By Teresa Keirns, CNM
Postpartum Dispatch: Day #77
We have hit 11 weeks and we are all still alive. Husband leaves today for a 34 hour + 20 minute business trip (I’m not counting) — as much as he drives me wild (and not in the good college times sense) he is at least an extra pair of hands.
It’s 0400 and I can hear two, maybe three, things. A fussing baby, a husband trying to be quiet (he’s at water buffalo stampede level of quiet right now), and possibly a crying preschooler. Oh, actually, I hear a lot of white noise too. Our rooms are veritable caves of rushing sounds and deep darkness with aluminum foil over the windows (from the outside we look like serial killers) and pool noodles covering the cracks (from the inside we look like the community pool after free swim week). Not very womb-like, but it seems to work.
A crying preschooler? Must have been the water buffalo who woke him. But then, both those sounds fade over the course of a few minutes. And fussy baby, jostled and jiggled by his robot crib (All Hail the Snoo! Forgive me for my past blasphemous accusations!) goes back to the relative silence of an ever-grunting newborn (how do they get any rest?). I roll to the side, bury myself deep into the mountain of pillows and jacked up sheets (why must they always pop off the corners of the mattress right at this time of night?) and try to fall back to sleep by counting backwards (spoiler: it rarely works).
0400 is the new 0700.
Just as I surprise myself by starting to drift into the last dream I had (whales, vast expanses of water, and flying rubber dinghies manned first by my last labor nurse, then solely by me), my door bursts open, a bright white light (courtesy of the huggable rabbit night light) shines in my face, and a sobbing, sniffling, voluminously snotting human thrusts himself at my bed.
“Shhhh, shhh, come here,” I coo and whisper. I genuinely am concerned for my almost five-year old child, but internally (lest you think I’m a terrible parent) am thinking, “Shut the fuck up! Do NOT wake that goddamn baby!” My distraught child climbs gracefully (if graceful is loud, clunky, semi-dangerous, and a lengthier process than it should be) into my bed, causing more of the sheets to tear away from the mattress mooring and sparking a pillow avalanche.
“What’s going on? Don’t wake your brother!” I pleadingly whisper as I wipe rivulets of snot from his face. “I just want…to…be able…to do things…again. Like…when I was…little.” Internal reaction: eyeroll. External response: “OK, let’s talk about it in the morning. Come, snuggle with me. It’s still dark and not time to be awake. I love you.”
Now, I could give you the play-by-play of the next 20 minutes, but a shortened recap (with which I suspect you parents have some familiarity) goes something like this:
My internal reaction goes from authentic worry to eye-roll to boiling magma as my external reaction goes from Proud Parent Champion of Positive Parenting to “if-you-be-still-and-go-back-to-sleep-you-can-watch-Ninjago-when-the-sun-comes-up” Beggar Parent to “OMG BE STILL AND SILENT” rage whispered through gritted teeth in such a fashion that it sounds so much like my own mother that I actually look around to see if she is present.
And just then, the baby starts to fuss again. I weigh my options: get up and disturb the preschooler who seems now just to be settling, horizontally across my bed (what else did I expect?) and hope the fussing goes away; the online New Zealander sleep consultants (Facebook made me buy their course) say early wakes are more likely due to cold/heat or over/undertiredness rather than hunger, but I think stuffing a boob in it will likely give us all the most chance of a tiny bit of shut eye, so I jump swiftly from the bed, step on an empty plastic La Croix bottle (feeling both middle-class cliche and Texas-sized ocean garbage patch guilty) and deftly unclip/lift (Dr Karp’s dulcet tones reminding me of the process) the swaddled baby (who resembles a wriggling larvae) out of the stylish Snoo.
I stumble (avoiding the previous boobytraps) back to the bed, carrying 16+ pounds of outraged humanity (Why didn’t you feed me 3 seconds ago?!) and adjust the 10 pound buckwheat breastfeeding pillow on my too-many-pounds lap. “Please be quiet, please be quiet” I chant, lullaby form, because I know now the preschooler is finally asleep, and I intend to keep him that way.
The next 15 minutes look a lot like this: baby guzzles, wriggles. and farts. I pray, though I’m not the praying type. I pray the preschooler will sleep until 0700, the baby will accept the transfer back to the crib, and that I will not a) poop my pants or b) starve to death, because somehow my body, thinking I don’t have enough to deal with during these early morning wakes, always wants to remind me I have a colon and a rectum as well as how well they work and how full they can become while simultaneously telling me breastfeeding burns 500 extra calories a day and YOU SHOULD REPLACE THEM RIGHT NOW!
Fast forward to the end of the nursing session, where a now milk-drunk, drooling, bald mini-man nestles his head on my shoulder, exhaling small milk puffs, little bits of milky condensation—the precipitation of the fourth trimester—onto my collar bone. This, I say to myself, is the stuff I am supposed to relish, not forget, realize goes too fast…so I take a minute (who am I kidding, like 7 seconds) to memorialize baby number two’s fourth trimester beauty and I place him — feet first (so he doesn’t feel like he’s falling, say the New Zealanders) — back into the robot crib and attempt to easily (Dr Karp voice over here) slide the sleep sack wings over the clips. Only it looks more like a giant trying to thread a needle in the darkness while chanting, “Don’t wake up!”
I creep/crawl back to the bed and find about 3×2 feet corner of real estate (a real find in the Bay Area, I know!) open to me. I fold myself, origami-style, into the postage stamp and demand my brain to shut off, “Brrrr,” my brain says instead. I don’t want to move or disrupt any of the blankets, but wide-awake brain insists it’s not going back to sleep without its blankie. I feel around carefully, bumping into preschooler’s foot and leg only once (triggering worrisome movement on his part), and find a small scrap of blanket, so small I am certain it’s a piece of a Kiwi Co craft box project, but it’ll have to do. My brain, thankfully, accepts it. I attempt to drift off, yet again. Baby starts grunting, farts, farts again and Brain asks me, “Are you sure that was not an actual poo? Should you not check the diaper? Smell it? Go ahead! You don’t want to deal with diaper rash.” I start counting backwards in another language to distract.
A few minutes of relative silence has me believing we’ll all actually sleep again! But then, my hip, as accustomed as it should be to extreme sleep yoga, starts to yell, “You’re 40 this year! Don’t you think you should’ve had kids two decades ago if you want to sleep like this?” I try to breathe through the pain, thinking back to that beautiful canister of labor and delivery nitrous.
By now, Preschooler is squeaking something about two story slides, Baby is reflux-grunting, and I have given up all hope for a snooze. Hungry, tired, and achy I breathe in and out. “This is the easy part my sister (mother of a teen and a young adult in college) says, this is the easy part my sister says,” I whisper to myself until I wake up (possibly as much as 60 minutes later!) at 0700 to a preschooler shout-saying, “You said I could watch Ninjago—so come on!” I usher us both out (he looks like a celebrity being chased by the paparazzi and I look like a bodyguard protecting him (or the baby?), teeth grinding as I whisper, “SHHHHH!” — I realize that no, I don’t look like a bodyguard, but rather like my own mother, or more obviously, all mothers. All the tired mothers.