Mr. Baby

Parenthood and sleep deprivation
Mr. Baby at 3 weeks.

Five days ago, Tom and I celebrated our one year anniversary in Oz. And today, the baby turns 12 weeks old. People call this “the longest shortest time”. But around here we (Tom and I) like to sigh a long sigh and say, “It’s really the longest longest time.”

We have yet to regularly call him by his name. We went with Arthur, with James and Ho as middle names. He can go by Arthur, Artie, James, Jimmy, Artie Jimbo as a friend suggested, or as his maternal grandpa (whom he looks like) sometimes refers to himself, “Ho”. Whichever suits his fancy in the future. But right now, around these parts, he’s “the Baby.” He is who he is. But we’re still trying to figure him out.

We knew life with a newborn would be hard, but of course we didn’t really sit down and consider just how effing hard. I don’t think anyone can accurately imagine the actual pain of interminable sleep deprivation. All I can say is I understand how sleep torture can be effective. There have been dark days when all I wanted was for someone to come and punch my lights out.

Even when I was pregnant and not sleeping well because every single joint seemed to be uncomfortable – even in the throes of the most painful parts of labor and delivery – I found myself looking forward to motherhood because looking forward to something casts the same rosy glow as looking back on fond memories.

No one thinks, “Oh my baby probably won’t sleep and therefore I won’t sleep.”

Or, “Oh breastfeeding is likely to be very hard for me.”

Or, “Oh I’ll maybe get hemorrhoids which will be the bane of my existence for the next few weeks/months/years,” (I sincerely hope not).

Or, “Perhaps I’ll get cracked nipples and clogged milk ducts all in one day.”

But then it happens – it all happens – and if it doesn’t or didn’t happen for you, good for you. Also, damn you.

My friends and cousins warned me about all this, but as a writer I now especially recognize the limitations of words. So much about pregnancy and labor and whatever comes after is pure feeling, physical and emotional. Mostly pain and extreme discomfort followed by the tiny albeit euphoric highs of becoming a mother followed by the perpetual dryness of sleep-deprived eyes.

“Breastfeeding sometimes feels like shards of glass shooting out from your nipples,” said cousin Lynn. I felt it was more like grains of sand until I first became engorged which felt like two bowling balls attempting to exit my chest and which, according to Tom, looked like “a boob job gone horribly wrong.”

“You will think intermittently about divorcing your husband,” warned cousin Caroline, and she wasn’t wrong. By any measure Tom has been and is a great father and partner – adoring of “the wee baby” and supportive of me – but sleep deprivation makes dickheads of us all. He can always do more, can’t he? Can’t I? Yes and yes. But sometimes, no.

“Get as much help as you can,” advised every single friend with baby. We thought at the very least we had that covered by importing from Taiwan a full-time confinement nanny for the first forty days. She has one of the hardest jobs known to mankind, but even with her around, cooking, cleaning, spending nights with the baby, I was exhausted. Maybe a bit tone deaf, but I often wonder, “How do people do it without help?” It truly takes a village. Or at least the minimum ratio of three adults to one baby.

Everyone asked me, “Did you cry?” after delivery? I did not. I was too tired and elated. high on new-mom adrenaline. I did what I had to do: I pushed him out. And for forty-eight hours after I still had the energy to smile and eat MacDonald’s and gaze at him every hour on the hour. I would wake from light but much needed sleep at the hospital just to stare at him in disbelief. He was inside and now he was outside, looking just the way he did. My baby! My creation! My blood coursing through his little body! But then that energy subsides and the fatigue and lack of sleep comes hurtling at you like a tombstone of granite, you’re left burying your emotions under pure exhaustion. A month later the confinement nanny left and I cried the first real tears of emotion since the baby’s debut.

What followed was month two and incessant Googling of everything from, “Why is my baby’s poop green,” to “When will baby sleep through the night?” to “Does it get easier at three months? Please God say yes.”

We’re nowhere in the clear. (We heard this doesn’t happen until the kid goes off to college, and even then, maybe not). But in the past few days at least, I felt a sort of ease. Tired ease, but ease nonetheless. Is he a different baby? Every day he is. But the real change is that I’ve become less timid. I take him out for more walks. I feel comfortable letting him cry for a few minutes and let myself let him play on his own rather than watch him every minute he’s awake. Baby steps, pun intended, but I’m inching myself towards a more sustainable parenthood where even if I am exhausted I feel, somewhat, that I can hear myself think.

My next blog post might very well be six months from now, but writing helps. It feels good to be back.

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