Friday, February 4, 2011

Chapter 7

In light of hearing several mommies I know complain about dealing with tantrums and crying and anger and frustration (myself included), I've caved and decided to post a chapter from my book I'm writing.
The book is called Some Assembly Required and spans the time from pre-pregnancy to Toby's first birthday... it might go on longer but I haven't decided where to end it yet.

I've changed the name of a certain ex because he said he'd prefer that if this were to ever get published someday. So don't get thrown off by a random guy's name that you don't recognize lol.
Anyway, here it is... The chapter that shares the same name as the book..

7. Some Assembly Required

            Nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for having a baby. I've heard of people getting a dog or something cause they think it will be like looking after a child and then they will know if they are ready or not.
No book you read, or parent or friend you talk to will even come close to getting you to comprehend the true experience. Everything I read assured me that within the first few days, or hours even, I would feel an undeniable bond to my child. That breast-feeding would help to speed up the boding process. That the feeling of creating and nurturing a new part of the family unit would be incomparable to any joy I've felt before.
Yes, well, I didn't have a family.
I had a baby that didn't feel like mine that I was impatiently waiting for the real mother to come and claim with a So sorry I'm late, here's a giant tip, now you can get back to your life.
I had stressful sleepless nights and painful swollen breasts and hadn't had a shower in a week.
I was not 'joyful'.

            The congratulatory messages trickled in via email and cards send to my parent's house. People left endless comments on the handful of photos I'd somehow managed to upload to Facebook over the first month or so.

            'He's so cute Erin!!'
'What beautiful eyes, you guys must be so proud!'
            'I'm so happy for you, congrats!'

            I scowled at them. How dare there be happy people in the world. It was a strange feeling knowing that everyone I knew was carrying on as usual. They got up, went to work, came home, ate, and went to sleep whenever they felt like it for however long they wanted to. While I, meanwhile, was sitting on the couch in my apartment wondering what the hell I did with my time before I had a baby. My old life didn't exist anymore. And I would never get it back. This was my life now. My entire existence now revolved around this baby that was a constant reminder of my failed marriage and all the happy memories therein that now had a giant black cloud painted over them. I didn't just want a kid. I wanted our kid. OUR life. Now I had to start all over. I had to take years of daydreams and scrap them.  I wanted someone with an official looking notepad to show up at my door and hand me the new layout for my life. I would smile and nod and pretend that I understood and just take comfort in the fact that SOMEBODY had my life under control.
The problem was that no one like that existed. You can check the yellow pages. I was the one who had to re-build everything. And I had no idea where to start.

                                    *                      *                      *

            My mom was now living with me and helping where she could. Mostly it was making food. Sometimes she took Toby for a walk or held him while he slept so I could pee or wash my hair uninterrupted.

            I was so greedy for this time alone. I immersed myself in scalding hot bath water (because you weren't supposed to take hot baths when you were pregnant and I missed them) and I would just lay there and stare at the faucet dripping slowly above my toes.
Four seconds between each drip.
Now five.
I could hear Toby whimper on the other side of the door. My mom started humming Beatles songs.
I sank deeper into the tub so my ears were covered. I closed my eyes and tried to will myself back in time so this would never be where my life ended up.
I opened my eyes and was still staring at the dripping faucet. With a sigh I got out of the tub and made my way out to my now crying child.
I felt like a horrible parent. I would get angry if he woke up with ten minutes left to a TV show I had started watching. I'd feel trapped and annoyed when showers or baths were interrupted with whining. I would ignore his cries 'just two more minutes' when I was in the middle of checking my email.
Loving mothers from loving families didn’t do this. Loving mothers would unsubscribe their cable so there was less to distract them from their babies. Loving mothers would not spend every minute of the day wishing their kid would learn to sleep on their own so they wouldn't be stuck carrying them around all day. Loving mothers would relish doing this and stroke their child's face and re-count their toes and sing songs over and over and over because there would be no TV or computer to substitute for music.

