Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who makes bath time so much fun?

A month or two before my wife’s due date, we attended a breastfeeding class. During the class we spent several videos demonstrating good latches, correct holds, other assorted nursing techniques. Rarely, have I been in a room with a bunch of strangers looking at breasts without the smell of vanilla and stale cigarettes in the air.

Much of the class focused on how beneficial breastfeeding was. Research has shown that children who were breastfed for at least 6 months are smarter, have fewer ear infections, are less likely to be obese, love their mother more, never take illicit drugs, always drive the speed limit, and never get picked last at recess. Other than the obvious health benefits, nursing also gives mother and child a chance to bond. They have skin-to-skin contact. They have hours of one-on-one time each day without anyone or anything else competing for attention.

Towards the end of the class the instructor cheerfully said: “Now guys, I know the question you have all been waiting to ask…”

(What if the baby accidentally latches on to me? How did you convince us to spend $100 to spend three hours watching videos of women breastfeeding? Can we make cheese from breast milk? I have nipples, can you milk me?)

“…how can YOU bond with your baby if the mother is the only one feeding.”

Okay, that is a good one too. Actually, it was an important question that I had thought about asking. It seems to me that the simple act of nursing is a powerful bonding mechanism between mother and child. Bottles, for all their wonderful convenience and simplicity, are cold, lifeless. When nursing, the baby is held tightly against the bare chest. They feel the mother’s warmth, they smell their skin, they learn their unique taste and texture. How in the world can a father replicate that kind of experience?

“Bathing,” said the instructor. “Fathers should bath their child. It is a great way to bond.”

Okay. Great. I can do that, I thought. I was now the DB. Designated Bather. I started to look up correct newborn bathing techniques. I bought all the right hooded towels and soft washcloths. I was read to be the DB.

But there was one thing wrong. The instructor was apparently playing a mean joke on all the fathers. The first time I gave my daughter a bath she pooped in the water twice, she screamed through the entire experience, I banged my knee against the bathtub, and our bathroom ended up looked like a typhoon hit it. Also, I don’t think she ended up much cleaner than when she started. This was NOT the same peaceful, loving, bonding experience that my wife was having 12 times a day.

But I persisted. The next time she only pooped in the water once. And then next time she pooped on the floor as my wife was carrying her to the bathtub. We were making progress. My daughter hated being bathed. I imagined that, instead of this being a father daughter bonding experience, this was turning into something that would scar her for life. I imagined her at 35 years old telling her therapist that about her irrational fear of water and uncontrollable hatred of her father. The only way we could get her to stop screaming while she was in the water was if she was sucking on my wife’s pinkie finger. She wasn’t even bonding with my pinkie.

Sometimes I would brave the screams and bath her alone, sans wife pinkie. Did not always turn out well. But I think I have finally broken her. She hasn’t pooped in her bath for weeks, maybe months. We no longer need to have a finger in her mouth to prevent her from crying. I gave my daughter a bath yesterday after she peed on her face (long story) and she actually STOPPED crying once she got in the water, and stayed quiet through the entire bath. At one point, she shot me a smile. I smiled back. Was she enjoying this? Maybe she was starting to trust that I wasn’t going to let her fall into the water. Maybe she was getting used to the feel of my hands and the washcloth. I think that maybe we have finally formed a little bond of the bathtub.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sometimes you have to feed the crazy in you...

Okay, so if you have read my post about sleep and babies you know that parents have tried almost everything to get there baby to fall -- and stay -- asleep. (I should say as I write this that my daughter is sound asleep in her car seat which has been placed on a device that swings the seat. I don't know why babies like this -- it would make me puke). Now that a friend has shown me this -- I'm pretty sure that no parenting product can surprise me anymore.

The copy of the ad is a slick combination of confusing and frightening:

If you've ever wished for a hand to leave behind so that your baby would feel as if you've never left the room, your prayers have been answered with the Zaky.

No I have never wished for a dis-embodied hand to leave with my child. Who would ever wish for that? Why don't I just stick a horse's head in her crib and call it a night?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fall Guy

I dropped my baby on her head the other day. Well, I didn’t really drop her. You can’t really drop something you aren’t holding on to. I guess I allowed her to fall? My neglect created a situation where a fall was more likely to occur? Whatever you call it, under my supervision, our daughter went from couch to floor, head first.

You see, our daughter has basically been a motionless blob for most of her life. That’s why I have usually seen those straps on changing tables and bouncers as useless accessories. That is why there was usually no problem with me watching the Red Sox game with my daughter laying on the couch next to me. Well, that has all changed. Here is what happened: Monday morning, just finished breakfast and my wife was getting ready for work. Our daughter was happy and smiling and loving life. I put her on the couch next to me and propped her up against the end pillow.

