And it’s so different this time.
It’s always been important to me to view Genevieve in her own frame, as an individual, not in relation or comparison to anyone else. I want us both to treat her life as a primary experience, not something that is “so much Xer than Y.” But in the first few days and weeks of the life of any secondborn, I suppose it’s inevitable that her parents will measure her in comparison to the single data point they’ve already got. Just as a firstborn is necessarily a mystery to her brand-new parents, the ensuing sibling is necessarily perceived through the prism of the elder.
From that perspective, Genevieve is winning. She’s a larger baby than Natalie was at one month, and is equally, if not more, physically mature. Her hair is thicker and fluffier than Natalie’s was at birth. Her big round eyes and long limbs give her the appearance, at least to my eye, of a baby a month or two older than her actual age (most likely because it took her sister that long to attain these dimensions). Like Noodles, Eve held up her head on the day she was born. Like Noodles, she has remarkable muscle tone and can already kick out her legs to a supported stand. But unlike Noodles, she seems to have bypassed the autonomous pinwheeling arms and has already figured out how to direct a fist into her mouth. (A good thing, since — to our chagrin — she is disinclined to take a pacifier.)
Most importantly, she is not torturing us with sleep deprivation. After the first few nights home from the hospital, when she’d awaken bright-eyed and ready to go dancing at 3 am, Genevieve figured out the art of night nursing with her eyes shut and now she’s a pretty damn solid sleeper. She doesn’t have her sister’s supernatural ability to nod off unassisted at 10 pm, eep twice at 2:30 and again at 5:00 to signal mealtime, and otherwise let her parents sleep undisturbed. But Eve still vastly outpaces the bell curve of babies who wake up at night, make noise, require soothing, and otherwise disrupt their folks’ sleep schedules. I’ll settle her next to me on the sobakawa pillow (no smothering danger here!), drift off to sleep nose to nose with her, and when she grunts in her sleep, pull her down to nurse. This has worked well enough that her father, at least, is getting a mostly-uninterrupted night’s rest. And since he’s the only one in our bedroom who has to get up and go to work these days, I guess that’s fair.
And Eve is nursing. I promised myself before her birth that This Baby, unlike That Other Baby I had, would not fall victim to any breastfeeding-related dogma. I’d nurse her exclusively for two weeks, and if by then she had not regained her birth weight, we’d start supplementing with formula, no questions asked, no emotional upheaval. So it would be.
I had forgotten that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
The GW maternity ward had discharged us without fanfare, noting casually that Eve’s postpartum weight loss was within the normal range for newborns, and assuring us not to worry unless she failed to regain it within two weeks. OK, all good. But then, two days after leaving the hospital, we took Genevieve to the pediatrician for her first newborn checkup — and were appalled to learn that, despite wearing my nipples to bloody nubs with her round-the-clock nursing, her weight had further dropped to seven pounds, nine ounces. More than ten percent off her birth weight. And to add insult to injury, she was jaundiced. All the glorious pudge and rosiness of her newborn self had been illusory, nothing more than bloat and an excess of red blood cells. And my breastfeeding plan was already failing.
“You may want to supplement a little,” the pediatrician advised us. “Not after every feeding, not yet. But once or twice a day.”
So, over my sinking heart and inadequate mammaries, Genevieve tasted her first protein shake at the ripe old age of four days. To her credit, she took to the botbot far less voraciously than her sister had, which reassured me that my efforts at nursing were not entirely in vain. It felt like I was lactating this time — the persistent and increasing itchy pinpricks under my skin, the alien bubbling sensation like marbles reproducing, the unprecedented wet patches that would appear on my shirt or the bedsheets when Genevieve fussed. I was so proud of the progress I was sure I was making. But at her two-week followup appointment Eve was only up to seven pounds, fourteen ounces: still eight ounces shy of her birth weight. With this development came official license to supplement as often as necessary.
This was the point at which I’d sworn there would be no drama.
So I swallowed hard, nicked a few free cans of formula from the newborn waiting room at the pediatrician’s office, and wondered whether it was worth continuing my attempts at lactation, or whether it was time to wave the white flag and go back on my diet right away.
In the end, the sunk cost fallacy carried the day. I’d already been popping expensive supplements, obsessively watching the clock, and enduring the equivalent of an emery board to one’s erogenous zones for two weeks. To quit now would mean that all that suffering was a waste, that it counted for nothing in the end. Which isn’t to say that continuing the effort might not also count for nothing in the end. But at least that would remain to be seen.
Besides, even for someone who’s forsworn The Drama, the Breast-Is-Best peer pressure is still overwhelming. If you opt out of breastfeeding, especially at any point prior to your return to full-time employment, you’re evil, an awful submother who blithely disregards your child’s best interests in favor of your own agenda. (And I’ll admit to my own degree of superstition: lately Natalie has picked up the chest cough and streaming nostrils that are all the rage in daycare this season, and the last thing her sister needs is the daycare plague this early in her infancy. Boob juice is as good a warding talisman as any.)
So I kept nursing. And in between titty shots, her father gave Genevieve all the botbots she would take. And this has had whatever effect on my supply that it was going to have, which of course we have no way of determining. Is my lactation just as inadequate as before, or even more so? Who knows. At any rate, by her one-month pediatrician appointment, Eve had reached the magical threshold of nine pounds, one ounce. Nine pounds one ounce. At one month. We were managing not to starve our newborn daughter this time. Maybe it was because I was lactating better now than I had with Natalie. Or maybe it was because of Daddy’s enthusiastic embrace of the botbots. Either way, Genevieve was smack dab in the middle of the healthy percentiles, and this validated whatever it was that we were doing to get her there. My relief is indescribable.
My own postpartum recovery has gone even more smoothly. I haven’t stood on a scale yet — am saving that delight for my six-week postpartum checkup — but have visibly shed my ninth-month bloat in record time. Six days after Genevieve was born, my wedding ring fit once again. While I don’t exactly have my waist back yet, I can see where it goes. I stopped bleeding after three weeks, half the time it took me with Natalie; the squirt bottle has been retired to the powder-room vanity; and what’s left of my bump has migrated fully south of my navel. Best of all, I seem to have sustained neither the apathetic lethargy nor the spooked-rodent burrowing urges that characterized my first few weeks home with Natalie. I’ve gotten dressed, gone out, done errands, resumed rehearsal (for, of all things, the Rachmaninoff Vespers). It seems that all of my pregnancy-related mental health issues with Genevieve played themselves out in my second trimester.
Unless there are more to come when I drop her off at daycare and head back to work. But we’ve got two months to get ready for that.