A friend of my mom's came over to see Toby when he was just over a month old. She loves kids. Toby had a history for not liking new people, but she picked him up and danced around the apartment and he didn't complain once.
She pointed out the window to the snow covered cars driving by.
She sang to him.
“Turkey in the straw, ha, ha, ha! Turkey in the straw, ha, ha, ha!”
Toby was staring at her, not blinking. I think if he knew how to smile, he would have been doing it. I was one breath away from asking her to move in with me.
"Oh, Toby, you like music? I bet your mommy sings to you all the time!"
I smiled a bit and nodded. 
Actually no, I did not sing to him all the time. In fact, I couldn't remember any time in the last month where I had sung to him at all. Me, the woman who had planned to hold up headphones to her pregnant belly and pump out the Mozart and Beethoven so her kid would be smart and musically inclined, had only hummed a few lines from ‘Three Blind Mice’ once or twice while trying to get him to sleep in the rocking chair. I was too caught up in being pissed off at Carter and feeling sorry for myself and agonizing over the mastitis setting into my right breast to even sing to my baby.

I tried being calm. I tried humming Toby to sleep. Sometimes it worked. But I was getting sick of being woken up every hour, and there's only so much 'calm' I can fake on lack of sleep.

The whimper-grunt of an infant met my ears for the sixth time that night. I had stopped putting him back into his cradle and left him in the bed beside me when he fell asleep because I was using all of my energy just to sit up and was sick of rolling out of bed, picking him up, rolling back into bed, and then doing it all again. Maybe I should have just let him 'cry it out'. It didn't feel right to just sit there and listen to him though.
I turned my bedside light on and squinted into the room. Toby wiggled beside me, rooting around for food with his eyes still closed. I sighed and did the routine: wiggled into a sitting position; dragged the nursing pillow on to my lap; dragged Toby onto the nursing pillow; reached around for the nipple shield; attempted to make nursing work.
From 3 AM to 4 AM I sat there with my shirt tucked up under my chin, one hand keeping the shield from slipping and the other keeping Toby's head in one place. Tears of frustration began dripping out of my eyes before I had a chance to stop them. I stared off into space and my vision went in and out of focus – partly from the tears, partly from exhaustion. I had only been doing this a little over a month. How in the world was I supposed to last the rest of my life? Or even this next year? Or even this next month?
Toby finally fell asleep and I shimmied him off the nursing pillow and onto the bed.
Tonight's the night he'll sleep through 'til morning. I kept telling myself. Tonight's the night you'll get some sleep.
When fifteen minutes later he woke up screaming, I cried for real. I wanted him to go away. I wanted to go away.
"Why are you being such a little shit?!" I spat through gritted teeth as I flicked on the light again. I couldn't believe I just said that. In the 'parenting plan' I had been the coddling, nurturing mother who hugged instead of hit and always understood her children. And now I was swearing at him.
My mom was sleeping in the living room, I could call her. She told me to. But I felt like that meant I was giving up. Like I was a weak parent. I wanted to prove that I could do this on my own. I wanted to prove that I was stronger than everyone so people would stop feeling sorry for me.

As I was pulling Toby onto my lap again my mom came into the room.
"Want me to take him so you can sleep?"
            "Mom, It's four in the morning. You work today. Go back to bed" I growled.
"Yeah, but I've been sleeping all night, you haven't. And because I'm working you won't have any help during the day."
"Fine." I gave in, I knew she was right even though I still felt guilty for keeping her awake. She took Crying Baby out to the rocking chair and I slumped down into my pillow. The worst part of this was that when I needed to sleep most, my mind wouldn’t let me. It raced and bounced along while my body begged for it to just shut up and sit still for a while. My whole body refluxed when I heard Toby cry from the next room. I kept startling myself awake. Curse you, 'mother reflex', I grumbled angrily to myself as I finally drifted off.

                        *                      *                      *

When I was in college we constantly passed posters on bulletin boards in the halls and the library featuring a hunky shirtless guy, with a guitar in one hand and a sleeping baby cradled in the other, standing under the caption "Rock. Don't Shake."
"Are you serious?" We would say. "They have to make posters for that now? God, every one knows not to shake a baby. You just have to be patient with them."

Quite clearly none of us had ever looked after a two-month-old. I have never ever wanted to hit a child so much in my life until I had one.

