Our little girl turns one year old this week, yay!
I’ve been reflecting on the past year quite a bit. Parenthood has been so much easier and so much harder than I expected. It has been the longest year of my life, in the best way possible.
I’ve also tried to take inventory of what I’ve learned in the past year. I’ve had a tremendous amount of new information and new experiences, and I think I’ve changed my mind on some key issues. So here is a summary of every important topic on my mind about the past year, in really no particular order.
Our pediatrician calls breast milk “liquid gold”, which made it more than a little disappointing when breastfeeding didn’t work out. My wife tried with every ounce of effort to breast feed our daughter, while people everywhere—smart people like doctors and nurses and mothers—reassured her that it’s just a matter of time, be patient, it’ll happen. But it didn’t happen. Her milk just didn’t come in. No liquid gold. So many people were supportive of my wife’s struggle to breastfeed. People came out of the woodwork to encourage her and share their own story. If what all the doctors and nurses told us, that it is rare a woman will not be able to breast feed, then by chance it seems we know a proportionally large number of women who had their own struggles. Maybe the doctors just say that to encourage women to keep trying.
Good news: baby formula is good enough. Formula doesn’t have the immunity benefits that breast feeding has, but as far as nourishment goes, it’s fantastic. Hey, I eat McDonald’s and Taco Bell and fast food doesn’t exactly have teams of scientists trying to make their food as nutritious as possible. A generation ago babies were being fed whole food and cow’s milk as young as three months, so I decided not to grip this too hard.
And in a lot of ways, baby formula is awesome. For example, I can give Olivia a bottle of milk while driving the car. Let’s back up, I can actually feed my daughter. I saw the stress visibly lift off my wife’s shoulders when she could sleep more than 3 hours because I can totally feed the baby. There’s no pumping, no refrigerator and freezer stocked with breast milk, and it made a transition to drinking water out of a sippy cup kind of easy. So yeah, it’s kind of worked out for good.
One last thing: if I ever hear another person snidely say “breast is best” to me again, they’re getting punched in the mouth. Because they deserve it. Punched in the mouth. Don’t ever say that. Just don’t. The only thing a new mother hears is that they aren’t being a good mother and their body is failing their child. Tell that to any new mother, it will break them. Say it in my presence, you’re getting punched in the mouth. This is your warning.
Tracking feedings and diapers
My wife used this iPhone app to track how much Olivia took at a feeding and when she had a diaper change. There are many others, so find one that you like. But find one and use it.
The nurse at the Pediatrician’s office will ask you how many poopy diapers your baby has had in the last week. Baby poop is an important health indicator in the first few months. The nurse will ask. You need to give an accurate answer. But you’re only getting 3-4 hours sleep at night. Days runs together. Heck, hours run together. “How is it already 3pm?” got uttered in our house regularly. “When did you last feed the baby?” is another popular one. You will not remember. You won’t. So keep track.
So I’m at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, NV. We’re finishing our lunch and Olivia needs a diaper change, so I grab the necessities and carry her into the Men’s room. There is a row of 12 bathroom stalls, the last one is handicap accessible. It is the only one occupied. It is also the location of the baby changing station. I knock, no answer. There’s no space on the counter next to the sinks. I’m not going to change her on the bathroom floor. Ten long minutes later, the “Most Selfish Person Alive” emerges from his handicap stall, having enjoyed his extended session playing Candy Crush. He is totally oblivious that he just made the only other person in this bathroom, the person holding a sad baby, wait on him for the last 10 minutes. This guy sucks. And this happens all the time.
Automatic sliding doors and handicap accessible doors are totally awesome. And I have all but stopped using them, unless Olivia is in the stroller. Shopping malls are like obstacle courses. You are constantly on the lookout for ramps and elevators and automatic doors. Don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with someone on a ramp. Use the door with a handle. Don’t use the handicap stall, because some dad holding a crying baby with a poopy diaper is waiting on you. Make it a little easier on other people.
