Archimedes Inside and Out:
Chronicle of a Pregnancy
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Part 10: She's Here … Now What Do We Do?
Months 10 through 12
I had gotten used to dealing with pregnancy, but now that Kendall was born I faced a new set of challenges. Everyone said being a new parent would be tough, and yet I didn't understand how hard the first few weeks would be. It didn't help that I hadn't read any books on newborn care because I thought it might jinx my unborn baby with a third nipple or a misplaced ear. That avoidance would catch up with me very soon.
I had no idea what to do as Kendall's caretaker and parent. Pregnancy paranoia was quickly replaced with new parent paranoia. It was exponentially compounded by the combination of lack of sleep, outrageous postpartum pain, and exhaustion.
In the hospital I was paranoid about every little noise Kendall made the first 48 hours. Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she sleeping enough, too much? Is she eating too much, or is there enough to eat? I fell out of bed every five minutes, grasping my I.V. buddy to steady my wobbly drug-addled legs as I stumbled over to check on her breathing. Every hour Liam changed her diaper to see if she had peed. We became obsessed with her poo and rejoiced with she left us a little present.
I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn't magically decipher her cries, saddle her tiny body, or lull her to sleep. I was obviously freaking out, so the nurses suggested I might get some rest if I put Kendall in the nursery. I walked her over there and found it packed with tons of babies, some of them crying at maximum volume to no avail.
I turned on my heel and wheeled Kendall right back into our room. How could I leave my baby in a nursery where no one would console her? What if someone went into the nursery and stole Kendall? And tried to sell her on Ebay? It could happen.
Nurses came by all the time to run tests on Kendall. I dragged myself out of bed to follow them and supervise. Only on the last test did I realize that I was hobbling into the crowded reception area with my greasy uncombed hair and bloody mesh-underwear-clad ass hanging out of my horrible purple calico nursing gown. (Needless to say, both items were hospital issue.) My flip flops didn't exactly manage to stay on my massively swollen feet, so I hobbled along with them half-on until they fell off. Frustrated, I abandoned them in the hallway, thinking I would retrieve them after the testing. I was a horrifying spectacle.
I didn't care. I was saving my baby from being auctioned on Ebay.
Meanwhile I began to realize why no one is willing to give details about labor related pain. I knew it would be gory, but some of the physical trauma was terribly shocking. All the fluid injected in me in the previous 48 hours pooled in my ankles and feet, leaving me with elephant feet – toes and ankles with nothing in between.
The nurses put a lot of emphasis on the first post-labor pee. Indeed, it was a special moment, but what they should have done was force-feed me half a dozen stool softener pills. Note to other pregnant women: Do not refuse stool softener pills, despite breastfeeding implications. Take the pills; ask for more. Had I known the pain and suffering waiting for me with the equally significant first poo, I would have started taking those pills when I first got pregnant. In fact, I'm thinking of packaging my leftover pills and giving them as baby shower presents.
In the midst of all this pain, I slowly began to realize that Liam and I were responsible for a brand new life. That was a pretty daunting prospect in and of itself, but especially so since we had no idea what we were doing. Add to that my Ebay paranoia, natural neuroses and the complete crash in my hormones and we had a recipe for disaster.
The first three weeks was a long blur that went by in a heartbeat. It started with Kendall wanting to feed almost every minute but my milk didn't come in until three days later. I had trouble burping her, so she would occasionally projectile vomit gobs of curdled milk. When a golfball-sized gob landed in the gap in my nursing bra, I was certain she needed to be exorcised.
Suddenly, her poo simply stopped. Frantic at 1 a.m., we called the pediatrician, who recommended dabbing a Q-tip with some Vaseline and using it to give Kendall some rectal stimulation. We shouted, "Oh God, really?! Rectal stimulation?!" Kendall must have heard us because she let loose one of her soon-to-be trademark power poos just a few minutes later.
Getting her to sleep was another disaster. It took forever, partly because we forgot to swaddle her as the hospital instructed us, partly because we threw on the lights and swooped her up every time she made a sound. Sometimes she woke herself up with the sound of her vociferous farting. Even when Kendall did nap, I kept going in to check to see whether she was still breathing. I was so stressed, I couldn't sleep. We barely subsisted on hour-long catnaps.
And we repeated this, eight to ten times a day for two weeks. Sometimes she would sleep easily and well. Other times, she would cry inconsolably for what seemed like hours on end. After one particularly long spell of Kendall's heart-wrenching wailing, I escaped to the shower to try and relax. I broke down and bawled thinking how badly I must be failing this tiny helpless baby. I felt like I was the root of all her unspeakable misery.
