Victoria Jelinek

The Baby Diaries – 13

There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mama & baby ape asleepThe sleep situation with my baby boy has caused a lot of strife in our household. When I first came home from the hospital after having a c-section, I was unable to move in bed, and it seemed ‘safe’ and easy to let my baby boy sleep in the crook of my arm, which I laid upon a pillow to keep it level. Every well-meaning woman whom I know told me this was unacceptable and dangerous- my baby could be smothered by me or by my husband in our sleep! Websites confirmed this. But it also seemed as though most of this death-by-smothering was a result of a parent being intoxicated in bed next to them. And almost all of them were a result of the father. For me, it seemed natural, and practically speaking, it seemed to be the only way to get him to sleep.

After many ‘discussions’ with my husband, however, and his dissatisfaction with the sleeping arrangement, we moved the baby onto this little cot that was cut at an angle so that his head was higher up. On each side, there was a little velcro’d buffer to keep him on the wee bed. This little cot fit right in between the pillows where my husband and I rest our heads, and also seemed to work for awhile. I liked having the boy so close, because it allowed me to hear his breathing over the snores of my husband. Even so, my husband expressed repeated dissatisfaction with this arrangement and after many ‘discussions,’ we bought a ‘co-sleeper’ that we put on the side of the bed. To be honest, I never liked this situation because my boy seemed close but very far, too, and it seemed rather pointless to have him on my husband’s side of the bed, but he claimed it made it ‘easier’ for me to sleep. Finally, we put the boy in a crib in the corner of our room and hoped that this would be a fine option. The boy was able to sleep in the crib, but he woke up every couple of hours, anyway, to feed, and going over to the crib, picking him up, bringing him back to the bed with me or sitting in a chair to nurse him seemed tedious and I’d be wide awake afterwards.

The doctor told us that the baby can literally smell the milk of its mother if it’s in the same room, and this is why the baby was frequently waking up throughout the night. Consequently, my husband and I put together a sleeping schedule. Because my husband goes to bed early each night, anyway, I would be the ‘point-person’ to attend to the boy when he cried in the evening and early night while my husband would sleep in the guest-room and get several hours of uninterrupted rest. At about two am, after being awaked for another feeding, I’d nurse the boy, we’d change places, and I’d sleep peacefully until morning, and when our son next woke up, he’d be fed a bottle of formula by his father, the rotation manoeuvre completed!

To be honest, when I was in the room with the boy alone, I’d simply take him back to bed with me and feed him while I was lying down and then doze off at some point till his next revival. I could have gone on like this for a number of months, but my husband has badgered me to put the boy and his crib into a room of his own so that we can sleep in the same bed together like a ‘normal’ couple. Because I can’t think of a logical reason not to, and I’m really too tired to argue, I have complied. The first few nights that the boy was in his own room were hideous. He cried at an ear-splitting pitch and I nearly had to be tied down not to go to him. These last few nights, however, have been blissful. It seems to be true what the doctor said about his smelling me in the room, because he does not wake as frequently as he once did. As a consequence, I am feeling a renewed sense of energy and wakefulness that I have not known since I was seven months pregnant and could still sleep at night!

The Baby Diaries 5

Courage conquers all things: it even gives strength to the body.” Ovid

humming birdI’m really enjoying my brother and sister-in-law’s (belle-sœur) visit, even as I must admit, it makes both my husband and me a bit nervous to watch my sister-in-law bounce our baby because his neck jostles so much we’re afraid she’ll break it, but trusted assistance at this time is so appreciated.

Thank the fates that they were here, too, when my left breast dried up. From one day to the next it was suddenly not producing milk. I cried my eyes out, afraid that I would not be able to feed my baby, that I would have to use formula and my son wouldn’t get the best possible start to his life…that I had failed as a mother (self denigrating ideas courtesy of La Leche League?). My brother and sister-in-law were invaluable. They told me to keep nursing him on that breast. That he could ‘call’ the milk to it in a way nothing else would. That my hormones would be alerted by his sucking and would tell my body to produce the milk, get the ‘milk factory’ going again. Most importantly, they told me not to despair. My worried look each day prompted my brother and sister-and-law to download a hilarious TV series for us to watch en famille and laugh together. They also introduced me to a baby ‘boppie’, which looks like a big neck rest that one gets in order to sleep on a plane. It goes on your lap and your baby lies on it, meaning you don’t have to hold them up to your breast, but are, basically, hands free. Their quiet confidence and encouragement helped me relax and lo-and-behold: the milk returned after a few days! The body is truly miraculous. Then I went to the doctor’s again to check my son’s weight and he had gained the shocking amount of 200g in ten days! He obviously had heard the doctor’s saying he wasn’t performing as expected, and had decided to get busy showing her what a victor looks like.  My GP also told me more good news, that there’s a nurse who’d visit the home and who would be paid entirely by the province*.

