With my first baby, motherhood came fairly easily. After a bit of a rough start breastfeeding, I got back on track with the help of a wonderful lactation consultant. My daughter was an easy eater, sleeper, teether, you name it. So naturally, I got a bit cocky. I thought about how much some of my friends had complained about the first few months and thought to myself “too bad they aren’t as good at this whole motherhood thing as I am.” And then I immediately jumped into baby number two (my first and second-born are seventeen months apart), and learned my lesson.
My second baby was not nearly as easy. Despite still nursing my oldest, my newborn wouldn’t and couldn’t nurse. After a week of non-stop crying, I gave him his first bottle of formula at the pediatrician’s office at the recommendation of our doctor. When he stopped crying we realized he had been crying out of hunger for his first full week of life, and I started crying instead. I had the expected guilt over the fact that my son had been starving under my care but also that I was unable to exclusively breastfeed him as I had with my oldest daughter. He was on formula supplements for two more weeks until we realized he was tongue tied, at which point we snipped the tie and he was fine nursing thereafter.
My third is in many ways similar to his older brother, and was born tongue tied like my second. This time around, I wasn’t in tears because I had to give him formula until we were able to get it repaired. There’s of course the joke that later children get the shorter end of the stick (I’ll get around to that second child’s baby book just as soon as I buy one), but also how much perspective time can lend to those first days and weeks of motherhood.
Between the birth of my second child and my third, I heard the stories of two different families who discovered a far more sinister reason why their babies weren’t gaining weight in their first few months: an undiagnosed and quite serious heart defect, which required major and immediate surgery to correct in both children. Suddenly, a simple laser under my baby’s tongue and a few bottles of formula in the meantime didn’t seem nearly as dire.
For my first baby, I viewed the anatomy scan, which takes place exactly midway through a pregnancy, as a gender reveal. As the technician scanned her kidneys, heart, and brain I anxiously asked when we would be getting to the good stuff. Visibly annoyed, she informed me discovery of the gender is a bonus of this ultrasound, and not the main attraction. In the time between my first baby and my second, I realized how right she was. I heard the stories of several friends who discovered birth defects so severe they were incompatible with life during those ultrasounds, and one whose son would be lucky to be alive, and perpetually medically fragile, after dozens of surgeries in his first years of life. At that anatomy ultrasound the next time around, I was far less concerned with genitalia than I was with the rest of his anatomy. While I had walked into that ultrasound excited the first time around, the second (and third) time I anxiously prayed for a healthy baby. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.
I don’t defriend people on Facebook over much, but I did recently pull the trigger because one of these online friends posted nothing but stories about dead kids. They are the kinds of stories that never would have crossed my radar previously, and now are enough to warrant a Facebook unfriending. As parenthood gets less new, I have come to realize just how perilous it is to have my heart walking around outside my body. I’m not the only one.
Many new parents find themselves consumed in the mindless mommy wars. You’ll notice, however, that most parents with a few years of experience under their belts don’t fight in them nearly as often as new parents do. It’s not just because they have less time and energy for such things, but also because once you’ve been around the block a few times, you gain some necessary perspective on what is most important about parenting. After watching friends lose pregnancies, babies, and see their children undergo open heart surgery, I find it increasingly difficult to stress about feeding my children formula or the “best” method of sleep training. As one of our family’s favorite children’s books (P.D. Eastman’s Big Dog Little Dog) so aptly puts it: “Why make big problems out of little problems?”