Hope you like your nursery!
Hope you like your nursery!
When you’re awake, you light like a firework, your eyes glistening with energy and a slight darting agitation, always on the lookout for your next adventure. On the rare slower days you wake up hazily, mumbling “mama, tummy” and burying your face in my stomach, your eyes fluttering as you drift back to sleep. It’s why I selfishly enjoy keeping you up past your bedtime, why I’m often late for work, why our bed remains unmade at the end of a rushed morning. Because rumpled sheets, smudged makeup, a mismatched outfit – all give way to morning snuggles – stolen time in exchange for warm sugary kisses, nose nuzzles, and marshmallow hugs. With a forgotten phone and misplaced keys, I’m repaid with blanket forts and soft morning gibberish.
Today you cried yourself into a hacking cough, snot running into your mouth, as you clawed your way past my body to avoid timeout. You told me and your dad to “go away, go away over there!”, refused most of dinner, held your poised arm gripping a toy hammer over the glass panes of the cabinet while maintaining eye contact and questioning “no?” with a sly smile. When you know full well what is and isn’t “no” behavior. You try my patience, and have the ability to turn good days to bad in the span of minutes. But you are a walking, breathing ray of happiness that fuels my every minute.
You’re talking now in full sentences (in two languages!), singing songs and using words we didn’t teach you, repeating things we wish you wouldn’t, connecting so many dots I can feel the window of my being able to teach you things closing more quickly than I imagined. You can sing your ABCs (with a few blanks), and count to ten. Your favorite foods are fish, kolaches, hash browns, and chocolate cake (you are your mother’s son). You love trains, Legos, building things (without help), dismantling things, dancing, books, and taking selfies. You love other kids, your grandparents, and labeling any grouping of things of varying sizes as mama, dada, and baby. You have an unbelievable memory that has taken away our ability to falsely promise you things “tomorrow”, because you will wake up every morning for the next week reminding us of what you’re owed. You are sweet and highly considerate of the kids around you at the playground, but will not hesitate to resort to tantrums in the safety of your parents’ company. You understand humor and the art of misdirection, you beam when saying “I did it by myself!”, you fake cry when you have small stumbles but don’t make a peep when you have a real injury. You are as stubborn as you are cute, and with our first attempts at discipline your typical response is a ripple of giggles and a megawatt smile, because you know how easy it is to break mommy’s mean face.
You are 2 now. And I find it nearly impossible to remember a life prior to the last two years of the last thirty-one of my existence. Without question, it’s been the years with the most stress, the most worry, the most tears, and the least sleep. But we have been filled with the most laughter, the most memories, and the most unbelievable joy.
Happy birthday to our everything!
Maternite – perfect souvenir from the Barcelona Museu Picasso
February 21st, 2014 – the last day I nursed Beckett came at the end of a week-long chaos parade, its start marked by Steven’s departure on an eleven-day work trip to Europe. He was going to London first and our plan was to meet in Barcelona, taking advantage of the “cheap” trip and opportunity for some much needed marital bonding time. Seven days would be the longest I’d ever been away from the baby. On top of the separation anxiety (more mine than his), I finally had to face reality – it was time to stop breastfeeding. We were already at month fifteen, three months longer than I had originally planned and a year longer than I thought I would last. He was drinking whole milk and fully transitioned to eating solid food, so there was no longer a physical need for us to keep going – outside of my addiction to our twice a day nursing sessions. Being gone a week meant if I didn’t wean him in time I’d be stuck lugging an electric pump with me overseas (not an option), or feeling engorgement and other possible side effects of going cold turkey (migraines, cramping, sadness) while on the trip. “I’ll start in a week,” I thought.
