Mamas and Daughters

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It’s a big weekend around here – Canadian Mother’s Day and the start of my third and final trimester carrying our second child! I’ve never been a huge fan of holidays, admittedly; I’d much rather have a long weekend. Give me an extra day to spend with family without the plans or pressures that accompany most holidays! That said, Mother’s Day has caused a little introspection for me this year. This is my last Mother’s Day being a mom to just Hennie and I’m feeling so many feels! Rather than worrying like a normal mom about how she’ll handle all the change that’s coming to our family dynamic, I’ve been selfishly worried about her relationship with me.

Since her birth, Hennie and I have always had an interesting and complex relationship. I suspect that most mother-daughter relationships have these qualities, but having only one daughter (and being only one daughter) I don’t really have enough experience to know for sure. In the beginning I blamed the colic and high-needs attributes for her not wanting to co-sleep or cuddle, but as she grew into toddlerhood she continued to remain pretty indifferent to me, not unlike the beloved cat I had when I was twelve. I begged my parents my whole life for a cat and when I finally got one she completely ignored me and rebuffed all of my attempts to cuddle with or pet her. My response was to forcefully smother her with my affection even as she clawed her way out of my arms. I was never able to successfully convince her to acknowledge me when she wasn’t hungry and I quickly realized that tactic wouldn’t work on Hennie, either. So instead of smothering my daughter in love I have dutifully heeded my parenting instincts, which have instructed me to stand back and let her comfort zone blossom over time, offering attention and affection only when it is asked for. It friggin’ kills me, but she responds well to being given her space.

In time I’ve learned to see her independence not as a rejection of me but as a movement toward her own freedom. I’m happy for her that she self-soothes at such a young age and sleeps well in her own bedroom. I’m happy for her that when she falls her first instinct is not to look for me, but to pick herself up and continue determinedly forward on her own path. I’m not getting the cuddles I always dreamt I would receive from a child but hey, there’s always the next one. And I certainly cannot deny that the girl is unstoppably strong-willed; in fact I had hoped for this quality in spades for any daughter I might be lucky enough to raise.

Things have changed oh so slowly and Hen really seems to love it when we spend time together now. Our weekdays as a twosome are full of fun local adventures and my heart pretty much explodes every time she reaches for my hand or runs toward me with her arms raised. We snuggle a little more often and once in a while I even catch her looking at me with an expression that feels like the whole universe is shining it’s light on me. Maybe after the new baby gets here she’ll regress back to her “I don’t need no mama” attitude, but I’m secretly hoping she gets jealous and clingy and I become buried under babies that my body has made. The future remains a mystery until this baby comes so for now I’m gonna soak up three months of summertime park hangs, iced coffee dates, and hand-holding with my smart, strong-willed baby girl. 

The First Year

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Sometimes Tom and I wonder aloud to each other about the minutiae of our lives. When we die, wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the exact statistics about how we had lived? Maybe we are defined in part by how we live: many hours we spent loving the ones around us, how many times we went out of our way to show someone kindness, how many books we read or hand-written letters sent. Of course, it’s best to think of the good things; no one wants to know how many pints they have imbibed in their lifetime or how many weekends were wasted watching Netflix (no regrets!). These conversations always bring some much-needed perspective to my life and a secret commitment to myself to do better.

As we approached the first birthday of our first baby I haven’t been able to shake my curiosity about the statistics of this last year. Though I know I’ll never have the answers, I can’t help but wonder: how many diapers have I changed? How many night feeds have I endured? Good Lord, how many cups of coffee or glasses of wine (sometimes in the shower because #MultiTaskingMama)?

But those are boring – how about the things that are specific to my family’s experience? Could I measure this year by the nights spent walking around our kitchen island bouncing our swaddled, colicky daughter; in hours spent shushing her? The number of naps in that vibrating green chair we bought on Craigslist in desperation or the tears shed by a mama beset by guilt because she is unable to calm her own child? How about the number of appointments with Hennie’s paediatrician we attended this year, or her geneticist, or her cardiologist, or her GP? Can we measure the year in the number of times I googled ‘sleep regression’ or ‘teething remedies,’ or the number of times I texted my village in the middle of the night, desperately seeking their advice?

I wish I knew how many times this year my husband has cheered her on as she conquered a new skill or has made her shriek with laughter. How many times have we brushed our lips against her head or rubbed that downy blonde hair under our palm absentmindedly like she is an extension of ourselves, like we are scratching an itch on our own skin? How many times has she fallen asleep grasping our finger in her hand or reached for us to pick her up? How many times did we call her “Little Miss Custard Pants” or sing her a made-up song? Surely her first year could be defined by the number of hours she has spent in our arms or times she has turned those big, blue eyes on us with a mischievous smile? Has it been hundreds of times, or thousands? And yet still not enough.

