motherhood

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The Unknown – Taking the Leap and Waiting For the Cord to Catch

Published June 11, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

Back in my more adventurous days, I traveled to New Zealand with a teacher friend over summer vacation. The first Lord of the Rings movie had been released six months earlier, and I just HAD to see this beautiful country for myself. I was not disappointed! New Zealand is just as magical and breathtaking in person as in the movie, but far safer, as it is freer from goblins, orcs, and trolls than the movie implies.

One thing that I wanted to try while I was there was bungy jumping. If ever I was to bungy jump, Queenstown, the “Adventure Capital of New Zealand” was the place to do it. According to the guidebooks, New Zealand took adventure-sport safety VERY seriously and I, being of a nervous disposition, liked the sound of that.

On that chilly, July morning, my friend and I arrived at the Kawarau River Bridge just outside of Queenstown. I was strangely set in my decision to jump, but I still asked plenty of questions to satisfy my anxious, practical side. The people at AJ Hackett Bungy were used to nerves, and Alex, the bungy jump guy, (not his real name) answered all my questions and quoted their safety records as further proof that they knew what they were doing. He weighed me and asked if I wanted a “regular jump” or a “splash down” where your head goes into the water at the bottom. Holy crap, “regular jump”, please! Then he showed me how he calculated the correct amount of bungy cord based on my weigh. Math – very reassuring!

We walked out to the bridge that spanned a gorge through which a turquoise blue river snaked around corners and out of sight in both directions. The view was spectacular, and between that, the crisp, winter air, and the thought of what I was about to do, I had never felt so alive as that moment.

And “alive” is a pretty great thing to be! So what the hell was I doing jumping off a bridge in a country halfway around the world?!

I took a deep breath and continued to follow Alex. He led me to an area near the edge of the bridge that had a platform sticking out over the water. I commented (several times) that the rocks below looked very close and was he SURE I wouldn’t hit them? Even if I were to swing a little too far to the left? And he was positive that no one had ever hit those rocks before? You know…because they looked REALLY close.

Alex just kept smiling and promising that I would definitely not hit the rocks or the side of the gorge or anything else because he had done the math, and checked the ropes, and secured all the equipment, including a safety harness around my waist, and I would be fine.

I noticed that he was wrapping the cord around my ankles. “What if my hiking boots come off?”

Alex paused, winked at me, and said, “Then you better make sure they’re laced tight, Jennifer!”

It was time to jump.

With both ankles tied together, Alex helped me shuffle to the edge of the platform. As I got to the end, my heart was pounding and my knees were shaking. He told me to look out at the mountains in the distance, and when he counted down to zero I should dive straight out towards them, not down. I looked at the mountains, and he counted down in an enthusiastic “I-love-adrenaline-and-this-is-so-awesome” voice. “5…4…3…2…1…”

And I jumped.

The feeling was unreal those first few seconds. My eyes were closed tight. I was in total scary darkness, my body plummeting toward the rushing water below. When the bungy finally caught me and I went shooting back up in the air, I was hooting and hollering, not just because it was fun but because I was so frickin’ happy to be alive. “Waaaahoooo!” (Thank God, I survived, and the cord didn’t break, and Alex is super-good at math, and I didn’t hit those rocks over there!) “Yeeeaaaaah!”

Proud and exhilarated, I bounced several more times and then dangled upside-down rather unceremoniously while I waited for a boat to come and rescue me.

In so many ways, our son’s diagnosis of autism was like leaping off a bridge into the unknown. We spent a lot of time waiting and looking over the edge. There was no way in hell we were jumping until the experts arrived to help us.

Three months after our son’s initial testing by Birth-to-Three, he was tested again by the Autism Specific team. As we expected, he was given an “educational diagnosis” of autism. This diagnosis would qualify him for educational services, but it was not an actual medical diagnosis. We asked plenty of questions, but there weren’t many definite answers they could give us. There was no way to know when or if he would speak. There was no way to tell at this point how mild or severe his autism might be. There was no way to predict what types of therapies might work or not work. What they did know was that “early intervention” was the key in improving our son’s prognosis.

OK. So far there was no way of knowing how far the drop was, how much rope was needed, or if there were rocks below. This leap was going to be a bit scarier than I thought! At least we knew “early intervention” was the jumping off point.

When I thought of “early intervention”, I imagined therapists coming to our house several hours a day, five days a week, working intensively with our boy doing whatever it is that therapists do, and performing some “early intervention” magic on our son, who would then make miraculous and speedy progress – like a cavalry of autism experts riding in, tipping their hats, and saying, “Not to worry, folks. We’ll take it from here.”

The type of program we received was actually more of a “parent-training” model. An early childhood educator DID come to the house to work with our son, but the goal was to teach ME about autism and intervention strategies that I could use everyday to help him.

This sounds good in theory, but I felt completely overwhelmed. It was as if I had arrived to bungy jump only to have them say they would show me how to calculate the correct rope length, how to set up the safety gear, and how to attach the rope to my ankles, but I would be expected to do all those things myself before leaping from the bridge. Standing on that ledge, I couldn’t help but think that some things are best left to the professionals.

