Justin, Junior

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Birthday!

All veteran moms tell you (and me) over and over: Enjoy it. It goes by so quickly.

I heard it a lot while I was pregnant, and even more when I had a real live squirming and pooping bundle of joy. When he began to roll over and then to crawl and then to cruise and then to walk…I heard it. But out of all the little tidbits (and God knows I get my fill of parenting tidbits), it’s the truest one.

My baby, my beautiful, wonderful, amazing son turns a year old tomorrow. I can’t remember what it was like to not be his mom, but on the other hand, it seems like it was just 2 or 3 months ago that my husband and I drove oh-so-carefully home with him from the hospital.

But I’ll admit, one (or a day shy, anyhow) is the best age yet. Everything is fascinating. “Dis?” he’ll ask, and with a precise little finger, point to a banana. “A banana,” I’ll say. “Dat?” he’ll ask, and with wide, sweeping gesture, indicate an entire room. “Kitchen,” I’ll answer. “Yeah,” he says. (I’m so glad I have a “yeah” baby instead of a “no” baby, although he’s not afraid to use that word, either.) I love watching him play - I’ll sit on the floor with him and watch him methodically pull out every toy he has, inspect it as though he has never seen it before, and then toss it to the side so he can explore the next. Even better is when he stops, stands up, and runs to me, squealing, to give me a big, sloppy, open-mouthed kiss…the kind of kiss only a baby can manage. He lets me kiss on him for a minute or two, and then he’s squirming down, chubby legs pumping before I can even get him on the ground, ready to run off to the next thing.

He understands things now. “Come with Mommy, we need to go change your pants,” I’ll say, and up he’ll get and toddle after me to his room. In the bathtub, he’ll start to stand, and I’ll say, “On your bottom!” and he promptly sits down, then laughs when he splashes me…and then when I laugh, too, he’ll splash me some more, because, see, he gets it. Splashing makes Mom laugh. That’s funny. I’ll do it some more. If I stub a toe and say “Ow!” (biting my lip to keep the “shit!” that wants to follow it), his lower lip comes out. He makes the same sad face when Daddy laces up his boots in the morning, because he’s made the connection that boots mean Daddy’s going to work. And when he comes home, and we hear the door unlocking, he yells “Dada!” before Daddy comes through the door. He makes a billion connections a day. Every morning, when I go to get him from his crib, I say, “What are you going to do to amaze me today, son?” and he never disappoints me.

But just 364 days ago, he was this wrinkly little thing that terrified me. And now he’s this little boy who says “Yeah” when I ask him if he wants a cookie, and says “Thanks” (or an approximation of it) when he gets handed one. He spent months looking just like Daddy, and months looking just like me, but now, when I look at him, I don’t see either one of us - I just see him. He’s his own little person, with his own personality and a budding sense of humor, and I love to watch him grow…for the most part.

I am (mostly) excited for his birthday. I have managed to keep him alive and thriving for a year, with no broken bones, major illnesses, and only one chipped tooth. Pretty good for a woman who couldn’t manage a goldfish. He’s also a very happy little boy. People tell me that all the time, in tones of wonderment - from the lady that checks us out at the grocery store to his grandpa: He’s just the happiest baby. I love that…I love hearing that more than anything. Because, see, I think that’s my job…along with keeping him from jumping off of the couch and eating sticks and poking curious fingers into electrical outlets.

I’m looking forward to this next year. I was kind of sad when he started to walk…I felt like he had hit his last major milestone, but I know that’s not true. I can’t wait until he can tell me what’s on his mind, until he can ask me more questions (because “dis” and “dat” are cute now, but I can see where it might start getting old). I can’t wait until he says “I love you.” I hope it’s soon…he hears it a thousand times a day. I’m excited for him to learn that crayons are more for art and less for snacking and that diapers, while really convenient, are not nearly as cool as the potty. I look forward to many, many adventures with my boy.

And I look forward to growing more, myself, because when it comes down to it, he may have gone from an 8-pound newborn to a walking, talking person, but out of the 2 of us, I think I have learned more. I know that sounds corny and cliché, just as corny and cliché as “Enjoy it, it goes by fast,” but it’s just as true.

