Monday, August 29, 2016

The Little Giant and the Little Tyrant

Looking at my two sons together evidences that it's all about perspective. My toddler, who we used to see as so little looks like a giant compared to the newest addition to our clan. We thus designated him as the Little Giant. Our newest member is also the most demanding. He may be small, frail and completely dependent on us for survival, but there is no question who is in charge (nature knew to make a newborn's cry so cutting that it heels everyone to prostrate themselves in service to its cause). We tiptoe around when he is asleep, we wipe his butt and we bow down to the diktat of the Little Tyrant. He is merciless. He demands to be rocked and if we should think it fit to put him down, he bellows out as if signalling any army to attack (from which we cower and comply). We are still unsure whether we have been continually urinated on due to misfortunate timing or as a form of punishment. 

This is not to say that our Little Giant is not demanding. He also has a tyrannical streak (I wonder what this says about us..). Instead of crying out like the Little Tyrant, he is however more prone to burst out one word commands to have us do his bidding and failing this, stomps about in a huff, which seems fitting for a giant. Innumerable times a day he simply says "bus" and by this command expects us to immediately start singing "Wheels on the Bus"- which command I have fulfilled to the point of developing a nervous tick every time I see a bus go by. Another song he is partial to which he announces as "ouch"  is Ten in the Bed. I thought fit to act out this song by having an assortment of nine toys fall through his miniature basketball hoop to their "ouch" doom and the Little Giant was so enamoured with his newfound power that soon he sanctioned all his toys to fall through the hoop (despite their vociferous protest using yours truly as a conduit) to their ouchdom. By the time the last toy was pleading not to fall, his smile had colonized his entire face, a gluttonous glint in his eye, searching for ever more victims. If the laws of physics were to allow it, he would have commanded I be ouched through the hoop.

Gone are the days when we had freedom. When we could just take a walk, or go to dinner or a play on a whim. Visiting a gallery? Ha. I sneak that in when I go on business trips back to NYC (when there's a will, there's a way). And yet, it's all worth it. When the Little Giant looked at us the other day and said "happy", I melted away. The other day was our 4th wedding anniversary. There we sat, wine in hand, one covered in pee (collateral damage from potty training the Little Giant), the other covered in spit up (collateral damage from nursing the Little Tyrant), enjoying the quiet (a rare treasure). It may be a less than glamorous scene, but we were overjoyed regardless, for two beings that didn't exist before, albeit they put us to service and stretch our sanity, never cease to amaze us...

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Fourth Trimester

That's right - you have an extra one to go. Sorry to break the news, but it's better than finding out from your screaming baby, emigrated sleep, elapsed memory, disobedient bladder, scalding breasts and hormones in mutiny. Oh, and that beautiful belly that housed your bounty is now just ballooned skin that houses extra fat laced together with stretch marks. As much as the third trimeter may be uncomfortable and tiring, the fourth trimester is really the kicker. Motherhood is baptized through fire. And then things get easier and ease into a new normal...

This week I had my six week postnatal appointment and was instructed to fill out their Global Distress Index survey to assess whether I was clinically depressed. Unfortunately some women suffer from clinical depression due to a rapid change in their hormones after pregnancy. However, some of the questions were ridiculous.
Have you had trouble sleeping?
Have you and your partner been fighting?
Have you had trouble concentrating?
Are you in pain?
Do you feel down sometimes?
Do you have mood swings?
I wanted to circle a bunch and express my sentiment with CAPS and possibly exclamation points, but I stuck to the rules and merely circled their numbers  - I felt low sometimes, I had trouble sleeping all the time etc.

The second time is easier. The body recovers better and quicker. Yet, the first couple of weeks, I would joke with my husband that he was the only resident not in diapers. And what's a marriage without losing bladder control at least a few times in front of your husband or being milked? My greatest distress is that I am still in continuous pain as my son's mouth is simply not big enough to suck without clamping down on me. With my first, I had to wait 3 months and I cannot wait to get to that mark. Oh to be without pain. Lack of sleep is one thing, combine it with constant pain and you have an altogether different type of stress. However, it is at least much easier than the initial round. For one thing, my husband didn't have to prick my milk ducts with a needle to unplug them. That's been a huge plus. I'm also not locked up in the bathroom after feedings, watching sitcoms under instruction from my lactation consultant pumping away in an effort to increase milk production but rather eating my husband's deliciously baked cookies. Bonanza!

