The day my son was born, I became responsible for a tiny, helpless bundle: I was suddenly a parent. But it took me a while to trust my mommy instincts.
I was alone in my hospital room. My husband had gone home to shower. The baby boy I held looked up at me, his eyes imploring and fingers spread wide with anticipation. He cried out. “It’ll be okay,” I whispered, not quite believing it myself. He cried harder. He needed something. So did I. I needed someone to tell me what to do. A nurse breezed into the room. “I’m not sure what he wants,” I said, smiling sheepishly as my hours-old son, Pete, wailed. “Mommies always figure it out,” the nurse said as she efficiently took my blood pressure, which no doubt was spiking, then left me alone with a dose of pain meds, stool softeners, and the cold realization that I was in charge.
The day after we brought Pete home, my mom flew in from Texas to New Jersey, bringing what I so desperately needed - advice. My sister, a mother of two, came a week later. I soaked in everything these veteran moms had to offer: Bounce and sway to stop him from crying; sleep when he sleeps; stay calm and so will he. As my milk nourished my newborn, their words of wisdom boosted my fragile confidence. I was a new mother, but I much preferred having someone there to mother me. Which is what my mom and sister were doing. They cooked meals and cleaned my house, giving me a chance to regain my strength after the C-section. Toward the end of their visit, my sister and mother went to buy groceries and baby stuff, leaving me alone with Pete (my husband was back at work). On their way out the door, I reminded my sister to take along her cell phone. Just in case. She smiled and said, “You’ll be fine. Try to get some rest.” The door closed and I looked at Pete. He stared back at me.
The house was quiet. Too quiet. “Maybe I should read to him,” I thought. “Oh, the wonderful things Mr. Brown can do! He can go like a cow. He can go Moo Moo.” I spoke the words in an overanimated voice that echoed in the empty living room. My son’s gaze shifted away from me, a sign, I would later learn from the mountain of baby books on my bedside table, that he was overstimulated and needed a break. My volume escalated as I forged on with my desperate attempt to entertain him, silently willing him not to cry. When the wailing began, I bounced and swayed, even tried squatting low to the ground with him held tightly to my chest - the way my sister had shown me. Nothing soothed him, so I picked up the phone. I felt the tension in my jaw melt as I began to dial. “Try taking him outside,” my sister suggested. “What? It’s freezing,” I shrieked, trying to be heard over Pete’s cries. “Wrap him up in a blanket. You don’t need to stay out for long, but sometimes fresh air can really help,” she said matter-of-factly. I carried out her orders, and Pete’s cries turned to whimpers.
Back inside, I shushed him to sleep, and we were both snoozing when my mom and sister returned with food and diapers. When I awoke, I was content, grateful, and a little bit proud. The next morning, I stumbled out of bed at 5 a.m. to say goodbye to my wonderful helpers. I waved from the window as their cab left for the airport, then crawled back into bed next to my husband. And cried. I called my sister every day for the next two weeks (sometimes twice a day), regaling her with the details of Pete’s day - when he slept, ate, the color of his poop. I had questions. Lots of questions. There were times when I thought not to call her. In fact, on occasion I would pore over books and come to my own conclusion, then call her anyway - just to make sure. When Pete turned 6 months old, I hired a sitter t o look after him while I was at work. I chose her because she had nine children of her own - she’s got to know the answer to everything. All babies should have a bath twice a day, she instructed.
When a baby is constipated feed him brown sugar and water, she advised. As it turned out, even in my uncertain state I felt sure the wellintentioned folk remedies she offered weren’t right for my son. I hadn’t yet learned to trust my inner mom voice, however, so I invoked the pediatrician. I told her that Pete’s doctor recommended a bath only every other day because too much washing could cause his dry skin to flare up. I said that the doctor suggested prunes for constipation, and I happened to have some on the shelf with the rest of the baby food. But in actuality, Pete’s doctor had never said anything about prunes or limiting baths. It was my own advice, but I was too afraid to own it. When Pete was just over a year old, he woke up one night screaming. His loud, shrill cries were accompanied by squirming, writhing, and sweating.
He was obviously in pain. I told my husband to start packing a bag for the hospital, and I instinctively reached for the phone to dial my sister. Then I stopped. I knew she would tell me to stop worrying, calm down, and not go to the E.R. She would say the doctors will run tests on Pete, tell us he’s fine, and then send us home. I set the phone back in its charger, and off we went. Had I asked my sister what to do, her advice would have been correct. At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, after an Xray and an ultrasound and much waiting around with little sleep, the E.R. doctors released us. The ultrasound showed he had ... gas. A bad case, but gas nonetheless. Still, driving home from the hospital with my son smiling as if he hadn’t a worry in the world, I was glad that we went. Maybe it was the wrong decision - Lord knows it won’t be the last one! - but it was my decision.