Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fighting the Losing Battle With Sleep: My Sleep-Deprived Ramblings

Right around three months post-partum, things were going good. I had a rhythm to my days. I had the right balance of outings and sweet time spent at home with baby. I felt in synchronicity with my baby. I felt rested (well, rested for a new mom). I felt like I could do this forever.

In Mommy Group, when people talked about sleep problems, napping, or putting baby on a schedule, I just naively tuned it out. I felt like we didn’t need a schedule. I was so “in tune” with my baby that I just followed his lead and when he started to get tired I put him down for a nap. And by “put him down,” I mean literally all I had to do was PUT HIM DOWN and he would sleep. Sigh. Oh, the beautiful naivetĂ©. Also, I bristled against schedules because, well, it’s a schedule. I wanted to be spontaneous and free and able to go out and socialize. My baby was so adaptable that he would “nap wherever” and then wake up happy and refreshed. Oh and the whole idea of the Four Month Sleep Regression? Pish Posh. I was sure that wouldn’t happen to us. Seriously. I have no idea why I thought this, but I thought it was just some made up thing that people said to label their ongoing sleep difficulties.

Wow. That all makes me sound like a bitch, doesn’t it? Let me stop and clarify. I didn’t judge other people. In fact, I told everyone that you need to do “what works for you” in order to feel sane and happy. It just so happened that I thought “what worked” for us was to be flexible and relaxed and in tune with the moment. I thought if I just responded to what my baby needed, that we would be happy and I would never get stuck in “oh, we can’t go right now, because he naps from 11:02-12:35.”

Also, Sleep Training. I thought this was overrated as well. I mean, as a psychologist, I understand that the behavioral principles of gradual exposure and extinction work, but I also thought if you just used common sense and perseverance, you wouldn’t need to be so regimented about it. Are you seeing any themes here? First, clear avoidance of any type of structure or regimented schedule. Second, an exorbitant dose of big-headed ignorance.

So…what happened? Four Months. Yes, it appeared whether I believed in it or not. Literally, the weekend that Owen turned four months we moved to a new city and through off our routine. Owen also began teething. AND he learned to roll over both ways (a new fun skill to try out all night long in his crib). Ohhh and we thought it would be a good time to start having him sleep at night in his big crib (still in our room). So all of these things added up and….guess what? Four Month Sleep Regression.

And now here I am. One month later and still not sleeping. And by not sleeping I mean seriously. Not Sleeping. Naps have turned into 30 minute affairs and nighttime is on Newborn Schedule of waking every 1-3 hours. I am exhausted. Exhausted, emotional and bitchy. Oh, and vulnerable. Vulnerable enough to let doubt pierce my earlier blissful confidence. When a friend of mine, a 2nd time mom, started lecturing me about exactly how many naps Owen should have per day and how long he should sleep and what time he should go to bed, I listened. Listened when a month ago I would have smiled, nodded, and brushed it off as I kept going with what felt right for me. This time, I listened, then fell into a spiral of self-doubt and desperation and “What am I doing wrong???” It’s amazing how a little bit of lost sleep will shatter your confidence/cockiness.

So. I’ve been thinking. Thinking and reading. I’ve been approaching this from both an intuitive, emotional perspective as well as the analytical research side of me who just happens to be a child psychologist. In other words, I’ve spent some time getting “in tune” with myself and with Owen. I’ve also spent some time with my textbooks and journal articles.

Here is what I’ve come up with.

Now, these are just my Thoughts for This Week. They are subject to change at any time when Owen catapults into a new developmental stage and completely rocks my reality again. Also, I may be a child psychologist, but I am not an expert in infant mental health, and I am not talking in the capacity of a psychologist right now, just a mom who is tired. But, here goes…

Being a new mom is hard. Especially a first time mom. Put sleep deprivation in the mix and it’s harder than hard. According to psychological researching, behavioral methods (sleep training), do work, but only when used effectively and not with any consistent efficacy prior to six months. And so, we are left fumbling in the dark (literally and metaphorically). What parents want is a method for dealing with this new reality. Which is why people will may hundreds to Sleep Trainers to put their life back in order.

But who is right? The old me who believed in intuitively following baby’s lead and flexibly adapting each day? The burnt out me who is considering regimenting everything from naps to diaper changes if it will just make him SLEEP?

Neither.

Both.

Because I’ve decided it’s not about what you do, it’s about why you do it. In order to get through this, you need to be able to have some sense of control and belief that you are, to some degree, in charge of what is happening to your life. Now, don’t get me wrong…I also believe you need a healthy acceptance that your life is not your own during this time and that nothing is permanent during this first year (years?). But, for your own mental health and sanity, I think you need to find something that gives you the sense (whether real or imagined) that you have a bit of control. If that means putting your baby on a schedule, then by all means do so. If that means, wearing your baby around for every single nap…go for it. If that means co-sleeping with baby perma-attached to your boob, ok! As long as what you are doing is healthy for you and baby…sounds great!

