menu/ SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT + OTHER LIES
By Sandi Kahn Shelton

home from the hospital

Coming home from the hospital is not at all like leaving for the hospital. For one thing, the one who actually gave birth no longer has to stop every few minutes to lean against the wall and say, "Hee hoo hee hoo," while the other searches through the bag to make sure there are enough tennis balls and sour lollipops - and to ask again what the hell tennis balls and sour lollipops have to do with having a baby in the first place.

All that is over. You have now brought the tennis balls and lollipops back home. (My opinion is that they were to let the hospital staff see if you're the submissive type who will bring absolutely anything they suggest that you pack. I'll bet no one even did so much as one volley with the balls.)

There's a sense of huge relief, walking in your front door again, bringing along the new family member you made. The main thing is that nine months of craziness is now officially over, and even though neither you nor your husband has any freaking idea what's about to happen to your lives, at least one thing is certain: Nobody is living inside of anybody else's body anymore. Everybody's responsible for taking in food and oxygen. And someday, you feel certain, you'll even be able to walk over to your closet and pick out something to wear that doesn't have a pregnancy bulge to it.

Many people think the Moment of Homecoming is a good time to go climb right into that bed you've missed and get your recovery well under way. Still other, more neurotic types would say this is an excellent time to turn on your workout tape and start flattening your stomach. It isn't.

This is a good time to start planning your strategy for living through the next few days.

the visitors are storming the gates

When you first bring a new baby home, it's unbelievable how many people are going to drop everything in their own lives and come to see it. People who wouldn't have gone to the trouble of crossing the street to say hello to you a few weeks ago are going to insist on "running by for a quick minute, just to get a look at the baby." There's something about a new member of the species that gets the whole planet in the mood to drive over to its house and get a bead on it.

Some of these people you will want to see, and some you will not. Some of them, in fact, will be your relatives, whom it is difficult to discourage and still maintain the kind of civility that will ensure tranquil holidays from now on.

The important thing to remember is that anyone who comes over should be willing to do some work before leaving. I know, I know. You might not be the type who wants your old elementary school chums taking out the trash for you - but think of this: It gives them a sense of purpose while they're visiting, and it keeps you from having to lug your postpartum selves to the garbage can later.

Putting visitors to work is a very tricky proposition, but it can be managed. The important thing to remember is that the new parents - that's you guys - are exhausted and deserve all the help you can get. After all, you just went through hours and hours of labor together, not to mention the nine-month construction project you've been involved in. Besides that, at least one of you is probably lactating. And your hormones are rampaging. You need to lie in bed and gaze at your baby, and if other people want to be there watching you do that, they should be doing two things: agreeing with you wholeheartedly that this is the All-Time Most Adorable Baby There Ever Was, and then, when they are done with this agreeing, they should be fixing you some dinner, or at least a nice glass of lemonade.

You will know that things are going very badly indeed if you find yourself in the kitchen serving the guests. Do not let this happen. If you find yourself with a tray in your hands, what works every time is to double over suddenly, closing your eyes for just a second. Everyone will remember that you are in a delicate condition, and they - if they are any kind of friends at all - will insist you go back to bed while they take over the refreshment portion of the visit.

Worst of all, though, is if you are in the kitchen, fixing them some tea, and they are telling you that your child seems to have an odd little point to his head. That, I would think, would be grounds for immediate eviction.

Even when things are going swell, it's good to have a plan to clear the room, if you should suddenly get sick of everybody and want to be alone with your baby. I have found that launching into a description of the birth process itself will normally scare away any men, elderly people, and childless women who might be visiting, especially if you use a few key phrases, like, "bloody show," "mucous plug," or "meconium in the amniotic fluid." This method generally won't work with women who have had babies themselves; indeed, such teasing details will probably launch them into a Gruesome Birth Stories Competition.

Fortunately there's something that works even better with women who've had children. All you have to do is whisper, "I'm soooo tired," and they'll most likely take it upon themselves in the name of sisterhood to clear the room on your behalf. Women forever after remember the kind of tiredness that comes after they've pushed a seven-pound object out of their body, and they won't be the ones to suggest that maybe you could get up and spiff the place up a little, and while you're at it, put on a pot of tea.

Take advantage of this situation while you can. And when the guests are getting their coats and leaving, it doesn't hurt to smile sweetly and ask if they wouldn't mind taking a bag or two of garbage on their way out.

if you can't say cheese, at least you can run

Unbelievable as it may seem, some people aren't coming to visit you. It may seem as though everyone you've ever spoken to or passed in the grocery store is there, but in fact, some people in your life can't, due to circumstances beyond their control, make it to your house.

They are on the telephone begging you for photographs.

It is safe to say that never again in your life will there be so much need for photographs - starting on day one. Here you are, leaking from most of your orifices and suddenly in charge of a hairless creature that looks as though it could start throwing its weight around at any moment, and your relatives are claiming that every hideous moment you're going through must be documented photographically. Someday, if the world keeps going the way it is and classes are held on every subject imaginable, Lamaze instructors will hold a separate eight-week session on How to Take Great Baby Photos, and home-care agencies will send out photographers along with visiting nurses.

Face this fact right now: Friends and relatives are going to expect all kinds of photographic records coming from your household in a practically continuous stream. You will never be able to keep up with the demand. It's best if you accept right from the beginning that you can't do it and that you develop a thick skin when all your relatives are screaming at you.

I myself have a Postal Disorder, meaning that I can't ever seem to get things to the post office in any kind of timely manner whatsoever. And, as we all know, getting pictures to relatives is lots more complicated than simply getting to the post office; first there is the film-buying project, then the taking of the photos, then taking the film in to get developed, then picking it up, then getting copies made, writing the little notes, finding the address book, writing out the envelopes - and only then do you get to the post office part, which by then anyone would be too exhausted to think of.

In our house, we have pictures of all three of the children coming home from the hospital for the first time, and I have to confess to you now: Not one of these pictures was from the Actual Homecoming.

I'm afraid they were all staged reenactments, some as many as three or four days later, or perhaps even weeks later, who knows? We took the damn picture whenever it happened that we could both locate the camera and manage to have at least two of us in dry; clean clothing that didn't have some kind of digested or undigested milk on it. At least we got to it before it was time to take the First Day of Kindergarten picture, and sometimes that's all that a person can ask of herself. (A hint, though: If the baby has lost that identifiable newborn scrawniness or is, say, able to walk, you should take the Hospital Homecoming picture from a very great distance.)

I find it helps if you do manage to take the Standard Baby Photos That Show That You Really Did Come Up With an Actual Kid. There are some pictures that simply must be taken, or your friends and relatives will have a tough time forgiving you, and you'll be forever spending Thanksgiving dinners with them trying to justify your lapse in competence. These are almost de rigueur:

- Coming through the front door for what you will forever after claim was the first time;

- The first bath;

- The moment after the first bath, when the towel was draped adorably over the baby's head (this is to prove that all three of you made it through the bath);

- The baby swinging in the baby swing (keep in mind that newborns in a baby swing often look as though their necks are broken, and you don't want your relatives calling to yell at you about infant posture, so you'll have to prop the baby in a pseudo-upright position and then snap the picture within the first five seconds before he slumps down again);

- The baby screaming (don't ask me why people want this; I think it might be because it proves that you really did have a real, genuine baby and aren't just posing with some plastic doll or something. Surely you've noticed that dolls are never posed in the screaming position);

- The baby sleeping - preferably on the father's chest; and

- The baby nursing (this is one of those keepsake pictures that for years will make everyone, including you, say, "Ahhhh," at the sight of the baby's round little head nestled so softy against the mountain of your breast. Some things to keep in mind in taking this picture: Make sure it's not at the moment of the milk letting down, when you're liable to be gritting your teeth and saying "Yikes!" instead of looking like the radiant Madonna you wish to portray. The facial expression that accompanies the word "Yikes!" is probably not something you want in the baby book for years to come).

You will doubtlessly come up with many more pictures that beg to be taken; I've only attempted to mention the time-honored classics. But let me caution you that there are some pictures you must never take, at the risk of alienating your spouse, big-time.

i once personally engineered a merger, you know

Like any other new skill you're learning, parenthood takes some practice. And there are going to be some mistakes. Not really horrible mistakes, certainly, but things you definitely will want to improve upon as you go along. For instance, once I was very industriously bathing my two-week-old baby in the kitchen sink. So intent was I on making sure I was truly cleaning off all the various poopish areas that I didn't realize, until I heard the sputter, that I had her turned upside down - and the top of her head was submerged in the water. This, I could see right away, was not an award-winning bath experience. The Mother of the Year people would have crossed my name right off the list, I'm sure.

