Cloth diapering our Baby Hab.: how we made the switch

September 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

When Melanie was born, Robert and I faced decisions we never before had considered. Will we puree our own food or buy prepackaged? Will we stick with breastfeeding or switch to the bottle? Will one of us stay at home or will we search for daycare? And, yes, what sort of diapers will we use?

We started with disposable because that is what the hospital used. We found them easy, convenient, and extremely quick. When Melanie was filling her diaper every 45 minutes, nearly just as quickly as I was filling her tummy, the disposables were a no-brainer. And those early breast-milk poops? Disposables. No-brainer. As her bodily rhythms started to clarify and regulate, our confidence increased. A friend of mine sent me some of her cloth diapers just to give a little try, zero pressure, and one day I bit the bullet. I actually felt nervous and scared and all of that. I don’t know what was scary, but I genuinely felt anxiety. (I found out that those anxious feelings are perfectly normal when embarking on the cloth diapering journey.) By the end of the day, my baby was still healthy and whole, sans diaper rash, plus adorable Hello Kitty butt. So, the next day, I tried it again. And before I knew it, I was noticing that those three diapers simply weren’t enough. Robert and I crunched the numbers and dove in.

Here is what I’ve learned about cloth diapering: practice makes perfect. The first time I tried to put a cloth diaper on Melanie, she peed all over it before I had closed it. So there goes that one. Just like disposables, when the baby pees on a clean diaper, you don’t just close it back up. I felt frustrated and discouraged because this happened a couple more times. But when I finally managed to get a cloth diaper on her (and she didn’t pee on it beforehand), I was overwhelmed by my sense of accomplishment. I had consulted my friend. I had conducted tons of research. I had purchased a tub of cloth-diaper safe diaper rash protectant. And there was my little girl: clad in a Hello Kitty diaper actually looking comfortable. Was I imagining it, or did she really look like she enjoyed the comfy feel of the soft diaper on her rear-end?

I have been wanting to write this blog for a while, but I wanted to be sure that my confidence was justified and that we had actually achieved a real rhythm before sharing my personal approach to cloth diapering with the world. So, now that I’m ready: here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Just like cooking, you need to have a mise en place.
Having a clear, organized set-up makes cloth diapering quick and easy. Granted, my set-up is not normally spread out on a blanket like this, but you get the point. (This is actually no different from disposable diapering–look at any nursery and you will see a designated diapering location complete with supplies near at hand.)

My cloth diapering mise en place–wet bin, baby wipes, butt balm, pre-fold cloth diaper, snappi, and pocket diaper. Everything’s in place. Wait…where’s the baby…?

2. Have a place for the wet diapers to go.
I found that by using a small-ish container for my wets (rather than, say, my Decor diaper pail) helps me keep the laundry going to avoid any unnecessary yuckiness. I also keep a baking soda tablet in the bottom of my basket, under the liner. I also do not keep dirty diapers in the basket. As soon as she poops in a cloth diaper, it is laundered along with any wets that may be ready for washing.

I bought a medium-sized plastic basket from Target and line it with a new garbage bag with each laundering.

3. Use the right kind of rash preventative.
Most “over-the-counter” diaper rash creams are off-limits for cloth diapers. If you check the ingredients and see any type of fish oil (for instance, Desitin uses cod liver oil), steer clear. Fish oils leach into the cloth diapers and make them smell fishy. Nasty. I have heard some cloth diapering mamas claim that they have never had to use any rash preventative, that cloth diapering miraculously prevents rashes on its own merits. Look. Diaper rash, like all rashes, is from an exposure to moisture and bacteria. You keep your baby in a wet diaper long enough, a rash will appear. Now what “long enough” means to your baby’s skin is really up to your baby’s skin. I prefer to prevent rash rather than have to try to cure it, so I have never diapered Melanie sans cream or balm.

I like Angel Baby Bottom Balm. It smells great and is easy to apply.

Angel Baby Bottom Balm is an amalgam of oils, so it naturally has an oily texture. I love it because Melanie’s bottom is always moisturized while simultaneously protected. She has never had diaper rash.

Angel Baby Bottom Balm may seem expensive at $9.95 for an ounce and $12.95 for two ounces. But I have found that I do not use as much balm as I do the creams, so I don’t go through the tub of balm as quickly. I also buy in bulk on Amazon.

4. Explore different diapering options.
When we were first cloth diapering, we did a combination of pre-fold diapering with pocket diapers. We simply did not use the liner insert with the pocket diaper when we were using the pre-folds. Now that she is older, we have moved on to using the liners only. The advantage of using the pre-fold with the pockets is that the pre-folds are surprisingly absorbent. This is particularly useful in the early days when there are several diaper changes in a day. Just change the pre-fold, and your little one can enjoy the adorable pocket diaper over a few diaper changes.

The snappi is particularly useful with the pre-fold. No more diaper pins!

Close-up of the snappi. See the reversed teeth? That’s the magic way it holds the diaper together while not hurting Baby.

5. If you go the pre-fold route, be sure that you know how to fold the diaper.
There are options in this arena, too. First of all, you can go really old school and use “flat fold” diapers. With the flat fold, you do have to learn how to fold the diaper several times over to create a thick enough barrier. Apparently there are women out there who can do this in a flash with enough practice. I chose to go with the “pre-folds” (Gerber, pack of 10) because they were less intimidating. These are pre-sewn so that the folding has been done for you with the layers focused in the center panel.

Pre-folds, just like flat folds, are generally meant to be “one size fits all.” Because of this, I found that Melanie needed the top folded down about an inch and a half. If you choose to go this route, just play around and go with what works for your little one.

