Two weeks ago, Erica and I welcomed our first child into the world. Olivia Noelle Sulzbach debuted at 7:07 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 22; she weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces and measured 20 inches. For better or worse, our lives will never be the same.
As of this evening, Olivia is fifteen days old and doing well. She eats and poops every 2 to 3 hours. Sometimes she sleeps soundly; other times, she wakes us by snorting or smacking her lips. Occasionally, she cries out in terror. Is she recalling the trauma of being taken from the womb? We can only guess.
Our daughter is a miracle, yet we keep praying for additional miracles: a solid night’s sleep, bodily healing for Erica’s incision, and some semblance of normalcy. For Olivia, the world is a bright and noisy place filled with unknowns; for us, it’s upside-down and inside-out. We’re awake when we should be sleeping. We feel restless when we’re lying down. Will Olivia survive the night? Will we be able to rest? I dread falling asleep for fear of being startled awake.
No doubt this is “normal” for new parents. In the hospital, we heard repeatedly how “normal” Erica’s condition was. Bloating, nerve pain, insomnia, bleeding—normal, normal, normal. Was that really what we needed to hear? I can think of a half-dozen more helpful condolences. In this context, hearing “normal” felt like we were being told “too bad.”
I’m grateful that Monica (Erica’s mom) was allowed to be with us at the hospital. I’m grateful Erica’s brother Andrew helped me guide Erica up the stairs to our second-story apartment. I’m grateful that my mom stayed overnight during the week and cared for Olivia. She offered sincere encouragement to Erica and ensured that I got some sleep. She kept us fed and showed compassion while we were delirious and short-tempered. She also blessed us by gifting her Toyota Corolla to me.
The week before, my Kia Spectra5 died in the drive-through at Chick-fil-A. With a pregnant wife and no transportation, I was a nervous wreck. My insurance declined to cover the car rental I procured, and it was too expensive to rent for more than four days. Graciously, Monica helped us get around town. She even took us to the hospital when Erica’s water broke.
Two weeks is not a lot of time to process everything, but we’ve begun working through the trauma. We’ve laughed, cried, and talked together in the early morning hours. Right now, raising a kid feels impossible. We’re not sure from moment to moment how we’re going to survive. My will to live has been challenged repeatedly. Erica has been at this game longer than I have, and for that I have enormous admiration. I also have empathy now.
For me, managing stress is accomplished by sleeping. A good nap or a full night’s sleep helps my brain reboot. At the hospital, there was no such thing as rest. I caught a few winks between visits from the nurses and the baby’s cries. My legs gave out a few hours after numbness overtook my heels, and before that, my eyes refused to stay open. Poor Erica was too frantic to attempt sleeping. My memories of those two and a half days at the hospital exist as blurry snapshots.
How did our parents do this? Truly, we’re in the midst of a life-changing experience, one that is transforming our perceptions of our moms and dads. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, foster parents… these are the unsung heroes of life. Their past sacrifices make our present lives possible. I hope we can do likewise.
Perhaps it’s true what they say—you can never fully prepare for parenthood. Sure, you can do the required reading and watch the recommended videos. You can educate yourself in the particulars of delivering a baby at home or in the car.
In my case, I prepared by organizing diapers, wipes, and related paraphernalia. I rearranged our kitchen utensils to accommodate bibs and burping rags. An entire corner of our tiny apartment is stashed with unopened items. My preparation was focused on our physical living space, not my mental state of mind.
Today, thankfully, we’re both feeling better. Our days and nights still run together, and time is marked by Olivia’s waking and sleeping. I managed a brief escape tonight to check our mailbox. The sun was still up and the air was free of the scent of baby powder. I forgot that I was a parent for a few minutes. It was simply me walking to the mailbox.
On the way back, I saw a young girl on a bicycle. Her father was keeping her balanced and watching out for cars. Some day, that will be me and Olivia. Parenthood was never on my bucket list, but I do look forward to being a daddy. Hopefully our days will be more balanced in the future. Hopefully, our daughter will be as wonderfully weird and unusual as her parents. I want to teach her, protect her—keep her from harm. I pray that God will continue to chisel away at my selfishness.
Later, I handed Erica an envelope. It was addressed to Olivia Noelle Sulzbach—her first piece of mail. We opened it together and withdrew a card with our daughter’s social security number. She’s in the system now. The United State of America recognizes a new citizen. Citizen Sulzbach. That’s my kid!
Welcome to the family, Olivia. We love you dearly.
This passage has been especially comforting to me while I grapple with limited rest and mental fatigue.
“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”Matthew 6:31-34