Three weeks passed and I was still doing two-a-days; it was my last chance to drop one of the two feeds. I did, but clung on like my life depended on it, sometimes trying to extend the solitary feed by re-latching after he was finished. The day before Steven left, the baby was hit with a fit of vomiting. After a long night of cleaning and worry, I drove to my parents’ house Wednesday morning with a cloudy brain and puffy eyes – minus one husband and plus one sick infant. I was blessed that same evening with my own stomach virus, no doubt caught from the baby. I had made sure to clean every trace of throw up from his body but hadn’t been as thorough with what landed on me. I fought through the discomfort for another night – I could never really distinguish real sickness from the effects of sleep deprivation – and had a full fledged virus by Thursday morning. It ravaged my body for two days and left behind two new friends – a sore throat and body aches. Between the stress of preparing the house to be sold, packing for Spain, and figuring out how to take care of a 15 month old (thank God for grandparents), the double illness put me over. After receiving a steroid shot at an emergency clinic and going on a fruitless search for a pharmacy open past six pm, I reached sanity depletion that Saturday night.
I was able to get my antibiotics Sunday morning, following panicked teary calls to my mom and husband. Beckett was fully recovered by that point and I struggled through a seemingly endless morning of keeping him entertained. I gave up on the idea of rest and carted him from playground to playground attempting to expend his energy – I was hopeful I would cash in on a long nap time. The rest of the day was a blur but a feeling of normalcy seemed within reach by late evening – I finished throwing my clothes into a suitcase and collapsed into bed.
The Monday morning of my flight I was at my parents’ house where he’d be staying for the week. When the time came I interrupted his playing and grabbed his hand. “Milk?” I asked. His eyes went wide with excitement and he held his arms out to be picked up. I happily obliged and took him to my sister’s room where we settled in her large leather armchair. It had been almost two days since our last session; my virus had robbed me of any food to produce milk for him. It was a convenient natural weaning system but I was sad I couldn’t savor the last few days as planned. He nursed for a few minutes before pushing off, and an immediate sadness washed over me. I realized it was almost over. He lasted a little longer on the other side before pushing off again – I tried to re-latch him but unsuccessfully. “That’s it?” I asked him, “no more milk?” He smiled at me and waved his hands back and forth, signing “all done”. He was all done…forever. I tried not to cry as I let him back onto the floor and he scampered off to the living room to find his toys. In many ways it was the perfect ending – I would have had a harder time had he not been ready to let go – but there was no scenario that didn’t make me want to cancel my trip and get him back to our nursing routine.
In those last few minutes we shared I ceremoniously stroked his head, pushing strands of hair at his temple behind his ears and squeezing his little hands. I watched the rhythmic sucking of his mouth, the curve of his little nose, and counted his eyelashes – soft wisps that were nonexistent when he was born. There were few times if any in his busy days as a toddler that I was afforded the luxury of staring at his face, so I tried to memorize his features and capsule this moment in time. Nothing would fill the space he was leaving behind.
The first time I nursed was an hour after Beckett was born – we had just been moved from the delivery wing to post-partum, into a cozier room with a smaller bed and sleeper sofa for newly minted Dads. It was noon and we were going on no sleep from getting to the hospital at midnight the night before. I was still riding high on the adrenaline from labor, but could feel that and the epidural slowly wearing off – little spurts of pain were dully peeking their way through the curtain of numbness. I’m not sure if it was the medicine mask or because my nipples were still a blank canvas for the pain experiment that was about to begin, but the first time was extremely pleasant and almost gratifying. The baby who had been living inside me for the last nine months was now in my arms, his tiny mouth searching hungrily for sustenance, sustenance my body was providing. And there was no pain, just the strange feeling of my body being used in a new way, the only time that your internal functions re-calibrate for the sole purpose of keeping another being alive. It was surreal, and I was in love with it.