The fold that was the best for us is called an “Angel Fold.” The Angel Fold makes gussets at the legs, which trap moisture so nicely. Before laying baby on top of the diaper, fold the edges in at an angle as shown. Place baby on top of diaper, bring center section up, and then open the outer corners to meet the back edges.

Angel Fold!

Super cute!

Secure with Snappi and off you go!

Note: if my instructions were lame and difficult to follow, see this extraordinarily helpful on-line guide to folding pre-fold diapers. This is where I learned my fold: Angel Fold. This woman also has some other folds listed here: Folding Pre-Folds. Practice different folds until you find the one that 1. you like best and 2. meets your baby’s unique potty needs.

6. Choose your diaper cover.
We love pocket diapers, but there are many many cloth diapers out there to choose from. Ours are Sunbaby Pocket diapers, size 2. We chose Sunbaby after an incredible tip from a cloth diapering friend of mine, as well as her generosity in letting us try out a few of hers before we made the financial commitment to a huge stash. (Thanks Vikki!) In fact, she has written a useful blog about cloth diapering, which is a must-read for anyone interested in going this route.

Sunbaby pocket diaper! The pocket is at the top and there are liners (with this company you can choose from a selection of liner types–we went with microfiber). The liners go inside the pocket. When we use the pre-fold, we skip the inner liner.

Sunbaby diapers, like many pocket diapers, have multiple snaps to allow for growth from 7-35 pounds!

All snapped up! Melanie was about three and a half months old in this picture, so she was on the smallest setting for her snaps.

The real reason we cloth diaper. Who can resist that adorable little rear-end?

7. Do what makes financial sense for your family.
Sunbaby pocket diapers can be purchased in bulk directly from the site or individually from sellers on Facebook. We went with new diapers (plus the three that we ended up buying from my friend after she let us try them out). We went with the set of 24 diapers and 24 inserts for $108. That comes to $4.50 for each diaper/insert pair. When there are other cloth diapers out there (I’m looking at you bumgenius) that cost upwards of $18 per single diaper, why would anyone go with a different company?? I know that $4.50 seems like a lot for a single diaper and liner pair, but we are saving tons of money on diapers every month. For the first two months before we cloth diapered Melanie, we were buying diapers every two weeks and spending between $150 and $200 on diapers a month. Why not just go ahead and spend the $108 upfront and then have the diapers all the time?

Of course, when it comes to cloth diapering, laundering becomes a major concern. I have paid close attention to our water bill over the past four months of cloth diapering, and this is what I’m seeing.

The second real reason we cloth diaper. This is our water bill from October 2011 (before Melanie was born) until this past billing cycle in August 2012.

In November 2011, before Melanie was born, our city increased our bill from $42.10 to $46. There was a newsletter that accompanied this change–it might have been to accommodate increase in pay for trash pick-up? I can’t remember. Anyway, that explains the spike in our water bill. From November 2011 (before Melanie was born, remember) until last month’s bill, our expense has consistently been $46. We started cloth diapering part-time in April, full-time in May. We have seen no change in the amount of money we are spending in water. Laundering is another obstacle to tackle in cloth diapering, so I will handle that in a different post so that I can spend the necessary time and attention on it.

8. Cloth diapering is a communal experience.
While disposable diapering is often treated like a private practice, cloth diapering requires opening and expanding horizons to include other cloth diaperers. The other cloth diapering parents out there come with advice, experience, and even gently-used hand-me-downs! I don’t know where I would be without my friend Vikki and all of her resources. Probably down several hundred dollars at least. So, type in “cloth diapering tips” in Google, follow the links that other people point to, watch videos on YouTube of people reviewing different types of cloth diapers, leave inquiring comments on people’s blogs and message boards. If I have discovered one crucial point about cloth diapering mamas, it is that they are eager to inform the uninitiated. Of course, you will trip over some of the militant crazies on your research journey, but try not to let the extremists scare you away. Their passion and zeal can be explained by their utter joy at finding what works for their family.

9. Parent according to your own personal style.
Everyone has something to say and add and opine over when it comes to parenting. I tell all new parents, given the utter expertise that I have earned in…seven…months. (*cough*) Anyway, what I tell new parents is that you have to allow yourself to do the best you can do. That does not mean perfection. It means always be ready to forgive yourself and your partner (if you are fortunate enough to have one), and remember that babies come with a fairly steep learning curve. You aren’t expected to know everything all at once. You can’t know everything all at once!

That said, when you are interested in exploring other options for your family, remember that there are all kinds of happy mediums. If you choose to cloth diaper, for instance, there is no rule that you have to cloth diaper for every situation for the rest of your life. We cloth diaper about 75% of the time, and I consider that full-time. When we are at home, Melanie is in a cloth diaper. Except at night, when she is in a disposable. Our diaper bags are stocked with disposable diapers because they take up less space. If there is a diaper change when we are out and about, we put Melanie in a disposable and bag up the cloth diaper in a deodorized trash bag. When we travel to other people’s homes, particularly if there is an overnight stay during our visit, we use disposables. My philosophy is that I refuse to impose upon someone else my personal choices. That means that I prefer not to use extra water and laundry supplies (detergents, etc.) when I have the ability to put Mel in a disposable instead. While we awaited our massive package of diapers from Sunbaby, I had three cloth diapers–so I alternated those throughout the day. If I didn’t feel like doing a load for the next day, then she was in disposables that day.

Bottom line: do what works for you.

10. Practice, practice, practice.
Whatever you do, approach diapering with patience. There are so many options, so many ways that you can interpret your child’s needs and preferences, that you have to allow yourself the time and space to learn. I was anxious and frustrated for the first couple of times that I put a cloth diaper on Melanie. But I promised myself that I would try it for a week. If I still hated it after a week, then I would send the diapers back to my friend. After the first week, I decided to give it a try for the rest of the month. If after the month I hated it, then I would return the diapers. I never hated it. The first couple of days were hard; I won’t lie. But they were hard in the way that all new parenting challenges are hard–the actual act of diapering wasn’t really that difficult. I just had to give myself the chance to learn.

