Isaac – 8 to 11 weeks old and our life in that time

I previously said that Isaac cries lots. This wasn’t really quite true.

Isaac screams. Lots.

This is what most days entail for a substantial portion of the day:

These times are terrible and trying. Tegan and I get quite stressed by it after a while, which is compounded because it makes Anastasia quite upset too. She now often says things such as, “Isaac, stop crying!” or simply comes up to us and says “I want Isaac to stop crying”. She often asks to go out, for example to her little park, but wants the other parent to stay at home with Isaac. While she does love her little brother he obviously wears on her. Unfortunately, on the days that Isaac cries and screams the most and upsets Anastasia, her behaviour is also at its worst, characterised by whinging, crying tantrums over the most minor things and general naughtiness. Of course, this also makes things worse for Tegan and I because we then have two upset and trying children to manage. I’d say that over the past few weeks we have felt stressed and exhausted much more often than not.

As an example of the kind of days we’ve been having, on Easter Sunday I posted the following update to Facebook:

Egg hunt completed successfully = very happy two year old. Adults had scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast = very yummy. But Isaac has been screaming almost non-stop since 6:45, to the extent that Tegan was trying to feed him his bottle and eat her bacon at the same time while in the shower. Poor little mite – really not having a good time.

Isaac also screamed through most of the church service that morning, settled for the first part of our trip on the car to Goulburn for a family lunch, screamed for the last 45 minutes of the trip and also for about half of the afternoon, before finally sleeping the whole way home. Fortunately on that day we had lots of family who were happy to help and hold him (although we may have scared some of the younger ones out of ever having their own kids), but such assistance is rare. Mostly it is just us, which really means mostly Tegan, who has to handle the screaming and try whatever we can to settle him and cope ourselves.

IsaacFortunately, there are some good moments though. About one day per week we have a stellar day. Today is one of those, as was last Wednesday. Today, both Isaac and Anastasia woke up in a great mood and they have been happy, chatting and just generally lovely. On such days we get wonderful smiles from Isaac and he gurgles at us and seems like the kind of happy, cute baby that everybody loves.
Last Wednesday was a particularly good day – we felt so relieved to have a peaceful, happy day after a number of very bad days immediately prior. Tegan and I were in fine spirits and not stressed and, particularly in the afternoon and evening, Anastasia was happy, cheerful and delightful in the way she was playing with us and Isaac. 

At the time I said:

7pm and no colic episodes today. Thank God!

…although this was followed the next morning by:

‎… and the screaming has returned.

Isaac sleepingFortunately Isaac does sleep pretty well, particularly at night. He generally feeds at about 10:30 or 11pm and then again sometime between 2:30 and 4:30am and then around 3 hours or so after that middle of the night feed, which means that we are getting a some decent blocks of sleep during the night. And during the day he can often sleep fairly well, as long as he’s not screaming too much. More often though, this means that he falls asleep either in Tegan’s arms or in her baby sling as he would wake up and scream as soon as she tried to put him down in a cot. There’s something about human contact and being carried around that really seems to settle him when he’s having a colic episode.

It’s interesting the way there are different kinds of crying from babies. Isaac has different kind of cries when he is hungry, tired and uncomfortable, although the colic cry is different again and it is more intense, louder and more anguishing. He also writhes around and arches his back strongly when he is in pain with the colic. It actually makes it somewhat difficult to carry and hold him at those times – it feels as though he is trying to get away from you, although he doesn’t really know what he is doing.

Tegan has continued to seek advice from local doctors and midwives but the answer is always much the same: as hard as it sounds, his crying comes within the bounds of what is considered normal and there’s probably nothing we can do about it. We just have to wait it out. Apparently it typically stops sometime between when they’re about 3 months and 9 months old, so we might have only another six and a half months of this to go…

Tegan did take Isaac to see an osteopath on Saturday morning which did yield positive results, even if they seem temporary so far. The decision to take Isaac to an osteopath was prompted for two reasons. Firstly, one of the other mothers in Tegan’s mothers group from when Anastasia was born took their baby to an osteopath back then and it worked wonders to ‘solve’ their extensive crying. Secondly, Tegan had noted that Isaac seemed to have a bit of a crick in his neck, or something like that, as he always turned his neck in the same direction when she was carrying him and he seemed to be uncomfortable if she tried to turn his head in the other direction.

Isaac was already having a bit of a colic episode on Saturday when the osteopath saw him, but after a bit of a massage while slung over his shoulder Isaac calmed down and relaxed immensely – perhaps the most relaxed he has ever been. He also slept much better than usual for the next couple of hours. The osteopath said that he would like to try to see Isaac weekly, schedule permitting, for at least the next few weeks and that with a bit more attention he should be able to lessen Isaac’s colic. This seems our most promising lead so far and we hope it will work, although getting an appointment with the osteo is a bit difficult.

Self-reflection time

As is obvious from everything above, Isaac’s colic dominates our lives at the moment. While we’re generally surviving (or perhaps coping well compared to others in similar situation, as some people tell us) it does affect the totality of our lives. Our emotional state on any given day or time is highly dependent on how Isaac is going. Whether we can get out of the house and go somewhere varies depending on how much we think other people we will meet can handle loud screaming. How stressed we are and therefore, unfortunately, our patience with each other varies with Isaac’s state. It’s terrible that when Isaac is not doing well Anastasia gets more frustrated, ill-behaved and emotionally unstable, which results in her getting into trouble more often and us getting more upset and frustrated with her. It’s a terrible vicious circle.

The other hard part is that although it is Isaac who is in pain, it’s hard to always feel sorry for him – instead we, or at least I, often feel as though he is just an imposition. When one is walking around Dickson at 9pm at night, listening to seriously loud screaming that has probably been going for over an hour, with a baby who it feels is pushing away from you – it’s actually hard to feel sorry for them, even though I know that is the proper response. That reflects a bad degree of selfishness on my part, unfortunately. Tegan does display more patience, in fact an amazing degree, but we all have our moments where the frustration is overwhelming. I think the frustration comes from helplessness as much as anything. If the crying was for an apparent reason, such as hunger, tiredness, loneliness, being uncomfortable, then it could be fixed. Because we can’t do anything to fix it we feel not only worn down by the noise but also because as parents we’re meant to be able to fix things, but in this case we can’t.

Isaac’s Development

More positively, Isaac is growing and developing really well. Here are some things he has learned to do over the last three weeks:

  • Smile
  • He is now capable of giving very gorgeous smiles and it is quite fun to sit with him for perhaps five minutes or more just smiling and chatting at each other.

  • He found his hands
  • He’s now conscious that his hands are his own and he kind of knows what to do with them. He can grab onto things and doesn’t whack himself in the face or accidentally yank his own hair any more.

  • Play
  • There are several toys and things that Isaac really loves. He loves sitting in his baby bouncer, which has a motorised base (‘Calming vibrations’, and they are – even when he is screaming) and lights and sounds. He also likes sitting on a playmat and playing with the various toys that hang down – he pushes them around so they swing and make sounds and he can often grab onto them. He also seems to have discovered that he can push things around with his feet.

  • General strength
  • Ever since he was born we’ve noticed that he had quite good neck strength, but he really is quite strong for his age in being able to push his head up and look around etc.

  • Speed
  • Anastasia has always been a bit of a speed demon. On the swing she always wants to go higher and faster and in the car often wants to go faster too. I suspect it’s genetic passed on from Tegan. Isaac is turning out to be much the same – driving i the car, particularly aggressive driving with lots of sharp movements seems to make him very happy. Definitely takes after us.

