I’m a first-time mom, a title I proudly wear.
We celebrated my daughter’s birthday this past March. It’s been an amazing year.
This child—who spent her first five weeks of life attached to wires and monitors, under the careful watch of neonatologist specialists—has grown as a happy, curious child engaged in the world around her.
My husband and I have celebrated each new development—smiling from recognition, hearing her laugh, sitting up (propped by pillows), sitting up (not propped by pillows), wiggling backwards, inching forwards, ever exploring the world around her for the first time, second time, third time… (by now it may be the 50th time) yet so new each day.
Her first weeks of life she remained in the hospital while her neurological system caught up to her physical adjustments—born five weeks early, she hadn’t quite developed the sense of suck/swallow/breathe and would forget the third part of the process during feedings and at times during her sleep; and while only lasting seconds at a time, my husband and I were rigorously trained on what to look for should these oxygen desaturations ever occur once baby came home. Thankfully, they never reoccurred upon her discharge.
The silver lining to that experience is that the neonatal intensive care unit taught us how to care for our daughter. We learned how to nurse her and give a bottle, how to bathe her and change her diapers, how to dress her and pick up on her personality preferences. When she was discharged, as her parents, we felt we had a handle on the situation—until the next week when she went through a feeding frenzy and growth spurt we hadn’t been alerted for.
With no family in our immediate vicinity, my husband and I depended on each other. We both come from small families and have no married siblings, so entering parenthood has been a journey we are leading on our own. The pediatrician’s number is on speed dial and is used generously. And while we’ve read books and asked advice from family and friends, nothing prepares you for parenthood other than experiencing life yourself.
We’ve experienced teething episodes that left my daughter waking often and cranky in the middle of the night. We’ve been through fevers that made us extra cautious about how to dress her, what to feed her, how to handle her. Bad colds that left her needing a little extra TLC, and messy diapers that left us needing a little extra TLC.
Last week my baby got sick with a stomach bug for the first time, and it pained me. Sure, a cold is uncomfortable—but this time I felt pain for my daughter. Her eyes would become red and teary as she gagged on her little nibbles of typically favored delights. Poor little girl couldn’t keep food down, but thankfully tolerated fluids. She wasn’t sleeping the same. Her stomach hurt her, as we could tell by the way she cried until she had some flatulent relief. This was a new realm we entered.
We felt helpless, vulnerable and insecure of how to care for her.
And while the doctor wasn’t overly concerned—“these things don’t usually last long,” she calmly advised two days into the bug—we needed more direction. Another two days later, as symptoms subsided, we brought her back erev Shabbos for another consultation. We were to go away for the weekend, was it still okay to do?
The doctor saw our daughter as on the upswing and advised as long as we kept her away from other babies, we could go away.
Sure enough, 4:30 p.m. on Friday her fever broke and we gave her medicine. She was herself again and even fell asleep at a relatively decent hour, but woke twice in the middle of the night with such screams we debated taking her to the hospital. We realized they were gas pains, but she felt very warm so we decide to dispense medicine again.
Shabbos afternoon the bug flared up again, with new symptoms and we didn’t know what to do. We were unable to locate a pediatrician. She wasn’t keeping food down. She was crying out in pain. She sounded congested.
It may all have been routine symptoms of a stomach bug, but we had nothing to gauge it all against.
Hours later we met a pediatrician we are familiar with in the neighborhood, surrounded by her friends before a shiur. I approached her with my concerns, and while this individual was able to calm me and suggest things I could keep in mind to care for my daughter, next to her the ladies commented to me, “Oh what a first time mother” or “You’ll see—by the time you have your seventh you won’t react like this anymore.”
Instead of laughing at my concerns, I would have appreciated being validated as a first-time parent that new experiences can be distressing, even if the event is minor in the bigger picture of this child’s wellbeing. Even if I was being overly sensitive to their remarks, remind me that with time, I will feel more secure and knowledgeable as I care for my child, as I have been since she was born. Offer advice from a caring, “been-there, although many years ago” mom perspective. If God gave you the gift of a child, you were once a first-time mom too.
The world of caring for a child is a new development for my husband and myself, especially when the child isn’t feeling well. And until it becomes the 50th time for experiencing something for us, it will still feel new each time. If the doctor doesn’t tell me about a potential reaction my child might have to a certain medication, my “motherly instinct” won’t know that.
We’re doing our best to care for our child.
I would think that’s what any parent wants to be reminded. Whether the child is your first or your seventh.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.