Parenting lesson #5: Mommy brain is real.

Forget actual scientific research.  I don’t care what (mostly male) researchers have to say about pregnancy or momnesia.  I am confident I can claim 100% matter-of-factly that “mommy brain” is a real ailment.  It is my diagnosis for having a short attention span, terrible recall, and doing stupid stuff.

The coffee does not come out from there.
Exhibit A: Before having kids, I would have known coffee does not come out of that side.

Take Exhibit A.  Not once, but TWICE, I have tried to pour coffee into my mug from the hinged back of this coffee carafe instead of where the dispenser spout is.  I took this picture to document the second time this happened.  If you look closely, you can see that I managed to drench the sugar in the sugar bowl with coffee as well as the tablecloth before my friends were able to stop me.

And this is one documented example of hundreds.  I have poured coffee into my cereal and milk in my orange juice.  I have even poured liquids straight onto the counter.  I have found my missing keys in the refrigerator.    I can’t even recall simple words like “mug” and “cabinet,” so I often ask Greg to get me a “thing” from the “thing” and hope he can deduce what I need because I’m holding a coffee carafe.  This week alone, here is what I remember: On Monday I forgot to strap Ethan into his car seat when I went to the gym.  On Tuesday, I took out the trash in the pouring rain on my way out the door, and upon returning, Eliza said, “Mommy, the front door is open!”  Just to be safe, I waited for three police cars to arrive 20 minutes later to check that it wasn’t an intruder who had opened my door, but rather that we had left for two hours without closing and locking up.  Yesterday I grabbed my mailbox key instead of my neighbor’s house key to let out their dog, and I didn’t figure out the mistake until the key didn’t work in their door.  And just now as Greg got home, we found I had left my keys in the door for the umpteenth time.

Seriously, look how much bigger that belly is than my head.  Imagine how much of my brain just Ethan took.
Exhibit B.  Seriously, look how much bigger that belly is than my head. Imagine how much of my brain Ethan sucked into his.

Check out Exhibit B.  I’m going to say that the laws of proportion back me up on this.  My thought is if your body incubates a baby and provides what it needs to grow its own organs, bones, and especially brain, then just as the baby will take Vitamin D and Calcium from your bones, it will also take cells from your brain.  It also follows that the more times you go through this process, the worse off you are.  I’ve read that the parts of your brain that control motivation, reward behavior and emotion regulation actually grow after you give birth, presumably to help you care for the child.  That’s lovely.  But my brain can only do so much at a given time, so keeping a baby’s needs at the forefront means other things – like remembering the word “chair” – go out the window.  In fact, a British study showed that hormones can control spatial memory, which would explain why when you’re pregnant or a mommy with a baby, you can’t remember where you put things or why you walked into a room in the first place.

Sleep deprivation has to be a part of it.  We are sleep-deprived when pregnant, and even more so after giving birth.  This past week, Ethan has woken up every night, I think because he’s going through a growth spurt.  I fed him a bottle for a few nights in a row, and now I think he’s waking up because he got in that pattern.  (Ugh.)  He was sick before this, so I haven’t had a good night of uninterrupted sleep in a while.  Mommy brain always gets worse at times like these.  I am hopeful that I can get close to normal again soon.  I do think I remember it getting better.  I vaguely recall that once Zach was two, I felt like my brain was sharper and I could remember things better.  I think …

I think I’m resigned to having mommy brain forever because I’m getting older.  And maybe that’s part of it, too: maybe women are having children later in life, and so our brains are already less capable of bouncing back easily.  Like I said, I don’t claim to have any scientific basis for my conclusion.  I just know I’m right.  It is the one thing I can trust my brain on these days.

What is your funniest pregnancy or mommy brain moment?


Fewer naps, dwindling sleep … thank goodness for Daylight Saving Time!

Tonight is the night I’m going to sleep in.  Even though it won’t be a real gain on the number of hours I get to snooze, I am blissfully assuming that when we roll the clocks forward an hour, my kids will just start sleeping until that time.

Until recently, my kids slept from 7 to 7.  Then somehow both of them decided 5:30 to 6 a.m. would be a good time to wake up, despite going to bed at the same time and despite not napping longer.  (In fact, Zach is transitioning from two daytime naps to one, but that is another post.)

