This endeavor of early parenthood is at once both sorely trying and utterly fulfilling. The mind runs through the full gamut of emotions in the blink of an eye, as this new life we have created, who was only moments earlier screaming questioningly to the gods about her very existence on this cold and dreary slab of rock, now slips off the breast into a sleepy revelry; one punctuated by small squeaks and twitches emanating from an otherwise unconscious and completely lifeless little rag-doll body. It is at this point, when the belly of my daughter is full and her meager appetite is satiated, that I find the whole of who I am to be complete in a way in which I have never experienced before. As I lift her delicate body and glimpse the slight scowl replacing the previously contented countenance and place that warm head against my chest, her arms hanging loosely at her side, when I feel her relax completely and melt into my skin, it is at this point that my whole world shifts and things that I once deemed important, or at the least worthwhile, drift away in the wind like the tiny motes of dust they are.
Time no longer has its characteristic continuity, the standard flow of cause and effect that I’ve grown accustomed to through long years of labored consciousness. A new baby is a mountain of potential wrapped in an untrained and flimsy body whose sole purpose in this early life is that of digestion and a means of alerting the caretakers to one of several potential discomforts. The baby knows nothing of time. She knows only that she is hungry and has but one way of communicating this fact to those ghastly large beings who supply her with food and torture her with frequent disrobing and diaper changes, who have the audacity to strip her naked and wipe her down with cold and damp cloths splashed with a slight floral fragrance that offers no apologies to this breach of her personal privacy.
Varying degrees of crying alert us to the amount of discomfort she may be feeling at any point in the day or night. We try to make sense of it, to commit it to a schedule or to understand its nature, but as the days and nights progress and bleed into each other, the only thing that comes close to describing this feeling of permanent and ragged wakefulness is the idea that life in its current incarnation exists and is maintained in something akin to a series of disjointed blinks of the eye. Those brief times when we are able to lay down in bed only to be awoken just prior to the onset of the much sought after state of REM sleep, when we suddenly find ourselves already hovering around the house with baby in hand, or fully coming to consciousness in the middle of a nearly completed diaper change, these are merely moments of fractured visions, of slightly diluted clarity, both after one blink and before the next, when time once again becomes unhinged and shifts and the experience of reality is shoved forward violently into the next moment of drowsy, eye-smacking delirium. This is parenthood in its early stages.
The alarm goes off again and I am jolted awake. No, that is no alarm. That’s a baby. That’s my baby. Her cries signify the onslaught of changing time once again, followed by the hand-off to mom for a light snack and a snooze.
I’m still awake? But it’s night-time and both mom and baby have long since drifted off after the most recent feeding. The transition between the alertness brought on by a baby’s cry and the attempt at one more dollop of slumber does not seem to be in the cards for now. This, I presume, I hope, will change as exhaustion becomes unbearable and I find myself jolted awake in some other facet of the day or night without any recollection as to how I arrived.
Some weeks ago, I happened upon a crochet pattern for a stuffed Hobbes tiger, the toy version of Calvin’s sidekick when viewed by adults. I make the audacious assumption that my daughter will absolutely love a stuffed Hobbes tiger and cherish it forever, though in reality, I understand that I may only be fulfilling a long dormant desire from my own childhood. Maybe I’m making it for myself. In the times between sleepings and feedings when I am unable to sleep yet confined to the house, I set out to learn how to crochet.
I hug my daughter close to my chest and pat her back to elicit a burp. Her second breakfast appears to have been quite substantial and she has taken on the air of one drunk on breast-milk. Her tiny body melts against my chest and I repudiate the notion of sleep so I can take advantage of the multitude of recently awakened feelings overwhelming my core being. We lay for hours in the reclining chair with her on my chest as a few streaks of tears dry against my cheek.
It’s diaper changing time once again and I am only milliseconds too slow. In the time between the wiping of the bottom and the application of the new diaper, I hear a faint and brief whooshing sound and, as my reflexes have been dulled by the lack of anything reminiscent of sleep, the sudden stream of fecal matter takes me by surprise. It sprays in a jet at least eighteen inches in length, nearly as long as the beloved baby girl from which it emanated. This changing time takes a little longer than usual as I sanitize several baby garments and the changing table/dresser combination. But eighteen inches? I’m not even mad. In fact, I’m impressed.
