Monday, June 29, 2015

Baby Buys and Hacks

When I started on this baby journey I did a lot of research into the "essential" baby products out there and got what I thought would be the most useful, knowing I'd have to adjust for whatever my daughter actually ended up being into. One thing that's true of all babies: you cannot predict a damn thing about what they will like. Some kids love bassinets and sleep in them right away, others act like they are being set down in acid. Some kids want to be bundled up with hats and blankets, others will pull that shit off in the delivery room. You can't really predict it all but some things will be more useful than others.

Some things I didn't know about until after my daughter was born because for whatever reason they aren't necessarily on the "essential" lists you find unless you're scouring every blog out there. I moved from Europe back to the states, then one side of the country to the other, while pregnant. I didn't get a lot of prep time. So quite a few things I discovered through trial and error and later than other people. Live and learn!

1. Baby wraps. There are a ton to choose from so try and find a shop that will let you test them out first. Most babies want to be close to you the first few months so a wrap of some kid is, I think, a good bet. I have a Boba and a Moby.

The difference: The Boba is thicker and stretchy so it accommodates a variety of body types, you can adjust as your baby grows, and it's easy to bounce them in it which my daughter loves.

The Moby is thinner and not stretchy so there's less margin of era. But it does mean they stay firmly in place and for summer the lighter fabric can be a good pick if you're going to be out and about.

Regardless of what you choose, get two because babies spit up, pee, poop, drool, and you're going to want a spare while you're washing the other one. Trust me, I've had the experience of a baby meltdown while the only wrap was being washed. Never again.

A lot of people swear by wraps for outings as substitutes for strollers. I think they're great but there's a big BUT coming. BUT: if you're wearing a wrap and you're by yourself with a baby you're going to have to figure out how to carry a diaper bag with you. When you're wearing your baby this is challenging because you can't exactly have anything else across your body or even on your shoulder. So I tend to think wraps work best for outings when you're with a partner who can carry all the necessary items.

2. Teether toys. My daughter isn't quite 4 months yet and while she doesn't seem to be sprouting any teeth, she does like to cram things into her mouth to chew on. Having some teethers she can nom on makes things easier because during this phase babies will often stuff their hands in their mouths when they're hungry/tired and work themselves up because they don't know what they're feeling and will refuse the thing they actually want/need. The teethers help get that out of their system so you don't go insane.

3. Tubs of Aquaphor. We have so far managed to avoid diaper rash by slathering this stuff on at every change. It doesn't irritate her and it keeps the moisture out. Bonus: you can use it on dry/irritated patches, your own lips, cradle cap, etc. It's also less messy than the zinc types which, at least with my squirmy girl, get EVERYWHERE and it's a desperate game of trying to keep her from immediately sticking zincy hands in her mouth.

4. Since my daughter is a very strong, active, and wiggly baby, we had to improvise when it came to changing time recently. While a changing pad on the floor is an often cited solution, if you or your partner have back issues, it can really strain things to be going up and down like that for changes a bunch of times a day. Not to mention if you forget something and have to put them back up, get the supply, get them back down, etc. We were using the changing pad on our Pack n Play but eventually she was too wriggly even for that. A dresser or set of shelves where the top is converted into a changing area might work for other people or very young infants, but again, my kid is just too strong.

So we turned the entire Pack n Play into a changing station. When on its highest position the "bassinet" has lots of room for her to wiggle but she can't roll off or out. So I can get a change done and, if I need to, step away for a minute without fear of her ending up on the floor. And it saves my back a lot of strain.

5. White noise. There are lots of products out there for this, some baby specific, some not. We have a white noise machine in the bedroom anyway but we also got a Shusher and it's worth its weight in gold. It makes an adjustable volume "shush" sound that chills out the crankiest baby and you don't have to worry about your mouth getting tired or hoarse (yes, really). It's also portable so you can have it in any room, the car, wherever. It's based on the Happiest Baby on the Block philosophy.