Maybe nature makes it easier physically easier because you have another child to tend to and it would be almost near impossible to do it if it took you nearly three walks to walk. This time, I walked home from the hospital. Then again, I only had a minor tear this time and didn't have to spend a whole month following a strict dousing ritual and gritting my teeth from the pain of burning pee. Ah, the beauty of motherhood.

This time, I'm all about the corset (really a band). I laughed at this before, but my cousin insisted that it worked and considering that I failed to lose the mummy tummy last time and that I am vain (yes, I am vain, vain, vain and I love my clothes and want to be repatriated with my pre-pregnancy items) and want my pre-pregnancy flat stomach back (oh, the good old days before any tenants arrived! I don't know how they managed to get their expansion plans through the heritage department), I asked around and bought one from a local SF provider designed by a physiotherapist. It's definitely helping, albeit I would advise to not wear it 24 hours a day as I did in the beginning until I had excruciating pain in my back. Correction - vain and stupid.

Oh vanity saith the preacher, vanity...

I'm a bit more accepting of the added baggage this time. For one thing, it's been a long time since I've had that flat pre-pregnancy stomach thanks to number 1. Second, I know it goes down incrementally and didn't expect to walk out of the hospital room in my pre-pregnancy jeans, as I had the first time. I now understand that my mother's memory post-labour of walking out of the hospital in her pre-pregnancy jeans was either medically or hormonally induced or the result of fashion sense fitting a circus clown. I also know that maternity clothes, although they feel great are the absolute least flattering thing you can wear postpartum. After all, they are meant to show off your bump not hide it. Loose fitting non-maternity or a short term change of religion is probably the wisest fashion choice. In the meantime my pre-first--pregnancy clothes are in the intermittent camp of the back of my closet, awaiting asylum, ever fearing that they will be denied and end up in goodwill.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Battling for Balance: Maternal Guilt

The other day I caught up with one of my best friends, in truth more of a sister to me, since we have been best buddies from the time when we were still counting our years in single digits. The background to our conversation was a rhythmic "mama" yelled by my twenty one month old son who was desperately trying to get my attention. After having watched an Olympics basketball game, he was successfully shooting hoops in front of me (apart from his tent, one of his favourite toys), running in and out of his tent, running up to me with paper and crayons to draw for him, binging me books to read to him and magnetic letters from the fridge to proclaim his newfound mastery of them, all the while I tried to appease his need for my attention while I attempted to remain focused on my conversation. After the call, I regretted my appeasement and admittedly dismissal of my son - after all, how wonderful was it that my son was trying to get my attention and share his new interests with me? Unfortunately, while I explained this to him, he didn't seem to understand, albeit he didn't hold a grudge either (children are so forgiving! we unfortunately seem to lose this ability later in life). Earlier in the year when I was blessed to have a few of my close friends come to SF all at once for one week that I hadn't seen for a while and marry one of my best friends to his longtime partner, my primary objective was to spend time with my friends. While I took my son on our group adventures and he had a blast basking in the attention everyone was pouring onto him, my primary objective was to keep him amused and happy so that I could enjoy my limited time with my friends. My policy was again one of appeasement and distraction. After the week was over, I was embroiled in guilt (which lasted more than a week) because albeit my son had fun, I had spent the whole week primarily focused on myself and my friends.

Ah, the woes of maternal guilt.

