Tag Archives: baby

Old-fashioned community doctoring … virtually

Anyone who has tracked our recent medical dramas knows that we live a two-hour flight away from the nearest good hospital.

This doesn’t mean we’re devoid of options when we run into medical trouble.

For starters, there’s always Dr. Google. This good doctor’s wealth of knowledge is seemingly inexhaustible. You can ask Dr G anything. Anything. You can, for example, type in: “I’m 22 weeks and 3 days pregnant and I’ve thrown up 4 times in the last 6 hours and 6 minutes. I think I got sick after eating spring rolls from a street vendor in northern Laos 10 hours and 17 minutes ago. Should I be worried? What should I do?”

And chances are someone else has asked this exact same question, and someone else has answered it.

Granted, sometimes those answers run along the lines of, “drink a liter of goats milk seasoned with the blood of a three-day-old chick and stand on your head for an hour with your eyes crossed and you’ll be fine.”

But, still. Dr Google is on call 24-hours a day and always willing and eager to provide you with a wealth of useful information.

Well, information, anyway.

Then we have Dr Souphan, just down the road. Under protest, I went to see Dr Souphan just last week. To be fair to Dr Souphan, the protest had less to do with her than with the great inertia that seizes me when I’m afflicted with maladies that are more uncomfortable than dire. I just prefer to wait these things out.

Mike, however, is more proactive I am in the face of such problems, especially problems that have been going on for four days. So when we walked past her little clinic and saw that it was open, he gently suggested (read: almost frog-marched) that we stop in.

Dr Souphan’s clinic is one big room on the first floor of her house. While you’re waiting, you sit on chairs in the front half of the room. When it’s your turn to see the doctor you step to the back of the room where there’s a desk, two chairs, and a camp bed. No office door, though. Not that it mattered this time, because everyone else waiting was far more preoccupied with clucking over the little foreign baby with the big cast on his leg than with listening to me try to describe my intestinal disorders.

So we’re not entirely devoid of medical resources here, but what have we done when confronted with problems more severe than spending four days running to the bathroom? We haven’t relied on Dr Google or Dr Souphan. We’ve relied on good doctor friends in Australia, the UK and the USA. Just in the last eighteen months, these doctor friends have:

  1. Looked at photographs of Mike’s staph-infected legs and provided advice on which antibiotics to try and whether or not to seek medical evacuation to Thailand.
  2. Advised me about what to do when, at 22 weeks pregnant, I came down with a severe case of food poisoning.
  3. Let us stay in their house and use their car for a week while they were out of town (nothing to do with medicine, but much appreciated nonetheless).
  4. Given Dominic his two-month immunizations for free.
  5. Written very specific instructions for us on how to seek appropriate immunizations over here (including brand names) and answered our detailed questions about whether and how we could adapt the immunization schedule according to our shifting travel dates.
  6. Given me an entire course of appropriate antibiotics to take in case I get mastitis.
  7. Advised me via skype on splinting Dominic’s leg, appropriate pain relief, and how to make Dominic most comfortable until we could reach the hospital in Thailand.
  8. Reviewed pictures of before and after X-rays and written detailed letters explaining why the doctors in Thailand probably made the decision they did about Dominic’s care, we might have received conflicting advice about Dominic’s prognosis, and the pros and cons of additional corrective action within the next two years.

Ironically, Mike and I have found ourselves the recipients of more good old-fashion communal medical care here in Laos than we would have ever received (or asked for) if we had been living in Melbourne, yet all of this communal care has been delivered virtually. It’s all come from a “community” living on the other side of the world.

In the olden days, these people might have received some chickens or maybe a sack of potatoes for their help. Now they get nothing but heartfelt thanks.

Doctor friends,

Thank you. And thank you again. We’re so grateful that so many of you are willing to share some time and expertise via facebook, email and skype. You have eased the stresses that come with living somewhere with limited medical facilities more than you may ever know. Should you ever want to come to Laos, our guest room is always open and we’ll be happy to get some of those chickens and potatoes for you, too. Heck, we’ll even throw in a needy dog.

