I 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.
Last night was a bad night. There was an awful lot of crying: uncontrolled sobbing, ear-splitting wailing, inconsolable heaving, and a long stream of crystalline snot quivering from the tip of a gem of a nose.
And when I woke up today, boy, were my eyes swollen and bloodshot.
Charlie has been having a rough time with reflux. He left the NICU armed with Zantac; we adjusted the dosage upward as he grew. After a while, he reached the maximum dose, at which point the medication lost its efficacy. A pediatric gastroenterologist switched him to Prevacid, which initially helped and made us almost comically optimistic: one day of two-hour naps and we were sure we had this thing licked.
Not so fucking fast.
Last night Charlie was in pain once again as the acid rose from his stomach up into his esophagus, causing a burning feeling bad enough to make him scream as he tried to drink. He'd shriek, arch his entire body away from the bottle, and twist his neck as far to the side as it would go, emphatically rejecting his milk. Yet because he was ravenous, once the worst of the burn had subsided he'd cry out of hunger. As he screamed, he'd stiffen; there was simply no cuddling him into comfort, not that there ever has been.
It'll get to you after a while. Let's leave aside the knowledge that your helpless baby is in pain and there's nothing that makes him feel better, because that's just plain unspeakable. Instead let's consider the relentlessness of it, the screaming at every feed, the feeling that there's no end in sight: "Reflux usually clears up before the baby is a year old," the books cheerfully promise, not all that reassuring when the baby in question is a mere five weeks adjusted.
Or how about the way it disturbs a baby's sleep, with the pain yanking him from a sound slumber into an abrupt howling cry? Mind you, we don't expect much to begin with, especially considering the following passage from Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies:
So let's discount that and focus on the sad possibility that even when Charlie might reasonably be expected to settle down for longer than two hours at a stretch a possibility that seems fairly distant he could still be jerked back into agonized consciousness by a simple ill-timed gurgle.
Or we could talk about how beaten I feel when I see his face redden just as he starts to scream. How angry and how cheated, when I remember the hopes I'd had that we might be granted an infancy that was only ordinarily hellish. How endless it seems, this just another twist that stops me from enjoying a pregnancy, a birth, and a babyhood that will only come once.
It'll get to you after a while. After a while, it's all too fucking much.
Last night I cried and cried. I was agitated and upset about everything I've just said, but it was the most absurd thought that finally brought the tears: Charlie doesn't like me.
It's absurd because I understand that for infants his age, liking isn't at issue. Infants his age need and recognize and bond; liking doesn't enter into it. Inasmuch as he can love, I suppose he does, but that blind devotion driven by hunger and a desire for warmth is a far cry from a smile, a face lighting up when I enter the room, a small body relaxing into mine with a sigh of contentment.
As crazy as my thought was, there's a kernel of disturbing truth to it, and that truth is that I'm finding it hard to bond with him at this stage. When he rejects every comfort I try to give him, it's difficult not to be discouraged. When I stay still as he sleeps because I dread waking him rather than because I'm relishing his weight on my chest, it's almost impossible not to feel disgusted with myself. At the moment I'm seeing each day and each feeding and each ten-minute nap as something to be gotten through rather than something to look forward to, and it's deeply distressing to acknowledge that.
Charlie doesn't like me yet. I know he surely will, but every day of screaming makes it harder to believe.
WWM: Woman wastes medication
Ladies and gentlemen, we have another entry in the World's Worst Mother contest!
The Prevacid we give Charlie comes in what they call solutabs tablets that are supposed to dissolve instantly on the tongue. Because an infant can't be trusted to wait compliantly while producing the necessary tide of saliva, we're supposed to dissolve the tablet in water, then give the whole watery mess to Charlie by bottle or dropper.
When the tab is dissolved, most of it disintegrates, leaving the water spiked with what I am told is a delectable strawberry sweetness. The active ingredients remain visible, tiny orange beads that sink to the bottom of the mixing vessel. It is those we must get into Charlie.
So we use the medicine dropper, carefully positioning it to suck up as many beads as possible with as little water ditto. We hold the dropper vertically, waiting for the beads to sink down to the business end, and insinuate said business end into Charlie's mouth, which he has obligingly opened like a hungry baby bird. He sucks on the dropper, we squeeze the bulb, and the medicine is gradually introduced into his mouth and thereafter his gullet.
With me so far?
Today Paul took apart the dropper to wash it thoroughly. I usually just give the open end a wash in hot water; he, more fastidious, removed the bulb. And what do you think he found?
An orange muck of medicine beads, beads Charlie should have gotten, left instead in the dropper.
If you incline the dropper while it's full say, to keep it from dripping out while you wait for the ravenous baby bird to open his tiny pink maw the medicine runs into the bulb..and does not run out again.
Our baby was hurting because I'd held the dropper wrong.
World's. Worst. Mother. Winnah and champeen!
I may be some time
When I feel I'm failing and I do, all the time, in a thousand different ways I don't worry I'm shortchanging Charlie. It's Paul who gets the shaft, over and over again.
