Writing with a New Baby

Babies sleep a lot. Except, it seems, when you want them to. My daughter will sleep in the car on the way to the grocery store, in the stroller the whole time we’re at the grocery store, and then for about two minutes after we get home. Which is just enough time to put away half of the groceries—the perishables, basically. Does she sleep at night? Sometimes. Does she sleep for long stretches of time? Sometimes.

The problem I didn’t think about before she was born is that whenever she’s asleep when we’re at home, I want to be sleeping, too. Or cooking, so that I can sate the ravenous hunger of a nursing mother. Or cleaning, so that all the burp cloths around the house get into the hamper before we do laundry again. Add in a full-time work schedule (which also adds: time spent cleaning breast pump parts + commute + putting on non-pajama clothes and brushing my hair + cooking/packing a lunch to bring + frustrating blocks of time where I have to beg her to wake up to feed before I leave in the morning…)—basically my time for writing has disappeared. Does this mean I can’t ever have a stolen minute or two to write? No. She’s on my lap right now squirming and I’m typing away. We just won’t mention that time she spit up onto my laptop keyboard, or how uncomfortable it is to lean at this awkward angle so that I can reach the keys with both hands and still keep her from falling off.

It’s frustrating, actually, how many minutes you recognize as “Oh, I could have been writing” minutes just as your little one begins to wake up and need you again. Supposedly breastfeeding even gets easier eventually, but at three months old it’s still pretty necessary for me to hold my boob in place for her, so she isn’t slipping off or smooshing her nose into it until she can’t breathe. Ever try to type with just one hand? I could probably get good at it eventually, but by the time I did she’ll have outgrown this phase and it won’t be necessary.

The point, really, is that even with the eight weeks of maternity leave, even with the naps she takes, even though she can’t talk yet and is only starting to be vaguely interested in toys—something always comes up. Writing always gets bumped down the list. It’s easy enough to do the dishes when you’re out of forks and the breast pump parts need to be clean again by tomorrow. Not so easy to put off those dishes and just write.

(Also, Netflix is evil. You sit down to nurse and you think, “I don’t want to type away super slowly with only one hand while I do this…” and so you turn on Netflix. Except an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is 45 minutes long, and you aren’t going to stop it halfway through just because baby girl is done eating. Even worse? Finding out you have HBO Go access through your in-laws cable subscription and finding 20 movies you’d love to watch…)

I thought, before I had her, that I would find plenty of time to write. It seemed inevitable. I would be healthy and whole again, after a very ill, soul-wrecking pregnancy. I failed to calculate all the extra minutes spent folding and unfolding that stroller, taking her for walks so she can see the world, staring at her cute face and talking to her to make her smile. They’re essential, all these extra moments. Even the hour you have to spend walking her up and down the hallway, bouncing her a little in your arms, while she fights off sleep because she just doesn’t wanna. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Truly. It’s just a sad consequence that I can’t write as much as I’d like to. I miss it, and sometimes that makes me really sad. She’s worth the trade-off, for sure. And yet…

Recovery (Baby Steps!)

One of the absolute best things I’ve learned from the Nerd Fitness Academy is the importance (and effectiveness!) of baby steps. Incremental changes over long periods of time will stick 100% better than quick, monumental changes. I used to be the kind of person who wanted to change everything at once. It’s a funny kind of perfectionism, where you say “Today is the day that I do EVERYTHING right!” And maybe on the first day, you do. Maybe even the second. But somewhere down the road you miss something, and all of a sudden your change, your effort, is no longer “perfect.” You’ve already failed, so why keep trying? So you give it up, and slide into your old ways, and then weeks or months down the road you map out another quick, monumental change that won’t stick. All the while getting down on yourself because you can’t seem to get better at life even though you want to.

