Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Left Arm

I woke up one morning to find that my left arm was in agony, from my fingers up to my shoulder. The pain was so severe it almost made me throw up. For an instant I thought, maybe I'm having a heart attack. OMG. My mind started to spin. How could I go to the hospital? Who would watch Michelle? Then I calmed myself down when I remembered that "numbness" in the left arm signals a heart attack, not pain. The pain was more likely the result of holding Michelle (who is somewhere between 12 and 13 lbs at this point) for a solid four hours the night before. I was carrying her around, singing to her, dancing with her and even when she fell asleep I left her resting on my shoulder because I didn't want to disturb her during my show. My shoulder was hurting at the time from the pressure but I guess, as with any workout, I didn't feel the full effects until the next day.

Photo by James Harvey
It's tough because my left arm is the arm that I usually hold her in. It just feels more natural to support her on the left so I still have my right arm free to do things. I could not lift her while my arm was that sore though. I had to give it a rest. So I tried to take it easy. Luckily Michelle complied and slept more than usual that day. I carried her around on the right, even though it was awkward (especially when I tried to eat with my left hand.) When I tell some people about how much I hold her they look at me like I have two heads. "You CAN put her down, you know." But I can't let her cry. At least my arms get a bit of a break for a few moments while she sits in her Bumbo, or her swing or her jumperoo, plays on her play gym or has her tummy time. But there is no substitute for Mama. Especially when she's tired and cranky and only walking and rocking and singing can soothe her.

My doctor had told me it was safe to take Tylenol while I was pregnant but I was nervous to and managed to survive without it. I still don't have any in the house. I should get some just in case I ever wake up with that kind of pain again. I would assume if it's safe to take while pregnant then it would be OK while I'm breast-feeding as well.

My left arm had already been through the ringer before I even held Michelle. I actually had carpal tunnel in my left wrist while I was pregnant. My doctor said it was common in pregnant women. I wondered how on earth I would manage holding an infant. It is a challenge. At least after giving my left arm a break it didn't hurt quite so much. I will try to use both arms so that I don't have a flare up like that again.

Some days it feels like she's in my arms from morning until night. She just won't let me put her down. She has good days, not so good days and horrific days. She had one of her worst ever recently. I don't know why some days she wakes up and decides to make my life a living hell. I guess it's not her fault. But it's brutal. She is a force of nature, like a storm. Hurricane Michelle. You never know when she'll strike.

She awoke at 5 a.m. which you might say is normal for a baby. Usually she doesn't get up until about 7 a.m. Now don't misunderstand. It's not as though she sleeps through the night until 7 a.m. But on a good day she wakes up every few hours to feed but doesn't start to make a fuss and demand to get out of bed until about 7-ish. I often don't get to bed until about 3 a.m. so on less than two hours sleep, I'm a zombie and it's tough to lift myself, let alone Michelle, out of bed. On a bad day, she gets up at 5 a.m. and fusses and doesn't go back to sleep at all and doesn't nap more than two minutes all day. Sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture. Every mother knows it's not fun. Usually Michelle eats every two hours during the day and every 3-4 hours at night. Then once in a blue moon on a hellish day, she goes on a hunger strike and won't feed. Two hours go by, three hours, four hours go by. I keep trying to feed her because she's showing hunger cues (chewing her fist, moving her head around as though looking for the breast, crying a desperate cry) but then she rejects me, turns away from me, pushes me, at one point even punched and kicked me when I tried to feed her. It was so frustrating. I didn't know what to do. I started to panic. What if she just never fed again? Finally I would give up but she'd keep crying. She had been changed so it wasn't that. She'd been burped. She wouldn't be soothed with rocking, singing, playing, wouldn't let me read a story or do anything. She was hungry but wouldn't eat. It made no sense. Finally, thank goodness, though she was still crying I tried yet again to feed her and she latched on and fed voraciously. My impossible girl. The next day she was back to her normal feeding routine as though nothing had happened.

