Baby’s first month: Parents discuss highs and lows
MIDDLEBURY — The world welcomed Riley Jacob Harrington on Jan. 15. He was a beautiful baby boy, all that a happy mother and father could hope for.
And then the hard work began.
His mother and father, Anna and Justin Harrington of Middlebury, anticipated both the joys of parenthood and the challenges. After a month, the reality of being parents had sunk in and, after seeing their world turned upside down by the presence of a new person in their lives, they were ready to take stock of all they had gained.
“Some days I feel like, ‘I’ve got this,’ and other days I feel like, ‘What am I doing?’” Anna said earlier this month as she considered life as a new mother.
Riley rested quietly in her arms, content as could be.
“I think that I have to keep a positive attitude. We had so many things go wrong (around the time of the birth),” Anna said.
The newborn had trouble breathing and the doctor’s considered sending him to UVM Medical Center because he had some air trapped inside his chest but outside his lungs. They decided it wasn’t anything to worry about, and his little body took care of it naturally.
Then they diagnosed possible jaundice so even after the family left the hospital, they had to return daily to have his blood checked.
“We basically spent a week and a half at Porter Hospital,” Anna recounted.
To complicate matters, the day Anna went into the hospital, Justin was diagnosed with bronchitis, a sinus infection and an ear infection. Looking back, Anna laughs.
“So he was also recovering in the hospital and when we got home,” she said.
Thankfully, the medical staff gave Justin antibiotics and told him that as long as he didn’t have a fever he would be OK with the baby.
The next challenge was breastfeeding.
“He tried breastfeeding and he just wouldn’t latch,” Anna said. “We had our lactation consultant come to the house and meet with me and she couldn’t do it.”
So Riley is being fed formula now, and he’s doing fine. Anna admits to a little frustration on this count.
“That was the plan all along, to breastfeed. I never imagined it was going to be so difficult, but it was absolutely miserable. He wanted nothing to do with it,” she said. “This lactation consultant, everyone said she had the magic touch, she could get everyone to breastfeed. Not this one.”
During the last bit of her pregnancy and for the first month of Riley’s life, Anna took a break from some medication she takes for a long-term health issue. But, since breastfeeding wasn’t happening, she returned to taking the medication.
“He hated it so much and I needed to get back on my medicine, and we decided he’s going to be a formula baby,” Anna said. “But he got a little bit of breast milk in the first week, week and a half.”
And then there is the sleep deprivation. Anna quickly learned to sleep when the baby sleeps. Of course, that doesn’t mean uninterrupted sleep.
“I usually get up with him about three times a night,” she said. “Sometimes he eats and wants to go right back to bed, other times he wants to stay up for an hour and a half.”
Sharing the responsibilities of parenthood has emphasized Anna and Justin’s need for good teamwork. There are times of day or situations where one or the other seems to rise to the occasion.
“Usually you trade off,” Justin said.
“We’ve learned that Justin tends to be pretty stressed out during the day with him, and I tend to be more stressed out at night,” Anna said. “So if at three in the morning I’m having a tough time, Justin’s usually pretty calm; and at three in the afternoon if Justin’s super stressed out I’m usually pretty calm.”
Justin said he can get anxious when Riley cries when they are out among strangers.
“In public I feel like people are judging us for a crying baby,” he said.
Anna said her hardest time is 6 a.m.
“He wakes up for a feeding and he doesn’t want to go back to bed … and I just want to go back to sleep,” she said.
Justin admits that when he returned to work after a week off he was worried about his wife because she wasn’t getting much sleep. Some days he had to leave for his job as a cook at Middlebury College at 4 a.m., which meant Anna was alone with Riley when he woke up — if the baby was still sleeping.
“I felt kind of guilty just getting out of the house,” he said.
Justin did that for a few days until he injured his knee and had to go on a medical leave from work.
“So I got him back,” Anna said, perhaps a little pleased with her good luck at the expense of his bad. “It kind of worked out.”
And the team is bigger than just mom and dad. Eight-year-old Mason, Justin’s first son, spends some time at this dad’s house and some at his mother’s. He takes a genuine interest in his baby brother. He’s fed Riley and gives him a pacifier when needed.
“I put Riley on the couch and tell Mason not to let him hit the ground,” Justin said.
“This morning when Daddy was in the bathroom I watched him; he was in the swing,” Mason said.
What if Riley started crying?
“I’d probably go get Anna or put the pacifier back in,” Mason said.
“The only thing we can’t convince Mason to do is change a diaper,” Anna teased.
And Anna’s mother, Mary Ann Osborne, has been a godsend.
At the end of the third week, Osborne took Riley to her home in East Middlebury for five hours so that Anna and Justin could just go home and sleep.
“That was the first time we felt like we didn’t have control,” Anna said. “We were so tired that we felt like we couldn’t even take care of ourselves.”
Anna knows that her mother loves having her grandson around. “He was there five or six hours and I don’t think he ever got put down,” Anna said. But still Anna sometimes finds it difficult to ask for help.
“She always offers, but I feel kind of guilty asking her,” Anna said. “She’s sooo busy. She’s coaching the skating show, and I’m not doing that this year.”
And Osborne is busy with her job at Middlebury College working with students.
But Anna’s assessment of grandma’s help is unequivocal.
“She’s been great,” she said.
As the Harringtons marked the first month of tiny Riley’s life, they paused for a moment to savor the milestones their son had already achieved — a growing sense of alertness and tracking of the world around him with his eyes, Anna even filed his nails once, after he scratched his face (“He was sort of OK with it, he wasn’t happy, but OK,” Anna said). The initial jaundice has completely disappeared. The sleeping is quite good at times. They spent an hour and a half in a restaurant when relatives came to visit.
And they look forward to breakthroughs just over the horizon — controlling his head, sitting up, playing on the mat and, of course, sleeping through the night.
And there’s also a recognition that time is passing and they are really doing it, they are being parents.
“It seems like it’s gone fast … maybe too fast,” Anna said, “maybe just the right amount of fast.
“I don’t mind these days flying by — fussing and being up every three hours; maybe in a month I’ll want it to slow down.”