Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reduced Speed Ahead

When I was a teenager I was always eager to reach life's next milestone.  I couldn't wait to start dating, to learn how to drive, to go off to college.  My mother warned me, "Don't wish your life away."
Now, years later, I find myself heeding her advice.
I've spent the last six months wondering when my daughter will reach her next milestone. When will she sleep through the night? Roll over? Sit up unassisted? Crawl? Feed herself finger foods? Learn how to drive? Go off to college? 
When she was first born, just transitioning from the bassinet to the crib was a major accomplishment.
Now things seem to be moving pretty fast even for me, and I wonder if I've spent too much time worrying about the next step and not living in the moment.
Here are a few milestones I looked forward to, and why I find myself looking back at the good old days.

Major Milestone # 1: The End of the Swaddle
Ok, so who actually enjoys tying their baby up in a straight jacket because some book told you it's soothing? 
Doug and I did the swaddle thing for a few weeks and were seriously relieved when we finally gave in and let Mackenzie figure out on her own that she had arms and hands and that if she flailed them around she'd hit herself in the head. After liberating our daughter from the "baby burrito" we noticed that she actually started sleeping better and was generally more comfortable at night in her crib.  But for us, losing the swaddle meant losing some of the best parts of having a newborn.  More freedom from the snuggle hold meant more freedom in general, and once we stopped swaddling her, Mackenzie would curl up to us less and less and eventually stopped falling asleep on our chests on lazy Sunday afternoons.  
While she still craves affection and buries her head in the crook of our necks, there's nothing quite like falling asleep on the couch with a baby sprawled out on top of you. We definitely miss those days, even if it means that our little girl is growing up to be a healthy, active infant. Maybe this is why parents with older kids always want to hold your itsy, bitsy baby... they miss the closeness you have in the beginning and realize how quickly time flies. 
(Note to new moms: take as many swaddle blankets from the hospital as you can.  They're just as good as the Velcro ones you'll register for and will later serve as excellent dust cloths!  And don't stop with the blankets.  In fact, take as much as you can from the hospital.  It's not stealing if you're paying for it.  We came home with diapers, wipes, an aspirator, a bathing tub, disposable underwear, ice packs, several infant t-shirts, and a pile of blankets.  You'll thank me later when you get a mound of hospital bills for five pediatricians, an anesthesiologist, a newborn hearing test, and that extra grilled cheese you ordered from "room service".)

Major Milestone # 2: Tossing the Football Hold
Doug and I spent nearly five days in the maternity ward at Virginia Hospital Center learning how to care for our new daughter. 
Well... Doug spent nearly five days learning.
I spent nearly five days trying to recover from a C-section and eating as much vanilla pudding as I could possibly stuff into my mouth. 
Nevertheless, there were some wonderful nurses in the hospital to teach us how to burp a baby, change her diaper, and give her a proper sponge bath.  
There were also a million nurses, doctors, and lactation consultants to advise me how to breast feed the child I carried for nine ten months.
Well, you'd think that I was running for president and that all of these "advisers" were there to coach me on my first debate.  I had people coming into my room at all hours of the night telling me what I was doing wrong and making suggestions as to how to hold my baby so that she could latch properly.  
Guess what? When you're hopped up on pain medication and can't feel half your body it's pretty hard to get a spoon to your mouth (can I drink this pudding through a straw?), let alone get comfortable enough to coax a tired, hungry baby into sucking for the first time (it's a new thing for them, too).   
I had complete strangers coming in to prop pillows under my elbow, reach for my ta-tas, and push them into Mackenzie's mouth.  As if on cue, Mackenzie would abruptly fall asleep as soon as she latched on.  We'd then tickle her, put cold wash cloths on her cheeks, and sing songs in order to wake her up for a feeding.  Once she woke up, we'd continue a ridiculous routine that involved me, Doug, and the night nurse poking and prodding my lady parts trying to express a drop of colostrum into Mackenzie's mouth. 
My favorite was a portly lactation consultant who resorted to grabbing her own boobs to show me how it's done.  Thanks to her, Doug will never again be the same. 
Our best feedings in the hospital took place when it was just the three of us, with Doug and I so overtired that the squeaky wheels on Mackenzie's bassinet were enough to send us into fits of laughter.  I was relaxed -- albeit on morphine -- and my daughter sensed my calm and knew she could eat in peace.
The football hold lasted as long as we were in the maternity ward.  Once we were in the comfort of our own home, Mackenzie latched on as if it were second nature and I was able to hold her the way I wanted to... like a baby, cradling her against my stomach.  The only thing about letting go of the football hold was the fact that Mackenzie actually outgrew it pretty quickly anyway.  Soon after we took her home she started gaining the weight she'd lost in the hospital.  It became relatively impossible to rest her head in the palm of my hand and let her little body balance on my forearm.  A week later, she no longer fit into the newborn onesies Doug had bought for her at the store.  When I packed them up in storage containers a few months ago I could barely remember how fragile she felt in my arms those first few days, and how good it felt to be needed as her protector.  She's still little, and will always need protecting, but it's just not the same.  Looking back, part of me wishes I had brushed aside the feelings of frustration and embraced the fact that my daughter was so tiny and delicate and new to the world... that she was every bit as frustrated as I was, and that the football hold was only a snapshot in our long life together. 
(Note to new moms: how many times have you held a football? How many times have you held a baby doll or a real, live baby? You do the math... there's something sketchy going on here.  I don't know about you, but nine times out of ten I'd hand off to Octomom before handing off to Brett Favre.)

