Sunday, July 28, 2013

It's a first!

It was the first time I was going to be working nightshift since having Michelle. I was nervous about leaving her overnight with my Mom. My mother was worried too. Michelle had never spent a night without me. She's never even slept in her crib. We have been co-sleeping since she was born. It only made sense since I was breastfeeding her every couple of hours in the beginning. If I had to keep lifting her out and putting her back into a crib after each feeding neither of us would have gotten any sleep. With her lying next to me she could nurse and then we could both drift back to sleep. Then of course it was such a habit we never got out of it. It's a bonding experience as well. Though I've heard of "sleep training" and certainly had a few people tell me that's what I "should" be doing, it just didn't feel right to me to leave her to scream. I can't do it. I'm a softie. To me, leaving Michelle to scream would be deliberate cruelty and I'm not capable of that (especially to the person I love most in the world). So I really didn't know how Michelle was going to be sleeping at my Mom's without me.

I have been weaning Michelle gradually. I'm going to continue to breastfeed at least once or twice a day as long as I can because I know there are so many health benefits and it's a bonding experience. I was concerned that she refused to drink milk from a cup. It's "Baboo" transitional milk for babies 12-24 months, to get them accustomed to cow's milk. Now that she's not getting as much breast milk I knew that she had to get her calcium somehow. I discovered that she would drink the milk very well from a bottle. She'll only drink milk from a bottle and water from a cup. I guess she thinks milk should always come from a nipple. I was just relieved that she was drinking it at all. My Mom and I were worried what would happen if Michelle just wouldn't go to sleep without being nursed and if she woke up several times in the night to find I wasn't there.

As expected, the first night was pretty rough. Luckily I was able to leave work a little early. I came home to find my poor Mom still up. She hadn't slept at all. "Thank God you're home!" she said. She'd been praying I'd come home early. Michelle was waking up every 45 minutes or so. My Mom didn't have the heart to just let her scream either. She had sung and rocked her to sleep for hours, her arms breaking. Then Michelle finally settled down at 11:30 PM only to wake up less than an hour later. My Mom gave her some milk in a bottle and she went back to sleep but then kept waking up. I felt awful because not only was I not there but I had forgotten to pack Michelle's favourite pink stuffed monkey that she always sleeps with. When I came back to my Mom's in the wee hours of the morning, Michelle was asleep and didn't wake up as monkey and I snuck in next to her. I lay there staring at her for quite a while unable to sleep myself. She kept waking up through the morning and I barely got a couple of hours sleep.

I didn't know how we would get through my shifts. I prayed that things would work out somehow, that Michelle would adjust. My prayers were answered. The next night was a completely different story. My Mom said that Michelle fell asleep at 9:30 PM and SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT! It was a miracle. Mind you she was probably exhausted from not getting enough sleep the previous night. On top of that she had spent a long time running around in the backyard playing with my Dad so that may have worn her out as well. Whatever it was I was so happy and relieved. Hopefully it's a pattern that will stick. One less thing to worry about.

I was feeling guilty about leaving Michelle but as several people have told me it is probably good for her in the long run. She will become a little more resilient and independent. She will learn that yes Mama goes away sometimes but she always comes back. She's getting very close to my Mom and Dad. She is not making strange with people anymore and even lets my Dad and my brother hold her (she never used to let men hold her. She's not used to men.) She seems to be happy and thriving. She's more active than ever and is learning more each day. I am grateful to have my Mom and Dad to watch her while I'm at work.

Today my family is coming over to celebrate Michelle's First Birthday. I still can't believe it's been a year. I remember a friend telling me that on her birthday she gives her mother roses in honour of what she went through during labour to have her. I've never heard of anyone doing that. I found it so thoughtful. When I think about what I went through to give birth to a 9 lb 4 ounce baby I think Michelle should be giving me roses someday too! Your birthday isn't just the day you came into the world, it's the day your Mom brought you into the world, which is no easy feat!

