The Inexact Science of Child Rearing

DaddyI love cooking with a recipe, because it tells me exactly what to use, how much to put in and for how long to cook. Clear as day. Raising kids? Not so much. I’ve had to learn over the years that child rearing is anything but an exact science.

I regretfully never babysat when I was a youth; instead, I got my first job at a bakery when I was 14. I could decorate cakes and bake cookies for you, but ask me to change a diaper and I would have gotten a guide dog to do it instead. Fortunately, there are volumes of expert baby books available to rescue motherhood dummies like me. During my pregnancy, I madly studied these manuals like I was getting ready for the SAT.

A few days after we came home from the hospital, my friend Susan stopped by for a quick visit. She walked into our bedroom where our baby was wailing in the bassinet.

“Oh dear, come here sweetie,” she said as she picked him up.

“But Susan,” I protested, “the book says to not pick him up right away so that he could learn to self-sooth.”

She looked at me incredulously and said, “Well, not when they’re this small. In a little while,” as she rocked and soothed Josh who had magically stopped crying. Susan ought to know. She was a veteran mom of preteens at that time. Note to self: it’s okay to pick up my newborn right away when he’s crying, at least for “a little while.” How long, exactly, is a little while, again? The books didn’t really specify.

Later that week, I was really having a hard time sleeping with a crying baby next to my bed. I was getting eager to evict him to his own room. That’s when my other friend Lisa came by to deliver a meal. “When can I move him out of the bassinet to the crib, Lisa?” I asked desperately. Lisa laughed, “Oh, maybe in a few more months.” MONTHS? Are you kidding me? I was thinking more in terms of…either next Thursday or Friday.

There were other questions that the expert books never quite answered for me:

  • How many degrees, exactly, is “tepid”?
  • How long should I let them nap without interfering with their night time sleep?
  • Speaking of sleep, can we really let them cry it out without getting arrested?
  • Is that a real smile or just gas?
  • Which is better to suck on: pacifier or thumb?
  • How wet should the diaper be before we absolutely have to change? (“Already? Why, I JUST changed him…”)
  • Is it colic or unresolved anger issues?
  • When should we start potty training?
  • Should I stay home or get a job?
  • Public, private, or home school?
  • When do we start driver’s ed?

As it turned out, Josh stayed in the bassinet until he grew too big for it — maybe 92 days — but many other questions were answered only after much trial and error. Here’s one thing I know for sure: every child is different. No book can tell you exactly what you should do, because they don’t know your child. Eventually, I ditched the expert manuals and went mostly with mother’s intuition, but that’s after a whole lot of praying and many nights crying out to God, “Help!” In fact, there’s only one instruction manual I need for life: The Bible.

Oh, I have to tell you this: I was so amused when I caught my mom — Gasp! My Expert! — looking at a Japanese baby manual one day. I have no idea where she dug it up, but it sure looked like it was printed in the 1960′s, which might mean that she used it as a reference when we were growing up and brought it over here on the boat. All the pictures had faded to pastel, and the babies all had round, chubby cheeks. Wearing only cloth diapers, these Japanese babies looked like miniature sumo wrestlers. I was wondering why my mom was suddenly telling me how to heat up glass baby bottles and how to lay down futon for naps.

Any baby book advice work out for you? Or did you ditch the books too?

Of Martha, Mary, and Mastitis

This is not me but my sick stunt double

“We can take you in the wheelchair,” said the nurse as I was getting discharged from the maternity ward.

“Oh no, I can walk myself,” I insisted.  I grabbed my bags and got up to leave.  “Whoa,” I exclaimed as I dizzily leaned back on the bed.  Good thing David was holding our newborn!  I have never needed assistance in walking and certainly wasn’t about to be wheeled out of here.  I’m a mother, and I can take care of myself AND the baby, thank you very much.

After a couple of more failed attempts at putting one foot in front of the other, however, I had no choice but to give in.  I still felt weak and unsteady 48 hours postpartum.  The nurse waited patiently for me to take a seat in the wheelchair and proceeded to push me down the hallway.  I’m supposed to be pushing a stroller, not sitting in it! 

