treasure this.

People keep telling me to treasure this time. I know what they mean, but it is seriously infuriating. They are always older types, people whose babies grew up and left home. We were at a cookout, and the baby was being a bit fussy. She let out a cry, and a woman asked serenely, "Isn't that the most beautiful noise in the world?"

No. Not at all. You are a crazy person.

I hate to destroy the illusion for any non-parents, but taking care of a baby isn't always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it's poop and screaming. And if I'm having a particularly crappy, screamy day, someone telling me to treasure it really pisses me off. Are you telling me that when my child is old enough to use the toilet and communicate their problems in a reasonable manner, or heaven forfend, deal with their own problems, I'm going to look back at this moment and wish she was itty bitty again? No. I refuse to believe that. That sounds awful.

I even saw it on mom message boards, during those weeks when she was cluster feeding. I was googling, trying to figure out why my baby was constantly hungry, wondering if it would ever end. Half of the comments were saying, I'm sorry, honey, you just have to power through here. The other half were telling me to treasure it, they grow so fast.

No, really, I get what you mean. You mean that when my kid wants to hang out with their friends and not be seen in public with me, I will wish she was little and snuggly again. But right now, I want to cry because I hate this and now you're making me feel like that means I must hate my baby, too.

Can we just not say this anymore? Feel free to get together with all your empty nest friends and talk about how you wish your kids were babies again, where does the time go. Do not say this to new parents. New parents are tired and overwhelmed, and you're telling them to enjoy it because they will look back on these days with nostalgia. That may very well be true, but if I'm having a hard time, that makes the future sound terrible.

What I saw now in response is "the days are long, but the years are short." I am agreeing with these people, but they are forced to think back and remember why it is so hard to treasure some things. It seems to work really well. They snap out of their rose-tinted reverie of happily cooing infants and recall the more poop-tinted moments. I don't blame them for the selective remembering, but it's a little harder for me, as it was yesterday.


the big neck.

To announce my pregnancy, I sent out a family-wide email with the subject "Doctors found a mass." I attached the ultrasound, and while at that point the baby was vaguely crustacean in appearance, it was clearly a fetus. Most everyone responded with congratulations, but one of my brothers apparently did not look at the attached picture. So he just thought I had cancer that for whatever reason, the doctors weren't going to bother to remove for another seven months or so.

Jokes on me, because the doctors found a mass. At my postpartum followup visit with my midwife, she noticed that my thyroid was enlarged. I had a goiter, which is one of those things that sounds like something they got in Little House on the Prairie but that should be extinct by now. Actually, goiters are pretty common after pregnancy, when your body gets all confused. Or maybe it's not confused at all, it's just part of the recovery, but now we have doctors that can diagnose you with big neck and send you round for testing. The midwife took some blood to check my hormone levels. When the nurse entered this information into the medical records program, there was no option for a goiter. So on my chart, it says that I am suffering from an enlarged neck.

Lord have mercy, I got the big neck!

The hormone levels came back within the normal ranges, so the midwife recommended that I go in for an ultrasound to see what was going on in my big ole neck. They sent me to a nondescript office building which housed a diagnostic imaging center. A taciturn technician named Debbie put some goo on a wand and rubbed it on my neck, taking pictures.

"How's it look?" I asked, trying to make some conversation while not moving my neck too much. I wondered about her job, whether she only took pictures of thyroids or whether it was other stuff, too. Was it hard to learn to read the images? Did she have a favorite body part to look at?

"I'm not allowed to say," grunted Debbie. I didn't make any other attempts to engage.

I didn't hear back about the ultrasound for a couple of weeks. I took that to mean it wasn't too serious, i.e., not cancer. I'd done some research and found that something like 98% of goiters are benign. I was not particularly worried about any of it; in fact, I was mostly annoyed at the hassle of more appointments in drab buildings. However, I have met my healthcare deductible for the year, what with getting that baby out of my body, so I was willing to be safe rather than sorry at no expense to me.

