Sometimes I Feel Like My Daughter is Trying to Kill Me


Sometimes I feel like my daughter is trying to kill me.

It’s not true, of course. I don’t think she understands the concept of death and even if she did, I don’t think she would want to kill me, permanently.

At least I hope not.

But confidently, she is winning the battle.

It started with the battle over sleep. She never liked being put in her crib. She cried so painfully that the only way she would stop is if I held her or even better, lay down next to her and nursed her. She would nurse on that nipple so much that it would be sore, but just try pulling it out of her mouth when she wasn’t ready.

Sometimes she would wake up and start crying when I took the nipple out of her mouth, and the process of getting her back to sleep would start all over again.

I contemplated giving her a pacifier, but my thinking was and is that I would be replacing something natural with something artificial and that I would be neglecting my duty as a mother. Ditto for formula. I don’t see mammals in the wild using pacifiers or formulas. So when my nipple hurt, I thought of the above and reminded myself that it would be over, sooner rather than later, I hoped.

For you men out there, I don’t know what it’s like, but I can only imagine sore nipples being like sore balls. Can you imagine several times a day, sometimes at whim, someone pulling on them?

How long could you stand living like that?

For anyone who is a spouse to a breastfeeder, toast your nursing spouses!

My daughter also doesn’t like being unattended when I need to do something, like wash dishes. She cries and cries and cries. But I have to do the dishes!

My husband comes home from work and starts cooking because, well, he knows how. He doesn’t have to try to read a cookbook while a baby is crying in the background. I feel I must do the dishes and clean the kitchen.

It’s the least I can do.

But sometimes my daughter’s cries become too much for me, so I abandon the dishes until Pete comes home. He, of course, wants time for himself, but I ask him to please look after her so that I can do some chores.

Pete would like me to have dinner on the table when he comes home, and frankly I want to have dinner on the table too. But I can’t do it with Polina crying. My conscience tells me I need to attend to her.

Someone suggested that a mother reacts to a baby’s cries differently than a father. I certainly don’t know what it’s like for a father, or for other mothers. For me, it is unbearable to ignore.

The biggest battle, however, where she wounds to kill, is over the aforementioned sleep.

Her sleep is not consistent. At the first sign of tiredness, I put her in our bed. Sometimes she falls asleep, sometimes she doesn’t. Continuing to operate with a cranky child who doesn’t sleep well is torture.

A cranky child is for me the biggest birth control measure. Having sex is the farthest thought from my mind right now. I’m amazed that women can have children less than two years apart. Maybe they handle the situation differently, or get lucky with good sleepers.

Another challenge is going to the grocery store. Polina reaches for things, wants to get down and try to walk, starts crying in the shopping cart if she doesn’t get her way.

Aaaaagh! Is she trying to kill me?

Originally written May 21, 2013.

What Items Do You Really Need When You Have a Newborn? Surprisingly Little


The arrival of a baby in the home invariably brings with it thoughts of what, exactly, you will need for your new arrival.  Walk into any baby store, and one is inundated with all things baby.  Even stuff you’ve never heard of before may tempt you into thinking its essential.

But really, take it easy, sit back, and read this blog.  Having had one baby (and only one baby), I can share what I’ve learned about what’s really essential, and what isn’t.  This can’t be definitive, as every parent is different, and what one parent can’t live without is inconsequential to another.  I myself am a minimalist, and I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that may be helpful.

What Don’t You Need for a Newborn?

1. Crib.  You don’t really need a crib when you bring your baby home.  Your baby can’t crawl yet, so pretty much any flat, not too soft but comfortable surface will do.

Note: Couches are a bad idea as your child can fill into the crevices and suffocate.

My husband and I bought a co-sleeper to put on our futon in the living room so that I could sleep next to her.  (You will need to be able to hear your baby if you want to minimize your baby working himself or herself up screaming loudly to get your attention.)  Within two months she outgrew the co-sleeper lengthwise so we put her on the futon itself.  I had, by that point, moved back into my own bed.  The futon alone worked just as well, if not better, than the co-sleeper.

As long as the baby hasn’t started crawling, any firm surface will do.  I know some people may find this crazy, but in a worst-case scenario, you can use a box or a drawer with a towel at the bottom for comfort.  Just make sure it’s not too soft or the towel too loose, which may cause a baby to suffocate.

I found that a crocheted blanket works best when covering your baby.  If you’re really concerned about this, check with a SIDS website, but a crocheted blanket has holes, thereby allowing a baby to breathe while maintaining warmth.  Obviously don’t cover your baby’s head with it, but I’ve never had a problem covering her from the torso down.  We also kept the heat on in the winter for her comfort.

