Or, what I learned about my baby from hauling him across the country
So, we made it back from a 5-day trip to Seattle. Part of the time we spent with my family in a south-end suburb, part we spent at a lovely lake in the Cascades where my grandparents have a cabin, celebrating our family's annual 4th of July reunion.
I was rather nervous about the trip. Traveling with a three-month-old is a scary proposition! Would he cry on the 5-hour plane trip? What about naps -- how would he nap in a strange place? And what about nighttime -- would the trip mess up his excellent sleep schedule? As I planned the trip, I really wished we were cosleepers ... it sure would have made planning for his nighttimes easier.
So what happened? What did I learn?
Well, I discovered that my "easy baby" is not an easy traveler. The plane ride wasn't a big problem -- he slept a good portion of each trip and spent the rest of the time flirting with other passengers. (My one regret is that I followed the advice of others and chose aisle seats so we could get up easily. Fact was, I got up less often than I usually do on planes. But nursing a baby to sleep is difficult when people come by and bump his head every two minutes! Plus, it is awkward to nurse next to a stranger: either baby's head or his feet are practically in someone else's lap. Lesson learned: window next time.) But by the time he got off the plane, cranky and tired, he was longing for his quiet bassinet, and he didn't get it.
My parents kindly provided a wooden cradle for him, but it took several tries before he'd sleep in it at all. Normally I lay the baby down in his bassinet, he opens his eyes and sees where he is, and he shuts them again and goes to sleep. In the cradle, he would open his eyes and see that he was NOT in a familiar place, and he'd wake right up. Then there was the noise. My house is not a quiet place (at ALL) due to all Marko's young aunts and uncles (ranging from 8 years to 18 months). Normally a baby's grandparents have nothing to do but adapt to the baby's visit -- but that just isn't the way our family is set up, with our big spread of ages. I spent a lot of time nagging at my siblings to be quiet, stay in the family room, don't go upstairs, don't wake the baby. I felt like a real jerk the whole time ... and they STILL forgot and would wake the baby up anyway.
Then there was the jetlag. Usually traveling east to west is not a problem for me -- it's the return trip that kills. But a baby makes that adjustment very difficult for his parents. My usual tactic is to stay up as late as my family does, and then I naturally sleep in as late as they do. But the baby went to sleep at eight (eleven our time) after several false starts, woke up several times at night, and was up for good at five-thirty a.m. I fell into bed completely exhausted at 9:30 (after midnight our time) and every wakeup I felt even more like death. Ugh.
After that, of course the baby was horribly cranky -- no nap, much less sleep (and lower quality sleep) than he was used to, and a strange situation. My family kept saying that he seemed fine to them, that all babies cry, that they didn't mind the sound (um, I don't mind the sound of a baby's cry, I mind the fact that the baby is crying), but I knew he wasn't himself. Much of the time he just zoned out and looked terribly blank ... it broke my heart because he's usually such an interactive baby. He did manage to warm up a little to my parents, enough to give them a few smiles, but I felt they still weren't getting the real Marko, the one who's full of smiles and coos and sunshine all day. And he was absolutely overwhelmed by my siblings, who would gather around him and poke at him.
Nursing turned out to be a huge issue. He'd already been dealing with a bit of an aversion to nursing. I don't understand it. He used to nurse every hour or two, and in the past week he'd been absolutely howling and arching away if I offered more than every three hours. This got way worse on the trip. He even tried to last for longer than three hours sometimes, getting more and more tired, fussy, and hungry, but going into a total meltdown if I tried to nurse him. The issue of "nursing in public" didn't come up, because I had to go into a quiet room alone to have even a chance of nursing him. Normally rocking has been a big comfort, but the rocking chair was downstairs, so it was out. So while my family socialized downstairs, I'd be up in the bedroom with the lights off, swaying back and forth on a wooden chair and trying to distract him into nursing before he remembered how much he hated it. When he wasn't fussy and overstimulated, like first thing in the morning, he would readily nurse away with a smile, but 90% of the time, it was a big problem. I suspect overuse of his pacifier was a contributing factor, as well as having to wait to nurse (because he wouldn't nurse with distractions, and it often took me awhile to find a place without distractions for him).
The reunion itself was the worst. So much noise, so many people! So many relatives who demanded to hold him! I previously assumed he liked strangers, but the reality is that he likes to look at strangers. He doesn't much care to be held by them for more than a minute or so. He liked my mom pretty well, after a few tries, but even cried for my grandpa -- even though I'm pretty sure most babies like my grandpa! So, after an initial pass-around, I kept him with me, putting him the wrap so people wouldn't ask. There are a lot of games at our reunion, but I wouldn't participate unless John could hold the baby. For the water balloon toss, we were partners, so I was hoping my grandma could hold the baby. We gave it a shot, but he wanted me, so we sat out the toss. This was actually a real blessing, because everyone else went outside to play the game, leaving a quiet house for us to nurse in. We spent the rest of the party lying on the bed in the downstairs bedroom, nursing and sleeping.
