Monday, August 26, 2019

Appearances, Expectations, and Reality

Things I thought I would do after dropping my kids at school today:

- Work on job search and job applications.
- Write.
- Meal plan and grocery shop.
- Yoga.

Things I have actually done today after dropping my kids at school:
- Watched that Michael Buble video and cried
- Read articles by moms dropping their children at college and cried
- Stepped in puddle of dog pee, took several steps before brain caught up to what just happened.
- Mopped entire dining room and kitchen and hallway.

My expectations are clearly not quite matching up to reality, but I'm feeling really grateful for the flexibility to make all that happen.

I was e-mailing recently with my friend Julie (we're so old school like that!) and she mentioned one of the photos from G's newborn photo session:

I know... aren't we precious?

Look what a perfect, happy family we are. Just sitting around on the couch, admiring the baby, laughing at each other's jokes, wearing coordinating colors and a lot of white. Like you do when you're one week postpartum.

Please see how well-behaved my children are! They are like this all the time. We spend hours simply cuddling on the couch and enjoying each other's company while gazing at our newborn. I mean, do you see Coco's chin in her hand? And Zuzu's gentle touch on G's head? It's darling! How lucky I am to have such delightful offspring! This is just a normal part of our day! We sit like this for hours!

And look at our pup. He's just the best dog. He's certainly not the kind of dog who would refuse to go out in the rain and then pee all over the kitchen floor, ignoring the puppy piddle pad three feet away that I had actually remembered to put down for him just in case. He definitely wouldn't nose through a photographer's bag and try to eat the chocolates that she'd brought me as a gift. He doesn't shed everywhere! Oh--and look at Zuzu's little hand reaching for G's tiny foot? It's so cute that I can't even.

Please. Let me tell you The Rest of the Story. There is so much more truth behind these photos. Casey Rae Photography did capture the bleary, hazy love-fest that was G's early days at home, but there's a lot of reality going on that her beautiful, "lifestyle" photography does not reveal.

Let's start with me: I'd tried to do my hair for the first time in a week and was unhappy with the way it turned out. My face is still swollen from pregnancy. We'd been home from the NICU for three days and I was nowhere near caught up on sleep. I was exhausted. My boobs were so engorged that I could barely button that blue shirt I put on, but G was still so sleepy that she wasn't nursing well. I was stressed out about the photo session to the point that I was sweaty. I put on white jeans because I wanted us all to color coordinate with light, springy colors, but those pants did NOT fit me and I had to fasten them with a hair elastic. Wearing white pants while still bleeding from having a baby a week earlier is pretty ridiculous, but my only other option was black yoga pants and those just didn't fit the "aesthetic" I was going for. So I put in a gigantic pad and hoped for the best!

On top of this, I had wicked hemorrhoids. These were problematic throughout my whole pregnancy, no matter how much water I drank or Colace I dutifully swallowed along with my prenatal vitamin. They only got WORSE during delivery and they were truly the most uncomfortable part of my recovery. A natural birth with no tearing, no stitches, but a hemorrhoid that was so huge and painful it hurt me to move at all--walking, standing, sitting. I winced and moaned every time. All the Preparation H and Tucks pads in the world couldn't really fix it--it took two and a half weeks for it to go away. I was googling things like "hemorrhoid surgery" (word of advice: don't look it up). Anyway, my butt hurt so badly that I had to grit my teeth every time I moved for photos.

Plus these were all taken on Mother's Day. In my sleepless delirium, I'd texted Casey to let her know that G had shown up three weeks early and we'd like baby pictures as soon as possible after we got home from the NICU Thursday evening, so would Sunday work? I hadn't even realized we'd scheduled them for Mother's Day. When I discovered the date, I thought it would be fine--kind of sweet even. But really it was hard. Having G's baby pictures on Mother's Day was NOT a happy ending, silver lining, big fat bow wrapping up my motherhood story. Yes, I got my first positive pregnancy test on Mother's Day in 2011. Yes, I had a newborn photo session with my last baby on Mother's Day in 2019. But nothing about it was easy. How is it that this baby's decelerating heartrate was caught and she was safely delivered and we were all home and okay but eight years earlier I left the hospital empty handed? And was G going to be fine? The NICU stay had been hard on me but it was also hard to be home and on my own with a teensy tiny baby.

