when the baby was new

I know four people who have had their first baby in the last couple of weeks and my Facebook feed could not be more delightful, which is something I haven't said in at least 247 days.


People tell you to enjoy every minute and you want to kick those dorks right in the goods, I get it.

As someone who has NEVER told and will NEVER tell a new mom to enjoy every minute, I will help you hold a fool for the kicking. Because before spouting off that grade-A bologna, she shoulda asked somebody.

Um, hi.
I can't really walk yet. 
I have no idea what I'm doing and a human life is in my dumb no-idea hands.
My jugs are swollen and angry and painful like two just-inside-the-nostril zits on my chest that never stop popping.
Nothing is normal.
I'm scared to poop.
I googled something about the baby's toenails and THE BABY HAS TOENAIL LEUKEMIA.
People keep asking me why the baby is fussing as if I know.
My lifelong habit of "sleep at night" has just been kicked, cold-turkey, and I am not handling that well.

But yeah, no, thanks, I'll enjoy eeeeevery minute of this physical, emotional, psychological night circus. This is VERY PLEASANT and NOT AT ALL AWFUL.


There's no other way to slice it: bringing new life into the world through your most tender territories is grown-ass lady's work. That shit is not for sissies. And there's a lot that feels desperate, terrifying, claustrophobic, and infuriating in those first days and weeks of new parenthood. You are, of course, serving the first days of your life sentence, ya new fish. The world just changed shape on you, which can feel like the apocalypse. I have logged many many posts detailing each of the horsemen, the plagues and portents and Armageddonish feeling of new parenthood.

But, you know what? There are good times.

I found so many treasures trudging through the deep sand as a new mom.

I did not enjoy every minute, and I would NEVER advise you to try.

But I enjoyed some of the minutes.

When I think about those minutes, my chest opens up the same way it does when Chicken jumps into my arms, and his smooth arms wrap around my neck and his legs squeeze my ribs and I know he still feels safest right here.

Here are a few of the moments I enjoyed. To the new moms, these are the things that still make me smile, 5 years in.

- 1 -
Game On

Chicken was born late at night and fell into his first sleep in his little plastic bassinet on wheels around midnight.

I sent Ryan home so he wouldn't have to sleep on the plastic bench cot in the room. It wasn't a sacrifice - we lived across the street from the hospital and there was a small army of nurses and midwives who promised to see us safely to the dawn.

Ryan promised to return bright and early with donuts. I don't remember falling asleep.

Chicken woke up crying.

I don't remember what newborn cry he had - was it a gassy bleating sheep cry (wa-a-a-a-a-a), or the Mama-I-need-you-now cry, the two-toner that starts low and ends somewhere around stabbing (wa-AH, wa-AH) - but I do remember that I woke up immediately, and for the only time in my life that I can remember, I had a thought that was accurate both in fact and scale.

This is the first time my son will ever wake me up in the middle of the night. This is the beginning.

There was no one else in the room. I looked at the controls on my bed and the wires stickered to my arm, the tubes that still held me by the vein. I wondered if my epidural had worn off enough for me to walk. I wiggled my toes. I thought about pushing the call button.

I got out of bed, carefully, and shuffled to the bassinet. I stood over my son as he twisted and cried, his hands up and fisted in that newborn surrender to this big, cold world. I picked him up.

This is the first time he called me.

"What do you need, little one?" I asked him. "Are you hungry?"

I sat on the plastic bench and tried to remember how to do the thing I'd done once before, a few hours ago, while in pain and shock. Step one: hold him in right arm so his body is across yours, and his face is at left boob station one. Step two: use left hand to kind of pinch your boob and shove the nipple in his mouth once it's really wide open.

(Listen, I know it sounds easy.)

He wouldn't latch so I rocked him in the dark on the plastic bench that sighed and moaned when I shifted my weight.

This is the first time I'll sing to him. 
about to start singing...
for the first time...
Here we go...
Oh my God I'm coming up blank on lullabies here. 

I don't remember what I sang. It might have been Sweet Baby James. It might have been the ABCs.

He fell asleep and I called a nurse to swaddle him. "You can call us when he wakes up again and we'll help you feed him," she said as she tightly rolled my son into a blanket with brisk, gruff motions that made me wince even as he snored and snuffled.

