My Mom always said that we should be given practice babies before we got the “real” ones, just to figure out what we were doing as parents. In my family I was the oldest, the practice baby. I was the one who had to wear tights until I was 13 and couldn’t cross the road alone until I was 21. Well, not really, but it sure seemed like it. The worst was getting my first pair of Nikes in 8th grade but my younger brother got them in 5th grade. Not fair!
Our practice baby is College Boy, now almost 18. When I got pregnant with him I was in college and 18 years old – just a year older than he is now, which freaks me out. (I’m not ready to be a Grandma, I’m not ready to be a Grandma, I’m not ready…) When he was born I was 19, Teacher was 21, and we’d been married all of 5 months. We didn’t know much about child development or parenting, we followed our hearts and began our journey into “attachment parenting”.
College Boy was born at 38 gestational weeks. He was only 4 lbs, 4 oz and didn’t know how to suck. Luckily he was “done cooking” and was only on a respirator for about an hour, and in the NICU for just under a week. I remember looking at Cabbage Patch Kid clothes and thinking that they’d fit my baby perfectly. My Mom was terrified when she first saw him because he was so little, but to me he was just a tiny baby. Ignorance is bliss!
The nurses taught our little one how to suck from a bottle while I used the hospital pump to collect milk for him. I don’t remember when we got together, but we breastfed for several months before I weaned him. I stopped early because I didn’t know any better, I didn’t know about La Leche League and my doctors didn’t tell me much about breastfeeding. I was afraid I’d get pregnant right away, I was worried he wasn’t getting enough to eat, I was feeling weird being married in college… with a baby… and breastfeeding. Oh, if I knew then what I know now! I tell myself that I did the best I could at the time, and that some breastfeeding is better than none. But I still wish I’d had the support to stick with it longer.
Our first baby was a high needs baby and cried inconsolably. At the time I thought he was a typical baby, I “knew” he didn’t have colic because colicky babies cry at certain times of the day, but he cried all day. Ha-ha, little did we know! Teacher and I took turns holding him, bouncing and walking the tiny space of our apartment. Somewhere we got a baby carrier, I don’t even remember where, and both of us wore College Boy all day. Some of my fondest memories are of my husband walking around campus with our son in the carrier.
We co-slept on and off, from what I can remember. I do know he was in bed with us during the months I breastfed. We had a small bed and I was always afraid I’d squish him in my sleep so I tried to get him to sleep in the bassinet, he was so small he fit in it for 6 months. I would walk or rock him to sleep then lay him gently on his stomach (the preferred position then) and back away slowly. Most of the time he’d wake up so I’d start over. Some nights he’d fall asleep on his Daddy’s chest, or on my shoulder. If we’d known the benefits of co-sleeping I’m sure we would have embraced it, but we were learning as we went along.
One of my favorite pictures is of my sweet husband leaning against the headboard feeding our tiny baby with a teeny bottle of my milk. The bottle couldn’t have held more than two ounces, and the tender look on Teacher’s face still touches my heart. I wouldn’t give this “practice baby” up for anything. We were poor, we were young, and we were naive, but we loved each other and our son – what’s more important than that?