Valley Parents: Addition of Newborn During Heat Wave Forces Family to Turn Inward

Friday, August 03, 2018

“Mommy look. I’m the leader,” my 4-year-old shouted as she sprinted down a wooded path in Claremont’s Moody Park. My dog was at her heels, forging ahead as my husband and I strolled behind, still moving at pregnancy pace. Wrapped onto my chest, our newest addition — three-week-old Ella — slept peacefully.

“We’re doing it,” I said to my husband. I smiled cautiously, knowing that the peace would only last a minute before the dog barked or the preschooler fell or the baby cried. We’d walked this path hundreds of times and yet our first walk as a family of four felt monumental.

In that moment, I could see how our new family unit would fit together, after weeks of working on this new puzzle.

When I was pregnant with my first, it was easy to imagine how a baby would integrate seamlessly, transforming us from a couple to a family. Yet when my older daughter was born she was a difficult infant and it sometimes felt more like the addition was trying to crack our little family apart rather than cement us together.

But there’s something to the idea of trial by fire: after we got through her tumultuous first year, we had that tight family unit that I envisioned during my pregnancy.

With number two, I had a much harder time imagining how a new person would fit in. Our family felt established — mom, dad and Harriet — and I wondered if there would be room for one more. Everyone assured me that you love your second just as much as your first, and I believed them, but I just couldn’t picture how the yet-to-be-named baby would fit into our daily routine and family rituals.

Ella came home during the brutal heat wave that ushered June into July. I’m normally rarely indoors during the summer months, but the only escape from the humidity was the air-conditioned master bedroom, so our whole family piled in. We camped out watching movies, changing diapers and sleeping four in a row at night. The forced proximity was so different from our normal routine that it felt like we had been tucked away to learn how to bond as a family of four, as the world continued turning outside the reach of that small AC.

When that room got too tiny, the car became our refuge. We drove through New Hampshire and Vermont — still all within arm’s reach of with each other — chatting and appreciating the scenery.

When Harriet got bored or Ella needed to nurse we found a playground or a swimming hole, before continuing on with no destination in mind.

After my first birth, I was back to myself immediately. This time, a small postpartum complication slowed me down, forcing me to take it easy. The oppressive heat forced my family to join me.

On one hand it was frustrating to be missing out on all our favorite things about the Upper Valley during the summer — the hikes, the swimming holes and the farmers markets. But instead of focusing on all there is to do outdoors in our gorgeous region, the whole family was forced to turn inward and be present and patient with each other during our transition. Circumstances gave us the space to grow from three to four without worrying about doing anything else.

What did I do this summer? I slowed down, and brought my family along with me.

We baked a cake and built fairy houses in the backyard. I rocked a baby for hours and hours, getting to know this strange little creature who had been transplanted into our lives. My husband tried new recipes and became comfortable in the kitchen. We learned to balance the needs of two little girls and helped Harriet work through her frustrations adjusting to her new role. Slowly, we began to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together to form this new picture of our family.

“Having a new baby in the house is like living in a time warp,” I told a friend a few weeks after Ella was born. You’re forced to accept being less productive and adventurous, and to surrender to the fact that any plan you make can be interrupted by that little one. A whole afternoon can disappear in pursuit of a nap, and a week can end without an answer to the question “what did you do?” In fact, a whole summer can be wrapped up in the sweet nothings that come with exploring a new love and discovering a new normal.