Babies are, that is.
I can’t believe the past eight weeks. Terrible. Amazing. Frustrating. Joyful. Sleepless. Calm. How a small little human with ridiculously tiny body parts can cause such angst and love, simultaneously, is quite beyond me. I never knew I’d be capable of violently swearing at my flesh and blood in sheer pain as she tried in vain to latch on. I never knew my nipples could hurt so much. I never knew how not understanding a baby’s cry could reduce me to tears in minutes. I never knew the relief a parent, neighbor, or friend taking care of my child for even a moment could cause. I never knew a gummy smile would make me forget all my pain. I never knew we’d go through so many diapers.
There are plenty of things parents don’t tell you about raising kids. The first is how totally unprepared you are. You can read all you want, talk to friends and family all you want, scour the interwebs all you want, but nothing replaces the hard slog through the first two/four/six weeks. Infants are little terrorists who hold you hostage and speak a language you don’t understand. They scream at the top of their lungs – banshee cries – for demands you don’t know how to fulfill or can’t. They gleefully soil a nappy and wait for you to change it before giving you a present thirty seconds later. If you’re lucky, that’s it. If you’re not, you’ll go through another two or three. If you’re really unlucky, the top and the bottom of the baby will offer excretions at the same time. Vomit will be a daily part of your life. Poos will cease to be exciting, though you’ll still talk about them constantly. “Blue is bad” will be a saying in your household, referring to the yellow line on a diaper that changes color when wet. You’ll convince yourself she’s dead somehow, cot death or SIDS or unexplained infant mortality, before you check on her for the third time in ten minutes.
Your life will consist of a sea of confusing, frustrating, infuriatingly Groundhog Day-like tasks. You’ll be lucky to get one shower per twenty-four hours. You’ll lower your expectations to realistic standards: just one task a day that doesn’t involve your child. Eating counts. So does sleeping. If you can’t eat when she eats and sleep when she sleeps, you’ll soon succumb to hallucinations and the shakes due to low blood sugar. Laundry will accumulate. Dust bunnies will run rampant. Changing onesies three or four times a day will become standard. You’ll think you’re going crazy. How an eight-pound being can do this to you will be a mystery.
There are things you’ll wish are different. Your body won’t be your own and you’ll look like you’re still five months pregnant. The first fifteen pounds will fall off like magic. The second will probably take a year. Your hormones will still be out of whack and your boobs will itch like crazy. You’ll develop acne again. You’ll feel like an actual heifer when you hook up your double-breast pump. You won’t be able to lie on your front at night even though you don’t have a bump anymore. Your breasts will leak. You’ll have to wear a sanitary pad for at least six weeks. Your period will return. Your second degree tear will heal, but your nether region will never quite be the same. Your hips will be permanently wider. No bras will fit. You’ll still wear your maternity clothes. You’ll wish you weren’t so exhausted all the time, especially when you feel like having adult relations again. You’ll just want two minutes of me time to go to the bathroom. You’ll resign yourself to the fact that everyday tasks will take at least three times longer. You’ll require at least five hours to watch a movie with your husband.
But then she’ll surprise you. You’ll think you see a grin. You’ll hear a new sound, not quite a hiccup and much more akin to a donkey cry, that you’ll realize is her attempt at a giggle. She’ll focus on you for two seconds, then three. Her hair will remind you of the softest peach fuzz, infinitely beautiful and deeply golden. Her skin will be perfect. You’ll start to see your husband’s genes in her long fingers and toes. You’ll get lost in her gray-blue eyes. She’ll wriggle and kick and hold her head up longer each day. She’ll be alert and awake, interested in her surroundings. She’ll sleep harder and longer and sounder. You’ll relish her snores (like Pappy) – it’ll mean she’s asleep and alive. You’ll figure out some of her cries; the hungry one, the tired one, the poopy one. You’ll start to think of her as her own little person.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m still in shock. Parenting is not easy. Infants are hard work. There are days when you want to quit. There are moments you want to slap your baby (but of course you don’t – you put her safely in her bassinet and walk away for five minutes). There are times you scream into your pillow, or at the dog, or at yourself. But a loving husband will take up the slack in housework when you’re breastfeeding every three hours. A kind neighbor will come over with coffee and snacks. A sister will tell you her parenting nightmares (and they’re worse than yours). A parent will volunteer to help with childcare. And you’ll see things start to improve. She’ll sleep four hours at night, then five. You’ll figure out her wants, even by process of elimination. Your husband will give you a three-hour chunk to shower/nap/eat/workout while he feeds her a bottle. You’ll get everything together for a walk to the post office, kid in her carrier, dog on his leash. You’ll be on top of the world when she sleeps eight hours in one chunk.
And your midwife will be right: that first smile will make (mostly) everything worth it. I suppose this is what Stockholm Syndrome will feel like.