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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Category: Family

When a Baby Becomes a Person

Sometime between my world being rocked and right now, something shifted. I think it happened between weeks seven and nine of Mars’ life. He grew and grew and grew, and all of a sudden, he seems to enjoy his own existence. He’s not just turning milk into poop and vigorously dividing cells. He’s discovering. He’s emoting. He’s watching and listening and experimenting.

(For now) we aren’t making mindless bounce-laps around the kitchen table. We’re chatting with each other, we’re relaxing together, and we’re discovering what the world looks like when it’s never been seen before. When Mars kicks and swings and I ask him excitedly (like, really excitedly) if moving around is so much fun, he locks eyes with me and wiggles with even more gusto – as if to tell me that not only is it fun, he’s going to wiggle like a maniac if he thinks I’m into it, too.

Mars is a pretty careful observer. He takes in the world intently and doesn’t get distracted by the antics I try in order to tease out a smile. And as much as I love his smiles, I love his focus even more. He’s letting me get to know him and it’s had a profound effect on both of us. And now that I can see him as his own person, parts of me are returning as well. I went to a yoga class. I read a book. (Okay, fine – part of a book.) I finished crocheting the toy octopus I’ve been obsessing over since November.

For a year, Mars has been an ever-present part of my body – the ten months on the inside and two on the outside punctuated by delivery but eerily similar in their physical and emotional effort. But now, Mars is becoming his own body. Body with a capital B. As in, he has his own mind and spirit in addition to his own arms and legs.

My tears used to be spurred by exhaustion and confusion. Now, I cry because I want him to know how loved he is and how passionately his dad and I will always care for him. And in three weeks, I go back to work. My brain is getting ready for the challenges of my job but part me is aching to stay home and keep discovering things with this fascinating little kid.

So this is why moms get mom-nesia.

I know we’ll still have some major ups and downs and that plenty more sleepless nights are on their way. But I think I get it now.

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Mars, telling me all about his day.

 

Am I Doing This Right and Other Important Questions

Am I a bad mom? Before you answer, hear me out.

Points against: 1) We don’t breastfeed anymore.* 2) Joe and Mars visited family for the weekend without me and I reveled in it (I did have the stomach flu the whole time, so my revelry looked more like… er… death.). 3) I don’t love this tiny baby phase. I just don’t. I don’t know what he wants half the time and there are only so many bouncing-laps I can make around the kitchen table with him before going insane.

Points for: 1) Formula is nutritionally sound and he eats wonderfully. 2) When Joe and Mars walked in the door yesterday, both grunting to each other, it sounded like home to me. 3) He’s not lacking for stimulation, as I’m constantly waving new things at him to see if anything other than bounce-laps will entertain his growing brain.

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I mean, look at that brain!

So am I a bad mom or just a mom? Instagram tells me there are new moms out there who love being new moms. They embrace their new, softer bodies. Their enthusiasm for the role of MOM makes their eyes bright and their skin glow through their (presumed) tiredness. They put on cute stretch pants and make-up and go out for brunch with their babies, somehow overriding the internal voices that scream warnings about public spaces and influenza.

And, yes, my own Instagram feed isn’t exactly a peek into reality. Because when Mars is screeching and I feel like I’m going to pass out, it doesn’t occur to me to snap a pic.

The moms (with mom-nesia?) have told me to enjoy this phase before it’s gone and I’m trying faithfully to abide. I’m locking into my memory that sweet, waxy scent of his hair, the heaving sounds of his sighs, and way his warm body melts into my tummy when he relaxes in my lap. But I’m also hyper-aware of the pee (and, yeah, poop) running down the wall behind his dresser, the piercingly high octave of his “panic” cry, and the surprising sharpness of his nails when they claw at my chest.

Being home alone with him all day is a practice in presence, patience, and prioritization. Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I fail, as Mars and I have ups and downs together and half the laundry mysteriously ends up in the tub. The 1:1 adult-newborn ratio is some tricky math. (Special and enormous shout-out to my own mom, who – during one of my “fail” weeks – dropped her own life to fly out here and help me with mine.)

So when Mars and I are alone, I’ve taken to un-gritting my teeth and whispering “delight, delight, delight” to myself – because I truly want to take delight in all his milestones, even when they’re loud and squirmy. And I’m trying to remember that one day soon, he’ll express delight in something instead of angst, and I have a feeling it’s going to rock my world.

Until then, we’ll clock some more laps around the kitchen table and I’ll try not to muse too hard on what kind of mom I am. Because, honestly, we have more pressing questions to consider. Like, what is that new smell and where is it even coming from?

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Me, looking fly, thumbs-upping Joe during my weekend of revelry.

*Breastfeeding deserves its own post, I think.

