Year 01 | Week 01
So, you were finally here. And I think what amazed me most in those first few hours was how ready I was, how unafraid. I’d learn later that those feelings of competence and invincibility were only temporary, perhaps the product of adrenaline and sheer joy. But I basked in them while they lasted. I held you without fear of breaking you. I managed to continue helping your mother out with one arm while holding you in the other, bringing things to her, holding her hand. I was a father and it didn’t seem all that hard, or all that different. It seemed like something I was made to do, meant to do.
Of course, all of that would change once I had time to sleep, time to reflect. When I came back the next morning before work, and the next evening after work, I could already feel that trademark nervousness of mine creeping back in. Captain Paranoia was about to make his triumphant return and it would be up to me to find ways of enjoying my time with you despite that sad fact.
So much happened during your first week of life that I feel like the best way to attack this particular letter is to go day-by-day. I won’t be so systematic in the future, but I don’t want to forget anything from these busy first few days.
On Tuesday, the night that you were born, you spent your first few minutes on your mom’s chest. You clung to her so fiercely that it seemed as if you’d be happy not to move from that position until you were old enough to walk. But that peacefulness was not to last. You needed to be weighed, have your footprints taken, and be fitted with several security bracelets. You needed to be given APGAR assessment tests (on which you scored 8 out of 10 and 10 out of 10, respectively… not that that gave us high expectations for you or anything). And then, finally, after a good, long while, you were bundled back up and ready for visitors.
On your first night, you met, in addition to your loving parents, both of your grandmothers, one of your grandfathers, one of your great-grandmothers, one of your great aunts, and one of your uncles. They say that babies can easily become overstimulated, and I’m guessing that might have been how you felt at the end of the night, when everyone went home and left you and mommy alone.
But it was a great joy for them to finally meet you, and it was a great joy for your mother and I to see the impact you had on them. A writer friend of mine recently wrote to me, in response to my statement that I felt as if you’d been healing me these last few months, “all the children born now are older souls coming back to heal our planet (beginning with mom and pop of course).” I’m not a spiritual guy, but I think she had the gist of it right: babies really do heal people and make them whole again. And you certainly did that.
You spent part of Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning in the nursery, allowing your mom to get some much needed rest. But by five the next morning you were back in your mom’s room to stay, more or less. A nurse helped you and your mom get started with breast feeding and a few hours later, when your Grammy Julee, your Uncle Alex, and me arrived, fresh from a few hours sleep of our own, caught back at the house, you were sleeping in your little crib next to your mom. I had to go into work on Wednesday for a meeting, and your Grammy and your Uncle had to head back to Maine shortly thereafter, but you wouldn’t be long without company.
In fact, Wednesday turned out to be quite a stressful day for both you and your mommy. Between all the different doctors and nurses checking up on you, and the various well-wishers who came in throughout the day (one of whom, we would later find out, having arrived just in time to find both you and your mom asleep), you had plenty of guests. By the time I was done with work for the day, your mom was cooked; she needed me to get to the hospital as soon as I could, to give her some relief.
Among the people you met on Wednesday, including the people you met while you were half-asleep, were your Uncle Nate, your Aunt Kerry (technically your first cousin, once removed, but let’s not get technical, okay?), and your Great Auntie Lil (technically your first cousin, twice removed… but, oh, wait, we weren’t getting technical…). You also got to hang out with my parents again, your Grammy Sue/Gramma Clark and your Grampy Earl/Grampa Clark (I still don’t know what the heck you’ll call them; we’ll leave that up to you), and your Great Grandma Clark. And, of course, you got some more quality time with Mommy and Daddy.
On Thursday, you came home with us. You’d spent the bulk of the morning out of the room, having a few final tests done and getting your first immunization, so we were happy to have you back at mid-day and even happier to be told, very shortly after that, that you were ready to be discharged.
A recurring theme throughout the remainder of your first week would be how big all of your clothes were. And your “going home” outfit was no exception.
And, for that matter, neither was the outfit we dressed you in for the walk we took on Thursday afternoon (or Friday afternoon; I can’t remember).
Thursday was a quiet day, a day of us getting used to you. Friday was the day when panic began to set in on me in earnest. During our car ride to the doctor’s office early on Friday afternoon, you began to scream like I’d never heard you scream before. The only way I could describe it to you would be to ask you to imagine a cat getting run over and gutted by an oncoming train. It was made worse by the fact that I was the one who was driving and that I couldn’t see your face to judge how truly bad it was. The screaming would only stop intermittently over the next few days, as you paused to feed or to poop or to sleep, and it would make me more nervous every time you did it.
You screamed especially loud when you were being changed, a task which I often volunteered for to make myself feel better for not having a breast of my own to feed you with. And I think it was the fact that my only encounters with you in those early days seemed to be uncomfortable ones which made me a snivelling mess by the end of the weekend. My confidence drained away a little with each messy diaper I disposed of. I was in my classic over-reactor mode and it wouldn’t let up until I got back to work on Monday, got a little distance, and a little perspective.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get to Monday, I must remember to tell you that it was on Friday evening, after your first doctor’s visit and your first walk in the stroller, that your mom and I decided to give you your first bath at home. I would describe to you the horrible torture of that endeavor, but I have a picture that sums it up beautifully, so I’ll use that instead.
On Saturday, you got to meet your other grandfather for the first time. We don’t know what you’ll call him either, but, for the purposes of this letter, he’ll be Grampy Steve. It had been a couple of days since I’d seen someone interact with you for the first time. And the impact it had on me was no different. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the sight of your own grandchild, and I think your grandfather was truly overwhelmed. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing that we got to experience each time a new person hold you.
On Sunday, we had the Grandparents Clark and your Great Grandma Clark over for the day. And that afforded us another beautiful moment, the chance to see your Great Grandma holding you again. In recent years, she had begun to doubt her ability to hold a baby. She’d had a stroke a while back, and a stumble or two, so I suppose she had reason to doubt herself. But that fear of hers didn’t keep her from holding you. In my darker moments during the nine months you were in your mother’s womb, I feared I might never get to witness this, so it warmed me considerably to see the two of you together.
On Monday, you had your second doctor’s visit. Your mother’s milk had finally begun to come in over the weekend and, as a result, you had finally regained the weight you’d lost during your first days out of the womb (all babies lose weight after birth; don’t think that we were starving you or anything). The jaundice, which had been borderline when you were a day or so old, was now almost competely gone. And you were finally pooping and peeing on a regular schedule, and not doing one exclusive of the other, as had been your habit in the early going.
Your Grammy Julee was visiting on Monday as well, helping out on the day I went back to work after a few days off, and she and your mom took you out to eat for the first time. Well, they ate, and you watched. I was a little concerned about that, but your mom assured me that the restaurant was nearly empty, and that you weren’t significantly at risk.
On Tuesday, after a long week, you turned one week old. I had been up and down the roller-coaster in terms of my interaction with you. I had gone from feeling comfortable enough to hold you in one arm while bringing water to your mother with the other… I had gone from that to being absolutely timid when I picked you up, afraid that I might set you off screaming again. And then I’d come back to feeling comfortable.
Because, for every memory of you screaming your head off at me for having the audacity to change your diaper, there was a moment like the one we had on Friday morning, after your first night at home, when you’d refused to sleep anywhere but in my arms or your mother’s, and we found ourselves sitting in front of the computer, me writing and you sleeping. And as bad as the sound of you screaming in the back of the car was when it came back to haunt me, the memory of you and me dancing to Billy Joel in the den on Friday night was ever more powerful.
And seeing how happy you made your mother — well that was a truly special gift, in and of itself, one that always made the bad thoughts go away.