Not a sleep whisperer

I spend a good chunk of my day convincing little humans that sleep is a good idea. The other day, as I was prematurely patting myself on the back for getting all 3 kids to nap at the same time, my two oldest decided they were simply going to skip their naps. Of course, they were little (cute) monsters by the end of the day.

Right now, I’m struggling most with my middle child. He has recently started to extensively delay bedtime. He wants ten stories, ten songs, a million cuddles. Every time we acquiesce, he asks for more. After all of the above, he started asking for more lights on (we already have a nightlight). So we started with one, then two (after all, if he was truly afraid we didn’t want to be the mean parents who ignored this). This was enough for a bit but then the demands escalated. He wanted all the lights on but then also wanted us to hold him to sleep. The thing is, we’ve been down this path before. With both of our older children, we’ve always given in, and then regretted it some time later. Who doesn’t love the feel of their young child against them, all chubby cheeks and fat fingers, warm breath on your shoulder, kissing your cheek and saying “I love you, mommy”. I mean, what could be more precious? But it is hard to tack on an additional two hours for bedtime after a day packed with activities and attention doled singularly on the children. That extra times leaves us extra wiped, so we bring even less to our relationship, our home, and our work. And I am a firm believer in children needing to get a good night’s (or nap’s) sleep! When our kids put themselves to sleep, they fall asleep more quickly and wake up better rested.

This is on my hand because my middle child just cried himself to sleep for nap time. He only cried for five minutes or so, but it of course broke my mama heart. In truth, if I didn’t have a third child currently strapped to my chest for his own nap (we are visiting family and my oldest is sleeping in my room, where the crib is), I would probably just hold the kid to sleep. Again-who doesn’t love that feeling? So there’s the added guilt of attention being taken away from him by the baby. But we did try the “cuddle to sleep” method the last two days and he just ended up giggling, playing, and essentially doing everything BUT sleeping.

I reached out to our sleep consultant this week (honestly, at this point I should just have her on retainer) and she advised that if the gentle approaches weren’t working, to firmly return to business as usual. She advised either letting him cry or spending less and less time in the room with less and less physical or verbal interaction. The latter sounds like it would be torture to do, so we have settled to let him cry. Bedtime has improved dramatically (still delays, but not as many demands and we haven’t had tears for a few days). Naptime has proven to be more difficult, perhaps because there is less sleep inertia and it involves taking a break from playtime. I joked with our sleep consultant that I should print out a frame with “When in doubt, cry it out” for the nursery, because this seems to be what we resort to after a few days of failing at every other approach. Her philosophy, at least with our family/children, has always been: if baby/toddler/child is dry, fed, healthy, has gone to the bathroom and if you’ve addressed all of their fears, questions, and concerns, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to sleep by themselves.

I recognize this is a very Western philosophy. It is very foreign to my mom, who always had children in bed with her. In truth, our youngest (almost 4 months now) has spent more time in bed with me than I’d like to admit. This is mostly because I’m so exhausted when he wakes to feed that I accidentally fall asleep with him. I sleep alone (poor hubby has been banished to the guest room for this reason), with no extra pillows, blankets, or throws. I wear warm clothing so as not to cover myself and make sure the baby’s unswaddled and in the very center of the bed. It always fills me with great trepidation, despite all of these measures. For us, the main reason we haven’t intentionally shared a bed is fear. The second reason is that it’s been really important for my husband and I to have adult time after the kids go to sleep. We are not perfect in this regard, as I often allow housework or work work to bleed into our time, but it is theoretically more possible if there is no child in our room.

I’ll end on a positive note: my 4 year old has become a much better sleeper with time. He was our crazy colicky baby who refused to sleep on his back and had us up every twenty minutes as a newborn. We held him to sleep for naps until he was almost 3! But now this very same child will tell us he’s tired (before nap or at bedtime) and then go to sleep by himself. He sometimes needs a bit of encouragement when it comes to changing into PJs, but then he’ll happily settle in under the covers with his stuffed animal and put himself to sleep with no extra support. If you had told me this four years ago, I would have never believed it. It’s amazing how children change over time.