Nerd Fitness has taught me to take it slow, and to love myself. You can’t hate yourself into a better person. You just can’t. But you sure can love yourself into a better one. That starts with letting yourself make mistakes. Letting yourself miss stuff, and not giving up just because you broke a streak or things won’t look “perfect” when you track them in your planner. Putting self-care and self-love before everything else has actually improved my productivity and my health. If I’m deep in the feels and really need some Netflix binging, I allow myself to do that. Depression isn’t something you deny your way out of, after all. But with a little TLC, I can come out of it faster and better prepared to get on with my life.

With all that in mind, I knew that I would need to be forgiving in my recovery process after the pregnancy. C-sections are no joke, caring for a newborn is tough in ways that you don’t quite expect, and since I spent the entire pregnancy laid up with HG I was starting from a literal ground zero, with no muscle strength, no stamina. Here’s my recovery process, broken down by weeks.

Week One: Hubby took this week off work to stay home with us and help out, and that was super important and wonderful. Baby girl was eating every couple hours, and on some days even every hour or half hour (they call it a growth spurt…I was just exhausted). I just did not have the energy to constantly feed her AND change diapers, soothe her back to sleep, etc. I couldn’t even get up from a sitting position while holding her, because of the extra weight, my weak muscles, and the pressure it put on my incision. Likewise, if I’d had to cook for myself that whole week, I wouldn’t have eaten anything. Having hubby there to cook and refill my water (breastfeeding makes you SO thirsty) was a lifesaver. I didn’t give myself any goals this week, because I was expecting to still be in need of some major rest.

Week Two: My sister came to help out for the week, ferrying us to doctor appointments and cooking for us and spending lots of time hanging out with her niece. I was feeling way better after the surgery—what’s a little incision compared to the nine months of HG? I was also still taking ibuprofen and tylenol pretty much around the clock, which I can see now tricked me into thinking I was doing better than I was. I set a goal of 1,000 steps every day, and met that goal because in a single week I had a lactation consultation, a follow-up with my OB, an eye exam (because I desperately needed new glasses, and had run out of contacts), and a weigh-in at the pediatrician for the little one. Definitely too much to take on in week two of recovery! I also set a goal of writing 200 words/day, and brushing my teeth every morning. The teeth brushing went well (with someone else here to hold on to the baby while I did so, it was pretty easy), but the writing I only managed on one day. (Belly Progress: Still a super big uterus in there. I’ll need my maternity clothes for a while.)

Week Three: My mother-in-law came up for this week. No doctor appointments, so we took it easy at home every day. I upped my daily step count goal to 2,000 a day, and met it 6 out of the 7 days. It was tough to meet on some days, though, because my incision was still hurting when I did too much (and sometimes just taking a shower was enough to lay me out for the next hour). I tried to brush my teeth every morning and evening, and only really managed to hit the mornings consistently. My word count goal of 200/day was completely neglected. I began to think that I was taking on a bit too much, expecting more than just tiny little goals. Even through the frustration, I kept telling myself it was okay if I didn’t get to write on a given day. Newborns need a lot of attention, and I still wasn’t fully mobile/functional. But it might get better/easier as time goes on. Certainly once she doesn’t need to be held constantly to be happy, once toys are interesting and she’s got full neck control and can go a little longer between feedings, there will be more snippets of time for me to snatch for writing. (Belly Progress: When looking from the side, my belly finally drew even with my breasts)

Week Four: My first week alone with the little one. Hubby works down in LA, so it really is just me and her at home all week. The fridge was pretty abysmally empty. The first day was super tough, and we didn’t reach our step goal of 3,000 steps/day. The surgery recovery seemed to be going great, as my incision didn’t give me so many of those warning pangs that I was pushing myself too hard. I did have to schedule another emergency doctor appointment, though, to deal with some shoulder/breast pain that kept growing in intensity. I shouldn’t have to take ibuprofen around the clock four weeks post c-section, so I figured it had to be thrush or mastitis developing. Not fun. Thankfully, the meds worked pretty quickly. Baby girl did a good job of staying pretty easy the latter half of the week, and then we had another fairly easy weekend with her. (Belly Progress: Finally sticks out less than my boobs!)