I’ve learned the practical lessons. I know how to avoid getting peed on, and how to take a rectal temperature. I can tell when my son has something in his mouth by the expression on his face, and how to get it out. I know that eating a certain amount of dirt and carpet fuzz is acceptable, and that no matter how dirty he gets, babies are imminently washable. I know when to run him into urgent care, and when a dose of Tylenol and some extra snuggles from mama will do the trick. I’ve learned that toys are usually still interesting with the sound turned off, but are waaay more fun with the volume maxed out. Vegetables are important (and should be served first), but chicken nuggets are okay sometimes, too…and an Oreo after dinner isn’t the end of the world, either. And I’ve learned that other moms have great advice, but when it comes down to it, no one knows my son better than I do.

I’ve learned how to run a household of 3 on half the income we had when we were just two. I’ve learned which cheap diapers really are cheap, and which are actually a good bargain. I’ve learned that when it comes to getting a new pair of jeans versus something really cool for the baby, the baby wins out almost every time…but not every time, because sometimes you do need a pair of jeans, and baby has plenty. Trust me on that.

I’ve learned to eliminate a lot of “Hold on just a minute” and “Wait a second” from my vocabulary, because the laundry can wait, but a game of “This Little Piggy” sometimes can’t. I learned that co-sleeping didn’t work for us, but there is no better napping then when your baby falls asleep on you and you nod off during Dr. Phil. And I’ve learned to make the most of naptimes: Morning naps are for me, afternoon naps are for chores, and bedtime allows me to focus on my husband…and I’ve learned that no matter how wrapped up I am in baby, that the man who fathered that baby still needs to be babied from time to time, too. I’ve learned priorities and balance.

I’ve learned it’s hard to maintain friendships with people who don’t have little ones, that many of the people I used to be close with really can’t understand that I would honestly rather be at home with my son and my husband on a Saturday night, and that “date night” really can be a simple matter of not putting on your pajamas at 6, putting make-up on, turning off the TV and sharing a glass of champagne in the living room, after baby is in bed. I’ve also learned that reaching out to other moms can result in some of the most rewarding friendships you can have.

I’ve learned how to handle a love that is so overwhelming that it can, at times, border on terror, and how to temper that love with common sense.

I’ve learned to be happier with myself. My son doesn’t look at me and think, “My mom’s overweight and has funny hair.” He looks at me and thinks I’m awesome, and that makes me think that I might be awesome, too.

And I have learned that even my worst days, the days when my son is a complete crank butt who seems intent on driving me crazy and making as many messes as possible, when I find something small and plastic in his diaper and he’s pulled everything out of the cabinet and spread dried spaghetti noodles all over the floor and triumphantly mashes oatmeal in his hair and begins to scream and continues to scream the entire time I’m cooking dinner…well, even the worst days I have with him are infinitely better than the best days I had without him.

He is the love of my life, the center of my world, my very heart. Happy birthday, buddy. Your mama loves you more than you could ever, ever imagine.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Moderate's Take on Tears...

“You need to toughen up and let him cry.”

“He’s going to be spoiled.”

“Don’t baby him.”

I thought of these little tidbits of advice as I got my son ready for my shower this morning. Yeah, you heard me. That wasn’t an ambiguous piece of writing on my part. See, the thing is, my son likes to be where I’m at. That means if I’m putting away dishes, he’s rocking out to Justin Bieber in the kitchen with me. (And yeah, you read that right, too.) If I’m putting away laundry, he’s marching around the bedroom, proudly banging 2 plastic hangers together. And although I don’t have enough hands to take my rowdy child into the shower with me, that doesn’t mean he can’t be in the bathroom with me. Because, you see, if he’s not, he cries.

I tried just gating him up, hoping that he would find something to entertain himself while I showered, but nope - he just hung onto the gate screaming “Mamamama no no no!” He’ll be fine, I told myself. It’s 15 minutes. He’ll be fine.

“You’ll be fine!” I would yell over the sound of the shower, but no, he told me, in a hundred different ways, he was not fine.

“You’re okay, son,” my husband would say as Junior began to cry the moment I left the room. He’s okay, I would tell myself. But Junior insisted he was not.

