Where are we now?

I just poured cold water into Nixin’s breakfast bowl. Nixin watched me, confused and a little amused, as my water bottle stood patiently nearby. That’s why we’re not going to Turtle Town this morning. 

More accurately, we’re not going because Pyra is teething and she and I didn’t get enough restful sleep last night. I quickly gave up and went back to bed after trying to persuade Rod to take Nixin to the beach without us. 

This lifestyle is an interesting mix of vacation and … “life” that I feel we  haven’t yet sorted out. We’re still finding our footing and figuring things out as we go. I feel a bit like we’re moving around in limbo. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to the idea of venturing out from a permanent residence: you leave your home and stuff behind for a certain period and then return and resume where you left off. Only we just left, we didn’t leave off. We have no home to return to (although I admit that the generosity of my parents to share their home with us is very near the feeling of having our own home). 

I was frustrated that Rod wouldn’t take Nixin to the beach without me, because we’re only on Maui a couple more days, and our time with Nixin is fleeting. Who knows when she’ll next have the chance to swim with sea turtles? More importantly, when will he have the chance to share the experience of swimming with sea turtles with his daughter? Well, maybe it will be tomorrow, or maybe it will be never. Who knows? 

On vacations you generally are more motivated to get out and experience things because your time away from “real life” is limited. But what if you’re living a semi-permanent vacation? Is our motivation declining because we don’t have a deadline to return to “real life?” Or is today just an off day because we’re all a little under the weather? I’m sitting on the lanai (pretty sure that’s what they call a deck here?) soaking in some gentle morning sun, listening to the coos and chirps of island birds, with the sea shimmering a deep blue just a few hundred feet away. But I’m letting my daughter sit in the air-conditioned apartment and watch “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.” 

I’m going to have to do better to take these things in stride, because this IS our life. There will be down days, and there will likely be many more than I imagined. We’re not out on a quick 2-week trip, we’re just “out.” There will be indoor tv days even in paradise. But I’m grappling with this, because as much as I appreciate relaxed, having down time, and not over-planning, I feel the tug of mortality and uncertainty in my periphery- the uncertainty of how long this lifestyle will last. There are other variables, out of our control, that we have to contend with and incorporate into the equation. 

We don’t get to make all of the decisions for Nixin’s experience and future on our own. There have already been some shadows of roadblocks coming to light that we’ll have to navigate. And it may potentially lead to a change in course. 

But I ramble in my cocoon of sleepy thoughts. I guess I just want to make sure I appreciate this life right now, as we live it. And to really live it, even as it stretches out in front of us indefinitely. I don’t know if we’re at the beginning of long and durable venture, or if this beginning butts up against the unexpected ending. 

I may have experienced a sleepless night with a teething baby, and awoke to feel unrested and grumpy, but the Maui morning sun has soaked into my bones as I sat writing this, removing the sense of frustration and anxiety that permeated my foggy thoughts. The blue water swept those unwanted feelings out to sea. The chorus of birds have brightened my outlook and helped to adjust my perspective. 

We can never know exactly where we sit on our journey through life. But that’s ok, especially if we recognize and appreciate the inevitable uncertainty as opportunity. 

Mahalo Maui. 

Sleep Training, Part 2- Not Quite Magic, But Close Enough

I’m sitting down during another no-fuss nap, after a night of good sleep. It’s been just over a week since we’ve started and the change to my life has been absolutely dramatic.

It’s incredible to me how quickly and easily our nights were transformed from me getting up every hour and nursing Pyra back to sleep, to an entire night of sleep without a peep from Pyra. Some nights there are a couple fussy periods, and often I choose to give Pyra a “dream feed” or two to help keep up my milk supply (technically I am an “older mother,” even if my husband balks at the term and assures me otherwise!). The results of the “cry it out” method (CIO) were so positive and so immediate- and with so little crying, despite the common name of the method- that it really felt like CIO was a little bit of magic for our family.

Pyra is comfy in her new bed!

The reason that CIO is not pure magic: naptime continues to be tricky. I was prepared for this, having read that nighttime sleep is easier, so you should work on that first then move onto naptime which is harder for babies to catch on. However, since Pyra transitioned her nighttime sleep so incredibly fast, I was still surprised and disappointed that naps were so much more difficult. There is definite naptime improvement, but it is slower progress. There is also a lot more trial-and-error and second-guessing involved with naptimes (Is she ready to go down? Should I get her up, leave her to cry, or soothe her back to sleep?) which leaves room for a parent to regret decisions and feel like they have no idea what they are doing. Naps are just way harder. At least they have been for us.

