I don’t know how much time I’ll have to write this. Currently I’m sitting in my office, still in the clothes I slept in, my t-shirt soaked in breastmilk. Alex is sleeping (!) in his crib, and I’ve got the video monitor next to my computer. I’m on tenterhooks, almost constantly. Awaiting a peep or a cry. Luckily, for the time being, he seems to be out.
So I want to talk about what the past month has been like.
First of all, parenthood takes an enormous about of courage. I don’t mean to build myself up too much, but it’s true. You sort of understand before you become a parent that your life is going to change in a gargantuan, unknowable way, but there have been several times since Alexander was born that I’ve thought My God, what have I done? You don’t really think about how little you’ll really sleep, and there is no end in sight on the sleeplessness that occurs. I often contemplate that it’ll be years and years before I can get a decent night’s sleep again.
Because even though he generally will sleep all night (6-7 hours usually), I never achieve a deep sleep, because I’m on alert; always ready. When I’m feeding him at night or early in the morning, I just think as soon as this is over I can close my eyes again. Oh how sweet those little vacations in my brain are.
But there are more serious observations I’ve made, that I wanted to share with you (and parents will probably already know this).
Everything about prenatal and postpartum care in America seems designed for privileged women. In nearly every country in the world, there is state-subsidized maternity leave. In the more enlightened countries in Scandinavia, there is mandatory year-long leave for mothers and fathers. Alan got three weeks off from work, and that was pooling together the last of his PTO and sick time and some of it was unpaid. The amount of stuff I couldn’t do for myself in those first few weeks meant that having him there was a huge lifesaver. It was too painful to sit in the car so I couldn’t drive myself anywhere. I could barely walk 30 feet without peeing myself a little. They recommend taking four baths a day. Without Alan going to the store or running errands or getting me everything I needed for those 3 weeks I don’t know how I would’ve gotten by. The burden of being the only food supply for a tiny helpless infant was already so great and at times unbearable. There have been many tears out of frustration and feelings of futility when feedings became hard or long or Alex was clearly hungry but being uncooperative. Painful latching, feedings bleeding into each other… Everything about this is difficult and the fact that there isn’t more support for women in these early days is criminal.
We also got the hospital bill recently. Without health insurance, we would’ve been looking at a year’s worth of private college tuition.
Alex is a difficult baby. He’s temperamental and finicky. What works to get him to sleep one night (like mimicking his crying, which confused and hypnotized him immediately and he conked out), won’t necessarily work the next. I’m actually shocked he’s sleeping right now. I didn’t even have to put him in the car seat or his bear suit! Everything about him is unpredictable. People ask me questions all the time: is he hungry? he seems hungry. does he need a nap? is he too cold? God, I DON’T KNOW. I barely know this little guy. Most people don’t begin intimate lifelong relationships with people the first day they meet and move in with them and suck on their boobs for sustenance.
Babies are hard. Did that need to be said?
BUT. Alex is also wonderful and beautiful and he’s cuddly and he smells good. He’s got the cutest little face with no eyebrows and I even don’t mind changing his diapers. Even though I think about how I won’t be getting sleep for the next 5 or 6 years, I also think about what he’ll look like in 3 months, or 1 year, or when he’s running around on his own, with his own interests and personality. I get to raise him. I get to share with him all the traditions I love — like cutting down our own Christmas tree and listening to Charlie Brown, or going to the cabin every summer! Even when he’s being difficult, I can still somehow find a way to giggle at the way he searches for food like a little rabid wolf, or his sweet little cries (which sound like he’s trying to say his dad’s name).
So yeah, holy hell, the first month is now behind us, and I have no delusions that things are about to get easier. Maybe they’ll get better in some departments, but there will be new departments introduced every day. But, we got through the first month. I’m going to celebrate. Maybe by loading Alex in his car seat and taking him to the Starbucks drive thru for a SCM for me.