So…he goes into the bathroom with me. And because we have a shower curtain rather than a shower door, there’s much pulling back of the curtain by both of us…he wants to play peek-a-boo, I want to know what he’s laughing about…or, even more ominous, being quiet about. The bathroom floor gets soaked, my son gets soaked…so, now we have a routine. I get all my stuff gathered up (clean clothes, etc.) and put them outside the door. Then I take yesterday’s towels and place them strategically around the floor to catch the water mess. I latch the oh-so-fascinating toilet. I put all no-nos (toilet cleaner, wastepaper basket, toilet paper roll) out of reach. And then I put my son in his water-proof windbreaker, hood on, and roll the sleeves up…that way, when he gets soaking wet (since I know he will), I just take that off, and ta-da! Dry baby. So, yes, it takes 15 minutes to prepare for a 15 minute (if I’m lucky) shower. Yes, it means an extra load of laundry. And yes, my bathroom is usually littered with trucks and blocks. And yes, half the time, despite the waterproof gear, my son gets soaked, which means another outfit change and more laundry.

All this so he doesn’t cry. And trust me - this is just one example of how my daily routine revolves around my son. So…Am I babying him?

I heard these are things over and over, particularly in regards to my embarrassing sleeping arrangement that lasted 8 months. See, Junior slept great as a newborn, and by that I mean he slept for about 2-3 hours at a stretch in his co-sleeper at night, or swaddled peacefully in “chill zone” on the couch between my husband and me in the evening, or in his baby swing after a nursing during the day. I had no expectation for him to sleep through the night for quite awhile, and I certainly wasn‘t ready to put him in his crib, in his own room - I was waaaay too much of a baby-breath checker to even consider that. He rarely even cried at night…he was right next to me in the co-sleeper attached to my side of the bed, and as soon as he started to stir, I’d scoop him up, nurse him, and lay him back down. Easy-peasy.

When my son was about 2 months old, we went in for a round of vaccinations. He ran a temperature, which we knew was a possibility. He was also very cranky - also a known possibility. He was pretty much attached to my boob all day. I rocked and snuggled and nursed him. He was fine as long as I was holding him. So I wasn’t surprised when he began to shriek when I laid him in his co-sleeper. I rubbed his tummy, I stroked his cheek, I inserted and re-inserted his beloved bink…all to no avail. My husband is a patient man, and a wonderful daddy, and tried to soothe him as well. But he also had another 10-hour shift beginning in 8 hours, whereas I, on the other hand, would have the freedom to nap the next day, so I bade my husband good night and took the baby into the living room, dragging the co-sleeper behind me. I nursed him to sleep, I laid him in his co-sleeper, he cried, I picked him up, I rocked him, he fell asleep, I laid him in his co-sleeper, he cried…you see where this is going.

So, I picked him up, lay down on the couch with him on my chest…and we both slept. Not only did we both sleep, we both slept for like 6 hours….the longest stretch of sleep I had in about, well, two months.

The next night, I fully intended it to be business as usual. I was not going to co-bed with my son.

Let me add here that there is a difference between co-sleeping and co-bedding. Co-sleeping can be as simple as having your child’s crib in your room, or buying a co-sleeper that attaches like a little side-car to your bed, giving your infant his own safe, secure spot but allowing you easy access and viewing for those middle-of-the-night “is he breathing?” checks and nursings. Co-bedding, on the other hand, is actually having your child in your bed. The American Academy of Pediatrics is against co-bedding, saying that it increases the risk of SIDs (whereas co-sleeping decreases it) and is a major suffocation hazard for infants. But you can find just strongly-worded arguments for co-bedding, as well. It’s a major tenant of attachment parenting or gentle parenting. As a moderate mama, I had opted for the co-sleeping option. I wanted my infant to be close, to be reassured, to never need to cry if I could help it. Co-bedding, on the other hand, was not something my husband and I were willing to do. For one thing, to do it correctly and safely would mean putting our mattress on the floor and stripping it of all suffocation hazards (no 3 pillows and comfy down quilt for me). Secondly, although I was sure that I would always be aware of my baby’s placement, I had doubts about my husband. Thirdly, we only have a full-sized bed. My husband is a Marine veteran and pretty good-sized and I, myself, am - ahem - plump. Adding a squirmy baby to the mix was not what I wanted, and neither did my husband.

So, the next night, I put Junior in his co-sleeper, and he began to scream. We soothed and comforted, but any parent can tell you that listening to your child’s crying is heart wrenching, especially when you know you can fix it. “He still feels warm to me,” I said to Justin. “He doesn’t feel well and you need to rest.” That was my excuse for taking him back into the living room, where we promptly fell asleep, again for a stretch of 5 to 6 hours.

