The first weeks of the Dumpling’s life were delightful; a joy like I have never felt before.
We were thrilled, of course, to have a healthy baby girl. The picture above was taken the day we took her home from the hospital. Josh carried the car seat with our sleeping Dumpling into our apartment. We picked her up and put her right in the crib. We had stared at that crib for months, unable, despite my growing stomach, to fathom that a baby would soon fill it. But, here was the moment. Here was our baby fast asleep in that very crib. I could not believe it was actually happening. I cried. I was so overjoyed and proud of her. I still look at that picture and remember that feeling of total overwhelming gratitude and emotion.
No one ever talks about how hard it is to care for a newborn. They’ll make passing remarks here or there about challenges with sleeping or crying. But, no one will dare elaborate on just how difficult it is to spend day and night for months caring for a tiny, crying, pooping, peeing blob. That is, until you are in possession of your very own blob. Once you have the baby, suddenly everyone who has a kid creeps up beside you and whispers, “It gets better,” implying they knew how hard it was all along but chose not to say anything because they are into sick jokes.
Every time someone uttered the words into my ear I’d ask, no demand, specifics, “When, when, when does it get better?! I need dates, times, exactness! Not some vague idea that someday I’ll be able to sleep more than three hours at a time. It’s bad enough you kept this information from me! The least you can do is tell me WHEN it gets better!” But, this usually scares them off, as screaming in somebody’s face like a mad person does, so I never got a good answer.
There is no one answer. Every baby is different. Everybody’s experience is different. Things would turned a slight corner for us at about eight weeks, again at three months and then four months. Day by day, things got better. She began developing in the happiest way; smiling and laughing.
I have guilt about having such a hard time at first, especially when a few months are really just a blip in a person’s life. Then I remember that when it comes to being a new parent, those first few months can feel like years; isolating, exhausting, overwhelming years with no way of knowing when things will improve. I have friends who didn’t have that corner turn for a year or more.
All you can do is keep going, take it day by day, and know that you are doing your very best. Of course, all of that is easier said than done.
The Dumpling came into the world weighing seven pounds, twelve ounces, with a scream that could be heard from space. When Josh and I walked into the Labor and Delivery wing the day I was to be induced, the air was crisp and cold, and dirty batches of snow from the brutally cold winter lined the curb. We arrived as two people riding high on an indulgent life of sleeping through the night and going out after 6pm; luxuries that would soon only fill our two to three hour blocked dreams. We were two people who only had to think about ourselves and each other. And since neither of us needed help being fed, burped, or cleaned up after a poop, thinking about ourselves was fairly easy.
We thought we were ready for the Dumpling after taking all the classes, reading all the books (well, some books) and preparing all our finances. New dark wood furniture gave purpose to a room that once drifted aimlessly between a storage space, quarters for my visiting parents and a spot for Josh to ride his bike on his bike trainer.
Identity crisis averted, a couple months before the Dumpling arrived the room displayed a polished dresser – stocked with tiny socks, onesies, knit hats and sleepsacks – a changing table, a crib and all things Winnie the Pooh – lamps, stuffed animals, sheets and books. Josh even traded in his beloved, single guy FJ Cruiser for a sensible family car, a Camry Hybrid. A suitcase with clothes and toiletries for us and a second bag with newborn diapers, a cream colored sleeper onesie with pink embroidered roses and matching hat, along with a neurotic selection of back up newborn clothes, sat patiently in the trunk for weeks. We were as ready as we knew how to be.
Apparently, the Dumpling questioned our preparedness. Days after my due date, she stayed perched high in my womb. She didn’t even have the courtesy to text that she was running late. Clearly, I would have to teach her about etiquette; that it’s rude to be late. However, it’s much worse to be simultaneously late and outstay your welcome, especially when the host becomes physically uncomfortable. I was starting to think we should name her Dupree.
