Saturday, March 28, 2009

emerging from the trenches


matthew propped up a few eames cards for leon since he was looking a bit bored with his crib. i'm so happy that leon can see things now, although that means we now have to work much harder to keep him amused.

so, it's been 5 weeks now since leon was born. a lot has happened, and yet a lot hasn't happened. the first 2 weeks were great. leon rarely cried or fussed. even though i was having a hard time breast-feeding (ouch), he was gaining weight like a pro. i had lost a lot of the baby weight immediately and was feeling confident that my body would bounce back in no time once my stitches healed.

our troubles began during week 3. the day after leon and i went to a post partum support group, he was inconsolable. all day long he fussed, grunting and whining. i couldn't leave his side and went nearly mad trying to figure out how to make him happier. the next day was better, but feedings became more difficult. he would eat for shorter periods (3-5 minutes), stop, and then commence screaming at my breast. i tried not to take it personally. it got so bad that i would try to force him on, and he would scream and push me away, which obviously isn't a good tactic on my part. at one point during the night i made matthew take him away from me because i was about to lose it.

ever since then, we have good feedings, and then we have really awful ones. often he will stop eating if he has a poopy diaper. after this happens, he starts screaming until we change it. he also will stop feeding and begin writhing violently while crying at least 4 times in a 24 hour period. i suspect that he's constipated, but i don't know how to make it better, so i rub his belly, burp him, and hope for the best.

oh yes. my life revolves around leon's digestive system.

a huge part of the problem is that leon and i are having a really hard time getting to know each other. i'm terrible at reading him, and well, he's just a baby, so i can't expect him to do much in return. when he turns bright red, i know he's about to start his high-pitched wail, so i scoop him up immediately and try to soothe him with a little bouncing. this doesn't always work. i check his diaper, offer him something to eat, and then bounce him some more. sometimes there's a diaper leakage issue, so i check for that, too.

leon feeds an average of 14 times a day, which equals 12-16 diaper changes. i thought things would get better after 4 weeks, but no such luck. after a feeding, it takes him about 20 minutes to settle. 30 minutes later, he's waking up again and preparing to feed. a diaper change and feeding later, the cycle begins again.

the pregnancy was easy. yes i was tired and nauseated, my joints ached, and i was intensely uncomfortable. but i was able to get work done through sheer determination.

the labor and delivery wasn't easy, but it was manageable. i have a high tolerance for pain, and knowing it would end within a day or so helped me get through it.

the past 5 weeks haven't been easy. i won't lie and say that all this hard work is worth is because i have an adorable baby. i don't know what anything's worth right now because i'm in the thick of things...and it's been very very hard on me. it would be great if matthew were home more to relieve me of a crying leon. my mother has been a huge help, especially when i was sick for a week with a low fever, chills, body aches, etc. unfortunately, she has been sick with a persistent, nasty cold for the past week, which means i've had to take care of her, leon, and the household chores. i know i can't get much of my own work done right now, but it would be nice to read an article once in awhile, just to remind myself of who i was and who i could become.

and yet, things are slowly getting better. leon sleeps more often in the bed with us, which helps with nighttime feedings. i'm also very careful not to force him during feedings. if he stops, that means something's the matter. so i burp him, check his diaper, and try to keep him in a calm state. i've begun jogging, which makes me feel ten times better during the rest of the day. i know i still have a long way to go before i feel like my body is back to normal, but just being able to go outside makes a huge difference.

i know i'll be in a much better place mentally and physically in a month or two, but that sense of perspective doesn't help me tremendously right now. it's difficult to go from grad student writing a dissertation to full-time parent. i would say that of everything that's going on right now, breast feeding is by far the most difficult thing i've ever done. i often think of quitting, but then i see how well he's growing and gaining weight, and that makes it hard for me to stop.

it will get better. it will get better. until then, every day is a challenge, every nap a small victory....

18 comments:

Lena said...

hi erica,
whew... hang in there! i'm sure you're doing everything right and a fantastic job. reading this makes me slight scared for having a baby in the future! it sounds like a tremendous amount of work, but there must be some relief around the corner for you... i hope! i'm sending a hug from brooklyn to you...