She started rejecting the bottle I'd been using for breast milk (the one that came with the pump.) It really worried me because I refuse to breastfeed in public and rely on the bottle when I have an outing or appointment to attend. If she wouldn't drink from the bottle I was doomed. I decided to try another kind of bottle. Maybe she just didn't like that one. I picked up a Playtex nurser one for $5 (for $5 it couldn't hurt to try it.) My Mom had suggested Playtex. She thought they were the best. Thank Heaven Michelle actually went for it. It's a huge relief to know that once in a while I can actually take her out somewhere or leave her with my Mom and know that she'll still be fed.

I met several other mommies with young babies recently and it was an interesting experience talking with them. On one hand it was nice to speak to other women who could relate to having a new baby (getting no sleep, breastfeeding, trying to clip their nails so they don't claw themselves to bits, etc.) On the other hand it was difficult realizing that there aren't too many people that can relate to my situation as a single Mom. Many of them were complaining about their in-laws -- about how much they bud in, how they want to hold and feed the baby and do things for the baby and the Moms just wanted them to back off. Then I shared with them that I'm a single Mom and that I never get a break and what a treat it is when I visit relatives/friends and they offer to hold the baby for a few moments. I got a few "deer in the headlights" looks. It was awkward. They seemed shocked or ashamed as though they were complaining that their shoes were too tight and then realized I had no legs. I didn't want them to feel bad. It didn't really bother me. But on some level I thought, they really have no idea what it's like to be the only pair of arms. They say that they "want" to do everything for the baby but they know that they don't have to. They have help, financially, physically, emotionally. Someone else to get up in the night with the baby. Someone else to do the grocery shopping etc. And two sets of grandparents eager to take the baby any time they want. Now of course as I mentioned before I know that even a lot of the dads who stick around aren't a whole lot of help. Some have never changed a diaper. Many take a hands-off approach and let their wives handle all of the childrearing. But there are some who help. And the fact that they are there at all (presumably earning a living at the very least) is still a help. To go it on your own is really a challenge. There are disadvantages to having in-laws as well. They try to tell you what to do -- "Go on, give your baby pablum at 3 months, I did." and can cause friction and stress in your life when you don't see eye to eye. At least I have complete control and don't have anyone to bud in and undermine my parenting. (Other than my Mom throwing in her two cents now and then.) Still, sometimes I think it would be nice to have help. An extra set of arms, or three. But it's all me. And sometimes it feels like the weight of the world.

After my announcement about being a single Mom, one woman just shook her head in disbelief and said "I don't know how you do it!" I smiled and said "I don't know how I do it either!" But I don't have a choice. I have to do it. I love Michelle more than anything. And I'm all she's got.

Of course I do get awesome support from my family and visiting with them means the world to me but it's not the same as having someone there day in and day out.

Sometimes it feels like I'm the only one of my kind. I wish there were a Mommy and Me group for single Moms of young babies. There may be somewhere, in a bigger city. I doubt there's anything like that in my neck of the woods. I'm a bit of an anomaly in my suburban neighbourhood. Even before I was pregnant, I was the only single woman on my street. I'm surrounded by married people, young families. I'm the smallest family now. I know that there are a lot of single moms out there but they don't live on my street or in my city. Or if they do, they probably don't get out much. They're probably too busy.

Of course I'm busy myself. Sometimes it feels like I'll never be caught up. Still so many things to do and organize, so many occasions coming up (anniversaries, birthdays, not to mention Christmas) and I don't know how I'll prepare when Michelle doesn't always allow me time to do things. That's one thing since having the baby, I'm never bored, never lonely. I'm never alone. I remember I used to always want to be out on the weekends. Now Michelle is my date on Friday and Saturday nights! And honestly, I'd rather spend a weekend with her than out partying and dancing anyway (although I do plan to go dancing again someday, somehow.)

Michelle is officially three months old now! I can't believe it. How time flies. She's grown so much just in these few months. She's really trying to talk now. While I'm reading to her she makes little sounds as though she's reading along as well. She chatters in babyspeak. She's even started doing this new sing-song whiney thing that isn't a cry it's just an extended weak little sound between a hum and a whine. It's like she's finding her voice, realizing she can make sounds and wants to be heard. She does a high pitched squeal now too, sometimes out of joy and excitement and sometimes out of frustration. It's so cute I have to laugh, even when she's mad. I'm hoping she'll be talking soon. She seems so determined to communicate. Sometimes she looks into my eyes like she's really concentrating and tries to talk but it just comes out as a vowel sound "aaaa" "i." She has accidentally said a few words already including "Hi" "Mama" "I" and "Meow." I always echo her back so that she really feels like she's talking and she smiles in delight to feel like we're having a conversation. The way she reacts to things I say sometimes makes it seem like she actually understands but it may just be a coincidence.

She grabs onto me a lot more now. She'll grab my shirt, reach for my hand. The other day she even wrapped her legs around my arm while I was changing her, with her toes curled in clinging to me as if she was a monkey climbing a tree. It was adorable. I have been singing "There was a little monkey, climbed up a tree" to her. She loves when I sing her silly songs and rhymes as I'm changing her. She laughs and coos and talks. Then I run to get the camera to capture it and she stops. It's so frustrating. It's like they get camera shy, though I have been lucky enough to catch a few smiles from her I don't seem to have any luck with video. My sister tried to capture my nephew dancing in the summer on the deck. He was doing all these hilarious moves and then as soon as she had the camera ready he froze up and wouldn't do anything. Maybe the trick is to have a hidden camera somehow.

Many months ago, while pregnant, I had written a post called "My Left Foot" when my foot swelled up to three times its size. The right one eventually became swollen too but not as severely as the left, I guess because of the heart being on the left, all that extra blood to pool. At the time I thought I had it so rough. I didn't realize how easy it was. My time was my own. I could sleep in (theoretically, though I made many trips to the bathroom in a night!) I could spend hours gardening. I could sit on the swing and read a novel. I could go shopping (for more than 15 minutes at a stretch), have daily showers or long luxurious candlelit bubble baths, do some painting, play guitar and write songs. Now it's hard to steal a few moments for myself. Michelle doesn't let me do much. I don't always get to shower and when I do it's a rushed couple of minutes hoping she doesn't wake up and cry while I'm in there. Shopping is a race too. I'm always rushing, stressed out, trying to get done before she has a meltdown. Between feedings and pooings and everything else there is precious little time left for me. And then "me time" is usually spent getting caught up on laundry, dishes, etc. That's why this blog is so important. Though it's hard to find the time, it's something I need to do. Something creative, something for myself. I give her 99% of my time and energy. I still need that 1% for me.

Some people tried to tell me that pregnancy is the easy part, that even labour was easy compared to the work of caring for a new baby. I didn't believe them until now. Yes this is the hard part. Raising a baby on my own. Taking care of her 24-7. It is an exhausting, back-breaking (and arm-breaking!) job. But this is also the best part. Sharing each day with the most amazing little person I've ever met. Discovering who she is. Each day a new surprise -- a new little quirk, or expression or sound or gesture. Every day a new adventure. Learning patience (something I never had before) when she's at her worst. Enjoying her when she's at her best. Feeling more love and more joy than I have ever experienced, even the times I thought I was madly in love. It's a different kind of love now. Deeper and more true. And there are times when I'm snuggling with her or when she smiles at me and I think I'm the luckiest person in the world. And yes, I'd give my left arm for this. I'd give everything I have.


  1. You're definitely not alone as a single mom...some of us even choose to go it alone right from the start! What I found hard is that I was always the single one at any mommy & me group & all they'd want to talk about (& complain about) is their husbands. Very isolating. & if single mom groups were hard to find with a newborn, they're even harder to find with a toddler since we have to work so not much time to go. I've heard about choice mom groups in Toronto but even at only 40 minutes away its daunting to get my self & Elena organized to go. So I totally get what you're saying. Makes me so thankful for the friends & family I have.

    1. Yes I'm grateful for the support of my loved ones but it would be nice to talk to someone who can relate to my situation. Let's go for a coffee (or an iced capp!) sometime! :)

    2. I'd be more than happy to get together some time, with our girls of course! Since babysitting is so hard to arrange, lol! Feel free to email me & we'll figure something out

    3. OK cool. Yes with the girls of course! I don't go anywhere without Michelle! :) My email is