Q&A: Reclaiming yourself

Jen asks:

"Hi Moxie,

I have always been a fan of your advice and am so thrilled you started an advice column. I hope you can shed some light on my situation.

I gave birth to Sophie after a rather stressful and often times gloomy pregnancy that was plagued by one darn thing after another. I thought to myself that at her birth we’d reach this crescendo and all would be so great afterwards. Only, it sort of didn’t happen that way.

Sophie screamed nonstop from birth, had apnea spells, plateaued her weight gain and in her 4th week of life slept 20 minutes a day. Her 5th week was no better when we saw a single hour of sleep. She screamed, vomited copious amounts of everything and gorged herself on the breast. We were feeding ever 15 minutes. Finally, by the grace of G-d, we got into a Paed’s office and she was diagnosed with severe silent reflux. Since then we’ve battled on with a severe reaction to a drug, balancing 2 medicines daily and teaching her how to sleep and eat properly.

Now at almost 16 weeks things are starting to settle down (I never expect life to be ‘settled’) but I’ve developed PTSD amid PPD and was diagnosed with physical exhaustion and have been put on anti-anxiety meds and an antidepressant. I’m feeling ok about that (nervous about the drugs in the breastmilk) but the doctor ordered me to take some time out for me. Get a sitter a couple hours a week and go do things for me. Take an overnight holiday he said.

And with Christmas coming up all the relatives and friends want to ‘do things’ for me and give me gifts. And I just can’t let them. I guess I feel no one would know how to cope with Sophie’s meltdowns or how to soothe her, how to give her medicine, etc. I feel such anxiety over it. So I’ve declined to let anyone watch her. I’ve worked a way to have about 30 minutes to myself a day and that feels really good.

But I’m suddenly stuck wondering where I’ve gone. In those 30 minutes I’m supposed to do something I like. Only, I don’t even remember what I like and none of my old hobbies appeal. I’m too tired to go jogging or go swimming as was suggested by the doctor and I just want to hole up and hide. I already bathe with Sophie as a means of destressing so it’s not like I want another bath. I can’t even tell people what I’d like for a Christmas gift because I can’t even feel desire for anything — not even chocolate or cake!

Is this just part of the depression? Where on earth have I gone!? I know they say the AD’s don’t change you but I sort of want it to — I want some of me back!"

Thank you!

If it makes you feel at all better, I think you’re having a
completely normal reaction to an abnormal situation that’s become
normal for us. If that makes any sense. Let me explain.

I think the way we parent is absolutely nuts. We are all isolated in
our own little houses trying to stay interested and keep our heads
above water being alone with a baby for the whole day. That’s just not
normal. Humans are created to be around other humans, and not just
teeny tiny humans.

We should all be living as tribes or small villages. If we lived
with other people around us, parenting wouldn’t be as stressful or
isolating, because we’d be talking to other adults all day. And they’d
help us raise our children. Need to take a nap? One of the old ladies
or teenagers would be happy to play with your baby for an hour or two.
Feeling frustrated? One of the moms of older kids would help give you a
little perspective, and you’d look at her kids and see the light at the
end of the tunnel. Need some time alone with your husband? Your baby
can crawl around with the other babies at a neighbor’s house. In short,
you wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place.

So that’s the abnormal part. Now, I think your reactions to this are
completely normal. I felt, and I know lots and lots of other moms who
felt, a physical and emotional pull toward our babies that was
shocking. Before I had El Chico I thought for sure I’d be happy to
leave him with a babysitter for a few hours at a time. But then once he
was here I just couldn’t imagine it. He was part of me, and when I
wasn’t with him I couldn’t even imagine what I’d do. My husband would
say, "Honey, just go out for an hour or two and do whatever you want.
We’ll be fine here without you." I had no worries whatsoever about the
two of them together, but I literally could not think of a single thing
to do by myself. I’d usually end up wandering aimlessly through the
aisles at the grocery store.

I know I’m not the only one who had this same experience (anyone
else who wants to pipe in, feel free, especially adoptive moms, because
my suspicion is that you have the same exact experience as bio moms
with the separation thing, but I don’t know as I’m not an adoptive
mom). I think it’s partly biological (the same way we become forgetful
during pregnancy), and partly emotional (because of the love and
connection we feel for our babies) and partly a result of stress (sleep
deprivation, recovering from pregnancy, wondering who the hell we are
anymore). But it’s normal.

