Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thank you thank you thank you

The Whopper is supposed to be napping right now.  I finally managed to get him to sleep (no small task, I tell you), popped him in his swing, went to wash some dishes, came back 10 minutes later and he's awake and chatting away to himself.  Sigh.  I'm ignoring him in the hopes that he will fall back asleep, but that seems unlikely.  We had hoped our kid would enjoy sleeping as much as Jeeves and I do.  But apparently not.

Anyway, Max's sleep habits are not the point of this post.

The day Dad died I called my old college friend who also happens to be the attorney for Dad's estate.  I'm the executor of the estate, and after a couple of weeks in which I had to plan Dad's memorial service, I started the probate process.  Executing an estate is a lot of work, and my dad's estate isn't even that complicated.  It's definitely giving me food for thought on how Jeeves and I should structure our will.  But anyway.  A part of the estate is my dad's house, my childhood home.

The house is in suburban New Jersey.  It's an old house, over 100 years old and it has a lot of character.  My parents lived there for over 40 years.  To put it mildly, the house needs a lot of work.  A lot of work.  The kitchen is pretty good, and sure, the house is livable, but in this market to meet the desires of most buyers, well, it would be a tough sell.  The bedrooms are small, the closets are small.  The doors are old.  It's carpeted and the carpets were installed in the 1980s.  There's lots of terrible wallpaper.  No central air.  A scary unfinished basement, which is where the laundry hookup is.  A very nice, large yard which needs some serious TLC.  Only one full bath.  A tiny half bath on the ground floor.  A difficult to navigate driveway.  And it's on a busy corner (when my parents bought it, it was a sleepy, quiet corner, but now it's super busy).  And worst of all - an underground oil tank.  The house doesn't use oil heat anymore, but the oil tank was never removed.

We had the house appraised as part of the probate process and frankly, I was surprised it came in as high as it did.  My sister, on the other hand, thought the appraisal was too low and had grand ideas about what we could get.  We argued over the oil tank.  I emphasized that no buyer would take the house with the tank in - we would have to remove it (which can be very, very expensive if there's contamination).  My sister generally agreed with me.  But then there's good old brother in law (BIL).

Where do I start on BIL?  I think I've mentioned before that I am not a big fan of his, and my mom and dad weren't either.  I'll just sum it up by saying that the day after my dad died my sister texted me saying that BIL was concerned about my dad's stock portfolio and thought we should liquidate it right away.  Yeah.  The day after my dad died.  Anyway, BIL's position on the oil tank was that we should not tell any prospective buyer about it.  Let's ignore the fact that as executor, I would have to certify that I don't know of anything on the property that would negatively impacts the condition.  And I in fact do know that there's a condition on the property that presents a problem.  Buyers usually hire inspectors and inspectors in NJ know to look for oil tanks.  Ugh, whatever.  Lying about the oil tank was never going to happen.  I ignored him.

I should add that BIL's current employment is buying properties, fixing them up, and renting them out.  He's been doing it for a couple of years now and seems to like it.  Rather than going into all the nitty gritty details, I'll just say that we got some "as is" offers on the property, my sister spent more time at the house cleaning out Dad's stuff and seemed to realize that in this market we weren't going to get what she thought we should for the house, and BIL spent a lot of time there with her and he has perpetual dollar signs in his eyes when talking about the house.  Eventually, BIL talked my sister into the idea of buying out my share of the house, fixing it up, and selling it for a profit.

So a couple of weeks ago they made me an offer.  It's definitely a discounted offer.  But on the other hand, they're willing to take it with the oil tank still in which relieves the estate of huge liability.  And I feel that any buyer would probably want a decent amount of credits on the house.  So while they're getting a discount from me, I feel it's a fair price.  My estate attorney required me to talk to an attorney who represents me as a beneficiary.  And I talked with my bestie Wendy, guru on all things financial and property and Sissy related.  After mulling it over, I decided to sell them my share.  I hate dealing with the estate, and I especially hate dealing with this house.  I just want to be done with it.  Seriously, the dealing with settling an estate where you and your sibling are the sole beneficiaries?  It's a lot like being in business with your sibling.  And while I love Sissy very much, I have no desire to be in business with her.

Jeeves and I went out to the house last weekend to get Dad's car jump started and take it to my in-laws who could keep an eye on it until we transfer title.  Sissy and BIL and my nephews were all there working on cleaning out the house.  BIL told me about his plans for the house (ripping out carpet and painting over wallpaper, widening the driveway, adding a second bathroom) and I just felt sad.  His plans for the yard include cutting down a beautiful flowering tree that my mom and dad loved, planting bamboo, and ripping out Dad's beloved burning bush so he can widen the driveway.

