5 Things You Absolutely Need for Your Baby's First Year

I've written quite a few posts about items that we love for Forrest. Looking back over the last almost year (really, almost a year now), I can pick out a few distinct items that we absolutely love, use every day, and cannot live without. 

My usual disclaimer, of course, stands: not every baby is the same; not every baby will like the things Forrest likes, and not every parent will like the things that Danny and I like. But that being said, I really feel like these items have made our lives easier--and that's why I say, you absolutely need them. 

1. the myBaby Sound Machine 

This is a sound machine and projector for baby's specifically. We didn't get it until June and let me tell you--I wish we'd bought one sooner. We used an app on our phones for the first 8 months of Forrest's life, but it was hard to leave him in his room with our phone, with an app that needed restarted every 30 minutes. This sound machine... it's amazing. In all honesty, we don't use the projector; I don't like the idea of him having a light playing images all night, it seems odd. But the sound machine. is. amazing. There are a ton of sound options, including heart beat (very popular with newborns) and rushing water (Forrest's fave). Totally worth the $24. 

2. HelloBaby Wireless Monitor

I had said I wouldn't get a video monitor because I thought they were unnecessary and weird. But when we started sleep training Forrest, we knew we needed one. Forrest could already stand up by then and so would often stand in his crib; I just wanted to be able to see if he'd hurt himself or genuinely needed help. This one is affordable, incredibly light, and has absolutely zero fancy features. It's perfect. You don't need a $200 camera to watch your baby sleep. 

3. OBall Rattle

This is a $4 ball that rattles. It is one of Forrest's favorite toys and has been for ages. He can chew on it, crawl on it, throw it, bounce it, hit it, offer it to Remus, and use it in the bath tub. It's a multi-use toy and he freaking loves it. $4. Drop the $50 activity centers and grab a bunch of Oballs. You'll thank me. 

4. Munchkin Microwave Sterilizer

I never imagined I would need so many bottle supplies, but here I am. Washing bottles is a huge pain in the butt and sterilizing them is worse. I sterilized until Forrest was 6 months old because I was paranoid like that. This microwave sterilizer was a constant on our kitchen counter. It was easy to use, easy to clean, and didn't take up too much room (not any more room than our bottle drying rack which I can't wait to get rid of). Even if you think you'll be exclusively breastfeeding, having a good bottle sterilizer on hand is good for pump parts, bottles, and toys (in case you end up getting thrush). 

5. Mommy's Bliss Gripe Water

Gripe water is used to help calm colic. Some babies live on this stuff. For the first 12 weeks of Forrest's life, we would give him this every evening to head off his crying streak that occurred from 6pm to 9pm. If he was crying, it would stop him in his tracks just long enough for him to go to sleep. It was a total game changer. Affordable, easy to use, and mostly non-medicinal. 

Have items your baby couldn't live without? Share with me on Twitter!

Why We Decided to Sleep Train

I swore I would never sleep train. The idea of letting Forrest "cry it out" bothered me, in that it felt fundamentally wrong.

However, after 8-and-a-half months of very, very little sleep and highly interrupted sleep, I knew I needed to do something. I wasn't sleeping, I had no time to myself, and my back and hips were starting to ache from acting as a barrier from the edge of the bed. 

For about 6 weeks, I read every article I could find on sleep training; I followed sleep training blogs and joined sleep training groups; I asked all my friends about sleep training and fretted to my mom. When Forrest was 6 or 7 weeks old, I'd read an article that sleep training caused emotional trauma and I found myself unable to shake that from my mind. If we sleep trained, would it hurt him? 

Here's the conclusion I ultimately came to. (And remember, this is just my conclusion; every parent is free to make their own.) There is an appropriate emotional age to sleep train and it's different for every baby. Some babies will be fine sleep training at 4-6 months. Some babies will be fine sleep training after 6 months. Some babies are capable of sleep training from birth on. It just depends on your baby and your comfort level. 

Here's another thing: Sleep training doesn't mean letting your baby scream and cry until they puke and pass out. This horrible article went around a few months ago (it's the one I read when Forrest was tiny) about a person listening to a friend's child scream and scream and scream alone in their room and how awful and terrible it was. It's a bad article. It is. It is completely made up and not indicative of real sleep training. 

A blog I read said it best: sleep training is about communicating with your child, teaching a skill, and empowering your child to sleep better. 

The truth is, disrupted, poor sleep is bad for both Forrest and me. Both of us were suffering from sleep deprivation. He was cranky all the time, sleeping barely 10 hours a day (at 9 months, most babies still need 13-14 hours of sleep total). I needed to sleep and Forrest needed to sleep. 

So we decided to sleep train. 

We did a few things first. I ordered a sound machine because Forrest sleeps best with white noise (river and water sounds, typically). I ordered the myBaby SoundSpa Lullaby Sound Machine and Projector on a recommendation from my due date group on Facebook. I put Danny in charge of finding a baby monitor and he picked this one: the Hello Baby Wireless Monitor with Night Vision. We needed a monitor that didn't use WiFi and this one works perfectly for our needs. 

We had experimented with a few different sleep training methods before. Here are a few common methods (although this blog doesn't use the appropriate names for them). We noticed something specific with Forrest: if we checked on him or went in to reposition him, it would start his crying all over again. He would return to the intense, angry cry. So we decided to use the extinction method. 

Extinction is what people mean with they say "cry it out"; however, "cry it out" isn't the name of any actual method. It also doesn't mean we don't tend to him or ignore him. The first night, Forrest cried for over 90 minutes, which was rough; Danny went in to lie him back down three times (just to avoid him falling over from being so tired). Once he went to sleep, though, he slept for 7 solid hours. 

Seven hours!! Forrest has never slept 7 hours straight in his life before that. Before sleep training, he was waking up every 2 hours to eat. 

It was revolutionary. We have been sleep training for 10 days now and each day, he gets a little better. He goes to bed at 6pm and usually wakes up to fuss at 10pm. Then he fusses himself back to sleep within 10 minutes. He wakes up at 4:55am for a bottle, then sleeps until 7am most days. 

7am. This is the baby that has been getting me up at 4:30am or 5:00am for months. Now he sleeps until 7am! He only eats 1 bottle at night! He falls asleep after 15 minutes of crying! 

The best part? He's happier during the day. He naps less frequently, plays more, and has started making more developmental steps. He eats better during the day. He's more fun to play with. Everything is better now that he's sleep. 

The best part? After 6pm, I have time to myself. I can vacuum, clean the kitchen, organize my desk area, clean the bedroom, and more. I can write in my journal. I can scrapbook or write! I have time to myself. My house is getting cleaned up. I can watch TV shows at 6pm. Danny and I can watch movies together. 

Sleep training isn't for everyone. It's absolutely true. Some parents just can't stand to hear their babies cry for 90 minutes. But now that we've worked through the hardest parts, it's hard to imagine never having done it. I don't regret it one bit. We are a happier family now thanks to sleep training and that's what matters. 

A Few More Things My Baby & I Can't Live Without

I've written previously about some newborn essentials that made my life easier in the first few weeks of Forrest life. As babies grow, they basically change their minds every single day about what is going to work for them. It's probably because they are physically changing into new and different tiny humans each and every day, rapidly learning new skills, making connections, and absorbing the world around them. So that thing that helped your baby sleep for the first four weeks of their life (our trusty Rock'n'Play) suddenly becomes the enemy overnight (curses!). 

I thought I'd share a few items that are rocking our world lately. 

1. the Love to Dream Swaddle UP 50/50 

Full disclosure, we haven't had this swaddle too long--but on its first day in use, it totally changed our lives. Forrest slept through several naps on his own. I have held him for every single nap since he was about 4 weeks old. Yeah. It's a big deal. For $25, I will pay for the chance to pump, wash bottles, and eat a snack without juggling a sleeping baby. 

2. The O-Ball

I have a bunch of vaguely "rattle-like" objects for Forrest, but a lot of them are heavy and, for little hands that are just learning to grip and otherwise weak, just kinda too smooth. The O-Ball is great because: it rattles; it's brightly colored; and it's a soft, flexible, lightweight plastic that is super easy to grab. Forrest loves it. 

3. The Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up 

A few weeks ago, a woman in my due date group on Facebook shared this toy--and immediately, everyone in the group ordered one. I mean, easily 80 women ordered this toy. And about 85% of us love it. Forrest digs sitting in it. It makes it easy for him to play with toys, work on his ab muscles, work on grabbing stuff, and observe me folding laundry. Plus, the toys from his playmat also fit on the toy loops, so I can switch out toys depending on what he's into! 

4. UpSpring Baby Milkflow

I've written pretty extensively about my hatred of exclusive pumping--one of the most difficult parts of it is, honestly, the fact that my supply dips at the slightest change in my diet or routine. Whether it's drinking too much soda, not enough water, too many carbs, whatever. A friend recommended this supplement alongside my other supplements (lactation cookies, 100oz of water a day, Mother's Milk tea) and, I have to say, it works amazingly well. It tastes absolutely terrible, so I mix it into orange juice or Naked juice and it's not so bad. 

