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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Things That Worked

Before we left for our China adoption trip, we read lots of lists from people who have gone before on what to take and what not to bring. Well, most of that advice was useful, and is widely available if anyone is interested. So no need to rehash thoughts like *bring a thermos* and *lots of ziplock bags*.

Instead, I thought it may be helpful for us to share some of the more unusual things that worked for us on the trip.

1) Bedtime music routine - We preloaded her ipod* with a BeddyBye playlist that we would start right before we put her down. The list contains 15-20 sleepy time songs, mostly from this collection. Within a week, we had basically conditioned her to go into sleep mode if the songs started playing. Often, she would start to yawn about 30 seconds into the first song. If she woke up in the middle of the night and had difficulties settling back down, we just started the list again. It is important to play the songs consistently at the same time and in the same order every night. Also, we didn't play those particular songs during the day. Now that we are home, she falls asleep almost instantly after we put her down in the crib. I think the bedtime music is a big reason for that. This trick helped her to get over jet lag too.

2) Pack n' play - We knew we were going to be in three cities and three different hotels before we could fly home. We also were going to be traveling with her for a LONG time (about a month), so we wanted to establish as much consistency as possible during the trip. As part of the plan, we brought along a pack n' play given to us by one of our good friends in Beijing. Although the website says this product is not to be used in place of a crib, it worked really well. It was a pain in the butt to lug through airports, but it made her transition from hotel to hotel and finally to home much easier.

3) Carseat - There is much debate about whether one should bring a car seat on the trip or not. Chinese people really do not use car seats at all, so it is a bit of an oddity. Nonetheless, bringing a car seat was a great decision for us. She rode in it in every car we took (except for one - and that was a BAD experience). If a taxi did not have seatbelts in the back, then we waited for the next one. We also had a private guide take us to the orphanage, so were lucky to have had use of a regular car for much of the journeys. In the hotel, she took some her naps in the car seat for two reasons. First, her head was a little flat in the back from lying on her back for so much time. We wanted to give her every opportunity to stay off of her head. Second, she was getting used to being in the carseat. After six days, she would calmly sit there for thirty minutes or so. We also brought wheels that attach to the seat so it can be wheeled through airports.

Our only problem was that Air China forbade us from using the seat on the plane from Chongqing to Guangzhou. We even went to the airport the Saturday before the flight to show them the seat and try to convince them to let us buy an extra ticket (my husband speaks Chinese pretty well). We waited for an hour and a half while they called Beijing. The final response was no - not on 737s or 738s. Hmmm, China.

FYI, the rationale for using the seat on the plane has to do with turbulence, not crashes. Babies have flown out of people's arms and crashed into the ceilings of planes. I fly transpacific quite regularly, and I cannot remember the last time I was on a flight to/ from the US that did not have serious, scary turbulence for a period. For me and my family, taking a car seat was the only decision.

To balance that, however, we asked our guide in Chongqing how many other people he had seen with car seats in his ten years of doing adoption tours. He said - only you.

4) Mei tai carrier - This thing was fabulous for fostering attachment. She really relaxed once one of us had her strapped to our chest. We used a Babyhawk Mei Tai that is AWESOME. We also brought a Snuggli, but it sucks. Too much strain on the back. When she was fussy during the day, we just plopped her in the Mei Tai and walked around. It worked like a charm. In fact, now that we are home, she much prefers the carrier over the stroller.

5) Soft dolly for self-soothing - The orphanage rooms did not have heat, and all of the babies were swaddled up to sleep in large sleeping bag contraptions, tightly wrapped up in layer after layer of fleece. We think that Gioia learned to suck on the lip of the blanket as she went to sleep. Sucking was her automatic self soothing mechanism whenever she was stressed. So when we put her down in the crib to sleep, she needed something to suck on so she could settle down. We couldn't put a blanket in the crib, for fears that she would smother herself. I brought one of the simple velour doll babies along, and it worked perfectly.

