After 27 days in the hospital, we finally brought our baby home.
I was planning to get this blog up much sooner, but unsurprisingly, I got busy. The irony is that the busier I got, the longer I’d put it off, and the longer I put it off, the more I had to say about motherhood. And so, here we are.
Before diving in, I want to briefly touch back on labor and delivery. Childbirth is a thing I’ve experienced now. Like, OK, I see you, other moms. Billions of women have experienced it, but it feels odd to be in that club now because the pain and the urgency and the trauma aren’t really things you can remember, not really. As Women’s Work author Megan K. Stack so perfectly puts it:
“[Before going into labor], I knew everything about birth, or so I thought. Of course, I knew nothing about birth then, and I know nothing now. I only know that nobody knows anything about birth except women who are in the act. Like all great pain, like every altered state, it can be apprehended only from within. It can’t be anticipated or remembered.”
It’s true: I can’t completely or accurately recall the pain. But the day I gave birth, I do distinctly remember thinking, I wouldn’t want to do that again simply because of the pain. The pain was so intolerable that I guess I don’t want more kids. That’s weird, right? I have a different sentiment now about having more children, but I do remember that thought clearly.
Cut back (forward?) to late January when we finally took our baby home from the hospital
Pregnancy is a weird journey, and childbirth is fucking alarming, but parenthood is bonkers. Beautiful, but bonkers.
How do I describe the first month home? Well, Louie was already a month old, and in order to survive the psychological trauma of being NICU parents, we chose to see this as a silver lining to his stint in the hospital. How the hell, you ask? We had already been practicing with bottle and breastfeeding, diaper changes, swaddling, and not sleeping. (I pumped the whole time he was there, remember? And they told me not to go longer than five hours between each pumping session to keep my supply up. So no, I did not get to “enjoy my sleep while I still could” before he got home, as a few well-meaning people suggested.) This practice kind of eased us into caring for a newborn at home.
Anyway, the first month was intense and challenging and kinda isolating. There was still a lot to learn and get used to, so much to navigate. Meeting someone for brunch or going to the doctor or going to the grocery store the first few weeks was like, Wow, can we scale this mountain today? What if he gets hungry while we’re out? What if I need to breastfeed in public but I’m in a chair without a back or arm support? What if we forget something? What if I can’t get the stroller to open? Am I sure I know how to buckle him into the car seat?
This initial phobia of going out into the wild — of disrupting our routine, of being out somewhere and unprepared — began to fade. Things got easier. We got good at it. We were making it work.
A note on perspective
When you have a preemie or a baby who has to stay in the NICU for another medical reason, and you go home without them after recovering from labor, what you’re faced with is an inharmonious feeling that doesn’t make any sense.
I was 34 weeks pregnant, and then I wasn’t. To be honest, I’m not someone who totally loved being pregnant, and actually, I kind of hated it a lot of the time, especially toward the end because I was so uncomfortable. But I didn’t get to say goodbye to pregnancy, and that was a strange thing. I never got to the very end. I was never overripe or about to pop or heading to the hospital any day now. My pregnancy just ended, suddenly and harshly.
I’d given birth to my son, but I went home a couple days later with an empty belly and without a baby in my arms. No more kicks, no more contractions — just my soft postpartum tummy. I could touch my toes again, but I couldn’t touch my baby. That’s an impossible feeling to reconcile with. So, I didn’t. I never reconciled with it. I just focused on getting him home.
The point here is that being a new parent is hard, but no matter how hard it got or how tired we were, it wasn’t the hospital. It was home. We were together. Perspective, ya’ll.
Things I do now that I didn’t do before
Talk about poop all day. I realize it’s considered lazy trash in the world of comedy, but I actually have a soft spot in my heart for potty humor. When done right, it can be pleasantly hilarious. A recent review on Vox about The Lion King reboot noted that “Pumbaa’s fart jokes have been amped up, which has the unfortunate effect of making them less funny,” and this really bums me out, to be honest with you.
Ask people how much their babies weighed at birth. Before having a child, when I’d see people post their babies’ birth weights and lengths on Facebook, I’d think, Literally no one cares how much your kid weighed. But now — and especially since I had a preemie — I’m totally interested in birth weights. Tell me all the birth weights! Tell me all the birth stories!
Keep a binky on my nightstand next to my Invisalign retainer.
Read books on my phone. I really prefer to read paper books because they’re easier on the eyes than the blue light of a phone screen. Also, I like how it feels to hold them, I like to place them on a bookshelf and look back on my reading accomplishments, and I like giving them away to friends sometimes. But with a baby in my arms, phone reading is just the name of the game!