Five days a week a person from the early intervention team would come out for an hour, teach me techniques for working with my son, answer questions, and try to troubleshoot solutions for problems. They were all wonderful, knowledgeable, and caring people, and I tried my best to follow their instructions. But working with my son was not easy. I struggled to get his attention and keep him focused on an activity. It was difficult to slow his constant movement and calm his body long enough to play with a toy or do an activity, my hand guiding his. He would fuss, and scream, and try to get away; I would feel defeated.

As the parent at home, it fell on my shoulders to do most of this therapy. Months went by with no improvement in my son, and the guilt began to weigh heavily in my chest. Soon my anxiety took over, and I felt absolutely paralyzed. I would watch him running back and forth, back and forth, transfixed in his activity, lost in his own world, and my mind would go blank. I felt helpless. Early intervention was the key to a better outlook for my little boy, and precious time was slipping away.

Back and forth he ran, like the swinging of a clock pendulum.

What was wrong with me? All my life I met challenges and difficulties head on. Why was it so difficult for me to find the courage to be my son’s therapist?

As his mom, I just wanted to love him, care for him, and keep him safe, healthy and happy. But I was also supposed to “fix” his autism, and I was failing. I was failing my son, and the pain was almost unbearable.

I had become close with one of our early intervention therapists, and she suggested that I attend a support group for parents of children with special needs. I actually started going to several support groups, some weekly, some monthly. Every meeting I went to I met new moms, learned about strategies and therapies that might work, and got names of specialists and doctors who could help. Sometimes I met a mom only once, and other moms became good friends, but they were all amazingly strong ladies – their strength gave me courage.

It turns out that the “experts” my husband and I had been waiting for on that bridge were moms just like me, moms of children with special needs who had already been in my position before. Some helped us put on our safety gear and warned us about the rocks and obstacles we should avoid below. Others told us how to find experts who could calculate the rope length we might need. We learned that it was good to hope for a “regular jump”, but it was also important to prepare for the possibility of a “splash down” because you never know the future might hold.

5…4…3…2…1…

This jump has been a lot more terrifying than the last one. We’re flying through the air, waiting for the moment when the cord will catch – that’s when we’ll know everything will be OK. When that happens, you can bet there will be lots of hooting and hollering and celebrating. And then I’ll head back up to help the next mom.

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Clarity – Seeing Autism For The First Time

Published May 23, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

When I was in the second grade, the eye doctor said I needed glasses for far-sightedness. This was quite exciting for a seven year old. My mom helped me pick out pretty frames, and I felt special when my teacher, Mr. Smith, asked me to stand up and show the class my new glasses. Of course, it wasn’t long before the novelty wore off. Lucky for me, my eyes corrected themselves, and I no longer needed them after a few years.

Thinking back on the early days of my son’s diagnosis of autism, I am reminded of the phrase, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” My son is almost five now. There is no question that he has autism. The signs that were there when he was 18 months old were so clear from where I stand now. How could I have missed them?

Part of it was, honestly…I was farsighted. Up close, the world was blurry and confusing. It was so much easier to focus on the far-off future, to dream of the progress he would make once he “outgrew” his developmental delay. Still clinging, was I, to a universe that was no longer my reality.

Another reason I missed the signs? Autism is complicated. Really complicated. In fact, the full name of autism is “autism spectrum disorder”, with the “spectrum” referring to the overarching range of symptoms and the continuum of severity, from mild to severe. So autism isn’t just one thing, it can mean many different things depending on the individual. A common saying in the autism community is: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met…one person with autism.” My husband and I, our friends and family – we all had images of what autism “looked like” based on people we had met or characters in movies or on TV. To us, our son didn’t “look like” them.

The weird thing was my husband and I not only had a hard time picturing what autistic behavior looked like, we had trouble picturing what typical behavior looked like. Many friends had children who were well beyond their toddler years and others had infants. Unfortunately, those who did have children around the same age as our son lived further away, and infrequent visits made it hard to observe and compare any differences in our son’s development.

But even our pediatrician, who sees toddlers all the time, was unsure that our son showed warning signs of autism. She admitted, however, it would be difficult to determine based on a 15-minute check-up. She also said she’s not an expert in autism.

Wait…so, if my pediatrician isn’t the expert in diagnosing autism, who is?

Remember that thing about autism being “complicated”? We learned pretty early on that finding an “autism expert” is not as straightforward as finding a specialist for other disorders and medical conditions. Let’s just say that years later we have a TEAM of experts for our son.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Our first referral by the pediatrician was for services through “Birth-to-Three”, a state agency that assesses developmental delays in children and provides “early intervention” in the home. Their initial assessment would take place at the end of his 18th month and would determine if he was eligible for Birth-to-Three services. If he qualified, an educator from the early intervention team would work with our son in our home, and that person would refer him to the autism specific team if necessary.

The ball was rolling. We were finally going to get some answers.

