Sunday, February 24, 2013

Self(ish)lessness - Why I'm Glad To Be a Working Mother

Taking care of a baby all day is no trifling task.  On the surface they are not complicated creatures - keep them fed, dry, rested, and entertained - but oh!  The physical, but more importantly, the mental energy it takes to do this day-in day-out should not be underestimated.  Your child is just discovering the world, and can spend 20 minutes smiling at a red coffee cup.  You'd think this would be a great opportunity for us adults to cast aside our cynicism and world-weariness, rediscover our childlike sense of wonder, and delight along with our babies at all the mundane details of life. 

Sometimes it happens that way.  But let's be real - more often than not, I am not content to spend my afternoon holding up a spatula for my little one to marvel at.  I'm guilty of sneaking Facebook time on my phone while "playing" on the floor with my daughter.  I find myself occasionally hurrying through the bedtime ritual in order to get to the wine, novel, and couch waiting for me on the other side.  

Do I feel bad about this?  Sometimes.  Not too often.  I am doing my best, and I really do find myself pausing numerous times a day to be in the moment with my daughter. I see the world through her eyes, hold her close and smell her, and let my heart balloon with gratitude.

I am also happy to disengage now and then.  The 40-hour work week is taxing, but sometimes I enjoy being able to throw myself into the work that crosses my desk.  I love my family so much that when I am home, I am emotionally switched on, all the time.  It's sweet and intense and very, very draining.  It's a relief to pack my heart away for a little while every day, to engage in activities that come from a place of intellect or routine rather than love and dedication and selflessness. 

Selflessness?  Well.  That might be somewhat of an exaggeration.  There is so much pressure on a woman to be selfless - as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother.  Men are born free and live free until the day they decide to take on the responsibility of a family, and even then, their roles are clearly defined.  Men do what men are supposed to do, like ships that sail from port to port, one mission at a time.  And women?  We're the water, flowing in and around, filling in all the gaps and keeping everything afloat.  I don't feel remotely bad for casting off this role now and then and living just for me.   

It hasn't been easy to balance, for sure.  I will certainly not be running any more half marathons soon - after working all week, I have no desire to leave my baby for 4 hours on a Sunday to get a long run in.  The work day is draining, not only because of the work, but because my breaks are spent pumping breastmilk in a storage room, and my lunches, rushing home or to daycare to feed my daughter and trying to make it back in under 45 minutes.  I refuse to let dad take over the bedtime ritual so that I can make it to a class at the gym (besides breastfeeding, it's the only quality time we have together some days, and I regard that time as sacred), so between doing what I need to do for class and prepping everything for the next day, I often don't have time to exercise in the evenings.

And yes, I have had several crises of confidence since returning to work.  Especially when I have to leave Amaliya at daycare, instead of at home with her daddy or grandma.  Truth - I still fight tears every time I leave the infant room at daycare, and I reward myself with a Stell coffee each time I make it out without leaking a tear. Why do I have to leave my daughter with strangers?  Why do I have to be the one to work full time while my husband works part time?  Why can't we be financially stable enough for me to stay home with her?  Why why why....

Traumatized daycare face.  "Mama don't leave meeeee!"

The whining and fist-shaking doesn't last long though.  Because here's the straight-up truth, and what I believe many women feel but are not allowed to say:  I am selfish, and glad that I'm selfish.  I unapologetically put my happiness first, before that of my family.  And I know in my core that we are all better off for it.  I need to embrace, every day, that part of me that is not defined by the love of my family.  It makes me a better person, a better mother, more patient and gentle and present with my daughter and husband.  This is not to say there are not sacrifices - there have been sleepless nights comforting a sick baby, days where I'm so busy taking care of her that I forget to eat, and if it ever came down to a choice, my life for hers, I wouldn't hesitate.  But I am still a human, still a woman with an identity of my own, and just because my daughter is worth the absolute best that life has to offer, doesn't mean that I am worth any less.

So, I work.  I run.  I cook, clean, occasionally find time to blog, read books that are not even remotely related to babies or children, and indulge in a glass (or two) of wine in the evening while simultaneously patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on keeping it all together.  I don't do everything, and what I DO, I don't always do well.  But I do my best, my family is loved, and I am happy.

My teeny tiny 1-month old
 I'm ready for you, Monday...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Amaliya - 6 months

Pause for a moment... I have a 6-month-old?!  It's been both the longest and fastest half year of my life.  I can't even explain it... but you mamas understand.

Amaliya likes:  Various inanimate objects around the house (ceiling fan, kitchen sink, my phone and water bottle, the alarm clock, paintings on the walls, the deadbolt on the front door, wind chimes, etc), grandparents, the color red, following daddy around the house (he'll stop suddenly and turn back to look at her, which elicits massive belly laughs), having her ribs and chubby thighs kissed, smacking her lips, being outside, walks in the stroller or carrier, her bath toys, mama's singing (poor child), sitting up and playing with toys.