Week Five: In which I learn that having visitors is great for my mental health but bad for my sleep. Seriously. If I can’t sleep when the little one is sleeping, I end up staying up way too many hours in a row because then she’s awake when I want to be sleeping later. No bueno. I decided to throw out my step counts this week, mostly because it still hurts enough to shower or to bathe her that I can’t do both of those in the same day. I’m obviously still recovering and still needing not to push it too hard, so I just need to trust that it will get better with time, and that higher step count goals will be attainable in the future. Honestly, it’s hard enough just brushing my teeth morning and night, since there’s no real semblance of routine with this little one yet. I read a good book, though, and managed to do all the dishes before hubby got home for the weekend. I’ll consider that a win for this week. (Belly Progress: Seems to have stalled a bit, but more of the dermabond is coming off my incision and it’s a nice healing pink underneath, so that’s good.)

Week Six: My mother can be pretty abysmal at “taking it slow” after surgery, so when she decided she had to travel with my dad for his work a mere 1.5 weeks after knee surgery, my sister and I decided she’d be better off spending the time at my apartment than alone in a hotel room. It was a rough week for me—loading and unloading stuff from the car with no one to help, cooking for two when sometimes all I wanted to do was snack on something unhealthy instead. It was nice to have someone here to watch the baby while I got out of the house briefly—I even bought some new shorts, in my pre-pregnancy size, that fit perfectly (a little loose, even). (Belly Progress: Still stalled.)

Week Seven: My mother-in-law is visiting again this week, and she’s great about staying up late with the baby and giving me ample time for naps. I’ve had to check my blood sugars this week for a follow-up appointment to make sure the gestational diabetes went away. I was kind of freaking out, getting a lot of high numbers, until I realized that the test strips I was using were reading a whole 45 points higher than they should have been due to leaving them out of their special container! A fasting number of 130 is not great. A fasting number of 85 is spot-on. The gestational diabetes is well and truly gone. Unfortunately, at the end of this week I had to head to the ER three times in one weekend. You’d think I would have had enough of hospitals after that hell of a pregnancy. What is it this time? Gallstones. Stones that I know weren’t present before, because the last abdominal ultrasound showed a “sludgy” gallbladder, thanks to the weeks spent on TPN, but no stones. But pregnancy hormones have a way of completely screwing with your body’s normal processes—so now I’ve got symptomatic stones and am scared to eat any fat or chocolate. I have to do little experiments of eating something to see if it triggers a gallbladder attack. And I now have to convince a surgeon that we shouldn’t be hasty about getting my gallbladder out, because if I can get these stones to resolve no new ones will form (not being pregnant or having HG or diabetes anymore).

Week Eight: The little one still has night and day mixed up, but a kind friend is going to sleep over on Thursday night so that I can get some uninterrupted rest before I have to go in for my first full day back at work. I’ve cleaned the house and done the laundry in preparation for the nanny’s first day, since I figure everything should be in its place at least once, so she knows what things are supposed to look like and where they all go. I’m apprehensive about going back to work, mostly because I haven’t gone in for a full day since week 7 of the pregnancy. And here I am with a two-month old daughter. What if I’m rusty? What if there’s too much to catch up on, and everyone is annoyed with me for being so far behind? I love my coworkers, and none of us could have foreseen all these health issues, and they aren’t resentful because it’d be pretty silly to resent me for getting sick, since I obviously would have done anything to avoid it if I could have. Still, it feels strange. I’m nervous. And hoping that I can prove myself a valuable asset again. And that it doesn’t take too long to pump. And that my milk supply doesn’t start dwindling from the pumping. *Sigh*

Week Nine: Back at work! I can’t say I’m 100% recovered yet, of course. It takes a body a very long time to recover from being sliced open. But, I am strong enough to go back to my mostly-desk-work job, and slightly eager to get out of the house and have some time free of my responsibilities to the little one. As much as I miss her when I’m not with her, I do feel slightly more like normal when I’m at work and just dealing with work stuff. More posts will follow later, probably about the new challenges of being a working, nursing mother.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll know what full recovery feels like until I’m done breastfeeding. My body still isn’t completely my own, and my incision still hurts sometimes a full three months after the surgery. Mentally, though, I’ve made a full comeback from the horrible illness of the pregnancy. And a year from now, I’m sure I’ll be stronger and healthier than ever.

