In the first month with the “Love, Recorded” baby, Matt’s in-laws return, poop is discussed with great seriousness, crying is everywhere and sleep is nowhere.
What do I know about babies now, after a month with my daughter?
I know their lives revolve around food. They sleep until their stomachs feel empty, and then they wake and expect food to be at their lips immediately.
I know this cycle takes two to three hours. I know their cycle determines their parents’ cycle.
I know babies think they are the center of the universe.
It is hard to argue with a baby.
My in-laws arrive in the third week of Grace’s life. Over the first two weeks, Cathreen and I bond in a sleepless state, a dream that never snaps back into reality. We still have a baby when we awake. Our last night alone, my wife lets me sleep while she feeds and burps and changes. This so I don’t crash the car I am supposed to drive from Boston to New York to pick up my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew from JFK, since that was the easier destination for them.
I wake at six. Their plane lands at 11, and we have been told to account for traffic. It’s a smooth ride in; NPR keeps me alert with the state of our ruined world. I arrive at 10. I haven’t eaten, so I can’t tell if my faintness is lack of food or sleep. I eat one delicious and one disgusting croissant from Au Bon Pain, and then fit the three in-laws and their six overstuffed bags into the Ford Escape, and we are off back to Boston.
On the way back, we hit traffic, my brain hits a wall. My nephew, who is 2 and 10 months, is afraid of me.
The first thing the in-laws say to my wife—she tells me this afterward—is how concerned they are about her weight. They say her face looks swollen, her stomach should have gone down more by now, something must be wrong. We add this to our list of stress.
I am not sure how to respond. Should I admit I haven’t noticed? There doesn’t seem to be a good answer.
The in-laws rush in and take over with the baby. We are happy to let them, at first. Maybe what I feel after that is separation anxiety? We are still the ones taking care at night, so it’s a little confusing. Somehow I feel even more tired—add three people, one still a baby, to the house. The cats are afraid and take a while to adjust to the noise of a 2-year-old. They never really adjust. It is like we have four babies, I think.
Our first scare with Grace comes after she vomits up a cupful of milk. It pours out of her, like she was storing it in a secret sack and the sack broke. We check her temperature—99.1 underarm, which they say runs low—and call pediatrics. 15 minutes later, we’re in the ER.
Oh, the ER, how we know you. We know when your nurses say they will be back in a minute, they mean an hour. But it doesn’t make it any easier.
On the other hand, random nurses stop in from time to time just to look at the baby, because our nurse had time, at least, to tell them how cute she is.
All we can do for Grace is to un-swaddle her and let her cool down, keep feeding her and watching her throw up. The nurse suggests we feed her less, burp her longer. We do. We add another half-hour to the time we are up, shortening the time she sleeps, in between, from three hours to two.
Our nephew, Bryan, wants to be a baby, too. He sees the attention Grace gets. He is supposed to go summer school, take violin lessons, learn English. In Korea, he is 4 years old (1 at birth, 2 at New Year’s); here, since everyone keeps telling him he’s almost 3, he decides to act it. This is slightly cute, but then there’s a newborn not two feet away, who’s cuter. In Korea, he was never allowed to eat ice cream, cake, slushies—he has never had them until now—so throw sugar in the mix, as well.
His first day at summer school, there is a giant mechanical horse in the lobby (sounds cool, right?), and he cries the entire morning.
Whenever he tries to be a kid at home, his mom and grandma tell him to be careful, to be quiet, around the baby.
For Cathreen, pregnancy hasn’t completely ended. She is still itching. She is still on steroids. The dose is being tapered to allow her body to balance out with the meds. If she stops abruptly, her body will fail produce steroids at all. Each time the dose goes down, she breaks out all over again, readjusting.
On top of this, her bones ache, she says, from air getting into holes in her joints, the way Koreans believe happens after birth. Mothers are not supposed to drink or eat anything cold, are supposed to be kept in a warm room. It’s the middle of July. She also isn’t supposed to move. The in-laws keep reminding her. They are used to the spare air-conditioning of Korea, and complain of the cold. I sweat through the sheets at night, and then there’s the baby.
A clash of cultures. Before, we got along fine, though a child was not at stake. I am coming off as a jerk now, when before I was her mother’s favorite son-in-law. We have never spoken a full sentence to each other.
My parents keep telling Cathreen to exercise, keep telling us to put the baby on a schedule. They ask her to make phone calls. We are exhausted. If we get even a minute of free time, it’s impossible to motivate ourselves to do anything but space-out. Or maybe that’s just me.
At Cathreen’s three-week appointment, we ask our doctor about the steroids, the swelling, the bones, the baby, our parents. Our doctor is Korean American. She says her mother tells her she’s fat—I’m guessing she doesn’t weight more than 100 pounds. She says the steroids are causing the swelling, holding water weight, creating fat in case of emergency. Once Cathreen is off them, things will start to change. We love our doctor.
When I find time, I post on social media about my daughter’s bowel movements. Most parenting posts out there are about gas. It’s become fascinating to us, Grace’s intestinal trials. She will shoot from her bottom as we change her diaper—she has real range—and we are still not sure what her number is, how many times we should wait before we go in. Sometimes she won’t poop for a day. She had diaper rash and we had to learn how to deal with that.
Now, every time she poops or farts (how strange it is to write these words seriously), she seems to go through an impossible struggle. Sometimes she screams with the effort. We worry that she’s in pain. We call pediatrics again.
We try gripe water, at first—it works the first three times, then we are calling back about a rash. It takes an hour for the rash to fade. We try to buy Mylicon, but it’s hard to find. Sometimes, at night, she will struggle for an hour of the two hours she used to sleep. Our schedule becomes: half an hour of feeding, half an hour of burping, an hour of gas, an hour of sleep, then waking to feed again.
When we see the pediatrician again, we will have a list of questions that will all end with the answer of “normal.” As in, all babies have these problems. How do parents do it, again and again?
—photo Flickr/SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget