It is the best of times, it is the most exhausting of times. Those first few days and weeks home with a new baby are never quite the fairytale we anticipate, or that we see on diaper commercials. Even those of us who have been through it once – or twice – before suffer from “mother’s amnesia” when it comes to the tough stuff. As we unpack the boxes of baby clothes in the weeks leading up to our due date, we coo over the tiny socks and imagine the snuggly cuddles of the little being who will soon fill those footsie pajamas. However, we do not seem to remember how quickly that sock will lose its mate or how many times those pajamas will need to go through the wash after a pee/ poop/ spit up incident. Some things come back quickly, like how to use the bathroom with a small person in your arms, but others take time, like how to avoid being peed on during diaper changes.
For my family, the biggest surprise when our baby boy came home was how much he cried and how loud it was. For the first few days, my four-year-old kept saying over and over, “I just don’t understand how such a small person can make such a big noise.” My two-year-old puts her hands on her head and complains that her baby brother is hurting her ears. Trust me, I can relate. He is usually over my shoulder, screaming directly into my ear. I would swear my first two children didn’t cry this much, maybe because I was able to give them more attention so was more responsive to their needs, but it is equally possible that I’ve simply forgotten. I definitely forgot how anxiety-inducing a newborn’s pain cry can be. His little face scrunched up, his body contorted, makes him the image of innocent suffering. Even when his discomfort is only caused by congestion or gas, my inability to soothe him is sometimes more than I can bear. Occasionally, we both end up crying.
In addition to the usual challenges of having a new baby, there are also difficulties
that could not have been anticipated. The day after my son and I came home from the hospital, my two older children woke up with fevers above 103 degrees. In the days that followed, my big kids wanted nothing more than to hug and touch their baby brother, so my husband and I had a full-time job trying to keep their germs away from our vulnerable new baby. I tell myself that we are all stronger, physically and emotionally, for having gotten through those tough first days as a family of five. Deep down, however, I suspect such challenges may be the rule, rather than the exception, in the coming year.
Despite the tears and tiredness, my month at home with my three children has been wonderful. I enjoy each of them so much and I’m very grateful for this quality time together. I am also incredibly thankful for the village of friends who have supported us as we adjust to life as a family of five. With my maternity leave half over already and “real life” looming on the horizon, I know I will need to continue practicing asking for help and leaning on those who offer a shoulder in the year to come. To muster the courage to do so, I look back on an affirmation I grew up with and which I still recite every year at Thanksgiving:
Let us be grateful when we are able to give, for many do not have that privilege.
Let us be grateful for those who share their gifts with us, for we are enriched by their giving.
And let us be grateful even for our needs, so that we may learn from the generosity of others.
I am so thankful for this new little man in my life and in our family, and I am working on feeling gratitude for the opportunities for growth he presents.