He’ll be nine months old soon. Nine in, nine out. Before that is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to think that he just wasn’t. Or that the tiniest difference – a different spermatazoa, a different day, or minute, would have resulted in a different person. Anyway, I’ve been getting that urge to write things down again, composing in my head during midnight feeds, and it’s time to grab a rare good naptime and put it on paper.
He was a pretty easy newborn, I think, in retrospect. Of course, we didn’t know at the time, we were just muddling through and pleasantly surprised that it was less of a muddle than we had been afraid it might be.
Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday. We were out of the hospital on Tuesday before dinnertime, and happy to be driving the 25 miles back from Harlingen to Brownsville more carefully than we ever had before.
The first week was messy with inconveniences: he had jaundice and wasn’t producing as many wet nappies as the pediatrician’s office would have liked, so they made us feed him every two hours (we alternated breast and formula – I think they wanted us just to do formula, but I wasn’t going to let them sabotage my breastfeeding) and told us to put him under sunlight behind a window. We didn’t get any direct sunlight in our tiny flat, so we ended up barbecueing him in the car for five minutes a side a couple of times. It felt all wrong, even with the a/c running full blast, so I stopped doing that and the jaundice wore off just fine. Waking him to feed him as directed wasn’t easy either, we found ourselves undressing our tiny infant and lying him gently against the cold leather sofa, swearing that we’d never be so cruel again if he would just take an ounce of formula. He was so good when he was awake, complacently taking breast or bottle, whichever was on offer, but mostly he just wanted to sleep. I was angry with the doctors for taking away our unmitigated peaceful pleasure in this never-to-be-repeated week and making it vaguely worrisome instead. I knew he’d be fine if we could just leave him alone and let him sleep and grow and get used to life on the outside.
On the Friday we were sitting in the doctor’s office once more and he latched on and just kept eating. Forty-five minutes later he was still there and I reckoned my milk must have come in. After that, he growed and growed and never looked back.
He slept in a co-sleeper beside our bed, but often if he wouldn’t settle – or just if I was missing him from six inches away – I’d pull him into bed with me and think about how different it must be in his crib from what he was used to – so bright and air-filled, with nothing to push against beyond the swaddling blanket and no comforting ever-present thud of my heart beating over his. Early in the mornings I’d find him contemplating me, like a small alien with huge, almond-shaped eyes in the dawn grey, imprinting my face on his consciousness, learning me.
The early days were filled with sofa for me – I sat there and fed him, and winced at the pain that didn’t subside for 7 weeks, and learned to chat on the phone with a sleeping baby in one arm, or, later, an eating baby on one breast. In the evenings we’d sit in front of the telly and gingerly turn the pillow he was lying on so that he was between us and we could watch him between goes at Scrabble or reading one of the many baby books I had taken out of the library. By six weeks (first grandparental visit), feeding only hurt on my right breast, and he would only go to sleep when lying on someone’s chest. We did a lot of lazing around with a baby on us, and I pointlessly worried about how this would work with a second child. At nine weeks (second grandparental visit) he was already complaining about bedtime, crying because he was tired instead of just falling asleep.
“Why is he crying?” asked my parents. “You never did that.”
“He’s a baby. That’s what they do.” Apparently I was a superbaby. Or time has softened things. All my mother remembers is the night she walked the floor with me on her shoulder for hours because I wouldn’t burp, and nobody told her that if it didn’t happen in 20 minutes or so, it was okay to just put the baby down to sleep.
We had a system. I fed, his father changed, I fed again. One or other of us burped. He never had his days and nights mixed up like some babies do, and early on moved to three hours between feeds at night. The feeds would take 20-30 minutes, and then it was back to sleep for everyone; except for those times when he wouldn’t calm down and he’d kick me in the stomach for half an hour instead. I should have been used to it from all the kicking in pregnancy, I suppose.
When he was tiny, he hated baths and having his nappy changed when he was hungry. When he got upset he’d turn darker and darker pink until he was a little purple monkey squalling at us in rage. It was amazing to watch his colour come back to normal as he calmed down again when the trauma was over, as if someone had flipped a switch from Purple to White.
After about three weeks his umbilical cord stump fell off. I noticed it was gone and we found it down the side of the sofa later that evening.
His first year has been divided into Texas (first 4 months) and non-Texas (thereafter), split again into the first apartment in Maryland (months 5 to 7 inclusive) and the second (8 months on), and puncutated by visitors: the grandparents early on and a flurry of new people once we moved up north – friends, aunts, uncles, cousins. He has visited Boston for Thanksgiving and Ireland for Christmas. He has been to four countries and fifteen states, which is a lot more than many Americans. At the time of writing, he has two passports and four teeth. He’s the happiest baby all our relations have ever seen. We don’t know much about babies, but we think he’s pretty happy most of the time too.