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02/28/2005

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PrinceI had a rare and pleasant conversation with Tertia yesterday. Unusually, we were each able to type with both hands instead of conversing in the kind of abbreviations Prince would use if he ever had cause to refer to lactation — "u pumpn rt now? know how u luv it." "i h8 2 pump, a-hole." "hor." "anus." "shut ^." "no U shut ^!" Et cetera.

I could type with both hands because Paul was taking care of Charlie. She could type with both hands because she'd sent Adam out for a pack of smokes or something. I told her how hard the early morning had been. I believe I referred to my well-loved small son as an asshole.

Yeah, he was that bad.

I told her that his reflux has been especially acute lately, and that during feedings he cries and arches away in pain, making it very difficult for him to eat even though he's ravenously hungry. I told her that he'd screamed for much of the night, wanting to feed but hurting when he tried. I described the way I'd felt, that night would never end. I repeated what I'd crooned to Charlie in soothing, motherly tones, directly into his shell-pink ear: "Whaaaaat. The fuuuuuuck. Is wrong, my boy?" I told her why I had finally snapped and gone to wake Paul — it happened while I was changing a terrible diaper. I'd carefully moved his clothes out of the way so they wouldn't get smeared, and was holding his tiny ankles in an iron claw to keep his feet from kicking against his poo-slick bottom as I went through wipe after sullied wipe. I was so careful, and was doing brilliantly, until the little asshole — yes, I said asshole — decided it was time to pee, drenching the footie sleeper and onesie I'd tried so hard to protect, and my nightshirt that he'd already spoiled several spit-ups ago.

"Did you spank him?" Tertia wanted to know.

"Well, his pants were conveniently down at the time..." I admitted.

That's when I went to get Paul.

...

Watching Charlie struggle with reflux makes me feel better about not nursing.

Every time I put him to breast, he'd end up screaming and wriggling away. I took it hard, feeling that if only I'd built a better milk supply, or put him to breast more often, or taken the time to shave my armpits, or had a nice-looking rack like Ashley Judd instead of the terrifying mammarian shelf that threatened to overwhelm his fuzzy little head...if only I'd done something different.

I felt better once I'd given up trying. I felt better about pumping, too, easy in my mind that by not trying yet again, I wasn't missing out on some idyllic interlude — Their eyes met across a crowded bra — but instead was avoiding yet another painful confrontation. And lately, I'm feeling even better: watching him struggle against the bottle makes it clear that it's his own body he's fighting, not me.

...

It's hard taking care of a newborn under the best of circumstances. In many ways, we have those best circumstances: Paul and I are both around most of the time, since we work at home. We can switch off when one of us has had enough; we can nap during the day as the situation permits. And we love Charlie deeply, always aware of how fortunate we are that he's here and he's healthy. That knowledge makes it easy to be patient most of the time. Most of the time. But it's still very hard. It's relentless.

In other ways, we have the worst of circumstances. The parents of a typical newborn face the same challenges, the lack of sleep, the constant demands, the arc of pee in the dark of night. But one day they wake up after yet another night of broken sleep, and their baby smiles at them. Here we are still waiting.

By all outward appearances, Charlie doesn't like things yet. Parents I know will say things like, "Oh, she loves her bath!" or "He's so happy in his bouncy seat." Paul and I say things like, "Hey, he doesn't scream as much when you change his diaper now." He doesn't like; he tolerates. At worst, he hates things; at best, he seems fairly neutral.

Charlie doesn't smile. And of course he will. But so far, Paul and I have been enduring the difficult parts of being a parent without the payoff. Parents of full-term babies endure maybe six weeks or so of toil before they get the feedback and the feelgoods of a big gummy grin. At this point I am desperate for there to be something that obviously gives him pleasure — I need to know from him that we're doing something right.

We're coming up on fourteen weeks, and I sure could use a smile.

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