Two women, Sandy and Marie, arrived at our house the morning of testing – Sandy would test my boy and Marie would interview me.

In typical fashion, my son was completely uncooperative. Sandy put three blocks on his tray and asked him to stack them. “Do this,” she said, as she demonstrated. My son took one block in his tiny fist and brought it close to his eyes for a better look. When Sandy tried to take it back, he screamed and refused to return it. For the next test, she showed him a small stuffed bear, placed the bear in a cup, and then handed the bear to my son. “Put the bear in the cup,” she said. My son grasped the bear tightly and, with a bear in one hand and a block in the other, fussed to get down from his high chair.

Hmm…Things didn’t appear to be going well. “He likes to hold things,” I explained apologetically, as I tried to wrestle the objects out of his hands.

Sandy continued with her tests while Marie began asking me questions about my son’s medical history and development. Some of the questions were from a checklist called the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers). I found myself struggling for answers.

“Does you child ever use his index finger to point, to ask for something?” Maybe once or twice. “…to indicate interest in something?” Not that I can remember.

“Can your child play properly with small toys?” Well, he probably COULD, he just doesn’t.

“Have you ever wondered if your child is deaf?” Yes. He never responds to his name. But we know he can hear just fine, because he comes running from the other room when the “Elmo’s World” song comes on the TV.

“If you point to a toy across the room, does your child look at it?” and “Does your child look at things you are looking at?” (I thought about all the times I had tried to draw his attention to something really interesting by pointing or gesturing.) No. No, he definitely doesn’t do either of those things.

Some questions were confusing to me. “Does your child try to attract your attention to his own activity?” What the heck does that mean? “Does your child ever bring objects over to you to show you something?” Do toddlers his age DO that? “Does your child look at your face to check your reaction?” I have no idea.

As the interview continued, a wave of frustration hit me. “I have to pay better attention to his behaviors! I’ll have to look for these things from now on!” I thought.

I know now, this is not a test you needed to study for. If I had seen these behaviors, I would have known. Still, in the weeks that followed, my husband and I watched for pointing and waving, shared interest and eye contact – all those things that Marie had asked me about our son’s behavior.

By chance, we were visiting some friends a few hours away in Boston. Their daughter was 15-months old and also had a speech delay. Yet despite the speech delay and the fact that she was several months younger than our boy, she performed all those behaviors we had been looking for in our son…all within the first ten minutes of our arrival! She was so excited to see us, making eye contact and smiling. She ran to the other room and returned with a backpack, which she handed to me and indicated (without words) that she wanted me to open it. Inside was one of her favorite toys. Pointing to it, her face lit up and she checked my reaction to see if I felt the same way about the toy. Still beaming, she handed it to my husband and watched his face, too. Of course, we both gushed and made a huge deal. Squealing with delight, she ran to find more toys to share.

Eyes wide and mouth agape, I glanced at my husband. He had the same exact look on his face. We smiled. THAT is what we had been searching for.

Finally. Like putting on my glasses and seeing things clearly for the first time, I observed the vivid contrast between my little boy and another child his age. The differences in their behavior were so profound, so undeniable. And the fact that this child also had a speech delay put sharper focus on the behaviors.

It was clear our son had more than a speech delay.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my mother-in-law was actually the first person to make the connection between our son’s development and autism. She had given us several websites months before, but we had avoided looking at them for fear of getting “all upset over nothing.” When we got home from Boston, my husband and I decided it was time to check out the information about autism on these sites. Now that the glasses were on, we were determined to find all the clues we could.

I put my son down in the living room and turned on “Elmo’s World”. He started twirling with excitement. “No spinning, Silly Goose!” I said, placing my hands on his shoulders. Laughing, he began his usual laps, running back and forth from the couch to his little chair, occasionally throwing himself into the cushions.

I sat down with my husband at the computer. He clicked on a video about the early warning signs of autism. We watched and let the truth sink in.

Our son had autism.

I looked up from the screen to see my son spinning in circles, his head tilted toward the ceiling, staring at the ceiling fan out of the corner of his eye, smiling. “No spinning,” I tried to say, but I choked on my words. Overwhelmed, I crossed the room and scooped up my little boy, holding him tightly as the tears came. My husband hugged both of us. For several moments we stayed like this until, protesting loudly, my son wriggled and tried to get away from his crazy parents. This made me laugh and broke the mood.

After all, his world hadn’t changed. Only ours had.

Although the truth can be painful, it can also be incredibly freeing. My vision at that moment was in no way 20/20. Things were still very blurry and confusing. But my focus on the present was clear now. The itinerary I had written for my previous universe no longer applied here, and I needed to come up with a new plan for the journey.

There was a lot of work to do.

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Autism – Delusions and Denial

Published April 28, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

“There are as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in a typical galaxy.” – Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, Cosmos – A Spacetime Odyssey

Babies are frickin’ amazing.

