When I was pregnant, my best friend, Katie, had a good laugh when I told her that I intended to keep a detailed diary of life with my new baby.
Katie is the mother of a delightful 14-month-old girl and a great pal, but she has one annoying habit: Whenever I'd whine about how miserable pregnancy was, she'd say, "Just wait," meaning: "You think you're exhausted or your back hurts or you never have sex now, just wait until the baby comes." Still, I was determined to record for posterity my impressions of new motherhood, and buckled down to the task after my son, Cole, arrived.
At last, Cole is here. I really didn't believe I was having a baby until I felt his head crowning. And then, holy moly, there he was -- a slippery, squalling little miracle lying in my arms. My husband, Greg, sat in a chair in the hospital, just gazing at him for an hour. It seems as if we've known and loved him for years.
I'm in a bit of a daze, but it's not unpleasant. This morning Greg brought me breakfast in bed, and I watched the seagulls swoop into the water outside my window as Cole nursed. When he conked out in my arms, I laid him on the bed next to Greg, who'd fallen asleep. Then I threw a load of clothes in the washing machine, put the dishes in the dishwasher, and set a kettle of water on the stove to boil for tea.
"Ha!" I thought. "This baby stuff isn't so tough." Half an hour later, Greg found the kettle -- boiled dry and slightly melted.
Last night, Cole nursed at 9 P.M. And again at 10. And at 11 and at midnight. Later, we got our first taste of the Baby From Hell: He cried. He squirmed. He had gas from both ends. I began to worry that something was really wrong. Greg walked him, and Cole cried even harder. I hate it when he cries. It hits me in a visceral way, breaking my heart and making me feel panicky inside. Greg says he likes to hear Cole's voice. More evidence that men are weird.
At 2 A.M. I took Cole upstairs and walked him around, barely able to keep my eyes open. He finally dropped off after an hour and a half of nursing. I hardly dared get up from the rocking chair, but I managed to lay him down without waking him, and we slept until 7:30 A.M. Four glorious hours! I feel almost refreshed. The phone has been ringing nonstop. Everyone wants to wish you well when you've just had a baby, which is exactly when you don't have the energy to talk.
My body feels like I've been in a car wreck. My nipples are beginning to hurt, and my breasts feel like water balloons.
I took a shower in the late afternoon while Cole slept. Alone at last!
Last night while I nursed Cole, Greg and I managed to watch a third of a movie. Because we'd decided to set a regular bedtime routine for the baby, we stopped the movie to give him a bath.
Cole wasn't crazy about being undressed until we discovered that holding him under the heat fan in the bathroom blissed him out. So we gave him his first sponge bath right there under the fan. His body is so tenderly beautiful that I want to hold him next to my skin and never let go.
After his bath, Cole slept in two-hour shifts, feeding in between. This morning I was zonked. But looking down at him while he nursed, I felt utterly serene.
Later, I took Cole upstairs so I could finish watching the movie. I cried through most of it, dripping tears on him. The movie was a tearjerker, but I was also crying because I'm so full of joy at being given this perfect child. I thought about the thrill we'll have in exposing him to music, telling him stories of great people's lives, and catching bugs with him. Suddenly I was overcome with sadness that he won't be this exquisite, gentle baby forever. His growing up means that Greg and I will die.
I was a basket case today. My first crying jag started in the morning as I thought about my friend Susan, who's been trying to get pregnant for six years. It will be so unjust if she can't have this experience. Then I cried because Cole may never really know his grandparents if they don't live at least another decade. Sheesh. I have this new life to nurture, and all I can think about is death.
Cole's nasty, dried-up umbilical cord fell off. In honor of our son's losing this last vestige of life in the womb, Greg got in the tub and gave Cole a grown-up, full-body bath, which he loved.
We went on our first outing today to attend Greg's dad's birthday dinner. We began getting ready at 2:30. First I had to figure out what to wear so I could nurse. Then we dressed Cole. I fed him one last time before we left the house so he wouldn't get hungry in the car. That was a mistake. As soon as we were on the freeway, he spit up all over his nice outfit.
