Bonding with Charlee through Infant Massage

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The first time we met Carolynn, I was still on my parental leave, and Becca and I were taking Charlee to her first mummy group.

8 mums, 8 babies, and 1 dad (yours truly) sat around in a circle in the basement of one of the neighbourhoods oldest churches, and Carolynn got right into it.

She welcomed us all to the class, introduced what the next 12 weeks was going to look like, and then whipped out her ukulele and gave a playfully gentle disclaimer that while she had a masters degree, it did not imply any special musical talents.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a couple classes before heading back to work, and I know that Becca and Charlee had a blast. It’s often through these types of meet-ups that parents are able to meet other parents with similarly aged babies, and foster new friendships.

With us, we were able to connect with Carolynn as well, and had the pleasure of having her over the other day to teach me about infant massage, and the bonding experience it can have for fathers.

Carolynn wrote a fascinating white paper that is perfectly in line with the material that dad’s are so often seeking; new opportunities to bond with their infants.

During that delicate time before babies can vocalize their feelings, it is a constant struggle to connect with our kids the same way mum’s naturally can.

As Carolynn writes, “fathers may feel dissatisfied with their ability to form a close attachment with their infants in the early postpartum period, which, in turn, may increase their parent-related stress.”

Their study sought to align infant massage between a father and their child and the subsequent reduction in stress and increase in bonding.

I implore you to read the white paper on Carolynn’s site; it is a fascinating study and the outcomes offer a fundamental opportunity that no father should miss.

Carolynn’s research did not stop there. She in turn is a certified infant massage instructor, and offers both group and individual classes on baby massage.

As determined in her paper, there are numerous benefits to massage, both for the baby and the parent themselves! These benefits include:

Benefits for baby
• Promote longer and deeper sleeping patterns
• Relieve symptoms of “colic” or gassy periods
• Improve cardiac and respiratory output
• Help baby develop sense of self

Benefits for parents/caregivers
• Enhance and facilitate parent/child relationships
• Increase confidence and sensitivity as you learn to read and respond to your babies’ cues
• Provide special, focused time together
• Decrease stress

The first thing Carolynn did when she came over, after settling down and giving Party (our dog) some attention, was to pull out the ukulele and sing a few tunes for Charlee.

Right off the bat, Charlee was beside herself! The power of song is so evident, and it put a huge smile on Charlee’s face as she remembered the music from a few months back.

Becca had helped me out and set up a calm space upstairs to go through the tutorial, so we headed up and got settled.

Carolynn reiterated that she wasn’t there to massage Charlee, but rather to guide me through the process. She brought out a doll for demonstration purposes, and we sat across from each other as I got Charlee prepped.

One of the very first things Carolynn guided me on doing, was seeking permission from Charlee before massaging her. I thought it was such an odd premise, but when she explained that it’s one of the first opportunities to teach Charlee about boundaries, and consent, I was all for it.

Carolynn walked me through the stages of several massage techniques, starting from Charlee’s legs and moving up to her head. Every move was well thought out, methodical, and explained in detail. My favourite part, was that every massaging move was accompanied by a little song to sing through the motions.

Charlee was a gem and enjoyed the whole process immensely. I was taught how the direction of the massage can be a huge influence on relaxation versus stimulation, so it was important to not overdo it on such a tiny person.

The days following our session with Carolynn, I continue doing to the techniques she taught me, and Charlee is growing more and more comfortable with it. We’ll usually have ‘leg days’ for a few in a row, followed by arms and maybe face. Charlee has always been brought up with massage in her routine, but now having some technique to accompany it makes me more confident, and Charlee even more receptive.

As new dads, we’re often searching for things that we can implement that will help us feel more involved in the child raising process, and give us that opportunity to bond with our little ones. I was grateful to have met Carolynn and been giving a lesson on infant massage, and I whole heartedly recommend it to all the dads out there.

Make sure to visit Carolynn’s websites, at either http://carolynndarrell.weebly.com or www.discoverytoys.com/PlayLadyCarolynn and contact her directly at carolynn.darrell@gmail.com.


A little about Carolynn, in her own words, from her website:

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Ancient wisdom, modern parenting is a tagline I created to describe my parenting and teaching philosophy.  There has been a recent surge of interest and research in parenting practices of long, long ago.  Swaddling, infant massage and breastfeeding are a few of these practices that are high on the modern parent’s radar.  My philosophy honours thousands of years of evolutionary wisdom, but also values the needs and realities of 21st century families. 

