This past Friday marked three months since my little Essley girl made me a mother. Three incredible months. Three exhausting months. Three months of diaper blow-outs and projectile vomit, drool and crying fits. Three months of simple yet unforgettable memories, made up of first smiles and laughs, coos and delighted screams, dancing legs and flapping arms and countless discoveries both of herself and the world around her. Three months since I last had a decent night sleep, and despite a brain that consistently works at half capacity now, I think I'm almost cool with that. Three months of tiny, everyday baby moments that I never could have fathomed would interest me like they do - moments that would likely bore most, but that thrill me to my core and make my heart feel on the edge of explosion multiple times a day.
After these first three months, I can safely say that I'm starting to feel more comfortable with this mothering thing, although I don't claim to know what I'm doing at all (and possibly may never have the answers). In my one month update, I talked a lot about the challenges of having a newborn, and in my second month update, I mentioned that those challenges hadn't really changed. Well they still haven't, for the most part, but I'm slowly discovering ways to break them down into smaller pieces and come up with solutions for the bits rather than the big scary wholes. My peace of mind comes from help from family and friends (that whole 'it takes a village' thing is no lie), finding small pieces of 'me time' in between the chaos, the occasional nights where I get adequate sleep, and continuing to be flexible with both my work schedule and life schedule. My daughter is still (and always will be, I'm fairly certain) #1, and the rest revolves around that. The bills must also still be paid but if that means answering emails with one hand while I have a baby on the boob or working on a project from 1-4 AM while she's in her soundest sleep, then that's what happens. And I know now that that is totally okay.
As for my take on parenting after three whole months, here's the truth. I've given up on plans to read all the books and take all the advice you guys. There's a lot of greatness to these things and there is also a lot of contradiction, and the biggest lesson I've learned is that you just need to experience it for yourself and find out what works for you along the way. Every baby is different, every parent is different, and every lifestyle is different, and there just isn't one universal way that works for us all. Period. I'll confess that truly accepting this was a massive challenge for me for the first couple of months, because I was absolutely sure that in order to maintain my plan to be the best mom in the whole universe, I would have to devour every guide, article, and documentary on parenting techniques and follow them with all of my might or else Essley would grow up to be a horrible person with a myriad of health problems and mental issues. But eventually, I decided that I was going to give in and embrace what worked for us and stop freaking trying so hard already. I do use books, the internet, and friends as guides and reference points in my journey, but I've found that keeping an open mind and staying in tune with Essley as much as I can is the best path for me to follow.
Our happy place seems to be a laid back approach (so not like me but I'm learning) mixed with an unforced kind of structure. From research and the grapevine I've learned that there exists three main schools of thought when it comes to taking care of a baby, especially in terms of feeding, sleeping, and eventually, weaning: 'parent-led,' 'baby-led,' and 'combination.' If I had to choose one of these to define our approach (although I'd rather not be defined by any of them, if we're being honest here) I'd say 'combination' leaning toward 'baby-led.' Because I work from home, and my husband works on the road, we have a schedule that is both open and unstable, which is, in turn, both good and bad. It's admittedly much easier for us not to have to adhere to a strict schedule because neither parent starts work at the same time everyday, or is even in the same place everyday. This allows for us (me all the time, and my husband when he's not on the road) to work with Essley's needs and her natural schedule. I feed her when she's hungry, I put her down to sleep when she's tired, etc. On the flip side, our unusual situation makes it difficult to create structure, which is important to a baby's development. So I throw a little schedule into it all, by doing things like making sure to feed her every two to four hours during waking hours and one to three times during the night (if I'm lucky, just once), paying attention to her napping schedule and waking her up if she's sleeping too long too late in the day, and creating a routine before bed (change into jammies, nurse, and read a book) so she associates it with bedtime. I've also sort of started 'sleeping training' (for lack of a better term, because I'm not sure I like that one), but very loosely. I do try to put her up in her co-sleeper in our room around the same time every night and turn the monitor on, but if she eventually wakes up and cries (which almost always happens), I come help her get back to sleep. This can mean everything from putting a pacifier in her mouth to swaddling to nursing to bringing her back downstairs and putting her in the Pack N' Play or swing if all else fails. I don't know when she'll start sleeping in her nursery, but I have a feeling that we'll know when it's the right time. Paying attention to the signs, learning as we go, finding our own way to happily make things work for us as a family, and being aware that things can change at any time - that's our parenting technique.
Now that I'm done with all of the deep stuff, here's the rest of the what happened in Essley's third month, in one long, run-on sentence. She went to Arizona with me at eleven weeks and did great on both flights (and she's headed out for her first road trip with me this weekend), she met all of her cousins, she went for her first walks outside and loved them, she started to tolerate tummy time for slightly longer peiods (but still hates it; see final paragraph), she measured average weight but in the 75th percentile for height and is already too long for most of her three month clothes, she laughed for the first time, she discovered an undying love for the 'Elmo's Song' video (don't worry, we're not bombarding our baby with television), she went to work with daddy again (this time for a rock show instead of just a sound check), she turned into a morning person (most unlike her parents) guaranteed to shower you with gummy smiles and high-pitched shrieks for at least a half hour upon waking, she became incredibly alert and interested in everything around her, she discovered how to self-soothe (via sucking on her little fist), she learned to sit up while propped and hold her head high, her eyes turned from blue to hazel, and she became even more awesome, which we certainly didn't think was possible.
So that's that. The third glorious month has come and gone, and now I have a baby who can officially no longer be classified as a newborn. Crazy. Also, I think I am finally ready to sit down and type out our birth story. When that actually happens, of course, depends on when I can get a few solid hours of time alone with my laptop and a clear, well-rested brain, but I think it will happen sooner than later.
And finally, after I went on about how every baby/parent/situation is different and that no advice works for everyone, I'm going to ask for some advice - or rather your experiences - on two things. The first is tummy time. This kid hates it with a passion, so matter how many funny faces we make or cheerful songs we sing or colorful toys we wave in front of her red, screaming face. Any suggestions there? The second is our baby wearing and carrier situation. I wanted to wear this baby like there was no tomorrow, I really did, but she just isn't into wraps or slings no matter how hard I try, and now that she's too big for the Ergo's infant insert, she doesn't seem comfortable in that, either. The main thing is that she wants to face out (I know, I know, it's bad for their little hips, and we can't do it), and she acts all sorts of smothered and starts head-butting my chest when I put her in it now. We're thinking that maybe she's just not quite big enough for it without the insert yet, and that hopefully we can make it work in a few weeks. But I'm interested in knowing if anyone else's babes disliked facing inward and how they got through it?
If you are still reading this, you are the best. Seriously. I didn't intend for this to turn into such a long post, but I'm really glad I wrote it (thank you for this amazing two hour nap you're taking, Essley). I like that now I'll be able to go back and read about that one time where I learned to surrender to the damn flow and stop fighting a 'just pay attention and go with it' parenting approach. I also like that down the road, I will be able to come back here and read about my daughter's final month as a newborn. And by sharing my own experience, I also want to maybe be able to help others who feel initially guilty or disappointed by their lack of following every single method and/or book and/or guide and/or piece of parenting advice. I really, really believe that each of us who is a new parent (or new aunt/uncle, or new grandparent, or even friend of a new parent) has the ability inside to figure it out and do a great job, as long as you follow your instincts and love that creature with all of your heart. It's cheesy but it's true. And now I'm off to nurse and snuggle my little three month old who, for once, decided to wake up at just the right time. I can't wait to see what else she has to teach me today.