Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sugar Tongue

Mr. Baby has made an exciting new addition to his vocabulary of self-expression: spitting. Not the loogie-hawking kind, thankfully, but the raspberry-blowing variety. It's slightly more comical than the former, but alas, also much wetter. Currently, the only words he knows that express displeasure are "No!" and "Stop!," which I guess didn't give him enough range of feeling. Zerberts, however, allow him to say anything from, "I fully maintain that it is my turn with the ball," to "I can't believe you tried to pass off a sippy cup of water when I so clearly requested JOOOOOOCE."

He's so fond of this new phrase of frustration that it is on the tip of his tongue, so to speak, day and night. This morning, still asleep, I could hear him calling, "Dop! Dop! Pbbbbbllllllt!" I don't know what wrong was befalling him in his dreams, but he was clearly handling it in the best way he knows how: with saliva. It's not a bad strategy, really. I'm sure I could vent a lot of my daily frustrations with some nice, calming horse-lips. But I think tech support would get mad when they had to keep replacing my keyboard.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Beautiful And Yet So Full Of Sad

I'm having trouble determining who exactly declared this to be Blog Week in support of the MOTHERS Act, a bill which would provide new mothers with post-partum depression screening and education and increase funding for PPD research, but whatever the source, I'm happy to participate. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the legislation, but if online updates can be trusted, this bill has received approval from the House but is currently stalled in the Senate.

What I will pretend to be at least a little expert on, however, is the devastating lack of support or understanding of mothers suffering from PPD. Through my work at Mothersville, I frequently encountered new moms who were in the grip of an unbroken sadness and/or anxiety, unable to enjoy their baby or new motherhood because of the intensity of their feelings of guilt, inadequacy, fear or just plain despair.

When I wrote about the topic a few years ago, I learned that PPD affects an estimated 10-15% of new mothers - more than pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes or Downs syndrome, which we are almost all screened for. I suspect the actual number is even higher than studies suggest, because mothers are so very good at putting on a brave face and hiding the true depth of their depression. Such was the case with Jenny Gibbs, a high school classmate of mine whose tragic story inspired her family and friends to create Jenny's Light, a PPD advocacy and education group. No one can ever say what might have happened if Jenny had found a group such as the one that now bears her name, but hopefully there are thousands of other mothers who will benefit from it.

My own struggle with post-partum depression was not as desperate, but it was a very dark and trying period of my motherhood, and I still look back and wonder why no one asked me - really asked me - how I was doing. I remember sitting in my OB's office, shuffled between nurses and medical students, answering every question about my recovery except that one. I mean, I'm sure there was the standard, "And how are we?" but no one asked, "Are you feeling down at all? Are you worried about how you're bonding with the baby? Have you had any thoughts of harming yourself?" Simply saying these words out loud to new moms would show them that they aren't alone, they aren't the only person to react to the "joy" of parenthood this way, and that validation alone would go a long way toward dispelling the shame of acknowledging PPD. I was lucky to have Mothersville as a place where I could be around other mamas and see that the reality of new motherhood wasn't all we had been promised, but the vast majority of first-time, and even experienced, moms feel overwhelmingly isolated in our modern, fend-for-yourself society. We're the daughters of feminists, raised to believe we can do anything we want to do; it's against our very nature to seek help at one of the points in our lives we need it the most.

So anyway, back to the MOTHERS Act. If you're the type to jump on these types of things, here are some actions you can take:

1. Contact your senator today or e-mail with your request for their support for S 324, The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act

2. E-mail to give your permission to be listed in the state by state constituent petition which will be presented to U.S. Senators the week of MOTHERS Day.

The health of our babies is directly tied to the health of our mothers, and taking one step toward better post-partum care benefits our entire society. Let's get walking.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Shadows Of The Night

Oh, son. What fresh hell is this? Just when I thought we were over the weaning hump, and had gotten into a really good bedtime routine (who knew a child under four could just lie down and settle into sleep without a complex series of interventions and negotiations? Clearly not your sister.), you have begun this horrible new habit of waking up three hours after going to bed. And then screaming. Inconsolably. For 20 to 30 minutes. In. My. Ear. But then suddenly stopping, for no perceptible reason, and sleeping soundly for another three hours. And then starting all over.

I thought maybe you were hungry, so I tried cramming you full of food before bed, but to no avail. I wondered if it might be molars coming in, but the rest of your day is happy and seemingly pain-free. I thought there might be some other physical problem - an upset stomach, an uncomfortable diaper, maybe even an ear infection - but there are really no symptoms of these issues or any indication that you're actually in pain. The one night I took you to the kitchen in a desperate search for a miracle cure, you grabbed a cup from the fridge and instantly stopped trying to wiggle out of my arms. You took a drink, curled up against me, and were half-asleep by the time we got back to the bedroom. It seemed as if you had nursed back to sleep, but with a Playtex substitute.