6. Yoga mat and shoes specifically for standing/walking for long periods of time. My daughter prefers to be up and in a wrap over any other way of being, awake or asleep. She has a weird baby sixth sense where she can ALWAYS tell when I've sat down and starts squirming and fussing. This means a lot of standing and walking for me and it takes a toll when your baby is 15+ pounds and strapped to you all day. I also work from home so I have to be able to get things done. So I bought a standing laptop desk (cheap from Amazon), a thick yoga mat, and shoes nurses wear for all day standing. These are the only things that will save your feet and lower back.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Little Things

Now that I’m up around 6-7am every day with a baby who is either eating, pooping, or both (something about that peristalsis action really gets her going) I think about this whole momming thing a lot.

It’s hard. It’s joyous. It sucks. It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s trying. It’s complicated.

One thing I’ve been mulling over a lot recently is how people who don’t have kids often wonder why parents care so much about “little” things their kids do that aren’t a big deal. And I’m not talking about the aforementioned pooping, which I agree isn’t exactly important unless they haven’t been doing it regularly. Parenting is a lot of maintenance work on things that you don’t have to look after adults for, so sometimes a poop IS a big deal. Though probably not one I’d share very often because, you know, poop.

So, why do we care about all these “silly” little things, like playing with their first toy, or mouthing a new sound, having a good walk to the store or sitting up? Because in baby/parent world these are actually huge cognitive leaps. They signal that your baby is advancing towards “person” and all of these “little” things are enormous advancements for them and indicators that you’re doing a good job as a parent. They mean that brain development is happening, that physical strength is increasing, that all the little things you do every day are paying off.

Even if you don’t have kids it does actually matter that the next generation of people you’re going to have to deal with on some level have parents who care enough about them that they want to share all these “little” achievements. Eventually all these “little” things are going to add up to a grown human being who will have an impact on the world. Parents who give a shit about how they impact it are being responsible, however annoying their Facebook updates on Junior’s toe playing may be.

For instance, my 14 week old has just discovered that she can play with things like her little stuffed animal Hello Kitty/Ugly Doll. This means she is starting to understand objects in relation to herself and is noticing the world around her. She’ll now sit in her bouncer for upwards of 20 minutes entertaining her self by talking to it, looking at it, laughing at it, pulling on its feet and ears. This is huge. For me it means a little bit of time during the day where I don’t have to have her to strapped to me so I can wash bottles or write. For her it means discovering all sorts of new sensations and interactions that you and I do and take for granted every day. It’s actually pretty fucking amazing to watch.

It’s like when they start smiling at you instead of involuntarily. Emotionally it’s incredible because of what we associate with smiling. But it’s also cognitively significant, because a smile is a form of communication.

Look, babies start off as tiny, not yet formed humans, who have to learn everything about how to be a person from their parents. They are completely dependent on us and we’re fully responsible for not just their development, but their little, helpless, lives. That’s terrifying. So if we sometimes share what seems inconsequential with you, know that it’s not. And that we have some very good reasons for thinking whatever it is, is important.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Things I Have Learned in 6 Weeks of Parenting

1. Absolutely nothing will go the way you hope/plan/expect in both good and bad ways. In the 6 weeks since I became a parent my daughter had to spend a week in the NICU right after she was born due to a (minor) infection, I found out I couldn't breast feed, our new car's battery went to hell, my husband developed a temporary eye palsy and now has to wear a patch until it decides to go away. So good luck planning anything, basically.

2. Babies do not give even a single fuck about what they are "supposed" to do according to any parenting "guide".

3. All "guides" about things like making your baby sleep on their back, perfectly flat, only apply to ideal babies who don't have reflux or care about being close to you. I'm going to tell you right now that your baby will probably have reflux and want to be near you because most of them do. Adjust accordingly.

4. Your home will become a wasteland of baby paraphrenalia used and unused like some kind of infant version of Mad Max. Mostly it will be unused things you thought you "must" have but your kid hates with a fiery passion. Like, for instance, the bassinet.

5. Baby poop comes out at roughly the same velocity as a rocket shooting for the moon. It's pretty funny even when it's shooting at you.

6. After feedings babies get milk drunk. It's awesome.

6. Get a pediatrician you can call with all your stupid questions because you will have them and it's okay and they will make you feel better instead of stupid.

7. What's more terrifying than how much you love your kid is how much they need you and the sense of responsibility you now have for this tiny life. It can sometimes be paralyzing but you get through it and only check that they're breathing every 5 min instead of every 2.

