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The First Year, or ''How I Learned to Love Diapers''

Posted by Elisa Taub
The First Year, or ''How I Learned to Love Diapers''

by J.J. Jamieson

My wife and I are often asked just how, in the name of all that is holy, we survived the first year of newborn triplets.

On the night they were born, I likewise asked myself how we would ever pull this off. The kids, two boys and a girl, were all in the nursery, while I comforted my wife in her room, recovering from her C-section. And into her room three nurses wheeled three little cradles, with our three little guys. We cuddled, fed, nuzzled, snuggled – then called the nurse to ask when they would be returning to the nursery. “Oh no,” she responded, “they’re staying with you.”

Gulp. Really? I pressed. I mean, you’ve got all the training. You’ve got degrees and experience and stethoscopes and, I don’t know, tongue depressors. Don’t you want to keep an eye on them? Um, no, was the answer.

I flashed on a night some six months earlier, when my brother & sister-in-law came to town with their three boys, aged 1, 3, and 5 years old. My pregnant wife and I took them all to dinner at Benihana, where no Americans had done that much damage to Japanese territory since the invasion of Okinawa at the end of WWII. Don’t get me wrong: my brother’s kids are adorable and everything, but rice exploded like shrapnel, chopsticks flew like missiles, and the carnage was inhuman. I turned to my sister-in-law, my face a flag of surrender and fear, and said, “We’ll never make it. We’ll never make it!” She smiled calmingly and said, “Remember, you don’t start with a five-year-old, or a three-year-old, or even a one-year-old. You start with a little blob of jelly, who does nothing but sleep and eat and poop for months. You gradually get into to this, step by step. Ya know, like baby steps.”

That first night, I tried to remind myself. Baby steps, baby steps. So we continued to cuddle, feed, nuzzle, snuggle, and intermittently, we slept ourselves. And for the first time in my life, I changed a diaper.

Oh sure, I had had opportunities to do so beforehand. I’ve got nieces and nephews, and they all pooped, and I was right there and could have volunteered. But I unfailingly exited faster than Karl Rove running from Mike Wallace and a surprise 60 MINUTES camera crew. I’m not germophobic, not in the least. But in a word, Eeeeww!

And now, here I was, face to face, so to speak, with a poopy bottom. I braced myself. I could do this, I told to myself cheerily. Heck, I skydived (once), I could certainly do this. I received careful step-by-step instructions from a matter-of-fact nurse … and I jumped. A few wipes, a little powder, stinky diaper in the trash, clean diaper on the bottom – and ta-da, the threshold was crossed. Baby steps. Phew! Well done! I told myself, patting myself on the back. Sure, I was still disgusted, but the psychological hurdle was crossed.

I changed so many diapers that first year, I started boasting to friends. I could change three diapers – three poopy diapers, mind you – in under two minutes. If you figure the average kid pees & poops seven times a day, and I conservatively changed three of the seven (fewer during the week, more on the weekends & holidays), multiplied times 7 days, times 52 weeks, times 3 kids, that’s just shy of 3,300 diapers in the first year alone. Needless to say, I got used to it.

Eddie Murphy has five children and a job which, when he’s not shooting movies, allows him to spend a fair amount of time at home with the kids. And he says he has never changed a diaper. Ever. Now, I love Eddie Murphy’s work, and for all I know he’s the sweetest man on the planet. But he’s never changed a single diaper?! The greatest motivating force to changing a diaper is the same reason I myself never changed a diaper before I had kids, namely: no one wants to. So if we, the parents, don’t change the diaper, that diaper ain’t going to change itself. And at 2:45 in the morning, when she’s finally asleep after intermittently pumping a boob and/or cuddling a babe, doesn’t my wife deserve a friggin’ break? If I don’t change that diaper, that means she has to. I don’t profess to be the world’s greatest husband, but if love is sacrifice, I certainly love my wife enough to get my usually lazy be-hind out of bed and change that friggin’ diaper.