Lucys Place said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucys Place said...

Reading this sounds like you've been living at my house! For me, it was also from around week 3 when the fun started. At six weeks she has calmed down a lot. I think I can read Audrey far better than I could read Lucy. Sometimes I would look at Lucy and feel intimidated, like she was looking at me thinking 'what the hell are you doing?!'.

I'm not sure how you're nursing, and without sounding like a stuck record, if a baby gets too much of the watery foremilk they can get windy and poop a lot more. Also they wake sooner as there's not a lot of substance. You could try nursing on the same side for a few feeds? I'm no expert, but this was the case for Audrey at least. I'll try and find the piece I read that explained this far better than I have.

When I have exhausted all routes, and Audrey is still fussing (most often as she is overstimulated) I put her in her bassinet, walk away and let her cry madly for a few minutes. This seems to expend some of her built up tension and energy and allows me to settle her much more easily. It seems to work every time for me, though I've only done this a few times. It gives you a little break too.

And I've 'almost' lost it a number of times too. You are certainly not alone there. Thank goodness for two parent families!

A lady told me last week, you are guaranteed that no two days will be the same. On a bad day, this is probably the best thing you could hear!

Lucys Place said...

Back again..

I'd forgotten about crying to heal (which I geuss is what I alluded to in my third to last paragraph).

This talks about it:

http://www.natural-baby.com.au/flex/baby-and-toddler-crying/7783/reading-the-cues-how-to-respond-to-babys-cries.cfm

I think Audrey is quite a sensitive and delicate wee thing, so she probably does get overstimulated easily and does need a good cry. This paragraph in the above link stood out for me (sorry for the book-like posts):

***

A baby who is fussing and who has not cried in arms won’t fall asleep unless he has a control pattern to repress his feelings long enough for him to fall asleep. ; These control patterns include sucking his thumb or a dummy, clutching a blanket or soft toy, breast or bottle feeding for comfort, or being rocked, walked, bounced, jiggled, ; or driven in a car. ; These control patterns make the baby “spaced out” so that he temporarily relaxes enough to fall asleep. ;

However, if a baby is put to sleep this way, his feelings will emerge again soon, perhaps as he enters a state of light sleep, or if he is put down. ; Then he wakes up ready to release his stress. ; Parents usually then repeat the control pattern, which leads to frequent night waking as the baby continues to wake to release the tension held in his body.

***

erica said...

lena-
there are good moments, but it's been rough. every baby is different, and every day is different. all i can say is, make sure you have a secure support network for the first two months! thanks for the good thoughts...

catherine-
i've been working on feeding leon from the same side 2-3 times, and that seems to help calm him down. the thing that worries me the most is that he seems to have a hard time pooping sometimes (lots of grunting, tightening into a ball, red face, crying, etc.).

thanks for the link, though. what they describe sounds so much like leon. i will try holding him and letting him cry it out if he's clearly not hungry. he seems to have so much pent-up energy, he spends a lot of time pushing out his arms and legs and grunting. hopefully crying it out will help release some of that tension. phew!

Margaret said...

the first few months are the hardest in terms of breastfeeding. i literally dreamt about quitting. but here i am 10+ months later and still at it. it will get much easier at around 2 months or so, when you can start a more steady schedule of feeding every 3 hours or so (plus longer stretches at night...as long as he will go!). for me, having some sense of control of when the next feeding was coming made my day (and me) feel much more calm. and truly, the baby likes a routine too.
digestive issues are hard--they just keep coming up, especially when solids start. i keep reminding myself that it's a brand new digestive system and new sensations there are upsetting to the little baby!
try to get some breaks when you need it (for your sanity) but also remember to enjoy this stage...you may not look at it that way now, but you will look back on all the fumbling through and confusion with fondness in a few more months!

sarahkeith said...

Wow! Sorry to hear it's been so difficult...I'm hearing a lot of that lately from my new-parent friends. Hopefully there are some breast-feeding support groups or specialists nearby that can offer some advice/help. That must be very frustrating!