This gorgeous little girl. She is growing so quickly and I’m struck with the knowledge that one day she will outgrow my arms, outgrow her stroller, outgrow her parents. She pushes my hands away so she can show me that she can stand on her own, but still expects that I remain nearby to scoop her up in my arms when she falls and praise her efforts with the enthusiastic applause that only an over-proud parent can give. I will always celebrate your independence and stay close enough to catch you, baby girl, long after you’ve learned to walk with steadiness through this world that isn’t good enough for your innocence. I don’t have to know the statistics of my life to know that it is already defined by the time I get to spend with you.

This Season

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It’s Fall! For the rest of the world this season is heralded by the changing leaves, chilly morning air, and pumpkin everythaaaang. Once upon a time the arrival of Autumn meant the same thing for me, but mamas of November babies have an additional reason to be excited for this season. As the air cooled this year I was reminded of how painfully pregnant but palpably excited I was at this time last year as I waddled around in the crisp sunshine or walked in the park under the changing foliage, trying in vain to get comfortable on the hard wooden benches down by the water. I spent the majority of the third trimester in a daze, daydreaming about what my daughter would look like and when she would arrive. Seeing the first Halloween display in a shop window one day jolted me into the reality that my due date was only weeks away and we would be welcoming Hennie James into our world soon.

We had our babe in early November and winter came shortly after. Everyone told me to enjoy each season for what it was, to savour every moment and not take anything for granted, but we struggled. The busy-ness of Christmas filled me with anxiety as invitations to parties and family events filled our calendar. We weren’t able to control our baby’s constant crying at home so what made anyone think we wanted to troubleshoot that unstoppable, shrill screaming in front of others? I felt bumbling, inexperienced, embarrassed, and exhausted, and I was as much of a hermit as I could get away with.

As we eased into Autumn this year I noticed a dread building slowly in the back of my mind. So many times I found myself saying to Tom, “I feel so anxious and I don’t know why.” Usually I’m able to pinpoint the reasons for my anxiety when it surfaces but this time I wasn’t been able to locate precisely what was causing it until we had the first cool Fall day and I suddenly realized… it’s this season. My body was recalling the lingering PTSD I felt from that Fourth Trimester. Her colic, coupled with long months spent waiting to hear from cardiologists and medical geneticists, made for a very miserable fall and winter last year indeed. We did not know how severe her heart condition would be, we had not yet received any answers about her diagnosis, and I did not savour every moment. I wished many of them away and I don’t regret it; some nights all that kept my spirits up was the knowledge that it would pass, the promise from other colic-mama’s that she would outgrow the screaming. I have zero patience for Mama Guilt so I respect that I did what I needed to do mentally and I humbly foster the hope that I will always remember to be that gentle on myself and on other struggling mamas.

While we still have many parenting challenges ahead – those looming toddler years! – most days are so much fun. All of a sudden this season is no longer one of PTSD for me, it’s one that I can see through the eyes of a child who notices with delight as each leaf falls to the boardwalk down by the river, who watches the squirrels in the park with distrust and wonder. Experiencing it all for the first time through her eyes is slowly erasing the memories of last year’s colicky trauma. Letting go of that experience has not been an easy one for our family but we are moving forward and loving every minute. So whether it’s 20 degrees like last weekend or -1 like today, bring on the pumpkin patches, tweed, apple cider, Halloween, hayrides, breweries (obvi), even snow… this year we are going to savour every moment!

What Is A “High Needs Baby”?

IMG_7619Tom and I have thrown around the term “high needs” a lot when talking about Hennie and I just wanted to write a little bit about what that means because it’s a relatively recent term and some friends and family have expressed curiosity about it. High needs is a term coined by the venerable paediatrician Dr. William Sears to describe babies who “need more”. You can read about the 12 features that define these babies’ [here], if you’d like to, but I’ll quickly sum up the main points for you. Through years of paediatric practice and counselling of parents and babies both “normal” and “high needs,” Dr. Sears recognized and recorded the 12 features of the high needs baby and came up with the term to reflect a more positive attitude than the “difficult” or “fussy” labels these babies had previously been given. As Dr. Sears says, “each of these personality traits has its blessings and its trials. These personality traits should not be judged as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They are just differences between babies, but these differences do make high need babies challenging to parent. Ultimately, what matters is how the child learns to use these special gifts. Our goal is to help parents identify these unique features in their infant and child and channel these traits to work to the child’s advantage.”

