Remember when I was pregnant?
If you were anywhere within a thousand mile radius of formerly pregnant me you likely do. It’s hard to forget a real-life Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting city and terrorizing the innocent town folk while loudly complaining about her swollen ankles.
Fortunately for me, those miserable 10-months (yeah, ten months, it’s actually ten months…not nine, TEN) are now all just a faded blur of eating cheeseburgers in bed while sobbing. That’s one of the major perks about having kids. Your brain is so busy forming new neural pathways, like which is the best way to extract a raisin out of a tiny nostril, that it pushes all the bad memories of how you got said kid right out of your brain.
This is how siblings are created.
That said, however, there is one thing I can never forget about pregnancy no matter how many memories are abolished by creative problem-solving the best way to get a toddler down from the top of an unsecured bookcase. And that is all the horrible parenting tales I heard from other people. Most of them unprompted.
“You think you’re miserable now? Just wait until he’s born and you never get to sleep again.”
“Well, if you think newborns are bad, just wait until he starts crawling.”
“The worst part is when they turn two. That’s when they turn into demons. Highly mobile demons.”
“You’ll want to kill yourself when they hit puberty. And them. Mostly them.”
“Basically, children ruin your life. Oh, but, I mean, it’s worth it.”
Almost every day I was pregnant with my oldest I was bombarded by these remarks. It got to the point that I started having panic attacks that the next 18 years of my life would be sheer hell. Which, of course, when I tearfully told other parents this, they responded with, “Eighteen years? Pffffft. Parenting only gets worse once they become adults. Your life is ruined until you die. And even then, as a ghost, your kids will ruin your afterlife.”
I never understood this cruel need to inform pregnant women of every bad thing that has ever happened ever in the history of parenting.
That is, until my own two little swamp demons were born and I found myself telling other pregnant first-timers all the worst things that had happened since my babies took their first breath. Which is ridiculous because I love being a mom. I can honestly say this is the happiest I’ve ever been. And yet, there I heard myself, loudly proclaiming how breastfeeding feels like taking a honey badger with a cheese grater for a mouth to your bosom every three hours (I mean, it’s true, that’s exactly what it feels like, but why did I feel I had to share that with an already terrified and miserable woman?).
So, why don’t parents talk about the joys of parenting? Why do we choose only to share the worst aspects of family life?
For a long time, I couldn’t figure this out. But then I started trying to write about it, trying to write about all the good things that come with bringing a life into this world. And to my surprise, I found I couldn’t. Turns out, I can easily describe to you the sights, sounds and smell (especially the smell) of every diaper blowout I’ve had to clean up. But the first time I sang my crying baby to sleep? Describing that is damn near impossible.
Oh sure, I can describe to you the circumstances, the facts of the matter. He was 2-months-old. He’d been crying for an hour. Nothing I did could get him to stop. Not bouncy-bounce time. Not the flying Superman baby game. Not even my last resort option of “Hey, look, a boob! Please eat again and shut up!”
Worst of all, Daddy wouldn’t be home for another hour.
Out of sheer desperation and because it works in every single movie that has a baby in it, I started singing to him. “Close To You” by The Carpenters, to be exact. Not because I had a particular fondness for that song but because it was the only song I knew all the words to that did not include curse words.
Over and over I sang that song, pacing back and forth the length of our house. He screamed. I sang. He screamed louder. That loud, piercing scream only young babies can do that stab you directly in the brain. Forever and ever and ever and round and round and round until I couldn’t remember a time when we weren’t singing and screaming and walking in a loop.
And then it happened. Slowly at first, almost imperceptibly. The pauses between cries grew ever so slightly. The volume lowered at a snail’s pace.
And on I sang.
Eventually, I dared to look down at him, mid-chorus, his head resting on my shoulder. Eyes wide open, just staring at me singing. The cries had stopped. Just the occasional sniffling.
So I kept singing. And he kept staring. And I kept staring. Two more trips through “Close To You.” Until his lids got heavy. And then heavier. And finally, mid-“that is why all the girls in town,” he fell asleep.
And yet, I kept singing. One more time, the whole song through. Because I wanted to remember what this felt like. And that’s where my descriptive powers come to an end. Because I can’t tell you what it felt like. Not really. I love words. I’ve built my entire life around words. And yet none of them, alone or clustered together in a sentence, can accurately portray the love I felt in that moment. The meaningfulness I felt. And the power. The sheer power I felt. My voice had comforted another human being. And not just any human being. A tiny, fragile, scared, angry, confused human being that I loved more than I ever knew was possible.
It’s the closest I’ve ever come to having a superpower.
But all of those are just words. It still doesn’t describe the bigness of that moment.
The best I can do is just matter-of-factly tell you that as I finally got to sit down with my peacefully sleeping baby resting in my arms, I went to rub my tired eyes and realized I was crying.