8. Babies are pretty cute but they also make faces like Dick Tracy villains and it's pretty fucking weird.

9.  Make TV playlists of shows you can watch during 2am feedings so that you don't nod off on your baby. I recommend Community because it's A. awesome and B. the perfect length for keeping up a baby with reflux after a feeding so they don't yak everything back up.

10. Seriously, take care of yourself or you'll be useless to your kid. It's okay to put them down sometimes. Really.

11. I suspect in another 6 weeks I will have a new set of revelations because none of us know what we're doing. PARENTING.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Open For Editing!

Okay, folks, here's the deal: having a baby is really expensive even when you have insurance. Which means ...::dramatic drum roll::

So! I am officially open for editing projects. Why should you hire me? Because I'm awesome! Because I love stories! Because I've been editing for the last 14 years and I've gotten pretty darn good at it.

What sort of things can I edit? Lots! I can edit pitches, outlines, single scripts, series, and graphic novels. And that's just the comics stuff! I can also edit screenplays and game projects. My most recent projects have been helping a screenwriter adapt their script to an OGN, editing a massive RPG manual, and creating a short comic for a new game that was teased at last years E3.

Over the years I've edited a ton of comics you might have heard of, from Fables to Lucifer, Angel to The Last Unicorn. I've edited anthologies, New York Times Bestsellers, Eisner nominated AND awarded creations. So I've got just a little bit of cred.

My philosophy as an editor: helping you, the creator, tell the story YOU want to tell. It's that simple.

My rate: $50 an hour which is a BARGAIN. Seriously. We can chat about your project, your budget, and what I can do within it over at my email, mariah dot tiredfairy @gmail.

Spread the word!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Infant Things

3 weeks into new motherhood and I'm learning that parenthood is basically continuous trial and error, fuck ups and frustrations, joy and enchantment. For me. I have no idea what it's like for anyone else and I'm not here to tell anyone how to parent.

I've learned a few things in the past few weeks the baby books don't tell you and while I wouldn't call what I'm going to say "advice" I will say that they might be useful for others.

And just to get it out of the way: no, I don't feel like I'm more connected to the earth, universe, or "meaning of life" now that I'm responsible for a tiny one. The earth is a rock floating in space, the universe still doesn't give a shit about me or you, and I'm as mystified by life and determined to give mine (and what part of her's I"m responsible for) meaning as best as I can. But I didn't suddenly become an expert on anything just because I had a baby.

1. Newborn babies are not very complicated. They need to eat, poop, be loved, and sleep. They'll do all those things a lot and you'll figure out your babies rhythms after awhile. If those few things have been addressed and your baby is still inconsolable, it's pediatrician time. Note: not complicated does not mean "easy". It just means your baby isn't sitting around contemplating deep truths right now, they're just navigating this whole life outside the womb, tiny tube status.

2. If you're bottle or formula feeding like I am, get Dr. Brown's bottles with a variety of nipple sizes. My daughter has a bit of acid refluc and we use a thicker formula to help. It goes through the standard size 1 nipples at an excruciating pace and while it's a good idea for them not to gulp outrageously, it shouldn't be a chore either. This isn't an issue if you're using regular formula or breast milk in terms of flow. Also get a drying rack you can keep on the counter and a formula mixing pitcher to keep in the fridge. Formula only keeps for a day so don't go nuts pre-mixing, but having a bunch of it ready can definitely help when you're stumbling around at 3am with a crying, hungry infant.

3. Wherever you do your feedings/holding times, keep burp cloths, soothers, nose sucking bulb thing, and baby lotion within easy reach. Also make sure it has drink holders for you because you also need to hydrate. I mostly use our little couch and I've been using a little gray bath thingie they gave us at the hospital to keep paraphrenalia in. It currently has Aveeno baby lotion, a sleep sack, 2 burp cloths, my water bottle, and 2 binkies in it. It also has the Infant CPR pamphlet we got for easy referral.

4. You're going to get a lot of advice, a lot of it very good, but also not always practical depending on your lifestyle. For instance, I am home with my daughter but I'm a freelance writer. I was already doing assignments between feedings after 2 weeks. So the advice to sleep when she sleeps only goes so far. I do it when I can and so will you.