Mistake #1.

I then turned my gaze away from my daughter to open up the curtain behind our couch.

Mistake #2.

As I was turning back around I see my daughter, in slow motion, leaning to her left, heading for the edge of the couch. A baby’s head at this age is the heaviest part of their body, which causes them to behave something like a shuttlecock – the head will always hit the ground first.

(Do not take this me encouraging anyone to try playing badminton with a baby – you just have to trust me)

It felt like I saw the whole thing unfold before it actually happened. I knew she was going to nosedive into the floor. The only question was what part of her head would absorb the impact and what force. Luckily, couches are pretty low and she sort of slid of the seat. But I still watched as my daughter fell, hit our hardwood floors forehead first, and then screamed.

Then I screamed. My wife said she has never heard me yell like that before. I panicked. I screamed. I ran to my wife to have her take the baby because for some reason I thought that my daughter would know that I was holding her and somehow she didn’t trust me with that responsibility anymore.

Luckily, our daughter is fine. She was smiling and happy within five minutes. We did go to the doctor and they checked her all out and then gave her a battery of x-rays, the purpose of which, I think, was to make me feel like a bad father. I don’t think these words were ever spoken, but they were at least implied by the many doctors and nurses we saw.

-Oh, head x-rays for a 2 month old, huh? Yup, right this way father-of-the-year.
-(said much too loudly in the packed waiting room) OK, take these films back to your doctor so you can make sure your need to open the curtains didn’t give your baby irreparable brain damage
-She is fine, but you might actually want to pay attention to her when you put her on the couch. Yeah, and don’t let her play with knives, matches, or bleach, either, Einstein.

So I left the doctor’s office with a healthy baby, but I was pretty sure I felt at least three people in the waiting room silently judging me.

I only started to feel better after telling other parents about the fall. What I didn’t realize was the fall was kind of a right of passage for parents, and this one wasn’t that bad.

-Oh, she only fell from the couch? My first son fell from the changing table. Twice. And we keep the changing table on stilts.
-Yeah, my friend dropped her baby, and then she picked him up, she hit his head against the door jam.
-My bother broke his son’s arm by accident when they were wrestling.
-I ran over my toddler with my SUV

Okay, that last one didn’t happen – but those SUV’s do have pretty big blind spots. But hearing everyone else admit to their mistakes somehow made me feel better. I continue to learn that my own ineptness as a parent is usually par for the course for parents. Everyone messes up a few times. Babies are hard to pay attention to all the time, and sometimes they fall. If we are lucky, they, and we, bounce back.

Friday, June 19, 2009

They Don't Really Do Anything...

One thing about babies, especially newborn babies, they don’t really do anything. I mean, they are eating, pooping, and crying machines. If you are looking for any of that action, you will have it. But they don’t smile, they don’t laugh, they don’t make cute little noises. If you are about to have a baby, and expect to be tossing it in the air and having it giggle when you walk in the door, you should know this. Also, your baby, is likely to look like a baby. We have had people say our daughter looks like me, like my wife, and like my brother (which was kind of weird). We have been told that she has my eyes, my wife’s eyes, my nose, my wife’s nose, my smile, my wife’s smile. This is because, for the most part, people are making this up. The baby looks like nearly every other baby you have seen. But it is your baby, which makes it better. (Actually, this baby is not my baby, but a random, bored baby I found by typing "Boring baby" into google images).

What is strange about this no talking, smiling, interacting, blob of a human-being period, is that this is also the time when most parents are home from work and when most people have family and friends coming over to see the little bundle. It is a little anti-climactic. People make faces and fart noises and put on their big smiles --- and the baby looks right by them. They say that newborns can’t see very far, and they can’t keep focus for very long, so they rarely even make eye contact with you. Now, trust me, this doesn’t you from staring at your baby for hours on end. I was home from work for three weeks and I spent approximately 2 of those weeks staring at my daughter.

But slowly but surely, your baby starts to smile. Usually it is in her sleep first – which reminds us all that even to a baby, dream-land is more fun than the real world. Then after about 4 – 6 weeks of blankly staring into the world like Robert De Niro in Awakenings, she makes eye contact with you…and smiles.

And the crowd goes wild.

You run for the camera. Your wife starts crying. You update your facebook page. Your wife updates hers. One of you calls your parents. Your parents come over to see if they can make the baby smile. They grab their camera. Within a few hours you have a great memory of that first smile, 19 facebook comments, and 1,658 digital photos of your baby staring blankly back at you.

