I’ve always, always assumed I’ll have more than one child. When I was a little girl (and an IDIOT), I wanted to have four children. This was undoubtedly a Little Women-based decision. It seemed totally doable, since I was going to get married at 23, live in a castle with my prince and my youthful ovaries and pet unicorns to babysit the children. Continue reading
Written by my dear college friend Emily, who is also navigating new motherhood, and also sometimes screwing it up. Just like the rest of us.
Almost seven months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl (she weighed two pounds and looked like the offspring of a tiny old man and an exotic bird, but still beautiful). For reasons you’re about to read, she will be our only child. Until I had her I had no idea how many people had opinions about the number of children I should incubate in my very own uterus. Continue reading
I ask Regina what’s wrong. Something is wrong, or there wouldn’t be an oxygen mask, right? She tells me to stay calm, that they aren’t worried yet (YET?), but that the baby is having some distress. We’re all wide awake now, and there’s a new kind of crackle in the air. Shit is about to go down. The doctor comes in to check out the scene (as it were) and talk to me about what’s going on. The hard truth is this: for some reason, my body is not doing this on its own. The Pitocin is causing contractions, but every time I have one, the baby’s heart rate drops dramatically. As soon as they try taking me off it, the contractions stop and I don’t progress. Bear in mind, I am already two weeks past my due date. There isn’t a lot more time. Going in, I hadn’t wanted a c-section, and they know this. The doctor says there are a couple of things we can try if we monitor him really carefully, but at this point I don’t care anymore. I used to joke that my birth plan was “everyone makes it out alive.” So I look at C, look at my mom, and decide. Let’s DO this thing–cut me open and give me my baby.
For the past day and a half, I’ve been in a warm, quiet, mellow room, nurses floating in and out and machines whirring softly. As soon as the phrase “c-section” is out there, it’s a full-on Broadway musical, like they’ve all been waiting behind the door with canes and straw hats. Suddenly there are at least five (and what feels like 50) additional people in the room; lights are bright, people are talking over each other at me, and everything is moving really fast. There will be more medicine; I can only have one other person in the room with me. My mom goes out to call the family and tell them what’s happening, and C gets suited up. I am hoisted up onto a gurney (no small task, given the size of me at this point) and wheeled into an operating room. I remember thinking that it looks just like they look on tv, with the big bright lights and everything shiny and gray-blue.
The sheet goes up, the drugs go in, and I start shaking like a motherfucker (motherfuckers shake. Like, a lot). I am scared, I am drugged, I am unprepared, and I do NOT take it well. The doctor tells C that I am shaking too hard for them to cut, and I have to calm down somehow. Turns out I DO get to use that Lamaze breathing after all! C talks me through it, his head right next to mine, and we manage to turn it down enough for them to start. I’m told that I will “feel some tugging,” but what I feel is A HUMAN PERSON BEING PULLED OUT OF MY BODY. I am positive it isn’t as bad as natural delivery, but I bet it’s just as surreal. I learn later that they actually take your organs out, pile them on top of your body, take out the baby, and layer everything back in. Holy sci-fi.
After that it’s like the movies again. They hold him up, bloody and wet and curly-headed. He screams, they bring him right up to my face to kiss. I think I remember it; I hope I do. Then they ask C if he wants to stay with me while they sew me up or go with N, clean and swaddled and no doubt wondering what fresh hell this is. I imagine this was one of the harder decisions of C’s life, but at my urging, he goes with the baby through the double doors and into the arms of our waiting family.
This was the most terrifying half hour of my life, but it was just that. Half an hour. And in the end, thank my lucky stars, we all got out alive.
I am talking to Tough-Love Mommy (TLM) one day, asking her something or other about baby sleep, a topic that obsesses and terrifies me. She shrugs, looks anywhere but directly at me, and proceeds to tell me guiltily about her children’s insanely perfect sleep habits. When my chin hits the floor in awe of babies that sleep like frat boys, she says, “good baby sleep is like Fight Club: the first rule is you don’t talk about it.”
Baby sleep: the reason for all misery in the early months (or year, in our case). It’s nightmarish for every parent at some point or another –except, apparently, for ALL OF MY FRIENDS, whose babies sleep until 8:00 in the morning and take 3 hour naps. I hate everyone. Those bastards aside, though, MOST parents have to deal with the hardest stuff right when they are least equipped to handle it. How can anyone so sleep-deprived deal with sleep journals and controlled intervals and apps that track every minute your baby sleeps? Dick move, universe.