This piles right on top of my continual guilt that I spend most of the day working. As I mostly work from home, I see my son periodically during the day (for instance, in the hallway, when I am going to the kitchen to get tea etc) but these brief encounters, which at first rejuvenate me from the miasma of work, twist smiles into launching daggers as my excited son realizes that I am returning to work and proclaims his protest. Rather than be lanced in his lacrimation, I scurry back into my oubliette, defend myself with headphones (now blasting the new Avalanches album - after so long!) and attempt to submerge my advancing guilt by torpedoing back into the armada of work. It may be easier to go to an office an work - certainly dad doesn't get the cloak of guilt thrown at him, my son understanding that in the morning daddy leaves and he comes home for dinner. I am physically more available and thus an easier target for his attacks. Whenever I do work away from home, however, I arrive home later and thus spend less time with my son. Most days my nanny and I work covertly to avoid such meetings with at times elaborate choreography  - she will entice him into his room by announcing "tent time" and when I receive the text that the coast is clear, I scurry across the trenches through no-man's territory to get to the kitchen to make a sandwich as quietly and quickly as possible as if I were in the commission of a criminal act.

Some women are professional mothers - they devote their whole days to their children and do not have guilt that they are abandoning their children (albeit I wonder whether a few that have made this choice are later enveloped in guilt that they rather abandoned their own aspirations?). However this "choice" may in practice be illusive. A large portion of us don't get to make a choice. Some women would rather continue with their career but find that childcare costs may be equivalent or more than what they earn and therefore "choose" to not to return to work. From a public policy standpoint, this is appalling - we should support women in their decision and provide quality and affordable childcare. Women that are forced to give up their careers may end up resentful, depressed or at the least unfulfilled- and this would not contribute to a healthy caregiving environment for their children. On the other hand, many women want to be the primary caregiver to their children and do not want to go back to work, at least until the children are school age. Again, our society fails to support this decision adequately as women are penalized in their careers for taking several years off (I am however not sure how this gap in experience should be accounted for however). Lengthening and equalizing parental leave - both legally and culturally - is one way to combat this gap. Sweden - a country that instituted paternal leave in the 70s - later instituted policies that penalized fathers for not taking leave which led to more fathers taking leave and a smaller gap between women and men in the workforce.  I am only mentioning this tangentially, the need for greater parental leave is such that it must have its own post....back to maternal guilt.

As much as I love my sons, I continue to have others interests and pursuits and part of me feels guilty about this - it is one thing to take time out for work, it is another to take time out to finish your novel... but on the other hand, how am I to encourage my son's own pursuits later in life when the example I would leave is leaving my own? Children seem to rarely adhere to the adage "listen to what I say, not what I do" - it's what we do that counts and is impressed upon them. Talk is cheap ( well for most of us that aren't paid a significant sum for speaking engagements...).

Maybe I'm a lesser parent, but I don't believe in exiling our interests per se in order to prove devotion to our children. It's the quality of time, not the quantity that counts and the more fulfilled we are, the more we can devote to our children. From infancy they mirror our moods - happy parents produce happy children. Quality and quantity are not however unrelated. Quality time requires a certain quantity. In attempting to reach your own personal goals, spend time with your partner, continue your familial and personal relationships and devote time to nurturing your children (and having fun with them!), you put yourself invariably last on the list. If you're pregnant with your first, I am sure many people have warned you that time with your partner will be decimated when you have a child - that it will change both quantitively and qualitatively and that you should spend as much time with your partner as possible. This is true. You have to calendar in time, organize a babysitter... romance has a certain rigidity. People may not tell you - at least they didn't tell me - that before number 1 comes, enjoy the time you have to yourself, let the hamster off the wheel. Enjoy the silence. For taking time out  - from everything -is the most illusive...