As soon as we arrived home, I went about cleaning the house.  The place was a mess, and my parents were coming over soon!  In-between baby feedings and diaper changes I did the best I could to tidy, vacuum, launder, and cook so that my parents wouldn’t think that I was a total wreck, regardless of the fact that life with a new baby is quite literally out of control.  “This baby won’t stop crying, honey.  Where is the off switch?” I kept asking David.

When my parents showed up at the door, they made a beeline to their first grand child and took turns holding him in delight while I continued to sweep, mop, wipe, and fold clothes.  “I could use a little help here,” I said under my breath and actually began to look forward to feeding times just so that I could kick my feet up for a little while.

Only a few days later, it was Easter.  I had been a member of our church’s worship band for many years, and I had every intention of going back to sing and play for the Easter service.  “I can’t believe you’re out and about already,” people marveled as I sang my solo.  “You look like you’ve got this baby thing down!” I was feeling pretty good about myself.

…Until later that afternoon, that is.  I began to run a high fever, and the redness around my breasts clearly indicated an infection was setting in.  Mastitis.  I pored over the pages of my baby books, and the experts all agreed that the most common cause of mastitis is — you guessed it — new moms trying to do too much.  The good doctor got me some antibiotics and ordered bed rest.

For the following three days, I stayed in bed, crawling out only to nurse Josh and to eat.  The friends at church brought over meals.  Initially I refused, explaining that my mom was around to help me with cooking so there was no such need (ha!). The truth is, I didn’t want to admit that I was in need.  Boy, is it humbling to receive, but what choice did I have?

On the third day, I felt as though I came back the dead. The house went to pot again, but oh well.  And the undisturbed bonding time with Josh?  Priceless.

This reminded me of a story from Luke 10:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It took mastitis to bring down this Tiger Martha and become more like Panda Mary.

Are you a Martha or a Mary?  Anyone experience mastitis?

The Diaper Bag

Baby diaper bag“Ugh, what IS in this thing, Junko?” exclaimed my friend Betsy as she attempted to pick up my diaper bag, suspecting that I hid a bowling ball in there.  A seasoned mom of teenagers by then, she was trying to be helpful as we walked around a desert park in Palm Springs while our husbands golfed together.  Obviously, Betsy had long ago lost the muscles we moms build up on our arms and shoulders as we carry a baby on one hip and a toddler on the other while slinging a diaper bag the size of New York.  Josh was almost a 9-month old by then.

When David and I walked out of the hospital with our first born, I had a cute little diaper bag that was the size of a fashionable tote.  In it, I had neatly organized the following:

  1. About half a dozen newborn-size diapers
  2. A travel-size package of baby wipes
  3. Two tiny onesies
  4. A mini-bottle and a package of formula, just in case I’m not around to nurse
  5. An extra pair of socks
  6. A cute bib, just for looks
  7. A burp cloth

I also always carried around a bottle of water because nursing got me so thirsty, and there was still plenty of space in that baby tote to throw in the water bottle along with my car keys.

Fast-forward almost nine months to that fateful day in Palm Springs with Betsy.  Baby Joshua had grown and had gained some healthy weight, but not nearly in the same proportion as the size and weight of my diaper bag, now as big as an 18-wheeler.  Here’s what you would have found inside it:

  1. A full package of medium size diapers
  2. Another package of large size diapers, in case he suddenly grows
  3. My own set of disposable changing pads
  4. A full box of baby wipes, enough to last a month in case there is a nuclear fallout
  5. Three full outfits to change into, in case there is a diaper explosion
  6. Three pairs of socks plus a pair of Nikes just in case he decides to start walking because, my intuition told me, he would be an early walker.  Ha!
  7. Five bibs, because he was a big drooler
  8. Two tubes of Desitin
  9. Nail file and tools to make the permanently embedded Desitin look like French Nails
  10. Three burp cloths because he regurgitated so much
  11. Two changes of clothes for me, in case he missed the burp cloths
  12. A baggie full of Cheerios
  13. A pound more of stale Cheerios, loose and rolling around the bottom of the bag
  14. Three jars of baby food — a starch, a veggie, and a fruit
  15. Two baby spoons
  16. Some plastic toys on a plastic key chain
  17. Teething toys to chew on
  18. A flip chart of the alphabet
  19. A laminated place mat with a map of the world on one side and the periodic table on the other
  20. A travel size Good Night Moon board book
  21. A tube of SPF50 sunblock
  22. Hand sanitizer
  23. Two bottles of water, because I was still nursing

Whew!  Did I forget anything?

