Posts Tagged ‘co-sleeping’

Babies, According to Carolyn

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Today you get a very, very special guest post from my sister, Carolyn, who is as we speak probably hauling buckets of water to her hut for a bath or saving children from illiteracy. She’s pretty cool.

p.s. If you want to ask her questions in the comments I’ll email them to her so she can answer and post her answers. Her internet access isn’t always reliable (SHOCKING) and I don’t think she has a fast enough connection to respond through the blog.


Hii! This is Carolyn, Suzanne’s sister in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso (West Africa) and regular reader of this blog. Suzanne asked me to write a guest post ages ago, and today I’m finally going to do just that. Honestly, the reason I was so reluctant to do this sooner (sorry Suz!) was because generally, I don’t think about babies. (This is probably a terrible thing to say on a baby blog, right?) Not really high on my radar. I am very far from being an expert; I feel like I don’t even know enough about them in the states to make legitimate comparisons between there and here. But here goes!

Babies here are extremely cute. Unfortunately, they are usually terrified of white people, so they tend to start screaming at my approach. And making faces to get them to smile only makes it worse, as I discovered VERY early on in my time here. Every once in a while, on a bush taxi in particular (where they have many, many hours to get used to me) I get a baby who makes the sort of shocked face that’s usually a precursor to crying, but on rare occasions leads to smiling and playing peek-a-boo over his mom’s shoulder and all the women making arranged marriages between me and him. That’s when I like babies best.

When women are pregnant here, it’s not usually talked about. Perhaps because of general silence on women’s issues, or maybe because of the risks of pregnancy here, I’m not sure. When a baby is born the customary gift to give the mother is soap. This is because in Burkina, there… aren’t diapers. Babies usually wear little western castoff outfits (very cute ones, actually) with shorts or pants or just fabric wrapped around them, so those layers get washed very frequently. Which uses a lot of soap. As soon as they’re walking, kids are essentially potty-trained because they can squat down wherever they want.

A pagne is essentially just a length of patterned fabric, and is what all women use to carry their babies on their backs. You constantly see women with babies asleep on their backs- working in the fields, at the market, riding motorbikes, everywhere. There’s a routine motion that you notice of women bending forward and hiking their babies up, then re-tying the pagnes. (ed: Carolyn sent me several and I tried to carry Baby Evan Africa-style ONCE. It did not go well. I never made it out of the family room.) In cold season you see bulges on women’s backs with a tiny knit hat on top, the type with the puff ball attached. I should also mention that it’s not only women who carry babies like this. No, I’m not saying that the men do too (they absolutely do NOT.) Often older siblings, or I should say, sisters, carry the babies too. It’s cute, but maybe kind of sad, that you see tiny girls carrying babies almost as big as they are.

I know Suzanne talks about breastfeeding a lot, which I think is great. I was perhaps a little uncomfortable with breastfeeding in practice before I came here, just because I was never exposed to it in the states. Burkina, however, is a different story. Women breastfeed. When babies get a little older there is a type of porridge that they eat, and I see women feeding babies the occasional bit of biscuit or rice or whatever else they happen to be eating, but the main source of nutrition comes from nursing. You see women breastfeeding everywhere: the secretary at my school does it in the office while she’s working, women do it while riding in donkeycarts, and I’ve had, on several occasions, a baby in a bush taxi half-lying in my lap while being nursed by the woman next to me. So I am now VERY accustomed to the idea, in theory and in practice. But here part of it is that breasts, in general, are much less shocking than they are in the states. I still see old women working in the fields or going to fetch water topless (honestly, that’s one of those things that make me remember I’m in a different country, no matter how accustomed I’ve become to other aspects of living here.)

Healthwise: If women go to the health center during pregnancy they can get prenatal care and can give birth with nurses, otherwise there are local midwives or just unassisted home births. Once they have the baby they can go to the health center for vaccinations or to have their babies weighed (and get supplemental formula if the baby is underweight.) Peace Corps has a health sector here and one of the main focuses is child and maternal health, but since I’m a teacher I don’t have much personal experience with it (and even if I did, I imagine I would just have lots of really sad stories to tell.) A lot of child care depends on the economic situation of the family. Poor, rural families often can’t afford the small fees incurred at the health center, so they don’t go.

So overall, babies here are very abundant, and their care is pretty simple. No formula, no diapers, not really any toys, no car seats, no strollers, no cribs (they just sleep on a mat with their mamas.) I actually think it’s quite a nice way to raise a baby, if only you could improve child safety and health care. But I very much like the ideas of breastfeeding, no diapers (or I guess cloth diapers?), wearing the baby wrapped on your back, and co-sleeping. If I ever have babies (yikes) I’m totally following the all-natural, Africa/hippie way of baby-raising (go Suzanne!)

9 Month Stats

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Weight: 22 lbs on the dot (above average)
Height: 28 1/2 inches (average)
Head circumference:  46 cm (above average, “Which is good” my pediatrician said, “so he doesn’t look like a weirdo. Because his weight is above average too.”)

