Sunday, 30 September 2012

Parenthood: every day's a little the same, a little different

As we approach six weeks of parenthood, we are seeing more signs of Oliver's personhood. It is a tremendous pleasure to watch his face respond, his eyes follow, his lips curl into a smile, and it's nice to think that we are a part of that progress. He is happy, as far as I can tell, and we're happy, too, especially when he's calm!

What else is Oliver doing? He's paying much closer attention to things around him than before, and I think he's starting to see beyond his immediate surroundings. He's holding his head up very well—"almost too well", according to one source! (I'll return to that later.) He's much happier to lie by himself for periods, looking at whatever we place nearby, which allows us to do things like use the bathroom or make tea. He seems to be gaining control over his limbs; he still flails about, but he also makes clearly coordinated motions, like stretching both arms at once. He sometimes turns his head towards familiar voices. He definitely follows faces with his eyes. He's starting to get his hands in his mouth more consistently.

God, it fills my heart to look at this magical creature, this helpless little human who holds all the power in the world.

In occasional spare moments, I think of what it means to be a parent. There is so much advice, much of it conflicting, and it is difficult to imagine how a person can feel at all confident in the early days of parenthood. I think the general goal of parenting is to raise a child who can navigate the ways of life independently yet in cooperation with others. Specifically however, that means teaching not just about the timeless ways of people and relationships, but also the contemporary ways and relations of society today: what it means to live now. I suppose a strong education in the former will generally improve the chances of understanding the latter. But these are thoughts for another day.

We are still dealing with the immediate concerns of improving Oliver's latch and, thereby, our ability to cope. To that end, on the recommendation of our lactation consultant, Lynda, we took Oliver on Friday to see an osteopath for craniosacral therapy. Lynda suggested that due to the long labour and efforts of birth, Oliver might have a tight jaw, which prevents him from opening his mouth wide enough to patch properly. It seemed plausible enough, especially since nothing else was working. We were certainly willing to give it a shot—at least as long as my insurance covered it!

Somehow we made it out to the Footprints clinic in Fairview for ten o'clock, and the therapist, Tema Stein, was very friendly and helpful and told us everything she was doing, and she was quite good at reading Oliver. The treatment involves very light pressure at various points on the head. She seemed to release his jaw somewhat and open up his latch, but as with everything we've tried, it has been difficult in the ensuing days. Still, it was the most promising thing we've seen, I think. We have another appointment next week, and we have high hopes.

It was Tema who said that Oliver is holding his head up almost too well. She suggested that some tension throughout his body is lifting his diaphragms, keeping his back and neck excessively straight, preventing him from arching his back (i.e., relaxing), and perhaps contributing to his difficulty latching. The jaw and back tension are related, so the treatment should improve both. Oliver was definitely more relaxed than usual for the rest of Friday.

Tema also mentioned the Dunstan baby language, and showed us how Oliver was saying he needed to burp. We had looked at (and attempted to use) the Dunstan method when Oliver was about two weeks old, but then promptly forgot about it in our early desperation. According to Priscilla Dunstan, babies use five universal sounds to communicate hunger, gas (upper and lower), discomfort, and sleepiness. The sounds aren't language per se, but rather vocal expressions of bodily states. It's pretty remarkable, but requires the parent to listen calmly and carefully, even when the baby seems to be in distress. We weren't really ready for that at two weeks!


My knees hurt from the bouncing.

I don't know how I missed this before, but last week I noticed (and marvelled at) the power of the sun to bleach stained diapers. I was stunned when I started pulling the diapers off the clothesline, no doubt in part because as I was hanging them, I thought to myself just how bad they looked and wondered what I would do to whiten them.

If anyone cares to know, I spend about an hour every two or three days cleaning diapers. Usually, I have to handwash the diaper covers every other day. (But only because I'm too cheap to buy more!)

Wow, I was tired last week. I think I caught a bug, but managed to beat it before it took hold. I don't care what studies say, I find Cold FX almost always works to prevent illness. Read on..!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Parenthood: five weeks (and a day)

After a busy week, a busy weekend, and then a return to something like normal. Plus: smiles!

On Saturday, our friends Ben and Annick, who eloped the day Oliver was born, visited and were lucky enough to actually see (and hold) the boy. That is, he wasn't sleeping in confinement, which is often the case when people visit. It is terrific to see friends again and laugh and catch up a bit. We need it! Danijela and I have both felt fairly isolated since the birth, trying to get used to the new normal and avoiding most external interruptions to the anti-routine. I at least have got out to pick up groceries and other necessities. We have gone out for walks and had the occasional visitor, but not much, and the end of summer is an especially bad time to be stuck inside. Anyway, Ben and Annick brought some remnants of that summer sunshine, and I hope Oliver passed one some of his own light.

Danijela's parents followed (overlapped, really) for a brief visit before taking in some Toronto culture. They would return the next day to celebrate Danijela's mum's birthday.