Browse the hashtag #NICUbaby on Instagram. Our experience left me with a lingering, heart-wrenching empathy for all NICU families. This one mom I saw on IG posted about how she didn’t even get to hold her tiny daughter for the first 28 days of her life. Can you imagine? Can you, though?
Reach the daily standing goal on the Apple Watch Fitness Tracker.
Let some of my basic human needs fall by the wayside. While tending to the ever-pressing needs of an infant, I found that I was, more often than not, in need of food, water, rest, and hygiene. (This has gotten better as Louie has gotten a little older, but in February, I went to the dentist, and let’s just say I was sent home with a bottle of prescription-strength mouth wash.)
Read mommy blogs and participate in Facebook mom groups.
Lay out my baby’s outfit for the next day along with my own. I pretty much always lay out my clothes on weeknights. It’s a habit that I swear by for better sleep and an efficient morning routine, and pre-selecting my kid’s clothes helps too. Sure, sometimes it takes two seconds to throw together a baby outfit, but other times, it takes five or ten minutes if the laundry isn’t sorted, and those minutes might be crucial in the morning.
I guess we should talk about breastfeeding
I realize everyone’s experience is unique, but in general, the way I feel about breastfeeding is that it’s so hard. It’s too hard! Even if your baby latches perfectly and you produce the perfect amount of milk, you still have to manage the logistics. Your body is always on a timer, and that’s something I just couldn’t sustain.
I pumped for the entire month Louie stayed in the NICU and did a combination of pumping and breastfeeding for about two and a half more months after he came home. Then, we lost the latch, and I quit. I tried making it work for a while and threatened to quit for about a month before resigning. Part of me feels like deciding to quit was much harder than actually quitting. And once we had completely transitioned to formula, I felt incredibly relieved and much more capable as a mother. This is my experience, and mine alone.
At first, I was unsure about whether I wanted to publicly share that I stopped breastfeeding after a few months, but then I remembered that my blog is called The Taboo Textbook, so I gotta walk the walk, or whatever.
But honestly, now I kind of like telling people that I quit breastfeeding for the same reason that I like telling them that I met my husband on Tinder — I want to remove the stigma and make people feel OK about doing whatever the fuck they want or need to do to be happy and optimize their lives.
So, yeah, some women are physically unable to breastfeed for any number of reasons, and they shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to make it work. But what about mothers who are able to breastfeed but who just don’t want to for reasons that are none of anyone’s damn business? Can we give them a break too and mind our own beeswax? Just wondering.
Breastfeeding falls under the my-body-my-choice umbrella, and my personal view is that you don’t need to have (or provide) a reason to do it or not do it. The world can be fucked up, and life can be hard. Do you.
Some observations about [new] parenthood
1. No, you can’t have it all — at least, you can’t have it all at the same time. You can’t be a kickass all-in parent and be in the best shape of your life and have a roaring social life and have a super-hot thriving romance and excel at your career and eat a squeaky-clean diet and keep up with your skincare routine and blog regularly and post thoughtful, curated Instagram content and watch all the Blazers games and read at least one book per month. You just can’t! At least, I can’t. Not all in the same year, not all at the same time.
2. Yes, watching The Handmaid’s Tale is worse after becoming a mother.
3. You start to really become one with your infant — sometimes even more so than being pregnant. For example, after Louie and I spent nearly 72 hours alone in our house together, both sick and both needing to bathe, I finally took a shower when Joe got home. When I got out with a clean shirt on and a fresh scent, Louie didn’t recognize me and started to cry. (This has happened on more than one occasion.)
4. Keeping a baby alive is easier (for me) than keeping house plants alive.
5. The infant car seats are really effing heavy! Like, even without a baby in them. Hot damn. Those things will break your back if you’re not careful.
6. You can get eight hours of sleep a night, but it might take you ten or eleven hours.
7. You learn to do things really, really fast — like showering and making the bed and doing dishes and writing an article — because you never know how long you’ll have. The needs of an infant are so immediate, and your time can always be cut short. You haul ass when you get the chance!
Let’s wrap this up
Early parenthood is doing the right thing over and over, decision after decision, a million times in a row. Except that they aren’t really decisions because you’re not really deciding. You just do it. You do what it takes to love and feed and care for your child, over and over and over again.
Sometimes, parenthood is a difficult thing to wrap my head around. I’m a mom now. I have a child. In some ways, I still feel like a child. But I’m not — not one bit. I’ve crossed over into the realm of motherhood. It’s different here, better, and I will never go back.