Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Okay (or, More Wisdom From Midwives)

Okay, can I just throw it out there? I love midwives. Maybe I've had exceptionally good ones, but they are just such incredibly wise people. Wise and calm. And good at listening, and thinking, and then saying something that makes sense and isn't stupid or panicky or cliche.

Maybe it comes from having seen a lot of mothers and babies, and knowing they turn out okay. But then, so do pediatricians. And while I love pediatricians too, for being able to do things like diagnose illnesses and tell you your kid is growing just fine (or not!), I feel like still, midwives have some kind of upper hand on baby-parenting wisdom.

Anyhow. This is another one that changed, that clarified, that made sense of my parenting. That left me feeling more settled and more capable.

It was my six-week postpartum appointment with Peregrine, and I was meeting with Catriona, the midwife who hadn't actually delivered Peregrine, but who had seen me a fair bit during my postpartum period. It was a long visit--pap smear and stitches review, breastfeeding evaluation, baby-growth measuring, long goodbyes, all those sorts of things. And, as part of her spiel, she asked how Peregrine was sleeping, and how we were all sleeping as a result.

I said fine, he was doing longer stretches at night, and when he woke up, he typically was hungry, and that problem was easily solved. I said I was tired, but what parent of a newborn isn't, and the tiredness wasn't something I couldn't cope with.

She said that was good, it sounded like things were going well, and she hoped they continued down that going-well path.

And then she said:

"I just want you to know, it's okay to sleep-train if you need to. It sounds like everything is working for you, and that's great, but if it isn't, call me. Do what works for you, but if you are losing your sanity over lack of sleep, know that sleep training is okay, and can be done well."

My lightbulb moment didn't happen then, really. I just tucked that piece of information away, and flagged it as important, because I'd never heard a natural-birth, hippie-skirt-wearing, still-nursing-my-toddler sort of person ever say that before. And I trusted Catriona, I trusted her a lot. I didn't think I'd ever need that piece of advice (or reassurance, or warning, or whatever it was), but I valued it all the same.

Back then I had no idea what sleep training was. Basically, I thought it was Babywise, and while I have absolutely nothing morally against Babywise, I also know it wouldn't work for me. I am a diehard Myers-Briggs P, and I could not live on the clock to the extent that Babywise advocates. So, in the completely untrue dichotomy I thought existed between scheduling babies and, well, not scheduling them, naturally, I fell on the not-scheduling side of things.

But, months after that six-week visit, Peregrine's sleep got more complicated. He was fussy--very, very fussy--in the few hours before we all went to bed. He woke up much more frequently at night (sometimes not just from hunger), and eventually started fighting bed altogether and utterly refusing to sleep, for fear he might miss something. He might (might) crash in a car seat or carrier, but only after hours of frantic, forced alertness (hours! a six-month-old! how did he do it? I have no idea!). And sometime, when Peregrine was between four and six months old, I realized it wasn't working anymore. So I read up on things, and found things that worked, and that included sleep training (which, I learned,  encompasses a lot more than scheduling, which isn't mandatory).

I never called Catriona. Mainly because I didn't need to, I quickly found things that worked (and worked amazingly well). I've never mentioned it again, beyond seeing her briefly and commenting on Peregrine's fast metabolism that still had him up every two hours to eat (but that was hunger, I could deal with hunger, especially with my speed nurser). But she was the rock I leaned on when I started researching sleep training. She was the reason I really felt absolutely no guilt choosing to go down that road. She was the reason I didn't feel like I was somehow crossing some line between natural-good-everything-I-want-to-be parent and strict-baby-scheduler when I decided to start actively shaping Peregrine's sleep habits. She was the reason I stopped believing that line existed.

And all she did, really, was tell me it's okay. It's okay to change what you're doing. It's okay to do something you didn't think you would. It's okay to shift and flex and adapt to your baby's needs and your own. It's okay to do something people argue about. It's okay to stop listening to the arguing and do what you need to do. It's okay to find your rhythm.

Would I have sleep trained Peregrine without Catriona's permission? Likely, I would have. It made us all so very much happier and better rested. But I probably would have felt guilty. I probably would have second-guessed myself. I probably would have been a lot less confident. I probably would have believed I had to go all-or-nothing, Babywise or Dr. Sears. Who knows.

