June 4, 2014

That time when I was clueless

The story in my family goes that I did not sleep through the night until I was three years old. Whenever that story would come up, I would chuckle and comment on how I must have been a difficult baby. That was before I became a mother. Now that I have a baby of my own, I wonder how my mother survived those three years (answer: she had lots of help from her parents as three generations lived under one roof).

The point is, before I had my baby, I was completely clueless about what it's like to be a mother. This was true even despite all the stories I'd heard about my own childhood, despite the stories my own friends shared with me. In the world of science, we talk about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. I thought I had prepared myself somewhat for the known unknowns by reading a ton about pregnancy and childbirth, by taking childbirth and breastfeeding classes, and by mostly avoiding extreme parenting books.

But then, there were the unknown unknowns. Which really could have been known to me if only I had paused to consider them. Why hadn't I educated myself about infant sleep, knowing that as a baby, I didn't sleep for longer than 40 minutes at a time? Why didn't I bother to read even a single book about breastfeeding when I knew that my mom had so much trouble with it, she couldn't do it for longer than three months?

I was so stupidly confident that breastfeeding would just work out that I was caught completely off-guard by those first few months. I have to preface this by saying that breastfeeding DID work out for us in the end, and I am so grateful for it, especially knowing what I know now about how difficult of an experience it could be and often is for many moms. But when my preemie daughter couldn't latch on in those first several crucial days, I didn't know that she would lose too much weight and then take a month to get back to her birth weight. When she finally did latch on, she showed strong preference for one breast over the other, and I had no idea that this would permanently make my milk supply lopsided, something that could have been prevented if I had known to pump the unfavorable side until the baby figured out how to nurse equilaterally. And when she suddenly started nursing for one hour at a time, eight times a day, at the age of one month, I almost lost my mind as I was unprepared for nursing being a full time job. If only I had educated myself about how common acid reflux is in premies, maybe we could have gotten treatment for my baby sooner, and both of us could have been less miserable.

When it comes to sleep, I was always playing catchup. It wasn't until I became a mother that I understood what continuous sleep deprivation is really like. When my daughter was six weeks old, I had a breakdown. In the haze of complete exhaustion, I mustered up enough determination to strap her into the carrier (the only way she would fall asleep) and leave the house. I walked to our neighborhood bookstore and headed for the parenting section. There I discovered a number of books about babies and sleep, all of them telling me that babies reach their peak fussiness at six weeks of age. A glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon... until I read that this only applies to full-term infants, and the peak fussiness for preemies occurs at six weeks after due date. I had four more weeks to go. Then I found a book that promised a fool-proof method of getting your fussy baby to sleep. (You can all laugh at with me now.) Apparently, I was supposed to be putting my baby on a strict nursing/napping schedule from day one, and then by six weeks, my baby would be sleeping through the night. The dictatorial tone of the book annoyed me, but in my desperation I decided that I had nothing to lose by trying to put my baby on a schedule as soon as possible. I marched home and didn't waste a second writing out a detailed schedule on the whiteboard on our refrigerator. I announced to anyone who would listen that from now on, we will be instituting a strict schedule for the baby, and no deviations were allowed under any circumstances.

There was a flaw in the plan, though. Turned out my daughter didn't think she needed to be on my made-up schedule, and she was going to be not sleeping on her own schedule, thankyouverymuch. I've learned since then to watch for my baby's cues and respect her internal clock that wires her to sleep at certain hours of the day, which have nothing to do with my desires. I've also learned a ton about infants and sleep and what I can expect in the coming months (the main thing being that once you think you have it figured out, it changes). So you could say that my two original big unknowns, sleep and breastfeeding, have since become "known" variables. But I can't help but wonder what unknown unknowns are not even on my radar as we approach toddlerhood and beyond.

May 3, 2014

Compartmentalized time

Parenthood has redefined the concept of time for me in so many ways. In those early sleep-deprived, hazy weeks, the days seemed so long. Getting through the day was so challenging, that I could not fathom being able to get through weeks, months of caring for an infant. Eight months later, the days are still long (though much more manageable). But the months are very, very short. I cannot believe that my baby is approaching the one-year mark, and her first birthday will be here before we know it. She is closer to toddlerhood than to her newborn days, she is starting to wean (a whole other blog post), and she is growing up so quickly that I find myself scrambling to pause and commit to memory the wonderful, fleeting moments we share together now.

