#AllTheFeels

In the weeks leading up to my son turning one, I had a lot of feelings. And still do! Apparently all I do now is feel, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s annoying that all the motherhood cliches turned out to be true, including those along the lines of “you can’t really know until you go through it.” It’s like surfing– I can explain to you how to surf, but until you physically try to get up on the board and ride a wave, there’s no real way to describe it. Also, I have never surfed.

The physical load is obvious, and thankfully the mental load of being a parent is being discussed more openly. What I wasn’t prepared for– especially as a Millenial who ate up cultural messages about feelings = bad, being apathetic and aloof = cool– was the emotional load that has come with loving my son. I say this as a person who does not identify as an empathetic person, a person who has been told countless times that I have no tact. I’ve been called out for using humor to deflect real emotions, and I fully admit to being an emotionally immature person who usually has to experience something myself before understanding its true impact. The logical part of my brain has always been more dominant. If a friend said their baby was in the NICU, I understood that it sucked for them, but figured, “Well, they’re the best nurses in the hospital. You’ll get to take your baby home soon.” If you are one of those friends, consider this a public apology.

The baby exiting my womb a year ago woke up the dormant emotional side of my brain. Becoming a mother has cracked me wide open to a full array of feelings, and quite frankly, it’s often scary. I feel so fragile loving something outside of myself so much. I am keenly aware of the life loads & continual slogs of shit happening around me and their impact on those experiencing them. Especially working in a children’s hospital and previously on the maternity floor, I have feelings all damn day long. If I were to try to type an analogy here that will absolutely crash and burn, it’d be something about the baby being an exposed nerve in my tooth that makes even the smallest things radiate pain through my body. (I told you it was bad. And a bit lazy, writing-wise, but it’s what you get on a free blog from a sleepy person.)

Now if a friend’s baby gets sent to the NICU, I start crying about how hard the separation must be for them and feeling so thankful my baby is healthy. The trippy part I’m currently struggling with is that the logical part of my brain is still there, wanting to make sense out of it all and be the fixer. I have friends who have experienced stillbirth and infant loss, and many people I know are struggling with infertility. This new, raw emotional part of me cannot handle any of these things. There is no logic-ing or fixing for parents who had a baby who never came home with them. But, like, this is the entirety of the human experience?! People- parents or not- who are feeling big feelings over unimaginably hard things yet somehow going on. I feel very dumb that this is all just now coming together for me, but like I said, I was really good at just doing me for at least three decades.

Of course, the baby has brought out all the fun emotions, too. I never thought I’d be so content just sitting in our backyard- sober!- watching a kid play fetch with himself with a mini soccer ball, yet there I was just this weekend. It’s a daily battle to be present in the good feelings without being scared that I’m now also capable of the hard ones. It’s an internal balancing act to be supportive of new moms without word vomiting unsolicited advice about the semitruck of emotions that’s about to run them down out of seemingly nowhere. When I tell a new mom, “If you need ANYTHING…” I don’t actually know what I have to offer them. I can fold the sh*t outta some laundry and will make you food for days, but I so badly want to be able to fix the parts that I know felt so adrift in myself over various time periods of this entire past year. There’s no way someone could have articulated this to me in advance- and I don’t know that it would have been helpful or I would have understood, if they did- yet I still feel compelled to try. 

So I guess this is me trying, Natalies: we tell you it’s hard, but we mean it’s hard in unexpected ways. I was prepared to not sleep much and not love how my body looked for a while, but I wasn’t prepared that having such intense feelings for my son would make everything else that much more intense, too. It’s just all a lot.

Diaper Boxes

Hi there, new parents. You know those cardboard, kinda-big-but-not-too-big, boxes that diapers come in? SAVE EM. Yes, baby might like playing with one or two, but they have an even greater purpose in life.

Always keep an empty one in or near baby’s closet. When they outgrow an item of clothing, throw it (well, fold it, if you’re at all a neater person than I am) in the box. When it gets full, tape that sucker shut & Sharpie on the outside what size or season of clothes are in there.

You’ve now saved yourself that Saturday afternoon of sifting through 6-12 months worth of too small clothing because you’ve done it as needed throughout the year. If you have another kid, pull out the boxes when it’s time to stock their wardrobe. If you don’t, you can hand down, donate or sell the clothes that are already separated by size!

You’re welcome.

Three Month Food

Did your friend just have a baby?

Go into your calendar (shout out to those of us keeping it down with paper planners) and write yourself a task for three months from now to take them dinner.

