Well, it’s officially official. I am going to be a stay at home mom for the foreseeable future. I let my work know last week and handed in my resignation letter. Alas, another chapter of my life begins.
 
Pretty soon my maternity benefits from the government will stop and we will truly be a single income family. I am so thankful that in today’s day and age we will be able to get by this way. One of the blessings that come along with living in a small community where the cost of living is low. 
  
I have always wanted to be a stay at home mom. Some of you might find this surprising, but it is probably no surprise to anyone who knew me really well in recent years. I want to be the mom who goes on all of the field trips, bakes fresh cookies for an after school snack, wipes the blood and tears and never misses a story off the bus. I want to do crafts with my toddlers and go to play dates on weekdays. But most of all I don’t ever want to hear about any firsts from someone else.
 
The last 9.5 months at home with Avery have been really hard. I won’t lie. Harder than any job I have ever had. So much harder than I ever expected it would be. It was such a drastic change in my life to go from a work environment 5 days per week to the home environment with a baby. The days are long (as are the nights) and there is no validation in the work of staying home. Sure, you might get a thank you for supper, or a compliment on how great the house looks when you spend a day cleaning, but any work you do is short lived. There will always be more dishes, laundry, and
dirt.
 
Sometimes it makes me sad when I talk to friends who want nothing more than to stay home, but it is impossible for them because of their circumstances. Be it debt obligations, a high cost of living, being a single mom or some other reason, the saying “where there is a will there is a way” is not really true in this instance. 

So, I’ll say it again. I am so thankful that we are going to be able to make this work for our family.
 
 
Yep, I am an uptight mom. 

I don’t like to leave my baby (unless it is with her daddy). I plan my day according to her schedule. It is important to me for her to take her naps. If I am in the middle of something and she calls for me, I drop what I am doing and go to her. Nothing is more important to me right now than keeping her happy and healthy. 
 
Before Avery was born, I really had no idea what kind of parent I would be. I read a few books (including the dreaded Baby Wise) but it wasn’t until after (well after, in fact) she was born that I stopped analyzing and planning what I was going to do with her and just let it happen. What I have found is that my parenting style is very baby-directed and instinctual. I do what feels right, when it feels right, and that is the end of it.
 
In all of our struggles with Avery’s (very) wakeful personality- I am talking often up each hour, with the occasional long stretch of 3 hours thrown in there- Blair and I have discussed what we could do to make things better. He really wanted to try a form of “sleep training”. Pretty much letting
her cry a little bit, going in and comforting her periodically, until she manages to fall asleep on her own. What Blair didn’t understand though, is how I, as a mother, am wired. People lose sight of the most basic fact- that we as humans are MAMMALS. We have instincts just like every other animal out there, and we should listen to them. When I hear my baby cry, especially a piercing cry, I begin to sweat, I can feel the adrenalin surge, and every ounce of my being desires to go to my baby and fix whatever is wrong. Leaving her to cry in her room, while my brain is screaming for me to go to my baby, just doesn’t make sense to me. Sleeping through the night is a milestone, just like crawling, walking, talking, and I am sure my baby will get there, on her own time, just like every other baby.

What I am getting at is following your instincts as a parent. People (myself included) spend so much time worrying what others think. Take, for example, the little to no desire I have to leave Avery under the care of someone else. We have a wide variety of loving and capable family members close by that could take Avery off our hands for an evening. In fact I would imagine there are some who are just waiting for the day. But I am just not there yet. Now more so than ever, because Avery has started to have severe separation anxiety (which very common to begin between 9 and 12 months). Part of it is that Avery is still breast fed, day and night, every 2-4 hours. Part of it is that she does not drink from a bottle. Part of it is that she is so wakeful I worry about her caregiver getting her to sleep. And most of it is that it just doesn’t feel right to me yet.
 
Some might say they worry about me. That I need some time to myself and with my partner so that I am nourishing my most important relationship, and myself. Others might call me a martyr, or like I said at the beginning of this blog, “too uptight” or “hanging on too tightly”. Let’s go back, however, to the premise of this blog. We are mammals. We are animals. I don’t see monkeys, deer, bears, cows, racoons, etc. leaving their young to go off on their own for a while, while grandma monkey looks after the baby. These animals are with their babies day and night, until the natural age of weaning (found to be about 6x the length of gestation for our closest relatives, chimps and gorillas). I am not saying that parents who leave their children are doing the wrong thing. I am all for spending time alone with your partner. Everybody needs that. I have just been creative in finding that time to re-charge. I take a hot bath after Avery is down for the night. I read a magazine, book, or forum while she naps. After supper I go take a walk on my own or spend some time in the garden while Blair plays with the baby. Instead of going to the movie theatre, Blair and I rent a pay-per-view movie off the satellite dish. We enjoy talking in bed before Avery wakes up for her first feeding.  
 