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about. No great harm was done; she didn't even turn out to be afraid of the water later in life. But still, we both had to go sit down for a long time after that incident. I don't know about her, but my legs were definitely made of rubber, and I had to work really hard to think of a good excuse to explain to her why that happened.

You see, I think it's important that the baby thinks that you know what you're doing. For a while, you may have to fake this, although I have always been afraid that, because they live so much on the sensory level, babies will pick up any vibe of fakery I might put out. (This is mainly because I lived in California when my first baby was born. By the time I had the other two in Connecticut, years later, it had fortunately become illegal to use the words sensory level and vibe in the same sentence, so I didn't worry about that anymore.)

Anyhow, I think it's a good plan to start in right away telling the baby all the things you've accomplished in your life. They don't care a great deal about mergers and real estate transactions just yet, but they pick up on the note of pride in your voice, and I think when they're out with the other babies in the strollers they can hold their heads high. Assuming they're at that physical stage, of course.

I have even been known to make little speeches. "You may think that because I got the diaper on backwards that first day that I'm some sort of incompetent wuss," I once told a skeptical baby. "But I want you to know that I have been on this planet so long that I can remember when diapers didn't even have tapes. In the old days, if someone did a diaper the wrong way, chances were good that someone was going to get stuck with a pin, probably either you or me. At least with tapes there are no lacerations."

A baby will be awed by this kind of information. I also found it helpful at times to address their fears directly. "I know there were a few bad moments with that bath the other day when you were thinking you might go right under the water," you might say. "But really, it was my first offense. I've been taking baths myself for decades without any ill consequences, and I'm sure we'll manage just fine from now on. By the way, did you know that I can type ninety-five words a minute, and I once single-handedly changed a tire on the highway?"

A day may come when it seems your credibility is particularly low. At that time, point out that you are the one who knows where the food comes from - particularly if it's true that your own body is so intelligent it happens to be making it on demand. I mean, this is an amazing feat right in itself, and the baby should be impressed as hell by this. I have had to explain on occasion to the baby that I was as surprised as he was that my body had this particular talent. "Before you came along, these were just ornamental, and now just look at how competent they are!"

I have several friends who believe that they got babies who slept through the night before most other people's babies did simply because they spoke with such authority on the need for sleep.

My friend Jennifer denies this now, but I clearly remember her saying to me when her first child was six months old: "I simply showed the baby that I was the resident sleep authority, and that I happened to know that humans slept when it was dark and got up when it was light, and that was that. No discussion."

The fates took swift revenge on such a statement, and subsequently sent Jennifer two babies who didn't buy that whole sleep authority stuff. They exposed her for what she really was all along with that first child: merely lucky.

If you should happen to have been issued one of the babies who is a child prodigy when it comes to sleeping through the night, then I think it would be best all around if you didn't brag about it to other people. Not that you would ever brag, of course, but there is a temptation to think that such good fortune might have been due to something wonderful you did. But believe me, if you mention this too loudly in public, you'll end up with a kid who isn't fully toilet trained until he's a freshman in high school.

the name game

One of the main things you'll find yourself doing during the first few days is thinking about the baby's name. Okay, regretting the baby's name. It's such a huge responsibility having to give this person the name she'll be stuck with for the rest of her life, and if you have any tendency at all toward brooding, you can hardly find a better topic to brood over than why you caved in to pressure and chose that particular name. Even if you thought you loved it, you'll find that just the act of saying it over and over again the first few days makes you think you might hate it after all.

I have hardly met any postpartum person who wasn't determined to go to the courthouse as soon as possible and do whatever was necessary to get a new name for the kid, even if she'd been calling the baby his potential new name all through fetus-hood. This is because you look down at this scrawny, red-faced little person and you can't imagine that he'll ever grow into being a Herbert Francis III, which you've just declared him to be. You've obviously turned your child into some kind of joke.

The truth is that some names just look ridiculous on new babies. They obviously belong to people from another generation. This is why nicknames happen. You should rest assured that whatever name you have chosen, other people are going to take over and call your kid something else altogether: Goober or Corky or Stretch, or something like that.