Hopefully the next post I write will be about laundering cloth diapers. And hopefully that post won’t be too long in coming.


From the Other Side of the Desk: the online edition

August 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

For the past three semesters, I have been fortunate enough to teach Composition II online. If you are wondering how that works, join the club–I’m the president and founder. Over a year ago, I shook my head at the idea–how in the world can anyone teach someone to write college-level essays online?

Well, I have learned and adapted, and I am proud to say that some of my students have actually learned something.

And some of them haven’t.

Teaching online presents itself with some unique issues…but really, they aren’t that unusual.

Issue #1: student expectations versus reality
Many, but not all, of my online students seem to expect that if they take a composition course online, then the class will be easier than if it were in the classroom. I guess they reason, “well, how exactly are you supposed to learn how to write an essay over the computer?” In one of my final assignments of the semester, I ask students to write a self-evaluation of their experience in the course. And inevitably I read astonishment in those assignments: “I had no idea it would be this hard,” “I’m from another major university and thought I would take this class at this college online because it would be easier…and I was wrong,” “I really had to change my priorities and focus on this class.”

Issue #2: methods of communication
As with most major colleges and universities these days, e-mail is the official form of communication. This is particularly true for online classes. How else are we expected to reach one another? This past summer, I had a student who, for several weeks, claimed he had never received a response to his e-mails…it turned out that he had forgotten how to log in to the e-mail system. I am not sure how he managed to send the e-mails (perhaps through a different system?), but at any rate, he never did read my responses. Until he e-mailed me two weeks before the drop deadline from a different e-mail address. To his shock, he was failing the class. He was shocked because he had not received any of his graded papers from me. He was failing because he never incorporated my comments or took my advice to improve upon his argument…and he never did those things because he never saw them. I now have a handout on my course website that explains what to do in the event that a student can’t access his or her school e-mail account.

Issue #3: methods of educating
Handouts. And PowerPoint presentations. But mostly handouts. I write handouts for everything. And when I figure some images will be useful, I play with Photoshop and insert images into my handouts. (For instance, I am trying a new-to-me method of uploading essays through a plagiarism-scanning software. I took screen shots of the process for my students so that they cannot tell me that they do not know how to do it.) In addition to handouts and PowerPoint presentations, I e-mail my students once a week with lengthy announcements. They have writing assignments due every single week (either so-called Checkpoint activities or research essays); this is my way of taking attendance as well as keeping track of their development as a writer. The weekly assignments are not random–they are specifically designed either to help them reflect on their reading homework for the week, or to prepare them for the next research paper that is due. In many cases, the Checkpoint actually serves as either a brainstorming exercise or even as a drafting exercise. Finally, when I read their research papers, I write comments throughout. This is the only way I can reach out to a specific student and address his or her specific issues–unless that student seeks me out and e-mails me, of course. I can only hope that my students read my comments and apply them to the next assignment.

Issue #4: teacher expectations versus reality
The ideal online student would log-in to the course webpage on the first day of class and print off every document that is loaded there. That student would read every word, e-mail me frequently, and pay special attention to my comments. The ideal student would be so motivated that s/he would be able to complete assignments without any trouble at all, realizing that my course is not going to be “easy” simply by virtue of it taking place in an online format. The reality often demonstrates the dichotomous pair to my idealized student. In reality, I have students who don’t even see the link to my handouts that I have worked so diligently to create, in spite of my instructions for them to refer to those handouts. In reality, I have students who don’t really care that this class has the exact same standards as the on-campus class (by state requirement). In reality, I have students who couldn’t be bothered even to write a full e-mail to me when they need to reach me (it is shockingly common for students to compose e-mails without subject lines, without a greeting, and without a signature–like a text message).

But I press on anyway because teaching is teaching is teaching. And my responsibility is to provide the information in order for them to attempt to learn it, just like in the classroom.

When I first started my online teaching experience, I was grateful for the opportunity to teach for my college while also staying at home with my newborn. Now, I am grateful for the experience because it has led me to understand one truism: no teacher can control how much or how little a student learns. It is a waste of my time worrying day and night over a student who doesn’t seem to pay attention in class, or who willfully ignores my lessons. I didn’t use to believe this–I used to think I could educate anyone. I have learned through my online courses that the only thing I can really control is the material I present to them. It is up to my students to read it and to ask questions when they are confused.

This realization is both liberating and terrifying. Who wants to admit that she has no control over the outcome of her career’s goals?

But I suppose that’s the beauty in goals. They are just the elements we aim for. Goals are not promises.

The end…always the end…

August 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Excuse me while I go a little…melancholy? I’ve got Gotye stuck in my head for some reason. Melanie went to bed a few hours ago. Robert, a couple of hours ago. And me? Well, I have insomnia. I received my final comments for my conclusion, and I thought I would work on them while I struggled to find sleep. And instead? Hello, WordPress.

There’s this folder in my hard drive. And it is called “Graduate School.”

In this folder is another folder labeled PhD, and in PhD (among all sorts of other things) is a folder labeled “Dissertation–hard drive.”

I go through phases, opening and closing all the folders you see in this image. Opening and closing all the files within those folders. Each chapter in its fourth (and final?) draft, excepting the conclusion…of course. Sigh.

I look at these icons, these reminders of a program I can’t seem to shake, and I feel. I feel so many things that I stay awake at night, feeling. It’s annoying. I sound like a hormonal high schooler. (And I should know…I was one once…half a lifetime ago. And that’s no exaggeration.)

