At a rosy ten weeks, our girl Eme is curious and cooing and full of smiles and even (she said very very quietly) sleeping pretty consistently through the night, with one five minute soothe needed from mama around 3 am. While it takes us twenty years to get out the door in the morning – read early afternoon – our worst fears are slowly dissipating. You know, the fears that she’ll break at any moment or that our relationship is ruined forever or that we are doing it all wrong. Please note, by we, I really mean me (DK had his own set of despairing moments, but he tends not to hyperbolize those moments into Definitive Titles of Failure.).
I’m very glad to have read Tej’s post about how trying those first few weeks can be, because my expectations were slightly more grounded in reality and not a soft-focus montage of sun-dappled days of mother and baby bonding. Nor was I a baby neophyte, having started to babysit for newborns starting at age 12 (which . . over my dead body) and changed upteen diapers of nieces and nephews and rocked screaming babies to sleep. And I knew that DK and I would both be at home with Eme, throwing the not-inconsiderable energy of two semi-competent adults at this endeavor. And yet, for all this, for all the good moments (and these far, far outweighed the bad ones), I found myself sobbing hysterically in that first week or so at different times in the bathroom, in the closet, in the shower, feeling as hopeless and worthless as I ever have in my life.
And this with a baby that was doing great: Emerson was a champion nurser from the get-go, she snoozed in my arms happily, she pooped and peed with startling alacrity. She was beautiful and healthy, with a lovely head and rosebud lips and she smelled like a dream. And DK’s whole family was in town to help however they could (and given his mom was a RN in pediatric surgery for 30+ years at Stanford, not a bad lady to help put things like meconium in perspective). But there were still moments. As I tried to explain to DK at the time, I felt like there was a total schism in my brain between the emotional and the logical – and while I could hear the logical brain whisper its two cents, the emotional brain was turned up to 11, blaring out everything else.
So, for example, I was convinced Eme was going to die or be hurt and it would be our stupid fault because we weren’t following the dictates of the Generally Accepted Wisdom. Did we wait three weeks to take her out in public? Non. Try during the first week we took her (1) to the post office; (2) to a restaurant; (3) to the Met. I found myself nursing my six day old baby in the bathroom off the American wing trying to twitch the receiving blanket into place to preserve some form of modesty and thinking, “huh, this is kind of awkward.”
But all that was fine – it was, of all things, the first trip to the pediatrician that did me in. Because the doctor’s office was only a five minute walk away and we had yet to purchase a stroller, DK plunked our little rag doll into the Baby Bjorn to carry her. It was a freezing cold day in February so we had the hood over her head and her little face was mushed up against his chest and . . . well, I had a full on panic attack on a Tribeca street corner, tears streaming down my face, hyperventilating and hating DK with every fiber of my being because I was sure, absolutely certain, she was suffocating and he was just walking all chirpy and happily across the street. (Note: she was 100% fine). Then there was the woman on the subway next to DK who dared cough near my baby. Cough! On the subway! As if she was the jerk who decided to take a newborn onto the train. I slipped on big Jackie-O sunglasses (in February.) to hide my tears and walked a few yards away, but started hiccupping until DK came over and held my hand and showed me Eme’s face. Her breathing little face.
Then there was the lesser, vanity-driven episodes. I loved being pregnant, I loved my baby belly, I felt strong and healthy and felt proud walking through the gym doing my little low-key stairmaster and hand weights, sharing smiles with the female trainers as I took the stairs down to the street level one at a time. And then I had the baby and suddenly I was just . . . poochy. My butt suddenly seemed much larger without the enormous baby bump to set it off, and my stomach was no longer a firm balloon, but a deflated sac and my boobs -- my god. The day my milk came in, I made the mistake of peeking at myself in the mirror on the way to the shower. My painfully engorged breasts made Heidi Montag’s latest surgery look tasteful and restrained. So, hormone crazed, I cried, snuffling wetly on DK’s neck that I was so . . . so hideous! That I’d never look normal again, ever, never, ever.
I wish I could tell myself of two months ago to chill the f*** out, to be easier on myself, to get some perspective – but I’m sure she wouldn’t have listened anymore than she listened to DK or her logical brain telling her exactly that (“Self: You JUST HAD A BABY, relax!”). But things got better, and better quickly. Having DK in the apartment with me all day, every day was a luxury (even during the moments we both wanted to kill each other after two straight rainy days in a row because, GOD, can we GET A LITTLE SPACE IN THIS HERE JOINT?) (also: we are both stubborn and bossy and I maybe had a little bit of a hard time adjusting to not being the only parent and maybe DK had a little bit of a hard time adjusting to me being 100% baby obsessed and occasionally looking at him like, “and you are . . .?”). But when Eme had a little bout of crying two hours straight between 6-8pm every night for about two weeks, I could pass her to him and take a walk. And I could shower everyday. And cook dinner. And go meet a friend for lunch in high heeled boots and lipstick. Our life contracted, it shifted, but I felt most of the time like we were doing pretty good. Lots of friends came by and visited, hanging out for hours talking and laughing and drinking wine. We went out at least once a day, a few times out to dinner at a local favorite restaurant with Eme snoozing on my lap in a nest of coats, and once we got a stroller, I toodled around solo mio through the city while DK worked at home, stopping in cafes and doing little shops and just . . . walking around, enjoying not being at work on a Tuesday afternoon or using my blackberry except to snap quick photos of our girl to send around.
And our girl. Oh our girl. She is something else.
I'm happy we survied those first few weeks and I hope when we do this again, I'll remember better, be smarter, be gentler with myself and with DK, be less defensive. I was so afraid of failing her in some inexplicable way, of not doing a good job, I made mountains out of molehills on too many occassions. Keep her safe, keep her fed, keep her happy -- and keep living your life. Simple, right? Maybe more so than I thought.