On the drive back to my in-laws', Jeeves groused about it.  My father was forever suspicious and skeptical of BIL.  And now Jeeves feels he needs to take over that role.  We talked about how Dad would have hated the idea of BIL benefiting from his death, he would have hated BIL's plans for the yard.  And Jeeves pointed out that BIL probably intends to try to lie to any prospective buyer about the oil tank.  I felt badly, like I was letting Dad down.  But at the same time, I really want to extricate myself from this house and I want to settle the estate as quickly as possible because it really is like being in business with Sissy and I don't enjoy that sensation.

But what I really thought on that drive?  Thank goodness for Jeeves and Max.  Thank goodness I have my own little family and I'm not all alone.  Yes, I would have had Sissy.  But the idea of just having Sissy and BIL as my only family?  That thought makes me very sad.  I asked Jeeves, "What if Dad had died and I was single and didn't have Max?"  He acknowledged that that would have been a very sad situation for me.  I'm not a religious person at all, but I just kept muttering "thank you thank you thank you" to the universe that I have my own family now and so many things to look forward to.  

Max keeps me so busy, and when I'm not busy with him, I'm busy with Jeeves and the estate, so I have very little time in my own thoughts anymore.  The other day Max and I were out for a walk and there was nothing there but my thoughts.  And I have to admit - I'm a little depressed.  Not about being a new mom, which has gotten progressively better and easier.  Not about going back to work part-time in a few weeks.  No.  I'm depressed that my parents are gone.  When I look to the future with my little family of three, I feel hopeful and happy.  But I miss Dad so much these days.  And losing Dad has brought up all the old issues of missing my mom.  I wish they were here to see me now.  I wish I could tell them about everything that's been going on and seek their advice.  Honestly, that feeling of missing them will never go away.  I'll just get used to their absence.  

So that's it for the downer news.  Max turned 3 months over the weekend and he's become a very smiley and giggly baby - he's still the Angry Whopper from time to time, but much less often.  Here's a pic of the happy guy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Angry Whopper

Max is 11 weeks old now.  Which is pretty crazy, because it feels like we're still on a steep learning curve, but also that it's hard to remember what things were like without him.  So what can I tell you?  Well, things are getting better.  I've got a lot to say, but I'm struggling with how to start.  So I think I'll start small and just try and blog more often to cover it all.

So for today: a confession.

Max is a totally normal baby, at least as far as I can tell.  But the first 2 months were so very hard.  My confession is that I didn't love every minute of being a new mom.  I feel weird confessing this.  I think it's probably a pretty normal sentiment.  But because it was so hard to get pregnant and because of my previous miscarriages, I'd like to say that I was always grateful and happy every minute.  Don't get me wrong, I am so grateful and happy.  But the first 6 weeks?  I cried.  A lot.  And I felt like I lost my identity.  I remember crying to Jeeves one day that I felt I had become simply an udder.  I spent prolonged periods stuck indoors with an angry infant.  Aside from the sleep deprivation, and the breast feeding problems, I think I was just caught off guard about what a baby is like the first 6 weeks.  And that in and of itself was a shock because I have 5 nephews!  I was intimately involved with the kids when they were tiny.  Maybe I forgot, or maybe it's different when it's your own kid and you don't get to hand the baby off when he starts crying.

So yeah, Max cried.  A lot.  Usually for no reason.  Things that I thought babies were supposed to love - walks in a stroller, car rides, baths - he hated all of those things with a passion.  In fact, he seemed to hate most things, except for my boobs.  You know how Burger King has the angry whopper?  It's basically a whopper with jalapenos on it, I think.  Jeeves and I were walking Max one day, and we passed a Burger King.  "Max is the angry whopper," I said.  The nickname stuck.  Even now, when he mostly only cries from hunger or tiredness, we call him The Whopper.  

The Whopper, first month, crying for no discernible reason.

Max would only catnap.  I had heard that newborns spend most of the day sleeping, but Max barely seemed to sleep.  And when he did sleep, he would only do it on me or on Jeeves - he would wake up the second we put him down.  He had a set of lungs on him from day one and he seemed to have only one volume - loud, loud, louder.  The first week he was home with us, someone in our building gave away a swing - we snatched it up, and thank goodness we did.  It's still Max's favorite place to nap. We were finally able to put him down and have him nap somewhere other than on us.  I know that there are worse things than having an adorable baby sleep on you... but when you yourself cannot fall asleep (or eat, or go to the bathroom) because you are worried about dropping and hurting said baby, well.... you really want to put the baby down after awhile.