This is not how I imagined it would be. I particularly remember telling Blair that it was really important to me that we still have date nights every couple weeks when the baby came. What I didn’t anticipate, however, is that these date nights would be with a two-foot tall chaperone. And that's alright with me.
 
 
Picture
Quick! Run! Hide your eyes! This chick is about to talk about
BREASTFEEDING! Eww! Look away! 
 
Why is this the attitude that North American society has towards nursing? What is so wrong about something so natural?
 
I have been putting a lot of thought lately into the breastfeeding relationship I have with Avery. Will I wean, or will I allow her to self wean? Will I introduce a sippy cup and hope she will actually drink (rather than play), or should I start with a bottle? How will I get her to sleep if I wean her? Will she get sick if she doesn’t have the added immunity she gets from breastfeeding? Will I ever be able to get pregnant with our second if I don’t wean her?

At times I find nursing her incredibly draining. She is a “high needs” baby in the feeding aspect, in that since 7 weeks into her life she has refused any form of liquid nourishment that was not strait from the tap. She is a bobbie monster! She nurses to sleep for every single nap, bedtime, and night
waking. She nurses quickly, but frequently through the day. She is so comfortable at the breast. She lays there, hands splayed out, lazily kicking her leg or patting her head. She reaches for my hair, pulls on my necklace and my shirt, her hands find my tummy, fists open and close as she squeezes and pulls. I remind myself I need to trim her nails. And I try to bank as much of these moments as I can into my memory bank, because I know soon enough they will fade away into the background as she starts to walk, run, drive.

Before I became a mother, I am guilty of being someone who thought nursing a toddler was gross. That was before, however, I knew just how much it means to a baby who has been nursed since birth, and before I knew the enormous health benefits of extended breastfeeding.
 
Sometimes it makes me sad to think about why I feel unsure about how long I will breastfeed for. It is because I am worried about what other people will think. But then I remind myself- nursing past 1 is actually very common (and oh so beneficial)- much more than people may realize. It’s not as if
these children only nurse- often it is only at night and sometimes nap times. They eat, run, play just like other children through the day. Nearly any baby who is allowed to self wean will cut out these night time and sleep time feedings for good by the age of 2 or 3, often without any intervention from the mother.
 
So, I went looking to find out what certain organizations say about breastfeeding. Here is what I  found.

The World Health Organization says:

"Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

"Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child....Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother....There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians:

"Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child and should continue as long a mutually desired….If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned." (AAFP 2001)
 
So there we go. Right there in front of us, major players in the world of healthcare advocate full term breastfeeding. (notice I didn’t use the term extended?)  

I also found a really interesting article on breastfeeding.com that had this to say.

All the health benefits of breastfeeding continue after baby's first birthday, including offering fabulous nutritional content and improved resistance to infections. Children who are still breastfeeding and attend daycare are known to have fewer and less severe infections than
non-breastfeeding kids.


Some parents worry that extending breastfeeding could hamper baby's independence, but breastfed toddlers prove the opposite. Children who wean on their own time often seem to gain confidence by taking this step themselves. (And children who are weaned before they’re developmentally ready can sometimes become extra-clingy.)

Breastfeeding can also be a sort of secret weapon for the mom of a toddler; nothing soothes a
sick, scared, hurt, or upset child (or their mom) better than nursing. Plus, mom and baby get to continue to enjoy the intimacy of their breastfeeding relationship. As Dr. Jack Newman says in his article, Breastfeeding a Toddler -- Why on Earth?, 


Even though I know all of the benefits, I still find it hard to decide which way I will go. Part of me wants my body back. But I know that as she starts eating more and more solid foods and nursing more as a supplement rather than primarily, I should feel the strain less. Again, much of me worries
what others will think. Not that they really need to know I suppose. At the end of the day I need to do what I feel is best for me and my child. One day, one month, at a time. What will that be? I don’t even know for sure. Like everything else with being a parent so far, I will figure it out as I go along.

 
 
My baby girl turned 6 months old this week. It’s hard to believe that it was 6 months ago already that I brought home this tiny, crying, pink, pooping machine. I was like a deer caught in the headlights, totally out of my element in a way that only a first-time-parent can understand. 
 
It’s amazing what a transformation has taken place in the time since. I can tell from the subtlest of signs that Avery is getting tired. I know when she is fussing because she just wants to be held, or if it is because she is tired. And I know that when she gets really worked up or angry, only mama will do. This transformation that happened as I have gained confidence in my parenting abilities is just part of the joy that being a stay-at-home-mom has allowed me.

