Friday, July 31, 2009

conflict resolution

Evenings are long. In some ways longer than the day that preceded them. You would imagine that having an extra set of hands would make things easier; having a set of ears that can understand you might make things less lonely, but this life isn't that predictable. Parenthood can be surprising. During the day you find that what you're doing either works or it doesn't. He's in a "good" mood. Or he isn't. But whatever the hours bring you, it's up to you to deal with them. You keep pushing, looking for distractions and celebrate the quiet moments, and when the screaming starts it's up to you. But in the evenings those extra hands sit so close, the extra ears hear him as well and so every difficult moment left to you seems to be a moment which *could* be handled by someone else. He has hard days too so you respect his need for down time as much as you crave your own. You share the burdens (because the witching hour is even more witchy with a baby who tends to be quite bitchy), but find yourself resenting the work that is left in your hands. I don't break down in the mornings and have only once cried during the day. It's the evenings, when calm and freedom is so close but so so far, that leave me cold.

But the nights.

My brother told me when I'd been a parent for just a week (and jaundice kept the little one sleeping) that I should forever make daddy take a night shift every night. My husband might have to work in the morning, but his job is easier than mine, he said. (My brother got the snip last year so felt safe to reveal this, most closely guarded secret of fatherhood.) But my nephews were formula fed, so night shifts were up for grabs. My son (after a month of exclusively pumping) has taken to breastfeeding like he's taken to crying. His latch is improper, he drools half the milk, but he clearly enjoys my breasts as much as any man ever has. So the night shifts all fall to me. And I'm glad for it.

There is something about the quiet of the night. Something about the dark. Sitting on the couch at 1am, scanning the channels for something other than infomercials with a drowsy baby drooling your milk onto your underwear doesn't sound romantic, but it is then that I love being a mom. It is then that I *feel* like a mom, instead of some imposter, some inexperienced child without the tools or the ability to parent. At 1am he smells so good (even when he smells of vomit, which he does regardless of the number of baths). At 1am he looks so sweet, even though his eyes are steadily becoming more chihuahua like by the day (just like his mommy). At 1am I am thankful and happy and powerful, even though I know that my sleep reserves are actively draining. At 1am it's just he an I, and it's beautiful.

But then this morning, after feeding him at 4am, I drove to my mother's house. She's leaving (on a jet plane) and needed an early morning ride to the airport. I am up anyway (I'm always up these days) so I volunteered, but expected to feel tired, annoyed. I climbed in the car, having brushed my teeth (a better start to the day than most these past 2 months) and back my car on to my dark, quiet street. Even at 4am the Houston air was hot, but I rolled down the window (and turned up the air) and drove the curvy road to my mother. And it was exhilarating.

Being alone in the car, driving freely with no cars and no baby to slow me down made me realize how much I miss being alone. I had just smelled my baby's sleepy head, breathed deeply to appreciate fully how lucky I was, had just reveled in our 4am feeding. But given 15 minutes in a car, 15 minutes when I wasn't checking my son in the rearview mirror, I was delighted. I was free.

I cherished those moments like I cherished my nighttime feedings and I wonder what that means. But then I recall that just weeks ago I wasn't cherishing anything, wasn't enjoying much, and I'm thankful. Thankful that I'm finding time (at 1am) to be thankful.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

stranger danger

"He did really well!"

"He is absolutely passed out cold!"

"You wouldn't believe it - he smiled at me! He smiled and then he GIGGLED!"

"It was a really bad night, huh? He was really awful, wasn't he?"

Word for word, I heard each of these statements over the past 24 hours, all about my son. My son, who for some unknown reason is hellbent on making me a liar AND making me literally insane from sleep deprivation.

I don't hesitate to tell people how irritable he can be. I am honest about his reflux, his screaming, his unwillingness to sleep. I almost never smile and nod when people tell me to enjoy this time - I tell them honestly that it's hard to see that through the noise and exhaustion, that I'm not proud but I'm counting the hours until he grows a bit and becomes more comfortable with his existence. So when these people meet him they are expecting a difficult baby. A screaming baby. Rosemary's Baby. But he nearly always disappoints. He will sleep in their arms for hours on end ("he is absolutely passed out cold!"), remain relatively calm and collected during a funeral ("he did really well!") and when babysat for the first time, sleep for 3 consectutive hours waking only to eat, smile and giggle (his first ever) at his grandmother (a woman who just last week told my nephew over and over that he was her favorite grandson. In front of me.).

