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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Adventures in Mommyland - My journey from career focused woman to motherhood and back

Today I was thinking about starting a blog to document my maternity leave and give me something to do beyond take care of my daughter. After 5 weeks of not working, I was feeling like I needed to do something that could contribute to society and provide an outlet for me - not that learning to take care of and bond with my daughter was not contributing or important. I consider raising and providing for your family, and leaving a legacy in the world with the people they become to be life's most important contribution, My thought was more about filling the time during naps with something besides laundry, cleaning and keeping up with Facebook statuses. I like doing laundry even less than I like reading Facebook statuses from people I haven’t seen in over 10 years...

Now, I realize that I should have started this 5 weeks ago (or perhaps even come up with the idea BEFORE I popped out a child), but like any first time mom, the first weeks are spent mostly figuring out what the hell you are doing. You are barely coming up for air the first few weeks, and by the time your husband gets home from work each night you are so excited to eat/pee/pump/shower/sleep in the evening that you spend most of the afternoon trying to figure out which to do first (and secretly trying to figure out how many of them you can do at the same time).

So as I dive head first into my experimental project, here's a recap of the first few weeks with a few particular highlights:

Week 1(When it all changed):

Day 1: 
Baby Madeline!

After almost exactly nine months of waiting, and twelve hours of labor, our beautiful baby girl Madeline arrived with much excitement and a little bit of drama. I won’t bore you with the full delivery details and birth story - the big highlight was my movie like kick-off to the delivery with my water breaking at the end of a beautiful and decadent steak dinner in a fine Chicago establishment. Luckily it was not a “Clean up at Table 7” affair, however the full stomach of amazing shrimp, steak, creamed spinach and bread pudding was not what the doctor ordered for delivering a child - let’s just say I will not be able to eat creamed spinach for a very, very long time.

Due to my fever during delivery, Madeline needed to be monitored after birth, and was eventually taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for multiple tests to ensure there were no issues with her development at birth. For new parents, the entire experience was overwhelming and scary, although our doctors and nurses did a fantastic job of answering questions, being supportive and allowing us to be with our baby and try to do all the 'normal' things you would do if she was in the hospital room with us - feed her, change her, etc. Unfortunately, the one thing they couldn't  do was answer the really hard questions we had - "When will we know what's wrong? How long does she have to stay?" All of these answers don't come for several days.

First Family Photo
The next 48 hours are a blur of trips between my room and the NICU to see Maddy, learning to breastfeed and pump, trying to recover from delivery, and Phil helping the revolving door of family members see Maddy in the NICU.  

Bonding in the NICU
Day 3:

Three days after our daughter was born, I'm discharged and able to leave. I never thought a time would come when I would want to STAY in a hospital, but the thought of leaving our brand new daughter behind while we went home was heart wrenching. What's worse, we still didn't know what (if anything) was wrong, or when she'd come home. That night, I got up every few hours to pump so that my milk will come in and I can feed my daughter when we return to the hospital. Sitting in my dark kitchen in the middle of the night, while my husband sleeps in the other room, and Madeline sleeps hooked up to monitors at the hospital, I sat and thought about how different this homecoming was to what I had expected, and wonder when our baby will be home so that I can be up all night with her. 

Day 4: 

I don't have to wonder long. We arrive back at the hospital just a few short hours after we left the day before - I couldn't stand being away and didn't want to miss many feedings. During the doctors rounds, Maddy's doctor explains that she's had no more issues for concern, and all tests have come back normal, and she can come home with us today. He graciously ignores my involuntary tears of joy.

Maddy is coming home!
Ready to go!
A few short hours later, we bring our baby girl home. Phil and I are both so relieved to bring her home that we forget about all the new parent fears - until we walk through the front door. When we walk in, it sinks in what a mess our place is - bags from the hospital everywhere, laundry to do, groceries to buy, family to call back and update on Maddy's health, etc, etc. We are running on no sleep, and the minute we step in the door, Maddy starts to cry. Nothing I do seems to calm her, so I pass her to Phil, and she immediately settles down. With hormones and emotions already on overdrive, this causes my first and only major meltdown in which I question my ability to be a good mother. Mind you, I will have multiple, if not daily, mini meltdowns in which I will question my mothering abilities. I don't expect these to go away. Ever. For as long as Maddy lives. But this is the big one. The first one. The one that worries my husband and does quite a good job of freaking me out as well.

Once I've gotten my good cry out of the way and take a nap as prescribed by my concerned husband, I'm feeling worlds better, and ready to handle our first night home with a 4 day old daughter. I'm not going to lie, it wasn't easy. The nurses make it seem easy in the hospital - that's all a hoax. It's now my husband's turn to be freaked out. He later described that first night like being dropped in the middle of the forest with a wet book of matches and a swiss army knife and told you have to survive the night - we had a vague understanding of what we were supposed to do from the pre-baby classes we took, but this was the real deal.

Somehow, we make it through the night (so does baby Maddy, luckily).  Phil is able to take the week off, and for the next few days we have time to ourselves to slowly build a semblance of a routine - bags get unpacked, laundry gets done, groceries bought, calls returned. All the while we figure out diapers, feedings, and each day try something new to help the baby sleep, eat, or figure out her needs in general. None of these things overshadow our complete awe of her perfection, and amazement that together we've created a little person that we love more than we ever knew possible. While all the mundane every day tasks are still important and prioritized, the world seems to have jarred itself slightly, and our perspective has forever been changed.

Parenting Superheroes - so far
By the time the weekend comes and all the grandparents descend upon us to visit the baby, Phil and I are feeling much more confidant in our parenting abilities. We by no means have it figured out, but we're a far cry from the complete mayhem of the first night home with her. We liken it to the first time you travel to a non English speaking country - a traveler finds the ordinary extraordinary by getting from the airport to the hotel and out to dinner without understanding the native tongue. While we feel like parenting superheroes for keeping a small child alive, fed and content for a week, we recognize that people of been achieving this small miracle for thousands of years, with great success. But we feel like superheroes in the country of Babyland none the less.