Love Lisa, Mike & Dominic

How have your friends reached out and helped you virtually?

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Sometimes you try

Saturday was a long day. There was a 5AM start, a flight to Thailand, four doctors appointments, three immunizations, two X-rays and a cast removal. We’d known it would be a hard day, so Mike and I had planned a special treat for after it was all over – we booked into a nice hotel with a pool and took Dominic for his first swim.

The result? Well, let’s just say the photos belong in Mike’s “Sometimes You Try” facebook album.

Me: “Dominic, guess what, we’re going swimming. Swimming is fun!”
Dominic: “You also said the needles would only hurt a little bit. I totally don’t trust you on this one.”

Family kodak moment fail. Here are a couple of other photos that belong in that “Sometimes You Try” album:

“Just for the record, totally not enjoying this sightseeing trip up Phousi Hill.”

“You want to know what my wish is for when we release the birds? I’ll give you one guess and a hint – it has to do with going home.”

“Are you two kissing me again? Do you have no concept of personal space at all?”

“Grandparents? Boring.”

“I love me some Zulu.”

“And Zulu loves himself some baby spew.”

Mike: “Dominic! Smile for the camera!”
Dominic: “I don’t know who these two are, never seen them before in my life.”

Finally, a bonus “sometimes you try” video: Dominic’s introduction to vegetables (and don’t worry, despite all appearances to the contrary at the end of this clip, Dominic was not seriously choking).

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10 things to remember if your child breaks a bone and you are nowhere near a hospital

How’s that for a light-hearted title? I bet you’re well cued that this is going to be one of those laugh-out-loud posts.

Or maybe not.

Most of you probably won’t be in the position of having your child break a bone and being thirty hours and an international flight away from good medical care, but if you’re a parent thinking this topic through can’t hurt. Presumably, for example, some of you go camping. So today I’m going to share some of the lessons we learned or put into practice last week when Dominic broke his femur. Some of these things we learned the hard way as events unfolded, some we already knew and came in very, very handy.

 1. This doesn’t strictly count because it’s prevention, but we all know that prevention is infinitely better than any cure, so … Sit down with guests when they arrive and specifically warn them about any hazards in your house. Staircases and swimming pools are always significant hazards (visit this website to review other common hazards). Briefing guests will not prevent all accidents, but it can’t hurt.

2. After an accident happens, do not assume that the people involved are able to relay a complete and accurate account of events. Accidents happen fast – those involved may not be aware of everything that unfolded in that instant. They will also be shaken themselves and may be in shock. Assume that your child is seriously injured (and handle them accordingly) until you are reasonably certain that nothing is broken and that they did not hit their head.

3. If in doubt, get it X-rayed. We were fortunate that the X-ray machine here in Luang Prabang was working last week and the technician was in work. When local doctors examined Dominic’s leg it was the only time all morning that he didn’t scream when it was moved. The doctor seemed very confident that it wasn’t broken but we had it X-rayed just to be sure.

4. Use your friends. This is not time to be shy about calling in favors from your medically trained friends. Get on your phone or get on skype and call a doctor. Even if you think you have things under control, you are also very stressed and outside observers may be able to provide helpful input on something you’ve missed. (In our case our friend, Asha, a pediatrician, got on skype with me at 10pm her time, walked me through appropriate pain relief and provided advice on how to make Dominic as comfortable as possible during the night).

The pharmacy near our house

5. Have a variety of infant pain medication on hand. We already had children’s paracetamol in the house but nothing else, and it is not advisable to administer more than four doses of paracetamol in 24 hours. Apparently, when treating breaks and fractures, one good strategy is to alternate doses of infant paracetamol with doses of infant nurofen. Luckily, when Mike got on his bike at 6:30pm and made an emergency dash to some of the local pharmacies, one of those stores had infant nurofen in stock.

6. Have a medication dummy/pacifier in your first aid kit: We don’t have one of these (yet) but I’ve since learned of their existence. It works by loading the medication into a reservoir that then flows through the dummy teat. Apparently they can sometimes work better than syringes when it comes to getting babies to swallow medicine they don’t like the taste of (orange-flavored infant nurofen, for example).

7. Breastfeed upon demand. Breastfeeding apparently reduces distress and lessens pain, and so does proximity to mum (or dad, if dad is the child’s primary caregiver) so stay close by.

8. Splint the limb to hold it stable and reduce your child’s pain. Our insurance company’s doctor told us over the phone how to splint the leg. We used packing box cardboard and a gauze bandage. Cardboard turned out to be a good choice because it didn’t have to be removed for the X-rays in Thailand. I taped the cardboard edges with gauze tape so they wouldn’t scratch him, but another thing I wish I had thought to do was slip a soft pair of my cotton socks over the cardboard to make it marginally more comfortable against Dominic’s skin.

9. Move your child as little as possible. This one is common sense – anyone who has broken a bone knows how much it hurts when that limb moves – but make sure you think creatively about how you can minimize movement. We were assuming we’d put Dominic in his travel cot as usual during the night until Asha pointed out that we could just leave him on the change table mat to sleep for the night rather than trying to maneuver him into that small space. And to that end…

10. Sleep your child somewhere where you can get to them to comfort and/or breastfeed without having to move them. The change-table mat on the floor by my side of the bed worked for us – I was able to feed Dominic by kneeling over him.

Finally, a bonus number 11: If you take up yoga while you’re pregnant, don’t quit after you give birth. You never know when you’re going to find yourself on an airplane having to breastfeed a baby who is strapped into a carseat.

Any tips to add? Leave them below to help out others who will read this post.

Feeling much better in hospital in Thailand

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24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would…

Everyone says motherhood is full of surprises. They’re right. Here are 24 of mine.

I never thought I would…

  1. Leak milk at the sight of a puppy.
  2. Wipe up baby spew with clothing that I am wearing.
  3. Consider 6 a.m. on a Sunday almost a sleep-in.
  4. Refer to my spouse as “daddy” more frequently than I call him by name.
  5. Still have my child sleeping right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  6. Still want my child to sleep right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  7. Catch poo with my bare hands.
  8. Find myself physically incapable of letting the baby cry for longer than 57 seconds without comforting him.
  9. Find myself physically incapable of concentrating on conversations, tasks or oncoming traffic when the baby is crying.
  10. Understand why the manufacturers felt it necessary to print the following warning label on pacifier packaging: “Warning: Do not tie pacifier around a child’s neck as it presents a strangulation danger”.
  11. End up with a red-headed baby who is below the 40th percentile for weight and height (I mean, we’ll keep him because he is the most adorable baby ever, but I seriously think he may have been switched at birth).
  12. See regurgitated milk land in my (brown) hair and think, “it’s only a little bit, I don’t need wash it out today.”
  13. Find myself speaking in a high-pitched musical tone even when I’m not talking to the baby.
  14. Ricochet emotionally from extreme highs to extreme lows within half an hour.
  15. Change four diapers in 20 minutes.
  16. Feel guilty for leaving the baby with someone else for an hour so I can do some work.
  17. Function adequately (most of the time) on this little sleep.
  18. Say everything twice (“What’s the doggie doing, Dominic? What’s the doggie doing?).
  19. Allow the dog to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  20. Call the dog over to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  21. Allow the baby to lap up milk that the baby has just spewed up. (Off my shoulder, people, not the floor. Hey, I work hard to make that milk, if he wants to drink it twice, that’s fine by me).
  22. Feel the urge to sneeze and think first of my pelvic floor.
  23. Think of household items such as bed sleepers and rocking chairs with the same acquisitive lust heretofore reserved for ice cream makers.
  24. Feel so immediately, incandescently and uncontrollably joyful when the baby laughs.

What about you? What surprised you on becoming a parent?

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One

Tough Love Take Two

Six weeks ago I tried to let Dominic “cry it out” for the first time. I was so tired that day that I decided to lie down next to him and see if he could calm down if I petted his belly instead of actually holding him. The experiment was not what exactly what you might call a success. It lasted a grand total of 4 minutes and netted me 29 more minutes of hysterical howling after I gave in and picked him up. I didn’t think I’d be trying controlled crying again anytime soon.

