Sunday, 14 February 2016

What if each of us passed on a few flights per year?

According to this document from IATA, civil aviation is responsible for producing 689 mln tons of CO2 a year, which constitutes 2% of the world emissions. Climate scientist estimate that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 8-10% to avoid a climate disaster. Governments are not doing much to avert this threat. So I decided to make a few simple calculations to see whether we as individuals can do something that’s in our power to make any tangible contribution to these 8-10%. I wondered whether we can make a dent in the universe simply by flying less than we do.

Let’s do the numbers. Like I said earlier, we are looking at 2% of the world emissions. According to this and this source, that’s 33-37mln flights per year, including cargo. However, looks like cargo contributes only 10%, so most of these are passenger flights, carrying around 3 billion passengers a year.  Given that cargo planes are such a small fraction, only 10% of the 2% and in the recent years this fraction has been declining thanks to a slowdown in global trade, let’s make a simplifying assumption that civil aviation is responsible for the entire 2%. Let’s make another simplifying assumption that if the number of passengers dropped, the airlines would eventually reduce the number of flights proportionally. Then the math becomes very simple. If each of us gave up half of our habitual flights, then we could in one swoop cut 1% of the world emissions. Just like that.

What would this mean for us as individuals? If you are taking a couple of flights a year to visit your and your partner’s family, you tell them that from now on you will visit only one family every year, because you have to save the planet. If you are frequently flying for work meetings, you would join half of them via WebEx, Hangouts, Skype, BlueJeans or whatnot, explaining to your colleagues that you need to save your children from natural disasters like droughts, hurricanes and whatnot. If you are a scientist and you attend a bunch of conferences, you just pick a couple to which you will travel and you pass on the rest. Your fellow scientists will understand. If you travel on vacations, you take half of them locally.

This view is certainly optimistic or even utopian. It takes a huge collective conscience to make this change. Most of us either don’t believe in the climate change, don’t realize the gravity and urgency of the situation, or choose to not do anything about it. Further, if people actually started flying less, airlines would go out of their way to make flying more attractive by lowering prices, etc; aviation is a $2.2 trillion business with 57 million jobs. (And somehow we still believe that making money is more important than preserving life.) Oh and we must assume that if we are flying less, we are not making up for that with other bad habits, like driving a lot more. The list goes on and on...

Still, it gives hope to see that we as individuals can do little things, like flying a bit less, to contribute 1% to the 8-10% that we need. If we all did that and then we also found another 7-9 things that had a similar effect, we could actually save the planet!

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Sleep Odyssey. (Or why it takes a village to raise a child).

Our journey from 18 wake-ups per night to sleeping through the night. 

Before my baby was born, I was already concerned with sleep. I am not someone who does well on little sleep, so I read all popular literature on baby sleep. The key idea that these books seemed to convey is that if you do everything “right”, in terms of the baby’s routine, they baby will sleep well. Routine? Routine is my life. I thrive on routine. I am the queen of routine. So that sounded very good to me. I was confident that I will do everything “right” and my baby will sleep. 

Fast-forward a few months. After the first few weeks post-birth when all babies do is sleep, Naomi wakes up many times per night. Routine to the rescue, right? I find the sleep routine rather easy to follow. Except that Naomi is not good at falling asleep peacefully. Every nap time is accompanies by loud and prolonged crying, and the only way we can calm her down is by bouncing on the exercise ball while holding her in our arms. After enough bouncing though, she falls asleep, so this way we can follow her sleep routine. Unfortunately, once asleep, she doesn’t stay asleep for too long. She is usually awake again half an hour later. And since it takes 20-30 minutes to bounce her back to sleep, it doesn’t even make sense to get off the ball at all. So for a few months we simply held her in our arms during her daytime naps. Thank you, our dear hard-working nanny Simone, for agreeing to do this hard job. 

At nights Naomi slept for slightly longer periods. That is, until we hit the 4-month-old sleep regression. At the peak of it, Naomi woke up 18 times per night! You read it right. EIGHTEEN! My life was pretty miserable despite having a full-time nanny. If anyone asked me how my baby was sleeping, I’d start to cry. My day looked as follows: Simone comes at 7am. Exhausted, I go to sleep. I wake up around 11-12, ravenous. Go eat the entire fridge. Then go outside to get some fresh air and coffee, and to boost my morale by positive self-talk. And I also used that time to search the Internet for solutions. 