In other words, I don’t think there is a one, Correct Way to approach this, but I think we each need to find our Own Way. Otherwise, you end up like me, knocked off my pedestal, lost, and doubting every decision I’m making. As long as you have a plan and feel you are doing your best to be the Parent, rather than feeling like the baby is running the world and you’re simply Forest Gump’s Feather, then you’re doing good. Right?? Oh, who knows.

I also think that your method should come from being thoughtful and aware. When I’m just blindly trying to react to each thing that comes up without planning or preparing or consciously responding, I tend to feel more lost. When I don’t know why I’m doing something, it tends to be less effective and I feel more desperate. What I mean is, if the baby is crying and my plan is, say, to bounce him to sleep on the ball, but then his cries get louder and I give up…I feel lost. If I were to step back, think, and remember “Oh right, he always cries a bit louder before he falls asleep, so I’m going to stick with this a few minutes and see if he quiets down,” then I’d probably have more success. Also, on a grander scale, I think we need to know why we make big decisions such as, whether to follow a set schedule or whether to use a Sleep Training method. If your answer is – because it makes me feel better or because it works for my baby or because it makes sense based on my research, then good for you. My problem was, I was just starting to let other people tell me what to do without checking in with what I thought.

Anyhow, that’s all I’ve come up with so far. My little pearls of wisdom that, if you read between the lines, don’t really tell you anything at all. Also, my philosophical ramblings haven’t gotten me anywhere in the real world. We’re still not sleeping at night. Philosophy and analysis are no match for teeth piercing through gums.

What I can say is, I’ve changed my attitude a bit. I’ve started paying more attention to Owen’s needs again. And when I did, I realized he’s no longer on a newborn schedule, even though I was half-heartedly trying to stick to it. He doesn’t need to nap every 90 minutes, but rather every 2 hours or so. As a result, he’s napping better. Which helps my sanity because I get some time to myself to rest or get things done. But, at the same time, I’m trying to keep enough of my old self to know that this too will change depending on the day and as he grows older. In the meantime, I’m just trying to pay attention, be rationale, and not get swept up in the current of exhaustion so I once again begin to doubt myself and become an ineffective mess.

Update - I wrote this post a month ago and then didn’t post it. I suppose because it seemed silly to post an entire post about sleep in which I admit I really don’t believe there is An Answer to the Problem. But, maybe it will help others to read it, so here goes…I’m posting. And, you may wonder…have we made any progress? No, not really. Owen is transitioning from 3 naps to 2 and he’s going down much easier for naps because I’m watching to see when he’s tired and ready. So that’s nice. Nighttimes? We’re getting 3-4 hour stretches now. I still haven’t sleep trained or anything close. It’s just so much easier to feed him (takes about 7 minutes and then he’s back to sleep!). But I may have to try something soon. Six Months is this week and it feels like a big milestone and might be time to start fighting the battle. Props to Sunny at Cease and Decyst for winning hers!

Oh, and just because....here's a few pics....:)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mommy Dating - It's a Real Thing

Before I got pregnant, an aspiring film-maker friend of mine (don’t we all have one of those?) told me she wanted to make a documentary about "mommy-dating.”

”About what?” I said.
”Mommy dating,” she said.
”Mommy what?”
"Mommy. Dating.”
”What?”

Yeah. I had no clue. But it’s a real phenomenon. How many blog posts have been dedicated to this topic? Unless you are a part of a very select group that happens to be on the same trajectory and everyone pops out their babies within six months of each other, you are likely to find yourself with a major friend overhaul happening once you come up for air after the 4th trimester.

In LA I belonged to a really nice group of women connected with the birth center. We met weekly for a “Mommy Group” and I always felt supported, comforted, and included. I never felt awkward, left out or not good enough. Except of course, when the topics turned to the crunchier side regarding things such as vaccines, amber necklaces or placenta encapsulation (thanks Lorna for pointing this out!). But, in conjunction with this group and the few friends I had that were also having kids, I had a pretty good social group/support network.

Now that we’ve moved, I’ve joined Meetup. Apparently Meetup is a mecca for new moms looking to find their other mommy-half. You can find a Meetup group for anything. And they get quite specific. Mommies in North County San Diego. Mommies in Coastal North County San Diego. Mommies in Coastal North County San Diego whose Babies Were Born in Late 2013. Mommies in North County San Diego who Want Their Babies to Learn Spanish. Mommies Who Like Eating Italian Food and Drinking Wine and Have Babies Learning to Crawl. Seriously. All real groups I’ve joined. Well, ok, except the last one. But I’m sure people would join that.

So, today I went to a Meet and Greet for one of those groups. It was supposed to be a “good first meeting” where you could “meet other mommies” (are you sick of the word mommies too?) and “introduce yourself and your baby.” Now, I’m not really that good at these types of situations. I mean, I am good at making conversation and I’m pretty extroverted, but I hate those awkward First Meetings where you have to make polite chitchat. I’m not good at “polite chitchat.” I’d prefer to skip that and get to interesting subjects like – “So does anyone really enjoy postpartum sex??”

