almost 4 years ago

I was at a coworker's baby shower (she's due next month) the other day. Most of the attendees have children, but I'm the one who has most recently had one. Even as a 5-mo parent, there are already jokes that you can share with senior parents. You share about your birth experience, but only for the sake of a joke or if there's something unusual about it. I remember when, leading up to the day of birth, I thought of nothing but the birth. Now it's just a distant memory. I joke about how the first month I would not leave the baby for a second --- even taking her into the bathroom with me (which, by the way, my nanny does as well).

"But now?" I remember saying, "If I hear her screaming in the nursery, I'll be like 'Oh yeah she's still good. Let me do another load of laundry then.'"

Some changes are gradual. Both Ian and I are now adepts at diaper changing and eating with a baby sleeping in the carrier. Although occassionally we'll still need help.

And breastfeeding is actually now the easiest of all the things I have to do with her. I have nursed her everywhere: in coffee shops, at restaurants (sometimes while I eat too), in the park, in the car, on a plane, and once even while taking a Flying Trapeze class at Circus Center.

And while we're on this topic...

Nursing in Public

California is a really breastfeeding-friendly state. The state law actually states that you can pretty much breastfeed anywhere EXCEPT someone else's home, where you would need the homeowner's permission. This means coffee shops and restaurants can't bar you from just popping our your boobs and stuffing it in the baby's mouth.

Nursing in public, thus, becomes a matter of the mother's choice. I happen to be towards the "I don't give a damn if you see my nipples" end of things. I don't have a nursing cover. Most of the time I just pick a corner that is somewhat secluded and get the baby to latch on fast. At most I just wrap her swaddling blanket (this thing is seriously the best thing to own for an infant) around my neck to provide some coverage. I have never been looked at or commented on when I nursed in public.

Being able to breastfeed makes traveling a lot easier. When we drove down to Los Angeles when Josephine was 3 months, I only had to bring her change of clothes. I didn't bring my pump or her bottles. In her most recent trip, where we flew to San Diego, I did bring the pump and bottle, but that still didn't take up a lot of space in the luggage. I nursed her through the take off both times and she was sound asleep by the time we're in the air.

Speaking of the bottle...

The Long Road to getting her on the bottle

Josephine's relationship with the bottle can only be described as tumultous. To avoid nipple confusion, we didn't start her on the bottle (of breastmilk) until 5 weeks. We used the Avent Polypropylene bottles. She took it fine with the nanny and had no trouble. Then, around week 7 we went to Half Moon Bay on the weekend and she was exclusively breastfed. Come Monday the nanny couldn't get her to drink a sip and she would SCREAAAAAMMMM for hours without taking it.

She was rejecting the bottle. Full on.

We tried every trick the internet suggested. Changing the bottle to the famous Dr.Brown's; dream feed; holding her in a different position; walking around during feeding; put her on the breast then switch to bottle; feed when she's only a little hungry; feed when she's very hungry; warming up the milk to only lukewarm temperature; serving only fresh pumped breastmilk....

I cannot describe the frustration and anxiety that came with hearing her cry in the other room when the nanny was trying to get her on the bottle. I would hear screams for 10-15 minutes and then a frustrated nanny with a sobbing baby shows up, "Can you feed her please?" And this was my WFH (work from home) days. On days I go to work, I come home and ask the nanny how she was and she sighs "You know --- she fights with me --- she was screaming and screaming and screaming..."

You hear stories about babies rejecting the bottle. In the most dramatic cases, they tell you, the baby cries for 8 hours for the first day, drinking nothing; then the second day they cry for 8 hours and drink a little; third day, they take it all. That never was the case with Josephine, because on the second day, I worked from home and we never let her cry the full 8 hours.

At 3 months, we took her to Monterey, then LA. She had a full week of no bottle, just the boobs. When we came back on Monday, a thought came to me. While most bottle refusal tips tell you to start with a slow-flowing nipple, I thought Josephine might be actually wanting a faster flow because my let down is fast. I used the same Avent wide-neck bottle but switched to a size 2 nipple. It worked...for about 1-2 weeks. Then the screaming started again.