I went to pick up some balloons for her party and Michelle was so excited in the store she was squirming to get out of my arms. Reluctantly I let her walk around barefoot in the store (before I had kids when I'd see children walking around barefoot in a store I used to think "Why would they let their kids walk on this filthy floor?!" now I understand that if it makes them happy you'd do just about anything. Besides I can wash her feet when we get home.) Everyone was saying how cute she was. She's walking so well now that it looks funny to see such a tiny person walking around the store. One customer was taken aback when she turned the corner and saw Michelle walking down the aisle. The girls in the store said they loved her beautiful red hair and blue eyes. "She's so sweet!" one of them said. "She can be sweet. She can also be a monster sometimes." I said and right on cue Michelle took out her soother and growled like a monster. "Grrr." They laughed and said "OMG! That's adorable!"

Since Michelle can say "ball" (and says it hundreds of times since she loves playing with balls now) I thought she might be able to say "balloon." My Mom said it's a lot to expect two syllable words from a 12 month old. She did try though. It came home "bwoon" and "boon." I am amazed at the words she can say. There seems to be a new one almost every day now. One day when my Mom was watching her Mom was looking for her hat and asking "Where's my hat?" all of a sudden Michelle said "hat" perfectly for the first time. She'd never even tried before and then just out of the blue she says it as though she's been saying it forever. She puts a hat on her head and says "hat." She grabs one of my Mom's hats and says "hat." She's a bit of a diva and likes trying on clothes and looking at herself in the mirror. My Mom has a full length mirror in her downstairs hallway. I have one in my upstairs hall at home. Michelle is always walking over to the mirror to try things on. I can't imagine when she's a teenager! Michelle can say "bee," "bunny," "tree," "head" (well it comes out more like Ed), "cup" (more like bup, referring to her sippy cup.) She's been saying "Mama" for several months. Now she also says "Mommy" and "Mom." She understands so much more than she can say. She even makes associations and reacts to things in conversation, on TV and in song when you don't even expect it. You ask her to get something and you're not even sure she knows what it is but she comes back with it. You say "one" or "first" and she holds up one finger. "She's a genius," my Mom says proudly, "just like you were." And she's a terror sometimes, just like I was. My Mom says it's like having her baby Ann Marie all over again. "I never expected to be looking after a baby at this stage of my life!" my Mom says. "Neither did I!" I say and we laugh.

Around this time a year ago I was 75 lbs heavier and ready to pop. I was staying at my sister's place and wondering when Michelle was going to make her grand entrance/exit. She was late. I didn't want to wait much longer and the doctor said if she didn't come by the end of the week then we'd induce her. I had a little chat with Michelle in utero and explained "Look baby it'll be easier on us both if you come out on your own. Otherwise they're coming to get you!" She listened and I went into labour that night so I didn't have to be induced. It was a rough journey but we both survived it.

Now here we are a year later and I can't believe all that we have been through together. I am so grateful for all of it. I can even look back fondly at the struggles. It wasn't easy being pregnant or going through labour or caring for a newborn, but it was all worth it. Now I look at my sweet little girl, my funny little monster, and it's hard to believe there was life before her. She is everything to me now.

Happy Birthday Sweetheart. I love you so much!

Monday, July 22, 2013

A day at the beach!

The beach is an entirely different experience with a baby. It used to be a leisurely day, relaxing on the sand, feeling the warm sun on my skin, listening to the waves, diving into the water for a swim, floating on my back and looking up at the blue sky. I even did yoga on the beach sometimes. It was my Zen space. My happy place. Now it's frantic, stressful, chasing an 11 month old baby around on the sand, trying to keep her from falling in pit holes, trying to get the sand out of her hair, not a moment to relax. It was still a lot of fun but quite exhausting.