In my experience, it started to go away once my baby started
crawling. Funny, isn’t it, that as soon as he could start to leave me I
was ready to start to leave him a little? I can’t believe it’s just a

So, in the meantime, what do you do to get some relief? Well,
knowing that how you feel about being away from Sophie is normal and
not something to be worried about or "cured," I’d say you should ask
for things that will get you more support and contact from people who
care about you while you’re with Sophie. Ask people to come
over and bring you lunch and stay for an hour or two. Yes, they’ll
probably hold Sophie while you go to the bathroom or toss in a load of
laundry, but the point won’t be for them to babysit her. The point will
be to create more of a community to help support you both (and your
husband, too, of course). Ask for people to give you a gift certificate
of their time to come sort through baby clothes with you, or paint some
room that needs to be painted, or go to the zoo with you, etc.

In the meantime, have you started going to any groups for moms of
new babies? I think peer support is absolutely critical for new
mothers. You can find friends at breastfeeding support groups, baby
classes, the public library, La Leche League, and hospital support
groups. These groups can also help you organize your week by giving you
something to look forward to and plan around.

Once you start feeling
like you’re not so trapped in your own head, you’ll have a little room
to breathe and you’ll start to get interested in the things you used to
be interested in. Maybe you’ll join a book club (once a month leaving
Sophie with your husband for a few hours won’t seem like anything by
then) or train for running races (with Sophie along).

I’m going to disagree with your doctor here that you should go on an
overnight by yourself. Not because I think there’s anything wrong or
unnatural about a mother going away from her baby, but because I know I
couldn’t have done it when mine were that age. I would have gone into a
full-blown panic attack because it would just have felt so wrong to me.
But I know it’s not that way forever, and won’t be for you, so don’t
feel like you have to force yourself to do something you don’t think is
right for you.

If you don’t feel like leaving her yet, don’t. But try to bring the
outside world, and the people who care about you, into your life more.
You’ll get your old self (actually it’ll be your new, improved self)
back soon enough once you start to reenter the world. (And if you need
to ask for physical things for Christmas, ask for a great jogging
stroller–so you can walk or run with Sophie–and some Lilypadz–if
she’s been nursing every 15 minutes you probably have a heck of a
supply and are probably leaking a lot at night!)

Q&A: crawling and sleep

Let me answer these two softballs while I work on longer responses to tougher questions:

Tertia asks:

Hello, asshole.

Should I be worried that Kate is no where near to crawling at 10,5
months?  Well, actually, its too late, because I am a little worried.
Do these developmental milestones really matter?  She seems absolutely
fine with every thing else and has consistently been hitting her
milestones a little later than the norm up until now.  Are some kids
just a little slower than others and does this have any correlation to
future aptitude in school / life etc?

Yours in assholiness

T, I think that if your wee little asshole-in-training is fine with
everything else–responsive to you, babbling, all the other stuff–then
she’s just a slow crawler.
As long as she gets plenty of tummy time and isn’t stuck in a walker or jumper or saucer all day, she’s fine. (For anyone panicking right now because your baby hates tummy time, go to SparkPlugDance.org and check out the article on how to make tummy time fun for your kid.)

FWIW, my husband didn’t walk until he was 22 month. Yes, that’s almost
2 years old. But now he walks fine. Sometimes he even runs! (He’s actually pretty graceful and
athletic.) He was very verbal early and read before he was 4. So I think
he was just doing other things cognitively when other kids were working
on the walking stuff, and then caught up later.

And now for Softball #2. Ally writes:

Dear Moxie,
My son is 13.5 months old, and I really thought by now he’d be sleeping through the night. This is less of a question and more of a plea for encouragement. He wakes mainly when he’s teething, which, since he’s working and working and working on his 1 year molars, is 4-5 nights a week. I keep vacillating between a roll-with-the-punches, it’ll-be-ok attitude and OMG I’M NEVER SLEEPING AGAIN.

But I will, right? Sleep again?

Yes. Yes, you will. Maybe not tonight, and maybe not next week. But soon, and until you have another child.

