There's a shrinking purple balloon gathering dust under our stereo--a lingering reminder of our daughter Julia's first birthday. Suddenly, she seems like such a big girl.
While Julia thought balloons and package bows were exciting, and she enjoyed her first cake and ice cream, this birthday was more a milestone for me--a celebration of the changes parenting has worked in me.
When I got married, I felt I was leaving everything behind (my friends, church, and job) to follow my new husband, David, to the ends of the earth as he completed his schooling. It rocked my world. But those changes turned out to be positive. David and I grew together by having to depend on each other. Then, just when things were getting comfortable, the coming of Julia rocked my world again.
Even if my parents, friends, and sisters hadn't warned me, pregnancy was an obvious, nine-month-long clue that my life would never be the same. I received free baby advice from everybody--even people I'd never seen before.
A friend and I were eating at Pizza Hut when a total stranger informed me that quitting my job to stay home with my baby was the right thing to do.
Other strangers touched my growing baby bulge. Bag boys began carrying my groceries to the car. Things like that had never happened to me before.
I was ruled by hormones. Sitcoms made me cry. I had panic attacks over the slightest whiff of polyurethane ("This could kill the baby's brain cells!"). If David and I disagreed over something minor, like what to have for supper, I was convinced we'd never agree on important parenting issues like discipline, education, and what euphemism we should use to refer to our baby's diaper deposits.
At night, when I wasn't in the bathroom, I spent hours trying to get comfortable. I looked dreadful, too. David's old flannel nightshirt was the only "gown" that fit. I wore a mouthguard because my elevated stress level (full-time job, vomiting night and day, impending motherhood) made me grind my teeth. And fluid retention made my arms ache and fall asleep, so I had to wear wristguards on each hand. When David came to bed, he'd take one look and get the scare of his life.
Then there was labor and delivery. I once read an article by humorist Dave Barry called "Childbirth Is Yucky." He ought to win a prize for understatement.
I was overwhelmed by instantaneous love for my newborn, but hardly back to normal. I cried buckets of hormonal tears and underwent a period of extreme sleep deprivation. Months after Julia was born, when I started back to work part-time, I actually fell asleep at a stoplight.