I am so eager never to open those folders again, never to stare down “Socio-Religious Commentaries–full draft 4” or “Shakespeare Chapter–full draft 4,” dreading what I might find when I open them. Will it be as bad as I remember? Will I want to move forward, knowing that in the year since I last looked at those files my ideas have morphed and shifted in such stunning ways that I can’t even remember my central argument anymore?

There is another folder on my computer. One labeled “Melanie Lynn.” It contains the hundreds (nigh-on thousands) of photos I have taken of her since February 16th. This is the folder I instinctively open when I open my laptop–this is the one I could get lost in for hours.

I resent the one labeled “Graduate School.” It gets in the way of “Melanie Lynn.” Why isn’t “Graduate School” a distant, if it can’t be a fond, memory? I feel like a junkie hooked on a habit she desperately wants to kick…but depends on. When I think about no longer opening “Graduate School,” no longer needing to, my mind goes blank. What will that be like? Will I miss it? Will I forget that folder existed? Will I feel the urge to drag it to the trash bin, do away with it in one fell swoop?

No…I’m not that dramatic. There’s a spark of ego in me yet. There’s a bit of pride in all those drafts, all that work, all that quantifiable effort.

I’ve said it before, so believe what you’d like, but I think this is the semester. In a few months’ time, I may never open “Graduate School” again.

…never say never, though, right?

And now a word about Mommy

August 13, 2012 § 2 Comments

As you may have noticed, my life has become a bit baby-centric in the past (almost) six months. For the first two and a half months, I struggled with feeling like I mattered at all–it seemed clear to me then that my existence was only useful for as far as I could extend myself to meet Melanie’s needs. Was she hungry? Call Mommy. Did she seem tired? Call Mommy. Was she wet? Call Mommy. (This assessment, on its face, is not fair–obviously, Robert played a massive role and still does. He has changed just as many diapers as I have; he has rocked her to sleep just as many times as I have. But, from my own perspective, I felt like I had no other use on this planet except to tend to Melanie.) I did not develop clinical postpartum depression, but I did experience the baby blues. A lot of new mommies do, and I had to eventually feel comfortable with the fact that I felt so sad and lonely.

That said, even though I was sacrificing myself (my personal interests, time with friends, my health goals, work on my dissertation), and even though I did experience some low moments because of that sacrifice, this has been an experience unlike any other. If I were given the choice not to make those sacrifices, I would not hesitate in the least at rejecting that choice. Melanie is a gift, and I am every day made aware of the preciousness of that gift.

After the first two and a half months, I felt like the clouds began to part. Melanie could smile back, which reassured me and made me feel like maybe I did matter beyond the ability to meet her basic needs. Now she can play with us, and she really is starting to enjoy spending time with us. She prefers some people over others (family members and friends we see with some regularity versus strangers), and she is starting to show elements of her strong-natured personality. (My mom has recommended I read The Strong-Willed Child, which she apparently read cover-to-cover when I was a little girl. She told me this weekend that she thought Melanie would take after her mommy…I couldn’t be more proud. This world needs strong-willed girls, even if they are challenging for their parents.) Best of all, Melanie can nap independently now. We are also working on solids–she has had rice cereal (blech), zucchini (meh), green peas (ugh), oatmeal cereal (blech), green beans (where have you been my whole life??), and (as of today) squash (alleluia!!). As with all new moms, I do believe the solids are helping her nap and sleep longer, but we established a sleeping schedule independently of her introduction to solids.

(Hey wait, isn’t this supposed to be about me??)

As Melanie has become more confident and comfortable with her place in this family, and as we have become more confident and comfortable with her, our lives have gotten substantially better.

Case in point: tomorrow, my committee will be receiving the revisions for all chapters (excluding the conclusion).

I received comments from my committee between June and July for all chapters (excluding the conclusion), and I have been able to slowly and systematically work on revisions as Melanie naps or plays. Robert has had a major hand in this because he has been able to take care of Melanie and offer me a few hours here and there to work. This past week, Robert had a break between his summer and fall semesters, so instead of spending that week with each other (which we desperately wanted to do), he took me to the university library each morning, dropped me off with my lunch and a pout (on my face), and picked me up in the evening when I texted him that I was at my limit and couldn’t take it anymore. He withstood moments of desperation, despair, and depression; as well as moments of guarded joy, relief, and pride. While in the library, I did the best I could, taking each chapter, each comment, as it came–I started with the small stuff first, letting my mind mull over the larger changes. It felt like gardening–I had to clear away the brambles and brush before I could plant the nice big trees.

This morning, as Melanie dozed away the early hours (she is now typically waking up around 8/8:30 instead of 6/6:30–thanks solids!), I finished the last paragraph that needed my attention (the introduction to chapter three). Just as she began to stir and fuss, I printed off a copy of the introduction and four chapters for my committee member who has vision problems; he will receive his copy tomorrow, so I will send electronic versions to my other two committee members at that point as well.

As for my conclusion, the reason it has stagnated is not my fault, I swear! 😉 I drafted my conclusion at the end of May, and then I promptly sent it to my director. I am still waiting to hear from her; although I know that my peers would be really upset by this lack of attention, I am a bit relieved because it gave me time to focus on the revisions from my earlier chapters. If I don’t hear from my director after tomorrow’s electronic delivery of new chapter drafts, I will get in touch with her again and ask her what I need to change about the conclusion. We’ll see what she says. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but there are some whispers that the defense might actually be doable now. I sure hope it is…I feel like I can’t take another semester of this.

So, as my baby continues to nap, and while I am on borrowed time, I am going to close this post here and get moving on some housework.

I am so grateful that my baby is doing this well and that she and Robert have been instrumental in my recent success.

