It’s the eve of my first son’s 23rd birthday, and I am flooded back to that night when labor began and I crossed that threshold into becoming a mother. It would be another year after that when I would write this essay, but today, rereading these memories, I love that they’re still crystal clear. Seems you just wing it when you begin this parenting adventure, and every day as you step up to and into new challenges, you surprise yourself by how much you’re capable of and how far you’ve come. Forgive the cliche, but it really is the best job.
“Your life will never be the same,” everyone warned, urging my husband and me to go out on the town in the remaining weeks, even just see a movie, since this would be our last opportunity for a while. I remember the lady in the drug store who glanced at my full belly, then asked if this was my first. When I said it was, she laughed out loud and declared, “You’ve got a big surprise in store for you!”
Along with the loss of sleep, lack of time and exhausting exhilaration, my son’s birth surprised me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It began to soften my grip on the world I once controlled, and my views on privacy, modesty and relationships changed permanently. I was now officially inducted into this world, connected to everyone and everything in it.
Several hours after my water broke and the birth process began, I suddenly didn’t care who saw me naked, bathed in a pathetic pain, bright lights shining on areas much more accustomed to the dark. Convinced during weeks of yoga training that quiet, focused breathing would ease my labor, I emitted instead dry, throaty vowel sounds like an old lawn mower refusing to start. The labor nurses swaddled me in warm towels so I could weather the storm. And I did.
Once home, the number of calls, cards and casseroles was staggering. Beyond our close circle of people, old friends came out of the woodwork, arms laden with comfort food and sweet little baby things. Some talked of their own children, now grown up and paying off student loans, and told stories of way back when. Some just sat and listened, quietly imagining their own future.
When the visitors tapered off and I’d returned the last dish, a peaceful quiet briefly blew through the house, eventually interrupted by household chores, job responsibilities and of course, baby cries. Days were nights, nights were days, and in between, I did everything I could to avoid walking over that loose floorboard which squeaked underfoot. Funny, it never seemed to wake the cats.
As the weeks passed and I began to get out more, I attracted otherwise disinterested strangers who would smile when they saw the baby, many lingering to admire him. Those particularly bold reached out to touch his soft skin. Most made it clear it was the baby they were interested in, and my attempts at idle conversation were unnecessary and interrupted their private moment with him. I loved their visits just the same.
Back at the office, I’d nurse and type, cradling baby in my left arm and dragging the computer mouse with my right. When it was time to switch sides, I’d return phone calls and nurse some more. Couriers who came by our two-person office seemed confused at first when I didn’t turn around to greet them, but then a baby smacking sound or bobbing head would tip them off. They’d return later in the week, skilled in the new drill, and let my co-worker sign for the package.
Just as groups of dogs and their owners flock to one another in parks, my baby attracted other babies and their parents. My husband and I formed instant bonds with other couples as we compared notes on topics like teething and proper burping techniques, essential information for our baby-centric world. When we would occasionally go out, it was wonderful to see my husband with other new dads cradling their babies and bragging that their child could already grasp a rattle or babble “da da.”
With the new baby came a new fascination with sleep: anywhere, anytime, any amount. On route to work, I fantasized about pulling into the closest motel (alone!) and getting a room for the day with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, where I could savor consecutive hours of delicious sleep, alone and quiet. I bought special bath gels claiming to soothe the baby so he could easily transition to bedtime. I moved the CD player from my office to his room, hoping repeated lullaby rhythms would carry him to sleep. I spent hours searching the Internet for the perfect bedtime CD–forget my own shopping and U2’s new release.
The changes the baby brought extended to every cupboard and crevice of our home. The calming tones in our living room were interrupted every few feet by a primary-colored baby gadget, a pittance for the luxury of a ten-minute distraction. Three-inch socks clung to the inside of the dryer, turning up loads later in the sleeves of our T-shirts. Our promising china collection now mingled with plastic Teletubbies dinnerware.
When we went out to eat, I easily recognized the waiters who were parents or even aunts and uncles from the other ones. The former, usually smiling, knew to promptly bring a basket of bread and extra napkins in preparation for the impending food fest. The latter, via body language and average-at-best service, assured us he was not impressed with our little angel, whose squawking broke the almighty adult ambience. But full of naïve delight, we were just thankful our baby was so enthusiastic about mealtime.
Now, over a year later with more challenges ahead and fatigue still hanging around, I am oddly energized by it all. Our son has sprouted up eye level with the tabletops and scours our floors for things not intended for his mouth. He’s become skilled at catching and pulling the cats’ tails, and his pale, soft hands are filling up with scratches. And even though it’s almost summer and we still haven’t raked the fall leaves, we did finally get out and see a movie.