We have tried putting them to bed earlier for several days in a row because the “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby” book says to do that.  It didn’t work.  We have tried putting them to bed later, around 7:30 to 8, because my dad told me I should do that and they would adjust, eventually, to sleeping later.  But two weeks into that, I’m here to tell you it hasn’t caused much improvement.  This represents a huge pain in my butt because having your kids decide all of a sudden that they need an hour or two less sleep each day, despite that causing multiple tantrums and fits and ornery-ness, is like having your house broken into and robbed of your most prized possessions, and all of your furniture pooped on by the thieves.

Although I haven’t put much research into sleep, I’ve put a lot of effort investing into bedtime routines and scheduled naps, and it’s worked for me.  My kids generally don’t fight about heading to bed.  So this is an unexpected thorn in my side.  And perhaps I just need to accept that they are getting older and sleeping less.  But why is that so hard?  Why am I clinging to their sleep patterns of old?  The answer, of course, is because this change doesn’t meet my expectations and I don’t like getting woken up by crying children who need more sleep at 6 a.m. but are up anyway.

So, if Daylight Saving Time doesn’t work (and oh, how I hope it does), I’m going to buy a large, digital alarm clock for Eliza’s room, draw a 7 and put it above the hour number, and tell her she’s not allowed to leave until the clock shows a 7 or higher in that hour spot.  But what to do about Zach?  I guess, in the words of Princess Leah, help me Daylight Saving Time, you’re my only hope.

The “big deals” of child rearing that we dread don’t always turn out to be dreadful

Killing two birds with one stone is awesome, especially when it relates to kids.  Often, it seems like forces are working against you as a parent.  Some days nothing goes as you wish, you feel like a failure and Murphy’s Law kicks your butt.  But sometimes, you get pleasantly surprised.

I’ve been dreading weaning Zach from his pacifier.  Of course I read somewhere that kids shouldn’t need them or use them past the age of 1, so as Zach is 13+ months, I already feel like a failure in this area.  (We type-A folks put a lot of pressure on ourselves.)  Side note: I know plenty of two- and three-year-olds who still use them, and they seem to be doing just fine, but that just isn’t for me, like changing two- and three-year-old poop diapers isn’t for me.  (See all my posts about potty training Eliza at 23-months.)

So, Zach has used the pacifier to sleep since he was a newborn, and he just started sleeping 12-hour nights consistently a few weeks ago.  So the idea of weaning him from using it was looming over me like a storm cloud.  I didn’t want to lose my newfound seven straight-hours-of-sleep nights that have made me feel like a new woman.

Welcome to real life, where children younger than five get an average of seven infections a year and a bunch of viral colds on top of that.  A week ago Zach started hacking so badly it made him throw up.  For the first several nights of the sinus infection that has now infiltrated us all, I gave him his pacifier but he kept spitting it out.  He could not breathe with it in.  And finally, I just stopped giving it to him at all on Tuesday.  He has been pacifier-free since then.  Granted, he’s not sleeping great anyway because he’s sick, but I’m not planning on giving it back to him.  In the quest to get him well, I’m also fixing his pacifier addiction.  I was anticipating a difficult, drawn-out process, but this illness has forced me to have more sleepless nights, and presented the perfect opportunity to wean him because he can’t use it anyway.

I love it when things like this happen as a parent.  You can keep changing phases and stages so quickly that all you do is dread the next big thing.  The problem is you forget to remember all the progress you’ve made and all the things that end up not being a big deal.  It’s amazing that Eliza has mastered so many skills that seemed so onerous when they were on the horizon, such as feeding herself and using the bathroom by herself.

So with Zach, it’s amazing that he’s mastered things like smiling, feeding himself finger foods and crawling.  I don’t want to forget to be thankful that we’ve passed through these phases joyfully.

Now, if only there were a way illness could get him to walk.  Oh well.  One thing at a time.  It’s pretty hard to kill three birds with one stone.

Parenting is so challenging because every child presents different challenges

If he only looked like this all night long

Parenting is not like math, unfortunately for those of us who enjoy formulas.  No, it’s definitely more like poetry or impressionistic painting.  Sometimes you get it, sometimes it makes no sense; sometimes up close, in the words of Cher from “Clueless,” it’s just a big old mess.

Before having Eliza, I read the book “Baby Wise” for advice on getting her to sleep well.  I decided that if I followed its principles, it would be nearly impossible to have a child who didn’t sleep well.  Wouldn’t you know, Eliza was sleeping 8 hours through the night consistently by 11 weeks.  (Looking back, I believe God was just being gracious because of the injury she caused when she exploded out of me on the third suction attempt, causing a fourth degree tear.)  She slept 12 hours a night from about 5 months on and has never looked back (except of course for her two-month-long battle with night terrors from July to September last year that I am still trying to forget and never blogged about because, as I just said, I don’t want to remember it).

