It’s hard to believe almost three weeks has gone by since our martian landed. Where do I begin?
First, a late birth announcement. Meet Milo Minh Chaffin. He decided to come early after all and chose a full moon on 11/11/11. We think it means either he’s very lucky or a werewolf, albeit a tiny one at 6 lbs. 5 oz. and 20 in. long.
Don’t worry, I won’t go into details, but I will say it was not what we expected. Everyone, the baby books, and classes prepared us for something long and gradual. But my labor was a bit cliche: my water broke a little after midnight, we rushed to the hospital completely unprepared, I was in unimaginable pain, and eight hours later, I was pushing. At some point the labor nurse asked me to hold off any urge to push (which I could because I ended up taking the epidural) because she correctly predicted the baby would come fast and wanted to make sure a doctor would be there for the delivery. It was an epic day at the hospital because of all the c-sections and induced labors scheduled for the auspicious date. My labor was fortunately over very quick and with no complications.
When they told me it was time to push, my emotions were mixed. I started to cry. I told the nurse I don’t even know *how* to push. I was scared that something would go wrong for the baby, and I wasn’t ready for it to be over, or rather, for the baby to be here any second. Fifteen minutes later, at 9:18am, our world would be so different.
All I could worry about was whether he was healthy…alive. When his head came out, the doctor accidentally said “stop breathing” instead of “stop pushing”. I had heard “he stopped breathing”, but Ben reassured me that the baby had let out his first whimper. The APGAR tests were high (8 and 9 out of 10), so all was well.
During the pregnancy, I mostly wondered about what he’d look like. Would my Asian genes win or would he miraculously have Ben’s eyes, or more likely, nose? The birth video from class, which I had mostly watched eyes closed, prepared me for something, well, messy. Surprisingly, he came out quite clean, just blue, but his face was nothing like I imagined. He had (still does) a cone head, his nose was smashed so flat it had a dimple, and his lips were misshapen and unproportionally huge (yeah, yeah). It was fascinating to watch how quickly his face would change over the next few hours, days.
We would change just as fast too. After he lay on my chest for some time, one of the nurses came over to show me how to breastfeed, and so began our adventure into learning to care for our child.
The name Milo
We knew we wouldn’t name him until we met him, though admittedly, the short list coming into the hospital wasn’t very short. Any name sounded weird having used “him”, “baby”, or “Martian” for so long. After playing name survivor and slowly crossing off the top contenders, we decided to try out Milo for an hour. We first heard it on the train during our trip to SF in September, where a very cute boy with wavy long hair named Milo sat across from us. It reminded Ben of a book, The Phantom Toll Booth, a childhood favorite, whose main character is named…Milo! The middle Vietnamese name took longer to choose, but finally, we liked the sound of Milo Minh.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is natural, that anyone can become a parent without a trial run or test. The 2-day stay at the hospital was our crash course into parenting. How to change diapers for boys, give sponge baths, latching techniques, jaundice symptoms. And swaddling! Everyone has their opinion on the right way to swaddle. If just one of those worked for us at the start, we would have saved hours of stress — and sleep.
Still, we managed to get our little Houdini to eat and sleep for the most part and were ready to go home after two days. Milo did have a medium-high level of jaundice so we were instructed to feed every two hours to make sure he gained weight and flushed it out of the system.
Our first night as a family, sans nurse staff, was brutal. I slept zero hours; Ben managed to squeeze in a few during the feedings. But that wasn’t the awful part. I felt like a terrible mother who didn’t know how to console her child. We tried feeding, changing diapers, rocking. Our swaddles took too long, only to fail structurally. After singing a repetitive array of soft music — I’m talking Erasure to Somewhere Over the Rainbow — I managed to get him to fall asleep in my arms. But when I put him down, it started up again. I was at a loss and I cried.
The responsibility of caring for something so small, fragile, dependent alone made us lose sleep. Was Milo getting enough to eat to gain weight? Did the jaundice spread (or was that just his Asian skin color)? Was he cold, even though we cranked up the heat, added a space heater to our room, and have him double swaddled? All the warnings about SIDS had us constantly checking if he was breathing, or whether the loose swaddle would eventually cover his air flow. I didn’t care about the sleep deprivation; I just wanted to know what he needed and that it was enough.
Many reassured us that it’d get better. We heard that the third night is the hardest. That babies tend to cluster feed in the night. That he’s only a few days old so there is no schedule. We adjusted our expectations and quickly learned to tag-team. Hey, one of us should be getting sleep.
The first week did give hope. Eat, sleep, change was the routine. I went from zero hours of sleep up to multiple two hour blocks. I started producing milk, which meant he was gaining an ounce a day and the multiple follow-ups tests for his jaundice level looked good.
We’ve continued to learn and experiment as parents. We are refining our bath methods (the first time we forgot the towel, the second we realized it was my mom who gave the bath the first time). We take no shame in our cheater swaddle, nor using the pacifier during nighttime changes. And he even chugged the bottle on the first try (future beer pong player?).
His activity level isn’t exciting – yet worth video-ing every moment — but it has been calm.
The calm before…yes, that’s right, the past few days have been the storm. Someone warned Ben that just as soon as you think you have it figured it out, they change it up on you again. After passing his birth weight, he is now going through a growth spurt which means I’m tied to the couch feeding. We haven’t managed to change his nocturnal schedule and I suffered again almost no sleep last night. But tonight, we’re eager to try some tips from the pediatrician, who said from midnight-6am, you can break all the rules. A good friend said that you start to do whatever that works, not thinking far into the future or the consequences. Hand over that yoga ball.
For me, motherly bond was not instant. We had asked for him to be put on my chest as soon as he came out, but when they did, I didn’t know what to do. They told me to simply hold him, so I did. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, but it wasn’t until later that I felt this was MY baby.
They say you forget the pain of labor after meeting your baby. I do not. It was very real and unbearable for me. Shocking. The classes focused on the breathing, getting support, all the possible complications, but they never mention the word “pain”. Next time (and no, I’m not thinking that far into the future) I’m hoping to be a little more prepared.
But the moment I pick him up, I do forget any feeling of exhaustion or frustration. I fall in love with his face and small yet precious repertoire of expressions: the stare, the pursed lips, the manic open mouth searching for food, I even videoed his cry. I’m a zombie in the night, yet time goes by watching his closed eyes, stroking that down coat of peach fuzz on his body, smelling his baby skin that is so soft you’re not sure you’re touching it. In the morning before we make our debut downstairs, I cherish my time with him, when his eyes are open and curious about the light. It’s often our skin-to-skin time, and when I hold him up to burp, his curls up on my chest like a turkey on a platter.
Many have told us to enjoy these precious first weeks because they really do grow up fast. I believe it. Here are some milestones and moments that I already love looking back on:
Day 13 (no photo) – Milo slept two 3-hour chunks in the night. That was something for me to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Sadly, it hasn’t become a trend.
Congrats, you made it to the end! If you’re still interested in following the most photographed baby ever, check out his Baby Martian set FlickR. It’s obvious which ones are mine verses Tata Chippy’s.