Don’t worry, the smiles come more often. Soon your baby isn’t just a pooping, eating, crying blob. They become a pooping, eating, crying, smiling, blob. Soon they do realize that it is you coming in the door. And it makes your day. Soon they throw their legs and arms into the air when you raspberry their stomach. Eventually they will start crying again, needing to be fed or to be changed, or maybe they are just tired of staring at you sticking your tongue out. But the smiles still come.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Flying Solo

So for the first couple months, my daughter has been exclusively nursing. We started mixing in a bottle here and there, but it was usually still human milk that she was sucking down. Only recently have we started to give her a bottle or two of formula in preparation for an overnight trip my wife needed to make for her job. Yes, this was going to be my first full day and night ALONE with our child. My wife trusts me more than I trust myself.

I was not exactly comfortable being left alone with my daughter for an entire day and night. You see, babies who are nursed tend to like boobs. I have learned this much. Olive is a great sleeper, but 90% of nights, she falls asleep after getting a big meal from my wife in the darkness of our bedroom. Even more, my wife has mastered the lay-down-and-feed method so the baby is already in a recline position. As she nods off, all my wife needs to do is remove the feeding tube (i.e. breast) and move our daughter 18 inches into her cradle. It is a little more complicated for me.

First, I lack functioning mammorary glands. Definitely a point against me in the baby world. Second, Olive has never had more than two bottles in a day….I was going to have to give her about 12 in a row. Third, those bottle were going to be, at least partially filled with formula (which, according to most books and websites you read, or health professionals you talk to, is virtually the equivalent of feeding your child bottles of molten lava or a mixture of bacon fat, high fructose corn syrup, and cocaine. The guilt trip that women who choose not to breast feed are put on is ridiculous. My wife nurses, and I’m sure that it is quite healthy for our baby, but I really don’t think that giving a baby formula is the same as this. Anyway, that is a subject for another blog). Fourth, my wife is the one who wakes up at 4:00 AM to give Olive her early morning feeding, and the one who puts her back to bed until 7:00 AM. Most nights I recognize these events only as part of the dream I’m having about Abe Lincoln. I’d be lieing if I said I wasn’t a little afraid that I was going to stumble over to my daughter in the middle of the night, and mistakenly try to feed her a bottle of shampoo. So, I think my worry going into the day was at least partially well-placed.

Luckily, Olive did not try to latch on to my non-functioning man nipples. That solved one point of possible baby frustration. Also, our daughter takes a bottle like a champ. Apparently, other babies can go through something called “nipple confusion”. Olive seems to realize that whatever nipple we put in her mouth, whether real or manufactured, will contain food. Interestingly enough, she also doesn’t care what kind of food she is getting. She reacts almost exactly the same to a bottle made of breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. I could probably fill a bottle with green tea and she would suck it down.

Even without mommy, Olive went to sleep well. I managed to shake myself out of slumber at 3:30 to give her a bottle and she fell right back to sleep afterwards. A few days later and my daughter is still alive, so I think I passed my first solo test with flying colors. I realize now that we get nervous about things before there is a real reason to get nervous. Will my baby take a bottle? Can my baby fall asleep without nursing? Will I be able to watch the Red Sox with a baby in the room? Will I be lashed by a rampaging team of lactation consultants for giving my baby formula? Sometimes we just need to go ahead with the view that everything will be okay, and take it from there. One whole day and one whole night with just baby and daddy – and nothing happened that I needed to worry about. She slept. I slept. She ate. I ate. The Red Sox won. All was right in the world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know what it is like to have a baby. The reason for this? I sleep. I mean, I sleep well. I took my first business trip last week. Spent two nights away from my wife and child. The first two baby free nights in 10 weeks. Most new fathers would welcome this by immediately turning off all the lights in the hotel room, raiding the mini bar, setting the alarm for Labor Day, and knocking back a horse-size dose of ambian. Me? I tossed and turned half the night and longed for my bed at home. You see, my two month old sleeps through the night…and has since she was about a week old. A new parent who would rather be home, with a two-month old 5 feet away, than in a hotel room with a down comforter and free HBO? After this experience I fully expect my daughter to sprout teeth without complaint, potty-train herself and marry the first man she dates.

Normally, the lack of sleep is what binds new parents together. When people find out you have a newborn, everyone needs to know how your nights are going. It is always the first question they ask.

-Getting any sleep?

-How’s the late night TV treating you?

-Bet you are pretty tired?

-Get all your sleep in before she was born?

