Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sleepless in Staten Island

Last week we took Jordana to the pedicatrician for her nine month well visit. I'm always a little apprehensive about these visits because I feel like I have a short amount of time to cram in all the questions that I've saved up for an entire month. I always go with a list but never seem to get through it and then I leave with even more questions. Part of that is because our doctor doesn't do a great job of explaining things (she forgets, or doesn't care, that I'm a first time mom) and part of that is because I'm bad with follow-up questions. I only think of them after I've left. Anyway, this month I went with what must be the number one parenting question of all time. The age-old inquiry: why doesn't my child sleep?

Jojo has never been a really great sleeper. Well, that's not entirely true. When she was a baby (as though she's a teenager now. I should say, when she was still newborn-ish) she slept through the night. And not the five hour stretch of sleep that doctors define as sleeping through the night. No, literally sleeping the entire night. It was pure bliss. Alex and I bragged about what a great sleeper she was. We felt like we beat the system somehow. That lasted about four months.  Then right around the end of October things changed.  She started waking up every hour. For a long time (thank God this stopped) she'd wake up only half an hour after I put her down. Now, five months later, she's on a "schedule" of waking up twice a night. Usually at 2:30 and 6:00 a.m. I guess it could be worse, but let's face it, having to wake up out of a deep sleep two times a night is two times too many.

I think a lot of moms believe there's some sort of shame or embarrassment or aspect of bad parenting attached to their babies' sleep habits. As though they've failed as parents because their kid wakes up at night. I've noticed that moms whose children sleep well will happily bring it up without prompting, while moms whose children don't sleep refuse to discuss it at all or, if asked, will give some vague answer like, "we have our nights." Since I fall into the latter category, this is a response that I'm very familiar with. I feel pretty confident about the choices Alex and I have made in raising Jojo thus far, but when it comes to sleep, boy are there days when I think I've blown it. The truth is, for whatever reason, I've been treating sleep as a milestone that Jojo has yet to meet. The same way sitting up, crawling, walking and first words are milestones, somehow sleep has become one too.

This brings to me my pediatrician. However reluctant I am to discuss Jojo's sleep with friends, I have no problem bringing it up to our doctor. I mean, that's kind of what she's there for. All the expert advice she has stored up from years of treating children. Which is why I was surprised, and a bit put off by her answer.  "Do you let her cry it out?" she asked. No, I responded, I would prefer not to have to do that.  "Well then, you have no right to complain." And that was it. No expert advice. No helpful tidbits. No alternative methods. No nothing. Just, "don't complain if you're not willing to let your kid cry herself to sleep."

The cry it out method is a pretty popular form of sleep training. It actually has a name, the Ferber Method, after Dr. Ferber and his sleep book. It's used as a verb too, as in, "Do you Ferberize your baby?" I can't go into the nitty gritty of the Ferber method because I never read the book. From what I understand, however, the method encourages babies to learn how to self soothe and fall asleep on their own by letting babies cry when they are put down for bedtime (or when they wake up in the middle of the night). Mom and Dad can periodically check up on them but never, this is key, pick them up.  It's all timed so, for example, baby is put in crib, baby cries, mommy lets baby cry for five minutes, then goes in  and consoles baby for a short time (without picking up) and then repeats (and repeats and repeats) until baby falls asleep. Eventually the five minutes turns to ten minutes, then fifteen, and so on until baby has learned to fall asleep on his own. This all seems pretty simple in practice but a. listening to your baby cry and actively choosing not to hold or rock her is incredibly hard b. when you're awoken in the middle of the night for the gazillionth time you want to do the easiest and quickest thing (ie. pick baby up) to get her back to sleep and c. this could take weeks to work. For me, there's also a d.--this seems insensitive. As a practical matter, I wouldn't ignore an adult crying out for me, so why would I ignore a baby?

