Saturday, December 27, 2008

Baby Essentials

Pregnancy junk mail is sneaky, even more than its instant credit card and retailer coupon cousins. While credit cards or too good to be true discounts appeal to our more selfish instincts-- more money, more stuff, more consuming-- mommy mail often masquerades as earnest advice for confused newbie parents. My recent Baby Depot mailer promised to tell me what I really needed for my new baby....and conveniently they had all of it in stock for 60% off the regular price!
The list was as follows

  • changing table
  • crib
  • crib bedding
  • dresser
  • rocker or glider and ottomon
  • infant car seat
  • travel system/stroller
  • play yard
  • bouncer seat
  • stationary exerciser
  • swing
  • bottles
  • breast pump
  • nursing pillow
  • high chair
  • bath tub
  • receiving blankets
  • basic body suits
  • layette
Phew! No wonder some estimates state that new parents are going to spend three to five thousand dollars preparing for their bundle of joy....not even including prenatal care and delivery. First time parents, who more and more frequently have waited until later in life to have their children, are easy prey for this kind of money trap. Who doesn't want make a well-prepared comfortable nest for their newborn?

Don't get me wrong....I'm all for nesting. Readying the home for the baby is an enjoyable aspect of pregnancy, and necessary too because of course the baby needs things. But don't let a baby store tell you what those things are. Before you shell out two hundred dollars for a bedding set or a thousand dollars for a crib, ask yourself if it is really going to benefit your baby or just your idea of a fairytale nursery.

When my daughter Ember was born, we didn't have much money to buy all the things we were "supposed" to have, and neither did we care. The church shower provided us with most of the essentials, and we scrounged thrift stores for a few pieces of baby equipment that we thought we'd need. My parents loaned us the cradle they'd used for me. Ironically, most of these items were never used. The stroller sat idle because we'd discovered the joys of babywearing, and the cradle was empty because we also figured out that co-sleeping worked best for an all-night nurser. She didn't like the baby swings, having figured out that the Mommy Swing-- snug in her pouch-- was much more to her taste. We fashioned a homemade co-sleeper out of some tubs and the top of a pack and play but most of the time she ended up in the bed. We never had matching bedding because so many of our friends had given us beautiful handmade blankets that it was more fun to use them all than just one or two. We used the baby tub twice then decided that the sink or a shared bath with Mommy or Daddy worked much better. The "changing table" turned out to be wherever was handiest to lay the changing pads.

I never felt deprived of what I needed to mother Ember, and she certainly didn't seem to notice that she was missing quite a few of the "baby essentials." I'm not saying that every parent needs to make do with as little as possible, or that every parent will need the some things. For some, a crib or a baby swing or a stroller might be absolutely necessary. All I'm advocating is a bit of mindfulness in the process of preparation.

As I said, everyone's "essential" list will be different but if I had to come up with one here's what it would be. I'm an at-home mom who intends to exclusively nurse so my needs are somewhat different than a working or bottle-feeding mom. I'm also omitting the obvious such as clothes, blankets, diapers, etc.

  • Some type of soft baby carrier, be it a sling, pouch, wrap, or mei tai. The one thing I could not live without.
  • A boppy or some other type of nursing pillow
  • A baby seat
  • Swaddling blankets
  • La Leche League's The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
Certainly, every expectant mom should have fun feathering her nest, but ultimately, remember that your baby wants you. Mommy's breasts, Daddy's warm fuzzy chest, lots of holding and kissing and snuggling. If you can give them yourselves, even during the dreaded all-night cry sessions or four a.m. feedings, you've given them what they really need.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Weaning Path

If I say it very softly, maybe my daughter won't hear-- she's weaning.

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided that we would attempt to wean Ember at night, to prepare for the nighttime nursing marathons that no doubt will arrive with the new baby. Tandem nursing during the day was always on the table, if that's what she wanted, but I was surprised and delighted at how much she took charge of the process.

I say she because while I've encouraged her and led her down the path of weaning, she's the one who's made the decision. At first it was a few less nursings during the day-- after all, there are so many things to do-- then it was a few less at night. Nursing to sleep, whether at nap or bedtime, was the last to go, once she discovered how much fun it was for Mommy to make up stories about horses. They are our special stories, told only when it's time to go to sleep, and most of them end with Baby Horse being tucked into bed or snuggling up with Mommy and Daddy Horse. She loves it.

I thought I would be heartbroken when she stopped nursing, but instead I'm pleased at how naturally it's gone and how she's chosen other forms of closeness in its place. Physical contact with the "na nas" is still important to her, and we snuggle or cuddle often during the day. At night she often reaches for them if she's waking from a nightmare, seeking the reassurance she needs to fall back to sleep. Instead of emptiness, I feel great satisfaction that we've journeyed this long together as mother and nursling, and now she's changing roles to independent big sister as I prepare for another hungry little one.