It was our first trip to the beach. It was my niece Evie's birthday and my brother Mike decided we should all meet at Wasaga Beach then head back to his place for a barbecue. Everyone thought it was a great idea. We'd never had a day at the beach as a family, the whole gang, not since we were kids. I had been wanting to go to a beach for a while but was nervous how Michelle would be. She doesn't like long car trips (usually she doesn't make it through even an hour long car ride without screaming at some point) and she was afraid to walk on the sand (she refused to step on the sand in my little backyard beach) so I was concerned it might be a fiasco with her screaming like a banshee the whole time.

I picked up my parents and we headed to Wasaga. I figured if Michelle started to fuss I had both my Mom and Dad to entertain her in the backseat. I also had an arsenal of toys and treats for her for the trip. To my pleasant surprise she SLEPT THE WHOLE WAY!!! It was perfectly timed during her morning nap. My Mom initially complained about my having the window open (because of the pollution etc) but then conceded that it worked like a charm as white noise for Michelle. Though we had left a little later than we were supposed to we still made it in time to meet Mike in the parking lot. In fact we even got there sooner than my brother Chris and my sister May. It was strange having all of us together. I was concerned we'd never find enough space on the beach for our three ring circus with tents and all. Mike cleverly directed us to one of the less travelled and more family friendly beaches. It was almost empty (on a WEEKEND NO LESS!) We were able to erect our own little village (my sister, my Mom and I all had beach tents) right by the water. It was beautiful.

Of course I had to get a group photo as a souvenir of this historic event. Barb's friend snapped a few for us just to be sure. It's hard to get that many people looking. I didn't realize Michelle had her hand blocking her face in all of them. It was very hard to get everyone to pose at one time. My Dad disappeared taking a long walk down the beach. Some people would be in the water and others out then they'd switch. We were never together all at once. Finally they were packing up and almost ready to leave and I insisted "We HAVE to get a group photo!" (They know me by now and if there hadn't been anyone to take it I would have found something to set the camera on and used the self-timer.)

My days of lounging in the sun are definitely over. The first thing I did once we got to the beach (which incidentally took a 10 minute walk from the parking lot where we met with us all pushing strollers, pulling wagons and carting a lot of baggage) was put up the tent so Michelle would have some shade. Then I got her dressed in her little swimsuit (which isn't easy. Bathing suits are made tight and are hard enough to get on yourself. Trying to pull straps over the shoulders and head of a wriggling baby is close to impossible!) and swim diapers. Then I slathered her from head to toe with sunblock, SPF 60. Obviously I had to protect my sensitive little redhaired girl. I got a bad burn when I was a child so I wasn't going to take any chances with her. She was getting impatient so when it came time to put sunblock on myself I just slapped a bit on here and there and missed many spots. Not surprisingly, Michelle's skin was protected but Mama got a really bad sunburn, mostly on my back and the backs of my legs.
"How do you get a burn on the backs of your legs?" someone asked me. It was the first time in my life that I had. "Because I never got to sit down. I spent the whole time chasing Michelle around!"

My fears of Michelle being afraid to walk on the sand were obviously unfounded. She loved it. She was RUNNING on the sand. Luckily the beach where we were had really compacted sand so you didn't sink into it. It was hard and easy to walk (or run) on. Michelle just took off. She probably could have walked from one end of the beach to the other. She'd go up to groups of strangers, right up to their chairs. Everyone made a fuss of her. "Awww look at the baby!" "How cute!" "I love her little tutu!"

It was amazing to see the excitement in her face. Everything was new and magical to her. She was pointing at everything. Windsurfers -- their colourful sails dancing in the sky, seagulls strutting along the beach then flying away as we approached them, waves on the water. Mostly she just seemed thrilled at the amount of space. The beach looked big to me. To her it must have seemed immense, an entire planet. She loves to walk and to run in open space. So far the biggest space has been my Mom's backyard and once she got over her fear of the feel of grass on her bare feet, she was running amok. Now on the beach she realized she could keep going and going and never hit a wall or a fence. I could barely keep up with her. Every so often she'd hit a little hole or uneven spot before I could stop or redirect her. She would fall and get right back up again. It didn't seem to bother her. It was stressful to me though because the sunblock was like glue and the sand stuck to it so she was covered in sand. Her hair, her chest, her hands, her legs. I thought I could just wash her off in the water. That didn't quite work out...