There were two schools of thought: The first was the cry-it-out school. Just leave your baby to cry and she’ll sleep through the night.  The second was the “survival” school: just do what it takes to survive; eventually all babies begin to sleep. I just couldn’t leave my baby to cry. I was afraid that her brain would pop, that we’ll inflict some serious mental damage. Just couldn’t do it. So I went with the second idea. I started putting Naomi to sleep in the bed with me and gave her breast every time she woke up. At first this didn’t work, but very quickly she learned to fall asleep with the breast. That went against every advice is every sleep book, but this enabled me to survive. For the first time I started getting rest at night, I didn’t need to sleep half a day when the nanny arrived. I could get back to work. I started “living” again. 

Daytime sleep was still a disaster, and at the same time Naomi was getting heavier. Nanny started having shoulder pain as she held her in her arms during daytime sleep. I had to put an end to it. I told the nanny to put Naomi in her crib and let her wake up whenever she does. Gradually, daytime sleep became a lot better. Naomi fell asleep within minutes (still bouncing on the ball), and stayed asleep longer and longer. By the time she was 14 months old her daytime sleep extended to 1.5-3 hours. That happened naturally, with no sort of “sleep training” on our part. At the same time, Naomi got better at falling asleep on her own. She often fell asleep in the car, in the bike carrier, in the stroller. 

Our night-time routine remained unchanged. I still slept in bed with Naomi and she still fell asleep with the breast every time she woke up. However, the number of wake-ups was gradually reducing. We went from 15-18 to ten, to seven, to five and then to three-four. I was hoping that by 18 months we’d be down to 1-2 wake-ups per night, but that didn’t happen. We hovered around 3-5 awakenings per night, and as Naomi grew more mature, falling asleep with breast became more difficult. While before breast-sucking calmed her down, now it seemed to wake her up. Occasionally she’d be hanging on my breast for as much as an hour trying to fall asleep! And towards the morning (5-7am, when my sleep is the sweetest), she’d be awake every 40 minutes, tossing and turning, and hanging on the breast. I started complaining to Anton. 

You have to understand something about Anton. He is a great Engineer. He has this bright engineering mind, which I think he inherits from his mother. He’s good at building things (our house is full of them), fixing things and solving problems. So he decided to interfere and approached our sleep situation as the “problem that needs to be solved”.  At the time I was getting pretty tired. I was back at work at teaching, doing research and consulting, and dancing ballet three times a week. So my sleep situation did not at all contribute to my well-being. I still couldn’t stomach the idea of leaving my baby to cry alone, but I was ok to allow some crying, especially when the parent was not far and the baby knew that she is safe and not abandoned.

First Anton started to put Naomi to sleep at night. Like me, he got her to fall asleep while lying on the bed next to her. But, due to a natural limitation, there was no breast. So the important pre-requisite was that Naomi already learned how to fall asleep on the flat surface without bouncing (by falling asleep with me and the breast). And Anton removed the breast dependency. That was crucial. 

Then Nataly (Anton’s mom), who was putting Naomi to sleep three times per night when I was at ballet classes, somehow managed to get Naomi to fall asleep in her crib. She did the same things as Anton: patting her on her back (plus whispering songs), but Naomi was in the crib. She removed the co-sleeping dependency. That was another major break-through.

The next crucial step was for me to replicate Nataly’s success. This wasn’t trivial, because Naomi was still used to falling asleep next to me, with the breast.  So I gradually taught her to fall asleep in her crib. We’d start on the big bed, then I’d put her into the crib, where she’d try to fall asleep on her own. If she asked to go back to the bed, I agreed, but after some time on the big bed, we had to go back to the crib. Back and forth, back and forth, many times, before she eventually fell asleep in her crib. Eventually I established the rule that cuddling on the big bed is done once in the evening, then she goes into the crib and stays there.  

That was a huge improvement in the bedtime routine. Now, Naomi fell asleep in her crib. But at night the things were still pretty sour. Naomi woke up every two hours.  She took a very long time to fall asleep with the breast, and started sleeping across the bed, so I had to curl in very uncomfortable poses. So at some point I said: “That’s it. Time to put an end to this.” 

