Another humdinger from Ginger M:
On New Year’s Eve night, my husband and I hosted two other couples for dinner. In my husband’s family, it has been a New Year’s Eve tradition for all dinner guests to come with a question to ask to the table, preferably one pertaining to the previous year. “What was your most awkward verbal exchange of the past year?” proved to be quite humorous, but the question that ended our night was “What will you most miss about 2013?”. Two guests remarked, with nervous laughter, that they were going to miss the substances that they were addicted to and were trying to quit, while another guest remarked that he was going to miss his mentor at work who was retiring. When I reflected on that question, the only thing I could come up with to share was what I was not going to miss. I emphatically told the table that I was not going to miss having a newborn. To my surprise, I was not greeted with the sympathetic nods I expected.
Before anyone begins comparing me to Lady Macbeth, let me say that I really enjoy babies and kids. They just need to be over five months of age and sleeping through the night. None of the other couples at the table, who each have children of their own, really agreed with me. In fact, one couple went as far as saying that they actually liked newborn babies.
In the first three weeks of 2014, I have taken four meals to parents of newborns. This has less to do with my generosity and more with the stage of life that I’m in. When I take a meal to a couple, I always have to resist the temptation to just leave my car running and toss it on their front step. The absolute worst case scenario is when I’m invited in and the parents ask, “Do you want to hold the baby?” After I sanitize my hands and sit down in a chair and receive the swaddled bundle, I inevitably begin to feel my chest start to tighten. I’m smiling and asking all the right questions, but my mind is racing with thoughts of the exhaustion and unpredictability brought on by the tyrannical whims of this infant’s digestive system.
I also recently went to a baby shower at night. These are my favorite kinds of baby showers because they serve alcohol, and I need alcohol in order to coo over the gifts. Seeing tiny clothes and bibs and baby caps makes me want to go into the bathroom and breathe into a paper bag. As I was sipping my third glass of wine and watching the mother-to-be open her gifts, I whispered under my breath to a friend, “I’m so glad it’s not me.”
While I was being inundated with babies in the first two weeks of this new year, my husband was finishing up Mary Karr’s book, Lit. There was a passage that he thought was a hilarious and yet painfully accurate portrayal of what it looks like for an individual to hit bottom. He had shared it with me as he read it in bed one night, then read it to our New Year’s Eve dinner guests and again to our small group at church. The passage describes one of Mary Karr’s first experiences at an AA meeting:
The guy at the front calls on a lady in a boucle Chanel suit, complete with gold buttons and long chains hanging down. She might’ve stepped from the pages of Town and Country magazine. She relates how she used to tuck her vodka bottle inside a turkey carcass stashed in the basement freezer. While cooking dinner, she’d run down and yank it out and guzzle a bit. And her family, who’d done two interventions, kept rifling laundry hampers and closets, looking to no avail for her stash. Then one night, she tells us in a demure voice, the frost had built up so deep she couldn’t midwife the bottle out, so she just upended the whole bird, guzzling out of it. She says, And that was my moment of clarity, thinking, Other people just don’t drink like this.
I had my own moment of clarity a few nights ago, when I saw a picture on Instagram of a friend in the hospital holding her newborn baby. After a vaginal delivery, a new mom is released from the hospital 48 hours after the baby is born. With a C-section, new moms typically stay for four days. At the hospital where my friend and I both delivered, it is common for new moms to send new babies to the hospital nursery for the night in order to get an opportunity to rest. This was my friend’s third C-section. As I looked at the picture I casually remarked to my husband, “Isn’t it great that she gets to stay in the hospital so long?” And then it struck me that what I was saying is that I would willingly have surgery in order to avoid having to spend two extra nights at home with a newborn. I had finally upended the bird.
I have a problem. And my problem is not a seven pound, twenty-one inch tiny human. My problem is not my children, period. My problem is my desperate need for control. As I walk from my bed to the nursery at 3 am, the usual distractions and coping mechanisms that I employ to give myself an illusion of control over my day to day life are not available to me. When I finally crawl back into bed after calming or feeding my newborn, I don’t know whether it will be for ten minutes or two hours. My husband is deaf in one ear and has long been in the habit of sleeping on his good ear. Needless to say, tiny baby whimpers and cries over monitor slip past him. He is very willing to help out in the middle of the night, but it definitely requires a sharp elbow to the ribs to make it happen. So in those initial, disorienting moments of being woken up yet again, the overwhelming feeling I have is of being totally alone and totally out of control.
Of course, the feeling of being totally alone and out of control is not just limited to the middle of the night with a newborn. We can distract ourselves all we want, but none of us can avoid moments of disorienting and solitary chaos forever, moments when we are reminded that we are perhaps not so different from the infants that depend on us. At 4AM our needs bear uncomfortable resemblance, after all: we long for One who hears perfectly, forgives our panic and fear (even our callousness), and never fails to walk with us from our bed to the nursery. Maybe even carries us there.