The nurse left, and I lay back down in my bed and felt very awake.

First one down. 
I can do this.
Wait, but what did I do?

Nothing, really.

I was just his mom.

For the first time in my life.

In both our lives.

- 2 -
Mother Comrade

There was nothing that didn't scare me for the first couple of months.

I'd sit down to a hot lunch cooked from scratch by my husband, take one bite, and think, "What if I lose my mind and hurt the baby?"

My legs would go numb. My breath would shorten, my heart race. I would not be able to look at the food, much less summon any desire to put it into my body.

I didn't sleep more than a couple of hours a night for the first week and a half - at the hospital there were murmurs of transfer to the NICU and possible infection, and as I wheeled 36-hours-old Chicken to his first chest x-ray, a nurse barked at me that I needed to get a breast pump immediately because he'd be too sick to nurse soon.

15 minutes later we were back from radiology, left in our room, and told to get some sleep.

I turned to Ryan and said, "He's not on monitors or anything. We need to take turns watching him breathe. I'll take the first shift." I couldn't cry. I couldn't feel anything. I had watch to stand.

That part doesn't make me smile, of course.

I tried to explain to Ryan and Mom after we got home and my terror metastasized to include paralyzing fear of postpartum psychosis, stomach flu, Ebola, car accidents, earthquakes, and accidentally leaving the baby in the car. I tried to tell them why I wasn't eating or sleeping but they looked at me like I was scary, rather than scared. I still couldn't cry. The pediatrician told me to have a drink and get some sleep.

I felt loved but broken and very alone.

I lay on the couch one afternoon, my stomach in knots over something both hellish and hypothetical, and I texted a friend, not even a close friend, just the only other young mom I knew in the city.

"This is really hard," I said.

She didn't offer solutions or recommend a book. She didn't tell me to just wait until I had a toddler and a newborn like she did at the time.

She just said, "It is SO HARD."

And then she said, "You are the best mother in the world for your son."

I cried.

That was the first moment I felt welcome in this new life. I felt not crazy. I felt like I fit, because what she said was true, and spoke to a deep fear that I didn't even know I had: My friend told me that nobody else could do better than me at loving my son. She said I was doing the best job anyone could do.

She said that sometimes you feel beaten at the end of the race because you gave it everything you had, you fucking champion. Turn around - there's no one else in sight.

She said she saw my hard-won victory, and she was on her feet cheering for me.

I felt loved, and right, and not alone.

- 3 -
I'll Take It

The first time I drove my son, just me and Chicken, it was to go to a lactation consultant. Because all I do is win win win no matter what.

I took the baby down to the car and clipped him in. I sat behind the wheel. I breathed. I started the car. The Beatles sang "Eight Days a Week."

I backed out of the spot. I signaled, turned onto the street.

I drove 2.4 miles in 8 minutes. I parallel-parked outside the small office on a side-street.

We were early. I took Chicken out of the car and stood in the shade on the sidewalk. I swayed with him and sang Eight Days a Week until it was time.

"You came by yourself?" The lactation consultant made the exaggerated frowning-mouth, surprised-eyebrows face that says "I'm VERY impressed and you look like you need a win."

"Yep," I said. "Ryan's at home. I wanted to do this on my own, though. Gotta live, right?"

"Right," she said. "But still, he's what, 14 days old and you're already out and about? You're a rock star!"



Thought #1: OMG am I a rock star? Holy shit, I AM a rock star! I had a feeling I might be, but I didn't want to, like...  Thank you so much, seriously.

Thought #2: Wait, does this count as out and about? Driving 10 miles under the limit to a lactation consultant appointment? Is this what my life is now?

Thought #3: Wait, are other people not out and about 2 weeks after giving birth? Am I doing this wrong?

Thought #4: Nah girl, you're good. In fact, you're better than good. The lactation lady said you're a ROCK STAR.

Thought #5: I love her.

Thought #6: Googling:

One of my favorite things about being a new mom was the times I could vault over the incredibly low expectations that people have of new moms. (And also all the times I barely met the incredibly low expectations and it was still totally fine.)

"You're DRESSED? And SPEAKING? Holy shit, is the President also on hold waiting for your input on the thing with the UN right now?"

"You're out with the baby by yourself? And how many dragons did you slay on your way to this, the coffee shop, for your latte of triumph?"

"You bought bagels for our visit!?! What, are you secretly Galadriel the Lady of the Wood and the greatest of elven women?"

i kind of am

would you like
with your bagel

Simple tasks, common courtesies, basic socialization - all of these achievements were greeted with celebration and applause. Basically all I had to do for those first few weeks was maintain two pulses, not soil myself, and only murder people not in front of a camera, and I became a Super Mom.

Whatever, I'll take it.

- 4 -
A Few Odds and Ends

- Every Tuesday and Wednesday for the first 3 months I went to a new parent support group for 2 hours in the afternoon and it became the axis upon which my entire life spun. The best part of those days was when I would stop at the drive-thru Starbucks on my way to group and get an iced coffee, an ice water, a chocolate donut, and the veggie breakfast sandwich, the one they don't have anymore that had peppers in the eggs. I would eat. The baby would sleep. I would listen to an audiobook. The car became a tiny air-conditioned world in which I had the time and space to enjoy small things like peppers in eggs and a good paperback read aloud. In a life that became, very quickly, about the resources my child needed instead of the comforts I wanted, those nosh'n'drives were, quite simply, nice.

- One day I nursed and then changed Chicken's diaper at Nordstrom. They have very spacious and comfortable rooms for mothers at Nordstrom, by the way. Another mom was in there with her toddler. "Tell me it gets easier," I said. She coughed out a laugh. "I can't do that," she said. "But I can tell you that you'll get harder."

- Those first really epic baby pictures. Not the adorable ones with gam-gam and noo-nob, not the profesh ones where the child is folded into a fleshy baby egg, nude but for a crown of pinecones and duck feathers. but the REAL ones. The ones in mid-spit-up, the ones with the evil face or the pooping face. The ones where you can see yourself falling crazy in love.



oh shit he spotted me

- My certainty that strangers would delight in him and believe him lovable, even if he didn't perform baby tricks for them on cue. I miss that. My kids are old enough now that they have to earn love from strangers, which is a shame because most of the time when we're around strangers my kids are testing their long-term performance art piece entitled "SNAP: a creative exploration of the limits of a mother's love."

- 5 -
The Mom, The Myth, The Legend

I would never tell you to enjoy every minute. NEVER.

I will, however, tell you that every minute you spend, whether in reverie or misery, is a moment that you earned, a moment you survived, a moment that wove itself into the myth of how you became a parent.

I wonder how many times a day my infant Chicken heard me whisper, "Okay, okay, okay" or "We've got this," or "I've got you," or "I can do this," or "Everything is going to be fine, baby." If I spoke the recommended 30,000 words a day to my baby son, I think at least 28,000 of them were assertions of our okayness, or at least promises of our future okayness.

I was lost and it was hard.

I look at this picture now, taken when Chicken was 9 days old and Ryan and I were 1 week into Gitmo-level sleep deprivation:

we look like
we were just rescued from a collapsed mine
after 9 days
but by north korean sleeper agents
and then given a shower
and thrown in front of cameras
to record a statement of allegiance to the supreme leader

and ryan is blinking SOS
and I'm tattooing a secret message to my parents on my leg off-camera

we look insane
and yet

so basically we look like new parents
is what we look like

This picture was taken the day the pediatrician told me to have a drink and get some sleep.

This picture is what I look like when I am profoundly not okay.

And what I see when I look at this picture is the fact I started there, afraid of everything, and now I'm here, having performed the Heimlich maneuver in real life, called poison control four times in four years, swept my son to the ER for possible battery ingestion, answered his questions about death and God and friends and anger. And my life isn't perfect and neither are my kids, but I walked myself step by step out of a place where I believed, deeply, that I was not going to make it.

I asked for help; I learned the ropes; I built my life. The mom at Nordstrom was right - I did get harder.

On the day Chicken was born my world did an Easter Sunday - it died and rose again. I am so damn proud of myself. I learned the new world.

It helps that even in the resurrected world, there is Starbucks.


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