Friday, October 1, 2010

Playdate Therapy

The Baby has been my most challenging child. She has been a test of endurance, strength, patience, creativity and faith. And, shamefully, I will admit, for at least the first 5 months, I struggled to resist the temptation to sell her off to the gypsies. I raised 3 babies before. Why was this one so hard? In spite of the fact that The Baby was a "surprise," I was confident going into this venture that she was going to be a piece of cake. Why wouldn't she be? Her siblings, as infants, were gifted sleepers and talented eaters with easy dispositions (when they got older, of course, that changed). This having been my last pregnancy (yes, the Mr. took care of that prior to her birth), I thought I would treasure every moment. The other three children were in school all day; and, I would have time to focus inward on connecting with the new little one- growing her, loving her. But, from the get go, the pregnancy was exhausting- despite the fact that I was in the best shape of my life prior to getting pregnant. I was nauseous; yet, I was agonizingly hungry all the time. At nine o'clock at night, I had such intense cravings for hamburgers, I could not sleep. I was in constant pain; and, I was woefully fatigued. My midwives were quick to point out that at 34 I was much older this time around. It was not comforting. The only silver lining, to a tarnished pregnancy, was the fact that for the first time in my history of being pregnant I had friends to go through this with. Five friends to be exact.

When I had First Born Son, I was 21 years old and the first among our friends (by 12 years) to have a baby. I had, by my own accord, isolated myself from everyone to immerse myself in the role of mother. At the time, becoming a mother was the most profound experience (it still is). Everything else paled in comparison. I looked at the Art History degree that I was working so diligently to complete as pointless. Art History, Fart History. Nothing could make me feel more complete than my days spent raising my son. It was too easy to push everything else aside and become drunk on baby love- to revel in my tiny creation. I didn't realize what little value I placed on my friendships. I made excuses not to see people-probably because I felt we weren't in the same place and I feared they would no longer understand me. I loved motherhood, but I didn't know that I was allowed to have more than one dimension. I can not be sure if I suffered for it at the time. The Mr. probably did though, as I tried to get him to wear the girlfriend hat, the one which allowed me to confide in him my deepest thoughts, unload my all my emotions, and gripe about him- to him. I secretly scoffed at the fluffy articles about the importance of friendship in the women's magazines that my mother handed down to me. "Real Women Have Girlfriends," "Girlfriends are Good for the Heart," "Without Girlfriends, You will Die Young."

I was excited at the prospect of bonding with my friends over their newborns. I was happy that I would be able to offer my years of expertise in all things baby related. But, with The Baby, I found myself in uncharted territory. None of my other children had colic. None of my other children had trouble gaining weight. None of my other children would scream bloody murder if I put them down in the coziness of their cradle to, God forbid, use the bathroom. The Baby was the universe's little wake up call to me- "You haven't learned everything yet, Oh Experienced Mother." I had wanted to breastfeed this child as I didn't fully commit to it with the others (that is a story for a different day). But somehow, at the start, we were incompatible. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (oh, how I loathe that book!) does not mention anywhere about how over 13 years and 4 pregnancies, your boobs can become stretched beyond Gumby proportions, making it difficult for the baby to get milk. So, I exclusively pumped. It was so taxing physically and emotionally. I only made it through 6 weeks before I could no longer handle the injuries I was sustaining. I tried formula, but she was so sensitive to it- it made her colic worse. We eventually figured it all out on our own and I was able to nurse her. But in the stupor of that dark time, I emailed my friend J, a new mother whose daughter is 6 weeks older than The Baby. I've known J since she was 5 years old. She is actually my sister's good friend. But, since my sister lives on the other side of the U.S., I get to reap the benefits of J's beautiful friendship.  I was so upset and felt like trash for giving up nursing (I blame the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, for putting so much emphasis on breastfeeding as the sole means to being womanly and artful). I wish I had her response to post here; it was truly magnificent. Her words lifted me out of a gray cloud. She made me laugh. She validated my emotions. She offered me her friendship.

We now have playdates. When we first placed the girls side by side on the floor (at 2 months and almost 4 months) they reached for each other's hand and held on. A sign of knowing. A sign of friendship. Our daughters are very similar in temperament in that both are high needs and neither one of them wants to give us a break. Sleep has been such a struggle. I always know that if The Baby has been up all night, that I can talk to J and find out that her sweetheart was up all night too. And with the ever changing guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (which our pediatricans follow as the Bible) on infant feeding, mealtimes have never been more complicated. But, we've been able to navigate through it together. I am learning from Js' trials and errors as much as I hope she is gaining something from mine. I feel that when I spend time with her, I can exhale. I am free to unload and she does not judge. I hope I do the same for her. It is like therapy. I walk away with a better understanding of myself, of my baby, of what changes might need to happen in order for us to grow. The Mr. always says that I am a much nicer (more "chipper" is how he puts it) person after our playdates. He suggests that we have one every day. And one of the biggest light bulb moments I've had, happened with J during our playdate this week. J was talking about how she does not feel the need to escape to have a drink with friends- that her sweetheart might be her one and only child forever and that this time goes by so fast that all she wants to do is savor it- even the difficult moments. I realized that The Baby's disposition is the universe's way of forcing me to appreciate this experience. A child who is high needs does slow down time. I had been lamenting all of these months that the days were dragging on, that I was suffering from not getting any sleep or exercise because my baby needed me all of the time. But in reality I was being given an opportunity to be in the moment. Her immediate needs were all that mattered. Her health and well-being was all that was important. And, now that I've stopped fighting it- The Baby has become truly delightful. And, miracle of miracles, she sleeps! But, without J's support and perspective, I might have still been floating adrift at sea. I will no longer scoff at articles in my mother's magazines touting the positive significance of friendship. It's true, "Girlfriends Give You Clarity."

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