Though she loved the sand, Michelle was NOT a fan of the water. She loves bubble baths at home but she has never been in water that wasn't at least lukewarm. Georgian Bay was cold and choppy with big waves. When I tried taking Michelle in to the water, she started to cry so I didn't get swimming at all. I didn't get to go into the bay beyond my legs.

I definitely want to try taking her to the beach again soon (probably something closer like Burlington Beach though). She didn't like grass or sand at first either and now she loves them so maybe she just has to get used to the water too.

All in all it went far better than I had expected. My Mom complained that it was too windy and cold near the water and she was bundled up in a jacket but I found it quite refreshing. I had been stifling in 40 degree heat at home with no A/C for several days so I was quite relieved the heat wave was over and I didn't mind the wind, the waves or the cold water. I also stayed warm with all the exercise I was doing. Running after Michelle was definitely a workout. She's my new personal trainer!

After a few hours at the beach we all packed up and headed back to Mike's place for a BBQ and birthday celebration for Evie.

I was happy to see that Michelle no longer makes strange. She even let my brother Chris, her godfather hold her. It was quite a surprise because up until now she hasn't even let my Dad hold her. She doesn't see a lot of men and doesn't seem to trust them. Chris said he doesn't mind if she doesn't trust men and when she's older he will tell her to stay clear of them anyway. Probably good advice after my experience in that department! I don't see any men in my life any time soon.

Though the day was a lot of fun I still found myself stressing about things like sand being stuck in Michelle's hair, spilling food etc. My brother Mike gave me some parenting advice. "You have to learn to let go. You have to let them get messy and don't worry about it." Evie came out to the deck with chocolate all over her face, in her hair and on her shirt. Obviously she had been licking the bowl for her brownie cake. Part of me wanted to run over to her with a damp cloth and scrub her down but I started to understand what Mike was saying. I don't know that I'll ever be quite that laid back but I admit I do need to lighten up a little (OK, a LOT!) Mike said that one day he was at work and didn't even realize that he had chocolate on his shoulder. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders (chocolate covered and all) and say "Oh well." The world won't end if there's a little chocolate or sand in your hair.

I let Michelle walk around on the deck in the backyard. My Mom didn't even want me to do that. She thought the boards were too far apart and Michelle would get her toes stuck. My Mom was always a worrier. I know that I inherited some (OK a LOT) of that tendency but I don't want to hold Michelle back from learning and exploring so I try to make a conscious effort to let her do things as long as I'm right there to catch her if she falls and to keep her out of trouble. It's a tough balance. I let Michelle run around the backyard as well but stopped her short when she got too close to where Allie (my brother's dog) had just done a poo. Messy or not I definitely draw the line at feces!

Evie opened her presents and was happy with the dollhouse I got for her. Everyone loved it. I got a really good deal on it (less than half price). I wish I'd gotten one for Michelle but I thought it's so big to try to store until she's old enough to appreciate it.

At the end of the day it was an even longer drive back home and I was relieved that Michelle slept the whole way, again with the windows open and the wind noise to soothe her to sleep. She had also likely exhausted herself with all that running around. Something about the beach that really tires you out as well.

I am so grateful for my big crazy family and happy that we got to share a day together at the beach. It would be nice to share more adventures as a group.

This weekend I'll be having the whole gang over to my place for Michelle's birthday party. That will be an adventure in itself. Michelle's First Birthday. I still can't believe it. The past year has gone by so fast.