The dog is a tightly wound spring of potential energy, ready to burst at the seams in a frenzy of canine enthusiasm. She hasn’t been walked or let outside to frolic in days. I take her with me for a run on a warm winter morning. Afterward it becomes obvious that the run did nothing to degrade her exuberance. When we get back, she runs in tight, concentric circles in the backyard, reminding me of her continual need for release and lack thereof.
The sun is out and my daughter is awake and fully alert. Her eyes are wide and inquisitive, dark blue sapphires full of a searching curiosity, haunting orbs that I find overwhelmingly captivating and immersive. I lose myself in those wandering eyes, drowning in the life and potential they exhibit. Nora Jones sings a ballad on the radio and I take my daughter in my arms and dance slowly around the living room. I can’t remember a time in my life when the onset of my own tears so completely took away my ability to speak or to form even a single cogent syllable, whereby at any attempt of uttering just a single word, my body convulsed uncontrollably and unintelligibly. I now know such a thing is possible.
I find myself walking towards my wife as she nurses in the early hours of the morning carrying, in one hand, a glass of water and in another, a mini-sledgehammer. I give her the water as we both stare perplexedly at the hammer.
What better way to pass the unsleeping hours of the dark and early morning but to remove a door in the basement and use some power tools in the garage to install a cat flap so that the litterbox is removed to one of our underutilized storage rooms? At least now I know what the mini-sledgehammer was for.
I take a few minutes to swing by the library to find a book on beginner crochet techniques. The librarian tells me that I have a fifteen cent balance on my account from an overdue book. Only later, when I see the receipt left in between the pages of the crochet book, do I realize what had been overdue. It turns out to be Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The librarian didn’t even blink at this odd juxtaposition of crochet and National Socialism. What can I say? My interests are varied and know no bounds.
I’m out on the road again, running alongside several miles of dreary and cold farmland tainted with the sweet odor of recently thawed manure and less recently deceased roadkill, listening to the soothing voice of David Rakoff read through partially-autobiographical and whimsical essays in his book, Half Empty. If this blog entry seems overly drawn out or perhaps a bit dramatic, it is only because I am leaning on David as a crutch and cannot help but hear his voice as I type the words. Whether I have captured his wispy and meandering style is yet to be seen, but as I am barren of sleep and ultimately incapable of finding sleep when offered, I am only able to translate these feelings to the written word by imagining them in his voice.
Something of a routine has been developing for a few days, or for a short while we imagined so. We’ve heard the term cluster-feeding before and our daughter has decided that now is the time to introduce us to its cruel reality. A cluster feeding is defined as a series of nearly sequential nursing times initiated by a baby’s cry at that precise moment when the parents’ consciousness slips from wakefulness to slumber, thereby ensuring that the parents’ promise of sleep is never fully realized but only ever seen as an attainable goal one short feeding away. The beginning of a cluster feeding doesn’t necessarily have to happen during the night so long as it robs the parents of a cluster of naps.
And so on. These past two weeks of sleep deprivation have been heavenly. I was able to take a few weeks off of work so that I could spend the time with my burgeoning family and frankly, it’s not enough time. In the latter part of the pregnancy, some people were making it seem like two weeks would be overkill, that I would become overly bored and frustrated and would be wishing I was back at the office so that I could be out of earshot of a screaming baby and once again productive, at least in a business sense. My experience hasn’t played out like that. If anything, I wish I could spend more time here with my daughter. But alas, duty calls and in a few days, I will head back to the office, back to building websites that sell shoes, and building more things so that they can sell even more shoes, then fixing problems because shoes aren’t selling as quickly as shoes are expected to be sold, then trying to think of new and innovative ways to write software to sell even more shoes. So it goes. But now, in addition to coming home to my amazing wife, I have an equally amazing little girl to come home to who will make it all worthwhile.
PS – The crochet is coming along nicely. I now have two Hobbes’ legs. She is going to love the completed project, but until then, she has offered to model a few of these feline appendages.