Baby Hab.: Months Three, Four, and Five in Review

August 7, 2012 § 4 Comments

I am quite a bit behind on this update, but it is not without reason. We have had a very busy few months with our Baby Hab. Robert is rocking our little one in preparation for bed. I have been out of the house for most of the past 48 hours, working doggedly in the library against Mother Nature’s better efforts to convince me to do otherwise. Today, for instance, the deluge began the moment Robert and I walked out the door, toting Melanie in her car seat. Robert dropped me off at the library, despite my every nerve twitching to just stay home, curl up with my cuddly baby in a blanket, and watch the Olympics. Once I trudged to the front door of the library, I found myself temporarily locked out–the power had just gone out. A magnanimous librarian opened the door for this drowned rat, and I soon found myself a table illuminated by an emergency light. I worked there for over an hour until the power came on and I could go to the graduate study room. The rain eventually stopped, the oppressive heat relented, and I emerged six hours later with a very nearly complete and revised dissertation. I hope to get the fully revised dissertation to my committee in the next week or so.

I am working on borrowed time, however; in fact, I have been attempting to write and rewrite this entry for three months. There is quite a lot of ground to cover, but I will unfortunately have to satisfy you with a swift rundown of our experiences, development, and accomplishments.

Month Three

Week Nine
–Melanie mimics facial expressions, makes eye contact, and smiles really big. There is obvious improvement every single day.
–She is baptized on April 21st at the same church her aunt and uncle (and godparents) were married. Of course…I got tearful.
–We try out using cloth diapers for the first time, thanks to our friend V.Dub and her generosity in letting us use some of her diapers, which we ultimately purchased because we loved them so much. (More on cloth diapering and our decision to do that later.)

Melanie smiles all the time, even if it’s not quite on command yet.

Week Ten
–She meets another playmate for the very first time; this playmate is literally 7 days younger than Melanie, which is really special. They were born in the same hospital, too!
–She has her 2-month doctor’s appointment, which most new mommies recognize as the dreaded vaccination appointment. Robert went with us, and he held Melanie while I averted my eyes. I felt like I was going to cry with her when she cried. But she really did great and didn’t catch wise to what was going on until the last two shots. We’re very proud of her.
–Melanie finds her hands and notices her fingers for the first time. She turned them over and over in front of her face and flexed her fingers. As the days progressed, she started to “share” her fingers with us by extending her arms toward our faces, too.
–Melanie makes eye contact and smiles from across the room; she starts to try to laugh when she smiles.
–She begins to babble and blow raspberries. She loves babbling to her hands the very most and gets so much delight from when Robert or I blow raspberries back to her.

She has discovered that her hands are good for many things, including self-soothing (sucking on her fingers), reaching for and grabbing at objects (even hair and glasses), and blocking her face when she doesn’t want her picture taken anymore.

Week Eleven
–Melanie laughs for the very first time while Robert holds her; he was talking about his day at work, and Mel just let out a great big laugh.
–Melanie’s aunt graduates from Pharmacy school as a Doctor of Pharmacy. Melanie attends graduation and sleeps peacefully the entire time–we were so proud of both my sister and Melanie that day!
–Robert’s mom babysits for us so that Robert and I could go out on a date. We saw The Avengers and went out to dinner.

Kissing on these feet has become one of my favorite new hobbies. She curls her toes so sweetly over my upper lip every time I kiss those sweet feet!

Week Twelve
–Melanie goes on her second trip to her grandma and grandpa who live out of town. Our car ride was incredibly eventful, complete with a blow-out poopy diaper (disposable, not cloth), and needing to pull over so she could nurse in a parking lot. It took us 4 hours for what used to be a 2-hour trip.
–She meets my oldest childhood friend; we grew up together as next-door neighbors and have known each other since I was 5 and she was 4. My parents, Robert, and I take Melanie on a walk in a local park.
–We celebrated my very first Mother’s Day. Melanie gave me a beautiful Willow Tree figurine, and Robert gave me several awesome macro filters and lens attachments. I might have gotten a little bit tearful when I read the cards from them.
–Melanie tries to roll over from her back to front and gets about 3/4 of the way there. Her bottom arm is always extended and therefore acts as a kickstand preventing her from making the full flip to her tummy.

Month Four

Week Thirteen
–Melanie meets my dissertation director for the first time at a lunch meeting we have with her. Melanie was very well behaved and was happy to let my professor hold her while I ate.
–Melanie finds her feet with her hands–now she loves grabbing on to them. She’ll be sucking those toes soon enough!
–Melanie goes to the lake with me, Robert, and his parents for the first time. We will not have any outdoor or water play for a while, but she enjoyed sitting on the screened-in porch with us and rocking.
–She starts to “stand” with assistance on our laps, and she looks so very proud of herself when she does it
–Robert and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary

Thinking really hard about how she will one day stand on her own. (I look forward to seeing more of this thoughtful face as she gets older.)

Week Fourteen
–Robert’s mom babysits again for us so that Robert and I could enjoy a nice anniversary dinner out.
–Melanie goes to the lake for a second time and meets even more of Robert’s family; again, no outdoor or water activities for her yet.
–I try to get Melanie to start napping independently in her bedroom. She’s not so keen on it. Neither am I.

Her smile brightens my whole day. It is so kind, sincere, and loving. I such peace and confidence when she smiles at me.

Week Fifteen
–Robert is away for the weekend, leaving me alone with Melanie for more than a single day for the first time. I take her to a local park for walks and photo shoots.
–We celebrate Robert’s birthday by going to his office to have lunch with him. Melanie is extremely well behaved and lets the waitresses hold onto her while Robert and I ate at this teeny little cafe. Only in the country, folks. Only in the country.