Baby Stuff

The website that was completely instrumental to every decision I made regarding our baby registry was Lucie’s List. All the research and honest opinions on baby products helped me sift through the millions of options to find what we wanted/could afford. There’s just too much stuff out there for babies. It’s as bad as the wedding industry.

Items we couldn’t live without:

-Pack N Play: Ours is the Graco Snuggle Suite LX, but really any model with the raised bassinet insert and the changing table would work. She hardly ever sleeps in it because she sleeps in bed with me while her daddy’s in LA for the week, but that changing table is amazing. You want her up closer to your level post c-section, since bending over to clean and change her was pretty much out of the question for the first few weeks. (She doesn’t like the vibrating bouncer that came with this one, but the cat adores it, so it was nice for him to get a new toy to sleep in when he was feeling insecure about the shift in our attention.)

UPDATE: Apparently Graco now has a Pack N Play (called the Everest) whose changing table FOLDS DOWN when not in use. I’m super sad we didn’t know about it when we bought ours, as the changing table always being up is getting in the way as she gets bigger. Also, baby now enjoys the bouncer with vibration setting a LOT. She hangs out in it all the time, and the cat has had to make do with his cat tower again.Gabe in Bouncer

-Car Seat/Stroller: Because obviously. We got the Graco Click Connect type because my work had already given me a Graco Click Connect stroller. They’re pretty and functional and on the more affordable end. I don’t anticipate needing a jogging stroller because I don’t like running anyway, and I’d really rather go lift weights if I’m going to be working out.

-Breast Pump: We haven’t used it much because she’s still young and we want to exclusively breastfeed for the first four weeks, but I really do love my Spectra S2 pump. The two different modes really accurately imitate the way she nurses, and the pump can be super gentle, which was absolutely necessary during my tough engorgement period when my milk first came in.Milk and Pump

Kiinde Breast Milk Storage System + Bottles + Milk Warmer: Even though we haven’t used them much yet, we love this. Forget having to wash/sanitize bottles! The nipples are easy to wash and the starter gift pack came with adapters that let me attach the milk storage bags right to my pump. So efficient.

Little Giraffe Chenille Blanket: Great quality, super soft (even after repeated washings!), and so warm. Now that it is getting hotter we don’t swaddle her in it as much as the Aden + Anais blankets (which are also fabulous and everyone should get at least four of them), but this Little Giraffe blanket lives in the Rock N’ Play and keeps her cushioned and warm when she’s in there. She’s actually asleep in there right now as I write this.

-Diaper Bag: We got a nice $40 Eddie Bauer diaper bag from Target. Plenty of pockets, neutral enough design that Daddy doesn’t mind carrying it around. Forget spending over $100 on a designer purse-imitation diaper bag. We just need functional (and none of those fancy ones have all the pockets I wanted, plus insulated pockets for milk!).

Things we bought (+more of) after she was born:

-Hands-Free Nursing Bra: Oh gods, why would any woman want to sit around for twenty minutes holding the suction on one of those breast funnels? I had to do it in the hospital and once at home, and it hurt my back enough (and was frustrating to not have free hands) that we immediately got on Amazon and ordered one of these wonderful hands-free nursing bras. I was even able to lend it to my sister when she was here helping us the second week, because she’d forgotten to pack hers and was still pumping for our one year-old nephew.

-Backseat Car Mirror: I didn’t think I would need one of these because I’m a pretty zen mom. I don’t freak out about stuff, I don’t really get anxious. I’ll worry when the doctors tell me to worry, you know? But then I did a four-hour car ride down to LA with the little one in the back, rear-facing, and I didn’t like not being able to see that she was okay and hadn’t spit up all over herself. So hubby went to Target and got us one, and the drive back was so much better because I could see her.