Meal Trains are so wonderful & the generosity of others- especially us Midwesterners- is astounding in those first few weeks after baby is born. After a month of two, it usually slows down. The surprise three month postpartum meal was my favorite.

First Birthday List

My darling boy turns one this week! He needs and wants for absolutely nothing, but it turns out that generous family members don’t like “If you buy him anything, I’ll cut you” as a response when they inquire about what they can gift him for his birthday.

Since I wasn’t at all thinking about toddlerhood when I made my baby registry, I’m sharing a few things I put on his one-year-old nice-to-haves list in case they might help the real Natalie or any of you pregnant ones. There are no toys or books or clothes because those always seem to be gifted no matter what & he doesn’t need any (do you hear me, family!?! STOP BUYING HIM TOYS. HE LOVES EMPTY TOILET PAPER ROLLS!! I WANT MY HOUSE BACK FROM THE INSANITY!!!)

  • No slip socks. This kid’s got almost three months of walking experience, yet he still prefers to do it without shoes. As it’s getting colder, I want those adorable piggy toes covered up in the house, but he’s more prone to slipping and falling if wearing socks. Enter: socks with grips on the bottom!
  • Foldable learning tower. Hats off to the marketing genius who named this spiffed up step ladder a “learning tower” and made them a Pinterest Mom must-have. Basically it’s a stool with a cage around it that will hopefully help him feel more included in the kitchen/ outdoors/ wherever we’re doing stuff so can’t hold him but would be too dangerous to let him roam free. I used to sit him in his high chair in the middle of the kitchen while making dinner, but he’s recently decided the high chair is lava so hopefully he can grow with this while learning beside me. There are approximately 1,000 learning tower options depending on what features you want and your budget, so I’ll report back on if the brand I linked is great or garbage.
  • A baby sled. This kid would be outdoors 24/7 if we allowed him to be, so I’m kind of terrified for when the temperature drops and there’s snow on the ground for months. 1- I assume a baby (toddler?! gah) in a sled will be adorable and 2- schlepping him around in it will help keep me warm.
  • Diapers. Just because baby is born doesn’t mean people can’t still gift you whatever sized diapers they’re wearing. My son thinks pulling tissue paper out of a bag is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to him, so he won’t mind if it’s boring ol’ diapers underneath.
  • Suction plate & baby forks. My friends with toddlers have had a wide variety of experiences with suction plates and bowls, but serving him food on regular ones would be an absolute fool’s errand at this age. I currently serve all his food on the high chair tray, but does that seem lazy? At some point, should he realize place settings are a thing? He’s currently in the developmental stage of using his fat lil’ arm as a windshield wiper and knocking all available options to the ground when he’s done or feeling cantankerous, so maybe this will help. Oh, and he needs forks because I got a bunch of hand-me-down baby spoons from my cousin and only just realized he should probably be exposed to other utensils.

Next year, we’ll probably ask for experiences like a science center membership, but based on two recent apathetic trips to the zoo, he’s still a little young for those. Because of his obsession with the real lawn mower and watching his dad and any neighbors mow, we’ll probably add a toy lawn mower in the spring when the Easter Bunny comes around. And dude loves to knock over the broom and try to eat the dustpan, so I need to capitalize on this ASAP and get him his own mini version to start helping around the house. Congrats! You’re one! Get to sweeping.

Ferber Details

It’s been a hot minute, but the real Natalie has a specific request for Ferber details. As if I can remember that long ago! Her sweet nugget is giving the house hell, so in the spirit of “here’s what worked for us,” I present to you: How We Ferber-ed, The Follow Up.

The first thing we did was agree that we wanted to try sleep training, picked the specific method, and decided on when to start. This part is very important if you’re not a single parent– make sure you’re on the same page with your partner since it will likely involve higher emotions for at least a few nights. We both had copies of the Ferber schedule we’d be trying, and I was very up front with my husband about how I dreaded feeling sad about the baby likely being sad. (Spoiler alert: our son was SO much less upset than I’d feared. But talking it out helped ease my mind!) We picked a date that we’d start Ferber-ing, and we went into it as a team.

Secondly, we sleep trained after baby was moved into his own room. I’m not a sleep training expert, but I assume that’s an important part of most methods since you’re baby is not dumb and knows where you are (in the room) and what you’re doing (not comforting them) which will likely make ’em real mad.

