So much has happened in the first four weeks of my daughter’s life that my best laid1 plans of capturing every major moment and milestone in photo, video or blog post form have been laid to waste. That said, there have been some moments that I definitely want to commit to memory…and that’s what a Dad blog is for! In no particular order, here are some of the highlights, magic moments and perhaps even mundane details of Maddie’s first four weeks of life.
An Olympic Baby
While Maddie was a complete surprise and we didn’t plan it this way, it’s been awesome to have a new baby in the summertime. You don’t need to worry about investing in a newborn-sized snowsuit, people aren’t sick everywhere you go, and–in our case–Maddie’s arrival was perfectly timed with the Summer Olympics.
Growing up in a cable-less household2, the Olympics have always been a brief period of time when I can turn on the TV and something interesting is always on to watch. Never is this more necessary than in the early weeks of a newborn’s life, when you are chained to your home and at the mercy of whatever’s on TV during the endless rounds of nursing and changing and sleeping and nursing again.3 While it was a novelty to have a new baby and adapt to a new schedule, our new routine was much more enjoyable when we could also be watching Michael Phelps and the Final Five rack up gold medals in the background. I don’t know what God has in store for the future of our fertility, but if He wants to send us a kid during the next few Summer Games, I wouldn’t complain.4
Holding Close My Tiny Dancer
Maddie, if you’re reading this in the future5, I’m not sure how big you are right now, but I never want to forget how absolutely tiny and adorable you were when you were born and throughout these opening weeks of your life. Gosh, you’re precious. I can’t look at you without instantly melting and reaching for my camera6 to capture the cute faces you’re making. I know this will continue at every stage, but I won’t always be able to literally hold your entire head in my hand or wrap my hand more than halfway around your entire tiny torso when I hold you.
In fact, you were so tiny when you were born that you were swimming in newborn diapers, and we only had three newborn outfits that actually fit you well. Turns out that the conventional wisdom to not buy newborn clothing because they’ll outgrow it immediately wasn’t so true for you. I thought seven pounds was relatively average for a baby, but those pounds sure look like less on you.
Everything you do takes your body’s full effort. When you’re breathing, you breathe with your whole body–your entire chest and barely-there gut rising and falling dramatically. When you cry, it comes from the essence of your soul and quakes your entire being. When you poop7, your whole world stops until the improbably loud tooting from your backside subsides.
Seated in the glider in our living room, I’ve had two favorite poses for holding you. The first is when you serenely sleep on my chest–sometimes for hours–after your latest feeding. I never want it to end. It’s completely relaxing and so amazing that your entire being could be wrapped up in such a small package and sitting comfortably on my chest.
I’ll never forget your first of many “Abu Moments” on your second day of life, when you were laying on my chest in the hospital–awake and alert with beady little eyes–and you kept curling yourself into a smaller and smaller bundle and burrowing yourself into me.
Even in just a few short weeks, that’s already starting to change. Now when you lay on my chest, you splay out your arms and legs like a Looney Tune that just hit a brick wall. Sometimes your little arm will wrap around me and it almost feels like you’re trying to hug me. When you’re in your deepest sleep, your arms fall limply to your sides like a little rag doll, even if we pick you up.
The second pose I love is lying you down on your back on top of my thighs so I can look down at you and you can look up at me8. You are already an unintentional little ham, and I get some of my best photos of your many faces when you’re reclining on me that way. We’ve shared some of your calmest awake moments this way, too.
Who Needs Sleep?
Obviously Maddie sleeps a lot, and for the first week or two, she would give us what I dubbed “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nights.” She would have one bad night where she would wake up frequently throughout the night and demand multiple, prolonged feedings or just be randomly awake. She would follow that up with a great night where we sometimes slept uninterrupted for as much as three or four hours.9
She is no longer strictly following that Jekyll and Hyde schedule, and her nighttime temperament seems a bit more sporadic. We can’t really complain though, as even when she is up for a while, she usually allows us to make up the missed sleep by giving us a long nap through the morning or later in the afternoon. Despite the inconsistencies, we have tried to establish a bit of a nighttime routine. When it’s late in the evening, I’ll change Maddie’s diaper, Theresa will feed her one last time and then we’ll swaddle her in what is basically a baby straightjacket fastened with Velcro straps. For the first few nights, we tried to get Maddie to sleep in a Pack ‘n Play in our room, but eventually found that she slept more soundly in a Rock ‘n Play sleeper cradle that we had been using for her daytime naps.10
There were a few things about her sleep habits that came as a surprise to me. First of all, she makes the most un-lady-like grunting noises throughout the night, along with a variety of other sounds that I have no clue how a newborn would be making. Apparently some of these elephant-esque sounds are commonly used by newborn babies to clear their plugged nostrils. Since my post-baby talent for sleeping lightly makes me aware of these noises, I’ve frequently slipped out of bed to watch her sleep, but she never seems to make them when I’m watching…except for the grunting.
The grunts are the side effect of her attempts to free her arms from the confines of the swaddle blanket–which she accomplishes in multiple nightly demonstrations that would put Harry Houdini out of business. The funniest part of this is that her main mission is to get her hands to her mouth for some soothing sucking action, but she doesn’t even know she has hands yet, so she tries to shove one hand into her mouth at various ineffective angles. On special nights, it sometimes looks like she’s close to actually sucking her thumb–but then you realize she doesn’t even know she has a thumb and it’s completely trapped inside the closed grasp of her fingers anyway. Practice makes perfect, Maddie.
So far our nighttime routine consists of me responding to an extended litany of complaints from Maddie. Sometimes she will self-soothe herself back to sleep after a little yelp or a brief cry, but I can usually tell when it’s time for me to spring into action. I take her out to the living room for a diaper change and then Theresa groggily follows us to take her place on the gliding breastfeeding throne. Sometimes changing Maddie will actually soothe her a bit and she’ll just lie there for a while as Theresa gets settled. Other times–especially if she’s been asleep for a couple hours–a riot will start until she’s firmly planted on the boob. Once she’s happily sucking away, I return to bed and Theresa listens to podcasts while she nurses.
The goal of the nighttime feeding is obviously to get Maddie to eat her fill and then immediately go back to sleep. If this doesn’t happen, Theresa will call for my baby-whispering services. We swap places and I take the fully fed and newly swaddled bundle of joy and try to rock her to sleep in the glider. Oddly enough, it works best for me to hold her head in the palm of my hand and lean the rest of her body on my forearms while we rock. This usually soothes her to sleep in about 10 minutes or so, then I can put her on my chest for a bit and *hopefully* transfer her back into the cradle without upsetting the apple cart. It sometimes feels like a winner-take-all round of the board game “Operation,” and I’m always trying to grab the wishbone. If I fail, Theresa will probably have to wake up and feed her a little more sleeping potion. By the next morning, I often only vaguely remember even participating in this ritual.
Wake Up, Little Maddie, Wake Up
The only chink in the armor to our best laid nighttime plans has been on the days when Maddie simply will not stay awake during normal waking hours. Sometimes her narcolepsy is convenient–like when we have daytime visitors who want to hold her or the time we dropped her off at my Mom’s house to run some errands and enjoy a celebratory one-year-of-remission lunch. Since we haven’t started bottle-feeding yet, we are relying on Maddie to stay asleep at times like this, and she has thankfully yet to disappoint. Of course, protracted daytime naps have come back to haunt us at night, when Maddie will just stay awake cluster-feeding for a couple hours or simply being awake and not in the best of moods. I’m looking forward to when her pleasantly awake hours will increase and she won’t just be looking for the nearest snack whenever her eyes are open. Hopefully it will make it even easier for us to keep her awake during the day. But at this point, what do I know?
When Maddie does wake up, it’s one of her cutest spectacles. She first pushes out her lips, raises her eyebrows and arches her back to make a face that is my absolute favorite. Unfortunately I’m usually enjoying it so much–or more likely holding her when it’s happening–that I still have yet to effectively capture it in a photo. Suffice to say, it’s really dang cute. She also sometimes strikes a superhero pose by shooting one arm into the air above her head, bending one leg and straightening the other so that she appears to be flying through the air.
Once she opens her eyes, she will generally make her mouth into an O shape and stare in wild wonder at the world around her for a few minutes. It’s another couple minutes of gloriously peaceful cuteness to enjoy. I’m not sure what exactly babies can see11, but Maddie is particularly taken with light sources and will routinely stare at the morning light shining against the blinds in our living room. Her eyes dart around and sometimes cross themselves hilariously as she tries to focus on this brave new world.
I was planning to write something about how Maddie never makes eye contact with us, but just today we read something that informed us of a baby’s preference to look at faces–but to stare at a particular feature. I would think Maddie would obviously choose my nose12, but apparently they frequently choose the ear. This explains all the just off-center stares that we get from her.
We also read today that babies have a lot of REM sleep at this age, so that explains why Maddie is always conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in her sleep when she’s not swaddled or lying on someone’s chest. It also explains why that kind of sleep never lasts very long. When so much of her behavior seems to be shrouded in mystery or based on a need to eat, it’s really cool to get answers like these that explain some of what we’re seeing Maddie do. Child development is incredible!
Big Girls Do Cry
Speaking of development, Maddie found her lungs about a week ago. The Richter Scale of Madeline Crying went off the charts and hasn’t looked back. It comes on without warning, too. Sometimes she’ll wake up screaming from a bad dream13 and sometimes we’ll be sitting calmly in one of the positions described above when she will go from wary side-eye to four-alarm fire in a matter of seconds. She’s also starting to master an incredibly sad face that melts my heart and makes me feel like a bad person for neglecting her needs, even though she literally just finished eating 10 minutes earlier. You win this round, Maddie.
