Sunday, January 25, 2009

How moving helped us breastfeed

This year my husband Quinn and I packed in enough change to turn our lives completely upside down. He finished his PhD and got a job in New Mexico, so we were in the throes of an incredibly disorganized move across the country when our son Calvin was born. A week and a half before Quinn was supposed to start his job we had yet to buy plane tickets, choose a mover, or even pack. We were getting used to life with a newborn, and it wasn’t going smoothly.

At his one week checkup we realized that he had lost over two pounds! I had been breastfeeding him, so it was impossible not to take it personally when the pediatrician pinched his skin where baby fat should have been and said he looked terrible. She told us to give him as much formula as he would take for the next twenty four hours, and not to breastfeed. “Pump if you want,” she said, as if my breastfeeding was already a failed enterprise, “but he needs calories right now.”

My confidence was shattered when I saw how grateful he was for the bottle. Worse, when I tried to pump I only got a few measly drops. No wonder he was dehydrated and starving. How were we going to fly him to Houston and then drive across the desert if I couldn’t even keep him fed when we were at home?

People I knew said things like “It’s OK if it doesn’t work out,” but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. We called a lactation consultant who said that I could increase my supply by pumping for five minutes every waking hour for the next day. During that time I could also breastfeed Calvin, but I would have to give him a bottle of formula or pumped milk afterward to make sure that he got enough.

It was exhausting. Between feeding him, pumping my breasts, preparing and washing bottles, then burping him, I was feeding him around the clock. But I could tell it was working. He was gaining weight and each time I pumped I got more milk.

When our flight was only two days away I was convinced that I was producing enough milk that I could stop supplementing and just feed him, but Quinn didn’t want to take any chances. It scared him when Calvin lost two pounds, and he didn’t want to let it happen again. He insisted that I keep giving him extra milk and formula after each feeding. Reluctantly, I agreed.

Our move was so ill-planned that we still hadn’t packed, so we frantically started throwing our belongings into boxes that we pilfered from the corner grocery store. Who would have thought that we had so much stuff jammed into our Manhattan studio apartment? We started in the morning, stayed up all night and into the next day. As the time came closer for the movers to arrive we started throwing away our things and I was constantly tripping over bottles and breast pump accessories. I realized what a terrible job we had done packing when we were at the JFK airport, tired, sore, and surrounded by ten suitcases. Our flight was cancelled because of snow. We had already handed in our apartment keys so we had to get all this stuff and a baby to a hotel.

Feeling miserable, I sat on the linoleum floor while Quinn stood in line to get us on a new flight, and put Calvin to my breast. As he ate I realized something – I hadn’t given him a bottle in over twelve hours. Without even realizing it, in the chaos of moving I had transitioned to exclusively breastfeeding my baby and he seemed perfectly content. Even though our move to New Mexico was stressful and awkward, breastfeeding was simple and elegant. I could do it anywhere, didn’t need any equipment, and gave me a chance to sit still and relax with my baby.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Cave" and "bat" are totally sayable for a baby. Stalactite and Stalagmites were fun to see and to hear about. We could tell that Calvin was having a wonderful time, clicking his tongue while he saw the sunlight for the last time before going underground.

There are lots of things to capture a baby's imagination in the cave. The rock foramtions looked like piles of ice cream, a whale's mouth, an iceberg and a city of gnomes, the sound of water dripping. Older kids can learn about chemical reactions.

We were all living vicariously through Calvin, who completely ignored rule #3- "keep your voice to a whisper because it echos." He spendt most of the time singing, grunting, clicking and talking. Enjoying the sound of his voice bounce off the walls and through the tunnels.

Warning: Hiking down from the natural entrance may be too hard for some kids because it's steep. If your kids are small or haven't hiked that far, you can take an elevator down and from there see the cool parts.

Entering the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns

I can't think of a better place to take kids than Carlsbad Caverns, in Carlsbad, NM. The caves are huge and gorgeous, and it's an amazing place to go at any age. It's free to get in until you're 15. There are tons of things to learn and talk about.

We entered the cave through the natural entrance, the gaping mouth of the cave. During certain times of the year hundreds of thousands of bats are in the cave, and they fly out at dusk and dawn, blackening the sky with their wings. They're in Peru (or some other country in South America) right now and so we just had to smell the bat guano as we went down the winding trail deep into the cave.

Calvin talking to us in Carlsbad Caverns

Calvin Broke Rule #3 at Carlsbad Caverns

Cave Wailing 1

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Calvin's Birthday Video

Calvin's birthday is January 21st. Check out this cute birthday video of Calvin.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I want Calvin to teach me to talk

I disagree with parents who say that you shouldn't talk baby talk with your baby. You know the type. They brag about how they always talked to their babies as if they were adults and by the time they were two they were reading aloud from Proust.

Pish posh, I say. Language is made up of little sounds put together and baby talk is a baby's way of experimenting and practicing making those sounds. I can talk to my baby like he's an adult all day, but the first time I got a reaction was when I started making fart noises while changing his diaper. He likes fart noises, and bee noises, and barks and whistles. He likes kazoo sounds and drum sounds.

