Thursday, January 31, 2013

Loneliness and honesty

I have been trying to write this post in my head for a couple of months now, maybe for as long as a few days after Malcolm was born. It feels important that I say these things, but it is also a little scary because I am laying bare parts of me that I would usually try to keep hidden.

For me, one of the most difficult things about becoming a parent has been a deep feeling of loneliness. Not loneliness in the sense of actually being alone - I have wonderful friends and family that are always willing to talk or listen when I need them, and I couldn't ask for a better partner - but of feeling like I am the only parent having the problems I am having and that they are all my fault; if I was only a better person, a better parent, they would just go away. In the first weeks with Malcolm, breastfeeding was so hard - he ate all the time, 45 minutes at a stretch, with only an hour between feedings, and I was in pain all the time, so much so that any time he ate I would sit there with tears streaming down my face, toes clenched, teeth clenched, anything to make the pain bearable  - and I was convinced that I was doing something wrong. That I was just being dense. I got books from the library on breastfeeding; I scoured breastfeeding websites for tips, suggestions and advice, hoping that if I read enough I would find the one missing puzzle piece that would make everything OK. I mean, all the pro-breastfeeding literature talks about how good breastfeeding is for mother and baby, about how most mothers feel a wonderful sense of calm and peace while breastfeeding, about how oxytocin is released and makes you feel all loving. So if I don't feel that way, it must be my fault, right? I must be a bad mother for not enjoying breastfeeding, for not being able to make it work that way. Even though I knew, intellectually, that breastfeeding is not as easy as it is portrayed to be, that there wouldn't be all those books and websites it every other woman could just figure it out, emotionally I felt alone with my troubles and pain.

Lately, I have been going through a similar spiral with Malcolm's sleeping habits and patterns. He's been backsliding in his ability to sleep long stretches, waking up a couple of times a night, sometimes refusing to go back to sleep and so on. Friends give us anecdotes of how their child would scream for two hours every night for months, or how they had to drive their baby around the city every night for months to get him to sleep. Books and websites tell me Malcolm is pretty darn normal, and that while it is unpleasant now, he will eventually sleep for longer stretches. But they all have advice, and the books and websites are all so confident in that advice (and they all disagree with each other) - they must be, or no-one would buy the book, right? - that when it doesn't work, I am the one who feels like a failure. Knowing that other parents have had similar problems - and again, they must, or there wouldn't be so many books - doesn't really help at 12:30 AM, when Malcolm has been crying for two hours, no matter what approach we take, and I can see my chances of getting more than 6 hours of sleep slipping away. I feel like I must be the only parent who can't get method x or method y to work on my child.

In reality, the reasons I was having so much trouble breastfeeding had very little to do with me or my ability. The pain was caused by a very nasty yeast infection that took several weeks of strong medication to clear up, and Malcolm was just very little and very hungry, and his mouth was small. Once the infection cleared up, I got a pillow that supported him in a better position, and he got bigger, most of the problems went away. Do I love breastfeeding now? Honestly? Not really. It isn't painful, most of the time, which is the way it should be, but he tends to be a restless eater, and most days at least one feeding is still a struggle. But I have mostly accepted that, and no longer feel like it is my fault that I don't have a feeling of bliss every time I put him to my breast.

As for sleep, most of my pain is indeed my fault - the tighter I cling to my desire for an unbroken night of sleep, the more upset I get when it doesn't happen. At some point, and I have definitely reached it, I have to put the books down, step away from the websites, and just accept that sleep is going to be a struggle for a while, no matter which method we use to help him learn to sleep.

All this is true - I tend to read too much, and blame myself too much, and not listen to common sense about problems - but at the same time, I think there is a culture of parents not telling the truth. Oh, our friends are all completely honest about the problems they had when their children were babies - after we tell them our tales of woe. They warned us that we had no idea what we were getting into before he was born, when we would optimistically talk about how life would be once he arrived. But when we wanted details beforehand about just how life would be different, about what we really were in for, we didn't get them. Looking back, it feels like we were explorers setting off into a new territory, asking for a map of dangers to avoid and troubles to watch out for, but all we got from the experienced veterans were vague warnings that everything was very scary, but that it would be a great trip and that we would survive.

Maybe this is because they don't want to scare you, or because they are past those dangers themselves and now see the journey through the haze of memory that dulls the sharpness of the pain, or because they want to look like they have it together, that they survived and so will you, or because of a sense of schadenfreude, I don't really know. All I do know is that when other parents-to-be ask me about raising a baby, I am going to try to be as honest as I can (which is pretty honest). Having a baby is hard enough even without feeling like you are alone, and if my stories help another mother get through the tough stuff and on to the fun moments (and they do come), then I don't mind looking bad.

