Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey made my baby cry, but at least she sleeps brilliantly

As usual, I have gotten my way in the care and feeding of our baby.

We proceeded with the baby-led weaning approach, despite the doctor's objections. She does splendidly with feeding herself and I love the whole thing very intensely. Mr. Bunny seemed to have an epiphany when he was in charge of making dinner for once. He made a veggie burger for me, a hamburger for himself, and a tiny hamburger for Bun Bun. Gee, it's nice not having to make her something special, he said. NO FUCKING SHIT.

(I also had an epiphany watching her nom down on beef for the first time. It made me both delighted and extremely disgusted, and I realized this is how my husband feels about vegetables.)

I love it because it means we can eat dinner together instead of one of us gobbling down food and then holding her while the other gobbles down food. I love it because it passes a difficult evening hour when she needs extra entertaining. I love it because it involves sharing. I love it because she seems to love it. She ate the fuck out of a pile of lentil stew and cornbread tonight. My almost-seven-month-old can pick up a lentil. I love it because we got to attach her little chair to the table at Thanksgiving and put some food in front of her and then carry on with our dinner, together.

Is it trashy to eat with my shirt off, Mama?
So far the only thing that she has declined to eat is turkey. It actually made her cry. Which was hilarious. We took it away, and she happily ate squash. She's had chili and limes and meatballs and asparagus and butternut squash and tomatoes with hummus and all manner of fruits, and all SORTS of things.

Plus, my sister in law--a nutritional epidemiologist who studies childhood obesity--was most impressed with the whole thing at Thanksgiving. Of course, then her dog bit one of the children in attendance, so maybe I don't care what she thinks.

And although I hate the BLW book (the one entitled BLW, because of the absurdly sweeping claims about the benefits of this approach--drives me totally nuts, even though I know it's not meant to be evidence-based), I don't care if it IS a fad. Sensible things can start as fads. And it's normal in other places. And I love it. SO THERE.

I also love the fact that my baby once again requires nothing from me from 7pm until about 5 or 6 am. Operant conditioning is effective, and in our case, it was the silver bullet. She figured out what was happening quite quickly. Most nights are now 100% cry-free, and we are far less anxious about bedtime. And night in general. But I should confess that there have been two painful moments since the initial period. One night she cried at 3am for about twenty minutes on and off. I promise you that I thought all the horrible things about myself that anyone who believes this approach is unwise would want me to think, and I wept, and there was black despair. And on Thanksgiving night, when my sister-in-law was staying down the hall, Bun Bun felt the need to indulge in ten minutes of angry screaming before falling asleep.

Perhaps she feared the return of TURKEY.

I know this approach won't work with all babies, and I know that it may not work long-term with MY baby, but every night that it does work is a night that it fucking works. I get to savor holding her at bedtime instead of hoping and praying that when I put her down, she won't cry. I get to wallow in bed in the middle of the night instead of standing in her room wondering why she weighs a thousand pounds more than she does during the day, and why nothing I can do will make her go back to sleep. And I assure you, I am deeply, deeply grateful for this easy, cheerful, miraculous, lentil-grasping baby.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A little rant about toys

We recently achieved a new level of parenthood: We aquired a set of blocks. I LOVE THESE MOTHERFUCKING BLOCKS. My father in law gave us the uppercase set, and we dug them so much we checked to see what else they had, and discovered they have a lowercase set, and the animals on the lowercase set are BABY VERSIONS of the uppercase set, and they did it up RIGHT, so that frog --> tadpole (and not some "baby frog" bullshit) and butterfly --> caterpillar, and...

If you're insane, you can buy the periodic table set and start your baby nice and early. Me, I plan to get the Russian ones next.

The texturey faces are perfect for chewing on, and Bun Bun can play with them forever.

Which is helpful, because Bun Bun's world is a bit toy-deprived. I mean, she has a whole basket of toys, but a lot of them are wooden, and only a few make noise. Every two weeks or so, I freak out about this, fearful that not surrounding her with blinking, squeaking, talking plastic objects will means she'll never learn to solve differential equations. And then I watch her play with the grain of the wood floor for an hour and feel better.

Maybe it's because I grew up playing with rocks and sticks, or because I read the Little House books too many times, or because I'm fearful of what we're doing to our children with that there modern' livin', but I keep gravitating towards boring wooden toys and not too many of them, at that.

Save me from the boring wooden toys, internet people.

I remind myself that people grew up smart before Fisher Price, and that she's fine, and then a few weeks later it happens again.