That was last month.

This is this month.

Until this month Dominic had been a relatively easy baby. I mean, I don’t have anything to compare him to, but I suspect that I don’t really have much to complain about (not that that’s ever stopped me). As long as someone stayed nearby to stick his pacifier back in whenever it fell out, Dominic would settle himself to sleep in his cot about 70% of the time. When he was about 10 weeks old he mostly started sleeping from about 10pm to 5am with only brief nocturnal wakeups to ask for his pacifier back.

Then he turned four months old.

Seemingly overnight, things changed. His Royal Babyness didn’t want to be put down anymore. Ever. He began insisting on being fed somewhere between midnight and 2am every night. He started to cry whenever Mike or I disappeared from his line of sight. He started to cry whenever we handed him to someone else (and sometimes even when other people merely looked at him). He started to cry whenever we tried to get him to go to sleep.

The hysteria at bedtime started around the time he caught his first cold, so we began walking him to sleep. We thought he’d settle back into his easier former patterns as soon as he felt better.

He didn’t. Two weeks later we were still walking him to sleep every night and for every daytime nap. He never napped for more than forty-five minutes at a time. Whenever I tried to get him down he’d wiggle and fuss and throw his head back and gaze around in the manner of a pudgy, horizontal meercat. He’d only drift off if I were singing to him.

When I got bored with Old MacDonald and his farm full of rabid roosters, starving kitties and mangy dogs I started singing Hush Little Baby. I don’t know anything past the first couple of lines, so my version goes something like this:

Hush little baby don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring,
And if that diamond ring don’t shine
Mama will buy you the whole diamond mine,
And if that diamond mine don’t produce
Mama will buy you a big fat moose,
And if that fat moose don’t taste fine
Mama will buy you a case of red wine…

I’d make up this sort of nonsense until his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp, then I’d wait a couple more minutes – the pain in my back and shoulders growing by the second – before easing him gently into his cot, unpeeling my hands from him finger by finger and praying that he stayed asleep.

One night last week though, after he’d gotten us up to feed him/walk him back to sleep at midnight and 2 AM and cried for his pacifier every forty five minutes until 5 AM when he decided that he was hungry again, I was done with this new normal. I was so done that I told Mike during the wee dark hours of that awful morning that I didn’t know why we’d decided to have children and that I wanted to leave the baby with him and get on a plane to Australia. I was scarily close to being serious.

Since being done with the whole motherhood thing wasn’t really a viable option, however, I decided that I was definitely done walking the floor with twenty pounds of grumpy baby when I was pretty sure he was neither sick nor teething. My emotions couldn’t take it and neither could my back. Despite the dread I felt at the prospect of letting him cry it out, it was time for tough love take two.

Operation tough love take two commenced that very morning with Dominic’s first nap. I put him in his cot and I gave him his pacifier, his cuddly toys, and his blanket. I sat down in a chair by his bed where he could see me. I told him that it was time he figured out how to go to sleep without being carried around the room.

He let me know he wasn’t a fan of this plan, and his crying quickly escalated to red-faced, hysterical thrashing. I held my ground. I sang to him. I patted him. I handed him back his pacifier, but I did not pick him up, and after twenty minutes of theatrics he fell asleep.

Then. Less than a minute after his eyes had closed…

Our neighbors decided to harvest coconuts and they started falling onto the tin roof right outside his bedroom window.

Here I must pause and address those of you who have suggested that it is good for babies to learn to sleep through loud noises. That might hold with regards to the sounds of voices, traffic, and even the occasional dog bark. It does not hold for the sound of a coconut falling on a tin roof. A baby’s brain is understandably hard-wired to interpret that sort of sudden, intense noise as danger. This is because only people who did wake up when they heard that sort of noise lived to pass on their genes – the happy slumberers were all eaten by coconut-wielding saber-tooth tigers.

Needless to say, Dominic woke up. Needless to say I was livid.