And then we were home, 2 days and 24 feedings later. I was still in good shape, as feeding the baby in the beginning is more of an exercise of practice than it is necessity – the baby’s stomach was still too small to consume much in the way of ounces, and he still had a good stockpile of nutrients from being inside the womb. Another day or so passed before the feedings began to wear on me – by this time the sleep deprivation had started to kick in, and I became fixated on counting how many hours of sleep I had gotten the night before. The first night – two hours. TWO HOURS, not even consecutively. I couldn’t stop thinking about it – the sun was rising, our baby was still crying, and I didn’t understand how I was supposed to make it through a whole day of taking care of him on such a small amount of sleep. I was dizzy and force feeding myself giant jugs of water every thirty minutes because per the lactation consultant, I needed to flood my system with water to help with milk production and the recovery process. I made Steven turn the heat up high. As everyone else in the house dressed in shorts and tank tops to withstand the temperatures, I was wearing multiple layers and wrapped in two blankets while shivering. It took all the willpower I could muster to remove the blankets and layers, take off my shirt, and expose my breasts so that the baby could feed. Freezing nipple was covered by a warm suckling baby mouth, but with it came searing pain. Unbelievable pain that made everything go white and squeezed giant tear droplets from my eyes. “Why is your face all wet?” I remember Steven asked during a feed. “It is?” I said. I didn’t even know I had been crying. I trudged on, through the sometimes hour long feedings, hoping at some point that it would get better, but it didn’t. The pain would go in and out, sometimes bearable and sometimes not, as I willed myself to stare at Beckett’s face and remember why I was doing this – “this is for him, not you … for him, for him, for him” – I chanted over and over. But then came the bleeding – things went downhill from there.
The third night home is when my milk finally came in – I had no idea that it hadn’t yet but knew instantly when it was happening. All the books describe the signs to you – the flowing feeling down from your shoulders, the breast fullness, the tingling sensation, but they never tell you about the transformation of your breasts into two giant balls of pain. If I hadn’t already read up on it I would have thought that someone had shot poison into my shoulders and my breasts were engorged from the infection. I remember screaming out and running to the bathroom to get a warm compress that I pressed gingerly against what felt like stones on both sides. When that didn’t work I stood under the hot shower and clutched my breasts, crying as they surged with pain, blood still trickling from my nipples.
I equate the first few weeks of breastfeeding to being a vampire hostage. There were days when I laid in our room all day and all night, lights dimmed in an attempt to sleep but drifting in and out of consciousness while I sucked down water and approved pain medication. Going to the bathroom sometimes required assistance and was like an obstacle course, I struggled to remember a time when I could pee without being scared my insides would fall out. Food was brought to me on little trays, an old wives’ tale buffet of pork products, cabbage, and other vegetables that were supposed to increase milk production. Every 1-2 hours the little prince was carried in and I was to begin my usual routine of undressing and adjusting myself into the most comfortable position possible, I’d imagine the same way a sentenced man shifts the weight between his feet as he stands before the firing squad. Then of course came the feeding. The range of emotions flashed like colors through my brain as the baby ate, switching positions, falling off then latching back on, taking long gulps then short shallow sucks – red, white, blue, purple – the pain rainbow in all of its glory – bad, worse, and blackout.
The weak moments were unlimited – I had a lot of stops and starts and times when I would wail to Steven in the middle of a feed that I couldn’t do it anymore. He and I had both been adamant about going the minimum 3 months at least until I went back to work, but I was beginning to wonder if I’d last 3 weeks. “This is just not right, it’s not supposed to be like this.” He was always concerned and as much as he encouraged me to keep going, he was the first to give me the out I needed when he saw how miserable I was. “It’s not worth you being in this much pain, I think you should stop.” Strangely, knowing that he was okay with me stopping was what kept me going. I’d tell myself that tomorrow would be the last day, and tomorrow would come but I couldn’t bring myself to stop. As long as the baby continued to need me, I would bear through it.
In the wee hours of the morning I was nestled in the rocker in his room, nursing him in the dark with the glow of my iPhone being the only nightlight. Every day during this time I was trolling the breastfeeding forums – led there by a slew of Google searches – “when will breastfeeding stop hurting?”, “benefits of breastfeeding”, “proven benefits of breastfeeding”, “minimum breastfeeding term”, “breastfeeding pain”, “nipple pain”, “latching techniques”, and the ever popular “I hate breastfeeding”. It wasn’t getting any easier but it helped to know so many other moms were struggling like I was. I kept wondering why no one had warned me – someone should have twisted my nipples really hard then stuck them with needles and said “there, that’s what it feels like. Enjoy!”.