We want to be the best mamas out there, but in order to do so, we have to take care of ourselves (remember the aeroplane safety guides - first you take oxygen yourself in order to help others). Speaking of which, I should take some time out right now... and as if he heard me, my munchkin just woke up-

Friday, August 12, 2016

Musical Beds

The past several nights have been a lottery of a lacrimation which has lanced in us a loop of insomnia and musical beds. We fall asleep in our bed, never knowing at what time and from where the next cry will come from. Our hungry three week old? Our teething toddler? From the bassinet or bedroom? I nurse and rock our infant while my husband crawls into bed with our toddler (or vice versa after a feeding). Then 4 am comes round and there's 4 of us in bed after the boys' blaring duet which indubitably is well appreciated by our neighbours. To add insult to injury, not only was our bed conquered by our kids, but my husband's pillow, recently nostalgically covered by his childhood Snoopy sheets, was taken over by our toddler, who after wailing as if undergoing a particularly imaginative torture, fell into a sound slumber in which even the roar of his own snores failed to wake him. It was one of those moments when all you could do is laugh or cry and invariably do both before you pass out and wake up with a sheer fear that you may have fallen asleep holding your infant and dropped him...Now we understand why everyone we know with more than one child has a king bed. Our son sleeps on a queen (long story) and yet he'd rather be curled up with us in our queen bed with his little brother, as if remaining in his bedroom was somehow self-imposed exile. We figured he would change his tune when his little brother exercised his lungs every few hours, but our toddler simply snored throughout the feedings, happy that he was pride of place in the middle of our bed, his brother's bassinet relegated to the floor.

If only I were a sound sleeper. As all three boys snored away, no doubt dreaming of how to conquer and defend the Snoopy pillow, my mind, in mutiny, started weaving plans for the next day...

To sleep, perchance to dream...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Avalanche of Language : Toddler Talk

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my son's advancing language and predicted that the onset of a sentence would be a while as he was bilingual. Less than a week later, as if insulted by my post and eager to prove me naive, my son uttered his first sentence, which fittingly for a tyrannical toddler was a command. "Elmo, sit" he directed. We were stunned and wondered whether we heard correctly. The next day he commanded, "daddy, come" as he patted the bed next to him, a book ready in hand to be devoured. I was not surprised that his first construction was in English, which is the dominant language around him and has a much simpler sentence structure than Serbian. As if wanting to dispel all my preconceived notions (which in part were influenced by the various books on child development and learning that I have read, which presumably based their theories on theoretical fiction of the average child and standard deviation - for instance, that there is a jump from two to four to more words in a sentence) he used a three word sentence in less than a fortnight. When my mum was out with my son and called my husband, putting him on speaker phone, my son, hearing his father and taking the phone, fumbling for his image as he is used to Face Time, showed his frustration by tapping the phone and noting to his grandmother, "I hear daddy"(thus imparting the salient fact that the process was not functioning properly through its absence  - as the family was astonished by his progression to a three word sentence, I wondered whether this was the harnessing of the jewel of diplomacy).

Another surge in his lexical development has been the grasping and utilization of the concept of "this" - he can point to what he wants if he doesn't understand the word and he can point to what he wants us to explain to him. A few days ago, when he was frustrated at the limits of my somnambulant existence, bringing him something he didn't want to eat, he shook his head and said "no, this is?" and I stood flummoxed as I digested this new progression. Language development seems to develop exponentially.

I find it interesting to see how he connects various objects under one umbrella until he has learnt the applicable word, learning in that instant both the proper word and the differentiation of the new object. For instance in his toddler talk now, "car" is a car as well as a truck and "bus" is a bus as well as all trucks. "Meow", which is his term for cat, is also applicable to the big cat family well as foxes (until most recently when he learnt the word, which he proudly pronounces as "fock" that will likely necessitate some explaining in the near future to aggrieved  parents in the playground) and rodents, particularly when drawn by his mother who admittedly does not follow the strictures of sizing (when viewing the proper dimensions, he rather uses "bunny"). "Horse" is applied to zebras and "sun" is applied to moon. He understands what a horse looks like and to him, a zebra is a white horse with black stripes.

We have to communicate with what we've got. If you've ever struggled in a foreign tongue, you would understand the inelegance and imprecision of communicating a concept or an object for which you have no words for (and let's pretend in this instance, to propel my point that you cannot merely point to the object nor even gesticulate its contours and must allow for words alone to express it). For instance, if I didn't know the word "door" in  a language, I may say off the cuff, "the window that you walk through" or the "opening in the wall between rooms that you walk through and can open and shut" etc Toddlers, with their limited lexical ability may simply say, "window" for "door" and vice versa. As my son learns new words, he learns our categorization of objects, which is somewhat different in different languages (for instance, my husband was proud to proclaim the other day that Greek had a word for "the day after tomorrow" as if this were unique to Greek - Serbian has the same - but why does English lack such a useful word?) and I am keen to see his reactions, even from a purely epistemological stance.