Sign language for babies has tremendous potential, but in the first year it has limited usefulness. Olivia can’t really control her hand movements to the point where she is signing anything yet. But I think the day will come when the potential is unlocked.
She can recognize a handful of signs: “milk”, “water”, “eat”, “more”, “all gone”. If Olivia is fussy because she wants a bottle and I ask “Do you want milk?” she might not even notice I’m talking to her. But if I also sign “milk” when I ask her, her face lights up. “Water” and “eat” get similar reactions too. For months and months you take care of your child with absolutely zero feedback, so getting a smile or a giggle is close to magical. “Cookie”, “cracker”, “thank you”, and “diaper” are on the short list for the next signs we need to reinforce. “Mother” and “father” are easy to sign, but I would selfishly rather hear her try to say mama and dadda verbally than just sign it.
Lauren and I sign to each other more often than I you’d think. If I’m in the kitchen and she’s in the living room and Olivia is crying and her activity table is wailing that “Welcome to our learning farm…” song, she doesn’t have to yell over all that to ask me to make a bottle. She can just sign “milk”. Sitting at a restaurant with friends, Lauren and I often sign to each other, just to ask “milk?” or “eat?” or “diaper?”. It doesn’t get Olivia’s attention that we’re up to something and it doesn’t interrupt the dinner conversation. A couple weeks ago we got home late and I carried Olivia into the house, she was already asleep. Without saying a word, like I was leading a Navy SEAL team into an enemy encampment, I signaled to Lauren that I was going to take her upstairs, change her diaper, and lay her down to to sleep. Pretty handy.
Baby boys clothes come in all sorts of primary colors. Girls clothes come in mostly pink and pastels. I hate this so much. And it’s opened my eyes to how many gender specific products you see every day but never notice. It’s turning me into a feminist. Because little girls shouldn’t be forced to wear pink to look cute. And little girls should get to dress up like Spider-Man if they want to.
It’s also opened my eyes to how many people just assume every baby they see is a boy. I don’t understand why the default in people’s mind is “boy”. This drives me insane. So here are some tips: if you don’t know boy or girl and the baby isn’t wearing enough pink or pastel colors to indicate gender:
- Look for hair bows, headbands, and earrings. Baby girls usually have these things, baby boys usually do not.
- Look for ruffles and bows in the clothing. If the pants have little ruffles on the seat or cuff of the pant legs or shirt sleeves, it’s a dead giveaway it’s a girl.
- Ask. It’s so simple. “Your baby is so adorable. Boy or girl?” Immediately follow that up with “How old is he/she?” and use the right pronoun. No one cares if you ask boy or girl. The first 2 months it’s near impossible to tell anyway and parents get asked this all the time. Just ask, then use the right pronoun. If you guess, you’re asking for it. If you guess wrong, the parents will think you are an idiot. But if you want to be sly about it, just talk to the baby directly: “Hey cutie pie, what’s your name?” and that usually gets a response from the parent “Her name is Olivia”. And you’re all set.
We freaked out a little bit when the hospital nurses wanted to administer the Hep B vaccine to Olivia the same day she was born. The request caught us by surprise and frankly it spooked us. Lauren declined because she wanted to talk to me first. I also declined because I wanted to talk to a pediatrician. Because there are so many misconceptions about vaccines in the culture right now, it’s enough to throw doubt on anyone, even people who’ve done their homework. Vaccines were something I didn’t think I’d be scared about, because I’m a highly rational person, however I was emotional and protective and scared for my child just like I was told I might be.
Olivia got that vaccination a couple days later at the Pediatrician’s office. And we stuck to the standard vaccine schedule, the only modification was spreading it out over additional appointments so she wasn’t getting so many shots at once. And really that was just so her legs wouldn’t hurt her so much on any given visit (it’s hard to see your baby crying because she’s in pain).
