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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, July 19

Gapers Block

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When we started our family 12 years ago we were the first in our social circle to have a baby. I didn't have too many people around me who I could turn to for advice, not that I was looking for it. Like most women, I distinctly remember feeling like I didn't need any advice about pregnancy or childbirth. I had all of the books I wanted, and knew what kind of birth I wanted to have, where I wanted to have it. I lined up my midwives and they were the people I turned to for information and questions. It wasn't until after the blessed event that I needed some pointers. Not so much pointers as clear instructions, preferably written. Because the midwives don't stick around for very long. They check in and then there you are, just you and this baby. Luckily I had a neighbor who seemed to know just about everything there was to know about babies, and what she didn't know my local La Leche League leader did.

Now, more than a decade after we started the trend, a lot of the people that we knew back then are starting out with baby number one. Guess it wasn't much of a trend. These are not impressionable twentysomethings that are looking for guidance or advice, or even really anything other than possibly some sympathy. I've learned my lessons over the years, and have sort of managed to keep my mouth shut when it comes to telling people how and where to have babies. That's something that you need to figure out on your own, and with your partner. So I don't have tips for being pregnant other than go to as many movies as possible and get yourself some nice black maternity pants with enough stretch to get you through the bitter end, and don't take on a bunch of ugly hand-me-downs from the '80s. Or in this case, the '90s. I'm not sure what the '90s equivalent of undesirable maternity item is, but I bet it's as ugly as ass. For me it was a pair of acid washed maternity overalls straight from 1985. They were the only thing that fit for the last three weeks. Take heed! Don't wait until the only thing you can wear is the one item that you wouldn't be caught dead in if you didn't have a giant baby in your belly.

I would have liked someone to tell me what to expect from a newborn though, despite having read just about every book written on the subject. I nannied before I got pregnant so I felt that I had a pretty good handle on what to expect from a wee little baby. I took care of a baby from the time she was 2 months old until she was about 1. The baby was definitely attached to me, and I to her. I carried that baby all day long, just like I would carry my baby once she came around, but at 6pm I was out the door, off to my real life. I would come in at 7:30am, and she would be screaming, her mother trying to get dressed for the day. I'd take the baby, she'd stop crying and everyone would chill out. It worked out for all of us; I was cut out to be taking care of kids, the mom was cut out to be the high powered brainiac and the baby was a baby. She got the best of both of us. Until my morning sickness kicked in. That's when that sweet gig fell apart. No sympathy, just annoyance from both mom and baby. The mom was pissed that I was pregnant, and on the way out the nanny door, and the baby was pissed because I had to set her down to throw up. No matter how attached I felt to that baby, and she to me, when it came right down to it our attachment was fleeting, and was nothing in comparison to the head over heels way I felt about my own baby, and could not compare to the way her parents felt about her or she about them.

So what can you expect from a newborn? First of all, and this you've heard before — kind of in the last paragraph, you are going to be absolutely more in love with the baby than you ever were with anyone else, ever. All of a sudden there will be this other person in your house, who wasn't there before, with a very distinct personhood. There will be this spark of a person and that spark will still be there as your baby is one hour, one week, one month, one year, one decade old. When the baby grows up to hopefully be an old person, and that old person dies, that spark won't be there anymore. And if you have more children, they will have different sparks. Even though your baby will most likely sleep and cry and nurse and pee and poop, repeat to infinity, he will also do amazing things like open his hands, stretch out his arms, kick off his socks. And the person doing those incredible feats will be this person that wasn't here before, anywhere. You'll say his name, "Freddy!" and it will be so very odd to be calling this little person by their name, a word that you didn't ever really say much before, but now means so much that you just will want to say it all of the time.

Your mind will be blown with all of the details that go into a day with a new baby. Starting with how you will feel when the baby cries. It will kill you, and all you will want to do is do whatever it takes to make the baby feel better and not cry anymore. People might think they are going to dread changing diapers, but you won't. You'll fly your baby through the air and land her gently on the diaper changing arena. You'll look at her and talk to her and undo her little snap suit, and see her tummy and the rest of her cute little nudey body. You'll develop a rhythm and a routine, perhaps make up a song that you will sing. Diaper changing doesn't suck. (Until they start eating hot dogs — even vegetarian ones — but let's not spoil the moment.) You aren't going to always fight with your spouse over who gets to be the one to do it but I'll bet you all $10 that there will be many times when both of you are standing over the changing table marveling at your baby and her wonderful self. And then that fresh baby will get whisked right back into the nursing zone, and the process will start all over again. It's a very busy day.

It will take you a long time to get out of the house. You will have to take all manner of little tiny things with you, and you will forget important ones, like an extra set of clothes, or babywipes. You will be ready to leave the house, and your perfect sweet baby will poop so massively that there is poop coming out the top of her shirt and you will have to strip her down and bathe her, change her, get her freshly repackaged for the outdoors, and then you will realize that you also have poop on your shirt. By the time you have changed and are ready to leave, the baby will want to nurse. And now it's 45 minutes later, and you've missed whatever it is that you were leaving the house for, so you might as well just go back to the rocking chair and call it a day. Have someone bring you a glass of water and a snack.