I got ready for my mommy date in the typical way. I brushed my hair I didn’t have time to wash today and tried to make it look cute-ish with some sad little bobby pins. I put on make up (!!). I got dressed in my new LuluLemon clothes that are way too expensive for someone who doesn’t exercise but still the perfect SAHM clothes. And I went.

Instantly I felt out of place. I had the wrong blanket (too small). My baby was the wrong age (too young). And I was “too hippy” (Ring Sling instead of Stroller, breastfeeding instead of bottle). Also, everyone seemed to know each other. So there I was, instantly transported back to high school. The odd girl out, feeling awkward. But I decided I was going to make this work. I am interesting and fun. And…if that’s not true, at least I have an adorable baby who instantly impressed everyone with his “sitting-up-at-5-months” skills.

But my adorable baby is teething. And not-crawling. And really pissed at his not-crawling-state. Especially when surrounded by crawling and walking babies. Also, I began to feel very “not fun and not interesting” as I realized how pretty and together these other women are. I mean, I’m not sure what the difference is. It seemed half of them were also wearing the privileged, SAHM uniform of LuluLemon head to toe. But, they didn’t seem to struggle with clothes clinging weirdly to love handles, or fear that their butt looks too big, or wondering if they shaved their legs today because the cute yoga pants also happen to be cropped pants. I mean, don’t get me wrong, these women were all complaining about “not having time to do their hair or makeup anymore” whilst I looked at their pedicured toe nails. One mom even said she “never washes her hair anymore” while I looked longingly at her cute messy curls.

And so I sat with my fussy baby, trying to act like I fit in, trying to smile, and hoping that I would meet A Friend and wondering why this is so hard?

The truth is, my view of today is filtered through a sleep-deprived state and directly related to the fussiness of my teething baby. On a better day, I may have noticed that the moms were being nice and trying to include me in conversation, even though their babies were at totally different stages. Or I may have not fixated on the 120-lb blonde girls with cute clothes and noticed the normal looking, slightly overweight moms. Or maybe I would have gotten past myself enough to actually make some friends.

But, I didn’t. I gave in to Owen’s fussiness and left early.

I know I’ll go back. Some of them were really nice. And this was only one outing. I’ve gone to others where I’ve met friends and crossed the line to the “Exchange Numbers” stage and the “Individual Playdate” stage. So really, it’s not that bad. Everything is fine. I suppose this is just a post to all of us to say – Hey, I get it. It’s hard being a woman no matter how old you are.

Cute, even when he's a fussy, sleep-deprived baby.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Just Some Little Updates

My little tiny baby is now five months old. He is a little person now, with an extroverted personality, a ready-for-anything attitude, and a sense of humor. He weighs 17 pounds and is wearing nine month clothes. He was sleeping through the night, but ditched that habit around four months and has never looked back. Now he is revisiting newborn behaviors of waking every 2-3 hours. So fun for all involved. He has mastered rolling both ways, pivoting, sitting up, and doing some pretty cool yoga poses. He is in love with his kitty and now loves to grab Bear’s black fur and grin at him. The cat tolerates it, surprisingly.

He is an active, active baby. Always likes to be doing or seeing something. This means that, as long as he is doing something, he is a happy, happy baby. Everyone always compliments me on how happy he is. And he is. He really is. BUT. The flipside is – he always needs to be DOING something. So that doesn't leave room for sitting and snuggling. Yesterday I felt guilty because he was still recovering from his shots and so he sat in my lap and snuggled all morning and I LOVED it. So, to compensate, I’ve gotten really into babywearing. I think babywearing is such a nerdy term, isn’t it? But…I’m sold. I now own a Moby (he’s outgrown it), the Beco Gemini, a Maya Wrap Ring Sling, a Babyhawk Mei Tai, and a beautiful Girasol Woven Wrap. Babywearing is an expensive habit! I have my eye on another woven wrap and a replacement for his Beco when he outgrows it. But, I love it. I can strap him to my back to get things done, or wrap him up tight against my chest when he needs to be snuggled to sleep. Somehow, when he’s worn, he turns all cute and cuddly.

He refuses to take a bottle. The irony of all ironies, considering how hard breastfeeding was to begin with. I try every day, switching it up with different bottles and sippy cups. We’re making progress. Now I can get him to take one ounce. ONE ounce. Sigh. My strong-minded boy. This lack of taking a bottle takes the “mommy and me” thing to a ridiculous level. I can’t be away from him for very long because he will need to eat. Thank god I’m not working right now.

So I guess that’s an update on Owen. I’m sure most of you are eyes-glazed-over in boredom by this point. But I just had to share. Mostly as an excuse to share some pictures with you. Prepare yourself…here come the photos!