Many baby resources have indicated that I should by now be able to decipher Maddie’s various baby cries and understand their meaning. While I have definitely categorized various cries–the Wildcat rawr call, the warning shot squeal, and the no-holds-barred wail to name a few–I have no idea what these mean. Remember those electronic toy guns that made six different laser sounds? That’s exactly what Maddie does when she cries. Whether it’s a wet diaper, a little bit of gas or the need to eat, she seems to cycle through all of her various laser sounds…which makes us go through all of our possible solutions. Perhaps this will improve when we have a larger data set to work with.
Suck It, Trebek
So far, Maddie sucks at pacifiers. And when I say that, I don’t mean that she’s doing a good job using them. We try to give them when she’s calm. We try to give them when she’s sleeping. We try to give them when she’s crying. We try to give them in a car. We try to give them near and far. She does not like them, Sam I Am. We’ve even tried various sizes of newborn pacifiers14, and she just won’t have it. Sometimes when she’s upset, she’ll start some hardcore pacifier sucking, but you already know how it will end. As soon as she realizes that her efforts aren’t being rewarded with sweet, sweet breastmilk, the jig is up. Her intense sucking face turns into a monstrous yelping scowl and the screaming begins. Dipping the pacifier in breastmilk first just makes the betrayal all the more galling to her.
I’m not sure if this is related, but often when Theresa is breastfeeding her, Maddie will place her hand on top of the boob and casually extend a lone middle finger up at her mother.
The New Kid in Town
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Maddie’s existence has been seeing the reaction of our family and friends when they meet her. Watching the collective melting of the hearts of all our siblings, parents, friends and even strangers does something to my heart as well. Her mere presence seems to make people happier and gentler and in awe of the miracle of life. It’s wonderful to be able to give people that experience by letting them hold our baby or just admire her from a distance.
Since my family hasn’t been around a new baby since my youngest brother was born in 1997, it’s been a true joy to witness their true joy whenever they get to spend time with Maddie. From their initial introduction at the hospital to our most recent gathering this past weekend, they are all eager to hold her or even just watch her sleep in her carseat.
For her part, Maddie has been a real trooper–getting passed around from new person-to-new person without a problem, assuming she is happily fed or peacefully sleeping. She also survived a weekend in Newburgh meeting the rest of Theresa’s family as well as almost all of her 24 nieces and nephews. Despite my greatest fears, I was thoroughly impressed by how well the younger ones handled being around a newborn baby. But as you can see from the photo above, this isn’t exactly their first rodeo.
I’m incredibly excited to see how our family members and close friends will help shape Maddie’s life. What will they teach her? What shared interests will they have? It’s hard right now to picture Maddie as a contributing member of our conversations and activities, but it’s wonderful to know that she already has a huge and loving supporting cast in her life.
Along those lines, Maddie has been absolutely smothered in gifts (and meals for Mom and Dad) from countless cast members in our own lives–even random acquaintances that we barely know. So many people are excited that she has joined our family, and we are so grateful for all the kindness that we have received.
The First of the Firsts
This recap has by no means been exhaustive15, but I think it’s captured the highlights. There have already been so many firsts to chronicle, that I could write a post just about that: her first bath at home when I was holding her in the bathtub, her first bath in a bath “seat” in the sink, her first road trip to Newburgh16, her first doctor’s appointment, her first dinner out with my family, and much more.
Today I am easing back into work after four straight weeks at home. Don’t do anything important while I’m gone, Maddie! These four weeks have already shown me that fatherhood is an incredible vocation that requires attention, sacrifice and patience. It’s also a ton of fun and seems to make time fly even more than usual. I am so grateful for the gift of Maddie and the positive impact she is already having on my life!
- and completely unrealistic
- and continuing that tradition in my adult life
- I just realized that’s probably why it’s called the boob tube. Now we know.
- Wait…I just did the math on that. Hmm.
- And you better be. You’ve probably already subscribed for email updates, right?
- phone camera, camcorder, DSLR…sometimes all three. It’s a problem.
- Congrats on graduating from oily black poop to seed-filled orange poop!
- at least as much as you can look at anything right now…
- In one of her first nights at home, she gave us one night with SIX full uninterrupted hours! We thought we’d won the baby lottery.
- Apparently baby furniture sells better when the name includes an apostrophe and an N.
- Is anyone? If so…how?
- It’s definitely more interesting than blinds
- What do babies have bad dreams about? Evil pacifiers?
- Because of course there are various sizes of newborn pacifiers…
- just exhausting for readers
- She was amazing and only cried for the last 10 minutes of the drive home!