This burst of language, as welcome as it has been, has resulted in a bilingual dilemma. I have been reading English books in Serbian to my son which I thought would not cause a problem until much later on, considering he just turned 21 months and would not be (according to my naive thinking) focusing on the letters in order to be confused. However, my son has taken to learning the alphabet and is now the proud owner (for we own concepts and lexical tools) of several letters which he enjoys to point out as we read. He has beat me to the alphabet. I had been acclimatizing him to the Cyrillic alphabet and had thought fit to start steady learning in the coming months, due to the fact that Serbian is phonetic and would lead to quicker reading and writing. Now I'm in the predicament that if I focus on the Cyrillic alphabet, I will retard his learning because I will confuse him due to the fact that both alphabets share physically identical symbols for different letters- "p" is "r", "B" is "v" and "x" is "h" etc. I despaired at having to teach reading and writing with etymological spelling (on the other hand this allows for a great introduction to etymology). Then my husband had an idea. Why not teach him reading in Serbian with the "latin" alphabet? The Serbian "latin" alphabet is not the same as the English (in fact it is the same alphabet as the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, only employing latinized letters)  - there is no "x" and no "w" in Serbian and there are additional letters that we don't have, for instance "sh", "nj", "lj" etc but at least the latin alphabet is not contradictory, "p" is "p" and "h" is "h". Now all I need are books in the latin alphabet. I don't posses any, because my aesthetic pretensions led me to decline buying any books in the latin alphabet in Belgrade last year albeit it severely amputated my choices, as publishers are unfortunately not keen to publish in Cyrillic anymore, considering that they would have a greater market for books printed in latinica which could be sold and marketed across all the ex-Yugo members as opposed to Serbia alone. So now the hunt begins...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Moo Diaries: Lessons in Lactation Part I

After labour comes nursing and sometimes it can be more difficult than the labour itself. In the first few weeks your nipples are sore, bleeding and clamped down on as if your toothless tiny baby snaps around you and stabs you with an army of ready daggers. It's no wonder you can be afraid of your newborn as they zoom in on your nipple and voraciously approach with their ready jaws. Unfortunately the baby senses your trepidation (or outright panic) and this leads to further latching problems.

Then there's the sleep deprivation. Additionally, and particularly for first time parents, the stress of whether baby is getting enough to eat. The good news is that nursing gets easier as you go on. If you are crying in pain and stressed that you are not producing enough and enviously wondering how mothers nurse their toddler and satiate him or her for a few minutes as they nonchalantly talk to you, it's because they are not dealing with the latching issues and pain that you are. Toddlers may have teeth, but they know how to nurse. Newborns have no idea what they are doing - they stab in the dark and our nipples bear the consequence. Unfortunately no amount of coconut oil or your own milk (which do however help heal the scabs) will cure the bruising, which is internal.

This time round for me has fortunately been much better than the first. With my first son, I didn't understand that the pain I was feeling was due to his inability to suck properly from a tongue tie until I sought the advice of a lactation consultant in week 6. In the meantime, I suffered through bleeding nipples, bruise areolas, plugged milk ducts, vasospasm, two bouts of mastitis and consequent yeast infections. In short, I had everything that could go wrong and was told by two different and respected lactation consultants that maybe in my case, my pain was not worth it. However, I preserved (to some extent I was more determined to continue because the universe was making it so difficult for me). Unfortunately, this had a lasting consequence on my milk supply (which is set during the first two months) and while I nursed for 15 months and change (stopping due to being in the second trimester with my second son and deciding I didn't want to wean right before his birth), I had to supplement with formula.