My interest in parenting really began as an interest in infant development.  I  studied child health at Brock University and graduated with an honours B.A. I became a certified Child life specialist through a post graduate program at McMaster University.  I practiced Child Life for many years at  both Sickkids and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab.  I really enjoyed helping children and teen’s navigate and gain mastery over their healthcare experience.  But my smallest clients and their parents troubled me.  I wasn’t sure how to truly help them until I became certified as an infant massage instructor. The benefits of this instruction went well beyond the baby, and perhaps helped the parents the most, by empowering them when they feel most vulnerable, especially when their baby wont stop crying or has colic.  A desire to help more parents in this effective and powerful way led me  again to further graduate education. I completed a Masters of Arts degree from Brock University where I was able to study some important questions about infant massage and parenting.  I have attached a PDF at the bottom of this page describing my most relevant work with parents and their babies.  My greatest experience of all however, has been the birth of my own beautiful children.  They teach me everyday that each child, family and parent is unique and they deserve to be treated that way.

Charlee turns a month, Zaida turns 70, and a brave turkey gives its life

Not only did we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday, but Friday was my father’s 70th birthday and today we celebrate Charlee turning one month old. This week was a biggie, so let’s take it from the top…

Thanksgiving is technically a religious holiday in Canada; aligned with thanking God for a bountiful, Canadian harvest. I like to think of it as the statutory holiday of which our country’s cultural melting pot gets to enjoy.

Ironically, being off of work this year for parental leave, the reality of statutory holidays, let alone a weekend versus weekday, is inconsequential to me… sorry to rub it in. But what that does mean for me, is that I can genuinely take the opportunity to reflect on the day and be thankful for so much.

For starters, I’m thankful for our nearly 10 pound bundle of beauty, known as Charlee. She is truly a blessing and this whole notion of fatherhood is certainly settling in. I’m thankful for Becca, the love of my life, without whom I would be incomplete. I’m most definitely grateful for Party, who keeps me on my toes, and shows unconditional love (as he’s parked on my lap right now while I type). I’m fortunate to have a fantastic circle of friends, a stable job that pays the bills and lets us enjoy life, and to own a home that provides comfort, safety, and room for our family to grow.

This year we hosted the Wong family for a Thanksgiving dinner figuring, hey, why not, Charlee is 3 weeks old (at the time), we can juggle her and dinner for 11.

First thing we did was buy a turkey. Google advised that you should factor 2 pounds per person, and without putting much more thought into it, I calculated that we needed a 22 pound turkey. Realize for a moment that 2 of the 11 attendees are Charlee, aged 3 weeks, and Charlee’s cousin Penny, aged 16 months. For Charlee is particular, 2 pounds is over 20% of her body weight… but I digress.

We went to the supermarket and found the frozen turkeys, all categorized by weight – 5-7 kilograms, 8-10 kilograms, and 11-13 kilograms, metricly speaking, of course. To put that in pounds, 11-15 pounds, 17-22 pounds, and 24-28 pounds respectively.

Of course, with my luck, they were completely sold out of the 17-22 pound birds, so in true Goldberg fashion, I erred on the side of overfeed-my-guests, and purchased an 11.5 kilogram turkey, or roughly 25 pounds.

They grow up so fast!
They grow up so fast!

My buddy Jason is a chef and owns a butcher shop around the corner from the house. He put together a fantastic brine recipe for me, which meant that I would need to immerse the bird in the brine and refrigerate it overnight. Because of the sheer size of this turkey, I had to empty out and clean a plastic file box and fill it with around 7 or 8 gallons of brined water, take out all the shelves in the fridge, and let her soak for 24 hours.

The next day, Becca’s mum and her boyfriend came over and helped wrangle the dogs (her’s too) and prep the house for Thanksgiving dinner. I nearly broke my back carrying the turkey and water bucket out of the fridge, but I dried it off and prepared a cheesecloth soaked in butter and wine to help it be even more moist once cooked.

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Finally I made some stuffing, filled the bird and popped it in the oven for nearly 5 hours, basting every 30 minutes.