So I called the number my doctor gave me and the nurse came for a visit after my family left. She was kind and spoke French slowly so that we could understand all she said. She showed me several positions to nurse the baby in, but the ones I remember (keep in mind my dazed state of sleeplessness and fatigue) are the classical manner of holding him cradled in your arms (or on your ‘boppie’ as I do) and an American football hold in which you put the baby’s body to your side and behind you, with their face to your breast, coming from behind. Strange. Apparently, it’s so that one can walk around easily while nursing. My son seems to prefer my right breast, which is resulting in my breasts becoming lopsided. I pointed this out to my doctor and she laughed, admitting they are different sizes but that it’s not “so noticeable.” What is noticeable is that I have developed little red blood blisters on both of my nipples. First the drying up, the lopsided-ness, and now this. At the moment, I dread my son’s nursing because it’s so painful. My doctor is amazed I keep going with it. She tells me most women would have given up nursing by now if they’d encountered these problems. It is curious regarding nursing patters. In the lower hemisphere, an average 80% of women nurse their babies for up to 2 years, which is what UNICEF recommends. Meanwhile, in the US and the UK, while the numbers of women nursing are growing, less than 25% of women nurse their babies past the first 2 months of its life.

I tell her I am determined to make it to 3 months, with my ‘outside’ goal being 6 months. She quietly shook her head and told me to get pure lanolin cream to help ease the pain and to wash the nipples with iodine to keep them from becoming infected. Good grief, I had no idea the myriad of ways that babies challenge you… is it easy for others or are they pretending it’s easy for them?

*The nurse’s office is located inside the local Pole Emploi. It is here that she has regular office hours for anyone to drop in. I assume that because my husband and me are self-employed but pay French taxes, this is a general service that is not necessary to register for because we filled out no paperwork, nor made any special arrangements other than requesting her to visit.


The Baby Diaries 2

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain


Since having my baby boy I’ve been in the hospital for 3 days. My C-section wound is healing, and I’m shuffling around. They do NOT let patients be lazy here in France, that’s for sure. They had me up and about a couple of days after I gave birth, forcing me to use the toilet and take walks up and down the hall.

Each day in the hospital is regimented activity, with the morning being the busiest. Seemingly all at once, there are people coming in to take the garbage, swipe down the counters and tidy the bathroom. Doctors come in to take my pulse, my blood pressure, and put some kind of measurement/radar on Sebastian. Sage Femmes (midwives) ask how the night went. Then a woman comes ‘round and asks what I’d like for lunch. Another brings my breakfast. After breakfast, my little family goes to the bathing room to wash Sebastian under supervision. Thank the fates for this, too, because we didn’t know what to do with him after he was born.  Thank the fates for their fastidious conscientiousness in France, which ensures that new mothers know how to breast feed, burp, de-gas, bathe, and change their babies before they step foot out of the hospital. There are other people with their newborns in the bathing area, which is a room full of sinks and workstations.  Other than a greeting, no one speaks or makes jokes. Perhaps we’re too tired? It’s amusing, too, because each of us eyes the other babies and mothers to compare with our own baby and our own post-baby bodies.

Oh! And the Maire (mayor) has been calling my room three times a day to find out what my boy’s name is and all of his birth details. Finally, today, we gave out his name officially – Sebastian Leo. Also today, the paediatrician told us that our boy has jaundice. I thought jaundice was akin to scurvy or small pox in the sense that it had passed out of western society. The doctor assured us that it was very common and a few days of phototherapy would sort it out. The phototherapy was started immediately. Unfortunately for this first time, my husband had gone home to make sure our beloved cat Oscar was okay and to do some work.

The phototherapy device is a small canister with a door that looks like a miniature sunbed with a little tarp suspended in the middle. The nurses took my baby, took off his ‘onesies’ and his diaper, taped some gauze over his eyes, then stuck him naked in the middle of the tarp in the machine and turned it on. Sebastian freaked. I tried to calm him, but I was scared, too, and upset that there was anything wrong with him in the first place. The nurses thought he was hungry. I fed him and he was quiet for a bit. Then he started crying again. The nurse went and got formula for him, saying it would ‘last longer’ and ‘be stronger’ for ‘our purposes.’ She shoved the milk into his mouth and he drank deeply and quietly. Once he’d finished a bit, she thrust him back in the sunbed, shut the door, and started the engine. Shortly thereafter, he threw up. The nurses were disgusted and complained that my baby was a problem. For the first time in my life I understood the feeling of a mother bear for her cub. I wanted to scream that they were rough and unfeeling. I wanted to scream that it would be scary for ME to get blindfolded and shoved naked, suspended, into a loud machine and he’s just come out of the safety of my womb. Sounds, sensations, eating, are all so new and overwhelming to him. But I held my tongue. I know I was hormonal, that he’s my child so I’m extra sensitive, and that they were just doing their job, albeit grumpily.

