Our daughter, Eva, just turned one, and by far the hardest challenge this past year for my husband and me was simply trusting ourselves in this whole process.
I'm a perfectionist by nature, and in motherhood, you will not receive praise or recognition from your tiny little baby, and it's hard to know if you're "doing it right" all the time. Going in, my husband, Jon, and I went to every class, read every book, and then our daughter decided to be born five weeks early and our whole world was flipped upside down.
Because Eva arrived so soon, the biggest obstacle at the beginning was feeding. When I started breastfeeding her, I heard the word "preemie" being whispered around a lot. We were fortunate enough to take her home right away, so I didn't fully process that she was, in fact, still premature, and therefore her feeding was a bit more challenging than I expected.
Breastfeeding, like everything else that comes along with parenting, is a very personal experience between a mother and her baby. I had made the conscious decision to breastfeed going in, so it was important to me, and I had high hopes for the outcome. Unfortunately, Eva had other ideas.
Like so many mothers before me, I tried everything from every position there was to a lactation consultant to pumping, etc. After six weeks of trying and my teeny tiny baby barely gaining weight, I looked at Jon with tears in my eyes and declared, "we are going back to the doctor." Eva was immediately put on high-calorie formula as a supplement and started thriving. I weaned her off completely around three months and never looked back, though at the time it seemed like the most crucial decision of my life.
Formula ended up being the best thing to happen to us, because as soon as she started to gain the weight, my confidence grew by the day as well. While breastfeeding is a sometimes heated topic, healthy and happy babies are not, and having mine in tow proved to be worth trusting my instincts and swallowing my pride.
Eva's eating challenges returned in a whole other way at around six months when we started on solids. I had bought all the gear, stocked up on all the basics, and was ready to go! I was going to purée my own foods and had dreams of Eva eating yogurt and peas in her highchair while I snapped a cute pic (and, of course, uploaded it to Facebook.) I did get the cute photo, but not much else that I had concocted in my head.
Eva hated the spoon, hated the packets, hated every purée I tried making for her. I wasted so much money on avocados in the spring that I could've gotten a new pair of boots in the fall. "Keep trying," my friends would all tell me, "It takes a bit of time."
Maybe it was my impatience, my anxiety, or a little of both, but after two months of this song and dance three times a day, I took a different route. I picked up some chicken noodle soup at Whole Foods, fished out the carrots, chicken, and noodles and handed them to Eva. She picked up these pieces -- with ease I might add -- and devoured every bite. The child had completely bypassed the purées and went right into finger foods. She just liked it better. It worked for her, and in turn, it worked for me.
As a former teacher, Eva's sleep and nap schedule also became a bit of a project for me. In the beginning, I read books telling me I could get her to sleep for 12 hours through the night by 12 weeks. Guess what? Eva is a year old and still doesn't sleep 12 hours through -- ever. While I do have her on a schedule now, it took a very long time to get to where we are --one year to be exact -- and while some tricks work better than others, I believe some kids simply sleep better than others. Eva is a "B-" sleeper at best, and while it took me a while to accept that, I am now very proud of my "B-" sleeper. To think how much sleep my husband and I would have gained had we stopped worrying about her sleep so much at the beginning.
As much advice as we got from friends and family, the truth is that the most encouragement came from within. When I learned to stop beating myself up and acknowledge all the good we were doing, I was able to really start enjoying it. We learned to believe in our own instincts, develop our own flow, and through it all, had strength in knowing we were making the best decisions for our own little family.
I'm a strong believer in the concept of beshert -- that some things are meant to be. I found my beshert in my husband, and holding on to this concept helped me through this past year. Because at the end of the day, it isn't about putting your baby on the perfect nap schedule, how long you breastfeed for, when they start rolling over, or if they walk early or not.
If I could go back a year ago and tell myself anything, it would be that she will get there, in her own time, in her own way. No matter when the milestones come, big or small, the real treasure is getting to watch your child grow right in front of your eyes. So instead of having a picture in my mind of how it should be or how it should go, I now remind myself to trust that it will be and it will go, with hiccups along the way. And mama, try to breathe, relax, and have a glass of wine (you too, dad).
Rori Soffer is a special education teacher turned stay-at-home mom who lives in Deerfield with her husband, Jon, and daughter, Eva. She enjoys tap-dancing, musicals, and spending time with family.
Read more stories in the "Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" blog series at www.oychicago.com/baby.
"Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" is being produced in partnership with jBaby Chicago, which helps expectant parents and families of newborns and tots (0-24 months) make connection, build friendships and engage in Jewish life in Chicago.