The differences in the first 10 minutes of Maya’s life and the first 10 minutes of Will’s life were enough for me to cautiously note, even in my post-delivery haze, that it seemed like our kids might have markedly different paths. While I had already spent time thinking about the differences that we would encounter as parents of both Maya and a child (possibly) without the extra challenges that she faces, I did not realize that the differences would be immediate . . . literally from the first moment of life.
Will cried when he was born, loudly and steadily, continuing as the nurse toweled him off and looked him over. I sat in the delivery bed and watched him from across the room, arms flailing and incensed, his cries declaring “I am angry and I am strong” and to me they carried the subtext “I’m different, this is different, from the very first moment.” I thought back four and a half years to Maya’s first moments, punctuated by only a small cry before she was quickly carried into another room for some suctioning and examining. With Maya, residents had questions for us immediately about prenatal screening and the spacing of her eyes . . . with Will, a nurse cleaned him up and handed him over to me, and that was that.
Angry, yelling Will
I held Will and Dave held Will and we took pictures and soaked in the awesomeness of a brand new person. I knew that a test was coming, and I was hesitant to put Will up to his first evaluation . . . would he be able to nurse? When Maya was born I didn’t know that the ability to feed is really the first unspoken milestone that a baby hits, ideally at birth . . . but now I knew that feeding was a kind of developmental test, and I almost didn’t want to know whether he would pass.
Maya had done the cutest little thing, right from birth-she sucked on her tongue. She liked to stick her tiny tongue out and she liked to move it all around—I had never seen another baby do that, and I was still blissfully naïve . . . seeing her do something totally novel had me thinking “that isn’t typical--she has a little unique personality already!” instead of “hmm, that isn’t typical, maybe it’s a sign that something isn’t right.” I didn’t know that something may have been amiss. I just thought she had character.
Maya, and her little tongue, getting ready to leave the hospital
She couldn’t latch on to nurse, and when she was 1 day old a nurse came to teach me how to cup feed her. Cup feed. A one day old baby. They put some formula into a little medicine cup and showed me how to hold her up and dribble drops of the formula into her mouth. This was exactly as crazy as it sounds. Little streams of formula ran out of her tiny mouth. She coughed and sputtered and I worried that I was drowning her (she already needed regular suctioning, still congested from birth, and now she was choking on formula that I clumsily poured into her mouth). As Dave slept at home that second night (we didn’t have a private room, so he was kicked out overnight) I became increasingly frazzled with each cup feeding. The thought of bringing Maya home with a little stack of medicine cups and my breast pump was terrifying. I didn’t know how this would be sustainable. It certainly didn’t feel sustainable.
When the pediatrician arrived in the morning to examine and discharge Maya and asked, “How is she doing with eating?” I unraveled, tearfully confesssing that I didn’t know if I was good enough at the cup feeding to take her home. The doctor seemed puzzled and asked why we hadn’t tried a bottle, and I replied, wide-eyed, “They didn’t say we could use a bottle. I thought that we couldn't use one because she couldn’t latch.” (I later learned that because NY state is (was?) so pro-breastfeeding, they push cups instead of bottles for babies whose mothers intend to nurse. What a freaking mess. If I had known then what I know now, I could have avoided a lot of stress in the hospital by demanding a bottle right away.) She called a nurse immediately, had a bottle brought in, and together we figured out a way to get Maya to latch on to the bottle (it wasn’t easy and required some maneuvering, but it worked). For the first few days, Dave and I were the only people to feed her, as we had mastered the “how to get the bottle in” technique. I didn’t know that it shouldn’t be so hard . . . I thought it was just a tricky newborn quirk, and I thought that after a few days she would outgrow it.
Once at home, we started a crazy schedule of pumping and bottle feeding. In the early days I would pump every 1.5-2 hours, round the clock. Between pumping and bottle-feeding Maya, little else got done. The silver lining was that Dave could help. There were many nights when he fed and took care of Maya, and I just pumped and slept and pumped and slept. I developed a system for the pumped milk, rows of bottles and bags accumulating in the fridge and freezer. I was proud of having an organized system . . . I didn’t know that it shouldn’t have to be so complicated. I didn’t know how much easier nursing, or bottle-feeding formula, would have been. (Not that I would have changed my choice, I simply just didn’t understand that we were dealing with layers of complication that weren’t typical.) Physically, the pumping was hard to get used to . . . I’ll spare you the details, but there were several painful side effects of pumping that took a few weeks to heal. I didn’t know that nursing would have been less painful (not pain-free, exactly, but much, much easier initially).
And now, here was Will. Less than an hour old, wide-eyed in the same way that Maya had been after her birth, small and swaddled in my arms as I sat in my labor and delivery bed. Dave and I had each snuggled him and taken pictures, and I was ready to try nursing, to find out whether we would be facing some of the same feeding struggles or whether we would be embarking on a different path. It took him about 3 seconds to latch and start feeding.
Two roads diverged. Instantly.
We've already taken the road less traveled by. As it turns out, the road more traveled is pretty nice, too.
These first few weeks with Will have been lovely in the same way that the first few weeks with Maya were. Baby baths, a warm little pile of baby in the crook of an arm, sleepy gassy smiles, tiny hats and stretchy outfits. The sweetness of something new. And it’s a good thing they were both so cute, because these initial weeks have been exhausting, too. This morning Will went to sleep five minutes before Maya had to get up for school. I think they’re tag-teaming already.
Will wins the prize for easiness, though. Take away the constant pumping that I did with Maya, and life is a lot simpler. When he wakes up hungry, I pick him up, sit down, and feed him. It's that easy. We took the kids to the zoo when Will was 8 days old, and all that I had to bring to feed him was my nursing cover. With Maya, we would have needed the cooler bag of pumped milk, the instant hot pack for heating it up, and clean, empty bottles. If we wanted to stay for more than an hour (plus travel time) I would have had to bring the big pump bag---but I wouldn’t have done that in the first week, it would have been too overwhelming. So it just wouldn’t have happened.
I also don’t worry about Will as much . . . or at least not in the same way. Despite the insistence of everyone before we left the hospital with Maya that she was fine, a seed had been planted that maybe-something-could-possibly-be-atypical-maybe-but-probably-not-no-definitely-not-well-maybe. Something about some of her little features. My crazy post-partum brain spent a good chunk of the first week studying her and wondering if everything was really ok. (Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I now know that I wasn’t really crazy, I was on to something . . . but I gladly let myself be convinced otherwise.)
With Will, things are “normal” . . . for now , anyway, and I will soak up the easiness of every moment of normal that we get. (Seriously, I’ve had so many moments of “holy cow, this is so easy” already, and I know that there will be many more to come.) But I know, all too well, that things can change in an instant, and I don’t take a single normal, typical day for granted. Right now the only thing expected of him is eating well and sleeping poorly, and he does both of those like they are his job. Right now, he’s on the road more traveled, the typical path of a typical baby . . . and he’s taken us further down this road than we were able to go with Maya. It’s nice to get a look at it.
The beauty of being a seasoned traveler of the road less traveled is that I don’t have the same fear of that path that I did several years ago. We’ve traveled that road for years now, and I know that it’s bumpy and hard to navigate, but beautiful and unique and rewarding. So whether we stay on this road with Will, or whether he veers to another course, I have the peace of knowing that things will be just fine. Our little family will be happy travelers, safe with each other’s company, no matter which roads we each end up traveling on.