You'd like to take a few days to get to know the baby before saddling it with a name. But the hospital can't deal with that. Soon after you've given birth, the nurse comes in with that little form and asks for the name. If you have no idea, you feel just the tiniest bit like an idiot. As though you missed the introductions in the delivery room or something.

You feel like saying, "I'm sorry, there was so much going on that I didn't quite catch the name. If you'd just go into the nursery and ask him, I'd be so grateful."

There's a lot of pressure, no doubt about it. When the nurse came in to accost my friend Leslie and get a name for the baby, Leslie said the only name in the whole world she could ever remember hearing was Hermione. All the other names had been mysteriously erased from her brain tapes, as though she were in an episode from The Twilight Zone or something. Hospitals have that effect on some people. She was about to cave in and just name the baby Hermione, come what may, when her husband happened to show up. He had a few brain cells intact, enough to remember that they both liked the name Andrea, and so they did not have to go to the courthouse the next week and get things put right.

When I was in the hospital, having had my first child, my husband and I couldn't think of a single name for him. The name we'd been calling him throughout the pregnancy had suddenly soured on me after nine months of saying it to everyone. I was sitting in bed one day, reading the baby name book and worrying that the hospital staff wasn't going to let me go home until I picked out something, when the nurse's aide said she had the perfect name for me.

"It's the name I picked for my son, and I've never been sorry," she said.

I picked up the pen, ready to write.

"Socrates Euphrates," she said proudly.

I picked up the baby name book again. I'd made it as far as the Bs, and suddenly the name Benjamin looked absolutely wonderful. It was the most beautiful name in the world, and why hadn't I realized this before?

"Benjamin!" I told his father. "Let's call him Benjamin!"

All our friends and family agreed this was a splendid decision - which is a rarity indeed. It was the Name That Had Everything: style, heft, even a decent nickname.

Three weeks later, at the Lamaze class reunion, I discovered that six baby boys had been born. They were all named Benjamin. The four girls were Jennifer.

things everyone now expects you to know how to do

- Take professional-quality pictures of the baby and actually mail them out to people;

- Be able to put together a crib that arrived in forty-five thousand pieces, using a diagram written in Portuguese;

- Explain to others what the baby is trying to convey when she's crying;

- Divine whether the kid is going to need a hat and heavy blanket by the end of any given day - and remember to pack it, along with everything else that might be needed;

- Change the baby's diaper in a crowded restaurant without anyone guessing what you're doing;

- Put a sleeping baby in a snowsuit, then in the car seat, then in the Snugli, then do the grocery shopping, load up the car with at least a week's worth of food, take the baby out of the Snugli and back into the car seat, and then back home, where - presto! - you remove the still-sleeping baby from the snowsuit and put her in the crib; and

- Come up with a good reason why you didn't name the baby after Great Uncle Aloysius, whose only wish in life was that he be remembered that way.

a new mother's role: the human snack bar

This is as good a time as any to talk about the fact that your body now has learned some new tricks, fluid-wise. Nothing it has learned, though, is more amazing than the fact that it now manufactures a food substance. You, in fact, are the equivalent of a small factory.

There are days you feel like an ordinary house cow, if there is such a thing. For the first few days it seems that if a baby cries anywhere on the planet, immediately your own personal breasts rush to produce gallons of milk to fill it up with. It doesn't even have to be your baby; your body has seemingly decided that it will take on the plight of anyone under the age of a year old who might be hungry. You are in touch, as they say, with your bovine tendencies.

In between becoming so altruistic as to want to feed everyone in sight, your breasts leak, drip, grow rock-hard, tingle, and enthusiastically spurt milk whenever possible. In fact, often just to go in public, you have to wear garments that resemble plastic cups or sanitary napkins to disguise the fact that you are making the most of your mammalian heritage.

But even with all the hassles and clothing-soaking, it's worth it to be a human snack bar, and I can tell you why in five little words: the middle of the night.

Babies tend to think the middle of the night is one of the great times to eat, which is something that distinguishes them from most other people on earth, who take tremendous pleasure in getting uninterrupted sleep specifically during those hours. I was never very competent in the wee hours, particularly when it involved hearing loud screeching noises next to my ear. That may be just me. I've had friends who said it didn't bother them a bit to wake up, hearing their baby crying, and then make their way down to the kitchen, where they needed to:

  1. Open a can of formula;
  2. Find a clean bottle and nipple;
  3. Find a pot;
  4. Fill it with water;
  5. Heat up the bottle for about three minutes;
  6. Test the formula to make sure it was not too hot or too cold; and
  7. Sit down somewhere, in an upright position, while the baby - finally not screaming anymore - ate until it dropped off to sleep again.