But I kept going – I’m not sure how but I did, and miraculously in month four, things finally started to turn around. It stopped hurting, and his feed times were shorter and more predictable. By month five I found myself looking forward to our time together and realized that it was one of my favorite things about being a Mom. Now, in month fifteen, I’m having trouble admitting to myself that I’m not ready to wean. Two years, do I dare?
It’s been twenty-one months since I first found out I was pregnant, twelve months since our baby was born, nine months since I returned to work, five months since he started daycare. To say the past two years have flown by is an understatement. I still remember in month six of pregnancy when we were still in the midst of putting together his nursery how far away having a baby seemed. I used to stare at the small mattress in his room and try to picture him there, a swaddled baby with a mystery face that would morph in my imagination from Steven’s mouth to my eyes to his nose – a mish-mashed image created from my wandering thoughts and the grainy Dave & Buster’s “make-a-child” photo affixed to our fridge.
Every weekend was spent trekking from one baby store to the next, as we pored over online reviews of the best baby monitor and safest stroller, choosing swaddling blankets as if pale blue elephants instead of race cars would make a marked difference in his life. The list of “necessities” had been compiled from the advice of every mom and family friend I could survey. I had no idea what half of the things were and wondered how many of them would actually be put to use (turns out, all of them). Looking back, our time would have been better spent less on paint swatches and curtains and more on sleep and quality time with one another. In those first few months the perfect nursery served little more than a nice backdrop to vomit/poo clean-ups and sleep deprivation. A year later, I’m finally able to take a breath and see our experience with different eyes. With all of the ups and down, the only emotion that has remained constant is a sense of awe – I’m in constant amazement at the person that we created, his daily development, and his little personality emerging. Willful and full of wonder, he attacks every new obstacle with no fear and a five-toothed (and counting) smile. To wake up every morning and remember that he’s sleeping in the next room is like coming out of a good dream and realizing that the dream is a real.
There have been many times this year when self-doubt has crept its way into my mind. Questioning whether we were ready to have a baby, questioning in month five of his ongoing illnesses, not eating, and stagnant weight gain if we were doing something wrong. Times after an entire seven days of sickness and fever, when I’d stare at his face with sunken cheeks and tired eyes and feel his shoulder bones as I held him in my arms – questioning if it was our fault. Because that’s the hardest thing about being a parent – the responsibility of making decisions for your child, from day one on every aspect of his life. Deciding whether to breastfeed, how to sleep train, when to put them in daycare, whether to give them medication – the choices are dizzying. You have to play detective/scientist/doctor – study the situation, read the books, consult with as many people as possible, then ultimately make a decision where, unlike every other decision you make in life, you have no idea whether you helped or hurt the problem. A baby’s body is hyper sensitive and constantly changing, and at any one point when something works, there’s no guarantee that it will still work in a week. You just have to tweak the formula and keep the frustration at bay.
There will always be long days, bad days – in fact, the long days outnumber the good ones. Days where work has beaten me to a pulp, I get home to a messy house, stumble through a disastrous dinner preparation (or a fast food pickup), struggle with a baby who refuses to eat and screams like a banshee when I try to put him down, cries through his bath, and fights me on sleep like it’s some sort of capital punishment. Even as I go to bed wondering how I’ll make it through another day, I begin to miss him. Three hours of peace without him and I start to wish he would wake up so I could play with him again. In the morning when I hear him stirring I’m like a kid on Christmas morning, rushing into his room to find him standing, hair tousled with his little arms outstretched over the rails. It’s my favorite part of every day, when I get to hold him again – to feel his arms wrapped around my neck and his cheek pressed against mine. Everything just melts away and the reset button is pressed once again.