I moved him from his crib into the small travel cot in our bedroom and started all over again. This time it took forty minutes of crying/singing for him to go back to sleep.

But this story has a happy ending. After the first day of crying every time I put him down, Dominic started to go down again with only minimal fussing, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. He’s been happier and less clingy, and I’ve been feeling less exhausted, desperate, and tempted to leave him with Mike and head to the airport. For now, we’re good.

I have a nasty feeling, however, that when the time comes for Tough Love Take Three: Whereupon We Stop Handing Him His Pacifier When He Loses It For the Tenth Time in Two Minutes, all may not be such smooth sailing. Stay tuned.

Mamas and Papas, got any Tough Love stories to share?

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More than a brighter shade of happiness

“What have you been thinking about joy recently?” Mike asked me over lunch the other day.

“I’ve been thinking about that research suggesting that people are happier before they have children,” I said. “And about how happiness and joy are different.”

“Are you going to write the easy post about how you often feel less happy on a moment to moment basis since Dominic’s birth, but you have more joy in your life?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “Because, although I would like to think that this is true, I’m not actually sure that it is.”

Despite the fact that joy is the theme of this month, I’ve been trying not to think too hard about the difference between happiness and joy. This question confuses me, and thinking too hard about anything confusing in the face of this enduring sleep deficit is still a struggle. But there’s no getting around it, if I’m going to exert even a half-hearted attempt to grapple with the concept of joy, this particular question must be confronted.

Mike and I first started talking about joy a couple of weekends ago when we were hanging out at Zen and I was feeling low low low. Mike asked me what I was thinking about regarding joy on that day, too. As I recall, I told him I didn’t feel at all joyful and I didn’t feel like talking about it. Also as I recall, Mike being Mike, he persevered with the conversation, anyway.

“Happiness is present focused,” Mike said when I gave in and asked him what he thought about the difference between joy and happiness. “Joy is more future focused. Also, happiness is more self-focused while joy is others-focused.”

“Like how we feel about Leslie’s and Ryan’s engagement,” Mike continued. “Objectively there’s little in it for us other than a kick ass party, so why do we feel so elated by this? I think that feeling of gladness we feel at their good news, that’s less happiness than it is joy.”

I don’t agree with Mike about joy being tied to anticipating future good things, but then again I don’t think that I’m a very future-oriented person. If anything, I get more joy from remembering past blessings than I do thinking about the future.

However, I think Mike’s point about joy being related to empathy – being rooted in an appreciation for the “good” in life even when that good doesn’t directly benefit you – is fascinating.

Many dictionaries define joy as intense or especially exultant happiness, but this doesn’t seem nuanced enough to me. Even if I don’t find it easy to pin down exactly why, I feel as if joy really should be something more than just a brighter shade of happiness – something wider and deeper, something that stems from beyond myself and my pleasures.

I think the man who listed joy as one of the “fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5:22 would agree. That man would probably say that true joy is a by-product of our appreciation for, and relationship with, the divine.

A good friend recently made a similar point by email.

“Joy is hard to quantify, no?” she wrote. “I think that joy doesn’t always make you happy, because the fruit of the spirit is the result of the work of God in your heart and experience shows this to be not exclusively a blissful journey. (Maybe sometimes we are more like in the stage of ‘the flower-bud of the spirit’? I mean, fruit will probably come, but not for a few months yet…).”

“I love that image of a flower bud of the spirit,” I wrote back. “I will hold the image of jasmine in my mind. At least, I’ll hold it in my mind until Mike teases me that I’m really more one of those carnivorous, meat-eating flowers you find in the Amazon. And then I might wonder aloud what sort of poor marriage decision that little flower made to end up having to adapt to living in the tropics, and tell Mike that sometimes flowers just do what they have to do to survive. Then we’ll both laugh. Thank goodness that, most days, we can both still laugh.”

We did plenty of laughing this morning when Dominic suddenly decided that our dog scratching himself was the funniest sight he’d seen in his whole little life and laughed until he turned bright red and started hiccupping. Today’s so far been a good day full of long baby naps and bright baby smiles and leisurely walks under cloudy skies to pick up groceries. Today I think of Dominic and smile. Today I can say without hesitation that Dominic’s birth has brought great joy into my life.