Amaliya dislikes:  Being tired, napping (what a conundrum), being put down at any time during the day, putting on pajamas, any time I'm out of her sight, socks, having her feet/hair touched, getting massaged and dressed after a bath. 

Feeding:  Amaliya was entirely breastfed up to 6 months, though we began experimenting with rice cereal a couple weeks ago- she gets 1tsp per ounce added to her bottles now (two bottles per day when I'm at work). We did a big ceremonial "introduction to solid food" with pureed peas on her official 6-month birthday.  I was surprised how much she liked them!  She really wasn't "getting" it at first, keeping her mouth sealed shut and going crazy trying to grab the spoon out of my hand.  But I managed to sneak in a few spoonfuls, which she swallowed, and eventually I could see her put the pieces together.  The next day, she would try and grab the spoon but I hovered it out of her reach.  After a couple seconds, she dropped her arms and opened her mouth!   So far she's tried peas and carrots, which she's loved, and avocado which she's tolerated but doesn't seem too enthused about.  Later this week, butternut squash and zucchini!

We're feeding her veggies once or twice a day now, 1-2 tablespoons at a time and only after she's been breastfed so that her caloric intake doesn't suffer.  Breastfeeding is still going well too - during the work week she eats about 6 times during the day (on the weekend we feed on demand, so I don't keep track), and still nurses 1-3 times at night (more for comfort, not for hunger.  Sigh).  Which brings me to.....

Sleeping:  Oh goodness, where to begin?  December was a ROUGH month.  Due partially to a normal 4-month sleep regression and partly to moving her out of her room and into our walk-in closet (and eventually, our bedroom) while my in-laws were staying with us, she began waking up every two hours alllll night long.  There were a few nights every week when she was up every single hour.  And a handful to times, the only way to keep my sanity and get any rest was to move her into bed with us in the wee hours of the morning.  It was hell, and I admit to having a couple 3am breakdowns that left me crying on the floor of my closet while a wide-eyed baby blinked at me from her pack-and-play.

Once my in-laws left, I was determined to change things.  I could have handled the sleep deprivation alright if I were home with her all day, but trying to function on 4-6 hours a night while working 40 hours a week, taking a class and still trying to keep up a fitness routine?  I just couldn't do it.  So, we cried it out.

I prepared myself for the worst, but it wasn't bad at all.  It only took one night - 5 minutes of crying - of being put to bed awake and without a pacifier before she learned to put herself to sleep.  I can definitely tell the difference between her protesting cries and her upset cries, so for two nights we let her protest cry (I planned to give up and go in if her cries turned upset and hysterical).  Three crying sessions total, and voila!  back to sleeping 6-8 hours, followed by 3-4 hours, followed by 1-2 hours.  I'm totally okay with this schedule and will get up to feed her twice a night (she's a petite little thing and I don't want her weight gain to suffer by night-weaning early, even if she's just comfort nursing and doesn't really need to eat).

We've been swaddling her with one arm out for overnight and naps.  Though we gave it up for a while, swaddling is back!  She just seems more calm and sleeps more deeply when swaddled, so I'm okay with wrapping her up until she goes to college if necessary.  Speaking of naps, they are still a fight, but we try our best to make sure she gets 2-3 hours of sleep during the day, spread out between 2-3 naps.  

What's new?:  Well, there's the sitting thing, obviously.  We just sat her up on the floor one day out of curiosity, and she stayed that way!  I can tell her core strength is really improving (I don't know how, since she straight-up refuses tummy time and has STILL not rolled over!).  When she's in her high chair now, she can lunge forward to try and reach things on the table.  She loves to stand, and is pretty stable when we hold onto her hands.  No crawling yet - she can't get into a plank or bring her knees under her yet.  My prediction?  She's going to more or less skip the whole crawling business and go straight to walking.  We'll see. 

She babbles more intelligently now.  She knows that if she makes a sound when we walk by something she likes, we'll bring her close to it.  She understands that when we look her in the eye and talk to her, that she should talk back.  I'm pretty sure she knows that when she's fed up with something, all it takes is a shriek of a certain pitch and volume to make her parents drastically change course!  Her awareness of her surroundings is astounding.  If my husband sneezes or clears his throat on the other side of the house, she whips her head around trying to find him.  Breastfeeding is more and more difficult because she's so distracted.  It's so beyond amazing to see her little brain making all these new connections every day.

I can't even begin to describe the love I have for this sweet little person.  The love was always there, of course, but these days something has changed.  Maybe because it doesn't feel so one-sided now.  She knows me!  Her eyes are fixed on me when I move around the house.  She cries when she wants me, ME, as opposed to whoever is holding her at the moment.  And sometimes she'll bury her little face in my neck and babble away, then push herself back, look me in the eye, smile, and I see all the vast love I have for her reflected right back at me.  Pretty incredible.

Hard as it is, friends, I really do love being a mama <3