Jack (August)

Surviving the delivery is one thing; living through weeks of midnight feedings, particularly when emergencies strike, is much worse. Our writer discovers the ancient conspiracy that keeps expectant parents in the dark.

On Jack’s second day on earth, Patti’s phone call wakes me out of my coma. Ella Garber has been by to visit and has said, “This is a very expensive hotel. You can go home.”


* * *

Patti’s never had much of an opinion about circumcision. “I don’t get it, what do they actually cut off? Does it get a lot shorter?”

I am intent on making it not a religious thing but I still feel it should be done. I haven’t spent an inordinate of time looking at other men’s equipment, but I’ve always thought that uncut dicks seem either sinister, tucked in their cowls, or just dumb and uncivilized, the domain of hillbillies and people who eat with their mouths open. I think the overwhelming reason is that I don’t want the little goober to see me flouncing around after a shower and wonder why his gear is different from mine.

I don’t know how painful the procedure is; it’s been a while. I was two when I was pruned—Gran did the job himself in Lahore once I was clear of the evil goyim in London who had been adamantly opposed to this ancient mutilation.

Five feedings a day. Five bowel movements. Five fresh diapers. Pump, pump. And in between, fit in our lives. It’s actually becoming quite possible and peaceful. My uncle Michael was circumcised around the same time. He was 18. When Michael was still a boy, my grandfather, worried what the Muslim neighbors would think (I’m not sure why he though they would get to examine Michael’s shvantz, but Gran’s anti-Semitism detector is very finely tuned), decided to leave Michael as Allah had made him. But when my uncle immigrated to Israel in the early ‘60s, he decided he had to get circumcised. Gran, like Abraham before him, conducted the operation in his clinic. The very thought of it makes me wince. It all seems so biblical or Freudian, my uncle slapping his thing on the block while my bearded grandfather hovers over it with a scalpel.

Anyway, Jack doesn’t get a rabbi or a grandparent. An attractive curvy blonde surgeon meets me in the nursery at 3 p.m. Jack has been lashed onto a little board with four restraining straps, like a white plastic crucifix. He seems very unhappy, poor guy. In a snip, the job is done, and Jack lets a little squeak and the nurse moves in. The doctor says, “It’s a nice cut. It looks great,” (I hope she’s not the last attractive blonde to say that of Jack’s member) but it looks a little crimson and scary to me. She holds the foreskin out on the tip of her scalpel, offering it to me like a tiny piece of calamari. I decline with a grimace. I don’t know where it ended up.


* * *

We step into the afternoon heat, a family. We grab a cab, a family. We greet the doorman, a family. We avoid Mike Kahan, a family.

Frank greets us at the door, leaping around, excited to see Patti again. I hold the baby down to him and he is a little weird and jumpy and sneezes a few times then goes over to his pillow and curls up, content that we’re home.

Patti is so sore she has to walk very, very slowly and can’t sit up properly. She has to take sitz baths regularly. Till yesterday I thought sitz baths were just an old Yiddish punch line.

We put the baby in the bassinet. He wakes up every couple of hours and won’t go back to sleep. Finally he does.


* * *

When Miranda was small, she was a pacifier fiend. She walked around with her dummy (as we called it in Australia) until she was four or so.

On the second day of Jack’s life, she shows up with a pacifier for him. We have been told that it would be the baby equivalent of pure china white heroin, that he will become instantly and irretrievably hooked. Miranda, pulling on a cigarette, scoffs and says, “He won’t stay addicted forever.”

Jack latches onto the dummy with vigor and it seems to instantly relax him. Maybe he’ll go onto mug old ladies and hold up gas stations, jonesing for a fresh rubbery fix, or maybe we can get him into a program, Suckers Anonymous, people chugging coffee with distended, engorged lips and mangled teeth.

Pipsi shows up for her first sight of the boy. Fortunately, she latches firmly onto him immediately. I’m not sure what I expected. Pipsi and Miranda give Jack his first bath while I hover around, peering over their shoulders.


