Loose Lips Magazine has published my latest “Main Street Mama” piece as a part of their Mothers Day issue. It’s honest, it’s vulnerable, and for the first time, I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself out there. Luckily the response has been overwhelmingly positive! If you’d like to, you can read it here.
Happy half-birthday, Hennie James! We cannot believe the first year is half over, though we also wouldn’t say it has flown by with this kid. Our little girl has never done anything half-heartedly; she cries with intent, she plays with a purpose, she does everything at full speed (or full blast!). When she learned that she could roll both ways this month she immediately started flinging her weight left and right, limbs flailing, to get to whichever toy had caught her eye. She isn’t mobile yet but when she spies something that she wants that is out of her reach, she will get to it. She will find a way. I hope she never loses that determination.
Current Nicknames: the three most common are Bugaloo, Little Bear, and Goblin
Things We Want to Remember about Hennie at Six Months Old: how there is almost always a blurry limb in any given pic of this girl because she’s always on the move, how much she loves being strapped to Tom in the dad carrier for hours on long walks (perhaps with a cheeky pint while she snoozes), her spazzy right arm, the way she rolls all over the rug and onto the hardwood (and under the bookshelf, and into the hall), the grunts she makes when she’s determined to do something and the huge grin that follows when she has succeeded, and that although we have had some pretty low moments lately it’s been her best month so far because she’s interacting a lot more and her personality is really starting to show! It’s definitely a fun age, most days 😉
New Skills: the developmental ‘leap’ that babies go through between 5-6 months is a big one, so there have been lots of changes happening. Hennie is SO active now, sitting up and standing with our help, leaning down to grab toys or up to grab faces, and wanting to crawl so badly. Unfortunately she doesn’t sleep nearly as well as she used to, we suspect as a result of a teething-and-growth-spurt combo that’s requiring extra night nursing and comforting, but we’re doing our best to deal with the current phase with as much patience and coffee as is necessary.We have given her some solid foods to try and it has been fun to see her reactions as she already has such an expressive little face! She seems to love all sweet things and feel rather indifferent towards the other flavours (perhaps she inherited her dad’s sweet tooth). Her favourite snack so far has been frozen banana or frozen mango chunks inside of a mesh teether – soothing on her sore gums, I’m sure! Hen has mastered a lot of new hand movements lately and will enthusiastically reach for whatever is nearby that looks interesting; we are constantly pulling things out of her reach and infuriating her by doing so. Little busybody! We are very much looking forward to seeing Hen learn and grow even more this spring and summer!
Tom and I have thrown around the term “high needs” a lot when talking about Hennie and I just wanted to write a little bit about what that means because it’s a relatively recent term and some friends and family have expressed curiosity about it. High needs is a term coined by the venerable paediatrician Dr. William Sears to describe babies who “need more”. You can read about the 12 features that define these babies’ [here], if you’d like to, but I’ll quickly sum up the main points for you. Through years of paediatric practice and counselling of parents and babies both “normal” and “high needs,” Dr. Sears recognized and recorded the 12 features of the high needs baby and came up with the term to reflect a more positive attitude than the “difficult” or “fussy” labels these babies had previously been given. As Dr. Sears says, “each of these personality traits has its blessings and its trials. These personality traits should not be judged as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They are just differences between babies, but these differences do make high need babies challenging to parent. Ultimately, what matters is how the child learns to use these special gifts. Our goal is to help parents identify these unique features in their infant and child and channel these traits to work to the child’s advantage.”
I first learned about the term after joining a support group for fussy babies online. In those early days with Hennie we began to suspect that our parent friends were having a completely different experience than we were having, and one night, in an effort to feel less isolated, I sought out other parents on social media whose newborns acted like ours did. Being a parent is hard and we expected it to be a challenge, but our friends could put their babies down sometimes, could anticipate their babies’ needs with some predictability, could enjoy their babies’ without being screamed at constantly. Once Hennie’s reflux problems had been resolved and colic had finally passed (around four months) we found her slightly easier to manage, but it was clear that she was still a loud, clingy, sensitive, draining baby. This is not to discredit any other parent who is having a tough time because all kids are a little high needs and may reflect a few of the 12 characteristics Dr. Sears identified above, but we could see that Hennie possessed most if not all of the features listed, and children who reflect that many traits are, as we quickly learned, especially challenging.