And then it slowly began to dawn on me... There are people making a living by creating and then profiting from this kind of insecurity. There are people trying to convince me that my child needs this or that, and if I don't buy it for her, she will be stupid or unprepared or somehow at a disadvantage. Don't get me wrong--I'm not normally a crazy tinfoil hat person who sees conspiracies everywhere, and I am certainly not suggesting that I am somehow GOOD for not buying the latest gadget and anyone else is BAD for buying it. But it seems to me like you should buy a toy because you find it cool and fun and believe it will lead to endless hours of enjoyable interaction (or endless hours of your baby out of your hair so you can bathe), not because the box tells you your baby won't learn to walk or count or whatever without it.

So here's my plan. The next time I find myself feeling bad because Bun Bun doesn't have a Fisher Price TeethingMathCrawlSortTieShoes MegaPlayCastle, I'll just quietly mutter: FUCK YOU, capitalism.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oh pediatrician, you make me sad.

Mr. Bunny took Bun Bun in for her six month checkup on Friday, while I was at work. When he gave me the report, it seemed clear that I am an inadequate mother in several ways.

ONE. We've started Bun Bun on solids. I'd heard about this baby-led weaning deal where you skip purées and let the baby feed itself, and I thought that sounded awesome. It was a thrill to see Bun Bun picking up pieces of banana and pear and mango and smearing them all over her face and nomming them down in a gaggy sort of way. I'd also done some spoon feeding if we were eating something that was appropriate, like puréed soup. I'd given her some harder things, too, like orange slices and lime wedges, which she seemed happy with. And it made me happy to sit at the table and share food with her. The doctor? Not happy. Choking hazard. Bad mother. I'm not sure which things precisely he objected to, since I wasn't there to ask, but Mr. Bunny's report made me feel chastised and depressed. Partly because Mr. Bunny was a bit nervous about the whole thing, too, although he'd agreed to do it. So I felt like I was wrong and he was right. And the truth is, I jumped into it because it made sense to me, and I read a few websites, but didn't do exhaustive research, so I wasn't totally sure of myself...

I was also informed that she should start eating three meals a day as soon as possible, instead of my lazy one or two.

And, Mr. Bunny selected a few delicious MEAT SLURRIES (a.k.a. baby food featuring meat) for me to spoon feed her. (I'm vegetarian but have no plans to raise Bun Bun that way.) Those things are fucking GROSS, and not because they contain meat.

So anyways, something that was happy is now SAD. I've ordered a BOOK, and we'll see what I think after reading it. Maybe I'll continue with the BLW, maybe I'll modify it a bit, I dunno. I need to figure out which principles are important to me and see if I can keep them alive in a way that Mr. Bunny is comfortable with.

TWO. After being a wonderful sleeper for about five months, Bun Bun has begun waking multiple times a night. Sometimes only two, but sometimes four or five (which, yes, I know, probably sounds good to some of you, but still), and feeding her and putting her back down is no longer sufficient.

Before she was born, I was pro sleep training and Mr. Bunny was con. But she didn't need it, so we'd agreed that we'd revisit the whole issue if she ever did. When she started her recent waking pattern, we'd been riding it out hoping she'd go back to her old ways. It had been about a month, so Mr. Bunny asked the doctor. Even though I KNEW what he'd say, it still made me feel bad to hear it. The word counterproductive was used regarding my tendency to feed her to get her to shut up. Some version of sleep training was recommended. BAD, BAD MAMA.

And the thing that particularly pissed me off about this one was the fact that, had it not been for Mr. Bunny, I'd have tried sleep training long ago.

Last night Mr. Bunny and I both had some kind of hideous 12 hour bug. (I hope. Please don't come back, hideous thing.) Mr. Bunny was vomiting and my whole body ached. So we started sleep training using the semi-gentle method described in this book I like because it says I can drink. You choose a 10 hour window and neither feed nor pick up during that window, though you can check in at increasingly longer intervals. It went well, and although it made me cry to leave the room without picking her up, it genuinely seems right for all of us.

I know there are competing views on both these issues, and I'm not ideologically committed to either camp, really. I just want to do what makes sense to me, what I believe best combines all our interests. And hey, I guess this is what parenting is: Carefully figuring out what you think is best, negotiating with your partner if you've got one, and then being told you're doing it all wrong.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reflections at six months. With pie charts.