5. Cut yourself a break. Not just in terms of making mistakes, but also with things like needing to put them down for awhile and not hold them 24/7. Or by watching a favorite show while they sleep. You absolutely need down time and while that's not always possible with a hungry, wet diapered, fussy's okay to want and need that time. If you have a partner this is easier to do, but not everyone does. Plus you also have human things you need to do like eat and poop yourself.

6. Try not to over anticipate what your baby needs. You can't prevent poopy diapers, you can't prevent hunger, and trying to somehow keep your baby from ever getting fussy will only result in botched feedings where they fall asleep too soon and you have to feed them again in half an hour...or using way more diapers because you're trying to catch every pee/poop the second it happens and they're not ready yet. Obviously you don't want your kid sitting around in a funky diaper but as long as you're dealing with them 8-10 a days or whatever then you're fine.

That's all I've got for now. None of it earth shattering or revelatory, and all subject to whatever my daughter ends up needing. Sometimes that's feedings closer together, sometimes it's longer naps, we figure it out as we go.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Of Birth and Boob Fail

I had my daughter on March 17th at 10:59 pm. She was just shy of 7 pounds, 20 inches, and gave a good healthy cry.

This was after my water broke earlier the day before at the grocery store, before labor started, something that only happens to about 1 out of 11 women. We had to go to the hospital immediately since an early rupture can lead to infection. I’d had my 38 week OB appointment that very morning where absolutely nothing indicated I’d be checking into a birthing room at UCLA less than 10 hours later. That’s how much you can’t predict how things will go.

12 hours later I was having excruciating contractions and not dilating very much. My OBGYN recommended I take an epidural, something I’d wanted to avoid but had never been adamantly against. My birth plan had always been flexible for a reason. Namely: I had no idea how birth would go until I was doing it and I didn't want to be so rigid and fixated on a plan that I didn't recognize when things had to change. It was the same reason I’d chosen to give birth in a hospital birth center for the unthinkable “what if” scenarios rather that at home or a non-hospital birthing place. Yeah, it's great if everything goes perfectly. But what if it doesn't? I’d done enough research to know the peace of mind that came with the birth center I chose being at UCLA would help make a scary process a lot more manageable.

So I took the epidural and things started to go better with more dilation in the next few hours than I’d had in 12. It felt very strange to be basically numb from the waist down and I nearly had a panic attack when I heard the word “spinal fluid”, but considering labor was another 14 hours I know I made the right decision.

Birth was, for me…weird. I pushed for 3 hours, though when you’re in that zone it doesn’t really feel like it. There’s nothing quite like that particular focus. As a sensation it’s not exactly what you think. Labor contractions I felt mainly in my lower back, in a rolling wave of cresting pain. Pushing was pretty butt focused until near the end when it finally feels vaginal. And then it’s a knobby, bony, gethisOUTNOW, feeling. It’s pain and pressure, concentrated yet enormous. And then the baby is out and its head is all long and strange shaped almost like an Alien and you’re staring at the person who’s been kicking you for months as they come into the world, wondering how on earth they fit in there, ever.

There were a few scary moments after where, because birth is as shocking to a baby as it is to you, she needed to be aspirated. Then she was yelling her head off again. I was having a small tear sewn up (no episiotomy, that’s not really routine anymore in spite of what some birth books tell you) and then she was back with me. She clung to me and then she fed on colostrum for a good 30 minutes.

We were taken to recovery and bonded, skin to skin. They gave her a hat with a giant bow that made her look like some 50’s Grand Dame. My husband, who was amazing throughout, and I were pretty much entranced. We could already see that she had his hands in miniature, clasping with a strong, vice-like grip. We stared at her in the bassinet while her big dark eyes roamed around, not really focused, but aware.

Then things started going not so well. When they checked my daughter’s temperature later it was lower than it should be. We did more skin to skin, which helped, but then it would go down again. I’d feed her but then they found she was hypoglycemic. She was alert and active, but something wasn’t right. They put her in a warmer in the nursery, which I hated because they had to take her out of our room. I started to really worry.

When her temp kept going up and down they decided it was time to get her into the NICU to treat her for a potential infection. During my labor I’d run a slight fever towards the end and been given antibiotics. The placenta had been very warm and was likely the site of infection. They took blood cultures that never yielded any results. I’m told all of this is common when you rupture so early.