Hennie needs to be held constantly but isn’t quick to cuddle. She is an intense baby with an angry, loud cry. She is extremely sensitive to her environment and does not easily accept a caregiver who is not mum or dad. She is often hypertonic – if she is awake, her little muscles are usually clenched. We weren’t able to put her down for months and we have found that she is at her happiest when she is being held by one of her parents while looking at the other. She cannot self soothe and relies on a multi-faceted strategy to get to sleep, then often won’t transition out of our arms once asleep anyway. At family events she isn’t the baby that is easily passed around for everyone to hold and cuddle; we feel like we’re “hogging” her, but she needs time to warm to new people and situations and easily becomes overstimulated by so many faces.
When we found and read Dr. Sears’ baby book about parenting the high need child we couldn’t believe it – as he described the personality of his baby daughter Hayden in the opening chapter, we could have substituted Hennie’s name and been reading about her. They were exactly alike. I instantly felt relief knowing that other babies like Hen existed and it wasn’t just that I couldn’t hack it as a mama. My penchant for self-doubt had caused me to wonder at times if my expectations for motherhood had been extraordinarily warped, if I was just straight-up bad at parenting, or if I just had a dramatic or negative outlook (I’m sure a handful of our friends have wondered the same). But here was a book not only describing our child perfectly, but also describing our experiences as parents and our feelings of doubt, resentment, and inadequacy. Dr. Sears described entire nights spent walking with his newborn daughter while she slept, the danger of making comparisons, the tendency the high needs baby has to dominate the home, and the defeated feeling of always having to walk on eggshells and meet her constant demands. I was reminded that we needed to change our expectations rather than trying to change her (an impossible task anyway) and find ways to stay positive on days when we felt exhausted and resentful. Most of all, I felt vindicated knowing that approximately 10% of babies just need more as Dr. Sears puts it; “more touch, more understanding, more sensitivity, more creative parenting.”
While these high-needs aspects of Hennie’s little personality are certainly challenging and draining to us now, we are so excited to see how they become real advantages for her later. And please know that the purpose of writing this isn’t to elicit pity, but understanding. On a good day, I know that we are an ideal match for this little girl – we are flexible, energetic, and open-minded parents, and Tom, at least, has seemingly endless patience. But I am an anxious mama too, and I often feel guilty when friends and family don’t understand why Hennie doesn’t want to be held by them, why she won’t sit still or cuddle them, or why they’ve offered to babysit multiple times and we haven’t taken them up on the offer. When we bring her somewhere new people often comment that she is “playing strange,” but just as adults come with varying degrees of social comfort zones, so too do babies. As my friend Katherine noticed very quickly when Hennie was only a month old, our daughter “really likes her personal space.” That said, we have seen some great (but slow) progress lately and are hopeful that any future Procter babies are a bit more low maintenance 🙂 I hope that learning a bit more about high needs babies helps you – our family and friends – understand a bit more about Hennie and a lot more about how Tom and I are managing during this crazy first year of parenthood! And if you made it this far, thanks for reading!
I know I said this about four months, but five months is such a fun age! As the last post mentioned, Hennie seems like a “normal” baby now and we are so relieved (and, as always, still learning)! She has so many smiles and cuddles for her mom and dad these days, doesn’t scream when (most) people hold her, and is now both a frustration and a joy. Unfortunately, around the time when colic ends most babies start hitting some other issues, so we’ve transitioned from the hurricane of colic to the nap strikes, bedtime issues, and general irritability of teething and sleep regressions. The difference now is that there is a reason we can pinpoint for her cranky moments, in the form of two sharp little teeth just under the surface! Poor Hen. Her development is right on track too; she is grabbing, drooling, rolling, reaching, chewing, wiggling, sitting up and standing (with our help) and loving every minute of it. She can have a piercing or a sweet voice depending on what she wants at the time. We are letting her explore some purees once in a while to get used to the textures and smells of new foods, but not a lot is ending up in her mouth, as expected for this age.
Nicknames: Hennie Penny, HenBaby, Happy Hennie, Turd Burglar, Sweet Baby James, Jamesie, Lil Monkey, Goblin Baby, Chunky Monkey, White Chocolate Chunker, Drooler
Things We Want to Remember About Hennie at this Age: how she kicks her feet with excitement when she sees us, how she sleeps with one rogue arm up in the air like a firehose, how soft her big chunky thighs and arms are, how she always keeps one hand on us at all times if she can, that she likes to be held by us the most, her screeches as she’s finding her voice, how light her blue eyes are getting, the tuft of white blonde hair on the top of her head, the way she acts like (as Tom says) “a baby goblin we found in the woods that we have to teach to act human”.
