Thursday, July 3, 2014

FBW: Baby Weight

I know damn well that it's Thursday and that Flogger Blogger Wednesday should be on a Wednesday, but I was busy being marginally Internet famous this week. Did you see me on Mamapedia or on Scary Mommy? No? Well, who feels guilty now, huh? Oh, not you? Okay, well, never mind. I'm sorry. Here's a new post. 

My husband and I hosted a cookout in honor of his upcoming birthday. Ribs on the grill, cold beer, and a few close friends -- that kind of thing. My husband is a true extrovert. He loves a crowd; he has a big, charismatic personality; and he holds court with ease. By comparison, I skirt the edges of a party, making drinks for the latecomers, herding the kids, chatting up a fellow closeted introvert.

When two friends, a young couple with their 5-week-old baby girl in tow, arrived at the peak of festivities, I swooped in. These two have warm smiles and a gracious, easy manner, somehow managing to be both polished and approachable. I hadn't seen them since before their daughter was born. They are old friends of Shelby's, but I feel a bit of a fan girl thrill to call them my friends now too. Although, at heart, I know they must make friends wherever they go. And they've gone everywhere. Inveterate travelers. Adventurers even. And it's good to have an adventurous spirit when it comes to kids, because parenthood is the kind of trip that defies preparation.

They looked lovely as usual, and their little girl was sweetly decked out in a white and pink cotton dress. I remember my first social outing after Pork Chop was born -- the colorful cardigan I bought to hide my soft belly, the makeup I applied for the first time in weeks, the tiny sweater I wrestled my newborn into. And I remember the exhaustion.

"How are you guys doing?" I asked.

"Good. Good!" said mom. "Good, just, well, tired."

"She's in this day-night reversal phase," explained dad, "ya know?"

I did know. When he was a couple of months old, Pork Chop began whiling away the hours from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. by crying inconsolably. He could not be rocked or nursed to sleep. He righted himself after about 4 weeks, finally settling into a pattern of 2 hour snoozes throughout the night. But for those 4 weeks, Shelby and I wondered what would compel someone to ever have a second child. We felt guilty for saying it, for even thinking it, but as we paced the darkened rooms of our home with a crying baby in our aching arms, we started to doubt that we were cut out for even one.

"Do you mind if I hold her?" I said, leaning down, already scooping their little girl from her car seat.

"Sure," they chimed. And I didn't stop to ask whether they meant, "Sure, hold her," or "Sure, we mind."

Her small, tender body fit into the crook of my arm. I swayed gently. I patted her rump, and her eyes rolled in drowsy infant oblivion. It was so easy. She let out a cry, and I swayed, I patted, and the equation was solved. She closed her eyes. She quieted. So easy.

Where was that version of me when my son was 5 weeks old? The confident, competent version?

I hope you know what you're doing, lady.

Her mom and dad watched us with that very particular blend of new-parent pride and fear: Was their daughter comfortable? Was she afraid to be held by a stranger? Was she going to cry again? What if she cried at the party? What if she needed something? Would they know if she needed something? Would they be able to give her that something?

The little girl was perfect. Warm and soft and serene. I felt the party-day tension ease off of my shoulders.

"She's so heavy!" said mom. "I know she's so heavy. Just let me know if you get tired of holding her."

And without giving it a moment's thought, I glanced at my tank of a toddler, throwing blocks at the floor in the dining room, and blurted, "Heavy? She's nothin'! Try carrying a toddler and three bags of groceries."

Mom and dad lowered their eyes a bit and laughed.

"Yeah, I guess she must feel pretty light by comparison," said dad.

I am so sorry, friends.

Because, by comparison, your 5-week-old is heavier than my toddler. She is, in fact, heavier than anything else you will ever hold. She is 9 lbs of all of your love and all of your doubt and everything you ever hoped for yourself and the people you used to be and the people you are becoming.

When Pork Chop was about 2 weeks old, when my initial burst of adrenaline had given way to a terrifying exhaustion, I swaddled my son and slipped him into the bassinet beside our bed. I prayed, literally prayed, that he would sleep and that my anxiety would quiet itself just long enough to let me sleep too. And, wonder of wonders, he did sleep. I was stunned. So stunned that, instead of collapsing in a grateful heap on my mattress, I hovered over my son, making sure his belly rose and fell. I held a finger below his nose, feeling for breath. Did his lips look a bit blue? His lips looked a bit blue. I stroked his pink cheek, and he didn't move. I plucked him from the bassinet and he didn't move. His belly rose and fell, his eyes were closed, his lips looked a bit blue. I rocked him, and he didn't wake. I rocked vigorously. Slowly, his mouth opened in a yawn, his eyes fluttered, and he let out a cry.

We rushed our son to the emergency room, certain there was something wrong with his heart. Certain that his lips were a bit blue and that he had taken too long to wake.

It's easy for me to make jokes, easier anyway than for me to own up to my struggles. And it feels better somehow to laugh at the silliness of my own new-mom anxiety, the insanity of the overzealous and the under-rested. But in that moment, it did not feel like a joke. It did not feel like anything. It was me, in a milk-stained shirt and a ratty brown parka, sobbing as the nurses prodded my child, trying to run an IV. It was my child, wailing in fear and pain. It was the merciless hospital lights, the beeping machines, and our son in a tiny, pink heap on the cold, white hospital bed. Hunched in a plastic chair, wadding up a clean diaper in my hands, I thought, "My child is dying." And it didn't feel like anything, least of all like a joke.

