“Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come stay with you.”
– Anne Lamott
I sat in my brown leather chair in the living room where just a few weeks ago I was sipping scotch, reading The Sun Also Rises, and listening to my Simon and Garfunkel records in peace.
How had my life changed so much in the past three weeks?
Instead of reading Hemingway I was staring at my sobbing wife. The tumbler of scotch was replaced with my umpteenth cup of coffee that day. The Sound of Silence was replaced by the screams of a howling infant.
MY howling infant.
The one that I’d been begging my wife to have for the past two years.
The doctors and nurses at the hospital—my so called “friends”—somehow tend gloss over these facts of life when they pack you up and wheel you out the door of the hospital with your new infant and prescription for a few Percocet. “Good luck! She’s beautiful!” they tell you, as they close your car door and wave, smiling broadly thinking in their minds, “These poor fools don’t even know what they’ve just gotten themselves into.”
The first day and night home from the hospital actually went quite smoothly, deceptively smoothly. Since we’d had a scheduled C-section we were able to plan ahead of time, and we’d left the house perfectly clean. I was running on anxiety and adrenaline the afternoon we got home from the hospital, so I tucked Bethany and Catherine into bed while I scurried around the house unpacking our hospital bags and putting away the car seat and diaper bag. I really had no control over how Bethany was going to heal from her surgery or how Catherine would accommodate to the real world, so I cleaned ferociously to make me feel like I had control over something in my life.
The next day Bethany’s parents came into town, but we still weren’t quite living in the real world as her mom cooked meals for us and held the baby during the daytime while we showered, took naps, and ran errands.
It was her parents’ last night in town that the reality of the Catherine’s permanent existence in our lives finally unpacked its bags and made itself at home in the rooms of our minds. Catherine no longer wanted to sleep at night. She really liked screaming for no reason. Apparently she made the decision that the stellar latching and feeding she’d been doing the previous nights was just a hoax to lull us into a sense of comfort and complacency. Now, instead of feeding, she wanted to motorboat on Bethany’s nipple for a few seconds then just scream. I stared at her thinking how long it had been since I’d been allowed to motorboat on that boob and how this was all just a travesty and injustice.
It was also around this time that I kept watching my squirming infant getting stiff and sneezing, and I’d think about how I’d seen actions like this before. These actions were stereotypical of the babies I’ve cared for in the newborn nursery whose moms were addicted to drugs during pregnancy. I stared at my sniffling and sneezing baby as my desperately sleep deprived mind silently formulated tales of my sweet wife’s heroin addiction that she’d been hiding from me for the last five years.
My temporary insanity wasn’t helped by the fact that I caught a head cold at some point, so I sat on my couch watching my baby rock in her swing with Kleenex stuck up my nose, while I tapped out, hollered “UNCLE,” and did the least manly thing imaginable. I called my mom.
I sobbed into the phone that I didn’t think we could do this parenting thing and that we were both so tired and the little beast wouldn’t eat, and I was sick and contagious with what was definitely some rare form of Ebola that would certainly infect and kill my baby girl.
My perfect and wonderful mother reminded me of something she’d told me a few days before we’d had Catherine when I was freaking out a little bit about being a parent. “Jeremy,” she said, “you don’t have the grace now because you don’t need it yet. But when that moment comes, God will give you the grace to make it through. He will ALWAYS give you the grace to make it through.”
Well, God gave us the grace. Our friend came over that night who is board certified in Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Sleep Medicine, and she also just happens to be a lactation consultant. Basically, God gave us Batman. Instead of a batmobile, she arrived in her husband’s Jeep Liberty, and instead of an ominous whisper, she spoke in sweet and gentle tones. I guess there was some black spandex involved because she came over straight from the gym. So, yes. She was Batman.
She helped Bethany with nursing and calmed my fears that I wasn’t going to give the baby Ebola if I held her, and she gently encouraged us that these would be the worst 6 weeks of our lives and it was okay to revert into survival mode. The house didn’t have to be clean. I didn’t have to cook a fully nutritious dinner every night. Carry out dinners were okay, and just managing to shower and put on a clean shirt was a huge success. Accept help from anybody who offered, and always remember that life will get better. It was okay for us to cry, and it was okay for the baby to cry.
She was the grace my mom promised that God would give me. With her breastfeeding recommendations and by following her other life advice, Bethany and I finally started to feel a little bit better and slightly more like humans.
So, on the day that I sat in my leather chair and gazed at my new life, I took a sip of my coffee and remembered the words of Batman. “This will get better. Take it one day at a time.”
I slowly got up, took my fussy infant from my wife’s arms, and sent her to bed for some desperately needed sleep. I held a pacifier in my baby girl’s mouth and we danced around the room to Joni Mitchell, and I realized that these are the moments that I’ve heard my friends with grown children remember fondly.
Before Catherine, I had always called things like a Keurig and Rice-a-Roni “lazy” and “cheap.” But, now as I try to hold my baby and grind my coffee beans or shake a wok full of stir fry, I call the Keurig “sanity”, and I call the Rice-a-Roni “survival.”