The blur

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The one thing you can’t really prepare yourself for when a new baby arrives is the exhaustion from the sleep deprivation. By design, they are needy, warmth-seeking, fragile things that we are hardwired to protect. There is something deep down in our DNA that reacts so viscerally to a newborn’s cries, something so alien sounding that you’d think we’d have the opposite reaction. But no, we run toward it, every fiber of our being surging with adrenaline, as if some primordial creature would find us hidden in the brush and eat our whole family.

The loss of sleep, if you’re lucky, will be minimal. With this baby, he’s actually a pretty good sleeper. He prefers to be in my arms, of course, but unlike his brother, he will let you put him down and he will sleep on his own. But it’s only for a few hours, and although I had forgotten what a real full night’s sleep was like with my older child, this is still difficult to adjust to.

When you’re sleep deprived, the mind plays tricks on you. One night, as I struggled to settle back down to sleep because I wasn’t sure if the baby was actually done eating or not, I swore I heard my older son sneak out of bed because I heard him in the kitchen. But he never came downstairs, there was no creaking of floorboards, nor heavy footfalls or normative chaos that accompanies a 3 year-old’s descent into a room. My mind perfectly conjured it, and it felt like I was going insane.

Daytime blurs into night time, the sunrise surprises you and then it’s somehow noon. Days smear together, and without having my cell phone to tell me, I honestly have no idea what day of the week it is. The adults have fleeting conversations, nearly all sentences go half finished and so many assumptions just simply have to be made in order to make the household run. We lean heavily on each other nowadays. This is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t imagine it getting easier either, as the little one gets bigger and begins to do more than just eat, sleep and poop.

Shit just got real

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The baby was about 4 days old when I began to fall apart. Since we’d been discharged from the hospital, everyone was on their best behavior, knowing how difficult this would be. We’d spent the better part of the year preparing for this, so when the afterglow began to wear off, I really began to feel it.

We’d been working the evenings in shifts, and the lack of sleep was beginning to make us feel crazy. Where I failed at breastfeeding with my first child, my second made up for it in spades. His hunger was insatiable as my production couldn’t keep up with demand. Although the doctors at the hospital were adamant about over-feeding with the supplemental formula, apparently the little one hadn’t gotten the news. Fortunately, he was a good sleeper and so after these heavy feeds, he’d lapse into a deep, happy slumber.

My older son was an absolute champ about most of the new adjustments. However, the one thing I couldn’t give enough of was attention. Breastfeeding took a good hour at a time, which would then be followed up by more formula and subsequent diaper changes. It wore my patience thin, as it definitely did for him as well. For him, it was a world of unfairness, as he’d been patiently waiting for his pregnant cranky mommy to have this baby and get back to her old self again. And, as much as I want that too, I know I am not there yet.

What he wants most, though, is the closeness we’d had before the physical and emotional toll of the pregnancy kept me at arms length. Tonight, as I laid next to him as he fought sleep, he wanted me to cuddle with him. I was happy to oblige him, but my heart broke, realizing the weight this new baby was putting on him too. I felt like such a failure because of how I’d let him down.

As I write this, I still don’t have an answer to how I’m going to make this work. I’m hoping to find more ways to show both children how much they mean to me, but honestly, I’m scared I’m not going to pull it off. The worst feeling in the world is to be mother to children who don’t think you love them enough.

Oh this is happening?

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We’d had a few good nights with the baby. He’d gorge himself on formula, then a quick diaper change, swaddle and cuddle and pass out for a few hours. This meant that I could sleep for a few hours as well. It was a nice change from when my first child was born and wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in someone’s arms. Being able to put this kid down and get some rest was absolutely vital to making it through the next day.

