I was picking things up in the living room today, and my hand landed on a little hooded sweatshirt. I grabbed it and stepped toward the Goodwill bag, since it’s getting too small for Callum, but at the last moment, I couldn’t toss it in.
That sweatshirt came from a little sweatsuit set my friend Ruby sent shortly after Miles’s birth in 2008. Those were difficult days. I went into the beginnings of Miles overconfident, I think. I loved babies and was excited to be having one. I’d done plenty of babysitting, and having a little brother six years younger than I, I’d been pretty involved in the daily care of a baby too. The pregnancy was easy—no morning sickness, minimal discomfort. Then my water suddenly and dramatically broke at 35 weeks’ gestation. I remember standing in the bathroom saying, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.” I could hear the words coming out of my mouth, and I didn’t even know how to stop saying them and move onto whatever the next step was.
Fortunately, the birth went relatively well (I thought it was hard until I had Callum, but that’s another story), and Miles came out of it with only a few short-term complications. I remained knocked off-kilter for some time, though. We didn’t have a name, we didn’t have any baby clothes, we only had about half the supplies we needed. Those early days involved a lot of scrambling. Denny did most of the physical running around and accumulation of items while I sat around and held Miles and thought, “I don’t know what to do.” My milk was slow to come in, and since he was small and struggling with bilirubins, the hospital staff was putting a lot of pressure on me to feed him. I felt like the one thing I knew I was supposed to do, I couldn’t. We were lucky to be at one of the few hospitals in the U.S. that’s part of the Mother’s Milk Bank system, and Miles got donor milk while I got my breastfeeding situation sorted out.
Up until that time in my life, I’d pretty much always known what to do. I’d gone to school, gone to college (because it’s what you do), continued on to graduate school (because I liked college and didn’t have any better ideas), transitioned easily into a full-time job that came as an extension of work I’d done in graduate school. I met Denny, bought a house, got married, got pregnant easily. There had never been much question about what to do.
We stayed in the hospital for a while, and after they released us, we had to keep going in for doctor’s appointments to check his bilirubin levels. He ended up being readmitted to the hospital and placed under lights, which did the trick. I know intellectually (as I did then) that his problems were really very small, and being on the floor of the Children’s Hospital and hearing the little kids with cystic fibrosis getting their lungs thumped did help me put things into perspective. Still, it was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done. Everything was a question. I was never, ever the smartest or most knowledgeable person in the room. All these medical things people were doing went completely against my instincts: why does the baby have to be in that box for so long? Why can I only hold him ten minutes an hour? Why do people keep stabbing him with needles? Things that made perfect sense to his medical team made sense only to my rational brain, which was suppressed anyway due to stress and lack of sleep. My reptile brain just wanted to rip him out of there and run (I didn’t, of course).
When we got home from the hospital, we had to move into full-on primary care mode. Miles had a doctor’s appointment to do a final check on his bilirubin levels and weight gain, and I was getting myself and him ready to go out. Denny was out on an errand, and the task of brushing my teeth and managing Miles at the same time seemed overwhelming. “I don’t know what to do,” I thought. I put him on his changing table and opened his clothing drawers, which were still pretty empty since we hadn’t accumulated many baby clothes yet.
I found the sweatsuit from Ruby. “I can put this sweatsuit on him,” I thought. I did. It was a discrete, concrete task. It helped us toward our goal. It let me move on to the next concrete task, which was probably figuring out how to get him into his car seat.
I can’t say every day has been easier since those first days of my motherhood, but the trend is definitely toward a general easing. With my next two babies, I don’t think I’ve felt nearly as many moments of paralysis. I’m not very sentimental about objects, usually, and the Goodwill bags are always overflowing. But there are a handful of things I can’t manage to give away, and that little sweatsuit is one of them. All three of my babies have worn it, but it probably won’t still be stylish by the time I have grandchildren. I still can’t manage to get rid of that one, though. I guess I know what to do.