Sunday, November 8, 2020

Who's Afraid Of The Fourth Trimester?


They call the early months with a newborn the “fourth trimester” because of the intense physical and emotional adjustments required of a new mom.

What surprised me, however, was that it wasn’t as rough of a transition as I expected. Maybe parenting is like riding a bike; the muscle memory was still there even though it had been 16 years since I’d had a newborn.

The baby was sleeping better than I was. And when she did wake up in the middle of the night, she had a bottle and went right back to sleep. I made “feeding time” into “reading time,” so it was less of a sleep interruption and more of a treat for me because I got some uninterrupted time to catch up on my ever-growing book pile. And speaking of reading – she loved books, too, which was wonderful because I loved reading to her.

Every day the baby seemed to have a new nickname: Little bean. Snuggle bug. Nugget. Peanut. Milk piggy. My husband and I couldn’t get enough of her. Whenever anyone asked how I was doing, I said, “I’m having a love affair.” I was ga-ga over Grace. But even that wasn’t accurate because it was the kind of love that made the word “love” seem insufficient. There was nothing sweeter than watching her heavy-lidded eyes give way to sleep, her limp-limbed body warm against me.

We soon developed a routine of morning walks. It was our special time together, greeting the sunrise each day as I sang along to songs on Spotify (Dave Simonett, Bon Iver, Keren Ann, Daughter, Lana del Rey, Meiko, and Rachael Yamagata seemed to be some of her favorites). I felt so blessed to finally be a mom pushing a stroller. It was something so simple yet so meaningful, especially given all that we went through to get to that point.

My teens weren’t as enamored (or as helpful) with the baby as I’d anticipated (they got there as time went on), but they did take on extra chores around the house. My husband stepped up, too, assuming the grocery shopping duties and caring for the baby in spurts so I could do self-care or errands.

I went back to work right away (I’d been working full-time from home long before the pandemic) and found that with a little strategizing, I was just as productive – some days more so – as I’d been pre-baby.

My pre-baby body came back, too – slowly at first, then all at once. My legs and feet were where I initially noticed a huge difference. It was like an optical illusion; I now had feet, ankles, calves, knees, and thighs where there once were just two meaty extremities. My stomach deflated (yay!), as did my breasts (boo!), and without altering my diet, I was soon swimming in my pre-pregnancy clothes.

Coronavirus quarantine was both a blessing and a curse with a new baby. On the one hand, being in lockdown meant that my husband was working mostly from home, and that we could tag-team when necessary. Appointments were mostly virtual. There was nowhere we had to go, no one we had to see. I didn’t have to constantly pack and unpack a diaper bag or lug the car seat around. On the other hand, the baby missed out some experiences I’d hoped she’d have, like going to church every week, being baptized, and spending time with grandparents.

Of course, there were low points, too. My tried-and-true soothing tricks didn’t work for the new baby. Pacifiers made her gag. She didn’t like facing inwards in the Baby Bjorn (and she didn’t have the neck strength yet to face outwards). She didn’t sleep long in the swing. She got constipated and wailed for what felt like hours – unless she was soaking in the tub. She lost all of her hair in the front (totally normal and hormonal, but that’d never happened to one of my babies before); then the hair grew back but she developed a bald patch on the back of her head.

There were days I was so bored I could cry. Some days I felt so depressed, I did cry. I would rock the baby to sleep while Googling things like, “Does my baby love me?” because I wasn’t sure. Once, in the middle of the night, trying to navigate around the house in the dark with a sleeping baby, I bonked her head on the wall. (We now have night lights everywhere.) Sometimes it felt like those same walls were closing in. Often, as soon as we figured out the baby’s rhythms, they would change, and we had to adapt all over again.

But adapt we did, and by the time she was six weeks, dare I say we were back to normal – or rather, embracing a new normal.

“It’s like you weren’t even pregnant!” Dr. Baby-Maker exclaimed at my postpartum visit. “And you were really big at the end there.”

It’s true – I had not only lost the baby weight, but I was also now 6 pounds thinner than I was pre-pregnancy.

“I haven’t even been trying! It just happened!” I said.

“Don’t tell anyone that,” she replied with a side-smile. Then she said she was taking me off the Synthroid because she suspected it turned my metabolism up too high. (I lost another 4 pounds after she did that, so I guess that wasn’t it.)

After an internal exam, Dr. Baby-Maker declared me all healed. She gave me the OK to start running again (which I was psyched about) and to resume sex (which I was indifferent about).

“Would you like to be on birth control?” she asked. “I’ve seen spontaneous pregnancies happen, even in a situation like yours.” (Meaning my low AMH and the failed vasectomy reversal.)

“We’re going to use condoms,” I said, though I suspected this was unlikely. (Does anyone who says they’re going to use condoms actually use them?)

The truth was, I was hoping that my husband wouldn’t insist on any protection, and that we could leave the door open for a miracle. I actually missed being pregnant. I missed the awe, the sensuality, the sense of purpose. I was so in love with the baby (my Google searches were now to the tune of  “Can I be too attached to my baby?”) that I was fantasizing about having another, though I suspected we couldn’t afford it. Besides, the chances that I could get pregnant naturally were slim to none. (As far as I knew, I hadn’t even started ovulating again yet.)

When my husband and I resumed relations, he didn’t insist on using anything, and even seemed turned on by the idea that maybe, just maybe, the stars (or our gametes) would align. Being intimate was a little painful, and it felt so foreign in my slimmed-down body. I had gotten used to having that big belly (and those beautiful boobs). Postpartum sex didn’t hold a candle to second-trimester pregnancy sex. The only reason I was still interested was the possibility of pregnancy, and for a while, it was an aphrodisiac.

But as I soon discovered through a new, disturbing diagnosis, passing on my genes to another human being would be inadvisable at best and cruel at worst…

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