Fast forward 7 months, and yes, my son and I were still camping out on the couch. Not only was I co-bedding, which I said I would never do, I was co-bedding on a sofa, another big no-no, and I was doing it reactively. I wasn’t doing it because of any belief I had about bonding or nurturing, I was doing it because it was the only way I could get Junior to sleep…and to get any sleep myself.

He was still nursing about 3 times a night, and he was no longer a 12-pound infant slumbering on my chest. He was a 16-pound squirmy baby. I had to nurse him to sleep for his nap, and was sometimes able to lay him down on the couch by himself, but then I was glued to the living room, at the ready for the first sign of wakefulness so he wouldn’t fall off of the couch. We tried several times to get him into his crib (by this time, he was way too old for his co-sleeper, since he could pull himself up). The first time we tried, at 5 months, he cried for one hour and 43 minutes before we caved. “He’s too little,“ I said. We waited a month, and tried again. Three hours and 17 minutes he cried, and we caved, feeling inhumane for letting him cry that long, and feeling inhumane for letting him cry that long and still failing. “He’s teething,“ was my excuse for that go ‘round. Everyone, even his pediatrician, kept telling us to toughen up, let him cry. “Even if he cries for an hour,” websites would say…but none of them could tell me what to do when he cried for 3 hours and then vomited. If I stayed in the room with him, then he screamed harder. If I did the whole “wait 10 minutes and check on him,” the moment I entered the room, he quieted, and then wrenched it up another level or 2 when I left.

At 9 ½ months, we decided to try it again. We researched. We encouraged each other. I took Junior into his beautiful nursery, which had been used as nothing more than a diaper-changing station, and played with him in there. We scheduled a start-date and made sure we had nothing going on. We had a plan and had decided to follow Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution.

And we did it. I could tell you how it went, but I’ll just sum it up and say I don’t think there is such a thing as a “no-cry sleep solution” but there is a way to make the transition as gentle as possible...but your baby is probably going to cry regardless. The first night was bad, the second was horrible, and the third was unimaginable…but the fourth? Ten minutes. Ten minutes of tears before the little dude laid himself down and went to sleep.

Two weeks later, he was sleeping through the night, from 8:30 to 5:30 and he was napping in his own crib, at 10:30 and 3:30. We had naptimes. We had a schedule. When Junior wakes up at 5:30, I jump out of bed, eager to get him, to change his diaper and snuggle down with him on the couch and nurse him while we watch the news. I’m well-rested. He’s well-rested. And I get to sleep next to my husband again. I don’t stay up until 1 a.m. because I get those 2 beautiful breaks a day, and at 8:30, Daddy and I have some time together.

I consider myself a pretty gentle parent. I firmly believe that you shouldn’t let your baby cry, and that‘s a pretty major tenant in gentle or attachment parenting, but I‘m also a pretty moderate mama. I’m okay with my son crying if there is a reason for it. I hate taking my son in for vaccinations, but I believe they’re for the best, even though I know he’s going to cry. He cries when I don’t let stand in the bath tub or play with electrical cords, too. And I firmly believe that letting him cry for those 3 awful nights were also for a reason. He needed to learn to put himself to sleep (images of me sneaking into his dorm room and nursing him to sleep haunted me), and to sleep safely in his own crib. It has made him a better baby, and it has certainly made me a better mama…and a better wife.

So, this morning, as I zipped Junior into his windbreaker, and he toddled after me into the bathroom, I wondered…am I spoiling him? I pondered this as I simultaneously shampooed my hair and exclaimed, “Peek-a-boo!” for the umpteenth time and was rewarded by a huge grin on my son’s damp, shiny face and I listened to his squeal as he jerked the curtain closed to go for round number umpteen + 1. Sure, there are days that I would love to take a 30-minute shower (and shave more than part of one leg), but at some point, my son is not going to want to stop whatever he’s engaged at to follow me. And I will miss that. I know I will. And if it takes me extra time and work to accommodate my son, oh well. I didn’t give birth to a human in order to have him fit somehow into my schedule, my lifestyle. It’s my job to accommodate his…within reason.

