Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hey, Baby!

Some friends of ours, Seth and Betsy, are expecting their first baby in a couple of months.  As a mother of two, I am thrilled for these parents-to-be, because I remember what it was like to have a new baby! I also pity these parents-to-be, because I remember what it was like to have a new baby.

Watching our friends prepare for the arrival of their child brings me back to the days when my husband and I were expecting our first baby. We were so excited!  In fact, the very day I found out I was pregnant, my husband gutted what would become the baby's room. We had so much fun designing the room and picking out furniture. I attended showers where generous friends and family gave me beautiful and thoughtful gifts: the outfits I'd lovingly chosen, the stuffed animals that would coordinate with the quilt I'd registered for. Oh, the fun Seth and Betsy are going to have! Their lives are going to be so happy! Enjoy every minute, I say. Because once that baby comes, the fun is O-V-E-R, and you're left with a glut of useless stuffed animals and dressy outfits that the baby will wear once and ruin. No one gives you what you really need, which is diapers and a bottle of scotch, because that's not what you asked for. And now you're stuck with a bunch of stuffed bears, giraffes, and lambs, which would be great if they could hold, rock, and feed an inconsolable baby at 3:30 in the morning. But they can't. All they can do is sit there and look at you, and sometimes talk to you (or so you think when you haven't slept in three days).

When I consider the early days of my son's life, I'm glad I didn't know what I was getting into, because I'd never have done it. People tried to warn me, too, but I didn't listen. I remember being pregnant, in a state of bliss, munching on a doughnut and waddling around the office, when I came across a coworker, Chris. He looked like he'd been on a week-long bender, but really, he and his wife had just had a baby. Disheveled, bleary-eyed, barely coherent, Chris was clutching a cup of coffee and leaning against a wall. "It's so hard," he mumbled. "So...so...hard."  I patted him on the back and tried to comfort him by offering him a bite of my doughnut. But I also didn't let him dampen my spirits. Sure, he was having a hard time, but I was, after all, going to be a mother, not a father, and everyone knows mothers are better equipped to handle parenthood than fathers. Just ask my husband, who put our daughter's first diaper on backwards. You might think that's completely understandable, but a) she was our second child, b) our son was still in diapers at the time, and c) our nurse accused me of putting the diaper on backwards, because, naturally, my husband told her I'd done it. He was already on my bad side for blithely getting up during my labor and saying, "You look like you're okay. I'm hungry. I'm going to get a muffin." If I didn't think I needed him to help raise the children, I'd have bludgeoned him with my copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting.

I can only vaguely remember my son's first couple months of life, which is probably for the best, because most of what I remember was pure misery. All he did was eat, hiccup, and cry, over and over and over again. We had a cat that wanted to hurt him. Bad. Our son had jaundice and was supposed to wear a lighted blanket to sleep. Except that he didn't sleep, save for the times during the day when I'd put him in the stroller and attempt to jog with him. One of our neighbors, Mrs. Johnson, later told me that I looked less like a new mother and more like a zombie, stumbling back and forth along the street with a stroller. Mrs. Johnson is also the battle-ax who often shouted at me that it was too hot outside for the baby. I had to remind myself that people like her--who had babies during the Nixon administration--drank and smoked during pregnancy, didn't nurse their babies, buckled the baby into the car with them (if they even used a seat belt) and came from the school of Let Your Baby Cry it Out. But they will criticize anyone who brings a baby outside when it's over 72 degrees. Mrs. Johnson is a constant reminder to me that I have my parents to blame for all of my deep failings.

My mother-in-law, God bless her, stayed with us one night so that I could get a decent night's sleep. (I don't think she believed me when I said how bad it was. Either that, or she was scared into helping me by the fact that I was functioning just above the level of a comatose person.) She only did it once. When we asked her a month later if she'd stay with us another night, the look of horror on her face was immediate. "I just don't think...I can do that again." And I couldn't blame her. She'd survived one night with a baby that wouldn't sleep, on top of several years with me for a daughter-in-law. Asking for one more night was simply asking too much.

My friend Amy had her first daughter about a year and a half before my son was born, so the experience of having a newborn was fresh in her mind when I called her at the height of my misery, blubbering into the phone about how I didn't think I was going to survive. I remember her promise to me: "Sar, it's going to get better. Really."  She paused. "Didn't anyone buy you a bottle of scotch?"

That was nine years ago. It did get better. Now when I watch my son dive for a ball in a scramble game, quietly read a book, or double over after I've sat on a whoopee cushion he's planted on my chair, those memories of sleepless nights seem so long ago. Now I just enjoy his company. And I'll enjoy it even more when he learns to control his flatulence and he chews with his mouth closed.

Of course, I've not shared my stories of sleepless nights with Seth or Betsy. Who knows; their baby might sleep beautifully. And if that's true, I'll be so happy for them. Really. Of course, everyone knows that babies who are great sleepers will cause their parents the most trouble when they become teenagers and young adults. I heard the entire cast of Jersey Shore slept through the night straight out of their mothers' wombs. Just sayin'.

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