At his one month wellness check (a horrible day all around - it was Jeeves's first day back at work, so I was on my own and terrified), Max screamed for the entire visit (and for the whole walk to the doctor and most of the walk home).  I could barely hear the doctor.  But she said something important.  When I asked her if I should be concerned about colic, she said to me, "Newborns, especially from 4 to 6 weeks, are the most miserable people on the planet.  Nothing makes them happy.  It will get better after that and it'll be a lot better when I see you at the 2 month appointment.  In the mean time, do what you need to do to help him stop crying, and if you're at your wit's end, it is completely okay to put him down in a safe place, close the door, and let him cry it out for a bit."  And she was right.  I'd say around 7 weeks, things started to improve and by 2 months, the crying/screaming was significantly diminished.

And that's the thing - Max's behavior wasn't colic.  It was completely normal newborn fussiness.  I guess no one ever told me that - that your baby can spend a large chunk of the day miserable, but he doesn't have colic.  He's just fussy.  Fussy because he has an immature nervous system and he doesn't know how to process anything.  Fussy because he's really confused as to why he's still not snug as a bug in the womb, and pretty damn upset about it.  Fussy because you spent a good chunk of the day with new people and now he's completely overstimulated.  

Soothing Max was successful, but it was also a full time endeavor.  Jeeves and I became pretty big Happiest Baby on the Block devotees.  The 5 S's (swaddle, side, shushing, swinging, sucking) were in heavy rotation in this house and never failed.  In fact, I still have to use the swaddle and the white noise (shushing) to help Max fall asleep for naps.

I kept asking my friends who went through this right before me (and therefore had a clearer memory of how rough the first few months are) if it would really get better.  They kept assuring me that at 3 months there would be a vast improvement.  I didn't entirely believe them - what if I just have an angry/fussy kid who never changes?  What if Max is just miserable forever?  But it has gotten exponentially better and we're not at 3 months yet.  Some mornings Max is grumpy because he has gas, but most mornings he greets me with a big smile.  He's starting to giggle when I sing goofy songs to him.  He still cries on walks, and in the car, and in the bath.  But he has a wider range of cries now, and sometimes a day passes and he hasn't had a true Angry Whopper cry.

So there you have it.  The first couple of months were rough.  It's getting better.  I don't freak out anymore when Max cries, partially because I'm used to it and partially because his cries don't usually reach that fever pitch anymore and partially because he's usually crying for a reason now.  Now if I could just get him to really enjoy our walks, I'd be made in the shade.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tales of a Breast Feeder

I've missed you!  I wrote this post, like two weeks ago, but am only just now getting around to proofing and posting.  Please know I'm still following my usual bloggers and pulling for all of you in your cycles and your pregnancies and your lives.  And I'm going to try and get some commenting in today too to prove it!  Here's the post.

Hello!  I am so excited to be writing.  Max is napping for the moment and I found myself, for the first time in a long time, with no chores to do.  Usually I will elect to nap, or at least "rest" when that happens, but this morning Jeeves took care of Max for two beautiful hours while I napped and so I feel great and don't need to sleep right now.

So, I thought I'd share my breast feeding story in the event that it might be useful to someone else.  Max just turned 2 months and I'm still breast feeding him, which I consider a really huge accomplishment on both our parts because it was a bit of a challenge for us.

At the hospital, we had a lot of help from nurses and lactation consultants. From day one, Max has been a great little latcher.  I would say my initial problems were that a) breast feeding every 2 hours (and in the early days, it can even be every 1.5 hours) was exhausting; and b) my boobs hurt between engorgement and nipple pain.  Look, that's the first thing I would say - your nipples are probably going to hurt.  It's not horrible, and it's temporary, but I feel like people who tell you that breast feeding should never hurt at all are kind of lying to you, or at least speaking about a minority of people.  I feel like we should be honest - in the beginning, your nipples might hurt.  Sometimes that can mean there's a problem like thrush or bad latch.  But it can also be normal and will improve over time.  My nipples are still sensitive and it doesn't feel great when Max yanks on one or kicks one (yes, this happens), but mostly they feel fine now.

