When we found out we were pregnant with our first child, we jumped wide-eyed, face first into classic Fairytale Land. We were going to be the Perfect Parents of the Perfect Baby with the Perfect Life. Despite every other family in the world falling prey to sleepless nights and an unwieldy newborn, we would single handedly achieve baby nirvana. Because, unlike 100% of “everyone else on the planet”, we would do the “right” things and have a baby who smiled, cooed, breastfed like a champ, and slept on demand for the appropriate amount of time. Our lives would remain unchanged, but for this small, mostly unnoticeable bundle of joy.
Well, y’all know where this story goes. New parents plus one baby equals what I described at the time as “an undiscovered circle of Dante’s Hell.” Not only was my perfect, painless, orgasmic birth NOT, but I’m unsure how all three of us made it through that first year on the atmospheric side of the grass. We didn’t die a literal death. But, like a phoenix reborn, we unwillingly burst into euphemistic flames and rose from the ashes anew. We somehow transformed.
Our lives moved on, our baby became a toddler, a preschooler, a hopeful big brother. We developed a new routine and sense of balance, even among the ups and downs of parenting a head strong little boy. A creature who was now able to walk, talk, and express manifold desires and visions for the world. His world and our world became one whole, and we felt increasingly comfortable as a family of three.
Because I knew what it was to add a child to the mix, I couldn’t fathom adding a second. I was smart enough to surmise it must be an equally revolutionizing process. So I started to ask people, “What is it like to have two children? What is one plus one?” And I was told repeatedly, “Ohhhh. One plus one? One plus one is ten.”
Ten? By “ten”, my friends were telling me that another baby didn’t add just a little complexity, but a lot. That another life to care for would create a new, qualitatively different level of conflicting demands on time and energy.
Well, then. I would not be having that second child unless it was the immaculately conceived Son of God. I donned a sperm-repelling aura, impenetrable by the most microscopic offenders of life. Yet, four years later, caught off guard, we acted before thinking. (Because if more of us thought about having children, our species would last not more than a generation.) Nevertheless, here we are – a family of four. We’re not dead, but we’re certainly in a process of transformation. And in my timeless warp of love and exhaustion, I’ve had some brief moments to reflect.
Just what is one plus one? So far, in this first month, the answer to that question has evolved . . .
1 + 1 = BLISS. A woman’s body is Uh. Mazing. I pushed a flipping eight-pound human being out of my vagina. Twice now! No kidding. I’m a freaking Super Hero Mama who can do anything. Literally anything. What an inexplicable rush of intense polarities, including pain and love, loss and birth, delirium and reality. All blanketed by an overdose of secret-love-cocktail hormones, creating an inflated sense of Super Self who loves everyone and everything and can take on the world. Y’all. Can you think of all the stupid shit people would do in this state if they weren’t encumbered by a severely assaulted perineum and a helpless creature who needs them, like, every second? Thankfully, hormone crazed Super Humans have beautiful babies to blissfully pour all of their Super Powers into. Love. Unabashed, unapologetic love. And as any Super Mama hyped up on these hormones can tell you, one plus one is pure, unadulterated bliss. But those love hormones fade, replaced by a slowly invading and rude sense of reality.
1 + 1 = I CAN DO THIS. As my midwife told me, you’ll know you’re coming down when people around you start doing stupid stuff. She’s a level ten fortune teller, and as promised, people started doing really stupid stuff. The rosy glasses defogged, and realism set in. I needed to wean myself from these stupid people (whom, just yesterday, were my community of helpers that I unabashedly loved). Still infused with a false sense of energy, I got real, and each day I tried to add in one more vital task of life. I made it out of the room to get myself food – no problem. I put on the first cloth diaper – easy. I did a load of laundry – I got this. I made a meal – check. I picked my older son up from school. I attended an “elimination communication” class and went four days without having to change a poopy diaper – cuz I was that good and caught them all. I put two children to sleep, on my own, and was successful. I can do this. One plus one is doable. This is going to be okay. But then exhaustion creeps in. Oxytocin, adrenalin, and endorphins run dry. And having unknowingly run on overdrive, Balance pays a visit and expects you to pay up.