Oliver was still having trouble latching, and his sleep that night was not what we are used to, but he was fine the next day. It's Danijela and I who are most bothered by the interruptions!

On Sunday, Danijela had the first of a series of mothering classes, recommended by our doula, so she would be away mid-afternoon for a few hours. Our friend and slightly less-recent mother Keira is taking the course with Danijela, so we arranged that her husband Joe and their daughter Evelyn would come to ours for the afternoon and have a daddy daycare. We all had lunch together—well, I bounced with Oliver while everyone else ate, then I ate—and Danijela and Keira took the TTC downtown. I'm pretty excited for Danijela. I think she could use the activity and the company and some different perspective that it's not easy to get from close friends or family.

Meanwhile, Joe and I tried to talk dad stuff without being interrupted, but we were unknowingly in the middle of a bit of an emergency: Oliver's swing was failing! It was acting erratically and wouldn't stay on, so I was having trouble getting Oliver to stay asleep, besides changing his diaper a bunch of times. Evelyn was fine—amazing actually—and gives me great hope for Oliver in a couple of months. She was wide-eyed, but entertained, not upset. She can sit up, sort of, and control her arms, sort of. She talks to herself and others, and puts things in her mouth. She responds to all kinds of cues. She wanted to be near her daddy, of course, but she could sit or lie by herself for periods without Joe worrying about meltdowns! What a pleasure. She did have a tired meltdown later on in the afternoon, but she is still a baby after all. Oliver was fine but for the fact that I couldn't put him down for any length of time, which is not unusual. I bottle-fed him in the mid-afternoon and he did sleep some, but mostly on my shoulder while we walked about the house. I did manage to throw one load of laundry in to wash, a surprisingly difficult task sometimes.

Then the moms returned and Danijela's parents, sister, and brother-in-law arrived. After Keira and Joe left, we passed Oliver around while the others ate dinner, and the men drank, we had cake, and finally Oliver slept, and everyone left. Alone again, with baby. One of these nights, we tried to watch This is Spinal Tap, but couldn't quite finish. We watch movies in two parts now. Sunday night was interrupted more often than usual, too, but Monday morning, I took Oliver upstairs and we hung out for a couple of hours while Danijela got much-(desperately-)needed sleep.

My big task for Monday was to diagnose the swing's condition and correct it, if possible. Danijela thought it was batteries. I was skeptical, since the people we bought it from said they replaced them only once over a couple of years, and we've only had it for less than a month. I suspected corrosion, which we had noticed when we first brought it home. I was just hopeful there was something we could do about it! I was right. There was moisture in the battery compartment, which we must have failed to eliminate when we first set the thing up. Some of the contacts had corroded, but remarkably not beyond repair. The setup is quite simple, too, and I could remove, clean, and replace some of the bits, even the battery contacts. Now it's back in working condition, and dry with the help of the hair dryer, although there is a bit of shock-absorbent sponge in there that doesn't seem to want to dry.

I finished up with the swing just in time to put Oliver to sleep in it, before our friends Finlay and Justyna dropped by with cheese, sausage, and fresh bread. This felt like more people in three days than we saw in a month. And despite not being able to show off Oliver, it was a pleasure to sit and chat with friends, even if there was light despair in our voices and fatigue in our eyes.

And somehow that night, I found time to bake a pumpkin pie with some frozen pie filling from last year, as well as round two of cherry tomato paste, with a few additional frozen tomatoes also from last year. However, I didn't know that the pie filling was the unseasoned and unsweetened type, so the finished pie was a bit of a bland surprise! In case this happens to you, though, all is not lost. You can mix up all the seasonings with the sugar and spread the mixture on top of the pie, and by the next day it will have soaked into the pumpkin—pie saved!

Since our new normal involves frequent trips to the breastfeeding clinic, that's what we did Tuesday (the day I started this post) for another follow-up. Despite nursing better over the past couple of days, Oliver showed no dramatic signs or intention of improving his latch, so the consultant suggested using a lactation aid to help fill him up. That means putting one end of a fine tube into a bottle of expressed milk and the other end in his mouth when he's nursing to increase the amount of milk he takes in and fill him up. It seems to work pretty well, but it is more labour-intensive than our previous efforts, involving both of us rather than just Danijela, and it doesn't take any less time than without! But it's a temporary measure while we attempt to increase Danijela's milk supply via herbs and a drug called domperidon. It all feels a little bit crazy, no doubt in part because of our new-parent state of mind. If I understand correctly, babies become much more efficient at breastfeeding as they grow, taking much less time and eating less often, but it's no surprise to me that many—most—mothers choose not to continue after a few weeks, since it sure can be a figurative and literal pain early on.

Anyway, things feel good. After the clinic, we drove downtown to pick some processed film for Danijela, grabbed lunch at Sense Appeal (cheap and delicious) where we ran into another friend, and walked to St. Andrew's Playground where we ate lunch in the warm September air. I had to amble around as I ate to keep Oliver asleep, and then amble some more as Danijela went for a quick shop. It was a treat to be out and about, to take in some of the city before the leaves and weather turn. Especially now as the city is on constant renewal. Too, I am used to travelling all around town and seeing what there is to see, although, not so much in the past year.

