Wednesday, August 15, 2007














“Norris Geyser Basin”

Eight years ago, Groom asked, “So, will you marry me?”

The answer, of course, was “Yee-haw, Moondoggie!”

And later that night, I got pregnant.

…which means that seven years ago this summer, I was the hormonal, exhausted, dazed caregiver of a three-month-old baby. I spent that summer not in Eastern Europe or Iceland, but on the couch.

The phrase “three-month-old baby” is perhaps too spartan for something so profoundly, infinitely complicated. I mean, I knew babies. I’d been a champion babysitter from the age of ten; I’d worked the church nursery with my sister (14 howling babies left me unphased; getting peed on by a newborn boy with a wild and independent penis was merely cause for laughter and a quick mopping up; having a child barf in my face was easily filed into my pantheon of New Experiences); I’d been a live-in nanny in Boston during college; after that, I’d been a live-out nanny in Minneapolis and Billings.

In short, the babies could wail, the toddlers could tantrum, the preschoolers could manipulate, the school-agers could negotiate—all while I sat lolling in the corner, picking at a hangnail, losing at Clue, Jr. while dusting off a pacifier. No biggie, them kids.

So it was shocking when my own child whupped my sense of easy competency and healthy detachment. Who knew having my own child would jettison me into panic and anxiety and an irrationality like I’d never known? Who knew having my own child would alter me organically, at a cellular level? Who knew a damn kid could make every single day feel the length of an Ice Age, each minute on the clock frozen into an icicle that was then embedded into a slow-moving glacier?

And these were the good days.

In terms of personal revelations, I learned very quickly that I don’t excel at consistency in intense situations. I don’t excel at patience when every single one of my bodily orifices is dripping. I don’t excel at kindness or small talk or driving or dressing myself when I’ve not strung together two straight hours of sleep in months. To put it simply: if the world is ever attacked by a vengeful race of robots, and everyone is killed off except about 46,000 human beings, and we’re all relegated to traveling in space for months and months, constantly chased by the ‘bots, running low on food and water, assaulted with every kind of stress--DON’T ELECT ME PRESIDENT. I’ll have us all dead in a day.

In my defense, though, Girl was not an easy baby those first months. Sure, I knew babies don’t sleep much. I got that.

But, both anecdotally and in the literature, the nightmare stories of non-sleepers would go something like, “He’s still up three times a night!” or “She only sleeps two-hour stretches, and I’m desperate!”

Lily-livered wusses.

If it meant I would get a solid hour of sleep, I would have willingly had all my teeth extracted with a needle-nose pliers and then, using little more than my bloody gums, gnawed off my left arm (a true hit, since I’m left-handed); then, with my left arm strapped in next to me on the passenger seat, I would have gladly driven--one-armed--the 2,056.1 miles to San Francisco, where I would have, at a pre-set time and date with The Sandman, dropped my offering of flesh off the Golden Gate Bridge, into his waiting hands. And if I’d run out of gas during the 2,056.1 mile drive to San Francisco, be assured that I would have ditched my car on the side of the highway and started hitching, one-thumbed, my other arm tucked into my duffle bag, just to get there on time...if, if, if it meant The Sandman would honor his promise to hand over the gift of sleep to me and my Girl.

She really, really wouldn’t sleep. She didn’t sleep like nuthin’ I’d ever seen before. Her longest stretch of unconsciousness in the first months of her life was 45 minutes, and that occurred only if she was being held by an adult who was sitting upright on the couch. Oh, and before you try to bring any suggestions or superior experience to the table here, fair warning: I might have to rip your head off and spin it in a Cuisinart if you do (just a little lingering after-effect of the lack of sleep). Honest to Rip Van Winkle, we did try everyfreakingthing. Front, back, up, down, over, under, swaddled, hanging from gravity boots, with salsa, never on Sundays, toasted, and on roller skates--no matter what, she wouldn’t sleep. Occasionally, a cd of a waterfall fuzzing and burbling along, all placental-like, would make her eyelids droop. Momentarily.

