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Posts Tagged ‘imperfection’

Let me be clear: pregnant women do not want your advice.   If they want it, they will ask for it.  And if they ask for it and then realize they disagree with what you are saying, they will probably go vacant-eyed and fantasize about ice cream until you stop talking.  

Mint chip.. Rocky Road... Wait, were you talking?

For the most part, pregnant women or their partners do not want to know what you think about swaddling, whether (and for how long) you believe in breast-feeding, or whether you decry pacifier use as moral downfall or uphold it as your family’s personal salvation.  It’s not that the topics of swaddling, breast feeding or pacifiers don’t interest them.  The problem is that advice givers are so invested in their own choices that their advice, rather than being neutral and informative, is actually a high-pressure sales pitch in disguise.  The expecting parent is like a person who doesn’t yet have a driver’s license but has wandered into a used-car dealership.  “You’re going to buy a car ONE DAY,” the peddler of advice is insisting, “why not buy MIIIIIINE?????  THIS ONE?????  Because I know this one is RIIIIIGHT??!?!?”  And you, the expecting parent, flounder to be polite without committing to anything.

To swaddle or not to swaddle?

My usual approach with expecting parents is to be vague and supportive on any topic.  They don’t need any judgment from me, and if they parent with love everything will probably work out just fine.  My stock phrases are “Every baby is different” and “Whatever works for your family.”  If the expecting parents press me and ask what I did with Miles, I usually answer honestly and then add one of my stock phrases.  Sometimes I finish with, “I’m sure whatever you decide will be fine.” 

Swaddling?  “We did it with Miles.  Whatever works for your family.”  Pacifiers? “Miles refused to take one.  Every baby is different.”  Burying the placenta under a neighborhood tree?  “Ewwww!  I mean, um, we didn’t do that. Whatever works for your family.  I’m sure whatever you decide will be fine.”

Pacifier dreams.

But I have opinions.  I’m not claiming my opinions are exclusively right or that they work for everyone.  (See stock phrases above.)  But here, without further disclaimer or self-deprecation,  are my honest opinions.  This is the stuff that I wish the future me could have flown back and told the pregnant me — the stuff I learned the hard way.

1. Baby wash cloths are not necessary.  They are cute, yes, and registering for them is fun.  But they.  Are.  Wash cloths.  Just use what you have at home and call it good.

2.  Pacifiers.  If you can get your baby to take one, thank your lucky stars.  More time on the pacifier is less time on the boob, which can be astonishingly helpful when you want to shower, make a bowl of cereal, or ride the subway in New York city without stripping.  Not that I would know, because Miles refused to take a pacifier.  He was a boob man through and through.  (In the photo at right, we put it in after he was asleep.  It didn’t last.)

3.  This brings me to breast feeding.  I recommend making it work if you can.  I think it’s better than formula (sorry!), but if you are going to breast feed, puh-LEASE don’t be sanctimonious about it.  Breastfeeding does not give anyone license to berate others. 

Plugged in.

If you try BFing and can’t do it, you are not a bad person.  If you try it and succeed, expect to have mixed feelings about it for the first several months at least.  It will sometimes hurt.  You will not necessarily feel “bonded” when your newborn wakes up every two hours at night wanting to latch on.  You will instead feel furious, cranky and tired.  You will think that all those people who described it as a beautiful experience were lying, and you will want to blow them up.   That is okay.  You (like me) may one day describe it as a beautiful experience.  And even though breast feeding in public is embarrassing and some people will freak out and give you flak for it, just do it.  You are feeding a baby in public, not masturbating, and your alternative is to go home EVERY TWO HOURS to feed your baby in private.  Just use a nursing cover or get used to being bare-breasted.

4. Those little baby outfits with the feet on them? Those are pajamas.  No one told me this.  Miles wore those day and night. 

5. Co-sleeping versus the crib.  As you may know, we slept with Miles for the first year.  Now he sleeps in a crib.  We were happy then; we’re happier now.  This really is an every-baby-is-different-whatever-works-for-your-family situation.  Whatever you do, don’t let anyone give you any lip about it.  Lie if you have to.

6. Speaking of lying, get ready to lie about your baby’s sleep.  Everyone will ask you, and no good can come of their response when you answer honestly.  In my experience, most babies sleep badly. Myths of newborns who sleep “all night” are greatly exaggerated.  Different babies respond differently to sleep training efforts, and those differences probably have more to do with the babies themselves than with anything the parents did correctly or incorrectly.  Yet the more sleep deprived you become, the more vulnerable you will be to other people’s advice, mockery, and judgment.  Protect yourself.  Lie!

Sleep is for the weak.

Different people ask about your baby’s sleep for different reasons.  Some — usually parents whose children are long grown or childless people who don’t want to ever have children — feel a cruel sense of pleasure at your suffering.  It’s true; they want to laugh at you.  People whose children sleep through the night want to confirm that they are better parents than you.  With these two types, you neither want to give them the satisfaction of knowing you suffer nor invite their unwanted advice.  When they inquire, smile sweetly and say, “She sleeps all through the night.” 

Others just want to tell you what you are doing wrong.  They may be well-meaning family members or neighbors or someone you meet in a parenting group.   They’re just sure that any baby will sleep for 14 hours at a stretch if you use their method.  Chances are good that, having tried every method, you will want to punch these people.  Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “He sleeps all through the night.”  If your baby magically sleeps all through the night, and anyone asks about it, just be vague.  DO NOT BOAST OR APPEAR TO TAKE CREDIT FOR THIS MIRACLE.  IF YOU DO, I MIGHT SPIT ON YOU.  Just say, “He sleeps okay.”  If the asker is another parent who looks exhausted and tortured by self-doubt, be vague and compassionate.  Try, “Some nights are better than others.”  If the asker is a friend who is genuinely concerned about your well-being but has no particular stake in the politics of baby sleep, maybe, maybe, MAYBE tell the truth, whatever your truth may be.  But do so at your own risk.

7. I won’t ask you how your baby sleeps, but I might hand you Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West.  It is the baby sleep book that saved us from baby sleep hell.  It’s my favorite because, like me, it’s more middle of the road.  It’s not a strict cry-it-out system like Ferber or Babywise, but it’s not a super-granola attachment parenting manual like The No-Cry Sleep Solution (which I tried valiantly to use for almost a year).  We used the methods in Good Night, Sleep Tight, Miles cried some but in a way I could feel okay about, and now he sleeps so much amazingly better.  He sleeps all through the night.  And I am not even lying.  Get this book.  Now.  NOW.

8. The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp.  People will tell you it saved their lives.  Personally, I think it’s overhyped.  It worked for us about 60 percent of the time, which was helpful.  But you know what, sometimes all the swaddling and sideways laying and sucking and shhhhhing and swaying in the world does not work.  Sometimes they just cry. If you can borrow the book or DVD from someone, do.  If not, meh.  Whatever.

Dear Harvey Karp: You lied.

9.  Now for the best baby advice I ever received: Be gentle with yourself.  If you are a birthing mother, your hormones will be completely wack-a-doodle-doo for several months.  It is very possible that you will not know who you are any more.  If you are an adoptive mom, a dad, or any other kind of parent, you will still be going through intense experiences that change everything.  Everything.  New parenthood is surreal.  At times in the first weeks, I looked down at the crying bundle in my arms and could not remember its name or whether it was a boy or girl — I just knew I was supposed to appease it.  Give yourself a few months (or a year or so) for things to settle down.  You are doing a great job.  Trust me.  And, of course, congratulations!

This post is dedicated to Tina Anderson and Naomi Frame Powell, who have gracefully endured a great deal of unsolicited advice from me. 

Coming soon: The Breast Feeding Advice You Didn’t Ask For, The Stay-At-Home Parenting Advice You Didn’t Ask For, and more!

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The other day I tried to stage some photos for our holiday card.  (Yes, we’re going to be Those People and send out cards with photos of our baby looking festive.  Just go with it.  And if you want one, please send me your address.)  I put Miles in a green striped sweater and positioned him near a sunny window, in a rocking chair.  Usually, I just let the photos come naturally, but this time even Miles could tell I was forcing it. 

“Miles, look innocent and holidayish,” I commanded.

He rewarded me with this gem of an expression.

Satan baby.

“Okay, one more time.  You can do it!” I enthused.  “Think snowflakes, wonder, gifts, family, Santa, doves, yada yada.”  I lifted the camera.  And Miles did his best impression of the Bad Seed.

Wicked fun.

“Miles, really.  I said look innocent.  Let’s try again.”

Miles heaved a sigh and slumped down miserably.

Joy, shmoy.

Clearly, Miles was not feeling it.  Couldn’t he be festive on demand?!  I needed my perfect holiday-card photo.  Couldn’t he embody all that is pure and gorgeous and ideal about the holidays?  Is that so much to ask, I beg of you? 

Apparently, however, it is.  He’s a baby, not a symbol.  I got a couple of nice shots.  I even thought I got The One.  But ultimately, for the cards (we made two different ones), we chose photos from a few weeks ago.  They have both been published on the blog already, so they are clearly not “holiday” photos.  But they are authentically joyful, tender moments that I had been just lucky enough to catch because I happened to be paying attention.  They’re photos that capture the Miles-ness of Miles, just as he is. 

Okay, this might be gag-a-licious, but I’d like to see a lesson here.  This holiday season, maybe I won’t try to orchestrate perfection.  Maybe I won’t hold up in my mind an image of unblemished beauty and togetherness, only to feel crestfallen when life is messy and full of petty irritations. 

It’s difficult, isn’t it?  We have this idea in our minds of what the holidays should be.  The pressure is on to feel loved, to achieve harmony, to recreate for ourselves and for others that magical childhood potion of anticipation, frenzy and satiety. That pressure is why so many people hate the holidays — because life falls short, because family wounds surface, because we feel absolutely nauseated by television commercials telling us to buy diamonds and cars and sweaters, oh my.

What if, just for this year, I could be open to experiencing the holidays just as they are?  What if I could be a patient, loving observer of myself and my family members?  What if I could capture and watch the moments as they unfold, even the unhappy ones?  The stressed out why-did-I-come-to-the-mall ones?  The everyone-is-being-crazy-and-driving me ape-sh*t-bonkers ones?  The this-gift-is-so-not-what-I-wanted ones?  The my-cookies-are-burned-and-my-fudge-is-runny ones?  What a crazy idea!  Just experiencing the holidays as they are and not projecting my desires onto them?  Have I been reading too many books by Jon Kabat-Zinn?  Um, yes, I have.  But why the heck not?  It could be fun.  If nothing else, the pressure would be off.

Okay, enough crazy talk.  Here are the rest of the photos.  Do they capture the essence of the holiday?  No.  They capture the essence of a boy being plonked into a rocking chair on a sunny morning.  And they are absolutely perfect.

Here and now.

 

My darling Clementine.

 

Green, gray, orange.

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