When I'm napping alongside Charlie and get jerked awake by his sudden cries, I call down the stairs to Paul, "Can you come take him, please?" so that I can get more sleep. "Sure," he says invariably, ready and goodnatured. Later I go down to the kitchen and find Paul's dinner halfway made, abandoned when he came to take the baby.
When it's time to pump, I come into my office, shut the door, and sit at my desk. I pump for twenty minutes, then relax in my chair for another fifteen. When Charlie's being captivating, I push the pumping off for a while, eager to spend more time with him. When he's howling, I claim asylum, leaving the screaming baby with Paul while I retreat to my quiet room. I don't think Paul has checked his e-mail in the last seventeen weeks seventeen weeks today but I regularly have time to visit blogs, make my own posts, and chat with friends.
Sometimes at night when Charlie begins to make fretful peeping sounds, I lie beside him and will him to go back to sleep, hoping for just a few more minutes of peace. Of course he does not, but I let his noises escalate until there's no ignoring them, which is usually long enough for them to wake Paul as well.
Now and then when Charlie's having a rough night, I sit in the den with him patting him as he cries. Sometimes Paul wakes, despite the distance between our bedroom and the den, and comes to see if there's anything he can do. I know in his place I would lie in bed and hope that the crying will stop.
At least I don't tell him yes, there is something he can do: Will you take the baby for two seconds? I am just going outside. I may be some time.
I always tell him to go back to bed. But before you take that as proof that I'm not as unfair to him as I might be, consider this: why don't I ever close the two doors between bedroom and den before the baby howls?
No one ever said on her deathbed, "I wish I'd spent more time with my tit in a plastic cone."
This is not my last pump, but it's close.
Over the last couple of weeks I've dropped the domperidone and have gradually increased the time between sessions, thereby reducing the number of pumps in a day little by little. I'm down to two.
It's almost the end of the line. My supply has been dwindling noticeably and drastically. It's never been plentiful; I topped out at around 24 ounces a day. After fourteen hours without pumping, last night I pulled an ounce and a half. I'm not sure I need to today, but I will because it feels too strange not to. If the yield's like last night's, the milk will be thin, mostly just water and useless.
I am deeply ambivalent about stopping, as much as I was about continuing. I can accept the various risks associated with discontinuing breast milk, mostly. The single place I get stuck? Antibodies. Before Charlie's six months adjusted, he's not making many of his own. Now, I can tell myself that we'll limit his exposure by keeping him away from crowds and sick people, something easily done where we live. I can pretend that because he wasn't especially sick in the NICU, he won't be in the same kind of jeopardy that other preemies might if he were to come down with an illness. I can give him bottle after bottle of the milk I've frozen, knowing that although it's not as rich in infection-fighting properties as fresh, it's better than nothing.
But it's all just rationalization, and not especially effective at that. The bottom line is that I'm willingly giving up, intentionally cutting Charlie off from something he probably needs.
For me, pumping is an inconvenience and not an impossibility: because Paul works at home and happily takes on child care, I'm able to find time to do it. My desire to stop is simple selfishness not because it's been a rough eighteen weeks, although it has, but because I'm eager to be more present. I've spent hours a day at a remove from the life of this little family we worked so hard to build, and that more than anything else is making me crazy.
Now, we can argue until the cows come home and who doesn't like a good dairy metaphor in a post about pumping? Am I right or am I right? Hah? Hah? Know what I'm sayin'? A'ight. Yahtzee! Also, boo-ya and other inarticulate interjections about whether that's true selfishness. But I know it for what it is; now that he's becoming more aware, more interactive, more fun, I want to spend time with Charlie for my sake.
That's why I had a baby, after all.
I believe I'm doing the right thing for our family. I want to invest in the now, in the daily enjoyment of my only baby's only babyhood, rather than in the future, continuing to pump as a hedge against the lurking possibility of illness.
Have I made the right decision? I don't know. I don't know that there is a right decision versus a wrong one, when both have significant benefits and disadvantages. I might as well flip a coin. If Charlie gets sick, I'll feel I've made the wrong decision. But if I'd kept pumping, I know I'd regret that, too. I already do, knowing I've missed a lot in these first few months of his life. That felt right then; this feels right now.
So I have the convictions. The real test will be whether I have the courage of them. I feel vulnerable. I'm worried, probably unrealistically, that I'll be called upon to justify myself, by his pediatrician, by his neonatologist, by outraged strangers who see me giving a bottle. While I was still pumping, I felt safe from the criticism I imagined might come my way, even planning snappy retorts in my head should someone be rude enough to question me, something biting and witty like, "Mind your own goddamned business."
At times I am downright Algonquin.
Now I'm not so confident. In my mind I see myself stammering, rushing to explain, to people who are, after all, in no position to understand and have no right to any answer. But then if my composure is the only casualty, I'll be comfortable letting it go. I think I can take the heat in exchange for familial warmth.
I am going to pour my heart out.
If you're infertile and still trying to have a baby, you'd do well to skip this one, because what I'm going to say is upsetting, especially, I imagine, to anyone who's sure that having a baby will make her happy. And if you're pregnant and happily looking forward to those sweet days of babyhood, better not read much more I'm sure what I have to say won't apply to you. And if you're pregnant and scared to death about what might lie in store, this entry probably isn't for you, either, when you get right down to it. And if you object to self-indulgence, why, you just haul your Puritan ass right on outta here, 'kay?
I'll wait while you gather your belongings.
Okay, are they gone? Anyone left? At this point I'm pretty sure the only ones still reading this are the search engine spiders.
Fine. Here goes.
Dear Googlebot, I am desperately unhappy.
I'm holding Charlie in his sling right now, curving my arms uncomfortably around him so I can type without jostling him too much. He's finally fallen into an exhausted, fitful sleep, and I'm afraid that any sudden move will bring him back into squalling consciousness. He'll cry, I'll cry, he'll drop his pacifier on the floor, and I'll leak snot onto his blanket in a sun-catching stalactite of sadness.
Maybe he'll be momentarily quieted by the captivating prism effect it casts on the wall. No, that would be too much to hope for.
To put it in terms that will be easier for you to understand, Googlebot, darling, I will rephrase it: 100010101001001001110111010100110011100111011100010111010101001010011.
And furthermore, 0. And the 1 you rode in on.
I never thought having a baby would be easy. Let's get that out of the way right now. I was aware that I'd have to grow accustomed to functioning on very little sleep. We understood that our productivity would give way to the constant demands of caring for a child. I knew, or thought I did, how emotionally draining the newborn period would be. It would all be very hard; I acknowledged that. But I told myself smugly, "Even stupid people do this every day. Surely we can, too."
No, and don't call me Shirley or a complacent jackass who thought she had it all figured out. You're a fine one to talk, anyway, Googlebot, steering people here of all places when they search for terms like "pregnant cat spotting."
I don't truly know whether we have it harder than average, whether Charlie is higher maintenance, whether we're less competent or stable. It doesn't matter much, because you work with what you have. What we have is a situation that's making me feel doomed to unhappiness with no end in sight.
Oh, hey, while I have you here, Googlebot may I call you Gooey? do you think you could jigger things so that when people search for "little virgins" and click on a link to my site, their testicles are delivered a jolt of electricity so strong that it sears their pubes into a crumbling frizzle? And when they search for "little vergins [sic]," their partial frontal lobotomy is swiftly completed via a crackling blue bolt of lightning, all thanks to the magic of the Internet?
No? No, what? No, I may not call you Gooey?
There's the reflux, which is flaring up at the moment; Charlie cries when he tries to eat, then cries from hunger because he isn't able to. There's the fact that he simply doesn't nap, delivering no more than 30 minutes at a stretch most days, and that only grudgingly. There's the isolation, not being able to take him anywhere, and not feeling right about going out alone when it means leaving him with Paul when he's so relentlessly demanding. There's the lack of sleep, which is a minor consideration but still worth throwing on the pile, and of course the sobering responsibility of caring for a small beautiful being who cannot fend for himself. There's the unresolved grief, the shellshock, and the deep disappointment of the way Charlie came to be. And the anger, God, the anger! The anger that makes me pant like an animal, with only one thought: This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
Yeah, I could go on, but you already have about 724,000 results for "babies suck," so what would be the point?
When does it end? Everyone told Tertia things would get better at 12 weeks, and indeed they have. Although I know she had an excruciating three months, I'm sick with envy that she's enjoying motherhood while I'm still so wretched. If it's not too much trouble, could you please replace every instance of "gorgeous and divine" on her blog with "gaping, flaring asshole"?
It would make me feel so much better. Thanks. Mighty decent of you, G.Bo. (Do you like that better?)
So back to the subject at hand: when do I get to enjoy this? At eighteen weeks in, I'm hating almost all but the ten minutes every two days when Charlie is visibly happy.
If anyone but you, GooBo, were reading this, I'm pretty sure she'd be agape by now. "Wait," she'd say, furrowing her brow quizzically, "I thought having a baby was supposed to make her happy."
Yeah, that's what I thought, too.
So you've decided to have a kid in the NICU!
This is for Pazel, who asked. It's my best advice for how to make it through your child's NICU stay. If you have any survival tips to share, please post them in the comments.
He's not going to remember any of this. You will oh, you will, though other NICU mothers have assured me that the memory will recede in time but he won't.
One terrible night, Charlie needed a spinal tap. We weren't permitted to stay in the NICU for the procedure, although I'd hoped to; when the only thing you can do for your baby is to be there, well, you want to be there. When we returned to Charlie's isolette immediately after the procedure, I was surprised to see how easily he slept, pink from his transfusions, looking pretty good for a baby who was, as the doctor later said, "knocking on the pearly gates."
He slept. His vital signs were good. The next day he was measurably better. He wasn't going to remember any of this. That knowledge was one of the only comforts during Charlie's long NICU stay.
Know how I just said that when the only thing you can do for your baby is to be there, you want to be there? Don't always be there. People will tell you that your baby knows you're with him, and I believe that's true to a degree. It's comforting. But there's a tyranny in that statement, too. If he knows, shouldn't I be there all the time?