This time of year is tough anyway, even without a major life change. You're right when you say that things WILL get better! In a month or two the weather will be gorgeous, you will have a more reliable routine (and so will leon), and things will feel much much sunnier.
Until then, please DO take care of YOU!! I think it's excellent that you're already back to jogging. When your mom is feeling better, try to take an hour out of your day to read or go for a walk, or meet a friend for tea!
Best of luck to you,
sk

MrsEm said...

Our friends with a new baby swear by this book. Hang in there and don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm sure you've got friends nearby who would love to help deliver food or watch the baby for an hour.

Moya said...

I'm so sorry you are going through a tough time, Erica. I really don't know what to say as I have no experience of any of this, but I am thinking of you. I know--from my friends with babies--that this time is tough, but as you know, it passes pretty soon. He is adorable, you are looking good but I know that is small comfort right now. It will work out--I am still in awe of you and your ability to write a chapter while in labor. I can't even finish my introduction right now because I am wiped out from teaching and grading.

As SarahKeith mentioned, the spring/summer will also help make things better as the two of you get a chance to go out.

Meanwhile, we are all here for you. If I was nearer, I'd offer to babysit to give you something of a break.

erica said...

thanks for all the support, everyone. yesterday was a good day, lots of napping, minimal whining, today i've managed to put him in the sling, but i'm not sure how long the quiet will last.

it's particularly rough because i keep getting sick. and spring seems to be far away still... what i wouldn't give to see a few leaves on these barren trees!

on a positive note, leon is smiling more and more, which thrills me.

Stephanie said...

Yay for smiles!

I hope things pick up with the sunnier days ahead ... and that matthew (or someone) can watch the baby and let you be by yourself and read or do whatever you want for a while. It must be hard losing so much personal space - space to vent, to think, even the space to have your own body free of another's immediate needs and demands. It sounds completely overwhelming, but it also sounds like you are working things out.

Melinda said...

I feel for you - it's really hard when your not confident about if your doing the right thing or not. Stick at it with the breastfeeding if your able to - if its a sore windy tummy thats the problem then formula will probably make it worse, not better. The only things I can suggest are not giving him too much stimulation (even going for a walk is enough for a young baby), lots of burping or if he's really spilly maybe he has reflux. Hang in there - in a few weeks the 'really hard' bit will be over. Also, try not to eat any wind-inducing food (cabbage, brocolli, grapes etc). Hope this helps.

Melinda said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to add that wow, jogging already! That's incredible and I'm totally impressed. :)

goodlongwhile said...

Hi there. I just wanted to thank you for blogging about your experience. I'm thinking about starting a family in not too long and have found your perspective to be very helpful - whether it's about thoughtfully designed baby gear or the challenges of breastfeeding.

Best wishes! I hope this rough patch gets a lot easier for you very soon.

kate said...

hi erica,
i just wanted to say thanks for sharing your story. not having a baby, i imagine it can be difficult and stressful at times, and getting sick sure doesn't help. i appreciate your honesty and how candid you are. i wish i could give a big hug and make you a bowl of soup. and i'm glad to hear he's smiling more and more, maybe he's comforting you. :) all the best!

[J] said...

He's adorable!!

Lucys Place said...

I hope the happiness/mininal whining is continuing!

The last couple of days, rather than putting Audrey to sleep in a dimmed room (which I know is frowned upon, but sometimes I just NEED a break) I've been putting her to sleep in a bouncinette with the sun on her face. The brightness makes her shut her eyes and the warmth lulls her to sleep. It's worked for two days now, fingers crossed it doesn't wear off!

melissa k w said...

hey erica,
i know this is an old post, but i was wondering if you ever figured out why he would fuss at the breast and pull away:
"he also will stop feeding and begin writhing violently..."
i'm finding my 6-week-old baby does something similar now, not every feeding but a couple feedings a day. he'll usually only eat a few minutes, then pull off and cry and writhe like he's in pain. it's weird because he didn't used to do this. i've consulted a couple of books and they say it could be because of a bunch of different things. just wondering if you ever figured out what it was with leon.
thanks!!!
melissa