When the midwife finally did give me a call, it was to let me know that I had a multi-nodular goiter with calcified areas. Therefore, they wanted me to see a surgeon for a biopsy. I did a little googling and found out that multi-nodular goiters with calcification were more likely to be cancer than other kinds, but still only 15% likely. I also found out that they can do a biopsy without cutting into you at all. It's called a fine needle aspiration, and they just take a needle and stick it in your goiter to remove some cells. Since I was being sent to a surgeon, it sounded like they wanted to cut into my neck. I was all prepared to go into the surgical consult and demand my fine needle aspiration. Because I am an American, and I have a right to have needles stuck into my big neck! I went in there and the surgeon told me she was sending me to someone else to get a fine needle aspiration.

That's right you are. Hrmph.

The surgeon reassured me that it was most likely benign, but also that thyroid cancer was hands down the best kind to get. Usually, just cutting out the goiter takes care of it. You might have to take replacement hormones if your thyroid is damaged. If your neck is particularly big, they will give you a pill of, wait for it, RADIOACTIVE IODINE. You will become RADIOACTIVE, such that for a week, you can't sleep in the same bed with anyone else or handle their food, lest they get contaminated by your RADIOACTIVE bodily fluids. You're not supposed to be near pregnant ladies or babies for a month, and you can't breastfeed your baby anymore because your milk will be RADIOACTIVE (though you could breastfeed future babies). And if you get bitten by a spider, you just might develop super powers. Or maybe it's the spider that gets super powers? Hrm.

And that's it. A little surgery and a super villain pill, cancer over. I think probably the being RADIOACTIVE part in practice is less cool than it sounds, but still: best cancer ever, right?

If it's not cancer, then they just keep an eye on the situation, and you don't get to be RADIOACTIVE. If at any point, the bigness of your neck interferes with things like breathing and swallowing, they will go in and cut the goiter out anyway. I had not even noticed that I was walking around with an apparently huge neck, but after finding out about it, I sometimes felt a catch in my throat. I would try to decide if that was because my esophagus was partially constricted, but when you start thinking too hard about something that is usually automatic, like swallowing, you really can't tell anymore.

The worst part of getting a needle stuck into your throat is the anesthetic, which is applied by a needle stuck into your throat. It burns and stings on the skin first and then it burns and stings under the skin. And then when they poke you with a different needle to get those goiter cells, you feel a little pressure, but no pain. Since they go in three times to get the cells, I have to assume that feeling a needle once is better than feeling it three times. The doctor did this on each side of my big neck, using an ultrasound machine to find one of the juicier nodules. When she was doing my right side, my head was facing the ultrasound screen, and I remarked how I expected to be able to see the needle (once I was given permission to talk again because there were nothing sticking into me). The doctor was kind enough to bounce the needle around a bit the next time so I would be sure to see it. That was the word she used: "bounce." I couldn't feel her doing this, but I could see her hand wiggling around in my peripheral vision and it was just sorta freaky to think about a needle bouncing around in my throat. But I was able to see it, and I figured that if I was going to maybe have cancer, I might as well be able to say that I saw them bounce a needle in my throat.

The doctor finished up and said I did very well. The nurse covered the punctures with what must be the biggest bandaids they make, just in case I was hoping to be able to go back to work and not have people ask what had happened. Since telling people you had a biopsy is all kinds of neon-sign scary, I decided I'd just say I cut myself shaving. That'll teach 'em to ask questions.

I go back in a week to discuss the results of the biopsy with the surgeon. Hopefully, I just have the big neck and not a cancerously big neck.


sleep sheep.

Having a baby is a racket. For some reason, all kinds of people were really excited about us reproducing, and they gave us stuff. Sometimes people would include a gift receipt, which is possibly the best invention in the history of retail. It's like a blessing to return a gift. Otherwise, I feel a little bad about preferring the $15 in Target money over one more blanket that is too small to swaddle my chunk muffin baby. A gift receipt is the indication that the giver understands that I might have already received enough blankets or maybe this just isn't my style of blanket and I'd rather have those nice muslin ones with the robots. But even without the implied permission of a gift receipt, I've returned a lot of things. You can usually just google the product and find where it's sold. I do feel a little guilty this way, often because it seems the gift giver got ripped off. Baby stuff is big business, y'all.