Strike a pose and vogue, baby!

Week Sixteen
–We go to my parents’ house, and Melanie actually sleeps for the entire two-hour drive, which is encouraging. She did so well that we were able to arrive with very little incident at all.
–Melanie rolls over for the first time. First, she rolls from tummy to back and cries because she bumps her little noggin on the (carpeted) floor. It was a little bit of a surprise to her; she just happened to push with one of her arms, and there she went! Twenty minutes later, she flipped over from her back to her tummy. This was a less traumatic roll.
–She notices the animals and smiles at them. Just before she turns 4 months old, she actually pets Beatrice for several minutes while Bea-Bea attempts to nap on my lap. Beatrice was very well-behaved and patient with Melanie’s not-so-gentle petting.

Demonstrating how she has mastered tummy time–she holds herself up much better now, which facilitates the whole rolling over thing.

Month Five

Week Seventeen
–We celebrate Father’s Day on June 17th by going to the park for a Daddy-Daughter photo shoot with Mommy! Both of my subjects were adorable, particularly Melanie who looked perfect in her little “1st Father’s Day” onesie. The onesie was a surprise for Daddy–I dressed her that morning and presented her to him while he opened his gifts. After the photo shoot, we went to brunch at one of our favorite new local restaurants. Then we came home and just relaxed and napped for the rest of the afternoon. I think he was pretty happy with his whole day. 🙂
–Melanie and Annie have become pretty good friends–now when Annie licks on Melly, she just laughs and laughs. Mommy tries to shove the dog away, but it doesn’t bother Melanie one bit.

Can you believe how grown I am already?

Week Eighteen
–Melanie has her 4-month appointment and booster shot visit. She fell asleep during our doctor’s appointment, and had to be woken up for the shots. It was a cruel thing to wake up for. 😦 My heart broke a little bit while we held her down on the table, but being able to comfort her afterward was comforting to me, too.
–The pediatrician gives us the green light to introduce Melanie to solids, starting with rice cereal. She has her very first rice cereal on June 25th. She doesn’t like it very much, but she did a good job while I presented the spoon to her. Apparently in the beginning, it isn’t as important that they get calories from the little bit of rice cereal they manage to swallow. Instead, the goal is to teach them how to take food off a spoon and to get used to new textures in their mouth.

I’m just such a happy girl!

Week Nineteen
–For the first week of July, we went on a road trip to visit V and her husband. It was a long drive, so we broke up the travel days into two legs, stopping halfway on the fourth of July. We went to a local park to take in their celebration. It was over 100 degrees, so we only stayed a little over an hour and a half. Melanie started to cry, even though we were doing our best to keep her comfortable. It was just too oppressive. After walking around the park a little bit and enjoying the music while we there, we took our cue from the baby and left before the fireworks started. We went to a local restaurant instead, and then we went back to our hotel to watch the Macy’s fireworks display on television. The heat made us all three pass out before our normal bedtime, but we needed it. Melanie surprised us by sleeping comfortably in her travel cradle through the whole night.

My mommy is so funny!

Week Twenty
–We were with V and her husband for three and a half days, and it was a much needed visit. Melanie loved meeting her Aunt V for the first time, and we had a great time watching V’s husband and brothers play basketball in their local league. It was Melanie’s first sporting event and she did awesome! She actually watched the action of the game, moving her head back and forth to watch the ball.
–Melanie became even more adept at rolling over from her tummy to her back, this time controlling her neck so that she didn’t bump her noggin on the landing.
–When we got back home after our trip, we introduced Melanie to her very first veggie–zucchini puree, made by Mommy in the Baby Bullet! She likes it so much better than the rice cereal. We feed her a little bit of the solids twice a day–zucchini at lunch and rice cereal before bed. She still nurses (or has formula, depending if we are out in public or not) for her primary nutrition, but she is starting to really get a handle on this spoon-feeding thing!
–Melanie is also improving on her independent napping schedule (so am I). We are much more consistent, and I think that has been helping. She has been able to consistently take long naps (90 minutes or longer) in her crib after lunch for a couple of days now.
–On the day she turned five months old, Melanie and I were sitting on the floor together. Next thing I knew, she went from sitting like a froggy (with her hands on the floor between her legs) to just sitting up! She did start to lean over and landed back on me after several moments, but we are so proud that she’s reached this milestone. It really feels like she has met a bunch of milestones in rapid succession lately!

She practically looks like she wants to hop, doesn’t she?

As Melanie reached her fifth month on July 17th, I came to realize that we had really started to find our rhythm as a family. I know there will be more challenges along the way, but these past couple of weeks in particular have been some of the best I have ever experienced. Melanie is a joy, a gift, and a blessing. I can only hope that one day she will feel the same about herself.

Baby Hab.: Month Two in Review

May 1, 2012 § 12 Comments

Robert holds our ten-week old miracle in both arms, one of his hands wrapped around both of hers. She gazes deep into his eyes, occasionally thrusting her tongue out in an attempt to mimic his mouth while he talks to me. She loves these moments with her daddy, and secretly so do I. It is one thing to see one’s boyfriend as a fiancé. Then, it is another thing to see him as a husband, waiting in anticipation for his bride to make it down the aisle. But to see that man as a father is just as miraculous as the little life we created together eleven months ago.

Mommy went a little wild with the outfit this month: hot pink stripes plus a black and white polka dot tutu!