The first night, we gave the baby his last bottle, then laid him in his crib. This was already a huge change since we’d gotten to the point of needing so many sleep crutches to get baby to bed: bottle in mouth, swaying/ rocking just so, sound machine– a whole song and dance that, if interrupted, meant starting all over to get baby’s eyes to close. He was out of a swaddle at this point and had been sleeping in a Merlin Magic Sleep Suit for about a month. We still used the sound machine, but that was it– no placating with a pacifier, no special rocking or singing before bed. We closed the door and he cried for three minutes until it was our allotted time to go in and comfort him.

Comforting with Ferber doesn’t mean picking up and rocking, just putting a hand on them so they know you’re there and that it’s ok. It felt a little silly, and of course I wanted to pick him up and let him know YOU ARE STILL LOVED, I HOPE THIS ISN’T PSYCHOLOGICALLY DAMAGING YOU!!!! but we held strong. We only did the soothing for maybe 30 seconds, then left again for a bit longer crying interval. He made it to the next stage of fussing/ crying for five minutes– I think my husband went in to do the soothing that time– and then something magical happened. He fell asleep before we ever hit the next interval (it would have been 10 minutes, which would have admittedly been tough on my heart to ignore.) 

He didn’t sleep through the night immediately, but when he did wake up for a bottle later that night, we started the intervals again, and he fell asleep by himself even faster. We followed the Ferber Method schedule for three nights– he never cried more than 20 minutes total– and then he had his first night of sleeping through the night! (<– There aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for how that feels.) The times when he’d cry, I’d tell myself we were helping him learn a valuable life skill: soothing himself to sleep, which he still uses to this day. He figured out how to stick the first two fingers of his right hand in his mouth and calm himself to sleep.

That was seven months ago (crazy to think about) and it truly has changed our lives. Our son did not sleep for his first four months of life. Now he’s a champion sleeper, and we recommend Ferber to anyone who asks because it’s what worked for us. Once we trusted that he really was a through-the-night sleeper, we muted the baby monitor. If he was really awake in the night upset about something, we could hear him from our room and go soothe his nightmare or get him a bottle. We found, though, that there were times he’d wake himself up and fuss or talk to himself for a bit, but then put himself back to sleep. We were waking up because the monitor was on, but then realized he was doing his own thing in there and we didn’t need to be waking up along with him every time he was in a light sleep cycle.

He has since moved out of the Merlin and into a zip-up, sleeveless Halo sleep sack that’s become his go-to sleep association. He knows if he’s going into the sack, he’s heading to sleep for a nap or the night! He’ll sometimes fuss going into it, but quickly pops his fingers into his mouth or starts chewing on the top of the sack and pipes right down. Sometimes he gets a bottle, depending on his feeding schedule, then we turn on the sound machine, lay him down and leave. He falls asleep within 3-5 minutes, if not immediately. If we hear him stirring later, we make sure he’s truly awake and not going to put himself back to sleep before going in and getting him.

Good luck, Natalie. You have a bright future of much better sleep ahead!

Grandma Gear

We are hashtag blessed/ prayer hands emoji to have family nearby who can help out with our son. There are a few items that we’ve found helpful to have as duplicates at my parents’ house- the only place he’s done overnights so far- instead of always packing up our whole house when we go for a visit. Your needs will vary depending on the length of time you’re away from your prime baby set up, but here’s what we’ve found helpful to have at my parents’ place.

Car Seat Base: if there’s someone other than you and your partner who will be regularly driving with the baby, you don’t have to purchase them a separate car seat. For infant car seats, you can purchase an additional base and install it for them. Convertible car seats used to be an absolute nightmare to move from one vehicle to another, but we have no complaints with ours. If we’re leaving our son overnight at my parents, we unbuckle the car seat from my backseat and put it in my moms, just in case they need to transport him anywhere. A good rule is: where the baby is, the car seat should be also.

Pack & Play: my mom found a great deal on a secondhand pack & play so has one, while we never bothered*. It’s been a lifesaver to throw him in that for naps when we’re there, especially now that he’s mobile and would pitch himself off any bed we try to lay him on. *I’ve had to borrow a friend’s for an overnight trip & now realize we totally should have gotten one, so will also be shopping secondhand for one we can take on out of town trips!

High Chair: definitely not a must have– our son would still eat just fine if sitting on my lap– but it’s super convenient that my parents have a high chair for mealtime so we don’t have to pack ours or keep a booster seat in the car. 

Nose Frida: this is highly specific to our situation, but our kid had terrible reflux which causes congestion. We used the Nose Frida multiple times a day in his first 4-5 months, so it made sense to keep a back up at my parents so we didn’t have to always remember to throw it in the diaper bag. If you have specific medical items that it would throw a wrench in your stay if forgotten, it doesn’t hurt to have back ups you can leave there (i.e. baby Tylenol!)