We were given this thing called a Sleep Sheep, and I was pretty skeptical about it. It's a stuffed sheep that has a noise box that plays nature sounds to soothe the baby to sleep. I guess it's a sheep because of the whole counting sheep association, and because if you try to sell a noise box that just looks like a box, then you can't charge $25 for it.

Like I said, I was not impressed with the Sleep Sheep, and I would've happily returned it, except the packaging was kinda damaged, and I doubted they'd take it back. We meant to get a CD player for the baby to play brain-building Mozart or something, but it turns out that it is hard to find a CD player these days. I looked at Wal-Mart, just to see how expensive it would be, and whether it was expensive enough that I'd rather wait and find one used. But they didn't even have any. They had plenty of speakers that you could hook up wirelessly to a variety of multimedia devices, but if you just wanted to stick a disc in a machine and push play, you were out of luck. Go back to the 90s, you Luddite.

So one day, when the baby was not happy about being put down for a nap, I dug out the Sleep Sheep. Since I wasn't going to return it, I might as well see how it went. It had four sounds: a trickling stream, the ocean, light rain, and whale calls. One of these things is not like the other, and of course, that is the button I pressed. Susanna immediately went quiet. I hung the sleep sheep on the rail of the crib with the convenient velcro handle and walked away quickly. For the next twenty minutes, I heard the plaintive lowing of humpback whales, but I did not hear a fussing baby. As a bonus, the dog was super confused.

I'm sorry I doubted you, Sleep Sheep.

I'm sure this is going to cause all kinds of problems later in life. Perhaps Susanna will be embarrassed one day at school when the teacher asks what sound a sheep makes, and she goes, "OOOOOHOHOOOOOOOO." Or maybe on a visit to Sea World, at the sound of the whales, she'll just pass out in the middle of the aquarium due to conditioning. Even without these disastrous consequences, it's pretty much guaranteed her favorite Star Trek movie will be the one with the whales.

Except she'll call it "the one with the sheep."



I had no idea how little babies could do. We used to talk about what we would do in case of apocalypse. We would advise the dog to go next door to join up with the neighbor dogs. I have found that the apocalypse game is not as fun when you consider your prospects with a baby.

Not that I expected her to do cartwheels or file my taxes at a month old. I knew that she would basically sleep, eat, and poop. I knew that she wouldn't be able to sit up or even hold up her head. For the overachieving parent, they give you exercises to do with your kid to further their development from useless baby to only mostly useless. For neck strength, they encourage tummy time. As you can imagine, it means putting your baby on her tummy for a few minutes a day to let her do baby push-ups. The push-ups are really pathetic at first, consisting of shakily raising her head a centimeter or so. But they get better. At the one-month check-up, Susanna performed an epic tummy time, and I swear I may have clapped with pride. Because my child lifted her head a whole three inches. Parenthood turns people into morons.

But there were so many things that I did not know babies couldn't do. I did not know that she wouldn't be able to see. It's not like we need her to be our designated driver, so it's not an issue. However, she couldn't focus or eyes or look at us for weeks. Josh was all ready to diagnose her with autism, because she was avoiding eye contact. No, dear, she just can't see your eyes. Even knowing it was normal, it was still disheartening. I'm doing everything for this kid, and she won't even look at me.

The thing that really got me was that she didn't know how to poop. Despite it being one of the three things that babies do, she only managed it by accident. Periodically, she would suddenly start screaming and crying, with her little legs stuck straight out. Then after a minute, we'd hear a pbbbbbt from her bottom, and everything would be fine. Apparently, when a baby gets that need-to-go feeling, it's painful and confusing, which makes her clench up. As people old enough to read, you know that this is not the right solution for the problem. We read that pumping her legs like she was riding a bicycle would help, but more often I would just nurse her, which would make her relax and let things work themselves out. I was pondering this once, that all people everywhere, once were little babies that did not know how to poop. You, me, Cher, Stalin, we all had to learn to poop.