Friday, January 18, 2013

6 Months Old

Yup, we've all survived Malcolm's first six months! I am not ashamed to admit that there were days, in the first month or so, that I was not sure I would be able to handle being a parent. I am not naturally a nurturing person, I don't do well on reduced sleep and erratic schedules, and I don't handle crying and screaming well. So not only did Benjamin have to deal with a new baby, but a wreck of a wife as well! But as Malcolm has matured, so have I. We are settling into something resembling a schedule, we mostly understand each other, and good grief is he cute! I am so excited to see where we are going next (crawling, if Malcolm has anything to say in the matter...)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

White Christmas (and Boxing Day, and day after Boxing Day...)

Late Christmas afternoon - everything is coated in ice. Heavy, heavy ice.

For the first time in 86 years, Arkansas had a white Christmas, and that white was not just a small smattering of snow - we had at least 10 inches. Doesn't that sound wonderful? Uh, yeah. It would have been great except for one small, itty bitty problem; the snow came after a quarter inch of ice had covered everything.

The same crepe myrtles from the first picture, the next morning.
The winter we lived in Brockport we often had more than 10 inches of snow, and life went on with barely a hiccup. It took 3 feet of snow in one night to cause any real problems. Arkansas, however, is not western New York. There are very few snow plows, for one thing. For another, most of the trees down here are not accustomed to heavy ice and snow, and as you can see from the picture above, they tended to flop down towards the ground. These are crepe myrtles, which are both flexible and resilient. We lost a few branches on a couple of the ones in our yard, but otherwise our trees were pretty much unscathed. The same cannot be said for many of the pines in the area, or the power lines.

A sight I never thought I would see in Arkansas - 10 inches of snow!
Our power went out for a couple of hours in the afternoon on Christmas Day. Since Maumelle has buried power lines and our power had never been out for more than an hour or so since we moved here, we figured it would come back on soon and life would go on, with a fun little tale to tell Malcolm about his first Christmas. We started a fire in our fireplace (the first since we moved in), played games by flashlight, and waited. Our biggest problem was figuring out what to do about dinner, since we were supposed to have roast chicken and apple pie, and the oven, being electric (a remedy we dearly wish to correct one day), was non-functional. Eventually we broke out the camping stove and threw together a sort of stew/soup in the garage (yes, we were being safe while cooking with gas - plenty of ventilation). Just as we were sitting down to eat by the light of the emergency lantern and candles, the power came back on, which seemed to prove us right about Maumelle's robust power grid.

 Although it was too late that day for the chicken, I got the pie in the oven, put Malcolm to bed, and we all sat down to watch a DVD. Which is when the power went out again, at the same time as there were strange blue flashes in the sky. That's funny, we thought. Wonder what that is? we thought. Hey, the neighbors still have power, so ours will probably be back soon, we thought. It had better be, we thought, since the temperature is supposed to get down into the 20s tonight.

More of the pretty, sparkly, troublesome ice.

Uh, no. Eventually the neighbors lost power too, and it became apparent that we were going to be cold and dark for the night.  My biggest concern was keeping Malcolm warm. He isn't really old enough yet to sleep under a pile of blankets, and he can't tell me if he is too cold (well, he can cry and fuss, but since he does that when he is hungry, bored, cold, hot, etc. it isn't the clearest message). In the end, I slept in the living room, in the recliner, with him in my arms, because it was the warmest room in the house. It worked better than I had expected, and I didn't get uncomfortable until 6:30 or so, and then we joined Benjamin in the bedroom.

Malcolm the snow elf, in several layers of clothes, and a cold Miikka.
When we all finally got up, the power was still out, our supply of wood was dwindling, and to add to the mess, our land-line phone was out, and our cell phones had no service. Inconvenient to say the least, especially because my parents were supposed to be flying home that day, and couldn't check on their flight. Eventually, after Benjamin and I talked to some neighbors who had reports of roads being passable once you got off our unplowed hill, and after the cell phones came back enough to call the airlines, my parents made it out and to the airport. Their flight left a little late, but they did make it home.

Our street as seen from our driveway.
That just left Benjamin, Malcolm and I, trying to stay warm and wondering about just how long it would be until we had power again. When I eventually got through to the power company's automated line, the only message it had was that this was a big storm (oh, really, I didn't notice) and that it could be up to 7 days for power to come back. Uh, what? If it had been just Benjamin and I, it wouldn't have been pleasant, but it would have been manageable. With Malcolm, there was no way I wanted to deal with that scenario.

Looking down the big hill.
We had just made plans to decamp for the night to a friend's apartment that had power - literally just minutes from walking out the door - when our power came back. I have never been so happy to hear the whir of our heater fan! Benjamin was more excited about the lights, I think, but I can live in the dark as long as it is warm.

In a way, we were right about Maumelle's power being robust - many areas of Little Rock were indeed without power for 6 or 7 days. Southern trees, ice, snow, and power lines are not a good combination.

Sunrise several days later.
 So, Malcolm's first Christmas was a white one, with a bit of adventure thrown in. Too bad he is far too young to appreciate any of it. We will tell him about it in years to come, and he won't believe us, I am sure, since it is likely to be another 86 years before there is another white Christmas in Arkansas!