The other day, my oldest daughter got out of the car and asked me to pick me her up and carry her inside. She’s almost eight and I was tired, and my initial reaction was “You can walk,” but then she looked at me and said, “Pleeeease?” I looked at this kid standing in front of me whose head comes up past my belly…. And I thought to myself, “How much longer am I going to get the chance to carry around this sweet little girl?” I thought back to that day almost eight years ago, standing in a hospital room feeling like I was having an out of body experience as my wife pushed out this little person while a team of people stared at her crotch. I thought back to our doctor (picture Chevy Chase in hospital scrubs) telling us that we had a daughter, and I remember the sound of a little girl crying…. And then realizing that sound was coming from me. The baby was also crying.
For the whole pregnancy, all we could think about was the birth. We waited to find out if we were having a boy or a girl (I highly recommend this), so the birth was like this big reveal. The actual birth wasn’t really that scary at all (as my wife rolls her eyes at me)–because someone else is in charge the whole time. The scary part is what comes after the birth. Next thing we know, we’re holding this baby and we’re like, “Ummm…. Now what?”
After the baby gets all cleaned off and weighed and whatnot, one of the first things they try to do when she is out is get her breastfeeding. I was not properly prepared for how amazing this process is–The fact that every baby comes out with this innate instinct to suck, and the fact that these things that, since around fifth grade, had held such mystery and fascination for me were also able to provide a baby with every bit of nutrition it needed. Our daughter was having trouble latching on (for those of you who might not know, this is what it’s called when the baby’s mouth makes a firm seal around the nipple), so the longer this went on, the more stressed out we got. It had been almost 24 hours, and one of the nurses asked if we’d like to give her some formula. We knew that breast milk is the best thing for a child, and we felt like this was giving up, so we said no. The next day, there was a new lactation consultant (Thanks a lot, high school guidance counselor, for not telling me about this job, for some reason) who was like, “We can do this,” and she helped us get our baby girl to latch on. You’d have thought she had just graduated from college, I was so proud. I think I was more relieved about that than I was about the actual birth.
People usually stay at the hospital for a couple days after the baby is born. These days are pretty care-free (especially after she started feeding) because you are surrounded by professionals whose job it is to care for a child–If a nurse picks up your child, you don’t have this secret fear that she is going to drop your baby or get it sick (like you do when all the clumsy, germy “friends” and “relatives” walk in your room). But before you know it, those 48 hours of being able to hand your baby off to a nurse so that you can get some sleep are over, and that same nurse is telling you, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” And this feeling of terror comes over you as you wonder whether or not you should confess to the nurse that you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing….
We had signed all of our papers and were literally walking out of the room with the baby in the carseat, and our nurse stopped us to give us a little peptalk. She goes, “Listen. I have only seen this once, but I never want to see it happen again–DON’T SLEEP WITH THE BABY IN YOUR BED!!! This couple had their baby in their bed with them, and the father rolled over while he was sleeping and suffocated the baby, and they woke up with a dead baby….” WHAT THE HELL!?!?!!?!??!!!! As if I wasn’t terrified enough already? You decide to leave us with THAT??? It’s like, “Hey, it was really nice meeting you guys. Have fun! Oh, by the way, there’s a pretty good chance you might kill this kid…. Drive safe.”
I still have nightmares.
When you actually get home, sleep is very, very hard to come by. Babies don’t sleep. And it turns out that the only time that you get to sleep is when the baby is sleeping. What they don’t tell you is that for some babies, the only way you can get them to fall asleep is to lay down WITH them. Sometimes in the middle of the night the baby would wake up hungry, and the wife would feed her in bed. I would listen to her falling asleep–Her breathing would change to her sleeping breaths–and all I could think of was one of us rolling over onto this sweet, helpless child and waking up with a dead baby. This one nurse’s warning had bored its way deep into my psyche, and now, just about every night, I would wake up with a night terror, like Homer Simpson yelling, “COBRAS!!!” I would wake up with the words, “Where’s the baby!” and I would frantically feel all around the bed, patting down my sleeping wife like some sort of groggy TSA agent. This continued long after my wife stopped breastfeeding. Stupid nurse….
Before we had kids, I had no idea how big of a deal breastfeeding is. It turns out that producing a lot of breast milk is like this badge on honor for moms. They love to tell everyone about how much milk they get–“Come children of Nashville! Suckle at my ample bosom! There is enough milk here FOR ALLLLL!!” But along with this pride that mothers feel about producing all kinds of breast milk, there is also a quiet shame that is felt when they are not producing enough, or they start to lose their milk before they had planned, and they have to supplement with *gasp* formula. Everyone knows that formula is not as good as breast milk for a child, but it’s weird how something like only producing three ounces instead of four ounces can make a woman feel like a failure as a mom. The next thing you know, your wife has every herbal supplement known to man in an attempt to get more milk–She’s drinking a gallon of breast milk tea with dinner, she’s dipping fenugreek like it’s Skoal Chewing Tobacco, and injecting something called Blessed Thistle directly into her veins like some sort of matronly Lance Armstrong (Oh no, he didn’t. Oh yes, I did).
But how much breast milk a woman produces is not what makes her a good mom. Just like neither is having a home birth, or birthing into some kiddie pool, or managing to have a natural birth as opposed to one with pain meds (or having a C-section), or homeschooling, or being a stay-at-home mom instead of having a job, or how organic your baby food is. What makes you a good mom (or, for that matter, a good parent) is that you love your kid. And we all do that in different ways. Sure, there are some things we can do for our kids that are better than others, but life happens…. And sometimes both parents have to work. Or sometimes moms breastfeed for three months and decide they can’t keep on pumping in a closet at the office. Or sometimes you wind up at a cookout where all there is to eat are hot dogs. Or sometimes you let your kids watch eight episodes of Phineas & Ferb in a row, because if you don’t get a nap, you’re going to lose. Your Freaking. MIND. What’s important is that kids know that they are loved.
Needless to say, I carried that sweet (not so) little girl of mine in from the car. And I’ll keep doing it as long as she keeps asking me…. and maybe even a little longer.