Peanut has her first cold.
Lousy naps and sneezing evolved into a midnight coughing spell that had the Babe up and at ’em for most of the wee hours. We laughed, we cried, we Nose-Frida-ed. Today we are committed to jammies all day, and I have very graciously bowed out of any and all self-responsibility in order to care for my child, including (but not limited to): cleaning, showering, brushing of teeth, wearing a bra. Motherhood is a sacrifice.
Peanut is a pleasant patient. Smiles and sunshine. Not like Mama, who, when sick, resembles a grouchy circus tiger TOTALLY OVER THIS BULLSHIT, ready to bite off the hand of anyone who shows the slightest bit of sympathy OR isn’t sympathetic enough.
Her face is a puddle of drool and snot. I mindfully add both to the list of “mystery fluids” adorning my jammies, my couch, my woven rug.
Nobody ever talks about how damp motherhood is.
I typically am not one to jump the gun and rush to the doctor’s whenever illness presents itself. Chalk it up to being uninsured for most of my 20s and an inherited mistrust passed through the generations of the medical profession in general. I rarely take prescriptions and have come to rely on an old-timey “cure what ails you” recipe given by a friend: boil in a large pot 5-8 heads of garlic, at least 6 lemons, and tons of ginger root. It will be bitter and oddly savory, and while it isn’t pleasant, it clears you out.
With the Peanut, however, it is a different story.
The beginning was magic. The early days were Mama and the Babe, kicking it with cups of lactation tea and the ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS box set. Dad came home from work and cuddled with us. Friends brought us dinner and doted. I never changed out of soft pants. It was a sweet time. She was strong and healthy, and I had no worries. Why would I? Everything was breezy.
Then she hit four weeks.
In the span of three days, she was diagnosed with severe reflux and food allergies, rushed to Children’s Hospital for apnea (the medical term for “turning Violet Beauregarde-blue”), and, during that stay, two holes in her heart were discovered. It was a long week. My husband and I slept feet-to-face on a twin pull-out in the hospital room Peanut shared with a tween-age cancer patient. What kept me awake, counting the beeps and bleeps, tapping my foot in rhythmic time, was the sight of my frail baby lying in an oversized crib hooked up to more machines than the Six Million Dollar Man. Days passed, and when it was time to go home, we were told she was at high-risk for SIDS and given a private CPR lesson by a no-nonsense nurse who stressed, under no uncertain terms, that the fate of our child was in our hands. No pressure.
We went home. I laid Peanut in her cradle and just … stared at her.
I know how lucky we are. I know parents who have gone through worse, way worse, significantly worse. I’m not callous and I don’t take the fact that Peanut is thriving now for granted (such a shitty term, “thriving”). But those days, during that time, all I saw was me. And, more specifically, what I did.
Which was nothing. It wasn’t my fault.
But wasn’t it?
Who carried her for 37 weeks? Me. Who was solely responsible during that time for her health and well-being? Me. Peanut was three weeks early in a world where most first-time mamas partake in nipple massage and eat labor-inducing salads to get the babe out. And now, with barely a month of exo-womb care under my belt, I was on high alert because it was very possible that my newborn could stop breathing at any given time, and I would have to resuscitate her.
It was a quiet shame, one I could not discuss with anyone because my guilt left me speechless. One my husband couldn’t understand because he loved me too much to see me suffer – he’d try to fix it with blind, well-intentioned, repeated reassurance. I needed validation of my guilt, so I consulted the one person I knew would give me unbiased, unsentimental feedback.
I want to pause here for a moment to talk about how good the mothers who came before us had it. Because, how easy is it to Google? To Web MD? To BabyCenter? And how easy is it to scare yourself shitless any time you search a symptom? A sneeze is a sneeze unless it’s allergies or a cold or the flu or the beginning stages of pneumonia. What’s that bump? Let me Image Search “red bump on five week old” and OMG THAT’S WHAT SMALLPOX LOOKS LIKE???? The thing is, babies sneeze because their respiratory systems are revving up. Red bumps appear on babies because their skin is adjusting to life outside of the womb. I knew that. Mothers who came before me knew that. But having access to the Internet suddenly had me second-guessing my greatest ally: my motherly intuition. And even though intuition was telling me that this wasn’t my fault, that I did everything right during my pregnancy, that sometimes babies have holes in their hearts and sometimes babies have reflux and sometimes babies have food allergies and sometimes babies have all three, I still chose to second-guess and consult that back-alley equivalent of a medical professional: the Internet.
The Internet made me paranoid. Her multiple meds a day were going to mess up her gut and she’d “get” autism, according to one site, treating the disorder as though it was something you could catch from a dirty doorknob. The holes in her heart might close on their own, or it might be better to go ahead and preemptively have surgery, according to another site. Allergies were better treated with formula, and if you were still breastfeeding, you were being selfish, said another site. Sites and pages and articles. A myriad of opinions across the spectrum screamed their first-hand accounts into the void. I took it all in. I let it digest and settle. I barraged pediatricians and specialists with my researched knowledge, only to be met with head-scratching and the concerned, “Ohhhhh, right, first-time mom” nod. I watched Peanut with wide, unblinking eyes. She stared back at me, unnerved.
This was no way to mother. I had to stop.
So I took a deep breath and closed my laptop. I stopped studying and scrutinizing and staring at my kid like a creep and started taking it day by day. I gave her her medicines and she showed signs of improvement. I fattened her up with breast milk like it was my job, because it was. She stayed camped out in our room, in a cradle at the side of my bed. And she grew. And she thrived. And I finally learned to let go of the guilt. And while she isn’t quite out of the woods yet, she’s very nearly there, and that is something I will never take for granted.
So she has a cold. So there’s a pertussis outbreak. I’ll dodge the alarmist posts. We’ll hunker down in our jim-jams, keep a low-pro, and snuggle in bed all day till it passes.