6) Putting powder in all of the bottles - We had a veritable assembly line going in the bathroom in the morning. All powder for the bottles ( at that time, it was still cereal and formula together) was put into the bottles before she woke up. Then when a bottle was needed, we added room temperature water and then 50 ml of hot water from the kettle. A quick shake and we were ready to go.

7) Emergency food - We kept a few scoops of dry rice cereal powder in small bowls in the diaper bag at all times. If she needed a snack, we just added hot water and we were good to go. We also brought several jars of baby food with us because I was sure we wouldn't find organic where we were going in China. We did find lotus paste baby food though. She liked it.

8) Bath strategy - The first time we tried giving her a bath she screamed bloody murder and made us scramble for a fluffy towel. The secret lay in getting in the tub *with* her and her favorite toy. Which leads me to...

9) Stacking cups - Best invention EVER. The version we brought were bath toys too, so they were doubly great. Beyond that, no expensive toys were needed. We wandered into a toy store one day and bought a fancy rattle. That was not money well spent. She MUCH preferred to shake the tube of gum that we bought for one tenth the price.

10) Gerber stars - Baby crack. Awesome.

11) Casio point n' shoot camera - This little, inexpensive camera was excellent for taking quick little movies that could be quickly uploaded to the web. Our immediate and extended family all live in the United States, and they still have not met her in person yet. So movies are a really important way for everyone to share the Gioia experience. We have a big video camera too, but we barely used it on the trip. Actually we only used it one day: on the day we picked her up in Fuling.

*Yes, our infant daughter has her own ipod. To be fair, it is a hand-me-down. And we use it for play music, wakeup music, bedtime music.

3 comments:

BevS97 said...

Interesting list.

did you use a forward facing carseat, or a 'bucket' seat? I haven't seen wheels for the forward facing seats, but that would be very useful.

British airlines won't let you use rearfacing carseats onboard an aircraft either, and they mostly aren't that keen on forward facing seats although they are getting better. They do require the use of a belly belt (which US airlines ban) for turbulence. It is so frustrating that all the airlines have different rules.

PackNPlay - this are sold in the UK as "travel cots", so quite funny that they state in teh US that they aren't to be used as cribs, it must be a safety code difference I think.

I am curious what you use in the crib if you don't use any blankets? We always used a blanket in the crib with our daughters, we have both cellular (with holes in) and fleece blankets. We are advised not to put too many layers on so that they don't overheat, but I've never been advised no blankets. My youngest also had a baby sleeping bag, but they hadn't been invented when I had my eldest.

Totally agree on the stacking cups - greatest toy ever invented.

Anonymous said...

As a helpful tip for future travel, get an Amby Baby Hammock instead of a pack n play. In fact, use it instead of a crib for the first 8-12 months. They are soooo much lighter to travel with, and you can move them from room to room without breaking them down. Pricey, but buy it used, anyway, the American distributor's customer service is appalling. You can always find them on ebay, but craigslist is better. My son loves his Amby, and sleeps so much better than any of my other kids. In fact, I have to check on him to see if he's awake, because he'll sit there entertaining himself for ages without the luxury of any crib toys. Wish I'd gotten it four kids ago!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and on the issue of not being able to use a car seat on the Chinese plane...

I've traveled with infants on a plane twice, once to go to a funeral. I couldn't afford to buy the baby a ticket, and was worried about a crash (didn't even think of major turbulence...yikes) so I used a carrier that securely strapped the baby to me, and supported the baby's head. In a bad crash, it may not be enough, but you do what you can. My carrier was similar to the Baby Bjorn. Not the most comfortable for walking around in, especially if you don't have the plastic piece connecting the criss crossed straps adjusted at the right place on your back, but a good option for those who can't have a car seat on the plane. Just plan on them making you remove the carrier AND the baby at the security checkpoints (at least in the US), because apparently profiling moms with infants is the only profiling that IS okay!