In my experiences so far with pregnancy, labor, and surviving a newborn baby – the biggest phenomenon I’ve witnessed is a parent’s ability to forget. I always found it strange when speaking to moms with kids, their inability to answer any of my questions in specific detail. When did your baby start sleeping through the night? How long was he swaddled? When did he start walking? All are usually answered with, “Hmm, I’m not sure? I think it just happened overnight.” So, this made me think – maybe it passes by so fast and they develop so quickly that you just forget! When in actuality it’s quite the opposite. The days and nights run together, the span of a week feels like a month – and when you’re in it you feel like you have every occurrence of the day memorized because your life is all baby all the time. Perhaps it is the monotony, the sleep deprivation, the tiny little piercing cries that constantly pervade your thoughts whether real or imagined, or the mind’s ability to block painful memories – whatever it is, you somehow seem to forget almost immediately.
What I do recall is sometime in week four, when I thought things were supposed to start getting better and they got worse instead, I told myself that if I made it out of that sleepless night alive or without having (another) nervous breakdown, I would write down my experiences so I would always remember. And of course, I didn’t write anything down that day. So I’m forcing my experiences out before they leave me completely. And now, my farewell to:
I used to be an eight (to nine) hours a night girl. Without these crucial hours I woke up crabby, tired, and ill prepared to start the day. Why I was needing the same amount of sleep required by a growing ten year old I’m not sure, but my theory is I was making up for lost weekend sleep (partying, what’s that again?). So, imagine the horror I felt the first night home when our perfect angel of a baby who had been so easy at the hospital decided that he wanted to have an all-night cry party. Rocking, bouncing, patting, singing – they all worked but only temporarily. And the problem was nothing lulled him in enough of a sleep to be put down. By three am with still no sleep the husband and I realized we had lost the battle and it was time to sleep in shifts. One hour on, one hour off, while the other person held the baby. We went into the next day armed with about two hours each of sleep. And it continued that way for the next two months. Six months later our little one finally sleeps through the night but I still wake up at 4am every night to pump, and his wake up calls have just moved from 7:30 am to 6 am. So now I’m just happy to get to wake up after the sun rises.
I’ve been trying my best to keep things on here PG-rated, but the truth is nothing is PG about having a baby except the baby itself. I liken how society has portrayed nursing to how tampon commercials portray Mother Nature’s monthly visitor. A field of spring flowers, bright sun shining, a woman’s cascading hair as she peacefully nurses her baby – hair and baby placed strategically to cover any offensive lady parts. I never would have thought in a million years that not only does breastfeeding more resemble medieval torture, but it also requires a lot of practice – you need a book, instruction manual, equipment, and sometimes a personal consultant just to get your baby to put mouth to breast. For something that is supposed to be “natural”, it is one of the hardest, most unnatural things I have ever been through. Not to mention the irony of all the times you had wished for big boobs –– BOOM, wish granted. Oh, and also enjoy the excruciating knife-stabbing pains and soreness that come with them. I spent month one and a lot of month two crying through every feeding (some an hour long). In month three I finally stopped scouring the “I Hate Breastfeeding” message boards and now in month six I look forward to the quiet nursing time I get to spend with the baby at the end of each day. If you stick it out it does end up being the beautiful thing that moms preach about, but you will never look at the twins in the same way again (so enjoy them while they’re perky and still yours).
Pre-baby, maternity leave to a first-time mom equals a three-month vacation. While preparing for the hospital I actually picked up five magazines, loaded two books to my Kindle, and filled my DVR with as many shows as possible because, you know, what was I going to do with all that free time? You can only stare at a sleeping baby for so long – I needed something to fill my days besides fun brunches, shopping trips, and setting up elaborate baby photo shoots. Then, my friend Reality decided to pay me a visit and I think to date I have read three pages of those five magazines. So, for all those curious baby-less people out there, what exactly goes on in the course of a day for a new mother? Does the baby not just sleep, eat and poop? The answer is YES. The baby only does those three things, but he likes to get creative with how he does them – at random times, for random durations, and sometimes randomly all three at the same time. To paint a more vivid picture – imagine you wake up at five am to start your day – only, you haven’t woken up at five am, you are still awake at five am from being up at two feeding your baby until three, after which your baby decides he wants to cry on and off for the next hour. You finally fall asleep at four thirty, only to have him wake up hungry again at five. Fast forward to later in the day – you’ve somehow survived a morning of more feeds, diaper changes, and projectile milk vomit, and you finally take a breath at nine am when the baby is ready for his nap. You put him down and attempt to go make breakfast for yourself only to have him wake up fifteen minutes later, crying for no apparent reason. You go through the whole process of checking diaper, attempting to feed, burping – and by the time that’s through his nap-time has come and gone and you have an hour before his next feeding. At this point, your breakfast ends up being a granola bar that you scarf down while bouncing and patting crying baby on your shoulder, and your intentions to do dishes or laundry are replaced by a rabid desire to sleep. “Sleep when the baby sleeps, that’s the secret, just sleep when the baby sleeps!” OH DUH. So, when the baby sleeps for ten minutes then wakes, twenty minutes then wakes, has to be rocked for an hour then sleeps – oh, I’m supposed to magically sleep in those insanely short and sporadic blocks of time too. So THAT’S THE SECRET! I just have to become an insomniac/narcoleptic, totally easy right? Instead I sat awake like a zombie watching daytime TV, while fantasizing about sipping cocktails and having a Sleep Training book-burning party. We’ve now been given our evenings back every night after eight pm, which leaves us just enough time for the fun trifecta: dinner, dishes, and laundry.
