Ready or Not

I hear people talk about waiting until they're ready to have a baby, and I wonder sometimes if I should have given some thought to that. I don't know if they mean emotionally, financially, stable-relationship wise, or until they're done "living it up". I guess everyone has a different picture in mind. But I also have to wonder: is there really a point in life at which you can honestly say, "Okay I'm ready not sleep more than a few broken up hours a night, to not have time to eat, to not be able to take a shower. I'm ready to attempt to get dressed midway through the day. I'm ready to not have the time or energy for friends or movies or my job or my hobbies or even simple conversations." It seems more like something you just do, holding your breath, maybe, closing your eyes, ready or not. 

Yet, I have to admit, the fact that we were--in certain basic ways--not ready to add someone into our lives who couldn't take care of himself, I think this did make it trickier for us in the beginning. Something else that made it trickier was NYU decided to scare new parents into feeding their babies every 2 hours all day and all night. This meant you generally had about an hour in between feedings when you factor in a diaper change, cleaning the umbilical cord, and getting them back to sleep. A far cry from the "never wake a sleeping baby" rule our parents lived by, and a bit more extreme even than the going practice when my nieces were born (which I think was every 3 or 4 hours). That meant that if you were lucky enough to have a baby who slept okay at first you'd never find that out, because you'd continuously wake the little guy up an hour after you got him back to sleep. I also found breast-feeding quite hard, and saying any more than that about it, oddly enough, feels like too much information. Suffice it to say it was never that rocking chair in a blue-lit room with lullabies in the background scene that you see in movies. Take away the rocker and blue light and add howling and screeching and pacing and tears on the part of everyone in the house except Sky. Until he was a good 6 months at least, Wally wouldn't allow me to sit while breast-feeding. (And he never went for the rocker; we tried so many times and finally two years later stuffed the whole collapsing thing into the back seat of my parents' car for them to haul back. "Get that damn thing out of here. It never worked. It never helped.") To feed Wally I had to walk around or at the very least sway from side to side while bopping a little. My sister, a trained dancer, taught me how to do it -- I'll try at some point to get a visual demonstration up here for emerging new parents. Our pediatrician said that wasn't uncommon. That some babies could not sit still, even while sitting still, even while nursing. 

 My agonizing over the safety of sleeping with Wally in the bed was another reason things were difficult. Why did I stress so much about this whereas others just said "It felt right" and went with it? I did it, but worried constantly about rolling over or the blankets rising too high or whatever. Then again I didn't worry about other things, like vaccinations (or Sky rolling over on him), so maybe we all find reasons not to sleep in those few hours we are given. Again the prevailing theme was "Do what works" but that changes constantly. What works on Tuesday night may be a dismal failure on Wednesday morning and so on. I was bored to tears reading baby books pre-baby, but now I wish I had looked up one or two things, like how long you can store milk or how much tylenol to give for a fever if you can't reach the doctor. (The bottle conveniently says "Ask your doctor".) 

 Just when things were starting to get more routine, Alex, inexplicably, had to run off to Brazil to settle unfinished paperwork when Wally was 2 weeks old. My parents had left and I had no idea how to find the time to make noodles and cottage cheese for dinner, let alone figure out a way to buy more when my supply ran out. But maybe a big part of it was that we were just not set up for a lifestyle change like that. I couldn't imagine having actually had a nursery ready or bottles sterilized -- though I sometimes envy people who do that -- but we were still in the phase where we just barely kept the house of cards of our existence from toppling. We just barely caught trains, got to work on time, remembered to pay rent, we never knew how to find our checkbooks or account passwords. 

One story I always think of when comparing our life now to life then involved friends who came to see us play a show in Williamsburg on a weeknight. We vaguely had the idea to get dinner afterward but still had to drop the stuff at the studio. After we did that we were standing on an empty street in Gowanus talking about what we wanted to do. We suggested making dinner at our place. The husband glanced at his watch and the two decided maybe they'd call it a night after all and hang out another time. We were surprised at first until we got home and realized it was after 1. The fact that they'd even considered it, stayed out waiting as long as they had, was really the amazing part. And the fact that not one of the 5 of us who all had to get up and go to work the next morning, thought it outlandish to suggest starting to make dinner at that hour. 