2. Diaper Wipes.  I have never purchased diaper wipes for my daughter.  What works great, and was my husband’s idea, was to run a paper towel under some warm water.  If you buy the really cheap paper towels that turn to tissue paper when they’re wet, it’s not going to work as well.  But any sturdy sheet of paper towel, folded in quarters, should work just fine.

For more surface area when you’re cleaning baby’s bottom, simply unfold the quarters as you need them, and you’re good to go.  This saves on purchasing not only the wipes but a baby wipe warmer as well, and your baby’s skin isn’t exposed to chemicals in commercial diaper wipes.

3. Toys.  You don’t really need that many toys the first four months.  Our daughter didn’t start picking things up until she was four months old.  What I gave her in the meantime was nourishment, love, and experiences in the form of outings in the park, shopping, and get-togethers with friends.

She wasn’t much interested in toys until she started picking things up.  And while I have bought her toys, some of her favorite “toys” are things we already had at home.  She loves our wireless landline telephone, for example.  (I don’t let her play with our cell phone for the simple reason that it emits radiation.)  She loves holding the phone with both hands, putting the antenna end in her mouth, and pressing the buttons.

Same for the TV and DVD remote controls- she loves swinging the remote and pressing those buttons.  She also loves paper- crimpling it, waving it, and, of course, putting it in her mouth.

Your baby will naturally find simple things around the house that interest her.  Encourage her curiosity and watch as she discovers new uses for seemingly mundane things.  Also try to find new games with the toys she already has.  My husband, for example, taught our daughter to make music by banging two plastic balls, which we got as part of a toy set.  She loves picking up these balls, putting them in her mouth, and banging them together.

4. Shoes.  Our daughter is almost eight months old and still doesn’t wear any shoes.  Even in the winter-time, she wore socks, bundled under blankets, of course.  Our daughter is beginning to crawl but she is still only wearing socks. She actually likes pulling her socks off and being barefoot.  Why constrain your child’s feet in shoes at this point?  Until they can walk, they are just an accessory, in my opinion.

5.  Breast pump and bottles.  If you’re planning to breastfeed and you are a stay at home mom, you don’t really need a breast pump or bottles.  I bought them thinking I would use them when I was out of the house, but really, they were more of a hassle than simply breastfeeding.

Breast milk from your breast is always fresh, warm, and much easier to dispense than using a breast pump.  I found myself pumping for 30 minutes or more to get what my baby can nurse in 15 minutes.  And then I had to clean and sanitize the bottles.

Personally, I found breastfeeding more convenient than bottle-feeding.  At parties, I simply went to a quiet room.  In public, I covered my breastfeeding activity with a lightweight blanket.  Honestly, if people really want to stare at you, they’re the ones with the problem.

6.  Specialty Baby Soaps.  We have never had to purchase any specialty baby soaps, which is a good thing because some of them can get pretty pricey.  One of the soaps my pediatrician recommended is Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild soap, which happened to be the brand we already used to wash our hands.  I buy an entire gallon (for which I think I paid $30, compared to $20 for a 16 oz of California Baby in a retail store) and diluted it with water in the soap dispenser because the soap is so concentrated.

I use this soap on our baby’s skin and hair and it works fine.  It’s way cheaper than California Baby or some of the other specialty baby soaps.  I can’t attest whether one works better than the other, as we’ve never tried anything else, but it’s good enough for us.  Our pediatrician recommended that we wash our baby once a week or so.  I followed that advice and it has worked fine.

Our daughter did have some hair clumping in the back of her head, but after trying two hair detanglers, what worked best was using my organic conditioner and gently brushing her hair after her bath and every morning thereafter.  This got most of the tangles out and prevented any clumps from getting bigger.

7. Pacifier.  My baby has never used a pacifier.  Only occasionally have I had problems with not using a paci, and that is when she was younger, she would fall asleep at my breast and wake up if I pulled it out of her mouth to move her to her crib (which we set up when she was mobile at five months).  I gave her the booby back and after a few minutes tried to remove it again.

My doctor suggested a paci to make the transition smoother but I have to admit, I am a snob when it comes to pacifiers.  I don’t think they look becoming, and even less becoming in the mouths of toddlers.

My sister-in-law, who did use pacifiers with her three children, warned me about dependency and the tantrums that come with taking it away.  In addition to this fear, I see it as an impediment to interaction.  Why do anything when you can suck on a paci?  A pacifier to me is synonymous with passivity.  I’m not saying that’s true of everyone.  That’s my bias.

