This is my home-game entry this week for therealljidol. I am not competing this season but invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries and the other home-game entries. This week's topic is "Here There Be Dragons."
In the maternity ward, no one hands you a Baby Manual. Nor do they spread a Map of the First Year on the table, with clear countries marked "Napping" and "Feeding," along with nebulous areas near the edges bearing the legend, "Here there be dragons."
Instead, the nurses instruct you how to fill in a chart of baby's feedings, diaper changes and naps, which they tell you to take to your first doctor's visit. They might answer questions about, say, belly button care, while they're looking over the chart and making notes in the computer that dominates the corner. They do not, however, provide practical advice on dealing with the little one once the hospital-influenced bliss wears off. Since I left the maternity ward a year ago, I have spoken with a registered nurse who admitted they deliberately time hospital discharges for about the time that babies begin to rouse from Mother Nature's peaceful calm, which generally follows birth.
No one warned me how difficult those first few days at home would be (and if they had, I probably wouldn't have believed them). Likewise, no one warned me how challenging it would be to take care of a demanding newborn while my body was still recovering from its harshest experience. Of course, they also didn't tell me how wonderful it feels to have a newborn baby snuggling against your chest for hours, even in sweaty June.
I've read an article in a parenting magazine that reminds mothers that everything is a phase. This applies to both good and bad stages. The inability to fall asleep until midnight, no matter how much Dada rocks and comforts? A stage. The endearing habit of raising one hand high above his head, prompting us to declare, "He's got a question"? A stage, as well.
We've been through many phases this last year; we've conquered many dragons. We've defeated the beasties of gastrointestinal distress, the first boo-boo, excessive clinginess, and difficulty sleeping. We've figured out how to balance baby care with work, errands, hobbies, and even a social life. We've baby-proofed our home, taught our Kung Fu Panda to be gentle with pets (and other babies), and supervised his journey through multiple developmental milestones.
The baby currently opening and closing the "baby-safe cabinet" in the kitchen has grown so much since a year ago that he reminds me of alfalfa sprouts, which seemingly grow from seeds overnight. He has sprouted, for sure. The same little guy who bonded with me over sticking out our tongues in the hospital still enjoys mimic games. But these days, he's often the one initiating the action, laughing when I join him in a baby dance or clap my hands.
It's probably good the nurses reserve their advice. There's no way, in those two days of hospital rest, they could have prepared me for the dragons we'd encounter: the days when, sleep-deprived and frustrated, I had to set him in a baby-safe area and step out of the room for 5 minutes to get myself together; days when he was sick and impossible to comfort; days when I worried that I'd never find a balance.
Indeed, it's probably best to point to the known countries of diaper changes and feedings, waving dismissively to the corners of the map and mumbling something about dragons. Yes, they exist, but we couldn't begin to tell you what they are or how to deal with them.
Instead, each day, they wheel new mothers out of the hospital, supervise the first placement of babies in the car seat, and wish them luck.
There is no reliable map for baby's first year.