About a week before Bun Bun was born, Mr. Bunny and I were having a conversation we'd had many times before. People had been telling us that having a baby was sooooooooooo hard, harder than we could eeeeeeeeeever imagine. And we were wondering why. I mean, how bad could it be? Was it really true that we should get paper plates because we'd be too exhausted to wash dishes? Would we really be so desperate for help that we'd wish we had people around and regret asking them to stay away for a month? Could two people really not care for one baby without falling apart? Weary of having the same conversation, we decided to take a quantitative approach. We'd write down all factors that we thought contributed to the whole babies are so hard business, and then estimate their impact. We did it, and then we sealed it in an envelope and agreed to open it in six months.

There it hung on the fridge. We decided to open it when Bun Bun was six months old, rather than six months after sealing it.

Bun Bun's six month birthday was this weekend, so we opened the envelope. Here's what we predicted.

Sleep deprivation, incompetence, and lack of preparation are self-explanatory. With isolation/ resistance to change, we were thinking that people who like to go out would have a hard time being trapped at home, and that people might resent the loss of their old lives. You hear about people being all waaaah, I never get to have beers with my buddies anymore. That kind of thing. We decided to create one large category called "baby hard." We wanted to capture the various ways in which caring for a baby might be genuinely hard, but in the end we felt they all boiled down to...crying. So "baby hard" included the following items that might change the equation considerably, depending on how they worked out.
  • Baby temperament. Colicky baby = harder.
  • Baby health. Sick baby = harder.
  • Breastfeeding. If it goes poorly = harder.
  • PPD. In this case, I'd be the one crying.
With self-aggrandizement we were thinking a tendency to be hyperbolic about things so you can feel good about yourself. I'm sure everyone's met parents who wail and moan about how haaaaaaard it is and then you find out they have six nannies and you wonder what the fuck they're whining about.

So, our chart shows that we expected sleep deprivation to be the major portion, with baby hard coming in second, and a few other things playing minor roles.

When we considered the reality we were pretty pleased with our predictions, overall. But we did do a little revision.

Self-aggrandizement, incompetence, and lack of preparation no longer figure in. Naturally. And baby hard has not grown at all, because our baby is fucking easy. The surprise was that the whole isolation / resistance to change was a factor for us. Despite never really wanting company before, I went through a very intense longing for just one friend with a baby. This lasted from months 2 -5 or so. I still like the idea, but I no longer consider accosting random women with babies. So isolation turned out to affect me after all. And the resistance to change I've described here: we both like time alone, but figuring out how to arrange that proved more problematic than expected.

So it was an interesting exercise. But we also decided that the chart fails to capture an important feature of our experience, which I've tried to show here:

I'm not sure what the pies are even made of, but it's been clear from the beginning that having an easy baby is a whole other universe from having a typical baby, let alone a hard baby. For instance, yeah, we would like more sleep, but our sleep deprivation is a tiny little crumb compared to the giant wedge that is the sleep deprivation of the average parent. Ditto the baby hard. As much as I struggled with nursing, I can see that my experience was pretty normal, and so much easier than the battles many have faced. And yes, there are times when I am crawling out of my skin because of the crying, but it's, like, the easiest possible version of that phenomenon.

In conclusion, the one piece of wisdom I have for prospective parents is this: You have no idea what it will be like until you meet that baby. It might be rainbows and flowers, it might be like being boiled alive.

Oh, and be sure to get an easy baby.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ooof! Daycare!

You know, when I wrote that last post, I was zoomed in on my own emotional state, and forgot that daycare is a hot button issue, with strong feelings in various camps. Hence the little throwdown in my comments section. And it makes perfect sense--what could be more emotionally charged than considering how this choice might impact THE REST OF YOUR CHILD'S LIFE, particularly in a community where people waited a long time for this baby and where many face the possibility of never having another. And where the choice is so tied up with one's identity as a person, a woman, a mother.

I don't pretend to have expertise in this area, and I know enough ink has been spilled on the topic to replace all the water in all the oceans. So please forgive me from writing about this from a place of relative ignorance. But as part of my Psych Ph.D., I did take developmental psych courses, and I wanted to share a couple of things.

First, the issue of whether daycare is good or bad for infants (focusing just on infants) is not settled. How could it be? It depends on what you mean by good and bad and how you're assessing. For example, are you measuring effects on cognitive development and later academic performance? Are you measuring physiological markers of stress like salivary cortisol*? Are you measuring levels of aggression or other behavioral problems? Are you measuring attachment or other social/emotional indices? The truth is, you can find evidence FOR and AGAINST on every one of these dimensions. Partly because effects depend tremendously on quality of care, quality of the parent-child relationship, and a ton of other shit. It's a complex multi-dimensional space, AND it's constantly in flux as attitudes change and as care gets better. So the point is: if you want to prove that daycare is bad, you can find evidence, and if you want to prove it's good, you can find evidence. People in both camps are highly motivated to find support for their choices (e.g., as someone who must use childcare, I'm motivated to find proof that it's okay for Bun Bun), but I think we are all obligated to consider the whole picture.