According to urban legend there are some women who barely gain weight, never get sick, and marvel at how great they feel, even at the end. “I waited and waited to get tired or bloated, but it just never happened. And afterwards, my body just bounced back!” Or maybe we all just create these mythical women in our heads.
During the last six weeks of my pregnancy I felt like I was carrying a sack of bouncing bricks in my womb. My whole body ached. The only way I could catch a little sleep was to climb on to the couch on my knees, carefully fall to my side, push my back against the back of the couch and stuff a pillow under my stomach, another under my shoulder, and a third under my head. The exact fit took several tries.
The nightly pillow positioning ritual is only one of the many common treats of pregnancy. I learned there are tons more fun physical and emotional surprises with each passing week. And what I didn’t experience myself, I heard about in my prenatal yoga class. Before every class the instructor asked us to go around the room and discuss how we felt. I never heard anyone say, “I feel a magical glow emanating from me at all times! I wish I could be pregnant forever! I thrive on sleep deprivation and swollen ankles. I can’t wait to pop this baby out so I can get pregnant again and again and again!” The comments went more like this:
“I can’t stop eating.”
“I can’t stop puking.”
“I have crazy boob itch.”
“I thought I had a broken rib but the doctor said it was just the baby kicking…and kicking…for a week now.”
“It’s hard to breath.”
“I have insomnia.”
“I keep getting nose bleeds.”
“My shoes don’t fit anymore.”
“I wake up in the middle of the night with excruciating muscle spasms in my legs.”
“Every time I finally get in a decent position and fall asleep, I have to go to the bathroom.”
By the last month of pregnancy I breathed a sigh of relief when the sun came up every morning, grateful to check off another night closer to the due date. I was convinced the last weeks of agony were nature’s way of getting women eager to give birth. For the first few months Josh and I were freaked out and nowhere near prepared to be the sole proprietors of a Dumpling. By the time I was bursting out of my maternity clothes and snapping at Josh’s attempts to make me feel better, we were both ready for the Dumpling to arrive. In hindsight, I can see that helping me position the pillows at night, washing my clothes, doing the dishes, cooking dinner, among other things didn’t make Josh an evil conspirator set on making sure I was pregnant forever. I suppose he’s right, that at times, I tend to overdramatize things. But, don’t tell him I said that.
I guess my eagerness to go into labor backfired. So much for the “Secret” and the Power of Positive Thinking. I would jump at the tiniest movement in my stomach, convincing myself and everyone she was, at last, on the move. She wasn’t. Then, one by one, the women in my prenatal yoga class, with due dates later than mine, started to have their babies. We were on an email chain as we planned to meet for lunches after the babies were born. Soon, after all the babies were born except mine, they were emailing about how to get their little ones to sleep better.
I was still pregnant as ever. My stomach was so huge that when someone in pre-natal yoga class complained about feeling big, the teacher said, “You feel big? Ha!” Then she turned to me and said, “Look at her!” I was so big a relative gasped when he saw me at Christmas and asked if I was sure I wasn’t having twins; a minor detail I think I would have been aware of; but, still, I assured him I was merely carrying one baby and a few too many slices of pizza.
I remember the day the bigness started, when I could no longer pretend I didn’t need maternity clothes. I was leaving a doctor’s appointment and couldn’t sit in the car without splitting my jeans open, so I unzipped and unbuttoned them while I drove. I stopped to pick up lunch. I jumped out of the car and onto a busy sidewalk, forgetting about the state of my pants. There I stood, pants hanging open, protruding stomach and underwear for all to see. Yeah, in case there was any confusion so far, I was not going to be a Gisele kind of pregnant woman.
Looking big early on made grocery store runs a trying exercise. The women at the neighborhood Giant would always offer their congratulations and help me to the car. All very nice gestures, I know. But, I dreaded the interaction because somewhere in the conversation they’d ask how far along I was and when I said I had three or four months left, their eyes would pop (pun intended) with disbelief. Eventually I just started to lie, even if I saw them so often they’d think I was pregnant for seventy weeks. It was bad enough getting around in the oversized, intestine squeezing baby vessel that used to be my body. I couldn’t take feeling even more self-conscious every time I bought cereal (and fine, yes, sometimes pizza too).