Eventually, we hit upon a solution that would at least guarantee us our 45-minute stretches at night: I’d get her to sleep by holding, rocking, nursing her, and then Groom would, with all the gentle fluidity of Shields and Yarnell trying to pry their way out of an invisible box, ease her into her car seat. After that, strangely, out of some weird sense of propriety, we’d pick up her car seat and set it into her crib. And thusly, we would get our 45 minutes.

This deficit of REM sleep meant that neither of Girl’s parents actually knew his/her name anymore (I took to calling Groom “Bilko," and he called me “Swansea"), but at least she was still alive, and that was saying something.

Then the colic set in. We just about didn’t come out alive.

My strongest memory from that period in the year of our Lord 2-ought-ought-ought is of a white Ikea chair. I sat in that chair, sobbing uncontrollably, holding a screaming Girl. She’d only been howling for about a kabajillion hours straight, and we’d been passing her off to each other every ten minutes, so as to avoid the tension and frustration that might spiral into something ugly, like putting her in the deep freeze, and we hadn’t actually talked to each other for weeks, outside of hollering in the other’s general direction (“YOUR TURN! NOW!”), and we hadn’t eaten or slept, so, although I tend to manufacture a little drama in daily life, this wasn’t one of those times.

Next to me, my sobs overshadowed by Girl’s ceaseless wailing, Groom stood, despairing: “Tell me what I can do. Just tell me what I can do to help.” All my brain could squeeze out was some second grade math: “Colic lasts, usually, the first 12 weeks of life, and she’s six weeks now. I, *gasp,* don’t, *sob*, think, *choke,* that I, *squeak,* can make it, *snot,* ONE, *hiccup,* MORE, *hack,* WEEK...muchlesssixmore *collapse.*”

Fortunately, the fog of fatigue kept me hazy enough through those intolerable six weeks, and they passed. And as the summer ripened, she stopped screaming ‘round the clock--although she continued NOT sleeping ‘round the clock--and we got through.

It is a marvel to me, as I look back on that summer, that we took a trip to a family reunion in Red Lodge, Montana. There, altitude aided the fog of fatigue in numbing me to the point that I didn’t know better than to enjoy myself. Save for when my dear, legally-blind father took a tumble down the stairs in the middle of the night, trying to find the bathroom in the rented condo, it was lovely to have a baby and a love and to be in the mountains.


After the reunion, some of us extended the trip by heading to Chico Hot Springs (host to one of the best dining rooms in Montana; just a little FYI for the steak lovers in the crowd) and then Yellowstone Park. In Yellowstone, we tip-toed through a wee hike (a pale imitation of any hiking I’d done pre-motherhood, but passably fine)



and then tried camping.


“Tried” is a very important verb in that previous sentence. Think about it: camping, whether in a tent, in an RV, or under a tarp, entails sleep of some sort. And we weren’t so much sleeping at all, anywhere, much less in a crowded campground, on a cold night, when Girl still slept in her plastic carseat. Plastic gets cold in the mountains at night, and the magical alchemy of plastic + cold = return of colicky behaviors. At 4 a.m., having slept not at all, feeling bruised and woozy from going 6 rounds with an infant caught in a state of rigor resisto when placed anywhere near her "bed" in the carseat, I was relieved by Groom, who saved the night (and the Girl)--for not the first or the last time in our relationship. He grabbed the little body of diapered, howling pudge, told me “Now get some sleep,” and proceeded to drive Girl around the roads of Yellowstone for a few dark hours; ultimately, when she nodded off, exhausted in a way she’d never been before, Groom pulled over and parked in the Norris Geyser Basin, where he sat until sunrise, snoring and drooling in the driver’s seat.

To this day, there is no greater proclamation of my love for the Groom than to lisp those golden, backlit words: “Norris Geyser Basin.”

By spelling each other and just letting the clock tick on, we got through those intense first month’s of Girl’s life, the summer of 2000. Once she got a few months older, we tried the Ferber method of sleep training; after a week, Girl capitulated and started alternating 1.5 hour periods of screaming with 1.5 hour periods of sleep.

Did you read me? An hour and a half of uninterrupted sleep at a time. An hour and a half. It was sweet, candied bliss on a stick.

Relieved and excited that the daily pressure towards infanticide had abated, we exchanged the marital high five known as a kiss and, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, assured each other that the worst was behind us.

Three years later, we had Wee Niblet.