I’ve started to think ahead to when we start to travel and wonder how that will go. I know that we will have trying times ahead of us and I’m working on my perspective now, so that I don’t get overwhelmed and super frustrated later on. Naptime conditions will change considerably when we are traveling. If naps are out of whack, what happens to nighttime sleep? How will we cope with four of us sleeping in the same room with a crying baby? How will it feel to have a baby crying in someone else’s home?

I’m encouraged by our nighttime success that things will go pretty well, but we have tried one sleepover at my sister’s and it was a little rougher than usual. There is often some intermittent fussing and crying in the first hour or two after we put her down. It’s one thing to have that in your own home, and another to “subject” other people to it in a home you’ve been welcomed into.

One step we’ve taken to provide Pyra with better sleeptime consistency is to purchase a travel bed. We went back and forth about whether to haul around a baby bed, but ultimately we decided it might prove to be worth its weight in gold (and if it’s not we can get rid of it along the way!). Our rationale is that if she has a familiar bed and bedtime routine, it won’t be so disruptive to change locations. Children adapt so quickly, we’re sure she’ll get used to moving around, but we think the bed will provide some comfort and make transitions smoother. And if baby is sleeping well, the whole family will sleep better.

The travel bed will not only provide comfort, but it will provide safety as well. It makes me feel a lot better knowing that Pyra will be in a safe place to sleep wherever we go. She’s already starting to roll around, and soon enough she’ll be crawling. We don’t know what our housing will look like, but no matter where we are, Pyra will sleep in a safe bed.

We bought the Guava Lotus Travel Crib (http://bit.ly/GuavaLotusTravelCrib) for its lightweight portability and good reviews. After we’ve used it more- and lugged it around the world- I’ll post my own review. So far, it’s been four nights and it seems to be working out great. We have already used it at my sister’s house for some naps and an overnight. Considering that we’re still in the early days of sleep training, I’d say the experience was very successful.

Well, I’ve reached the end of this post … in one sitting! Pyra is still sleeping soundly and I’m going to go make a coffee and hope that I have a few moments to sip it before going up to get my rested, happy baby.

Sleep Training, Part 1- Sweet Dreams

I started this post yesterday while my crying baby resisted her nap. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far. It was Day 1 of sleep training after the 1st night. While the night had gone relatively great, the naps were rough and took a toll on me. But maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t invest a lot of time into that first writing session, because, get this:

I’m drinking my decaf coffee (while it’s still hot!) in the quiet AND it’s 1.5 hours after I put Pyra down for her nap AND she went down with no crying!! What, what, what?!

Pyra’s sleep cycles changed several weeks back and my world turned sideways. Then quickly flipped completely upside-down. My sweet little Pyra went from sleeping like a baby (quickly dropping into sleep anywhere) to not sleeping much at all, and fussing and crying while resisting sleep. Right around 3.5 months old she started the so-called “4-month sleep regression” which means that instead of falling directly into deep, newborn slumber, she sleeps more lightly at first and has to transition into deeper sleep.

Unfortunately, our habits of holding, bouncing, and nursing her to sleep (which previously worked really well and quickly) made it exceedingly difficult for her to get to sleep- and stay asleep- on her own with her new sleep cycles. The past few weeks have been very trying and I started to work up a good solid case of sleep deprivation. Not only have I been drunk with lack-of-sleep, but we’re still in Alaska, so isolation and minuscule amounts of sunlight have turned this cocktail into a ridiculously stiff drink. Pretty ideal, right?

I borrowed my sister’s book “On Becoming Babywise,” which I should have read before giving birth. I’m not following the book to the letter (especially since it’s really formatted to guide you into good habits from birth, not break habits later on) but, it did inspire us to get into a better feed-wake-sleep schedule that helped us move to a napping routine without nursing to sleep. It meant that daddy could also put baby down for a nap. Woohoo! “Baby steps,” right?

After a week and a half of working on our daytime schedule and a few evenings of reinforcing our bedtime routine, we decided to take the leap into “sleep training.” I was a little anxious, but so ready. I needed more sleep to get back to being a nicer, more patient, more generous, happier me. Not just for me, but for my family as well.

I knew nothing about sleep training babies before this started, except that I’d heard the term “cry it out” and also of modified versions of cry it out (CIO) where you go in to soothe your child intermittently (now I’ve learned that this is often called the Ferber method or “ferberizing”). I thought that the CIO method seemed cruel to babies and terrible for parents. I had also heard of moms that spent nights on their child’s bedroom floor, inching their way out the door over a series of nights to wean their child of their presence. Because I had no idea what to do, I read up on no-cry sleep training methods and the CIO alternatives as well, and I quickly came to a surprising conclusion: we would be implementing CIO.

I could hardly believe that this was my decision. I mean, I started out co-sleeping and nursing my baby to sleep, for pete’s sake! I wasn’t sure I had it in me to let my baby cry and cry without any sort of parental comforting. The thing is, what I discovered through my research is that if you set up a good daytime feed-wake-sleep schedule and bedtime routine first, CIO tends to be much more effective than other methods and actually tends to result in less time spent crying. Methods that included periodic soothing would require much more patience and energy … that I just didn’t have anymore. I also knew from experience that my particular baby does not appreciate intermittent soothing- my presence fires her up even more- so I was pretty sure that the Ferber method would be hell for us.

I read somewhere (but can’t find it now) that babies that learn to self-soothe and who are left to “deal,” rather than having parents constantly block all crying with a pacifier or some other method of comforting, are better problem-solvers and less dependent on their parents for comfort. I say “yes” to that! I want to be able to soothe and comfort my child, but I also want her to have confidence in her own abilities. CIO is controversial, but so is just about every parenting trend. What I do know is that we have to do what is best for our family, and if that means using a method that some people think is extreme? So be it.

Well, folks, I’m now a believer in CIO. In two days, our lives have changed dramatically, with much less crying than I expected. We had been spending much of our time bouncing Pyra to sleep (and back to sleep mid-nap) during the day and I had been up 5 or more times in the night to nurse her back to sleep. This is only Day 2 and nap #1 (when I was writing the first paragraph) lasted 2 hours and I had to wake her up to eat on schedule! Last night she slept for about 8 hours straight (except I roused her once to nurse) until 7:00 am, when I woke her up to nurse. I never imagined that would happen so soon.

In fact, we started out planning to tackle nighttime sleep first and leave naps for later, but the first night went so well that we dove into nap training right away too. There are moments when I regret that decision, but overall I think it’s going exceedingly well. Everything I read said to get nighttime sleep down and then move to naps. But I think there are some cases when doing both at the same time is OK.

We’ve had incredibly fast results with CIO and it hasn’t been that bad. Pyra doesn’t ever scream. She mostly fusses and sometimes cries heartily. Yesterday’s naps were the worst with more than an hour of crying at a time, but that was the first day. I’ve read that parents are often dealing with 3+ hours of crying at a time. I wonder if those parents are getting a good daytime schedule and bedtime routine prior to starting, or if the efficacy of any given sleep training method depends a lot on the temperament of both baby and parents. I do think a lot of parents that start CIO set themselves back by going in to soothe their baby. Our results are definitely not consistent yet, but the progress is astounding and incredibly promising. It will be interesting to see how things go from here.

Even with our dramatic progress over a short amount of time, I wouldn’t describe CIO as “easy.” I cried both yesterday and today, and I am often second-guessing my decisions. It will never feel good or be easy to let your little one cry without going to them to provide comfort. There are moments when I feel confident (that’s when Pyra quickly goes to sleep with minimal or no fussing) and there are plenty of times when it kills me to not rush in to where she is crying, pick her up and kiss away her tears.

I still hate to listen to my baby fuss and cry (as I’m actually doing right now), but I know that the gift of being an independent sleeper is going to be sweet.

** I came back to add some info immediately after putting my baby to sleep for Night #3 … with zero fussing at all. Not even a peep!!! Unbelievable. Absolutely, completely, wonderously awesome!!!!

Stepping Into the Light

I have several posts that are waiting for me to find the time and patience to type out. For some reason, I thought I would be writing all the time once the baby was born. I’d just be sitting around smiling at my newborn and have a fresh, energized mind and two free hands to write all I want, right? Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha … ha. As I write this, I do have two free hands even though there is an adorable baby latched to my breast (I figured out how to prop her up so that I can type with both of my hands!), but my mind is far from fresh or energized. So … this post may end up a little funky … if I even manage to finish it.

Anyway. I write now on a topic I hadn’t planned to, but that’s been knocking around in my head lately: the effect of sunlight on (my) health and wellness.

Obviously, I’m not a brilliant luminary shedding light on a glowing new topic (I told you my brain is on the frazzled side), as scientists have been studying the effect of light on humans for a long time.  I just found this article– from the year I was born- on how sunlight may affect, not just mood, but fertility as well. My suspicion has long been that my infertility is due to a complex amalgam of issues related to imbalances in my immune system and hormones (not just the “sex” hormones, but ones typically not associated with fertility), but I had never considered that sunlight may play a role in my infertility.

