Happy six months

Milin is six months old today. Happy half a year, Little Mister

Yes, it’s gone fast, but at certain times, it’s also gone incredibly slow. Sometimes, in the wee hours, it feels like the time passes at a snail’s pace. It feels like the sleepless nights are endless. At other times, when I think about how much the Little Mister has changed in such a short time, it feels like the time is passing like a lightning bolt.

Perhaps because it’s a half birthday, I’ve been thinking about Milin’s first day.

It was 1.16pm on the last day of the year, and of course, it seemed unreal. He was finally here. He was ours. He was tiny, and light, and fragile. We were shell-shocked, exhausted, and terrified. We held him and our lives changed.

Our first week was spent in hospital, and we were amazed at how quiet he was. Our little baby who had no name yet, was our Squeak. He doesn’t really cry, we said in awe. I had to set an alarm clock to wake him every four hours through the night and feed him. I thought I was tired then. I thought my baby was a good sleeper.

The second night was hard. He was so hungry, but I don’t think I knew that then. The doctors gave him panadol for his headache, they said. I wondered what I was doing wrong and if I would ever learn how to stop his crying. He was a little jaundiced, his blood sugar dropped, he lost weight. But then in a few days he was fine. The doctors were happy. He slept.

We learnt to change his nappies, to dress him, to bathe him. We marvelled at his inky black eyes, his tiny fingers, his alert expression. Tony had to leave the hospital and head to the baby shop to buy teeny clothes, because everything we had was too big. I was scared he would get cold.

We brought him home. He was so small in the buggy. He cried all the way from the room he had spent his first week in, to the exit doors on Mein St. As soon as we were outside, he stopped crying. On the five minute walk home, he slept. We bundled him into his bassinet for the first time. He filled less than half its length.

Today, the Little Mister is the happiest person I know. He loves smiling, particularly at new people. He loves the reaction he gets and he knows that with his cheeky gummy grin, he makes people happy.

In six short months, he has learnt  to smile, to laugh, to babble, to put his fingers in his mouth, to roll from his tummy to his back, to reach for toys and put them in his mouth, to blow raspberries and grasp his toes. Already, he has taught us so much. We have learnt of a different joy and of another love – all in our hardest but our best half a year.

 

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Happy

Today I had to go to work. Before I did though, the Little Mister spent the morning being generally awesome, super cute, and very cheery. In short, he made me very happy.

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Our own Hal 9000

Flippin Hal.* He’s taking over my life. Whenever the Little Mister is (finally) asleep, there he is. In the corner of the room. Watching.

Well, he’s watching Milin, and I’m watching him.

Tony nicknamed our baby monitor (or spy cam) after the talking red eye in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The name has stuck.

I’m getting annoyed with Hal. He’s just always there. When Milin finally goes down, there’s Hal. He’s constantly humming. Just incase I forget. Along the top of the screen, there’s a series of lights which flash when Milin makes a noise. There’s six of them. The louder Milin gets, the more lights we see. The first four are green, and then they graduate to red. As in: warning, your baby is about to explode.

So when I hear Milin, in stereo, my eyes are immediately fixed on Hal. Then there’s the wait. There’s two scenarios: The first (preferred) one is that Milin is just stirring in his sleep. The lights don’t flash, and Hal just keeps on humming. The second is that I’ll watch him on the screen as he wakes up, realises he is all alone and starving, and then he’ll really make some noise. Red lights follow.

Hal’s got some smart features we’ve not used yet. He plays music, which I guess is supposed to help Milin get to sleep. (If only it were that easy.) There’s also a microphone on the monitor, so I can talk to him like through a walky talky. But being able to hear me and not see where my voice is coming from would probably be quite frightening for the Little Mister. And then there’s the temperature gauge, which I’m sure is inaccurate, but nevertheless has me transfixed on how warm/cool it is when he sleeps.

Hal was a generous gift to us. Without him, we’d never hear Milin at night. And being able to spy on my sleeping, stirring cherub does give me peace of mind. But when those red lights flash every two and a half hours through the night, turning Hal off at the wall gets very, very tempting.

*Strong language denotes frustration, mainly caused by sleep deprivation.

