Saturday, September 13, 2014

One

 Stella, Age One

 Sam, Age One

Sam is one. I can't believe this sweet, brilliant, hilarious little man has already been in my life one year, and yet I can't imagine my life without him.

People don't talk much about one. Everyone talks about the Newborn Stage - nursing constantly, up every couple of hours, wanting to be held constantly. And everybody talks about the Terrible Twos which, if you read my blog, you know I actually quite enjoy.

But nobody talks about one.

One was my breaking point with Stella. It was when my post partum depression hit its peak and didn't relent for months. I had no clue that PPD could really affect a mother that long after giving birth, so I figured something was just wrong with me, that I was a bad person for not enjoying my emerging toddler, that surely I'd soon get over myself.

Now that I have Sam and am also mentally healthy, I see why one was the straw that broke my back. When Stella turned one, that was officially our anniversary of hellish sleep. Sam wakes around 1 - 4 times per night, but he usually just nurses and goes back to sleep. Believe it or not, that's really pretty manageable. Stella, on the other hand, woke anywhere from 4 - 8 times per night, wanting to nurse constantly but lacking the jaw and head strength to do so on her own, meaning that if I didn't want her to scream bloody murder and wake all our neighbors I had to hold my breast in place for her while she took half an hour to 45 minutes to nurse. And, unlike Sam, she refused to take a pacifier.

One is the age where the child has specific wants, but she doesn't know how to express herself. Sam's new habit is screaming at the top of his longs - short rhythmic bursts that sound like a car alarm - until you get him a yogurt or change his diaper or fetch his paci or give him a hug. We're late to the game, but we're trying to teach him to sign so we can figure out what he wants before we all get headaches. It can be frustrating, but it's not as intense as Stella's earth-shattering fits. She would scream at the top of her lungs - one long burst that made you question if she actually needed to breathe oxygen. She would arch her back, try to jump out of my arms, smash her head on the concrete if I wasn't watching her. And, unlike Sam who's appeased the minute he gets what he wants, once Stella was in the Tantrum Zone, it was next to impossible to get her out. I remember days where the child screamed like that for hours on end. Hours. I was a wreck.

One is around the age where babies start to walk. Sam is pulling up on everything, standing up on his own, and has even taken the stray step here and there. This is incredibly exciting, of course, but it can also be frustrating. Because while you're waiting for the child to become mobile, they are reaching their maximum weight and need to be carried a lot. Sam is 22 pounds and I tote him in and out of daycare, in and out of stores (before I plop him in the shopping cart), up and down our stairs at home, and to and fro the car. My back is in extreme pain. But again, it was far more intense with Stella. She weighed a lot more than Sam, for one thing - almost 30 pounds at age one (that girl nursed like no child has ever nursed in the history of the world and yes - babies CAN get fat on breastmilk). And she hung out in this prewalking stage for months. I kept thinking, "Today has to be the day she will take her first step," but it never was. Months we waited, worried about developmental delays but not wanting to seem like neurotic parents. And whereas I get Sam in and out of a car, I was schlepping Stella either in an carrier or a stroller up and down subway steps. I remember sneaking in hot baths whenever possible and slapping Ben Gay all over myself.

One is the age when babies are into everything. We have baby gates that keep Sam contained within our first two rooms, which have outlet covers, no small toys, and nothing else that could hurt him (in theory, at least). The second one of us opens the gate to go to the kitchen, he bolts for it, crawling as quickly as his chubby thighs will take him, and we have to scramble. If we leave a stray piece of mail on our in table, it's ripped to shreds and partially eaten within minutes. If we leave a shoe by the door, it's in his mouth. He's pulled our dining room chairs on top of himself, and got his finger stuck in a cat toy. All in the "safe" rooms. And don't get me started on what it's like to take him to homes or businesses that are not baby proofed. I basically have to trail him, prying things out his hands and catching lamps before they fall down. If there's a doorway, that's where he wants to hang out, especially if it's in a busy establishment where he could get clobbered, like a doctor's office. In this regard, Stella was no different, but because she was such a late walker, this stage lasted forever. When toddlers learn to walk, they still get into things that could hurt them, but at least they are somewhat distracted by their mobility enough to give you a few minutes break here and there.

We didn't know it at the time, but Stella was exhibiting classic signs of her now diagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder. I just figured I was failing as a parent, and had no idea that there were actually programs and people that could have helped both her and me. So all the frustration of dealing with these issues combined with my guilt sent my mental health into a ravine, and it would take a long time and a lot of work to recover.

Sam is behaving like a run-of-the-mill one year old, and I'm mentally healthy, so now I just find this stage a bit challenging. It's filled with adorable moments - new words and snuggles and so much learning - and because I'm not in that dark place this time I can take a moment here and there to enjoy it. Also, since he's my second kid, I know this stage is finite - it'll be over before I know it - so I focus on the positive as much as possible, secure in the fact that soon he WILL walk and talk, and that will make life a lot easier.

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to direct you to some resources. First off, now matter how old your baby is, if you're feeling chronically sad, angry, or anxious, you might have PPD and there is definitely help out there. Please get the help you and your family deserve.

Secondly, if you suspect your baby or child might be delayed or be different, trust your gut. Yes, all babies are different and they don't look at clocks or calendars, but sometimes those differences indicate a condition that can be helped through early intervention. Check in your state to find out what resources are available. Here in Kentucky, we have the fantastic First Steps program!

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