On the day of his birthday I was excited to leave work and pick him up from daycare, it was like the beginning of a new holiday. Inside his classroom the teachers had him ready to go; they had crafted a green birthday hat for him – made of construction paper with “It’s My Birthday” written in crayon on a circular badge on the front. He greeted me with excitement and I was surprised the hat was still intact; anything touching the face or head region usually got ripped off by curious hands in less than a minute. “Beckett had a great day!” They handed me a construction paper birthday card that all of his teachers and baby classmates had “signed” – adorable. My parents came over that evening with a takeout feast, small balloon, and cookie monster cupcake for him. Just like at his party the weekend prior, he gingerly touched the icing with his finger then shied away. No interest – he definitely inherited the sweets aversion from his dad. We ate dinner together with him agreeable and happy in his high chair, a rare occurrence. As I watched him pick up bite-sized morsels of carrots and chicken from his tray, I found myself again in awe that my sweet newborn who a year ago could barely open his eyes was now able to feed himself, and smile proudly at me while doing so.
Two weeks before the end of my maternity leave, the husband and I were scheduled to go into Beckett’s daycare for orientation. This was a formality just to get introduced to the teachers and see the room he had been assigned to. It also was his “temporary” daycare from Feb-June as our first choice had us wait-listed for six months.
That morning I was already nervous. I think I had somehow been able to tell myself that it wasn’t really time to go back to work yet, and in my misery was even counting down the days to the 3-month mark, the date that all colic and gassiness was supposed to magically go away and sleeping through the night would begin. It was all such a blur of crying, diapers and exhaustion, and before I knew it there were only two weeks left. He was still waking up multiple times a night, inconsolable at times, and I was having to hold him upright for at least thirty minutes after each feeding to prevent gassiness and spit-up. My days were spent bouncing him and singing to him, burping him, or giving him various gas/re-flux medications to ease his discomfort. When I ran out of solutions I would just hold him and pace the halls of the house while he cried, sometimes crying myself from frustration and other times completely numb from no longer knowing what to do. But even at my lowest point I never wanted anyone’s help – in my mind as difficult as he was I was the only one that could, and should take care of him.
The daycare was extremely well kept, pleasant and clean with bright colors and children’s artwork lining the hallways. I think that was what originally drew me to choose it – I had seen quite a few others and this one was the most modern with a computer check-in system, keypad entry, and cameras in every corner. The morning of orientation, two of the teachers walked us through their policies and what we would need to bring. We signed a few documents and then it was time to see his room. I remember being excited, honestly coming in with an open mind and looking forward to him being exposed to a new environment and other babies.
We walked to the little wooden half-door of his assigned classroom and were greeted with a chorus of crying. I was expecting this as I was no stranger to the baby cry marathon, but was a bit taken aback as I peered in and noticed that there were about eight babies in the room and only one teacher feeding one. There were other teachers nearby but they were all gathered in the kitchen area – they seemed to be making or cleaning bottles and all looked flustered and unhappy. In the baby area there was a mixture of older and younger babies. Three cribs lined the left wall, each holding what looked to be the three month olds, loosely swaddled and staring blankly at the stark white ceiling. There was one older baby on the floor, bleary eyed with snot dripping down her nose and over her mouth. There were also cribs in the back of the room with more crying babies.
The scene wasn’t exactly the nightmare I had projected it to be at the time, but with every new thing I noticed I grew more and more uncomfortable. The teachers walked us around the room and I think that was the final straw. That morning had been wet and rainy, and as much as I had wiped my shoes on the mat by the front door, that didn’t change the fact that the same shoes that had run through wet grass and mud were now traipsing around the baby play area – the same rug from which sweet little snotty was crawling and chewing on toys.
