It's hard to believe that this is the last week of my maternity leave. I have mixed emotions about sending my baby to school. I know that he'll be well taken care of and that he'll learn things and make friends and come home exhausted because he'll be stimulated and educated all day. On the other hand I'm so sad that someone else will get to hold and kiss him and take care of him. We've kept him in a figurative bubble the past few months and there's no getting around the fact that daycare = stuffy noses, fever, and stomach bugs :(
Not only is it full time and I'll miss him during the hours we're apart, but it's also so expensive. I had to choose an option that was licensed and reliable. There are very few options like that and none of them are affordable. We'll stretch to make it work but among the other adventures we've hit, it's going to be tough.
Even though I haven't had time to write regularly, I wanted to jot down a few highlights from the last few months. It seems like each stage is flying by and I want to try to retain as much as I can.
During the first few weeks he slept so much. Four hour stretches were the norm to the point that I called the pediatrician asking if it was ok. Because he was jaundice and a tiny newborn, I was told that it was. I had to wake up him every 3 hours to eat until he got to his birth weight but once he got there, he was allowed to sleep as long as he wanted. By four weeks he developed some reflux and stopped sleeping all together. We were advised to keep him in the upright position for 30 min after every feeding, and since he was eating every 90 min or so, it made sleeping for us nearly impossible. At that time he was sleeping in the napper piece of the Graco Pack n' Play in the living room, snuggled up with muslin swaddles and blankets. He loved it and we took turns keeping him company on the couch. It wasn't until a few weeks in that I learned how unsafe that was. We then had to transition him to a flat surface without blankets and the little sleep he (/we) got was gone. Adding to the issues was that he hates being swaddled. He needs his hands out and breaks out of everything we put him in, so we had to give in and transition to sleep sacks sooner than we'd like. That meant he kept waking himself up from the startle reflex.
During the first few weeks I had a lot of guests while I was home. People came over to visit, brought meals, brought gifts. For some reason I didn't want to say no when someone asked to come by. He was sleeping in chunks so I felt like I was getting enough sleep to get by, but at the same time there would be times that someone would be talking and I felt like I was very far away, almost sleeping with my eyes open. Maybe I was worried that if I said it's not a good time the visits would stop all together and I would feel isolated? Not sure. I know that at no point did I feel isolated, even when we went days at a time without leaving the house or seeing other people. I loved being home and the added bonus of not having to shower or get dressed for anyone seemed like a perk.
At the same time during this period I was very weepy. Mainly justified, or so I thought. Around week 5 I was fixated on the fact that we gave him the wrong legal name. At his brit we named him a beautiful Hebrew name that we love but since we were pressured to give him a legal name before leaving the hospital for his birth certificate and social security purposes that we ended up choosing something on a whim. It was keeping me up at night and I was so upset about the wrong name. We discussed it and agreed to change his legal name to his Hebrew name. Apparently this is so common in our state that we didn't even need a court order to do it. We hadn't even received the birth certificate yet so it wasn't like there was something to replace. It was actually a very easy process, assuming you're ok with waiting at government offices for a few hours. The first step was going to the Division of Vital Records with a notarized form for the name change. An hour and $10 later I had the birth certificate with his new name. With that we were able to get his name changed at the doctor's office and that was the extent of his footprint. The only other step was to change his name on the social security card and that was more of an issue because I had to come back twice after finding out I was missing a document. After all is said and done it was totally worth it and I was so much happier and still am with this change.
Around the same time, week 5, I was also feeling a lot of cramping. I figured it was too soon for my period. When I had (TMI upcoming) a bowel movement coming I was basically doubled over in pain and decided to call my doctor's office. I had an appointment for my six week checkup the following week so I debated about calling but once I was in that much pain I figured I should call. I was told to come in and went in for a checkup. Long story short, turned out I had a major uterine infection. They took a swab, blood, and urine. I was told that they need to check my temp and if I have a fever I need to go straight to the hospital because it was life threatening. If I was weepy before, this put me over the edge - I was sobbing at the thought of being away from my tiny infant. I wasn't even scared for myself yet, but I was worried about how my husband would fare with the baby on his own. At the same time I was told that I have a smidge of PPD. My being weepy was basically the anxiety and if your body is in the anxiety-mode too long then it becomes a major issue. Luckily, the infection was caught early enough and my fever was only low-grade that they sent me home with a pile of strong antibiotics. I had to take a few different kinds, at different times, some as often as every four hours, for ten days. I was told to drink plenty of fluids and get lots of sleep. Seriously. It was then that we felt the need to spring for a night nurse for a night to help me recuperate. Thankfully it healed without hospitalization and by my 6 week appointment I was cleared. I was also more aware of my anxiety and for me it felt like just being aware was enough to manage it to the point that the crying subsided by nearly 90%.
At week 7 I made a trip to my office with the baby. It was like being welcomed home. Lots of hugs and compliments. It was the height of no sleep for us so I was basically running on fumes and it was nice to get out and interact with adults. A few weeks later I saw everyone again at a coworker's wedding. At that point talks started about me coming back, my new hours to fit the daycare schedule, and finding a place to pump. I knew that maternity leave would fly by but it was surreal to be discussing all this already.
The baby gets more adorable every day. He was born at, what I thought, was maximum cuteness. Then something happens or changes and the cuteness suddenly increases. When he started opening his eyes more, I thought that was the cutest thing ever. When he sneezed and sighed, that was insanely cute. When he started to smile, we thought it couldn't be topped... until the giggles and cooing started. It's so incredible to watch him change and grow right before our eyes. There were some tears when he outgrew his newborn clothing at four weeks and we went up a diaper size. At around 8 weeks he went up another diaper size and got his first shots. He was fussy and clingy for two whole days but no fever. I love everything about him and taking care of him, and every time I think about sending him to daycare for someone else to do it for 8 hours every day I get sad and cry all over again. I'm not sure I would want to be a stay-at-home-mom even if I could afford it, so the feelings are very complicated.