Other good things, or, what we’ve been up to

We have actually managed to do a few more things over the last three weeks – it’s not (quite) as if our entire life is dominated by Isaac and nothing else. Here’s some of the good things we’ve been up to:

  • Sydney – including B.B. King, Graham Freudenberg, friends and family
  • We spent about a week in Sydney in mid-April, staying with my parents. We had a wonderful time catching up with friends and family, including some friends that we haven’t seen for over a year or more. Anastasia also had a ball as she loves staying with my parents – mostly because she loves them and their company, partly for the toys she plays with there, and partly because she often gets to go on a train when we go to Sydney. Grandma and Grandpa were particularly and marvellously helpful to Tegan and I for all the time they spent helping in looking after Isaac and Anastasia and giving us some much needed breaks. We even got to go out on our own one night, without children! Tegan and I had tickets to see B.B. King in concert and we had a great night out there while my parents looked after Isaac and Anastasia [I’ve been planning to write a review of the concert and still will, but in brief: Tegan thought it was amazing; I enjoyed it but my praise is somewhat qualified]. We did feel a bit guilty when we got home around 11:30pm and found my Mum still sitting in a couch holding Isaac – it had obviously not been a great night.

    The following night Dad and I went to see a conversation with Graham Freudenberg, who was Gough Whitlam’s speechwriter. The event was very interesting – the conversation covered the process of speechwriting and some reflections on politics and the media. The most interesting observations that Freudenberg had were his obvious frustration with politicians pandering to the daily media cycle and trying to win in the media every day, rather than building good policy and elucidating, explaining and testing it over the long term with key speeches, particularly made in Parliament. Following the speech Dad bought copies of Freudenberg’s books for both him and me and we had them signed and in exchange I bought dinner, which was unfortunately quite mediocre Spanish food at a restaurant on Glebe Point Road.

  • Footrot Pratts
  • Less than two days after returning home we were off again to our friends’ holiday property, out in the middle of nowhere scrubland past Tarago. We had a really wonderful time there over a few days and again appreciated the help in settling Isaac and keeping Anastasia entertained. Anastasia also stayed true to form as a little speed demon – she loved going fast on the quad bike and even got to beep the horn.

    Note to Greg and Ruth: thanks again. Always a great time out there with you guys.

  • Portal 2
  • On returning from Footrot, I found that Portal 2 had been released. This kept me occupied and happy for a while.

  • Easter
  • Egg huntOver the Easter weekend my sister, Larissa, and her husband, Matt, came to stay. We had a great time with them as well, just generally chilling out at home. Matt and I played quite a bit of Portal in the evenings while Larissa and Tegan tried to watch TV, but really just fell asleep early. Easter Sunday started with a cooked breakfast immediately followed by an egg hunt for Anastasia. I had prepped Anastasia for it the night before, explaining that she would get to search for eggs outside the next morning. Unfortunately, this image stayed with her and she woke up early asking to go and look for eggs. Fortunately she is still vulnerable to suggestion, such as me stating that I would go downstairs and just check to see if the eggs were indeed there – thus allowing time for them to actually be planted. She really had a ball hunting for eggs and has been wanting us to hide more for her ever since.

    Following church we headed up to Goulburn for our traditional family Easter lunch, complete with mountains of food (and thus hills of leftovers) including, as an easter treat, bulochki and paskha. Mmmmm. The ones we got to take home with us didn’t last long.
    photo of Tim's extended family, Easter 2011

  • Coffee
  • Muesli and coffee at Lonsdale St RoastersWe discovered the Lonsdale St Roasters in Braddon. Best coffee in Canberra – it has supplanted Silo as my favourite place to go for coffee and it’s also much closer- only a few minutes drive or 35min walk from our house. Tegan and I are going there most days at the moment and it’s very hard to limit myself to just two double espressos per visit. The sandwiches and muesli they serve are also fantastic, albeit a little pricey to have every day.

Concluding thoughts

I’ve only got three more weeks before I’m due to go back to work. Tegan is particularly unsure how she is going to cope with both children after I go back and I am currently in the process of seeing whether I can extend my leave by another couple of weeks (I still have enough leave accrued to do this). On the Isaac front, we hope we have turned a bit of a corner. Since seeing the osteopath the colic hasn’t been quite as bad – we feel like we’ve had less bad times anyway – and hopefully with a few more visits the good times will increase and the bad times will decrease all the more. In the meantime, please keep praying for us – that we survive and, more positively, that we manage to be good parents, etc while doing so.

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