Some of these people even admitted that while the formula was heating up on the stove, they took the opportunity to wrestle the now apoplectically shrieking baby down onto the changing table, and actually change the diaper.

Now, you see, there is none of that with nursing. Instead, the scenario goes like this: The baby starts to whimper in the night, you go get it, plug it into the breast outlet which is conveniently located on the front of you, and everybody goes immediately back to sleep. Even if you're one of those who doesn't want to put the baby in the bed next to you, you still have eliminated the entire trip to the kitchen and the major screaming fit that tends to make the neighbors so surly toward you the next day.

I loved nursing for many reasons, not the least of which was it meant I didn't have to wash any bottles. Nor did I have to make any mad-dash trips to the store at all hours, suddenly remembering that we were down to two drops of formula, only to discover that the store was also out of it, and I was going to have to drive aimlessly around looking for a store with a better distribution system. With nursing, I was never out of my brand. Sometimes, if I ate something funky, the baby would start to taste it and then pull away and stare at me like, "What the hell is this broccoli with garlic sauce doing mixed in with the main course?"

But then the baby would go back to sucking away and, just like always, we'd both fall sound asleep. It was, I realized, like having one of those hotel wet bars right in the bedroom.

decide right now what you're going to call it

One way your life is about to change dramatically is that you're going to be talking about excrement nearly all the time. And here's the real shocker: It will even seem interesting to you. There will be days when you call up your spouse simply to report on the size, color, consistency, and interval between bowel movements, and your spouse will react with exactly the same fascination as if you'd called to describe the Jaguar you'd just bought. It's yet another thing that gives you the sense that the two of you have your own private landscape in this World of Babies.

But in order to do this, the two of you have to know what you're going to call it. I know you're busy, but I think coming up with a name for it has to be one of your more immediate tasks. You don't want to get stuck needing to come up with a word sometime when you are out there in public, with a two-year-old you're trying to potty train. At a time like that, believe me, the only word you'll be able to remember is shit, and you won't like how it sounds when you're crooning, "Come on, darling, let's shit in the potty."

And not that you want to cave in to peer pressure, but shit has some other drawbacks too. Strangers will give you horrified looks when your little one screeches it, which all little ones do at one time or another. It's bad enough if he's yelling it because he recognizes it as a perfectly wonderful swearword, guaranteed to get a reaction; but you're likely to feel really rotten if he's using it correctly.

The only thing that shit has going for it is that it is anything but cutesy. You don't want to do cutesy when it comes to the bathroom department. You've probably not called it duty or doo-doo or even poo-poo for many years now, and I say; why revert back to those days when there are so many other good words out there?

No, the word of the moment is poop. There are many good reasons to go with this, mainly that it has a cartoonish, lighthearted feel to it, so that even at those times (much later, of course) when you and the kid are discussing it loudly and publicly, you know strangers won't be shocked by your word of choice. They may be flabbergasted that you are engaged in such a bizarre conversation out in the world, but at least when the word poop is hurled through the air, they'll know several things about you right off: One is that you are on the cutting edge of parenthood, and that you have taken some trouble to find the best word. The other is that you are not a cutesy type, and that while you're not so earthy as to go for the more disconcerting shit, you also don't go in for the kind of 1950s euphemisms that might cause other people to wince.

A friend of mine used bowel movement, interspersed with B.M., but ultimately, her friends decided she sounded too arch saying those things. It made us all reflect on the fact that she had a big-deal law degree and tended toward a certain stuffiness in her personal life.

Somebody else I know used to say constantly to her child, "Do you have to go number two?" I've often wondered how he later felt about the subject of arithmetic, knowing that one number has to be associated at all times with a bodily function. I think this could create a certain confusion later on that so easily could be avoided.

No, I think it's safe to say that the best choice for today is poop.

And while we're at it, the other is pee.

you may not have the right to sing the blues, but why let that stop you?

"Hormones."

That is the correct answer to almost any question a new mother is asked for the first few weeks.

Why are you crying? Why is there milk leaking out all over the front of you? Why are you really crying? Why is your hair coming out in clumps? No, what's really, really going on with you?