We had a different doctor today, one I had never met before but I immediately liked based solely on the fact that he shares a name with a certain TV sitcom paleontologist. Let’s call him Dr. G. I thought about asking how Rachel was doing but figured it wasn’t good to piss off the guy in charge of sticking my baby with needles. Alas, it didn’t do me any good since he still suggested we finish Baby Evan’s Hep B series AND talked me into the H1N1 shot. You know I was on the fence about it back in October at his 6 month appointment but it became a moo point (like a cow’s opinion)  when the office didn’t have their doses yet. But after The Great Sickness of 2009 (which I’m not totally convinced WASN’T H1N1) I’ll do anything to keep Baby Evan from suffering though another week of misery.

Besides his name, I also liked Dr. G based on his total support of breastfeeding. He said he knew my lactation consultant well, referred new moms to Papoose for support all the time and used to be very active in La Leche League. His own wife nursed their children until they were 2 1/2 and he said as long as I was happy doing it I should definitely continue nursing Baby Evan past a year.  Instead of asking “Where does the baby sleep?” he just asked “How’s the baby sleeping? Do you lay him down on his back?” And hold on to your hats, AP mamas, but he also said bed-sharing was a great idea as long as E and I were comfortable with the situation. He and his wife bed-shared until their son was FOUR (although the story he then told about kicking his son out after he vomited ON HIS FACE one night made me pretty glad Baby Evan likes his crib). He’s my new favorite doctor at the practice and I’m going to make a point of asking for him in the future.

In other news, the trauma of being stuck with TWO GIANT ENORMOUS MASSIVE SHARP HORRIBLE PAINFUL POISON-COATED NEEDLES disrupted Baby Evan’s sleep patten enough that he woke up twice last night. It may also have been because we forgot to feed him any solids yesterday (oops) so he needed the calories. I will not make the same mistake again today, and plan to offer a six-course baby meal tonight (sweet potato, avocado, applesauce, teething biscuit, baby cheese puffs and yogurt) so he’ll be nice and full at 7 pm. Mama likes her sleep.

No You’re Never Going To Get It

Monday, January 4th, 2010


One hour is exactly how long I made it on my first attempt at night weaning before I gave up and nursed the baby. Although by that point he was so far gone into angry exhausted screaming mode that even a few minutes at the boob didn’t help and he kept whimpering long after he was sound asleep. It was sucky and awful. I certainly didn’t get any more sleep than I normally do and poor E got significantly less. But even so, I think it was a success.

Up until now I have never been interested in what the experts call “sleep training”. I believe forcing a baby to self-sooth and sleep through the night at a young age is a modern Western ideal and biologically unreasonable at only a few months old. But you know what else is unreasonable? Nine months of being exhausted. Nine months of being the only person doing the night feedings. NINE MONTHS of feeding on demand despite my nagging suspicion he’s not actually hungry at all. Even the anti-sleep trainers all end their advice with the little disclaimer that being a good parent is really more important than how you put a baby to bed. Nothing about spending all my night feedings resisting the overwhelming urge to just shake the baby off, leave the room and walk out of the house forever makes me a good parent. Being too tired during the day to play does not make me a good parent. Using up every ounce of patience in my body before 6 am and spending the rest of my day seconds away from yelling does not make me a good parent. It also makes me a lousy wife and partner, especially because my other nighttime routine is thinking over and over how much I resent being the only one who feeds the baby and therefor the only one who gets up with the baby. The little ball of resentment and anger is like a popcorn kernel in my tooth that I focus on and pick at and poke until it’s sore and red and all I can think about. Getting divorced simply because I’m breastfeeding definitely does not make me a good parent. And so, night weaning has begun.

Baby Evan has always been a pretty good sleeper. He transitioned easily from co-sleeping to the crib and from napping in the swing to napping in his room. Our established night time routine of bath, boob, book and bed is successful and usually all he needs to fall asleep is a few minutes of cuddling and rocking. He often wakes up, finds his blanky, rolls over and goes back to sleep on his own without needing to be soothed. But the night feedings are frequent and constant, every 2 or 3 hours all night long, mostly due to habit not hunger. My ultimate goal is to get down to ZERO feedings between 7 pm and 7 am but for the next few months I’d settle for one 2 am feeding and someone else to rock him back to sleep every few nights. Sunday was our first try and it went like this: Baby goes to bed, Baby wakes up wanting to eat, E tries to get him back to sleep with absolutely no luck, I try to get him back to sleep with no luck, consider letting him cry it out for a few minutes but can’t bring ourselves to do it, give up and let Baby nurse for less than 90 seconds, baby passes out, wakes up again, cries for two minutes, passes out again.

The whole thing took an hour and a half but then he slept from 1 am to almost 7 am without a sound. He woke up the same happy, smiley baby he does on the nights we don’t have an EPIC BATTLE and has been fine all day. No signs of permanent psycological or emotional damage. I think he might be nursing a little more than usual – or maybe I’m just offering more often because I’m afraid I starved him last night – but that just means he’ll be less hungry tonight.

I’m giving it a week. A week to get to a point where I can wake up rested and refreshed and feeling like a normal person instead of a grumpy monster. If he’s still not even close to a full night’s sleep by then I’ll take a break and go back to surviving on naps and caffeine for a while until I can work up the energy to try again. Or maybe I’ll just be exhausted for the next five years. That sounds like fun too.