Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pain Meds + Sleep Deficit = Philosophical Ramblings

Oh, there is so much to say.

If you feel I've already said enough, in the six short days since Genevieve was born, about birth the second time around, stop reading now. Because truly: life is just amazing, and in our house, since baby Genevieve entered our life on August 15th, we've been sitting around marveling at how different things can be with the passage of time.

And please, don't get me wrong: Julia is, as my mom recently said after witnessing our fresh-scrubbed chubby toddler place her palms on my cheeks and lean forward to tenderly give me a kiss on the lips, "the sweetest thing on two feet." She's the light of our lives. Julia's been largely enthusiastic and cheery now that Mama is home from the hospital--save for some increased bedtime neediness and a bit more whining than usual--and she does things like run into the room shouting, "Where's dat baby Genevieve? Give her a kiss!" and, "I yuv dat baby sister!" But now we have two lights of our lives, and this second one, so far, is nothing like the first. I know: go ahead and act knowing and smug right now if you must, because Genevieve is less than a week old, and anything could happen. She could still refuse to nap, come down with colic, develop an abiding addiction to hanging out on my nipple for hours on end. But for now? Let me tell you all about it.

On the one hand, I have the strongest sense of deja vu. Two summers ago feels like yesterday; I sit here in the evenings and nurse and watch TV and eat ice cream and stay up late to nurse again, and even the photos are the same. The same orange-tinged jaundice-y newborn with the chubby nose lying asleep in the same white bassinet with the same pastel sheets. The same round head and long skinny fingers and toes. The same miniscule fuzzy sleepers and tiny narrow onesies.

But then, on the other hand, EVERYTHING is different--and I don't just mean because we are experienced parents now who have a clue what we're doing and can roll with the punches of postpartum life. Here are some other differences:

Genevieve arrived after one night of labor-related sleep deprivation; Julia after three consecutive nights of no sleep. Genevieve arrived via major surgery--painful and scary, yes, but controlled and planned; Julia arrived in a storm of injury and physical trauma that carried repercussions that lasted for more than a year.

By the time Julia was two weeks old, she'd been to the ER three times, once when my recovery was so early that I couldn't even walk or sit down unassisted (and still hadn't slept). Julia couldn't get the hang of sucking hard enough to be a productive nurser for several weeks; we had to pump milk for her after each nursing and feed it to her with an eyedropper, a process that took an hour and then had to be begun again a half hour later, around the clock. Julia cried all night long--literally--for every night of her first month of life, except when nursing. We never slept. Visitors and houseguests came and I could hardly keep my eyes open or my body upright; my aches and fatigue and breastfeeding infections made me feel sick during every waking moment. I felt physically depleted and non-functional and after an hour of entertaining well-wishers I could barely speak. To some degree, I thought all this was normal. I see now how abnormal it really was.

This is parenthood with Genevieve so far. The only part of my body that hurts is my C-section incision. I feel moderately tired, not sick with exhaustion. There are all sorts of activities I am restricted from doing right now, including the most basic of things such as lifting a laundry basket or driving--and yet, I feel surprisingly normal in comparison to two years ago. Genevieve nurses just fine. She eats for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, then she's done. She goes to sleep afterward, and stays asleep for two to three hours. This give me enough time to actually do anything else besides wait to nurse again. At night, she sleeps between feedings. Thus, we do too. I keep looking around and wondering, Is this as hard as it gets? Surely not! Is this what having a new baby is really like? It can't be true. I mean, it's not as if any of this is a total breeze all the time--there is pain, and tiredness, and hormonal tornadoes, and all the weird physical after-effects of childbirth in general--and come on, who actually enjoys waking up numerous times each night to nurse when what you really want to do is sleep? But honestly? It feels so, so easy to me right now, because my memories of summer 2004 are still so fresh in my mind.

Believe me: I'm very wary of jinxing myself. But it seems unlikely that a baby as easy as Genevieve is so far would suddenly turn into the challenging infant Julia was--after all, Julia was hard straight out of the gate. And even if Genevieve's easy demeanor does change, we have had six days that seem like a cakewalk when compared with the first six days of parenting Julia, and for that alone I am grateful. Poor Jujee! I don't mean to make it sound as if we hold her infant temperament against her. In a lot of ways she's all the more precious for just how much she challenged our very best (and worst) versions of ourselves.

So I sit here and read Catherine Newman's goodbye column (a total tearjerker, by the way) about memory and the fleeting-ness of parenting babies, and it feels like Julia was just born--and it feels like light-years away from that, too. And all of it--the hard parts of back then, the easy surprises right now--feels like a lesson I didn't know I wanted or needed to learn. But, you know, that's always how life lessons happen, isn't it?--incidentally, as you're muddling through, so that later on you look back and can suddenly see all the things that made you the parent you are now?

Whew. New parenthood makes one philosophical. Or maybe it's the Darvocet. I'm still on narcotics, you know. (Maybe THAT explains baby Genevieve's complacent demeanor???)

Time for sleep. (Or nursing.) Coming soon: vote for your favorite nickname for Genevieve! (No guarantees we actually pay any attention to your suggestions.)

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