A Memoir of New Motherhood
story by Debra George Siedt
illustrations by Betsy Kehne
As a typical teenager, I went through a few years where I hated my mother. Of course at the time, I hate you! really meant, Why can’t you just let me get my way? I thought my parents were so over protective and that I couldn’t do half the things my friends were doing. An 11pm curfew? No riding in a car with boys until I was 17? No parties after football games? Geez, can’t a kid have some fun?
I can’t count how many times I heard her say, You just wait until you have kids. Kids, I thought, I’m 17, I’m never having kids!
As I grew, so did my relationship with my parents, especially my mother. Who would have thought that everything they said would come true … that I would have a baby … that I would want their advice?
Now, I call them just to talk.
I’d been told having a baby changes everything. Now I understand just what everything means. From sleep patterns to common sense to family relationships, everything changed overnight.
Moms Go Overboard
A few weeks before I took a pregnancy test, I confided to my mother that I thought I was pregnant. We were in a restaurant bathroom, a place where women pour out their hearts to each other. My mother did what she does best: giving advice rapidly followed by her mantra: But I’m not telling you what to do. You do whatever you want to do.
Her tips included not lifting anything heavy and quitting work as soon as possible. Of course, I didn’t listen. Instead, I began to do the things that I viewed as essential to becoming a new mom, based mostly on what I had read on the Internet and in that bible for today’s new mothers, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I thought I could do everything, juggling work, a home and preparing for a baby with little extra effort. Like many mothers I talked to, we tend to go overboard. As part of my going overboard effort, I vowed to work up to the day I delivered, I took a dozen trips to visit friends and relatives, I signed up for yoga and prenatal classes and I still insisted that my house sparkle.
Where I really went over the edge, though, was with the baby registry. My mother says that all she really needed was a crib and an umbrella stroller. There were no Pack ’n’ Plays, Exersaucers or bouncy seats. Babies didn’t have the luxury of activity gyms, Baby Einstein DVDs or baby papasons. My mother had never even used a changing table. You think they had changing tables when you were born? she asked. Apparently, any flat surface — including couches, floors and counters — were appropriate.
I had other ideas. In the spirit of wanting my baby to have everything other babies have, I picked out everything from a Pottery Barn crib with matching bookshelf and bedding to an Eddie Bauer deluxe travel system. After all, if it was Eddie Bauer, it had to be the best, right? Out of everything I received at my shower, however, there were only three things that I didn’t get, which happened to be the things I would use the most: diapers, baby wipes and formula. Of all I bought and was given, the two things I use most are The Pack ’n’ Play (which is a portable crib with a changing station on top) and a bouncy seat.
Several must-haves listed in books and magazines were soon tossed aside as impractical (though I’m sure some moms may find them indispensable), including a diaper champ (it really smelled once he started solids), a bottle warmer and a wipes warmer. Perhaps I should have listened to my mom.
In addition to going overboard with baby must-haves, I also overreacted to all of Colden’s firsts, both bad and good firsts.
The first time he had gas, sneezed and cried for longer than a minute, I called the doctor. I also gushed the first time he smiled, laughed and babbled.
The first time we left him alone, I went overboard again. My parents came to our home in February so my husband Dave and I could go on a weekend ski trip. I expected my mother to call, full of questions. Would she know how to rock him? Would she understand his hunger cry? Would she know how to shampoo his hair at bath time? To my surprise, my mother did not call once. I, however, called four times. I should have known she could handle it; she did raise four children of her own.
That’s when I heard her words echo: Just wait until you have kids. Boy, I hate it when she’s right. As I prepare for the day when Colden crawls and begins walking, I’m sure I’ll continue to overdo it. After all, I’m a mom now.
Moms Learn about Love
If my baby had been born in Maryland, it’s highly unlikely that my family would have been there during the whole three-ring circus. Instead, Colden was born in Pennsylvania with my whole family at ringside.
I was home for my baby shower on Halloween weekend. When I woke that morning, something didn’t feel right; my face felt shaky. After my husband and I decided I should go to the hospital, I woke up my parents. They met us at Uniontown hospital, where an OB/GYN friend of the family said I had to be flown to Pittsburgh, where my baby would be born in the next 72 hours. I had developed severe preclampsia, a condition that caused my blood pressure to skyrocket, endangering both me and my unborn baby. The only cure is a prompt delivery.
