My daughter, my eldest child, just had her first child– a baby boy. They live in Israel, and I flew over for his birth and to help afterwards. What was meant to be a two-week trip, became 4 and I became an integral part of a very important time in my first grand baby’s life, and in those first few weeks that my daughter became a mother. As I wrote this piece, my sweet grand baby slept against me, his little fingers feeling my dress, as he dreamt. He made little sounds and shifted, nestling closer– always seeking physical contact, and my entire being took him in and filled with love. During those three precious weeks he knew my voice; he loved when I held him- he sought the crook of my neck and nestled there. He brightened when I talked to him, and watched me intently as I sang to him. My voice, my touch soothed him, and we were enormously happy together. For twenty-one days– despite exhaustion and despite being far from my friends and the rest of my family, each day passed in a a perfect bubble, where my grandson, my daughter, her fiancé and I shared a delicate balance of adjustment, cooperation and love. Twenty-one incredible days with my first grandson; I feel very very fortunate!
But I have no illusions. I flew home to the US recently, and when I see him again- months from now (if I’m lucky) he will not remember me. I know this. He will be an entirely different baby then. First, let me tell you, he is a bit unusual for a newborn. Not because he’s my grandchild– not the usual bragging, but he is unusually alert and active. The pediatrician didn’t believe me when I told her that he “commando crawls already–” using his little legs to push himself away from the spots we leave him. Most newborns just lie there, startling themselves with the mostly involuntary movement of arms and legs. This little boy moves to the edge of his bassinet; he cannot be trusted on a changing table. “You have to watch him,” I warned. The doctor smiled, just a bit condescendingly, sure I was just being a grandmother… and then she shrieked, as he thrust his little legs and tried to move away from her. “This should not be happening yet!” She cried. I told you to watch him, I thought. I smiled. Duh. At barely three weeks, he can almost turn over. He stares at us and engages; he smiles a lot (gas?), and it is not uncommon for him to stay awake for up to 10 hours at time! This is not bragging; it is surprising to this grandmother, who thought she knew all about infants; it is exhausting to his new mommy, who would love for him to just lie there, or sleep.
He will be a different baby, and my daughter will be a different mommy when I see them again. Right now she is overwhelmed, exhausted and hormonal. Her breasts hurt from the hours and hours of feeding this little human. I warned her that it wouldn’t be easy. I was a lactation consultant briefly, many years ago, and I nursed three of my own children, each for just over a year. “Your nipples will hurt so much,” I told her, “they may even bleed.” These are not pleasant things, and I was not trying to scare her… but so many new mothers never hear these things, and expect it to all be so natural and easy. I did. I watched her dismiss me, as I said it, just before he was born. “It’s exhausting,” I added. “New babies wake up constantly! Just as you settle back to sleep, the cycle of feeding, burping, changing and settling back down repeats itself, and you may barely have slept before it starts again.” Again, she nodded dismissively. Just before she had her baby, my daughter had done lots of reading. She was sure that most of my advice was antiquated, and exaggerated. She didn’t come out and say it, but her eyes told me this each time I offered advice. This girl of mine has been flipping me off with those eyes since she was two. They are very expressive eyes. Now, her son has those same eyes.
What I didn’t realize was that remembering all of this, 25 years after it happened for me, is not the same as going through it for the first time. I remember labor; I remember nursing; I remember exhaustion and falling madly in love with my child and the blur of it all… but I forgot how it all really feels! In the quarter of a century that I’ve been raising three almost adults (the last just heading to college), time dulled my visceral memory. However, being with my girl for 48+ hours of hospital labor, and then three weeks with her tiny new baby, I’m wide awake again… except that I’m too exhausted to really appreciate it!
Labor, oh my. Wow, that really is an epic ride! I was blown away watching my daughter keep her cool and her focus, for two days, humming through each contraction! I think I swore and wailed. I did not keep my cool; that I’m sure of. Watching my own child go through it was transformative in ways I never expected. I was both awed by her strength and scared in ways I had never considered.
Talking about bloody nipples is ugly enough, but seeing them– watching my girl wince as her little guy learns to “latch on” is so different than telling her that we called her “the vampire,” because her latch was so painful and intense. Watching her pump, and feed and try to build up her milk– something that has not come easily, is very different than my own memories of those first weeks. I know I went through similar things, but thankfully, we actually do forget the sensation. As we get older, we tell these stories as if we truly remember, but only watching my own child go through it, was I reminded that it was a long time ago; a lot has happened in between (hello, raising teens!) and we thankfully forget how truly mind-numbingly hard it all is.
Because her milk supply has not been adequate, I have been helping with almost all feedings, to hold a small tube that provides formula as she nurses. Yes, I have waited up for teens these past many years. I have lost sleep to menopause and lots of other things, but nothing kicks you in the butt like waking every 2 hours for a newborn. “New babies wake up constantly! Just as you settle back to sleep, the cycle of feeding, burping, changing and settling back down repeats itself, and you may barely have slept before it starts again…” is biting me in the ass big time!
In fact, I forgot a few things. And again, I have memories. I knew this all would happen… but knowing and living through it again is an entirely different thing. I forgot that you might not shower for a while. I forgot how much work it is to just run to the store quickly to pick up a few things, let alone get to the mall to return things that have a limited return window. I forgot that babies really do wake up just as your food is on the table; they eat while you stare at a cold plate of food, always hungry yourself. I forgot what it was like to be peed on, pooped on and puked on– sometimes in one go. I didn’t remember just how many diapers need changing and how the environmental and conscientious decision to use cloth diapers, means changing more diapers and then washing those diapers and hanging them to dry… Constantly. Oh, right; I didn’t have to do that part; I had a dryer… and then (at least with my third baby) a service. I forgot how scary it can be to drive in a car, knowing a tiny person is in that car, or how unsure your previously steady feet seem on stairs, when you’re carrying that baby. I forgot that when you do drift off, so tired you can barely move, you hear your child’s little sounds, even when they don’t make them. You jump up, afraid you missed something, or feel asleep. Even though, you need sleep so much! I forgot just how exhausting all of this is and just how little sleep you can survive on. Admittedly, at 52, that was much harder!
I forgot all of this. But more importantly, I forgot how utterly and madly in love you fall with the new human being who creates all of this havoc. How you loose yourself in their tiny sighs and the expressions they make as they dream, or poop, or listen to you sing. I forgot just how sweet they smell, when they are new and still smell of the world they’ve exited. That when they are nestled in your neck, that smell is intoxicating and you want to bottle it. I forgot how your whole world turns upside down, and you are never the same again.
I thought I remembered these things, and I did… through the lens of time and change, and the many other big phases that we go through as parents, each one dulling our visceral memories of the time before. Now I am watching my daughter become a mother, and I am experiencing it through her. It is miraculous and incredible in every way! I am remembering just how hard and amazing it is. I am becoming a grandmother, blessed to have this sacred time with my sweet grandson and his exhausted parents. I am blessed to be reminded of all the things I thought I remembered… but now get to re-experience, from a unique vantage point. We are blessed to share this together. And when I left, I got to sleep through the night and forget just how hard this is, all over again.
*I do not have permission to post photos of my grandson, but he is exquisite…You can take my word for it. That is me bragging.
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