During rough times (and I've had my share lately) what keeps me going is the love of family -- Michelle my little family of two, and my big family -- especially my Mom and my sister, who I am the closest to. No matter what happens I know that they are there for me, to listen, to understand, to make me laugh, to remind me that it's all going to be OK, to remind me how lucky I am to have them in my life.

I hope that I can learn to be a little more laid back. Learn to let go. Not worry so much. Life is messy. It's not the end of the world. At the end of the day if you've enjoyed yourself then it doesn't really matter if you've got a little sand or a little chocolate in your hair. The important thing is that you've lived. Experience all that you can. Save the cleaning up for later.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Back to Work

When I first went off on Maternity Leave a year ago, a year sounded like a long time, an eternity. Looking back now that it's over, it disappeared in the blink of an eye. Being pregnant in the Summer, going into labour at the end of last July, coming home with a newborn, sleepless nights, struggles with breastfeeding, rocking her to sleep, watching her grow from a helpless little baby who couldn't hold her head up to an independent little toddler running amok around the house -- I look back at all of it and am so grateful for the adventure. Even at the most difficult of times it was a labour of love and I will cherish those memories forever.

Being a single Mom, I was there for Michelle 24-7. She cried if I left the room for a second. The longest I ever left her was a couple of hours with my Mom when I had an appointment. So I was terrified of what would happen when I returned to work. I didn't know how Michelle would react to my being gone for an entire day. What if she screamed the whole time? My Mom was worried too. It was going to be hard on all of us. Perhaps hardest of all on me. I had so much guilt about leaving her. Financially I had no choice. Unless I win the lottery, I have to earn a living! Michelle wouldn't understand where I was though and I didn't want her to feel like I was abandoning her. It broke my heart.

The first morning I left Michelle with my Mom was kind of surreal. My Mom was holding her and I snuck out. I couldn't bear the thought of Michelle screaming and crying, reaching for me, calling "Mama!" as I left.

It was strange looking in my rearview mirror and seeing the empty base of the carseat. No baby on board. I was so used to always having her there. I realized that I could crank the radio up now like I used to. I rolled the window down and dangled my hand out, the cool air between my fingers. I remembered when I used to be a single girl, carefree. It seems a lifetime ago now. I didn't plan to have children but Michelle is the love of my life and I know she is my destiny. I thought about how the day might go. Would she be OK with my Mom? Some people (including one of my brothers) didn't think I should have my Mom watch Michelle, that she wouldn't be able to handle it at her age. Ironically my brother's friend has his mother watching FOUR children and she's older than my Mom. I just couldn't put Michelle in daycare. Not only because it's close to impossible to find daycare, especially for my weird shifts but because I wouldn't feel right leaving Michelle with a stranger. Having me gone would be traumatic enough never mind leaving her with someone she didn't even know. At least she feels comfortable with my Mom. Next to me, my Mom is the person she's closest to. Besides I could never fully trust a stranger. No matter how nice they seemed, you just don't know. My Mom told me one of my cousins was abused by a babysitter when she was a baby and they didn't find out until she was old enough to talk. There's no way I could take the chance.

I hoped Michelle would be OK. I hoped my Mom would be OK. I hoped I would be OK. There were so many unknowns. By the time I got to work I was a jangle of nerves.

As expected when I got into work I was emotional. My eyes started to tear up. My boss sat me down and gave me a pep talk. Her mother had been a single mother with SEVEN children! Somehow she managed. She worked to support them. My boss said that her mother was an inspiration, a role model of a strong, independent Mom. She told me that I would be a good role model for Michelle. When I told her that I felt guilty about leaving Michelle she said that she knew women that felt guilty for going to work and leaving their kids and women who felt guilty for not going out to work. Women can be so hard on themselves. We take so much on. We try to do it all and somehow it still doesn't seem to be enough. She told me that I'm doing the best thing for my daughter and that it will be good for her to have some time apart from me. It will teach her to be more independent and help her to grow into a strong woman.