Your baby needs you there, but he also needs you rested, clear-headed, and relaxed. You're going to be none of these. After all, your kid's in the NICU. But do what you can to approach that ideal. You'll need to be ready to make decisions about treatment, to digest vast amounts of information, and to spend time bonding with your baby under very upsetting circumstances. So go home. Have a decent meal. Get some sleep if you can.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Try.
I can't imagine how grueling and upsetting it would be to have a child in the NICU and another at home. I'm not speaking from experience but from intuition when I say that the kid at home might need you more just now: after all, she'll remember this. The NICU baby won't.
So go to the NICU, of course. Be involved in your baby's care. But please don't forget to take care of yourself and the other people who love you. It'll be okay, because...
Your baby is in the most competent possible hands. Many NICU parents report being extremely upset to have to leave their baby behind when they went home after birth. This never bothered me: Charlie so obviously needed help that I was deeply relieved to have access to qualified people to care for him. And I couldn't have asked for a better team to do it. Every single one of the people who cared for Charlie was vigilant, skilled, and compassionate. (Okay, there's a caveat there, but more on that in a second.)
As far as your baby's physical needs are concerned, he will never in his life be better cared for than he is now. He'll be looked after round the clock by people who'll get to know him. I found great comfort in that.
Remember that caveat? Let's talk about doctors. From what you've written, it sounds like you've run into the same unsettling character we did, the doctor who does this every day and has therefore grown tone-deaf.
One doctor in particular said a lot of boneheaded things. One day postpartum, is "We don't have a crystal ball" supposed to help? What parent wants to hear how close her kid was to dying only hours after the crisis is over? Who wants to hear her future reproductive hopes scotched by a doctor who's not even an obstetrician, much less her obstetrician?
And yet. And yet. Despite what was either his callousness or his utter social ineptitude, this doctor gave Charlie top flight medical care. Don't assume a lack of concern for your baby when a doctor shows a lack of concern for you. Instead...
Get your feelgoods from the nurses. In my experience, nurses more than doctors seemed to feel that they weren't just taking care of a baby, they were taking care of a family. Time and again I watched nurses encourage the fathers to get involved, for example, to do kangaroo care or to feed the baby his bottle while the mother pumped. More than once the nurses reminded us to do things to take care of ourselves, to find a good local restaurant, to see a new movie just out, to go down to New York for the day. (And I'd plug the breast pump in...um, where, exactly?)
Get to know them as much as you can. They're going to be spending an awful lot of time caring for your baby, and you'll be spending an awful lot of time with them, even for a short NICU stay. You'll feel better if you know who's who. For us, it helped enormously to know that the people caring for Charlie were people and not just employees.
The NICU nurses encouraged me to pump, furnishing much better information than the hospital lactation consultants and making sure we had privacy around Charlie's isolette so I could watch Paul hold the baby while I did so. They spent a lot of time explaining what they were doing, reassuring us that the majority of what they did was utterly routine, and standing quietly with me at Charlie's bedside while I cried with a comforting arm around my shoulder.
Ignore that baby behind the curtain. You'll see a lot of other babies in the NICU, and a lot of other parents. Some babies will do much better than yours and will go home sooner. Some won't. And some really won't. Some parents will seem to be taking this all in stride. Others will look pale and crazed. (That would be me.) Avoid the temptation to compare babies, to fret about how short a stay they have or, more sadly, to imagine your baby in their place. No other baby on Earth has the same set of circumstances as yours, so it's pointless to compare. Irresistible, but pointless.
And fight the urge to wonder how that perfectly put-together mother looks so gorgeous three days postpartum, how she keeps her mascara from running when she cries, how she doesn't look like she's cried at all. She's not you. And she's not superior. Don't let her make you feel inadequate. (Key her car in the parking lot later if you must.)*
Even though you're your baby's parent, he's a patient in his own right. You'll be informed almost as often as you're consulted, if not more so (though non-urgent interventions will be discussed with you beforehand and major procedures will always require your consent). If your baby's doctor decides he needs a course of treatment immediately, it will probably be started before you're aware of it. This is initially upsetting, but ultimately very good. When Charlie contracted an infection of his central IV line, an infection that turned into sepsis, a course of antibiotics was begun immediately, in the middle of the night, before Paul and I were even aware he was sick. Those extra hours might have made a life-and-death difference. I am so grateful we didn't find out for sure.
It will get better.
It will get worse.
Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.
No matter how many times experienced NICU parents warned me that Charlie's course would likely be a long series of vertiginous highs and vomit-inducing lows, I didn't truly understand that until, oh, about the third peak followed inevitably by the third valley, a valley so deep it rivaled the Marianas Trench. You won't really know it until you live it, but once you do, you can say, "Oh. So that's what they meant." And have a good stiff drink or two.
Now some practical pointers:
Don't feel bad about calling the NICU. And don't feel bad about calling the NICU a lot. The nurses are used to hearing from parents, and are happy to talk with you about your baby. I used to call in the morning before we went in, to ask them how his night was or to request that they wait to bathe him until we were there; in the evening after his daily weigh-in; and in the middle of the night after I'd pumped and needed a reward.