5. Pumpin' Pals Pump Flanges 

The flanges that come with the typical Medela pump are, frankly, way too small for most people and uncomfortable. These flanges are lifesavers. Firstly, they come with a guarantee that if you don't pump more milk per session, they will refund your purchase. That' awesome. Secondly, they are designed with a rounded edge to prevent the cup from cutting into your skin. And third, they are designed with a downward slope, which means that when you pump, you don't have to lean forward or sit straight up. Which, again, if you pump a lot, makes a huge difference in your life. They are absolutely worth the money. 

How Can I Keep Creativity Alive?

I was on my approximately 3rd day wearing the same sweatpants and tank top when I realized I hadn't written in my planner or journal in a week and a half. Now, to most people, this thought would enter their mind and then pass without much other thought. So I fell behind on my journal. That's ok, right? 

No, it's actually not ok. At least for me. 

I have a memory that is simultaneously awesome and awful. I can remember the most minute trivia, but ask me what I did yesterday and I'll probably blank. If I don't write down every detail of Forrest's day (how much he ate, when, if he had poopy diapers), I won't really remember it... but I can remember which onesies he wore and in what order. If I don't write down Forrest's big milestones at the end of the day, I won't remember. I'll remember that it happened--but when and why and the context will slowly fade into oblivion. And yet I can remember the names of every contestant on Flavor of Love from 8 years ago. Thanks, brain! 

Even at my busiest, I have always kept some kind of written record of my life: notes jotted down in my journal, a list of things I'm grateful for, a writing notebook with every book I'd read for three years, a checklist of my homework I'd completed. Some people leave behind art; I intend to leave behind a meticulous detailing of my life. 

In the past few weeks, I've been using a Happy Planner to jot down notes of my day. I also decorate each week, so I get two creative exercises in one. But ever since I went into the hospital for preeclampsia, I've fallen behind. I've filled in maybe four days in the past three weeks and that's just barely. I haven't written in my journal or gotten any work done on NaNoWriMo. 

Being creative is incredibly important to me. My journals and planners are one way I stay creative even when I don't have the time, or emotional capacity, to create anything else. 

So when I neglect my journaling for a week... and then a week and a half... and suddenly I have about four weeks to write about... it becomes daunting. I know I'll never be able to cover everything I wanted to in those weeks. I already don't remember the details. 

I've devised a little plan to help myself stay creative. Here it is: 

  1. Make time for it. My number one problem, really, is that when I get Forrest to nap, I either 1) sleep or 2) mindlessly browse the Internet or my phone. While sleeping is a great idea, mindlessly scrolling through my phone is not so much. When Forrest naps, if I can go without a nap, I need to spend time working on things that keep my creative brain active. 
  2. Do NaNoWriMo. I have gone back and forth in the last few weeks about competing in NaNoWriMo this year. I was 100% set on it until I had Forrest--and realized just how sleep deprived I would become. However, I think I've gotten back to be 100% for it. Why? Because I know, more than anything, that NaNoWriMo will keep me motivated to write at least a little bit everyday. It can't hurt, right? (And I'm awake at 3am everyday anyway.) 
  3. Ask for help. Have I mentioned how terrible I am at asking other people to help me? I tend to get really intense about things and forget that other people are available to help me. If that means asking my mom to come over so I nap or catch up, or asking Danny to watch Forrest while I write, I need to remember to do it. 

How do you keep creativity alive when you're super busy?  

Mothers, Don't Let Your Daughters Make Up Baby Names

This past weekend, I discovered a really funny blog. A woman named Jessie receives a newspeper insert every year that includes the birth announcements for all of Madison County, Idaho. She uses it to create a list of the absolute worst names in Idaho. She's done this for 7 years. She argues (pretty articulately, I must say) and provides evidence that shows that the wacky trend of making up weird names for babies was started in Utah and Idaho; there have been unfortunately named children in these states for decades. 

Before I noticed average everyday people giving their babies truly unfortunate names, I moved to Idaho and found myself surrounded by people with kinda weird names. Unique spellings and interesting pronunciations mostly. It wasn't something I had encountered in Eugene, Oregon. I mean, my graduating high school class was overrun with Michaels, Anthonys, and Christophers. 

However, in recent years, I've noticed more and more unique names from all corners. People making up names for their kids. I think we've all seen the picture of the pretty pregnant woman standing in front of a chalkboard featuring several very unpleasant names for her future baby... and the truly unfortunate one she decided to go with. In case you haven't, here it is. (You can also find this simply by Googling "white people awful baby names". It's the first result.) 

Let's appreciate for a moment that she didn't name the poor child McKarty. 

