It has been exactly four years since my daughter Ruthie was my son Neville’s age. They almost shared a birthday four years apart, but Neville took his sister’s advice and made a late entrance just like she did. Now that I suddenly find myself taking care of a newborn again, there’s all this stuff that’s rushing back to me that I either forgot or had blocked from my memory.

Among these things:

They’re so tiny! 7lb, 8.9 oz may sound like a good sized baby, but it’s not. It’s a teeny tiny itty bitty baby. Like, the smallest baby ever. Like, he’s so small I look at his skinny little legs and wonder how he’s ever going to get any chunk on them. He’s so small that I can cradle him in the crook of one arm, balancing his head in my hand. He’s so small that he is swimming in those adorable little newborn pajamas, and the 0-3 months stuff isn’t even worth looking at yet.
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That pathetic little newborn cry. Is there anything more miserable than the sweet, sad wail of a newborn who hasn’t even figured out how to cry yet? Sure, he knows how to let me know that he’s unhappy, but where is the power? Where is the strength in those lungs? Because right now he’s got that breathy, loud-as-he-can-but-still-so-quiet cry that is accompanied by a quivering chin and a reddening face.

Oh, right. There’s this thing called “doing too much.” I’m usually pretty impervious to the “doing too much” idea. Chalupa, my husband, is chronically ill, so I’m always getting on him about not trying to do too much, but my mantra is usually: I have to do what has to be done. Sometimes, though, what has to be done takes so much energy that you feel like you could actually die from worn-out-ness. For example: taking the baby for bilirubin checks every morning after coming home from the hospital. This is a TERRIBLE system. All you want to do is sit your aching ladyparts down on a couch for days, and instead you have to get up, get the baby dressed, feed the baby without getting milk all over him (and thus necessitating another outfit change), get out the door and to the lab/hospital/doctor’s office before the baby needs to eat again, carry the baby in the infant carrier into the lab/hospital/doctor’s office, walk down the hallways, watch your baby get his heel pricked and scream that sad, less-than-loud scream, walk back down the hallways, make sure the kid is bundled up because holy crap it’s -2 degrees outside, drive back home, get in the house, and immediately start feeding the kid again. Yeah, there’s such a thing as “doing too much,” and unfortunately that point is reached a lot sooner after a baby is born than at any other point in your life. Throw in caring for a four-year-old on top of everything, and it’s not the sleeplessness that’s so exhausting. It’s the doing of everything.

Nipple shields. Oh, yeah. These things. They are a godsend at first when you use them and they help you successfully feed your tiny baby, and then they are a nightmare as you try to wean the poor thing off of them. I had totally forgotten about this part of breastfeeding. Trying to wean Neville off these things is like an exercise in pissing off a baby that I get to practice about a dozen times a day.
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The phenomenal joy of a long pregnancy being over. At the end of a long, tiring, successful pregnancy, there is no better feeling in the world than lying on your back in your bed and running your hands over your deflated belly, which no longer aches in every direction. There is nothing better than knowing the baby you worked so hard to get here–the one that made you puke for months, and made your back hurt so badly you could barely walk in from the garage after work, and stole your sleep for as far back into the year as you can remember–is finally here. No longer cramped inside your belly making you miserable, but right here. Touchable. Smell-able. Cuddle-able.
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Everyone is wonderful. Family coming to visit. Church folks you’ve never met bringing over meals. The neighbor who takes a snowblower to your driveway while you’re in the hospital because how else are you going to get into the garage when you get home? In-laws staying and helping you clean your whole house and wash every piece of laundry in your hamper. Friends offering to take the four-year-old to the children’s museum so you can get a break. Your mom coming over and holding the baby, cooing at his sweet little hands and long hair, loving him just the way she loves her seven other grandchildren. A little girl who wants to cuddle her baby brother every chance she can get.

The reality of a baby. A baby who snuggles up into his daddy’s beard and goes to sleep. A baby who smells sweetly of milk and soap and clean diapers and baby breath. A baby whose eyes search for you when he wakes, and when you go to him, he looks at you with a face that says, “I know you. You’re here.”
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