-Breast Pads: We’ve ordered a THIRD pack of these Q T Bamboo ones, and I think that might be enough, but we might even buy another one with the next round of Amazon purchases. They are so much softer/more comfortable than the disposable ones we got at Target. They wash *great* in the washer and dryer, coming out soft and new (a big difference from the crusty, dried milk that’s on them after I’ve been wearing them). I’m pretty sure I’ve got overactive letdown AND oversupply, so I don’t know if other women would need as many of these as I do, but I go through them very quickly. It’s also nice to not have to put a wet one back on a nipple after a feeding—I can soak through them pretty quick depending on how full my breasts are. I’ve only soaked entirely through and onto my shirt once, though, wearing these.

-Burp Cloths: Even if you don’t have a super reflux-y baby, they will spit up. They’ll drink too much, not have enough room, have trapped air bubbles that agitate their system, whatever. We’re lucky that our little one doesn’t spit up all the time—usually burpings are mess-free. But every couple days she’ll basically projectile-vomit a little fountain stream of half-curdled milk, and then we have to change everyone’s outfits, wipe down all the furniture, and do a big load of laundry because she’s soaked through multiple burp cloths and towels. My favorite burp cloths are actually ones that my mother-in-law made for us by sewing squares of towel to some colorful fabrics (Adventure Time, Pokemon, and Star Wars themes). The towel is super absorbent and soft on baby’s face as she rests on a shoulder. I also use them under her head when she sleeps in bed with me, so that I don’t have to change my sheets all the time when she spits a little.

UPDATE: We also absolutely love the Aden + Anais Burpy Bibs. Pricey, but so absorbent! The shape is perfect for shoulder burping, and they’ll be great as bibs when she starts eating food. They’re the most absorbent of all the burp cloths we’ve tried (even the cloth diapers that we use for burp cloths!), and come in lots of cool styles.

-Bulb Syringes: We’re probably using the NoseFrida wrong, but it just doesn’t work well for us. The bulb syringe we got at the hospital, however, has already saved my little one from some serious oxygen deprivation. She threw up and it came out her nose, and she was having trouble clearing it herself. The syringe was powerful enough to actually clear her nostrils in record time, so that she could breathe again. It was scary enough for me to watch her go purple in the face in those few seconds that we keep the bulb syringe in the car seat at all times, and have ordered more to place around the house in easy reach (plus one for her diaper bag).

UPDATE: The NoseFrida works okay now that her nostrils are bigger, but mostly needs to be used in conjunction with saline spray to loosen up the dried boogers before they can be sucked out. I think the combo NoseFrida/bulb syringe is the best for any snot-sucking situation you might find yourself in.

-Nursing Sleep Bras/Maternity Tanks: When we’re better at nursing, I’m sure I’ll be happy enough with those nursing bras that unhook and sort of fold down off your boob. Right now, though, especially when she’s going through a growth spurt and nursing every hour or less, I love wearing a stretchy bra that I can just pull down off a breast. Likewise, the maternity tank tops I got from Target are indispensable. I wish I’d gotten more than just two (and I did send hubby back to Target for two more of these sleep bras, and two more loose-fit, non-maternity tanks). There’s just too much bulky stuff hanging out under your boob if you have a normal nursing bra and a normal nursing tank, both of which fold down and bunch up in weird ways, potentially cutting off your milk supply. The whole point of not wearing underwire to avoid mastitis is to keep pressure off of that area.