On the way out they showed us his cubby and sent us home with a list of what he would need for his first day. We got into our car and strapped ourselves in as Steven asked, “so, you ready to go back to work?” And out they came – the tears. I don’t think I realized I was even upset until that moment. “We can’t send him there!” I wailed. Steven’s face had a look of surprise; had we just gone through the same tour? I couldn’t explain it but every bone in my body was telling me that this place was not right for our baby. Imagining him lying in his little crib alone, crying and spitting up with all of the teachers too busy to give him the extra attention he needed. What if his stomach issues became worse because they didn’t have time to feed him slowly, burp him ten times, and hold him upright after every meal? It made me sick. I decided then and there that I would quit my job before having to send him to that place.
The troops mobilized and with the help of my parents we were able to find a nanny who came highly recommended. I enjoyed my last week alone with him and the following week was spent training her. I often wondered at that time if I had over-reacted, but up until that moment had never experienced the “gut feeling” that moms are supposed to get when something is awry. I have not felt it since, so I know that I made the right decision in having him spend a few extra months at home. I was able to make a smooth transition back to work and our family was blessed with meeting the sweetest and most loving lady in our nanny.
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.
The hum of the monitors and the light spilling in from the hallway was strangely calming as I settled into the hospital bed. I dressed in the gown they had given me, a thin white backless number, and pulled the stiff sheets close as Steven helped stack pillows behind me. Hospital pillows are small and airy, and it took almost five for me to get comfortable. I was glad I’d brought one of my own large, fluffy pillows – it still smelled like home and I clutched it like a stuffed animal as we waited for the nurse. Steven stood by idly, playing musical chairs with our things until he decided on the far corner chair to pile my bags, clothes, and toiletries. Our nervousness was palpable but we were both too tired to let it show.
One AM and the nurse began her series of questions, checks, and pricks – I wouldn’t say I had a needle phobia but shots have always made me uncomfortable. By the third or so prick I was definitely starting to feel phobic. Couldn’t all this happen after the epidural? By the time the anesthesiologist made his way into the room it was almost two – the contractions had luckily plateaued and I was now three centimeters dilated. He was a small statured man with white hair and glasses, and though pleasant had an East European accent that made him sound like a villain from an action movie. Not exactly the comforting voice I had hoped for while being stuck with a giant needle.
As I listened to him preparing his things behind me, I started to sweat. God, please let this be fast. This was the last step standing in between me and numbness, yet I wanted so badly to call it off. Generations of women before me had done it without assistance, why couldn’t I? I had already endured several hours of contractions, what were a few more? But then I remembered the tiny issue of pushing a six to eight pound baby out. GIANT NEEDLE IT IS! I sat very still and pretended like there wasn’t a war waging inside my head. Then out came the crinkly paper sheet with the hole in it (for better aim, UGH), the cold iodine being rubbed on, me white-knuckling my pillow as I froze like a statue. Then, the sting. I wished I had a stuffed animal now, or a mouth guard. It hurt. It was continuous and twitchy, like a string that was being pulled throughout different parts of my lower back. “All done,” he gestured for me to sit back. The pain had subsided but I was still extremely anxious – I was just supposed to sit back and lay on the tube that was sticking out of me, feeding pain meds into my spine? What if it falls out? What if I accidentally move it? “Can you feel your legs?” he asked. I could. Oh my God I feel my legs! Am I supposed to feel my legs? He told me I was but as the medicine started working I soon wouldn’t.
In all of my paranoia I had failed to notice that I was no longer feeling contractions, but a quick glance at my monitor showed that they were still strong. Hm, maybe there was something to this. I exhaled slowly and closed my eyes – it was strangely liberating after nine months of bodily warfare to feel nothing. I told Steven to get some sleep; I would do the same, as the nurse predicted that I wouldn’t be fully dilated until around noon. I drifted in and out for the next five hours, as the nurse came periodically to check my status. At five AM she reported I was already at six centimeters. Things were progressing faster than expected, but we were still shooting for a noon delivery. At six AM I was at seven centimeters; at seven AM eight centimeters. “I guess he doesn’t want to wait until twelve!”, she said, “looks like we’re going to start pushing in about thirty minutes”. Finally! All of my fears, anticipation and excitement had lead up to this moment. Pushing – the part that I had seen in the movies, and on Baby Story, and in my nightmares.