Common or not, it was awful. Especially when they told me she’d have to stay in the NICU for 7 days to get a full course of treatment. This was not how things were supposed to go after a totally healthy pregnancy. My daughter wasn’t premature or unhealthy, and yet. There we were.

Physically, I was a wreck. A few hours after birth and the epidural wears off you feel like someone has taken to you with clubs. Everything hurts and aches, you have to wear enormous pads for the fluid and blood, and you sit on an ice pack between your legs, suddenly realizing that birth is traumatic. I got the shakes for the next few nights and by the 2nd day my nether bits felt battered. Another fun side effect: you may not be able to pee on your own again for a bit and that means a catheter. I don’t recommend them and thankfully I only needed it once. You would will your body into peeing if you’d had one, too.

So, in pain, trying to do even moderate self-care like eating and sleeping, I then had to shuffle to the NICU every few hours to try and feed and spend time with my daughter. Other people hovered around her, took care of her, and it felt like she wasn’t mine. It was the first feeling of failure but it wouldn’t be the last that week.

If you give birth vaginally and don’t have any complications
you are discharged after 2 days. I can tell you: it’s not enough recovery time. We need to seriously rethink this as a culture. The next 5 days were spent going back and forth to the hospital, usually for 10+ hours to be with her as much as possible. To hold her and try and feed her and weep every time we had to go.

This is when we discovered that my breasts were having trouble producing milk, I was pumping every 2 hours and getting 5mls, maybe. Sometimes a little more if she latched in the NICU. Within a few days she was taking 40mls of formula at a feeding and my breasts were clearly not keeping up. Now, at first we thought this was just because she was in the NICU. It’s common for women to have this experience when they can’t nurse normally. So I stuck to a punishing pumping schedule, and tried and tried to be the kind of milk providing mother mine was.

Except it turns out I will never be able to nurse normally.  Everyone kept saying it would be fine, my milk would drop, I just had to try harder. Only in my case it’s not an issue of trying or working harder at it.

Our first day home where I was still trying to make breastfeeding work was hellish. I was weeping all the time, feeling horrible and wrong, able to do very little bonding between feeding her, trying to get to her latch, supplementing, then pumping. With that schedule I could only maybe manage 45 min of sleep if I was lucky. I dropped nearly ¾ of my baby weight in the first week. I couldn’t eat because I couldn’t feed my daughter, food made me sick and shaky. I was so guilt ridden I refused to sleep and my husband had to purposefully not wake me up just so I’d get more than an hour in a day.

I would look at my daughter’s lovely, serious, face and feel like the most inadequate mother. What kind of woman can’t breastfeed? What was wrong with me? I talked to a lactation consultant who asked me a bunch of questions. And then things started to become more clear.

It was looking increasingly likely that I have IGT, or “insufficient glandular tissue”. My breasts simply cannot, and will not, produce enough milk. It’s probably genetic, my mom tells me her mother had the same problem though we don’t know any details as people back then didn’t talk about it. And they don’t today because we know that “breast is best” and for most women this isn’t a concern. Over production? Lots of support and information about that. Under or no production? Well…you’re sort of shit out of luck.

By the first well baby appointment I had decided that I could give it another week but then I’d have to consider formula exclusively instead of breastfeeding. I made an in person lactation consultation appointment at a local place just to make sure. I was ready for both to be confrontational, judgmental, hostile.

Instead, my pediatrician immediately told me that we feed our babies how we can and there’s no shame in what we can’t control. To her, it was time to move on and forward. My daughter was already back at birth weight, strong, with great reflexes and a healthy appetite. I cried, I was so relieved.

The lactation consultant after told me the same thing. This is a person whose whole job is helping women breastfeed and she said, matter of factly “ This isn’t in the cards for you. You’ve done all you can.”  No one really diagnoses IGT officially but I have all the most common markers for it. We discussed pumping a few times a day for what limited amounts I can get for another week, and if it’s still the small 5-10mls  per session(which it is) it will be time to stop. I cried again, again with relief.

This isn’t my fault, even though it does still feel like it is when I’m tired and thinking about it too much. But then I look at my daughter sleeping, her arms doing dramatic gestures, after a good feed, and I know I’m loving her and caring for her the best I can.

