I just returned from visiting my sister in Washington. She had a baby boy back in early June. He was premature, and born at 2 pounds, 10 ounces. A tiny little thing. Because of his smallness and susceptibility to sickness – in addition to my sister adjusting to being a mother and working her ass off to exclusively breastfeed her son (she is my hero!) – it just now became a good time to visit and meet my new Nephew.
Having a child is, as everyone will tell you, life changing. Things shift in ways you can be empathetic to, but never fully understand until the child is yours. People love to bitch and moan about all kinds of things when it comes to parenthood, but what I don’t think is talked about a lot is how uncertain and confusing things can be. There is joy in figuring out how to respond to your unique child, however, before you reach that point, things can get a little (or a lot) dreary. I have been watching my sister go through these uncertainties (from afar) for the last few months. She had such a difficult, different situation than I had. Her son was born via emergency c-section, and lived in the NICU for three weeks before she was able to bring him home (when he was just under four pounds). For so many reasons, she needed to listen to doctors, nurses, and specialists for the health of her tiny, tiny baby. As he grows and catches up (he is a bustling 10 pounds now!), she has had to move to trusting her own instincts. Although I know that she feels thrown for a loop at times, I watch her in awe. She is doing an amazing job (did I mention how hard she worked to breastfeed her child, because DAMN!, I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, and I am not sure I would have kept it up).
For me, although I had an ideal home birth (unlike my sisters experience) and a healthy, calm child, I was still wracked with uncertainties. Is my child getting enough breast milk?, Is she rested enough?, Am I holding her too much or not enough?, Am I supposed to feel trapped under my child because she wants to eat every 30 minutes?, Shouldn’t I love every single second?, Oh my god, my child is growing so fast, how can time be slipping away from me?! In the thick of things, I remember calling my sister and having her tell me things like, “I think that sounds pretty normal”, which was totally and completely helpful at the time. I hope I have been half as helpful to her.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I know this to be true. My own child is enriched and cared for by so many people other than Taylor and myself who are helping to support her on her journey through life. I have come to rely on not only Taylor, but my mom, my mother in law, my sister, my midwife, my mother friends with similar mothering outlooks, for advice, camaraderie, and support. I also relied heavily on a few close childless friends who may not have had advice, but could at least spend time with me (however unexciting it may have been for them) in the first beautiful but sometimes lonely first year. I feel that in the early months of new motherhood you need that village most of all. It has been darn near unbearable to watch my sister go through the stress, worry, and joy that she has experienced this summer from two states away. My mom was able to come up and be a support a few times this summer, but I know it hasn’t been enough. If I lived closer (even a few hours away) a weekend visit would be no problem. I could come over, clean the house, cook some food, talk to my sister about sleep patterns, poop, baby smiles, and really help her out. I am grateful that I even was able to fly up and visit now, as I know some people who are separated by miles cannot financially afford to do that. I am also grateful that my sister has a supportive, patient husband to lean on, and good, kind friends to come by and hold the baby and socialize for a while. But I am also sad. I understand why people move away from family (my sister, mom and step dad, dad and I all live in different places, varying from 4 to 16 hour driving distances), but now more than ever, I understand why being close is so beneficial. Because, really, who better than your sister to talk you through? Or to talk about baby poo? Oh, and you guys… My nephew is the cutest baby boy to ever exist. Like seriously.