It may seem nice to say goodbye to errands, but this is more of a goodbye to running errands easily. That’s right, after having a baby you start to realize that running errands was actually fun. These are your new fantasies: walking into a grocery store with just a list in your hand, spending two hours at Target because you have time to kill, going to the mall to shop, spending a Saturday looking at furniture, doing anything with both you and your husband. Because now you have to plan these events around naps, feedings, and baby meltdowns. You may leave a cart full of groceries because your screaming baby decides it’s time to go home. You may camp out in the back of a Target parking lot hunched over in the backseat pumping and hoping that no passerby happens to glance in your window. You may become paranoid and fearful to leave the house and resort to purchasing everything on Amazon.
Gone are the days of getting out the door in thirty minutes or less. Now, you travel like a circus caravan and you bake in two hours no matter where the destination. You will always forget something important and will either have to turn around to go back home or make an angry side trip to the store to replace your forgotten binky or milk. And of course, don’t forget the surefire ways to get your baby to have an explosive poop: strap him in his car seat and start the car, wear something nice (or a lot of white), or change him into a new outfit. Babies really only like to poop on brand new clothes, more of a blank canvas.
Thank goodness God makes them look like this.
If you had asked me ten years ago, or even two years ago, what I imagined for myself at thirty I probably would have answered in terms of things – accomplishments, events, possessions. In my twenties I had a habit of measuring everything – how much do I have, how fast can I have it, and how far will it take me? But spending my last week in my twenties has shown me that those things have lost their weight; my happiness now lives free of lists.
For the first time probably ever, that pesky little “old” feeling has made its way into my brain. I always wondered if at some point on your thirtieth, fortieth, or fiftieth birthday you go stand in line at some depressing concrete government building to retrieve your “old” certificate complete with squeaky joints, back pain, indigestion, week-long hangovers and general disdain for the world – but I’ve come to realize that those things sneak in slowly without you knowing. Suddenly your decisions are influenced more by your afflictions and convenience rather than your actual desires. “Going out sounds fun, but man I hate crowded places. Also, I can’t handle hangovers anymore. Also, I need my sleep. Also, I can’t find a babysitter. Also, I have a six am baby wake up call. Also…never mind going out doesn’t sound fun.” On many Friday nights I’ve ignored the smarter part of my brain begging me to stay home and spent the following Saturday and Sunday on the couch regretting the three drinks I had and the fifty dollars spent on said drinks and valet parking. Once you face the denial head-on, the clouds part, the sun shines through, and you realize that your body isn’t an empty vessel to be discarded once you’re done with it – it’s actually capable of many wonderful things when you treat it right and wake up before eight am on a weekend.
I’m not going to pat myself on the back for magically becoming responsible once the clock struck thirty – having a baby definitely has a way of speeding up that process – but I will say that now that I’m here I wonder what took me so long to arrive. I’m happy to leave behind a decade of worry, recklessness and self-doubt to enter a phase of peace and contentment. Knowing that I don’t always have to be satisfied with something to be appreciative, I don’t have to complain when I can act, I don’t have to be scared when I know how to reason, I don’t have to get angry when I know how to resolve, and I shouldn’t hold myself to anyone’s standards except my own. “From adversity comes strength” finally rings true – my past experiences have shaped me but do not define me. And I will always be transformative if I strive to be a better person than I was yesterday.
Happiness is now defined by moments – a quiet dinner with my husband on the rare occasion that we get to be alone, giggling with my sisters at things that only we find funny, watching my parents light up at the sight or slightest mention of their grandson, holding my sweet baby boy at the end of a long work day. Simple, boring – and euphoric. I haven’t lost my desire for travel, a career, and spontaneity, but I’m experiencing it all in a very different way.
Three months have passed since the ramblings of a 37-week pregnant me were recorded. Though many milestones are now behind me, including an action-packed labor & delivery, sleep-deprived newborn boot camp, and the completion of a blurry fast maternity leave, most days I still can’t believe that we’re parents. On October 30th, 2012 at 10am, the world was made better with the entrance of a beautiful 7 lb. 10 oz. baby boy: our sweet little Beckett. All transmissions from this day forward will be coming to you from Christina the MOM!