Things That Are Changing: Hen is not taking to tummy time or to her bouncy chair as enthusiastically as she once was, resulting in us having to hold her a lot more – no small feat for a baby this strong and wiggly! She has also grown out of being swaddled, a big change for us and for her sleep-time routine, but we are finding new ways to make it work. She has started to let us sit when we go out to pubs and cafes now, and that’s a nice change ’cause for the first four months we had to bounce her constantly when we dared to go out. She has started to stay in her Bumbo chair and high chair for longer periods of time so it looks like she’s just preferring the upright position in general!
Happy five months, Bugaloo!
Not a lot of new moms publicly use the word “dark” to describe their first months with a new baby and I certainly didn’t expect that I would be one of them, but our time getting to know Hennie James has been dark and discouraging in more ways than one. Even though we have an amazing ‘village’ of supporters I often felt isolated from friends and family who were enjoying the Fourth Trimester with their newborns. I felt guilty for not feeling the same way and anxious about Hennie’s health problems. I haven’t felt comfortable leaving the house with her and despite knowing deep down that it wasn’t the case, I felt like my screaming child hated me or at least hated being alive – what else could you assume about someone who wailed during every waking moment? Even in a literal sense that time was dark; Hen was born in early November on the very day that the clocks turned back and we lost an hour of sunlight each day. She came into our lives with the winter, and not one of our usual mild Vancouver winters but a record long, cold winter, the first in decades.
Anyone who knows us knows how tough it’s been. Close friends and cousins have endured my miserable midnight texts and my exasperated questions and responded with sympathy, understanding, and best of all: no judgment. I can never thank those people enough (you know who you are, I’m sure), and those same people will share our jubilant relief that the long, dark winter has broken!
Lately our girl is a different baby. She wakes up smiling and lights up when she sees us. She allows us to hold her and cuddle her and behaves the way I expected a baby to behave before I knew this one. The list of things she dislikes is still a long one but she doesn’t scream for no reason anymore, and she doesn’t hate life or her parents. In fact, she really seems to love us. And it is a love this mama has been waiting four long months for.
The snow finally cleared as the clocks changed again last week. Since then our home has been filled with sunshine in every sense of the word. Hopefully Hurricane Hennie is behind us. The first day of Spring is tomorrow and we are so ready for the fun seasons ahead with Happy Hennie!
Hen is such a fun age right now – it seems like every few days she is learning a new skill and showing it off! She is rolling over from her tummy to her back, is laughing and holding her head up more easily, and loves to stand. She likes sitting in her high chair at the dinner table while we play cards and also likes straightening her legs when we’re changing her so we can’t get her pants on. She loves to use her voice and just discovered how to squeal and screech! So cute… so high pitched. She is also finally gaining some control over her hands and can grasp things very well, a fact that I found out the hard way when I dared to wear dangly earrings last weekend. Our current struggles include convincing her to take a bottle and attempting to troubleshoot that dreaded four month sleep regression. Her naps have become much shorter and it takes a lot longer to get her to sleep in the evenings, but we’re getting enough sleep to get by so we’re thankful for that (and for coffee). We just got the Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit to ease the transition from being tightly swaddled while she sleeps.
Nicknames: Little Turd, Hennie Bugaloo, Smiley Cyrus, Droolia Roberts, Lil’ Bum, and her daddy also loving calls her Gobbers.
Hennie Likes: sitting up and standing (with help, of course), looking at faces, mirrors, playing airplane, chatting after a big feed, the swing at the park, testing her voice, and testing our patience.
Hennie Dislikes: having clothes pulled over her head, being held by someone other than mum or dad, falling asleep without being bounced, sleeping in, and missing out (aka she needs her parents to be within her view at all times or else).
Happy four months, Hennie Bugaloo!
You’re 3 months old today! I feel like this milestone marks the end of our bodies being shared. We operated as one for three trimesters while you came to life inside my belly and when you finally arrived earth-side I was surprised to find that we continued to feel like one unit. You are still carried by my body and fed by my body, and our emotions have been more co-dependent than I would like. But the fourth trimester is over now and my body is starting to feel like my own again after a whole year of sharing it with you. The time for you to be truly independent from me is years in the future, and I long for and dread that time all at once.
For now we are still adjusting to the changes you’ve wrought upon our quiet lives. Motherhood has been nothing like I expected it would be, it has been infinitely more difficult. What has been the most exasperating is the voice you brought with you when you came into our world. I feel so hopeless sometimes when I can’t figure out what it is that you need from me, and not all of the time we have spent together has been as fulfilling as I expected it would be. Since the day we took you home I’ve been waiting for you to become a more manageable baby, but as usual I suspect that what needs to be managed are my expectations; they are robbing me of my ability to appreciate and enjoy my time with you while you are still little.