Betsy’s little comment was both embarrassing and eye-opening for this mom who was still trying to be a perfectionist about covering all the bases.  I really let this diaper bag thing get out of control, didn’t I?  “Just in case” seemed to be my motto at that time. Did I dare to let go of the notion that I had to cover all possible eventualities?  A little bit.  Another moment to make me a little less Tiger, a little more Panda.

I bet you’re either…

A) laughing at how ridiculous my diaper bag had grown because your bag is or was small, neat, and tidy, or

B) thinking to yourself, “Wow, my bag’s even worse than hers!”

So, which diaper bag camp do you belong to?

 

The Joy of (Placental) Cooking

Cook bookToday, I’m going to discuss a topic which is closely connected to my last post about the umbilical cord.  In fact, it is directly attached to it.  Today, were talking about that unsung hero of the maternity ward.

The placenta.

(Warning: if you are squeamish at all, you might want to skip this one.)

(Which just makes you want to read on, doesn’t it?)

About 15 or 20 minutes after I delivered my baby, after the camera bulbs died down and the doctor moved on to the next delivery, I unceremoniously gave birth to the placenta. This poor little organ that works overtime to keep the baby growing throughout the pregnancy hardly gets any press when, at last, it crawls out to see the light of day.  Kind of like the clean-up crew for the collapsed coal mine.  They bravely descend into the abyss 30 minutes after the last trapped miner emerges alive in that capsule, but by the time they come back up with their dirty buckets and mops in hand, the last of the press trucks have driven away and the souvenir vendors have even gone home.  Only their mothers stay to make sure that they made it out safely, as was the case with me and my sweet little placenta.

A thoughtful nurse made sure that I got a good look at my own inner organ. While I was basking in the glow of just having delivered my baby — and touching up my hair and lipstick one more time — she brought over a stainless bowl for me to see.  Yes, a stainless bowl remarkably like the kind in which I mix my brownie batter.  About the same size, too.  Sitting inside was something that looked like a fresh cow’s liver with a hose attached to it.

“And here’s your placenta.”

At a loss as to what I should say — “Thank you,” “Is it a boy or a girl?” “It’s, it’s…so perfect,” “Can I hold it?” — I simply waved it goodbye as the nurse wheeled it away.

Well done, my good and faithful servant…

There was something familiar about the way the nurse did that whole presentation, then it dawned on me: Chinese seafood restaurants!  You know — where you pick out a fish from the bubbling water tank, and the cook brings out that catch in a bowl to show it to you?  He proudly declares, “Here’s your fish,” to which you say, “Perfect!” They then whisk it away, only to bring it out a short while later on a serving platter, deliciously cooked, ready to be consumed.

Speaking of cooking, I once read that some cultures celebrate birth by actually cooking and eating the placenta.  (I know — ewww, right?)  There’s even a term for it: placentophagy.  They believe it is good for the mother’s health, particularly if she’s prone to postpartum depression.  I would personally choose medication over cannibalism any day, but two things immediately come to mind:

1.  How do you phrase the invitation for this feast?  Hey, we’re having a barbecue…

2.  How do you cook it? Honey, where’s my placentophagy recipe book?

A quick Google search revealed (I kid you not) some “favorite” recipes: Placenta Burger, Placenta Spaghetti, and Pizza with Placenta Sauce.  Any recipe which calls for meat will do, like lasagna.  Some people “enjoy” dehydrating it and eating it like beef jerky. After all, almost all mammals placentophagiate (I just made that word up), so why don’t we humans? The term “evolved” comes to mind.