The Ferber Method is what my pediatrician wants me to do and what I, pretty early on, decided not to do. There are a few reasons why. The big one is that when I had Jojo I knew zero about children. I wasn't exposed to many babies growing up (I don't have any nieces or nephews or other babies in my family) and anything I learned about children from babysitting in high school was long forgotten.  So when Jojo arrived I was your typical scared and clueless first time parent. And that scared, clueless feeling turned into outright panic any time she cried. In the first week I remember crying along with Jojo.  Looking back, I know a lot of that came from hormones but it was also that feeling of absolute helplessness because I didn't know why she was crying. But I did know that any time she cried was an opportunity for me to strengthen our bonds of communication. Babies cry to let us know something's bothering them because they cannot talk. When Jojo cried it was up to me to discover why and to (hopefully) stop it. As a result, I never let her cry it out. I always responded immediately to her, going down the checklist (hungry? tired? dirty diaper?) until I got it right. Every time I figured it out, my confidence grew and our bond deepened until we finally go to the point where we spoke the same language. Getting to that point took some time though. And it meant that any time she cried during the night, I'd pick her up and go down that checklist. To me, it didn't matter if it was day or night time. Jojo needed me just the same.

The other reason why I didn't Ferberize Jojo is because of her own temperament. She is simply a mommy's girl and I truly believe she was born that way. I remember the second night of her life, when we were still in the hospital, I called the nurses' station three times because I couldn't get her to fall asleep. I thought there was something wrong. Every time I put her in the bassinet, she cried. She would be sleeping comfortably in my arms but the minute she felt that bassinet touch her back, she'd wake up wailing. I simply couldn't put her down. The nurses took pity on me (or maybe they were just annoyed) and finally convinced me to allow them to take Jojo to the nursery so I could rest. I also clearly recall several panicked phone calls to my mother at weeks three and four because Jojo cried every time I put her down. She wasn't content unless she was being held. And not just any pair of arms would do. She only wanted me. 

That was sufficiently early on in her life that I can't chalk it up to the fact that she just got used to me carrying her. She was too young to have figured that out yet. It's more that some babies are content to lie quietly in their cribs or sit happily in their chairs and Jojo was not one of those babies.  It felt wrong to deny her what she needed (I say need and not want because I believe at infancy, a baby's needs and wants are one in the same) and I never felt that she was manipulating me or that I was spoiling her. In general, I do not buy into the theory that you can spoil an infant by holding her too much. I call that simply loving your baby.

Obviously something needs to change but I don't think the cry it out method is for me. Since my pediatrician was zero help, I decided to change a few things on my own. I'm having Alex take some night shifts so Jojo can get used to different ways of falling asleep.  I'm also giving her a little snack of yogurt before bed. It sounds weird but she loves yogurt and it's heavier than breastmilk so hopefully this will make her little belly nice and full and help her sleep a bit longer. I've also pushed her bed time back from 8:00 to 9:00 and I make sure in that last hour we cram in a ton of energy burning activity.

I'll let you know if this works. She cut her first tooth yesterday (yay!) so maybe part of her restless sleep has been teething. She also has some residual fluid in her ears from an ear infection.  But in thinking about Jojo and the advice the doctor gave us, I've changed my mind about how I'm going to approach our sleep issue. As I said, I believe Jojo's sleep pattern is mostly a reflection of her overall temperament versus something I've done. In accepting that, I accept that her lack of sleep is not a measure of my mothering. It's not my fault that she wakes up and this won't last forever. Also, last night as I lay in bed with Jojo cradled in my arms, I realized something else...

I want to cherish each moment, even the inconvenient ones, because one day, I'll miss the days when she wanted only me...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mangia Mangia

Jordana has this stuffed dog called My Pal Violet that I can program to say her name, favorite animal, and color (it's some Leap Frog toy, advertised to be really educational, and while it is cute, I think these "educational" toys are total commercialized B.S. Honestly, Violet can say her ABC's and 123's but guess who else can say those? Mommy.  And I do it for free. Before you call me a hypocrite, let me clarify that Violet was a gift. Oh and Jojo happens to love her. So I let her play. Ok shut up. Leap Frog wins.)

Anyway, Violet can also be programmed to say Jojo's favorite food. She used to say "bananas" but yesterday I reprogrammed her to say meatballs. Jojo loves them. I can always count on her to eat all her lunch when meatballs are on the menu. It's pretty cute and makes Alex very proud--he's raising a true Italian.