Major Milestone # 3: Rolling Over:
So, I was super psyched when Mackenzie started rolling over.  She's mobile!!! She actually likes "tummy time" now!!! She's strong!!! And she looks so cute!!!
Um... not so much. 
Once your baby learns to roll over, your life is over.
Pretty soon he'll start rolling over in the middle of the night, waking himself up and completely freaking himself out.
Then he'll roll over, push the toy he was playing with a foot away from himself, and you'll have to go running after it. 
Then your child will roll over, spit up, and bury his face in it...
You get the picture. 
Motionless baby = peace.
Moving baby = destruction.
(Note to new moms: if your baby is waking himself up in the middle of the night because he's learned a new trick, you're going to have to let him deal with it.  After awhile he'll get used to the fact that he has a greater range of motion and chances are he'll sleep better on his tummy anyway.)

Major Milestone # 4: Starting Solids:
I was bursting with excitement about starting solid food when Mackenzie was four months old.  The doctor, however, told me to wait until she was six months since she was "clearly thriving" on breast milk alone (that's a nice way of saying, "you've got a chubby baby.")
My mother gave Mackenzie her first taste of freedom: raw banana mashed up with a little bit of milk.  I watched my daughter devour the new food, delighted by both the sweet taste of the fruit and the rubbery texture of the Gerber starter spoon. 
But I soon realized that solids were a messy game.  I immediately started complaining that Mackenzie had banana in her hair, a rash on her chin, and a diaper that smelled and looked so foul I thought I'd vomit (motherhood isn't for the weak, my friends).
I never thought anything could be as nasty as baby banana poops, but I've quickly learned that sweet potato poops will win hands down in a fight. 
So, while it's comforting to know that Mackenzie's palate is progressing, I'm realizing that there's nothing as easy as breast feeding your baby and calling it a day.  It requires no utensils, no mixing, no heating up, no clean up.  When babies spit up breast milk it doesn't smell or stain.  Ditto for their poop.  By the way, I'm told I'm in for a real treat when Mackenzie starts eating pureed peas and spits them across the room. 
(Note to new moms: even if you're dead set on making your own baby food, keep some of the jarred stuff in your pantry as back up.  If your food processor breaks or you don't have time to whip up a batch of string beans and cauliflower you'll still have something to give your kid when she's craving something other than milk or formula.)

Major Milestone # 5: Sleeping Through the Night
OK, Maybe there's something wrong with me, but could it be possible that I'm actually more tired now that Mackenzie sleeps through the night? (I know I'm jinxing myself here, I JUST KNOW IT!)
When you have a newborn who has her days and nights mixed up you're a worthless piece of crap for the first two weeks of your baby's life because you're not sleeping AT ALL.  But your body quickly adapts to the lack of sleep and you get into a rhythm despite the changes going on in your house.  When you finally catch up on all those Zs I'm convinced your body goes into shock and you actually begin to crave more sleep than you need.  So... while I don't long for the days when I was getting up every two hours for a feeding, I do yearn for a time when I feel 100%, fully refreshed for a change.  Maybe when Mackenzie is 18 I'll finally feel like my old self again.  On the other hand, I'm sure by then I'll be waiting up for her to call me and tell me she's arrived back in her dorm room safe and sound.
(Note to new moms: disregard everything I just said and be thankful your baby is sleeping through the night!)

Major Milestones # 6, 7, and 8: Crawling, Walking, Talking
Naturally, I'm still waiting for these changes to take place.  But I look forward to the day when Mackenzie can crawl off some of that baby fat she's accumulated all these months, walk next to me holding my hand, and tell me what's wrong so that I don't have to keep wondering whether it's constipation, teething, or hunger.  But really, who am I kidding? Once she's mobile and starts to crawl, my house will turn into a complete disaster area and I'll have to baby-proof the heck out every visible nook and cranny. When she's old enough to walk she'll be getting into all kinds of trouble that I'm not remotely prepared for.  And when she can finally talk I'm sure I'll really be in over my head.  Because at first I'll love the fact that she can call me Mama and tell me she loves me.  But after awhile talking will turn into talking back and then I'll really be missing the days when we'd swaddle her up, tuck her into our arms, and whisper that we loved her, all the while knowing that she loved us too and didn't want or need anything more than her Mommy and Daddy.

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