This is particularly true for couples with young children. They want someone who can sympathize with them, someone who can relate to the months of zombie-like existence. Parents want to know that others have to go through the same trials and tribulations (there is a reason those creepy message boards exist). They want the conversation to go something like this:

Them: Newborn, huh? How’s that sleep going?

Me: Sleep? What’s that?

Them: Ha ha ha

Me: Ha ha ha

Them: Yeah. Madison didn’t sleep at all for the first 7 years.

Me: I know. It is terrible. The only way I get some shut-eye is if we have a parent, a sister, and three babysitters there to take shifts because she is just a monster at night!

Them: (patting me on the back) It’s okay, it gets better. Just hang in there, champ.

But the thing is, Olive has slept through the night since she was about a week old. She goes to bed about 10, sleeps until 4, wakes up to eat, and then goes back to sleep until about 7. Even those days where she doesn’t go back to sleep, my wife and I get a solid 6 hours of sleep – or about what I got in a week in College. When I tell people this they usually respond with a mixture of contempt and disbelief. How could this be? You must have to let her cry it out for hours to get her to bed? Nope. Does she go to sleep when you do? Yup.

And usually I feel bad telling people this. Really. I feel bad that I get 7 hours of uninterrupted slumber while other parents dream of three. I feel bad that I can’t fulfill their need to have an exchange about our shared experience in sleeplessness. But I can’t. I don’t know what it is like to wake up, night after night, for the midnight, and 2 am, and 3:30 am, and 5 am feeding. I don’t really know what it is like to roam my dark house in a t-shirt and boxer shorts rocking a crying baby for two hours. I shrug at the shelves of devices (sound machines, stuffed animals with heartbeats, little baby straight-jackets, soothing lights, mobiles, vibrating mattresses) all designed to get your baby to sleep quietly for a precious few hours. They even have a creepy term for some of these things -- and I wish I was making this up: Mechanical Mothers. Dr. Sears lists 31 WAYS to get your child to sleep. There are fewer steps to breaking alcohol addiction! Judging by how hard it is to get a normal child to sleep, I’m amazed that some parents can work a full week without the assistance of hard drugs or partial ownership of a Starbucks franchise.

Now, I know full well that this can change in an instant. Olive has had days when she has decided that 4 AM is a great time to want to start the day and that 10:30 PM is a great time to release a day worth of poop. Those days might start to become the rule rather than the exception. Who knows? But right now, when I hear other parents talking about how little sleep their getting, I stay quiet. Because they don’t really want to hear from me – I don’t really know what it is like to have a baby.

The Education of a New Dad

My wife and I spent way too much money and far too much time reading books about what our baby is supposed to do at this stage of pregnancy and that stage of development. For months we scoured the web trying to figure out what fruit or vegetable our little fetus was that day.

-Oh, honey, she is the size of a medium-sized yam today!

-Wow! And to think that not too long ago she was the size of a brandywine heirloom tomato…they grow up so fast.

We needed to know everything that our baby was doing in-utero. There were books telling women what to eat, how to exercise, what music to listen to, when to have sex, and how to remain comfortable despite being 30 pounds overweight with feet two-sizes too big and a sore back.

Since our daughter was born, we have read even more books about what to feed her, how much time she needs to spend on her back, on her belly, in our arms, in the sun, and in the dark; how to protect her from our cats, bugs, skin cancer, even formula, swine flu, loud music, autism, meddling strangers, and polio; and how to make sure she is smarter, faster, stronger, taller, skinnier, prettier and all-around more awesome than every other child who somehow did not win the genetic lottery by having parents smart enough to buy the rare What to Expect In the First Year.

But after all that, after all the reading about what to do when she is colicky (still don’t know what that word means) or how many times to feed her during the day. After all the advice from parents and siblings and friends and strangers and doctors and nurses. After all the preparation, all we really learned once that small-sized version of a human being was home with us was…that we know nothing. We are clawing through this experience in ignorant bliss, enjoying each success and mistake with equal surprise and joy.

-You mean we managed to change her diaper all by ourself? High five!
-Honey, did you see that we weren’t supposed to feed her solid food until about 6 months? Goat cheese and spinach ravioli isn’t really “solid” right?

I actually heard, in the same day, two nurses give us completely contradicting advice about things like feeding our baby…no one knows anything for sure. That is why becoming a parent is such an adventure. If parenting was a roller-coaster it would be Space Mountain – you never know what is coming around the next bend.

So this blog is a little journey for me about MY education as a new dad. It isn’t really meant to teach anyone anything…because I now know there is nothing I can teach that a new dad won’t have to learn on his own. Enjoy the ride.