My doctor appeared in the room at seven AM on the dot, refreshed and with a smile on her face, dressed in scrubs and gloves and ready to go. “It’s time! Are you ready?” Though I had spent the entire night there, her question made me feel rushed and scared. “Ready!” I lied. She called two other nurses into the room and took her place in front of me. “Ok, what you’re going to do is push when you have a contraction. When I say push, you’re going to exhale and push for five seconds. Ready? PUSH!” I pushed as hard as I could, blowing all the air out of my lungs at the same time. I could feel the pressure of the baby and it wasn’t as terrible as I had imagined. If we could get this done in the next fifteen minutes I’d be golden.
After several tries she stopped me with a concerned look on her face. “Looks like he’s a little bit turned,” she said, “we’re going to need to re-position him or he’s not going to come out.” Ok, I thought, sounds easy enough? As she started to turn him I coiled back in pain – I could feel everything she was doing! “You can feel that?” she said. I nodded. “Have you been pushing your epidural button?” Um, no? The anesthesiologist had told me to push the button when I needed to, but I assumed that meant only if I was in excruciating pain. It was lying beside me on the bed but I had been afraid to use it; it was very important looking, like an alarm trigger or a rocket launcher. Now she was telling me I should have been pressing it every time I felt my contractions get stronger? Oops.
She sent for the anesthesiologist to add more medication to my bag, “You should not feel anything I’m doing,” she said, “let’s make sure you press the button when you need to.” What she should have said was, I’ve increased potency so once should be enough – press it the next time you feel something. But she didn’t. I translated this as, press the button as many times as you need to until you don’t feel anything, which ended up being four times in five minutes. How was I to know that doing this was similar to taking four shots of liquor at once – at first you feel fine, but twenty minutes later it all hits you at once and you’re screwed.
The first thing to go was my legs. They were mostly numb to begin with but had started to tingle and suddenly I felt nothing. Like black abyss nothing. This was somewhat terrifying but I ignored it best I could and kept focused on the pushing. Until the tingling moved upward, and all sensation in my arms and legs began to melt away. Soon after I lost feeling of my entire body, and with it came suffocation. “Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, don’t freak out,” I repeated in my head. A few seconds later, I freaked out. “I CAN’T BREATHE!” I was flailing in an attempt to get the breath back into my lungs and started hyperventilating. The doctor, who until then had no idea I had reached meltdown mode, sprang into action. “Take her oxygen levels,” she said to the nurse, “and put this on to help her breathe”. She handed an oxygen mask to my cousin Vivian who placed it over my mouth. I used it for several breaths before knocking it off with my hand. It was making things worse. I could barely feel my limbs so didn’t know my own strength and sent the mask flying back into Vivian’s face. She was shocked but kept calm, “Um, I don’t think she wants it?” The doctor gestured to the monitors and touched my arm gently. “Look at me,” she said, “you’re ok, your oxygen levels are completely normal. It’s just the epidural – you might have overdone it. Once it wears off a bit you’ll feel better”. Without looking at the screen I knew she was right, but I couldn’t shake the panic – my chest was tight and I couldn’t feel myself breathing. I thought I was dying.
The doctor let me rest for five minutes before suggesting again that I try to push – the baby had turned on his own and was ready to go. I still couldn’t feel anything but I had to try – we were on his time table and he wanted to come out now. For the next hour I tried again and again to push – but was completely numb from the chest down. It was like trying to telepathically move an object – I was laser focused and willing my brain to signal my body to push, but couldn’t tell if anything was happening. The doctor stepped back and surveyed the situation. “I’m going to need you to give me one hard push, as hard as you possibly can, so we can see how far you can get him”. We counted, I pushed, and we paused again. “At this rate”, she said, “it will probably take another two hours or so before the baby comes out. You’re just not pushing hard enough. But – if you let me use the forceps, I can get him out in the next five minutes”. And that was when I started to cry. I had already been pushing for over two hours, the epidural had barely worn off, and now waves of nausea were passing over me. Vivian’s next job was bucket holder as I dry heaved, cried, and tried to keep from having a nervous breakdown. I had read up on the use of forceps, and Steven and I had decided beforehand that we would not use them due to the potential risk involved. I was shaking and exhausted, and couldn’t speak because I was so disappointed in myself for even considering it. Was I willing to put my baby at risk simply because I was too weak to keep going?
At that moment Steven, who had not left my side, clutched my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Let’s let her do it babe. She knows what she’s doing – you’re doing an amazing job and it’s time to let the doctor help you. It’s time to meet our baby!” He had a small smile and I could tell that he was completely ok with it. It was exactly what I needed. I didn’t have to ask and he wasn’t disappointed in me. “Trust me,” the doctor said to both of us, “ I’ve done this hundreds of times and it’s extremely safe.” We gave her the ok and I started again. Steven held my hand and stayed close, “you’re doing great babe, we’re almost there!” I was drenched in sweat and still feeling sick, but focused on the sound of his voice as I continued to push. “Push, just one more PUSH!” It was a cacophony of voices as everyone told me to push at the same time. I gathered all the strength left in my body and hoped this would be the last one. And finally there it was, piercing the air like a choir of angels: the cries of a baby.
“We’ve got an eight-pounder!” The doctor was beaming as she held our baby boy up for me to see. He was beautiful – kicking, screaming, and healthy! I was still out of sorts and slightly delirious from the lack of sleep and nausea from the epidural. Steven stayed by my side and wiped my face and brow with a wet washcloth, “You did it babe! You’re amazing!” I still couldn’t find the words but smiled and hoped he knew I couldn’t have done it without him. “Go look at our baby!” I told him. I watched from the bed as my mom, cousin and husband gathered around the cleaning station, oohing and aahing and taking photos of our son. They brought him to me clean and wrapped in a hospital blanket. I gathered him in my arms and felt the warmth emanating from his little body. I was tired, numb and finally peaceful. He was perfect.
With the cold weather upon us, staying comfortable in our already drafty house proved to be a challenge. It was 8pm and my to-do list was now teetering on the edge of the coffee table, unmarked and staring at me from my new position curled up on the couch. I was cold and anxious, and had been camped out there for hours having tried many times to get up unsuccessfully. The real contractions literally had taken over my body, and at times were so strong I felt my teeth go numb. The breaks had me feeling completely normal again, but were so random in frequency and duration that it was virtually impossible to complete a task. Whoever was sticking pins in my voodoo doll got their kicks from waiting for the exact moment I decided to stand up to knock me down again. I ultimately gave up and stared into space, continually pressing START/STOP on my contraction app as muted Seinfeld episodes played in the background. Ten minutes of pain, ten minutes of relief, twelve minutes of pain, sixteen minutes of relief – never coming close to the one minute on five minutes off I was looking for.
I heard the sounds of the garage and perked like a prisoner getting her first visitor. A tired and very late Steven rushed through the door and found me still in beached whale position on the couch. He had been stuck at the office trying to wrap things up for the two week leave post-baby. “So..?” he looked worried, “is it time? You look …ready?” HA, whatever “ready” means? I could barely move but knew it still just wasn’t time.
The evening dragged on as I forced dinner down and my anxiety climbed – I would either be up all night in pain or headed to the hospital, either way it was time to let go of the fantasy of a good night’s rest in bed. By 10:30 I knew it would be the latter, and tried to summon every bit of mental strength to finish packing my bag – “you can do it, it’s NOT THAT BAD”, mid-contraction I gritted my teeth and tried to walk around the room. But alas matter over mind won – I collapsed in the middle of the floor and allowed Steven to pack for me as I weakly barked orders from my spot on the ground. “Blue shirt … not that one! Arghhh …. tooth….brush…”.