One of the greatest challenges of parenthood has, for me, been sleep. There are a good days and bad days, but definitely lots of sleepless nights, sleep regressions, and changes – potty training, separation anxiety, nightmares, travel, teething, etc., etc., etc., which seem to knock the schedule right off its track. But one day, these little humans will become (really) big boys, and then I will probably be nagging them for sleeping TOO much. Funny how things work. For now, I’ll try my hardest to revel in the baby snuggles and to try to focus less on the naptime/bedtime snuggles. However, I will never sleep when the baby’s sleeping, because when else would I get anything done!?

Chaos coordinator

I’m 3 weeks into having three children (one day I’ll get around to sharing the birth story, but for now I’ll just say: the baby was not born in the car and I was able to get an epidural, which is seriously the best medical innovation to date) and it is absolute chaos.

Let’s discuss some of the ridiculous things that have happened since bringing our baby home:

  • Our middle child, Y, bit new baby’s Z finger when he was only a few days old. Seriously kid!? Fortunately Z was okay, but it was a clear sign that Y was not going to warm up to him easily. We’ve since made sure that Y has a bit more one-on-one time with everyone, and we continue to call him our baby. He has since only given him lots of kisses, so perhaps our approach is working.
  • Z was not sleeping at all the first few days (and, truth be told, is not sleeping great now, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt since he’s still a newborn). I should clarify: he would sleep just fine as long as he nursed the whole time and/or I held him. We ended up hiring a night nanny, who came highly recommended by two friends. We had her spend 3 weekend nights with us so we could be as well-rested as possible for the big kids during the day. It was incredibly helpful (even though I still had to wake up every 2-3 hours to feed the baby), but on the third night we caught her catching a snooze with our baby on the couch next to her! As my husband would say: “Seriously!? You have one job.” So we don’t have a night nanny anymore. But Z is cooperating and starting to sleep a bit at night. We can usually get one or two 2-2.5 hr stretches. I believe there was one night when we got two 3 hr stretches. Glorious!
  • I took Z out with me to a store the other day, when he was 2 wks old. I’ve been trying to lay low and not exert myself too much (also trying to keep Z away from germs), but I have unfortunately had a few time-sensitive errands to run. On this particular day, Z bawled his eyes out in the car (his M.O.). After we parked, I was trying to load up the stroller quickly so that I could pick up the wailing newborn. I thought I had closed our SUV’s trunk, and didn’t see that it had ricocheted back to half-open due to an umbrella stroller wheel sticking out the back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t looking up when I walked behind the car again and I ran straight into the side of trunk door. It was a pretty good blow, but when I touched my hand to my head to feel it, I was still surprised to see my hand coated with blood. OMG. My husband was at work, my mom was at home with Y, and I was bleeding from my head in the middle of a parking lot 30 minutes from home, with a wailing newborn still buckled into his carseat in the car. The whole thing was ridiculous. I ended up keeping my appointment at the store (I’m sure the woman working there thought I was insane coming in with a newborn with a blood-soaked Kleenex pressed against my head, asking whether I could use their bathroom to clean out my wound). I called one of my surgical colleagues right away and asked whether she had time to squeeze me in that day because I was pretty sure I needed stitches. And that’s how my quick errand turning into an afternoon spent in my clinic getting stitches. Silver lining: at least this happened on my scalp, where the scar will be hidden by my hair, and not on my forehead!
  • Negotiating 3 sleep schedules has been tough. As I mentioned, Z is not sleeping great. X has woken up really early a few days (e.g. 5:30am). I wouldn’t care if he could just sit quietly in bed, but he usually uses the restroom and calls someone to wipe him (so that’s one adult who needs to wake up) and then he goes back into his room, usually noisily, and wakes up Y (since they are now sharing a room). I also wouldn’t care about this if Y was a morning person, but he likes to sleep in, so this automatically makes for a cranky pants morning. Y still takes long naps (3 hours) so we pick him up after a half day of “preschool” and let him snooze at home. Honestly, it would be much easier to have him stay at school all day as opposed to driving to this school three times per day (drop-off for both kids, pick-up for Y mid-day, pick-up for X end of day), but the times we’ve tried a full day of school (including today) have been an absolute disaster. Y is a zombie and in a TERRIBLE mood, so it’s honestly more miserable than taking an extra drive mid-day. Just a few nights ago, I had finally settled Z out of my arms and into the Rock ‘N Play. Then, all of a sudden, I hear crying coming from X&Y’s room (it’s around 9:30pm so this shouldn’t be happening since they had fallen asleep some time before). I check out the Nest Cam and see that Y is standing up in his crib bawling. Oh no. If he wakes up X, we’re going to have a problem. And why is he up crying!? I rush into the room to make sure he doesn’t have a dirty diaper or a fever. Negative on both counts. I carry him out of the room to comfort him and then tell him calmly that he’s going to have to sleep in his crib tonight. That doesn’t go over very well. Ultimately, I let him cry it out in his crib and spend the whole time praying that X doesn’t wake up. By some miracle, he does not, and Y settles to sleep after a few minutes. And, of course, Z wakes up just a bit after that.
  • Family outings are a nightmare. I’m serious! It takes forever for us to get out of the house and we seriously need a rolling suitcase as opposed to a diaper bag whenever we leave. My mom has been in town, so right now we have a 1 adult to 1 child ratio. However, when she leaves, we are going to be in big trouble! X and Y always seem to dart in different directions. Z has blowouts literally only when we are out somewhere! And without fail someone will throw a tantrum.