Formula feeding was going great, until one night, he started rooting like he wanted to nurse. It was late, and since he wasn’t settling any other way, I figured we could give it a try. I’d taken the breastfeeding classes when I was pregnant with my first, and failed at it miserably. It was a combination of a lot of factors that worked against us. My first born son had a really strong gag reflex that triggered when he latched with all the negative results that go along with that. My milk never really came in either, so there wasn’t much incentive for him to try, as there wasn’t much to get. And he was a hungry kid, needing a lot more than I could provide, even if I was pumping and giving it my all.

With this baby, though, the transition was much easier. He took to it naturally, and although he liked to take his time, the effort seemed worthwhile. I told my husband the next morning that he’d latched and we nursed and said I was going to give it the old college try. Then the milk came in, and the soreness, and bleeding. My stomach got wildly upset by the random contractions that breastfeeding caused in my guts.

The pain was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. (I know that there will inevitably be the comment here that if I’m in pain, I’m not doing it right. I’ve heard that, but also, I’ve been told that it can be uncomfortable in the beginning, and believe me, some women just experience pain.) Although I’m doing my best to take care of my body so it can nurse, at this point, I’m not sure this is sustainable on the long term. It takes the baby about an hour and a half to nurse on both sides, and even when he’s done, he’s still hungry and takes formula.

The problem there is that I have no idea how much breastmilk he’s already gotten to figuring out how much formula to give him is anyone’s guess. Also, because he takes so long to feed, I’m missing out on time with my other son, so nursing at night is something I have to find the right time for, which isn’t ideal given the demands of a newborn feeding schedule.

In the end, I’m resigning to do it for him once a day, and hopefully my supply will wane enough to wean him onto formula. I feel badly for it, because it’s got so many benefits. The pediatrician has been supportive though, and on the formula he’s gained back all of his birth weight and then some. She basically just wants him to be fed and happy, so however we get there is fine. It’s hard to know what the right choices are, and what’s going to work. In the end, I’m trying to trust my gut and make it the right call for my family.

Big brother brag

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When we brought home the new baby, I was terrified about how my son would react. Having been the singular focal point of my universe for so long, I knew that anything that took him out of that spotlight would not be so well received. Beyond that, he was entering a very egocentric age full of tantrums and wild unpredictability. After being out of commission during the pregnancy, we were all looking forward to “getting mommy back” but unsure how it would all shake out.

I will say, that he hasn’t taken any of his frustrations out on the baby. In his mind, the baby isn’t at fault for any of the time taken away. He does, however, put the blame and the brunt of his frustrations, solely on me. Rightfully so, too, I might add. I would rather him be angry with me than try to hurt the baby, but it does sting a bit when he owns up to it.

That said, he’s been a total champ with his brother. He often wants to help with him, hold him, hug and kiss him, and it just melts my heart. He says the baby’s full name, to everyone at school, with pride. Hearing his voice makes the baby very excited and so I hold great hope that they will be buddies.

I know it’s a lot to ask of a child his age, but I think he’s dealing with it as well as he can considering the circumstances. Maybe in time, he can forgive me too. But for now, I can take the brunt of his frustrations as long as he loves on his little brother.

Differences

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When my older son was born, we were in the hospital with him for four days. The “baby friendly” staff pushed hard on the breastfeeding, to the point where he was in a lot of trouble with jaundice and bilirubin levels that I finally gave up and started giving him formula. Since then, his weight gain has been consistently good, and he’s hit all his metrics and then some developmentally.

My younger son was born, nearly a full pound heavier, and got out of the hospital less than 48 hours later. He is bigger, but seems to be taking his time gaining back that birth weight. He sleeps better than his brother, though sometimes he likes to be held in your arms instead of put down. My older son had this problem, but it was staggeringly more needy on his end. With the new baby, I am able to get some rest, although, as I write this, I can say that’s changing too.

Physically, my children are nearly identical as young babies. Both were born with a shock of dark wispy hair. Both have long fingers and toes, my ears, nose and chin. Both make the same confused old man faces when they’re about to poo themselves or pass some adorable baby farts. Both are very chatty when awake and easy to sooth when you pick them up. Both are very cuddly, and take to strangers with ease.