But today doesn’t tell the whole story of this last week.

Last week at this time I was alone in the house, exhausted from several nights in a row of broken sleep, unable to escape the screech of power tools right next door, and trying in vain to settle a grumpy baby who didn’t want to put down (or to sleep). I was walking the floor of our bedroom with Dominic in my arms, crying, thinking that this could not possibly be the point of life.

I would like to be able to say that even in that desolate moment I felt that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is that I simply felt so bereft of happiness and joy that I had a hard time conceiving that I would ever really feel either happiness or joy again.

I would also like to be able to say that even during that moment that felt so joyless, I still knew that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is, the only thing I knew for sure in that moment was that I still wouldn’t wish his birth undone. If the Archangel Gabriel had appeared in that instant and offered me the chance to hand Dominic over, I would have refused (unless Gabriel had promised to bring him back markedly more cheerful in a couple of hours – then I would have relinquished him with great haste as well as both happiness and joy).

Perhaps I still don’t have this difference between joy and happiness all sorted out in my mind because they’re impossible to completely untangle in real life. Sometimes, I think, joy does feel like a brighter shade of happiness. But sometimes in moments when happiness is nowhere to be found, I think it can feel like peace instead. And perhaps sometimes it’s not really a feeling at all, but more an attitude, or even knowledge.

I don’t think that knowing you don’t really want to push the reset button regarding the existence of your child – even in those dark, exhausted, tear-drenched moments – quite reaches the lofty heights of joy. Perhaps, however, joy can sink its roots deep into this knowledge and continue to grow even when the fertilizer of happiness is in short supply. Because I believe now that what I discovered last month about love is also turning out to be true of joy.

Last month I wrote about how love for Dominic hadn’t swamped me like a tidal wave but was creeping in slowly and inexorably, like a rising tide. I don’t know why I expected joy to be a different kettle of fish in this regard, but I did. Subconsciously I’ve been thinking of joy as something you either have – flowering full and perfect in your life – or don’t have at all. It took my friend’s letter to make me realize that I had missed a foundational implication of the fruit of the spirit analogy – the fact that fruit, uh, grows. Slowly. As in weeks, months, and entire seasons slowly. This much I do know about the process, despite the fact that I’ve never been all that talented at growing things and prefer to buy my fruit from others who have done the hard and careful work of tending.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be easier if we could buy joy from our local grocery store or, better yet, instant-download it directly into our lives using the buy-with-one-click button on Amazon?

Easier? Maybe.

Better? I can’t articulate exactly why, but I suspect not.

I will strive to remember that as I rue the irony of spending the next month thinking about peace in the midst of our ongoing negotiations with our noisy neighbors. I will remember it tonight when I wake up in the wee dark hours, as I will inevitably do, to reach down and place a hand on a stirring baby. And I will remember it this afternoon as I go soon to get him up from his nap, change him, amuse him, feed him, love him. If part of deep joy necessarily springs from focusing on others, this mothering thing surely means that my emotional greenhouse will eventually be a fruitful, joyous, sweet mess of color. And in the meantime, there are fresh mangoes and tamarind available at the little stall just down the street. Maybe I’ll take Dominic for a walk in that direction this afternoon.

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T’is The Night Before (A Children’s Story)

It’s 8, and Mama Bear gives a yawn
She’s very tired, she’s been up since dawn
All day Baby Bear needed loving and feeding
Up and down he set emotions stampeding
She goes to bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, four… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 10, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Drums and cymbals and music, hark!
These are sounds she is daily dreading
The loud late strains of a Lao wedding
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, fifty… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 12, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Papa Bear’s snoring sounds not like a lark
She tugs his arms down from over his head
Papa Bear sighs and rolls over instead
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, eighty… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 1, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
This time she hears a familiar dog bark
Zulu has chased a cat up a tree
And is leaping around in a wild frenzy
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 2, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Baby Bear moans, stirs, and lets out a sqwark
Mama Bear leans over and hands him his dummy
It’s a 24-hour job, this being a mummy
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, four hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 3, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
“It’s morning! It’s morning!” the roosters remark
Mama Bear thinks about chicken pot pie
And how she wishes the roosters would die
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, five hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 4, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
She hears a buzz, the mosquito trademark
Little legs brush her cheek like lace
She swipes, misses, and hits her own face
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, eight hundred… [beep beep beep beep]