Throughout Eliza’s infancy, I smugly and silently scoffed in my head at the moms who told me, “Well, Johnny’s always been a great sleeper, but Emily’s my one who still wants to get up several times a night.”  I thought it must be the parents who screwed up, got lazy, or didn’t follow through.  I looked forward to following the same formula with Zach and – POOF! – sleeping well again by the time he was three-months-old.

I was very, very wrong to make such an assumption.  Zach turned one a couple of weeks ago and he is still not consistently sleeping through the night.  All along as I’ve tried to train him to sleep and then found myself having entire two-sided debates in my head about the benefits and drawbacks of going into his room, I’ve thought, “At least by the time he’s one this won’t happen anymore unless he’s sick or teething.”  (The day I learn not to make assumptions about what should and should not happen developmentally for my kids on my self-determined time line will be very liberating indeed.)

The thing is, I followed the “Baby Wise” formula again.  I couldn’t be as rigid and calculated about it because I had another toddler to manage, but I followed it.  The problem is two-fold: he is a second child and he is a different child.  It was a whole lot easier to let Eliza cry it out to get herself to go to sleep because there wasn’t another child in the house she could wake.  Not only that, but for her, “crying it out” meant letting her fuss for a few minutes and then enjoying the silence.  For Zach, it turns out that crying it out is an inexorable affair that causes me to wonder, “If I put him outside in the backyard and go back to sleep, will the neighbors be able to hear him?  And if they call the police, will I have broken any laws?”  These eternal screaming fits eventually and inevitably wake Eliza, and then we have two inconsolable babies with which to deal.

I’ve tried two or three times (I can’t remember exactly because sleep deprivation inhibits memory retention) to let him cry it out for days on-end.  I also follow the rules about not picking him up when he cries.  If I go into his room, it’s just to rub his back for a few seconds and replace his pacifier.  He will randomly sleep through the night without a peep, as he did two nights ago.  Then he’ll have a night like last night when he screamed for more than an hour.  It just doesn’t make sense.

So if you are a mother out there and you have figured out the formula for getting a child like Zach to be able to self soothe when he wakes, I’m all ears for suggestions.  Just don’t expect me to be able to do it unless it’s X + Y = blissful sleep.


Baby products (and beyond) that you can’t live without

No matter how much you prepare for a baby, there’s no real way to prepare for a baby.  It’s impossible to avoid some trips in the early weeks to the baby superstore or drugstore for things you either didn’t know you needed or thought you wouldn’t need (like a nose suctioner), only to find out you did.  Or, there are lots of things you find out you need to try various types of before you find exactly what works for you and your baby (such as pacifiers, bottles or nursing pads).  Then there are the things you simply can’t buy in advance (like mass quantities of nursing bras because you don’t know how big you’ll be).  Maybe I’ll make lists of those separately.  But for those who like to be prepared (like me), there are ways you can minimize your stress.  This post is about the things you can definitely anticipate you will use and should have ready to go.  They will make your life easier and from my limited experience with two babies, here they are:

If you are planning on nursing:

1. Boppy or My Breast Friend nursing pillow – You can take this one to the bank – and the hospital.  If you want to nurse, a nursing pillow is essential when you spend half your day with a newborn attached to your nips.  You have to be able to get comfortable.  With Eliza, I carted the Boppy all over the house with me.  With Zach, I bought a spare from a consignment shop so I had one upstairs and one downstairs.  A neighbor of mine just had her second baby, and she loves My Breast Friend because she can strap it to herself and nurse the baby (or just let her fall asleep at the breast) and walk around with her arms free.  The Boppy does not strap onto you, so you can only use it while sitting.

2. An electric pump – If you have any nursing issues, want the convenience of being able to give your baby a bottle at some point while nursing, or if you have to go back to work, a good quality pump is non-negotiable.  With both Eliza and Zach, I required a hospital-grade pump to get my milk going in the beginning with 2 jaundiced kids.  But you should probably rent one of these as they’re super expensive and not needed for very long.  The consumer electric pumps are perfect for the job once your baby is a few weeks old and nursing is established.  And if you introduce a bottle around 4-6 weeks, you will most likely have a much easier time getting your baby to let you get out.

