After Normal


Last February, Zelda was born in the middle of a snow storm. Even though I had a C-section and Zelda was born a little early, we were happily shipped home just thirty six hours later. Mom (that’s me now, it turns out) was doing great and Zelda was a trooper.

In hindsight, I might have chosen to hang about in the hospital as long as my insurance would cover — which I think was about five days — but, in the haze and the happiness of a healthy birth, when the doctor says, “You’re doing great, up and walking all over the place! Would you be happier at home?” you don’t consider the nurses who pop in every hour to ask you if you want water or food, or to re-swaddle your baby because you have no idea how to do that yet. You don’t think about the fact that you push a button every time the baby cries because OF COURSE you don’t know what she wants; you don’t think about the fact that when she is feeding at your breast it’s very helpful to have a nurse peer over and say, “Yes, that’s right,” or, “No, honey, that’s your elbow she is sucking on.” You only think of returning home to some semblance of normalcy. No one tells you that normal is over; it’s gone, poof.

When we took a tour of our hospital about two months before Z was born, Josh and I saw a couple — yes, they walk you through a working hospital! — getting off the elevator. They looked maniacal, giggling as they rolled off the lift, dad with a little car seat in hand. And in that car seat was the tiniest thing, a slip of a babe. I don’t know if it was sleeping or just being a newborn, but we talked about it then: “They look like they’re stealing it!” They seemed so happy and full of possibility. Tears welled up in my eyes. They knew everyone was beaming at them, all the pregnant ladies in a row waiting to get on the elevator, to ride up to see where their own babies would be born. They didn’t know what awaited at “home.”

They set us free at about 5PM on a Thursday. We loaded her into her carseat in the hospital room, squishing little rolled up blankets around her because she was so small she needed the padding. We put her in the car and my brother-in-law drove us home, through the crazy Manhattan traffic to Brooklyn. We we were home. And alone.

Now what? We let her sit on the couch in her car seat for a bit. Then we took her out and laid her into a Moses basket. She lay there, staring at the ceiling. We had a bassinet in our bedroom set up, too. We put her in that next. More lying, more stare. What do you do with a baby?

Suddenly, she seemed like she wasn’t breathing that well. She sounded like a tiny dinosaur. (Did you know that newborns don’t breath through their mouths? They can only use their noses; they figure out how to use their mouths to inhale and exhale later on, like after five or six months.) We had a bulb syringe, helpfully given to us in our hospital package, to suck snot out of her nose. But we didn’t know how to use it. We called our friends who had a toddler. Even though they clearly cared about our family, they seemed quite nonchalant about our life-or-death emergency. “It will be fine, just use the snot sucker,” they said. Then we called the hospital. We wanted to take her back. “Can we bring her back? Her nose is stuffed up.” “No,” we were told. “You’d have to take her to the emergency room.”

Because Zelda was early and slightly underweight, we had an appointment in the morning to have her weighed by a pediatrician. But how would we make it until then? We sat on the couch, panicked, pretending to sleep. The baby — did she sleep? I have no idea. When 9 AM arrived, she was still breathing, but loudly. We loaded her back into the car seat, into the car, and up to the pediatrician’s office, which was about three minutes away. We waited the three excruciating minutes to hear our doom pronounced.

The doctor came in and said, “What a beautiful baby!” She was Polish, her accent thick. We asked about her nose. “She can’t breathe,” we said. She agreed that Zelda had some leftover birthing stuffiness, which could be taken care of with saline and a snot-sucking tool. She sucked out the snot and said, “See, just do that.” She then pronounced, “This baby is perfect,” ready to send us on our way. But we desperately wanted to stay; we wanted a doctor next to us at all times, just to tell us Zelda was okay.

And she was, but that hardly stopped us from worrying constantly. We sleep because the baby does, but I don’t ever REALLY fully shut my eyes. That’s “normal” now: a constant low-grade worry on behalf of someone else’s life, an overwhelming love for someone you could cry at any moment. It is moving from crisis to crisis, averting or navigating beyond each one, emerging stronger and smarter, but also a little more tired. Normal is always, always being bone tired, but not wanting to sleep in when you hear her stirring. Normal is thinking less about yourself.

Normal now is experiencing each new thing as if for the first time: the seasons changing, the holidays. Zelda’s first autumn. Zelda’s first Thanksgiving. Zelda’s first Hanukkah. Zelda’s second snow storm.

The Parent Rap is an endearing column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting.