IF THE idea of this blog had struck me earlier, I would have definitely recapped each passing month of Isay. But since this got off to a late start, about roughly two months into this magical ride they call fatherhood, It was pretty much too late for months one and two.
But the seed of the monthly update continued to germinate in my mind. I do write monthly letters to Isay in a little red book that I keep private. But since there were a few stuff that I didn’t mind sharing, I couldn’t let go of this monthly update thing. So forgive me for cramming the first quarter of Isay’s first year into a single post.
There was so much to learn and share from Isay’s first three months. And it hardly matters whether you’re a normal joe type of a father like everyone else or you suffer from anxiety disorder like I do. The first few months of fatherhood will be a steep learning curve that you are totally unprepared to go through.
For month one, there is the validation of the warning that sleep deprivation will be a large part of taking care of a baby.
Your sleep hours are totally screwed. Here is a tiny girl that needs to be fed almost every hour. And the goal that the wife and I shared was we get to feed her at the first hunger cues she gives out. Month one was sticking her tongue out a lot, much like a snake does. We took to calling her “Pamba” for a while. A cute little panda who acts like a mamba. As much as possible, we try not make her get to the end of her hunger cues: crying.
That’s probably why Isay doesn’t cry much. And when she does, it is in short staccato bursts that means only three things: Hungry, wet nappies or sleepy. So you test all three and when you fill the right need, she quiets almost immediately.
For the first month, especially during the 11 days when I was granted a father’s leave from work (seven days really, plus four regular days off), I would wake with my wife during feeding time. She’d nurse Isay, I’d burp the baby and rock her to sleep. If you want to establish a home culture where raising a child is a shared responsibility, the best place to start is month one.
And then in between feedings, there was the need to clean soiled nappies. So at times, a four-hour sleep at night would be a luxury. You try to catch up with sleep during the day when the baby naps.
I had to go back to work first. Maternity leaves here last about two months. So as the second month rolled in, the wife would pick feeding hours to wake me. Mostly, that came when nappies needed to be changed. Or, when rocking Isay to sleep becomes quite testy. She is quite the curious little kitten and every little thing, even the curvy shadow the lamplight casts on the wall and ceiling, draws her attention and you get the sense that her mind is trying to grasp the meaning of its existence.
From the middle of the second month onward, you begin counting milestones.
The first responsive smile. For about a month, her smile is mostly triggered by her need to try out facial expressions, and not a response to any stimulus. As she grows on, she leans to mimic facial expressions and finally smiles when prompted.
The first sound. Not to be mistaken as a prelude to the first word. We’re still ways from that.
The first time she discovers her hand. We ungloved her at the end of her first month and there was this look of awe and fascination in her face as she began flexing her fingers and exploring the possibilities of hands.
The first time she turns to her side. This is a prelude to her first roll to her tummy.
By the time you get to month three, the sleep patterns begin to make sense. Since the wife returned to work in the middle of month No. 3, I began to take on more responsibilities with the baby. I learned to bathe her every morning. That was a really scary moment for me as I moved about gingerly, afraid that of the harm I may cause on such a fragile little being.
Her early sunshine walks during weekdays. Getting her used to bottle nursing. Reading her books. Those became a daily preoccupation for me. The nursing was the hardest part. In the first few days, getting milk from a new source was a test of patience. Isay had been exclusively breast-fed from the moment she was born. And she resisted initial attempts at being bottle fed. We tried cup-feeding her, but she refused even more adamantly.
The first part of the solution was to understand her changing hunger cues. Weeks after removing her mittens for good, Isay began exploring sucking her fingers. Since we were steadfast in denying her pacifiers, we allowed her the luxury of self-soothing. The drawback was she added finger-sucking to her list of hunger cues. So reading her became difficult. We wanted to feed her at the onset of her first cues because bottle-feeding her when she gets really hungry—and angry—amplifies the challenge.
When I had a pretty much okay grasp of her cues, feeding her early became a crucial key to her acceptance of the bottle. Within five days, she was nursing from the bottle with ease.
But then came another problem. When the second week of feeding from the bottle was done, she developed nipple confusion (something advocates of cup-feeding use to encourage parents to try their method). We tried to revive the cup, but she was as stubborn as she was in her refusal before. So we tried several methods to get her to switch between breast and bottle seamlessly. It was a trying period and i admit, there were times when frustration would gnaw at the three of us.
But getting to Isay before she got really hungry again became the key. Also, we tried to simulate feedings. If she nursed with the breast in the arms of her mother, when I bottle-fed her, I’d cradle her in my arms too. If singing to her got her to feed from the bottle easier, the wife would sing to Isay when she breastfed her too. We tried to make both feedings as similar as possible so Isay would only have to deal with the differences in the nipples (we don’t feed her formula. she takes expressed milk).
Things get truly easier with each passing month. She feeds heavily at night, extending her sleeping hours. And, by extension, she stretches our sleeping hours too. We have gotten used to the new sleep patterns already and shaking off leftover sleep has become easier, allowing us to attend to Isay’s needs faster. There have been challenges, yes. But observation, understanding and a healthy dose of patience has allowed us to deal with this parenting learning curve a bit more easily.