Another Mother’s Day, and another pause in the march of time to remember the birth of the child who made me a mother for the first time. I learned two amazing things that day. The first one was that they actually let you take this helpless infant home without any instructions.
My husband and I were equally amazed and terrified when they rolled me and the baby out the hospital’s front door and up to our pickup truck. (At the time, that was our only three-passenger vehicle. I still owned a two-seater sports car that I naively thought I could keep indefinitely.) He picked up our newborn and laid her gently in the car seat while I struggled with the high step into the truck a mere 12 hours after giving birth. I needed a running start but could only manage a wobble. When I finally collapsed into the seat I noticed my husband valiantly struggling to connect straps and clips without disturbing our tiny daughter.
“She’s too small for it,” he observed.
“Maybe if we stuff her blanket behind her?” I suggested.
Our daughter had to be wondering who the heck let these two clowns assume responsibility for her. As if to confirm my suspicion, she started to wail.
“Did you poke her? You must have poked her!” I was experiencing either the first stages of Mama Bearness or the last stages of medication.
“No, I didn’t poke her. She probably picked up on the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing.”
“Shit. We’re in big trouble.”
Together we finally managed to get her in securely and headed for home. We took turns staring at this stranger between us and wondering what the heck to do with her.
Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but they do come as teachers. Training new parents is certainly challenging, but there’s a timeworn and reasonably successful process. Parents learn signals quickly and begin to distinguish a hungry cry from a tired cry from an “it’s your turn to change the diaper” cry. (Not to be confused with the “running down the street with hands over ears” cry. That’s the parent cry, and that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) On rare occasions, when the parents do something right, they are rewarded with a smile. Most times the reward is simply a few moments of silence. It’s not unlike training puppies.
There’s also support from the community of experienced parents. They told us, for example, how to anchor the newborn when I confessed that the first time the two of us bathed her, handling her like surgeons, she slipped right out of my arms like a football and shot into the water. (Use a towel in the tub.) Or the patient mother-in-law who followed, without complaint, my rule to boil for three full minutes the pacifier that tipped onto the baby’s bib, and was nice enough not to point out three children later that I now wiped it on my shirt and stuck it back in the baby’s mouth, muttering something about the 4-second rule.
First time parents read a lot of books and measure their child’s progress like scientists. At what age she should be turning over. Sitting up. Crawling. “She skipped a stage! Is she a prodigy, or does that mean something’s wrong?” This is the same mother-me- who was not only surprised by slightly dismayed when my third child walked by. “He’s walking? Oh, no! Just what I need- another one mobile.” I may have pushed him down.
By the third child, parents are much more laid back. And more confident, since the first one survived. And was a good teacher.
I mentioned that I learned two amazing things. The second one? That is truly is possible to fall instantly in love forever.