I first learned about the term after joining a support group for fussy babies online. In those early days with Hennie we began to suspect that our parent friends were having a completely different experience than we were having, and one night, in an effort to feel less isolated, I sought out other parents on social media whose newborns acted like ours did. Being a parent is hard and we expected it to be a challenge, but our friends could put their babies down sometimes, could anticipate their babies’ needs with some predictability, could enjoy their babies’ without being screamed at constantly. Once Hennie’s reflux problems had been resolved and colic had finally passed (around four months) we found her slightly easier to manage, but it was clear that she was still a loud, clingy, sensitive, draining baby. This is not to discredit any other parent who is having a tough time because all kids are a little high needs and may reflect a few of the 12 characteristics Dr. Sears identified above, but we could see that Hennie possessed most if not all of the features listed, and children who reflect that many traits are, as we quickly learned, especially challenging.

Hennie needs to be held constantly but isn’t quick to cuddle. She is an intense baby with an angry, loud cry. She is extremely sensitive to her environment and does not easily accept a caregiver who is not mum or dad. She is often hypertonic – if she is awake, her little muscles are usually clenched. We weren’t able to put her down for months and we have found that she is at her happiest when she is being held by one of her parents while looking at the other. She cannot self soothe and relies on a multi-faceted strategy to get to sleep, then often won’t transition out of our arms once asleep anyway. At family events she isn’t the baby that is easily passed around for everyone to hold and cuddle; we feel like we’re “hogging” her, but she needs time to warm to new people and situations and easily becomes overstimulated by so many faces.

When we found and read Dr. Sears’ baby book about parenting the high need child we couldn’t believe it – as he described the personality of his baby daughter Hayden in the opening chapter, we could have substituted Hennie’s name and been reading about her. They were exactly alike. I instantly felt relief knowing that other babies like Hen existed and it wasn’t just that I couldn’t hack it as a mama. My penchant for self-doubt had caused me to wonder at times if my expectations for motherhood had been extraordinarily warped, if I was just straight-up bad at parenting, or if I just had a dramatic or negative outlook (I’m sure a handful of our friends have wondered the same). But here was a book not only describing our child perfectly, but also describing our experiences as parents and our feelings of doubt, resentment, and inadequacy.  Dr. Sears described entire nights spent walking with his newborn daughter while she slept, the danger of making comparisons, the tendency the high needs baby has to dominate the home, and the defeated feeling of always having to walk on eggshells and meet her constant demands. I was reminded that we needed to change our expectations rather than trying to change her (an impossible task anyway) and find ways to stay positive on days when we felt exhausted and resentful. Most of all, I felt vindicated knowing that approximately 10% of babies just need more as Dr. Sears puts it; “more touch, more understanding, more sensitivity, more creative parenting.”

While these high-needs aspects of Hennie’s little personality are certainly challenging and draining to us now, we are so excited to see how they become real advantages for her later. And please know that the purpose of writing this isn’t to elicit pity, but understanding. On a good day, I know that we are an ideal match for this little girl – we are flexible, energetic, and open-minded parents, and Tom, at least, has seemingly endless patience. But I am an anxious mama too, and I often feel guilty when friends and family don’t understand why Hennie doesn’t want to be held by them, why she won’t sit still or cuddle them, or why they’ve offered to babysit multiple times and we haven’t taken them up on the offer. When we bring her somewhere new people often comment that she is “playing strange,” but just as adults come with varying degrees of social comfort zones, so too do babies. As my friend Katherine noticed very quickly when Hennie was only a month old, our daughter “really likes her personal space.” That said, we have seen some great (but slow) progress lately and are hopeful that any future Procter babies are a bit more low maintenance 🙂 I hope that learning a bit more about high needs babies helps you – our family and friends – understand a bit more about Hennie and a lot more about how Tom and I are managing during this crazy first year of parenthood! And if you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

 

Not a lot of new moms publicly use the word “dark” to describe their first months with a new baby and I certainly didn’t expect that I would be one of them, but our time getting to know Hennie James has been dark and discouraging in more ways than one. Even though we have an amazing ‘village’ of supporters I often felt isolated from friends and family who were enjoying the Fourth Trimester with their newborns. I felt guilty for not feeling the same way and anxious about Hennie’s health problems. I haven’t felt comfortable leaving the house with her and despite knowing deep down that it wasn’t the case, I felt like my screaming child hated me or at least hated being alive – what else could you assume about someone who wailed during every waking moment? Even in a literal sense that time was dark; Hen was born in early November on the very day that the clocks turned back and we lost an hour of sunlight each day. She came into our lives with the winter, and not one of our usual mild Vancouver winters but a record long, cold winter, the first in decades.