Watching Hal

Eat, Baby; Eat

Stacked up neatly in the top section of our freezer, are neatly organised tiny tupperwares full of baby food. The Little Mister has his own shelf. There is a row of kumara portions and a row of pumpkin portions. The tubs with yellow lids contain pureed apple while the tubs with green lids have pureed pear in them. The blue ones hold a rather fancy cinnamon infused pear and apple mix.

Milin won’t eat any of them. He won’t eat them warm, he won’t eat them mixed with baby rice or milk, he won’t eat them when we play airplanes, and he won’t eat them when one of us distracts him and the other sneaks the spoon into his open mouth.

He’s got a fancy high chair, which he loves to sit in and watch us eat. He’s got a cute little “me too” bench chair so he can sit up at the breakfast bar and feel part of the action. He’s got his own Thomas the Tank engine bowl and set of spoons. But he still won’t eat.

I’ve got a stack of books from the library which advise me that Milin must be relaxed and comfortable before we try food. Others suggest recipes and meal plans. On the kitchen top, there’s a rather smart baby mouli-type machine which steams anything I want and then purees it up into baby food using the same vitamin-rich liquid.

Over the last month, we’ve worked up something of a routine. I try and feed Milin. Milin purses his lips, arches his back, bats the spoon away, turns his head, and tries to back away over the back of his chair. If he could jump out of it he would. The result is the same, he won’t eat.

We had a visit today from a Plunket nurse who was going to help us. Plunket think Milin is hungry. I agree. But even the nurse couldn’t help. She was surprised to see how stubborn he was in his refusals. Take a break for a week, she said, so he doesn’t develop an aversion to the spoon. Then she said she thought he already had one. Maybe it’s because we tried so hard to get him to take bottles of formula. Now, he doesn’t want anything else shoved in his mouth. Fair enough.

So, we’re taking a break. I’m relieved. Poor Little Mister, I don’t want him to have hang ups over food before he is six months old. I know he’ll get there in the end, and hopefully soon he will be gobbling up all of my baby food concoctions. So, I’m trying not to worry. We’re going to give him the spoon to play with – as suggested by Plunket – and maybe he’ll start seeing it differently.

I had always imagined that babies loved food. I had a picture in my head of me feeding Milin while he sat in his high chair. I was laughing, he was smiling and babbling away. He had mush around his mouth and on his bib but I (uncharacteristically) didn’t mind the mess.

So far, that image has been far from our reality. And like many other aspects of bringing up a baby, the experience has been nothing like the glossy pictures in the how-to book. Instead, it’s been an unpredictable roller coaster that I wouldn’t have any other way.

A Heartbreaking Victory

For more than a month, we have tried to coax the Little Mister to drink formula. So when he took 80mls tonight in a bottle held by me, I wasn’t prepared for my heart to break a little.

We first tried to give Milin formula shortly after I went back to work, at four months. I couldn’t express enough to leave for the two days I was out, and had been completely unprepared for how hard it would be to work, express, and feed him on demand every two hours at night. So for the last six weeks, the Little Mister has effectively gone on hunger strike whenever I have been at work. Lips pursed, back arched, neck at an extreme angle turned away from the bottle, he has made his feelings about formula clear. Until this last week or so.

It started with him finally taking it from Tony, when he was starving. Then, he was taking it without tears. And then tonight, because he was fussy and grizzling (I think the teething adventure is starting), I thought I would try it. For the first time, Milin, in my arms, took the bottle I offered him. He took the entire 80mls without so much as pausing for air. All of it was formula from a tin.

Afterwards, eyes closed, cherub face a picture of bliss, arms floppy, the Little Mister fell asleep in my arms. I laid him in his cot and cried. I felt like he didn’t need me anymore. Before he took that bottle from me, I had felt that I was special. Only I had the food he wanted. If he cried, he needed me and all his woes would ease. It was our time.

“He’s going to do things without us all his life” Tony said. I know. But I wasn’t prepared for him to start now.

Milin has never been an easy feeder. Like many new mums, establishing feeding was difficult – but we got there. I was so proud of him, and of us. We both learnt what to do. I hadn’t understood how hard feeding would continue to be, but even though it was, I realise now I loved doing it. It was probably partly through feeding that our bond was formed, and that I discovered how much I loved this tiny squirming bundle who was mine and needed me above all else.