-Nursing Pillow: In the hospital it was clear pretty quickly how many pillows and re-adjustments and such were needed to find a good position to nurse in. I’m dealing with muscle pain right now on one side that’s probably related to my nursing position—some sort of overcompensation on my left side because the muscles are weaker or something. It could also be due to the fact that I pretty much always hold her on my right side, because it feels way more natural. Regardless, I know I would be way worse off without this nursing pillow that my mother-in-law got for me. It has a handy extra attachment that props her up closer to the boob on whatever side she’s feeding on, and allows her to feed in a semi-reclined position, which is better for us when she’s choking on my overactive letdown. She’s already pretty much too big for the football hold to be at all comfortable. (As a side note to this, a comfortable nursing chair/seat/whatever is a must. I can’t make recommendations because we’ve had this big cushiony armchair for a very long time, and got it secondhand from a friend in college anyway. But I’ve set it up with the right pillow support for my back, with a hanging organizer on the arm to hold a kleenex box, burp cloths, a book, etc. The ottoman is great, too, because when she’s done nursing I can put my feet up and she dozes on the nursing pillow on my lap while I watch Netflix or whatever.)

Baby K’tan Carrier: I’m only just starting to use mine, since I was worried about her feet being right at the level of my c-section incision, but I already really like it. We had to order one in a larger size for my husband, because he also enjoys wearing her. It’s a great way to bond, but it’s also just more calming for her, I think. She still isn’t super happy about being out in the world, so she likes to be close to people whenever possible.

Other things we’ve learned in the first few weeks:

-Periodic Breathing in Newborns. Look it up. Trust me, you will want to know about this before you notice it in your own baby.

-The Gerber clothes run slightly smaller than the Carter ones, so she outgrew the Gerber newborns first, and now has outgrown the Carter ones. Hand-me-downs are fantastic, as we haven’t had to buy a single article of clothing for her ourselves just yet. And people just keep buying her clothes, so I’m assuming we won’t have to buy her any clothes ourselves until after the first year or so.

-Huggies wipes tear pretty easily when pulling them out. The Costco Kirkland brand wipes are great, though. The Pampers ones work well, too. Amazon Elements wipes tear like the Huggies ones.

-Huggies diapers have elastic in the back, which helps protect against blowouts from that direction (but you still get some, because, babies). Pampers doesn’t have the elastic in the back, and we got way more blowouts when we were using those.

-The Amazon registry was a good idea, especially because old coworkers and family members sometimes got us Amazon gift cards instead of items from the registry. We ended up with a sizable gift balance, and have been using it to cover diapers and wipes, which with our Prime subscription are cheaper and get delivered straight to the door in two days.

-Colic is a ridiculous term that basically means “you have a fussy baby and we don’t know why.” We’ve found that she generally makes sense—when she cries or fusses it’s because she’s hungry, has a dirty diaper, is gassy, needs to poop and is having trouble doing so, or is too cold or too hot. You run through the list of possibilities, and after addressing all of them she usually calms down. That will get more complicated as she gets older and starts hitting overstimulation while her brain is developing in leaps and bounds, but for right now it’s a comfort to know that caring for my baby can be a pretty logical process.

-If you have to live apart, as parents, due to jobs, invest in some IP video cameras. We got a couple from Amazon, and I think it’s really nice for my husband to be able to check up on us when he is down in LA for the week. We also like to talk to him on the phone in the evenings (I put him on speaker so that she can hear his voice), and he gets to see us while we do this, and it makes us feel the distance a little less.

-I really love my sister’s approach to “advice.” She told us as soon as we announced the pregnancy that she would try not to offer advice, but that she’d be available if we ever had questions. That’s been great. She hasn’t stepped on my toes once, and I’ve got this willing and knowledgeable source of information who just had a baby a year ago. It’s been 26 years since any of our parents had a baby, so their information can be a little bit outdated. And they won’t know everything, since not everyone breastfed, or used disposable diapers, or had a c-section, etc.

Life really does change a lot when you have a baby, but so far we’ve been in love, even on the rough days. I completely understand and respect anyone who chooses not to have children—that probably would have been my path as well, if my husband hadn’t always wanted a kid so badly. But we’re happy with our decision, and now that she’s here I’m very much in love, and excited for all the new adventures life will throw at us. Mostly I’m excited to get to know her, and see who she is. Her growing awareness and expressiveness every day is amazing to witness.