Sunday, September 24, 2006

5 hours, 16 minutes

That’s how long Owen slept in one stretch the other night. More importantly, the feat was replicated last night (5 hours and 11 minutes) which means that this wasn’t entirely a fluke. Yes, after weeks of hoping and praying that one day our son would be able to sleep for an extended period of time, our prayers were finally answered.

Well, sort of.

It should be noted that this large block of time was preceded by almost six hours of intermittent screaming. Moreover, after waking up and spending an hour nursing and being changed, Owen only slept for forty-five minutes before waking up again (it took another forty minutes to get him back down). This pattern was also largely repeated last night. In an ideal world, Owen would sleep for five hours and then go back down for three to four hours. However, we recognize that that’s asking an awful lot from a five week old and isn’t the source of our ambivalence regarding this latest development.

It’s my breast.

Apparently, my body got used to Owen nursing every three hours or so and adjusted my milk production accordingly. As a result, about four hours into Owen’s slumber, I awoke in agony. The additional passage of time between feedings has resulted not only in the engorgement of my breast, but also blocked milk ducts. Those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, imagine hard, large painful cyst in your chest.

If left untreated, blocked milk ducts can result in mastitis which can in turn lead to a bacterial infection (and you don’t want a bacterial infection in your breasts). The stated remedy to blocked ducts is frequent feedings. However, this would entail waking our little one from a peaceful and hard-fought sleep in order to force feed him, which goes against everything we’ve been striving for the past few weeks.

What's the moral of our little story here? When it comes to newborns and monkey paws, be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One Month of Sleepless Nights

One month ago today, Owen was born. It's a bit hard for us to believe that he's already a month old (and not one of those short months, but a full 31 days), but it's also hard to remember what life was like without him (of course that might be due to the memory loss associated with sleep deprivation). One hazy memory I do have from those days before Owen arrived were glorious nights sleeping for seven, eight, sometimes even nine hours in a row. Now for Elaine, those are even more distant memories as the pressure Owen put on her bladder prevented a full night's sleep long before his crying ever did.

In the months leading up to Owen's birth, the one part of being a new parent that terrified me the most was the lack of sleep associated with having a newborn. The prospect of mountains of diapers didn't particularly phase me, and the endless hours of breast feeding were and are a challenge that I am particularly unsuited to help with, but the idea of not getting my precious eight hours of sleep left me shaking in my shoes. Some of our friends with kids would tell us almost nonchalantly how little sleep they got the first few months, and I would wonder if their calmness about it all was a ploy to trick more people into joining them in the ranks of the breeders, or if the lack of sleep they experienced actually prevented them from forming any long term memories about just how bad it was.

Now that we're a month into this parenthood experience, it's time to face my fear, and look back on a month of sleepless nights. For various reasons, we've been a bit obsessive about tracking Owen's sleeping habits (when two economists have a baby, they're bound to collect some data;-). The chart below is a visual representation of Owen's sleep patterns to date. The blue areas represent periods of sleep, and the yellow areas are times when he is awake.

It looks like a lot of work, but thanks to a wonderful web application called the TrixieTracker (which grew out of great blog called the The Trixie Update), it's actually incredibly easy to keep track of Owen's every move. What have we learned from all this data? So far, mostly that Owen's sleep pattern looks pretty random, but there are a few encouraging bits of information buried in the data. He's been sleeping about 11 hours a day, and thankfully his naps last longer during the night than they do during the day. If we ignore all the really short naps that don't give us parents enough time to do anything, his real naps during the day average a little less than 90 minutes, and at night they tend to last a little over two hours. On eight separate blissful occasions, he's slept for about four hours in a single stretch at night; but there have been 31 times where he's fallen asleep at night and been back up within half an hour. Despite all of our attempts, we haven't yet been able find any ways to influence whether he'll sleep well at night or not.

How has reality stacked up against my initial fears? Well, I think I'm doing all right. The first few weeks were a little rough, but adrenaline and afternoon naps help out quite a bit. Now that I'm back at work, Elaine has been absolutely wonderful and taken over all the changing and calming duties in the middle of the night on work days. I try to return the favor on weekends changing him in the middle of the night and taking him downstairs early in the morning so Elaine can sleep in, but she still has to get up to nurse, so there is only so much I can do.

Hopefully, before too long we'll start to see some patterns develop in the data, and when we start to have some influence on when he goes to sleep, having the data will be great for managing transitions in bed times and nap times. In a few months we might start to see Owen sleeping through the night, and eventually developing a stable nap pattern. Until then, we'll keep on tracking, and dreaming of the night when we can dream again.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

4 Weeks

My mother sent my baby book last week. It contained, in addition to remnants of my first haircut and tooth, the age at which I accomplished certain milestones, among them, smiling, sleeping through the night, rolling over, etc. Apparently, either I was a prodigy or my parents didn’t keep the most accurate of records. How else can one explain the fact that at nine days old I not only smiled but also slept through the night (which makes one wonder what exactly happened on that ninth day…). Being the youngest of three children, I suspect my mother was a bit distracted when all these events actually occurred and just wrote in something in retrospect that sounded good. Or else I’m a serious underachiever.