These people, after seeing my delightful son, must think I'm delusional; weak. At best they think I'm a liar - making up or exaggerating my baby's bad behavior. And at worst a lousy parent - a mother who is unable to calm and comfort her own child when everyone else can.

I was at a store, buying nursing bras in an attempt to contain my enormous, milk filled breasts, and not surprisingly O. opened up. He shouted those obscenities at me, as he is prone to do. I tried to calm him, tried rocking him, singing to him, bargaining with him, but he wasn't having it. He was just in one of those moods. And so I attempted to get fitted for my bra, buy it and leave as quickly as humanly possible, hoping that the car ride home would soothe him. But before I had a chance to rush out of the store the woman who was fitting me bent down close to my baby's ear, shushed him and had him quiet in moments. I stood there with my naked, vein covered breasts dangling and sagging, breasts with giant target nipples and a map of stretch marks spanning their engorged surface, breasts that signify my motherhood - I stood there half naked and watched as a stranger comforted my child more quickly than I ever had.

And later that week my husband held his son, criss-crossing the living room, shushing frantically as the baby screamed. Our housekeeper, who comes every 2 weeks to scrub my floors, approached him, smiled and asked if she could hold him. Within moments he was silent. Until she handed him back.

Well-meaning friends and strangers make suggestions, some which we discard (maybe he's cold?) and some which we cling to in the hopes of finding a solution - Prevacid, The Happiest Baby on the Block, chiropractic care. "Have you tried having him sleep in his swing?" He wakes the minute his butt hits the cushion. "Have you tried sleeping him in his bouncer?" He won't even settle enough to belt him in. Some ideas work...for awhile. The white noise was great for a week - it calmed him, helped him sleep, helped him stay asleep - and then, like Star Trek's Borg he adapted, his cries blasting through the ocean sounds. Getting close to his ear and singing a long, lone, off-key tone quieted him for 2 weeks, but I believe it was only because it amused him to see his parents look like escaped mental patients as they "ahhhhhhhed" endlessly. But when the novelty wore off for him, so did the effectiveness. For 3 days last week I thought we'd found the solution to having him sleep at night. Putting him in his own room, swaddled, on the wedged sleep positioner with the white noise humming gave me 3 nights of progressively longer and deeper sleep. I started looking forward to bedtime and woke nearly refreshed after only 3 feedings in the night. And then he became immune. Immune in such a violent turnaround that last night he did not sleep for more than 5 minutes at a time until 5:35 am. When he slept a whopping 45.

I have proposed the idea that he hates our house, half joking, half serious. I know I'm grasping at straws, begging for an explanation for his behavior. Hoping it's this house he hates and not it's inhabitants. But when he coos at grocery checkers and scowls at me it's hard not to assume the worst. That I've failed at parenthood before I've even had a chance to succeed. That my child, who I love, whose puke-covered head I sniff contentedly, who I feed from my own body for hours each day, that my child would rather spend his time with anyone but me.

They say you can't spoil a newborn, that they aren't even able to form lasting preferences. But after 8 weeks with my baby I am not so sure. I don't have to ask him to know who he prefers. Unless I'm topless and he's suckling it appears obvious that he prefers everyone over me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

the other side

Each morning I awake - well rested, sun shining - to the sound of birds chirping merrily in the flowering tree outside my window. I tiptoe into my darling son's room to find him laying quietly, bright-eyed in his crib. I greet him hello in a sing-song voice and he grins that sloppy grin that eats through my heart, right into my soul. Together we sit in the glider as he eats breakfast, pausing in his sucking occassionally to smile up at me from my breast as I sing sweet lullabies to him. Before long my husband comes in quietly, bearing a cup of herbal tea and hot buttered toast so that I too can have breakfast before starting my day. He gazes down at the glowing face of his son, greets him with a "hello sport!" and puts his arm around me, proud of me. We kiss softly over our child, the baby we made together, and know that this is what we've been waiting for. Exactly this.