At the time Anton was often doing the night duty. His rule was as follows: when Naomi wakes up, if she is trying to fall asleep in the crib by herself, he stays with her patting her back or just being there. But if she screams, demanding that mom comes or to be taken out of the crib, he lets her know that this is not ok. First by talking to her, then (if she still screams) going away from her crib, but staying in her room. Then, if she still screams, by leaving the room and coming back after a while, to see if she’s ready to sleep. Eventually Naomi understood that crying doesn’t get her anywhere and that all she’s got to do is sleep. So she would calm down and Anton would be back with her, helping her to fall asleep. So even though Anton let Naomi cry for some time, he did so in a humane way. He was close by as she cried and offered comfort. So she never felt that she was abandoned. She just understood that this time her wish cannot be granted.

In summary, Anton’s rule was: Have lots of patience when the baby is trying hard to fall asleep on her own, stay with her and support as needed. But if she screams and demands to be taken out, have no patience. Just leave the room for a while, so she understands that this is not acceptable. His other rule was to practice the “French pause” (from Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing up Bebe). When the baby cries, don’t run into the room right away, let her try and fall asleep on her own. I did not believe this would ever work with Naomi, but it actually did! A few times at night she cries feebly, but then falls asleep on her own. If I’d run into the room at that point, I would only have only woken her up.  

After a couple of weeks of this “training” Naomi went to two-three wake-ups per night. I also changed my routine. I was no longer taking Naomi to bed with me when she awoke. For the first time in 18 months I slept in my own bed! But I still gave her the breast when she awakened. She’d stand up in her crib for some sucking, and then would lie down to fall asleep. It’s a common wisdom in the sleep-training community that night-time weaning improves sleep. I heard about this many times. My friend in Portugal, who hired a sleep consultant to address her baby’s sleep problem, told me that the sleep consultant believed that her baby woke up whenever he wet the diaper, and giving the breast at night made that happen more often. I also noticed that whenever the nanny or Anton put Naomi to sleep, she’d sleep for a very long period, but when I did, the subsequent sleep period was shorter. It was time to put an end to the night-time breast-feeding. Even though the breast-feeding and sleep dependency was anecdotal, we had established that Naomi didn’t need to breast-feed at night, and I wasn’t enjoying it. So it was time to end it. 

One evening, when I fell particularly well-rested and determined, I decided that this is the night to wean. So when Naomi woke up, I went in, but refused the breast when she asked for it. I gently explained to her that she’ll have the breast in the morning, but now it’s time to sleep. Of course, she cried. I stayed by her side, repeating what I had said. To my surprise, the crying was weak, and after a few minutes she calmed down, lay on her pillow, and started falling asleep. I still had to stay by her side about 30 minutes, but she did fall asleep without the breast. Success! I repeated that the next night.  

In the meantime, Naomi was down to ONE awakening per night! That was about three weeks after Anton started doing his night-time parenting. Finally, today, two days after I took out the night-time breast-feeding, she slept through the ENTIRE night! 11 hours 27 minutes!

Looking back at how all this happened, I think Anton’s and Nataly’s involvement was crucial. Especially Anton’s. There were many factors that contributed to Naomi’s improved sleep, but the major contribution was his night-time parenting. I didn’t have the energy or resolve to do that. The first days of the training were physically difficult: Anton had to be awake for hours at night, next to a crying baby. I was so tired, and so well-equipped with my “magic wand” (the breast) that I would’ve given up, just so I could get more sleep. But Anton persevered. And that made the difference.  Now I understand why they say “A child needs a father”.  Moms are often too tried or too “wired” to immediately respond to baby cries to try something radical. All I can say now is that I would do this much sooner if we are ever to have a second baby.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Что делать россиянам с иностранным гражданством

(Читайте до конца, так как именно в конце этого блога самые свежие факты.)

Недавно Россия приняла поправки к закону о гражданстве, которые говорят, что если власти не уведомить о наличии второго гражданства, то будет худо.  Короче, бить будут по второму паспорту.  Несмотря на то, что наказание за непослушание закона уже придумали, то как ему подчиниться еще не изобрели. Я обратилась с вопросом в Федеральную Миграционную Службу (ФМС): что же нужно сделать, чтобы уважить закон? Обращение я послала через очень очень приличный портал, отвечающий на вопросы населения, который обещал прислать ответ в течение 30 дней, что, собственно, и произошло.

