Taking the Long Way Around

I’ve been writing this post in my head for four weeks, and now I have writer’s block, so I’m going to just have to get it out now, please excuse me if it makes no sense, and let’s try not to start a lactivist war on Twitter or something over some stupid thing I’ve said.  (Not that anyone really cares that much what I have to say about any of this.)

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I think sometimes maybe we’re overexposed to parenting horror stories, us folks who spend a lot of time hanging out here on the internet.  Sometimes it seems like everyone out there had a difficult baby, or that’s what you hear about, and so you think that whatever your baby is up to can’t actually be that bad.  I know Erik and I spent a lot of time, after Eli was born and in the next three years after that, saying things like “thank god he didn’t have colic” or “he wasn’t a difficult baby.  He was happy as long as he was being held, so that’s not really too bad”.  But I think about it now and I realize – he always had to be held.  I could never put him down.  He would only sleep on me.  And he weighed five pounds when he came home from the hospital and from the minute he was born, someone, me or a doctor or a nurse or his father, was obsessing over his weight or his temperature and I had to nurse him all the time.  I mean, ALL THE TIME.  And I hated nursing.  I did it for 13 months and I’d do it again, but I hated it.  It hurt and it was hard and I lived my life under the heavy shadow of a giant imaginary clock.  I hated going to sleep, because I was just going to have to get up in some ridiculous amount of time and try to keep a sleepy tiny baby awake long enough to eat for a half an hour, and then in an hour I was going to have to do it all over again.

I thought the anxiety and then the depression and the fear started when Eli was older, after we started him on solid food and when we first realized he wasn’t growing, when we first heard the words “failure to thrive.”  But I think maybe it actually started in those first days, when all I wanted to do was mop my kitchen floor but I could never put the baby down, when the only thing that made me feel better were doughnuts, and I gained pound after pound but just couldn’t stop eating doughnuts, and it never stopped raining and Erik didn’t get a raise and our heating bill was $400 a month and our house wasn’t even warm, and nurses came to the house to weigh the baby and everyone, everyone, everyone asked about my boobs and milk and feeding and pooping and we lived under a microscope for months.

My best friend in the whole world once said something to me, in passing, about how she felt about Eli, that she knew she’d throw herself in front a train to save him, with no second thought, and it amazed her.  It amazed me too, because I wasn’t at all sure I felt that way, as horrified as  am to admit that you all now.  Was I protecting my heart?  I am not sure.  I am not sure.  I adore that boy with every fiber of my being, now, and I can tell you that if it came to it, I’d do ANYTHING to keep him safe, now, but it took me time to come to that.  I have never been neutral on my son, but I don’t know how to explain that a fiery love wasn’t born with him.  It had to grow, and it had to grow through some hard times, and through years of a child who has never eaten right, who still doesn’t sleep reliably through the night, who is nervous around other children, who takes the batteries out of all of his toys, who melts down countless times a day, who is the only person on earth who is more stubborn than I am.

It is not that I was miserable all of the time, or that I wished that I had never had a child, or that I didn’t know that some people had it much much worse than I did, or that it’s not hard for everyone, taking care of a baby.  Or that I didn’t love my son.  But yes, it was really hard.  For us.  For me.

And I tell you all this knowing that you’ll understand somehow, that through all that, I could not love my son more than I do.  That I am not declaring here and now, at one month into parenting two, that I have a favorite, because I could no more choose a favorite leg or a favorite part of my heart I’d like to keep.

But when Lightning was born, and she arrived here after a season of anxiety, after 29 non stress tests and gestational diabetes and a few long moments I’d not like to relive again, when they told us she might have Down Syndrome, when they told us her kidneys were enlarged, when they told us that we might not see a heartbeat at the next ultrasound, when she arrived, in that instant, something in me clicked, and I knew.  I knew she was just the right one.

I don’t know if it’s because she was born at 41 weeks and Eli was born at 37 weeks, or if it’s because she weighed almost more three pounds than he did, or if it’s because she is my second or because I breastfed my first until he was 13 months old and so the nurses at the hospital assumed I knew what I was doing,  but right from the beginning, things were different.  They were different in such an amazing way.