And the noises that he makes to express joy make me wish that I was a baby with a chance to start all over with language. When he's pleasantly occupied, with a toy or an electrical chord, he makes a buzzing noise with his tongue. When he see's something that he thinks is neat, like a ceiling fan or an altar full of candles he says ha-Tah! and when he sees something that he's really impressed by, say, a Christmas tree or a carnival ride he lets out the heartiest Dang! I've ever heard.

I appreciate his sounds, and there are new ones every day. When he hears us copy him, even if he's doing something babyish, he feels good about his sounds and we let him know that we're listening.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Snake Safety

What do you do when you’re working in your garden and you see a six foot snake coiled in the bushes, shaking its tail? Most people freak out and hack it to death with a shovel only to find out that it was a bull snake, and not a rattlesnake.

Instead of putting yourself or an animal in danger, the best thing to do is call the police dispatcher at 662-8222. They have a list of several Wildlife Center volunteers who will come to your house to remove snakes. The safe capture and release program has been going on for over 15 years. Volunteers are trained by Tom Wyant, who has been handling rattlers for nearly thirty years.

People’s unrealistic fear of snakes is what motivated Wyant to get involved in the safe capture and release program.

The only way most non-venomous snakes can defend themselves is to act like they’re venomous. They can make their heads look more triangular, they can coil up, and they can puff up their bodies to look like a rattlesnake. They even shake their tails, which can sound like a rattlesnake if they’re in leaves or dry grass.

“A bull snake will do anything he can to make you think he’s a rattlesnake,” said Jim Finley, a volunteer who specializes in relocating snakes. Too often, this self-defense mechanism is what gets them killed by humans.

The only poisonous snakes in Los Alamos are rattlesnakes. There are diamondback rattlesnakes and prairie rattlesnakes. Because a prairie rattlesnake has a blotchy pattern on their back, they look like bull snakes. The best way to tell the difference between a rattlesnake and a bull snake is to look at the tail. Bull snakes have pointy tails while rattlesnake tails are blunt.

Another way to tell if a snake has venom is if its pupils are elliptical instead of round…not that you’d want to get close enough to find out.

If you do see a rattlesnake up close, freeze. They react to movement and can see heat radiating off exposed limbs. “You can’t move faster than a snake,” warns Finley. “But you can scream bloody murder and it won’t hurt anything, because they can’t hear.”

Before trying to get away, it’s crucial to divert the snake’s attention. If you’re with someone, get them to distract the snake and then move. If you’re alone, a hat might do the trick. Drop it by the snake and then move.

Venomous snakes are more likely to bite if they’re cornered or threatened. There are volunteers in Los Alamos and White Rock who specialize in relocating snakes without causing injury to the snake or to anyone in your family. If you see a snake in your yard, call them at 662-8222.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Teach kids about history and Geology at Bandelier

The trails at Bandelier National Monument are an ideal place to teach kids. The trails feature Ancestral Pueblo dwellings that have been carved out out Tuff formed by two volcanic eruptions 1.6 and 1.2 million years ago. Ladders lead up to these caves. The main loop trail is only one and a half miles, and the first section is paved and flat, so you can bring a stroller.

Park Rangers offer class tours designed for specific grade levels. CAll 505-672-3862.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

He feels safer on the trail than in his own crib

Hiking with Calvin has completely changed my idea of what makes babies feel relaxed and safe. He goes crazy if he's cooped up too much. Maybe he's bored.

When he was about a month old we took him on the Blue Dot, a hike that cuts down the side of a rocky cliff, through a Juniper forest to the bank of the Rio Grand. He rode in the carrier chattering, giggling and sleeping. We carried a bunch of water bottles, and I breastfed him when we got to the river and changed his diaper on smooth rocks. When we got back to the car we realized that we had been gone for five hours, and he didn't cry the entire time.

After the hike we thought we would relax by going to a warm comfortable restaurant. As soon as we sat down in the booth he started freaking out, and we spent the entire meal trying to calm him down. He was more comfortable in the desert than inside with mashed sweet potatoes.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Following ancient footprints on the Tsankawi Trail

Yesterday we checked out the Tsankawi Trail, part of Bandelier National Park, but 12 miles away just outside of White Rock, NM. Calvin is officially too big to fit in the Bjorn, so we had to use the backpack, which he loves.

This trail has been used by people for so long that a perfect groove about a foot deep has been worn into the side of the mesa. Part of the trail you can see footprints worn into the volcanic rock. The people liked to live there because it was easy to build houses in the caves, formed from the volcanic tuff. There are still petroglyphs in the side of the rock. We had to climb a narrow stairway that cut through the rock. Calvin reached to the side smacking the rocks.

When we got to the top of the mesa, Calvin conked out. When he falls asleep he leans so far to the right that you think he might fall out. There was a couple of inches of snow on the ground and it was kind of slippery. After walking the length of the cliff, we realized that we had to go down a narrow groove of rocks and scale a 20 foot ladder to get down. Quinn had Calvin, who was still asleep and leaning out of the backpack. We thought about turning around, but then Quinn went for it.

I could barely watch as he went down the ladder, it looked so dangerous. Calvin must feel safe as long as he's near a parent, regardless of what they happen to be doing. But they got down, and it was my turn to go down. After the ladder we followed ancient foot trails. Ice had formed in the grooves, making them as slippery as bobsled runs.

The trail guide had a comment, something along the lines of "imagine doing this trail every day with a young baby like the women who lived here." It was very easy to imagine.