initiation to parenting
“You guys will make great parents!” offered a few friends by way of congratulation when they learned that S was pregnant, which strikes us as a bit of a silly thing to say in retrospect. Until one has to actually take care of a child it is impossible to know how to parent, no matter how many books one reads or online resources one consults. After giving us a three-day grace period to get used to the idea of his presence, Munchkin decided to test our friends’ optimism and put us on our mettle.
One of the greatest joys of new parenthood is watching one’s child discover the world, seeing it through his eyes, and trying to stay ahead of each new realization so as to be able to soothe him when — as inevitably happens — the discoveries prove upsetting. Munchkin figured out he has arms; now what? On the one hand, he doesn’t like being confined when he is awake and he enjoys sucking on his fingers. On the other hand, figuring out that his arms exist is not the same as being able to control them, so he winds up smacking himself and scratching at his own face all the time, which naturally leads to unhappy wails.
They say that parents become attuned to their child’s cries and we’ve certainly found that to be the case. Staying at the hospital, we heard plenty of newborns cry and it all sounded like indistinguishable clamor at first. After only a few days, however, not only did we find that we were able to pick out our child’s voice even while half asleep, but also we learned to identify the meaning behind the various unhappy noises he made. There is a difference, we learned, between the pained whimper evoked by a passing gas bubble, the intermittent cry for attention, and the full-throated wail that only a mother’s milk can pacify.
Having made all these discoveries, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, so Munchkin decided to throw us a few curveballs. First, as tends to happen with newborns, he flipped day and night. S’s parents, visiting in the afternoons, saw their angelic grandson, who slumbered peacefully in our arms or theirs for hours on end, waking up only to eat and get his diaper changed. At night, however, he wouldn’t close his eyes, demanding constant attention to be fed, rocked, and held lest his piercing screams shatter the nighttime silence.
Then came what our nurse aptly called the night from hell, when he quite simple refused to be soothed no matter what we did. S fed him and went to bed while D pulled all of the tricks he knew to try to get Munchkin to give his mother a couple of hours of rest. Swaddled, unswaddled, rocked, with a finger in his mouth, shushed, hugged — none if it worked. We had held off on giving him pacifiers because S was afraid it would impede breastfeeding, but that night she broke down, not that it did much good. The less D was able to calm him, the fussier he became. D reached his wits’ end around 2am, with just enough patience left to wake S up and hand the baby over before dejectedly falling asleep.
S fared little better and her nerves were completely frayed by the time the nurse came in to check up on us in the morning. After a nearly sleepless night she found little consolation in the nurse’s congratulatory message that we had survived our first parenting test and that things would get better. Thankfully, that has been our only hellish night to date. D has become quite the baby charmer, even managing to soothe a disconsolate Munchkin after he had spent an hour crying while getting an IV.
We have also learned to tag-team our parenting. The prevailing medical view is that one cannot spoil a newborn, and since they tend to be at their happiest when they are held, we try to keep ours in our arms as much as possible, passing him back-and-forth when one of us gets tired. We also have transitioned to a shift schedule. D typically stays up with Munchkin until 2-3am and sleeps in while S goes to bed early before taking over the twilight shift. It feels a bit odd because we rarely eat or sleep at the same time anymore despite living together, but at least it keeps Munchkin happy.