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Mum's The Word

Projectile Pooping
(and Other Tales from the Motherhood Front)

By Hannele Rubin

Mum’s The Word
I’m sleep-deprived. I’m distracted. My back hurts, my body’s turned to mush and I can’t remember the last time I showered. I can’t get any reading or writing done—either because I’m too tired or because a tsunami of daily household chores threatens to crash down on my head. I’m breastfeeding Arden for what seems like the 14th time in the last two hours. It’s 4 a.m.

My head lolls lazily down toward my son, who’s sucking purposefully as if it’s in his job description. It is. Sucking and pooping and peeing and crying and gurgling. Quite by accident, our eyes meet. His head rolls back, his eyes twinkle and his lips part in a big gummy smile. My distended nipple hangs off his lower lip like a cigarette.

Four months of sleep deprivation, unending diaper changes, cabin fever, and inability to do most anything other than child care melt away in a charmed moment. I’m completely besotted with this magical little creature, this faerie, this imp, this stranger on my boob.

Before having a baby, I thought all that was a cliché. Back when I was pregnant and dreading childbirth like I dread Jim Carrey movies, a friend with three little ones shook his head indulgently and said “childbirth is a molehill. What comes after is the mountain.”

The ‘Molehill’
Arden (after the Latin ardere, “to burn,” rel. to ardent, “burning with enthusiasm”) Russell (after Bertrand) arrived early one Saturday morning in January—all six pounds, 10 ounces, 19.5-inches of him.

About 22 hours before he slid into the world, I was laying in bed with DM (a.k.a. Dream Man) debating whether he should go to work that day when I felt a sudden "snap" —like a rubber band or a twig breaking underfoot. A few minutes later, the issue of DM and his commute undecided, I stood up and found myself dancing like a one-legged duck in a flood of amniotic fluid.

Labor was my own personal “Heart of Darkness.” It’s impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t been through it just how exhausting—and utterly unbearable—labor pain is. But after about 15 hours of trying for a “natural” birth (during what I later learned was back labor), I told the docs, “either give me an epidural or kill me.” They plugged something into my spine and I slept for three blissful hours. When I woke, it was time to push Arden out of my womb.

He emerged covered with meconium (that’s when a baby takes a dump in utero, which sometimes occurs when he or she is in distress). Slathered as he was in dark goo, DM said Arden looked like a Golem. (This can be a serious problem; if the baby breathes meconium into his lungs, he could die.) Seconds after DM cut the cord, nurses whisked Arden to a nearby bassinet. Under theatrical lighting, three pediatricians worked furiously for about 20 minutes, suctioning Arden’s airways and pounding his limp little body.

I know all babies are supposed to be appealing, but at the hospital and since, I’ve seen some infants whose looks only a mother could love. Arden was beautiful from the beginning.

The ‘Mountain’
Like many parents, we came home with an awesome responsibility and little understanding of what we’d gotten ourselves into. (Why is it you need a license for a dog but not a baby? Does this mean I’ve turned into a Republican?) Our progeny couldn’t hold up his head, didn’t know he had arms and legs, wailed frequently and could barely see. Neither of us had any idea what to say to him or how to keep a newborn entertained. MTV, perhaps? I was terrified he wouldn’t survive a week (much less until college graduation).

DM and I have several advanced degrees between us, but neither of us had ever changed a diaper. In one early attempt, I was fumbling with the tabs on a Huggie when Arden projectile pooped, coating the changing table, my shirt and the wall behind me in brown sludge. (That’s how Arden earned his first nickname: Mr. Poopy. He was also Mr. Floppy; eventually Mr. Smiley, Mr. Mister, Mr. Master. More recently, DM pronounced him “The Talented Mr. Wriggly,” and when I didn’t trim his nails, “The Taloned Mr. Wriggly.”)

Every two hours around-the-clock, my boobs turned to cement. I actually grew to fear them. Breastfeeding was a challenge—and incredibly painful for nearly two months (not even counting the infection from a jammed milk duct—a lactation consultant diagnosed it as a “milk bleb”—that I got early on). “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round,” a well-known children’s song, became, “ The mommies on the bus go ‘ow, ow, ow,’ ” because that was my refrain every time Arden fed.