1 + 1 = TEARS. Suddenly, things got tough. Those kids that I put to bed? Not once could I recreate it with ease. I started to feel socially isolated. I realized I nurse for eight hours in a 24 hour period. Sleep was broken into hour intervals – and every hour I had to fully wake in order to keep another human being alive. The next morning I had to function as a parent to my older child. Feeding myself was a challenge – but I had to find a way because that food became the food for my helpless infant. Grandma, who’d been here for a month, was actually going to leave us – nay, abandon us. I realized I’d been wearing the same breast milk and vomit soaked clothes for . . . how long? When did I last shower? I started to resent the stupid people whom I once unconditionally loved, so long ago. You are not tethered, you can leave the house. You are not up every hour indefinitely. You are not producing the life sustenance for another human being, storing it, and releasing that energy from your body. You don’t have hormones playing with you. You don’t have life as you knew it 100% changed, forever. Tears. Tears started flowing. One plus one equals flood gates.
1 + 1 = BIOLOGICAL WARFARE. At the same time, I was a hormone crazed, sleep deprived, lactating cow. Breastfeeding is tough. It is SO not “easy” whipping out the boob to satisfy your calm, loving, cooing child. Oversupply, breasts rock hard, waking up in a cesspool of milk, infant vomit, blow out diapers, etc and having no idea how you ended up in this crime scene. That feeling of desperately needing your infant to nurse but he won’t. So you try to channel your long gone Super Powers in order to will the milk out of your body. It doesn’t come because you’re too anxious. You hurt. Meanwhile, your infant has tummy problems. You feel guilty – if only you knew the appropriate combo of probiotics, diet changes, nursing positions and timing, and could strike the right fore/hindmilk balance in order to minimize your baby’s discomfort. Never mind World War III in your uterus. Combat zone. One plus one is biological warfare.
1 + 1 = HARD WALL. It all adds up. Eyes bulging and bloodshot, hair frizzy and unkempt, smile and nod that are a little too eager. Being mercilessly whiplashed by bipolar feelings, sleep deprivation, realizing you can’t “do it all”, craving contact with the outside world – you inevitably meet a Hard Wall. For me, this happened after a night of nursing every 30 minutes. I took my son to school the next morning, tried to appear human by meeting other parents out for coffee, but ultimately broke down in an incoherent blubber at my midwife’s office that afternoon. It was a good place to hit the Wall, because she’d seen many a Mama run bleary eyed into the very same bricks. She also had relevant advice. “You need to keep the baby alive, feed yourself, and sleep – if it’s not one of those three things, let it go.” I stopped cloth diapering, I stopped elimination communication, I introduced a pacifier, and I decided everyone else could feed themselves (my son can reach the Nutella after all). Laundry is a luxury, dirty carpets and sheets build the immune system, and the sink is just bowl like shelf for dishes. One plus one is a Hard Wall, and if one can just scale it, maybe there is sanity on the other side.
1 + 1 = MEDITATION. I read a passage recently that likened Baby Land to Meditation. It’s the perfect analogy for what happens after hitting rock bottom. On the other side of helpless despair is a relinquishing of control, a willing acceptance and determination to move forward. You let go of time in favor of being in the moment. You accept the loss of your old self. You engage in long walks going nowhere, chant monotonously to the baby, and submit to a repetitive timelessness. You realize that most of what you thought was important is actually expendable – hard fought to let go of, but then easily pushed to the periphery. Because you love, because this baby needs you, because when you look into his eyes your heart is full, because he is a reflection of all that is good. One plus one is a deep mediation, where love hits the pause button on time and Mama and baby dance.
1 + 1 = A FAMILY OF FOUR. Although you know from the first time around that the baby changes and grows, you start to tuck experience under your belt once again. This Too Shall Pass, you remember. On the one hand you are eager to make it pass – be it sleepless nights, inconsolable screaming, or eager hourly nursings. On the other hand naysayers taunt in your head, “Enjoy This Moment.” You brush both away and decide that this time warp is simultaneously hard AND blissful. You look for kairotic moments – supreme “stand stills” of time in between, when something special sparks. A smile, first coo, connecting gaze, or soft skin. And you keep moving forward, transformed, into a family of four.