Цитирую интересные выдержки из этого послания:

"Такое уведомление [то есть, о наличии второго гражданства - авт.] должно быть представлено лично или направлено по почте в течение 60 дней со дня приобретения гражданином иного гражданства или получения им документа на право постоянного проживания в иностранном государстве, а также со дня вступления в силу настоящего Федерального закона – в случае наличия иного гражданства или документа, подтверждающего право постоянного проживания на территории  иностранного государства, на момент вступления в силу Федерального закона."

Ок, здесь все понятно. Дальше становится немного интереснее:

"В случае если гражданин Российской Федерации считает себя постоянно проживающим за пределами Российской Федерации и имеет в соответствии с законодательством иностранного государства документ, подтверждающий право на постоянное проживание, такой гражданин освобождается от обязанности по подаче уведомления."

Эта выдержки подразумевает,  что чтобы попасть в категорию "постоянно проживающего" достаточно самому себя таковым считать. Тут еще говорится, что надо иметь разрешение иностранного гражданства на проживание в соответствующей стране, но ведь само гражданство и есть такой документ. То есть получается, что если ты сам себя считаешь постоянно проживающим за рубежом, то ты не обязан никому никуда сообщать? А что делать если возникнет разногласие с властями по сему вопросу? Например, власти скажут "нет, мы не считаем, что вы проживаете за границей постоянно"? Если, например, у тебя есть местная прописка в России и соответствующий штамп в паспорте, могут ли власти сказать: "вы не считаетесь проживающим за границей, так как у вас в паспорте, например, Московская прописка"? Какие доказательства надо предоставить, что ты этой пропиской не пользуешься? Водопроводный "bill" из города Кливленд? 

Наверняка у властей нет намерений преследовать с такими придирками "мелких сошек", какими являются большинство россиян, проживающих за границей, но все же хотелось бы знать: как поступить правильно? Ведь последствия звучат угрожающе:

"В случае нарушения сроков подачи уведомления или предоставления неполной или заведомо ложной информации в уведомлении гражданин будет привлечен к административной ответственности, а в случае не направления такого уведомления – к уголовной ответственности."

И вот еще следующая интересная выдержала из письма: 

"Форма уведомления будет определена после вступления в силу Закона."

Закон вступает в силу 4 августа 2014, так что, выходит, до этого дня мы не узнаем куда и чего сообщать. Но, по закону, у нас есть 60 дней с 4 августа, чтобы кого надо уведомить. 

Вот, кстати, если кого интересует, текст закона. 

Дополнительные сведения (6 августа, 2014):

Похоже утвердили форму и метод подачи уведомительного заявления. 

А вот еще очень полезная статья, которая разъясняет несколько интересных вопросов, в частности тот, кто же считается постоянно проживающим за границей, а кто -- нет. 

Вот наиболее интересная выдержка из этой статьи:

"Как разъясняет ФМС, «местом пребывания является место, где гражданин временно проживает, — гостиница, санаторий, дом отдыха, пансионат, кемпинг, больница, туристская база, иное подобное учреждение, а также жилое помещение, не являющееся местом жительства гражданина». А вот «местом жительства является место, где гражданин постоянно или преимущественно проживает в качестве собственника, по договору найма (поднайма), социального найма либо на иных основаниях, предусмотренных законодательством Российской Федерации, — жилой дом, квартира, служебное жилое помещение, специализированные дома (общежитие, гостиница-приют, дом маневренного фонда, специальный дом для одиноких и престарелых, дом-интернат для инвалидов, ветеранов и другие), а также иное жилое помещение».

Исходя из этого, постоянно проживающим в России можно считать гражданина, у которого в паспорте на листе «место жительства» стоит штамп о регистрации. И именно в этом случае возникает обязанность сообщать о наличии иностранного гражданства или вида на жительство. Если же в паспорте последним стоит только штамп о снятии с регистрационного учета по месту жительства — это подтверждение, что такой обязанности у вас нет.

Заинтересованные граждане много обсуждали, можно ли считать отметки о выезде и въезде, проставленные российскими пограничниками в загранпаспорте, доказательством постоянного проживания за границей. Их действительно можно рассматривать как дополнительные свидетельства того, что на вас новый закон не распространяется. Но есть и более надежное доказательство — отметка в загранпаспорте о консульском учете в качестве постоянно проживающего за границей. Ее, кстати, консул может и не поставить, если у вас нет отметки во внутреннем паспорте или листка убытия.