So even when a paci may have been helpful, I resisted it.  Now, at almost 8 months, my daughter doesn’t even need my breast to fall asleep.  She still makes a sucking motion with her tongue between her lips when she sleeps, though.

What Do You Need Then?

  1. Diapers.  Unless you’re a hard core elimination communication practitioner, you will need some form of diapers.  We use a cloth diaper delivery service.  It’s pricier than the cheapest disposables, but I feel good about not contributing to a landfill stuff that won’t disintegrate for 500-1000 years.
  1. Clothes.  We use a onesie underneath a shirt and pants.  We alternate the shirts to vary the outfits.  When our baby was smaller, it was rare that she soaked through her onesie. For the first six months, I used one onesie every 4-5 days, unless it was wet or subjected to a blowout (i.e. poop leak).  Now that she is getting bigger, she soaks through her onesie 2-3 times per week, mostly at night. So one onesie lasts 2-3 days instead of 4-5.  I had about 10 in the beginning and there were some she only wore once before they became too small.  Do yourself a favor- if you do laundry every week, buy yourself 2-3 onesies and see how you do.  For a newborn, you don’t need to go overboard.
  1. Car seat.  If you’re planning on driving, you’ll need a car seat and a base to attach it to.  It’s not only a safety and convenience issue- it’s the law.  Make sure the base is attached securely to the seat and follow the manufacturer’s instructions about the right position for the car seat.  My car seat detaches from the base and can sit on top of our stroller.  So when the baby is asleep, you don’t have to wake her up to move her from the car to the stroller.  There have been plenty of times when she fell asleep in the car and we simply carried the car seat to our home, our baby still sleeping.  Check the weight of the car seat.  As our baby has gained weight, it has become more cumbersome to carry.  I wish it were made of a lighter material but other than that, we are happy with it.
  1. Stroller or baby carrier.  If you’re planning on walking outdoors, you’ll need one of these items.  I use a stroller most of the time because I find that is easiest on my back, but I use the carrier when I am going grocery shopping.  You won’t be able to put your baby in a shopping cart until they can comfortably sit up by themselves, usually after 6 months.  I know some people look down on strollers and only use baby carriers.  Whatever suits your fancy.  Just make sure to get one because your arms will get tired and it’s safer for the baby.
  1. Swaddling blanket.  A swaddling blanket can not only be used to swaddle your baby for the first 3 months, it can also be used as a burp cloth, an insulator when it’s cold outside, a drape to block out light when you baby is sleeping, and an apron when you’re breastfeeding.  Not to mention that your baby may enjoy playing with it.  I keep one in the car for any of these events.

So that’s it.  This is what worked for me.  Your situation may be different.  My intent in writing this article is to get people to really think about what they actually need and for people to focus less on the non-essential material things and more on nurturing and bonding with their babies.

Originally written April 10, 2013.

Why I Wish I Had a Babushka- April 6, 2013

In Russian culture, most children have a babushka nearby or living with them. Perhaps as a result of a housing shortage in the Soviet era or greater closeness among family members compared to American culture, babushkas (pronounced BAH-bu-shka in Russian) are essential to the running of a nuclear family. My husband and I live in a small apartment with our almost 8 month-old daughter. We don’t live beyond our means. We don’t have a mortgage, so we can afford for me to stay home to raise our daughter. Honestly, I thought I would also have time to write a blog, or work on my hobbies while my daughter was asleep. That stopped after about 3 months, when our little antelope drastically cut down on her daytime sleeping and joined our adult world. Today, she rarely takes a nap longer than an hour. Her first nap of the day is around noon. Her second is around three hours later. At her first nap of the day, I can usually count on her sleeping an hour. But the second nap is hit or miss, mostly miss. At night, she goes to sleep around 10 pm and wakes up at 9 (with nightly awakenings in between to nurse.) So in the end, I am not gaining any time to do anything. Our little antelope demands attention when she is awake. She wants to be held, bounced, or played with. Her toys will buy you about 30 minutes of time in the morning. I’ve learned to take my shower while she is temporarily occupied, because if I wait, she cries while I’m in the shower, and that is not at all conducive to calm nerves. Motherhood with our little antelope is a full-time affair. So in the back of my mind, I fantasize about having a babushka- someone to keep her from crying while I clean, cook, or (gasp!) work on something else. Someone that can give me a day off when I just want to get my hair done. Someone who is an adviser, a confident, an integral part of the family. That is how I remember my babushka growing up. Too bad my daughter and I don’t have that opportunity here. My mother-in-law is 83 and lives on the east coast. I have a horrible relationship with my own mother. So there you have it. The fantasy continues.