Toby's new pass-time was screaming uncontrollably in the evenings. I held him in the rocking chair. I paced up and down the hallway. I sang songs. I bounced him. I changed him. I laid him in bed. My emotions were still on thin ice from dealing with everything over the last several months, and lack of sleep and a screaming baby weren't helping to soothe me. I stood over the bed and watched him wiggle around. If possible, he was crying louder now that he was on his back.
Toby did not answer, because Toby was two months old. Toby could not tell me why he was screaming even if he wanted to. I held my hands over my ears.
He didn't stop.
I reached down and put my hands on either side of his head.
“What is your damn problem?!!” My arms quivered. I could feel my fingers tensing and tightening around his tiny squishy head. I will kill him. I thought to myself. I will snap his neck and open the window and throw him into that snow bank and leave town. I felt a growl reverberating out of my chest and into my throat. And then a new voice popped into my head.
Rock. Don't Shake.
I was surprised and frightened at how hard I had to fight myself to not squeeze. Not to shake. Not to slap. Toby fumbled over a scream, hiccuped, and opened his eyes. He looked at me, his lip trembled and he began crying again. He was looking at me for help. He was looking at me because I was his mom and I was supposed to know what to do. He's not screaming to be a brat, he's screaming because something is wrong. I picked him up and slowly swayed back and forth. He burped. He stopped screaming. He fell asleep in my arms. I felt the tears on my face before I knew I was crying.


  1. wow. that was powerful. you have such a way with writing, Erin. Thanks for posting this.

  2. It always amuses me how you think it would be easier being a 'normal' family. I am here to tell you that it is not. In some ways, it is harder. Having major meltdowns are not only followed by your own guilt, but also the judgment of your partner. You are always on edge, and completely irritated that they aren't reading your mind exactly at the moment you expect them to know your thoughts. I was a crazy hormonal bitch for the first at least 6 weeks. There were a handful of nights that it took every ounce of self-control in my body to not shake Laura, too. "We don't shake babies. We don't shake babies. We don't shake babies."
    Also, I don't clearly remember through my foggy haze of non-sleep, but it's possible I swore at Laura, too. :S
    Ugh. Why do we have kids? lol

  3. I can kind of see that now - that being in a relationship doesnt make parenting easier- but I think it's a bigger struggle with me for just being 'alone'. I find I blame a lot of the things that go wrong on it because it's there..
    In this chapter he was only 2 months old and I had only been single for 5 months, and at the time 'everything would have been better' in different circumstances. It took me over a year to really come to terms with everything. I don't even know if I still am.
    That's why I have Positive Parties!!! lol, gotta drill it into my head somehow!

  4. Also, I wanted to say that, even in my situation, I didn't feel an instant bond with Laura, either. And it made me feel horribly guilty and like I was doing something wrong/ had unrealistic expectations (which I kinda did). It took a good 3 months probably before I felt connected with her. I think the breastfeeding helped a lot in that area. :)

  5. With Micah I was inlove instantly. Everything they told me would happen, happened... but with Lilianna, not so much. I was happy to have her and she was planned (unlike her brother) but for some unknown reason, I felt like I was holding somebody elses baby for the first little bit.

    Erin this is amazing, not too many people realize how common postpartum is. I too had to tell myself DO NOT SHAKE HER, several times over. She is now 10 months and I still find myself yelling at her to over-power her cry. Just last week I picked up a throwpillow (funny the name) and threw it across the living room and knocked over a dining room chair in anger towards Lily.
    This book NEEDS to be published! I want to read the whole thing already!

  6. For me the biggest thing in this post that hit me is the fear and the frustration at yourself. When Sebastian was born I was terrified. I would wake up constantly afraid that I had done something wrong. I felt like I would be a terrible mother and that it was only a matter of time before I did something seriously wrong. I would bawl in the middle of the night from the pain of breast feeding and the frustration, and then hide that desperation from my husband. I felt like I was alone among so many people.

    This kind of accessible story for new moms is so important to get out there - not just because of the ability to relate to someone, but because it reminds us that no matter how dark it is, it's gotten better for others and CAN get better. I work in a department that works with kids who have been through hell (all kinds of abuse, drugs), and all I can say is You Are There. You are trying despite how hard it is! When I read this I wanted to jump in there and help! But after reading it all I could think was that wow... you went through all that and you learned to love him, and you stuck around, and you didn't turn to drugs or alcohol to soothe yourself. You were picking him up and as angry, and as frustrated and sad as you ever got, You were there and that means more than anything else. You should be really, really proud of yourself! (man, I hope that doesn't sound condescending!)