In practical terms what this meant was that the stuff I needed help with when Wally was born was more than people to hold him, to buy diapers, to wash pacifiers. We needed the doorknob on the front door fixed so people wouldn't get trapped inside. We needed curtains. We needed to throw out the 3 mattresses and 2 futon frames that together had passed for a couch for half a decade and replace them with something that would keep you elevated off the floor, so you weren't, basically, sitting on a trash heap. For a few days in there with a newborn Wally home from the hospital we had no couch at all, and Alex's middle-of-the-night feedings took place on the hardwood floor. 

 On the Friday after Wally was born, I went with my dad to a furniture store on Atlantic. After about half hour, I flopped down on one of the couches. "Why are you so tired?" the guy working there asked me. "You're young. You shouldn't be so tired." "She had a baby 3 days ago," my dad told her. The lady behind the desk came out and gave me a hug. 

 The futon came a few days later, my dad fixed the door knob, my mom let me sleep in the mornings and made me tea, Alex got back from Brazil, Sueli washed Wally's clothes, Sky napped with the baby on the bed, Dara did on-call swaddling, my nieces gave Wally bottles. I started bringing Wally places, and that loud little scrawny gentle wiggly baby started sleeping more. But it did take us a while to catch up to the starting line. Still, even given all this, I wouldn't have preferred to wait. I don't think I will ever be a ducks in a row type person, and I really don't understand delaying something you can never be ready for anyway. If not the trash heap of futon mattresses, there will be some other complication. A lost job, a broken relationship, an unexpected move. It is like a game of hide and seek where counting to 10 is never going to be enough time to find a good hiding spot. And the truth is, no matter how much you want to stay under the covers some days, you are always glad the other person found you. 

 (P.S. Pictured above -- the at-the-time new futon, with my nieces and Wally sitting on it.)


  1. This post made me tired! Your experience sounds much worse than mine. I think if my kids had forced me to feed them standing up, especially breastfeed, I would have had to let them starve!

  2. I sometimes wish I waited. Most of the women in my mom's group were 40+ when they had their first baby.

  3. Rhonda you have 4 kids! No, I definitely had it easier (at least than your 2,3,4), more time for feet up and wine down the hatch. But the stand-up feedings *were* incredibly irritating. Or maybe you mean worse in terms of the newborn experience itself. Maybe. Someone I know had a baby who literally could not sleep for the first few months without a nipple (real one) in her mouth ALL NIGHT LONG. There should be more out there about the difficulties of breast-feeding and not just the standard "How do you get them to latch?" Melinda, I'm curious what makes you sometimes wish you waited? Did you just feel pressure and realize later you didn't have to give into it?

  4. Yeah, Jesse wouldn't sleep without me. Even then he didn't sleep much. We swaddled him and let him sleep in the swing during the day, which he'd do for about 30 min. Other than that he'd only sleep on us, preferably me.

    I think I had it easier because I had all the nursery stuff and child-proofed house, and a husband at home WITH me except for the first maternity leave but always after that. I had no friends to see and really nothing else to do.

    Also, I would have not only ignored a doctor that said to wake a baby every 2 hours, I likely would have punched them. And Jesse had so much trouble gaining weight that we had to go for weekly weight checks (he wasn't even on the curve until 9 months). We did the "don't wake a sleeping baby" thing, despite all that, because sleep deprivation can and will make you insane!

    My first was a dream baby. Never cried, slept through the night at 6 weeks, etc etc. They got successively worse until Jesse who only ever slept 45 min at a time, but at least would then nurse lying down in bed so I mostly slept still, mostly. That plus working full time was a challenge, and he's still a cruddy sleeper. The rest are good sleepers - go figure.

    And don't get me started on pumping 4 times a day at work because I was a cruddy pumper and could only get 2-3 ounces at a time. oy. Infants are rough! But still, I think that the only feeding standing up thing means you win - I can't even imagine!


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