In sum, things are crazy. I feel like I am barely surviving when all 3 kids are home. That being said, I would choose to have a third child a million times over. I love the chaos and would honestly love a fourth child (crazy, right? Pretty sure there’s no way to convince my husband that this would be a good idea). I also know that these days are fleeting. In just a blink they’ll be teenagers, looking for ways to escape into their rooms. So I’ll enjoy the endless cuddles, each boy vying for mom’s attentions. And I’ll even take the tantrums, tears, and sibling rivalry.

The worst date I ever had

The worst date I ever had was in my early 20s. It was even worse than that one first date where, within 10 minutes, this particular gem told me that he didn’t drink alcohol because he was a recovered alcoholic and, by the way, he was married.

I had been dating someone for approximately one year. It was essentially a long-distance relationship since he ended school one year earlier than I did. Perhaps this is why it lasted a year – we had a brief honeymoon period in college and the following summer, then spent most of the year shuttling back and forth, but not necessarily doing the day to day drudgery of dating life. So it never got old…until it did.

I was finally moving to the same city – hurrah! I was so excited, and assumed he must be as well. I distinctly recall making a reservation at a well-known steakhouse recommended to me by one of my best friends, who’s father was in the meat industry. This is probably a good place to mention that I am a vegetarian. So, in essence, I was setting up a date at a place I would never step into by my own volition, because I knew how much this guy liked meat, and I wanted one of our first dates in the city – our city – to be special.

The dinner was very awkward. He was more reticent than usual, and I had a feeling something was going on, but wasn’t quite sure what. At the end of the dinner, he managed to spit it out: this wasn’t working, he didn’t feel the same way he had, I deserved better, blah blah blah.

I was shocked. Time felt like it had stopped. I couldn’t believe my ears.

In retrospect, our relationship had very little substance and mostly involved drinking and hanging out with his friends, but I was in my early 20s which resulted in my being completely shocked that two completely incompatible people weren’t going to result in forever. After the shock, came sadness and anger. I remember standing outside of the restaurant trying to fight back tears – I couldn’t believe what was happening. I recall him stumbling over his words, not really sure what to say and I’m sure just dying to escape from this awkward situation.

It’s funny, the details are so fuzzy now, but at the time it felt like the world was ending.

I remember crying all of the way to the subway. Fortunately, one of my best friends was hanging out in the city and I called her to meet me at the train so that we could ride home together. She later told me that I was crying so hard she could barely hear a word I said, but knew it had to be bad.