Reflux -- that's what the doctor told us. Perhaps a bad bout of reflux had turned his lips a bit blue, she said. It sounded far-fetched to us, but I clung to the murky diagnosis just the same, because I was too ashamed to admit that maybe, just maybe, I had panicked when my child had, at long last, fallen into a deep sleep.

Today, as I type, Pork Chop is shouting from the living room, "Book, book!" commanding his dad to read Mr. Brown Can Moo for the fourth or fifth time this afternoon. The kid eats anything in his path, including half of everything I'm trying to eat. Our little bruiser scales the stairs and the kitchen table and occasionally our dog. He is healthy, happy, and huge. He wears us out, but even in the throes of his worst toddler tantrum, he can't upend us. Not like he could when he still fit in the crook of my arm.

So when I held your tiny daughter, friends, it only seemed easy, because I have the luxury of knowing that, as new parents, we become a little more confident, a little more competent with each passing month. And that, even as our kids get bigger, somehow the load lightens.

I remember the heft of my son when they placed him on my chest for the very first time. It terrified me. And to think he is already so grown, that one day he'll be a boy, a teenager, a man. Someone who will have his own lessons to learn, who will strike out on his own. But it's hard for me to dwell on that. Because the weight of letting him go? I can't even imagine.


  1. Gorgeous, Jessica. I went through all of this, including the hospital visit that may or may not have been necessary. It FELT necessary at the time, and to the "new mom me" from that night when we took our daughter to the ER, I'd tell her, "Just go ahead." Because we are frantic with the weight of it all, aren't we?

    1. Thanks, Callie. I like that, the idea of the me of today telling the me of a 17 months ago, "Just go ahead." I think I'd also like to go back and say, "Yes, all of this is normal -- the exhaustion, the confusion, even the panic." Somehow I managed to throw guilt about all of my emotions on top of, well, all of my emotions.

  2. Beautiful, as always. But I just can't think about "a boy, a teenager, a man" yet. He's so perfect the way he is right now.

    1. Yes, yes he is, isn't he? I keep telling him he can't grow up. And then he goes and learns to walk. Sigh.

  3. Replies
    1. Bringing back memories, huh? I can't believe the same kid who races around the house on a baby trike is the same kid in that photo.

  4. Well FBW just got real emotional. THANKS JESS! A lovely little piece. Holding a little newborn is just the best. Especially when that newborn goes home with someone else.

    1. Somedays, it's hard just to drop him off at daycare. So, yeah, I understand. (But, full disclosure: Other days, it's pretty easy to drop him off. Like the temper tantrum because I didn't get his Cheerios fast enough days.)

  5. Whatever I was just eating must have gone down the wrong way, because I now have a lump in my throat. Beautiful piece, Jess. A new -- but so very true -- view of those heavy newborn days. Love it.

    1. Thanks, Michele. You'll have to fill me in on what's it's like with newborn #2. Are we any less frantic? Or does all of that competence go right out the door the minute their tiny butts are in our arms?

  6. Hi Jessica,

    I just stumbled upon your blog. I also grew up near Bmore, and now live in Alexandria, VA. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in late September! Do you have any recommendations on daycares or pediatricians?

    Thanks soo much!

    1. Welcome to Alexandria, Naomi! And welcome to parenthood! We use Infant Toddler Family Day Care, which is actually an agency that manages a network of in-home day care centers. We have been extremely happy with them. Pork Chop has his first appointment with a doc in the area in August, so I can't speak from personal experience on this one. However, several moms in the area highly recommended Pediatric Associates of Alexandria Inc. (specifically Dr. Hopper).

      And as a first-time mom, I highly recommend checking out the MOMS Club of Alexandria. They have been a life-saver for me. It's 25 bucks per year, but it gets you an amazing support network. And you don't have to be a stay-at-home mom.

      Feel free to drop me a line at if you have other questions.

      Good luck!

  7. When my newborn was just shy of three months old, she caught a bad cold. I didn't sleep for a week. I propped her head on a pillow on our bed and watched her all night in case she stopped breathing. I read to keep myself up. I cried, certain she was going to die. I sobbed and told my father I had to have an exit plan if my daughter did not survive her cold, and I was certain that she would not, as punishment for getting such a perfect (to me) child. I was certain. Even now, at 2.5 years, healthy and rugged and endlessly energetic fully vaccinated strength machine that she is, she has the power to make me feel nauseated with fear. If her head feels hot, I am certain something UNSPEAKABLE might happen. my mother once said to me, "You never sleep as well once you have a child." She didn't mean night feedings. She meant cold fear. Ugh. I really need some rest!

  8. I don't have enough hankies for this. Damn. I wrote a long reply to this last night but the Internet was evil and swallowed it up. Oh god, baby weight. Such clever writing. So many meanings to the word "weight." It kills me. Going out for Kleenex now. Babies. Sigh. Yummy satin babies. Sigh. In related news, why won't my big busy toddler nap?

  9. Even though it has been 29 years you managed to stir up the memories of when my 'baby' was a newborn. Wonderfully written. Thank you.