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August 2, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

Growth Spurts will F*** You Up.

The trouble with being pregnant is that you have all sorts of time to read about the shit that is happening to your body, and all sorts of time to put off reading about what’s going to happen when that’s done. Because when your pregnancy is done, and you’re staring at that magnificently creepy tiny body in your arms, you have no time to do anything else. You find yourself Googling the things that are puzzling you at the moment, but you no longer have the time to sit languidly on the toilet and read about what’s to come in say, Week 7 of your baby’s life.

I didn’t know Edith was having a growth spurt until she was almost finished with it. I thought growth spurts were just times when bodies grew into new sizes. When I was 11, I went through a growth spurt and got breast buds and thought I’d finally reached adulthood. Just after, my mother took me to a small shop in my town and bought me some training bras which I wore with pride. They were Calvin Klein.

But watching a newborn go through a growth spurt is somewhat less thrilling than putting on your first bra. It’s not so much “watching” as “experiencing” the growth spurt because you’re in it, too, 1000%, and it is nothing more than a suck fest. “Suck” in terms of “this sucks.” And “suck” in terms of “that’s all she’ll do, all day long, and by the end of it your nipples react with fear to her crying.” I’d heard about newborn growth spurts. But hearing about them, reading about them, is totally different from experiencing one when it’s happening.

In theory, a growth spurt is the time when your infant is developing something new–new abilities, new weight, new height, new something. These spurts happen every so often, but fairly regularly: a few days old, a couple weeks old, a month or so old, two months, six months, and so on. People have written that they’re pretty magical because just after a growth spurt, your infant will be able to do something new even if you can’t notice it right away. The only thing magical about growth spurts, in my opinion, is their timing. They happen just infrequently enough to make you forget about them until the next time you’re deep in their shit when after hours and hours of feeding and crabbiness (both yours and the baby’s) and your tears and anger and death plots on your sleeping husband, you realize what’s actually happening, and then the spurt is over. That is some dark magic.

The first time Edith had a growth spurt, it was Father’s Day. She was 10 days old. I’d planned to surprise my husband in the morning by having Edith wear a little onesie that says “Happy First Father’s Day.” It had a big blue bird on it that was supposed to be the dad and a little pink bird that was supposed to be the little baby girl. I’d ordered it from Etsy weeks in advance. That morning, I woke up for her 3am feeding and changed her into the little onesie, fed her, and then put her down to sleep again. When she woke up a couple of hours later, Dennis changed her diaper and brought her screaming back into our room for me to feed her. That was the moment it began because for the next fifteen hours she wouldn’t stop eating, crying, or refusing to be out of our arms. She wouldn’t sleep unless she was sleeping on one of our chests. We wouldn’t be able to move because she would wake and need to eat immediately. It was not a happy first father’s day.

If, in theory, a growth spurt is developing something new, in practice it is destroying something old. After 10 days of mothering Edith the best I could, we’d gotten into a great groove. The three of us had established a wonderful routine based around her feedings and naps. I was getting as much sleep as I could and we seemed to be on some kind of cloud. I felt good. I felt like being a mother was something so “natural,” that it just kind of came to me, that I was happy in my new role. But Edith’s growth spurt wiped all those positive thoughts and self-confidence away, wore them away and wore me down. Hmm, she’s crying a lot. Yesterday she was fine–we’d had such a nice day. Why is she so needy today? Maybe it’s the weather? Why won’t she sleep? I just fed her fifteen minutes ago and she wants to eat again? Is this more cluster feeding? I thought that was just in the beginning…? Can she just leave me alone for a little bit, please? Why am I wanting my newborn child to leave me alone? Why don’t I want to hold her right now? Oh my god, are these the early signs of my wanting to abandon her? Am I going to end up on the news someday because I have done something terrible to my child? Why is Dennis just sitting there? Isn’t he happy to see her? Am I happy to see her? Am I happy to see him? Oh my god, do I hate him? Is this going to break us up? Are we going to be one of those couples who doesn’t make it because we had children? How am I supposed to suddenly go from not having a baby to being a mother and know what to do, just like that? Why do hospitals let people just take new humans home? Is she going to be like this forever? Fuck! What the hell is going on here?!?!

And then somewhere around five in the afternoon, when I called my stepfather to say Happy Father’s Day and heard my step-sister’s voice in the background, I burst into tears and asked to talk to her. Susie has two grown daughters. I just needed to talk to a mom. (I should say here that my mom died in 2009. Cue other feelings and questions about my own relationship with my mother, the fact that I couldn’t ask her about these things, the fact that no one but her would do, the fact that I was mad that I couldn’t ask her about these things.) I went on and on about these feelings of inadequacy I was suddenly having, explained Edith’s non-stop fussiness, opened up about my fear of what this might one day do to my marriage and then Susie asked, “How old is she?” When I said, “10 days today,” Susie kind of chuckled. “Well, you know this…it’s a growth spurt!”

Putting a name on my suffering suddenly made it more bearable, and, more importantly, I had something to Google: “10 days growth spurt.” I was bombarded with all sorts of pages to read about the hell I was in. I read that these spurts last a couple of days, up to one week, that they’d happen pretty regularly, and that they meant some new great things were happening to her. “Okay,” I thought. “This is temporary.”And it was. She was back to her normal self the next day and I forgot about what it was like to be in it with her. Then two weeks later she was at it again: fussy and cranky and needing constant touch and constant feeds. And just as I was beginning to feel good and confident and on a roll, my emotions went haywire and I cycled back through my deepest fears and doubts about my ability to do a good job in my new role.

This has happened every single time she’s had a growth spurt, the most recent one lasting for four days and culminating in a middle-of-the-night freak-out wherein I cursed out my sweet, selfless, hard-working husband like never before. He’d woken up to check on me in the living room, where I’d camped out with Cheerios and a movie, somewhere around 5:30 in the morning after I’d been awake for five hours. I gave him fair warning I had reached Maximum Crazy when I said, “I think you better go back to bed because I’m going to say some stuff that I will regret.” He didn’t go to bed, so I said them. (I should also add “forgiving” to the list of adjectives that describe Dennis, and “horrific” to the ones that describe me during our daughter’s growth spurts. So far, more than any bad dream or therapy session, growth spurts are the things that have made me confront the worst in myself. From now on, I will wish them on the people I hate.)

The upside of this most recent one, however, is that the growth that’s happened has been in her ability to verbalize. She now “talks” often–lots of cooing, gurgling, laughing. In the mornings, when she first sees me and breaks into a wide smile of recognition, she identifies me by saying “ah-goo.” We go back and forth a few times sharing those two syllables and I see her joy when she hears me repeat the words she’s saying. Our first conversations aren’t much, but they’re something. She says her sounds with smiles, and those smiles are for me. They’re magnificent. They are, dare I say, even magical.

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