Or maybe not so much.

I never idealized family life in the way that I think some infertiles (and plenty of fertiles) do. I knew that baby-raisin' would involve a lot of bodily fluids, not a lot of sleep and a fair amount of crying, on everyone's part. I actually worried quite regularly through my pregnancy that I would birth this baby and find that I hated motherhood. I hated babysitting (oh, the crying!) so why would parenting be any different? While I was (and am) irritated by smug mothers making smug comments like "sleep now - you'll never sleep again!", if a mom shared with me the honest difficulties of raising her child I would listen with empathy rather than moral outrage. "Well at least you have a baby!" was rarely my response to a mom being realistic about the stress of her profession.

But I understand that not everyone feels that way. I don't blame you if after your third failed IVF (or first failed Clomid cycle) you have little patience for someone on the other side complaining about the hardships of motherhood. We are all in our own places, dealing in our own ways, and if irritation at a complaining new mom is how you cope, I hope it helps you cope well. Staying sane in the face of infertility is a daily battle. Trust me, I know.

And so I feel like I must warn you that to those of you fighting those fights this blog might not seem like a friendly place anymore. Because I have to tell you - being a mom is HARD. No. Really. Like, harder than you could ever imagine considering the job duties of a mother of a newborn basically include feed baby, change baby, stop baby from putting poison in mouth, repeat. Oprah isn't bullshitting when she says "it's the hardest job there is" (although how does she know???). And if I've ever needed a place to vent and cry and whine, this is the time. I don't want to alienate anyone (anyone who is still here after an unforgiveable 6 month blog sabbatical) and I truly feel for every one of you still fighting the hard fight. But let me tell you, caring for a screaming, hysterical, dare I say colicky newborn is a fight too. I would absolutely rather have my hands full than empty, and even when that little lobster baby (bright red from the endless crying) is shouting in my face, seeming to tell me how much he hates me, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise him. But seriously. He is LOUD. Dude.

So for those of you who may continue reading (if I do, in fact, continue writing) please know that you aren't likely to ever see anything like that first paragraph here again. First off because to "awake in the morning" implies that one slept the night before. And to greet my son in his crib would mean that he's slept there, even once, for even a moment. (Although I did greet him there yesterday after I had to put him in it, leave the room and close the door to escape his sobs and hopefully get a grip on my own. But he wasn't smiling when I returned a few minutes (and a hysterical phone call to my husband) later. Not exactly. Spewing obscenities more profane than any profanity I or the entire US Navy have uttered is more accurate.) And the smiles that melt my heart and soul? Maybe someday, but so far we're still in the accidental gas smile stage. Although occassionally I will glimpse a grin while he sleeps, presumably because he is dreaming a sweet dream of murdering me. (Because how could somebody possibly shout like that all.the.time at someone they didn't despise to the core of their being?)

Being a parent is nothing like babysitting (which, have I mentioned I hated?). There is no one to rescue you at the end of the night. As a matter of fact, the night is when things get really interesting. When the baby sleeps (if the baby sleeps) you aren't able to invite your boyfriend over for a makeout session. No, that's when you frantically try to brush your teeth (and on a good day your hair too!) before the screaming starts again. And you don't get paid - not even a meager $2 an hour. It's exhausting. It's endless. It's nothing like babysitting at all.

It's a million, squillion, gillion times better.

Even with a reflux baby, a baby who constantly vomits your milk back at you in a mucousy mess and is hungry again moments later, even then there is the love. Instead of being annoyed by the incessant screaming (which you wish more than anything would end), you're tortured by it. Wondering what you could possibly do to make this poor, helpless creature feel better; what you could do to make him realize that being alive isn't really that awful. You ache because he aches. And as painful as that sounds, it's also beautiful. Having not just an obligation but a deep desire to set yourself aside for the one you love. And there are moments - even with a baby who makes Morrissey look chipper - when your heart melts at the beauty of your baby. When he opens his eyes so wide, as if to tell you "yes, mommy - I will never sleep again!" you can't help but adore his little chihuahua face. When you kiss his little lips and he opens his mouth in reflex you can't help but glow, deluding yourself that he is kissing you back. And when your husband tries to calm him by sitting in the glider, rocking slowly and singing him off-key Beatles songs instead of nursery rhymes you remember why you fought so hard in the first place.

