Today is my twenty-third day of parenthood. The little guy in the photo is bigger and blonder and sleeping next to me as I type. The morning is cool and peaceful, not least of all because he (and consequently I) slept at least five hours for three nights straight now.
So far, nights have been a source of some dread for me. This started in the hospital, when we were frequently interrupted by nurses blithely knocking and entering, voices at daytime levels. I couldn’t really fault them, since they had regular tests and tasks to perform. It did make me wonder how anyone considers the hospital stay the most restful part of early parenthood. At least at home, the only one interrupting our nights is Little Bear.
And interrupt them he does. The first two weeks, our lives were so out of the ordinary that it didn’t jar us so much as stupefy us as exhaustion took over. The real problem, for me, started once M returned to work. I was desperate to keep him as rested as possible, as I have a horror of him getting in a car accident during his commute. What this meant with a newborn, however, was jumping out of bed and rushing LB from the room the second he whimpered. Falling asleep on the sofa nursing LB and waking horrified that I’d risked dropping him. One night dozing on the sofa with LB in his basket on the floor next to me, hoping like hell that M was getting a good night’s sleep. And, finally, M waking up and discovering me weeping on the side of the bed, clutching Bear and despairingly waiting to simply keel over in exhaustion.
Since that dark night, things are improving. There are, of course, still moments when the crying/dirty diapers/only-one-hand-free seem eternal, and then I’m inclined to get a bit teary. These moments occur most often at night, of course. Sleep deprivation is one reason. Another is caused by LB only insofar as it is a byproduct of pregnancy. I refer to the insidious PUPPP rash. I hope you never have to find out what it is. If you are so unfortunate, I hope you at least avoid my situation, where the rash started to resolve before delivery, as it is supposed to, then returned a few days after to ensure that sleep would elude me even when it has captured LB. It makes me feel unattractive and crazed with itching. I hope like hell it goes away on its own, as soon as possible, because none of the suggested remedies have worked.
A third reason nights go badly is really my own fault. Googling is one of my worst anxious habits. Cyberchondria is definitely a thing, and I easily fall prey to it. Now that Bear is here, most of my googling takes the form of queries like “newborn belly button healing?” But at 3:30 in the morning, when I’ve been trying to soothe LB for two hours, I start to search for help with “newborn cries unless nursing” and “newborn only sleeps in my arms”. And what I find is frustrating.
There are plenty of answers that are sort of helpful, such as “use a sling to have your hands free”, or at least sympathetic (“it gets better”). The answers I despise are those which state that I should be cherishing every moment that my infant insists on being in my arms. Even more infuriating are those which imply that I am not properly parenting, or at least not properly enjoying it, if I don’t want to hold Little Bear twenty-four hours a day. Never mind that I cannot sleep while holding him, and I must sleep to effectively care for him. Never mind that I really do need to occasionally take a shower, run a load of the endless laundry, and even (gasp!) just take a minute alone to clear my mind and recenter. I don’t know who these mothers are that look back on this period and truly only feel fondness. Our sweet little LB is the light of our life and brings us an indescribable joy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to scream into my pillow when he cries for a third nursing overnight. I could go on, as I am increasingly irritated by some of the strong attachment parenting messages I see, but this article sums it up better than I ever could. I’ve especially taken to her notion of chronos versus kairos. The worst of the chronos moments are balanced if I take care to notice the kairos.
There are plenty of magical moments to experience. It’s funny to note that, despite having roughly nine months to prepare, parenthood still blindsides you. Suddenly, your life is not the same, and it never will be again. Having a logical awareness and even acceptance of this fact does not prevent you from needing some time to come to terms with it. M and I have both noticed a certain mourning set in. This sense of loss is somewhat neutral in the day, when we nap as LB naps, without thinking much of everything else we could be doing. It’s a bit more depressing in the middle of the night, when he’s protesting his third dirty diaper in two hours, and I’m crying along with him as I change him. But sometimes, sometimes, it is that bittersweet sense that even as we’re losing, we’re gaining.
We marvel at this little creature. Even when he’s wailing, we laugh at our good fortune and his adorable chubby cheeks. He has M’s ears and chin and sleeping habits. He has my nose and my tendency to red eyes when tired. He has dimpled thighs and arms and already holds his head up like a champ. He dislikes sponge baths and wants to feed more than can possibly be healthy. He likes car rides and has been taught to grab M’s beard (a lesson I suspect M will come to regret). He is mercurial with visitors, but his occasional tendency to sleep through most of a night makes some mornings absolutely blissful.
Little Bear is bringing out the best in both M and me. As I’ve recovered, M has taken care of me, LB, and our home. You would never know that he hadn’t held a baby before being handed Bear in the hospital. He calms our boy in no time, as easily as he calms me. Despite being nearly as fond of sleep as he is of us, he gamely takes midnight shifts holding LB when I am so tired my eyes are crossed. Introducing a newborn to our family, though it keeps us busy enough for me to sometimes miss M even while we’re together, has really enhanced our already strong partnership. We’ve discovered that we’re more than capable parents, and that self-confidence helps across the board.
So we go on, day by day, adjusting to our new reality, learning to get by on less sleep, seeking the kairos. We’re waiting, mostly patiently, for our sweet Bear to smile at us, laugh, know us by name. And maybe sleep through the night. Everybody needs a dream, right?