Upon arriving at Greg's parents' house, we went upstairs to change him. That was mistake number two. As soon as we got Cole's diaper off, he pooped all over the bedspread. Greg and I fell over laughing, then tried to clean up the mess before the mustard color set in.
Greg's first day back at work. Thank goodness that my friend Katie is here with her daughter, Catherine, or I'd still be in bed, unfed, with a dirty baby.
I managed to write birth announcements and thank-you notes in the morning while Cole was asleep, even though what I really wanted to do was just hold his warm little body against mine. I read the front page of the newspaper, started the dishwasher, threw in a load of washing, and actually managed to get it folded on the same day. Meanwhile, Katie made us five different dinners for the freezer. Miracle worker. I think harems may have their advantages: The women can rely on one another for childcare and household chores.
Cole and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 8 A.M. to find Katie knitting and Catherine watching Barney. I told Cole he should find a new mother. I need a day off -- a day when nobody wants to suck on me, barf on me, or dribble milk down my side. I need a good night's sleep, without waking up in a hot sweat or to a poopy diaper that's blown out both sides.
Katie and I sat around in our pj's and talked. We laughed over the fact that we both suffer from some mysterious Mommy disease that makes us treat our husbands as if they didn't have the brains to care for a sack of flour, much less a baby. As Greg says, the minute I became a mother, he became mentally retarded.
Katie went home yesterday. I cried as I stood in the driveway waving good-bye. It seemed terribly lonely today, with nobody around to share in Cole's little triumphs. My second day of just me and my baby, and I'm ready to trade him in for a puppy. Well, not really, but I hit an all-time low on the emotion meter. First I woke Greg up at 5 A.M. by trying to sing the baby back to sleep. When I gave up and brought Cole into bed, Greg just got up -- no "good morning," no kiss, no nothing. That made me cry, naturally. So my dear, exhausted husband came back to bed and tried to reassure me that he really wasn't mad at me for singing; he was just tired.
The day went downhill from there, mainly because I tried to do too much. In the morning I wrapped Christmas presents, packed them in boxes, and carted them to the post office -- our first solo outing. The post office is only a seven-minute drive away, but Cole was screaming by the time we got there, so I fed him before putting him in the Snugli and hauling the boxes up to the counter. Thank God my mother is coming tomorrow.
Mom tells me that I have the world's easiest baby, and it's true. He hardly ever cries, but instead just goes, "ih, ih, ih," when he's fussy.
Mom and I took Cole to the pediatrician today in a moment of mutual panic. His poops had seemed awfully watery, and we were worried that he had diarrhea. I brought a soiled diaper along, which the doctor dutifully looked at and declared perfectly normal. He also pointed out, a little sarcastically, that even if Cole did have diarrhea, it wasn't hurting him any, since he weighs 12 pounds 9 ounces!
One thing my son does well is eat. Greg and I call him the Milk Shark because the minute he senses that a breast is near, he opens his mouth and starts shaking his head back and forth, like he's going to tear the nipple off as soon as he gets it in his mouth.
By the time we got home, we were both too tired to make dinner -- not that I've made dinner once since my mother's been here -- so we ordered takeout instead. The food was exceptional, and so was the bill -- 70 bucks. I hid the receipt from Greg so he could enjoy his meal.
Today was Mom's last day here, and I'm getting teary thinking about her leaving. On top of the fact that the beds have been made, the clothes have been washed, and the dishes have been put away every day since she's been here, we've shared the most intimate, happy times that I can remember.
Cole smiled at me today. Expressions have been passing across his face for a week now. First he frowns, then he wrinkles his nose, then he smiles, then he frowns again. Most of the time, I don't think they're hooked up to any real emotions; it's as though his face is just practicing the moves. Until now, that is: He actually looked at me when he smiled. Suddenly he seems like a real person who will one day grow up into a human being, not just a lovable lump of protoplasm.
Smile at me, baby, and I'll walk on hot coals for you, no matter how many times you wake me up in the middle of the night.
Shannon Brownlee is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report.
Adapted from an article published in Parenting magazine