And if it is babying him by accommodating my life to his, well, duh. He’s a baby, after all.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Promises, Promises

Breastfeeding can be a touchy subject. Those women who do it tend to be passionate about it…maybe a little too passionate. I breastfeed. I’m glad that I do. It has worked out well for us. But I also stayed at home for the first 10 months, and now only work 1 to 2 days a week as a substitute. I’ll be the first to admit that if I had been forced to go back to work 8 weeks after giving birth, my son would have been on a bottle by week 9...week 10 at the latest. Also, my son was a good eater. I very rarely had worries about whether or not he was getting enough milk…all I had to do was peek at the fat rolls of deliciousness on his legs to satisfy myself that he was one well-nourished kid. I also believe that you can get the same bonding experience with your baby with a bottle as you do a boob…you’re still cradling, cuddling, and making eye contact no matter how the food is being dispensed.

After you get the hang of it, breastfeeding is super-easy. I promise. I couldn’t imagine having to stumble around, all numb and grainy-eyed, holding a screaming baby, in order to fix a bottle at 3 a.m. (And as my son’s first birthday and imminent weaning both loom in the all-too-near future, I find myself a little jealous of formula-feeding moms who are probably excited to ditch the Similac in favor of milk, whereas I have used my boobs as both nourishment and comfort, sleep aid and general baby crutch.)

Anyhow, I digress.

Breastfeeding my son was an easy choice to make while I was pregnant and feeling all glow-y and Earth Motherish. My choice had a lot to do with the fact that breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby’s health and for your own. Not only does your baby get milk made especially for him, all full of antibodies and other baby goodies, but it can significantly decrease your chance of getting breast cancer, gets your uterus back into shape quicker, and, for many women, helps them lose their pregnancy weight at a much more rapid pace. (I had gained 40 pounds with my pregnancy, and had lost 37 of them by my 6 week check-up.)

My choice also had a lot to do with this image I had of me feeding my firstborn, holding this perfect baby to my breast with ease as he suckled as nature intended. It would be perfect, it would be glorious…

I was wrong.

I had my son via emergency c-section. Statistics show that women have c-sections tend to have a tougher time breastfeeding, and typically give it up sooner and more often then women who give birth naturally. I am glad I didn’t know this at the time, because by the time my son was a week old, I would have looked for any way out.

Breastfeeding wasn’t so bad in the hospital. I was surrounded by a contingent of nurses and lactation consultants who applauded my choice and eagerly helped me position my baby for every feeding, timed the twenty-minute-per-boob rule, and reassured me that although my milk hadn’t come in, the colostrum was all he needed. This brings me to my first nugget of hard-won wisdom:

Learn all the holds, and learn them well. Because I had a c-section, the only hold I was shown was the “football” hold, where the baby is cradled next to the body and held much like, well, a football. This is a good hold for c-section patients because it keeps the baby off of the incision. It’s also a great bonding hold because it makes for perfect viewing of that new little face to which you just gave birth. But it is also a position that is quickly outgrown by your little one (unless you want to sit on the very edge of the couch as little legs grow longer and longer) and doesn’t allow for any multi-tasking. Ask about other holds, as well…the cradle hold is great, and you can also nurse while laying down. But take advantage of the team of experts at the hospital and actually learn them - have them show you, and then do it yourself. Then do it again. Because in a day or two, it’s just going to be you and a screaming baby at 3 a.m., and you’re going to really wish you had.

My milk didn’t come in until my son was 5 days old. On his 4th night on this earth, he began to cry, and over time, this escalated into screaming. I had just nursed him, his diaper was dry, I had cuddled and rocked him in an attempt to soothe, then laid him down in case he was over-stimulated, but still, he screamed. I was in tears, and my husband was pacing and wearing that annoying “I want to say something but I’m scared” look on his face, so I snapped, “What is it?” and he replied, gingerly, so as not to awaken the hormonal, post-natal beast that I could quickly morph into, “I think he’s hungry.” It had been exactly what I had been thinking, but didn’t want to say. I was nursing him every 3 hours, for the requisite 20-minutes-per-breast in order to stimulate my milk flow, I was doing everything right...

I did the unthinkable. I gave him a bottle of formula. (Or, more honestly, my husband did - I collapsed into bed and slept for a blissful 5 hours.) And he stopped crying. Which brings me to this:

Listen to your instinct…and your baby. I will probably catch a lot of flak for this - lactation consultants and the La Leche League will say that your baby doesn’t need anything else, that colostrum is perfectly sufficient. They will also tell you that going from breast to bottle can cause nipple confusion. The only expertise I have is that of a mom who does breastfeed, and the input I have from other breastfeeding moms, and I think that makes my opinion valid, and no one I have ever met has ever had a problem with nipple confusion. My husband gave our son one bottle a night for the first 4 months of his life, and he never had any problem with it. And it eased my anxiety that first night we did it. It’s okay to give some formula. I promise. I had no idea just how frightened that my baby wasn’t getting enough nutrition from me until he had the bottle, and at that point, I was getting scared that my milk wasn’t ever going to come in.