At some point, maybe a few weeks in, after you've had plenty of time to lay around and stare at the baby, it will occur to you that the life you lived before the baby — the one where you went grocery shopping, ran errands, paid bills, earned money, got dressed, read books — is still there, lurking. Now is when you get to join the ranks of much of the world's population, people with babies getting on with it. It is at this point that people will say meaningless things to you, like "well, you're lucky you've only got the one! I have three!" Someone with one baby has no concept of more than one. Only when you've had the second do you need to figure out how that works. People with one baby, especially a new baby, can't comprehend that there might be something that is even more complex than negotiating life with this one baby. In fact, the more that people who've been there offer their own stories as proof that there are ways to accomplish tasks with a baby or two in tow, the more outlandish it will all seem. Go to a party at 6:30? That can't possibly happen! The baby goes to bed at 7! This will seem like a perfectly reasonable sentence to the parents of one baby, and will elicit a battery of know-it-all smirks from those who would give their youngest child to the zoo in exchange for an evening out and a tasty beer drunk in the company of witty adults.

The one item that will make your life easier is that which attaches your baby to you so that you can go hands free, which comes in handy for things like doing laundry, brushing teeth, emailing. When we were new parents there weren't a whole lot of options, at least that we were aware of, because of course humans have been wearing their babies since the beginning of time. Baby wearing has become a more acceptable (and fashionable} idea as the last decade passed, and now there are many different varieties and styles. We had good luck with four different ones, and my list is horribly dated, as I see new mothers carrying babies in all manner of fabulous carriers these days. The women at Be By Baby would be able to help you find the perfect one for you. The first one we used was the standard Baby Bjorn, which we were happy with at certain periods in all of our kids lives. John felt most comfortable wearing the kids in the bjorn, but I preferred using a sling as the baby could lie down in it and snooze the day away, and nurse if she had a mind to, especially when she was older. I used it religiously with the second baby, when much of our day was spent taking his older sister here and there. I could transfer the baby into his car seat with the sling still around him, and put the sling and baby right back on when we got to our destination and rarely needed to lug around a car seat, which has got to be the worst way to tote around a baby, especially for a woman whose just given birth.

It wasn't until I had my third and final (knock wood) baby that I obtained the ultimate baby carrying item, the rebozo, a long piece of woven fabric that could be tied in many different ways. When my last baby was a few months old, he and I traveled to Hyde Park to take a two hour class on the benefits of wearing your baby and all of the many different types of wraps that we could do. That turquoise blue wrap appears in virtually every picture taken of me in the first two years of his life. One time I tied him to his 7-year-old sister so I could carry a feverish and sleeping four year old to the car from Foster Beach. I think the last time I used it was when the baby was three, sleepless and screaming from an earache. It's the one baby item, besides the lamby, that I can't bring myself to pass on. I'm convinced that I could carry a 15 year old in it, should the need arise.

Besides the slings, the lamby, Weleda Calendula Cream and Hylands Teething Tablets, the only other piece of baby equipment that I loved and used to death was my Maclaren Stroller. I was given a few strollers before I had the first baby, a crappy Graco that couldn't handle the slightest bump in the sidewalk (which, at Rockwell and Augusta circa 1995, were many and large) and a second hand european something or other that was too complex for my pea brain. I had a very stylish friend who always seemed to have just the perfect thing for her baby. She had this blue plaid Maclaren stroller and it just seemed so sturdy and easy to fold up and maneuverable that I bit the bullet, went up to Lazar's Junior Furniture, which was the only place in town that sold Maclaren's at the time, shelled out an exorbitant amount of money (I think it was $200) and bought myself the same stroller. I just gave it away last year, and it turned out to be worth the money as I used and abused it for 10 years. I know that the stroller market has changed a great deal, because it seems like the strollers (and car seats and high chairs) that I see at Target are all more thoughtfully designed and seem better able to handle rough urban terrain. I thought about getting a new stroller when the third kid came along, but decided that the Maclaren would get us through, and it absolutely did.

The question is, where do you go with your newborn? You don't really need to go anywhere, especially for the first few weeks, but it is fun to get out of the house and take a look around, get a breath of fresh air. It's also good to connect with other folks in the same boat, which I wrote about last year. Mainly the places you will go with your baby are the places that you liked to go to before you had her — to visit friends, go out to dinner (especially now that there's a smoking ban in restaurants), go to museums, go shopping. If you've got a sleeper or an easily calmed baby, you can even go to the movies! You can take classes, at places like Sweet Pea Studios, where there are many offerings, from Bouncing Back from Baby, to Infant Massage, as well as pre- and post-natal yoga. And then your baby will get a little bigger and start developing a will, often surprisingly strong, and it might not be quite as easy to get out and enjoy dinner or chill out in yoga class as it was when they were a month or so old.

Before you know it, you won't have a newborn anymore. 'Round about 3 or 4 months they change, and turn into a different species, one that all of a sudden looks at you and smiles, and gets super excited over the silliest little things, like seeing the dog, or a sunbeam crossing their path. For many people it gets easier when they start to get some feedback from their baby. I like that too; who wouldn't? But those little newborns are something else, and I think anyone reading this who is now peering at their belly, or the belly of the person who is carrying their baby, is in for the most delightful surprise ever. Even though you think you know what's in there, you are still going to be knocked flat by the surprise of it all.

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About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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