On Monday I had my biweekly phone check in with my counsellor. I haven’t seen her in person since before P. was born, but I’m hoping to get there once E. is back in school. It’s just been too much to wrangle both kids. We talked through what was going on generally (short answer: family still in crisis on a truly unbelievable level) and how the course was going (almost done but I am marking exams at 4:30 a.m. after P. feeds because that’s the only time I have) and how I was feeling (exhausted and numb) and then she asked if I had specific anxieties about P.
And I had to admit- I have not been able to let go of the worry I feel about P.’s weight gain.
No one else thinks there is a problem. The midwives said her weight was fine. The paediatrician reported her “perfect” when I brought her in for her first round of vaccinations. P. has been consistently gaining about 0.75 oz per day, so 45 grams. The minimum is 0.5 oz, or 30 grams, so you can say “she’s only gaining a quarter of an ounce above the minimum”, which doesn’t sound all that great, or you can say “she’s gaining fifty percent more than the minimum”, which sounds like a lot. I try to make the voice in my head say the second one rather than the first.
“So you’re worrying about a problem when there is no problem,” my counsellor said.
Yes. Yes I am.
We talked about whether I was punishing myself because P. has been a somewhat easier baby than E. was (although I really would not classify her as ‘easy’), or whether I was just fixating on one thing to worry about (with E. it was sleep).
Ultimately I realized two things. The first is that part of this fretting over her weight gain is displacement anxiety. It’s the spill over from all the stress and grief and worry I have about the rest of my family. I’ve crammed it into a box and I’ve tried so hard to keep that box shut so I can keep functioning, but it’s creeping out and this is how it’s manifesting.
“What would you do if her weight gain wasn’t ok?” my counsellor asked.
“I’d work to increase my supply,” I said. “I’d probably try to pump after every feed. Maybe I’d take the herbal supplements again. And I’d cut out dairy just to see if that was causing any issues.”
“So you’d have a concrete plan for something you could do to fix the problem.”
I can’t fix the other problems in my life. I can’t heal my father’s spine or fix my stepmother’s hip or cure my stepfather’s terminal cancer or ease the burden my mother and sisters and stepsister have shouldered as they sit with my stepfather while he dies.
But I could probably fix a low weight gain if I just needed to make more breastmilk.
“Maybe you’re making this into a problem because you know it’s a problem you can control and you can’t control the other worries,” said my counsellor.
She is so right, of course.
We talked about the problems I have with projecting. My big worry with P. is that if she does the same dramatic drop down the percentiles that E. did at six months (he had been in the 75th to the 90th percentile for weight and then ultimately slid down into the 20th and stayed there), she won’t have as far to go because she hasn’t had the strong early weight gain (she is a full two pounds lighter than E. was although exactly the same length).
My counsellor asked how I still remembered all these details with E.
“I kept a really detailed journal.” (I didn’t mention the blog.)
“Maybe you should put the journal away for now. Maybe acknowledge it as a historical document and a memory of E.’s infancy, but don’t look at it to compare.”
And then it hit me.
E’s journal is my parenting manual this time around.
When E. was a baby, I read (what felt like) every single parenting book out there. Books on sleep (SO many books on sleep). Books on food. Books on child development.
I’m an academic and I was trying to approach parenting like I would any other thorny issue- read my way into the subject.
I wanted the manual.
I wanted the explanation.
I wanted the key to E.’s behaviour.
And no matter how many times Q. said to me: “Babies do crazy things!” or “E. hasn’t read the books!”, I still struggled with adapting and adjusting to E. because he didn’t do what the books said he ‘should’ be doing.
I thought I had learned better. This time around, I’ve felt so smug about how I haven’t read any parenting books at all. I gave all the ones I owned away before getting pregnant with P. and I haven’t replaced them. I haven’t taken any out from the library. I’ve been resolved to just follow my baby and roll with the punches.
I thought I was doing this.
But I’m actually parenting exactly the same way I did with E., except this time my model isn’t some generic baby in a book but one very specific baby- my son.
This means when P. does something that’s similar to what E. did (like napping only in carriers) I don’t worry about it. I thought it was because I’d accepted that babies do crazy things but I think now it’s because E. did that exact same crazy thing and then stopped doing it, so I know P. will stop doing it eventually too.
Likewise, if P. does something that’s different from E., but not in any worrying way (such as always wanting to be held looking outwards or rolling over almost a full month earlier), I’m fine (if a bit apprehensive about what this will mean for us when P. is a toddler).
But when I feel P. isn’t measuring up to E., that’s when I worry. And I’m worrying because, once again, my baby is not fitting the model I’m using.
I changed the model but not my mode of thinking.
I know it is so common for parents to compare their children and it is so hard not to do it. And this blog is full of detailed reminders of exactly what E. did when.
My daughter, however, deserves to be seen as her own person, not in terms of “her big brother did that” or “her big brother never did that”.
It’s not her fault she was born second.
So I’m going to try to put down the journal and to stay away from the archives on this blog.
I’m going to try to see her just as her own perfect self.
She deserves nothing less.