Well, now it's Wednesday, and I wanted to post this yesterday, and I'd love to take a nap, so I'll finish up.


In the five days from one appointment to the next, Oliver gained 170 grams (six ounces), and now weighs 4.68 kilos (ten pounds, five ounces), so still no worries about whether he's getting enough to eat.

Did I mention smiles? On the weekend, Oliver gave us his first big smiles, as well as lots of new (i.e., non-crying) talk. It really is a whole different thing now, and I'll gush about his beautiful newness when I'm more awake!

I don't think Danijela will agree, but I think Oliver is becoming somewhat predictable. Either we or he are settling into our roles and routines. Of course, I fully expect that to change completely now that I've said it.

More later! Read on..!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Parenthood: day thirty-two

Well well, we've had a fair amount of excitement since Oliver passed the four week mark, and I have alternated between being too busy and too lazy to document it all.

On Tuesday, we had a routine visit with the midwife, which was truly routine. She weighed him—nine pounds, fifteen ounces (4.51 kilos)—and answered some questions and then we were done. We said our goodbyes, since our final appointment in two weeks will be with our other midwife. The midwife care has been a great experience overall. They were very helpful and accommodating throughout the pregnancy, and they made several house visits in the first week after Oliver was born.

On the other hand, we've visited the Better Breastfeeding Clinic three times now, and the consultants we've seen there—one doctor and one nurse—have been a little surprised at what the midwives have omitted in their recent care. The clinicians have paid much more attention to his thrush and diaper rash, as well as a couple of other things that slip my mind at the moment, even though these things are not explicitly within their purview. But that's what doctors do, I think. They fuss a lot more about details. The important thing is that Oliver is healthy and has been healthy. And it was the midwife who recommended the breastfeeding clinic in the first place.

Regardless, I'm very happy that we had midwives, and we would certainly do so again.

So, on Wednesday, we had our first follow-up visit at the breastfeeding clinic. The doctor saw some improvement in Oliver's latch, but his feedings were still taking quite a long time and he was still doing a lot of fussing and causing Danijela pain, which was making things difficult for everyone.

While I've talked mostly about Oliver's sleeping and crying, it's feeding that has caused the most problems, and I think it is probably the main source of his other troubles. You might think that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, since it's (well, was) fundamental to the survival of the human race, but it is not easy. In fact, it's probably the most difficult aspect of parenthood we've faced. A baby who doesn't latch properly will have trouble filling his stomach in a reasonable period of time. A baby who doesn't fill his stomach at a feeding will likely be cranky and not sleep properly, and it may be very difficult to determine the cause of the trouble. Indeed, it may be very difficult to determine the cause of a poor latch, let alone what to do about it. Not only that, improper latches can be painful for nursing mothers and make feedings excessively long. What a system, nature! We've experienced all of this with Oliver; hence our visits to the clinic, as well as another one at Toronto East General. Adding to the difficulty, Oliver is growing perfectly well and voiding regularly, so we have no reason to think that he's not getting enough milk.

I guess I only mentioned briefly our first visit to the clinic before. Well, at that meeting, the previous week, the doctor talked at us for an hour and a half and we left more confused than when we arrived. Despite the information overload, things did seem to improve afterward. The doctor offered more detail about the correct latch than we had previously, and some other reassurances. She also diagnosed his thrush; we already knew about the diaper rash.

Then she mentioned that Oliver might have a tongue tie, which neither Danijela nor I had heard of before, and suggested that releasing it might improve his latch. Surgery—yikes! A tongue tie occurs when the band of flesh anchoring the tongue to the bottom of the mouth (the frenulum) is too tight to allow free tongue movement. It's fairly common, which is a bit of an evolutionary mystery to me. Children generally grow out of it eventually, but it often interferes with breastfeeding. Releasing a tongue tie involves simply snipping the frenulum. There's little blood, and the baby goes straight to the breast afterward to eat, soothe, and heal. We weren't at all keen on the idea initially, but at our follow-up visit, we agreed that it would be a good idea at least to have the clinic's tongue-tie expert assess it and go from there. "Luckily", there was an appointment available the next day. It was all a bit of a rush and we are still hesitant to take him in the car, as he is unpredictable in his seat.

So, back we went on Thursday, to see another lactation consultant and the tongue-tie man. By this time, we'd already decided to go ahead with the tongue-tie release if the doctor recommended it. The risks are low, the potential benefits high, they could do the thing right there in the office, and the doc assured us he'd treated similar tongue ties many many times. We said yes—we are keen to try what we can to continue breastfeeding—and they did it. I had a brief moment of fear as they held Oliver down, opened his mouth, and inserted the scissors, but it was over before the fear set in (and before Danijela even realized), and there really was very little blood. He nursed immediately after, while the clinicians looked on and continued to fret over his latch.