Formula: if you’re formula feeding, keep a tub of your brand at Grandma’s house. If you use a formula pitcher, transport it empty and then mix it upon arrival. I once tried to transport our full formula pitcher on a 45 minute drive. It spilled, and my car smelled like disgusting wet socks for a few days before I lifted the seats and really scrubbed it all out. 

Diapers & Wipes: we always travel with diapers and wipes in the diaper bag, but it’s nice knowing that my mom has a little changing area set up ready to go when we’re there visiting family. She’s also got plenty of extra bibs and burps rags.

Being Extra: our son is the first grandchild, so things can get a bit extra when it comes to making sure he’s surrounded by infant opulence. Once they saw how much he loves his baby swimming pool and canvas tree swing, his grandparents purchased duplicates to have at their house. His favorite toys include empty boxes and a toothbrush, so I’m confident he would survive without a pool at every residence, but it is nice for them to have many activity options when we leave him there for a needed night off.

Summer Walks

Two words: stroller fan.

If you’re building a baby registry, add one for the baby and one to point back at yourself.

We met up with a friend for a stroller walk in the high noon heat of July, and their baby had a little stroller fan pointed at him. I thought, “Oh, to be part of the uppity, high maintenance stroller elite who require a fan for their sweet babe.” Reader? I am an idiot. I needed 18 stroller fans just for myself. Global warming!

My son rarely wears anything except for a diaper these days, and I always have a straw cup with water to offer him hydration breaks when we’re out on walks. We try to go first thing after his breakfast before the Midwest humidity absolutely murders us, but even then, I’ve had to deal with the judgment of neighbors commenting, “Kinda hot out for a baby, eh?” Kindly shove your head up your own butt & mind your own beeswax, MA’AM.

Contradictions

Heavy sigh.

I feel like one of those Instagram cartoons showing a crying mom that has the caption, “You got this, Mama!” (Side note: please never call me Mama unless you are my actual child.) This age has been… not my favorite. Yet it is because he’s so smiley and interactive and CUTE! Just another contradiction to add to the growing list of conflicting feelings that comes with having a child. It would seem that becoming a parent is mostly learning your ability to hold two opposing feelings at the same time.

Tired but alert.

Grateful but annoyed.

Feeling sick over sending him to daycare, yet feeling like you’re going to absolutely go insane if you spend another hour together with a whiny baby at home.

My son is 9.5 months old, a time when separation anxiety sets in (God forbid he be fine playing alone in his playroom that’s becoming dangerously close to our own personal Chuck-E Cheese) and he has a bunch of teeth painfully coming in at once. Add on top of that his new walking skills which are a borderline suicide mission every day (why are their heads the exact height of all furniture corners?!) and it’s a lot of whining and fussing and clinging. Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber was wrong– this isn’t the most annoying sound in the world, the whining of a child who has opinions but can’t yet articulate them is.

I feel like a terrible mom, even though I know I’m not. I don’t need Mommy Wine Time, and I don’t need any well-meaning friends reminding me I’m doing a great job. It just… is. I’ve gotta feel the feelings, take breaks when needed, and remind myself that this adorable, precious ball of annoyance isn’t doing this to me on purpose. He’s being a baby. I wanted a baby, and it’s ok to want to be a parent and love the role while also saying, “Holy cats, this blows right now.”

A wise friend told me that she doesn’t believe in Mom Guilt. The definition of guilt is that you’ve done something wrong, yet all of the things we parents feel guilty for usually aren’t actual crimes we’ve committed. She’s reframed it to calling it Mom Love. Feeling “guilty” because you went back to work and baby is at daycare? It’s actually because you love them so much and are sad you don’t get to see them; you also might be worried about someone else taking care of them. Feeling “guilty” because baby was walking towards you and took a hard smack into the coffee table? You didn’t push him– you love him and want him to be safe, so your “guilt” is love because you don’t want him to feel pain.

So I’m trying really, really hard not to feeling guilty about any of my feelings during this stage of my son’s life. I know it’s cliche but true that one day he won’t be constantly tugging at my leg and wanting my attention, and I’ll be wishing so hard for the days when he was this small and needy again. There is no great answer to any of this, other than to continue to love your kid(s), which I know you and I both will, and to continue to love yourself enough to not self-flagellate over the myriad contradictory feelings parenthood brings about.