We make our own baby food so Jojo only eats home made meatballs that Alex cooks. He makes a big batch every month or so and we freeze them in gallon bags. I make the rest of her food--the stuff that requires a working knowledge of how to boil water. Sweet potatoes, pears, apples, peas, zucchini, carrots... turns out you can make every food that Gerber sells and not only is it cheaper, it's much tastier than the jarred variety. I get icked out by the jarred baby food. I don't trust chicken that doesn't need to be refrigerated. I feel like poultry should come frozen. Same with fish. I don't understand how baby food companies can mash up turkey and stick it on a shelf with an expiration date two years into the future. I certainly wouldn't eat it, so I figure I shouldn't serve it to my kid. (Please don't get me wrong, I really don't mean to sound all judge-y. Jarred baby food isn't bad for babies. It comes in tons of varieties and  it's really convenient. They even make it organic now. And I'm certainly not a better mom. I'm just the type of person who gets skeeved out by everything. I throw out my milk before it expires, just in case. It's silly, I know. And I guess you could argue I'm raising my daughter to be the same way. I'll take my chances though, trust me, I have far worse faults that she could inherit.) At least by making Jojo's food, I know exactly what goes in it and I don't have to worry that she's eating whatever preservatives are added to jarred food. Plus, I'm hoping she won't be a picky eater because I'm introducing her to "real" food now. Just last week she ate shepherd's pie. And yesterday she ate tortellini for lunch. She's international.

Oh and I don't spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Please. I hate to cook. But baby food is so easy. I buy my fruits and veggies in bulk, and then peel, cut, steam and puree everything. I make big batches at a time so that I only need to cook every six weeks or so. I usually reserve one night after Jojo goes to bed and I make everything all at once. It takes about ten minutes to steam most vegetables and about five to seven minutes for fruits.  I actually find it relaxing. The hiss of the boiling water, the whir of the Magic Bullet. I kid, I kid. But it is nice feeling that I'm doing something good for baby. The key is to freeze everything. I use ice cube trays which make one ounce portions. Once the cubes are frozen, I put them in ziploc bags. So my freezer is loaded with bags, all neatly lined up, filled with cubes of peas, carrots, pears, mashed potatoes and all kinds of goodies.

So pretty:

As for the shepherd's pie I mentioned, whenever I make something for dinner that I think Jojo would like I save a little on the side, mash it up and freeze it in cubes. This is how we discovered she likes meatballs. I also get my ideas from these books: Top 100 Baby Purees by Annabel Karmel and Cooking for Baby  by Lisa Barnes. These are chock full of nutritional information and creative recipes and tips.

Oh, hey, lunch time. Today we're having cheddar mashed potatoes. Yum!

Monday, March 14, 2011

First words

Yesterday Jojo said her first word. It was a moment that we've been anticipating for months. Most moms track their baby's progress and growth with "What to Expect" or "Baby's First Year" or some other baby book, like I do. Therefore, I knew that the 6-9 month range is the average age for babies to say their first words, and the minute Jojo turned six months old I started waiting.

I also started the prep work. I said "Mama, mama, mama" any chance I got. "Hi, Mama!" when we woke up in the morning. "Breakfast, Mama!" when it was time to eat. "I love you, Mama," "Let's go, Mama," "Want to play, Mama?" I put Mama at the end of every sentence. I even starting calling Jojo Mama. My brother's fiance is a speech therapist and works with children. She told me that the "mmm" sound is bilabial, meaning you need to press your two lips together to make the sound. In order to help her little patients make the connection, she presses her finger to their lips while saying "mmm." So I did that too. Mmmmmm. She also suggested substituting "Mama" in place of the words to our favorite songs. "Twinkle, Twinkle" became Mama, Mama. Same with "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." It was a Mama fest.

Jojo was making all sorts of sounds. Mostly screams (Alex calls her pterodactyl because she sounds like a miniature dinosaur). She loves to yell at the top of her lungs, testing to see how loud she can go. Sometimes she sounds like Tarzan. It's all happy screaming though. When I'm on the phone, people think I'm at a party or a crowded store. But it's only my 14 pound diva in training. For awhile she was stuck on "Ba," repeating it over and over. But no Mama. That's ok. I pressed on. Alex got in on it too and it was Mama Mama Mama all day long.