Some things I used to ask that helped me feel more involved:
- What was Charlie's weight tonight?
- How much did he eat?
- What position is he in right now?
- Did he cry last time his diaper was changed?
- Who was taking care of him tonight? Who'd be on next shift?
- What was he wearing?
Consider leaving a disposable camera by your baby's bedside. Ask the nurses to take pictures of him while you're not there. Sometimes they'll capture him doing something really cute, like sucking his thumb. Or pulling out his IV lines.
Instruct your family and friends that no news isn't bad news. You're going to be too busy to keep everyone informed, so it would be kind to let people know that if they don't hear from you, they shouldn't assume the worst. You might want to send out a single e-mail update to a list of loved ones instead of talking to people individually; you might want to change your outgoing voice mail message to reflect current conditions; you might want to designate one person to be the communicator so that you only have to keep that one person apprised. Your choice. You get to decide what information to share and how. If anyone later dares to complain, you are in the perfect position to draw yourself up, assume a look of righteous rage, and bellow, "My kid was in the hospital!" Then key her car.**
Take care of your hands. You'll be washing them a thousand times a day with harsh soap and cold water. (If you can wait for the water to warm before you rush over to see your baby, you're a better woman than I.) You'll be drying them with hospital-grade paper towels. And if you have any tendency to fidget during times of stress, your nails and cuticles will be a raw, bleeding mess. I kept a tube of lotion in my purse; no sooner had the doors to the NICU slammed shut behind me after a visit than I was pulling out my Kiehl's Unusually Rich - But Not Greasy At All - Hand Cream. My hands still felt like I'd been getting a daily manicure with steel wool, lava, and lighter fluid, but it probably would have been worse without religious greasing.
Take clothes for your baby to wear. If your baby is spending a lot of time under bilirubin lights, he won't be able to wear clothing all the time, but once he's able to it's much nicer to see him in an outfit you chose yourself. There was only so much pastel-blue-"I love my Daddy!"-footballs-and-airplanes garb I could stand.
Take a water bottle. In our NICU, no food or drink was allowed in the patient area, of course, but an exception was made for nursing or pumping mothers, who were allowed to drink water. (Any time you're not pumping, you should probably be drinking.) I took a refillable bottle that held much more than the hospital's paper cups. Plus I could smuggle in vodka and no one was ever the wiser.
Take your own Kleenex. You're going to cry, and you're going to cry a lot. Unless you're happy with industrial-strength hospital tissues***, you'll want something softer than 200-grit sandpaper to apply to your rabbity-looking eyes and red-rimmed crusty nostrils.
Yeah. I'm sorry, and I hate it, but you're gonna cry.
* For the love of God, don't key her car.
** Hers, either.
*** And don't rub it with hospital Kleenex. Jesus, what is wrong with you?
Stick with me, kid
When Charlie is fractious, I look into his furious blue eyes and I threaten to send him places. I do this, of course, in the most soothing and sugared of tones, crooning lovingly, stroking his face with a gentle fingertip as I describe with relish the places he'll go.
Thrilling destinations include:
- ferrying a canary down the deepest shaft in the busiest coal mine in turn-of-the-century West Virginia;
- chained to the back bench of the galley of a leaky Venetian scaloccio, plying the tiniest of oars beside the sweatiest of convicts; and
- a comfortable nest of rags in a Dickensian workhouse circa 1832.
(That last threat usually precedes a spirited mother-and-son promenade around the house, with me bellowing in my best baritone, "One boyyyyyyyy...boy for saaaaaaale!" And then, just for fun, I try to pick Charlie's pocket.)
Sometimes okay, often I threaten to send him to the glue factory.
Sometimes I call him Elmer.
He wouldn't make much glue, I know. Paul points this out to me on a regular basis. "But he'd make," I insist, "at least enough for a glue stick."
He corrects me. "Just enough for a postage stamp."
I privately think we'd get at least two stamps' worth, but there's no need to quibble. The glue factory it is. Hey, the world needs stamps.
A mother's day
I woke at 10 this morning, warm and lazy, luxuriating in the barely remembered joy of sleeping late. I sat bolt upright in bed, however, when I woke enough to realize I had no idea what Charlie was up to. I ran down to the kitchen, where Paul was cooking a pound of bacon just the way I like it (chewy, not crisp) and making conversation with a calm and happy Charlie, who smiled up at me from the safe embrace of his bouncy seat.
Paul was eager to report that Charlie had wakened him no earlier than 8, and not with his usual screams. No, he'd been cooing musically into the baby monitor. And not only that, he hadn't made a peep after I put him down at midnight. That's right not only did he let us sleep in, he slept a solid eight hours in a row. I smiled disbelievingly at Paul. Charlie smiled sunnily at me.
It was the best Mother's Day ever.
Okay. Now. Put down the crack pipe, people. Here is what really happened.
7:30. I wake to the sound of Charlie shifting in his crib. I vault out of bed so that I can warm his bottle before his impending screams wake Paul.
