Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Darker Side of Pinky Power

Nearly 36 weeks down, 4 to go. Everything is coming together nicely and with the news that my placenta previa is gone and my platelet count is normal, I went ahead and bought the homebirth kit. It's soon!

And the calendar is backing me up. Tomorrow is September! I can't believe that I have been pregnant since the end of last December. And that was ten months after being pregnant for ten months before that. I am nearly ready to be done being pregnant forever and ever.

It's been a very rough summer for me. But I can't say the pregnancy has been to blame. Pregnancy is pretty good to me. Sure, I was nauseous. Sure, I have trouble sleeping, I have gas and heartburn, I have back pain. But I get around, I do my work, I mother my kid. It's nothing terrible.

The one major difference between the first and second pregnancies for me is that this time I can reflect on what, if anything, I will do differently with the next kid. And to be honest, I don't come up with much. Obviously a different child will command different parenting. We will do some things the same way, other things differently. This time I know better than to think I can control it all. But the one thing I really struggle with is Thora's pinky addiction and whether we should use a pinky on the new baby. As much as I love this quick fix, I am also growing to hate it.

When she was an infant, we tried to get her to take a pacifier, but we didn't try very hard. We offered it on and off over the first few months. She took it once. One whole day she used it. She slept with it.

We thought we were home free, but then the next morning she looked at it like she'd never seen it before. She spat it out and that was that. Once she tried her thumb. That too wasn't satisfactory. In the car when she is sleepy or fussy and begging for pinky or milk, I have begged right back that she take her thumb instead. I've shown her with my thumb, I've shoved her thumb into her mouth or mine to demonstrate. But no dice.

In theory, I am glad Thora doesn't use a pacifier. I am always happy to see her smiling face in photos, no big piece of plastic covering her beautiful full lips and sixteen adorable teeth. I am happy she doesn't suck her thumb like I did, practically until puberty. I am happy that she still nurses. I don't even mind that we can use the pinky instead of the boob, as it has saved me from being exposed in public by a toddler. The pinky has also saved me when my nipples were too sore to nurse, as they have been for much of this pregnancy. But I can't for the life of me figure out how to get her to wean from a pinky. I can't trim it down. I can't hide it. I can't "lose" it. She sees my pinky. She cries for it. She takes my hand and unfolds my fingers and pulls my pinky into her mouth. She asks for it: "keee." But the worst is when she decides she can't sleep without it.

We tried the Pantley method (see "The No-Cry Sleep Solution") to get her off the boob in her sleep and sometimes it works. With the pinky too. And her naps and sleep have improved tremendously. Usually she likes to nap in the middle of the floor, in the middle of all the activity, like so:

But then there are some naps that look like this: Thora lying on the floor on a pillow and Johnny or me sitting cross legged next to her with a pinky in her mouth. We're hunched and scrunched and folded like a pretzel with one arm suspended in air painfully, a pinky connecting with the blissfully sleeping child's face. Sometimes we can grab a book before she dozes off, or our phone. Other times we're just stuck. For an hour or more. Eventually it's easier to just lie down with her but that means you end up falling asleep on the hard wood floor, if you can sleep with no blanket, pillow or mattress and with your pinky in someone's mouth, which most of the time I can't.

This past weekend I took Thora to Boston to visit family. Johnny stayed home. Thora and I bunked together. As is the norm when we travel, she started out in a Pack N Play. Getting her to fall asleep in it is always difficult but the first night is a total and utter nightmare and generally involves more than a few minutes of crying and/or screaming. I swear to you this never happens when we are home. Of course everyone within earshot thinks we are monsters and that we leave our kid routinely to cry it out. And we feel horribly guilty, like two monsters who leave our kid routinely to cry it out. We have the same conversation every first night somewhere and we do it loud enough for our hosts or fellow travelers to hear. It goes like this:

me: Babe! She never does this!
Johnny: Only the first night away from home.
me: But she never does this! That's why this is so hard for me!
Johnny: Do you want me to go back in?
me: No, babe. She needs to sleep. Leave her. She will fall asleep.
me: Wait. Now I feel terrible. Am I a terrible mother?
me: She never does this! And everyone can hear her and they must think I am the worst mother ever.
Johnny: You're not the worst mother ever.
me: Aaaaagh!

