The Day I Stopped Being the Perfect Mother



Two days after Valentine’s Day with a threat of incoming snow and ice my husband loaded our suitcase into the back of our SUV early in the morning. For months we discussed our son’s birth and how we hoped to raise him. Mostly we talked about the first few months because everything else seemed impossible. College? That was another world away. Puberty? Shut your mouth. Bottle or breast? Pacifier or no pacifier? We had that part all figured out.

Our friends helped us paint the nursery. We had a closet full of clothes washed and ready. The rocking chair just waited on our bundle of joy. Diapers and books were stacked neatly on the shelves under the changing table. A crib, bassinet and bouncy seat were all assembled. We were ready.

It all started with the birth story, and we had a plan. I’d heard horror stories about epidurals delaying labor and causing other problems. We decided early on I’d go as far into labor without medication as possible. (I’m nearly falling out of my chair laughing as I type this.) So on that cold February morning in mid-2000s we walked brave and sure into the labor delivery department. We were ready.

An hour after my doctor broke my water I lay writhing in pain in the hospital bed. Everytime I moved the alien-being inside of me clenched my mid-section in a death grip. I clung to the side of the bed and hissed to my husband.

“I. NEED. DRUGS!”

Forget the well thought out power-through-the-pain mentality. The woman who came up with that idea was an idiot who had never given birth. That woman disappeared an hour earlier when the first birth pains hit and she wasn’t coming back to rescue me in my time of need.

We were progressing (and by we I mean I was progressing) but not enough to have that beloved epidural yet. So a nurse who had great love for women in pain gave me a shot of some pain medication.

“Did that help?” my dear husband asked.

“No. I just don’t care as much anymore.” I responded.

A few hours later they did indeed give me the promised epidural and the world righted itself again. And I really did not care that I’d forsaken my first rule of parenting.

By 2 p.m. they placed a red-faced, angry looking baby into my arms and I looked into the perfect face of my first born child for the first time. But after five hours of labor and an hour of pushing his almost eight-and-a-half-pound body felt like a brick in my arms. I physically couldn’t hold him without fear of dropping him.

A few days later we drove him home with me in the backseat hovering over him while my husband drove through the promised snow and ice. My parents met us at our house to help us out the first few days. In spite of all our preparedness they knew what we did not yet know: we were not ready.

Our poor baby screamed most of the night. Sometime after midnight my mother sent me to bed to get a little rest. A few hours later she woke me up to ask where the bottles were. My beloved child refused to nurse and my mother believed (rightly) he was hungry. That perfect mother in me rallied long enough to nurse him one more time while my mother heated a bottle of formula.

First I gave in to the epidural and now I was giving my baby a bottle.

Wait, there’s more.

Then we shoved a pacifier in his mouth. (gasp)

At long last the house was silent. My husband and I lay in the bed listening to our son breath in his bassinet at the end of our bed. How could a mother sleep with the fear of SIDS running through her mind? Then our baby gagged and we rushed to his side. He spit up. Apparently babies do that after eating sometimes.

I lay him on my chest and lay down in the bed. A few hours later I woke up and the perfect mother who walked out my door a few days earlier was gone for good.

In the first 24 hours of my child being at home we’d done all the things we said we’d never do: bottle feed, give a pacifier and put him in the bed with us. Oh, and we’d threatened the life of anyone who made a loud noise and woke him up.

If I was Peter the rooster would be crowing.

Twelve years later I laugh at this comedy of errors and my naivety. My son is a fantastic sleeper and has no more real health problems than other kids his age. All those things I thought would shape or scar his life forever in those first few days were sideline issues. My mother knew the two most important things on that first night at home with a new baby: feed the baby and make the mother rest.

Life feels more complicated now but preteens need much the same care as an infant: food and a well-rested mother.


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