We Meet the Baby
You surely must remember what you were doing the day we met our baby, henceforth called The Baby. You would have noticed all time stood still, the Western sky took on a rosy glow at sunset, the air smelled of warm cookies even if you live in New Jersey. Christmas angels trumpeted a herald (heralded a trumpet? I don’t know from Christmas angels). There was a moment of utter, divine peace on earth for all humankind. That’s how I remember it, anyway.
So, there was crying. A lot of crying. Plus examining him, re-examining him, checking angles, constant uttering of the word “perfect.” I know every parent says their new baby is perfect. I also know every new parent says “I know every new parent says that!” The difference here is that I am empirically correct.
The nurses tuck him in for the night and tell us to come back in the morning to spend time with him. We leave in a state of glassy-eyed euphoria that’s hard to find outside of Colorado or Washington State. We also leave with a list of things that we need to buy at Walmart, the only store open in [TOWN REDACTED. MAN, THAT REALLY IS FUN. THIS IS SOME COLD WAR SPY MOSCOW KGB TELL-ALL SHIT].
If you haven’t been to a Walmart at midnight on December 22nd, let me set the scene for you: imagine a war-ravaged landscape where desperate people push carts full of screaming toddlers, generic soda and stocking stuffers. Shoppers are hauling toys that probably don’t meet the essential requirements of the FDA, CDC, OSHA or any government agency with letters in it. Then they fight Gladiator-style for the right to stand in line at one of two working cash registers. Each line can accommodate up to five people, but it’s mandated that those five people don’t speak the language of the cashier. The credit card machines will be down, nobody will remember how to count change back because cash is so 1997, or if they do remember how they’ll be sneaking a ten minute break because at Walmart if they don’t sneak breaks their hourly wage comes out 47 cents plus whatever discarded junk they find in changing rooms. Oh– and Christmas music is playing.
The baby section was baffling. There really weren’t very many things there so we do our best to navigate the essentials. First up: a place for the baby to sleep. We considered a laundry basket, but they said we could be here a few days. We end up with a playpen thing that has a bed on top of it. When my husband asks about blankets I calmly explain to him very loudly in a harsh tone that he has a lot to learn about SIDS. He also picks out a monster outfit with a hat for the baby. The hat has little monster horns. It is not possible to convey with words how amazing this hat is. So he’s forgiven for my controlled, placid explanation of SIDS that happened to contain a few frenetic hand gestures and possibly spittle.
By the time we get to the clothing I realize we can’t find anything we need because everything has been picked over for Christmas. That’s OK, there is a cute onesie (literally, a onesie that says “cute”) that is perfect for Baby to leave the hospital in! All we need now are diapers. And bottles. And formula. And something to wash the bottles. And wipes. Oh god, we’re sinking fast.
This is when the Christmas Angel appeared. It turns out they do not herald trumpets, they are great-grandmothers that work at Walmart and offer to go through the aisles with you, picking out what you need. Her advice was invaluable. “Don’t get Walmart brand wipes, they suck.” “Don’t get those diapers, they suck.” “Get one of those, you’ll need it. By the time you need it, you’ll know what it’s for.”
We haul everything back to the hotel. The next morning I am up at an hour I have never been excited to see before and we spend the whole day with our son. I say “our son” an insufferable number of times. My husband says he’s waiting until he’s legally ours. That fear that adoptive parents talk about? It’s more real than biological parents could ever possible know.
Our social worker comes in. She’s probably another Christmas angel, I don’t know how she would have pulled the timing off, otherwise. We sign so many legal papers that we’re wanted in three logging states for genocide. The hospital is unbelievably generous and gives us the Complete New Parent experience. We get booties and a hat to bring him home in, a blanket, a silver spoon. Someone has thoughtfully included a “My First John Deere Tractor Book.” Yep, I’ll provide evidence that exists.
They even give me a little questionnaire to fill out on concerns I may have about taking the baby home. 30 of the 40 questions have to do with C-section care, breastfeeding, sex after giving birth, when to expect my period. Bless their hearts. I haven’t had a period since 2010. I’m just so touched they give me the whole thing, like any other new mom.
The final part of the questionnaire asks if we know how to change a newborn’s diaper. Oh, Lord. It turns out that in nearly 40 years on this planet I have never actually touched a human being fresh out of the package. Neither of us knows. The first time we try it takes both of us ten minutes to find the little sticky tabs, place it under the baby, fold it, work with the little notch cut out for the cord, do it up, then re-swaddle him. The re-swaddling alone took 5 minutes. It wasn’t until the nurse pointed out it’s just like making a burrito that we felt even remotely sure how to fold and tuck the blanket. He HATED to keep his hands in the swaddle. Hated it. Hands by the ears at all times, or no deal.
Now. Here is a little piece of advice from me to you: should you ever encounter two parents who are very lovingly swaddling their non-white child, and should that child insist on bringing his hands to his ears, the one and only thing you are absolutely FORBIDDEN to do is shout
“Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
It turns out this phrase causes a violently protective reaction on the part of both new parents, who are now suddenly overwhelmed with the idea that their son, their non-white son, is being born into an America where we still need hashtags like #blacklivesmatter. Instead of sinking into despair that we know nothing about what the life of a non-white person in the US is going to be like, every time someone starts that phrase we shout over them. “Hands up!” “SO CUTE!”
This is the defense of two blissfully happy parents who now know real fear.
It’s time to take him out of the hospital. I realize way too late that the “cute” onesie has short sleeves. I’m already an insecure mom who can’t change diapers and swaddle, what the hell. He can wear short sleeves under his blanket. We go through the farce of the nurse handing him over to our social worker, who has to be the one to officially take custody. Two minutes later we’re in the truck. We are under a huge spruce, lit up for Christmas, and I swear to you, dear reader, at that exact moment it began to snow. That actually happened.
And we drove to the hotel. Then to a place they call Council-tucky to live in a casino. But that’s another story.