And that was our breakup. I never quite had the closure I wanted but time slowly erased the need for closure. His best friend told me that was just the way he was, she was sorry. His sister told me she liked me better without him. And one day, many months later, we met for a drink. I don’t recall the details of that meeting so well, but we had a nice conversation and it overall ended on a good note, although I never received any straightforward answer as to why he had broken up with me.

Years later, I found out that he was an alcoholic. In reality, he was an alcoholic when we dated but we were in college and drinking irresponsibly didn’t exactly raise any red flags during that time. He faced some significant medical problems as a result of his alcoholism and years later died quite young. I still don’t know the exact cause of death (I never felt like it was my place to pry) but I do hope that his family and friends have the closure they deserve, as they are all wonderful people, as was he. He did me a favor when he broke up with me, by ending a relationship between two utterly incompatible people before I felt ready to do so. At the time, I didn’t see this, but now it is clear as day.

The point of this story is this: hindsight is 20/20. The worst date, the worst day, the worst event of your life may, in certain cases, be blurred into just another story on a page by the slow passage of time.

Grateful for

My parents grew up poor. Rationing food, wearing hand-me-downs, and walking to school in broken shoes poor. On Christmas Day, the well-off kids would show off their fancy toys and my parents, ashamed, would hide their knick-knacks and knock-off toys for fear of being teased.

To this day, my mom (now well-off), still hoards plastic bags from the grocery store to re-use in the home. She clips coupons and visits five different stores to find the best deal. She keeps clothing from twenty years ago because, who knows, she might wear it one day.

My father used to collect any money he could to buy a candy bar at the store. Years later, one of my earliest memories is stopping at a gas station to buy a Snickers bar, simply because he could. We snacked on our bars at 11 o’clock at night (this was the 80’s, people, there was less judgment around child-rearing) and listened to music on an 8-track player.

Because my parents grew up poor, they never wanted my brother and I to grow up wanting for anything. We lived in a working class suburb in my early childhood and my parents scrapped together jobs – delivering pizzas, working overnight at a factory, serving as senior home aides – to make money until they could obtain their professional licenses and move into the middle class.

Now that I have kids, my parents spoil them as well. My kids have too many things and we do our best to dwindle down the piles, to explain to our kids why they can’t buy everything, to have them understand that there are children out there who don’t have the opportunity to own allofthethings – ultimately, to have them understand that things are just things, and there is no end to the hedonic treadmill.

In my experience, it’s easier for someone who comes from modest means to understand why they can’t have everything, and to be grateful for what they do have. I wonder how I will teach my children, who are being raised in a bubble, the art of gratitude, grace, modesty.

Trying to conceive

My two attempts at becoming pregnant went something like this:

Pregnancy #1: Got married, starting trying to conceive (TTC), started to think that I most likely had hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), was diagnosed with HA, underwent fertility treatment and became pregnant almost 21 months after we started trying. Those are the facts. The reality is that it was an emotional rollercoaster – hope, anxiety, disappointment, anger, sadness. And most of all, terrible fear that I would never be able to have a child.

Pregnancy #2: Oldest was 11 months, period came back naturally (hurrah), and the next month it didn’t come. I naturally thought my HA had returned (especially because I had a negative pregnancy test at 35 days), but I was actually pregnant. Second hurrah! I literally had to do nothing and I pretty much worried 0% about getting pregnant that time around.

And now, here I am. 16 months post-partum (!) and I had expected to be pregnant by now. Although I initially thought my second should have a few more months of being the baby than my first did, I really did want them fairly close together. But now, if we do get pregnant, my last two would be >2 years apart. This bothers me.

It probably bothers me because I am a Type A person and want everything my way. But it also bothers me because I am afraid that maybe it will not be easy for me to become pregnant again. I’m conflicted on this point. First, I feel somewhat selfish for wanting a third child. Is this normal? I have two perfectly healthy children! Our lives are FULL. It’s not like we have oodles of time to fit a third child into the mix. I think about people who are going through infertility struggles for the first time, and I feel terrible for having this blessing and wanting more. How greedy of me! Second, it’s giving me more time to think about logistics, and I don’t want to be dissuaded from our decision to have a third. Financially, emotionally, etc., does it make sense to have a third child?