What really astonishes me and makes me so sad is that our friends south of the border are not afforded the same luxury as us new moms in Canada are. Can you believe there is no federal maternity leave program, at all? Some employers (ones that meet specific criteria) will allow you up to 12 weeks off, but for the most part the time taken off is either saved up vacation, sick time, or without pay. So many American moms are forced to return to work when their babies are 2, 3, 4 weeks old, and it just makes me so sad. So all you Canadian moms reading this- appreciate the amazing opportunity we have to spend the first 12 months at home with our babies with a supplemented income.

Turning 6 months old brought with it 6 month shots. I HATE getting Avery immunized. She cries in a way that tears at my heart and I hate watching them jab a needle into her soft fleshy leg- especially when it is not just one needle, but often 2 or 3 consecutively. Thankfully I have the best parenting tool ever attached to my chest, and just a few minutes of boobie time and everything is right again in her world.

Having her immunized made me think about her next set of shots coming up. They are not until she is 12 months old, but one of the immunizations on the standard schedule has gained a lot of press lately- the MMR vaccine (for those of you not aware- some researchers are claiming this vaccine can cause autism). I spoke to the nurse about the vaccine and what it might mean to delay giving it to her, or foregoing it altogether. I have not made any decisions about this yet myself, I want some time to do some research before Blair and I make a decision. When I approached him about it, to see what his feelings might be, he said “why do you always want to do things differently than everyone else?”. It is not so much that I want to do things differently-it is that as a parent I want to make INFORMED decisions. It really irks me when people don’t educate themselves and just go with “what everyone else is doing” or with what the “government is recommending”. Just because it is recommended now does not mean that it will be in the future- these things change all the time- and as a parent I want to do what I feel is best for my child, not necessarily what the Government of Alberta or Canada does. 

So, with that I will leave you with a fun little look at Avery over the past 6 months- she sure is growing! Over 17lbs and 27 inches now. (Low weight of 7lbs 1oz and born at 20.75”- it’s amazing how much 6 months changes things!).
 
 
I am constantly trying to explain my child’s behaviour.

I write this bleary eyed over my 2nd cup of coffee for the day. It’s been a rough few weeks with my little monkey, who has been pushing me to my limit. No matter how far we go, though, it seems I can always find just an ounce more of patience and energy to give my baby girl what she needs from me.

At around 2 months old, Avery began to sleep beautifully. She would be in bed for 12-13 hours at a time, only waking twice (sometimes only once) for quick feedings. It was wonderful. Especially now looking back. People warned me not to get used to it, and they were right. Just when I got used to it, she changed things up on me. DRASTICALLY.

Around 12 weeks, Avery started waking up every 2 hours again. It was really hard at first. After doing some research I decided she must be going through a her 3 month growth spurt, especially since she would wake up hungry and need to eat before she would go back down. Her pacifier, which was usually good enough, was not anymore. So, I did my best to deal with it, and figured it would get better soon.

In the 5 weeks since, it has not gotten better. In fact, one might say it has gotten worse. Much worse. There have been nights where she wakes up needing me each hour. There have been nights, and days, when she will sleep nowhere but in my arms.  Most nights her “long” sleep stretch is 2 hours, and only if I am lucky. Just two nights ago I was up with her 6 times between 11pm and 7:30am.  I am coping ok, and doing my best to deal with it. What makes my life easier is the fact that I am co-sleeping, and that often times all she needs is just a little bit of comfort (in the form of nursing in her mamas warm cuddly arms) before going right back down, sometimes in less than 5 minutes.

As her mother, I can’t help but feel like this is happening because of something I did. That if I did (or had done) something differently, this wouldn’t be happening at all. So, I set out to explain why my baby has regressed so terribly, and I realized that it is so common they actually have a name for it! It is called 4 month sleep regression. Hallelujah! It is not something I am doing wrong! It is not something that is my fault. It is completely normal. So normal that it has been studied and named. This made me feel much better.

Through all of the reading and research I have done on infant sleep, I have come across sleep training- aka “crying it out"- over and over again. This school of thought believes that if I let her cry it out and go back to sleep on her own, eventually she will teach herself to go back to sleep on her own without needing me.

Maybe I am a softie ( I have always been a fairly sensitive person) but the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. Leaving my baby girl to cry it out in order to go to sleep is not what I am prepared to do (and logistically, would not work really well considering she sleeps only a foot or so away from me). It ignores what a baby's cry was designed for- to alert parents that something is not right. I just don’t think I could ever do it, even if this were to go on for many more months.

I knew when I decided to have a child that there would be sleepless nights. Forcing my infant into independence, before she is ready, is not something I agree with. My belief is that children need to be parented to sleep, not put to sleep. I feel (in fact, I know) she is too young to manipulate me, and by crying she is communicating a need- the only way she knows how. The CIO approach is, in my opinion, a mis-guided effort by some sleep "expert" to try and mold babies to fit into their parent's lives- not the other way around. Another aspect of the "let's have babies conveniently" mindset. A lot of research supports my feelings as well.