As for me, I can hardly walk into a Chinese restaurants with those fish tanks in the back anymore without thinking, “placenta.”  However, if you have your favorite placentophagy recipes to share with all of us, please put them in the comments below.  We Panda Moms want to know!

 

Practicing the Presence of God

Eternal Treasure cover art

Eternal Treasure CD

For my weekend post, I’d like to share with you a song I wrote during the Bovine Period of my life.  I often refer to my “Eternal Treasure” CD as my album postpartum.  Although this song wasn’t a top 40 hit, it expresses this mother’s heart fully and is one of my own personal favorites.  You can hear a sample of the song at iTunes or at CD Baby, but here are the lyrics:

Practicing the Presence of God

(verse 1)

She looks outside her window to watch the world go by

People doing lofty things as she tends to her baby’s cries

Well, it’s only for a season

She knows, but for some reason

Though she loves her family there’s a loss she can’t deny

Though her former days are over and things are different now

She vows to serve her Jesus in the best way she knows how

(chorus)

With her heart and soul and mind

Loving all the time

And practicing the presence of God

In her very special way

All throughout the day

She’s practicing the presence of God

(verse 2)

She thanks God in the morning

For the tiny feet and hands

Embracing them with a mother’s touch

In a way no others can

There is joy in daily living

When we’re called to do the living

In His grace and mercy

We can do as he commands

So to give back to Lord Jesus

For the deepest love she’s known

She will serve her friends and family

In the same way she’s been shown

(chorus)

(bridge)

Though her world may be so tiny

And surrounded by these walls

She will fill it with much laughter

And do her best to heed her call

(chorus)

Words and music by Junko Nishiguchi Cheng, copyright 1999 Everyday Hero Music (ASCAP), produced by John Andrew Schreiner

I’ll be back on Monday with a new post which — I hope — will make you laugh…or gag.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  Check back soon.  Have a wonderful weekend!

The Umbilical Cord Dilemma

There’s no end to the number of items being hawked in the hallways of the maternity ward, but none forces you into a moral and ethical dilemma like umbilical cord banking.

The pamphlets encourage storing the blood from the newborn’s umbilical cord “just in case” your child eventually faces a terrible disease, the only hope of a cure for which exists in the stem cells harvested from the cord blood. We recovering Tiger Moms can’t let a phrase like “just in case” just go by, and I agonized over what to do about this. This garden hose-like thing which gave life to my fetus could someday potentially be a life-giving source for the second time. If we don’t save it now, then they just medically dispose of it like old maternity clothes.

Indeed, the harvested stem cells from the leftover umbilical cord could provide the cure for the yet-diagnosed disease which your child — or someone else — may face in the next 100 years. The cord blood is sent to a bank where they freeze and store for it future use for a low monthly storage fee (plus shipping and handling). The catch is that you don’t actually bank it for yourself. It goes into a pool, in the same way that your ordinary donated blood goes to a blood bank — you don’t necessarily receive back your own donation should you ever need an infusion. I also didn’t catch the fine print about stored stem cells not necessarily working so well on the original donor. “Some experts are concerned that an ill baby who receives his or her own stem cells during a transplant would be prone to a repeat of the same disease,” the brochure explains.

While the Pitocin dripped into my IV, I tried to read the various literature about this issue. Mind you, my brain was getting blurry with each passing minute, so the message was getting all jumbled in my head. So, simply put, here’s what I understood:

1. I can have someone grab my umbilical cord immediately after giving birth and pay them to freeze and store it for me for years and years “just in case” and pay thousands of dollars for this service.

2. I can grab the cord myself after giving birth and put it in my own freezer back at home. I can whip it out when I need it and use it at that time.

Easy — I’ll go with door #2!

But the more I thought about this option, the more I was reminded of my episode with the top tier of my wedding cake. We had every intention of storing it until our first anniversary, at which time we could celebrate by eating that small cake. The sad reality, though, was that we moved twice during the first year of our marriage, so the cake thawed and refroze so many times that, by the time we reached our one-year anniversary, it was frost-bitten, dried out, and inedible.

