Apr. 10th, 2011

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There isn't much to life when you are seven days old. You can't move much, and what movement you do have is jerky and somewhat uncontrolled. For the first couple of days, your eyes don't focus well, nor do the pupils work right. Anything further away than the distance between your face and mommy's when she's feeding you is blurry. You can't do anything for yourself, except suck on your fingers, toes or whatever handy body part happens by your mouth. Luckily, none of your physical limitations matter much. Your job as a newborn baby is to do three things. You don't have to do these three things in any particular order, although they often coincide with each other:

Eat. Sleep. Poop.

The first one is the hardest. Nursing is a skill that takes patience and practice to learn. It's really easy for Mom to just let Baby go to town, but both of them will wind up unhappy pretty quickly if they aren't paying attention. For Mom, it's a huge change. She's known theoretically for months how breastfeeding works, has probably read about it in books or on the Internet, maybe even taken a class or three. But like all battle plans, they do not long outlast contact with the enemy. Mother and child quickly learn that everything the books and teachers say is helpful advice, but they have to figure out what works for them. They have to practice good technique, or Mom will be so sore so quickly that she'll want to cry every time Baby does for more milk. But aside from that, they have to work together to get it right, and it won't exactly match what any of the experts said to do. Mom also has to adjust to being a two-legging walking lunch truck, not necessarily an easy transition to make for modern, liberated women. Having a boy child puts a new spin on a man only wanting you for your body.

Baby is blissfully unaware of all of this. He just wants breakfast. And brunch. And elevensies. And lunch. And so on. He's happy to eat pretty much constantly, and will if Mom lets him. Which mommy is inclined to do, as the second thing all babies have to be good at usually immediately follows eating.

There is a lot more sleeping going on than the other two, which is a blessing as far as the parents are concerned. A newborn child teaches you about a new level of sleep deprivation, the kind that would be illegal if someone did it to a prisoner of war. Mom has to perfect the art of sleeping while sitting up, catching naps in between feedings at all hours of the day. It's only marginally better in families that bottle feed. If Mom exclusively breast feeds, the only way she is going to get any real sleep at all is if her partner stays up with Baby at night. Because inevitably, the middle of the night is Baby's favorite time to be alert, and he simply won't put up with not being held.

Baby has no clue of the havoc he's making of his parent's lives. His day is spent in a perpetual fog of fatigue. If he isn't sleeping, he might be if you look away for a second or two. Never again in life will the gentle sound of snoring be so welcome to the ears. Babies are capable of a dizzying array of cute sounds, snoring foremost to my mind. Baby hiccups are pretty darn cute, too, but if Baby is snoring, then Mom can be as well, and that is like a gift from the gods in the first few days of life.

Poop comes third on the list only because it is the most infrequent thing Baby does. But make no mistake. Pooping is serious business. Just look at Baby every time he does it. He gets a look of determination that is unmatched in his short life. Pooping requires concentration. It's literally the only thing that he does completely on his own. He obviously can't feed himself, and if you wait for a newborn to put himself to sleep you're in for a long night. But pooping, that he can handle.

It's also a lot of fun. Just watch Baby while he does it. He's clearly enjoying himself. He usually starts with a quizzical look. It is a strange thing to be doing, after all. His forehead wrinkles, as he thinks about what he's about to do. Then, without further warning, the gurgling noises begin. He strains a bit, maybe grunts, and then it's all over. But at some point during this procedure, Baby will break out in a smile. He doesn't know what a smile is yet, not like you do. But he does it anyway. Because pooping is fun!

Pooping is a lot less fun for Mom and Dad. Changing a poopy diaper is always an adventure. Baby seems to have an unerring sense for the exact moment to urinate all over Mom, himself, the new diaper, the changing table and maybe the wall if he's close enough to hit it. And there is nothing in the Universe like the black tar that comes out of Baby during the first few days. It's worse than cement. Thankfully, that phase doesn't last long, although Baby never learns that peeing on his parents is a lot less fun for them.

Childhood is essentially a long apprenticeship in being an adult. The learning process starts right away. Within the first hour after birth, many babies are already on the breast, learning how to eat. Not long after that, they fall asleep for the first time. And not long after that, they learn the joys of elimination. In the first few hours of the first day, they learn how to do three things that they are going to do for the rest of their lives. It's easy for us, as parents, to lose sight of just how important these three things are, simply because we do them every day and have been for years. The little things in life matter, especially when they are the only things you know how to do.

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tehuti

January 2012

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