Before having Diego I had a lot of answers. I had plans, and scenarios that put me first in line for a reality check. I was determined to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice regarding no television for children under two, I was going to swaddle my way into a baby that slept through the night within the first six months, I was going to breastfeed for at least a year and I forget what other lofty goals I had for myself and my unborn child. I read books, blogs, journal articles, and watched countless YouTube videos about everything from which stroller is best to what foods to avoid.
We are all better parents before our children arrive. We are so full of energy and motivation that we can’t fathom that we will fail, or deviate from our preconceived ideas about what parenthood will entail. My first lesson in this came at my thirty-five week appointment where my blood pressure was so high I had to be admitted right away. Right then, I knew that my natural childbirth had slipped through my fingers. I had wanted a vaginal birth, I wanted to feel the pain of labor no matter how briefly (I was always open to an epidural) and I wanted to give birth to my baby in the beautiful way I had seen time and time again. My doctor, accustomed to my neuroses assured me that everything would be ok. She also reminded me that things change. I knew this. I had discussed this with her at length, but in that moment, overcome by fear, I could only grieve for that experience I wouldn’t have.
Diego was born via Cesarian section the next day. I saw him briefly before he was taken to the NICU. Already, my plans were changed. I did not get to nurse him right away. It would be days before I would put him to my breast. Breastfeeding is hard and even more so when your baby has been drinking from a bottle while in the NICU. I was pumping regularly and fortunate to have an ample supply but I couldn’t be there to feed him every three hours so I had to be satisfied with sending baggies of pumped colostrum/milk to him.
When we finally brought him home I discovered that he could break through his swaddle and end up scratching his face. He did not like having his arms contained. We tried using mittens to avoid scratches but his jerky movements had him smacking himself in the face and waking himself up. Where was this swaddle magic I heard so much about?! By the time Diego was four months we couldn’t swaddle him anymore because he could turn over. Sleep would elude us for most of his first year. We had some good nights where he slept for five or six hours straight but those were rare. We tried everything to no avail. Books will tell you that by six months babies should be able to sleep through the night but babies don’t read the books!
Diego is now almost eighteen months and has been sleeping around twelve hours straight each night for a while. He obviously did not fit the mold when it comes to typical sleep in babies.
As for television, he watches some shows. There are days when the TV stays off all day and he doesn’t miss it. It’s not part of his routine, but he does watch it. How unrealistic is it to expect parents to not expose their kids to ANY television whatsoever? In my opinion it’s pretty unrealistc. At least for us. Somedays I need those thirty minutes to an hour to get something done. Other days it’s just nice to sit together as we sing along to some of his favorite songs on his favorite show.
I was a better mother before having Diego because I had answers. I thought the experiences of others would somehow help me navigate first time motherhood with grace. Nothing helps you when you’re up at four in the morning, crying because your baby hasn’t let you sleep in days and if you put him down you will only ensure a screamfest. The books don’t tell you that sometimes a shower is the last thing you will want at the end of a long day of pumping, feeding and cleaning up poop. There are days when we are at our worst, when we cut corners, feed our kids frozen chicken nuggets, and let them tear our mail into pieces just for a few minutes of peace and quiet.
I was a better mother, but now I am something even better: I’m mama.