Once I wasn't sure whether or not I believed that child-led weaning was a reality. I'd read about it and the concept rang true with my mothering instincts but so many other mothers I knew talked about deliberate and artificial weaning processes. I didn't want that for Ember but wasn't sure if I was just being idealistic. As it turns out, I didn't have to pry her from the breast. She's letting go, as she's ready. Since the "end" of her nursing, she's nursed once during an illness, and I'll nurse her again if that's what she asks. Weaning is a path not a one-stop destination. I thank God for every single nursing-- even the ones that made me cry, gave me chapped nipples, woke me up every hour of the night. I thank Him for the chance to do it all over again with my second child and for the blossoming of my first, from newborn all the way now to little girl.

Weaning, just like breastfeeding, is its own gift, given in its own time. It's a path I can say I'm happy to walk without knowing exactly where or how it's going to end.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Out of The Cave

It's been quiet around here because I've spent the first three months of my pregnancy in hiding. If I could have holed up in a dark, secluded cave for the last twelve weeks, believe me, I would have! But of course, there is still a house to tend and a toddler who needs her Mommy, pregnant or not.

Since this pregnancy was deliberate-- not only planned but longed for-- I thought it would be smoother than my first. After all, I wasn't a surprised rookie. I had been through morning sickness, fatigue, the whole nine yards. No sooner did I put down my positive pregnancy test did I plan my pregnancy strategy in detail-- I would soldier on, making sure to keep the house together, exercise daily, restrict my diet, and spend extra time teaching Ember all the things I wanted her to know before the baby got here. I bought sewing patterns for maternity clothes and infant clothes, determined to make my own pregnancy wardrobe as well as the baby's layette. I would be a Uber-Capable Mom!

A week later, I was on the couch, convinced I would never move again short of flood or fire. I couldn't drink anything but bottles of water tinged with ginger ale and didn't want to eat anything that wasn't a carbohydrate. The exhaustion surprised me with its sheer....exhaustiveness... as I often found myself unable to function longer than thirty minutes without collapsing on the couch for a cat nap. I didn't remember being that tired with the first pregnancy but then again, I didn't have a toddler. (Ember, for the record, was heroic. She tucked her baby doll blankets around me when I was tired and patted my head or my tummy. Once she learned what my anti-nausea drops were, she'd bring me one every time I started to gag. I couldn't believe that my two year old little girl was mothering me.)

As for my sewing plans, I found that I could even look at material or yarn without getting sick. My husband had to pack all my craft supplies away in the garage, where I couldn't go anyway due to the smell of the cat's litter box, which is practically mustard gas to my pregnant-lady nose. Ah, maternal bliss!

But the most unexpected and difficult aspect of the trimester was the emotional upheaval that caught me completely off guard. In my first pregnancy, I was actually less emotional because I was no longer on birth control pills (which made my hormones wonky) and I expected little to no change with the new baby. Wrong. I found myself smack in the middle of a completely irrational depression that stuck to me like a rock in my chest no matter what I did. It didn't make sense, I told the Lord. I wanted the baby. I was amazed and grateful for His timing and for the new life in me. I had family support and a network of fellow moms who all would help me in any way I needed. More than that, I had the Holy Spirit and His daily grace to sustain me. Why couldn't I shake the black dog on my heels? The experience was very similar to my post-partum depression after Ember's birth, which was hormonally influenced and disappeared once my body got back into sync. I hadn't expected to face that battle again until after the baby, and certainly not for an entire three months!

Sometimes we can't lift ourselves out of a valley. We have to walk on through, stubborn in our faith that the path we are on is right even if everything about it is going wrong. One part of me knew that I had to do whatever I could to order my thoughts then just grit my teeth and get through the days until my body worked out the hormones. Another part of my was disgusted at my failure to live up to my self-made idol of Capable Mom that I'd fashioned at the beginning of the pregnancy. Capable Moms do not crouch in the stall of the church bathroom sobbing for no apparent reason! They keep up their exercise programs and count their calories! They spend their first trimesters in a state of calm resolve, dealing with the physical and emotional upheaval with one hand behind their backs!

God let me beat myself up for a while (I insisted) before He put the question in my mind-- whose standard are you using to judge yourself? What you think other moms expect of you? What you think will give you the most control or pride in your ability to keep juggling all the balls? What about what He wants or expects of me? His yoke is easy and his burden is light, a far cry from all the rocks I piled on my back only to be confused when I couldn't carry them. I gladly exchanged my idea of a perfect pregnant mom for a simpler, more God-honoring goal: do what I can with each day and no more.

Now that I'm into my second trimester, the clouds have definitely started to clear. My body is settling into the pregnancy, physically and emotionally, but more importantly, I've gotten rid of the idea that I am the one in control of all of this. Pregnancy and birth, more than anything I've encountered in my life so far, demands surrender. I can cling to my illusion of control but God brought this life into the world and He's the one growing it every day. In His way, not mine. It is the same for the birth-- I can plan and hope and work towards a certain labor but only God knows how He wants this baby to come into the world. And what He choses will be best. Why do I keep having to re-learn that simple truth?
My job is faithfulness in walking the path, not steering the course. Every time I take over the map, I end up lost.

So it's out of the cave, back to the fresh air and sunshine. I don't regret my time there, or what it's taught me. I'm happy that I can now eat oranges without getting sick, go for a walk with Ember without collapsing on the couch, and look at the day with hope in my heart and strength in my bones. Because it's not about my strength anymore. What freedom! Who knows, I may even knit something.