7:32. Too late. Charlie is screaming. I am walking him around the den, fast, hoping that the gentle joggle of my gait will soothe him for the next few minutes.
7:33. The gentle joggle of my gait does not soothe him for the next few minutes.
7:36. The bottle is warm at last. We sit on the sofa and Charlie drinks peacefully.
7:39. Charlie begins rehearsals for his upcoming Riverdance audition, frantically churning his legs while keeping his upper body absolutely still.
7:42. Charlie begins to growl.
7:44. With a grunt of satisfaction, Charlie presents me with his Mother's Day present: a homemade craft project. It is green.
7:45. Diaper change. I am swift and efficient. He is trying to decide whether to laugh or yell. Normally I would lean over and plaster his face with a barrage of noisy kisses, which usually tips him over squarely into laughter. I can't do this now without dragging my bathrobe across his shit-smeared scrotum.
7:45. Charlie has decided. Yelling it is.
7:46. Back on the sofa with the bottle. Charlie only noodles around, chewing the nipple, thrusting it out with his tongue, dribbling his drink down the slope of his cheek into the crease of his neck.
7:48. I make the executive decision that mealtime is over. I know what: we will go to the baby gym for our morning workout!
7:50. Charlie would prefer not to.
7:50. Small Bartleby and I go instead to look at his mobile. He happily or irritably kicks his heels fast against his crib mattress. It is a mesmerizing tattoo, and I am lulled into a stupor as I glide in the Dutailier.
8:00. Fretful noises drown out the melodious notes of the mobile, and I go to pick Charlie up. I gather him against my chest, retrieve his pacifier, and return to the glider. We rock. I sing. He frets, yawns, squirms, cries, but his protests are feeble.
8:15. Charlie is mostly placid. I rise and put him in the crib.
8:16. I rise and remove him from the crib.
8:17. Paul enters with toast and coffee, my Mother's Day breakfast, then goes back to bed at my behest. I am glad I tried not to wake him; he tells me he was up with an angry, unfriendly Charlie at 4.
8:17 - 9:30. Rock. Sing. Fret. Yawn. Squirm. Cry. Into crib. Out of crib. Into crib. Out of crib. Into crib...
9:30. I bolt my toast and my now-cold coffee.
9:32. I creep out of the room and into my sewing room for 40 minutes of respite.
9:50. Clearly Charlie cannot tell time. First I let him complain for a few minutes, hoping he'll soothe himself. When he doesn't, I attempt to settle him again, patting him rhythmically and "sssshhhh"ing him as he lies in his crib.
9:55. Nothing doing. Crying. I pick up Charlie and rock him, holding him close, willing him to settle back into drowsiness.
10:10. More food? No. More mobile? No. More baby gym? No. More walking around the house looking out windows? No. More quiet conversation and meaningful eye contact? No. More crying? Yes, thanks!
10:30. Paul is up for good, and offers to take the boy. I suggest that he get breakfast first.
10:30-10:40. I sit and cry, wretched as I remember yesterday's fantastic fluke of a two-hour nap, while Charlie pours his indignant complaints into the sympathetic ear of the Whoozit. (He is a fiendishly clever boy for being able to find an ear on that bizarre sport of nature.) I hope Paul's eating fast.
10:40. Paul returns and takes over. I retreat to my office.
10:42. I turn off the baby monitor because it's demoralizing to hear Charlie laughing and Paul praising him for being such a smiley boy after the morning we've had.
11:00. Charlie's in his crib. I hear the click of his mobile from my office down the hall. He's vocalizing, not quite crying. I creep off to shower, vowing it will be a long one.
11:01. The water pressure in the shower is so low that it's difficult to get wet all over. I'm out of conditioner and almost out of soap; I make do with the small sliver that is left. When I drop it, it lodges itself in the drain beyond the reach of my fingers. Water begins to back up in the tub. I do not bother to shave my legs.
11:15. Out of the shower but naked and wet, I hear Charlie crying in his room. I look in on him, expecting to find him alone, but Paul's there with him. Not interested in napping, and not so smiley now.
11:30. Now dressed, I join Paul and Charlie in the den, where Charlie is glaring at the toys dangling from the baby gym. As long as Paul makes the stuffed cardinal squeak and swoop around Charlie's head, he's quiet, if not happy; the moment Paul gives the poor wheezing bird a breather Charlie cries again.
11:45. Charlie is still yawning, crying, kicking his feet. I tell Paul I'm going to take him to his room to try yet again to settle him for a snooze. Paul insists that I take a break instead. I come and read Anne Lamott's latest article in Salon, and cackle desperately at this line: "I see that children fill the existential hollowness many people feel; that when we have children, we know they will need us, and maybe love us, but we don't have a clue how hard it is going to be."
11:50. Charlie has quieted. I hear the clunk of the catches as Paul raises the side of the crib. And then silence.
12:00. Paul enters and asks for a paper clip so he can monkey with the shower head.