Конечно, возможна и ситуация, когда гражданство России получено в российском посольстве или консульстве за рубежом: тогда у граждан вообще отсутствуют внутренние паспорта, и в этом случае заботиться об уведомлении ФМС тоже не нужно."

Дополнительные сведения от 8 августа:

Новая информация по поводу одного из самых непонятных вопросов, поступившая из этой пресс-конференции ФМС России, кто же обязан уведомлять о наличии второго гражданства, а кто от этой обязанности освобождается? Закон говорит, что гражданам, "постоянно проживающим" за рубежом, уведомлять никого не надо. Но кто считается постоянно проживающим?

Согласно начальнику управления по вопросам гражданства ФМС В.Л. Казаковой, уведомлять обязаны только те граждане, у которых есть российская регистрация, т.е. прописка. Если прописки нет, то есть вы снялись с регистрационного учета, то уведомлять вы не обязаны.

Так что же делать тем, у кого все-таки есть российская регистрация, но кто живет за рубежом? Согласно Казаковой, граждане России, находящиеся за рубежом физически не могут уведомить никого о наличии второго гражданства, так как это уведомление должно производиться гражданином лично: в службе ФМС или в почтовом отделении, начиная с 17 августа 2014. Так что граждане, находящиеся за пределами России, от этой ответственности освобождаются. Тем не менее, как только гражданин, обладающий вторым гражданством, ступит на родную землю, он обязан в течение 60 дней уведомить соответствующие органы.

Конечно вопросы все равно остаются: Например, если человек приехал в Россию, но еще до того, как он успел пойти и сделать соответстбующее уведомление, его уже пытаются привлечь к уголовной ответственности, как доказать, что он раньше уведомить не мог, так как физически не был в России со времени принятия закона? Штампы в паспорте? А если паспорт новый? Носить с собой старые паспорта?

И еще попутный вопрос: допустим россиянин, постоянно проживающий за границей, но имеющий российскую регистрацию (прописку), хочет от нее отказаться. Как это сделать? Согласно информации на сайте российского консульства в Канаде, необходимо заполнить следующую форму и отправить ее по почте.

При этом, обратите внимание, что подпись должна быть заверена консулом. Я позвонила в посольство, чтобы этот вопрос разъяснить. Мне там сказали, что подпись заверяется только лично, и что скорее всего, с этим заявлением еще надо послать справку о проживании за границей, которую бесплатно представляет консульство. Как получить соответствующую печать во внутреннем паспорте о снятии с регистрации -- неизвестно. Постараюсь узнать в ФМС.

Еще такой интересный факт: раньше человек считался постоянно проживающим за границей, если он был снят с регистрации в России, поставлен на консульский учет, и у него в заграничном паспорте имелась соответствующая печать. Теперь порядок постановки на консульский учет упростился. По крайней мере в Канаде, встать на учет можно по Интернету, и никакой печати не ставят. Но зато, можно попросить у консульства выдать справку о постановке на учет. 

Раньше у граждан, зарегистрированных таким образом на постоянное проживание, был особый заграничный паспорт, и продлять его из-за границы было проще, чем загранпаспорт простого смертного россиянина. Теперь такого разграничения нет -- паспорт есть паспорт, и все тут.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Gratitude: A Small, Cheap and Quick Thing that Apparently Makes a Huge Difference

A while ago I read that someone who actually claimed to be an “expert” on happiness said that one thing that can make you feel happier is acknowledging the things you are grateful for. As my 4-month old was going through a sleep regression, I really needed a boost in morale, so I thought: why not give this a try? It’s free, it’s quick. So I opened a notepad on my iPhone and promised that every day I will write down at least one thing I was grateful for. For instance:

“I am grateful that the 4-month-old sleep regression is just a phase that will pass.”
“I am grateful that we can afford a nanny.”

You get the idea.

I must say: This. Stuff. Really. Works.  

