Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Our High Needs Baby

Yeah, it's kind of like this, only five months later.

Right now I am yawning in my mind. Another sleepless night, following another sleepless night, following another sleepless night. Stella's acid reflux is more or less under control, but she still is waking up about five times a night, out of nowhere, for no reason. We think she has to be tired, and she is--constantly rubbing her eyes--but she refuses to stay asleep. Being the parent of a High Needs Baby is no picnic.

What is a High Needs Baby, you might ask. It's a good question. Even most other parents have no idea what it's like. To these parents I say: you should thank God above that you don't know. You have no idea.

The term High Needs Baby was coined, I believe, by Dr. Robert Sears, a kind of touchy-feely pediatrician who is a leading mind behind the attachment parenting movement. Attachment parenting, as far as I understand it, is a movement dedicated to serving the needs of the child first and foremost at all times. Letting a child cry it out is verboten in the attachment parenting world. But it goes well beyond that. Some AP parents don't even have their kids wear diapers, because they are so close with their baby that they can see from the looks on their little ones faces when they are about to let loose. I can imagine many a brown shirt has resulted from the process of forging this mystical bond with the baby along the way.

Anyway, there is more about AP stuff. But I think you get the picture. Very organic, very close, very un-traditional in some ways, although in others it harkens back to what parenting might have looked like hundreds or even thousands of years ago; if they had $800 strollers in the Bronze Age.

We kind of do it, but not all the way. Randi breastfeeds loyally, we use cloth diapers most of the time.

Anyway, that's my take on AP parenting. It means, though, above all, that you try to attend to your kids needs BEFORE they throw a hissy fit, and when that fit comes you can't just walk away when you get frustrated, you have to work through it with your baby.

Boy has that come to bite us in the ass.

As I've noted, time and again, Stella just does not like to sleep. We had a blissful three week window before her first round of vaccines where she slept eight hours a night. That mythical time ended with the shots, and has never come back. It has even gotten worse recently.

Sunday afternoon, for various reasons, we couldn't put Stella on her usual nap schedule. (Note: This schedule is more like an attempt at a schedule. It works sometimes, and not other times.) In my car that dusk she SCREAMED for about an hour straight. There was nothing we could do about it, we were in traffic en route to the Holland Tunnel, but it was nightmarish. Nothing worked, nothing could soothe her. It was torture.

Then we got home, and she slept like crap that night. Yesterday was another nightmare for Randi, as she wouldn't sleep all day. Then when I got home she screamed well into the night, no matter what we did. Then, last night, she woke up time after time after time. The only thing that soothed her, temporarily, was when Randi put her boob in her mouth. Then she would go to sleep for a moment, catch herself, and jar herself awake, crying. I walked around our apartment with her, which often works, and she screamed and cried in my arms for an hour. The only thing that worked was when I bounced her on my knee. Then she fell asleep. At this point Randi picked her up to take her to bed. Wrong move! She awoke, and started to cry furiously, busting out of her swaddling blanket, and rubbing her own head with her baby nails until she scalp was raw. More screaming ensued.

Readers, this is our lives. If you haven't seen me, or I'm behind on my e-mails, this is why.

Nothing works. She won't take a bottle. She won't go to sleep. She won't stay asleep. She refuses to play in her jumparoo (a plastic horse-type thing that bounces up and down) unless we look at her and play with her. She would rather cling to, and fuss, with us than sleep. She DEMANDS from us all the time. She DRAINS us, all the time. I look in the mirror, and on the left side of my head is a fat streak of white hair that I didn't have five months ago. I feel like crap pretty much all the time, and taking care of our child is ALL we do. And if it's bad for me it's 100 times worse for Randi. I, at least, get to go to work. I never thought I'd say that with such relish.

We plan our weekends pretty much around her nap schedule. Because we can't deal with her screaming bloody murder all night, and we are unable or unwilling to simply let her cry it out.

But at least there's a name for it. Stella is a High Needs Baby.

Randi is the one who found out this term. According to Dr. Sears here are a few of the traits of a HNB: My comments next to each one.

1. "INTENSE" Hells yeah!
2. "HYPERACTIVE" Maybe not so much. When we can finally get her to mellow out she's a delightful kid, and very sweet. But it can be struggle, oh my god can it ever be a struggle some nights to get her there.
3. "DRAINING" If you could see Randi and I right now you wouldn't have to ask.
4. "FEEDS FREQUENTLY" I should call Randi Iron Tit.
5. "DEMANDING" Hells yeah!
7. "UNSATISFIED" Yes, nothing works well for long.
8. "UNPREDICTABLE" Things work with Stella ONCE. Then she's moved on. We have to invent new sleep strategies practically every day.
9. "SUPER-SENSITIVE" Get this, she can be dead asleep and she SENSES when Randi merely walks into the room. She's like Daredevil.
10. "CAN'T PUT BABY DOWN" Not if she has any say about it.
11. "NOT A SELF-SOOTHER" Well, duh.
12. "SEPARATION SENSITIVE" Actually she likes being held by other people but she DOES NOT like to be by herself.

