When I last checked in with this lonely blog I was OMG-pregnant, and I’ve left everyone in suspense. But as expected, in late August my pregnancy resulted in a tiny person with whom I share an emotionally potent chemical co-dependency.
More simply, I HAZ A CUTE BAYBEE!
Please welcome our tiny new friend–codename Chestnut–our toothless, elfen, smiley learning machine. This picture is from his first full day on the outside, when he still had an anti-theft device attached to his cord stump. It’s true, they make them for babies. Apparently, the idea is that if you try to abscond from a hospital with a kiddo, it beeps like a shoplifted dress from Ross. But if you try to remove it or tamper with it, it’s a felony because messing with the cord stump can potentially endanger the kid’s health.
So what’s it like on the other side of the rainbow? As an old colleague of mine described it the other day, “Don’t worry, Stockholm Syndrome sets in really fast!” It’s pretty awesome, more than I expected. What struck me early on is that it isn’t a little bit of anything. It’s deeply calming, deeply exhilarating, deeply terrifying, deeply satisfying. It’s equally frustrating, maddening, rewarding, and squee-inducing.
It hasn’t been as shocking as I expected. It’s true that what I’m experiencing is a different kind of love than I’ve had before. But it’s familiar. I have the muscle memory of feeling intensely attached, nurturing, and protective of siblings, nieces and nephews, partners, friends, even pets. In fact, the experience of being attached to animals has a lot in common with being attached to a baby in that the pets I’ve rescued have been tiny, vulnerable, and adorable. Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed that a kindness shown to my little one feels tantamount to a kindness shown to me. I recognize that this could be experienced as a novel kind of selflessness, but I don’t experience it that way. To me, it’s that his needs are more pressing and his smiles more rewarding than mine. I experience it as a palpable connection, that what’s good for my kid is good for me.
And in fact that’s true on a basic, biochemical level. The hormonal chain of events that links us is very powerful. When he smiles, the joy it gives me makes me want to keep creating conditions that make him smile. When he cries, I can’t think straight and it creates a type of panic that drives me to find a solution. When he breastfeeds, he ingests chemicals that calm him and help him sleep, while triggering a release of drowsy-ing oxytocin in me. Helping him sleep helps me to sleep.
What this actually feels like is that I mostly feel like myself, but with a snuggly sidekick who is my biggest priority. The biggest compliment I’ve gotten is from a friend of mine who said I seem like the same person pre- and post-kid. I have plenty of moments of “Crap, what do I do now?” and the first two weeks were tough, but generally I’m really happy and pretty calm. This is helped by the fact that we got ridiculously lucky with a very easy kid who communicates clearly and doesn’t cry much. But even when he screams it’s been really important to me to try to give him a sense of calm. I want to be a safe touchstone for him when he’s upset, and not freaking out is the best way I can think of to provide that. I’m also really lucky to have a partner who is a champion baby whisperer. It makes it possible for me to get the breaks I need so I can come back fresh and ready for the work of being a parent.
I’ve also found it really important to have myself together. From very early on I found that I was prioritizing taking a shower, getting dressed in non-sweatpants, going for walks, visiting people, keeping up with the laundry. I’m not sure why this was so important. Maybe it’s just an extension of nesting. But knowing that I have clean socks, that Chestnut has plenty of clean diapers, and that everything I need is easy to find, makes it easier to deal with the curve balls that come our way. For example, there was the time it took 4 hours to get to a park 10 blocks from our house because of multiple delays, emergency feedings, and diaper changes. At least I knew I was coming home to a place with plenty of groceries and toilet paper.
Honestly, what I’ve found most life-changing is maternity leave, which ended last Friday. For a whole twelve weeks, taking care of Chestnut was the only thing I absolutely had to do all day. I slept as much as I needed, napping between feedings if I’d had a rough night. We walked around the neighborhood checking out flowers and friends and overstuffed burritos. I sorted boxes of old crap and threw half of it away. There were frustrating days when I felt like I didn’t get anything accomplished between his fitful naps, but for the most part, that was ok. I got to know my kid, his cries, his likes and pet peeves, his expressive hands, his quickly changing, adorable face. For once, I felt like my priorities were crystal clear, and while I had days when I felt like I was pedalling backward, over the course of a week I had enough time to do everything that absolutely needed doing. The feeling of efficacy and clear purpose has been very satisfying.
So what’s it like on the other side? At times it’s hard, uncertain, scary, exhausting. But by a mixture of luck, preparation, and loving support from the people around us, it’s more often really, really good.