I am not a baby person. I’m not the woman who, when a coworker brings in the new baby, immediately rushes over and wants to hold it. I don’t even really want to see it, since newborns tend to be rather red and squished, which makes it hard to sound sincere as I participate in the mandatory gushing about how beautiful it is.
I didn’t own baby dolls when I was little. I didn’t even baby sit much when I was growing up, and when I did, it was always for older kids. So when I gave birth to my daughter, I had basically zero experience with babies.
Was I worried? Not really. I’ve always prided myself on being a fast learner. I just knew I could figure out this baby thing right away, with little to no problem. Plus, I had read a few books and had taken some prenatal classes at the hospital, so I thought I had the basics down.
And the first week, it didn’t seem so bad. Of course that was probably because my parents were there all day with me, as was my Dear Husband, who inherited his extreme love of babies from his mother. (Yes, both DH and his mother are the type of people who immediately rush over and want to hold newborns and honestly think they’re beautiful. I’ll never understand it.)
So there I was, lulled into a false sense of complacency, when the next Monday morning rolled around. My parents were gone. DH went to work. And I was left alone with it. My week-old daughter, Sweet Potato.
The day started off fine, I think. (That whole time is just a blur of hormones and sleep deprivation.) SP and I just hung out. Watched some TV. I may have had a snack. She had a snack. In any event, the morning passed in a pretty uneventful manner. And then it happened.
She needed her diaper changed.
A tiny frisson of fear went up my spine, but I was still in the happy land of delusion, so I merely smiled and carried SP over to her changing table. I got the dirty diaper off, no problem. I picked up a clean little newborn diaper and attempted to wrap it around her. Hmmm. That didn’t seem quite right. It never looked like that when DH put the diaper on her. (Yes, my husband had been doing almost all of the diapering up to this point.) I tried adjusting the little tabs. Hmmm. Well, it looked a little better. I got her all put back together again, and we settled back down on the couch and resumed the strenuous task of flipping channels.
All was well for the next half hour or so, until I felt a suspicious wetness on my arm. No big deal. Back on the changing table, old diaper off. Hmmm. The diaper wasn’t even very dirty. Wonder why it leaked? Eh, new diaper on, let’s keep it moving. Still didn’t look quite right, but I was sure it was better than the last one.
And then I ran into another problem. The onesie she’d been wearing was the only one we had that snapped up the front. Which meant that whatever I put her in next had to go over her head. This time the fear manifested as a sharp burst in my chest.
I was terrified of putting anything over my daughter’s head.
Remember the “no baby dolls” part of my childhood? Yeah, I had no experience dressing things this shape and size. (Barbies do not tend to prepare you for the body of a newborn. Then again, Barbies don’t prepare you for the body of anything that actually exists.)
The ironic thing was that SP weighed 9 lbs when she was born and had been holding up her own head since Day One. So she was much less fragile than many newborns. And yet sliding, as gently as possible, a shirt over my daughter’s (admittedly somewhat large) head seemed like a task of Sisyphean proportions.
But she needed clothes. In those prenatal classes, they kept stressing that you should keep your baby warm. So I somehow wrestled a clean onesie on her without snapping her little neck. (Though I did have to tug, and she did whimper a bit.) And back to the TV we went. Until it was “nap time.”
We were trying to get SP on a schedule (Yes, I realize NOW the insanity of trying to put a one week old on a schedule.) So I carried her back into her bedroom, and promptly ran into another roadblock. Swaddling.
The prenatal classes also recommended swaddling, and, so far, SP seemed to like it. (Though she never, ever wanted her arms constrained, something that took us at least a month to figure out.) So, sweating just a little bit now, and mentally chanting “you can do this, you can do this,” I laid her gently on the carpet, and got out one of her swaddling blankets. I folded it carefully, just like I’d seen DH do every time we’d gotten her ready the past week, gently set her onto the blanket and proceeded to swaddle her. Or not.
I tried. I really did. I wrapped her and rewrapped her, and finally, maybe the fourth attempt, I thought I’d gotten it. She seemed secure. So I picked her up and placed her in the crib and tiptoed out of the room. (Yeah, no routine, no transition. Just plopped her in there. This was bound to work with my no-sleeping one-week old baby, right?)
Shockingly, she didn’t fall asleep. It only took her about 15 minutes before she started to cry in earnest (her favorite pastime her first year). When I went in to pick her up, not only was the swaddling blanket completely unwrapped, but because of her too-loose diaper, she’d managed to pee all over her onesie, her swaddling blanket and her crib sheet.
And that was when the tears really started. Mine, I mean. She stopped crying once I picked her up.
Somehow I got her changed and carried her back to the couch where she proceeded to sleep in my arms and I proceeded to cry as quietly and with as little movement as possible so that I didn’t wake her up.
What kind of mother WAS I? I couldn’t even put on a diaper! I couldn’t swaddle her!! She wouldn’t sleep!!! And it was all my fault!!!! (Apparently, the kind of mother I was? A drama queen.)
As 5 p.m. neared, I tried to pull myself together. I had almost composed myself when DH walked through the door. And then he had to go and ruin it by asking me how my day had been. That brought it all back out: tears, recriminations, accusations.
I’d like to say that DH had some words of wisdom to impart that somehow absolved me of guilt and magically taught me everything I needed to know about caring for a newborn, but, alas, that was not the case. It was, as most things are, a gradual process.
It took a number of days before I really got the hang of the diaper, and I never did learn how to swaddle her effectively. (And let’s not even talk about how long it took to figure out how to get her to sleep anywhere but in our arms!)
But despite my lack of hands-on skills, it all worked out fine in the end. SP is a happy, silly, creative five year old now… who just happens to be an only child.