I’m going to let go of my own expectations now and accept you just the way you are. I’m so glad that you’re mine! I may get less smiles than other mamas but my life is just as bright. You have an indefatigable voice that commands attention and begs to be heard. You were born into a crazy world that is beautiful and lost and in desperate need of powerful, determined voices like yours. I promise that I will never encourage you to be silent and I hope that you will use your big voice to be a hurricane of good in this world. Raise hell, little one.
Love, your mama
The Fourth Trimester is over and little miss Hen is a newborn no more! During these first few months there have been so many connections being forged in her little body and it’s so much fun to watch her learn a new skill or make a new discovery. But the milestone we’re most looking forward to has to do with the fact that colic tends to improve significantly between 3 and 4 months. Ummm, bring on the improvement, please!! We are desperate for our evening hours to get better and more manageable. Sometimes we are able to eke out a quick card game or watch the first half of a movie, but our evenings are (still) spent passing a very fussy baby back and forth until bedtime. We are looking forward to the day when she calms down and we’re able to leave her with a relative or friend for even two hours so we can have dinner together out of the house, but for now we’re spending our weekend evenings hibernating at home with some good takeout and a few nice ciders. Probably best during flu season anyway.
Hennie Likes: morning time, being spoken to in silly voices, her pacifier, kicking her feet, making “grumpy cat” faces before screaming, looking out the window, hanging out on the kitchen counter when mama cooks, being held by daddy.
Hennie Dislikes: evening time, getting immunizations, sitting still, having clothes pulled over her big head, being cooperative during feedings, cuddling, having people in her personal space.
Nicknames: Little Miss Custard Pants, Little Red Hen,
Development: Hen has begun to talk a lot more and it’s pretty cute. After she feeds she is (usually) pretty happy, and we have some intriguing conversations with her. She is a decent sleeper at night time if she’s swaddled tight so her loose arms don’t flail wildly and wake her up. She has become a very distracted eater and frequently stops feeding to gaze up at mama with a coy attitude and a wide grin – obviously we love that, but it makes it difficult to keep her well-fed! She still doesn’t laugh very often but makes up for it with frequent smiles. She is does push-ups when placed on her tummy and drools constantly while voraciously sucking her little fists.
This is the story of a Little Red Hen
who was born to a mama and dad
who took her home from the hospital
and the Little Red Hen went mad.
First they bounced their Little Red Hen
and walked her ‘round the town,
but still she screamed and cried all day
and never let them put her down.
Then they shushed their Little Red Hen
’til both their throats were dry,
they shushed and sang and bounced ’til morn
but the Little Red Hen still cried.
Next they drove their Little Red Hen
with her carseat buckled tight,
she almost slept but would wake each time
they paused at a red stoplight.
Last they bathed their Little Red Hen,
swaddled up like in the womb,
but the Little Red Hen didn’t like that much
and her cries filled the little bathroom.
“You cannot fix this Little Red Hen,”
said the doctor, “it’s just colic!”
So the Little Red Hen just screamed and cried
and her mom became an alcoholic.
We have a two-month-old! So hard to believe. When I was pregnant I spent so much time daydreaming about what this newborn phase would be like. I imagined long naps together, hours spent cuddling, and sweet moments as a family. The reality has been very different and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wishing this phase away. Everyone keeps telling us to appreciate every second but we feel pretty confident that we won’t miss these days later, no matter how cute and little she may be. That said, she is starting to show signs of change that lead us to hope she will not be a “high needs” baby forever.
Hennie Likes: holding hands, crying, constantly moving, being on the changing table, being next to mama in the Solly wrap, white noise, her green bouncy chair, waking up at 8am, the right boob.
Hennie Dislikes: having clothes put on, drinking from a bottle, being still, being quiet, being in the family heirloom bassinet, being left anywhere without company, being startled, the left boob.
Development: Hen has started to pay a lot of attention to lights, is holding her head up (quite a feat w a noggin this size!), kicking a lot, and looking around (preferably over the shoulder of someone who is bouncing her around the kitchen). She smiles easily but her smiles often morph into cries very quickly. She’s starting to figure out that the sounds she hears are actually coming from her own mouth! She is becoming much more alert and quickly growing out of her NB and 0-3 month clothes and into 3-6 month stuff! We are hoping she will learn to be awake without screaming a little more often, and are looking very much forward to the day when she lets us cuddle her 🙂