Unfortunately, while the doctor was impressed with the release, the operation doesn't seem to have made any improvement yet. Indeed, Oliver seems to be having a little more difficulty latching since then, which one might expect with a completely different range of tongue motion. The lactation consultant has recommended craniosacral therapy for Oliver to relax his jaw and allow him to open his mouth wider, and we'll be trying that soon I guess—as long as the treatment is covered by my health insurance!

Let me leave it at that, and I'll probably forget to pick up the story between now and the next time. Read on..!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Parenthood: day twenty-seven

There is some triple-nap action happening in our house these days (Oliver, Danijela, Pippin), and it is making clear the limitations of our space. We have six and a half rooms (using Québec notation, and not including the cramped utility/tool room and laundry corridor). The nursery, where Oliver sleeps during the day, is off the kitchen and has a hollow door that might as well be a beaded curtain for all the sound it blocks. However, it is currently the darkest room in the house and will probably remain so. Our bedroom is in the basement, away from the general noise (but beside the laundry) but has no curtain, and Danijela doesn't like to nap there. So when it's nap time, which means at least Oliver is sleeping, possibly Danijela, and almost definitely the cat, we or I must be very, very quiet. You might not think that a problem, but I'm used to spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and it drastically limits what we can do during these periods. It's not like I've got a lot of time to cook when Oliver's awake!

It's clear that we did not consider the implications of locating the kid's room beside the kitchen, for the near or distant future. Only now am I thinking of what it will mean when, at any time in the next few years, we want to have guests after, you know, seven o'clock. Ha ha ha!

We could put Oliver down to nap in our bedroom, but that is a temporary solution, as eventually we'll want him to sleep in the nursery day and night. We could also switch bedrooms, but some of you will know that we already did that in preparation for baby time, and we would be loath to do it again, for a number of reasons. For one, we bought a bed that won't fit in the nursery! The current arrangement is definitely a far better use of space, in my opinion, but it does present challenges. I can only hope that a good new door will take care of the greatest of them. If you will indulge my home renovationist for  a moment, we had hoped to put a nice french door there, and maybe even open up the wall a bit, but I don't think that'll be happening now! Of course, pretty near all of our planned renovations are in doubt now—except the bathroom. That must happen!


Oliver has clearly grown heavier, and we'll find out just how much tomorrow at our four-week (!) midwife appointment, another trip into Kensington, hopefully with less rain than last time.

Tomorrow will be four weeks of parenting! We haven't dropped Oliver yet, although he occasionally seems intent on lurching from our grasp.

I am intent on making the most of this glorious late summer weather and spending lots of time outdoors, preferably away from our property. I would like to spend time in the garden, which I've sorely neglected, leaving it to the whiteflies. There are tomatoes to harvest and plants to prune—always—but there's also lots of other household/personal/baby stuff to do.

Such as:

Cleaning diapers! A friend asked the other day how I'm dealing with diaper stains. I said I'm not bothering, which seems to me the only reasonable course of action. But I didn't mention that we're using diaper covers that hide any stains. Know this: cloth diapers will stain. Since we're using diaper covers, the important thing is not necessarily to whiten the diapers themselves, but just to make sure we thoroughly clean and rinse them. When the diapers reach a stain level where we can no longer stand to look a them, I suppose I'll bleach them and rinse, rinse, rinse. However, we have some diapers made of unbleached organic cotton and I'd hate to treat them that way. Those I might boil, treat with some other stain remover, and hang in the sun. Heck, if that works, I'll do it to all of them. But for now, they've mostly got pale green blotches, and that's okay by me.

Reading (about babies)! Our doula recommended Your Baby & Child: from Birth to Age Five by Penelope Leach as her go-to baby book, and we took it out from the library last week. I've only just started reading it, but it's very reassuring.

More later. Gotta go hang some diapers while the sun is shining! Read on..!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Parenthood: day twenty-five

Lest anyone think that I'm having a bad time as a new father, I assure you I'm in love with my son and adjusting fairly well to my role as his dad. He is a beautiful boy, and I only pray I can do the right things to support him on his ascent to the stars. It is frustrating—often!—but that is the nature of challenge, particularly such a great one as parenthood. And the goal is one of the most important and rewarding: a happy child. I believe I'm up to it. Just, you know, I'm used to certain things, but now I can't have expectations of time.

So on to positive stuff!

Oliver is most like a person when he is holding his head up. Otherwise, he still seems to be little more than a living doll. He is certainly demonstrating development besides lifting his head though. Yesterday and today, when he awoke from a stint in the swing, I saw him sucking his thumb. I'm sure it is still accidental, but it's promising nonetheless. The swing seems good for this, because the shoulder straps keep his hands near his face and prevent them from flailing around too much. When we lay him on his front, he lifts his head, kicks and pushes, starting to make crawling motions. He's also starting to follow objects with his eyes and take a keen interest in patterns.

