First of all: now that 50 is the new 40, 30 is the new 20, and so on, apparently it works the same way for tiny babies: 6 weeks is the new 4 weeks. My mother is certain that babies used to be newborns for the first 4 weeks, although it appears that now they stay newborns for the first 6 weeks. Interesting, that while life in general, and childhood especially, is being sped up all around us, babies at least have an extended lease on newborn-ness.
Tangential curiosity aside (when did this happen? and why? and who decides, anyway?), we are well out of the newborn stage, by anyone’s reckoning. J. is now a roly-poly 3 month old, acutely aware that is indeed HE HIMSELF who is in charge of kicking that ducky dangling from the gym, and determined to figure out how to roll back from his back to his tummy (he’s been going over the other way for quite some time). And we are breaking out the 6 month clothes, because he is so incredibly long. (It’s so strange that he’s really only 12″ inches shorter than his big brother).
I do feel a twinge of sentimental mush putting away the newborn things (that should have been put away ages ago) and the 3 months clothes that are getting short in the legs. But to be perfectly honest, as precious and wonderful and special and treasure-able as that newborn period is, it also is really not all that awesome for the following reasons:
1) You are recovering. It was the strangest thing to me, how, all though pregnancy, right up through labor and delivery, YOU, pregnant woman, are important. Everyone offers you a seat (unless you have a terrible employer, like I did), water, asks how you are, etc. Even as you’re pushing that baby out, everyone is cheering you on and telling you you’re doing great — and then the instant that baby slides out, BOOM. You are no longer the patient (despite myriad tubes of various lovely substances, such as magnesium sulfate, that may be still be attached to you). There is a BABY here, and you better get up and take care of it, lady! It’s as if, just as you were sure you were approaching the finish line (the baby is the goal, right? everybody keeps saying, “You’re almost there!”), and then, after breaking that ribbon, you realize that wasn’t the actual race, that was the qualifier, and that baby’s first indignant cry is the starting pistol for the Real Deal.
To be fair, you’re pretty distracted by that adorable, slimy, red, squished, screaming little person (who does not look like an alien to you, despite what your husband may suggest), too. And he is a pretty awesome prize in the days and weeks and years to come. But at some point, the euphoria subsides a tiny bit and you start to feel the rest of your body. And how tired you are. And then it slowly dawns on you that you are never, ever, ever going to sleep again; which is okay, it just would be nice if you didn’t start this marathon after 19+ hours of being awake. This exhaustion (and pain, depending on the delivery) tends to skew your vision of the next 2-6 weeks, so that you feel as though you are watching your own life in slow motion.
This is not all a bad thing — there is a lovely dreaminess (wooziness?) to the ensuing weeks. And I find those middle of the nights moments precious in their own way. I’m just pointing out that it can sometimes be difficult to fully appreciate those early weeks, and then they’re over, and you think “Oh no! He’s not a newborn anymore” and start getting upset because you need to pack away clothes that, to be honest, only fit for the first few days, anyway.
2) Because you may feel terrible, you certainly feel exhausted, and the only thing you really want to do is gaze and gaze and gaze (and feed, and occasionally, change) that amazing and wonderful perfect little person you just produced … you would like to like on the couch in your jammies and hold that baby for 24 hours for at least the first week, if not 3 or 4. And this is actually GOOD for you and your baby. But instead, you end up toting that baby (plus any other children) around … Driving him into the city hospital for blood checks. Driving 30 mins to the pediatrician’s office for weight checks and well visits. Over and over and over again. Waiting in waiting rooms, waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting FOR the doctor. Listening to the doctor dispense parenting advice and talk about sunscreen, of all things (do that many people take their baby to the beach before 2 weeks? Could that particular lecture wait until you and baby are both awake?) Listening to your baby scream in the car, feeling horribly guilty that your baby is sad, while you drive to all these places, and maybe even have to parallel park while listening to a screaming baby and worrying about bilirubin.
Seriously, watching Call the Midwife in the weeks after J. was born, made me cry … because I wanted so badly for one of those sweet women to come to my apartment and weigh the baby, instead of my having to trek out to the pediatrician’s office six times in three weeks.
3) In addition to the awkward logistics of all these appointments, you get to worry. I didn’t realize it until this time around, but they weigh the baby in GRAMS. So not only do you get to worry about ounces and tenths of ounces (I didn’t realize that was really a thing, either), you can worry in increments as tiny as a gram! Since feeding a baby is pretty much the only thing you can do in those first few weeks, and babies start out by losing weight, you actually get to start life as a mother by feeling like a failure, automatically, as the hospital nurses watch your baby get smaller and smaller. If you are a slight bit obsessive, like me, this gives you lots of fun math calculations to do over and over to figure out how bad it is. If you have the opportunity to weigh the baby on different scales (the hospital, the pediatrician, LLL, the grocery store produce section), this game becomes even more fun.
I don’t mean to make light of failure to thrive or serious problems. But I have now had two infant who took a long, long time to regain their birth weight, and during that time, I did nothing but worry for 3-4 straight weeks. A. nursed for 19 months (14 of which he pretty much didn’t really eat real food) and J. is now extremely plump and roll-y. (We did have to supplement in the very beginning for both). They were just slow starters and didn’t follow the normal charts.
In conclusion: I do love the newborn stage. It is a very special time, unlike anything else, really. I just wanted to point out, for anyone else who tends to get overly-sentimental about each stage her children pass through, that while it’s easy to place a lot of emphasis on the first few weeks, it’s not quite the way it is sometimes described. A rocky start doesn’t mean the rest of infancy will be so hard. That whole thing where you can lay the baby on a blanket and he looks around happily but doesn’t move is pretty fun, too! And so is every other stage.
But another thought on all this is that our maternal healthcare system and policies really need to be re-evaluated. Is it really in mother and baby’s best interest to keep them on the go, leaving the house every few days for these appointment? Could there be a way to let them get more rest? Isn’t establishing nursing so much easier when you can both just stay in bed half naked — as opposed to stuffing baby in a car seat and carting him all over the county? (And maybe pediatrician’s offices should have a chair for BOTH mom and dad, and a decent place to feed Baby.) Could more doctors look at the baby instead of the numbers on the chart on the computer? I understand that with a small baby, things can get worse very quickly. But there must be a happy medium, there must be some way that those early days can be made more peaceful (aside from emergency situations) for mom and baby both.