Unplanned Parenthood: The First 9 Months
Written by Peter Mercurio
(published in the March/April 2003 issue of AND BABY Magazine)
Neither Danny nor I had any prior experience taking care of an infant when Kevin arrived as an early Christmas present on December 22, 2000. But there we were, holding our son, smiling on the outside and trembling on the inside. What had we gotten ourselves into? Us fathers? A baby? Once a passing fantasy, now a 12-pound 5-ounce, 4 month-old reality. We had not planned, nor were we equipped, for a baby to enter our lives. So, our postnatal preparation commenced immediately accompanied by mild-to-moderate "labor" pains for the next nine months.
Before we could say, "what’s Desitin," we were nursing a third-degree, untreated diaper rash (left over from his foster home), changing diapers, and boiling nipples. And we soon discovered that not all nipples are created equal. There are cross-cut nipples, tri-vented nipples, round-top nipples, flat-top nipples, precision-flow nipples, orthodontic nipples, dripless nipples, self-adjusting nipples, latex nipples, and silicone nipples (for the natural feel). We had never concerned ourselves with the way milk flowed out of a nipple. The perfect nipple secretes just enough liquid to satisfy Kevin’s hunger without causing him to gag. Plus, we had choices. Kevin had choices. Kevin’s bottle nipples would grow and evolve along with his head circumference (a statistic that seems important only to pediatricians).
Pediatricians told us the clues to Kevin’s growth and health were hidden in his Huggies. Did he pee enough? What was the shape, texture, volume, color, and frequency of his bowel movements? Doctors told us that the more Huggies Kevin went through in a day, the better. One problem: Dirty diapers stink! Other parents said we would get used to the smell and eventually not even notice. Liars! Poop is poop and it reeks. The aroma lingers and dances around each nose hair until it finally sticks to your nostril walls forever. On my diaper duty, Danny held underarm deodorant, scented candles, linen spray, candy, anything up to my nose to disguise and alleviate the dirty-diaper odor so I wouldn’t gag. These techniques worked most of the time, but when Kevin got a gastrointestinal virus, there was not enough time to find mop, let alone a Glade. Kevin was quickly running out of fluids, as well as onesies, and St. Vincent’s Hospital became our home for the next two nights. Kevin’s first night of life was spent at St. Vincent’s, and now he was returning six months later to get reacquainted and rehydrated. In the emergency room, Kevin was surrounded by doctors (and medical students)—most of whom remembered the night he was found and brought to the hospital. One student overheard me say that my partner, Danny, had found the baby. He asked if I was a detective. I told him no. He asked again. The other doctors and students smirked as they understood what "partner" meant.
The hospital staff was happy to see Kevin again. Danny and I knew he would be in good hands. What we didn’t know was that Kevin would return to St. Vincent’s again two weeks later with RSV pneumonia. At six months old, he had spent more nights connected to an IV drip than Danny and I had in our combined lifetimes. However, for the first time, doctors did not loop a tape measure around Kevin’s temples, but to the naked eye it appeared his head circumference was still enlarging. We took that as a good sign. After two more nights in the hospital, and the aid of a take-home nebulizer, Kevin was back to health.
No other major illnesses have affected Kevin since, although common colds have not escaped him. But who knew that babies don’t know how to blow their own nose? One challenge I quickly became fond of was sucking mucous out of Kevin’s nose with an aspirator. Clearing his airways became sport and I went Caddyshack-crazy battling his boogers. Danny would yell at me to drop the nose patrol and leave Kevin alone, but I was obsessed. For me, success and worthiness as a parent equaled an aspirator tube full of Kevin’s slime. It provided a sense of achievement and pleasure I had not imagined as a non-parent.
One rite of passage into parenthood we were expecting was sleep deprivation. We were warned about the sleepless nights and baggy eyes, but Kevin slept 10 to 12 hours a night without interruption. The one stipulation was that he slept only on his stomach. (I hear the collective gasp out there.) As much as we tried to get him to sleep on his back, he stubbornly refused. And the quieter Kevin slept, the more we woke to check on him. Placing a hand on his back, or a finger under his nose, would calm our nerves until the next check. In the morning, Kevin would peer through the slats of his crib to see if we were awake, and if we weren’t, he would wait quietly until we were. How he knew whether or not we were really asleep was a mystery, but we counted our blessings that our son valued a solid night’s sleep.
Kevin was mobile early. But no one told us he would only move backwards while sliding around on his belly. He polished the floors better than a Swiffer Jet Mop while Danny and I began baby proofing. Our apartment became a cushioned, padded, foamed, rubberized, plugged, gated, window-guarded, bolted-down fortress. All trinkets, whatnots, and choke hazards were elevated. Our marble playing days were over. As Kevin approached his first birthday he changed gears form reverse to forward and then quickly became upright.
We celebrated Kevin’s 1st birthday and our first 8 months as his parents by having a barbecue party in my parent’s backyard in New Jersey. As I videotaped Kevin fingering the icing on his Elmo cake and friends lounging on the grass, a rabid raccoon decided to join the celebration. Guests scattered, Kevin licked his fingers, and a chase ensued to trap the raccoon. No one was hurt. It was just another unplanned event that capped off an eventful nine months. (By the way, the video footage is worthy of an Emmy.)
Back in New York City that night, we prepared Kevin for bed. As I changed his diaper I wondered if I had, after all, grown accustomed to the smell. I wasn’t sure. While I was aware it existed, I no longer needed to stick deodorant under my nose. Is this what other parents meant by not noticing anymore? And if so, how and when did that happen? I looked for an answer from the Diaper Genie, but the Genie had no answers, just wishes. So I rubbed its side and made three wishes: 1. A healthy life for Kevin. 2. A lifetime of smiles for Kevin. I paused before making the third wish, then simply said, "Diaper Genie, please get out of our lives as soon as possible."