My hat goes off to Martha Stewart, cause the recipe was brilliant and the bird turned out succulent and tasty.

Becca’s family helped with side dishes, gravy, desserts, and wine, and the dinner went off without a hitch. Charlee was a champ and let us enjoy dinner while she slept, then fed some more and entertained the family with her innate adorableness.

In the end, we had approximately 20 pounds of turkey left, so with that and the abundance of side dishes and desserts, 11 people made off with a weeks worth of leftovers each.

This was our first attempt at a dinner party with Charlee in tow and we were thrilled with how well she did… and I guess how well we did too! It’s nice to test the water by doing a family event. There’s less judgement and more helping hands!

The next test was to come Friday night in celebration of my father’s 70th birthday.

My sister's decorations were a riot
My sister’s decorations were a riot

Fortunately, dad only wanted a small get together with friends and family. I often forget that ‘small get together’ from my dad and step mother’s perspective, is often what others would see as a huge get together. This was no exception, with around 30 people in attendance.

This was also going to test Charlee’s car ride endurance. The longest ride we had done to date was probably a 20 minute stretch wherein she just slept the whole ride away. This was going to be minimum of 30 minutes, but with traffic, it ended up being just shy of an hour.

Charlee was great, and not because she slept through it – on the contrary! She was wide awake, taking in everything along the way. The lights, the sounds, the smells – all the sensations of a drive up from downtown Toronto, to suburbia.

When we arrived, she was inundated by family – not in a bad way – just in the way that family pours over newborns. Everyone wanted to hold her and pass her around. Charlee lately has been having a mild skin irritation, and now knowing the source, we told ourselves that we would ask whomever was holding her to wash their hands first.

That idea was short lived.

I guess on one hand, you want your baby to be free of any toxins, and with Charlee having been in the NICU for the first 4 days of her life, we were a tad shell-shocked when it comes to her health.

On the flip side, you also want her to build up immunity and sometimes the best way is to get elbow deep in people squishing cheeks, and kissing foreheads.

Regardless, Charlee was again, an absolute dream, engaging with people, taking it all in, feeding with Becca, pooping up a storm, and then sleeping it off.

My dad was a very proud Zaida (grandfather) and you could see it on his face. It made me realize that when my father was my age, he had me as a newborn, and now 35 years later it’s my turn with Charlee and his turn as Zaida. May we have many years ahead for Charlee to get to know her Zaida and learn everything he has to teach her.  Having visited with my 90 year old uncle over the summer, I realize how we often take our parents and grandparents for granted, when we should be really maximizing the moments we have with them, and listening to the stories and life experiences they have to share.

My father definitely has stories to share, but is very much to himself and you have to ask the pointed questions to get the answers you want. At times though, he will bring up stories from his past to relate to a conversation or situation we may be discussing. Much of his youth was spent in California in the 60’s where he lived in the Bay area and attended Berkeley. He and my mother were married in 1970 and nine years later they adopted my brother. 11 months later, yours truly came along.

So hip it hurts
So hip it hurts

My dad is excited about my blog and twitter feeds, and I look forward to collaborating on some blog entries in the near future. I think based on his own childhood, he wants to play a much more active role in Charlee’s life, and I look forward to that wholeheartedly.

And that brings us to the other milestone event of the week, Charlee is celebrating one month since her escape from the womb!

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Not to sound too cliched, but wow… where does the time go!

This little angel is at the top of the charts in terms of weight and length (nearly 10 pounds and 23 inches…nearly the size of a 3 month old), and we’re really gunning for her to be the tallest Goldberg to date (anything over 5′ 8 and she wins).

At this one month milestone, I can see the following in Charlee:

  1. She definitely recognizes our voices
  2. She can see and focus on things, be they people, pictures, or the puppy
  3. She is in a routine and we can plan our days and maximize our time around that
  4. She has a sense of humour… trust me, I can tell already
  5. She can communicate, you just need to figure out her cues
  6. She’s most definitely a daddy’s girl… and I’m not complaining!

I have just over 3 short months left before I head back to work, but based on this last month and all that it’s had to offer, I am stoked that the next few will bring lasting memories and huge events that I’ll get to see first hand.

Hello Charlee, My Name is Dad – Part III, My first weeks with baby

Today, Charlee turns two weeks old, and the transformation has been unreal. Physically, she is truly growing like a weed, but of course, the most beautifully stunning, exquisitely gorgeous weed you could imagine!