I was wrong.

It was the very next feeding, 5 hours after the bottle had been given, that I woke up with rock hard breasts that were literally spurting milk from both nipples. My breast pads (placed there oh-so-hopefully) were soaked, my nursing bra was soaked, my shirt was soaked, the sheets were soaked…which brings me to this:

Your milk will come in. I promise. If you feel your baby is hungry, give him a bottle of formula, but only do so after you have nursed him 20 minutes per side. You do have to do some things in order to get things flowing, but chances are, they will flow…or, rather, erupt.

My son nursed like he had just hit the jackpot. I was charmed by my body’s ability to nourish, and, at first, didn’t mind the messiness of it all. That lasted for about 2 days. And then I was just annoyed that, on top of having a new baby to care for, I had a massive amount of laundry piling up due to my boobs, and now, not only were my nipples sore from being sucked on, my boobs felt like they had a headache. I could feed him, then hear a baby cry on TV and become engorged all over again.

This is temporary. I promise. At first, your body doesn’t know how much your baby needs, or even how many babies you're feeding, so engorgement is kind of like nature’s way of covering the bases. But, over the span of several weeks or so, your body will learn your baby’s feeding pattern, and respond accordingly. Chances are, you’ll be engorged in the morning for quite awhile, and you’ll probably have to change pads, or bra, or pads and bra and T-shirt and sheets, but it will stop. And honestly, if you can, take advantage of it and try to pump, then freeze your excess. It’s nice to have as many feedings squirreled away as possible, for when you do have to leave your baby somewhere. (Because at some point you will, I promise.)

For nearly the first three weeks of my son’s life, I cried nearly as often as he did. Not only was my body going through this huge, disgusting hormonal change that had me screeching in fury over a wet towel left on the floor by my husband one minute than sobbing over what a horrible wife I was the next, I felt resentful that even after giving birth, I couldn’t reclaim my body as my own. My boobs hurt when he nursed, and they ached when he wasn‘t. And no one had told me that newborn breastfed babies poop so much.

It‘s okay to take a break and ask for help. Hopefully, you have a willing spouse or significant other on hand to help out. I say this not out of any conventional beliefs I have, because I don’t, but because, as a mom, I know you need support…especially if you’re breastfeeding. Your significant other needs to know that breastfeeding is hard, because they not only need to appreciate what you are doing in order to give your baby a great start in life, but also because they need to be your cheerleader. At some point, I promise, there will come a moment when you are holding that pink, perfect baby in your arms, and he is suckling at one tender, beat-up, sore-as-hell nipple while your other boobs squirts milk 3 feet out, and you are going to want to quit. Let your significant other know you are going to want to quit, so they can tell you to try just one more time, each time you say it. Because you will say it, in tears, several times.

But at some point, you’re going to wake up in response to your baby’s cry in the middle of the night. You will go get him, and settle down in your favorite nursing spot, lift your shirt, and both of you will sigh with relief and comfort, and you’re going to suddenly realize, “Oh. Hey. This is easy. This is actually nice.

I promise.

Realities of Motherhood

Justin Ryan, Junior 12/22/2009
While I was pregnant, I loved the baby growing inside of me. Sort of. Well, I loved the idea of him. I loved picturing myself with a perfect pink baby swaddled in a blue blanket while I calmly nursed him, all aglow with motherhood. Perhaps there would be an aura of light surrounding my head, much like a halo. Certainly there would be one around his perfect head. There would be lots of coos, and eye contact, and bonding, and when I was done nursing him, I would place him in all his baby perfection in his bed, where he would sleep for 5 or 6 hours.

And then I had a baby. A real one. Not the one in my head.

Of course he was perfect - he looked just like his daddy, and had the requisite 10 fingers and 10 toes…and a raging case of baby acne. And yes, I felt a rush of love unlike anything I had ever felt before. Here was my son. Here was a person only an hour old and I would lay down my life for him. Without question. If he needed a heart, I’d totally pull a weird Will Smith jellyfish move and give him my own. And I was surrounded by a team of capable nurses who helped me latch him on each time, and a husband who changed diapers since I had to have an emergency c-section. And I lay in my hospital bed and watched my baby (my son) and when I got sleepy, the nurse would wheel him away. Ahh, motherhood was easy.