A few hours after the party, though, he had a total meltdown. I had never seen him so inconsolable. He just screamed and screamed, barely pausing for breath, refusing any comfort. No pacifier, no finger to suck on, and definitely no nursing. I walked him up the hill to the guest room we were staying in, and then back again, before he calmed down at all. I think, though I'm not sure, that he was hungry but too upset to nurse. And I'm quite sure that he was tired and overstimulated. I felt absolutely terrible.
After all, we live in a grown-up world. We expect babies to adjust to our needs: be held when and by whom we want, sleep when and where we want, eat when and how much we want. Airplanes are a prime example. Babies are supposed to sleep on planes. Everyone praises a baby who does. And yet every two minutes someone is making a loud noise that will wake the baby up. Marko would be sleeping peacefully when a loud voice would call over the PA, "We're encountering some unexpected turbulence, so the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign," or a stewardess would push by with her cart and ask if she could bring us something. Yet if he woke up and cried, it's "Ugh, why do we have to have crying babies on the plane with us?" (This was more my fear than my reality: he usually did go back to sleep with a lot of shushing and back pats. But I'm sure a lot of babies that cry on planes do so because of things the other people do, and yet they still get blamed for reacting in their normal baby way.)
However, I did discover several helpful things about my baby. A fellow mother told me a few weeks ago that Marko is so independent not in spite of my attachment parenting, but because of it. Because he is secure that I will pick him up when he needs it, he is quite happy to stay down much of the time. Because he knows I'll rush to him when he wakes up, he doesn't wake up crying, but just coos in his crib till I get there. This seems to be true, because in the scary situation he was in, he demanded much more attachment. He wanted to be held almost constantly, not in the carrier but in my arms. He woke up more often in the night. And -- a delight to me -- he was willing to sleep with me for naps and early in the morning. (Thank goodness I discovered this -- we both needed the rest as well as the unrestricted nursing.)
I also discovered that the baby LOVES his dad. His feelings toward me were kind of ambivalent -- I think he was afraid I would try to nurse him (the horror!). But he had no such worry about Daddy, so he would reach out to John and cling to him if I or anyone else tried to take him away. For most of the sleep he managed to get, it was John who got him down by walking him around and swaying. I am so glad both of us were there, so that he always had someone he was attached to that could help him. (By the way, John is an awesome dad, and I'm at least twice as in love with him as I was before.)
I learned that white noise is wonderful for him. My parents had a noise maker which we kept on "rainstorm," and he slept much better with it. It helped drown out any noise that was going on downstairs, as well as being a familiar sound that helped him sleep in a strange place. If he woke up and didn't know where he was, the sound of rain seemed to comfort him.
Much of his sleep came while riding in his carseat. We had a lot of carseat time as we drove across the mountains and back, and he slept for a large portion of that. When he was awake, he was still generally pretty happy, because he could look out the window. He was able to relax and not be overstimulated for awhile (we traveled separately from my family). Because of this, he arrived at the cabin in a much better mood than he'd been in before. I'm afraid my grandparents got to see more of his sunshine than my parents did!
I learned how important it is to rush to him when he wakes up. A few times I didn't, because I couldn't hear him in the large houses we stayed in, and I would find him sobbing uncontrollably. It broke my heart. It also put him in the habit of going straight from sleep to crying, which isn't normal for him at all. (Luckily he's back to waking calmly and waiting for me, now that I've built his trust back up.)
Normally I do not suffer from "mommy guilt." I always put my baby first, and I am never sorry. I fulfill all of his needs, and if he's fussy and I can't comfort him, I know at least that I've done all I can. But this trip was a HUGE exercise in mommy guilt. I felt horrible that I was putting him through so much discomfort and trauma just so that I could see my family. He doesn't know why he's being put through this or who these people are. My only comfort is that I didn't know it would be like that, so I can't be blamed. (Though, if I did know, that doesn't necessarily mean I wouldn't have gone ... as you'll see in part 2, there were some very important reasons for us to be there.) And then, of course, there was the knowledge that, through all he went through, we were there for him. We held him, rocked him, bounced him, nursed him, whenever he showed signs of wanting these things. He might have been scared or uncomfortable, but he did know he wasn't alone. Maybe this is why he's recovered so quickly.
He has, by the way. We flew back on Tuesday and by Wednesday morning he was all sunshine. Even happier than he used to be, it seems -- full of laughter and smiles. I kept him very close to me, but did put him down in his buzzy chair (boy, did I miss that chair) near me, and he didn't mind. He nursed a ton, and didn't show any signs of nursing aversion until late at night ... I suspect he was really tired but couldn't go to sleep yet because of the jetlag. He stopped crying at diaper changes and is back to smiling and kicking his feet. We took a bath and he enjoyed every minute -- even getting taken out, dried off, and dressed, which he usually hates with a passion.
Thank goodness I have my little angel boy back. I've missed him so.