First Steps

I erroneously believed that the big milestones in baby’s life would be easy to identify and document on a calendar. A family member saw an Instagram story video in which my son was walking and asked, “He’s taken his first steps?!” A long time ago! But did we classify it as fully walking? Not really. Apologies to all interested parties that I didn’t send an “HE’S WALKING!!” update. (I’m not actually sorry. That would be annoying, and I would unsubscribe from myself.)

I don’t have a date for Baby’s First Steps because the journey to bipedalism has been a whirlwind of half crawling, peg legging (his preferred method was crawling on his right knee while walking on his left foot & yes, the doctor says that’s completely fine) pulling to stand on absolutely everything, cruising along furniture, taking a few tentative steps then lowering back down, and now, finally, walking all over the house

The same goes for rolling. One of my friend’s babies rolled from back to front at five weeks and then not again for a couple months. So does that mean she can roll? Who cares! First words are much the same. If baby gets out “Mama” one time, but then goes back to shrieks and incoherent babbles for a few days, does “Mama” count as his first word? Especially if he said it to a wall or a toy and not me?

Don’t get me started on the guilt I have that my child can walk at what is considered an advanced age. I know a ton of people who had babies a few months before him, and their kids aren’t walking yet. I have to remind myself that this all means absolutely nothing. He’s been a very physical kid from the start, and we had people telling us for months, “Watch out for this one! He’s just gonna take off one day!” If he ever gets a sibling, I know I’ll have to do some serious inner work to not compare the two and the timing of all their firsts.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in a gaggle of women who birthed during the pandemic– which is still going on, by the way! And pregnant women who choose not to get vaccinated are dying of COVID! So GET THE VACCINE– is that absolutely every baby is different, they do stuff at different times, and it absolutely does not matter. It’s not a reflection on you as a parent, it doesn’t mean your baby is destined for greatness or failure, it’s literally just a small, new person developing life skills that will all even out later on.

Thank Your Nurses

I’ve expanded my hours at the local hospital and now get to be on the maternity floor a few times a week (ask me how second baby fever is going.) I’m surrounded by the nursing team thus feel qualified to tell you their favorite ways to be thanked.

If you’ve already been through labor, you know that nurses are the real MVPs of the process. Sure, a doctor may have caught your baby and sewn you up, but the nurses are the ones with you day and night. They see more parts of you than anyone else ever has, they don’t bat an eye at the myriad fluids and smells and sounds emanating from your bloated meat suit, they put up with all sorts of dumb questions and emergencies and chart documenting all while they likely juggle more than one patient. If you had a great hospital experience- or even (especially?) if you didn’t, but you’ll always remember that one nurse who made things better for you- please pass along your thanks.

1- Nurses love food. They’re working long hours, often hustling around on their feet all day lifting and supporting and rolling birthing people who might be dead weight from an epidural. They need to eat, but don’t get much (any) time to do it. When patients send food, they cheer. “What room is this from?” “What kind of cupcakes are those?” “Are there any more granola bars in that gift basket?!” Both sugar treats and healthier foods are appreciated. We had one couple order in pizzas to the break room during dinner time! Some parents get real creative and drop off baskets with Diet Coke cans, trail mix, fresh fruit & string cheese; others have the local bakery deliver a box of donuts or cupcakes. All is appreciated. Including a card with your names and/or room number & date of stay will help jog their memories.

2- A thank you note. Yes, they really do read them and yes, sometimes they cry. If you’re a words person and just need to emote, don’t feel silly writing a card or letter to your nursing staff or those one or two individuals who really made the experience for your family. So many inpatient units around the country are understaffed and these people are being stretched to their limits– a little personal reminder about why they do this work in the first place can go a long way.

3. Nominate them for a DAISY Award. The DAISY Award can be given across the country to recognize excellence in nursing. Even if your nurse isn’t chosen as a winner, they’ll get recognized for being nominated by their employer. The nomination form is super simple, and it’s an easy way to let someone know they really made a difference for you and your family during labor, delivery or postpartum.

4. Sorry- no cash. Not that I think you’re out here entrusting Benjamins in the hands of the postal service in the year of our lord 2021, but also be leery of giving gift cards. Your hospital likely has a policy in place capping the amount of a gift that one individual employee can receive, so if you’re trying to think outside the box, this isn’t the time. Stick to food & praise. We had one dear patient try to give a nurse a large gift card to buy a specific pair of shoes because they heard her mention needing new ones. So, so appreciated! But also against the rules. (Don’t worry- the gift card was moved along to the hospital foundation to purchase items for patients in need.)