And then yesterday. It happened. After all those months of waiting. My parents were over and we were all sitting in the living room. Jojo was waving bye-bye, a fun little skill she had picked up only last week, and making her usual Tarzan calls. Then, out of nowhere. "Dada." Silence in the room. Did she just...? Wait, was that...? Then again, "Dada. Dadadadadada." I repeated it, just to make sure: "Jojo, Dada?" She responded, "Dada." Her very first word.

She spent the rest of the day having fun with her new vocabulary. Waving hi and yelling "Dada." I double-checked this morning. Maybe it was just a fluke. "Jojo, Dada?" Yes Mommy, "DADA. DADADADADADA."

I can't complain. "What to Expect" told me that a baby's first word is usually Dada. So did all my friends with kids. I was warned. Which is why I seldom even spoke the word Dada. She couldn't learn it if she didn't hear it, right? Evil Jess. God heard my plan and was not amused.

Oh but it's wonderful to hear her talk, even if it's not what I hoped for. How long was she waiting to say that? To open her perfect little mouth and finally be able to say what she'd been thinking. Months? Days? My brand-new little girl. Saying hi to her Dada.

Mama will come next...right?

Friday, March 11, 2011

And so we begin

Ok so I have this what? I know some people who use their blogs as their own personal diary, opening their lives up for all to read for the sheer release of it. That's really not me. But I also don't want to use this as, say, my online recipe book or as a running commentary on what I think about American Idol (which I love by the way, J.Lo has officially won me over). So I guess it'll be something in the middle--you won't hear about my latest appointment to the gyno but I'll also try not to bore you with my latest coupon find. Or maybe I will. I'm so indecisive.

Actually, let's talk about my indecisiveness. Last week I took my daughter Jordana (or Jojo as we like to call her, she's only eight months old and still needs to grow into Jordana) to the doctor because I was sure she had an ear infection. However, the doctor reassured us that her ear-pulling and headshaking (like she was telling me, "NO mommy") was just a symptom of teething. Fine. Fast-forward one week, to yesterday, and in addition to the shaking and pulling thing she also has a monster cold. Oh and her sleeping. Wait, what sleep? Right, nooooo sleep. SO I called the doctor again last night and explained to the receptionist that even though we were just there a week ago, and even though the doctor gave us a clean bill of health, I think Jojo has an ear infection, can we get an appointment? Kind receptionist lady scheduled us for 10:30 (this morning) and I'm looking forward to finally getting this off my mind.

But last night the doubt crept in again. First, Alex: there's no way it's an ear infection, the doctor would have seen it last week. Then, Jojo herself: acting all feisty and happy. Not the way an allegedly sick little girl should act. But still, the ear pulling, the lack of sleep, the stuffy nose! And yet...

This morning, bright and early at 9:00 a.m., I called kind receptionist lady and cancelled my appointment. Ohhh but silly me, by 10:00 I had called back and rescheduled....because it could be an INFECTION BY GOD.

Now, I know this isn't normal. Isn't that the first step to recovery? Recognition. Oh and I recognize-- this is not normal. I mean, when Alex and I go to a restaurant I have to order exactly what he orders, even though I don't want it, because when his food arrives, it'll look way better than mine and I'll regret what I ordered. This type of indecision is fine when it comes to food, even...cute, perhaps? Ok, no, it's just annoying, but when it comes to Jojo, well, then it's just downright bad. Our kids rely on us mothers to know what the right thing to do is. To make plans and get them done. To make choices and stick by them. Wishy-washy doesn't fly in mommyhood. If I can't act as advocate/decision -maker for my eight month old, then who will?

Well, there's a silver-lining to this little anecdote. I took her to the doctor and guess what? Yup, she has an ear infection. (That's not the silver-lining. I feel awful she's sick,  poor baby). No, the moral to this story is trust your instinct. I had a gut feeling and followed it, even though it took me awhile to get there. So from now on I'm going to try not to second-guess myself, especially when it comes to Jojo. She needs
a strong woman in her corner, not a scared little girl. Plus, I got to say "I told you so" to Alex. Maybe THAT'S the silver lining. hehe.