* * *

We pack Jack into his Snugli and take him and Frank to the corner muffin store, our first family stroll. It is fiercely hot but Mum has insisted that the baby must be well bundled up. He gets very warm and squirmy when we’re out, so back home we strip him down and he is immediately a lot happier. He is a funny little monkey and we like him a lot. When you stroke his hair, he gets an overwhelmed sort of look as if the stimulus is just too much. Being touched is a brand new thing for him and he doesn’t not like it; he just sort of makes an O with his mouth and widens his eyes.

No matter how hard he cries, if I sling him on my shoulder and pat his back, he stops and looks around with pouting lips.

He is just starting to get the hang of breast-feeding. He can’t seem to latch on properly and gives up too quickly. Is it his character or that infernal dummy?


* * *

We get Jack to sleep at 2 a.m. after a good feeding. At 9:30 we wake up in a panic, realizing we’ve slept the whole night through. How? Were we drugged? Did someone snatch the kid? Did he fall out the window? Where’s Frank? I leap out of bed to the bassinet. Jack is lying there with his eyes open, fine but ravenous.

His nursing is better today and a good feed knocks him out for hours. His life, in most ways, is the same as it was in the womb. Hang out, get hungry, kick up a fuss, eat, pass out. Repeat.

Patti’s butt is getting better but is still very sore. She sits on inflated swimming rings and has to slather all sorts of ointments on her tail every night. She speaks nostalgically of the ice-filled rubber glove the hospital nurses gave her to lay on her tender perineum but Ella has strictly forbidden them.


* * *

I’m getting used to night feedings. I can stay about 70 percent asleep as I drift into the kitchen, transfer a little bottle from the fridge to the microwave, nuke it for 15 seconds, shake it vigorously, test it on the back of my hand, all the while carrying the baby over my shoulder. I feed him in a chair, then put his limp, passed-out form back into the bassinet and slip into mine and then I’m right back in the arms of Morpheus myself in a minute or two.

PL has been hooking herself to this noisy pump that is surprisingly productive and gets irritated by my heifer jokes. I make lame jokes at first, because I’m immature and it’s actually very weird to see all this milk come out of her tits. She seems to already be pretty offhand about it, not quite like peeing or, at the other end of the spectrum, like ejaculating. I’m not sure if it’s sexy or not. I sort of like the idea that several times a day she’s hoisting her teats out, teats that are big and round and unlike the ones I’ve known pretty well since our third date or so, but I also know that these days they and their appearance in the living room really have nothing to do with me.


* * *

We’re getting to know Jack pretty well after just a few days. He has a short list of issues: He seems to cry because he’s hungry, hot or cold, has a dirty diaper, or is just crabby and wound up. We can tell the difference and we know how to solve each of these problems. That’s kind of it. We haven’t had to face the nightmare of endless, meaningless crying, thank God. That’s sort of the way I assumed it would be, the kid purple and squalling, while we thrust toys and biscuits and random medical instruments at him until finally, after hours of agony, neighbors and police pounding on the door, Patti and I at each others’ throats, he shuts up and smiles.


* * *

Five feedings a day. Five bowel movements. Five fresh diapers. Pump, pump. And in between, fit in our lives. It’s actually becoming quite possible and peaceful.

Frank is being a very good dog despite being a little apprehensive at first (he’s probably sick of being woken up, too). He gets concerned when the baby cries and goes over to stand by his bed but is never aggressive or inappropriate. He will sniff Jack sometimes and will lie by Patti as she feeds him. The baby smells like cake or cookies, specifically those round sugar cookies with the raspberry filling. He must be quite intoxicating to Frank and his long black snout.


* * *

My stitches come out. My scars will always be as old as my boy.


* * *

Patti wakes up in the middle of the night, stirring, then wakes me up. I roll over, and she says with alarm, “Watch out, watch out, you’re going to lie on the baby.” I say, “Don’t worry, he’s back in bed.” She starts to look frantically for him in the bed, until I point out that Jack is in his bassinet, sound asleep. Her fashion dreams of a month ago have been supplanted by scary ones of losing the baby or of goons taking him away.