The effect on my morale, on my perceived level of happiness was tremendous! I wonder if this will last or if the effect will wear off. We will have to see. But for now this “gratitude game” has become a part of my daily routine. Whenever I feel down, or when I am brushing my teeth or taking a shower, I just think of the little (and big) things I am grateful for:

“I am grateful for being able to take a hot shower”.
“I am grateful that I do not live under the Stalin regime”.

I will definitely keep doing this exercise and I will teach it to my baby once she grows old enough to talk. We’ll make it a part of her bedtime routine.

What are you grateful for?

Friday, 6 September 2013

How I became a fan of sleep schedules and bedtime routines

We used to have a baby that cried a lot. We couldn't quite understand why. Every time she cried we kept on distracting or comforting her hoping she'd grow out of it, as books on baby care promised. 

Then one fine day we went on a vacation. Naomi was almost 4 month old by then, so in theory she should've been outgrowing  her fussiness. Instead, the opposite happened.  We started hearing cries like never before. How bad was this? Let me just tell you this: this was the time when I truly understood what people meant by infant colic. Oh, and I was very glad there weren't any neighbors close by. 

Stressed but unrelenting, I was determined to find a solution. Article after article, book after book I found the roots of our problem: our baby was extremely overtired. 

From all the research I've done I learned three  important things: (1) a 4-month-old needs to sleep 14-15 hours a day. (2) a 4-month-old cannot stay awake for more than 1.5-2 hours. (2) A 4-month-old  needs to go to sleep for the night at 7pm! Having read four books on infant sleep I realized this was the three things they all agreed on. Understanding this made a huge difference for us and our baby. 

The cause of our crying was very clearly explained in the book by Marc Weissbluth Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. What often happens is when the baby wants to sleep, the parents interfere. The baby starts crying because she wants to sleep. What do the parents do? They try to distract her with toys or by taking her to a different room, or some other type of stimulation. My mother-in-law, for instance, was convinced that the baby wants a bath, while the bath, being a very stimulating experience for my baby, was the last thing she needed.  As a result of our misreading of her cues, our baby grew more and more tired and her cries escalated into desperate screams. Our baby was a lot smarter than we were. She needed to sleep and she kept on trying to tell this to us. We were ignoring her pleas, what else could she do other than scream? Instead of trying to distract her, we should have respected her need to sleep. At the first signs of drowsiness we should have put her to bed. 

Ok, we figured out that our baby needed to sleep. But bedtime has always been associated with crying. This is where the bedtime routine came in. (BTW, this is another one of those things that all baby-sleep books as well as scientific papers agree on).  As soon as our baby showed signs of tiredness, I decided that we should put her into her sleeping back and into the crib, so she'd have a chance to rest and fall asleep. Of course she doesn't fall asleep by herself yet (wishful thinking), but hopefully one day she'll learn. We let her stay in her crib by herself until she starts crying. Then we come in and comfort her, and when that is not enough, we pick her up and rock her to sleep.

The result? We have a contended baby that does not cry. Plus, she goes to sleep at 7pm, so I have a whole evening to myself. Sure, she wakes up a lot at night. And she mostly sleeps in someone's arms for her daytime naps -- that's something we still have to work on. But she never cries anymore, unless we fail to put her to sleep when she wants to. I used to be jealous at my friends who said: "My baby only cries when there is a reason". Now I can proudly say: "MY baby only cries when she wants to sleep".

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

How caring for a newborn is like getting a PhD. An on loneliness...

When I finished my PhD I thought that this was the hardest thing I have ever done. Now that I am caring for a newborn I realize that *this* is the hardest thing. This is where similarities begin. Just like with PhD, this is a process of never-ending research and experimentation. Why did my baby sleep well this night, but then slept horribly the following night? What has changed? What variables were involved? Can I reproduce this experiment? Except the experiments are not reproducible, because babies grow and change every day… Just like with PhD, you often feel like you are poking in the dark, like a blind person, not knowing what you are doing, operating for months without feedback or positive outcome. And just like with PhD, when your efforts pay off, you finally get your paper accepted, or, in case of babies, your baby finally smiles at you, you are elated with joy. Except the joy is much more meaningful and deep with the baby…

Besides those trivial similarities there is another one, unexpected and striking: loneliness. Your friends who have not worked on a PhD will never understand what you are going through. Likewise, your friends who never cared for a newborn will never understand. So you simply cannot expect lots of empathy. Don’t be angry at them, just accept that will never never never understand how you feel. They’ll never understand how it feels to live for months on a sleep schedule consisting of 1-3 hour stretches. They’ll never understand how it feels to “live on a timer” – where you can’t sit down for a relaxed meal, knowing that the baby may wake up anytime. As a result, caring for a newborn can feel very very lonely.