Oh sure, I know some of you are thinking, “No way!  They scream and cry and spit up and sometimes smell poopish, and they don’t DO anything really.  So what makes them so frickin’ amazing?!”  Well, I mean they’re amazing in a more scientifically, philosophically cosmic way.  Think about it:  Biology, chemistry, and physics combined with the genetics of a mother and father handed down from all their ancestors who came before them to create this unique individual – the only one of its kind in the whole Universe. THAT is frickin’ amazing.

And what’s more, each child is their own person, with likes and dislikes, personality, and talents that sometimes seem to come from neither Mom nor Dad. From the moment babies are born, their minds are full of electricity – experiencing the world through their senses, making observations and connections about what they see and hear and feel, combining these sensations with emotions – building understanding and creating memories.

As the grown-ups tasked with their upbringing, it’s easy to become spellbound by how talented and advanced our child seems in intelligence or physical abilities compared to their peers. Parents can’t help but brag! (Scroll through your Facebook newsfeed – you’ll see what I mean.) When you really think about it, it makes sense to be proud of this incredible little person you created, to boast (or even be somewhat delusional) about their talents and abilities. And it’s natural to acknowledge how special they are to you and to recognize their potential to go far in life and achieve big dreams.

It was really no different with us. We were amazed and enthralled by our boy. What a little athlete, far ahead in motor skills! He was always on the move, with an energy that could not be contained. Shortly after he was able to pull himself up, he spent his time making his way around the play-yard gate looking for a way out, like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park, testing the electric fence for weaknesses and plotting an escape. As soon as he could walk, he was running. As soon as he could run, he was sprinting down the hall and diving into a beanbag chair as though he were a gymnast performing a vault exercise. It wasn’t long before he was bouncing and jumping on cushions and balancing on the wooden beams around the garden.

At 12 months, my son said his first words: “clock” and “car”. What a smarty-pants! Most babies say “ma-ma” or “da-da”, but not our boy. Soon after, he no longer said those words…or any new words, for that matter. But the parenting books said that if your baby is focused on learning new skills, they often put other skills on the backburner for later. And our little guy was MUCH more interested in running and jumping and “being a boy”. Besides, boys speak later than girls anyway, right?

Man, he was hard to entertain! He seemed completely uninterested in the toys that were appropriate for his age group. Well, naturally! He was far too advanced to interest himself in such silly toys. If he did show interest in a truck, it was to examine it closely and observe how the wheels moved. If he played with a puzzle, he never put the pieces back into the frame but instead lined them up, one corner or side of each shape carefully touching the shape before it. When he was absorbed in these tasks, or any task really, he was so focused that he wouldn’t even respond to his name. “He’ll definitely be an engineer,” we said confidently.

Even as a little baby, our son was very visual and highly observant. I was so impressed when he became fascinated with the shadows that I cast on the wall as I changed his diapers. I would make shadow puppets for him and move my hands dramatically as he watched, mesmerized. When he became an active toddler, he noticed lines and shadows everywhere we went. He seemed almost distracted by them, walking the painted lines in a parking lot, running back and forth along a long crack in the driveway, getting on his hands and knees to examine the lines of grout in between the tiles of the kitchen floor. I remember the uneasy feeling I got at a “mommy and me” art class/playgroup, watching other boys and girls, all the same age as my son, painting pictures at the table and playing tag, while my boy wriggled from my lap and laid down with his head on the concrete floor, gazing at the contrast of light and shadow created by the sun as it streamed through the window blinds. “Maybe he will be a scientist?” I wondered, a hint of doubt creeping in.

Could it be that there was something a bit different about my child’s development? Something not-quite-right?

Everyone reassured us that he was fine. He’s a boy! Boys have lots of energy. They talk later than girls. He’s super-intelligent – that’s why he’s so observant. So what if he plays differently…that just shows he thinks outside the box! I wanted to believe them. So did my husband. We both wanted to remain spellbound by our boy’s uniqueness, by his brilliance.

In a way, our delusions became a cover for our denial.

The truth is, it is unusual for a baby to say the name of objects before saying the names of the two most important people in his life: Ma-ma and Da-da. And a baby should be far more interested in his mother’s face than in the shadows her body casts on the wall. And while finding another use for a toy may show innovation, it may also show a rigidity of thought and an inability to observe and imitate others for the purpose of learning. And what about his advanced motor skills? Was his need for almost constant movement masking some underlying developmental issue?

These clues remained vague, these questions, unanswered, until a possible explanation was offered by an unlikely source…my mother-in-law, my son’s Abuela. She said the word that my husband and I had been avoiding: Autism. And with that one word, I knew that there was no going back. I was in my alternate universe to stay. eagle-nebula-11174_640

Sleep Spiders – And You Thought Sleepwalking Was Creepy…

Published April 9, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

One night, months after my son was born, I awoke to find a very large spider working its way down an invisible thread right over our bed. I shook my husband and said, in a strangled whisper, “Don’t move! Spider!”

