The Vine: March 20, 2013
I am 38 and have two gorgeous sons, the eldest of which is three and pretty much the most awesome kid ever to have graced the planet (not that I'm biased). My younger son was born thirteen weeks prematurely, and is now almost five months old (or about two months old corrected). He has been home from hospital for about six weeks. He is also, needless to say, extraordinary — we call him Superman.
In my non-parenting life I work full-time in a fairly responsible and prestigious job (I know how that sounds, but I don't know how to put it otherwise.) I have been off work since I began having pregnancy complications, and I will probably continue to be off until summer. My baby is perfectly healthy except for his lungs; he was ventilated for two weeks and as a result now has something called chronic lung disease, or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). He is on supplementary oxygen for now, and probably will be at least until the cold and flu season is over. As he gets bigger his lungs will grow and become stronger, and as an adult he will most likely be perfectly normal but with a tendency toward chest infections.
So my preschooler is still in full-time preschool, partly because he adores it and partly because I can't look after him properly with the baby. Because Charlie (the baby) is still so small, colds and coughs will, for him, most likely require hospitalisation. This puts a major damper on socialising etc. The doctors told me to "live my life as normal," but also said to avoid small children, crowded places, shopping malls, supermarkets…you get the idea. I find these pieces of advice incompatible, but whatever.
So far Charlie has not yet been ill and is growing at an impressive rate. Jake, the older boy, is a great big brother and has adapted to the situation like a pro. My husband is wonderful, though insanely busy with work; he is home on time but generally starts working after the boys are in bed and finishes around 11 PM.
So…I'm lonely. And stressed. I want to go out but a) health concerns and b) my son's implacable hatred of his pram preclude that (we don't have a car). My friends are either working or have children of their own, and therefore can't really be around Charlie. My family live in another country, and my husband's family, who are wonderful, are not nearby. I spend my days, after dropping Jake off, sitting at home watching bad daytime television and looking after Charlie. He is lovely but, at eight weeks (corrected), still very small and young (he is not yet properly smiling. I'm trying not to panic about that. Or about all the possible things that may be lying in wait for us as he gets older, all of which are unlikely but still OUT THERE: cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, ADHD…nothing feeds paranoia like being home alone all the time). My only other outings are to the hospital for various appointments, which is not particularly fun or relaxing.
I'm trying to stay normal and healthy and everything, but it's an uphill battle. I guess what I'm asking for is reassurance that I'm normal and will come out the other side and for any tips on how to make the next six months or so more bearable. I'm sorry this is so long and blibbering. Thanks for anything you can tell me. And if what you tell me is "suck it up, buttercup," that would be okay too.
Oh, the Joys of Parenting
What you've just described — that a case of emetophobia so classic that I think there's a woodcut of me in the DSM-IV — is one of the chief reasons I won't be having little ones of my own. Every time Master Stupidhead takes off at top speed anywhere near a wet leaf, I can barely watch. And he's not even my kid. "Helicopter parent," forget it; I'd be that dome from the Simpsons movie. "Get off me, Ma, it's time for college." "No."
But with all that said: yes, of course this is normal. You all spent the first weeks of Charlie's life in the NICU, and no matter how well a hospital or neo-natal team handles the transition home, it's really scary, I'm guessing, after a month (or longer) of tubes and breathing machines and someone with medical training nearby 24/7, to be handed your bundle and wished good luck. This is hard when it's grown-ups. Then you go home and every other story on the Yahoo! homepage is about the hockey-enforcer MRSA that's coming to kill us all, so in my childless opinion, "long and blibbering" is appropriate.
On top of that, you nailed it with this: "Nothing feeds paranoia like being home alone all the time." Because you know what you can do when you're not on a walk, or at a mommy group, or somewhere you might otherwise be if Charlie weren't quite so immunologically frail right now? You can look on the internet and drive yourself fucking crazy. And it feels like you really can't change the situation: your husband works, you shouldn't expose Charlie to anything, and he won't get in the stroller.
I'm going to hand this off to the readers shortly, because there's no substitute for firsthand intel and I have zipperooni, but: pick one aspect of this situation to change, or shift, somehow, if for no other reason than to let yourself feel active and not trapped. I am absolutely not going to contradict the advice of Charlie's doctors; I am going to point out that, with another kid in full-time preschool, y'all are already getting exposed to the full gamut of cooties. Sooooo it might not be out of bounds to have a friend or two over, now and then, understanding ones who don't mind enjoying the complimentary Purell shvitz at your place. Or to sit your husband and doctor down and say that you're climbing the walls, and can everyone work together on a solution, be it giving you a night off every week to go talk to a counselor and vent, or work on a gradual strategy to introduce Charlie to the world and its many germs, or whatever. Or to begin putting Charlie in the pram for a few minutes, and then a few minutes more, and understand that babies sometimes hate shit and cry about it and it doesn't make you a bad mom, obviously, because your three-year-old is great and that's your doing. Or to find a parents' group near you that's focused on the concerns of "corrected age" babies, so you don't have to feel sad that Charlie isn't "already" doing whatever awesome thing, which he will do when he's ready, and not for nothing but parents lie like rugs about that stuff all the time. "Ruby's on solids — and sonnets!" Oh, excuse us.
tl;dr version: Pick a thing to change about the situation, make a plan, and try not to feel guilty about it. This period is very isolating and anxious for you, and it doesn't make you weak or selfish to want out from under it. It makes you a good parent who's able to recognize that she's overwhelmed, and look for solutions. And it sounds like your husband is on board with Team Joy; he's just busy. You can make it work.
Maybe these suggestions aren't practicable, and like I said, what do I know, but even if Superman is like, "Please observe the cape: I don't do strollers," this won't last forever. You're doing great.
Readers: Joy's about had it. Throw her a line.