Owen turns four weeks old today, and has apparently not inherited my accelerated learning curve. We think that he’s had some non-gas induced smiles, but have yet to document any on camera, so you’ll just have to trust us. He’s definitely held his head up, has briefly held a toy in his hand, watched us doing things at a distance, and noticed light which seems to indicate his development is right on track. We can say with certainty, though, that he has not slept through the night. In fact, he seems to have regressed a bit since for a week or so there, he was sleeping as much as four hours a stretch and now we’re lucky if we get three. We’ve been told, however, that once babies hit 10 pounds they’re able to physically sleep through the night (which is medically defined as five hours). According to our reckoning, Owen is almost 10 pounds which means that a long stretch of nighttime peace is just around the corner. Unless he takes after his father (whom Mom Mom informed us didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2 years old...).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Cords & Kin

Owen’s umbilical cord fell off on Wednesday, September 6th. We weren’t sure what to do with it, as it seemed wrong to just throw it away, but creepy to build a shrine in honor of his emancipation from the placenta, so we stuck it in a Ziploc and left it on the coffee table until we figured out an appropriate final resting place for it.

It stayed there for a few days, and Allen kind of forgot about it until I reminded him that his sister was arriving on Saturday afternoon and she might not find residual birth matter sitting out in the living room particularly welcoming. Allen got motivated and planted a flower and the umbilical cord in our front yard in honor of Owen’s birth.

Allen’s sister, Katherine, arrived shortly thereafter and became Owen’s first non-grandparent family member to visit, bringing in tow her solution to the pacifier conundrum: a “Bee” or a modern version of it. Apparently, Katherine took much comfort from age 5 months until 8 years of age in a bunny rabbit with a satin body that she would rub against her cheek. Fisher Price no longer makes these (though vintage ones sell on E-Bay for over $150) but Katherine managed to find a “My First Blankie” lamb which was along the same lines.

Katherine’s visit was especially well timed as it coincided with Allen’s return to work and Owen latest phase of refusing to nap during the day. Aunt Katherine made a perfect resting place for Owen while I sneaked in a shower and breakfast. Unfortunately, Katherine leaves tomorrow morning at which point my showering options will be seriously curtailed.

Monday, September 04, 2006

On Our Own

Grandma Zimmerman left on Saturday, leaving Allen, Elaine & Owen to fend for themselves (though to be honest, Owen hasn’t been picking up much of the slack). Having had a third set of hands to hold and change Owen, as well as do laundry, clean, and make the occasional meal spoiled us a bit, but we’ve been muddling through (then again, it’s only been 36 hours). We’re hoping if nothing else, this will help in the transition to when Allen goes back to work next week, though the logic of how losing help eases the loss of more help in the future seems somewhat flawed, it made lots of sense when Allen explained it at 2 in the morning.

Instead of pining over the loss of his Grandma, Owen’s kept pretty busy: He’s had a bath, met Brad & Marlo Brown and Emilie Raguso, gone on his first walk to Lincoln Park (where he met DC Mayoral candidate Linda Cropp) and went to Mom Mom’s (aka Grandma Fawcett) for the first time. All of this activity has been wonderful for stimulating little Owen’s mind, but not so good for inducing him to sleep. As a result, we’re hoping for an extremely boring Labor Day.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


We just changed Owen's 100th diaper! At this rate we'll hit number 1,000 by December 1st, and 1,310 by the end of the year. Keep on poop'n little guy!

Friday, September 01, 2006

In My Dreams...

I dream of crying babies, and they've invaded Elaine's dreams as well. In those blissful few moments after Owen has finally drifted off to sleep, what does my exhausted mind choose to subject me to? More crying, and the crying is accompanied by strange abstract images that don't specifically resemble babies, but give the distinct impression of a baby's movement just as it startles itself and begins the jerky arm and leg movements that accompany a crying jag.

Now this has happened to me before, not so much with the babies, but with Edgeworth boxes and separating hyperplanes. The summer after my first year in grad school, when I was studying 18 hours a day for my micro and macro comps, the equations and formulas that filled my days also permeated my dreams. (Also, for a short time during my third year in grad school, thanks to Bill and John, all my dreams were about Quake, but that's another story).

What surprises me about the latest set of dreams is that for the most part, my days are not filled with crying babies. So far, thankfully, Owen hasn't been very colicky. Most of his crying has been of the "I'm hungry", "I'm wet", "I'm poopy", "I need to be burped", "I want to be held", or "I want to feel like I'm back in the womb" varieties. Figure out what he wants, satisfy his needs, and he's happy again. Occasionally though, he cries for reasons I can't decipher, and that can leave quite an impression on your mind, particularly when it happens at 3 am.

From an evolutionary perspective, we're all programmed to find our infants adorable and to hark to their every cry. They're relatively helpless in this world, and if we didn't jump at their every cry, they'd end up starving and we'd be eaten by the lions. So when he drifts off to sleep, and I begin to follow, it's not a contentedly sleeping baby that joins me in my dreams, but the cry that calls me to action.