The Longest Shortest Weeks

It’s been fifteen days since Mars came into the world. He arrived in a dimly lit room to the soft murmurings of a practiced nurse and the wide-eyed amazement of my husband, Joe. Mars’ actual birth was, for the most part, smooth and efficient. I pushed like I dance – specifically and brainily. Hyper-focused on the instructions and compliant with critique. Unaware of the tearing. Unaware of the bleeding. Only aware of the release and relief I felt as they slid my son onto my chest and Joe cried for the first time since I’ve known him.

In that moment, we blasted ourselves out of the quiet, restless limbo of a late-term pregnancy into the strangest time warp – where we’re rocketing through the days, barely blinking, but the minutes themselves are both beautifully and excruciatingly long.

It’s been a shock to every system.

Some of our parent friends tried to explain the newborn experience to us before Mars was born. They told us it would be amazing and tiring. They said things like, “Prepare to never sleep again lol” in that glib-but-I’m-serious way that made me uneasy. They gave us advice. And promptly told us to ignore their advice because babies are individuals and it’s impossible to predict what they’ll be like.

These last couple weeks have been HARD. Not hard like physical exertion or hard like grief, but there have been, honestly, elements of both. This hardness draws on aspects of every other hardness out there and then reaches straight into your center and pulls out a deep, aching love. It’s a love that feels like hope and terror and exhaustion all at once. This love physically intertwines two rapidly changing bodies – both of them in recovery and both struggling to keep up with life’s new demands.

I’m in awe of every mom who’s ever lived.

In the midst of the hardness, things that might seem small and insignificant are amazing and enormous. His first poopy diaper! His obsession with windows! My first post-partum bowel movement! (Real talk: pooping after birth is its own, special kind of labor.) I’m not kidding when I say that the first time we breastfed and I didn’t grimace and whisper curses into the night felt like the day I completed my graduate thesis. (FYI, we are back to cursing. This is an ongoing saga.) And some things are ridiculous and delightful, like when I catch Joe, covered in pee and laughing, congratulating Mars on a surprisingly strong spray.

We think everything Mars does is interesting. Every sigh. Every grimace. We’re proud of his new folds and rolls, tickled by his punches and kicks, and wrecked when we can’t calm his shuddering cries. He’s a mystery to us – but it’s our job to know him, so we keep waking up and trying our best. And the next time we see just a hint of a smile, love will come bubbling out of our throats and make the nighttime curses seem a little less potent.

 

Day 1100: Kind of a big deal

My fiancé and I are getting married sometime in the next two weeks, depending on how you look at it (we picked a destination wedding, so the legal part is happening separately).

We’re. Getting. Married.

Marriage is a big deal, right? And for all its common-ness, it’s a provocative subject. As an institution, marriage had little to do with love until relatively recently. And it had little to do with two equals creating a partnership until even MORE recently (not-so-fun fact: most states didn’t consider marital rape a crime until the late 1970s).

The median age for getting married is going up, and the number of marriages most of us will have in our lifetime is going up.

Marriage is evolving, as things do.

Joe and I are both pretty pragmatic people. We know the marriage statistics, advantages and pitfalls. We know exactly what tax benefits our union will result in, and we’ve made some strategic choices. We elected for pre-marital counseling by way of the Prepare/Enrich assessment, which gave us data (Pie charts! Graphs! Percentages! Yay!) to analyze.

Our engagement has been filled with preparatory exercises designed to help us understand what we’re getting into, and why. And by all accounts, we’re doing everything right, if not romantically (nothing says romance like empirical data).

But I’m getting the sense that we aren’t preparing for marriage, exactly. What this actually feels like is preparation for continuous preparation. Or continuous change. Or maybe just continuously taking another person into consideration.

Because we’re both in our thirties, we have established independent-everythings—routines, schedules, habits, friends, etc. Every day, we make micro-decisions about how much our physical and emotional worlds should overlap, and where we can each bend and flex to accommodate. And sometimes we hit surprisingly hard edges. (I just think beds look better when they’re made!)

Ultimately, we’re both asking ourselves why we want to do this. For me, the answer is pretty simple. I love him, and I see how our personalities naturally support and balance each other. We accept each other. We challenge each other. We’re kind to each other. We have fun together and we respect each other’s independence. We both like learning. He makes really good quiche.

And when I think about my future, I want him to be there—even though I don’t know exactly who I will be or who he will be.

So in these days before we sign our papers and stand with our families and agree to keep picking each other, I’m feeling some mixture of totally chill and excited-bananas. The bed is messy. The quiche is in the oven. And despite our best preparations, neither of us has any idea what we’re getting into. Which is half the fun, right?

messybed.jpgThat bed.

Day 880: Swings, Songs and Advice for New Moms

Almost three years ago, one of my favorite friends and mentors had a baby boy. His name is Colin, and he has always been one cool cat, even at seven months old when I first blogged about him.

Because it’s been a few years (no idea how that happened), I asked Colleen if I could interview her again – this time, about about motherhood, wifehood, babyhood, toddlerhood, and what she would say to a new mother who receives the same diagnosis for their baby that was given to Colin.