He also doesn't seem to complain as much about gastrointestinal activity, although at this point I don't want to suggest that I can predict anything about his behaviour! We tried gripe water a few times, and he liked it and it calmed him, but did it help him digest? I couldn't say. We haven't used it in a few days, and he hasn't made any of the grunting cries we associated with internal argy-bargy.


Only Oliver's head and back are still peeling, and only a little, and his thrush and diaper rash appear to be receding. I think my diaper cleaning practices have improved. Actually, I'm sure they have. I think I simply wasn't rinsing them enough. I've also been changing him more frequently. He went through all of his cloth diapers—almost thirty—in about a day and a half! He was eating a lot more that day, too; maybe a growth spurt.

His face is taking on shape, or so Danijela says. I think he still doesn't look much like either of us—although he resembles Danijela as a baby—but she says he looks like me, which I suppose is inevitable. This is one of the ways parenthood distorts time. It is possible, even easy, to try to imagine the future Oliver—what he'll look like, what he'll like, how he'll behave—but day-to-day it is happening almost maddeningly slow. Still, it will be only a few weeks before he is an entirely different baby.

I've all but given up on stretching. Our days will have to be quite different than they are for that to continue.

Danijela is working today, a longer day than last weekend. The day has been uneventful so far though. He's napped for three hours already. I can only guess that he'll awaken soon, but who knows! We'll be feeding Oliver with a cup for the first time, rather than a bottle, in the hopes of avoiding nipple confusion and interfering with his ability to breastfeed. My parents are here to help, but they have barely even seen the babe, as he's been in his nursery the whole time. I managed to get a lie-down, and I might manage to run out to grab some groceries, but not until after a change and a feed. Now with the luxury of a still moment, I have no idea what to do but continue to write.

Okay, I do have some chores that I might be able to finish quickly. So: more later! Read on..!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Parenthood: day twenty-four

It's one thing getting used to interrupted sleep. Sometimes I get a chunk of six hours, followed by another two or three (oh sweet nights). Sometimes I get four hours, then three, then two. Sometimes, I get two, two, two, and two. I'm dealing with this better than Danijela, I think. I generally function okay on limited sleep; it's really only the nights with several interruptions that really set up bad days for me. Of course, Danijela is actually getting less sleep than me, since while Oliver might wake us both in the night, she's the one who has to stay up to nurse him.

It's a whole other thing handling Oliver's interrupted daytime sleeping. When he naps regularly during the day, he's terrific; when he doesn't, he's trouble. He gets overtired and doesn't know what he wants; anything might set him off; he's never really comfortable, often inconsolable. And we're all miserable. Yesterday was one of those days. Nothing seems to go right; we feel trapped because he's demanding our attention; we can hardly eat or visit the bathroom; we certainly can't take naps ourselves! I didn't brush my teeth until four in the afternoon yesterday. (Usually I get to it by at least two.) We can't wait for those days to be over, and hope for the next one to be more calm.

(I've spoken too soon though. Today, he's been pretty good—he even had a good hour or so of grandma time—yet by four o'clock, I still hadn't brushed my teeth, to my recollection. I did, however, cook lunch and put all of his diapers in the wash. Big accomplishments!)

Looking back, besides general confusion, lack of sleep (on all fronts) pretty much defined the first two weeks of this little boy's life! It was hard to feel good about anything, even looking at his sweet face. But things have definitely improved—his sleep and ours. The difference is really amazing. When Oliver is rested, he takes things in stride. He won't kick and scream when we're changing his diaper; he'll wait longer to nurse; he won't complain about a few minutes of tummy-time; he's less likely to cry for no apparent reason; he's generally an agreeable little boy.

Still, getting him to sleep is almost always a challenge! Even when it's clear he's tired, he seems to want to keep his eyes open and look at things, or when he does fall asleep and we put him down, he wakes himself up with his flailing limbs. Sometimes, he'll pass out after (or while) eating, but he seldom gets so full that he's out for the long haul. Right now, it's my shoulder and continuous motion (walking, specifically) that do the trick, but even that is not a sure bet. The swing works, too, but still not consistently. Oof, just now, at nine-thirty, I'm doing all I can to get him to close his eyes.

Anyway, I think I'm repeating myself here. No notes today, I've got to get this kid to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow! Read on..!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Parenthood: day twenty

Almost three weeks! I'd like to say that time seems to be going quickly, but really it just seems like time no longer exists. There is only waking, baby, eating, baby, sleeping, baby, hygiene, and baby. Occasionally there are television, reading, appointments, guests, cat, bills, the outdoors, and this here blog. But time? None of that!

I am frequently reminded of the words of Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." I feel more that a little of Arthur Dent's disorientation that when he learns from Prefect that his world is about to be bulldozed. I could use a copy of the good guide, with its reassuring cover: "Don't panic!"

