Baby Niall, my third child, my little love, turns one tomorrow. As I rode the train into the city this morning, I couldn’t help but remember myself at exactly this time last year: watching the US Open with my husband and two children, aware that in a matter of twenty-four hours, I would most likely be holding my baby in my arms. My husband asked, “I’m going to get some food…what can I get for you?” I thought to myself, “This baby is fully cooked,” and so I requested what would give me the most comfort in that moment: a hot dog chock full of nitrates and a glass of white wine. At 41 weeks pregnant, I had only one dress left that fit me (at least it was Wimbledon white), could barely fit into my seat and was sweating extravagantly, and consumed that hot dog in the space of seven seconds. I was classy. A sight for sore eyes.
The next morning, I accepted that none of my desperate prayers that I would go into labor naturally had been answered, and so we reported to the hospital at 7am for a scheduled induction. After merely five hours (far less than the 40 hours I had endured with my oldest, but a few more than the frantic two I had with my daughter), I said to my husband, “Go get the nurse. This epidural isn’t working any more.” Sure enough, she came into the room, examined me briefly, and declared, “This baby is going to be born in about one minute.” I started to cry. “Are these tears of happiness,” my husband asked. “Yes. Yes, they are.” And little Niall was born in a matter of four strong pushes. He cried non-stop for the first ninety minutes of his life.
My few days with Niall in the hospital were a dream. He slept a lot. I slept a lot. I had a very kindly postpartum nurse with whom I shared some of my anxieties about whether or not I would be able to handle my three children. I asked her if she had children. “I have nine,” she said. “You can do this.”
When I got home from the hospital, I panicked. Niall no longer slept the way he did when I had round-the-clock care. My oldest son’s piano teacher reported that he cried during his lesson and told her of all the pressure he felt to be a good big brother to the baby. That night, as I spent hours nursing and rocking the baby to sleep, he felt neglected and confronted me with his tears: “I am still a part of this family!” My daughter had at least four tantrums in the space of three hours. The children were starting school in two days, and I had lists of things I needed to do to get them ready. I didn’t sleep that night. And I didn’t sleep for the next two nights after that. Not a wink.
Fearful that I would start hallucinating, I visited a local GP. He was merciful: he gave me a strong dose of xanax that gave me some relief from the sleeplessness. But the hormone-induced waves of panic remained for a while, and so the drug became a life-saving support for at least a few weeks. I had to give up nursing. On a park bench in Maplewood, I gave the baby a bottle of formula, and a passerby approached me. The well-meaning woman, after telling me how cute the baby was, asked me if I was nursing at all. I said no, without explanation. “That’s too bad,” she said, with a concerned look on her face. I collected my belongings and began to walk away, mumbling less audibly than I would have liked in retrospect, “And I’m going to push this baby in a stroller instead of baby-wearing him home, bitch!” And then I sobbed.
I turned 40 that November, and the five of us celebrated by going to dinner at a restaurant in our town village. I was exhausted—Niall had been fussy for much of the day, and I felt inadequate in figuring out what he needed. But I got the best birthday present I could have imagined: for the first time, I was able to wear jeans that weren’t maternity, and baby Niall sat in his car seat and smiled at me through the entire dinner. “He loves me,” I assured myself.
I returned to work in January. People would say to me, “It must have been really hard returning to work.” If I didn’t feel comfortable saying it, I certainly felt it: it wasn’t hard at all. I looked forward to those three days at work. I could wear something other than exercise gear (and believe me, I wasn’t wearing such gear because I was exercising). I could put my head down on my desk between sessions. And I could let someone else deal for awhile with diaper-changing and rocking the baby, with the endless negotiations with the older children over snacks and use of technology. I could use my lunch hour to walk the streets of Manhattan and browse in some boutiques. And when I’d return, the children would be thrilled to see me. The baby would cuddle against me as I prepared him for bed. The children would want me to read them bedtime stories and sing them sweet lullabies. There were costs, of course. On one of my days off, I asked my sitter to stay with the baby so that I could take the children to the playground. When we were there, I asked my son if he wanted to throw the football with me. He agreed, but added, “but I’d rather play with [the sitter]. She throws better than you. Can she come play?” I held it together until later that night, when I sobbed. But he woke me up in the middle of the night because he had a nosebleed and wanted me to lie next to him in his bed to help him fall back to sleep. “He loves me,” I assured myself. My husband says, “These children get to sleep next to you more than I do. It’s not fair.”
“It’s not fair.” I have heard this phrase at least a thousand times in my household over the course of the past year.
It was in May that Niall began to embrace the spirit of toddlerhood, even though he was, technically, still an infant. He started to refuse his high chair. He didn’t want to ever sit and play with his toys. He wanted only to walk, but couldn’t do so independently. This meant that I spent three months bent over, holding his hands as he led me wherever he was interested in going. Oh, how my back ached! Oh, how I wanted him to grow out of that stage! But it was at the same time that he started putting his head on my shoulder as I held him. Oh, how I didn’t want him to grow out of that stage!
He no longer needs both of my hands. He can move rather quickly, holding only one. And soon enough, he won’t need either.
My therapist told me that for at least a full year after the birth of each of her five children, she felt like a wet rat. Oh, how I can relate! Just this morning, I got to my office and realized that in the typical chaos of getting myself and the older kids out the door, I had forgotten to brush my teeth. Luckily, there is a Duane Reade on almost every corner in Manhattan, but I also learned months ago to keep a spare toothbrush and kit of other necessities in my desk drawer.
I couldn’t wait to get out of my house this morning. My kids were not cooperating. They woke me up twice in the middle of the night–I was tired. When I left, Niall cried. I felt guilty, but I also felt needed and loved. Now, here at work, I can’t wait to get home to them.
And tonight, as I spend some time thinking about my Niall, my little love, and all that he has brought to our lives, I will treat myself to the best dinner I can imagine: a hot dog and white wine.