I have a new goal in life. Someday, I would like to experience a visit to the pediatrician that does not involve me having a complete meltdown. Luckily, so far, I’ve managed to not have said meltdowns actually in the doctor’s office; they come later, like aftershocks, when I’m at home and can fling off bra and dignity and really let loose.
The first, and more epic, meltdown happened two months ago, at Julian’s two-month appointment. I’ve written elsewhere about my somewhat reclusive new-mama behaviors. I wasn’t one of those adventurous new moms who go straight from giving birth in a hospital to shopping for non-maternity jeans in Anthropologie, baby tucked in a perfectly-wrapped Moby.
I was more like a furtive coyote mother whose den is being encroached upon by Evil Humans, and she is forced to dart out into the night, pup dangling precariously from her jaws, in order to survive. At least that’s how it felt, every time I ventured beyond the warm womb of my house with a newborn. As you can imagine, I didn’t get out much.
So this inaugural visit to the doctor’s office, which is about a 35-minute drive away, felt like a BIG DEAL. I prepared a list of questions I wanted to ask the pediatrician, imagining that she would be a warm, uplifting Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman knockoff who would make me feel competent and normal and reassure me that everything’s fine, and I’m doing a great job, and my baby is healthy, and maybe we could come over to her house later for some hearty pioneer cooking and meet her white husband who nonetheless has the Soul of an Indian.
I particularly wanted to ask her about Julian’s breastfeeding habits. He’d just started doing this weird snacking thing, where he’d dive toward my boob like he’s bobbing for apples, eat aggressively for five minutes, and then just pop off, totally done, totally uninterested in my attempts to lure him onto boob number two. (Spoiler: he’s still doing this.) He seemed sated, but I wasn’t sure he was eating enough.
This anxiety was fed by my tendency to play the parenting comparison game – yes, already, just two months in. Some friends of mine have a baby with these amazing fat rolls all over her cuddly body. Even on her forearms. She’s a delicious Stay Puft Marshmellow Baby, and I used to look at her pictures and wonder, where are Julian’s forearm rolls? Is he not eating enough? Do I have wimpy milk? Then I’d go google “failure to thrive.”
I brought all this new mom anxiety to the appointment with me, hoping to have it dispelled. The visit started out well enough, but by the time the doctor came into the soulless exam room, Julian’s pleasantries had disintegrated into hysterics. On top of missing naptime, he had to get undressed and redressed TWICE, because the first medical assistant completely bungled his measurements. (She’d concluded, for example, that his head was 22 inches around, which was only about EIGHT INCHES OFF. Julian comes from large-headed stock, but that there’s mutant territory.)
Our doctor, who more closely resembled a female Woody Allen than the winky-eyed Jane Seymour, seemed totally weirded out that he was fussy. “Is he always like this?” she asked, looking a little alarmed, because apparently she is the ONE pediatrician on the planet who has never had to examine a crying baby.
Finally, after the poking and prodding, Julian fell asleep on Michael and I told her about his eating habits.
“There’s no way he’s getting what he needs in just five minutes.”
That’s what she said.
There’s no way he’s getting what he needs.
I looked over at my baby, who suddenly looked emaciated. He was curled up on Michael’s chest, asleep, no doubt dreaming that he was writhing in the middle of a milkless wilderness, surrounded by shriveled boob cacti. I could almost hear his tiny tummy growling.
There’s no way I’m giving him what he needs.
This, by the way, is THE WORST THING you can say to a new mother. At least to this new mother. For those first two months, breastfeeding was a physical and emotional rollercoaster, and to hear that we were still doing it “wrong,” that my baby was apparently starving, was beyond distressing.
The doctor also seemed particularly bothered that he wasn’t sleeping well at night and that he was only in the 20th percentile for weight (even though he was in the 80th percentile for length and the 98th for head size).
Well, I want to see those the other babies in her practice, the ones who are apparently safely in the 50th percentile in everything, who apparently never scream when being prodded by incompetent medical assistants, and who apparently sleep through the night from birth. SHOW ME THOSE BABIES.
So, after having my fragile new mama soul adeptly crushed, we headed home with our scrawny baby, who now had Band-Aids on his spindly little famine legs from the two-month vaccinations. I spent the next twelve hours cuddling with him in his post-vaccine stupor, feeling like the worst mom on earth.
Throughout the next day, my anxiety held steady, a persistent buzz in the background. I fretfully watched the clock whenever Julian nursed, feeling a twinge of despair when he failed to eat for at least 15 minutes, which was the benchmark the doctor had mentioned.
And then, in the middle of the second night following the doctor’s visit, Julian stopped eating altogether. Cold turkey. Nada. Around 2 AM he stirred as usual, and I rolled over like a sleepy sow to let him eat, like always. But he didn’t eat. In fact, he started screaming bloody murder when I tried to get him to latch on, and it took a warm bath to calm him down. Somehow I managed to get back to sleep, lulling myself into believing that all would be well in the morning.
But it wasn’t. When we woke up, Julian was still refusing to eat.
It may sound ridiculous, but this seemed like an EMERGENCY. I was already obsessing about my baby’s finicky eating habits, worried that he was slowly wasting away, so when he’d refused to eat for about 12 hours, I panicked.
I would have probably gone into full meltdown mode at that point, but my mom managed to calm me down over the phone, assuring me that death was not imminent. I half-believed her, enough to make a successful call to the advice nurse, who suggested we try feeding him breast milk from a cup (we weren’t yet using bottles).
So, armed with this goal, this salvific task, I marched to the bathroom and began to seriously pump for the first time. After about 15 minutes, I had managed to fill two bottles with rich, frothy milk – liquid gold, it’s called, and in that moment I so believed it. Those two bottles were precious boons, brimming with an elixir that would coax my son back into functional babydom.
And then, as I was trying to detach the bottles from the pump apparatus, I spilled that liquid gold, all of it, all over the bathroom floor. Most of it was sucked right up by the bright blue bathmat, forming a large, demoralizing wet spot, and for a mad instant I actually considered wringing the milk from the mat. Then it hit me that there was nothing to salvage, every drop was wasted, my baby was going to starve to death, and I would have to kill myself.
THAT is when I lost it. We’re talking full-scale meltdown here. I collapsed on the bathmat in frenzied sobs, cradling it like a beloved corpse. I went all out. I made Scarlett O’Hara look like Mr. Spock. I pounded my fists against the floor, threw my head back, probably even choked out a few “Why, God? Why????” entreaties.
Even in the midst of my hysterics, it did not escape me that I was literally crying over spilt milk. That just made the whole thing seem even more tragic.
About an hour later, after I’d completely wrung myself out, Julian started eating again. Just like that, the switch flipped back on. Turns out that “loss of appetite” is a side effect of the DTaP vaccine. (THANK YOU, INTERNET.) Which no one thought to mention to us. After a long conversation involving my baby’s eating habits, no one thought to say, “Oh, yeah, and by the way, your baby might randomly STOP EATING FOR AN ENTIRE DAY.”
I came through this whole ordeal with a few nuggets of wisdom.
1) Don’t expect your pediatrician to make you feel normal. S/he is trained to see the abnormal.
2) Your doctor’s tendency to pathologize is like a hungry bear that hangs out at campgrounds and is now accustomed to humans. DO NOT FEED IT.
3) Don’t obsess about the numbers.
4) Don’t look at the clock.
Julian still snacks during the day — if anything, he’s an even more distracted eater now — and then gorges himself on half-hour-long feasts throughout the night. It’s not “normal.” That’s just what he does.
His cheeks have now grown so much that sometimes it looks like his face is melting. But he’ll probably never have forearm rolls. I’ve given up on that dream. Unless his eating habits stay consistent and he goes on serious night binges as an adult, in which case he’ll probably have all kinds of rolls. And I’ll love him anyway.
Next week is Spring Break, and Michael and I were planning to fly cross-country with our infant — ostensibly so I could present a paper at a conference, but mainly so we could go play with my adorable nephews, who live in DC.
This seemed like a perfect plan back when I bought the plane tickets in January; I was still safely ensconced in the cocoon of maternity leave, cushioned from the grind of working fulltime, and March seemed impossibly far away. Julian would be over three months old then, I thought; my God, that’s practically an adolescent. He would be a totally different baby. He would have bloomed into one of those measured and self-reliant infants (those exist, right?) who nap regularly for, I don’t know, three hours or so at a time, who entertain themselves contentedly on a playmat for long stretches, smiling at Mama and Daddy as they pass through the room in the midst of their domestic productivity. (Clothes? Washed! Dishes? Washed! Body? Washed! Breakfast? Eaten! House? Pristine!)
And OF COURSE we would, by that advanced infant age, SURELY have attained the ultimate holy grail of parenting: a baby who sleeps through the night.
Or so went my thought train of self-deception, back in January.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, March has arrived, and now I realize that I was completely off my tits in Delusion Land. (It’s sort of like Candy Land, but instead of gumdrops, there are just endless little squares of disappointment.)
Today, I canceled our airline reservations. And here’s why. It’s all because of my imagination. My overactive, take-no-prisoners imagination, which convinced me that flying cross-country with a three month-old, or at least with MY three month-old would look something like this….
[Cue dream sequence music.]
We leave for the airport at 4:30 AM, which isn’t really a big deal, since I am pretty much always awake at that hour, because, yes, our baby does NOT sleep through the night. Not even close. In fact, he has embraced a radical, subversive baby lifestyle known as reverse cycling, where he actually eats MORE frequently at night than he does during the day. Every night is like cuddling up to an open bar for him, a bar that never closes and sleepily rolls over to feed him anytime he makes a squawk, which he does about every two to three hours, all night long.
They say babies with working moms can fall into this nighttime guzzling habit, but my baby must come by it naturally, because he started doing it before I actually went back to work. No doubt he’ll grow into one of those hungry night owl adults, the ones who shuffle to the fridge at 2 AM, half-asleep, and eat all the leftover pizza.
But I digress. Back to my airplane scenario. So we get to the airport, and I’m feeling confident and brave, like one of those spandex moms I see running past my house with tight butts and nice jogging strollers – those moms who just exude an air of why yes, I have my shit together! Smiley face. I feel like one of those moms upon arriving at the airport, because my baby has slept peacefully in the car and is now gurgling happily in the Ergo, because we’re one of those weird attachment parenting couples who don’t actually use a stroller.
And right around the time we’re about halfway through that long morning-flight security line, baby derails. He starts fussing, refusing to be in the Ergo any longer, so Michael pulls him out, and we notice his diaper is soaked, but we’re about to go through security, so we just hold the pee-drenched baby and wrestle our belongings through the checkpoint, glancing anxiously at the clock because everything is taking way longer that we thought it would.
We get through, and I rush to the bathroom to change him (and it has to be me, because there are never any diaper changing stations in the men’s restroom, as if men lack opposable thumbs or something), but of course there’s ANOTHER long line, so by the time I’ve changed him — and he is screaming now, because he needs another nap — we’ve missed the special people-with-young-families boarding time, so we end up getting seats right by the toilets, where there will be an endless stream of cranky people who need to pee (or worse) cycling noisily through during the entire flight.
And even though we try to get a row of seats to ourselves, the flight is full, so we have a hapless stranger with us, so close our elbows touch — a scowling man who has never had children and who, in fact, was mistreated by a baby once and now despises them beyond reason and thinks there should be laws against bringing those fleshy sacks of poop and screams on airplanes. He does not say any of this, but I can read it in his hardened eyes. He hates us. (Or, if we don’t get this guy, we might get one of those awful racist drunk people who ACTUALLY SLAP BABIES ON PLANES, because those people do exist.)
Julian will begin crying as the plane takes off because he’s overtired, hungry, and afraid the plane is going to crash (infants have a sense of their own mortality by three months, right?). I try to fix the hungry part by whipping out a boob in front of what is basically a flying metal tube packed with a hundred strangers, but Julian is too hysterical to eat. This happens when the tiredness and hunger coincide, and I can usually only break the feedback loop by standing up, taking my shirt off entirely, holding him sideways across my body, and swinging him side to side while nursing him at the same time. As you can imagine, this is a difficult maneuver to do on an airplane.
And of course there is turbulence. Of course the fasten seat belt sign stays permanently lit. Of course there is an adolescent boy sitting across the aisle from us whose father glares threats at me every time I try to breastfeed my screaming baby, as if I’m doing some sort of strip tease, because many people still can’t handle that fact that breasts are not just “fun bags” for dudes; they exist to feed babies. Of course the plane starts to descend just as we’ve calmed Julian, who starts to scream again at the change in air pressure. And of course, as we land, it occurs to me that the journey is not even half over, because we have a layover, and then another long flight to take us the rest of the way across America, during which we will experience more screaming, more murderous glares, an epic diaper blowout or two, and, I don’t know, maybe the plane will crash.
I could go on, but you get the idea. This nightmarish scenario has been on repeat in my mind, driving me to ultimately pull the plug on the whole trip. But now I’m wondering if I just chickened out, if I let myself succumb too easily to New Mom Anxiety. I think about those spandex moms with the tight butts who run marathons and have their own successful at-home businesses. They would have stuck it out.
So, readers, tell me: is traveling with a young infant as nightmarish as I imagine? Anyone have any good stories to share? I welcome feedback from any parents out there, tight butts or otherwise.
Every night between 8 and 9 PM, my baby screams like an adolescent girl at a 1960s Beatles concert. Or like he’s being dipped in acid – but that’s sort of a grim image. You could actually set your watch to it; I have a remarkably punctual baby.
The other night, I was finishing up a diaper change when my mom called. As we chatted, Julian happily pedaled his legs and cooed, even smiling a few of his new, tentative smiles up at me – he likes being in the cushy elevated cradle of his changing table. I glanced at the clock (7:58) and told my mom that Julian’s “fussy time” (what a pleasant euphemism) was about to start. And then, right on cue, my baby went from doing contended little air aerobics to full on eyes-shut, head-thrown-back screaming. “Well, it’s beginning,” I said to my mom, and hung up.
So, we were both in a sorry state that morning. Luckily, I had some leftover Vicodin from my hospital stay, so I took one and then camped out in the rocking chair all morning while Julian took a three-hour nap on my belly. I didn’t eat until 2 PM that day.