Here’s a little before and after for you:

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To say that time has flown by is an understatement, and I can only imagine myself saying this same mantra weekly, monthly, yearly.

These weeks have definitely seen their share of emotional highs and lows, each presenting themselves in a multitude of situations.

As mentioned in my previous posts, the hospital was a very trying time for us all, but we overcame and are much stronger because of it, and for Charlee in particular, this is a literal truth.

She came home from the hospital having lost only 2 ounces from her birth weight (far less than the expected 10%), and since being home has put on an impressive 11 ounces in 8 days! I know this doesn’t sound like much, but as far as babies go, she’s a pretty high achiever!

Seeing as it’s two weeks in, I figure at this point, I can highlight some of the takeaways and advice I can provide with my vast fatherhood experience. Kidding aside, regardless of the small window there is a TON I’ve learned, and my first hand account of what’s worked for us can hopefully benefit other new dad’s in the early stages of their adventures in fatherhood.

For this post, I’m going to highlight 4 items in particular which, I wanted to stress, have been a huge factor in our success thus far with Charlee, and they are:

  1. Harvey Karp’s book “The Happiest Baby on the Block”;
  2. Dunstan Baby Language;
  3. Our newfound knowledge of breastfeeding; and
  4. My own personal thoughts on communicating in your relationship with your partner when you have a newborn in tow.

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First off, Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby book.

This book was recommended by a slew of new parents we know, as being an excellent reference on how to deal with a ‘colicky’ baby. Colic technically refers to a baby younger than 5 months old who cries for more than three hours in a row on three or more days a week for at least three weeks. I know we’ve all heard babies crying – family members, acquaintances, or the crowd pleasing baby-in-a-public-space-who-just-won’t-give-it-a-rest. Imagine for a moment if that poor parent deals with that for 3 hour stretches throughout the majority of a week and the majority of a month – that’s soul crushing!

Fortunately, if you take the time to read Dr. Karp’s book and implement some of the strategies from the get go, you may benefit from never even having a ‘colicky’ baby… or so our experience has been thus far.

Dr. Karp’s book is quite extensive, but if you actually trim away a lot of the personal anecdotes and history of humanity, you get to the crux of his book being what he refers to as ‘the 5 S’s’ all based off the premise that after birth, your child enters the unofficial ‘fourth trimester’.

The principle of the fourth trimester is that your baby has been lovingly put up in this human presidential suite for three trimesters already, and the shock of entering a world so very different and inhospitable, is a shock to the poor little one’s system causing them to cry out in frustration.

The cure for this is to try one’s best to replicate the environment that they were so familiar with for the last 9 months, and thus we arrive at the 5 S’s: Swaddling, Side (or Stomach), Shhh-ing, Swinging, and Sucking. Done in order, or sometimes in combination, these methods effectively ease your crying baby back into a feeling of zen, and all becomes right in the world.

Often, the moment Charlee starts crying, we’ll immediately start swinging her back and forth with a loud and stern shhhhh, and let me tell you, it truly works like a charm.

The one caveat, and segue to my next topic, is that with the ability to understand Charlee’s newborn language, you should rarely have to initiative Dr. Karp’s technique… and that brings me to my second gem, the Dunstan Baby Language.

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Now, since I have no affiliation with anybody, I’m not ashamed to admit that the only interaction I had with this theory was via a video shown in our prenatal class, and then a subsequent youtube clip with the founder on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Priscilla Dunstan, a former mezzo-soprano from Australia, first developed the theory and then spent 10 years traveling the world and meeting parents and babies from all walks of life. Her conclusion and theory is that there are 5 universal words that babies use to communicate. Again, these words are universal, so regardless of where you are and where your baby comes from, they will use these words to engage you and communicate 5 specific needs.

