In looking up ways to soothe Nate, I came across the High Need Baby page on the Dr. Sears website. While Nate does not fit the description 100%, he most certainly possesses many of those traits. He is definitely intense in everything he does. He gets intensely excited over stimulation so quickly it’s frightening. He goes from zero to jacked up on Mountain Dew in a matter of seconds; arms and legs flailing about, body contorting, panting and smiling like there is no tomorrow. However this is quickly followed by frustration and crying that can only be consoled by holding him closely and helping him soothe himself back down again. I know some of that is par for the course. However this happens during every single awake time and escalates throughout the day until the most draining soothing sessions in the evening for that last nap and bedtime.
While I can’t say that he necessarily feeds frequently, he does feed erratically. Again, perhaps par for the course now, but for a while now he has not followed the textbook “eat a certain amount at certain intervals” pattern. The only quasi-predictable feedings are at night. He is very demanding and quickly loses his cool. If he is hungry, overstimulated, etc. he goes from a discontent face to whimpering to all out screaming fairly quickly. He does awaken frequently when it comes to napping, and will not sleep longer than one sleep cycle at a time (if I am lucky) more commonly more than 30 minutes at a time unless I am wearing him. I thank the baby gods every single night for my one saving grace. Once I actually have him down for the night, whether it be 6 PM or 9 PM after a marathon soothing session, he is out for the night until 7:30 the next day. He will “wake” for 2-3 feedings, however he never opens his eyes or fully awakens.
He can display the “unsatisfied” trait, however for the most part wearing him or holding him tightly in a dark room with the sound of water running usually does the trick. The length of time it takes to soothe him this way does vary, but 90% of the time it has worked. He is most certainly unpredictable. I never know what I’m in for as dusk approaches. Some nights I have been able to lay him down in jammies and a fresh diaper and feed him as he nods off and falls asleep on his own. This is pretty rare. Some nights like a couple nights ago I try desperately for 3-4 hours to calm him down and have to lay him down 2 or more times because when he hits the mattress his eyes pop wide open and/or he starts wailing. Most nights fall somewhere in between.
To label him super-sensitive is the understatement of the century. Unfamiliar noises, smells, and environments are just too much for him. I mean, he survives, but it’s so visibly upsetting to him it’s heartbreaking. I want to shut the whole world off around him when that happens or magically transport us to our safe dark bathroom with the running shower. He can stand a certain amount of alone time, and looks at windows, lights, shadows and colors excitedly and with great interest, but once he is done he needs to be held. And held some more. He loves being held and putting him down when the circumstances are not 100% right (which is quite a bit of the time) is extremely frustrating for him.
Self-soothing is coming soon, I’m sure, and I guess I can’t quite make a judgment call on this yet because he is too young to self-soothe effectively yet. I still have the hope that developing this skill might affect other areas as well. The same goes for being separation sensitive. While he spends nearly all of his waking time with me, when he is with Steve he is fine and seems to be okay with other people for brief periods of time. Again, I can probably chalk this up to age and won’t be able to definitively say if this is an issue until he is a bit older.
So what is a mom to do? Luckily I already naturally lean toward attachment parenting even though that wasn’t necessarily my plan from the get-go. Between bedsharing, baby wearing and responding to his cries immediately, I have figured out how to better manage his high need characteristics. Despite this, I am still exhausted at the end of the day. I am exhausted at the beginning of the day. My back is sore in a way I have never felt from the most intense work out from holding and wearing him. (I wish I could carry him in a way that would tighten up my abs, because I would have a six pack by the time he learns how to walk!) My feet hurt from pacing around all 1200 sf of our condo so he can be soothed by movement. I am lucky if I can get two meals in before 3 pm and consider cereal at 9 pm when Nate has finally fallen asleep a perfectly acceptable form of “dinner”. I often can’t put him down long enough to pump (10 minutes) for several hours past my pump time and I end up with sore and full breasts, or as was the case yesterday with a plugged duct the size of my thumb that I have to painfully knead out to avoid having to deal with mastitis again.
I need to breathe. I am overwhelmed. I am frustrated. A friend I was venting to the other day asked me how I do it. I said “One day at a time. Actually, I take it in blocks of hours at a time.” And it’s true. I wake up and I can’t see past his first nap. If I can squeeze in some breakfast before he freaks out and needs to be soothed for his first nap (which has to happen within 45 minutes of waking up or else he loses it) I am golden. And so on until he falls asleep at night and I finish my last pump of the day. Even then it takes a while to unwind. To focus away from the sore back as I lie down. To quiet my mind of the 100 things I wanted to get done in the day and didn’t get to. Prioritizing which ones I need to tackle the second I wake up.
I need soothing as well and I try to find it wherever I can. I am finding it right now venting via the written (or typed, as it were) word. Feeling my sweet baby breathe against my chest in his carrier. I find it in midnight nursing sessions, which don’t happen every night but when they do I say a silent and tearful prayer of thanks that for those glorious and indescribably sacred minutes he is nursing. I find it in the early morning after my 4 am pumping session when I know I have a pretty much guaranteed (for now) 3 hours until he is up for the day that I can use to nap, snuggle him closely and kiss his soft head, breathe deeply, or just stare aimlessly into the glow of our nightlight and try to just think about nothing. But despite all of these things, I struggle with exhaustion. All I can do is keep going, taking it one day, one hour, one nap, one shared deep sigh with Nate at a time.