As my maternity leave with Charlie rapidly comes to an end, I have had several moments of reflection on my first year with Addison. It is striking just how different the experiences have been. I know part of that is the first baby vs second baby thing, but a lot of it is also healthy baby vs transplant baby. I didn’t realize the huge amounts of stress and anxiety I internalized post-transplant, until now.
With Addison, I had all the usual new parent/baby crap, which is already more than enough to put you over the edge, plus the extra needs that come with having a medically fragile child. There just wasn’t time to dwell on my messed-up emotional state in between the medications, play time, doctor’s appointments, naps, feedings, blood draws, baths, diapers and potty sessions. And at the end of the day, I wasn’t a priority. Addison was. Getting her through her first year after transplant was the most important thing. My germ radar was at red alert level. I didn’t hang out with other moms and babies. I certainly never went to the mall or grocery store with Addison. There were no baby classes of any kind. My social circle was almost nil, except for daily visits from my parents, the occasional play date with a couple of my mom friends (always one on one because groups = germs in my world), get-togethers with my bff, my sisters and their kids, and lunches with non baby-toting girlfriends. It was pretty isolating.
Charlie has been different in so many ways. She is (almost) always happy and smiling, talking constantly. She loves being around people. She doesn’t mind crowds and loud noises. She is fat, robust and busting out of her clothes and off the growth charts. She sucks her thumb and generally sticks everything in her mouth. Addison was so shy and scared of people, sirens, vacuum cleaners. She barely made any vocalizations until about 18 months – we think it was because she was intubated at such a young age. She barely made it to 0% on the growth charts. We were constantly weighing her. My days were preoccupied with getting her daily regime of medication down without any puking and fattening her up. Thankfully she was not a thumb sucker and did not put things in her mouth so that helped ease my germaphobia. I felt like I was on constant high alert with Addison.
Baby #2 has had to deal with the more ‘relaxed’ approach I have now adopted. At least that’s what I call it when I look over and see Charlie taking a break from crawling around the living/dining room so she can put her face right down on our hardwood floor to suck off a piece of dried, stuck-on banana. Nice, right?!! Totally going to win the mom-of-the-year award with that one! But here’s the thing…Charlie is doing just fine.
I still can’t completely shake that ticking time bomb feeling. I probably never will. Once your world is turned upside down with a surprise “your baby is so sick she might not survive the night” conversation, you’re never the same again. But I think that helps me brush off the little things that are so inconsequential in the grand scheme of life. At least most of the time. However, don’t go thinking I floated through my mat leave all cool, calm and collected. I still had and have lots of moments where I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing, even with a healthy, happy second baby. Though I suppose that’s just being a parent.
I’m going to miss my 24/7 with my girls. This “extra” year of time at home with Addison has been a bonus. (Given the difficulties we had in getting pregnant I really didn’t know if there would be a second mat leave.) I am so fortunate I was able to be with her through her first year in school. But I have also missed working at a job I love with a fantastic team of people. And one thing I have come to realize in my crazy mom-experience is the importance of being me. I will always be a mom first and foremost, but I am also a wife, daughter, sister, auntie, best friend, book-reader, kick-boxer, boot-camper, tea-drinking foodie who loves writing and photography, and has a career. I think all of that just makes me a better mom.