The words (or sound reflexes) are: (excerpt from wikipedia)

  • Neh (I’m hungry) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Neh” to communicate its hunger. The sound is produced when the sucking reflex is triggered, and the tongue is pushed up on the roof of the mouth.
  • Owh (I’m sleepy) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Owh” to communicate that they are tired. The sound is produced much like an audible yawn.
  • Heh (I’m experiencing discomfort) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Heh” to communicate stress, discomfort, or perhaps that it needs a fresh diaper. The sound is produced by a response to a skin reflex, such as feeling sweat or itchiness in the bum.
  • Eairh (I have lower gas) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Eairh” to communicate they have flatulence or an upset stomach. The sound is produced when trapped air from a belch is unable to release and travels to the stomach where the muscles of the intestines tighten to force the air bubble out. Often, this sound will indicate that a bowel movement is in progress, and the infant will bend its knees, bringing the legs toward the torso.This leg movement assists in the ongoing process.
  • Eh (I need to be burped) – An infant uses the sound reflex “Eh” to communicate that it needs to be burped. The sound is produced when a large bubble of trapped air is caught in the chest, and the reflex is trying to release this out of the mouth.

I kid you not…. THIS WORKS!

We are successful in avoiding any lengthy crying bouts due exclusively to this theory. It’s fascinating – Charlee makes a noise, we translate and address the situation – bingo, bango – happy baby!

There have been times where we’ll hear her “neh” and know that she’s hungry, but Becca will need to organize herself and ‘setup shop’ to start feeding, so in the interim while Charlee is continuing to ‘neh’, I’ll rely on the trusty 5 S’s from Dr. Karp, and shush her back to calmness.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but our techniques are so far working like a charm!

Charlee happens to be a champ at latching and eating, so we truly have lucked out, but this also took work. This brings me to my next trade secret to success, Breastfeeding.

Now I probably don’t need to mention this, but my role with breastfeeding is fairly removed from the actual process, but dads, let me tell you, you can and should play a large role.

Our routine, is that regardless of the time, but especially for the overnights, I’m waking up and in the room while Becca is breastfeeding.

I’m the diaper man – changing Charlee before, after, and even sometimes during. I’m the water boy, the towel guy, the burper extraordinaire. I’m the conversationalist, the time checker, and the reacher for anything just out of Becca’s grasps while feeding Charlee in the glider. In the hospital, I was the cup feeder, helping Charlee sip away at the supplemented milk while we were trying to encourage her consumption – why? – because this was something I actually could do.

One of the key messages in the Dunstan Baby Language theory, is that dads in the first 6 months of fatherhood, tend to feel less ‘involved’ in baby’s life compared to their partners.

It makes total sense.

While Becca can feed this child, and needs to in order to provide for her, Charlee is not even capable of communicating any connection with me, regardless of what I do. The ability to understand her 5 words, and also to contribute to the feeding sessions, is a great way of making your early mark as a father – an engaged parent who is there to be a part of your child’s upbringing even when it’s not mutually beneficial.

And this point about working with your partner, be it regarding breastfeeding together, staggering nap times, or scheduling walks around the neighbourhood, brings me to my last point – communication.

A little tête-à-tête with my daughter
A little tête-à-tête with my daughter

I’m not gonna lie – two weeks is not a long time, yet within it, we’ve had our struggles with communication. Struggles spawned from lack of sleep, heightened levels of frustration, and an overall sense of, at times, being quite overwhelmed. We want to entertain guests so that they can meet Charlee, yet also set boundaries so we don’t lose our minds. We want to be a team and parent united over our child, while also taking time to individually connect. We have other dependants, like Party, who needs to have the same level of attention as before, but also needs to be disciplined with the understanding that he’s sharing his house with a new addition. We have each other, and we need each other more so than ever before.

Two weeks in, and all of these things can be difficult to navigate.

I don’t have all the answers, and everyone has their opinions. But truth be told, communication is the fundamental basis for anything and everything.

Telling your partner that they’re acting crabby and shouldn’t be taking out there lack of sleep on you is justifiable and needs to be done the moment the feeling is recognized. If it’s pent up, a snowball of anger starts rolling downhill, and you know it’s just moments away from crashing. Trust me, you can tell your partner that their tone is shitty, or that they are busting your chops for no reason – you’ve had a baby with them… I know they can take it.

You both should know that the underlying theme of your togetherness, your parenting methods, your approach to each other, is love.


 

And there you have it… my little pearl’s of wisdom as a dad celebrating two weeks of fatherhood.

I know there are going to be new challenges and amazing events in the days, weeks, and years ahead. If these first weeks were any inclination as to what is to come, I know that Becca and I will be stronger and better parents for it, and Charlee will grow even more into the little masterpiece she is.