So, I will keep doing what I can to find the energy I need to carry on. I know that eventually, as her sleep system matures, she will learn to go to sleep on her own. Current findings say that this happens at some point between 10 and 18 months.

10 and 18 months??

I’d guess I’d better stock up on coffee.
 
 
Before Avery was born, I put a lot of time and effort into setting up and planning her nursery. We bought a beautiful crib, painted the walls and got the change table ready. I  imagined my beautiful baby sleeping in her (or his- we did not know the gender at this time) crib and swooping her into my arms in the morning. While I had planned on having her in our room temporarily to make breastfeeding easier, I did not expect it to continue much past 2 or 3 months.

It’s funny how your opinions and ideas can change so drastically after you have a baby.

Probably around 5 weeks old I started to realize that even though the bassinet was right beside the bed, Avery slept much much better when she was snuggled in the bed next to me (safely of course, following guidelines for safe co-sleeping). It has been such a special thing, waking up right next to a smiling, happy baby each morning, and knowing all night that she is warm and safe (and still breathing) right beside me in our warm, cozy bed. The thought of her in her crib in the other room, waking up alone, in the dark, not able to hear me breathe or reach out and touch my arm just does not feel right to me.

For quite a while I struggled with this decision. I was afraid people would think it was weird. So I started doing some research, and quickly found that co-sleeping is not weird, it is not unusual, it is not a fad- cribs are. It is only in the past 100 years or so, and only in western cultures, that babies being left alone to sleep has become the "norm". 

I did however, hate that Avery was not using the beautiful crib we bought for her, and felt like it was wasteful. So after careful research online for how to do it safely, we set up the crib as a side car crib and securely attached it to the side of our bed after removing one of the sides. We all have our own sleeping space, but still get to sleep together- the perfect arrangement- for us. (while I am an advocate of co-sleeping and attachment parenting, I fully understand that each family is unique and must do what works for them).
Dr. Sears, author of The Baby Book (and numerous others) and world famous pediatrican lists some of the scientific benefits of co-sleeping (or as he likes to call it, sleep sharing):

Popular media has tried to discourage parents from sharing sleep with their babies, calling this worldwide practice unsafe. Medical science, however, doesn’t back this conclusion. In fact, research shows that co-sleeping is actually safer than sleeping alone. Here is what science says about sleeping with your baby:

Sleep more peacefully
Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying (1). Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.

Stable physiology
Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures (2), regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone (3). This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.

Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS (10). Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side 1 which decreases the risk of SIDS. Further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing (11).

Long term emotional health
Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school (12), and are more comfortable with affection (13). They also have less psychiatric problems (14).

Safer than crib sleeping
The Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that described infant fatalities in adult beds. These same data, however, showed more than 3 times as many crib related infant fatalities compared to adult bed accidents (15). Another recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol (16).

Click here to see resources.

While it may not be for everyone, and I certainly never expected it would be for us, co-sleeping has turned into the norm in our household.

Just another one of the many wonderful surprises that having a baby brought us.
 
 
Before Avery was born, I will admit I was perhaps a little bit ignorant. Ok perhaps a lot ignorant. When people would tell me things like “nothing can prepare you” I thought to myself they are under-estimating me and my killer abilities to take on challenges and excel.

Let me back up a little bit. When I found out I was pregnant, I started reading like a mad-woman. I read books on parenting, infant care, natural birthing, parenting styles, you name it, I read it. I like to be prepared.

But the funny thing is that I really didn’t expect- NOTHING really could prepare me. I thought life would not change all that much- that I could still do the things I used to do, like go out for supper when I wanted to and take 45 minute long bubble baths. Some of my friends still think they will be able to do these things when they become parents. These are the ones who are still pregnant (or are yet to become pregnant).

But you know what I love about all of the above?  It is all so worth it. The past 7 weeks have been the most challenging, yet the most rewarding and fulfilling of my life. An amazing transformation happens as the baby grows and both Blair and I grow as parents. You come to quickly identify and understand what the problem is when the baby cries, and nothing is more fulfilling than being able to keep an infant happy and healthy- especially when they give you a big gummy smile.
Things I have learned so far:
  • Never will the adequate poop and pee of someone else be so important to you
  • Give yourself twice the amount of time to get somewhere as you would have before baby
  • Absolutely everyone will give you (often conflicting) advice. You have to learn to trust your instincts and do what works for you
  • Those parents who terrorize facebook with photos of their children really can’t help it
  • Coffee is your friend (just not too much!)
  • Never will you fall more deeply and completely in love