He slept--I swear to you on my down pillow--twenty minutes at a time.


31 comments:

Jazz said...

And that would be reason 584,682 I don't have kids.

I don't do good with sleep deprivation. If I had gone through that, I wouldn't have kids anymore and I would be in jail.

Claire said...

"rigor resisto" -LMAO!! That's a good move followed up later on by 'jelly skeleton'.
Oh, I feel your pain, really, TestCase was like that too as a baby. He was a hyper child, rebellious teenager and now at almost 22 he is quite agreeable and nearly civilized.

lime said...

dear god, you just gave me the most horrible flashbacks to limelette #2s infancy. you'll be hearing from my therapist about the reactivation of my PTSD. it was compounded by the fact that if i tried to hand her to anyone, including her father she went into the rigor resisto mode and at earsplitting decibels. oh, did i also forget to mention she was hypoglycemic at birth and the pediatrician told me to not only nurse on demand but to under no circumstances make her wait for longer than it took to whip out the tit if she gave any indication of wanting it......yeah, nursing every hour and a hlf and she was sorta lazy about it and it usually took between 30 and 45 minutes to complete a feeding. well, paint me with black spots, tie a bell around my neck and call me bessie but that was, pardon the pun, outrageously draining to endure between the intermittant screaming bouts for the first 6 weeks.

ah, but now she is a teenager and in hormone hell. i should somehow feel relieved, right?

Balou said...

I'm going to sleep really good tonight in your honor. Great story Jocelyn.

Jeannie said...

Well, you made me feel better. I used to get upset because none of my kids slept through the night. Ever. But at least they would sleep for 3 hours at a time. The twins were easier than the first believe it or not. Now it's the dog that gets me up.

susan said...

The stuff they never tell you about before you have kids. I was nodding right along with you the whole time. Well, except for the camping...although we went camping two weeks before she was born, does that count?

Theresa said...

Here I am at last, snorting my coffee through my nose as usual. I just couldn't stop laughing with "getting peed on by a newborn boy with a wild and independent penis was merely cause for laughter and a quick mopping up..." The rest of the post just made me cringe; I remember our third (the other two slept pretty well) not sleeping for at least 6 months, but nothing compared to what you went through. The amazing thing is that so many babies survive to adulthood; lucky for humanity that the hormones somehow get us through it without killing someone.

Vest said...

Great read, I do understand the problems women go through. Bringing five sons into the world while I was away at sea is a compliment to my dear wife.

Glamourpuss said...

I've just booked a consultation for a hysterectomy. I never, ever want to go through that.

You're a trooper, Jocelyn.

Puss

That Chick Over There said...

I'm feeling strong desire to use the phrase, "wild and independent penis".

I'll see where I can fit it in.









Man, that sounded dirty.

Logophile said...

DAMMIT, Joc!
I was almost recovered now that my non-sleeper is 8.
ALMOST!
Now I am twitching and drooling again.
I feel the need for a nap

frannie said...

oh good gracious! I thought I had it bad.

it has been over a year and I still haven't slept more than 4 hours at a time... and like you said: that is on a good night.

but that is nothing compared to you. I wouldn't have survived.

furiousBall said...

Although I value the sleep I get now, I miss Van and Viv padding down the hallway and curling up with me in the middle of the night. They got good at it, usually without waking me. I'd just wake up with short people all over me

Mother of Invention said...

I think I was getting colic just reading this! Now I know the real reason I didn't have kids! I could never have handled that! You poor babe and Groom too.
Well, they've (combined) probably earned all the points lost then, in cuteness now...and if they take care of you in your old age of course!

My Reflecting Pool said...

ouch. Not sure I would have survived that situation. Not really how you did. I love the picture of the uncomfortable looking baby on a matt next to the tent. As if to say: Here bear, don't eat us, eat this sacrificial offering.

I suppose you arent interested in hearing about my 6 hours a night when my baby girl was 2 weeks old eh?

Stepping Over the Junk said...

I am laughing so hard! My kids both slept 4-6 hours at a time by 4 weeks. Through the night at 8 weeks (as in, put them to bed at 7, pull them out at 10 to feed, I went to bed, they would wake around 3 for feeding and then sleep again until 7am). I was very very lucky.