I imagined that same disappointed looks on our faces when, in a dozen or so years, we stand ready with our newly-purchased portable centrifugal machine from Sharper Image in our kitchen ready to harvest our own stem cells, only to pull out a frost-bitten, mummified, and useless umbilical cord. What will we do then?

Before I could come to a conclusion about this dilemma, however, the timing window had passed. We were too busy celebrating the birth of our newborn and didn’t revisit this issue until we were about to be discharged. Oh yeah–stem cells!

“Ummm, about that umbilical cord,” I mentioned to the nurse. “Can I still have it? I have an empty Chinese takeout box to put it in.” Too late — medically disposed of by the staff.

A missed opportunity.  Have I doomed our children’s health forever?  Major parent fail?

Did you also miss the opportunity or did you grab it?  Does anyone actually still have the cord blood banked somewhere?  Go ahead — make me feel bad about myself.  Or good.

Parenting and Why We Go Broke

They say it costs a lot of money to raise a child.  I know the reason why: you go broke before you even leave the hospital.

The hospital corridors are teeming with vendors hoping to cash in on the sentimental value of giving birth.  The offerings are numerous and mind-boggling, but one of the first things they get you with is the newborn portrait.  You know the kind — they grab your baby within hours of birth, comb the wispy hair down to the side, bribe the baby to stay still for 30 seconds, put their finger tips together like an old professor giving a boring lecture, and get him or her to look right at the camera and say, “mmmm.”

“Your baby is a one day-old only once.  Why not capture the moment…if you are a decent human being and a caring parent AT ALL,” the brochure states (well, with a little embellishment on my part).  How could I refuse, indeed?  I opened up my wallet and purchased my baby’s very first portrait.  I don’t recall the price, but I’m sure it was not cheap.  I did have the presence of mind, however, to resist the accompanying calendar, key chain, t-shirt, mug, birth announcement, water bottle, and posters plastered with that same photo.

While proudly showing my son’s very first portrait to my parents at the hospital, I took a glance at a newborn portrait in another mom’s arms as they were preparing to be discharged.  Well, that photo looked exactly like my own!  The kid also had wispy hair combed to the side, skin that looked at once pasty and ruddy, and eyes which were still puffy and therefore thin and slanted.  And the kid wasn’t even Asian!

Then there was another one down the hall which also looked just like mine.  And another one.

Oh, I see what’s going on.  They ARE all the same photo!

Newborns change in appearance rapidly during the first 24 to 48 hours of their lives, so by the time they take the photo and bring the baby back 15 minutes later, the picture no longer resembles the newborn in your arms anyway, so what’s the difference?  I think they took one photo of a generic kid back in 1985, and they have been reusing the same photo for decades in hospitals all around the world!  All newborns look shriveled, and you can’t tell if the kid is a boy or girl, Asian or African-American, Hispanic or Caucasian, blond or brunette, awake or asleep.  Lighten or darken the hair a bit, add a bow for a girl and a blue hat for a boy and there you go!

Case in point: put black hair on this blonde girl, and you would have my son Joshua.

I hate to admit it, but this was the first of many portraits that come in those large, white envelopes with the crimply clear plastic front which I ended up purchasing.  I tell myself each time that this will be the last time I’ll buy my child’s official portrait, but I just can’t stop myself: nursery, preschool, kindergarten, baseball, recital, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade…and so on. I always get suckered into that message that, as a good parent, you must not miss a single opportunity.  You will NEVER have a second chance.  You will do this if you are a decent parent, especially if you’re a Tiger Parent.

I will discuss in my next post some other items offered to me for purchase before leaving the hospital.  But before I go on, tell me about the various items you ended up paying for at the hospital or shortly thereafter for your own newborn.  Come on, you were suckered in too, weren’t you?  Feel free to comment here!

The Bradley Plan and the Illusion of Control

The whole Tiger Parenting style is predicated on the notion that we parents have control.  I became a Panda Mom precisely because I learned the hard way that this is simply not true.  Any illusion that we as parents can manipulate and control our own obstetric destiny melts away on the floor of the maternity ward.