Let's appreciate for a moment that she didn't name the poor child McKarty. 

All of these names (and many popular ones) include the Column A and Column B technique: you take a bunch of random prefixes (La-, May-, Mc-, Brin-) in Column A and a random bunch of names or made up names in Column B (-kynn, -lynn, -ley/lee/lei, and more) and just smash then today. Brinley. Brinlynn. Maylynn. Maylei. It ensures that your child will have a truly unique name and no teacher will ever pronounce it correctly. 

As I wrote on Twitter, while reading the blog post I found, "I know you're not supposed to judge other women for what they name their babies, but I'm going to anyway." People will argue that people have the right to name their child whatever they damn well wish and that is certainly true. But a baby isn't an accessory; it isn't a pet; it isn't a toy. It grows up and has its own life. When little Lakynn or little Oakley or little Remington (not kidding) grows up, they have to put down "Lakynn TwilaLou Smith" on their resume, their college applications. If you think that a person's name doesn't affect their job prospects, then you're fooling yourself. 

It's natural to want to give teeny weeny widdle babies teeny weeny widdle names that are as cute and fat and special as them. But that's an impulse that needs to be shoved down. There are home videos of me as a baby with my parents and siblings calling me Michelle, which is 1) bizarre because my memory only recalls being called Shelly and 2) is a mouthful for a tiny baby. But while Michelle or Alexander or Jonathan are big names for little babies, they are also adult names that suggest adult people. 

In the future, we're going to have generations of people with far out names: the Brinleys and Oakleys and Remingtons and Diezzels and Lakynns and McKartys are going to grow up and apply for college. A generation of little girls are doomed to having people stare at their names in disbelief. "Are these just a bunch of letters smushed together? Did you name yourself?" Will the President of the United States ever be named RyKer or Londyn or Lexxus or Kenlee? Probably not. 

I have a penchant for weird, old names. I really like the way they sound and look, and I love when names have a history. However, I've been talked out of Angus and Ezra as boy names because, well, they're just too odd. (I will argue that a man named Angus is probably destined to be a badass. Just saying.) I find myself scaling back the "weirdness" on the names I pick for future baby because, well, I want it to have absolutely every opportunity. I don't want any decision I make to negatively impact its future. And that includes its name. 

I guess what I'm saying is: this trend seems to treat babies too much as fashion accessories that you can name however you want without consequences. But there are consequences to names. Really. Babies grow up into adults and they don't really get a second chance at having a name. A little girl named Remington will be named Remington for her entire life. Do you really want to do that to a child? Don't make up names for your baby. Stick to the classics. 

It's Better If We Don't Talk About All the Stuff I Have to Give Up

I promise, seriously, that not every post I write will be about being pregnant. Except this one will be. And maybe a few more. Ok, to be honest, I hate when people get pregnant and it becomes their entire life. I've been a major mommy blog hater for a long time--especially if that blogger started as a non-mommy blogger--and I probably will always be. There is something gross about pimping your kids out for content on the internet. 

That being said, being pregnant is very all-consuming. Being pregnant dictates things you can and cannot do. For example, I can't get dental work until my 2nd trimester (sorry fillings I've put off for a year!), nor can I even get dental x-rays or a cleaning. I can't drink. I can't eat pepperoni or hot dogs or anything with nitrates. I can't drink caffeine. (If you know me, you know giving up Diet Pepsi/Diet Coke is serious.) I have to take prenatal vitamins and occasionally milk of magnesia, dear god. Sometimes, I gag when I clear my throat. 

I have found though that life is better if we don't talk about all the stuff I have to give up, like another trip to Disneyland (sniffle), tuna fish sandwiches, and feeling non-queasy at any given point throughout the day. This is difficult because the question I most often get asked is: "Do you miss ______ yet?" With that blank containing one of the following: coffee; caffeine; fish; sushi; everything; or not being pregnant. 

It's hard to be pregnant in a world where so often being pregnant is focused on the things that happen to me and that I can't have. Pregnancy is so often depicted as a time of vomiting, caffeine deprivation,  and general bitchiness. Which, yeah, I mean, that's not wrong

But there is more to being pregnant than feeling sick, mean, and tired. There is a lot more to pregnancy than giving up caffeine and effective painkillers for 9 months. 

Danny and I have decided that every time I get upset about something I can't have, we will turn the conversation to talk about what we will have. That is a baby. I will have a baby. Isn't that way better than a cup of coffee or a Diet Pepsi? As much as I totally would love a hot dog, I'm way more excited about a baby (my baby!) than a hot dog. 

