I have been so busy during this holiday season, and have really taken on more projects than I can keep up with, blog included. Rest assured, I have several wonderful toddler activities to post for the new year! Until then, I'll leave you with a little holiday cheer.
And finally, busy little helpers need frequent breaks!
"Sleep-sharing babies get the message "I'm just as valuable to be next to at night as I am during the day. I belong to someone twenty-four hours a day." - Dr. William Sears, M.D.
One of my favorite things about my new family is sharing sleep. There is nothing better than sleeping baby snuggles. Western culture seems to insist that parents and babies should be separated, most especially at night. Mothers are encouraged to ignore their instincts and to focus on teaching their baby independence, as if it isn't a milestone that comes naturally. I sometimes imagine what life would be like for a mother who has to jump out of bed in the morning or in the middle of the night to comfort a crying baby.
At brightly living headquarters, our nights, and our mornings, do not look like this. They look leisurely, natural, lazy. I wake up to a sleeping Bee and I'm free to watch her. I take in all of the moments I'd miss if we were sleeping alone. Things like her laughing and smiling through dreams, or her stirring slightly and settling when she reaches out to touch me. I can see her chest rise with mine, our breathing patterns completely in sync, we are totally relaxed and secure in our attachment. She does not cry when she wakes, she smiles. We are each other's first sensory experience every day. I feel her warm body against mine, I hear her breathing, I smell her lavender washed hair from the previous night's bath, I see her. It's our only time to be completely together without interruption.
"When babies sleep with or near their parents, especially mom, they are not being spoiled, they are being made to feel secure and accepted." - Dr. Lendon Smith, M.D.
Aside from being a perfectly practical parenting tool, and from enabling me to spend an extra 3,000+ hours of skin to skin time with my sweet bee, the family bed also has granted me the peace of mind in knowing that my baby is safe and that her needs are met. It's a security that I've never felt as thankful for as I do now. Last week, while Bee was sleeping soundly, I noticed an episode of apnea where she stopped breathing in her sleep. It seemed like the whole room stood still while I leaned in close to listen. There was nothing. I placed my hand on her stomach and chest, still, nothing. No rising movements, no air moving in or out, no inhaling, no exhaling. I was terrified, but I waited a moment, thinking the pause may be normal. I counted to three, to five, to ten. Nothing. I shook her, and she startled awake taking in a very deep gasp of air. She looked pale.
I called her Doctor that morning and he us saw right away. He checked her throat for obstructions and did not see anything. He referred us to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who saw us the next morning. He's ordered a sleep study to check for something called Central Sleep Apnea. We haven't had the sleep study yet, and we haven't had any changes in our sleeping pattern. I've continued to keep her close and sleep with her. I've thought back to the moment when she stopped breathing and there's a horrible rush of panic when I imagine what could have happened if I wasn't right there. If she was in a crib, in another room, not in my arms. What's worse is I can vaguely recall other moments in her life where I've felt like this has happened, but was quick to write it off as I was half asleep, or just overly paranoid. Last week, though, there was no mistaking it and no denying that it happened.
I will know more once the sleep study is completed, but on this day, Bee's first Thanksgiving, I feel obliged to write this entry. I feel obligated to share for other mothers who may second guess their instinct to keep their babies close. Who may be feeling the effects of a lack of sleep, or the constant nagging of well-meaning friends and family who are convincing them that their babies must learn to sleep on their own. I have so much to be thankful for in Bee. Her curiosity, bravery, introspective and exuberant nature, her health, our nursing relationship, and much more - but today there is nothing that I'm more thankful for than the family bed. Than the fact that I've listened to my instincts and kept her with me. Today, I feel confident in saying that if I hadn't, her cessation of breathing could have easily gone unnoticed and I'd have much less to be thankful for.
"things which in my mind blossom will stumble beneath a clumsiest disguise"
Today Bee experienced her very first Halloween. She celebrated by showcasing her wiser side through a very sweet owl costume which I fashioned for her, and we enjoyed going trick or treating for the first time together.
During the final weeks of my pregnancy with Bee I had made it a point to remember to enjoy the last moments between my husband and I before our family changed forever. I wondered what a new addition might mean for us as a couple. I wondered if we would still take time to enjoy each other, to enjoy our routines, and to spend time together. The thought of our dynamic changing was very stressful to me at the time and, quite frankly, the source of a lot of grief. I think the fear that a new baby will function as a dividing wedge rather than a member of a cohesive family is a worry many couples have when faced with the birth of their first child. After all, it's such a huge change, and one without the benefit of drawing on past experience!