12:00. If Charlie were awake, we'd give him his Prevacid, then parade him around for half an hour to distract him from his hunger. The best-case scenario is that he'll wake after his customary 40 minutes; that way we can give him his medication, jolly him along for half an hour, and then feed him before he's inconsolably starving. I decide there is something wrong with me when one minute I'm hoping he'll sleep for two hours, then the next I'm hoping he wakes as soon as ever.
12:10. Hurrah! It's past noon! I could have a Bloody Mary. I could, that is, if we had any tomato juice in the house. I wonder if I could concoct an approximation out of that expensive jar of pasta sauce I've been saving. I bet no one has ever invented a cocktail with butter and chanterelles in it.
12:20. I hear Charlie grunting on the monitor, half an hour after the beginning of his nap (and I use the term loosely).
12:30. Charlie has been dosed and is being raced around the house in Paul's sling. It's chilly and windy out, so we won't take him today for his usual walk around the neighborhood.
12:40. I take over so that Paul can experience the new and improved shower. As I lope around the house with Charlie held safely vertical in the Baby Björn, I hear Paul scream as his skin is flayed off by the force of the spray.
1:05. Charlie can eat. I free him from the Björn and feed him. As he gulps, he lets out a veritable fanfaronade of flatulence. I dare to hope gas is what's been making him so pissy all day, and give him a dropper of Mylicon.
1:45. After naps even worse than usual, Charlie is clearly exhausted: he's falling asleep with the bottle in his mouth. I put him in his crib. He wakes fully and cries. And cries. I pick him up and return to the rocker, putting him face-down against my chest, and start to pat his back in a comforting rhythm.
1:45:15. Charlie spits up down the V-neck of my T-shirt. I feel the warm undigested milk pooling in the band of my bra.
1:45:16. I say to Paul in my best Exorcist voice, "TAKE HIM." Paul does with alacrity.
1:50. After changing my bra and my shirt and composing myself, I return to Charlie's room and offer to take him back. Paul, perhaps fearful of my preternatural calm, declines and suggests that I go make myself some lunch.
2:00. Charlie is asleep. Paul comes downstairs as I'm stirring the pound of spaghetti I plan to consume in a single shameful binge. "What made you so sure," I ask, "that I wouldn't drive to Kansas?" "Not enough gas," he grimly says.
2:25. Finish spaghetti. Think about the pound of bacon in the refrigerator.
2:30. Charlie is shifting. Paul creeps in to shush him. I hear Paul's soothing "ssshhh" on the baby monitor.
2:31. Silence. I suspect Paul has slipped Charlie a mickey.
3:00. I call my mother. I haven't called her before now because I didn't want her to hear Charlie screaming incessantly in the background. I spend most of the phone call whimpering. I think she believes I'm exaggerating, or coping badly with an ordinary situation, because she keeps saying things like, "Well, they're supposed to cry sometimes...!" Note to self: next time don't wait until Charlie's sleeping to call, so that she can experience the magic.
3:45. While I'm still on the phone, Charlie wakes. It does not escape my notice that he slept for nearly two hours. I go into the den, where he is pumping plastic in the baby gym with Paul as his spotter, to inform him that he is the finest baby alive. He smiles at me.
4:30. We go to the grocery store, our first ordinary errand with baby in tow. Paul puts Charlie in the sling, I push the basket, and we do our shopping without incident. Without incident. No yelling. No crying. Nothing but big-eyed rapt attention.
5:30. Charlie falls asleep as soon as he's buckled back into his car seat. I notice the time as we pull out of the parking lot and breathe a sigh of relief. By the time we get home, it will be time for bath, bottle, and bed.
6:00. Charlie is out cold. We leave him in the car while we unload the groceries. Seeing that he's still asleep, we leave him there while we put the food away. We debate the wisdom of leaving him out there until he wakes. I cite the appearance of a badass-looking raccoon in the vicinity to support my plan to rescue him. I only embroidered a little bit; it's probably not exactly true that the raccoon had a switchblade in its pocket.
6:15. I finally go out to the garage to peek and see that he's sitting quietly in his car seat, eyes open, playing with his own fingers, minding his own tiny beeswax. I bring him into the house.
6:15. I take Charlie upstairs to undress him while Paul readies the bath. I blow noisy raspberries on Charlie's bare belly and get a rollicking chortle in return.
6:16. I deposit a series of noisy kisses on Charlie's cheek, making him emit a magnificent belly laugh.
6:16. Charlie pees copiously and joyfully on the terrycloth cover of his changing pad. I give mental thanks to my friends inside the computer who sent spares, then whisk Charlie downstairs to the kitchen where his bath awaits.
6:17. Charlie is agreeable at bathtime. As usual, I pour water over his head without covering his face. It seems he is starting to like that, because he smiles as the water rolls down his cheeks.
6:30. Paul gives Charlie a relaxing massage and dresses him in my favorite footie pajamas.
6:35. I sit in the glider and offer Charlie a warmed bottle, which he politely accepts. He eats and burps without incident.
6:50. I bring Charlie up against my chest again, certain he couldn't possibly be so rude as to sully my décolletage again. I pat him as he squirms a bit, trying to crawl up my chest as if it were Everest and he a well-paid Sherpa. He calms to the sound of a lullaby, and finally sighs his surrender into relaxation.