After a few weeks, she figured it out. There was no more sudden screaming, but instead sudden brow-furrowing. And then, pbbbbbt. At which point we praise her for being such a smart baby, because parenthood turns people into morons.


cluster fed.

Before the baby was born, we received a free sample of baby formula in the mail. I put them in the pantry in case we ended up needing them. I intended to breastfeed, but you never know. I knew that some women struggled with breastfeeding and that most women had trouble, particularly at the start. I knew there would be sore breasts and chapped nipples.

I did not know there would be cluster feeding.

Cluster feeding is when the baby wants to nurse pretty much constantly. Breast milk works on supply and demand. If the baby drinks all your milk, your body produces more next time. When the baby cluster feeds, she is driving up your supply by repeatedly emptying you out.

However, if you don't know this, you will think your baby is starving to death. Babies cannot talk, but they have signals they give. The newborn hungry sign is called rooting, where the baby wiggles and bounces her head around with an open mouth, looking for a nipple. So the baby would root, I would put her on the breast, where she would eat and then sorta pass out. I would pick her up oh-so-gently and tip-toe over to the bouncer to set her down. Sometimes she would awaken during the transfer. Other times she would wake up within the hour. Whenever she woke up, she would cry. I'd pick her up and hold her to my chest, only for her to stop crying and root furiously. This went on every evening from about 6 to 10. And it was all on me. Josh might pick her up when she started crying, but soon he'd come tell me, "She's rooting." Ain't nothin' sadder than a baby looking for a nipple on her father's chest.

Milk production is highest in the morning, so by the time you get to the end of the day, things are getting kinda dry. I sat there with a crying baby rubbing her mouth all over my shoulder, and one time on my chin, knowing that she had already emptied me out half an hour ago. I thought about the cans of formula in the pantry. I thought that my baby was starving, because my body had failed to provide with her.

I'm not sure I can explain the emotional entanglement that comes with breastfeeding. Any kind of failure or difficulty feels like a failure at womanhood itself. It makes you wonder what you would have done in the days before Similac sent samples to your door. Would you have to find another woman to take your baby to her breast? Would your baby just have died? Why did my body go through the trouble of making a baby that it couldn't even keep alive?

New parenthood is never feeling quite on solid footing. Add to that this nightly routine of nursing a tiny, screaming, insatiable mouth, demanding that you do what you swore you just did. Give, give, give, root, root, root, over and over. Also, there are hormones involved. What I'm saying is, I went a little crazy. I could feel my sanity leaking out until that well had also run dry. Oh look, the baby is rooting.

Those hours on the couch with the baby on my lap meant I had a lot of time to google all kinds of ridiculous new parenting queries, such as "baby nurses constantly" or "baby always hungry" or "why did I have a baby." In my googling, I read about cluster feeding. The internet reassured me that as long as the baby was filling diapers, then she was getting enough to eat, which made sense in an input/output kind of way. I could confirm diaper fillage, and so the ever-shrinking remnant of my logical brain was able to hold on. Barely.

I did not break out the formula. A lot of women will reach for the can, and it will be the beginning of the end of breastfeeding. The cluster feeding is necessary to get supply up. The baby is actually hungry, though not in danger. If you give her formula, she will fall asleep, happy and satisfied, and your breasts will not know to make more milk. However, you will avoid this nightly horror show and might therefore fall asleep happy and satisfied yourself. Whichever you choose, I won't judge.

They say breastfeeding creates bonding with your baby, and it's true, but I don't picture soft-lit moments looking at her lovingly while she peacefully sucks. I think that happened once, and then she threw up on me. It's more like the bond you have after a battle. We got through this, it sure was tough, but we did it together.