When we brought our little, orange baby home from the hospital, we set him down next to the piano, asleep in his car seat, and looked at each other. What now?
Did the professionals seriously just send us home with a baby…by ourselves?
His entire life so far, I felt like we were being graded. Everyone who stepped into our room on the maternity ward kindly explained I knew nothing, and urged me to keep a detailed log of his schedule. I assumed something terrible would happen if I neglected this and I couldn’t answer their inquiries clearly. Nurses came at all hours to discuss my son’s weight, his pooping habits, and how his circumcision was healing.
When we arrived home with our baby, I wasn’t sure what came next. I felt unqualified to handle a newborn independently. My son wasn’t latching well, and there were no nurses hovering nearby to grab my boob and show me a different hold that might work. Help was gone.
We were alone.
My husband and I looked uncertainly around our living room and then down at the sleeping, jaundiced baby who was about to turn our lives completely upside down. We felt like imposters. What were we supposed to do with this little person? Were we allowed to leave him in the car seat as he slept? Would someone jump out of the curtains and scold us if we tucked him into a Boppy on the couch?
After a short discussion, we dragged the car seat next to the window, so the sun could shine down and change his face into a less startling color. All our blurred snapshots would later show that he looked alarmingly like someone had dipped him into a bucket of apricot dye.
Our first visit to the pediatrician was scheduled for the following day, and I already had a pit in my stomach—like I’d neglected to study for the most important exam of the year. I worried they would readmit him to the hospital for phototherapy. I didn’t know yet that the doctor would need me to strip my child naked to assess him properly. The next afternoon, we would show up at the pediatrician’s office with a bulging diaper bag, a baby comfortably dressed in short sleeves, and no blanket. We would miss our appointment window (because we had no idea how to leave the house with a newborn) and subsequently find ourselves shivering in a freezing supply closet (the only place our pediatrician could work us in) trying to wrap our son in a burp cloth and shield his naked body with our arms. If shame literally burned, I could have kept that room toasty with the heat of all the things I wished I had known earlier. In that moment, jaundice would barely register on my emotional radar.
But I couldn’t see any of this yet. The first day in our living room, I was too busy fretting about being in charge of someone else’s life, realizing that all those years of babysitting had not prepared me after all.