When the due date passed, I resorted to every old wives tale. I did a million squats, power walked and devoured a ton of pineapple. Ok, if you must know, I did maybe five or six squats and I couldn’t power walk very far because I’d get halfway down the block and have to go to the bathroom. I did eat a lot of pineapple. I also let my mom put her head to my stomach and command, “Come out, baby! Come out!” But, the Dumpling called our bluff. I imagined her in there, kicking at my scared, defenseless bladder.
We waited some more; thought about changing her name to Godot. A week after the due date, my doctors, to my great relief, decided to induce. I prayed they would whisk me away immediately. I couldn’t bare another night of wedged pillow side sleep. But, it was a Friday and I had to wait until the following Wednesday when one of the doctors at my practice was on call. I had survived thirty seven years (she was born three days after my 37th birthday) including the ten months of the alien invasion, but I truly did not know how I would make it through the next five days.
Somehow, I lasted until Wednesday morning. On barely any sleep, Josh and I checked into the hospital at 7:45 a.m. and were quickly escorted to our room. A cheerful nurse who couldn’t have been older than thirty but had an old soul vibe of a grandmother greeted us. I changed into the delivery clothes, climbed into bed and well, the rest is kind of a blur.
After 19 hours of labor, fully dilated, the Dumpling still refused to budge. It was time for a cesarean, aka the SWAT team. My bladder would soon be freed. I was wheeled out of the delivery room and into the operating room. A sheet hung at my neck and my arms were strapped down on each side. I watched as the nurses prepared the room, setting out towels and positioning equipment. The doctor came in with a medical resident. They managed to cut me open while discussing the pros and cons of purchasing a sport utility vehicle. Don’t mind me, I just have a baby being ripped from my womb. They really gave new meaning to multi-tasking. I can’t even pay bills and watch television at the same time.
And then, in an instant, the world existed with the Dumpling in it. With the swipe of a scalpel and the decision to go with an Acura SUV, the history of the world could be broken into two parts: Before Dumpling and During Dumpling. All those months of carrying around this growing creature and suddenly, there she was, with a powerhouse set of lungs.
Josh and I had no idea her scream would direct our lives for many weeks to come. There was so much we had no idea about. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I just laid there waiting, hoping to be told everything was in working order, that she was healthy. I only caught a quick glimpse as the medical team whisked her away to be cleaned, measured and weighed. Josh watched everything and reported back to me that she was perfect and beautiful, which was all I wanted to hear. Because even though I am a skilled complainer, I really didn’t care how badly being pregnant felt. I just wanted a healthy Dumpling.
Going through nine months of growing a person and hoping that everything will be ok is scary. Not to mention that worrying about it is bad for the baby’s health in utero. And I am a worrier. From the moment that stick showed two lines, everything I did sent me into an anxiety ridden tizzy. Ok, well, first there was a moment of disbelief and elation as I stared wondrously at the two lines. Then came the tizzy.
“Oh, my God! I think there was a speck of unpasteurized goat cheese in my salad. The baaabbyyyy!” Then I would worry about the worrying. Josh’s catch phrase, in an exasperated tone, for all those months was, “Baby’s fine.”
“I just took in a breath of second hand smoke from that guy across the street!”
“I fell asleep and woke up slightly on my stomach. What if I squished a foot?!”
Eventually, his phrase was amended. “Baby’s fine. But, you…you’re not fine. You’ve lost it. But, the baby is doing just great.”
I’ve tried to calm down since the Dumpling’s birth. But, I can feel Josh laughing as I write this. I guess the Dumpling will be forced to make do with a mom who has a few quirks.