Seriously, though, have you tried the Humphrey’s #3 teething pills? If those don’t do anything, then maybe send him to Grandma’s for the weekend.

Honestly, if we can put a man on the moon, why can we not come up with something that makes the teething pain go away completely? Tylenol and Motrin just don’t cut it. And you have to watch them suffer, and you have to suffer yourself. It’s amazing any of us make it through the first two years.

Hang in there, Ally. And it’s way easier the second time, because you lose that "what am I doing wrong?!" feeling with the second one and just get pissed off at the human body and its developmental trajectory instead.

No advice today

In the past 36 hours, Casa Moxie has seen middle-of-the-night preschooler diarrhea, middle-of-the-night preschooler vomit, preschooler illness-induced tantrums, baby refusal to nap or sleep, missed work deadlines, mother’s exhaustion and 8:30 bedtime, and various forms of playgroup intrigue that really could have waited another week or two.

I’ll try to post some questions over the weekend.

Follow-Up to waking in the middle of the night

In the comments of the previous post, Dee said she was having problems with her 5 1/2-month-old, because she was waking like a fool whenever she wasn’t swaddled. And won’t even fall back asleep in the middle of the night when swaddled. She says:

But she will go right back to sleep in the swing at that pointwithout crying so most nights that’s where she goes once she wakes.
Once there, she’ll stay asleep until we…wake…her…up…the next
morning (payback and all–sister loves to get her some sleep, just like
her daddy). She didn’t used to do this, and slept through the night–in
her crib–like a champ.

At this point, I have to wonder, will she be sleeping in that damn
swing until she’s two? ‘Cause it’s the only place that she’ll go back
to sleep in once she wakes up in the crib. And am I doing her harm by
putting her back to sleep in the swing almost every night (probably 5
or 6 nights a week)?

Eventually she’ll grow out of the swing, so the answer to whether she’ll be there when she’s two is an unqualified "no." The motor of the swing will probably burn out before then.:)

And what do you mean by "harm"? Do you mean that you might be creating bad sleep habits? I don’t really believe in that. I mean, if you had to switch shifts at work and needed to start sleeping at completely different times of the day, you’d be able to do it, even if it sucked for the first week or so, and you’re a full-grown adult. So I just don’t believe that a baby can’t learn to sleep different ways, as long as no one expects it to be easy and happen in only one night. I think the "don’t create bad sleep habits" thing is just another scare tactic.

Now, I guess it’s possible that you could be doing some harm to the spinal cord by having her sleep in the swing, but I kind of doubt that, too. Humans are pretty flexible and adaptable. If she’s getting plenty of tummy time during the day, I say do what you need to to get her to sleep at night. In another 4 weeks she’ll be doing something completely different anyway.

Also, read the comments from Kate and wix, and see if anything triggers for you. If she changed her sleep habits all of a sudden, it could be from something that changed in her environment, or it could just be because she’s a baby.

Sherry: Most baby books will have general info about physical spurts, but great info about developmental leaps is in the book The Wonder Weeks by Hetty Vanderijt and Frans Plooij. (They have freaky names because they’re Dutch.) The book talks about when the big developmental leaps happen in the first year so you can figure out why a good sleeper suddenly won’t sleep, or a good eater won’t eat for a few days, etc. It also tells you what they’re learning, and how you can help them. I love this book and can’t recommend it enough.

Q&A: 6-month-old waking up in the middle of the night

Kate asks:

"Hey Moxie

OK, so when they’re 6 months, and they start rolling
around the cot all night, waking every couple of hours asking to be put back
where they started….

Do you think it’s best just
to let them cry and figure out how to fall asleep wherever they are (on their
tummies, out of the blankets and whatever)? Or go in every so often, sort them
out, and hope it’s a phase that ends soon enough?

Because there’s some serious sleep deprivation in this



Well, Kate, first of all, I think you must be a better person than I am to be able to end your email about sleep deprivation with "Cheers." I think I would have ended mine with "Stick a fork in my eye" or "Barely functioning."

Now, on to the issue. I’m going to have to go with "it depends" on this one. It seems like there are three things you have to examine before you make your plan:

1. What’s up with all the wiggling? Is he just a wiggly kid? Or is there some kind of developmental spurt going on? Is he about to crawl? Is he getting a tooth or two and trying to wriggle away from the pain?

