Looking back on it all, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I don't like kids. I mean, I like my kids, but I don't like yours. I will take your word for it that they're awesome. I'm like Ron White and dogs. "I love dogs. No, that's not true. I love my dog. I don't give a shit about your dog."
But in my own defense, I feel like I was sold a bill of goods. You pick up any book or magazine about child-rearing and they make it seem like having babies is the damn be-all-and-end-all of existence. They do not give you any clue as to what is really in store, though how could they? I have a feeling that child-rearing books are written by people who have a personal affinity for parenting. After all, it stands to reason they're thinking that if you're having a child, you share that passion. Which is why I am of the opinion that at least a few people who don't really like kids should write child-rearing books. Let me explain...
I based my decision to have kids on an over-arching belief that having children was an amazing, fantastic experience. From the day the two pink lines appeared, I girded my loins and prepared to become the Best Mother EVER.
I started with my carefully thought out birth plan. Of course I'd explored all the avenues and logically chose to have a natural birth because it's the way women were meant to have children. (I can't even say that with a straight face anymore. The Internet really needs a sarcasm font.) There would be candles and focusing exercises and it would all turn out great. I expected to come out of it as SuperBirthWoman, fount of all life. It would be magical, and a defining moment in my life as a woman.
Of course the books and classes neglected to mention that there's a reason all other pain in human experience is compared to childbirth. It hurts. I mean, it hurts a lot. I don't think you get me...it's lose-your-fucking-mind painful. And I did. Lose my fucking mind, that is. I couldn't focus. I couldn't breath. I could swear and I did, a lot and very, very loudly. I begged that nurse for my epidural and when the medication hit my system, I realized then and there that I'd been lied to. What I expected was nothing like what I experienced.
I became a druggie the day I realized that powerful painkillers equal bliss. Bliss, I tell you. No pain. No anxiety. I could hear what people in the room were saying. I could form coherent thoughts. I could express myself without the excessive use of profanity. I could sleep through the worst of the contractions. The person who invented the epidural should get a Nobel prize.
They woke me up to push and baby was there. To this day, three kids later, I don't get why women make such a big goddamn deal about that one moment in time. It's one tiny bit of what parenting is, and I think it's grossly overrated. No, no, the birth was the easy part.
I expected that I would breastfeed my new baby daughter, deeply in love with her from the first gaze into her eyes, nourishing her as every mammal on the planet is designed to. (Here is where I would use the font described as "dripping with sarcasm".) I had visions of cradling my newborn lovingly in my arms, nursing him or her in the soft glow of pre-dawn, a beatific smile on my face. What I experienced was a newborn with the suction power of a Kenmore shop vac. The first time I latched Mary on, I'm pretty sure she dislodged my spleen. "She's got a great latch!" they said. "She nurses like a champ!" they assured me. "Are you okay?" they asked, as tears streamed down my face and the hard plastic bed rails took on finger-shaped indentations.
"Is it supposed to hurt this much?" I asked.
"It's uncomfortable at first, but you'll get used to it."
I expected it to be uncomfortable at first. However, this was not uncomfortable. Nay, nay. Having a scratchy tag in your t-shirt is uncomfortable. Having a wedgie is uncomfortable. Panty hose are uncomfortable. What I experienced was not uncomfortable. It was painful. With God as my witness, I'm convinced I could have latched her on and vacuumed the living room.
But I soldiered on, nursing her for at least 20 minutes on each side, and then holding her while she slept because if I put her down she screamed until she got the boob again. As it was, if she went an hour between feedings I counted myself lucky. If she wasn't eating, she was screaming bloody murder. And after the first 12 hours, neither my boobs nor my nerves could take it any more. My nipples were bleeding and I was ready to scream bloody murder as well.
Again, I should have seen it coming. We used to make fun of my dad for putting band-aids on his nipples when he'd go out to work in the cold. Apparently, merely rubbing against the inside of a sweatshirt is enough to cause them to chap and to look and feel like they've been painfully sunburned. Turns out, I have Fortin nipples. Who knew? I didn't. Not then.
I never looked down at her with love and adoration. I prayed silently that she'd stay asleep. I had her on Friday at 5 pm and by Saturday at 11 pm she had been screaming for roughly 23 hours on and off. I am not exaggerating. The expression "She has lungs like a Viking" was coined on the third floor of LRGH. The poor nurses...one of them I know wanted desperately to give her a bottle, but I had told them that I was nursing and I'm sure they were under orders to not interfere with that process at all. I didn't ask for a bottle because I was terrified that she'd get nipple confusion, or that the formula would make her retarded or something. Again, there was a lot of lying going on.
Anyway, at 11:30 pm, 30 hours into being a mother, I realized that I didn't want this child, I didn't like this child, and I'd have happily checked myself out and gone the hell home without her at that moment. Seriously. I did. not. like. her.
