Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Settling in to a new normal

While I didn't have those overwhelming maternal feelings right off the bat, it didn't take long for me to fall totally and utterly in love with Archer.  I would find myself staring at him, completely enchanted with his tiny features and sleepy demeanor.  As he was born early Sunday morning, the hospital told us we were welcome to stay until sometime on Tuesday.  Zac and I talked about it.  All things considered, I felt good and Archer was healthy.  Staying in the hospital for another 24 hours wasn't going to speed up my healing or Archer's development, so we decided to leave a day early.  If I was going to be sleep deprived, I wanted to be sleep deprived at home where I could actually sleep when I had the time.  Simply, Zac and I were more relaxed at home.  It was quieter and we could move at our own pace.  Besides, we figured it was time to jump in to the deep end of the pool.  Time to figure out this parenting thing.  The hospital isn't real life - home is.

The first four weeks of Archer's life were a blur.  I know I've talked about living life two to three hours at a time, but it's hard to convey how disorienting that is.  You can't think of anything that is supposed to happen later that day, or tomorrow, or next week.  You're just moving from one feeding to the next, with naps where you can get them.  I had trouble breastfeeding for the first three weeks (a future blog post) and during that time most of my life was consumed with pumping breast milk, prepping and feeding a bottle to Archer, burping him, changing his diaper and then washing the bottle and pumping equipment.  (My hands have never been so dry in my life, as they are in hot soapy water every two hours and I constantly forget to put hand lotion on.)  Zac would help by giving Archer his bottle, burping him and changing his diaper, but even working together the whole process could take 30-45 minutes.  And as soon as we would finish we would look at the clock and realize that we would have to start all over again in about 180 minutes.

Zac was able to take leave to be home with me for 10 days following Archer's birth.  Knowing what I know now, I am so incredibly thankful that Zac was at a command where he was able to be there for the birth and for the first few days of Archer's life.  I cannot imagine how other military wives have a baby (especially their first baby) while their husband is deployed.  I know that often times they have family available to support them, but it seems like there is something important about going through that initial struggle together. Being sleep deprived together, being clueless together, trying to figure out the different cries together, supporting one another.  One person comforting and tending to the baby while the other person simply relaxes for a few minutes.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I love my husband even more than I did five weeks ago.  The way he has been there for me, for our son, and the way that he and I have worked together as a team has made our marriage even stronger than it was.

While Zac was able to be there for the first 10 days, he had to leave us on day 11.  Zac was required to attend a school a couple of hours north of our house for two and a half weeks.  Zac was distressed and sad about leaving us, but my parents had arrived a couple days before so at least he didn't feel the guilt of leaving us alone.  As Zac was getting ready to leave he admitted that he was sad that he was going to miss out on the next few weeks, knowing that Archer was going to change even in that short period of time.  He also didn't like leaving me while I was still having trouble with breastfeeding, knowing that I was feeling disappointed, guilty and sad about the struggles.  (Again - another post.)   I promised him that Archer and I would be fine.  We were, thanks in no small part to my folks.  My parents were wonderful, as I knew they would be.  They were patient and understanding and helped in all sorts of way, big and small.  My Dad had to go back to MN after a few days, but my Mom was able to stay for a week and a half.  It meant a lot that my parents were able to come out and support me, Zac and Archer. I am so fortunate to have parents that have the time and means to fly half-way across the country to help.  I love that my parents are helpful, but not hovering.  They supply advice and wisdom when asked, or they dispense it at judicious, pertinent times without coming off as preachy or patronizing.  They understand that Zac and I need to find our own way, figure out how our family is going to work.  Their presence was a huge help.

Mom left on a Sunday and I had until Friday afternoon until Zac got home to try being a single-mother.  Zac is going to be deploying at some point later this year, so I figured it was as good a time as any to practice.  After all, hopefully by the fall we will have some sort of routine and Archer will be eight or nine months old and I will be getting larger chunks of sleep.  If I could be a single parent while getting two hours of sleep at a time, I should be able to handle it down the road when I'm getting six, maybe even seven. 

Overall the time alone with Archer was a success.  Luckily I didn't have anywhere to be that week.  No appointments, meetings or other obligations.  It allowed me to be flexible with napping, feeding, dressing and bathing.  (For both Archer and me.)  The evenings were a little tough as Archer would have a bit of a "witching hour" sometime between 6:00 and 8:00pm.  He'd be fussier than the rest of the day, refusing to be consoled unless he was being held and I was moving.  He was fed, dry and not over- or under-dressed.  He was just unhappy.  If I held him and paced around the house, he was crabby, but not crying.  If I tried to set him down he'd start to scream.  There was one night that I had to walk and bounce and walk and bounce and walk and bounce for 90 minutes before he finally fell asleep.  That was a rough experience, and it reinforced to me how lucky I was to have Zac around to help out most of the time.  Sometimes you simply need to tag someone else in, like you're professional wrestlers.  Ok, I've gotten my butt kicked long enough - it's your turn.

Archer and I survived the few days together.  Dare I say, we even thrived.  Each day I was able to get us out of the house for a brief time, whether it was to run to the post office or pick up some items at Target.  Despite our small victories, I was delighted when Zac got home from school on Friday.  I was able to show Zac that I successfully took care of myself and the baby in his absence, which gave him a sense of relief knowing that he hadn't abandoned us to suffer, alone.  Of course, Zac was happy to be home with me and his son.  I don't think Zac put Archer down for the first 48 hours.  It was nice to have my parenting partner back and the three of us spent that weekend simply hanging around the house, spending time together.

That weekend there was one moment where the three of us were laying on the floor, talking and playing, and I was able to mentally take a picture of how happy we were.  Our life is so good.  Even when we're sleep deprived, even when we don't get to have the same flexibility of schedule that we used to have, even when there are times apart, our life is beyond good.  We're a happy little family, us three.  So very happy.