If it’s something transient, like teething or crawling or something else developmental, I’d say to see if you can hold on for another week to see if it resolves itself. I think most kids will go back to what they were doing before sleep-wise once the spurt or crisis is over. But if he’s a wiggly kid, then you’re really looking at making a decision about what to do.

2. How will he deal with being left alone to work it out on his own? Some kids will fuss a little and then conk right back out. Other kids wake up in the middle of the night and just won’t go back to sleep without help. My older son was like that–if he woke up he was up! and crying! until someone came to save him from the indignities of being alone! in the dark! oh, cruel cruel world! I never considered letting him cry, because it would have gone on for hours and hours. My younger one will wake up, fuss for 10 seconds, and then go right back to sleep. A friend’s child will wake up, scream his head off for about a minute, and then abruptly fall asleep again (she discovered that he’d fall asleep again on his own in almost exactly the time it took her to realize what that noise was, wake up, struggle out of bed, and stumble down the hall to his room.).

If you’ve got a kid who’s going to be up and crying if you don’t go in, then you’re going to have to go in, do a slow wean off going in, or minimize the ways he can wake himself up. If he freaks out from being on his tummy, do more tummy time during the day so he’s not as freaked out by it when it happens in the night. If he’s cold, maybe put him in warmer pajamas so the blanket isn’t such a factor. If it’s something else, try to figure out what exactly is waking him up and see if you can eliminate that cause.

You can always let him fuss for a minute or two to see what happens and whether he’s an escalator or a yelper who falls back asleep. It might surprise you.

3. Can you let him cry? Some parents have no problems with letting their kids cry at night. Others can’t do it. I think you should be the same kind of parent at night as you are during the day, so stay true to yourself and your vision of yourself as a parent. Or delegate this one to your partner.

Whatever happens, just know that he will sleep through the night without you. Even my older one, who would yell like a car alarm when he was up at night, now falls asleep easily and stays asleep with no problems. And someday they’ll move out of the house and you won’t know how or even if they sleep.


I’m Here To Help

A few days ago I was reading a friend’s blog. She’s a new mom, and she posted that she’d read something in a book that helped her figure out an aspect of her child’s routine. A few commenters posted that they were glad she’d had this insight, etc. But others started falling all over themselves to declare their total devotion to the author of the book. One mom said the author was her "hero." Another said she had "undying love for" the author and saw him as almost a benevolent relative to her children.

I don’t think they realize that he’s not the only person who knows this particular bit of information about babies.

When my mom was here after El Chico was born, she was reading my copy of a popular parenting book by a different author. About five pages into it she screwed up her face and said, "Does this guy think he invented this? We were doing this back in the 70s, only we just thought it was normal."

That’s got to be the thing I hate third-most about parenting: No matter what path you take, there’s someone who’s written a book telling you that there’s only One True Way, and if you deviate from it you’re going to raise children who have no control/are too tightly controlled/are too dependent on you/aren’t attached to you/won’t ever sleep through the night/won’t be good Christians/will turn into fundamentalists of one sort or another/will wet their beds until they’re teenagers/won’t come visit you when you’re 90/won’t be able to learn Latin/will only speak in Pig Latin. And they act like this dogma is a huge revelation that only they’ve had. So not only do you have to do what they say, you have to think they’re the only ones who could have come up with their position.

All this is a really roundabout way of saying that none of us has unique information. Sears doesn’t, Weissbluth doesn’t, Ferber doesn’t, Leach doesn’t, Spock didn’t, Hogg didn’t, Pantley doesn’t, Supernanny doesn’t, even Ina May doesn’t. Dobson doesn’t, Cohen doesn’t, Karp doesn’t, Faber and Mazlisch don’t, and Gary Ezzo certainly doesn’t. Your MIL doesn’t. My mom doesn’t. Your pediatrician doesn’t. And I don’t. All these people (including me) have done is gathered the wisdom of the universe, digested it, and spit it out with their own personal biases.

So before you read what anyone else says about raising kids, stop and think about the fact that you know your child best. Not me or any of those other people. We can give you ideas, or help you see things in a new way, or make you feel better or worse about what you’re doing. But you’re the one who knows. So trust your instincts. And keep on rocking the mama thing.

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