We picked a Pediatrician who came highly recommended; we met with her and instantly liked her, and decided to put our trust in her. Just like you’re supposed to do with any professional. Just like me with my own doctor. I guess it’s just scarier when it’s your child. We didn’t skip any vaccines and I don’t think I’d advise any parent to skip vaccines against the advice of their Pediatrician.
We take a lot of photos. Like a lot of photos. It’s not difficult at all to take out your smartphone and grab a few pictures. Or 30 pictures. The new iPhone has a Burst Mode feature so I can just hold down the shutter button and it snaps away. That has yielded some of the cutest pictures.
We are heavy users of iCloud Photo Streams. It is hands down the easier way for Lauren and I to share pictures with each other and to get them backed up to my computer. It’s also been the easiest way to share photos with family, just because everyone in our immediately family has an iPhone. I also upload a handful of the best photos to a Flickr account and we use those for a screensaver on our Apple TV. And I keep a Facebook album with some photos in there too. When someone asks if I have a picture, that’s usually the easiest way to pull up a recent picture.
We also bought an SLR camera right after Olivia was born. And it takes great photos, but I’m not a great photographer. I don’t find it to be as convenient as the camera on my phone, and the iPhone camera is good enough in most situations. We also have to be deliberate about making use of it, and weeks go by with it just sitting in the camera bag. However, if you do want to buy a SLR camera, follow this advice.
When Lauren and I walked into Babies “R” Us to setup a baby registry, I was absolutely overwhelmed by all the stuff. Not all of it’s useful. Not all of it is worth retail price. But this is a short list of everything we’ve used in the last year that is worth every penny.
- Fisher-Price Cradle ‘N Swing: This was a life saver. It was like having an extra person to hold the baby. Dinner would not have gotten cooked if it weren’t for this swing. And Olivia took most of her naps in this.
- Fisher-Price Rock n’ Play Sleeper: Rather than sleep in a bassinet, Olivia slept in this every night for the first 8 weeks. Lauren kept it right by her bedside so she could rock Olivia back to sleep without getting out of bed and picking her up.
- Carter’s swaddling blankets: I took great care in swaddling Olivia and tried to perfect my technique. And these were the only swaddling blankets that wouldn’t unravel in a couple minutes. And we dismissed using the velcro swaddles because they were all intended for “arms in” and Olivia could escape from it like Houdini. After a month we had to swaddle her with her arms out of the blanket. I all but stopped using any of the other receiving blankets we had.
- OXO wipe dispenser: Keeps the wipes moist, easy to operate with one hand, and super easy to refill. We have 4 of them. And they fit in most diaper changing caddies.
- Pampers Swaddlers diapers and Pampers Sensitive wipes. Just like bottles, bibs, and blankets, we tried nearly every kind. These Pampers Swaddlers were consistently the best fit and the easiest to change. And these wipes are a little more per box than generic ones, but it’s the difference between Charmin and hotel 1-ply toilet paper. And the best strategy for buying diapers is easy: find a deal and stock up.
- Motorola MBP36 video monitor: It has to easy to navigate buttons, so I can use the thing in the middle of the night when bedroom lights are turned off. It has a pretty good night vision ability. And it has a indicator lights for audio level so I can keep the speaker on mute and get a visual alert when she starts making noise. We tried an audio only monitor, but the video is so nice. She’s so cute when she sleeps. And don’t get one that uses your smartphone as the display, because it’ll run down the battery on your phone and it’s near impossible to check the baby monitor if you’re on a phone call.
- OXO Tot Formula Dispenser: If you’re using formula, you want this specific dispenser in your diaper bag. The formula powder flows so well, way better than the others we tried. It’s like the formula is running from the law it so fluidly escapes this dispenser. It wows me every time. I couldn’t have imagined even a year ago how worked up I could get and how much of an advocate I could be for a formula dispenser, but parenthood does strange things to people.
