Sunday, July 05, 2009

Bringing home the baby, almost

“Well, at least you can get some sleep until your baby comes home.” That’s a sentiment my wife Kara and I have heard several times over the past two weeks, and it’s one I often think about at 3:00am as I’m washing breast pump parts in the kitchen sink.

Our son Evan, born two months early in his bid not to miss Transformers 2 on the big screen, has been wooing the nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (or NICU, an acronym that meant nothing to us three weeks ago, but which has become the most important word we know) since his recent and thrilling entrance into the world. Every day finds him a little bit stronger, eating a little bit more and breathing easier. His doctors expect Evan to be ready to come home in about a week, a prospect that both thrills and terrifies us.

At four pounds, he’s still so small. When a new mother passes us in the hallway at the hospital, wheeling her full-term baby around in its bassinette, I turn to Kara and say, “Did you see that baby? It was GIGANTIC.”

To us, non-preemie babies look like miniature sumo wrestlers, complete with diapers.

Since Evan has been in the NICU, our routine has been to visit the hospital about twice a day, each time bringing a cooler containing the latest haul of hard-earned breast milk. Kara and I have always been very close during our nine years of being together, but I can’t help feeling that we achieved a new level of togetherness when I walked into the room to see her hooked up to a breast pump for the first time.

“This might be the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“Moo,” she replied. Ever since she gave birth in front of a room full of strangers, including nursing students that she voluntarily allowed to watch, Kara has been impressively uninhibited about things that would previously have mortified her. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no modesty in motherhood.

With Kara pumping 8-10 times a day, we no longer experience days and nights, just three-hour cycles. My job during all of this is to assemble the pump parts before each use, then disassemble and wash them afterwards. My hands have performed these tasks enough times that my brain doesn’t need to be involved in the process at all, which is generally how it prefers things.

My relationship with the breast pump is comparable to the relationship that the recruits in “Full Metal Jacket” had with their rifles. As I stand at the kitchen sink in the middle of the night with suds flying, my fingers nimbly picking apart the pump pieces, I chant to myself: “This is my breast pump. There are many breast pumps, but this one is mine. My breast pump is my best friend. Without me, my breast pump is useless. Without my breast pump, I am useless…”

And so on. If you’ve never seen “Full Metal Jacket,” please disregard the preceding paragraph. But you’re really missing out on a very instructive breastfeeding video.

When my mom saw Kara’s breast pump, which could be mistaken for a large clock radio with tubes coming out of it, she said, “Wow, these have really come a long way since I had babies around.”

And I wonder, what did breast pumps look like thirty years ago? They probably ran on diesel engines, and someone wearing goggles and a leather flight helmet had to start them and then jump out of the way.

Anyway, until Evan comes home, we’ll continue using the multiple alarm function on Kara’s cell phone to wake us up every few hours. And we’ll also continue looking forward to the time when our new alarm clock will be wearing a little blue onesie.

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  1. "There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no modesty in motherhood."

    This is my new favorite truism, ever. :)

  2. So glad to hear that everything is on course, so to is Memphis doing?

  3. Mike, I love this column. I'm sharing it with all my fellow pumping friends! Mooooo :-)