Looking back, I honestly feel so silly that I spent any time at all worrying about how our new family would work. The very first time I saw my husband holding Bee, I felt a completely new sense of love for him that I didn't even think possible. Not only was he my best friend, the person who I trust the most and had come to be madly in love with, but he now had a new role as the father of my daughter. Bee, this perfect, tiny person who we were so taken by from the start. Who we would delight in teaching and learning from, who we would care for, and who would come to know she could rely on us her entire life. From those first moments that we met her it just was. This new family, that I thought would require so much work to piece together, just happened. Completely perfectly and naturally without any effort at all on our part. It just was, as if it always was. We were a family, no questions asked, no looking back.
One of the best parts of being a new family is establishing our own traditions. As the holiday season approaches there are so many opportunities to celebrate and begin new customs that your family can enjoy each year. Today, we did just that by picking out Bee's first Halloween pumpkin at the pumpkin patch.
Bee was very cordial in her first introduction to pumpkins, welcoming them into her life with a round of applause!
The hay was especially fascinating - much different than the grass that she's used to!
She was most interested in the pumpkins that were as big as her!
'many parents wouldn’t exist if their children had been a little more careful'
It's International Babywearing week, and I thought I'd share these great pictures of Bee enjoying her ocean view in a secure back carry to celebrate.
Aside from being an entirely practical parenting tool, babywearing in an ergonomically correct, deep seated and supported from knee to knee position encourages optimal muscle development and body control in your baby. Keeping your baby so close also enables you to meet her needs quickly, which affords your child security in the comfort that she can rely on you and allows her natural need for independence to flourish.
As Bee's sense of independence grows, she is given more opportunities to explore the world around her, but I take great comfort in knowing that baby wearing is providing her the tools to feel secure and confident in doing so.
Bee has turned nine months old this week. Despite the fact that she has blossomed into a walking, talking, independent being who is rushing into toddlerhood with unparalleled determination not to remain a baby, I have kept the promise I made to her when she was born. The first time I held her, comforted her, nursed her, and watched her sleep in my arms I promised her that I would always remember her the way she was at that very moment, and I always have. It is a complete novelty to me to see her standing up, let alone walking! My sweet, tiny, new baby couldn't possibly be capable of that already, but I digress!
There are so many milestones a baby meets during their first year which are celebrated. Their first smile, first laugh, first word, first tooth, first step. So many firsts. Becoming a mother is also followed by several firsts and important milestones, which are often less celebrated - especially in western culture. For everything that Bee has become over the last 9 months and all of the firsts she has completed and moved on from, the milestone I am most proud of meeting is our 9 months of breastfeeding.
There is no debate whether or not breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for mothers and babies. After all, it promotes bonding, protects your baby from a variety of illnesses, lowers your baby's risk of dying from SIDs, boosts your baby's immunity, decreases the risk of your baby becoming obese and reduces their risk of childhood cancer - among other things. For the mother, it can help ward off post partum depression, decrease her risk of several cancers - including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer as well as lower her risk of diabetes. My favorite benefit of breastfeeding, though, is the time you spend skin to skin with your baby. Breastfeeding provides a unique physical closeness and a cocktail of hormones that you simply cannot get while bottle feeding and it's the most incredible feeling that really can't even be described to someone who hasn't breastfed.
While the benefits of breastfeeding are something that almost everyone is aware of, what isn't talked about so openly is how difficult and challenging and hard it can be. Bee and I have faced so many challenges over the course of our nursing relationship that there was a time when I didn't think we'd even make it to my minimum goal of six months. In the beginning, she had frenulum issues more commonly referred to as a tongue tie. We could not get a correct or deep enough latch, so nursing her was very painful - every time - and she was (is) a very demanding nurser. The first few weeks I cried during each nursing session, it was a horrible feeling knowing that I was doing what was best for her but wondering if it was the best thing for me, and in turn, for our family. Babies need healthy and happy mothers, and I was spiraling further into post partum depression and desperately wanted breastfeeding to work for us. Even so, I dreaded every nursing session. I grew to hate breastfeeding, I felt trapped by it, and I experienced a tremendous amount of guilt for feeling those things.
I met with La Leche League leaders, other mothers, doulas, lactation consultants, and pediatricians. The support I received from them and my husband was so instrumental to our success. I'd tell myself that there were many parts of parenting I might not enjoy, but I had to do what was best, and I'd continue breastfeeding - taking it one day at a time. When Bee was in her sixth month, her father and I made the decision to demand a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist who could perform a surgery called a frenectomy to clip her tongue tie. Knowing that it would be a short and easy procedure didn't calm our nerves, but we knew that if her latch was not corrected we would not be able to maintain our breastfeeding relationship and she and I would be put at significant risks of everything that comes with weaning, including emotional trauma and an increased risk of illness.