6:55. I put him in his crib and cover him with a fleece blanket. He is awake, but ready.
And that was my day as a mother.
I should, however, add that as of now...
...I plan to take a shower under the blistering jets of our newly enhanced Speakman, if only to allow the jetting torrents to chisel off the spit-up that has hardened in the valley between my breasts.
Good night, and happy Mother's Day. May all of my friends here someday enjoy the wonder of such a day, but only from 3:45 on.
I don't consider myself AP
Here is why I don't call myself an attachment parent: I cannot find it in me to take Charlie completely seriously when he's screaming in rage if he also happens to be wearing a butter-yellow hoodie with ducks on it.
Oh, sure, I'll comfort him. I'll strive to figure out why he's howling. I'll do my very best to make things right in his tiny world. But does it count if I'm chuckling while I do it?
Let me be perfectly clear: I don't find it funny when Charlie's crying because he's in pain, or because he's lonely in the night, or because he's hungry and it's taken his bleary-eyed mother way too long to figure it out. I do, however, think it's kind of a riot when he objects with a bellow to sitting up to burp, to having his striped socks put on, to having his diaper removed and his wee shivering tackle exposed. I insist that it's funny when someone wearing alphabet pants is so mad he spits out his binky with an audible, disdainful ptui.
I’m pretty sure I'm not supposed to find my child's indignation amusing. As I understand it, the philosophy of attachment parenting has to do with respecting your baby as a person, recognizing his needs as valid and pressing, and honoring him as a human being. And I realize it's not especially respectful to want to smile when an angry infant in a rainbow onesie imperiously rejects his bottle because it’s not quiiiiiite warm enough.
But I do feel we embrace the more important tenets of attachment parenting. We don't leave Charlie alone to cry, except for the seventeen minutes between screaming and feeding when I absolutely must touch up my pedicure. (Kidding. KIDDING!) And we haven't attempted to put him on a schedule for our convenience, although I readily admit that the time when we first had him home, when he dependably woke at 4, 8, and 12, was the easiest time in this short but turbulent span of motherhood. We wear him and we hold him. (As for breastfeeding, which the estimable Dr. Sears suggests is instrumental in forming a strong mother/child relationship, well, I cordially invite the good doctor to suck my 9-ounce Avent.)
Now, I gather I'm supposed to do these things because I'm eager to show my baby that his parents are there for him at all times, that he can depend on us to meet his needs, that he is important in the world and immeasurably precious to us. But I wonder all the time whether the intent behind the actions matters. Does it still count as nurturing our attachment if the most immediate reason I'm doing it is that I don't want to hear the yelling?
Parenting philosophies, codified as such, leave me cold. I can't get interested in any formal school of thought about child-rearing. I am a seat-of-my-spit-upped-stretched-out-pants parent, obeying my instincts because I'm stripped down close to the bone and they're all I have right now. I am very much in the moment. I don’t have a coherent plan, and I don’t have a long-term goal. I can hardly remember my name, except for the wavering recollection that it's not pronounced the way you think, so you can be sure I don’t devote long hours to thoughtfully weighing this approach versus that.
The much-maligned Dr. Spock was known for reassuring anxious parents, "You know more than you think you do." I'm finding that’s largely true. I think the primary contribution made by Sears, Spock, and others yes, even that odious Ezzo, who inspires in me thoughts of great violence is to validate the instincts a parent already has. Of all the parents I know, not one to my knowledge has conducted a thorough, neutral survey of the parenting literature and accidentally fallen in thrall to a new and exciting approach they'd never considered. We seek reinforcement for what we already believe. We look for articulation of ideas and feelings we’ve only half-voiced ourselves. We welcome the relief of shorthand, being immediately understood when we tell other parents, "We do AP."
I have little use for the experts. I get much more comfort from the stories of other parents, especially those who admit they’ve made mistakes, yet whose kids are none the less loving or happy for it. I am learning that there are a million opportunities a day to make a bad decision, but also a million more to make up for it with a better one.
We don't co-sleep. We don’t breastfeed. I love the sling, but I love the stroller as much. When the time comes and I am being purposely vague we will likely try some of the gentler ways to encourage Charlie to sleep longer at night and purposely vague again.
One of the tenets of the Sears' philosophy is that families should seek balance among the competing needs of everyone in the family. It is easy to read this as permission to weasel, to do as you please in the guise of meeting your own needs while still claiming AP status.
We can all rationalize whatever we want.
I don’t claim to be an attachment parent. Still, I generally feel that the way we approach Charlie with a kind tone even when he’s at his worst, with a firm but loving touch when he needs to be soothed from screams tells him all he needs to know right now about being respected and honored. I may not be thinking AP thoughts when I hustle down the hall in the middle of the night (unless "Gahhhhddamn it" counts), but then Charlie doesn't know what's in my heart as he hears my footsteps coming. He only knows I'm there.
And if he’s really lucky, maybe one day his asshole parents will stop dressing him like a clown, so no one will dare to laugh at him when he's just so righteously pissed.