The lessons at the moment are that nothing works every time, and everything takes time. I suppose those are fairly good general life lessons, but they apply particularly well to babies—my Oliver at least. The swing calms only sometimes; the white noise pretty consistently; driving, well, faster seems better; Dr. Karp's five S's are a last resort, but even then, don't always do the trick; talking, sshing, rocking, cuddling, bouncing, patting, ignoring, walking, strolling, rubbing, changing positions, distracting, eliminating distractions, you get the picture. But also expecting any of these things to work after only a minute or two—or ten—is a big mistake. When Oliver is worked up, it's always over something, and unfortunately it's often the last thing we think of. It doesn't help that babies have a somewhat inefficient mode of communication. It's obvious that baby cries require action, but it's not at all clear what that action should be. But we're learning!

To use a terrible car metaphor (I've been driving everywhere), we're still learning to operate the parental transmission, and experiencing a few stalls. Indeed, I'd say we're still working in first gear. For example, I've had to get used to holding Oliver for ten, twenty, or thirty minutes at a time. Of course I enjoy this time with him, but it engages my complete attention and tires me, physically and sometimes mentally. I'm used to having much more freedom with my time, whether I used that time for anything worthwhile or not. When I'm tired (much more common now :) I become impatient more easily, and am more likely to feel frustrated or trapped if I can't seem to have a moment to myself. But this is life now. I love my boy, I'll do what I need to do, and I'm learning to slow down a little bit to appreciate these moments, just to be with him and not worry about what else is going on or what I could be doing.

I'm glad to be on parental leave until the end of the year, despite taking a pretty significant cut in my income over that time. If I had to return to work after two weeks of leave, we'd all be freaking out, even though I work mainly at home. Also, since Oliver was born eleven days after I started my leave, I would only have had five free days with him and Danijela—yikes! I can hardly imagine. I feel sorry for other new dads who don't have this option, whose partners will take the full allotment of parental leave. Quebec does a little better by new dads than the other provinces, offering a paternity leave of up to five weeks—at seventy percent of their regular income, what! Anyway, we'll make do with fifty-five percent. It's much better than nothing.


Oliver has gained about 140 grams (five ounces) this week and now weighs approximately 4.25 kilos.

He is currently enjoying his first cases of thrush and diaper rash, although they don't seem to be causing him much discomfort.

We've visited two breastfeeding clinics, and got lots of great and overwhelming advice, which I'll try to talk about later.

Danijela worked her first job since the birth yesterday—remarkable! (Our doula repeatedly told us how strong Danijela is, and I can't help but agree.) Her parents came in for the day to help out, but Oliver was no trouble at all, even with bottle feeding. He ate and slept and ate and slept, barely giving his baka and deda (and tetka, too) any time at all to dote on him. I'm missing my folks more and more! We'll see them on Thursday probably.

I've been reading up on cloth diapers. I really went into this blind, and am keen to do things—folding, washing, etc.—a little differently.

Okay, the little Dragon awakes. More later! Read on..!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Parenthood: day seventeen

A couple of nights ago, I drove from Symington to the edge of Markham, fifty kilometres each way, to pick up a strange baby-rocking contraption from a kind family that no longer needed it. They charged us fifty dollars for the otherwise two hundred dollar beast, so the two-hour trek was worth it. Anyway, I love a good drive.

When I first saw the thing though, I was a bit stunned. There it sat in this family's foyer, like some infant space flight training machine. I had no idea these things are so big! I was a little worried that it wouldn't fit in the car, but it did, and now it sits in our living room, giving us some idea of what our house will look like over the coming years.

Swings are another recommendation from Dr. Karp. Although they're clearly a popular choice for helping infants sleep, we hadn't thought about them until watching his video, which makes them look like miracle machines. I was unsure, thinking we could get by without, but Danijela was immediately convinced. She was right.

After washing the seat covers and cleaning the leaked battery acid from two of the four D batteries left in the compartment (and worrying that maybe we'd bought a dud), we plopped a cranky Oliver in the seat, set it to swing at the fastest speed, turned on the white noise, and waited. A minute of rocking and he was calm as can be. A couple minutes more and he was asleep. Yes!

So not only does this thing swing at six speeds, it also offers two levels of "soothing vibration", five or six varieties of white noise, including one with bird sounds, tinny lullabies, volume control, a mobile, and other distractions. Strangely, though (to me at least), it only runs on batteries. However, the seller assured us that she had only replaced them once for two kids, so I guess four Ds go a fair distance.

The key of course is that it works, that is, it puts Oliver to sleep. This is mainly important for naps. He might nap otherwise, but up until we got this thing, that was unpredictable at best, and certainly a lot more effort. As far as we can tell, in the first couple of weeks, Oliver slept about ten or eleven hours in a twenty-four-hour period, almost entirely at night. Much of his daytime sleep was in five-minute increments while he was nursing. But the normal range for newborns is fifteen to twenty hours. He should have been having several naps during the day, but he wasn't, and I think that had a lot to do with his fussiness and crying. We could see that he was tired, but he wouldn't sleep. He didn't know how to nap yet.