My mind was racing. I had to prevent the spider from reaching the sheets, but how? I remembered easily moving a small spider hanging from the living room ceiling by gently gliding my hand above the spider, catching its sticky thread, and moving it to the safety of a houseplant. I decided to try that with this much larger spider, at least to get it away from the bed. However, I underestimated the weight of the spider, and when I ran my hand above it to catch its thread, the spider plummeted into the waves of the bed sheets below. I shrieked in horror and started patting and flicking the sheets, hoping to either squish the spider or catapult its giant, hairy-legged body out of our bed.

Meanwhile, my startled husband moved to the edge of the bed where he sat watching me, confused. When I asked with exasperation, “Didn’t you see the spider? It was HUGE!” he just shook his head, rubbed his hand over his eyes, and sighed deeply. (You know – the way people do when it becomes clear that you are nuts, and it’s too exhausting for them to even try to find logic behind something you are doing.)

Slowly, my mind cleared. There was no spider. I sheepishly apologized and told him that it was ok, he could go back to sleep.

That was my first “sleep spider” visit.

Sleep spiders are a relatively new phenomenon for me. Sometimes I wake up to see one skittering across the wall, or poised on the ceiling right above the bed, or hanging from a thread over me, like that very first spider. Naturally, I find them threatening and scary, but, in a way, also fascinating. For those first five seconds or so, the spider seems real to my senses. If I blink and focus on it and tell myself it’s not real, it doesn’t disappear right away. Instead, it fades gradually into the shadows as I become more alert or evaporates as soon as the lights come on.

How strange it is to have your mind play tricks on you, to be briefly caught between two plains of existence – the dream world and reality. Strange, scary, but kind of cool, if you think about it.

Writing this post got me wondering – why a spider? Of course I find them creepy, but I’m not terrified of them like I am bees and hornets. What was the significance of a spider?

In my quest to figure out my sleep spiders, I did a Google search of “seeing spiders in your sleep.” A few sites had a medical explanation about being deprived of REM sleep, how your mind continues the dream state as you are waking up, causing you to see things that aren’t there. That made sense – even after six months, our boy was still a terrible sleeper, and I was woken up repeatedly at varying intervals every night by his crying.

That explained the reason I was seeing things in my sleep but not why the things I was seeing happened to be spiders. So I looked up the symbolic meaning of spiders in dreams. Now I must say, there are many interpretations of what a spider means, but most books and sites agreed that the spider often symbolizes a feeling of being stuck or trapped (like in a web).

Aha! Ever since our son was born I had felt trapped in an endless loop of feeding and holding and rocking and diaper changing. Of course, there was my ever-present anxiety about being a mother (like something to be feared is lurking in the shadows), the disappointment that reality did not match my expectations (like a fading dream world overlapping reality), and the perception that things were beyond my control (like being stuck in a sticky spiderweb, unable to break free).  More than that, I felt like I had lost my identity. I longed for a sense of direction and purpose, a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, a sense of self again.

My sleep spiders are so wise.  Mystery solved!

Well, perhaps not entirely.  There is one more explanation for my sleep spiders, and it is my least favorite: The spiders (at least some of them) might be REAL.

Before you shake your head, rub your eyes, and sigh deeply at that suggestion, I have one more story to tell. And, by the way, I was fully awake during this spider encounter.

Not long ago, my son (now older) was playing on my bed, while I stood by making sure he didn’t do anything that would result in an ER visit. As I pulled the curtain closed over the window at the head of the bed, the biggest frickin’ spider I have EVER SEEN fell onto my pillow. So humungous was this spider, that I actually HEARD the sound that its legs made as they impacted with the pillow. I pulled my boy from the bed and screamed something high-pitched and unintelligible to which my super-hero husband responded, leaping into the room with a “what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you?” look on his face. I pointed at the spider and only left the room when I was sure that he did, indeed, see it and that it was not a figment of my imagination.

After about fifteen minutes of thumping, banging, cursing, and moving of furniture, I heard the toilet flush and my husband emerged from our bedroom victorious. He guessed the spider had probably made its way in through the window and had not been living in our room for long. He also reassured me that although the spider was big, it was not dangerous. Pssh…who cares?! I slept with the light on for about a month after that.

Now when I awake to see a spider, I wonder – Is this my subconscious telling me that I’m stressed out and feeling trapped in my life? Or is that just a really big-ass spider dangling threateningly from an invisible thread over my head?

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Sleepwalking – Why I Always Wear Pajamas to Bed

Published March 31, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

Years before I met my husband, I lived in a cute little apartment in the center of a small town, right above the beauty salon. I lived alone, and every night I pulled two kitchen chairs in front of the door and piled pots and pans on them. No, I didn’t do this because I was afraid someone might break in; I was worried that I might get out.

What I did next was to tape a sign above the doorknob and place several other signs on the floor at regular intervals back to my bedroom door. On the signs, in bold, black Magic Marker, was written, “STOP! GO BACK TO BED! YOU ARE ASLEEP!” The purpose of these signs (and the booby-trap of pots and pans) was to keep me from sleepwalking out my apartment door, only to wake up when the door slammed behind me, locking me out.