So, the cliche that the days are long but the years are short turned out to be true. But time has been altered for me in other ways as well. There are so many every day things that need to be done, items that need to be checked off the to-do list before I go to sleep, and freelance work to be completed before the deadline. In my pre-baby life, my time was structured. An eight-hour work day allowed me to focus on my work long enough to get into the groove of the project and get into the flow that led to an efficient completion of the task at hand. In other words, I had the luxury (yes, I think of an eight-hour work day as a luxury now) to allocate a significant amount of time to a project.

I miss being able to get into that rhythm, the "flow" mindset. My time has become compartmentalized by naps, nursing sessions, playtime, outdoors time, meals, and diaper changes. As a result, even things that I enjoy doing around the house, like organizing a closet, have been put on the backburner indefinitely. I never feel like I have enough time to complete a task in one go, and I don't give myself the freedom to leave a project half undone (the thought of having the closet innards spread out on the floor for 24 hours gives me the hives). And so, I end up not even starting on my to-do list because I am paralyzed by the thought of being unable to finish it.

This is not a unique problem. I have read plenty of advice (and there is SO much advice out there for new mothers, solicited or not) on being efficient and getting as much done as possible during nap time, etc. On a rare occasion, I do feel efficient, like I've accomplished something. But most of the time, shit just doesn't get done. Closets remain messy, blog posts remain unwritten, the pantry remains unpainted, and exercise remains a wishful thought. This is why I can only get my freelance work done at night, after everybody else goes to sleep. I know that I would have a couple of uninterrupted, quality hours to get my work done, and I am able to get in the flow. This is also why I continue to be sleep-deprived.

I haven't come up with a brilliant solution to this problem. If you are a parent, how do you manage to use your time efficiently? How do you get all the things done? Or, do you?

March 7, 2014

Cloth Diapers

Before our daughter was born, we considered using cloth diapers instead of disposables. I did not know much about cloth diapering at the time, but I was inspired by this post at Young House Love. There is a ton of information out there on the different types of diapers, and there are even classes one could attend to learn about the different options. I found this 7-part video useful in figuring out what types of cloth diapers would best suit our family. Also, Amanda at Poppies and Ice-cream has a good overview of the cloth diaper options and some of the reasons for using them.


After educating ourselves about our options, we decided that we would go with the bumGenius Elemental All-In-One One-Size cloth diapers. We liked the ease of an all-in-one (AIO) diaper, since it requires no "assembly" or taking apart for laundry. We also liked that the insert inside the diaper was 100% organic cotton. I was also happy to find out that these diapers are made in the U.S. I found many reviews on the internet comparing the Elementals with other diapers, and people seemed to be generally happy with this diaper in terms of its performance (durability, no leaks, no blowouts, etc.). (Note that the Elementals were redesigned in February 2013, so any reviews written prior to that refer to the old version of these diapers. Here is a comparison of the old and new Elementals.)

This all sounded great to us, but we knew that these diapers, despite being one-size (the size is adjustable, as I will explain later), are too large for babies under 10-12 pounds. Since our daughter was a small 6-pounder, we knew we would have to figure out an alternative diapering solution until she grew enough to fit into the Elementals. We decided to start with disposable diapers and switch to cloth diapers when she was ready.


Well, I have to say, it was easy to get used to disposable diapers. So convenient to simply toss the soiled diaper, along with the disposable wipes, into the diaper pail and forget about it (at least, until the diaper pail starts smelling up the room)! But we ran into a problem. Our daughter developed a nasty diaper rash with every kind of disposable diaper and wipe that we tried, and we had to constantly battle this rash for three months. It was painful to see her red, raw bum every time I changed her diaper. We had to use a diaper rash cream at every diaper change, and even that helped only infrequently.

I suspected that her skin was sensitive to some chemicals, either in the diapers or the wipes (which are soaked in alcohol), or both. We brought this up to our pediatrician early on and asked if there would be any benefit to switching to cloth diapers in order to stop this rash. Our doctor told us that usually babies get a WORSE diaper rash with cloth diapers because they are less absorbent than disposables. This made us wary of switching to cloth diapers, but after three months of almost constant diaper rash, we didn't have much to lose (except a few hundred bucks, I guess). We took the plunge and purchased our Elementals. And wouldn't you know it, our daughter's diaper rash disappeared within days! We have been cloth diapering for three months now, and she only has an occasional, mild diaper rash that quickly goes away (usually on its own). I wish we would have switched to cloth diapers sooner.