(I highly recommend this lovely review**, though it's got a bit of a metatheoretical take that might not be of much interest if you're just looking for an answer.)

The second thing I want to share is a beautiful study** that I think illustrates just how little objectivity some of us have on this topic. In this (2006, i.e., RECENT) study, college women (you know, modern, educated women) were shown videos of mother-child interactions and asked to rate them on a number of dimensions to do with quality of care (e.g., "The stimulation/encouragement that the mother provides"). Half the participants were told the mothers were stay at home mothers and half were told the mothers were working mothers. There's a lot more to the study, but the finding I want to share is this. Stay home mothers were rated higher overall than working mothers. In other words, being told these are stay at home mothers! led modern, educated women to perceive the interactions as indicating better care than being told these are working mothers. Please read the original study as it's not perfect, BUT, I think anyone who believes there's an objective truth to this question should consider that finding very carefully.

I want to stress that I've written all of this from the point of view of someone who is ambivalent about the whole thing. Plenty of women are eager to return to work and thrilled with the experience of daycare or in-home care. I am delighted for them, and would hate them to think I'm suggesting they should feel bad about their choice. In many ways, I envy them.

Let me end by saying this. Maybe you believe women who can't afford to stay home for 18 months shouldn't have children. I'd say you're only entitled to that opinion if you yourself have elected to forgo reproduction for that reason alone. In reality, it's awfully sad how little choice many of us have in the matter. There's the fact that many of us spent years building our careers and these careers won't wait for us (academia perhaps being an extreme case, where there's no getting off the carousel and then hopping on again--not if you want to ride the same brightly-colored pony). And issues of personal fulfillment and shit aside, there's pure economics. One persistent finding is the BAD effects of non-parental care (in multiple dimensions) often emerge for women who have jobs they don't like and who can't afford quality care. Just think about the size of the segment of the American population that describes, and weep. If you truly believe daycare is evil, take that passion and use it to help these women.

*Want to get FUCKING DEPRESSED? Read a bunch of papers about STRESSED BABIES.
**Leave an e-mail in a comment if you want the full papers and have no way of accessing them. I'll send them if I don't think you're some hater who's just going to plague me with mean e-mails.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

So yeah, daycare

I've been avoiding thinking about it, refusing to count the weeks until January. I even made it Mr. Bunny's job to set up appointments so I could keep hiding. But now the time has come when even HE thinks it's time to find a place, and has been saying things like, we should really start looking into it, to which I respond, it's your fucking problem waaaaaaaaah!

Let me be clear: I think daycare is GOOD for babies. Intellectually, I accept that it's not a bad thing, may even be helpful for a baby who doesn't know a lot of other babies. And I don't really expect Bun Bun to care, though I do worry that the timing will interact poorly with the separation anxiety a lot of kids experience around nine months, leading to endless guilt and misery for Mama. But it's not that I have qualms about daycare qua daycare. That said, I wouldn't choose to do it if I didn't have to. If I could, I'd stay home with her for a year at least.* And okay, I suppose I could ask my chair for a leave of absence, and I might get it, but what would happen to my career if I spent another semester gazing lovingly into my child's eyes? Of course, do I even care about my career?

Um...anyway, I didn't actually  intend this to be about the emotional turmoil and the questioning and the blah blah, I really just wanted to the hell does one find a place that feels right?

So far we've only been to one, and I was so choked up and freaked out I don't think I really absorbed much. Is it going to be like that at ALL of them? Or was it just the fact of having to really contemplate leaving her? Should I visit one that I know is unacceptable (smells like piss, flies on the babies**) just so I will gain some perspective, and feel better about the other options? Is there going to be a place that feels right to me, where I can imagine Bun Bun being happy?

Or can I only imagine her safe and contented in my tender lovin' arms?

[A couple of things I feel compelled to add based on comments:
1. I hope I didn't suggest to anyone that NOT doing daycare is BAD by saying daycare is good. Totally don't feel that way, as I hope is made clear by my desire to stay home.
2. I can't stay home next semester. I'm under contract. Maybe next year I could wrangle something, but I'm screwed for January-May. Which makes me sad.]

*I know, I get eight months, which is so fucking wonderful. But not enough. Because I'm a greedy whore.
**Sorry. Not good to joke about flies on babies, but these are the images that go through my mind...