two weeks ago, i promised i'd sit down and write with optimism for a change to counter a well-detailed list of grievances that i've already printed and framed in james' nursery. like sure, everything hurts all the time and this weird little pizza-faced alien is simultaneously demanding but uninterested in an exhausting way that causes my mind to run a ticker tape of nonsense self-probing and guilt trips forever- but yet, there are also so many things that aren't as hard as i once expected. maybe i am getting better, finally mastering the difficulty curve of the newborn phase. maybe my brain chemistry is leveling out and i no longer feel like a sociopath with an icy pallor of annoyance freezing out all maternal instinct. maybe james is rapidly graduating from a floppy nonsense potato into a bright-eyed and happy real person. or maybe none of the above, and it is just time and confidence and acclimatization.
fresh on the postpartum campus of grief and pain, feeling so inexplicably fragile that i braced myself to shatter on a daily basis, i survived on an hourly hunt of when does it get better? i typed this into reddit, on the bump, on babycenter, netmums, anything, anywhere, a desperate one-woman search party for hope. and most of the answers were vague, but i clung to them like lifelines, marking off future goalposts in my mind. by 12 weeks. by 4 months. by the time he smiles. by the time he laughs. by the time he weans. by the time he applies to grad school. it'll get better. it'll feel brighter.
and here's how it has gotten better, the things that i steeled myself for that became so much easier:
sleep. i know, i literally just wrote a dissertation about the cool math of sleeping in 30 minute increments like the victim of some cruel sleep deprivation torture tactics- but the overall duration of this trial was so short. during the first month, my mother the actual saint came over twice a week and acted as a night nurse to get me through the wakings as painlessly as possible. ian took over in the early morning and let me sleep in on the weekends (or as long as my exploding granite tits would allow). and most importantly, i had the foresight during pregnancy to read my new bible: twelve hours' sleep by twelve weeks. james is 12 weeks now. he has slept 12 hours through the night exactly 12 times so far. after his 7 pm dinner feed, baby boy lies calmly in his crib and dozes off on his own, sleeping straight through the night to be woken up shortly before 7 am. ian and i feel more well-rested than a pair of new parents deserve. my face is still haggard but only because of my genetics. i do not fall asleep at my desk. suzy giordano's plan sounds lofty, but is approachable and infallible, stretched through four steps and several weeks. we barely completed step two before lil lazybones took over and started sleeping like a snorlax of his own volition. i feel like an irredeemable asshole for being so gleeful, and i know the big sleep regressions are lurking around the corner to ruin my life, but in the interim thank you dear based god for this one sweet victory.
diapers. i have no idea why parents and non-parents talk about diaper duty and poop obsessively because it is seriously no big deal by any measurement. somehow the act of producing a new human makes you absolutely immune to the grossness of their bodily fluids, like you are a battleworn veteran icu nurse who has seen every drop of moisture produced from every orifice on the human body and have successfully cornered the market on low gag reflex. diaper changes quickly become muscle memory, diaper pails are the greatest and most under-appreciated miracle of the modern age, and you passively realize that you will weather his diarrhea and vomit with more grace than you would handle even your own drunkest fallout because he is your baby and doesn't seem to smell as bad as a regular person.
marriage. despite my gloomy predictions that ian and i would immediately descend into bitter quarrels and stewing resentment, my cynicism continues to be trumped by his eternal optimism. to this day, ian and i still have never had a fight. we've never argued, raised our voices, or felt anger towards one another. we talk in a never-ending dialogue about james, but it is still one of many subjects- we do not lose the thread of other conversations that matter to us- work, friends, jokes, the dumpster fire of the republican campaign. despite my reflexively passive aggressive tendency to probe honey did you wash bottles? while staring at a sink full of dirty bottles, ian has continued to weather the pains of being married to the human garfield with his characteristic cheer. and as for me, the wild and intensely heavy love i felt for him immediately after birth has mellowed into a deeper, more nuanced sentimentality. it is the thing that swells my heart when i see him chatting animatedly with james, rocking him to sleep, feeding and burping him with a practiced and expert confidence. it is the realization that no matter what happens, the two of us will always be bonded for the rest of our lives through this ultimate joint venture.
and most importantly, username29352 was right. it gets so much better when he starts smiling. when he starts laughing. regularly, responsively, and most importantly- when his eyes find mine. i don't know what kind of sorcery this is, what unlocks a treasure trove of oxytocin, but when chief cheeks peers up at my face and smiles, my own grin becomes so wide it actually hurts my jaw. i smile back at him like a crazy joker, my voice becomes ten octaves higher and i rub his belly repeatedly to elicit giggles. somewhere, in the back of my mind, i think vaguely that i would do literally anything to hear his delighted, yelping laughter. maybe even an armed bank robbery followed by methodical betrayal of my getaway driver.
i think it is the most motherly thing i've ever felt.