This photo was taken in recovery after her surgery, it was the first time in almost 7 months that I was able to nurse her without pain - it was absolutely surreal and incredible. I knew in this moment that we wouldn't have to wean and that I could continue breastfeeding bee for as long as she needs. It was an amazing feeling because it meant that our entire struggle was worth it.
Though it was only a few months ago, those days seem so far in the distant past. Breastfeeding bee is now one of my favorite parts of our relationship. It's an absolute joy and it's now so natural that I sometimes forget it was ever a challenge. There are times when bee is hungry and nurses with such intensity. There are times when bee is playing and walks by to nurse for just a quick moment to reconnect before returning to her work. There are times when she is upset and I take her into my arms and latch her on and she breathes a sigh of relief and her whole body just goes limp with relaxation. There are times when she falls asleep at my breast and smiles in her sleep when she reaches out to touch my skin. It's so much more than nutrition and something I'm so glad that I can provide to her and so glad that we made it through the difficult times to get where we're at now. To every mother who is also struggling with breastfeeding and worried that you won't make it, I think you are amazing. I am proud of you. It will be worth it.
In my last entry I discussed our efforts in creating a safe environment for Bee to investigate without disruption. One of the biggest changes we've made to our living room was upgrading from our old sectional sofa, which took up two entire walls in our tiny apartment, to a regular sized sofa with a cozy side chair. We have so much more room now to ensure that Bee is a welcome part of this space. When revising the room to fit our needs, we very much tried to keep Montessori principles in mind. Montessori is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. It's focus is an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural development.
Children learn by doing, and this requires freedom of movement and spontaneous investigation - so a safe, baby proofed space is essential. Other core components of a Montessori room include low shelves, child sized furniture, natural materials where possible, and a strong emphasis on keeping the area beautiful and organized. In our room, we created three separate areas which we loosely modeled after prepared environments found in a Montessori classroom. As Bee grows past infancy, these prepared environments will evolve to incorporate more specific themes, such as language arts, geography, everyday living, music, art, and more. For now, I believe we're off to a great start!
We've called this first area our Creative Learning station. This station is the area that we took the most liberty with and is much more loosely modeled after a prepared environment than the next. Here's a closer look:
One key aspect of any Montessori room is beautiful artwork hung at the child's eye level which is changed frequently. I was able to find these wonderful hanging frames at the dollar tree for only $1.00. They hold six 5x7 photos and are the perfect size for hanging at child level!
One of my favorite items on this shelf is this felt basket which holds several different fabrics. These fabrics are a great sensory experience for Bee's sweet little hands and a fabulous way to draw her attention to things like weight, size, color, shape, and texture. I gathered these on the cheap from a clearance bin of leftover remnants at a fabric store. All together, everything seen here, including the felt basket, was less than $2.00.
Coming in at another $2.00, these brightly colored pipe cleaners and red pasta strainer were both more dollar tree finds and quickly became one of Bee's favorite things! In addition to being a fabulous introduction to counting, this activity is fantastic for developing coordination skills. The pipe cleaners can be bent, mouthed, thrown, pulled, pushed, curled, and re-threaded back into the strainer.
In this bucket I keep a few soft books which I change out regularly to keep Bee's interest. While I am using baskets and other storage containers on this shelf it's important to note that there are only a few objects in each basket. Every object can easily be seen when pulling the basket off of the shelf. Organization is very important in a Montessori space, and each item should be visible to the child so that they are free to choose without becoming overwhelmed.
I created this engaging "toy" by reusing an old baby wipes container and filling it with more fabric store remnants. I folded the pieces of fabric in such a way that every time Bee pulls one out, the next one pops up. The prints, colors, and textures of the fabrics vary and she's always quite impressed with her ability to remove each of them from the box!
This second area is our math and science station. While the name may sound like it places an intimidating amount of attention on infant academics, these toys are all age appropriate and all serve as an early introduction to mathematical concepts like geometric shapes, counting, and sorting!
From a closer look at the bottom shelf, you can see these terrific blocks which Bee takes great delight in knocking over once I stack them for her. The middle basket contains some interesting shapes that she loves to examine.
Aside from developing coordination, this bead maze is laying the foundation for counting and numbers!
Each of these balls offers a different tactile experience, and Bee enjoys examining each one, taking time to return to her favorites!
While Bee doesn't stack these cups quite yet, she is certainly able to deconstruct them, and so fascinated when they come apart!
And what better way to learn about an object than by mouthing it?!
I bought his great wooden pathfinder from a local swap group. What an excellent way to boost coordination, fine tune small motor skills, and develop a sense of direction!
Finally, the beginnings of our reading station. After all of that exploration this comfortable arm chair provides a cozy retreat where I can grab a book and a soft blanket for story time before nursing sweet Bee to sleep. As she grows into toddlerhood we plan to provide her a child sized arm chair of her own where she can sit next to me while we each read our books.