And then we went home.

Now, my son was a good baby. He didn’t cry unless there was something wrong. He latched on like a pro. He slept 16 - 18 hours a day. He was a professional baby.

I was a mess.

There was no aura of holy light around my head - my hair was too dirty and unbrushed to let any of that happen. I had 30 staples in a suddenly very empty, very flabby tummy and they burned. No one told me how tremendously my legs would swell. My milk wasn’t in. Would it come in? What if my milk never came in? Oh my God, my milk came in…and then I was walking around with rock-hard boobs that gushed milk at the slightest provocation. Was that a baby crying? Oh, it was only the TV? Didn’t matter…my milk let down. I was soaked to the waist. Why couldn’t I get anything accomplished when my baby was sleeping those 16-18 hours? I don’t know. It’s still a mystery. Wait…he’s sleeping a lot. Maybe too much. Maybe he’s lethargic. Maybe something’s wrong. No, wait, he’s awake. Okay.

The first night we were home, my son was up all night. I was up with him. I was tired, and I didn’t feel well. I fed him, changed him, rocked him, sang to him…and then, at 3 a.m., I cried uncle. I woke my husband Justin up and said, “I have to get some rest.” Justin took the baby into the nursery. “I just changed him,” I called after him, but if he wanted to, oh well.  I carefully settled myself into bed, oh, my aching incision and swollen legs and…

“Holy Jesus!” My husband’s voice was full of both awe and panic. I was up and in the nursery in a flash.

My son, dressed in my favorite little pajama set (all primary-colored circus cuteness…he matched his nursery), lay innocently on t he changing table…and everything was covered in black poop. He was, the changing table, his jammies, my husband…Justin was cursing, baby was screaming, I started to cry, because I knew there was no longer a team of capable nurses at my beck-and-call, and no one else was going to clean up that black poop but me. And then my son peed on me.

A few nights later, as my son was dozing peacefully in what Justin and I had dubbed “chill zone” (swaddled up and nestled in his boppy pillow on the couch between us), I began to cry. He was so perfect. He was so new. He was so little. And we were responsible for him. Even down to the milk he drank - it was all on us. What about SIDs? What about drunk drivers? What about me? I love him, but do I love him enough? Where’s my bliss? Where in the hell was my bliss? “I don’t know if I can do this,” I sobbed. “We should have gotten a puppy.”

It took me about six weeks to regain control of my life, my hormones, my emotions, my body. Six weeks of calling the pediatrician’s office and explaining the color, consistency and smell of my son’s stools to very patient nurses on a nearly-daily basis. Six weeks of engorgement and sore nipples and getting peed on. Six weeks of dazed days when I walked around stunned, and nights full of reruns of The Munsters and too many infomercials to count. Six weeks of being too stressed and terrified to enjoy my son as an infant, because at 6 weeks, he woke up and became a baby. A baby whose eyes could focus on my face and who lifted his head up to look at me when he laid on my chest, who gave great, big, loose, gummy smiles and who seemed to be soothed best by me. His mom. (Probably “His mom’s boobs” would be a more truthful statement, but this is my blog, and I would prefer to think my son was more attached to me than my boobs.)

I had a lot of pregnant friends when my son was around 3 months old, and I never breathed a word of this to any of them...not until they would call or text, feeling overwhelmed and, like me, not knowing why they couldn't seem to get anything accomplished and how it was nothing like they had planned.  "It's okay," I would tell them.  "I was like that, too.  Just wait.  You've only got six weeks of this.  You carried that baby inside of you for 40 weeks...you can handle six."

Some women enjoy the newborn phase.  I was not one of them.  And I think that's normal now.  I didn't think it was normal then.  And it's okay to admit to it, too...because if you do, you may be surprised at how many other moms agree with you, with relief evident in their voices.  And I've noticed that those women who love the newborn phase...well, they tend to have 2 or 3 kids.  I think it comes with practice or something.  Because I look back at those first 6 weeks, and realize that, in some ways, they should have been the easiest six weeks.   I wish I had cuddled more and cried less.  I wish I had stressed less and slept more.  I wish I had worried less about his breathing and taken a few deep breaths myself.

But I didn't...which is why I can't wait to start on round 2.