If you go online you’ll find a lot of horror stories from women who formula feed. Usually about strangers yelling at them or lecturing them when they buy formula or feed from a bottle. Others have even worse stories about friends or family shunning them. “Breast is best” is an accepted truth with plenty of data to back it up. No one is debating that, in an ideal situation, you breastfeed.

But life isn’t ideal. It doesn’t go the way you plan, ever.

I hope I’m never asked to justify my decision. I hope I never run into someone so awful they’d lecture a stranger about something they know nothing about. I’m steeling myself for it, the same way I did for unsolicited pregnancy advice. I know exactly what I’ll say if/when it comes up: Fuck. Off.

When it comes to mothering women can’t really win. Even with breastfeeding and everyone knowing it’s “best”, women are still shamed for doing it in public. Feed your kid but don’t do it where anyone can see you. Bottle or formula feed? You’re obviously terrible and lazy and poisoning your child. And women are often the perpetrators, feeling justified in judging and lecturing others based on superficial information and assumptions. The truth is: you don’t know why someone is bottle/formula feeding instead of breastfeeding. You don’t know if it’s a choice or a “choice”, or simply how things worked out for them. You don’t know their body, their situation. Just like they don’t know yours.

Since reaching the decision that formula is going to be how my daughter is fed, I’m beginning to accept it and move on. I still cry. I cried while writing this. But I’m done punishing myself for a genetic condition I can’t change. As the lactation consultant said, you wouldn’t tell a diabetic to just work harder to make their pancreas produce the right amount of insulin. You wouldn’t tell someone with scoliosis to just try harder to have a straight spine. Breasts aren’t magic wands, they’re organs. And sometimes organs don’t operate as they should.

I know some people will read this and still think, well, she’s just a bad mother. She’s wrong and didn’t try and here are a million reasons why I should have done x, y, and z. There’s probably an herb you think I should take (I have them all, and the tea. My sweat smells like celery maple syrup). You’re entitled, I guess, though I think it’s kind of sad to waste time being that kind of person. There are probably a ton of things you do on a daily basis other people don’t approve of that you have good reasons for doing. And that are ultimately for the best even if other people don’t know that.

And if you’re the sort of person who approaches strangers to lecture them about mothering, I think it’s a good rule of thumb in general to not assume you know why a stranger is doing something. There’s a time a place to step in, like when someone is actively abusing their child. But evangelizing breastfeeding at the supermarket at people you don’t know? Assuming you know their situation, genetics, or reasons? That just makes you an asshole, not an advocate.

Me, I’m going to continue feeding my thriving daughter and save my guilt for the next 18+ years of mistakes I’ll make. I’ll save my worry for watching her breathe while she sleeps, checking a million times that she’s on her back when she does sleep, holding her when she cries, and all the amazing terrors of having this new little person in my life.

This time doesn’t last and I want to enjoy every frustrating minute of it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Being Pregnant

Pregnancy is weird and uncomfortable. I haven't really liked it as an experience, though I'm looking forward to the result immensely. I suspect I'm not the only pregnant person to feel this way. Ads and pregnancy sites paint this rosy picture where women are glowing, smiling, svelte things in white yoga pants with perfect round bellies and no stretch marks. The reality for many of us is a bit different.

How would I describe the feeling of being pregnant, overall? Well, I think The Dark Crystal scene where the Skeksies start screaming: "ESSENCE! DRAIN HER ESSENCE!" sums it up nicely.

How do pregnant people feel when you "joke" about how they're not going to get any sleep when the baby is born, even though we've been exhausted since the first trimester and it's literally impossible to sleep for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time during the 3rd?

When dudes say pregnancy is "no big deal" and women complain about it too much.

When people act like, because millions of women have babies, it's not difficult, scary, or dangerous.

What it feels like my baby has been doing every day in utero since month 7 or so.

How I feel about well meaning, unsolicited advice about how I should be more "positive" and concentrate on the miracle of growing life and not the fact that everything aches and I have to pee a million times a day and shortly I'll be squeezing a live human being out of my vagina.

When people say things like "all pregnant women are beautiful" when you say you don't feel well and are waddling around like a distorted duck.

Whenever anyone suggests that disliking the physical reality of being pregnant means you aren't aware of how lucky you are or won't be a good parent.

What I wish I was doing most of the time.