2017 was an intense year, both for the world and for me. All craziness aside, though, the year also brought me one of the greatest blessings of my life: Tadashi*.
Bringing my child into the world meant enduring countless emotional, mental, and physical changes. Emotionally, the first few months of Tadashi’s life were a rollercoaster. Mentally, assuming a new identity as “mother” led to some pretty profound shifts in my priorities: with a child, my intent this year and in all future years is to live my life in a way that makes not only me happy, safe, and fulfilled, but also my little family (especially my son).
Physically, 2017 proved to be an interesting journey.
Of course, pregnancy brought its physical highs and lows. While I didn’t experience any particularly stubborn symptoms (thankfully, no morning sickness or odd food aversions here!), I definitely felt uncomfortable, especially throughout the third trimester. Aching back. Shooting paints of sciatica up and down my thigh and left butt cheek. Swollen feet that wouldn’t fit in anything but Birkenstocks.
I recognize that a lot of my first posts read as very Debbie Downer. And there’s some truth to the pessimistic tones: my experience with parenting so far (particularly these early days) has been extremely challenging.
But I assure you: there are a few bright spots too.
So that’s what this post is focused on: those little toothless smiles that my son Tadashi* gives me. Usually either first thing in the morning, when I’m so exhausted that my arms and legs feel heavy, or last thing at night, when he’s clean and in his pajamas and listening to music while we lie down on Reggie’s and my queen-sized bed.
But always, always at a time when I’m feeling a little down and when I need them the most.
Those little smiles serve as my fuel to keep trudging along on this seemingly thankless parenting journey. And I’m hoping to share more of these types of reflections with you all, the more frequently these little bright spots pop up.
Everyone warned me: the first few months of your child’s life are going to feel pretty thankless.
And that warning has rung true.
My weeks have become never-ending loops of sleepless nights and fussy days. And seemingly endless soiled diapers: poop explosions and the looming threat of Oh, please don’t pee on yourself this time…
My arms are tired from carrying him and rocking him for hours on end. My legs feel sore from constantly pacing to help him fall asleep. The smells of leaked breast milk and infant spit-up seem to have affixed themselves permanently to my clothes.
It’s all an exhausting cycle. And there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of this tunnel…
… Until, one tired and early morning, I’m chatting with my baby boy while I change his diaper. Nonsense stuff about our potential plans for the day. And his beautiful, round face cracks into a gummy smile. A smile that pushes his almond-shaped eyes into little crescent moons and makes my heart melt. For whatever reason, I can tell that little smile tells me: you are the most important person in my world, right now.
And, in that moment, all of those seemingly endless and frustrating nights fade away into oblivion. And I realize: Ah, yes, this is what makes it worth it.
The first time I had to watch my son Tadashi* by myself, he was four weeks old. And I was terrified.
My husband Reggie had a tattoo appointment in San Francisco’s Mission District. The appointment had been on our calendars for nearly a year, and we had agreed that I’d make the necessary arrangements so I’d have some childcare help while Reggie was gone. This was a plan we had agreed upon months ago.
But, of course, in the midst of all the newborn chaos, I forgot to ask for some help.
I realized the unfortunate oversight the night before Reggie’s appointment, and I started to have a panic attack at around 11 p.m. Sensing my anxiety, Reggie offered to cancel his appointment — but I felt bad for making him walk away from something that he was planning for so long. The morning of his appointment, he even offered to call my mom or my sister on my behalf to see if they could come to our apartment last-minute — but I felt guilty for asking them to venture so far into the East Bay to keep me company.
You may ask: why was I so reluctant to accept some help when I so obviously needed it? Well, for starters, I hated the thought of inconveniencing someone so last-minute. And I didn’t want Reggie to give up something that he obviously wanted.
And, to be honest, I despised the fact that I was panicking so much about watching my own child.
I recognize that, as a new mom, I’m bound to have some nerves, since this is uncharted territory. But my nerves seemed to be on an entirely different level.
My son Tadashi* is officially two months old today, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left the house with him (not including doctor’s appointments and visits with lactation consultants).
I can blame my reluctance to venture into the outside world with him on a few tangible things:
His current lack of immunization. I tell myself that I’m keeping him safe from any airborne pathogens or potential sickness by keeping him indoors.
The fact that it is now flu season. See above.
Pure exhaustion. Getting Tadashi* and all his belongings ready for some time away from home is a huge production, and — more often than not — I simply lack the energy to do so.
But, when it comes down to it, all those excuses (while slightly valid) are still excuses. Sure, there’s a risk in taking Tadashi* out when he hasn’t had his first round of vaccines, but there are still places we can go and precautions we can take that limit his exposure to potential sickness. And, yes, I’m tired — but, as I tell everyone who asks how I’m doing: How can I not be tired when I’m taking care of a newborn? There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be able to leave the apartment with him.
So, if I’m being 100% honest with myself, I’m not really scared about leaving because Tadashi* might get sick; I’m just scared about being responsible for a young human life on my own, out in public.
Sure, taking care of my son at home, on my own, has its own stresses (more on that later) — but at least home is familiar. I know we have diapers; I know his bassinet is handy; I know that I can breastfeed him with privacy, on a comfortable couch, with something entertaining and relaxing on the television. Outside, there are so many daunting unknowns. If he gets hungry, will there be a place where I can comfortably nurse? Will I have access to a changing table? Will he behave, or will today be another fussy day where it will take every trick in the book to console him? And, of course, the worst: will people judge me if he acts up?
While we prepared for our son’s arrival, Reggie and I would have long discussions about potential names, just like every other couple. But we had an added complication: what would his last name be?
You see, I have something to confess: in case my extensive social media presence didn’t tip you off, I never took my husband’s last name after we got married. Admittedly, I had every intention to change my name while we prepared for our wedding; I even wrote my supposed married name on our marriage license. But months passed, and my willingness to complete the paperwork waned… And I ultimately realized that I was putting off the name change because I didn’t want a name change.
I realized that the practice of a woman assuming her husband’s surname was unnecessary (people would tell me that the name change was needed for insurance or tax purposes, which is completely untrue) — and, frankly, undesirable. I equated changing my name with changing my identity: I had no desire to become an entirely different person, and marriage wasn’t going to change my passions, my goals, or my priorities. So I decided to drop the “B.” from “Sarina C.B.,” and I continued on as “Sarina C.” For good.
When Reggie and I married, we made a promise: while we both wanted kids, we would wait at least two or three years to get pregnant. At 24 years of age, we believed that we had ample time to enjoy marriage and one another before introducing a child into the picture.
Despite our desires, however, we constantly fielded the same question throughout our first two years of marriage: When are you two going to have kids?
At first, the question was simply annoying, although we knew that the frequent interrogation regarding pregnancy and parenthood was inevitable in a new marriage. Especially within a traditional Filipino family, where the formulaic College-Career-Marriage-Homeowning-Children timeline is not only an expectation but a mandate.
But, once Reggie and I approached our third year of marriage and began trying to get pregnant, the question about children elevated from annoying to hurtful.