My eye twitch is back. That nagging flutter of my left outer eyelid last reared its ugly, annoying head during the sleep-deprived days of third year anesthesia residency and ICU call nights. Before that, I remember its presence while frantically finishing laboratory experiments and writing my Master’s thesis in chemical engineering. Fifteen years ago.
But the reason it’s here again is so worth it!
Infant care is a new kind of stress, one that I have not experienced before. The sleep deprivation is different than residency because it’s more of a low level every night as opposed to a punctuated period every X number of nights while on call. And there is no period of reprieve post-call where you can take a nap and be free from all caregiving duties. You are essentially “on call” for your baby. 24/7. Every day.
I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the feeding/burping/changing process, which seems to occur on an all-day cycle that starts up again soon after it is finished. I had hoped to breastfeed her of course, to seamlessly provide food for her on demand, but my pituitary tumor surgery left me with a deficiency of prolactin (the major hormone responsible for milk production). I knew there was a possibility that I would not be able to produce any milk, and my fears did unfortunately come true after an initial and encouraging period of good colostrum. Mourning this lack of ability and coming to terms with needing to use formula made it initially hard with my “mom” blinders on to see the potential for optimization. I was drowning in the equipment and foresight needed to carry out this repeated task smoothly. My husband, in his logical wisdom, said, “Just engineer it.” He came up with an assembly line system of bottles and pre-measured containers for her formula, so it can be prepped within seconds of her demanding cries.
All of the necessary items for her care are stored in easy to reach stations throughout the house. Certain tasks, such as diaper changing, are performed only in specific locations. When the volume of available formula dips to a certain level, I push the button on my phone to order more. Throughout this experience, I’ve learned more about myself because it has required a shift from my usual nature, which is more intuitive and less planned. I’ve always been more of a procrastinator… and a spontaneous shopper. I like to walk into my closet and pick my clothing for the day based on my mood. I choose to make dinner for the evening based on what I “feel like” eating. However, I’ve come to find that this M.O. results in more stress (usually in the form of a fussy, crying baby) when complex tasks need to be performed in a timely manner and another person is dependent on me to complete them!
So the way I’ve mitigated this unique kind of stress is to be as prepared as possible for the basics, control the things I can control, and do as much as possible to focus on the present moment. I can’t control when she cries for food. And I can’t control the fact that my body was not able to produce it on demand. But I can streamline the processes needed for her care, and I can change my attitude toward said processes. There will no doubt be many things in her life that I cannot control, so I’d better get used to identifying those that I can.