The sun was shining when we brought her home, and neighbors brought cannoli and gluten free muffins, and she slept and  I vacuumed my house and when she didn’t sleep and the floor was dirty I didn’t care.  I did not care.  In the hospital she ate and she ate and she ate and no one woke her up every two hours to take her temperature, and we took her back to the doctor one time to be weighed and then they told us we didn’t need to come back for two months and when I heard the words 55th percentile I wanted to shake that nurses hand.  And we put her in her crib and she sleeps, and then she wakes up and eats and eats and eats some more, and then sleeps.  Sometimes she smiles.  She hardly ever cries.  SHE EATS.  Let me say it again:  SHE EATS.

I started to get it -why some people would claim to love breastfeeding.  I started to kind of love breastfeeding myself, at the same time that I felt for the first time that if it didn’t work out, we’d pop open a can of formula and move on.  I never have weird thoughts about what would happen if I dropped a knife on her.  I have no charts of when I fed her last with what boob.  I’ve never timed any thing she’s ever done.  I feel really genuinely digustingly honest to goodness happy.  Tired, but really really really happy.  I can’t think of anything to feel anxious about, except maybe my tomatoes, and even for that I really have to work at it.

I am not sure how to put this delicately, so maybe I won’t try.  I had an epidural when I pushed K Dub out into this world, so I had no idea that some things down there were tearing, but trust me, when you push something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon, there’s damage.  Which is why I find it so very ironic that I consider that moment, the moment my Katie was born,  to be the very same moment my heart began to heal.

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19 Responses

  1. I love the honesty in this post, because as a childless person, the idea that things might not be that bright shiny magic that we’ve all grown to think of as the Only Acceptable Feeling while having a child is one of my biggest fears.

    As your friend, I am so glad that you are healing, and happy and that things are good. And as someone who happens to love both of your kids so much, as well as you and Erik, I think the four of you are a perfect fit, together, just as you all are.

  2. Elizabeth, you rock. I am so happy for you and your sweet, little family.

    I know what it’s like firsthand to live under a microscope. And it sucks. And I know what it’s like to have another baby and have it be oh-so-normal once she arrives (my second pregnancy was wrought with drama, too, but for different reasons). Congratulations to you, and I’m glad things are easier this time around. Hooray!

    I don’t even know you, but I kinda love you anyway.

  3. I couldn’t be any happier for you! I know motherhood the first go around is a giant kick in the pants, and it’s even worse when things don’t go according to growth charts, medical charts, pie charts, etc. But I’m so so so so glad that everything is going as well as it possibly could and that your heart is happy ❤

  4. I’m a new reader here, but I just had to comment and tell you that this post is so beautiful and honest and I wish more people had the courage to write like this.

    Enjoy this time with your family. So happy for you all.

  5. Yes. This was how it went with BOTH of my kids – and it’s so weird, because you and I had SUCH similar experiences with the five-pounders. And I wonder if I would have felt more natural and bonded with Lucy if she’d been bigger, like your sweet Katie is. But she was one ounce SMALLER than Asher was, so we went through it all over again. I know exactly how you feel when your kid is a Weight-Gain Project instead of a baby.

    What I love and respect most is that you realize that your feelings on the subject, however rare (rare because no one *admits* it, not because no one feels the same way) are PERFECTLY FINE. And natural. And normal and your kids will never know the difference, because you love them just as much as you would have if you’d had the Big Love Explosion right there at the beginning. So we ease into motherhood! That just means we’re better at it in the long run, doesn’t it?

    I LOVE YOU, ELIZABETH. I know it looks weird and creepy in all caps but I have a hug reserved for you in Chicago JUST FOR THIS POST.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this! Strangely enough – I feel like I had the reverse – things were SO much more, I don’t know, difficult (?) with my daughter? And they still sort of are. But there are moments when yes. She was just the right one.

    So thank you for expressing what I can not!

  7. Beautifully said. I think you’re right about the overexposure to horror stories. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I kept thinking, “at least she’s happy when she’s awake” instead of, “my GRACIOUS this child NEVER sleeps!” I think, for me, lowered expectations played a big part in things being easier the second time around.