I feel like I was mostly prepared for motherhood from my years of knowing I want a baby. There was very little that surprised me, though there was nothing that can really prepare us for just how hard sleep deprivation is. You know about it in theory but the reality is really challenging and there's no way to prepare other than just get through it.
The only thing I didn't realize would be as hard as it's been is breastfeeding. From my friends and family members who breastfed, I knew it "was challenging" in theory but had no idea just how difficult it would be. I feel like it was made more difficult for me because formula was introduced immediately after birth at the NICU, and I kind of got into a routine of pumping and bottle feeding. Even once my milk came in, I was pumping every three hours and still I didn't have enough milk to support what he was eating. For the first few weeks I mainly pumped and formula fed. He was getting any milk I could squeeze out, plus supplementing with formula at a 2:1 ratio. As the weeks went by I continued pumping but also started trying to get him to latch and breastfeed. This was difficult because I was trying to pump/empty the breast every three hours and that didn't necessarily coincide with whether or not he was hungry. No matter how much I would have loved to get him on a schedule, it just wasn't happening and I felt that it was more important to go with the flow rather than try to force something that isn't going to happen. Besides that, in addition to the sleeping issues and reflux, anything that worked one week would stop working the next week because he changed and grew. There was also the issue of the painful nipples as he and I were learning how to get him to latch correctly. As the weeks went by I got him on the breast more often. I also found that I wasn't drinking nearly enough water in the beginning. I called the lactation help line at my hospital and they recommended eating oatmeal. I don't know what specifically helped, but it did get better. He's been on the breast more often. I still pump regularly. He gets maybe one or two feedings of formula per week, but he's gotten used to breastmilk and will refuse the formula if he's not hungry enough. I've gotten to the point where I really enjoy the breastfeeding relationship and I'm glad I stuck it out and gave it more of a chance instead of just resigning to exclusively pumping. I hope I can continue even after going back to work. My supply is just enough to satisfy him now so I'm worried about keeping it up when he goes to daycare. I don't have enough to freeze (yet?) so I'm not sure how to juggle that. Among his supplies for school I included a tub of formula so he won't go hungry unless he gives them problems about taking it.
At week 9 we decided it was time to move the baby out of the living room and get him used to his crib in his room. As soon as I realized he was unsafe in the napper, we took it away and put him in the flat bassinet part of the PNP with a sleep sack instead of a blanket, but sleeping in the living room was getting old and we needed to all sleep more and better. Since his room was a little chilly I sealed the windows with garbage bags (doubled as blackout curtains!) but it was still cold so I called an HVAC repair company who said they could come at the end of the week. When they came to look a the problem it wasn't just an issue with the baby's room, there was a problem with the whole filter system. More than that, the system was cracked and deemed unsafe for usage. Apparently it was a combustion risk and carbon monoxide risk. They said they legally have to shut it off and recommended replacing the furnace. This was right before the weekend, right before a holiday week. The weather was supposed to be in the freezing temps for the upcoming week and even if we thought space heaters were safe they weren't going to keep the baby warm enough, so we packed up our stuff and went to stay with family. This started a week-long saga of trying to get our home warranty, our insurance, and contractors coordinated during the one week a year where there's no one to talk to because everyone is off. Our insurance didn't cover anything because they said wear and tear isn't covered in our policy. The home warranty gave us so little that I'm considering cancelling them all together. We got a few different contractors to come give us estimates and some were telling us that they're scheduling 8 business days out. In the end we went with the company that we trusted and could do it soonest, not necessarily the one that was most affordable. We were also desperate to get back home but it's a huge expense with long term ramifications and we were worried about making the wrong decision based on scheduling . It was really stressful and the lack of sleep, since the baby was barely sleeping in the new environment, was making everything worse. Even if I had unlimited money it was so hard to get contractors to schedule the repair before the New Year holiday. Since I don't have unlimited money, I felt I had to at least try to get something covered even knowing that there was a good chance it wouldn't be. This added an extra layer of stress because no matter how much I insisted on people coming out asap, it took at least one to two business days before they came out to look and we were stuck around Christmas before being able to schedule the replacement.
Thankfully, we're now back home. We'll light the last night of Chanukah in our own house, with our new furnace thanks to the added pile of debt on our cc. I will try to enjoy the last week of my maternity leave without constantly thinking about having to go to work next Monday. I make myself feel better by looking at the calendar for the days school is out and I get to take a day off to stay home with him. I remember coworkers complaining about those days and how annoyed they are to have to stay home with their kids but I'm really looking forward to it.
I feel so lucky and grateful I had the opportunity to be home with him as long as I did. My HR office messed up my leave so instead of missing one paycheck I missed three in a row and it's too late to reverse it because the short term disability kicked in. It's been challenging to have all these extra expenses and not get paid at the same time. It's ridiculous that America still hasn't figured this out yet, but that's for another post. I'm so glad I had this time to bond with our baby and give him my undivided attention for the first few months of his life. There was no way I was ready to leave him sooner; I'm barely holding it together as it is about leaving him now even though I know it's the right thing for both of us. Maybe if we're lucky enough to do this again we'll be in a different financial position to take off more time, or even for one of us to stay home for an extended amount of time before needing to resort to daycare.
For us 2019 will go down in the books as the year that we were at maximum anxiety and maximum joy to date. Looking forward to a new year with all its adventures.
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