- Britax B-Agile Stroller and B-Safe Travel System: No regrets buying this system. The Stroller handles nicely and is light enough to fold up and carry around when I have to. The carrier doesn’t have a fancy ergonomic grip, which i actually prefer, and it’s easy to loop your arm under the handle and balance it on your hip. The base is super easy to attach to a car seat and carrier clicks in and out easily. The carrier has a 30 pound limit, but Olivia grew out of it at around 18 pounds (9 months) when we moved her up to the Britax Pavilion Car Seat. And I’ve learned that car seats have an expiration date. God forbid if your child is hurt in an injury accident and out of warranty car seat doesn’t perform correctly, your chances of seeking damages is seriously diminished. So buy a recently manufactured, new-in-box car seat and replace it if your car is in a collision.
- Diaper Genie: Don’t buy an expensive one. Buy the generic refills, not the brand name. And the plastic canister does take on an odor over time. And the full weight of the odor hits you in the face when you empty it. But it sure beats putting a dirty diaper in your bathroom trash or kitchen trash and forgetting it’s there and you wake up the next day and wonder why your entire kitchen smells like baby poop.
- Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes: This was one of the first toys Olivia ever held in her hands and she still loves it. When she gets fussy, the lights and the music calm her right down. She loves this thing.
- Baby Einstein Sea Dreams Soother: I was awfully skeptical of this. It looks like a fish tank and it straps onto the crib. But it is genius: it’s a fish tank on her crib. When she wakes up, she’s mostly content to crawl over and turn this on and just watch it. No crying, no wailing, just chilling out with the fake fish in the fake fish tank, sometimes up to 15-20 minutes after she wakes up. Anything that gives me flexibility like that in my morning schedule is worth the money.
- Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube: As soon as she started to sit up on her own, we gave her this music cube. It wouldn’t roll away from her, it kept her engaged with sounds and lights and buttons to press, and she still loves it. And it is the least annoying musical toy we have in the house. It actually plays music I don’t hate.
- North States Superyard: Another life saver. We should have purchased this as soon as Olivia started crawling. We have it setup in our living room and she can crawl around until her heart is content and we know she’s not trying to eat the dog’s toys or grab the lamp off the end table.
The first two nights at home were the worst. Olivia didn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time for 2 days. Lauren and I didn’t get more than 3 hours of sleep in the first 48 hours. The mountain top experience of seeing my child born was completely eclipsed by the effects of not sleeping. I couldn’t think straight; couldn’t utter complete sentences. The lack of sleep absolutely broke me. Lauren too.
Sleep is fuel. You need it. Not having it will ruin you. There will be nights when the baby wakes up at 4am for a feeding and won’t go back to sleep for two hours, which means if you stayed up til midnight to read a book or watch a movie, you’re screwed. Now you’re going through the day on 4 hours of sleep and there’s a better than even chance this happens tomorrow night and the night after that. Caffeine has diminishing returns. There’s only so much coffee you can drink. I’ve had to take vacation days (technically they were sick days) because I just needed to sleep.
I’d heard all the horror stories from other parents. How kids wake up at dawn and hate naps and hate bedtime. I believe them all. Sleep is perhaps the hardest struggle of being a parent. Olivia was sleeping through the night at two months, she transitioned to her crib easily, she usually takes a morning and an afternoon nap, she doesn’t cry for someone to come get her when she wakes up, and her bedtime routine is almost like clockwork. We have the absolute best possibly baby: a baby that loves to sleep. And yet I still find myself sleep deprived, because 1) I’m an idiot who doesn’t respect my own bedtime and 2) it’s just hard.
And finally, to all of my friends who got married and had kids while I was still single, who made the time to hang out with me anyway, to invite me to their homes or to play video games into the wee hours, I love you and I am sorry if I ever disrespected your time. Because now I know. I know what you were going through. Instead of taking a nap like a sane person, like I would surely do, you spent time with your friend. So thanks.