Sunday, May 2, 2021

Three Months: Trials and Triumphs of the Newborn Phase

I used to think that I was not into newborns.  They cry, they don’t reciprocate, they don’t have personalities.  I wanted to have kids, of course, but I wanted to skip over this phase and get to “the fun stuff.”  Now that Zoe is moving out of her newborn months, I feel a sense of bittersweetness.  I truly did enjoy each day of the last three months, even though there were tears, aches, and sleepless nights.  She’s just full of surprises—like that one night when she popped up on her forearms for the longest time, that afternoon when Wes stuck a rattle into her hand and she maintained her grip and brought it to her mouth, that time she grinned from ear to ear on the changing pad and let out a laugh.  Newborn babies change so quickly, if you so much as blink, you might miss something!  Now that we are at the three-month mark, we’ve actually seen many signs of a personality and reciprocation.  But even before she smiled back or looked into our eyes, it didn’t matter.  She’s ours, and I honestly never would expect anything of her except for her to just be healthy and well.  Basically, all she has to do is to exist and we’d be happy.  

We just watched the Oscar-winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher on Netflix, and it really reminded me of how we've observed and learned so much from being with our newborn.  In the documentary, the filmmaker studies an octopus in its habitat and arrives at not only an appreciation for biological phenomena, but also introspection into his own mind and what matters most to him as a human being.  He watches as things happen to the octopus that he does not expect and cannot control.  He cannot help but become attached and emotionally invested, so much so that when something painful happens to the animal, he feels the same pain himself.  What used to be an otherworldly creature suddenly becomes part of him.  Zoe is just the same kind of an enigma to us.  We were drawn to her from day one, but we understood nothing.  Now, we are just shy of a hundred days, and we are still constantly perplexed and amazed by her...our own little octopus who has her tentacles wrapped around our hearts.

We love to speculate what's going on behind those animated eyes.  Does she truly know who we are?  What emotions does she actually feel?  Does she experience annoyance, fear, love?  What exactly is she perceiving?  Can she smell?  Does she recognize patterns in our behavior?  Here's what we think she's thinking now that she's a 3-month-old, "Helloooo world!  I’m Zoe and I am here to see and hear all of the things!  Good luck getting me to sleep during the day!  That thing that you used to do with the stroller in the house isn't going to work on me anymore, I'd rather you hold me and rock me in your arms.  I am bigger and stronger now, and I can actually project a cry from the top of my lungs if I need to (and with real tears).  When y’all are stupidly rocking and singing to me and I'm not in the mood to sleep, I will let you hear it.  I like being awake and I can follow you with my eyes as you move around.  I can see you from clear across the room, and as long as I can hear your voices, I’m happy to chill on my own and whack at dangling objects.  Still, my favorite thing to do is to stare at your faces up close and look into your souls.  I try to speak to you but you don’t seem to understand what’s coming out of my mouth.  You guys go crazy when I turn up the corners of my mouth, and sometimes you hold up this shiny rectangular thing in front of my face and I get so curious about what it is that I forget what I’m doing!  Going on walks is alerting, I like looking at the trees against the sky.  If I doze off, I'll be sure to perk up right when I sense you lugging me through the front door.  I like to kick my legs in and out, and I have hands that can magically do this thing called grasping.  These hands also happen to taste pretty good.  It feels nice to rub my face as I am lying in bed, but sometimes that wakes me up and I get pissed about it.  Please figure out how you want to swaddle my arms because I can't stand it that you guys can't make up your minds!  I can blow bubbles and drool, I'm better at burping, and I don't get congested as much anymore.  I do appreciate Daddy sucking my snot, but it's also the most uncomfortable sensation.  I also learned this trick where I can suck my spit-up back in, but occasionally I’m too slow and it still gets everywhere.  Oh, I’m starting to feel fat in my 0-3 month clothes, so please hurry and update my wardrobe!  New clothes please, I can tell when you're putting me in hand-me-downs."