It's all hormones, I'm afraid. Even if you are undeniably the happiest and most relieved you've ever been in your whole miserable life, with a baby at last, and by God, it even has ten fingers and toes, not to mention the right number of eyes, noses, and mouths - even if everything went better than you could have ever asked for in your wildest crazy dreams, there still is a moment when you will be sitting in front of the television set, and a commercial will come on, advertising something like long-distance rates, and who knows what it will set off in you: the sudden realization that life on this planet is transient and ephemeral, the certainty that your baby is going to be as disgusted with you in twenty years as you are with your parents, or even a wild sense of regret that you didn't make out with Bobby Sullivan back in seventh grade when you were playing Spin the Bottle. But anyway, there you are, sobbing on the couch, pounding your fists, and blubbering as though the end of the world has come.

Men, sad to say, probably can't use the hormones excuse. If they are walking into walls and staring out into space, they have to think up some other possible explanation. Not getting enough sleep is the most socially acceptable excuse, because it just won't do to blubber to the boss, "I just can't take it that our poor little baby is someday going to have to go to eighth grade!"

For me, it was McDonald's that pushed me right off the emotional ledge. Right after I brought the baby home from the hospital, McDonald's started running an ad about a little boy and his dog who were separated for a whole day while the kid was in school, and then - this can still make me get all teary - the school bus came home and the two were reunited, with the most joyous face-licking and grinning you ever saw.

I tell you, I would get hysterical every time, while my wide-eyed husband sat nervously, with his fingers poised by the 911 button, ready to call in the authorities at a moment's notice. It was pretty obvious he hadn't read all the books about pregnancy and childbirth I'd been thrusting at him since the day we did the at-home pregnancy test, or he would have known all about the routine symptoms of postpartum blues.

I'd have to sit there, gasping through my sobs. "This is all - perf-perfectly normal behavior," I'd say. `I'm sup-sup-supposed to be acting this way." Then the look on his face would make me burst out laughing, but just as he was joining me in a relieved belly laugh, I'd remember the little boy and his dog again, and I'd dissolve back into tears.

"Yeah, right," he'd say. "Everyone acts this way. Just let me know when you want the ambulance."

It was tough to explain how, even though I adored the baby and was so glad not to be pregnant anymore, I simply couldn't stop crying. One night, thinking it was that I was trying to do too much, household-wise, my husband went out to buy us hamburgers from Wendy's for dinner. It was about a million degrees, too hot even to go near the kitchen anyway. I gave him my very precise hamburger order: meat, lettuce, tomatoes, no pickles, no onions, no sauce. And French fries. And a Coke, lots of ice.

When he came home, he handed me a hamburger laden with lots of pickles, onions, and sauce. The fries were cold, the Coke wasn't.

Naturally I cried. In fact, I wept so bitterly that he kept saying, "What is it? What is it? This just can't be the fact that Wendy's made your hamburger wrong."

All I could say was, "Can't you see what's happening? The people at Wendy's don't care about anybody but themselves. They're terrible, awful people who shouldn't be allowed to be around other people's food. The whole world is just made up of the most terrible people, and now we're bringing a poor little child into the world, and I can't even imagine the hamburgers he'll have to eat in his lifetime, all the junk that unfeeling people will put on them -"

My husband stared at me. Then he said, "This is really hormones, isn't it?"

I said, "Yes."

"So, probably even if the hamburger had been made perfectly, you'd still be in tears?"

"Oh, sure, go ahead and start insulting me, the mother of your child, buddy boy!"

since you're already not sleeping ...

I have to break some rather bad news to you, so I will try to do it gently. Many people - even people who came to see you and the baby - are going to expect a formal birth announcement from you. This is a vile custom that must have gotten started back when households had wet nurses, upstairs maids, and full-time chefs.

Even worse is that people feel cheated if you don't include a charming little note, mentioning how delighted you and your husband are to be parents, along with some brief statement of the baby's accomplishments. (Since this is presumably being written in the first weeks of life, you may have to search hard to find something. "Little Johnny burped three times yesterday, during his two P.M. feeding alone" will do in a pinch.)

The best birth announcements include an hours-old picture of the baby, but this, I think, is above and beyond what most people can manage without a devoted staff.