My husband David is a family physician by specialty, but he occasionally still delivers babies.  He is that old school, cradle-to-the-grave doctor whom we once knew and watched on TV.  The best part is that David occasionally brings some nuggets of gold home for his blogging wife.

For example, he says that whenever a woman in labor comes walking in with a piece of paper spelling out her labor plans, his entire nursing staff roll their eyes in unison.  These directives are also known as the Bradley Method Birthing Plan, and the word on the maternity ward is this:

“When a woman walks in with a Bradley

Then everything will go very badly”

 

The plan usually specifies things such as

- No pain medications

- No IV

- No internal monitoring of the baby.

- Minimal external monitoring

- No Pitocin (medicine which induces labor)

- Don’t even suggest epidural

- Hold baby immediately upon birth

- Nurse immediately after birth

- No artificial nipple such as the bottle or binky

…and on it goes.  Many of these demands are not all that unreasonable.  Unfortunately, though, more often than not these plans go right out the window and the moms end up with an emergency C-section anyway.  In fact, David thinks that there is a direct correlation between the presence of such plans and the greater possibility of needing an emergency Caesarean.  Perhaps the heavens are trying to send down a message.

My friend Liz had such a plan ready to go and was looking forward to an all-natural, no-pain meds, perfectly smooth labor and delivery.  Well, you can imagine what happened.  As they wheeled her away to surgery for her emergency C-section, she was heard wailing, “But I haven’t read that chapter yet…”

My husband also tells me that when a laboring woman walks in with a Doula, the nurses smile and turn to one another and laugh in their own foreign language right in front of the patient, “Go back home and give your birth there.”  It’s their little rebellion again the demands of these Type-A mothers who increasingly show up at their door trying to control their own destiny as well as that of their babies.

I had my own little plan, though at the time it wasn’t known as the Bradley Birthing Method, and I only had a mental list with nothing written down.  It would have been nice to go without Pitocin, but when my water broke and the contractions which started in earnest slowed down to a crawl after about an hour, it became necessary to consider medical intervention.  There was only so much time before infections set in; we had to get things moving for the sake of the baby.  Hello Pitocin.

It also would have been better to go without pain medicatons, but when push came to shove (literally), my pain level became such that I was ready to surrender my bragging rights.  Hello epidural.

Nursing not going well?  Hello bottle.

Cloth diapers not working out?  Welcome, disposables.

They say knowledge is power, but I wonder how true that really is, at least in this case.  I’m certainly glad that we live in an age where we do have medical intervention necessary should things go very badly during the birthing process.  Of course, as expectant mothers, we want to learn as much as we can about this new adventure we’re embarking on, so we read whatever literature we can, especially those of us who want to do everything just right.  However, my husband often says that the body is going to go into labor and the baby is going to eventually come out whether we intervene or not.  He’s just there to assist the inevitable process and let nature do its thing.  We just like to think we’re still in control.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1, we read that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”  We mothers all learn, one way or another, that our love for our children overrides even what the experts say in these books.  Some of us take longer than others, but we eventually get there, and that’s when we begin our slow transformation from Tiger to Panda.

Probably the most useful information I got from one of my pre-labor research was that when I’m approaching the final moments before the baby comes out, I should freshen up my makeup.  Why?  Because simultaneous with that final push, the camera bulbs start going off to capture the moment.  Lots and lots of photos are going to be taken, and they are going to be seen over and over by your family and friends. These photos are going to last forever, at least for the next three generations.  You don’t want to look like hell in those pictures.  Thanks to my epidural, I was in the moment and was able to touch up my lipstick and redo my hair just in time.  When people see photos from that momentous occasion, they always comment, “Oh he’s so beautiful!”

Then they always say, “Wow, you look so nice for just having given birth!”

A beautiful baby and a hot mom.  Who needs the Bradley Plan?