All I know is that hearing it's okay was all I needed to hear. And it's a message I try to pass on, when I can. About sleep training, sure. But about a whole host of other things as well. There are a lot of things that are okay in parenting.

The latest from Peregrine...

He's mixing up his pronouns, just like I did at his age. But, his twist on it: he is "you," and only I am "me." Everybody else has names, and possessive pronouns for their names (i.e. "Daddy's shirt," etc). But I get all the first-person pronouns. And, as Peregrine is oddly possessive over a lot of my personal belongings, it's pretty funny. He talks about my things like they're beloved pets or something.

"Oh! Wearing my purple tank top!"

"Need get my purse!"

"Want my black sandals with owls!"

But, all the time, he's talking for me and about me. And with him, it's always "you."

"Need your fire truck pajamas!"

"Want your alligator water!" (Yes, tragically, he has stopped saying boodey, despite my efforts to keep it alive. Whatever. I still say it.)

This is my personal favorite, his latest request for seconds on anything (he still says "no" instead of "more"):

"You like some little no?"

He's completely taken with owls, and always has been, possibly because it's one of the first animal sounds he could imitate. We took him and his cousins to the zoo the other day, and, while he certainly enjoyed everything there, the highlight of the trip for him was the raptor show we attended on the spur of the moment. Ask him what he saw at the zoo, and "owl flying!" will be the enthusiastic response.

And yes, I was incredibly proud of my tiny, petite, not-even-two year old yelling out "Barn Owl!" with perfect enunciation during the show.

Speaking of owls, we stopped in at the ranger station while camping last weekend, and there was a little basket of stuffed animals in the gift shop. Peregrine was enthralled with the squirrels and bears and whatever other little woodland creatures were featured, but when he saw the owls, he couldn't contain his excitement. He picked up one, started cooing like you would to a baby, and exclaimed, "Little owl! Love eat you!" I stopped him in time from putting the whole thing in his mouth.

To be fair, it was a really cute owl. And also, to be fair, Peregrine's cuteness has made me want to eat him in times past. Not so much anymore. He's kind of bony and dirty these days.

But sometimes it's creepy. Like this conversation:

Peregrine, seeing a couple of dogs: "Doggies love you!"

Me (quick translation): "You love doggies?"

Peregrine, smiling: "You love eat doggies!"

Um. Yeah.

He reminds me of Gollum sometimes.

"Pick salmonberry! Eat big one! Eat juicy one!"

At least he was talking about something properly edible. As opposed to, you know, doggies.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Past and future (or, wisdom from my midwife).

I've gotten a fair bit of parenting advice over the last few years. Some of it has been good, some of it has been horrendous, some of it has been frustrating, and a fair bit of it has made me laugh. But some of it is exceptional. Some of it changes me.

Perhaps change is the wrong word. Maybe clarify is better. Because when those lightbulb moments happen, I think, not so much, I should be doing this differently, but, oh that's the way to look at it, that makes perfect sense. It's the same way with marriage advice, or life advice in general. I have a whole arsenal of good ideas and garnered wisdom. And then I have the things that stick out, that define the way I see the world, and the way I choose to live my life.

Anyway, all this is to say, one of those came last week, at my latest prenatal appointment. I left Peregrine with my sister-in-law and went in alone because I wanted to have a long, uninterrupted conversation about breastfeeding.

Peregrine and I had an interesting breastfeeding relationship, primarily because Peregrine was a somewhat odd nurser. He had a fast metabolism, little patience, and an extremely hard suck; and, as a result of these things, he was very quick and efficient at getting what he needed. I called him the speed nurser, because he could clean me out in (very few) minutes, and, past a few weeks old, he never fell asleep nursing or really relaxed while nursing at all. It was mealtime, it was business (pretty frantic business), and he was there on a life-or-death mission. Because of this, perhaps, or because of my own anatomy and hormones, I was never overflowing with milk. I had enough, Peregrine gained weight and wet diapers like he was supposed to, but I never had too much. I never had extra. Growth spurts were painfully unpleasant and I ended up supplementing a fair bit with donated milk from my sister-in-law.