Miraculously, I found a doctor who specialized in breastfeeding problems, made house calls, AND was covered by my insurance. She even crawled into bed with all three of us to show me how to breastfeed while horizontal (which was the only way I got any sleep in the first three months). I nursed Arden all night long and was hardly conscious of it except to change sides. Although ostensibly unable to propel himself, Arden sometimes managed to pursue me across the bed during the night; I’d wake to find myself flattened against the wall, his mouth slurping away at my side. (One friend said she woke to find her newborn sucking on her nose).

Don’t Smother the Baby
From the little that I’d read about parenting (call me superstitious—I didn’t read about it until Arden was a reality), I was determined to “co-sleep”: parents and baby share the same bed at night. DM, being research-oriented and far more cautious than I, did a quick search on the Internet our first night home and found a self-proclaimed “co-sleeping expert.” Her advice: remove all blankets and pillows from the bed and sleep in your clothes to avoid suffocating baby. So, with Arden carefully positioned in the center of the mattress, his parents spent a restless night lurking around the edges.

Our baby nurse (“rent-a-granny”), a voluble Trinidadian named Angie, arrived the next day and spent a week sleeping with Arden on her chest on pillows and under blankets. After that, our bedding returned and Arden slept with us until he was three-and-a-half months old—and somehow survived.

At that point, for some reason, co-sleeping suddenly became an all-night wrestling match, and we were all pretty happy when Arden made an easy transition to his crib. But as with all but a few lucky parents, sleep is still in short supply. Now, I shuffle over to Arden’s crib and nurse him in a chair three or four times each night, and wonder how many years it will be before I sleep a full eight hours in-a-row again…

The Ultimate Fashion Accessory
After all this, I sometimes joke that just when I was ready to give Arden up for adoption—at about eight weeks—he smiled. We’ve marked milestones before and since—Arden held his head up early on, has always tried to stand, found his toes two weeks ago (and grabs them at every opportunity), is working out the notion of opposable thumbs, and began to giggle just this week. But smiling was the first feedback we got—and it came just in time.

Now, every morning, DM puts Arden in his bouncy seat in the bathroom while he showers. They play “Peek-a-boo” behind our fish-covered shower curtain, and Arden squeals and squawks with delight. At just over four months, Arden has become a feast of sounds and smiles, a 15-pound bundle of glee (unless he’s hungry or needs to nap). Now, Arden smiles at every opportunity—at his toes, at the cat…at attractive young women who come over on the street to coo, especially when DM goes out alone with him. “A baby,” says DM, “is the ultimate sensitive-male fashion accessory.”

Forget All That
Praying mantises may have it right: after they copulate, the female bites the male’s head off. (This, at least, prevents the inevitable disagreements over child rearing.) Humans, on the other hand, mate and then the female bites the male’s head off for several years…

Chronic sleep deprivation makes you both terribly irritable and comically forgetful. I often can’t remember what I was talking about between starting a sentence and ending it, and forget what I was saying while walking from one room to another. During one particularly stressful night, both DM and I unsuccessfully tried to calm Arden for hours. At one point, I called DM (who has more advanced degrees than I) “a stupid idiot.” By morning, we were both too sleep-deprived to remember to be angry. But after months of sleep deprivation, when you can remember to, you take it out on your spouse.

As we approach our second anniversary, having a baby has forever changed our relationship. In some ways it’s deeper; in others, it’s more difficult. We are both madly in love with our son, but where we used to have long, late-night talks and frequent evenings out, for example, now we’re too busy, too tired, too stressed, or all of the above to do more than order in and rent a DVD. It’s a struggle just getting enough sleep to function.

Well-meaning friends sometimes ask me if I’m ‘working yet’; “24-hours-a-day,” I grumble, resenting the popular notion that raising a child isn’t work (it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had). DM sometimes wishes he could be a house-husband; I sometimes wish I had an office to escape to.

There are other changes as well. Why, just the other day, for instance, I called DM “Daddy”…and wearing a schoolgirl uniform never even entered my mind.