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Last week, I had an out-of-diaper experience. An out-of-diaper experience is when you open your child’s dresser drawer and stumble across a tiny doll diaper, which initially puzzles you and then suddenly seizes you as you realize that the doll was, in fact, your newborn. The same baby that now motors around your house in a size-4 diaper and blows raspberries at you with a mouthful of sweet potato.
An out-of-diaper experience is when you gaze at your giant, ambling 1-year-old and wonder how he ever fit into that GI Joe-sized diaper in the first place. A year into motherhood, I look at newborn diapers and feel wistful. What a magical time, I sigh. And then I do a cartoon double-take and remember the truth about the First Six Weeks.
Nobody told me. I realize now that this was not a sin of omission or a gesture of kindness. It’s just that the trauma of sleep deprivation, improper latch-on, projectile spit-up and inconsolable crying jags is so fleeting in the grand scheme of things that a mother tends to, well, forget. Which isn’t to suggest that the First Six Weeks are forgettable by any means. In fact, I can vividly remember everything I forget about them.
As I recall, in the beginning, there is milk. There is let-down. There is leakage. There is no need for clothing. I walked around the house topless for two weeks. I was not sashaying naughtily when I did this, but rather shuffling like a water buffalo on a full stomach. If my newborn didn’t startle me awake at 1, 3 and 5 a.m., my breasts did. They doubled as shower heads, had their own area code, guided small incoming vessels.
Then, somewhere between my first sitz bath and my baby’s first sleep grin, it hit. My hormones buckled themselves into their roller-coaster cars and threw their arms up in the air for a thrill ride. For a few weeks I cried like a wounded coyote. It didn’t take much. A gift for the baby. A knot in my hair. Cradle cap. Vegetable lasagna. My son’s feet.
Lack of sleep didn’t help. By the fourth week, I had yawned 7,128 times and could snooze standing, once while brushing my back molars. By then, I had become accustomed to hearing things, misplacing belongings and mumbling in languages I had never spoken before. I could forgo washing my hair for up to and including five days. I had logged 113 miles walking the baby to sleep. I got really excited about a good poopy diaper.
Nicholas smiled at me for the first time at 5 1/2 weeks. It had nothing to do with gas and made me drunk with love. Somehow, in that moment, everything felt manageable. Even the bone-deep fatigue and quiet despair that plagued me.
I’ve come to think of the First Six Weeks as a powerful rite of passage. Looking back, I feel as if my baby and I weathered a storm together, found comfort in one another, learned to trust each other and ourselves. I remember how I could just sit and watch him sleep. How awesome it was to know that he existed, that I was no longer expecting — that he was so much more than I expected. As I held his 7-pound swaddled body close to me and listened to him breathe, he felt like a cloud. At 30 pounds, he still does.