I don’t care how cool you are, or how cool you think you are, once you become a parent you are forever at risk of humiliation. Pregnancy is just the set-up—God’s way of easing us down. It happens slowly, of course, because God is kind and knows how fragile our egos are, so He peels off our pride one layer at a time.
Because of the fragile ego thing, He gives us a little boost in the beginning—increases our blood flow or something like that—and people start telling us how cute we are, patting our poochy little tummies and gushing on and on about our “glow.” We enjoy this. We feel pretty darn special, walking around (the waddling comes later) with our glowy cheeks held high, feeling invincible because, for Pete’s sake, we are mighty people-making machines now. If we can incubate a life and actually grow a person, we must surely be capable of anything.
But God doesn’t want us to get too big for our britches (pun intended—we’re about to get too big for a Sumo wrestler’s britches), so He reminds us that only He is God the Creator of Life. We are still human, still frail, still fallible, and we must be reminded of this. So God makes us incontinent. And prone to burping. And then He gives us the hiccups—not dainty little girly-girl hiccups, but loud, echoing, register-on-the-Richter-scale hiccups—the kind so noisy that the startled fetus gets a head start on his anxiety disorder.
No one has ever been brought to her knees in humiliation from hiccups, but factor into the equation things like stretch marks, hemorrhoids, insatiable cravings for all things peanut butter or pickle, swollen ankles, strangely wide feet, sausagey fingers and breasts so tender you want to slap a sticker over each that says “FRAGILE”, and it’s easy to see how we arrive at our due dates with far less pride than we had when we glowed through month three.
Whatever remaining dignity we manage to drag with us into the fortieth week is sure to disintegrate once we get our little piggies into the stirrups. There really should be a sign, don’t you agree? A big backlit hot pink sign on every maternity floor of every hospital which reads, “What happens in the delivery room stays in the delivery room!” We need to be granted license, I think, to say (or scream) whatever we want as we are turned inside out on the table, knowing that it shall never be repeated or held against us in a court of law.
I remember people telling me that the moment my baby was born, I would hold him in my arms and I would forget all about the torture I had just endured. Liars.
I still wrestle the Mom Guilt to this day over my reaction to my precious little bundle of joy as he was placed across my traumatized belly: I ignored him. Completely. Didn’t even acknowledge he was there. (I know, I know—Mother of the Year, indeed.) “Jena, look at your baby!” the midwife said. “Look at Jaden; he’s here!” And I waved her off, still caught up in self-pity as I ached and burned from the greatest assault on my body I had ever survived, and said, “I will in a minute!”
I will in a minute. Brilliant.
Let me redeem myself in your eyes before you slam the cover closed and tell all your friends not to buy a book from the most selfish mother alive: once I managed to pry my eyes open and look down at the little person squirming on my tummy, I was completely smitten. I fell in love so deep I’ll never get out. The minute I looked at my baby boy I understood how mothers are able to muster the adrenaline to lift cars off of their trapped children. This kind of love is crazy—it’s all-consuming and forever-enduring and longsuffering and irrational and just . . . huge.
I looked into Jaden’s squinty little cloudy-blue eyes and thought about John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jaden is my “one and only son”—and all I can say is, it’s a good thing I’m not God.
It is true that some sort of God-granted love takes over once a mother gives birth. It’s the kind of love that enables her to forgive the baby for all that he has already put her through by the time he is born—to love him and be crazy about him, all the while knowing full well that he is singlehandedly responsible for the widening of her hips. That kind of love.
But it takes more than warm fuzzy new-mommy love to equip one to care for a newborn. Some things you just have to learn the hard way—by trial and error.
We had been home from the hospital for two days, and we stunk—both of us. First I tried strapping my infant into his vibrating bouncy seat and placing him on the bathroom floor, just two feet from the shower. I figured I could keep singing to him while I lathered up on the other side of the curtain, and then slip into my robe and transfer him to his spongy little baby bathtub thingy.
Oh, but that would have been too easy. The child screamed louder than I could sing, and the Mom Guilt took over again. (It’s some wicked powerful stuff, the Mom Guilt.) So I did what any sleep-deprived, stinky, half-showered new mother would do: I drew some bath water and brought the baby into the tub with me.
FYI: infants are very slippery when wet. Should you attempt this co-bathing method, please use caution. Or rubber gloves. I made sure the temperature of the water was newborn-friendly and I gently lowered the baby into the water as I clutched him in a Kung Fu grip to my chest.
The screaming. Oh, the screaming. Again. Louder than before.
Just then, Jaden began to root around looking to nurse, and I had an epiphany: I helped him to find what he was looking for, and praised God for the convenience of breastfeeding. With my baby suckling and contented, I leaned back in the tub and exhaled, letting a glorious, incomparable peace wash over me.
Oops. Turns out that it wasn’t exactly “peace” I was feeling. Incidentally, did you know that infants have very short digestive tracts?
So there we two sat—bathing now in . . . There is just no gentle way to say it, really. We were soaking in poop water. I panicked, visions of e-coli dancing in my head as I imagined my baby’s circumcision and umbilical stump becoming two massive infections before we could exit the tub.
How to exit the tub, exactly? I had zero abdominal strength, having just given birth two days before—and I had my hands full of poopy baby, so I couldn’t pull myself up with the old lady grab bar thing left behind from the 92-year-old from whom we had bought the condo. So I did what you might also have done: I burst into tears and apologized profusely to my son for being a clueless, inadequate, selfish mother whose child would die from an e-coli infection because she couldn’t wait until he napped to take a shower.
Somehow, I managed to lift the baby over the side of the tub and lay him on the fuzzy bathroom rug while I stood to my feet and scanned the room for a towel—and caught sight of myself in the mirror above the vanity.
As I stepped out of a tub full of baby mess, the mirror before me reflected a nude, crazed-looking woman with swollen everything, bags under her eyes, dark blue bruises in the oddest places (infants have incredible sucking strength when they’re hungry), and a belly-and-thighs combo that looked as though it had been formed out of soft white Play-Doh. And now the baby and I were both wailing.
I scooped Jaden up that day and carried him to the kitchen sink where I quickly disinfected his tender little baby boy parts as I laughed through my tears and said, “Kid, I’m a mess, but you’re stuck with me. Good thing I’m crazy about you.” He seemed to understand, I think. He was surprisingly forgiving.
But that’s because he knew he would get back at me later.