And then she's sound asleep.

A few hours later we tiptoe in and go to bed ourselves.  If we aren't lucky, she wakes right up and in order to avoid that same kind of screaming at grownup bedtime, we have no choice but to bring her into bed with us. But if we're lucky - and we usually are - she stays asleep through this. Sadly, though, our luck always runs out at some point. Eventually, she wakes up. When she stirs at home (I'm guessing) she looks around and feels good about where she is and goes back to sleep. When she stirs in the Pack N Play in a hotel room or a guest room, she screams and howls and would wake up the entire neighborhood if I didn't grab her and lay her down next to me and stuff a boob in her mouth as fast as I can. Usually we both drift off eventually and I can detach myself or roll her over and pass her off to her father, who pinkies her while I get some sleep. But not this weekend.

Have you ever seen the movie 127 Hours? I saw it recently and it was pretty good. You know what it's about, right? The plot is this: Guy goes hiking in canyon alone with a fully charged phone, camera and video camera but very little food and water. His car and bike are miles and miles away. Guy falls in canyon and gets his arm stuck under a fallen rock. Guy spends a very fidgety and stressful 127 hours trying to figure out how not to have to cut his arm off with a cheap and dull Swiss Army knife to get free. Guy cuts his arm off with a cheap and dull Swiss Army knife to get free. I couldn't watch the cutting part but I did look up to see the abandoned arm wedged between the rock and the crevasse wall, all sinewy and grey and disgusting and him hightailing it out of there basically hemorrhaging from his DIY tourniquet. Hope I didn't spoil anything for anyone but really none of that was any secret, was it? Here's the trailer:

Anyway, this weekend. There I am on the third night away, getting into bed around midnight. I am exhausted and hopeful that I will actually get some sleep. The first night there, Thora woke up around 4. She came to bed with me, nursed until she was sound asleep and then I detached and we both slept well. The second night, she stayed asleep in the Pack N Play until 6:45 am which meant I had the bed to myself for close to seven glorious hours. I slept wonderfully. And that night, the third night, she went down with almost no crying and there I am. It's midnight and I manage to slip into bed a few hours later without waking her. Sleep awaits.

At 2:08 she wakes up with a shriek.

I lean over, scrambling across the bed, grab her quickly and bring her to bed. She sits up in the dark, ready to party. I lay her down calmly and eventually get her to relax, to nurse, to fall asleep. I try to detach her and she wakes up. She sits upright again, wide awake. I lay her down. In the shadowy light coming through the window I see an arm swaying in the air. Then a leg. I push her limbs gently back down to her body and get her to settle. This time she takes a pinky and falls asleep. Then I have to pee. I try to pull my pinky out. She wakes up. I am afraid to leave her awake in the bed for fear she'll roll off and hit the floor and I am not about to plunk an awake and unhappy kid in the Pack N Play to scream bloody murder while I go to the bathroom, so I just take her with me. Then of course I can't pee in someone else's bathroom in the dark so I have to turn the light on. Instantly Thora is awake and playing. "Potty?" She grabs the rubber ducky collection off the counter and starts quacking. She climbs up on the scale and drops the ducks into the tub one at a time, chanting "oh noooo!" She pulls towels off the racks, opens the drawers in the vanity under the sink, insists on taking a piece of toilet paper to throw into the bowl with mine as I flush. "Bye pee!" She is wide awake. But at least the rest of the house slumbers on. I rinse my hands and rush us back to bed.

3 am - She's still fidgeting, limbs flailing. I am exhausted and annoyed.

3:30 - She's drifting. Asleep at last. I pull my pinky away and she wakes up. I am practically in tears from being so frustrated.

5 am - We are still at it. She falls asleep, I get antsy. Being as pregnant as I am, I am basically never ever comfortable. Ever. I spend half the night flip-flopping from one side to the other, stuffing pillows between my legs, removing them, putting them back, getting hot and taking the blanket off, feeling too naked and putting the blanket back on, etc., etc., etc. I am doing all of this and waking her up every single time I move. I am so agitated that I cannot bear to nurse or pinky for another second. I am now past the point of tears and I'm just angry. "Thora!" I hiss at her in desperation. "Go to sleep. NOW!" I plunk her on her side and will her to fall asleep.