Which brings me to our other issue: your breastfeeding regression. We were doing great for a few weeks, and now you're suddenly asking to nurse again. And that's your least aggressive form of request - sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of the night to your arm trying to wedge through the neck hole of my t-shirt. My weekly Babycenter e-mails say you're right on target for regression, so congrats on being punctual. But that's about enough now, okay? It breaks my heart to have to tell you no, it's all gone, and I thought we were past that part and could just enjoy the exciting new world of constantly searching for sippy cup valves.

So here we are, with you up and crying several times a night and your waking hours spent obsessing over the boob. It's like having a newborn again. It would seem that the two might at least go together, and that keeping a milk cup near the bed would solve both problems at once, but the next time I tried to settle you with a midnight beverage, you threw the cup at my head.

Based on the fact that your wake-ups come at regular intervals, seem to have no connection to external forces, and are so violently irrational, I'm starting to suspect you might be having night terrors. Which is a very troubling diagnosis, because there's really nothing that can be done about it. Other than Dr. Sears' recommended treatment, which involves waking you up before the expected freak-out and keeping you up for five minutes. For a week straight. Because what I really want to be doing at midnight is going through the bedtime routine again, but this time with a freshly-napped baby. I guess if things keep going like this, I'll give it a shot, but right now, I go to bed every night with the naïve hope that, somehow, this time, everything will be okay and we'll both get a good night's sleep.

Yeah, I know, you're not the only one acting like they're new at this.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Touch My Cape

Speaking of the girl, I've noticed an exciting new phenomenon with her lately. No, not her failed attempt at forging a signature on a less-than-stellar conduct report. This one is more in the realm of good than evil. It's good versus evil, actually, After two years of wanting to play nothing but "sisters" and "babies," she is now running around the yard like a spy on the run and building rock forts for her and her superhero cohorts.

This shift in her fantasy play brings her to a much more relatable place for me. I know I played my fair share of "school" and my room was a Barbie shrine, but when I think back on the hours spent building treehouses and and defending forts and crafting robots out of appliance boxes, it's those less stereotypically feminine adventures that stand out as the most fun and formative of my childhood. I can't say it was all internally motivated, since I almost always had a male best friend who leaned more toward Star Wars than Strawberry Shortcake. But even when I was playing Little House on the Prairie with my sister and girlfriends, it involved tromping into the woods, making shelters, and chasing off invisible wolves.

So it was with delight, pride and nostalgia that I watched Miss M and her fellows dismantling the rock retaining wall at our local park in order to create a secret lair for their international surveillance operation. I don't expect that she has given up on more "girly" pursuits, and I'm not saying she should, but it warms my heart to see her breaking through the Disney Princess indoctrination and envisioning herself as a daredevil rather than a damsel in distress.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Thank You Mom

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, I have to admit I felt a little panicked. I grew up in a household that was 75% female, and this was the root of my concern. Not because we hadn't all gotten along, but because we were so freakishly functional I had no idea how to handle anything that deviated from that unnatural norm. I feared I didn't have the magical power my mother held that enabled her to raise two daughters who both ended up such ridiculously well-behaved geeks. What would I do if I had a girl whose teen-age rebellion involved something a little more unruly than joining a religion that forbade sex, drugs, tobacco and Starbucks? What if she went through that normal stage of hating/being embarrassed by/fundamentally rejecting me instead of bringing all her friends home to hang out and occasionally cook for me? I struggled with friendships with adolescent girls when I was an adolescent girl. How was I possibly going to identify with a normal one, thirty years later?

In the time since then, I have asked my mom, repeatedly, how she pulled it off, but apparently whatever deity she made her deal with swore her to silence. She just says a bunch of stuff about how lucky she was to get smart kids, and be able to give them good opportunities, and some muttery stuff about it not all being sunshine and roses and something about a call from the Evanston police department. But I know she deserves much more credit than that. It's not an accident that her daughters are strong, confident women who believe they have the potential to do anything they put their minds to. It isn't coincidence that we both succeeded in school and in our professional lives. It's not pure luck that we have happy, healthy kids of our own. She had a part in all of those things, from the abstract advice to pursue the best education possible to the concrete act of bringing us food while we held our newborn babies.

When I try to analyze why I was such a "good" kid, the biggest reason I can think of was that I couldn't stand the idea of letting either of my parents down. I still don’t know the secret to get my own kids to give my expectations that much weight, but I know that the best chance I have as a mother is to follow the amazing example I was given.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.