The birth announcements I have sent out have mostly arrived well before the baby's first birthday and contained many telltale stains of milk (both spit-up and fresh), fingerprints, tea, sweat, and tears. I feel this, more than a general description, provided people with a real feeling for what we were going through. You don't want to mislead people into thinking parenthood is just a walk in the park.

One more thing: After they get the announcement, they will send you a present. And then you need to write them a thank-you note, telling even more accomplishments. By then, a worthy accomplishment may be that you slept four hours at a stretch one day.

babies: the ultimate birth control devices

I hate to bring this up, but one of you is sure to start brooding about it soon, so I might as well go ahead and mention it.

Sex.

Remember sex? You may have once thought you couldn't live without it, but it's amazing how, when you're getting up to forty-five minutes of sleep at night, you hardly ever even think of it anymore, particularly if you're the woman in the equation. Plus, there are all these other little factors involved in helping you forget about the joys of union: The main one is that you're constantly united with that eight-pounder who's hanging on your breasts most of the time. Then there are the stretch marks that you imagine make you look like an army vehicle has made tracks across your midregions - which is not to overlook the fact that your ya-ya already has enough complaints of its own.

You hardly feel like putting on the soft music, lighting the candles, and getting down to a serious snuggle - even if you did manage to give the baby the slip for a half hour or so.

But, cheer up: You will again. Look around you at all the people who have multiple numbers of children; they didn't just have sex to get the first one and then buy the others at the store, you know. Amazingly enough, you have to have sex again and again, if you want more than one child.

My friend Sarah once had this discussion with her ten-year-old son, who was marveling at the fact that their male cat had managed to get both of their female cats pregnant at the same time. Yes, it was a touchy subject, but they were doing fine with it until Jeff said he couldn't believe something like that could ever happen in the world.

"But, Jeff," Sarah said, "you know how babies get made, don't you? You do know about sex, right?"

"Well, sure," he said, "I know all about sex. But twice it can happen?"

The good news is that it does happen twice, even in one lifetime. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow - but someday soon you're going to want to have some again.

you belong in the movies

Despite the fact that you're weeping a lot of the time, and you've also got some heavy what-to-call-it decisions to make, this is the best time in your whole life to go to the movies. I don't know why this isn't a better-advertised fact—movie theaters themselves should include New Baby Specials, I think. Yet in all the childrearing books I've read, not one of them mentions that all parents of newborns should be taking them to theaters.

Why? I think the reason should be obvious. You need to get out of the house, yet you also need to sit down a lot. And the theater is dark. You can even work out some of your postpartum depression stuff if you pick a sad movie. No one will wonder why you're crying. You won't have to look over at your husband and remind him again about the hormone thing you're going through.

The best part is that the baby likes it. It's loud and it's dark in the theater, and newborns just settle down in your lap and pretend it's still the Good Old Days, back before they were born and there were so many bright lights to contend with. Wrap them up tight, lift up your shirt, and the baby can nurse and sleep for the entire evening - and you can cry and laugh and yet still be having a date with your husband. You are, in fact, tending to your marriage.

Believe me, the day is coming when you can't take this individual anywhere where silence is required (now I am talking about the baby), so you might as well enjoy it while you can. It may be your last chance to see first-run movies without having to pay the exorbitant prices baby-sitters get these days. And even then - even if you've made the decision to hire a registered nurse who successfully raised nine children of her own - you'll still worry about how the baby's doing at home the whole time you're gone.

No, you can get away with this going to the movies caper for quite a little while, if you manage it right. And don't worry; you'll know when the time comes to quit. For us, it happened when the baby was about six months old, and we'd gone to a downtown theater to see a movie about John Lennon. Somebody was having a conversation in the theater during the previews of the coming attractions, and a guy in the next row stood up and threw his Coke at the person doing the talking. "I like my movies QUIET!" he screamed, in quite a persuasive way.

We decided right then we couldn't guarantee him the quiet he might require, especially with our very wide-awake baby who had just developed the very adorable skill of making raspberries.

"I'm remembering I don't like John Lennon so very much," I whispered to my husband, and before we had to field a Coke coming over to land on our heads, just for saying that, we got up and crept out silently.

The kid made raspberries all the way home, in between performing her other new talent of the moment, saying, "Bobobobobobobobo."

Until your kids can do a raspberry, though, I think you're going to do just fine. And after that - well, you'll stay home a lot and make raspberries together.

© 2006 Sandi Kahn Shelton.

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