* * *

As Patti settles her tender butt into our new cowboy rocker for its inaugural feeding, I read Jack a letter from his “great-Gran,” written on the day of his birth and containing some gloomy advice:

While accepting my welcome on this planet, along with my greeting as a fellow man, do not mind taking in also a piece of advice: Do not be sad if you do not find things as you expected to find them! This circulating globe is a circus—but, alas, all is not fun.

Seems to me, you have known this in advance, as it would otherwise be difficult to explain why you were not in a hurry to arrive. My mind goggles (sic) at the thought of what you will have experienced—and pushed aside as uninteresting—by the time you have reached my age.

I hope we shall have a more intelligent conversation in one or two more years—otherwise let’s agree to meet somewhere in 100 years’ time.

* * *

I wake up with the 3 a.m. feeding bell and hand the baby to Patti. I wake again at 5:45 and realize that she is still up with him. I take over and she falls back into bed, exhausted.

Jack is quite hysterical, sort of gassy and farty and belchy, his stomach hard and warm. I sit in the rocker and position him in a squat on my chest like a little flatulent toad. I pop in the dummy, rub his back and sing most of my Jack Buchanan repertoire. Then I read to him for the first time from Toby Tyler, a funny old book about a boy who joins the circus, the basis one of my favorite Disney movies when I was a kid.

I haven’t been up at this hour since Studio 54 closed, but it is so calming to calm someone else, even a bleating, wriggling little goober. When he falls asleep at last, his face is contorted and bad tempered but slowly his features soften and he looks angelic and at peace.

Sometimes I see him as just a problem, an obstacle to master. But then I realize he’s just a little kid who wants nothing but love and a fresh diaper and for the bad things to go away.

When he first starts to master the breast, Patti says, “He’s trying so hard. He wants to be good. It’s very hard for him,” and I feel such love for both of them wash over me, for him for trying and being heroic in his tiny way and for Patti for noticing and for making me aware. I love her so much and am discovering a whole new person in my home, not just Jack the baby, but Patti the mother who is managing, despite her soreness and bleeding and fatigue, to learn how to do this enormous job and still be the one I love so much. She has the baby latched onto her around the clock but we can still sit and talk and laugh like always. It’s hard to express but my fears that this is all too big for me are allayed by the fact that it is making my life with my wife even richer and fuller. It’s a whole new scene, and yet Patti and I have decided we don’t feel like parents yet, just like a couple of people looking after a baby.


* * *

We’re having a hard time. Jack just wants to be latched onto Patti’s teat all the time. The minute we unhook him, he cries.

Mum says she can’t understand why something as simple and primal as breast-feeding should be such a problem for us.

Nor do we.


* * *

We meet our lactation counselor, one of the ones who ran the breasting seminar we attended a few months ago. She is large and tall and has an enormous bust. Her name inspires many jokes: Laura Best becomes Laura Beast, La Brest but most of all Laura Breast.

She studies Patti’s breasts and then watches the baby drink. The problem, she concludes, is his, not hers. There’s loads of milk, but he doesn’t suck properly. We now have to supplement his feedings with pumped breast milk and have a range of options on how to get it into the baby. We can feed him with a little cup. Or we can tape a thin IV hose onto our fingers and let him suck from a special drip bottle. Or, most Rube Goldbergian of all, we can tape the drip hose onto Patti’s breast so he can simultaneously suck her nozzle and the hose. We also have to let him suck our fingers and massage his tongue. Now each feeding (which already takes an hour) has to conclude with half an hour of pumping. We are instructed to rent an industrial strength pump from a medical supply house, a big steel thing that burbles and belches, ultimately synching up its rhythm with the buzzing drone of our aquarium pump.

It’s nerve-wracking, and Patti is practically in tears as she gives Jack another feeding at home. Seeing that poor young ‘un cry until he is crimson in the face because he is hungry and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do is the most heartbreaking, maddening experience.