Nursing Nightmare and My Bovine Period

Before I made the transition to becoming a Panda Mom, I had to go through a brief period where I morphed into a cow. Yes, kind of like Bessie. I call it the Bovine Period of my life.

Shortly after giving birth, my body began the amazing process of making milk. Although my mother raised me on bottles — not judging here; it was the trend back in the day — I was going to do this The Natural and God-Ordained Way. I was going to nurse my babies to perfect health and high intelligence, because every literature I read while pregnant (oh boy, did I read a lot of books on what to expect!) indicated that nursing was far superior to bottle feeding. I was going to do this right because, well, I was going to be an all-around superior mom. A Tiger Mom.

Within 24 hours after delivery, I began to lactate. I was happy to be able to make milk, because some mothers have difficulties making enough of it. There was no mistaking that I was making plenty of milk. I was ready. I sat down at the comfy sofa, I opened my book to the chapter about nursing and, following the pictures and directions on the page, I shoved my baby’s face right onto my mammary glands. Latching, I believe they called it.

A major problem immediately cropped up. This baby was no good at latching at all! He had no idea what to do with this thing on his face. He immediately began to cry. “Come on, sweetie, you just have to latch on and suck on Mommy,” I begged. He looked at me through his tears as if to say, “What are you doing to me?” and continued wailing. I sensed a slight bit of resentment well up within me towards the rogue nurses at the hospital who slipped a few sips from a bottle to my newborn while I tried to get some sleep. They ruined my baby’s sucking mechanism, I suspected.

I went down the check list in the chapter addressing common problems with nursing a newborn, but to no avail. In all the pictures and descriptions in my many sources, the babies looked content and the mothers smiling. None showed a wailing newborn and a disheveled mother looking desperate, which was exactly how we looked and felt. No matter what I tried, He just couldn’t latch on very well, and he certainly was not very good at sucking. He really tried to get some nourishment but could only manage a few drops. After several tries, he was getting hungry and frustrated and so was I. Ironically, in spite of the fact that the baby was not getting out much milk from me, my body didn’t get the memo and steadily continued to manufacture milk at about a gallon per hour. I felt ready to explode.

We had only been home from the hospital for a short while when it became apparent that we needed some help immediately. My doctor husband looked at our baby’s skin and declared that our son is looking jaundiced. “But he’s an Asian baby, honey,” I tried to reason through my own tears. “He’s not eating and his bilirubin count must be getting too high,” my husband said. Who is Billy Ruben? And what does this have to do with my baby not eating enough?

“We have to get him to the lactation consultant at the hospital!” With that, he whisked me and our newborn back to the hospital to get some help. I had heard of lactation nurses and consultants before, but I couldn’t believe I was going to be needing their help. This should all come very natural to us moms, right?

A fifty-something woman with a German accent and a reassuring smile came in to the exam room. “Let’s see what’s going on here.” She took one look at my baby and exclaimed, “Oh, he is so jaundiced!” Billy Ruben was letting me down again, and I felt like a major failure as a mother. I could hardly think, as my brain was quickly filling up with milk. I think even my tears had a hint of that creamy white substance.

“I see he’s having trouble getting out your milk. Tell me sweetheart, do you have a reason why you might have trouble nursing?” Uh-oh, I’m getting interrogated.

“Have you had breast cancer?” Thankfully, no breast cancer. And no family history, either.

Any injuries to your breasts?” No, not that I can remember.

“Breast augmentation?”

Under normal circumstances, one look at my flat chest would immediately render that question moot, but at that moment I had two water balloon-like knockers on my front, ready to pop. Before I could think this through, however, I uttered the only answer which came to my completely altered, milk-soaked mind:

No, but my sister has.”

Family history. That must be it! That’s the reason why I’m having trouble nursing my baby! I had to blame this nursing nightmare on something…anything.

The lactation consultant only gave me a faint smile but didn’t flinch. In her many years in the biz, she probably had heard just about everything. She gently guided me and the baby to become a better nursing pair, and she also reassured me that it’s okay to use the bottle on occasion. In fact, it was imperative in this situation to bottle feed for a while until he worked through his problem with jaundice.

