Right in between Christmas day and my birthday, there quietly passed the one month mark of having little baby Jackson here with us. We spent the day sleeping and eating, crying and gazing, getting clean and messy again. Which is basically exactly what’s been going on all month. In fact, the month sort of seems like one continuous day with such little winter daylight and fractured newborn sleeping patterns.
The real surprise of labor was how quickly I jumped from laboring and pushing right into soothing and nourishing. From the moment they placed that slippery little bundle on my chest, and the pain and fatigue magically faded, we’ve been slowly finding our way together, getting to know one another.
Jackson was a good sized baby—7 pounds 14 ounces, 21 1/2 inches—and had a full head of dark hair with dark blue eyes that might change any day to my own blue-green-gray or Evan’s brown. He looks remarkably like I did as an infant. He hates being cold, particularly during diaper changes. He tolerates being swaddled, if he’s already asleep, but is always trying to get his hands free.
He has almost invisible blond eyebrows that arch and furrow like he has a lot of opinions about the world. He also had a small tongue tie, and he was most happy sleeping skin to skin. Those last two facts shaped a lot of our early joys and challenges.
Fortunately a few days before I gave birth, I re-read a great article about the importance of extended skin to skin time after birth, so I felt good about snuggling my little diapered baby in with me as he slept. The challenge was getting me some sleep. The hospital officially did not approve of co-sleeping. They have this chart on your bathroom door where the nurse tech is supposed to look into your room once an hour and record whether the baby is in a safe location (i.e. the bassinet or in the arms of an awake person.) So not 12 hours into this new chapter of motherhood, my rule bound little self had a problem: would I follow the (reasonable) hospital rules, or would I follow my instincts to keep my baby close?
In the end, I sort of found a middle way, trading off holding Jackson with Evan and occasionally taking advantage of the nurse’s mad-swaddling skills to get some deep sleep. But there were a lot of tears and anxiety about it. Evan, who didn’t notice the chart and has a temperament that is considerably less anxious about rule following, was wonderfully confident in our ability to care for this little bundle even when I was torn.
In the end I think that Jackson slept in his bassinet about 8 hours over our 60 hour postpartum stay at the hospital, but otherwise was snuggled up with one of us. All this skin to skin time turned out to be really helpful in dealing with the tongue tie.
I had done a lot of reading and talking to friends about breastfeeding and tongue ties, so I felt moderately prepared. And by “moderately prepared” I mean that I just started to ask the myriad of nurses and doctors who I saw at the ungodly early hours of Thanksgiving morning when I could see a lactation consultant. I prayed a lot the last month that we would have a really good nurse, and we did have some really lovely nurses, but we had an angel of an IBLCE lactation consultant named Mary. She was the perfect combination of calm and encouraging, experienced and knowledgeable.
Around nine on Thanksgiving morning, Mary agreed that Jackson had a tongue tie and a poor sucking reflex, and said if he wasn’t really nursing by the early afternoon, she’d teach me to hand express colostrum and feed it to Jackson on a spoon, and if he still wasn’t nursing by the next morning we’d start to pump—both of which we needed to do. She gathered referrals for an ENT to clip his tongue tie that Monday, and an occupational therapist who also did craniosacral therapy to help him learn not to “move milk with his jaw” (i.e. chew on me) for the following Friday.
The most encouraging thing was that Mary really thought that all the skin to skin time that we had done allowed my milk to come in even though Jackson wasn’t really able or willing to nurse at first. It was so great to know that my intuition about caring for him, even though it wasn’t an easy choice, was what he needed. (And no one said a word about us holding him so much, the nurse tech just checked all the boxes on our chart that said he was perfectly safe in our arms.)
We left the hospital with several ounces of expressed colostrum and an appointment for the tongue tie revision as well as some “injured tissue” (that’s how they refer to cracked and bleeding nipples) and on my way to be rather engorged (distinctly unpleasant). But with the help of our craniosacral therapist, Cheryl, and wonderful chiropractor Dr. Sara, a couple of packets of Lansinoh Soothies Gel Pads, a prescription for Dr. Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment, and the “football hold,” we’ve both been making great strides in learning to breastfeed well. At Jackson’s one month appointment he had gained more than 2 1/2 pounds, so he’s definitely getting enough milk!
I keep thinking about how much support and experience I have had as a first time mom: I nannied two different babies both starting at 8 weeks, and had amazing family help for the first two weeks, an abundance of meals from friends, great medical care providers, comprehensive insurance, a supportive spouse who took paternity leave, a lot of knowledge from years of reading widely both books and blogs about caring for babies, plus a good birth and a fairly easy baby… and still it’s hard. It truly is exhausting work — exhilarating, wonderful, beautiful, exhausting work.
In some ways this has been our most low key Christmas ever. Evan and I didn’t exchange gifts, and we didn’t put up our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. But in other ways, it is the most abundant holiday we’ve ever had. First the gifts have poured in for Jackson—blankets and stuffed animals, clothes and money. People are so excited for us and for him; it’s over-the-top generosity. Then there is the blessing of Jackson himself—with his expressive little eyebrows, and thinning head of dark baby hair, and his little pink tongue stretching out past his lips post tongue-tie revision.
I think that I’ll never forget holding my newborn son at a Christmas Eve service listening to songs and scriptures and mediation on God’s newborn son. Jackson is a small picture of what hopes and dreams and longed for love look like when they arrive in a tiny baby.
May the end of your Christmastide be blessed and restful!
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