And, without going into too many details, let me just say my extended family disagreed with a lot of choices I made surrounding breastfeeding, most notably, my choice to try to space out Peregrine's feedings instead of nursing him whenever he seemed unhappy. It was pretty hard on me (okay, really hard on me), and something I have a fair bit of anxiety about as I anticipate starting another nursing relationship.

Which is why I wanted to lay the whole thing out to my midwife, and hear the opinion of a third party who didn't know anyone in question, and who could honestly tell me whether or not I had supply issues, whether there was anything I could have done to make my nursing experience better, and whether or not I can make decisions now that will make this whole thing easier with Sylvia.

So I did. In the blissful absence of a restless toddler, I kind of vomited the whole story out in painful detail, both the Peregrine-and-me side of things, and the family tensions. I included all the things that I was sure would lose me attachment-parent points: having to schedule feedings when Peregrine was tiny because he wouldn't eat enough, introducing pacifiers early on because he would eat until he threw up, spacing feedings because he seemed happier that way, not just feeding him extra bottles because he would take them (in short, everything I'd been criticized for). I told her how I had watched my sister-in-law nurse her babies completely on demand (comfort-demand, not hunger-demand), and how easy it was for her, and how little her babies cried, and how much milk she had, how that had been my only model for breastfeeding, but also how much it would frustrate me to feel like a baby was perpetually attached to my breast when it didn't necessarily need to be. And I asked her, did I do it wrong, what could I have changed?

She listened, calmly, interjecting here and there, assuring me that I probably couldn't have changed anything, that my child had the personality (and eating habits) he had, for better or for worse, and there isn't anything you can do to change your child's personality. She said it sounded like I had formed a breastfeeding paradigm based on my sister-in-law's experience, which was all well and good until it didn't work with my body and my baby. And she assured me there's nothing wrong with having to shift our paradigms and work with the bodies and babies we have, and that I sounded like a responsive parent who gave my child exactly what he needed. (I knew all this, deep inside, but it was good to hear it). She thanked me for sharing my story, and said she would tell it to all the midwives in the practice, so they will know my history when they start walking me through my next breastfeeding adventure.

And when I got to the end of it, and asked her what she thought, and where I could go from there, she just sat there, for a long time.

And then she said this:

"Well, here's what I have to say. Your past history will always be with you. It just will be. And when you begin a new experience, it will heavily influence your mindset and the choices you make. And who knows? Your next baby could be tit-for-tat exactly like your first. In which case, you'll have done it before, and you'll be more experienced at dealing with that kind of baby. Or, she could be completely different. In which case, your past history will start mattering less and less as time goes on, and you'll adapt to the baby you have."

And there was clarity.

Because she didn't try to negate anything. She didn't tell me not to worry. She didn't even say, it's irrelevant, this is a different baby. It will be there. The worry about growth spurts. The tension in my family relationships. The every-drop-of-milk-is-precious mentality. But I'd never had it laid out so clearly before. Your past matters, and will matter. And either you will be wiser for it, or it will become less relevant as you have different experiences. Just like that.

I feel so much more settled now. So much more at peace. And not just about nursing. About parenting in general. About life. Because there it is. Your past matters. You can't escape it. You can learn from it, and maybe it will be relevant, maybe it won't. It's so easy as a parent, I think, to hash and re-hash the past, to recall every detail, to wonder could I have done it better? and how will I do it the next time around? Important questions, to be sure. It's good to learn from our mistakes (or to figure out whether they were mistakes at all!). It's good to be able to say, I'll do this differently if I have to do it again.

But then there's also a temptation to just move on. To sweep it all under the rug and say, I won't worry about it this time. I'll forget it all, start over. Whatever it was, I may not have to deal with it again, so I won't even think about it. I'll just take things as they come.

But neither is entirely healthy, and neither is realistic. You can't take things as they come when they've come a certain way before. For better or for worse, your past affects you. And yet it may not matter. Things may turn out differently. So, the wisdom you gained will either matter a lot--or it won't.

Maybe it's a small thing, and maybe it's something most people know instinctively already. But I'd never had it said before; and now, since I have, it's going to become a piece of me, and a piece of the way I parent. And ultimately, I think it's going to make me more confident, and more okay with things being what they are.

Which is good. It's very good.