The good old days of newborn bliss are over. Now it’s a dog eat dog world the minute babies exit the womb. In fact, the competition begins before they’re even born. When I was induced in the hospital, we could watch a monitor that tracked my contractions. The screen also displayed the contractions of every other woman giving birth in the hospital.
The competition was on. For a while, I was in the lead. The nurse said my contractions looked great, that they were moving closer together at a promising, steady pace. Josh gave me continual blow by blows of how I remained a step ahead of the other women, as if he was an ESPN announcer covering a new sport: “The Labor and Delivery Contraction Race.” Josh, an avid cyclist and all around sports junkie, seemed genuinely proud that his wife was pulling ahead.
But, if I’ve learned anything from watching every cycling race on the planet with him these last few years (I think we even watched the Tour de Jupiter once), the breakaway rarely holds down the front all the way to the finish line. So, we should have expected what happened next. Slowly but surely the other women gradually moved ahead of me as my contractions regressed. I joined the peloton (main pack) for a while until I was finally blown away into the back, last place.
One day, I could tell the Dumpling that my last place finish was all for the best because it shows that you can’t ever give up, and that I’m grateful to have entered and finished the race at all. Given the high pressure world she’s being thrust into, she might have a hard time believing me. Still, I hope she can see past the pressure and know there is more to life than first place. Because, if it wasn’t bad enough that I had to compete just to get her out of me, it seems babies are thrust into our society with a homework list already waiting for them.
But, trying to offer her some baby bliss amid our cutthroat culture is challenging. Sometimes, I look out at all the baby equipment in our living room, unsure if I’m seeing play things or the baby version of the Dauntless compound from the book, Divergent.
Babies don’t get to play on their backs and look up at little monkeys and elephants for the mere pleasure. I mean, it’s not exactly subtle that these mats with attached hanging toys are called “Activity Gyms.” There is no playtime, only high intensity work outs; baby cross training, working the legs and arms, while the brain revs up the motor skills. After all, the books give a timeline for when babies should be swatting and grabbing.
And don’t for a second think that babies get to goof around on their bellies just for kicks. The second their stomachs hit the floor the clock starts on regimented “tummy time.” We’re told five minutes at first and eventually an hour a day (although not consecutively). Parents are encouraged to crawl onto the floor and get their heads down with their little ones like Gillian Michaels. “You can do it! Push! Push! Push! No more excuses. You’re almost two months old! There’s no crying in tummy time!” It’s no wonder there are infant massage specialists. I’d need my baby muscles worked out after so much activity, too.
If all that sounds exhausting, don’t think babies are rewarded with a carefree slumber. Babies don’t sleep these days. They train. What was once a naïve effort to get the baby to bed is now a training endeavor. Move over Michael Phelps. All day in the pool does not compare to ten to twelve hours of sleep training.
To maintain our sanity, Josh and I stopped reading the milestone/week by week books. Everyone has their way of dealing with the stress and worry of parenthood. For some, reading as many books as possible helps maintain sanity. For me, reading too much made me overthink and worry to an unhealthy degree.
It’s hard enough to see her grow up. I mean, today it’s maneuvering the pacifier, tomorrow she’ll be marching off to college, telling me I don’t even need to rent the apartment across the street from her dorm, the one close enough to maintain a signal from her baby monitor. Who’s going to make sure she’s breathing if I’m not across the street with the monitor volume on high? There is no book for that dilemma.
So, for now, as long as she’s healthy and happy, why stress out about whether she’s rolling at the supposed right time?
I never realized how much her growth would give me an intense combination of pride and sadness. I guess that’s the thing, not just about parenthood, but any new life adventure that you can’t abandon; you learn things about yourself you didn’t expect. You think you know who you are, but a new experience brings out unexpected parts of your character, expanding your identity, moving you in a new direction.
A friend of mine just sent her daughter off for her first day of Kindergarten. She said the school gave each parent a box of tissues for the big day. Pre-Dumpling me would have rolled her eyes. But, I totally get it now. I may need a bath towel.