Sunday, July 8, 2007

I Thought I Knew

I’m in the mall with my seven-week old son, Lucas, who has just woken up screaming. I scoop him up out of the stroller and into my arms and pop his soother into his mouth before the whole mall is staring at us. I lay him against my shoulder and support him with my right arm, while I push his empty stroller in front of us with my other arm. I shake my head, remembering how I used to laugh at parents who did exactly what I was doing. I never thought I would be one of them. Seven weeks into this parenting thing, I realize there were a lot of things I thought I knew before Lucas arrived!

Let’s start with his birth. I was adamant against accepting any kinds of interventions during labour. I was planning a natural home birth with my midwife. I certainly didn’t expect an oxytocin-augmented, epidural-relieving, 26-hour ordeal ending in a C-section. That was the first clue that I was no longer in charge of my life.

Which brings me to another one of my resolutions – my baby would be on a schedule. I am one of those people who lives by her palm pilot, I had studied “On Becoming Baby Wise” which advocates a "parent-directed" approach, and I was ready to get this new arrival following suit. So, it came as a bit of a surprise when Lucas wasn’t really into my schedule; in fact, he was quick to teach me, he had his own schedule, and it changed every 24 hours the first three weeks, and now changes every few days, and I am the one expected to keep up.

Lucas thankfully likes to sleep through the night, as long as I nurse him before, in the middle, and when he wakes up for about an hour each time. I vividly remember talking to a new mother when I was pregnant who said she felt like a human soother. I would never let myself be a human soother, I told my husband. We’ll just let him cry himself to sleep, I said so easily then. But no one told me that it would feel good it would feel to nurse him, knowing I am nourishing and comforting him at the same time. And the idea of letting my infant son cry himself to sleep seems absurd now that I see that crying is his only form of communication with us, and letting him cry only makes him cry harder. So, even when he changes from eating to sucking and I know full well I have become a human soother, I let it be.

He does have a soother now. Of course, we thought we weren't going to give him a soother either. We actually held off for an entire month, as we had read that it could interfere with breastfeeding. Now we have dubbed it “the best friend”. “Do you want your best friend, Lucas?” we ask in high pitched tones when he is getting grumpy. I don’t think it’s his best friend, I think it is our best friend. A couple of weeks ago, my husband asked me, “how did we ever live without him?” I started talking about how our baby has changed our lives, when he interrupted me, “no, I’m talking about the soother!”

I realize now that the best advice I got during our prenatal classes was this: Everything you think you are going to do with your baby is purely philosophical at this point. All my thoughts on parenting then were based on the philosophy that put me first, that saw my baby as an intruder who could not be allowed to dictate my life. These were the kind of thoughts that dissipated in the hours after Lucas’ birth when my needs ceased to matter so much and his became my only priority. And more surprising to me than this new selfless outlook was the fact that it felt absolutely natural. I was perfectly willing to cut off a limb for him, or more immediately, to go without sleep night after night because I just needed to watch him breathe. I was willing to feed him with a cracked nipple because I was determined he have my milk, even if it meant biting down on a towel because it hurt so badly. And I am willing and even happy to let go of the life I knew, in exchange for this life where I have to admit I don’t know much at all.


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