It’s 5, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
It’s Baby Bear again, a wee hungry shark
She rises and reaches for her little boy
He gives a sudden, toothless, grin of joy
She picks him up, she kisses his head
She thinks, “this is almost, maybe, better than bed.”

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Tough Love Take 1

I tried something new with Dominic on Friday – a little bit of tough love. Here is how that went:

"Daddy, let me tell you how it went. I, for one, was shocked."

Dominic wakes up from his afternoon nap after only thirty minutes of sleep.

I decide that he is still tired and that he needs to go back sleep. He doesn’t look like he stands a hope of doing that in his crib so I pick him up (can’t you already see how tough this love was?), bring him into the bedroom, lay him on the bed so that he can see me sitting at the desk, and tell him (nicely) to go back to sleep.

Dominic starts to yirp (this particular sound most closely resembles the offspring of a chirp and a yowl) in a way that let’s me know that he thinks this is not the best idea I’ve ever had.

I pet him and reinsert the pacifier (and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier… repeat times 100).

Dominic starts to get increasingly upset.

I determine that now is as good a time as any to let him try to cry it out. I lie down right beside him on the bed, stroke his cheek (again, how tough is this love?), and decide that I will let him cry for five minutes before I pick him up…

I lasted for four.

And in that four minutes Dominic had worked himself up into such a shrieking, thrashing, red-faced, sweating, howling screaming mess that it took him 29 more minutes of holding and walking and soothing (29!!!) for him to calm down enough to suck on his favorite object in the world – the one that delivers milk unto him. Every time I tried to offer him a nipple before that magical twenty ninth minute he would take one brief suck, throw back his head, and scream with renewed vigor. He didn’t glare at me, but that’s only because his eyes were firmly screwed shut in order to allow him to better concentrate on broadcasting his sadness and rage as loudly as possible.

“JULIUS CAESAR HAD NOTHING ON THIS!!!” he seemed to be howling.  “YOU DID NOT PICK ME UP THE INSTANT I LET IT BE KNOWN THAT WAS WHAT MY LITTLE HEART DESIRED. THIS IS TRUE BETRAYAL! THIS IS TRUE PAIN! THERE IS NO ONE IN THIS WHOLE SAD, BAD, WORLD WHO LOVES ME! NOOOOOOO OOOOONNNNNEEEEE!”

You would have thought that I covered him in honey, staked him out under a tropical sun and left him for the ants to find (stay tuned for Tough Love Take Five).

It’s a little funny now but it wasn’t at all funny on Friday. No matter how objectively ridiculous you think your baby is being, there’s no humour in watching them cry so hard for so long. I’ve only seen Dominic do that once or twice before, and then only ever because he was in physical pain.

Finding myself over the last couple of months unable to bear the prospect of leaving my child to cry himself to sleep has surprised me. I honestly thought he’d be sleeping in his own room within two weeks of birth and that we’d be putting him to bed alone and letting him howl himself to sleep on a nightly basis by now. Yet here I am still happily placing him in a travel cot beside my bed every night, holding him to sleep on those nights (about 30% of the time) that he doesn’t drift off without fussing, reaching down when he stirs and whimpers at 2AM to hand him back his dummy, getting up at 5AM to feed him well before he gets to the actively crying stage.

This issue of how to “best” help children sleep can be a contentious one in parenting circles. Emma Tom summarizes this well in The Australian:

“Like the other great baby debates of our time… controlled crying attracts extreme detractors and supporters whose polarised views leave little room for a sensible, midground approach. Critics claim these sorts of sleep regimes break babies’ spirits and cause irreparable long-term damage. Hardline advocates, on the other hand, have the disturbing habit of framing babies as deliberately manipulative, saying tough love is necessary to get the better of the calculating little buggers.”