Bouncing on an exercise ball with the baby, trying to calm her down. Hungry.  Alone. While everyone else is having drinks on the patio.  Rocking the baby to sleep in the middle of the night for hours.  You lose control of your  head as your body drifts to sleep, not having slept for more than two hours straight since before you gave birth.  Alone. While everyone else is snoozing peacefully in their beds. Pacing the streets at 5am with the baby in the baby carrier, because she decided the night ends at 4am. Realizing that coffee shops do not open that early. Alone. And when you call your friends and they tell you: "We'll MY baby only cries when there is a reason and she always sleeps through the night!". Now that make you feel really lonely. 

But just like with PhD, if you have a supportive family who are helping you to care for the baby, instead of being a lonely affair, this can be an extremely fun collaborative project that brings the family together and helps you form new deeper ties with the members of your family. I am blessed to have such a family…

If your loved one is caring for a newborn, never ever leave her alone.

Monday, 3 June 2013

All the things you learn to do with one hand

There are two kinds of mothers: martyrs and champions. Martyr-mothers complain about how hard their life is, how they sacrifice everything for their baby, how they gave up a sense of fashion, self-respect, personal hygiene and the relationship with their partner all in the name of their little bald selfish devil. They keep saying this while having their second, third, and fourth kid. Champion-mothers talk about how precious their kids are, how time flies and how you need to enjoy every moment. They find creative solutions to balancing caring for their child with everything else they need to do. 

I probably sound a bit harsh here: there are situations where a child is sick or extremely difficult (colicky) or a mother is in a poor health or in a very bad relationship or under financial duress or gets absolutely no help caring for her child. In this case, all the complaints are perfectly justified. I really feel for those women and bow to them. When speaking about martyr-mothers, I wasn’t referring to them. I was talking about mothers seem to have exactly the same experience as champion-mothers, but just choose to portray themselves as victims, rather than conquerors.

Before my daughter was born I made a resolution that I would try to be like one of those champion-mothers. I don’t know if I will succeed, but I try. Not all credit goes to me: I am in a very fortunate situation. I have eight months of maternity leave from my university, a great husband who is physically unable to not care about our baby (it’s in his DNA) and who helps a great deal, a mother-in-law who is like her son, and my own mother who will come to visit for a couple of months to help. I do have to keep running my research lab even while I am on leave, but I can do this at my own pace and from the comfort of my home (thanks to Google hangout!). So at this point many of you are thinking: “Of course it’s easy to be a champion-mother with all this help!”. You could be right. Nevertheless, I’d like to write down a few solutions that I found useful in my effort to remain a champion.

A win-win sleeping arrangement

While Naomi is waking up to feed at night, my husband Anton and I decided that we will sleep separately. I room in with Naomi, so he can get a good night’s sleep, because unlike me he has to get up to work every morning. This arrangement has many other advantages. Because Anton gets enough sleep, he is always very cheerful, and that is super helpful for keeping everyone calm and hopeful. Because he is well rested, he is able to take Naomi for a few hours (during the week-end) or a few minutes on work days, so I can catch up on sleep, take a shower, eat or get out of my pajamas. He also feeds me my favourite brunch – his famous creation of a French omelette with goat brie and dill. I am able to get enough sleep as well. I go to bed at midnight, get out of bed at noon. In that time-stretch I accumulate enough short stretches of sleep to keep me rested. After the birth of Naomi I acquired this ability to fall asleep instantaneously and go into a profound sleep even if I have 20 minutes. Even if Naomi is fussing in the next room – as long as I know she is safe with Anton. Smart Body – thank you for that.