Here is what we bought to get us started on cloth diapers. We ordered sixteen bumGenius Elemental diapers in four colors (four of each): grasshopper (green), butternut (yellow), light blue (twilight), and light turquoise (mirror). A couple of months later, we bought four more diapers because sixteen was not enough to get us through two days between laundry cycles.

We also bought cloth wipes (mostly Grovia, but also a few of the more expensive Thirsties), for a total of 30 count. We keep them in two Huggies wipe boxes that we already had from our disposables days.

Unlike the disposable wipes, the cloth wipes are dry. But wipes are more effective at their job if they are moistened. We chose not to use any special wipe solution (plenty are marketed out there for this purpose), and simply use water. We keep a small spray bottle filled with water near the changing table, and spray the wipes as necessary before use. We find that using cloth wipes is easy and convenient, since they go in the laundry together with the diapers and don't require and additional maintenance.

For storage of dirty diapers and wipes, we bought two Planet Wise wetbags in size large (one in Owl, and one in April Flowers). I know some people throw these in the laundry together with the diapers, but we wash them with the baby clothes load instead. We do this because the diapers go through a hot wash, and these bags are not designed to withstand repeated cycles of hot temperature (the lining that keeps the odors in can degrade over time). So we wash them on a cold cycle with other baby stuff.


After pre-washing the diapers according to instructions, the first thing we had to figure out was the sizing. AIO means that the diaper has snaps that adjust to three different size settings: small, medium, and large.


In theory, the small setting should fit babies 8-16 pounds, the medium is for 17-22 pounds, and the large is for 23-35 pounds. However, keep in mind, that these diapers are really too big for an 8-pound baby, and don't really fit well until 10-12 pounds because they are too bulky on smaller babies. Also, as the bumGenius FAQs mention, babies frequently change shape as they grow, so you may find yourself using a larger setting on a younger baby, or a smaller setting on an older one. When we started cloth diapering, our baby was about 11 pounds, and the small setting was too small for her. At 6 months, she is 14.5 pounds, and we have been using the medium setting almost the entire time so far (with an occasional need to use the large setting).

In addition to the three rows of snaps that adjust the size of the diaper, there are two rows of ten snaps that adjust its circumference in order to accommodate the varying shapes and sizes of babies. The nice thing about having two rows is that each row can be adjusted individually. For example, our baby has a smaller waist but chunky thighs, so we adjust the top row tighter than the bottom row (which makes the opening for the legs wider).

After figuring out the size, we had to deal with the absorbent cotton insert. At the largest size setting, the insert is fully unfolded, but at the other two size settings, it needs to be folded in some way.

Unfolded insert
Because we are using the diaper at the medium size setting, we have to fold the insert. We've tried several methods, keeping in mind that (according to bumGenius), it is better to fold the extra fabric toward the back for girls and toward the front for boys. Here is how we fold our inserts nowadays:

We take the extra fabric and fold it approximately in the middle, and then fold down toward the back of the diaper (which is on the right-hand size of this photo). We also tried folding it another way, but found that it created too much bulk in the back for a baby who spends much of her time lying on her back. In this alternative folding method, the extra fabric is tucked in under a fold toward the back of the diaper.

I should mention that all this folding is necessary because the insert is not removable, as it is sewn into the leak-proof cover.

We store our cloth diapers near the changing pad in a pretty box that I bought at Michaels. We used to use the same box for storing our disposables. Our changing pad and all diaper supplies are actually on top of a dresser that we use to store baby clothes (which makes diaper and clothes changes very convenient), so any extra clean diapers are stored in one of the dresser drawers (I can fit approximately 8 cloth diapers into the box). The dirty diapers are stored in a wetbag, which we used to hang on a hook off the side of the dresser. However, we found that opening and closing the bag released the odors into the room, and the odors lingered long enough to bother us, so we moved the wetbag out of the room. For now, it hangs on the handle of the bathroom door until we figure out something more permanent.

The dirty wipes and wet diapers go directly into the wetbag. Before throwing the soiled diapers in there as well, we spray off the poop into the toilet using a diaper sprayer that we installed into the plumbing of our toilet. Spraying the poop off the diaper helps minimize (if not eliminate) poop stains on the cotton insert. By the way, poop stains are just a reality of life when it comes to cloth diapers. If a clean diaper comes out of the wash stained, you can be sure that it is clean and sanitized. The stains can be easily removed by drying the diapers in the sun (the sun does an excellent job of bleaching the diapers), or by adding bleach to the wash cycle once a month.