If that had happened, it wouldn’t have been be the first time, and living alone meant there was no one on the other side of the door to let me back in. Hence, my paranoia.

You see, my friends – that is why I always wear pajamas to bed. No sleeping in my underwear or a slinky nightie for me, hell no! It’s flannel pajamas, or shorts and a t-shirt at the very least. I have to be proactive and practical about my sleep issues in order to limit both the danger and the humiliation.

The truth is I never thought the fact that I was a sleepwalker was particularly odd until I went to college. I have five siblings, and all of us were sleepwalkers and/or sleep-talkers as kids. Three of us (that I know of) have continued this behavior into adulthood, which I guess is unusual. We often share our funnier stories of sleepwalking at parties and family gatherings, because…well…they’re kind of weird stories, and after a few drinks they can be downright hilarious.

The sleepwalking story I share is one from college. I was dreaming that I was trapped in some kind of a large box. I couldn’t find my way out, so I thought of my friend, Bob, who was really smart. I knew he could figure out how to rescue me from the box. When I awoke from the dream, I was banging on my dorm room wall, exclaiming, “I’m trapped in this box! I need some help! I need Bob! Go get Bob!” And if that wasn’t mortifying enough – there were a few drunk guys in the hallway banging back and laughing. (I’ll admit the story is probably not as funny on paper. Try having a few drinks, and then act it out very dramatically, putting special emphasis on Bob, who is very smart and who is the only one who can save you from the box.)

But I digress.

I don’t always sleepwalk. My sleepwalking gets worse when I’m sleep deprived or under a lot of stress.

That’s right: “sleep deprived” and “under stress”. For a new mom, the “sleep deprived” part is pretty obvious and expected. Some of us, however, are taken off-guard by the intensity of the “stress” part – the stress that comes from bonding with a little human being that is totally reliant upon you for his very survival.

The author, Elizabeth Stone, said it best: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Yup. That’s it, right there.

As you know, I had anxiety before I had my boy. For me to feel so attached to and so protective of this completely vulnerable and precious baby – to feel like my heart no longer resided in my chest but with my boy…that just scared the shit out of me. It was like giving a Red Bull to someone who was already hyped up on caffeine.

I worried about him all the time. Is he eating enough? Is that what his poop is supposed to look like? Why is he making that face? Why isn’t that rash going away? What IS that rash anyway? Is he crying because he’s in pain or because he’s bored? Is he meeting all his milestones? Why does he seem different than the other babies?

All this worry carried into my subconscious, too. Almost every night, I would dream that the baby had rolled from my arms and was buried in the bed sheets. I would wake up to find myself frantically digging through the blankets looking for him. (Logically, losing my baby in the sheets would not have happened because I never brought him into bed with me…for this very reason!)

I also almost injured my poor, snoring husband several times as I dove across him to catch our imaginary baby as he fell off the side of the bed. Sometimes my sleepwalking brought me into the hallway where I dreamed that our boy was just about to fall down the stairs. Always my dream was of me searching for him or rescuing him from impending doom. Even in sleep, my mind just could not rest.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to give props to Mother Nature for the brain chemical/hormone cocktail she invented for the purpose of mother/baby bonding. Seriously, that is some powerful stuff. You are handed this rashy, stinky, screaming baby that keeps you up all day and night and pushes you to the very brink of insanity. But you stick around, tending to his every need for survival, protecting him from real dangers and rescuing him from imaginary ones. Why? Because you are totally and completely madly in love with him.

Let me tell you – awake or asleep, consciously or unconsciously – I loved this baby something fierce.  And as that bond grew stronger, so did the intensity of my anxiety.  My subconscious mind had to come up with more interesting and creative ways to channel that anxiety – like, for example, “sleep-spiders”…but that’s a topic for another post.

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Colic – Holy Crap, This is One Crazy-Ass Baby!

Published March 25, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

If I were to pick a movie soundtrack that would define my baby years, I think I’d pick the “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack, with jazz standards and big band favorites performed by Harry Connick, Jr. Now I’m not saying that I was a particularly “hip” or sophisticated baby, but the mood of the music…the smooth sound of brushes on the drums, the sweet, sometimes understated melodies played on the piano, the occasional blaring of the horn section just to be sure you’re paying attention…that fits my personality as a baby.  I was a calm observer of the world and a self-soother, with a furrow in my brow and my thumb in my mouth.

My husband’s baby soundtrack (according to him) would be “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”.  He was an easy-going, playful, and happy-go-lucky baby and (given the frantic nature of this music) apparently had A LOT of energy.

That brings us to our boy.  My husband and I had imagined that our baby would be a balanced mixture of both our personalities, and since we had been “easy babies” there was no need to worry that fate would deliver karmic payback for anything we had put our parents through.  But here’s the thing – your baby may have half the chromosomes of mom and half the chromosomes of dad, but he is 100% his own temperament and personality.

We weren’t expecting that.

If I were to pick a soundtrack for our baby’s first few months of life, I would choose the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey”. You know the one – It begins with the trumpets quietly playing the first note, gradually building in volume through the next two notes, then the orchestra joining in with two more spine-chillingly loud notes, followed by the reverberating tones of the drums.