Anyone who knows us knows how tough it’s been. Close friends and cousins have endured my miserable midnight texts and my exasperated questions and responded with sympathy, understanding, and best of all: no judgment. I can never thank those people enough (you know who you are, I’m sure), and those same people will share our jubilant relief that the long, dark winter has broken!

Lately our girl is a different baby. She wakes up smiling and lights up when she sees us. She allows us to hold her and cuddle her and behaves the way I expected a baby to behave before I knew this one. The list of things she dislikes is still a long one but she doesn’t scream for no reason anymore, and she doesn’t hate life or her parents. In fact, she really seems to love us. And it is a love this mama has been waiting four long months for.

The snow finally cleared as the clocks changed again last week. Since then our home has been filled with sunshine in every sense of the word. Hopefully Hurricane Hennie is behind us. The first day of Spring is tomorrow and we are so ready for the fun seasons ahead with Happy Hennie!

Ode to the First Month

This is the story of a Little Red Hen

who was born to a mama and dad

who took her home from the hospital

and the Little Red Hen went mad.

 

First they bounced their Little Red Hen

and walked her ‘round the town,

but still she screamed and cried all day

and never let them put her down.

 

Then they shushed their Little Red Hen

’til both their throats were dry,

they shushed and sang and bounced ’til morn

but the Little Red Hen still cried.

 

Next they drove their Little Red Hen

with her carseat buckled tight,

she almost slept but would wake each time

they paused at a red stoplight.

 

Last they bathed their Little Red Hen,

swaddled up like in the womb,

but the Little Red Hen didn’t like that much

and her cries filled the little bathroom.

 

“You cannot fix this Little Red Hen,”

said the doctor, “it’s just colic!”

So the Little Red Hen just screamed and cried

and her mom became an alcoholic.

Bump Update

Having a baby is full of little and large milestones that are so much fun to revel in, especially when you’re experiencing them as a first time mama. Even though they can’t all be ‘movie moments’ – our first ultrasound was not a special experience and finding out the sex of the baby was anti-climatic as well – they’re still memories that we’ll laugh about and cherish. Personally, I like the rites of passage that occur in our own homes rather than in a lab, like telling our families that we were expecting (even though no one was surprised), watching Tom assemble the crib we picked out for our daughter, and feeling her kick for the first time (she hasn’t stopped since).

 

For some reason though, I’ve always held the 30 week mark in my head as a major milestone – and it’s today! While I recognize that I still have a ways to go, these last 8-12 weeks feel like the home stretch. The baby has a lot more growing to do before she’s ready to be earth-side and we have some more preparations to make before we’re ready to have her here, but when we feel her little feet pressing against my belly it isn’t very hard to imagine how soon she’ll arrive. So hey, baby! Keep growin’ in there, we’ll see you soon!



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How Far Along: 30 weeks

How I’m Feeling: warm and muggy in this late-summer heat, but otherwise okay! I think I’m entering the “big” stage of pregnancy when moving around becomes more of a struggle, but I’m still getting my daily long walks in.

Sleep: hard to stay comfortable in any position, and poor Tom wakes most mornings to the sound of my grunting and groaning as I heave myself from our low bed. 

Movement: my belly sometimes gets contorted into some truly weird positions as she swims around in there, but it’s a pretty delightful feeling that I just don’t think I’ll grow tired of.

Reading: Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding – who knew there was so much to learn about boobs? This book covers a lot of interesting stuff, including a lot of anthropological background information about nursing in North America – the history, the stigmas, the movement towards formula, and the mainstream shift back to breastfeeding that we’ve experienced more recently.

Nesting: feeling nostalgic in general and enjoying hearing stories from family members about their own experiences being pregnant and birthing their babes! My dad also pulled the 34-year-old bassinet out of the attic and cleaned it and put it together again with Tom. My aunt hand-sewed the linens for it and we can’t wait to have it in our living room.

Enjoying: being pregnant. While I’ve always wanted kids and consider myself to be deeply maternal, I have never looked forward to being pregnant, and actually thought I would hate it! It’s been a nice surprise to find that I’m enjoying the process (especially considering it’s a long one!).

Looking Forward To: going for a run again next spring. This is the longest hiatus I’ve ever had from running!

Jess Writes: Locally Sourced Baby Names

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It’s no secret that we love the city of Vancouver, though Tom has only been here for three years. We’ve spent a lot of time together walking different neighbourhoods, cycling around the city, imbibing local brews, picnicking on the seawall, and revelling in the proximity to lakes, mountains, and trails. Our interest in doing local stuff eventually overlapped with our many conversations about finding a name for our upcoming firstborn, and we started seeing baby names everywhere, prompting Jess to write an article about it for (the kickass, women-focused) Loose Lips magazine, which you can read here, if you’d like to.