Moby wrap

Moby wrap is a long piece of fabric that you tie around your body creating a contraption in which you can insert your baby and carry her with you wherever you go. It’s the answer to the fashionable trend of baby-wearing. Moby wrap, as almost all other infant products, was too big for my tiny 2.5-kg-at-birth girl (most baby-wearing products are rated for kids weighing 8lbs (=3.6kg) and higher). So I had to be creative. I put on the wrap as recommended, inserted in it a rolled towel, creating a horizontal platform, and on it put Naomi, who can peacefully sleep or breast-feed while I walk around, eat, check email or blog. With this arrangement, Naomi often ends up with bread crumbs or salad dressing on her swaddling blanket, but we make do. The only thing I have not yet figured out how to do with Naomi in a wrap is to take a shower. I suppose I could if I didn’t mind getting it (and Naomi) wet.
It is still a mystery to me why Naomi can sleep for hours (forgetting even to eat) when she is  in the wrap next to my body, while she gets unhappy the minute I put her down into her crib (well, not always, but often).

Moby wrap lets you have at least one hand free (two, if you get good at it). So eventually I learned how to cook salad and make my own omelette while wearing Naomi on my chest.


I am an exercise fanatic. I need my exercise. I confess that I am addicted. I went to ballet classes up to a week before birth and biked up to a day before birth. The only reason why I did not bike on the day Naomi was born was because my water broke and I figured there is not enough protection for the baby in case I fell or bumped into the steering wheel.  So three weeks post-partum, when the stitches healed and I could sit on my bum again (well, sort-of), I started itching to go to a ballet class. In order to do this, I had to pump milk. This way I could ask my mother-in-law to watch Naomi while I go to class and leave milk in case our little vulture gets hungry.

Lactation experts warn you to not introduce the bottle until the breast-feeding is “well established”. I didn’t know quite what that meant, but I wanted to go dancing so much that at three weeks post-partum I decided that we are well established and began expressing milk.
Medela breast pump is a God-send. I use the Pump-in-style model and a hands-free bra, so I can hook myself up to the apparatus, attach the bottles to my nipples and go around my business while the milk is being expressed. I am so glad I can escape the fate of my mother, whom I remember expressing the milk by hand 24/7.

The little one loves the bottle. Drinking from the bottle requires less work than sucking the breast. But we avoided the “nipple confusion” so far. She gladly takes the breast as well.  Expressing milk is liberating. I now go to a ballet class twice a week. Last week-end (4 weeks pp) Anton and I went up to Grouse Grind (a hike) while the mother-in-law watched our little vulture.  I can also leave the house with Naomi in a stroller for the whole day, take a bunch of bottles with me, and she’ll happily sleep and entertain herself in a stroller as long as I periodically give her food.

If you do get a Medela pump, do get the hands-free pumping bra as well. It makes the world of difference.

Shower and make-up

Before Naomi was born I was terrified to hear the stories of martyr-mothers who say they gave up style and personal hygiene when their baby was born.  So I make it a point to shower and put on make-up every day. Even if I don’t succeed to do this until 2pm, and even though this takes 30 minutes out of my day, I still think it’s useful. Gives me a feeling that I got everything under control.

Exercise ball

My birth doula suggested that I buy an exercise ball to use during labour. Apparently it helps relax through contractions. I did not use it during labour (I preferred a bath tub), but the ball ended up being a very useful tool for soothing Naomi. Anton or I can calm her almost instantaneously if we bounce on the exercise ball with her in our arms. Sometimes this has to be accompanied with a loud “shhh” in her ear. I hope ball-bouncing burns calories and builds leg muscles. I do have to have Naomi in a Moby wrap while I bounce on the ball, otherwise my back gets sore.


I am a control freak. For some reason I often get this idea that I can do something better than others, even when this is completely untrue. Well, this attitude is completely not useful when you are caring for a newborn (and in many other life situations as well!). So when my mother-in-law or my husband take over Naomi, I don’t micromanage. I just go sleep or do what I need to do and let them use their intuition. Same with work. Delegated managing major publications to my students. Control – just give it up!

The 5 “S”s.

This is a soothing technique described by a renowned pediatrician Bradley Karp in his book “The Happiest Baby on the Block”.  The 5 “S”s stand for Swaddling, Swinging, Shh-ing and Sucking. It’s what you have to do to calm your baby. Works like a charm, but the devil is in the details. For Naomi, swinging only works on an exercise ball, and the “shhh” has to be very loud!

Trash bags and scotch tape 

Blacking out the room by taping huge black trash bags to windows made my baby sleep in the morning until 7-ish as opposed to when the sun rises, which could be as early as 4:30am.