I was terrified Kendall would not gain any weight, with her exploding poos, projectile vomiting and spotty sleeping. At the second pediatrician's visit, I felt the pressure of every exam I've ever taken rolled into one, knowing that I'd studied the wrong chapters. Even getting there on time felt like part of the test, since we were clueless about the intricacies of Kendall's car seat and overly engineered stroller.
The nurse weighed Kendall, who gained a whopping 18 ounces in eight days, more than twice the average. I could have burst from relief and pride. Things started looking up for us right then.
I'm convinced that babies are all part of an unspoken collective that molds parents from the bottom up. Babies and the military have the same basic theory: Break down the individual, then build them back up slowly in the right way. When those trainees are at their rock bottom, throw them a little bone. And when they seem comfortable in their routine and skills, give them a new test to see if the training really stuck.
The next few weeks were marked with slow improvement. My sister Kiko came to help us for a few days. She was a goddess. She had the patience to rock Kendall to sleep. She made tuna fish sandwiches, tidied up, and massaged my feet. She reminded me to sleep and take my painkiller and stool softener pills. I felt desperate when she packed her bags to leave.
After Kiko left, we acknowledged that we needed help. Much as I absolutely hated to admit it, this was too grueling for me to do on my own. How do mothers do this?!
We started interviewing nannies, someone who could come in the afternoons to look after both me and Kendall. I was deeply suspicious of them all. What were their Ebay user names? I made Herculean efforts to drag myself out of pajamas to check them over.
The most qualified woman scared the life out of me. In a loud voice, she swung Kendall around and shamelessly shouted koo-chi-koo-little-pumpkins at my baby. This woman was a disturbing cross between Mrs. Doubtfire and Charro of The Love Boat fame.
It was hard enough for me to admit that I needed help in the most important task I've ever taken on. But the prospect of Kendall's caretaker being such a woman took me over the edge. I shut myself in our soundproof bathroom to bawl again and add tears to my breastmilk stained clothes. I couldn't fathom how I would survive even the first couple of months of motherhood, let alone a lifetime.
As if on cue, that afternoon Kendall threw us that proverbial bone and slept without protest for over three hours. I cried with happiness. She then did it a couple times, enough for consultants to call it regular. I slept a solid three hours too, and was overjoyed. I felt reborn.
Liam and I decided to tempt fate and go out to eat a civilized meal together as a family. It took about two hours longer than usual to get ready, and then only because we planned it like a military operation. All three of us made the trip, and even though it was just French toast at the local brunch hang, it was the height of luxury for me.
We found a part-time nanny who I actually liked and trusted. Chris helped me get over a lot of my fears of doing stuff with Kendall, like going to the grocery store, to Target, to lunch, to the park, etc. She also let me get sleep in the afternoons as well as make dinner. I thought she should be nominated for a Nobel prize.
I even managed to get out for coffee on my own. But I hurried back because it was so awkward and strange to be away from the little baby who had been with me for over 10 months. Being with her was even starting to feel relaxing.
By the tenth week, Kendall was sleeping through the night regularly and nursing happily on schedule. She perked up at and was soothed by my voice. It was absolute magic when she first busted loose a huge toothless grin at me and not because of her gas. When Kendall wanted cuddles, she held on to me tighter. She relaxed during her baths. We played with her toys and went to Mommy and Me yoga class. She even started to squeal with delight when Liam and I played with her.
I'm fascinated by Kendall's burgeoning personality. I didn't expect her to have one so early on. I'm transfixed and delighted rather than freaked out by every little thing she does. Things I used to enjoy, like going out to dinner, or the symphony, or shopping seem so mundane compared to anything Kendall-related. I was entranced when I watched her figure out how to suck her thumb to soothe herself, got her index finger stuck in her nose, and decided just to stick her whole hand in her mouth.
Each micron of progress has been a combination of surprise, miracle and jubilant milestone. I finally began to decipher her cries. Each step has made my soul soar high enough to sustain me through to the next one. Sometimes I get giddy just watching her and at the end of some days, I'm so drunk with joy I can't fall asleep.
While the highs are so lofty, the lows do continue. Kendall continually throws new challenges that send me scrambling to figure out what to do. There is no stable equilibrium for my life as a mom. I guess Kendall feels I haven't graduated basic baby training yet.
Copyright © 2002 Yumiko Shinoda