I’ve heard lots of new parents say that they can’t remember what their lives were like before they had kids. I see where they’re coming from, but I do not feel that way at all. I remember perfectly what life was like before Oscar arrived. The quality and quantity of our sleep was still in our own hands, and if we wanted to make last-minute dinner plans, we did. I could wear shirts that didn’t need to open easily to breastfeed, and I could go for a run or a ski when I had energy, which was often. Life was pretty good.
But it’s so good now, too. While I can imagine life before Oscar, I can’t imagine life without him now. He is two months old, and it feels like a good time to reflect on what our lives have been like since October 4th.
After Oscar was born, we stayed in the hospital for another three nights, being alternately tended to and interrupted by a rotating cast of mostly-excellent nurses. Matt slept poorly on a narrow pull-out chair, and I slept hardly at all in my mechanized, railed hospital bed. Oscar slept on me, on Matt, and swaddled up tight in his see-through bassinet, which two very kind nurses twice wheeled out of our room during the night so that we could sleep for two uninterrupted hours. Daylight brought energy and visitors to our room, and we mostly remembered to eat.
By the time we were discharged, we were more than ready to leave, but as soon as we were home, I felt unprepared. Oscar had fallen asleep in his car seat and we, afraid to disturb him, let him sleep while we whispered to each other about the surreality of having our own baby. Matt pulled a can of LaCroix carbonated water out of the refrigerator and, to preserve the silence in the house, walked out onto the deck to open it.
And then, the baby was awake. The pain of nursing was peaking and plateauing, and the nursing itself seemed interminable. His room, which we had carefully put together over the summer, was suddenly put to the test. I realized almost instantly that I had organized Oscar’s clothes all wrong and had a moment of near-panic when I couldn’t find anything that was small enough to fit his tiny body, which was writhing around in displeasure on his changing table. Why had we been so eager to leave the hospital, knowing full well that we had no nurse-roommates to come home to?
Those first few weeks passed like a slow, steady march through an unfamiliar forest that we could not see for the trees. Matt and I took shifts holding Oscar while he slept: I’d stay up until 1 or 2 a.m., nurse him, and then wake up Matt, who’d be with him until 4 or 5 when he got hungry again. I’d nurse again, and we’d all sleep until 10, which I hadn’t done with such regularity since college. I was always surprised that the morning news was over when we woke up, and when we got our act together enough to actually sleep in our bed at the same time, I didn’t realize how much I’d been craving the comfort of Matt’s warm body next to mine.
I was determined to shower every day- my abused body needed it- so I did, sometimes with Oscar in his car seat, soothed to sleep by the sound of the fan and running water. Matt made us breakfast every day and often fed it to me while I nursed. Because we are fortunate to have wide networks of friends and family nearby, we had visitors almost every day for several weeks (and ate so well because of their thoughtful generosity). After Matt went back to work and I got a little stronger and could ignore my throbbing and swollen incision, I took Oscar for walks around Como Lake with my good friend Melissa and her brand-new baby, Cecilia. When I got the clearance to drive again, we had coffee dates with my cousin Emily and her newborn, Hattie. Just as I had in China, when I was new and intimidated, I picked one thing to do every day and considered us a smashing success if we accomplished it. Over and over again, I thought that becoming a parent felt like living in a foreign country. Everything was so new and patternless that we were forced to remain in the present.
We are still very much living in the present, though things have gotten a little more predictable. Oscar wakes up once a night, but he sleeps at least a few hours on each side of that, and on some mornings, I am able to make my own breakfast. (Of course, on other mornings, I don’t brush my teeth until nearly noon because he asks for all of my attention.) We’ve learned how to soothe him and he’ll take naps in his crib, except when he smiles and giggles and tricks me into snuggling with him for an hour or two. I know that he loves baths and his changing table. He does not love wearing hats, possibly due to the large, crescent-shaped head wound he was left with for six weeks after our failed vacuum extraction (the scab of which our charming dog later found and ate).
I’m home with him right now while Matt works, and since my recovery is more or less complete, we’ve expanded our activities to bring-your-own-baby yoga and barre classes at Blooma, happy hours with friends, and trips to Target. Oscar has experienced his first Halloween and Thanksgiving (the latter of which provided us with a lesson on the importance of good daytime naps), and he’s attended his first funeral (the beautiful service to honor our close friend Ryan’s dad). He’s met the oldest person we know, his Great-Great-Grandma Grace, who is 104, and he came with me when I quit my job.
There’s been some hard stuff, of course. Matt and I have both had moments of misplaced confidence when Oscar is screaming in our arms and we don’t know why. Sometimes it takes four or five tries before he’ll sleep soundly in his crib. Sometimes I get panicky thinking that it’s been two months since I’ve slept straight through a whole night. On the morning that I was going to make my triumphant return to barre class, I backed into Matt’s car, damaged both of our bumpers, and cried too hard to go anywhere. Twice, we’ve forgotten to buckle him into his car seat.
But you know, we’re surviving. Actually, I think we’re doing a pretty great job. Matt and I knew we’d parent well together, but I don’t think either of us fully realized the new depths of kindness, patience, and love we’d find in ourselves and in each other. When at last we all crawl into bed at the end of the day, I feel like a superhero.
Oscar’s growing and smiling more every day- and so are we.