The pressure to breastfeed is so powerful in New Zealand. Even deciding to introduce formula had been hard for us. The World Health Organisation supports exclusive breast feeding for six months. Here, that is viewed as a minimum. As a new mother already under so much strain, I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that if I couldn’t also breast feed I had failed.

In the end, our decision to introduce formula was tied to my return to work. But I can’t also help hoping it will help the Little Mister go to bed with a fuller tummy. As a working mum, I’m carrying around enough guilt already – I’m not going to add to it because I’m feeding my baby formula. But, tonight, with a heavier heart, I will go to sleep feeling a little sadness over a time with Milin I won’t get back. That is, unless he refuses the formula again tomorrow.

Hush my baby

Me: Milin baby, this is going to be your last feed of the evening. Then, I’m going to put you into your cot, while you’re still drowsy but not asleep (because that’s what the baby whisperers say we must do) and you’re going to have a good sleep. I’m not asking for eight hours. In fact I’m not even asking for six. But four hours in a row would be amazing, and I know you can do it. Maybe you could even do five?

Milin: I don’t want you to leave me. Please feed me for a little while longer so I don’t have to stay in this room all by myself.

Me: OK little sleepy one, it feels like you’ve been feeding for an hour. I’m going to sing to you and rock you a while, and then it’s bed time. You’re cosy in your sleeping bag, your nappy is clean and you’ve got a full tummy and got rid of some burps. You’re a lucky little one, and mama loves you very much. “Hush Milin baby close your eyes, hush Milin baby mama’s by your side.”

Milin: I don’t want to sleep, I don’t want to sleep. But, you feel so snuggly, and I’m swaying backwards and forwards and backwards and….NO! Don’t put me in my cot. Please! I need more cuddles! Please!

Me: Oh Little Mister, shhhhhh. I’m here….

Milin: Please get me up mama, I’m so alone in here. This cot’s so big and empty. I was so comfy in your arms.

Me: Ok, one more cuddle.

Milin: That’s much better, I just needed to hear the song again. I love you mama….. Oh, and here’s my bunny, I love him too. I’ll chew a while on his ears, and I’m going to chew on my fingers a little too and close my eyes…

Me: I love you too Milin. Good night.

……

Milin: Mama, I’m all alone, it’s so dark, and I’m so hungry. Where are you? I asked you not to leave me here. Where are you?

Me:  Milin baby, it’s only been two and a half hours. Lets try again to make this your last feed of the night. Then, I’m going to put you into your cot, while you’re still drowsy but not asleep (because that’s what the baby whisperers say we must do) and you’re going to have a good sleep. I’m not asking for six hours. In fact I’m not even asking for five. But three hours in a row would be amazing, and I know you can do it. Maybe you could even do four?

Milin: Yay! I was waiting and now you’re here. You heard me. Here’s a cuddle for you. Now, let’s sit in your chair for a while. Please can you feed me and sing to me? It’s dark, and you look kind of sleepy, but I’m awake now. Mama – don’t fall asleep. I’m awake now. Mama – can I have another cuddle?

Me: Shhhhh, I love you Little Mister, good night.

 

Raspberries

Milin’s blowing raspberries, and it’s adorable.
He spent part of the evening watching his auntie Julia blow them, and found it hilarious that he could blow them right back to her. Tonight, half asleep and half way through a feed, he even sat up in my lap to send a drowsy, dribbled half-raspberry my way. I’m taking it as a sign of affection.

It’s been quite a day for the Little Mister. We spent the afternoon at a party, where he got to hang out with some big kids (by big I mean one of them was nearly five). I was pretty proud, he tried to hold hands with a three year old. Very gorgeous. I was even more proud when he had two sleeps strapped into his car seat in the spare room while the grown ups got on with some mid-winter and Matariki festivities.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a real party which started at 1pm so everyone could bring the kids. What a bloody brilliant idea. To our wonderful friends, who put on such a great afternoon: thank you. And to the Little Mister, who charmed with his smile and made our day so easy by being good, thank you, thank you, thank you.

What a relief to know that we can leave the house, as a family, and head to a party, and do normal things like meet new people and talk to them about things other than brands of nappies or the best merino onesies. Of course, I’m still going to discuss nappies and onesies plenty – but sometimes it’s good not to. It’s also brilliant to go to a party and be home in time for our evening routine. Which tonight, between the bath, the massage in front of the fire, and a couple of bedtime stories, included some pretty impressive raspberries.