3. A lactation consultant – Find a friend who’s had a baby and get the name and number of one to have on-hand should you need help.  I had terrible issues with Eliza and if I had gotten help on her first, second or even third day of life, it would have made such a difference.  Your hospital or birthing center should also have a lactation consultant on staff who can help you while you’re there.  Even if you think everything is going peachy-keen, still get a consultant to watch you nurse and give you pointers.  You can be latching improperly the first day or two in the hospital and seem fine, and then get home and experience agonizing latching pain and bleeding and chafing because you’re doing it wrong.  Get all the free help you can wherever you birth your baby, and then have someone you can follow-up with just in case.  If you do a home birth, have your midwife help and do a follow-up.

4. A fashionable nursing cover – If you’re going to have to nurse in public, or are just more modest about nursing, it’s nice to feel like you have something stylish to put on when you’re generally wearing sweat suits everywhere.  If you lay a blanket over you, your baby can wave his arms and move it out-of-place.  Having something that straps around your neck makes a difference.  I like Bebe Au Laits (in stores) and

No matter whether you nurse:

5. A pediatrician – The practice we ended up choosing does not visit the hospital where we delivered, and it made things harder having our kids real pediatricians not see them until they were 4- or 5-days-old (both were born right before the weekend).  When searching in the last trimester, make sure you find someone who can visit your baby in the hospital or birthing center with you.

6. Sleep and swaddling blankets – Whether it’s summer or winter, loose blankets are a no-no in the crib.  It’s nice to have blankets you can zip up around your baby, as well as swaddling ones.  Some babies like being swaddled, and others prefer to have their limbs free.  You will want to try both.  For summer I like the Aden + Anais muslin sleep blankets and swaddling blankets.  Any of the fleece sleep blankets are great for winter.  I would get 3 different kinds of swaddling blankets because some babies seem to break free from some fabrics, while others really hold together.

7. Lap pads – I bought a pack of these thinking I would give them to people to put on their laps and protect themselves from spit ups or other various and sundry fluid leaks.  They are useless for that because they’re about 1 foot square.  However, I decided to use them on top of my changing pad covers right in the area where I changed diapers.  To this day I still do it so I don’t have to wash a whole changing pad cover when a diaper change gets messy.

8. Burp cloths – Again, Aden + Anais makes some great ones because they are shaped to fit around your neck and they have snaps so they convert to regular bibs.  I also used cloth diapers as burp cloths and kept piles of them everywhere around the house because Eliza spit up ALL.  THE.  TIME.

9. Diapers and wipes – Don’t buy mass quantities of these before your baby arrives.  Get one small pack (24 or so) of 3 different brands of disposable newborn diapers.  These should get you through roughly the first week.  Try them all to see which one seems to work best.  If none of them leak for your baby, then go with the least expensive option that you like.  Most babies grow out of the newborn size within the first 2-4 weeks (and some are born too big for them anyway).  Having a huge supply of newborn diapers doesn’t make a lot of sense.  You will need to go to the store to get diapers in the early days no matter what, so don’t freak out about needing a supply to get you through a month.  It’s silly.  If you are planning on using cloth diapers, I would recommend trying 3 different types as well.  If you’re comfortable with it, you could borrow the outer casings of a few different brands from friends who have used them and just buy the inserts so you don’t spend a lot.  Some of my friends swear by FuzzyBunz and bumGenius.  Econobum is another brand.  There are also hybrid systems that combine the convenience of disposable with the earth-friendliness of cloth, such as the Flip System and G Diapers.  (I did not have good luck with G Diapers, but that’s just me.)  I would also try 3 different brands of wipes.  Some babies have sensitive skin and do better with less wet wipes than others.  Once you find the brand you like, then buy the huge, economy-size packs.

10. Some changing station on every floor of your home – Keep a basket with wipes, cream, diapers, and some sort of changing pad (it could even be a receiving blanket you lay on the carpet) in all the major areas where you will be spending time so you don’t have to climb flights of stairs 12 times a day just to change a diaper (especially if you end up having a C-section).

11. Netflix – When you spend hours and hours in the early days feeding your baby, you often want to keep the lights down while you do it so the baby can go right back to sleep.    I remember trying to read Sarah Palin’s book in the faint shine of Zach’s night-light (because I wanted to read something that wouldn’t wake me up too much).  During the day, it’s also nice to have something to do when you’re feeding.  This is a great time to catch up on past seasons of shows you like or movies you’ve been wanting to see.