But then --- well, it was the holidays! For the last two weeks of December plus the first week of January, I had her all to myself. The nanny was on vacation; Ian was there but he was actually sick for a few days so I was truly a single parent for a while. And this is when I felt I truly started understanding her as a growing child...and myself as a parent.

What's in a routine?

In those last days of 2014, Josephine was turning 4 months. She was good on the growth chart, at about 50-75% on weight and probably less than that on height (well...I'm short). But everything else was chaos: she rejected the bottle; she wouldn't take the stroller; she hated car rides; she couldn't be put down to nap during the day. In other words, her ideal day would be to nurse on the breast and be carried at all times unless she's is playing.....right.

With no need to work and no other caretaker, I started looking into her daily routine. It was about time that I figure out what to provide her on a daily basis. I had been perusing some sample baby routines and understood that there is a lot of variation between them. Some parents set a very strict schedule on feeding and sleep (parent-led routine). Some are very loose and feed on demand (baby-led routine). Given the nature of her care (some days me, some days nanny, some days Ian), I knew that a strict routine was not going to work. I decided that I would only focus on two things: stretching her feeding to every 4 hours during the day, and getting her to nap 2-3 times a day.

Unlike me, Josephine gets cabin fever pretty easily (she got that from Ian; I can stay home for 3+ days without leaving). So I took her out on at least one walk every day. First with a front-facing carrier:

Then I started mix-n-matching with the stroller. I would first take her out in the front-facing carrier, walk a few blocks, then put her in the stroller --- FRONT-FACING. If she even started to fuss a little, I would pause and give her a toy to play with. I brought at least 4-5 toys to continously harass her.

I distinctly remember the first successful "stroller walk" we did during those weeks. I walked 2 blocks in the carrier. Then I put her in the stroller front-facing and started strolling towards the Mission. I gave her toys every time she fussed. We reached Natural Resources, where I took her out and changed her. Then I put her back in the stroller, this time back-facing, as she was looking a little drowsy.

This was her on that ride:

Then we walked up Valencia St for a few blocks to Aldea Ninos where I bought a toy for her. Again I took her out and let her play in their play area for a little bit. Then I put her back in the stroller back-facing again and started heading home. I think she slept a little on the way back. But the whole time, she only complained a little.

For that whole week, I did the stroller ride every afternoon. I remember one time Ian accompanied me on the stroller ride to the Mission. We went to Rosamunde for lunch. Ian held her as we waited for the order. Then at some point she started fussing. I suggested we put her in the stroller back-facing and I would stroll her around the block while Ian eats. As I strapped the crying baby into the stroller, Ian questioned the move. I picked up the stroller seat with her still crying in it, and turned it to face backwards. She fell asleep before I settled it back down. And remained asleep for the whole hour we were there eating.

I got her on the stroller.

It doesn't always work this beautifully, but at least now I have the option. I no longer need to put her backward facing or use the carrier first anymore. She goes in the stroller front facing from the get-go. Some days it goes so well I almost want to thank the heavens, like the day I strolled her to Starbucks, ordered a latte and used the bathroom, while she peacefully slept.

Not to mention she later woke up just in time for her first music class.

Concurrent with her stroller success, after we came back from San Diego, she started taking the bottle. Just like that --- well, with some effort on our end again. On one of my strolls to Natural Resources, I asked for bottle recommendations. They recommended two brands and three nipples, and I got ALL OF THEM (that's how desperate you get when you have a bottle-refusing baby). The first one I tried miraculously worked. It is the BornFree wide-neck glass bottle with a size-2 nipple. Ian started her on the bottle in San Diego and was mildly successful. Then when we came back and had to use two temporary nannies for a few days, both of them got her to drink without issue. In fact, according to Ian, she now wants the bottle.

Like most things with the baby, no idea if it was the bottle, the nipple, or she just opened up herself. But she will take the bottle now. I cannot express how much a relief that is. No more do I have to see thawed breastmilk being dumped into the sink because she wouldn't take it. And I can go to work without worrying that I will come home to a starving hangry baby.