My mind raced. It’s way too early, I thought. Candy was set out for trick-and-treaters that night; my baby wasn’t due until it was time to take down the Christmas tree.
In 18 minutes, a helicopter had me to Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, where doctors held off for almost three more days before inducing labor. Two shots helped mature my baby’s lungs, while I was stuffed with blood-pressure and anti-seizure medication and grim tales of what could be.
My husband didn’t leave my side even to eat.
We would not have made it through those three days without family. Who would have brought him food, relieved his watch, brought us clothes, kept our spirits up? My mother, father, brothers and sister were scared, terrified even, at the sight of me, but having them there made the whole experience more bearable.
I remember my brothers teasing me, saying that I should name the baby Dubya if he was born on November 2, Election Day. I remember my mom peeking around the curtain, checking to see if I was awake. I remember going through contractions while my brother asked me for answers to a crossword puzzle. And I remember Dave, my husband, massaging my feet, holding my hand and coaching me through the entire three days. I remember feeling loved and knew that as soon as my baby was born, he’d feel it, too.
At 3:33pm on November 3, Colden Simon-Arthur was born just as President Bush was giving his election victory speech. Colden weighed in at only three pounds six ounces, but he did not need oxygen and breathed on his own. Now I was a mother.
I saw him briefly in his incubator before they took him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My husband, the lucky duck, saw him and held him, but I had to wait a full 24 hours until I was taken off the anti-seizure medication. We were told Colden would probably be in the hospital for at least five weeks, so we settled into a hotel across the street, and Dave began working out of a satellite office in Pittsburgh.
Each day, he would stop to see Colden in the morning and relay how much weight he had gained and whether he’d stopped breathing in the middle of the night, a common problem for premature babies. I spent the days with Colden, holding him, rocking him, feeding him and changing his little diapers.
What made it all so bearable was the support. Nearly every day, some member of my family came down to sit with us or take us to dinner. My relationships with each of them changed, as we grew closer and I began to appreciate everything my parents went though when I grew up. After three weeks, weighing a little under five pounds, Colden was discharged. We were so happy to take him home, but so sad to leave the rest of our family behind.
Moms Go Round the Bend
It took us twice as long as the normal three-hour car ride to get back to Shady Side when we made the trip with Colden the day before Thanksgiving. I sat in the back seat to make sure my not-quite five-pounder was still breathing.
Once home, we didn’t know what to do with him. The house had been vacant for over three weeks and although the crib was up, it seemed too big for the little guy. So we put him in his Pack ’n’ Play and wrapped him in blankets. Rather than turn on a monitor and sleep upstairs in our bedroom, my husband and I each slept on a couch right next to him.
I think I woke up about two and a half months later. From those first two foggy months, I don’t remember much. If I wasn’t holding Colden, I was feeding him. If I wasn’t feeding him, I was changing him. If I wasn’t changing him, I was rocking him. If I wasn’t rocking him, I was waiting for him to wake up. I couldn’t wait until 5:30pm each day, when my husband walked through the door home from work. Then I could shower.
I called my mom constantly, but I was stubborn about asking questions. Mother, on the other hand, wasn’t shy about doling out advice. Did you try making his bottle warmer? she’d ask. Burp him every ounce instead of every two, she’d advise.
Just when I thought I would never look in a mirror without cringing again, never sleep more than two hours at a stretch, it happened. My husband and I opened our eyes at 6:30am that Saturday morning.
“Thanks for feeding him last night,” I said.
“I didn’t get up,” he responded. “I thought you did.”
We jumped out of bed and ran to the nursery. There was our little boy, sleeping peacefully, as he apparently had been for the past six hours.
We didn’t want to celebrate just yet, though. It may have been a fluke. After all, he was only two and half months old. But it wasn’t. As my husband and I waved goodbye to sleep deprivation, Colden began going to bed earlier and earlier and waking up later and later. Now, when we put him to bed at 9:30 at night and return to his morning smiles at 8:30 in the morning, we can’t remember the walking zombies we used to be. All was forgiven and forgotten.
It’s difficult now to remember what Colden was like during those early months. Now, I can easily decipher gas from hunger, wet diaper from drowsiness, crankiness from frustration. Turning the corner happened so suddenly. I just hope when the terrible twos come around, the clouds will part just as quickly.
Moms Gain Tolerance
|Colden, a decent sized baby by his baptism, and his parents.
Babies are undeniably cute. That must be the reason why every person wants to identify with them. Eventually, you lose track of how many people in your family say, Oh, he has my eyes (ears, nose, lips, cheeks, chin … fill in the blank).
I can’t tell you how many people have said my son looks exactly like my husband. One well-meaning woman even asked if my son was adopted as he looked nothing like me. Normally, I would have snapped back at someone so bold. But I just squeezed Colden a little tighter and said with a grin, “Nope, I went through a natural birth.”
I’ve also noticed that my attitude toward my own mother has changed. While I used to be on the defensive about virtually everything (especially during those teenage years), I now find that I’m calmer, more focused and more tolerant.
From how she changes his diapers to how she reads to him, my mother does everything differently than I do. That’s fine. I’m his mom, but she’s his grandmother, a link to his history. I can forgive that she spoils him on occasion since she doesn’t get to see him every day.
My mother isn’t the only person I can tolerate more easily now. I even have a higher threshold for strangers and their children. Before being a mom, I used to wonder how parents could let their children scream uncontrollably or allow them to make a mess in the middle of a restaurant. Now, I understand, that we moms can’t control everything. Sometimes (or all the time) babies cry. Sometimes they make a mess. I know that rather than shooting dirty looks (as I used to do in my pre-mom days), I should thank my lucky star that today isn’t my day. And when it is my day, I’ll be ready, with plenty of patience and tolerance for those sideway glances from childless onlookers.
Moms Learn New Ways to Communicate
I remember reading in a magazine that half of husbands pretend to be sleeping when a new baby cries in the middle of the night. The other 50 percent actually do not wake up as readily as mom because they aren’t biologically programmed to do so. Thank God for elbows, I respond. While some new fathers may be whizzes at changing diapers, burping, feeding and soothing babies, others are not born so lucky. I learned fairly quickly that communicating my needs to Dave was a lot easier than expecting him to know what to do.
Of course, having my husband share in much of the baby duties meant that I would have to relinquish my title of perfect mom and accept that he, too, would do things a little differently. In the end, though, it didn’t matter that he sometimes forgot to put diaper cream on Colden or didn’t bounce him exactly the way I did. What mattered was that I learned to talk to Dave about when I needed a break, why I needed his help and that I was too exhausted to get up at 2am. Every now and then, though, I did use the elbow-in-the-side technique to rouse my husband.
Communicating with spouses isn’t the only skill a new mother sharpens; she also becomes a pro at talking on the phone while changing a diaper and sending the latest adorable pictures while bouncing baby on her knee. I didn’t have the luxury of having family nearby, so learning to keep in touch became second nature. I talk on the phone with my mom every day, even if it’s just to say we’re all doing fine. I talk with my sister (the mother of three kids all under three-and-a-half) almost every day, too. My brothers prefer e-mail, while my dad prefers to hear everything via my mom. We’re all connected, though, and bridging the miles is much easier thanks to high-speed Internet.
I keep hoping that one day, we’ll move back to Pennsylvania so Colden will be able to see his aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents every day, like I did when I was growing up. Unless we move the Bay there, though, I doubt it. So, I’ll continue to nurture my family relationships through technology and make the monthly visits.
When I became a parent, I had no idea how much everything would change. I thought I’d continue to work, continue to go on long vacations and continue to have the freedom to do everything I wanted.
It bothers me just a little to say my mother was right — and that everything she said when I was growing up was right. But I imagine I’ll have my turn.
I probably won’t let Colden do half the things that his friends will be doing. I probably will be quick to doll out unsolicited advice to him when he has kids. And I know I will be there when he becomes a parent himself.
Loving my parents was never something I expressed until I became a parent myself. As I deal with teething and separation anxiety, it helps to know that I have support and that someday, I’ll give that support to my child or even children. After all, that’s what mothers do.
|About the Author
Debra George Siedt earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland. Prior to freelancing, Debra covered the Maryland General Assembly and healthcare for a daily paper and a wire service. She last wrote for Bay Weekly in our Earth Day feature on April 21, “A Week of Ways to Walk More Lightly on Mother Earth.”