Let me start off by saying this: I wasn't one of those people who went into my first pregnancy thinking parenthood was going to simply be diaper changes and choreographed naptimes. My husband and I were both very aware that we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. We were nervous. And, as it turns out, rightfully so.
After I gave birth to Ben, our oldest, we gathered our belongings from the hospital room, and my husband looked at me and said, "I can't believe they think it's a good idea we take him home. That seems irresponsible on their part."
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It's not like we didn't do our homework. We took every class the hospital offered, from childbirth prep to infant CPR, but neither one of us could remember much once we got back home (thankfully we never had to use CPR). And nothing can prepare you for the lack of sleep, late-night feedings, and sheer exhaustion that occurs when your sole purpose is to help this tiny little life thrive.
Fortunately Ben was (and still is) a people pleaser. Don't get me wrong, he could have been a better sleeper and he had his own quirks, but overall, he was what many might call an "easy" baby. Of course we didn't know that at the time. Whether your kid is chill or not, parenting is hard. Really hard. Like turns your life on its head and spins it around incessantly kind of hard. I'm not usually a huge fan of topsy-turvy amusement park rides but I was really enjoying being a mom.
As Ben grew into a toddler, our little family of three fell into a comfortable routine. My husband and I were starting to get more sleep. Ben stopped breastfeeding at 13 months, so I could ditch my nursing bras and covers. Everything was starting to feel more "normal." So much so that we decided to shake things up ... it was time to try for Baby No. 2.
I got pregnant with my second child immediately, which was exciting because there'd been some bumps in the road before we conceived Ben. The vicious morning sickness I experienced the first time around was back, and a little tougher to deal with because I was caring for a toddler as well as myself. It was uncomfortable but manageable and we were all relieved the pregnancy was healthy as time rolled along.
At 36 weeks, I had an OB appointment during which my doctor told me the baby was head down and already looked like he was "on a mission." She expected I would deliver earlier than my due date. Well, she was right about one thing.
Five days later, I was lying in bed and realized I was spotting. Terrified something was going wrong, my husband, Ben, and I schlepped to the hospital at 1 a.m. While the staff conducted tests and some contractions ran their course, a nurse asked me, "Do you have your C-section scheduled?"
"Your C-section? This baby is breech."
Yep, that little peanut had managed to turn himself sideways sometime between 36 and 37 weeks -- a rarity. And thus began the deconstruction of everything I thought I knew about parenting.
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We chose not to go through the process of having my doctor attempt to manually readjust the baby to head-down, and we scheduled a C-section. Naturally my little rebel wasn't cool with the assigned date. I went into labor within a week of that initial "scare" and had an emergency C-section. Ethan was born, proving right from the get-go that we were all going to do things his way.
He looked like his big brother at birth, but the similarities ended there. The soothing tricks we'd used for Ben did not work for Ethan, in part because the poor little guy developed acid reflux. So we had administering medicine to contend with this time around.
And breastfeeding? E took to it like a champ. Bottle-feeding? Not so much. My pumping sessions were for naught. The kid refused a bottle, only willing to drink straight from "the tap." Our pediatrician promised the baby would give into the bottle once he was hungry enough -- that never happened. He would rather starve than accept that bottle, which meant there was absolutely no rest for the weary (aka me).
And speaking of weary, we tried the exact same method of sleep training on Ethan that we did for Ben, which worked within a week the first time around. Second kid? Not at all. The crying would last for an hour and a half, when one of us would finally rescue Ethan from his crib. It was sad. It was depressing. It felt hopeless. It felt as if we were never going to sleep again.
We were trying to relearn parenting in a different way. A way that fit Ethan and his needs, because clearly he wasn't buying what we were selling. I instantly felt guilty for the times I questioned another parent's dedication to sleep training after hearing stories about how it didn't work for them. They did try. I know we did. But the cold hard truth that every kid really is different was a lesson I was quickly learning.
This is not to say those early days weren't also filled with happiness and fun. I loved watching Ethan hit his milestones, giggle, play, become more comfortable with his world. I was just so, so tired. And exasperated. Even when your kid is being a royal pain in the butt, most of us are aggravated because we're trying so hard to give them a happy life and it feels like we're failing.
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Ben gleefully took to preschool without any issue while Ethan would go into a panic if either my husband or I wasn't within a foot of him. When he was old enough to play in the kids' club at our gym, we would receive a call within 10 minutes. Ethan hadn't stopped crying since we dropped him off so we needed to return.
While Ben can be pegged as the "easy" one, that doesn't mean Ethan is "bad." More challenging? Definitely. But I'm learning to appreciate the gauntlets he throws down. He's a kid (currently 4) who marches to the beat of his own drum and forces me to approach life differently.
For one, I've never appreciated those Internet memes about strong-willed children more. And when he's truly happy about something, there's nothing more rewarding than his giant smile. Literally nothing. He smiles from ear to ear either because he's excited about something or proud of himself. For a parent, both feel like huge accomplishments.
We're currently in a difficult tantrum phase, one that motivated us to meet with a child therapist. Because there really is no single, universal way to raise a happy, healthy child, we're open to help and suggestions. While Ethan may have destroyed everything I thought I knew about parenting, he's opening my eyes to so much more. And in the end I think he'll make me a better parent and a more understanding person.