I spent this gestation wondering what the new child would look like, and if he would resemble his brother. Seeing him born and taking shape in the days since we brought him home, I think they’re more along the lines of variations on a theme. Only time will tell how it will all shake out.

Settling back down

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As much as you can plan for the way you think you’d like things to play out, when you get into the thick of it, there’s so many variables that we weren’t able to consider logistically. I had planned on couching it downstairs with the baby while my husband took the nightshift with the non-sleeping toddler. The first few days though, he offered to split the night with me, which was kind and thoughtful and I definitely took him up on it. I think I ended up getting more sleep than he did in those few days, but as his calendar filled up with appointments for job coaching and interviews, it became clear that I was needed to take over the nightshift again.

I had forgotten the toll that sleep deprivation takes on the body and mind. This time around, we had no reprieve as my older son began stepping out of his “best behavior” mode and started reverting to his recently minted “three-nager” stage. (I realize I’m not alone in this, if you have any doubts, simply google “my 3 year old is an a-hole” and you’ll see the struggle is very real.) Tantrums and screaming and throwing things and hitting from one side, a shaky sleep schedule for a fragile life still figuring out what day and night time are on the other. Add the stress of my husband’s forthcoming unemployment and the prospect of having to move and relocate everyone on top of the wildly swaying emotions of a hormonal, depressed mother in postpartum hell, and we have what I could easily describe without hyperbole, the hardest shit we’ve ever had to live through.

Being needed so thoroughly by two small humans who equally demanded my attention, nearly always simultaneously, lent us a strategy of divide and conquer. Still, that wasn’t always successful, and the wrong parent would attend to the wrong needy child and there would be inevitable meltdown. I will say, my husband has some daddy magic in getting the baby to sleep, something I used to be able to work on my older son, but is no longer very effective.

As I write this post, the baby is less than two weeks old, and in that time, we’ve had probably 3 good nights with him, and only 1 with my older son. It’s not a great track record, and I’m reasonably frightened about the future, as the baby gets older and will have to share a room with his brother and I return to work when he’s about three months old. I have no answers either on the problems we’re encountering. Most people who’ve been through it, can only offer up “stay the course, it will get better,” which was unsettlingly the same mantra as the Iraq war and we all saw how awesome that went.

And I worry. I worry about my ability to parent my older son properly when really I’m operating in autopilot, survival only mode. I worry about my younger son having his emotional needs met, and being able to properly attach and bond to him. I worry about my husband’s stress, and his job prospects, because he finally told me that he’s been breaking down in tears quietly when he’s alone and hadn’t wanted to tell me about it because it would only stress me out more. I worry about my own mind, how easily I can be reduced to tears nowadays and how this impacts my ability to function as an adult human. I worry about money, because we haven’t resolved the job situation for my husband yet, and we can’t swing the budget on my income alone. I worry about my job when I return to work, because I know that my industry and department are surviving on borrowed time. I worry how I’m going to hold it all together, with so many things pushing against us, and so little to give back. It all feels so impossible.

Then there were four

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When I found out I was pregnant again, I tried my best to brace my older son for the change of becoming a big brother. There’s only so much you can do, though. For a 3 year old, there’s not much in the way of hypothetical or abstract thought just yet, so the conversations really didn’t sink in until the day we brought the new baby home.

I will concede that our prep work with him seemed to have a pretty good impact, because he was on his best behavior and tried very hard to be a good helper. The first time I changed the baby’s diaper in front of him and the baby started squalling, I turned to find my older son standing next to me with a bottle in hand, ready to help. He was desperate to pat and hold and kiss his brother, which warmed my hormonal heart and made me sob big ugly happy tears.

Sitting in the rocking chair after finally coming home, with a beer in one hand and my son slumbering in the other, I felt a sense of peace and happiness that I’ll never forget. As fleeting as it would be, for the days to come would be the thing of nightmarish psychic torment, I tried to relish the feeling, the happy nesting of homecoming.