Colin

Colin is a measured performer and a quick study. He can figure out what makes you laugh and then milk the situation before you even know what’s going on. I asked Colleen what Colin’s personality is developing into, and what she sees in Colin of herself and her husband, Chris.

“Reading and entertaining rank high for Colin. Book was his first word. I think he would spend the entire afternoon being read to, if he could. And while you are reading to him, he will inevitably make a funny face, snort or try to get you to smile – that’s the entertainer in him.

He’s a huge fan of Louis Armstrong. And he loves to swing, be surprised,” [Interjection from me: it’s true – he loves to be surprised. Whereas I’d probably cry and pee my pants a little, he just laughs.], “sing along to any number of songs, and play ball. He throws better than I do.

Colin Swinging Down Syndrome

Case in point.

He has Chris’ sense of perfection. Before he was walking, he would practice pulling himself up in hiding before he did it in person. We would watch him on the baby monitor. He has the persistence to keep trying something over and over until he is happy with it.”

As a nearly three-year-old, Colin walks, runs and takes exuberant leaps off one of the chairs in the living room (which has since been turned around to face the wall as a preventative measure). He’s also one of about 400,000 people in the U.S. living with Down Syndrome.

Advice

The original diagnosis was an admittedly scary and difficult one for Chris and Colleen. They received it moments after Colin was born, and they weren’t sure how to react. True to form, they made it through the initial tumbling and came out smiling on the other end.

“I knew Chris would be a good dad, but there is a whole other level of falling in love with your partner when you see them as a loving parent. I couldn’t really understand what that looked like until I saw it firsthand.”

Knowing what she and Chris know now, I asked Colleen what she would say to new parents of a baby with Down Syndrome. 

“Recently I read something that really rings true, so I’m going to steal the thought. If you were to go to a new parent and tell them all the things that would go wrong in their child’s life – like, when they are six months old they’ll get really sick and you will be up with them for nights on end trying to figure out what’s wrong. Or at seven, they’ll fracture their arm jumping off the bed. Or their best friend won’t be their friend anymore when they’re 11, and it will really hurt their feelings – If you told a new parent all the bad things that would happen in the future, instead of helping them be overjoyed with their new child, they would be scared to death. How can a mom protect her kid from that? But that’s not how it happens for most new mothers, thank God.

We were told (or read on the Internet) all the things that could/might happen to Colin throughout every stage of his life. But the truth is, some might happen and some might not. So I would tell a new parent to throw all the opinions, presumptions and thoughts aside and know that someday very soon, you will not see your child as any different.”

Colin Selfie Down Syndrome

Colin’s first selfie. JK, mom took it.

She also offered some incredibly sage advice to all the new mothers of all the babies, regardless of their situations:

  1. “Go easy on yourself. In the beginning you can become delusional due to lack of sleep. Everyone will say ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’ If you can do that, great. If not, then do what you can do to relax. I couldn’t sleep when he slept, and I beat myself up for it over and over.
  2. Find a small group of people you trust, who will listen and talk with you. Thankfully, I had a handful of people who would answer the phone or text me back at 3 am. Remember that someday these people are going to need you to return the favor.
  3. If you don’t have a doctor (or occupational therapist or physical therapist) you trust, then get out of your current relationship and find a new one as soon as possible. And don’t be embarrassed to do it.
  4. Take time to allow yourself to welcome this little one into your home. This baby needs the same things from you any other child would need.
  5. Surround yourself with the people who look at your child the way you want the world to look at your child.
  6. Remember that people mean well. Really. I’m sure I said some stupid things to new parents when I didn’t really know what being a new parent meant. (They either forgave me or were so tired they weren’t even listening.) People will have opinions about your child and what you are doing/should be doing/shouldn’t be doing, and so on. That’s ok. They want to support you any way they know how, and they probably have no clue what is going on in your life. So listen, say thank you, and then call someone in the group from #2 to talk about it.
  7. For the proud new mamas of a child with Down Syndrome, you may want to run and hide right now, and it doesn’t feel fair. But once you come to terms with reality, just know that the child in front of you will blow your mind someday soon. Their capacity to reach their goals is the same as any other child when given opportunities and support.
  8. Remember that your child will be their own person even if they share the same diagnosis as someone else. People will make generalizations, like, ‘Oh, those Downs kids are so stubborn/sweet/easy/loving, etc.’ Is that true of Colin? Sure, sometimes. It reminds me of when people used to assume I played basketball because I’m tall. My son and your kid will be different from each other. Will they share similar characteristics? Sure. Do I share similar characteristics with some WNBA players? Sure.”

Right? Sit with that advice from my wise friend and pass it along to the people in your life who need it. And if you want to learn more and support people with Down Syndrome, check out these great organizations:

Ruby’s Rainbow
Changing the Face of Beauty
Think College