We now have three nights under our belt at home with our newborn, and I think we’re becoming a little more comfortable with this whole prospect of parenthood. I’m no longer reeling in disbelief that the hospital staff trusted us enough to send us home unsupervised with a brand new human, and I’ve become hopelessly attached to this little sleeping bundle of digestive functions and rudimentary fine-motor skills.
She has become much more adept at the act of feeding, and while we had a thirty-six hour period of no bowel movements which was slightly worrying in itself, she has since become a pooping machine, and we’re pretty stoked to see that all of her digestive tract features are coming online and functioning properly. My skills at changing diapers have drastically increased since the first few clumsy changes where I took so long that the nurse was probably wondering if I had suffered severe head trauma in the recent past. We’re working our way through the disposable diapers given to us by the hospital but we’re going to try the whole cloth diaper thing here soon enough. My mother-in-law was kind enough to gift us with a diaper delivery service where someone picks up dirty cloth diapers and drops off clean ones on our doorstep weekly. Now that must be a shitty job (poop joke quota filled).
The first two nights, I stayed up for a few hours with the sleeping baby on my chest because, well, because it was amazing. Now that we’re getting to know her schedule and mood swings a little better, we’ve been able to hone in on feeding and sleeping times, and while we’re still woken abruptly at all hours of the night by a hungry baby, we know what to do to shut her up. Feed her.
And swaddle her. She likes being wrapped up like a little burrito. What would give most people claustrophobia gives babies a feeling of security. I learned this fun fact months before the birth, so I became adept at making burritos by swaddling the cat.
We’ve graciously had family and friends providing us with the occasional dinner who, in return, receive some cuddle time with our little girl. It’s a win-win situation, and it sure helps to have a few minutes where someone else can keep an eye on our little poop factory.
So, yea, things are going great so far. She seems to be generally content, only crying when she’s beyond hungry or when she has severely shat herself. She sleeps a lot, though she often falls asleep during feeding time, which is trying on my wife at times. But overall, she’s a happy little human. We’re learning a lot, more and more by the hour. I read a lot on parenthood during the last nine months, but much of it never really stuck because I had nothing to apply it to. Now that I’ve got her in my arms for hours at a time every day, it all seems to be falling into place.
I’ve got to go now. I just heard a juicy shart. Here’s hoping again that my diaper changing skills are not only fast but air-tight.
Parenthood, here I am! We’re now home from the hospital with our brand new daughter. There were a few bumps along the way, but we made it through the delivery with a healthy and happy daughter and mom! The staff at Holland Hospital are simply amazing.
So far, our little daughter has been pretty laid back, only crying when being changed or swaddled or otherwise poked and prodded by the nurses and doctors violating her personal space. Once we got home, of course, she got to be a little more vocal as that desire to feed really kicked in. Cluster feeding has been the name of the game tonight, and Jen and I have just been taking turns, handing her back and forth and enjoying every minute of it.
So here I am at 3am with my little girl snoozing and twitching on my bare chest, squeaking and yawning every so often, and I gotta say, it’s one of the best feelings on the world. This whole skin to skin thing is supposed to be great for increased bonding and it’s working for me. Let’s just hope it’s tricking her into liking me too. Oxytocin is a hell of a drug.
The skin to skin times don’t come without their fair share of risks, though. I was chastising the dog after she stealthily snuck in and licked my daughter’s head and she took my moment of distraction as an opportunity to lunge at my nipple with a wide open mouth. I caught her just in time but, yeesh, that was a bit awkward.
We’re just getting our little family rolling here now, and our dog is quite fascinated by this new and tiny human. She’s very curious and a bit too licky for my tastes, but so far she is taking it all in stride. Even in my girl’s screaming fits, our dog is just more curious than anything. I thought she might get scared or stressed by a baby’s cries, but she seems to be genuinely interested and concerned about her new little sister. Our dog rocks.
So I guess I’ll end this post with what started out with the intention of being a cute family picture of our cat and dog watching over our little girl, but what turned into a rather creepy and portentous picture that I’m calling, “Fresh Meat”.