience there are a few magic babies that are able to fall asleep outside of their parents arms at such a young age, but the majority seem to need the closeness. But it is definitely not easy so I do understand your exasperation and my husband and I cried plenty of tears through the process.

In a mess of tears and exhaustion I once let my baby cry for over an hour and almost had a nervous breakdown in the process. But it was also a turning point - it was the moment I learnt to stop listening to how I 'should' be parenting, and started parenting on my own terms. Thus our son would sleep in our arms but wake as soon as we put him down. We would hold him again until he fell asleep and try to put him down again. This went on for months. Some days he just slept on us and eventually some days he would sleep for an hour in his own bed. We also spent many many (many many) ours cradling him and gently bouncing on a fit ball. It is what worked for us. But even now, at 20 months he needs us nearby to fall asleep. We have him in a floor bed so it is easy to just snuggle in together and creep out when he is snoozing happily. Once he is asleep he is a great sleeper and has been since he was about 7 - 10 months. I have no scientific evidence to back up my claims, but I like to think it is because we put in so much time and physical closeness into his sleep time (literally hours on that fit ball!).

Ps: I have never read babywise, but once I discovered there was a 'rhythm' to our day (as opposed to routine) things definitely got better.

Pps: You are doing a fabulous job. It is hard and it takes time to adjust and for your baby and you to learn from each other.

Katy said...

Watch and you won't even miss not having a tv. :-) We have a tv, but I still just watch everything on my computer.

Anonymous said...

The Amby Hammock Bed worked wonderfully for us up to about seven months...might be worth a consideration for you guys. Some things will work, others will is frustrating! Sounds like you're giving yourself many options to survive these newborn days!

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