A common refrain from parenting guides is that infants have to learn how to sleep properly (and parents have to teach them). Without aids like motorized swing chairs, that means creating an appropriate environment for naps, looking for the signs of sleepiness (usually not too hard to catch), putting the kid down, and hoping for the best. Then, when the baby cries out five, ten or fifteen minutes later, soothing him to sleep again and on and on, until he finally naps. Or doesn't, which was often the case with Oliver. And then there's overtiredness. Oh man. But both child and parent learn from this process, right?

The contraption in our living room requires no training. We notice the signs of regular or overtiredness, put him in the seat, turn it on, and watch—voila! Whatever. If we had to spend another few weeks teaching Oliver how to nap, we'd all lose it. Anyway, he's already napping better both in and out of the seat, and he seems happier for it, so while I wonder a bit about what it means to use the fancy seat, I don't feel bad using it.


Oliver gained two pounds in his first two weeks. Usually newborns lose weight before the gain it, but he didn't lose any weight at all.

He seems to enjoy car rides, although this humidity is tricky. Today, we went location-scouting for an upcoming shoot of Danijela's, and he fell asleep on the drive, even after already having a couple of good naps. But on the drive home, he was hot and bothered, and we simply couldn't calm him.

It feels great to get out of the house and do things. The other day, we went for coffee and snacks at Starving Artist and stopped in Campbell Park to feed the little dude. On Tuesday, we took him to the midwives clinic in Kensington and then into the market for some supplies and sandwiches. That excursion might have been nicer if Danijela and Oliver weren't confined to the car due to the torrential rain. But these things are helping us feel normal.

While we're starting to sort out Oliver's sleep (fingers crossed), I don't know what to do about mine. I was spoiled last week with a couple of uninterrupted six-hour sleeps with couple-hour bookends, but that's not normal and I don't expect to enjoy such moments very often. I (and Danijela) haven't really napped either. There's generally too much to do. I feel pretty good though. I'm trying to do a few sun salutations every morning before breakfast to get the blood flowing.

We've been sleeping with a white noise rain track for the past week (another Karp recommendation—for baby, not specifically for us), so that has been weird, too. I don't think it has interfered with my sleep, but it is still odd.

We have both (all!) been much happier the last few days. Oliver has cried less, and has been easier to soothe, and Danijela and I have felt a lot more comfortable and confident, which I'm sure will not last!  

There really is too much to write, and I'm afraid I'm not completely coherent—not really finishing my thoughts. So more later! Read on..!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Parenthood: day thirteen

I'm feeling much calmer today, but frustrated in a different way. I think these days could have been easier if someone had told us that our baby might cry between half an hour and six hours a day, sometimes for no particular or apparent reason, and that is totally normal—in fact, part of healthy baby development. Soothing, too, is important to child development, and new parents might have to hold or nurse their babies for the better part of the day. Are these things controversial? I hardly think so. But not even Canada's Baby Care Book, by a pair of Sick Kids' Hospital doctors ("A complete guide from birth to 12 months old") discusses these things in any detail.

Of course, I knew before we got into this baby business that babies cry, sometimes a lot, and that they cry to communicate their needs. But I didn't know whether it was important to stop the crying or whether the crying was harmful and many other things. Are these things obvious? I'm not sure they are, especially when the baby doesn't stop crying. I guess it's my own fault for not asking more questions. I suppose the controversial part is that there are competing schools of thought on how and whether to soothe an infant's crying, and it's up to parents to decide what to do.

It doesn't matter now. We're all learning to understand each other better. Danijela and I have been able to help Oliver nap during the day, which he has mainly refused to do, and to sleep better at night, which is helpful for all of us. Indeed, last night, he slept for six hours, nursed, and then slept for another two and a half hours. I was almost fresh in the morning, and Oliver was far less cranky, letting us change him twice without fuss. He was much easier to soothe. He napped several times. We even went out for coffee in the afternoon, our farthest and longest trip yet. He did cry when he awoke, but it was very hot and he was hungry.

His worst cries seem to be about bowel movements. But he'll definitely give us an earful with little apparent provocation.

Anyway, I've continued my reading and here are some resources that I've found helpful:

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau, offers lots of good general advice about starting infants on a structured (but flexible) routine.

The Happiest Baby on the Block video, by Dr. Harvey Karp, proposes that the first three months of life are like a fourth trimester, and offers techniques to engage a baby's "calming reflex" by mimicking the conditions of the womb. I'm interested in looking at the accompanying book, which I'm sure provides far greater insight into the techniques, but the demonstrations in the video were sufficient for us to get started—and they work. However, Karp's methods are somewhat controversial because they aim to stop the baby's crying, which may prevent the baby from communicating her needs, and limit the amount of general soothing parents provide their baby.

