When I got pregnant, I knew immediately that I wanted to "have it all," i.e., minimal weight gain, a natural birth and a baby who slept through the night without me having to do anything. I failed on all three counts.
Well, sorta. At first, my baby did sleep through the night. Curious coworkers asked how sleepless my husband and I were those first few weeks, and I answered with exhaustion that she seemed to only wake up once a night and not till like, 5 a.m., and that we got her back to sleep right away.
"Wow, I hate you," they said with complete seriousness, and I beamed with pride. Without doing anything at all special my husband and I had produced the kind of baby that inspired hatred! Cross that off the old life list! But more importantly, we were the lucky recipients of that vaunted, mythical unicorn of newborns, so we were told: the easy baby.
The easy baby! Could it be ours!? Our baby would laugh, chill out, and accompany us on long airplane fights to Barcelona, sit through boring DMV visits and enjoy Seinfeld reruns? We would ease into this parenting thing and take our time acclimating thanks to our unbelievable luck and copious amounts of sleep.
Then after a few weeks on maternity leave, I went back out into the world and began noticing other babies. In restaurants, at grocery stores, in parks and at doctor visits. And they weren't like my baby at all.
While my baby was super adorable but had to be talked to, fed, held and paid attention to most of the time, other babies did things like sit in their carriers mesmerized by a mobile. They were occupied for an entire half hour by a piece of string; they could nap in a bustling café, sleep through a loud movie and seemed content to just hang out in their bucket seat on the floor looking at their mothers' calves.
As far as I could tell, the mothers of those babies could get up and walk away from the kid, go have a martini down the street, come back an hour later and their baby would probably be sitting there doing a crossword puzzle. My baby got upset because she could tell I was just thinking about having a martini by myself.
Maybe I hadn't had a baby, but a cocker spaniel. Not so much for the grooming needs, but more in the hyperactive, separation anxiety sense. She protested a lot, wanted to be held all the time, yet hated to be restrained by wrap, car seat or stroller. Not only did she never actually just sit around zoning out like other babies, it was also pretty obvious she thought Seinfeld was bullshit. And the DMV? Forget about it. But still, she slept through the night! Most of the time! For a few weeks! Didn't that count for anything? Then she stopped doing that, too.
"Easy," like "pretty" or "fun" or "interesting" or "intelligent," is obviously an extremely relative term. One person's good timez is another person's signal to pop the cyanide capsule. Likewise, venture into the minefield of Internet forums about baby maintenance and you will find every variation of this allegedly "easy" baby.
There's the "laid-back" baby who doesn't actually need to eat. There's the "chilled-out" baby who would rather you watch a Real Housewives marathon instead of changing a diaper. There's the "fun" baby who organizes your Saturday girls' night out, and a "good-natured" baby who enjoys getting vaccinated.
For me, there were simply two kinds of babies: my baby and everyone else's. And my baby wasn't into any of that shit. My baby was like, HEY GET A LOAD OF ME, all the time. It wasn't that she just sat around crying or being colicky. She was always fairly robust. It wasn't even constant fussiness, though her fussiness did usually have a cause. It wasn't that she wasn't cute, or fun, or snuggly or hilarious or sweet. She was all those things. And she took her vaccinations like a champ.
It's more that she was just always extremely alert and extremely interested in engaging pretty much all the time she was awake. She was super alive, and she demanded nothing less than super aliveness from me. No matter that I'd spent my life getting by on partial engagement, now it was time to throw all in. This is when theoretical approaches to parenting burn up faster than a menthol cigarette, which is hard to explain to people without babies, who have the luxury of the abstract. It's called doing whatever it takes to nurture the baby you've got, and not the baby you imagined.
It was exhausting, but I've really never thought of it as anything other than How It Is To Have A Baby. Of course, it's really just How It Is To Have My Baby. But even so, I wasn't alone in wondering if my baby was somehow different. I eventually stumbled upon a Dr. Sears post about the signs that you have a high-needs baby. At first I was all, pshaw! "High-needs."
I mean, come on, it's a baby. A baby, by definition, is high-needs, right, as opposed to low-needs, which is what something is that lets you to know up front it doesn't really need shit from you except a few essentials now and then, you know, like a chia pet or a college boyfriend.
But there was the post, in plain font, listing everything my baby had ever done, like I was reading her first rap sheet:
Intense. Yes, my baby is Christopher Walken in Annie Hall.
Hyperactive. Look, there's a tracer of where my baby just was before she did a somersault off my shoulders into the casserole!
Draining. Did I mention we have a juicer now?
Feeds frequently. It's like we're running a catering service. Out of my boobs.
Demanding. I would explain but my baby says this isn't a good time for her to listen to me talk to someone else.
Awakens Frequently. Like an apex predator.
Unsatisfied. I've never heard more exacting standards for how stuffed animals can be arranged.
Unpredictable. Peas today, peas mashed into your face tomorrow.
Super-sensitive. Yeah, I guess I did go to the bathroom without asking first.
"Can't Put Baby Down." Like, physically? Or like in the sense where you literally can't go out for a month?
"Not a Self-Soother." But she's got self-exciter written all over her!
But hey, no hard feelings, kid. The good news was it all started to mellow out around when she hit 1 year old. She became more independent, better able to occupy herself, and more interested in things beyond me. Some part of me still believes that all babies are high-needs, because raising a person can't be just as easy as having a goldfish and anyone who says otherwise is a saltwater crocodile. Uh, right? Besides, now she changes her own diapers while getting vaccinated during my monthly girls' nights out anyway. I've never had it so easy.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. She wrote this with a 2-year-old climbing her face. Commiserate on Twitter @iusedtobepoor.