I also am chuckling at "Moondoggie!" I went to highschool with the son of the woman who Gidget was written about. (her father wrote it about her)

Karen said...

Ah the joys of parenthood. Renews my desire to remain childless. But they are a joy at times, aren't they? I'm just glad to be an auntie and not a mommie.

Ps: tag, you're it.

Diana said...

Oh sweet sobbing sandmen. I can't begin to imagine. How you bravely had a second child is a testament to your fortitude or your insanity. If I weren't in fear of your abilities to puree my head in a quality food processor, I'd say that I'd been blessed with rather good sleepers.

Fortunately, I'm not stupid like that and will only sit here and shake my head in horror and sisterly sympathy.

Anonymous said...

aahh...sleep stories. I always wondered if the more one liked sleep the less their child would sleep. A friend who adopted three boys at birth had great sleepers and she figured it had to do with her hormones and body dealing just fine after their birth.
got my own screamer right now so gotta run!
Julie

Voyager said...

I thought my kid was the only one who howled all night every night. I am amazed you were brave enough to have a second.
V.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

You have written the story of my first child here, except that her father had better things to do than help in any way.

She had to be held all the time. All.the.time. I was exhausted, of course, and only once managed to fool her by placing a slender book of poetry the approximate size of my hand on her little back. It never worked again, though.

I drove her around all night every night so she would sleep, but she always woke up at red lights.

Somehow we both survived, even me, and she has always liked poetry.

When my son was born a year and a half later, I knew as he was placed next to my face that he was different. He slept and was generally considerate, which I thought an amazing novelty. My third child, too, was agreeable, which I especially appreciated because I had a basis for comparison.

Infinitesimal said...

tired, missed ya, just finishe summer of grad school....4.0 yeee haw!

hey teach, want for me to tells ya a story?

Diesel said...

Our first child slept through the night at 11 days old.

I will be waiting for a toothless, one-armed apparition to torment me in my dreams.

Emma in Canada said...

I can be the last comment...my oldest slept through the night (a solid 14 hours) at 6 days old. All of mine were good sleepers, for the most part. Which especially makes the last one very lucky, because had she not been a good sleeper, her and I would have parted ways many months ago.

Wizened Wizard said...

C'mon, Jocelyn, tell us the truth. We'll still stand by you. You're in a max. security center for the criminally insane, right? And those poor dead babes... Well, they deserved it, didn't they? Oh? They aren't dead? I see. Somebody had you certified when you got pregnant the second time. Well, sure, being locked away beats raising such squalling little ingrates.

Just think: with any luck, some day they will have sleepless children of their own. There will be justice.

Okay, kidding aside, I don't know how you survived. Parenthood is a life sentence, and you must surely be fit for the assignment. Girl Child and Wee Niblet are made of strong stuff.

Shari said...

Ah, those infant years...sorry to tell you this, but I survived by turning off my hearing aids...(ow, don't hit me!!)...all in all they weren't too bad, though they had their moments (or rather, should I say, nights?) Now I got it worst-A teenager!! Accckkk! And a second-grader. Double acckkk!!

Dan said...

I don’t excel at patience when every single one of my bodily orifices is dripping.

LOL!! Oh my God you have a way with words. I can't say I blame you much. I wouldn't have much patience in that state either! :)

Dorky Dad said...

So, what are you saying here. I don't think you're being clear enough with this post. I *think* you might be saying, possibly, that your kid didn't sleep much at first. Is that right?

Keshi said...

wut a sweet romantic story!

**And later that night, I got pregnant.

ooh lala that was quick ha ;-)

Cute cute bubz! but if n when I become a mum, I'd die of sleep deprivation...i so know that! COs I love my sleep right now!


Keshi.

mcewen said...

That's why the experience of motherhood unites us all. Great post and best wishes

CS said...

Oh my God. I used to want to physically hurt people who would complain about their baby waking up twice during the night. There were so many, many nights when I nursed my baby all night long. Literally. I would just switch him from one side to the other, back and forth, in a sleep-deprived haze. And trying to get him to sleep in his own crib - Holy hell. With the second one, I didn't bother - he slept on my chest for 8 months, happy as a clam.