"Is 'The Happiest Baby On The Block' the Most Oppressed?", by Lisa Sunbury, criticizes Dr. Karp's methods as disrespectful and manipulative of babies. Sunbury makes fine points, and it's definitely worth a read, but I don't think her general dismissal of the techniques is realistic. However, she does offer a list of very good links to additional resources.

In particular, "What is this crying all about?" (PDF), by Dr. Ronald G. Barr for the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development. This 2007 article should be required reading for all new parents. Simply put, Barr notes that recent studies have found "that early increased crying—including the prolonged inconsolable crying bouts that so irritate caregivers—is actually a normal developmental phenomenon that occurs in completely normal developing infants. Further more, the outcome for these infants is excellent." Thank the good lord. There's lots more helpful information than that, too.

Another resource that Sunbury links to is The Period of Purple Crying, which, while clearly descriptive, is actually a simple acronym to help parents of infants react to baby crying. Essentially, research shows that from about two weeks to sixteen, infants cry more than any other time in their lives. The crying usually peaks around six to eight weeks, and then tapers off. If I had known that...


Oliver has had dry skin from the time he was born, likely because he was eleven days late to the party. I understand this is pretty common, and is usually done around two weeks. He's been peeling since the beginning, from his hands and arms, to his torso and legs, and now his head and feet. Seems like it's on schedule to clear up in a few days though. Then we have a brand new baby!

From the earliest of these early days, Oliver has been lifting and swinging his head like a champ. I feel like he's going to be rolling over in no time, yikes!

I haven't kept on top of Pippin's litter box, and now he's using the garden. It must be pretty bad in the box; he meowed through the night to get out, presumably to avoid stepping into the smell zone.

We eat fast and not according to any type of rational schedule. I have to be careful that I don't skip meals. Time, too, has become erratic, especially the afternoon. It disappears before I even notice it, swallowed by soothing and nap attempts (not my own) and laundry and whatever little household chores I can squeeze in (like changing that litter).

My mother-in-law stayed with us for the last week, which was very helpful, but also strange, and made me miss my parents! (Surely I've never said that before, although I may have felt it.) Conveniently, they had scheduled a vacation a three-week soon after Oliver's birth. But I can't blame them. Oliver made things hard on everyone by being so late!

Okay, enough. There's too much to say, but I must sleep. More later! Read on..!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Parenthood: day eleven

After nine days, I felt like things were going fine. Oliver was fussy, but I figured we just don't know what we're doing yet, right? But after one more day, my patience was nearing a plateau.

One day—about day five or six—he slept. It rained all day, and he slept all day. Then he slept fine in the night, too. I thought that was incredible. That was before I knew that newborns are supposed to sleep as much as cats.

From that day to yesterday, Oliver did not sleep during the day. Instead, he demanded the breast and cried whenever we put him down or changed him—especially when we changed him. He was clearly tired, but couldn't or wouldn't sleep, probably due in part to inappropriate (as opposed to excessive) stimulation and poor training—already! We swaddled, held, rocked, and bounced him; we sshed him and talked to him, and sometimes these things worked for a while, but never really long enough to feel confident they would work again.

Still, yesterday had some bright moments. I nursed him from a bottle, and he accepted that just fine. This was a lovely brief moment, even though he was a bit frantic. He napped in the morning, which we hoped was a good sign. (It meant nothing!) He is clearly growing well, and his lungs are developing nicely.

But by the evening, we were frazzled. He was fussy and cranky whenever he wasn't nursing, and we had no idea what to do about it. I was worried that he was becoming dependent on the breast to sleep. (Indeed, I think he is, but I'm not so worried about it today.) I was also worried that we were feeding him to soothe him whenever he was upset, and soon we would be unable to tell the difference between his various cries. (This is a less rational fear, I think.)

Save us baby whisperer!

Alas, as helpful as she can be, the whisperer's first book simply doesn't offer the type of immediate relief we needed.

Luckily, we have many new parent friends, and one suggested we look at The Happiest Baby on the Block, a calming method by pediatrician to the stars Harvey Karp. They even offered to bring over the DVD right away, which in our state was a very tempting offer. But I found it quickly online, and we watched it right away. We hadn't even finished watching before I applied four of Dr. Karp's "Five S's" to Oliver, and he was quiet and calm in a minute. In another couple of minutes, he fell asleep in my lap. That was about 8:30 last night. It's 9:30 in the morning now, and he woke for only about an hour and a half between then and now.


I almost feel guilty, like I'm cheating. But mercy it was sweet relief.


Dining together has been an increasingly rare treat. We have, however, managed to watch Corrie a couple of times this week.

I've managed to get a decent kink in my lower back.

We took Oliver on a brief stroll around Perth Park the other day, which went well, although the ride was bumpy. We'll try again today I think.

Our first big outing will happen Tuesday when we take him to the midwives' clinic downtown. Then we'll see how much he's grown and how well he behaves out.

Things are looking bright again. The day holds great promise.

More later! Read on..!
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The New Dilettantes by Adam Gorley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.