One other thing I want to mention about using the cloth diapers is related to the diaper rash. On the few occasions that we've had to use a diaper rash cream with cloth diapers, we used the California Baby diaper rash cream because it is safe for cloth diapers. Most diaper rash creams contain petroleum jelly, which covers the cloth diaper insert in a layer of petroleum that causes the diaper to repel liquid instead of absorb it.


Laundering the Elementals is a long process. The diapers are supposed to go through a soak cycle, a hot wash, and a rinse cycle. Because we have a front-load high efficiency washer, there is no soak cycle, so our first step is a full cold-water cycle with one scoop of detergent. We use Eco Sprout detergent (I like the smell of the Green Tea version), and we are quite happy with it so far. For the next step, the hot wash, we use two scoops of detergent. Along with the rinse cycle, it takes about 3.5 hours to wash the diapers. We then put the diapers in the dryer for 60 minutes on medium heat. Sometimes, that is enough to thoroughly dry the diapers, but sometimes we have to run the dryer for another 20 minutes.

The only minus I could mention about these diapers is that they take a long time to dry. And line-drying them takes forever (but does have the added sun-bleaching benefit if you happen to have a sunny day). In order to speed up the drying process, we separate the two layers of the diaper insert after the diapers come out of the wash, like this:

This definitely helps decrease the drying time. We also tried adding wool dryer balls to the dryer, as they are supposed to reduce drying time and reduce static. However, they were not reducing static or drying time, and instead were leaving wool strings all over the diapers and wipes, so we stopped using them.


So far, we've done only day trips with cloth diapers, taking enough diapers with us to last the day. We usually put the dirty diaper into a ziploc bag while we are out and about. Someday, we might purchase a smaller wetbag for that purpose.

For the one week-long trip that we've done with the baby so far, we were not brave enough to take the cloth diapers with us. We used disposables instead, and of course the diaper rash came back almost right away. In the future, I think we will take cloth diapers with us if we travel somewhere where we can easily do laundry (for example, when visiting my parents).


Overall, we are really happy that we switched to cloth diapers. Not only does our baby no longer have a diaper rash, but we are also saving money in the long run, and we feel good about not contributing tons of plastic waste to the landfills. Yes, cloth diapering requires a bit more work than disposables (and certainly more laundry), but for us it is the right choice, and we plan to continue cloth diapering until our daughter is potty-trained.

January 14, 2014


Remember how I wrote about leaving my job and being a stay-at-home mom for the first year of my daughter's life? Well, things have changed a bit, and as of today, I am working from home as a freelance medical writer. Because I am still taking care of my baby full time, my freelance hours are very limited. Nevertheless, I believe this officially makes me a work-at-home mom!

This opportunity came about when my old company that I left after giving birth offered me to work for them on a freelance basis. This was back in November, and I was not ready then. But they contacted me again in December, and this time I was up for it. This was mostly due to the fact that my daughter was sleeping through the night. I know, I have that unicorn baby that started sleeping 11 hours at night at the age of 3.5 months. But don't hate me yet because she is going through the infamous 4 month sleep regression now, and we are no longer sleeping through the night!

Even though I am now sleep deprived again, I am very excited about starting my freelancing gig. For one, it will be a welcome change to exercise my brain muscle and think about non-baby related things. But also, it makes me feel that my career is no longer on hold, that there is some continuity to it. Lastly, it's always nice to have a little extra income, however small it may be.

Speaking of income: with this freelancing gig, I have accomplished something that I had never done before in my entire life. I negotiated my salary. I was offered an hourly rate that I felt was too low, given my experience, the fact that the company was reaching out to me rather than the other way around, and the fact that they had to make it worth my time, which I could otherwise spend sleeping. Feeling that I had the upper hand, and nothing to lose, I counter offered with a higher rate that I felt was fair. To my surprise, it worked! I got the rate that I wanted without further negotiations! This experience taught me a valuable lesson that I should have learned ages ago - it never hurts to ask.

With this freelance job, I am commencing a new balancing act of taking care of my baby full-time while also working part-time. I'm not the first to manage this, others have done this quite successfully, so I will learn from and be inspired by all the awesome moms around me. How are you maintaining the baby/work/home balance (if it can be called that)?