Yes, I know, we asked and wanted this child, and we love, love, love her to death. And there are strategies for dealing with all these things, some of them even work on occasion, and at least she wasn't born with webbed feet, and we're not horrible parents, exactly, for feeling this way and ...

Parents, unless you have a HNB, as I've said, you just have no idea. It is the best of times and the worst of times. At 3:00 a.m., when you haven't slept really at all in four months, and your darling daughter is screaming in her crib as she flails around, for the third time since midnight, and your wife has had it even worse than you, and you pick up your DD, and walk with her, and she arches her back and screams, and almost goes to sleep and then some drunk jackoff leaves the local lesbian bar singing at the top of her lungs and your baby's eyes pop open like The Bride of Chucky and none of the hard work you just did matters at all, and now you're looking at a half hour AT LEAST before she calms down again, and you really don't want to have to wake up your wife, who is still somehow, miraculously asleep through all this, and she deserves some rest goddammit, but you don't know what else to do, and then she pees?

Yeah, you might not know. And I envy you.


Randi said...

I wasn't sleeping, just so's y'all know. I was just too weary to get up.

Add to that the fact that we gave her rice cereal, against my wishes to wait until she's 6 months old, because everyone swore it would help her sleep. She is determined to go against the grain.

We adore her. She is the best. But right now I am consumed with jealousy for people with easy babies.

rosewood said...

Randi, I know you weren't sleeping. Even the very few times that my DH would get up with J, I would still be completely awake, my body tense with her screams. J wasn't as much a HNB as Stella is, we had it really good with her, looking back, but it was still hell for me when DH went to work and I was left alone with her.

Lauren said...

I bet you anything that she's teething now, which is making it even worse on all of you come nighttime. Coupled with being a HNB anyway, I can't imagine what that's like to deal with.

To put it into perspective: Audrey, who is cutting her fourth tooth, has turned from being a baby who drifted off to sleep right away to crying bloody murder if we put her down and needing one to two extra feedings to go to sleep. The only way she settles down is if I feed her in the dark in the rocking chair for 1/2 an hour.

I'm not trying to compare our situations - certainly, you have it much worse. I'm just saying that if teething does that to a happy-go-lucky kid like ours, imagine what it's doing to a high needs kid. :(

Holly said...

Yikes! This post frankly terrifies me and caused Michael and me to have a talk about children in our future. Our dog, Othello, is sort of a High Needs Dog sometimes. There are stretches of time that he will whine the entire night through, and nothing will get him to stop. It's the kind of whining that you cannot sleep through...unless you've had five consecutive sleepless nights prior, because of that. So I have a vague idea of what you're talking about. But I can't imagine the full reality of your situation.

Good luck! At least, as they say, kids grow up fast!

David Serchuk said...

Hi All!

Yes, the hardest part is that I leave Randi during the day. I wish we had more family nearby, but this is what we have.

Hi Lauren,
Teething, huh? So, you mean it might get even worse? :-)

Hi Holly,
Fear not, Stella is kind of special and having a HNB is not all that common. Ironically, we never got a dog because we thought we couldn't handle the responsibility. So you're one up on us!


David Serchuk said...

Update: It's 3:35 a.m. here on Sept. 10, 2008, and Stella is finally calm, nursing with Randi. She awoke 20 minutes ago, for no reason, and screamed her head off as I picked her up, trying to rock her back to sleep. She is now fairly strong, and took her little hand a twisted it on my nipple, the whole time. Again, nothing seems to work, and she will wake up after two hours, no matter what we do, all night. It's just inevitable. I have work tomorrow, but I can't sleep now, even though she's with Randi. Yesterday I even told her "may you have a child like you," which is not only a cliche thing to say, but I didn't really mean it. But all these sleepless nights are hard, and they have a cumulitive effect.


Holly said...


Lol! That is ironic!

BTW, Stella is absolutely beautiful. I really enjoyed seeing her on Sunday.

Lauren said...

Teething can start way before you see a tooth - anywhere from days to months before it appears.

Once the tooth pops through, the crankiness eases up. Of course, then it's only a matter of time until the next one arrives. ;)

Jenn said...

Dave, I just happened pon this article. I have a two-year-old daughter and an almost six-month-old son. My son, since, birth has been high needs. Just like you describe in this post. I am exhausted, haggard, stressed and worn thin. I'm starting to have trouble caring for him b/c I simply need a break. I have thoughts of just getting in the car and driving away. But, they are just thoughts. I would never act upon them... Anywho, my big question is this: when will he improve? Will he outgrow this? Is there a magical age when this high needs stuff will simply fade into the past? Many thank you's!!! ~Jenn

Anonymous said...

Like Jenn, I also would love an update to this blog. I have a 2 1/2 yr old and a 7 month old. My 7 month old fits your description exactly and I'm desperately trying to figure out how much longer this could possibly last. Any updates, good or bad, would be great.
All the best.

Dave Serchuk said...

Hi All, this is Dave. I updated this blog to reflect that Stella has grown into a much easier child. Please read my newest entry. Thanks!