My mom has been pretty shocked by my lack-of-sickness. True: I feel like reheated crap most days, nauseous from morning until evening. However, I haven't thrown up nearly as much as I expected to, given my mom's and my sister's history with morning sickness. My mom always tells me though, "The end result is the same. You get a baby."

There are a lot of things in pregnancy that exist on a person-by-person basis. Some women get implantation bleeding and put a lot of stock in it... but a vast majority of women just don't get it. (Personally, it felt like I'd done a killer ab work out on the day where I think the embryo implanted properly.) It's the same with spotting, with morning sickness, with fatigue. 

To often, people want to simplify pregnancy into a list, a set of symptoms, a state of mind. But it's way more than that. Yeah, I really miss all the stuff I don't get to eat and drink and enjoy right now. I really, genuinely do miss my morning coffee. I also really miss being able to stay up past, like, 7pm. 

But instead of focusing on what pregnancy "should" be like, I think it's more important to focus on how life-changing the next few months will be. In the next few months, I can make memories that last forever, that I can tell my baby about. I'd rather focus on that--not on what I can't do or have right now. 

Two Becomes Three

You know that TV show "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant"? I always gave those women the benefit of the doubt. Whenever my friends, family, or coworkers made fun of the show, I'd say, "You know, not every pregnancy is the same. They might not know! They might not be as in tune with their bodies as other people! It might have been a totally weird pregnancy!" Most people would change the subject or more on. But I held fast to the idea that sometimes, you really didn't know you were pregnant. 

On February 10, I knew I was pregnant. Before I even peed on the stick. I knew it was completely as I knew the sky was blue and that gravity works. I just knew. Partly, this was because I felt awful; secondly, it was because the weekend before I had had multiple scream-crying jags aimed at poor Danny (we will laugh about those someday, I'm sure). There is nothing quite like acting like a huge asshole to make you think something is seriously wrong with me. 

And what was seriously wrong with me was a tiny embryo doing its thing inside my uterus. 

By February 11, I knew for sure I was pregnant. I took a special digital pregnancy test and everything. 

This is  stick that I peed on. 

This is  stick that I peed on. 

I mean, look at that read out. That's for sure. The first test I took was negative; however, I was not deterred. I took another test the next morning and it had an extremely light plus sign. I made it through an entire day at work (give me props, right now, for this feat, because seriously) and bought these digital read outs. When it was for sure, I immediately told my mom. Because who else would I tell? 

The next few days felt so surreal. I called and made a doctor's appointment for March 5. It felt like so far away and I wanted to know, immediately, ASAP. Looking back (and knowing how far along I am now), I was only about 2.5 weeks when I tested--that's so early!! 

That first week, it felt like I had new symptoms everyday: none of my bras fit; I was exhausted; my stomach hurt; my body cramped at random times; I couldn't stand the smell of coffee; all I wanted was a hamburger; ranch dressing started to taste horrible; the smell of fried food literally made me gag. And yet, I couldn't tell anyone. I hadn't even technically missed a period yet. 

I don't know how Danny and I kept our secret for nearly a month. I told my coworker, Meredith. We told Danny's brother Nate and Nate's wife, Amy. We planned a surprise for Danny's parents when they visited in March. I bought prenatal vitamins, registered at Target for baby stuff, looked sadly at the stack of stuff in what will be the baby's room and considered moving it. I wore leggings nearly everyday, stocked up on comfy sweatshirts, and wondered when morning sickness would kick in. 

Congratulations! It's a jellybean! (It's says "hi Grandma!" because my mom ended up not being able to come in for the ultrasound.) 

Congratulations! It's a jellybean! (It's says "hi Grandma!" because my mom ended up not being able to come in for the ultrasound.) 

Surprise: despite all evidence to the contrary, I have not had very bad morning sickness. I feel very nauseous some mornings, but have not actually gotten sick. I'm mostly super tired and cranky and generally feel like I'm dragging around an extra 10 pounds. (Another surprise: I've only gained 1 pound according to my doctor's appointment, despite feeling as if I've turned into the Michelin man.) 

Finally, post-doctor's appointment, we can talk about our future human spawn. Right now, it's still an embryo because I'm only 6W6D (7 weeks by the time this posts of course). However, it does have a four-chamber heart, that beats, which is by far the most stunning thing I've ever seen in my life.

Most people would say it is bad luck to talk about being pregnant so early, but I think it's really important to share each step of your life with other people. I know it makes people nervous, but even if something happened, it's part of my life and I don't see much of a point in keeping it hidden. 

It is strange to be at a time in my life where I know I will look back and say, "That's when my life changed. That was it." It is so weird to be actively in one of those times and to be completely aware of how life-changing it is. 

I'm very excited for this journey, though.