YO MAMA: So it’s parenthood
We brought our baby boy home on my birthday. It was one of those bright, crisp spring days that make you stop and smile in the sunshine. We had something more to smile about coming out of the hospital and into the outdoors.
Our little boy was perfect, even if he looked a little alien. It reminded me of a potato bug, the way it curled up into a little ball on my chest. I started calling him Bug.
When we left the hospital, Bug was wearing a bright green hat with a frog on it and a look of wide-eyed amazement to match. He was there, after all these months of waiting. I was looking forward to meeting him and introducing him to our world.
Coming home was strange. Here is this child in our (his) house and everything seemed different. We paused in the lobby for a moment, Bug asleep in his car seat, his hands clasped devilishly, looking like a smug prince who inherited the throne. I studied his chubby starfish hands, his old man’s hair like a cobweb, his right eyebrow always slightly arched, even in sleep. I couldn’t stop looking at him.
Anxious not to disturb his sleep, Dad and I began the tricky bomb-scattering task of unbuckling the car seat without waking him. Our fingers fumbled and bumped as we both tried to pry it out of the tiny compartment. Bug’s eyelids opened like blinds on a spring and I half expected lasers to shoot from his pupils.
“Well, at least we know he has a strong startle reflex,” I said.
I picked him up and carried him upstairs, juggling him in my arms like you might carry an unruly watermelon (think that scene from Dirty Dancing). Cumulatively, the time I spent holding babies before birth was probably three minutes or less. Once they started crying or wheezing, I would hurriedly put them back on.
We brought Bug into the nursery, which was neatly organized with piles of diapers, baby wipes, books with baby animals on the blankets, onesies, booties, socks, t-shirts, all the other little ‘s’ and a crop of knits from the hats that seemed to be multiplying like dandelion shoots. Guessing it was time to check his diaper, I placed Bug on the changing table and watched his face break open with a cry that loosely translated to “mayday, mayday, this surface is cold and icky and not at all like a womb.”
Dodging the kicks, I carefully opened his diaper as if it were a loaded jack-in-the-box. A smear of thick nut butter poo awaited. I grabbed the wet wipes and by the time I turned around the poop had somehow migrated onto Bug’s legs, his jumpsuit and the changing table, no doubt carried by those feet fiery. The wet wipes, I discovered, were ridiculously small and instantly crinkled into useless balls, like cheap napkins at happy hour.
Bug wasn’t screaming anymore, but was looking at me rather serenely now like a little bald monk as I wiped his ass.
Of all the cleverly zipped pajamas and onesies decorated with sailboats and giraffes, none seemed to fit her properly. As the search dragged on, Bug grew impatient. I could see it in the aggressive sting of his eyes, the angry twitch of his left elbow. I felt like a fool sweating in front of a prominent leader. By the time I found a garment that would work, her face was the color of a stovetop burner, turned on full blast. Be patient with me, I begged, I’m still learning.
I hugged him tight and carried him into the living room. A pile of hospital documents taped to the coffee table, a mosaic of information on shaken baby syndrome, postpartum depression, and a colorful chart of normal and non-normal stool colors.
Meanwhile, Daddo was waging war against an army of ants who had staged a takeover during the two days we were gone. I joked that the stream of black ants running down the wall was probably there to welcome the dark lord, our demon spawn, into the world. The brain fog of nearly 72 hours without sleep was taking me to dark places. (Much, much later, I finally fall asleep to dream of Bug being carried away by an army of ants.)
Bug startled me with a high-pitched “anh-anh-anh” sound reminiscent of an old computer connecting to the internet via dial-up. I learned that babies make all kinds of strange and horrible noises in addition to the beautiful cooing you hear on TV. They make low wheezing sounds and take little raspy breaths that make you think they’re dying, completely panicking when you’re a hormonal, emotionally wasted wreck. And then they make such squeaky, irritating mosquito-like sounds that you look down on them for a few moments until they wrap their hand around your finger and you realize it’s all going to be okay eventually.
There’s this little magic trick the nurses at the hospital used to calm the baby down. It’s called swaddling and I hadn’t tried it yet because I enjoyed having other people do things for me for as long as I could. I grabbed a dinosaur-print swaddle blanket and tried to wrap Bug around like a burrito. The straitjacket effect was meant to evoke the comforting sensations of the womb. I thought I had done a good job, but as I stepped back, filled with the excitement of putting the baby down and having a snack, Bug threw off the blanket in one quick motion, arms and legs spread wide, posing like a blinker . My little exhibitionist. I would never be able to keep him swaddled.
Instead, we did our awkward breastfeeding routine, which was very hectic and confusing until we settled in. Any previous vision of myself nursing my baby like a Greek goddess evaporated with my desire for a warm bath.
The insect ate… and ate… and ate. He ate while I ate (spoon fed soup by Daddo). He ate while I was watching a YouTube video on how to put a baby to sleep. He ate while I brushed my teeth and read hospital pamphlets.
Finally, he fell asleep, apparently satisfied. I swaddled him neatly – so far so good! – and I put him in the crib. Dad and I fell asleep exhausted, only to be woken up three minutes later by a crying baby.
Bug calmed down when my husband brought him into bed with us. I felt a shiver of love come over me, a mixture of affection, tenderness and total devotion. We intended to snuggle up to him for as long as we could stay awake, to strictly adhere to our plan for him to sleep in his crib…
I woke up an hour later, curled up on my side in a C-shape with Bug nestled against me. He yawned the most breathtaking yawn and settled in for another nursing session. It was time to eat – again.
I couldn’t believe it was only our first day together.
— Charlotte Helston gave birth to her first child, an exuberant baby boy, in the spring of 2021. Yo Mama is her weekly reflection on the wild, exhilarating, beautiful, messy and awe-inspiring journey of parenthood.