I read all the books. Back and forth on the spectrum that has nursing-until-age-five on one end, and approximating-Eastern-European-orphanage on the other. I just don’t know who (oh, fine: WHOM) to believe. They all claim to be experts, they all have people who swear by their methods, and they all say something different. Oh, and they all intimate that if you don’t do it their way, BAD THINGS will happen. And it will be your fault.
One of them says that you should never rock your baby, because it will always need to be rocked. You should hold your crying baby upright against your chest and stand perfectly still. Ummm…even someone who has never held a baby will rock; it’s instinct. For the first few weeks after I came home from the hospital, I rocked on my feet even when someone else was holding the baby. Another one said you should never pick your child up until he’s crying so hard he throws up, because then he’ll associate crying with being comforted. Which, as it turns out, is… bad? And one I will never forget: you shouldn’t develop a long bedtime routine, because then you’ll be stuck doing it every night. Isn’t that the best part of having a baby? Call me crazy, but if you don’t want to be stuck scrubbing a naked giggling baby, putting him into footie pajamas, reading him stories that require touching the fuzzy/furry/squishy page, and watching him fall asleep in your arms, perhaps what you are looking for is a ficus.
I get hung up on the fact that all mammals sleep curled up with their babies, and that sleep training asks us to ignore all our most basic maternal instincts. I hate it. On the other hand, there’s maternal instinct and then there’s SURVIVAL instinct. At some point, dude, you have to SLEEP. As TLM told me, “don’t worry– you’ll know when he’s fucking with you.” And I did. After months of feeling like N would never sleep if he wasn’t strapped to a human body, he learned how to do it. Hallelujah! Saints be praised! My baby can now fall asleep on his own! Without crying! He doesn’t need me to rock…wait. Hold on. Now I’m depressed.
I imagine postpartum depression (like regular depression) takes different forms for different people. In what will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me well, mine comes in the form of anxiety. I am an anxious person by nature, so I should have seen it coming. The truth is, everyone around me is looking out for it; given my history with this stuff, we all kind of expect I’ll have my turn. But a week goes by, and then a month, and then another, and I start to think I’m in the clear. I love my baby, I love my husband, and everything is ok.
It’s ok that I hold him for every single one of his naps, right? Sure. Is it ok? Is it ok that he only sleeps 20 minutes if he’s not held? What happens if I let him cry? I can’t let him cry, I won’t. Is it ok that he still sleeps in our room? In his room he’s scared, right? Scared and abandoned and alone? If I don’t make him sleep alone now, will he ever sleep alone? It’s ok that he’s 4 months old and nurses to sleep, right? Is that ok? Let me just check the internet and make sure.
That’s my undoing. The sleep, the fear of “crying it out,” and the internet. Suddenly I’m spending hours every day reading about potential sleep “problems” that may or may not happen in the next year. I read every differing theory about baby sleep, and every single author tells me that if I don’t do it their way, my child will be a sociopath and it will be my fault. I try a dozen different techniques, but none for long enough to know if they work, because I don’t have time. I have to get on to the next one. I email everyone, crowd-source everything, and read their responses through tears I don’t yet realize are there all the time. What I yearn for above all things is for there to be one way to do this right, one voice to listen to that will be the right one.
I flinch when he cries. Sometimes I sob as soon as he does. I rock, I bounce, I shush, I sing, I nurse, I hide in the bathroom and let C deal with it, because I can’t. I go around and around and around in my head, and I don’t know what to do. And then I stop sleeping. He sleeps, and I don’t. Why bother? He’ll be up soon anyway. I lay awake on the couch, straining for the cries I know are coming, and I can’t rest.
And then I can’t do any of it. I know beyond any doubt that I CAN NOT do this. I don’t want to hurt him, I don’t want to hurt myself, and in this way I am lucky. But I just can’t. I’m sorry, little boy. I start to feel physically crushed by the weight of his tiny body when he’s asleep on me. I can’t breathe. I know that I will have to give him to my mother, because she will know how to take care of him. I don’t want to be alone; I beg C to come home early every day. I feel crazy, and I am afraid. But it’s so hard to see from the inside. Maybe it’s the hormones. I’m just tired. I go to a coffee house one day to write, which I haven’t done in years. I have to try to to see if I can unload some of this. It isn’t until later in the day, when I go back and read what I’ve written, that I finally say to C what I’ve suspected for a while.
I’m not ok.