What? Bottles are okay? I’m not a failure as a mom if I use it?

Another opportunity to lower my standards, even just a little. Another life lesson in letting go of my expectations, well-intentioned though they might be.

Thus began what eventually turned out to be a successful and long season of nursing my baby. After some coaxing, he did eventually figure out how to latch on, although he continued to be a very inefficient sucker. More on that later. Half the problem might have been my own, because when I allowed the bottle into my “All Nursing, All the Time” mindset, I actually began to relax a little, just enough for the baby to also relax…and latch on.

Little did I know that this was only one in a long series of lessons in letting go of my expectations for my kids. This is why I now look back fondly on my Bovine Period as a very important transition time on my eventual journey towards becoming a full-fledged Panda Mom.

It all started with the Apgar scores

I wasn’t always a Panda Mom.

Anyone who knew me before I became a mom would definitely have predicted that I would one day be your quintessential Tiger Mom.  Most of my school-era friends would attest to the fact that I was driven.  I was a perfectionist.  I got good grades and ran for student government.  I then went off to college and worked hard for my degree.  Then I worked hard in my career, plotting towards my goals.  I wore panty hose and dry clean-only clothes.  I actually began and completed many tasks.  In fact, I followed my to-do list which I made in the morning, and I crossed everything off by night time.   I demanded a lot of myself, and I suppose I demanded a lot from others as well.

My husband is also accomplished in his career and has worked hard most of his life to achieve his goals.   He was a valedictorian at his high school.  In college, he was so single-minded in his academics that his dorm mates called him a “study animal.”  He is as much of a perfectionist as I am, perhaps even more so.

This is why we would have expected our firstborn to receive perfect 10s on his Apgar scores, both at 1 minute and 5 minutes.  After all, David and I both scored high in most standardized tests, so why not our baby?  I pictured nurses and doctors all holding up signs with a big “10″ written on them and rejoicing with us as I effortlessly popped this baby out.  I fully planned to mention his high Apgar scores on his college applications alongside his SAT and GPA; I was sure that there was some sort of a correlation between your Apgars and your credit scores.

I had a very smooth pregnancy and was healthy and glowing for 9 months.  There was no reason to think that this newborn would be anything but…perfect.

But then it happened.  He came out all blue!  Deduct one point.  The staff whisked away my just-delivered bundle and began working on him.  I heard the doctor slapping him around and saying, “Come on, come on, breathe!”   Deduct one point.  A few seconds later, I heard the sweet sound of this baby’s very first cry, but it took a few seconds too long.  Deduct another point.  The judges took away yet another point on some technicality, and the final score at the first minute was only a six.

Of course at that point, I did not care one iota about the darn Apgar score; I just wanted this kid to get some oxygen in his brain so that he could someday learn to walk, talk, and eventually live a normal and productive life here on earth.  At the moment, I could care less what college he went to or that he ever became the student body president.  All I cared was that this poor little thing would simply be…normal.

(This was the first sign that maybe, just maybe, I was letting go of some ridiculous standards I had set for my offspring.)

A few minutes later, the doctor determined that his Apgar scores had gone up to an eight.  Eight?  Well, that’s a very respectable and solid B!  As he handed us this sweet little bundle, he said, “We were worried there for the first couple of minutes, but I think he’s going to be just fine.  He’s beautiful.”

The doctor was right — he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and I was completely overwhelmed by love for this child.  It was immediate, and I knew it was permanent.  Nothing was going to change that — no, not even low Apgar scores, SATs, nor credit scores.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love…”  Since becoming a parent, I have gotten a much clearer picture of what that means.  It also opened my eyes to the fact that I did a whole lot of striving in my life in an effort to please God, when in fact He was already completely pleased with me, with or without my accomplishments.  I was similarly head over heels in love with this little baby who simply existed, accomplishing nothing (except a whole lot of pee and poop).  Could it be true that God actually loves me this much, too?  Maybe more?  Yup.

On that day, this mother who once resembled a tiger slowly began the slow process of morphing into a panda.

And it all began with the Apgar scores…