So let me tell you (and not in a smug, obnoxious way): Parenthood is hard. It's blindingly terrifying and sometimes soul crushing. Parenthood is hard and it is LOUD. But it is worth it. It's so worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I sat in the wheelchair, leaving the room that had become almost cocoon-like for me in the past 4 days. It was a room I hadn't once left since having entered it. A room that saw both immense highs and dark moments. A room in which I'd gotten to know my husband in a way I'd never known him; gotten to know a new part of myself. It was a room of so many firsts, that small little room. And I wonder now how those 4 plain walls could've contained so much uncertainty, delight, love, terror. Leaving that room, seeing a hallway through which I'd undoubtedly been before but had no recollection of, I couldn't imagine ever having existed in any other room before. And in some ways I hadn't, not the person I was now, because that was the room where I became a mother.

Holding my son in my arms as I was wheeled out of that room was surreal. Passing through that hallway that I felt I'd never seen before. Getting on an elevator, with a nurse standing behind me and my husband beside me, the 3 of us beaming while the fourth slept (deceptively) peacefully in my arms. As people got on and off the elevator as it descended from the 24th floor they smiled, cooed and sometimes asked for the details of how and when we became a family. I never thought I'd describe a ride in a lift as "beautiful" but it was. And I wept.

Four days prior, when I last entered that elevator, I had no idea that I would leave it a changed woman. I expected to be told that my bleeding was the result of my placenta previa and that I was to be on bedrest until my scheduled c-section in 11 days time. When I was hooked up to the monitors and saw that those little cramps I felt periodically were actually contractions, coming in surprisingly regular time, I thought I might be stuck in the hospital until the blessed event. But I didn't expect that event to come in 9 hours - the soonest the doctor on call could come deliver my Memorial Day baby. I didn't know enough to savor the movie we'd seen that night (sadly, Terminator 4) or the car ride to the hospital, during which I was mostly annoyed that I wasn't in bed. And my husband didn't know to pack a hospital bag that contained more than 2 cans of Sprite, 4 bags of chips and a book he'd been reading. But before we knew what was happening I was being wheeled through double doors into the sterile room in which my son would be born, mercifully screaming and pink, 7 lbs 4 oz at 36 weeks.

And four days later, as I was pushed through the automatic doors and out into the rest of the world I was overcome with my good fortune. Overcome with deja vu of sorts, as I heard the nurse (as though speaking long distance through a tube) talking merrily of the excitement yet to come. Because it was nearly 3 years prior when I was last pushed by a nurse out of that very same hospital, those very same doors, having been sedated in another sterile room and having "birthed" my twins. I cried that time, as the nurse told me I could try again soon. And I cried this time, overwhelmed by the journey I had taken in those 3 years, overwhelmed by the poetry of leaving those same doors, perhaps in the same wheelchair, but with my son in my arms instead of just my heart.

Five and a half weeks have passed since I became a mother. Some days it feels easier than that first day and some days so so much harder. Sometimes I can't believe he's been here more than 5 weeks already and sometimes I feel he's always been here. It's been heavier and harder than I could've imagined, but there are moments of lightness when I know we will all make it and be better for having each other. And through it all there's the love, blinding and breathtaking. Love for my son and my husband. Love for *my* family.

and so with pride (and exhaustion) I finally introduce to you my Oliver Robin. Born at 36 weeks exactly, weighing 7 pounds 4 oz and measuring 19 1/2". My big boy. My big, handsome, stubborn, delightful and bewildering boy. A boy named to honor siblings we will never know (siblings who were the size of olives when they left) and the Brazilian soccer player (Robinho) after who he was inexplicably nicknamed just 4 weeks after his conception. A boy who looks like his father and screams like his mother and yet is so completely and uniquely him.