My mother could throw that out SO quickly that I suspected it was taught during Lamaze classes--that is until I took one.
Still, I assumed that mothering would come naturally--after all, I was good at babysitting, taking care of my younger siblings, and teaching small children and those things are UNNATURAL. Childbearing is something our bodies are made to do, so wouldn't child rearing be the same way?
Now, I am sure that there are many naturally glowing, happy, beautiful mothers of newborns out there for whom motherhood is bliss from Day 1.
I am not one of them. To tell the truth, I did not feel like a mother when my first child was born. It was all, in fact, very unnatural. And so, obviously, I felt like a failure, but not a mother. And that was such a surprise. Really and truly it was.
Sure, I had been in denial when I was finally, really pregnant--until everything, absolutely everything--with the exception of buffalo wings--made me want to vomit, but that's totally normal, right?
And sure the prenatal vitamins made me nauseous, and that was a surprise, but who can account for morning sickness?
I had other surprises, too, but wasn't that just part of a woman's first pregnancy? Isn't that how we bond with other women?
And I blissfully denied that there was anything to know that I couldn't intuit through natural traces or learn from experts.
I followed all of the advice, read all the books, attended all the classes, had all the requisite requirements, but my pregnancy still didn't work as planned.
And then my son was born. And I was in shock.
First off, I didn't recognize his face. It wasn't the face I had been imagining, and he was so, so, so skinny! Just four pounds! How could I do that to my baby? How could my body betray us like that? I read all the books!
And time just kind of froze. I didn't feel like a mother yet. There was too much to do. And so I just kind of ignored all the problems, all the things that didn't fit, and all the things I hated. And I felt only panic, no joy. For four days, I just did what the books said. I held the baby constantly, tried to breast feed exclusively, gazed at him and did everything possible to bond with him. But I felt nothing.
And then, four days later: 3:00 AM. I thought I could get up at any time, but it's a lot harder to get up at 3:00 AM when you just laid down at 2:30 and the time before that at 1:45 and the time before that at 12:30. Where was the two hours of sleep that breastfeeding books promised?? Two hours, they said. Two hours. LIARS!
Of course, I hadn't stood up yet. I had only looked at the clock. Why didn't the snooze button work? Why did the noise keep going? I gazed at the red fragments alternately lit around two stacked squares that formed each of the numbers. If I squinted hard enough, could I make them 7:30? That was a reasonable hour to get up.
My husband didn't even bother coming into the bedroom with me and the baby. The smart man was snoring on the couch! I could be there too, except my boobs were attached.
My mind was roaming between reforming the numbers, wondering what my husband would look like with boobs, and imagining how nice it would be to sleep on the couch when I somehow figured out that the noise was not the clock. It was the baby!
I rolled in the direction of the crib. There they were, a foot or so from mine: two coal black eyes that gleamed in the near darkness. As soon as they caught my eyes, the little creature gasped. His spindly, skinny arms reached for me with balled fists, and the anticipation in his gaze said clearly, "You hold the answers to all of my problems."
Then I felt it. Two great, amazing, mind-shattering truths. One: I was a mother. I mean it. I was the mom. Not a panicking mom. Just a mom--a real, in the flesh, not making-it-up or going-home-at-the-end-of-my-shift mom. Gone was the surreal world I had been living in: the haze of panic, the slightly bad dream that I was hoping to wake up from until the dream that I had anticipated--one with more sleep and fewer stinks--arrived. But, no. That other dream wasn't coming. I was the mom, and I knew it now.
The other, which I had been denying for so long, was awful, far too awful to bear. Something that can only be whispered. Lean close. Are you ready?
I didn't have any answers.
BETRAYAL!!!! Parents are supposed to know, man! Did you not hear what my mom told me? You read the books. You feel your body. Intuition kicks in, and you know. Then you have the right to say, "Because I'm the mother, that's why!"
But it's all a lie! A complete lie! Just like that Lamaze crap but worse. Unlike labor, you don't get over parenthood in a matter of hours. It sticks around awhile (and we want it to).
But in the hole where the knowledge was supposed to be, I felt something else--something soft and strong like the silk the Chinese used for armor. It was love. Complete love. Mind-boggling love for that little alien in the warped space-ship-like cat-tent-draped crib.
Brain still mush, I thought, screw it all. I mentally discarded all the pregnancy and newborn advice books I had read, sweeping them mentally off the shelf next to the changing table and into the trash--and making plans to do it for real once the sun came up and I had (hopefully) slept. I lifted my wailing son from the crib.
And I suddenly had a strangely Animal Planet moment. I kissed his little face and tears while feeling and sniffing for the source of the alarm. Wet. Very wet. And flat. A very flat belly. I attached him to my right breast to make the howling stop. Pain. Pain and peace. Peace was more important than pain, so I left him there, held football style with my left hand while I rooted through the emergency stack of preemie clothes with my right hand.
I once again eyed the shelf of pregnancy books towering over the dresser. I knew where the clothes were going tomorrow. Somehow, in my cross-eyed state, I found a suitable outfit my son hadn't peed yet. I detached him from my breast to change him, much to his shock--shock so great that he hadn't started to scream yet. With speed I didn't know I possessed, I replaced the clothes he had on.
I then attached him to my left breast to stifle the impending wail and turned, intending to thunk down on the side of the bed exhausted. The cat nodded at me from inside the crib. Apparently she felt the cat tent was for cat-rest and not cat-repellant. I didn't even have the energy to think, Damn cat! If I had been more rested, I would have fought to know, fought to research out the right answer. Sleep deprived, all I could muster was, Screw it.
I tucked the baby into the crook of my arm
Screw the experts. We needed sleep.