Baaaa….Baaaa…Baaaa…BA! BA! (Boom, boom, boom, boom)

Ah yes, that was our baby boy.

His doctors had a medical term for his behavior – “colic”, which I assumed meant “really cranky and irritable for reasons we can’t determine”.  Colic is actually distress caused by gastrointestinal pain.  My little guy very likely had some stomach issues that were causing him discomfort, and we were giving him medicine for acid reflux and gas. But the more I read about colic the more I felt like that wasn’t the whole picture of our baby. He often didn’t appear to be in pain, he just seemed…discontented.

Our boy required nearly constant attention. He needed to be held, but not just held – he needed to be walked and danced and bounced.  Feedings were a nightmare, because every time you took the bottle from his mouth to burp him he screamed and screamed and refused to burp.  And he rarely slept. The longest stretch we could get him to sleep in his bassinet was 3-4 hours at night.  He did take naps during the day, but only if he was being held.  If you tried to move him ever-so-gently into his bassinet, then carefully slide your hands out from under his sleeping body, and then…DAMN IT!  His eyes would pop wide open, and that would be it.

So I held him.  A lot.  I carried him everywhere and became quite adept at doing things one-handed. My husband made mix CDs of songs that a baby might like, and my boy and I danced up and down the hallway for hours.  As he slept in my arms on the couch, propped on a pillow, I napped as well.  (Otherwise, I would never have slept.)

Time started to lose its meaning.  One day seemed very much like the one before, and they all blurred together, with no breaks to signify when one day finished and a new day began.  It felt like a long, endless, dark tunnel.  No light at the end.

I tried to create those peaceful scenes of motherhood, even the “scapbooking on the porch” scene I mentioned in my last post. But those scenes were desperately out of reach when your baby was not content to sit quietly in a swing, when he cried and howled and demanded your full attention at all times.

Exhaustion set in, and with the exhaustion came disappointment, bitterness, even anger, that my motherhood experience was so unlike the image I had created in my mind, the image of motherly bliss that I knew my alter ego was enjoying.

So I went in search of answers.  My search brought me once again to the “Parenting” section of Barnes and Noble, where I found, The Fussy Baby Book by Dr. William Sears, which helped me properly label my boy, not with “colic” but as a “high need baby”.  It was  comforting to read quotes from parents who had been in my position and had survived to tell the tale.

At the same time my husband found an amazing video by Dr. Harvey Karp called The Happiest Baby on the Block.  Dr. Karp is the Obi One Kenobi of baby soothing.  Seriously, he’s like a “baby whisperer”.  His techniques (along with a swaddling blanket aptly named “The Miracle Blanket”) helped us tremendously in understanding and controlling our boy’s superhuman powers over sleep and temperament. It became clear to us that our boy simply did not experience the world the same way that we had as babies. We just had to make him feel safe and comfortable until he reached the point that he could start to soothe himself.

How did my husband and I survive those long, long months with our sanity still intact?  Humor.  It felt so good at the end of a rough day to look at each other, shake our heads and say, “Holy crap, this is one crazy-ass baby.”  We shared rueful but heartfelt laughs about the absurdity of what our lives had become.

When I asked my husband to think back to those days and pick what he thought our baby’s soundtrack should be, with a little smile and with no hesitation he looked up the video on You Tube for, “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis.  I laughed – clearly he had either mentally blocked out the experience of our son’s infancy, or he was not taking the question seriously.  Of course his song choice doesn’t make any sense, but, then again, logic and reason had been pretty hard to come by all those sleepless months in this crazy alternate universe.  Best to just acknowledge that fact and laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home – “Bringing Home Baby – Extreme Adrenaline Edition”

Published March 16, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

I would be remiss if in all my “baby-themed” posts I didn’t mention the TLC reality show, “Bringing Home Baby” at least once.  Toward the end of my pregnancy, I watched this show every afternoon, sometimes several if they were having a marathon.  For anyone who hasn’t seen it:  In the beginning of the show you are introduced to a couple, usually pregnant with their first child.  A camera crew follows the couple through the labor, the ride home with their new baby, and the first few days adjusting to home life.  To a pregnant lady, it’s good stuff.

I mention this show because if camera crews had been there for our exit from the hospital, it would have been unlike any episode of “Bringing Home Baby” I ever saw.

As I wrote in previous posts, my son had complications at birth that required care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  He had aspirated fluid during labor and required oxygen through a tube in his nose and medications to clear out his lungs.  We were told he would not be allowed to leave the hospital until the oxygen tube was removed.

That was before they discovered our baby’s mutant powers:  a superhuman ability to resist sleep and an extremely volatile temperament.  (OK, so they weren’t X-Men worthy powers, but they were impressive nonetheless.)