We’re still feeling our way through this whole parenting thing, and it’s been a humbling experience of constant change and adjustment.  A lot of it seems to be trial-and-error, taking chances, and making mistakes.  It’s fun and maddening at the same time!  The days seem long, but the months seem to fly.  Time rolls by, one unpredictable hour after the next.  We only have a few opportunities during each day to catch our breath.  Even when we lie down in our bed for the night, we know that we’re falling asleep next to a ticking time bomb.  But we have accepted that this lack of control is just part of this journey.  In fact, we’re embracing it.  As new parents in this day and age, it’s so easy to be swept up by societal expectations.  There’s a lot of external pressure not to spoil your newborn, that a “good baby” is a baby who stays out of your hair, that you should build "healthy" habits early.  But she’s only going to be so little for so long, and we don’t want to rush or complicate things.  I no longer obsess over shaping her sleep and feeding patterns—scheduling sounds nice, but we found that everybody was actually more stressed when we tried to take control of her rhythms.  Going with the flow and following her lead, much like a marine biologist and a sea creature, has helped us to focus our energy on soaking in these fleeting newborn days fully.  We both agree that it’s been better for everyone’s mental health and sanity to just stop overthinking all of the things and let them be; we're privileged to be able to take this precious time slow.  We are happy, Zoe is healthy, and that's all that truly matters.

We've always been a good team, but parenting a newborn has presented us with challenges that are unparalleled by anything we’ve had to deal with in the past as a married couple.  We've always been selfless with each other, thinking of things to make each other happy, fighting over chores and restaurant bills, spending that quality time together.  But this baby has made caring for one another very difficult.  It’s not just the diapers, the endless rocking to sleep, and the constant worry around whether she will thrive or not.  It's the fact that we cannot go about our relationship like we used to--we have distinct roles to play now that Zoe is here, and while both of us are doing a lot, it doesn't feel equal like it used to.  I see how much Wes loves us—his commitment to taking care of me in whatever capacity possible and his endearing behaviors with Zoe are so sweet.  Maybe it's partly the hormones and the sleep deprivation, but sometimes, I get this bitter feeling like it’s never enough given how much of the responsibility inevitably falls on the mom, especially since Zoe is exclusively breastfed.   

We’ve talked about it and tried to come up with some solutions, but not a lot of them have worked (take bottle feeding, for example).  I think in this season, we're learning that it’s not as much about solving problems but just accepting that this is a hard time that we need to get through together and showing forgiveness for when we are impatient with understanding each other's perspectives.  It’s very easy for me to feel offensive when I'm quite literally trapped, and very instinctual for him to get defensive when he's stretched super thin.  Mom's gotta drop everything when the baby cries and figure out what to do about it.  Dad’s gotta work his job during the day, he needs to cook and clean, and he wants to feel connected to the baby too.  

Recently, I've realized that in the moment when things feel really hard, a hug or a clasp of my hand eases my mind more than words of affirmation or acts of service can.  It's interesting because the love language that has always spoken to me the most was "words of affirmation," but now I just want a silent, gentle gesture to feel safe and appreciated.  Another realization is that my perception of hardship is colored by my own pride and guilt complex.  I still need to be reminded that asking for favors or breaks does not make me incapable or ungrateful.  I still need to remember that leaving the baby so that I can do my own thing does not make me lazy or irresponsible.  By being kinder to myself, I am inherently kinder to Wes and more patient with Zoe.  I've noticed that Wes has been better about stepping in without being asked and that he reacts to my big emotions with more compassion and softness.  At the end of the day, we love each other very much and we are currently very focused on trying our hardest to be there for Zoe in the different ways that we are capable.  Though our partnership has had to go through some legit growing pains now, nothing is as motivating as striving to be our best selves for our child.  As Zoe gets older, I'm sure that more struggles will arise, but I have faith that we will conquer them together as our family of three takes shape.

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