But here's what happened. They discharged us Sunday morning and I rode home in the backseat with my finger in her mouth to trick her into thinking she was eating. I told Larry to drop us at home and then go to the store and pick up some formula: I don't care what kind, I don't care what brand, just make sure it's ready to drink. He did, and when he got home we shoved a bottle into her mouth, she pounded back three ounces, burped lustily and slept for four straight hours.
I loved her then. And she's been kinda growing on me ever since.
Of course when Emma Bo came along, I expected to do things just the way we'd done with Mary, only better because this time I knew. I knew that natural childbirth was not for me and I ordered up that epidural three weeks early. I told the nurse before labor even started that I was ready for the man with the big needle. She laughed and told me to let the contractions pick up before calling in the big guns.
I expected I'd have plenty of time for the good drugs. What I had was a three and a half hour labor from start to finish with no time for the epidural to take effect. I had my natural childbirth after all, with a 9 lb. 2 oz. infant. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, and I should have slapped that nurse silly.
I expected a baby that would have the appetite of a barracuda and instead got a baby that occasionally flat out refused to eat and had to be coaxed (and even bullied) into it. I expected so many, many things to go just the same way they had the first time, only to have Emma thwart me at every turn. She is her own person, and has been since she got here. She took everything we knew and turned it on its head, but it was in a lot of ways the best thing that could have happened to prepare us for a third child. You remember Dave...the one we did not expect.
Dave is unlike either of his sisters. He's more laid back than either of them were. He's been a good eater and good sleeper right from day one. He wasn't terribly fussy as a baby and isn't a particularly demanding toddler most days. But he came with his own baggage. About the time I thought he was going to be the easiest one of all and began to expect an easy ride, we find out he's quite a bit behind the curve as far as all the stuff babies should be doing.
I've always made it a point to see my kids for who they are and not compare them to each other, or to other people's kids. It's not fair to do that, I don't think. But lately I've been finding myself having a hard time dealing with Dave's developmental delays. Not so much when it's just the two of us here, but when we are with other toddlers who don't have his setbacks. It's then that I feel bad for my little man. I wonder how "normal" his life is going to be. I never expected to have a kid who was less than supremely gifted and wildly talented, never mind one that was merely average, or--God forbid--below average. Make no mistake, Dave's bright, he's charming, and he's come a long damn way, but at age two he's still pretty uncoordinated and he doesn't speak at all. Will he catch up someday? Honestly, I don't know what to expect anymore.
Now, in the midst of parenting my third toddler, I realize that I've actually given up a lot of my expectations. Once Mary showed me that my expectations could be--and likely were--wildly unrealistic, and that my best plan of attack was going to be to stay flexible, things fell into place. I very quickly dropped all the "I'm never going to..." and "I will always..." statements from my parenting plan, because I found out in the first three days of her life that children don't care what your damn plans are. All three kids are constant reminders to keep moving, keep thinking, and stay alert, because the game could change at any minute.
I'm proud of being a flexible parent, willing to assess situations as they come up and deal with them on a situational basis. I can be confident that I'm making the best decision I can based not one some arbitrarily pre-determined set of criteria but on how things are right in front of me. It's the lesson my kids taught me, and it's part of why I like them more than I like your kids.
I wish someone would write a parenting book and let the uninitiated know that you don't have to make all your parenting decisions before the baby comes. Hell, you don't have to make any of those decisions. Wouldn't it be nice to read that there's nothing wrong with changing your mind about how to proceed when your experience doesn't meet your expectations? I think it would have been a big favor to read not What to Expect When You're Expecting, but something more along the lines of, "Hey, you've never had a baby before so you have no idea what to expect. And that's okay. Trust yourself."
But then I've suspected for a long time that a woman's ability to hear her own internal voice and heed her maternal instinct has been stifled by all the other voices out there. From the crunchy-granola all-natural end of the spectrum to the throw-open-the-pharmacy-doors other end and everything philosophy in between, the advice (all well-meaning) can be deafening.
The other thing I expected before getting on this ride was that I'd enjoy it. Unfortunately, I don't. This job is hard. Too hard, I think. And yet it's too important to let slide. So most of the time I feel like I'm stuck doing a job I don't particularly like with a job description that changes almost daily, gets harder every day, and really has no payoff, except the kids themselves. It's like when you hate your job but stay because you love the people you work with.
I love my kids, but I can't wait for them to stop being kids. If you can't understand that idea, it's okay. You probably love being a parent. You're lucky. Personally, I look forward to the day when I can stop parenting them. I'll always be their mother, I know, but someday they'll make their own decisions and call me selfish but I'm pretty sure that will be a sweet, glorious day.
At least, that's what I expect.