5:00 - My mind is whirling and I am whispering to myself. I am channeling the guy in 127 Hours, trying to think of what in arm's reach I can possibly use to cut my hand off at the wrist and wrench free from this kid who will not let me have my body parts to myself. Pillows. A lamp. My iPod and my phone. A few books. A spare blanket. Nothing sharp that I can reach without waking the kid up again.

5:30 - I am insane at this point. Every minute lying uncomfortably in the dark feels like a million years. And then suddenly she drifts off and then, miraculously, so do I.

7:00 am - I'm awake. I have to pee again. The sun is streaming into the room, my relatives are stirring. I  still have both my arms and both my boobs and neither my pinky nor my nipple has a child at the other end. But I am all cramped and practically tied into a knot. Confused, I unfold myself and look around. My kid is spread out like a capital X above me. At 18 months old and 33 and a quarter inches tall, she is taking up the entire top half of a queen sized bed. She is dead asleep between the two pillows. I have fallen asleep curled around her on the bottom half of the bed. No pillows. No blanket. Just a tangle of sheets and wires from my cell phone charger and my iPod headphones twisted around my arm. Thora is so asleep I can hear her snoring.

7:10 - I still have to pee. Do I leave her alone on the bed? What if she wakes up and rolls off? No, I can't take the risk. I hold it.

7:30 - I am ready to burst. I've cleaned up everything in the room I can clean up, I've folded all The clothes I can fold. I need to shower. Brush my teeth. Peeeee.

7:45 - I risk it. I make it to the bathroom and back and she's still out. I sigh and get out a book and settle in to read.

9:00 - She is awake at last. I, however, am beyond exhausted. I feel hung over. She is ready and raring to go. I get her dressed and manage to help her down the stairs without injury to either of us and make a beeline for the tea kettle.

This kind of night is rare. It's rare that we all sleep in the same room anymore. We stopped co-sleeping because of this exact reason: she wants to nurse all all all night and I get no sleep whatsoever. On vacations where we all share a room, Johnny and I switch off so at least one of us gets some rest. But this time it was just me and my kid and my crazy thoughts and my pregnancy insomnia. It will pass.

I'm still not sure we'll do anything drastically differently with the new kid. I guess we'll have to take our cue from her. But I'd like to hear what other people do. What kind of soother does or did your kid take? And how did you wean them off it?


  1. I could never get my first born to use a soother, a finger, (mine or hers) or a thumb. So she nursed whenever she needed soothing until three years of age, when she promptly quit. Second born never seemed to need the degree of soothing, no no pacifier, thumb or excessive nursing. When my son came along, he was sucking his middle and ring finger on day 1. He self-soothed. I have no idea for how long. I am pretty sure he was still doing it occasionally at 12. He is probably the most well adjusted of all my kids. He also has the straightest teeth. Go figure.

  2. Rowan would never take a pacifier (or a pinky!) until I forcibly :( weaned him at 2 years old. Then he took a pacifier (!) and since he looked about four, we suffered dirty looks from the disapproving public for a few months until I started hiding them all. I still find them at the backs of kitchen drawers and other places.

    We have these pacifiers at the hospital that are shaped like a pinky and actually you can stick your pinky in them. I will send you some- maybe you can tell Thora your pinkies have a boo-boo and you need to put this over it for a few days...? Of course like all other baby habits it will resolve/evolve eventually no matter what you do.

    Katherine took a pacifier right from birth and never had any trouble nursing. I think she was done with them at about seven or eight months, maybe sooner.

  3. You are amazing. I think I might of dropped dead. Best mom ever!!

  4. Now that the pics are up: that green one in the first pictures is the one I was thinking of. I have some to send you. You should be so proud of yourself for your patience: I got frustrated with the constant nursing a toddler at times, and needing to sleep latched on until he weaned, but someone attached to my finger would have driven me completely out of my mind!


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