Before we get to Melanie’s incredible development, here is a quick list of my experiences in Month Two:

1. Lost an additional four pounds. As of March 29th, I was down a total of 33 pounds just a little over two months after my baby was born. That’s six pounds over the total weight I gained. Funny enough, though, I am not sure I feel proud of this accomplishment because I am still scared that one day my milk will just dry up. It’s an irrational fear, but it’s a fear nonetheless. I am insecure about the new shape my body has taken. The shape my body was before my belly swelled seems to have migrated back toward my rear so that now I have extra padding on my ass in addition to a deflated belly. I can wear my prepregnancy clothing, but I don’t feel happy with the way I look in it.

Despite the crazy wardrobe choice, Melanie is all smiles!

2. Mel comes with me to Mass for the first time. I took Melanie to Mass on Palm Sunday, March 25th. She slept on my shoulder the entire time. I am not sure she even knew what happened by the time we got back in the car. She has been to Mass with me and Robert every week since; sometimes her aunt and uncle come, too. Some Sundays are better than others (there was a particularly terrible Sunday when she pooped all over Robert right at the beginning of Mass).

Melanie is growing out of her newborn features and really coming into her infant ones. I think I'm happy about that....

3. Confidence fluctuations. Throughout the second month, I experienced a jagged climb in my confidence levels. Some days were better than others, but overall my confidence had improved between weeks five and eight. I think the one activity I grew most confident in was bathing her. Losing the umbilical stem was extremely helpful with that, too, because I could finally give her a bath in her infant tub.

Melanie is beginning to stir from her evening nap, so I’m officially on borrowed time. Here is a brief list of Melanie’s accomplishments and developmental milestones throughout this month…plus pictures!

Week Five
–Melanie plays and smiles on activity mat; Annie the Nanny stands guard (3.18.12)
–Makes eye contact and smiles on purpose; pediatrician tells us her social skills are advanced because these behaviors develop on average in the seventh or eighth weeks (3.23.12)

Melanie started to play independently after I bought her a bright pink activity mat. It plays music as well as funny sounds--Mel loves musical toys!

I call this her "for the love of God, woman, stop taking pictures and pay attention to your baby" look.

Week Six
–Develops the “tired” cry
–Tries to push up on arms when she’s on her belly, particularly when we are holding her

Week Seven
–Visits Daddy’s office (4.6.12)
–Has her very first Easter (4.8.12)

Look what the Easter Bunny brought Melanie for her first Easter! A duck, a lamb, and a pinwheel! Don't tell Ducky, but Melanie loves Lambie the very best.

Sebastian, my sister's Shih Tzu, cuddles close as Melanie gets her bottle on Easter Sunday.

Week Eight
–Begins to mimic facial expressions and derives great delight from a successful mime (especially sticking out her tongue)
–Practices laughing in her sleep

It is so difficult to believe that Melanie is nearly three months old by the time I’m writing her post about Month Two. Time is flying by, but we are soaking up every moment of every day.

As we start to see her personality develop, I just hope she will grow up to be as kind-hearted as she looks. Her smiles genuinely warm my heart and ease my insecurities.

Mind-Bending Physical Science: when what’s “natural” doesn’t come naturally

April 6, 2012 § 6 Comments

I didn’t go into labor.
My body didn’t produce ample milk for the first fifteen days of my baby’s life.

I want to preface this post by saying something that desperately needs to be said.

When I got pregnant, it was almost unfair. I took my last pill in March 2011, and we had a positive test by the beginning of June. Meanwhile, I had no fewer than four friends whose pregnancy journeys were far more arduous and painful. My pregnancy was textbook–I experienced the symptoms that I was “supposed” to experience; my baby’s heart rate was always perfect; she and I reached our gestational milestones right on cue. Although I deeply appreciated the gift of this amazingly perfect pregnancy, I struggled to fully embrace it, knowing that so many of my friends either had struggled or were currently suffering their own tragedies. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful. The principal emotion I feel on a daily basis (aside from all-consuming love for this little girl) is all-consuming gratitude. I am awestruck and in disbelief; surely it shouldn’t have been this easy.

And then the other shoe dropped.

The last two weeks of my pregnancy, I was fraught with confusion. I begged my friends who had recently had healthy babies to describe labor pains to me. “Was that a contraction?” was almost always on my lips. “Oh, you’ll know,” was their consistent reply. At each of my weekly prenatal appointments leading to my due date, the obstetric nurse asked me if I had felt any contractions. My mouth would twist in concentration. “I…don’t think so?” I would always ask. As if she would know better than I did. She would give me a bewildered look, at which I would respond (completely flustered from embarrassment), “…I mean…I guess I would know, huh?” When she would arch her eyebrow at me, I hurried a tacked-on explanation, “that’swhateveryonesaysanyway.”

But, as it turns out, I would never know what labor feels like.

On the morning when I was to be induced, my labor and delivery nurse announced, after watching the monitor, “Oh! You’re contracting.” I literally felt nothing. Not so much as a twinge. “…I am?” “Well,” she admitted with a small smile. “It’s not a very big contraction.”

That morning, while Robert and I deliberated our willingness to have a C-section (when I so desperately wanted to at least attempt a vaginal delivery) and while we awaited news from my obstetrician about the necessity for the surgery, I felt like a failure. I put on a brave face because my mother-in-law was present a good deal of the time, but when I was permitted to sneak away to the bathroom, I would allow myself a few tears.

What was wrong with me? How could I have a textbook conception and a textbook pregnancy end without labor? Why had my body suddenly failed me?

My body clearly knew how to make a baby and grow a baby…but it didn’t seem to know how to have a baby.

As you all know by now, the C-section was inevitable. Melanie never descended into my pelvis. Although her head was there, the rest of her body had not engaged–her feet were still firmly lodged in my ribcage moments before they prepped me for surgery.