12. Bjorn or Ergo Baby or Moby Wrap – You can register for these and return the one(s) you find you don’t like or don’t use, or you might find you like having options depending on what you’re doing.  There is no price value I can place on being able to carry a young baby while having both hands free to do dishes, vacuum, make yourself a sandwich, go to the bathroom, or take a hike through the woods.  I personally loved the Bjorn and never had luck with either of my kids in a sling.  But I never tried the Ergo Baby.

13. A baby swing or bouncer – Again, you will need to do some things that require you not be holding your baby.  It’s great to have somewhere safe to strap the baby down while you do something.  Bouncers are more portable and smaller than swings (and some bouncers actually swing babies, too).  If you want to have your baby nearby while you load the dishwasher, and also when you go to the bathroom, a bouncer is great.

14. A portable crib – Although I have a regular pack-and-play, I would highly recommend the PeaPod Plus if you like to travel and want something light.  At home, it can be another option for a safe place to set your baby (away from pets, for example).

15. A stroller for your car seat – One of my most favorite pieces of equipment was my Snap ‘N Go stroller.  Although it doesn’t specifically say it is compatible with Chicco car seats, it worked for me.  Babies sleep a lot, and often fall asleep in the car.  Having to transfer your infant and wake her up to move her to a stroller is no fun.

Obviously, there are some things I’ve left off the list such as a crib, a car seat and clothing.   But I think it would be hard to forget those, and I don’t have a specific recommendation for any of them.

What have I forgotten?

The illusion of sleep

Last night was the first night since June 26th that I slept for 7 straight hours without moving.  Well, perhaps I moved, but you know what I mean.  (Incidentally, don’t ever expect to get good sleep on your first trip away from your kids if you’re at a college reunion, sharing a house with 16 other people.)

I didn’t get up to pee.  Nor did I get up to change Zach’s diaper, put a pacifier in his fussing mouth, or rub his back and make sure he had his blankies just how he likes them.  I didn’t spend time rocking or holding him to get him to go back to sleep.  I didn’t spend 2 hours dealing with one of Eliza’s night terrors that begins with screaming cries of “MOMMY COME!”  And I didn’t have to take her to the bathroom (because now that she uses the potty, she doesn’t ever want to use a diaper).

Nope, last night I slept like a baby.  (What a laughable phrase.)  And it got me thinking about sleep in general.  I find myself continuously hoping my sleep life will revert to what it was at a certain phase in my life.  It’s like how you always look back and wish you could just get back to your college weight once you’re out, but when you were in college, instead of appreciating how great you looked then, you wished you weighed what you did in high school.

For example, the best, most recent phase of sleep I had was between when Eliza was 4-months-old, when she was sleeping through the night and my boobs finally let me do the same, and when she was 8-months-old, when I got pregnant and immediately began having to get up at least once to pee.  I have not slept well since then.  And I thought at this point, with Zach being 7-months-old, that I would be in sleep heaven.  But on any night that Zach seems to make it all the way through, Eliza seems to wake.  And on the nights she sleeps well, Zach inevitably wakes.  Of course, there are the nights when one of them is so loud it wakes the other up as well.  That’s even more fun.

What I’m coming to realize is that just like I will never weigh what I weighed in high school or college again, I will never sleep like I did in those years again either.  I am realizing that I’m chasing a pipe dream of sleep.  Here’s how I know: I might not remember waking my mom as an infant or a toddler.  But I remember being 5- or 6-years-old and being scared of the leaves on our tree out my window that looked like the profile of a scary old man.  I remember going to get her several nights, and her lying in my bed with me to help me get to sleep.  I also remember when I was a teenager and my brother and I would come in from being out, and I would hear her finally relax enough to sleep tightly, knowing we were home.  And now, as a grandma, she’s here visiting, and she’s up when I’m up, offering to help so I can get some sleep.

It makes me realize that by the time I’m done raising kids who keep me awake, I STILL won’t be well rested because I will have to get up to pee (like when I was pregnant), or I’ll have back pain, or Greg will be snoring much more loudly.  Take your pick and fill in the blank.

So, I’m on a new mission.  I complain out loud and in my head – a lot – about not getting enough sleep.  Instead of letting it get to me, I’m going to be glad that once a month, I seem to get 7 straight hours of blissful wake-up-in-the-same-position-I-was-in-when-I-went-to-bed sleep.  And perhaps there will be more and more of those nights.  At least until Eliza starts dating.  Which won’t be for a long, long time.