Part of the reason we moved out of Alaska was to see if increased exposure to sunlight would help my (recently acknowledged, self-diagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Let me tell you:

Moving to the equator may have been the single best decision I have made in my entire life. Seriously.

Since coming to live in Ecuador, I’m beginning to believe that exposure to sunlight has had an even greater influence on my well-being, and life in general, than I could have ever imagined.

For starters, it’s late November and I’m not sluggishly and irritably crawling out of bed just to day-dream of sleeping all day. In fact, yesterday I took a walk outdoors at 7 am. Of my own volition. In a good mood. What, what, what?! All the more impressive since I’m up half the night with a 2-month-old.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d cope this well with the lack of sleep that accompanies caring for an infant.  I’m convinced that if I had stayed home in Alaska, yesterday morning would have seen me either asleep, trying to sleep, desperately sleepy, or ridiculously grouchy. Here in Ecuador, I feel better on less sleep. I wake up more easily than I ever have, and I feel more rested than I ever have.

I also believe that increased exposure to sunlight has alleviated my tendency to be, to put it bluntly, a bitch.  I’m simply not as moody and irritable. My patience is more generous and I’m not (as) snippy. This is a beautiful change, not just for the people around me, but for me too. My irritability has been a source of immense personal guilt over the years. I don’t want to be snippy and impatient. I’ve always known that’s not who I really am, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix the problem. Here at the equator, I have felt that my patience runs deeper and my moods are much more even. It feels really, really, really good. Really good. The irritability and guilt ran cyclical with deeper feelings of darkness that were hard (or impossible) for me to climb out of. That leads me to the topic of the “D” word: depression.

It is clear to me now, that every winter since puberty I have slid into a mild depression. I never recognized it as being seasonal, and I also didn’t acknowledge that I was actually depressed. There was always something on which to blame my sadness, extreme lethargy, inadequacy, or apathy:  puberty itself and hormones, unmet expectations, stress at work, grief, etc. Only recently did I recognize the pattern. These life experiences weren’t causing my unfavorable symptoms, it was depression that was keeping me from coping with life’s ups and downs in a healthy way and leading to undesirable responses. I have suffered for years, and my family (especially my husband) has suffered along with me.

I believe that even the grief of my infertility and pregnancy losses was more intense and more disruptive because of SAD. I coped with my summer-time miscarriages much better than those in the winter. In the few months with prolonged sunlight, I felt more hopeful and motivated. I reached my lowest low of incapacitating grief during the mid-winter darkness. I was non-functioning. I was so low, that I reached out for professional help. And for the first time in my life, I took a prescription medication for mental health. What I wonder now: would I have reacted so deeply, would I have struggled so painfully, had I received more exposure to natural sunlight?

I also believe that sunlight somehow affects immune function. Whether it’s related to a role of hormone regulation, or something else, I have no idea. This article seems to point to the same hypothesis, without specifically stating so. There is evidence that exposure to sunlight affects immune-related disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, lupus, and thyroiditis. One of my fertility doctors diagnosed me with an immunological abnormality, to which he attributed my recurrent miscarriages. Could increased exposure to sunlight be a possible treatment for some cases of infertility??? That old article from my birth year states that there is at least some evidence that this may be true.

As to the potential effect on other areas of my life, I recently made the link between job dissatisfaction and SAD. As I recall, the apathy and daily battle to get out of bed for work were mostly during winter months. I think I would have appreciated and enjoyed my jobs more if I could see the light of day. Furthermore, I have frequently felt inadequate because I feel that I easily become inordinately stressed out about work. I have felt broken, weak, and a failure. The stress at work that I just couldn’t handle? I don’t think it was really that I was incompetent, but that my body was incapable of a healthy stress response and so I would just shut down. I would go home and go straight to bed, or even stay home from work in order to sleep.

I don’t know that I’ve articulated my case very well, but I’m going to wrap this post up anyway. I haven’t written this piece in one sitting, but I would like to publish it on the same day I started to write it so that I don’t run the risk of “the post that was never completed.”

One thing is for sure: I can never go back to how things were. My hypothesis may be completely incorrect and the antidote is something other than (or in addition to) sunlight.  But if I ever spend time in a geographical region with prolonged darkness, I will be taking precautions to safeguard my wellness and ensure  that I get adequate sunlight every day.

I wonder how many of my friends and family, how many of the folks reading this, would flourish- or at least feel like a better version of themselves- if, on a daily basis, they could step out into the light.

 

Photo credit: © 2018, Rodney Wehr. Cuenca, Ecuador