Finally we decide to hell with it. Let’s augment with some formula. We had been led to believe that this was like feeding him McDonald’s vanilla shakes or White Russians, but we set up the drip bottle and give it a whirl. The poor monkey gulps down a bottle and a half of formula with the breast milk and is truly contended for the first time in days. We all feel so good as we put him to bed that I think we have to rethink this mammalia-mania. The strain is unreal.


* * *

I return to work after the wildest vacation of my life. As I share our stories of the missed due date, the episiotomy, the breast-feeding travails, and the delivery room carnage, co-workers come out of the woodwork with similar or far more gruesome stories. It’s like Patti says, there is a conspiracy to protect expectant parents from the grimmer realities of child bearing.


* * *

Patti and Jack are faring well on their first day alone. Jack’s doctor, Dr. Heiss, is unimpressed by Laura Breast’s council. He thinks the tubes and gizmos are absurd and that the most important thing is to make sure the baby is well fed. He says give Jack the breast, then top him off with formula until he’s full and satisfied. These Lactites are total fanatics whose agendas can supersede the baby’s health.


* * *

Patti calls me from the cab. She is heading to another meeting with Laura Breast, armed with Heiss’s caveats. I get a funny feeling to hear that Jack is riding in a cab. Just like a person. Riding in a cab.

La Breast weighs him and he has gained four ounces, and is now virtually back to his birth weight. Great news. He continues to eat vigorously from nipples, tubes, cups, and bottles, then lies back like a little Buddha with pursed lips and a shiny pink face.

Laura Breast tells Patti that the LaLeche League, an organization of women committed to breast feeding (whatever), recommends that women find a way to rearrange their schedules so they can spend all day with the baby at the breast, constantly feeding on demand. They also recommend that mothers stay on bed rest and have the fathers serve them all meals in bed. It all feels a little like dairy farming. And, uh, no, we won’t be following LaLeche’s suggestion.


* * *

For Jack’s two-week birthday, we take him out to dinner in his stroller. Then, while we wait for our risotto in the restaurant garden, a life-threatening event. A gust of wind blows our paper tablecloth onto a candle and it bursts into flames. Flakes of ash drift onto the baby while we pound out the flames. No harm done, pulses slow.

As we walk home, Jack lies flat on his back in his stroller, staring up at the evening sky, gaping at the silhouetted buildings and trees as we click down through the Village. He seems very curious and happy.


* * *

Jack’s first pediatric visit begins with lots of paperwork. Then Dr. Heiss weighs and measures him. He’s getting bigger. He examines Jack’s body, feeling his balls one at a time, then looks down his ears and down his throat, listens to his heart, checks his reflexes. Everything looks fine. We dress the baby and join Dr. Heiss in his office. He reiterates his advice on feeding and says that, because there are no problems, he’ll see us again in a month. That’s it. It seems too easy.

We walk him home, grumbling and wondering if that cursory exam is a sign of Heiss’s incompetence.


* * *

Our first date as parents. Miranda baby-sits while we go to an Everything but the Girl concert, phoning her neurotically every half hour from the lobby.

Nonetheless, we have a romantic evening. As the band plays, I think about how lucky Jack is to have Patti for a mother, because she seems to be exactly what a mum should be. She is very sympathetic and caring and thoughtful but also fun and odd and modern and not too sentimental or unreal. Jack will always be able to count on a huge amount of love from her, and she’ll also teach him a lot, entertain him and be a good friend. I’m sure he’ll soon be as hopelessly in love with her as Frank and I are.


TMN Contributing Illustrator Danny Gregory first learned to swim in the canal behind the Lahore American School, to kill ticks at Canberra Grammar School, to snap bras at the Kibbutz Givat Brenner, to light a match with one hand at Princeton University, and to mount sheep at the Northwestern School of Taxidermy. He is the author of several books and the obligatory blog and lives in Greenwich Village (with his first wife and son), where he does not attend NYU. More by Danny Gregory