What it boils down to is this: if we can’t become pregnant naturally (and if we are not able to, I am not sure that I know the reason because I am nowhere in HA land and cycling naturally), would we go down the infertility work-up/treatment road? I don’t know the answer to that.

But this third attempt is bringing up a lot of emotions from my first attempt, and the synopsis of my month is as follows:

Week 1: period is here, wah(!), lots of negative emotions closely followed by attempts at positive thinking and planning for the upcoming cycle (fertility window is X and baby would be born on Y)

Week 2: TTC

Week 3: More TTC, then the 2 week wait begins. This week feels like the calm before the storm – anything is possible but nothing can be done to change what’s coming down the pipeline.

Week 4: Time to type every symptom into Google to see whether it could herald a pregnancy (AND I’m a doctor AND I’m been pregnant twice!). Is nasal congestion a sign of pregnancy? How about back pain? Cramping? Bloating? What about spotting for 5 days…oh wait, that’s just my period.

And the cycle starts again. What else can I say except that it sucks. I think about myself ~5 years ago, feeling so dejected and low. I remember sitting on my “meditation” mat where I was supposed to relax with incense and practice Yoga for Fertility, except I was sobbing. It was a hard, hard time. This time, it is not as hard because the stakes are lower and part of me does feel crazy for wanting to add a third to the chaos of my life. I also do feel incredibly fortunate to be cycling naturally (without birth control) for the first time since high school!

But I am still sitting here wondering whether the new acne I’ve noticed and the low-grade back pain I’m experiencing could have anything to do with pregnancy…and what will I do next week if it is instead a sign of my period?

Just okay

These two articles really resonated with me. One from today’s New York Times and another from a blog, written some time ago.

Am I okay with a mediocre life? All of my life I have been an overachiever. In fourth grade, we were assigned a state and we had to write a paper on that state by the end of the year. This was in the early days of the Internet. In order to write a paper, you actually had to go to the library, use the Dewey decimal system, find your books, take notes, and then write. I vividly recall freaking out in December because I was worried that my paper, due in May, would not be completed in time.

One of my earliest friends recalls a transportation presentation that I blew out of the park in sixth grade – she still talks about it to this day, and it is probably the only reason we became friends.

In eight grade, I swept the middle school award assembly – my name seemed to be called after every category. It was almost comical.

I could go on, but in sum: everything honors, AP classes, SATs, Ivy League, MCATs, medical school, matching into a competitive residency, academic practice.

And here I am today: a husband, two kids, a home of our own, great careers, good health. I’m happy, but I’m not sure if I should be wanting more. I see people around me opening up their own practices, starting their own companies, becoming Insta-famous, working as media experts, creating ground-breaking innovations, involved in amazing research, and on and on. It all looks and sounds great but sometimes the thought of it just makes me tired (it may be the thought but also highly likely that it’s the kids). I like my quiet life: quality time with family, taking great care of my patients, teaching residents and medical students, barebones social media presence, just trying to be better every day.

Is this enough? It sure feels like it, but does this mean that I am done being an overachiever? When is it okay to stop wanting more? For someone constantly in motion, when is it okay to stop and just be?

Magical thinking

Two months after my (now) husband and I met, we spent a weekend at a vegan B&B in Vermont. We went to a very crunchy college and I was still, at 3 years out, in a very crunchy phase of my life. There was a terrible winter storm that weekend, but we braved the drive. Once in Vermont, we encountered a small narrow bridge. On the other side of that bridge was a sharp turn. It was impossible to see what was approaching from around the bend. Since we had just met, I was still allowed to drive, and my husband was keeping his backseat driving in check. I said: “That’s a tiny bridge! The last thing we need is for a Hummer to come around that bend.” No less than 20 seconds later, a Hummer came around the bend to cross the bridge. I couldn’t believe it! My husband will say that this was just a coincidence, but I see it as an example of the magic that is all around us. I mean, what are the chances that at that exact moment a Hummer – of all cars! – would appear out of nowhere?