Now the last thing would be daytime naps. It is still an ongoing process. So far, I have the highest success rate with getting her to nap in the crib. And even when I fail, I can nurse her to sleep in the bed. Ideally, you would just want to put her down and she sleeps...right? But if only that were my baby...

My baby is not your baby

I have come to realize just that. I have friends whose baby loved the swing and would sleep up to 5 hours in it. Not Josephine. I know babies who immediately zZZZZ when the car starts moving. Not Josephine. I've seen my friends' babies suck on the pacifier and quietly drift in and out of sleep while I chat with their moms in the mall. Not Josephine. The internet is full of moms with babies who slept through the night at 2 months. Not Josephine --- though she is close.

And the world is eager to give you advice, but they're not medicine, just advice. Like the Reddit mom who brilliantly summed up the ridiculous contradicting expert advice on getting your baby to sleep, I have learned to develop a thick skin and just say to myself: My baby is not your baby. Too bad Josephine does not take the pacifier or the swaddle or the car ride.

But is she happy?

The baby side of things

I like the ZeroToThree newletters that show a baby's development from both the parent and the baby's perspective. Like this 3-6 mo email.

I don't always remember to do so, but during the weeks I was building up her routine, I try to think what she feels. Is the stroller ride fun? She must like it now because front-facing gives her the ability to see things, yet she also feels safe enough to nap in it.

And play --- oh she loves to play! The nanny took this picture of her when she got on the swing the first time:

This baby loves to move. She learned to roll over from back to tummy on one side on the last day of 2014. Now, she can roll over on both side from back to tummy and tummy to back. And she started to "inch forward", by raising her hips high and kicking really hard.

Every day she gains a little new skill. And she needs less and less hand-holding. I can leave her on the play gym while I run around the house to do various housework and come back in 2-3 minutes to find her flipping around chewing on toys. In fact, I leave her in various locations to get stuff done.

Our morning routine

Our morning routine is quite consistent: she wakes up, I change her diaper, then put her in the play pen to give her a quick massage. Then I leave her in the play pen and go to the kitchen, where I let the cats out, start boiling water for tea and breakfast. I pick up the dirty clothes in the bathroom and put them in the laundry room and start a load of laundry. I go back to the play pen to retrieve her, strap her in the high chair while I make breakfast, feed the cats, clean the cat litter, and open the windows for ventilation. If she's not already fed, I feed her around this time, otherwise I take her back to the nursery and put her on the play mat to play, while I sip on some breakfast liquids, which is either sesame drink, mother's tea, or homemade soy milk. After that, either Ian is awake or the nanny is here, and I can go sit down at the kitchen table for some real breakfast foods and start working (or prepare to go to work).

The days are busy. But I found a way to make it work. And it was all mental.

Fake it, then it becomes real

San Diego wasn't an easy trip. I went there for work, to meet customers. The hotel was only 5 min walk away from the conference -- thank goodness -- but I was still running between meetings, feeding Josephine, and feeding ourselves. It wasn't great that she also woke up twice a night (as opposed to once) during those days.

When I came home from SD, I thought how miserable this crazy schedule was if I wanted to do it all: work, parenting, and circus.

Something's got to give.

And then it dawned on me. I can just pretend I'm doing really well. Yes, I got this from reading Lean In, but it took a full 5 months to truly digest the advice "stop wanting everything to be perfect".

I have never had to do this to myself. All my life I have strived to be better. It was strange to now say: that's good enough.

But I started to say to myself every night: congratulations, you made it through another day! You got some work done, you went to the circus, and the baby is still alive!

And strangely it works. Nothing changed physically. I still work fewer hours than I'd like to; I still wish I could exercise more; I still need to figure out why Josephine doesn't like to nap easily...

But I'm much, much less depressed than I used to be. It was all in my head.

As someone who is easily prone to depression (I now can see I had some pretty serious post-partum depression in month 2 and 3...), it's a constant battle. But well.....at least I've made it so far! That's good enough.

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