I’ll tell you a little secret: I’m not really a baby person. I’m really not. Babies always sort of freaked me out growing up. I guess I didn’t have much experience with them or something, and well, I guess I just didn’t get the whole babies are so great/cute/cuddly thing. To me they were just little scary things that cried a lot for no known reason.
One time a friend of mine who babysat for her neighbor wasn’t free one night, and she gave the woman my name as a possible fill-in. So the woman hired me to come over that night and take care of her baby, who was probably I dunno, like seven months or something – how would I know? I didn’t know squat about babies at the time. Anyway, I remember her mentioning something about some cereal in the cabinet if the baby got hungry, and then she was gone. When it was clear the baby might be hungry, as in, was screaming and I knew not why, I went to get the kid some cereal. She wouldn’t eat it, and I didn’t know what to do. Now when I think back I know the poor thing probably didn’t eat the FROSTED MINI-WHEATS I tried to give her because the mom meant INFANT cereal, which I probably had never even seen or heard of before. Ugh. You wonder how this woman left me with her baby, and I tell you, I wonder the same thing.
Anyway, babies always scared me, and there was no time when this was more true than when I was left alone with my own baby for the first time. After Sam was born and I was still in the hospital, I was petrified every time I was left alone with him. I specifically remember that Hubby had to drive my mom home one night, and that meant I had to be left in the room with him all by myself. Certainly part of my fear was that I was recovering from a Cesarean and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to physically do what was needed without help, but there was also the fear that I just wouldn’t know the answer. I wouldn’t know what to if he started to cry; I wouldn’t know how to soothe him, or hold him, or nurse him. As he slept in my lap nursing, I just kept willing him to stay asleep, feeling petrified at every noise that might stir him and he’d start crying. And this is how I felt every time I was alone with my new baby.
On the day we were supposed to come home from the hospital, I remember trying to keep Hubby in the room with me until the very last possible minute. We had to wait for someone to come and get me and wheel me out in a wheelchair, and I didn’t want my husband to leave and go get the car ready until the guy had arrived to get me. But, of course, they wanted him to go down and get the car early so that they could be sure he’d be down there and ready to pick me up. After he left, Sam started crying, and I tried everything I could. I nursed him, changed him, changed his clothes, tried to burp him, nursed him again. And then the guy arrived and I had to put Sam in the carseat by myself – the nurse said they were not legally allowed to help me – and by then I was pretty much frantic. Sam screamed all the way to the car and most of the way home, until he fell asleep, and that pretty much set the tone for the first six months of his life, crazy, fussy thing that he was.
I’m not sure exactly when that fear, that sense of utter terror started to lift. Certainly I was forced to face it increasingly more often as time went on and I was left to care for Sam on my own. My mom eventually went home. Hubby went back to work, and then it was just the two of us, Sam and myself. Sometimes I felt crazy, because for a person who already felt traumatized by babies from the start, Sam was ahem, quite challenging. He cried all the time, and I never knew why, never knew what to do. Often I cried with him as we sat in our hot Chicago apartment asking each other what was wrong. It was a hard time for me. It was isolating to be not only a new mom, but to feel like I couldn’t do any of the new mom things that all the other new moms did in order to meet each other. Sam just wouldn’t have it.
But somehow, at some point, we sort of got into a groove. We didn’t do much, but we worked it out. We went on our walk with him in the snugli each morning and we’d stop at the little corner store to get myself a vita-water once he fell asleep, his sun hat covering his eyes. And then we’d go sit at the playground, which was always empty because it was so hot. I’d keep him asleep in the pack for as long as possible, just as I did at the hospital, because I knew once he woke up he’d be crying again. And I’d berate myself for having to have a Cesarean, telling myself that had I been able to have the birth I’d wanted then he would have been a happier baby.
Then we’d come home and peel ourselves off of each other, wet with each other’s sweat since that summer really was ridiculously hot. I’d spend the rest of the day trying to keep both of us fed, which was hard since he couldn’t be put down EVER, and then trying to keep him asleep. I’d lay next to him on the bed and nurse him to keep him napping while I watched movies on mute with the subtitles on so as not to wake him. I listened to lullaby CDs over and over again while holding him and trying to settle him down by bouncing on an exercise ball (we went through probably 4 of those). I’d sing him songs and read him books for as long as he would let me. And I really don’t know how else we passed the time. Eventually I started having an old student of mine come in a few times a week so that I could shower every so often and eat a meal while sitting down.
And then, one day, he started to smile at me. Not too far after that he started to laugh. Soon he’d bop his little head and dance. I’d play music and he’d nod and smile at me while in his swing. I’d tear up as I looked back at him feeling such an overwhelming sense of happiness that I just couldn’t contain myself. It was something so big; it was like nothing I’d ever felt in my entire life.
I was never a baby person. And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t one of those moms who looked at their baby and in an instant felt bonded and whole, nor did I instantly know what to do to for him when he cried, like I had some sort of mother’s intuition that told me all the answers. On the contrary, it took some time. It probably took the duration of a summer, the time that Sam and I worked it out together, just the two of us, and he taught me what being a mom was all about. I would easily describe it as the hardest time in my life. I would also say it was the best.