The need for phototherapy means I’m in the hospital for a few days longer, which distresses me somewhat, even as I realise it’s a good place to be in these first moments. I can’t really sleep comfortably on my bed because, as in all hospitals, there are many noises in the night: walking, crying, talking, jangling, scraping, jostling, rattling of carts and beds, people coming and going from your room. I’m alert to the noises my son makes, which disturbs my rest, as he makes frequent noises. I think he sounds a little bit like a pug dog. The lights in the hospital could be used to interrogate prisoners. I’m also worried that I’ll have to go pee and have to call a sage femme to help. They don’t generally respond quickly to the bell ringing, and when they do come they act as though they’re being majorly inconvenienced. I think that it’s more of a lazy thing than a malicious thing though. One nurse did take Sebastian away from me for four hours in the night last night to give me time to get sleep. I could hear him crying as they walked down the hall and away from my hospital room. I thought I’d never be able to relax because I’d worry that Sebastian was unhappy, but the next thing I knew she was back in my room, putting him in his basket, and I’d been deeply asleep for four hours.

March 19, 2012 re nursing…
March 19, 2012, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

When I started nursing, my goal was to make it to six months, and even as I was also anxious to get my body back after a long time pregnant. In retrospect, I’m surprised that I made it past the first three months. You were “game” from the get-go, though you always preferred one to the other, which meant that my breasts were lopsided.

The first few months I was so sore that I dreaded it every time you fed (which was frequently, my good little eater). Add this to the sense of disorientation and sleeplessness of those early months and with my family ten-thousand miles away, and I’m surprised not only that I continued to nurse you, but that I didn’t go crazy. A midwife was called in to help, to no avail. A lactose nurse was called in to help, to no avail. I used so many creams  – lanolin, wax based, bottom cream for babies, one even for cows – that I did, indeed, feel as though I had challenged “udders.”

But I persisted, and the pain went away almost as quickly as it had come. Six months of nursing you – which all of the doctors told me was the “least” that I could do to help you to get a good start and to fight allergies – seemed possible. We also fed you a bottle in the night because your father was generous and would give it to you, thereby allowing me to sleep through one feed. Once you were three months old and your father was away in the mountains working most of the time, you would have a bottle at your ‘nu nu’s’ once a day when you were there for three or four hours in the afternoon, too. At six months, and during a trip to Seattle to see my family, we integrated food – bananas and rice cereal – into your diet. In fact, it was your uncle Monnix who fed you for the first time. I then thought I’d make it to one year, my ‘secret’ goal, though one I never thought I’d make (hence its being secret), the date to finish nursing you, and even as at nine months, I only nursed you in the evening to help you to sleep, and in the morning, next to me in bed and in order to buy myself some time snoozing.

Now, we’re coming up on your first birthday, and my ‘outside’ goal is almost met, and then I’ll stop nursing you altogether. However, whereas I’d set out thinking that the whole nursing ‘thing’ was a huge responsibility and one that I’d welcome being over so that I could finally have my body back, I find myself feeling very sad. A monumental moment in time that will never be repeated for either one of us is reaching its conclusion. This tender sentiment tells me that it’s the right time to cease and desist. But even so, this tender sentiment is also because nursing you has helped to create an indelible bond between us (and was hugely convenient to do as it turned out!). One that I hope resonates forever, even when you’re too cool for your mother and don’t want to be a “big girl’s blouse” by hanging onto your mother’s protection and love. I worry, too, that because your father is eager and able to participate in your daily care, that I’ll no longer be ‘the apple of your eye.’ Certainly I have not been your primary ‘food source,’ your means to survival, for some time.

Even so, I also understand that this is a necessary milestone for both of us and I will embrace whatever comes to pass, and all of the stages of your life. I enjoy seeing the signs of your growing independence – communicating through your hands, facial expressions and sounds, observing and “commenting” on everything around you…crawling, wanting to explore every inch of any given floor or ground, and pulling yourself up to a standing position…and I look forward to knowing you as you grow and get older. So, I mentally begin to prepare myself for this separation from you next week. And I remind myself that in addition to looking forward to participating in the development of your growth and prosperity, I do look forward to getting my body back (and same-sized boobs) after two years of devoting my physical self, and even more of my emotional self (which will continue), to another creature’s life – you, my darling son.