While we were still in the hospital, for the 48 hours after surgery, I remained hopeful. I was riding high on the hormonal rush of having just had a baby (not to mention I was utterly in love with this little girl from the second I heard her first “a-wah!”). Because Melanie had a good latch and a strong pull on my breast, the nursing staff focused their attention primarily on my post-operative healing. We just didn’t worry about the breastfeeding. I was assured time and again that the milk would arrive three to four days after birth. I was confident I would awaken the next Monday morning in the discomfort that all the mothers I had spoken to had described.

That Monday came and went. My baby was over a pound underweight. I wept in the car in the hospital parking deck while Melanie dozed in the carseat. Robert held my hand and reassured me that I wasn’t the crap mother that I felt like.

All I could think was that my body had failed me.

In all the books, on all the websites, according to everyone a pregnant woman will speak to, labor and lactation are the most natural results of pregnancy. The female body is designed to deliver the life it has spent 40 weeks growing. The female body is designed to produce milk in order to feed that little life. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

Except it might not be.

Just like it might not be the most natural thing in the world for women to get pregnant, we should likewise not assume that all women will naturally go into labor at the end of their pregnancies. Or that they will lactate (either on time or ever).

I felt like my body was suddenly defective.

It had misrepresented itself to me for 40 weeks. It lied to me.

“Don’t worry about it,” my body claimed. “I got this baby thing down!”

Except it didn’t.

It is possible, assuming we are able to get pregnant again and depending upon how my obstetrician feels about it, that I will never experience a vaginal delivery. VBACs (vaginal birth after c-section) are not always recommended or performed. Some obstetricians will see that their patient had a C-section with a previous pregnancy and will refuse to even allow her to attempt a VBAC. This was particularly common at least thirty years ago (it happened to my mother-in-law), but I haven’t brought myself to ask my own obstetrician how she feels about VBACs. I can’t live with the answer to that question right now because it might be “no.” I want to live in hope for a little while longer.

I struggled with extreme disappointment in my body. I was angry. I was desperate. On the Monday when we learned that Melanie was over a pound underweight, I fell apart. When she cried, so very hungry, I began to nurse her and suddenly began sobbing. When I sobbed, my incision hurt unlike any pain I had experienced at that point. I gave Melanie to Robert just for a moment, just to allow me to catch my breath so that I could stop sobbing and gain some control. “I can’t feed her when I’m like this,” I cried hysterically. Robert instructed me to go to our bedroom to lay flat for just a moment, reasoning that it would help me to calm down. While I was doing that, his mother came over to try to help us. It was bad timing. Melanie was screeching, and I couldn’t catch a breath that didn’t hurt.

That was the worst day.

I felt trapped by this horribly incompetent body. This body that had lied on its resume. This body that had led me to believe it was capable. I couldn’t escape the feeling of raw openness in my abdomen. I couldn’t force the milk to come. I was stuck, and in the meantime my poor baby screamed for her mother’s milk.

For fifteen days, I wanted to remain optimistic. I didn’t want to complain because there were others who were in far more horrifying circumstances than mine. Friends of mine who would have given anything to have my problems.

But my problems were horrifying in their own right. And the more I tried to ignore them, reject them in the face of others’ suffering, the more the problems ate away at my confidence and my joy. I was desperately afraid of slipping into postpartum depression (having struggled with depression in my past and therefore being susceptible to it), so every day I begged Robert for a pep talk. Every day I took deep breaths and just forced myself to feed Melanie what I could. We had to supplement with formula, and all the books recommended that someone else give her the bottle so as to avoid nipple confusion. I chose to call her supplements “dessert.” The word “supplement” seemed so judgmental in that moment. Only a lack is “supplemented.” And it was my lack, my fault, my shortcoming that needed supplementing. So, instead of receiving supplemental nutrition, my baby got a dessert bottle.

Robert was grateful for the dessert bottle in those early days. He said that he was grateful for the opportunity to bond with his daughter in a way that we had originally not planned on. So I tried to be grateful for the dessert bottle, too.

But I not-so-secretly resented it. I hated that bottle. It represented so much more than a choice between breast milk and formula to me. It was a slap in the face, a middle finger, to remind me that I failed; no matter what, I failed and it was beyond my control. While Robert fed Melanie her dessert bottle, I pumped for fifteen minutes on my double pump. I would cry in the midst of pumping, watching my baby gulp down the 1.5 ounces of formula like it was her life force. Despite being in the same room as my husband and baby, I felt so alone. Because I failed to feed my child properly, she had to be rescued by her father.

This went on for fifteen days.

On March 3rd, when I awoke to breasts that had softball-sized “rocks” in them, I cried for a different reason. I felt the relaxation and relief all the other mommies described the moment Melanie began to suckle. Robert gave Melanie another supplement, just in case, and for the first time she rejected it. My baby was finally full. Still engorged and tender, I pumped right after her half hour feed…and I produced four ounces. We froze that milk (a recommendation by all the experts), so when Melanie is sick for the first time, she’ll receive that antibody-rich bottle to help boost her immune system.

Melanie weighs 10 pounds 4 ounces, as of her last check-up on March 23rd.

My body finally managed to feed her so that she would grow.

But do not kid yourselves, my friends. And please be sensitive to the women in your life who may struggle with all stages of early parenthood.

Conception is not given to be natural.

Healthy gestation is not given to be natural.

Labor and childbirth are not given to be natural.

Lactation is not given to be natural.

In the case of postpartum depression, maternal bonding with the newborn is also not given to be natural.

In spite of the female body’s capacity and natural design to achieve these goals, an individual woman may experience it differently. We should also bear in mind that success or failure with one aspect of what comes “naturally” does not always predict success or failure with another aspect of what comes “naturally.”

We must forgive our bodies their shortcomings, whatever they may be.

We must forgive ourselves our emotional reactions to those shortcomings.

And we must push on in spite of it all.

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