When it was time for my lunch break I was dying to call my Mom and ask how things were going but I was afraid to at the same time. If I could hear Michelle screaming in the background and it wasn't working out I'd feel terrible and have a hard time getting through the rest of the day. Then again, if things were going better than I'd expected I'd feel so relieved. So I called home and was pleasantly surprised to hear that Michelle had a long morning nap. She had drank my breast milk from the bottle and had eaten all of her food at lunch. She was playing and content. My Mom said she fussed a couple of times but then my Mom was able to distract her enough to cheer her up. Unfortunately she heard my voice over the phone and started wailing. Then I felt bad for calling. After talking to my Mom I just barely had enough time to pump some milk and head back to work. Though I could wean Michelle I want to keep breastfeeding as long as I can. I know that it is so good for her, full of nutrients and antibodies and it's a comfort thing too. Since I can't be there to nurse her for her morning feeding at least she has my milk in a bottle. My Mom said she drank it all up and went off to sleep. I figure I will still nurse her on my days off and just pump milk when I'm working to keep up the supply.

At the end of the day I couldn't wait to see her. I raced back to my Mom's place. I cursed every red light and every car in my way that was keeping me from seeing her. You would think it had been a year since I'd seen her.

When I got there I ran into the house. I was pleased that I didn't hear any crying. And there was Michelle, walking around like she owned the place. She didn't even notice I had come in. My Mom said "Look who's here!" She gave me the cold shoulder at first. Literally glanced at me over her shoulder as if to say "Oh. Yes you look familiar. Do I know you?" but then she ran over to me and hugged me and I kissed and kissed and kissed her little face and hugged her so tight. "I love you so much. I missed you."

It's tough. I don't get much sleep at night with Michelle, then have to get up early, trying not to wake her, get ready for work. Head to work and put in a long day then come home to Michelle who after the initial happy reunion is up to her old tricks, being difficult, refusing to sleep. It's exhausting. Just taking care of Michelle was a full-time job. Now having to go to work on top of it is even more taxing -- physically, mentally and emotionally. One advantage of my job is that although the shifts are long at least I don't have to work as many days as I would at a regular job so I have more days with Michelle than without her. But the days that I work are very long days, very draining.

My Mom was exhausted as well. Thankfully I only work a couple of days at a time so she has time to relax and recuperate afterward. My Mom is elderly and has arthritis. Taking care of a baby, especially one as demanding as Michelle, isn't easy. Still, my Mom said she wouldn't want Michelle left with anyone else, so we have to make it work even if it's hard on all of us.

Control freak that I am, I wrote out a schedule for my Mom so she'd know when Michelle eats, has her naps, likes her storytimes etc. At least when my Mom is watching her she has an extra set of arms as well. My Dad helped to entertain her and took her out for a walk as well. She doesn't really let my Dad hold her but she gives him high fives and laughs at him. It seems that she adapted to having my Mom instead of me. When my Mom was at the sink Michelle came and hugged her legs the way she does with me. Even after I got home from work and was holding Michelle she reached out for my Mom. Then my Mom took her and she reached for me. At one point we both hugged her and kissed her. She seemed happy. She really wanted both of us.

It used to be that women were only allowed a couple of months for Maternity Leave. I can't imagine leaving Michelle that early on. Thankfully over time they realized how important it was for children and their mothers to have bonding time together. With the medical community encouraging breastfeeding as the healthiest choice for baby it necessitates having that year off with baby to nurse. I am going to continue it for as long as I can, cutting down gradually over time but not weaning her entirely.

I am so grateful to have had a year off with Michelle. Though in some ways it was the hardest year of my life it was also the most beautiful and joyous. Now that I'm back to work it makes me appreciate my time with Michelle even more. Hopefully Michelle will learn that even though Mama goes away sometimes she always comes back. She can enjoy her time with Gramma and Grampa and then be happy to see Mama again.