No Fooling: I Temporarily Lost Track of My Daughter in My Home- April 1, 2013

Yesterday was the first time I had my daughter beside me and completely lost awareness of her existence.  I was watching Call the Midwife on PBS, the premiere of season 2.  I eagerly anticipated season 2.  My husband even set up the DVD recorder for good measure, so I wouldn’t miss a word.  He was occupied with an Amazon purchase on the computer, which is also in the living room where I was watching TV.  My daughter was beside me, sitting on the futon.  Normally if I try to watch television, I try to occupy her at the same time, either by watching her as she plays with her toys or nursing her when she’s hungry.  Yesterday, she was seated beside me with her toys, and at 8 pm, I became so engrossed with a TV show that I did not notice that she was beside me.  An entire hour passed without me being aware.  What was she doing during this time?  I asked my husband, whose back was turned away from us most of the time because he was occupied with Amazon.  He said that when he did turn around, he saw our daughter looking at me and looking at the TV.  Damn.  I felt bad, and I should have felt bad.  How could I allow myself to be engrossed by this TV show at the expense of my daughter?  And what lessons am I teaching my daughter?  How to watch television?  How to be mesmerized by moving pictures?  I must admit, I’m a big fan of the show.  I don’t watch many shows on TV, but Call the Midwife is one of my favorites.  I think it is fantastic that home births and alternatives to hospital births are being shown and talked about on TV.  I view these women as heroines.  (I’m waiting for someone to comment why the midwives are riding bicycles while the doctor arrives in a fancy car.)  It’s amazing to me that an entire hour passed when I didn’t think about my daughter’s existence.  Maybe it’s because I’m with her almost all the time.  (“Full-time” doesn’t do justice.  With a few exceptions, I’m her 24 hour/day caretaker and entertainer.)  Maybe my mind wanted to wander somewhere else, and somewhere else it did.  Boy it felt great to be entertained.  But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under 2 years of age.  I don’t want my daughter’s neurons rewired to put her at risk of getting ADD or turning into a TV addict.  What this experience taught me is that maybe I do need some time to myself on a regular basis.  The hubby has been busy with his stuff, some of it pretty serious, when he gets home from work.  So I hope we can work something out, because I sure have been asking for some time “off.”



Combatting My Fear of the Dark- March 16, 2013

I am afraid of the dark. I have been consistently from the time I was six years old. I’m not afraid to admit it, as I honestly don’t care if people think I’m crazy. I’ve gotten to a stage in my life where I no longer worry about people liking me. So if you think I’m loony, I do understand.

What is changing is that I am reconsidering my fear of the dark when I put my daughter down to sleep in her crib. I have the same fear of the dark, but am more combative with my fears. I talk to them directly. “Leave her alone,” I say mentally. “If you come near her I’m going to kick your ass.” Then I leave a light on in the bathroom just in case. When I was younger, light represented protection. When I was left alone at home, I would turn on the lights in every room. I was still afraid and couldn’t sleep, but at least I could see and be vigilant until my parents got home. As an adult, I progressed to managing to fall asleep with the light on. The problem went away when I met my husband. When there is somebody else in the room or apartment with me- parents, roommates, friends at a slumber party- the fear is less debilitating.

My daughter, by contrast, exhibits no fear of the dark. She remains peacefully asleep as I transfer her from the boppy to her crib. Her arms fall beside her forming right angles around her beautiful face. Compared to my fear, she is a bastion of strength. I’m even less afraid when I’m around her. However, I sometimes wake up at night and am fearful for her. That’s when I turn the light on in the bathroom so that a) I can see her from my bedroom and b) to keep my imagined boogie monsters at bay.

Differences in the way objects appear during the day and night is interesting. I took a biochemistry class in 2004 and learned that the eye, not surprisingly, sees more precision during the day but is better at sensing motion at night. This phenomenon is highlighted by the fact that I need glasses. Without glasses at night, I can see less detail but am still sensitive to motion. During the day, I am rarely afraid. But at night, my other senses are heightened. When I grab for my glasses on the coffee table in the dark, for example, I don’t actually see the glasses clearly, although I pick them out at first reach about 90% of the time. It’s not so much that I can see their exact shape, but I can pick them out even amidst the rubble that is on my coffee table.  My imagination fills in what I can’t see.

So at night, familiar objects have a different look to them. The two mules looking out at me from the picture I took at the zoo take on a more somber meaning. The woman with heavy mascara looking out from a chemical dependency calendar I got for free looks downright scary at night. (I have to replace it.)