Initially I thought things were going well, other than exhaustion and general soreness.  I did note that Max was a very slow nurser - he would sometimes take up to 40 minutes to nurse on one breast, and even then he would keep going, but I broke him off because I felt like my boob might fall off.  We went to the pediatrician for a weight check when he was about 2 weeks old and his weight gain was normal, so I felt confident that breastfeeding was going well.  Our pediatrician said that for the time being, it was normal that Max was nursing for 40 minutes.

Then at the 1 month wellness check, we learned that Max had only gained 4 oz in 2 weeks - he was a month old and had only just gotten back to birth weight!  Not good.  Our pediatrician was unconcerned, but I knew that even La Leche League considers such slow weight gain to indicate a breast feeding problem.  So, I reached out to a lactation consultant.  Oh, and for the record, at this point I was feeding Max on demand, around 10 or 11 times a day.  

The LC, Sarah, was a lifesaver, and was definitely more concerned about our breast feeding issues than our pediatrician was.  She came to the apartment and weighed Max, then watched him nurse, then weighed him again to see how much he was taking in.  She agreed that his latch was great, but ultimately found that Max was a "disorganized sucker" and that my supply was low.  Basically he was easily distracted and he wasn't sucking in a way that was giving him enough milk.  And another part of the problem was that because he was not gaining appropriately, he was a bit weak and therefore unable to efficiently get milk from me.  So she set up a treatment plan - I was to limit Max to 10 minutes per breast and vigorously compress my breast while he ate to help him get more milk.  Then I would pump after every feeding for 8 minutes.  This was rough.  At that point, I was not used to letting Max fuss or cry at all.  So it was tough to feed him and then put him down and sometimes let him cry for a few minutes while I pumped.  Lastly, we supplemented Max with 4 oz every day - if I could pump enough breast milk, that's what we would use, and if I couldn't we would have to use a small amount of formula.

I got really bent out of shape about the formula supplement.  I felt like it made me a failure.  But I would pump after a feeding, and frequently I got just a few drops of breast milk.  Sarah, the LC, reminded me that the point of pumping was not to build up a bunch of extra breast milk, but to signal to my body that my breast was completely empty and needed to be refilled (since an empty breast refills faster than a partially full breast).  I knew Max needed more sustenance than what I was providing, but the whole thing felt so disheartening.  For several days I would pump and so little came out.  I couldn't remember the last time I had worked so hard at something and still felt like I was failing.  A lot of people, Kate chief among them, reminded me that I was doing a great thing for my kid, that formula is not poison and is perfectly good for babies, and that he was still getting breast milk from me. 

 I took Max for a follow up weight check a few days after we implemented the new plan and Max had gained 6 ounces!  Success!  So we've kept at it.  Two weeks ago I took Max for his 2 month wellness check and he gained over 2 lbs in one month.  This is a huge improvement - Max has gained over an ounce a day.

Since the implementation of the plan, I don't strictly limit Max's nursing to 10 minutes per breast.  But I do now know when he's actually done eating and is just "hanging out" on the boob (sometimes I let him just hang out for comfort purposes, but more often than not, he pops off when he's done within 15 minutes).  Most of the time it only take 20 to 25 minutes total to nurse Max, sometimes less.  Mentally, this has made breast feeding a lot easier on me.  I've been tracking breast feeding on an app from the start - in the beginning I was spending up to 6 hours a day nursing Max.  Now it's down to 3 hours per day, sometimes more like 2.5 hours.  Max has gotten better at getting milk.  And with all the pumping, my production is way up.  I'm still supplementing him with 2 oz of breast milk and 2 oz of formula, but I think we'll start tapering down on that.  

So that's my tale.  Breast feeding is hard.  But honestly, it's really getting easier, and it completely feels worth all the hard work.  I had set a small goal for myself from the beginning - get to 3 months and then reassess whether I should keep breastfeeding.  Max is 10 weeks old now, so in a couple more weeks I'll have reached my goal.  But because it's gotten so much easier, I'm pretty sure I'll stick with it and set another goal - get to 6 months.

I have to say I completely understand now why so many women switch to formula.  There are so many issues that spring up with breastfeeding, and I will never again judge anyone for any of the decisions they make on how they feed their baby.  But for me, I'm really proud I stuck with it and I'm grateful that our issues were "fixable."  A lot of people can't stick with it and don't have the resources that I've had to make it work.  And if you're planning to breast feed your baby and you have troubles - please know it can get better.  But whatever choice you make, you're doing what's right for you and your family and that's what matters most.