Courtney and I have talked about this a few times recently. It’s actually a longer-standing conversation she’s had with Katie, one which I’ve only recently come to understand.
One of the things I was totally unprepared for was how utterly vulnerable loving Gregory leaves me. It’s a scary thought, to realize that all anyone would need to do is threaten to harm him. I would be like putty in their hands, willing to do anything they wanted. I can’t bear to see him hurting. I know God designed it this way so that something so little and helpless would always have a protector, but it feels rather cruel at times. I mean, God even designed the mother’s body to physically ache when her baby cries. I always thought that moms who couldn’t stand to listen to their baby crying just had a lack of emotional control, but it’s actually painful!
For the most part, Gregory is still infantile in his responses. I wanted to say, “unresponsive”, but that makes me think of dead people. He will occasionally hear one of our voices and track for a few seconds, but then it’s back to staring. If you happen to get in the line of that gaze, then, yes, he is looking at you. But it’s not usually voluntary.
I thought that this lack of acknowledgement of my presence would make it hard for me to love him these first few weeks, when his needs are ever present and abounding. What I realized, however, is that he has other ways of communicating his love and gratitude. Seriously. I’m not imagining it. If he’s been crying for any length of time (not long! I promise I’m not a bad mom) and I pick him up, he immediately stops crying to nuzzle his little face right on my neck, smells to make sure it’s me, and sighs happily. That’s all I need. It’s wonderful. The other day, he was fussing, and I picked him up and started to sing to him. He nuzzled his face on my chest, and not only stopped crying and moving around, but also relaxed. I could feel him let go and just lay there, peacefully, without a sound. The mommy hormones kicked in, and it was all I could do to keep from crying. My baby knows my voice, and it comforts him. It’s the most fulfilling thing in the world to be able to fill his needs and to see it bring him joy or comfort.
I bring this up now because last night, Gregory and I had our first unpleasant nursing experience in weeks. We came home from the grocery store and Gregory was hungry (as always) and I went to nurse him. He was fine on the first side, but when we switched he was all of a sudden inconsolable, pushing away from me, beating my chest with his fists and wailing to the point where he was gulping in more air than milk.
I assumed he was being stubborn, because we often have this battle. See, he wants to move around while nursing. I’ve explained to him very firmly that there is no such thing as a “Nipple-To-Go”. No, it has to actually be ATTACHED for it to work. Eventually, he gives in, stops grunting and stays still.
Not this time, however. I pulled him off and re-tried 3 or 4 times. Each time I pulled him off to see why he was so upset, he began to wail hungrily and suck on his fists.
I wondered if it was something I’d eaten for dinner that was causing him discomfort (although he wasn’t folding his knees up to his chest– baby signal for a hurting tummy). I thought back to the Jumbalaya Rice I’d made for us and remembered how spicy it was.
But I also knew that I’ve eaten lots of spicy foods these past few weeks, and he’s never reacted negatively. So I was thoroughly puzzled. I also realized that I was getting emotional over the whole thing. Here was the one thing he needed and the one thing that only I could give him. And, for some reason, he didn’t want it!
Jesse came over to help me and we tried again. This time, Gregory reached up with nails and violently scratched me, all the way from my cheek down to my chest, while simultaneously yanking backwards on you-know-what.
“OUCH!” I shouted angrily, pretty close to his face and pulled him off.
And then his face dissolved into the most pitiful crying. Trust me, this kid has quite the pouty lip. He’s going to be hard to say no to someday.
It killed me. I had just yelled at my baby. I can still picture exactly what his sad little face looked like as Jesse took him out of my hands.
We’re still not sure what caused the incident. I pumped all the milk he would’ve eaten and we transferred it to a bottle. He drank the whole thing, greedily gulping because he was so hungry. So it wasn’t the Jumbalaya Rice. And he’s been eating normally ever since.
But the whole thing really upset me. As Jesse was feeding him his bottle, I came over and held little Gregory’s hand and started crying. I couldn’t believe I yelled at him like that for something that at his age is 100% reflex. How was I going to react someday when he actually did something mean or disobedient? I was also upset that I couldn’t give him what he needed.
I had a sudden (probably silly) thought. Would Gregory still love me if I couldn’t feed him? At least Jesse knows that Gregory calms down at the sound of his voice because he’s loved, not because he’s the Human Vending Machine.
But Jesse said exactly what I needed to hear. “Honey, you’re his whole world. For 9 months, you literally were. Every experience, every noise, he’s had through you. Of course he loves you.”
This reminded me of last Saturday. Julie came over to babysit while I went to my Trivium class. I had to leave at 8:45, so naturally, I was nursing Gregory until the very last minute. As I was burping him and getting ready to hand him over to Julie, he suddenly cuddled very close on my chest and fell asleep. I realized that this was exactly the time of morning that he and I usually had our “cuddle time”. He had come to rely on it.
Needless to say, I almost didn’t go to class. I didn’t want to. My little boy wanted to cuddle, and nothing else mattered in that moment.
As anyone knows from reading this blog, I never wanted to be one of those moms who was chained to her kids, “helicopter parenting”, so to speak.
Then again, I was never counting on the immense amount of love and longing that would accompany motherhood. It’s not something I could’ve anticipated or explained to myself back in January. It’s like trying to explain the amount of love and trust in a marriage to someone who’s never dated. There just aren’t words in the English language to describe something like that without relying on the shared experience.
I guess I must be content spending the rest of my life exploring this new paradox– love this strong makes you weak.