The morning we arrived to find the oxygen had been removed, we were so excited.  We were all going home!  Since our boy was no longer attached to the oxygen equipment, the nurse said we could spend some time with him in the “pumping” room, away from the noise of the NICU.  I was so happy to hold him without the fear of pulling any important tubes and wires.  It was the closest we had gotten to “skin-to-skin” since his birth 10 days before.

My husband was snapping pictures when the NICU doctor stepped in.  After introducing himself and making brief small talk, he asked a rather odd question, “Did you take any drugs while you were pregnant, legal or otherwise?’

I think I might have laughed.  Now that I had been living in my new alternate universe for over a week, I was getting a little more accustomed to the unpredictable nature of this place.  My alter ego in Universe A would have never been asked that question.

“No.  No drugs or alcohol.  And I only took the over the counter medicine my doc said was safe for pregnancy.  Why?”

The doctor apologized and explained that even though the oxygen had been removed, our baby would have to remain in the NICU for observation because of his extreme temperament.  My boy hardly slept, and when he did sleep he would wake up screaming and crying so loud he would wake the other babies.  The nurses were spending a great deal of time holding and rocking him when I wasn’t there to soothe him.

Let’s step back for a moment.  My boy had been so comfortable and happy in his safe, cozy, quiet womb that he had gone ten days past his due date.  During labor, he refused to come out, apparently holding on for dear life to one of my internal organs (a kidney, maybe?).  When he was finally forced into this world, instead of being held lovingly by his mom, he was rushed to the NICU and put on oxygen and IV drips, surrounded by bright lights, beeping equipment, crying babies, chatting nurses and doctors…not to mention the fact that he was being poked for blood work every few hours.

My baby wasn’t withdrawing from drugs.  My baby was PISSED OFF.  And rightly so!  My heart ached for him and his obvious distress, and I longed to take my little guy home to our calm, quiet house where I could hold him, and hug him, and love him – make him feel safe and comfortable again.

But my boy remained in the NICU being observed and monitored for six more days.  To rule out food allergies, they tried different kinds of formulas.  They also ran more tests to be sure that his lungs were indeed clear, and that there wasn’t a medical reason for his fussiness.  An observation chart was filled in, recording when my boy slept and what his temperament was upon waking.

To make him more comfortable, the nurses kept the lights low, and the curtains were drawn in his area.  Someone brought in a small radio to play classical music and a newborn-sized baby swing to rock him when he was upset.  They wrapped him up tight like a burrito in his receiving blankets and surrounded him with a beanbag snake-looking thing when he was in his bassinet to give him the sensation of being held.  It eased my anxiety to see how much care and loving attention they were giving my son.

Things improved a little when they switched him to the most hypoallergenic formula, and I guess at that point they figured they had done all they could.  It was clear he was not withdrawing from drugs.  We was a very fussy, “high maintenance” baby, who maybe had colic.  They wished us luck and said we could take him home.

My husband brought in the car seat, and I carefully un-swaddled our baby burrito so he could be positioned and buckled in correctly.  The moment I placed him in his seat, he started screaming.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to calm down, and I wondered how we would ever get him out of the hospital and into the parking garage.  Seeing an empty supply cart, the nurse had an idea:  Place the car seat on the cart and wheel the baby through the hallways – perhaps the movement would soothe him until we could get him to the car.

We discussed the best route to the garage, the path of least resistance.  This was starting to feel more like a jailbreak than a “Bringing Home Baby” episode.

With our screaming baby in the car seat on top, we positioned ourselves around the cart and started to move.  We started slowly.  Our wide-eyed boy, soothed by the movement, quieted down.  But as the halls became noisier he started howling again, so we decided to move a little faster.  Once again, the pace calmed him.  Anytime we were forced to slow down, though, our boy wailed in protest.

We were starting to attract attention from curious on-lookers.

“Let’s just get to the parking garage,” I muttered.

By now we were moving at a pretty good clip, somewhere between a brisk walk and a light jog, which our boy seemed to like.  My husband was positioned in front and acted as our lookout at each intersection so that we didn’t take out some poor, unsuspecting elderly person who had the misfortune to amble out in front of us.  The nurse pushed the cart from the back.  I stayed beside my baby, steadying the seat and holding his little hand, reassuring him with little “shushes”.

Now people were REALLY staring.  We didn’t care, though, because we had caught site of the parking garage.  Almost there!

And then – maybe it was the excitement, or the movement of the cart, or all the crying and howling – our baby spit up all over himself.  We stopped the cart just a few feet from the door, and my husband ran to get the car.  I was bawling my eyes out right along with my baby, and the nurse did the best she could to calm me down as she helped me clean him.

When the car seat was finally snapped into its base in the car, the baby stopped crying.  I stopped crying too.  The nurse, looking exhausted and a little disheveled, gave me a reassuring hug goodbye.

As we drove away from the hospital where we had been for 18 days, I felt free.  We were going home with our boy, and everything would be great.  He would adjust to our peaceful home and abandon his volatile, mutant superpowers for a happier, more content temperament, and I would bask in the bliss of motherhood.

But what any sci-fi movie or comic book fan can tell you is that mutant superpowers don’t just go away…

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