I know the day may come when I decide that I want or need to be slightly less responsive to Dominic’s every cheep, but after yesterday’s performance I’m dreading that day. There was nothing controlled about Friday’s misery extravaganza. I don’t think he would have stopped without comforting before he screamed himself into a hoarse and desolate sort of exhausted.

So, parents, I’m interested in hearing about your approach to getting your kids to sleep. I’m not particularly interested in hearing your advice on the subject (no “shoulds” on this topic, please) but I am very interested in hearing your stories. What worked for your kids when they were young babies? What works now?

The baby has hijacked my brain

Last night Mike asked me a work-related question during dinner.

“I can’t think about that right now,” I said, “I’m eating.”

There was silence. I figured that Mike was probably thinking that during the almost three years of our marriage I had heretofore shown myself capable of having a conversation over the dinner table and thus, presumably, thinking and eating at the same time.

“The baby is awake,” I said, taking a brief break from shoveling takeaway Indian food into my mouth as fast as possible to point to Dominic with my fork. Dominic was sitting in his stroller beside the dinner table, happily engaged trying to bat the purple toy cow I had strategically dangled beside him. I figured that he would be happily engaged for another 57 seconds, maybe 59 if we were lucky.

“The baby takes up 80% of my brain power,” I explained. “I can monitor the baby and focus on eating with that other 20%, but I can’t monitor the baby, eat, and think about your question all at the same time. When I’m finished eating I’ll use that leftover 20% to think.”

Mike may have been tempted to ask why I felt compelled to spend 80% of my brain-power monitoring a perfectly content baby when said baby was clearly in my line of sight and his other parent was sitting right beside him. If Mike was tempted to ask this, he didn’t. Wise man.

If, however, Mike had asked me this, I would have had two answers for him. The first would have been (cue slightly snarky tone here) that when your spouse is gone 30% of the time and you’re single parenting in a foreign country it gets to be a habit that is awfully hard to break. After I got done with this passive aggressive piece of venting, my second answer might have been a simple statement.

I don’t know.

I don’t know why my brain short circuits at his merest squeak, why I will immediately lose my ability to pay attention to any conversation I might have been having before that little lip pouted out and those doleful yelps began to mount. Why I will tense up when I am lying in bed and hear that faint and terrifying clink of plastic upon plastic that signals a pacifier falling out. Why I sometimes wake up thrashing in the middle of the night, still tangled up in a dream that I’m feeding or holding him, reaching out to find that small body and panicking when it’s not there.

I don’t know.

I was going to do all this online research about what pregnancy and new motherhood does to brain chemistry and weave that into this blog post so that: (a) we could all learn something new, and (b) (much more importantly) I had scientific proof that I’m not completely crazy.

But it’s 8pm. Mike’s been upstairs trying to settle Dominic for 45 minutes now and I can hear him crying (Dominic, that is, not Mike, though for all I know Mike’s up there crying as well). This means I have no brain space left for research or even a graceful wrap up. It means that I’m going to draw this to a close the way that I end a goodly number of my skype calls at the moment – with a hurried: “Baby’s crying. Gotta go.”

Catch you tomorrow for Writing Wednesday.

Oh, and other parents, did you experience a similar phenomenon when your first child was born (or should I be checking out what sort of anxiolytics I can buy over the counter here in Laos)?

What? Me? Needy? Never!

All’s well that ends well

Yesterday one of my good friends, Abi, left this comment on my post about joy: “the sight of mini-Mike grinning as he leans back in the safe nook of maxi-Mike’s knee definitely came as a welcome joy-boost.”

Today I have for you a one minute video, in two acts, of Dominic in that “safe nook”. The first time Mike showed it to me I said it wasn’t funny. Then I had to admit that it would have been a bit funny… had it been someone else’s child.

Without further ado, here are the adventures of Mike and Dominic at 6am.