This time round, we saw a lactation consultant immediately who noticed a tongue tie and we had him clipped in the second week. I was also provided with a hospital grade pump right from the hospital, herbal supplements and a "nipple safety" regime (no more than 10 minutes each side and then expulsion) with weekly lactation consultant visits. The knowledge we garnered from our first experience and the support we received from our health insurance company/staff (Kaiser) and possibly the fact that I was lactating only a few months ago resulted in a good shop. I haven't had to supplement a drop and am over producing. I did however have intolerable pain which has eased with my son realizing the aptitude of his new tongue mobility, securing a better latch and stronger suckle.

Lactation is not easy - particularly the beautiful brutal of the first few weeks, and it takes two to tango. In the first few weeks, it's a special dance involving the whole family. My husband had to help me latch in the beginning - I couldn't hold my son and his flailing hands which were invariably in front of his mouth preventing a latch. So the three of us would sit and nurse as a family affair. Due to his tongue tie, he wasn't suckling properly, so after nursing, my husband, with a spoon and ready syringe as if about to fabricate a Class A substance, expelled while I tried to meditate to increase the let down. Later, between nursing sessions, I would pump while my husband fed our baby a previously pumped supplement through a nursing system involving a string rather than the bottle so that our son would receive the milk in no faster manner than nursing, lest he get ideas and become recalcitrant to go on the breast. Now, he is more efficient at the breast and fusses with the supplemental nursing system.

Lactation takes energy and patience. You are on the clock, every 2 to 3 hours you will nurse - and that's from the start of a nursing session, which can last about half an hour. I also pump to supplement and ensure I'm expelling enough for fear of mastitis and to keep an ongoing supply in the fridge, but it's not necessary.You need to ensure you are getting sufficient vitamins and minerals in your diet because your milk is only as good as your diet (or rather, if your diet is lacking, the body will take what it needs from you and your bones will suffer the consequence). I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I look at all the supplements I'm taking - my prenatals, DHA, calcium, magnesium, goat's rue and a lactation supplement with fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettle and fennel. I'm also drinking a lactation tea that tastes like grass which is fitting to my new bovine lifestyle. The only way I can drink it is to let it cool and then down it. The good news is that I get to eat cookies and feel good about it. My husband, an avid baker and brewer, bakes me the most delicious lactation cookies, full of galactagogues - brewer's yeast, rolled oats, nuts and dark chocolate. Now we're talking!

As it is with almost any topic, the more you read and the more advice you seek, the more you are pummeled with contradictions. Some say do both breasts equally as after 10-15 minutes the baby goes from nutritive suckling to merely comfort suckling, some say do only one to get the "hind" milk (the full fat milk that's been stored longer) and offer the second only if the baby asks. I have observed that after 15 mins or so, the suckles taper out as if he is moving to a more comforting suck, so I move him to the next breast. However, he usually spends more time on the first, so I switch it up every session, starting from the side I did second in the previous session. With so many alternate theories as to what to do, it's difficult to assess whether you are getting it right and you may worry that while you are applying one advice you thought was sage to practice, whether you should have done the opposite. Then you may worry you are worrying too much because worry and stress reduce milk supply, something that everyone seems to agree with. Well, as long as your baby is satiated and you don't feel engorged, you should be on the right track. The question is whether your baby is satiated or is just exhausted from struggling or sedated from the oxytocin - a sure way to know is to check your baby's weight rather than guessing. If in doubt of the scales, dimples never lie!

I don't have all the answers, I may not even have any. I'm surprised that this time around, I seem to have abundant milk supply, but then again, the first time round, we unwittingly did everything wrong in the crucial first month that establishes supply. All I know, and I know this viscerally, comparing my first son's and second son's experiences (albeit they say you need three to see a pattern) is that when baby is suckling properly you are connected on a primitive wireless that is always working, even in hilly San Francisco (ironically, the tech mecca where connection is wanting to say the least). I always wake up a few minutes before my son, knowing he needs to nurse on some inexplicable visceral level. If I'm out, I feel a tingling and know that it's time to return because my baby needs to nurse. It's a beautiful experience and worth the brutal beginning.