I was pretty stressed about G. The night we got home from the hospital, I called my pediatrician in a panic about her looking jaundiced. The girls wanted to hold their sister constantly, but I was so scared they would hurt her because she was so teensy and I needed them to be sooooo gentle. When G slept, she was so small and so still that I would constantly check the Owlet app on my phone to make sure her oxygen levels were good. I was scared that she'd need to go back to the hospital--or worse, that she would just stop breathing.

I was feeling the baby blues in a way that I hadn't with the other girls. And although I wanted pictures taken soon after she got home, this was still TWO WEEKS before her due date! G was so bitsy and skinny and yellow--especially compared to her sisters (who weighed in at 8 pounds and 8 pounds 7 ounces). I wanted to have G's newborn photo be a naked photo just like Zuzu's and Coco's were, but naked newborn G looked like a tree frog. She was so scrawny and had no butt cheeks and you could see all the bumps of her little spine! It made me feel like my body had failed her--that she had to come out into the world before she was ready. I was afraid there would be complications we didn't know about yet.

Then Zuzu and Coco, who appear to be devoted big sisters, were actually not very cooperative and pretty bratty about the photos, although they were very enthusiastic about the baby. Poor Coco spent the month of May having a ton of meltdowns. She had a really hard time adjusting to the sudden change of routine when Mom and Dad essentially disappeared to the hospital for a week and Grammy and Bops showed up to take care of the girls, except then Grammy got a stomach bug... then we got home but the baby was here and everything was different and Mommy was tense and exhausted. So anyway, while the girls had been super great for family photos back in October, they were not into it in May. Coco hated her dress and called it ugly because it wasn't as twirly as Zuzu's was. Zuzu liked her dress, but had no interest in doing the things the photographer or I would ask her to do--or she would do them in such an exaggerated way that it was not what I wanted for the photo. I seriously wanted to cry in frustration because they were being so difficult. And yet... this is what Casey photographed:

It may have been the one split second they weren't arguing or whining. And it's freaking adorable.

G also had a huge blowout mid-diaper change that nearly got all over me but was caught in her blanket instead and we had to switch swaddle blankets and David snapped at me as though it was my fault that I hadn't predicted she would shoot mustard poop out of her bottom the moment I removed her diaper. Clementine had to be kept in her crate because she wouldn't stop barking. I asked the photographer to re-do the naked baby shots at the end of the session because I was afraid the first time we tried hadn't looked the way I wanted it to, but G wouldn't go back to sleep and it wasn't working. I collapsed in exhaustion when it was all over.

(Casey the photographer had brought me good chocolates as a new-baby-mama gift, which was so incredibly thoughtful, and at one point I heard Cooper nosing around in the paper bag in the kitchen and I ran in there--yowch, hemorrhoids--and rescued the chocolates before he'd been able to access them. And they were delicious. I sampled several of them on the couch after our session was over.)

So trust me when I say that the pictures don't tell the whole story! I know too well what was really going on that afternoon.

And yet, when I look back at the photographs, I just see us dazed and delighted with this gorgeous new babe. I know that we were running on not enough sleep and too much adrenaline, the girls had not adjusted to the change in routine, I was experiencing huge anxiety about G being so tiny and fragile, and David was trying to keep the house clean and keep me happy and keep things as normal as possible for the girls while also wrapping up the busiest month on the school calendar... but the photos blur those harsh edges of that reality and just capture the best parts of all of us together.

The good was there, of course, it was just hard for me to feel it in that moment. And yet when I look at the photos, I marvel at the way the good is ALL that shows up in the edited pictures--big smiles, good lighting, forgiving camera lenses.

A lesson for all of us that when someone else is making it look easy... it's not. It's so not easy or pretty or fun all the time. But the loveliness is still there, in and around all the hard parts. You just need the right camera angle to see it.