  8. I totally get it. I have two boys and although my first wasn’t considered difficult and I really enjoyed being his mother, I had the same feeling when I was handed my second son. A do over of sorts.

    My second just slept and ate and … well that’s it. My first required constant holding and swaddling just so for that 2 minute trip to the bathroom I desperately needed just to have some time alone.

    I just wanted to delurk to say I get everything you have said. This was my experience too.

  9. My second’s name is Carli Jay…loosely translated as Strong Healer. Because she was a surprise that healed my heart from a miscarriage…and even though i had awful ppd after her as well, i am so freakin thankful for my healer…

    anyways, that was my long way around saying this is awesome, wonderful post, and you are one brave, awesome lady for putting it out there.

  10. This is beautiful. I am so thankful for you and your writing because you can take the large jumble of my thoughts and experiences and put them into words – I relate to every single thing you just said. My son taught me to be a mom and for that he has my heart, but my daughter (2nd born) has my joy.

    Thank you so much for writing this E!

  11. There’s something about the second time around that’s just easier and more peaceful. It comes, I think, with the confidence of knowing that everything will pass, that it’ll be OK.

  12. You are such an incredible writer, and I thank you for sharing this experience. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

  13. Beautiful, Elizabeth. Honest and beautiful. Thanks for writing it.

  14. OH WOW. is all I can say.

  15. I had almost the exact opposite experience- with my first I felt like her babyhood was this magical experience and everything I had imagined. (And it is no small detail that she was a great sleeper and hardly ever cried and never really NEEDED to be held, though she didn’t fight it or anything.) My second, though I initially had that falling in love experience in the hospital after his birth, was a constantly grouchy newborn who cried and fussed and nursed nonstop. I also had a much harder time recovering from his birth, plus a needy toddler to care for and a house we were trying to sell, and it just seemed like I was surviving his infancy, nothing more. I felt SO guilty all the time, especially after having a good experience to compare it with.
    But you know what? By the time he was a year old he had turned into this uber-adorable toddler, and he remains that way to this day. I would say I enjoyed his TODDLERHOOD far more than I did his sister’s. So it all evens out, is what I realized, and just because a certain stage is sucking doesn’t mean you aren’t going to love that kid or that your relationship with them is never going to feel better.
    Sorry for the novel, I just really really related, and it’s something I don’t talk about a lot because I feel like people are thinking, “What! You didn’t love your baby?!”
    It’s also something I’m thinking about a lot as I prepare for my third baby. Maybe the infancy will be nothing but smooshy love and cuddles, and maybe it will be screaming and sore nipples and gritting my teeth. But either way, in a year or so I’ll end up with an awesome KID who will be an irreplacable part of our family before we know it.

  16. I’m so touched by what you’ve written here, and so happy for your healing, your new arrival, and your family.

  17. Dammit. Now it was your turn to make ME bawl. This killed me, it really did. Lovely.

  18. I’m an occasional reader here, but I don’t think I’ve commented before. Anyway…just wanted to say that I absolutely love this post, and it’s got a very similar feel as the one rolling around in my own head, except that mine is about making the decision to have another baby and wondering if it will be an experience like this.

    I have 15-month old twin girls, and the feelings you describe from the first few months are exactly where I was as well. They were about 4.5 lbs. when we went home, and there was so much charting, counting, feeding, timing, and not sleeping that I lived in a perpetual state of confusion and worry. My babies actually were easy babies; it’s just that with two (very small) babies, life is difficult even if they are “easy”. I can’t help but wonder if we had another, would my experience be like yours is the second time around? I don’t know that I will ever go there, but it’s fun to think about.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m so glad I found this post of yours…it gives me a lot to think about.

  19. I’m glad to hear things are going well. Is breastfeeding like riding a bike? I also set a “deadline” for myself of nursing for a year and it was so much harder to do than I thought it would be. It gives me hope that the second time will be easier.

    It’s also true that things that seemed so insane and difficult at the time are now just blips on the radar. You get amnesia about the hard stuff. I was writing down ounces and left and right boob data and feeding times and number of wet diapers and it consumed me. Then things got better, and I forgot all about it, until I found a piece of paper recently with my notes on it. I was like, “Oh yeah, that really sucked.”

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