How was the first year? It was a blur, a circus, a blithering whirlwind. And our departure from the hospital foreshadowed things to come. We had spent seven days there – the maximum time our insurance allowed a woman recovering from a C-section to spend. The staff had been super-generous with their time, their advice, their TLC, and the free-bees they laid before us – from blankets to premie diapers to formula to bottles to caps. Frankly, we didn’t want to leave. But leave we must. And when we placed all three car-seats in the backseat of our SUV – a smallish SUV to be sure, but an SUV nonetheless – the kids were so jammed in there, we couldn’t close both doors. “Get Bigger Car” went right to the top of our to-do list.

Especially during the first few weeks, we did have help. In addition to grandparents (who left way too quickly), we had a bartender, a masseuse, a psychotherapist, and a priest. Oh, and a night baby nurse. Seriously, the baby nurse was fantastic. A Registered Nurse, with 25 years experience doing just this, 200 babies to her name, including 35 sets of twins, she was positive, opinionated, bubbly but strong-willed, and a life-saver. She had a million pieces of advice about how to position babies, how to burp babies, how to dress them, when to feed them, what to feed them. For instance, one night when we made pasta with tomato sauce for us adults to eat, she made it clear that babies do not like tomato sauce, even indirectly and diluted via mom’s breast milk. Then we discovered that she didn’t like tomato sauce. Thereafter we privately questioned some of her preferences, peccadillo and prohibitions as pure prevarications. But given our own state of general idiocy and ignorance, we were thrilled to have her, and hugely bummed when she left.

On our own, yeah, it was tough, I guess. But I have a theory on this matter: I think a parent’s love-infused excitement of having kids pushes him or her through the exhaustion of the first year. It’s an evolutionary necessity – otherwise the whole species would simply die out from being completely pooped, if not from complete poopy-revulsion.” Makes sense, right?

Besides, really, what did we have to compare it too? Our triplets were our first and only kids, so what did we know? We simply did what all parents with newborns do: we adjusted. We stayed home, we stopped seeing movies, we talked about the kids, we yearned for uninterrupted sleep – but it all felt pretty natural to me. Like changing a diaper, What are ya gonna do? Somebody’s got to do it.

We have friends who had a singleton and then had triplets. Now that seems hard – because psychologically you’re prepared for the requirements, the stress and the strain of one baby. And then to have triplets? Yikes. By contrast, we were blessed by ignorance – which, as my wife will readily attest, I have in abundance.

Taking the advice of the Breast Milk Fascista – that would’ve made it harder. Even before we left the hospital, my wife was paid a visit by a tall, blonde woman with a sizeable chest, perfect hair and glassy eyes, who came to preach the virtues of breast feeding. Good for the baby, good for the immune system, good for Mommy, on & on until my wife politely interrupted, affirming she fully intended to supplement formula with breast milk. The Breast Fascista then made it perfectly clear that she believed mothers – even mothers of triplets – should feed their babies nothing but breast milk. The subtext was even stronger: there’s something terribly un-maternal about a woman who uses formula at all. And that was the end of that. My wife thanked the Breast Milk Fascista and kicked her, courteously but summarily, right out of our room. Triplets on breast milk alone? Was this woman hitting the ether in the supply closet or what!?

Frankly, for my wife, the whole breast-feeding experience was a bit of a bust, no pun intended. Our kids at birth weighed 4 lb. 2 oz., 4 lb. 15 oz., and 5 lb. 9 oz. – big for triplets but still clearly on the “small” side. With newborns so little, we had to be extremely careful about how much food they consumed – beginning with just 1.5 oz. per feeding and moving slowly up from there. And since you can’t tell exactly how much milk a breast-suckling baby has consumed, we fed the kids almost exclusively through carefully delineated milk bottles. So, in addition to vast numbers of diapers bought in bulk, we bought formula by the gallon.

To be sure, there are many many great aspects of triplets, but one of them stands out, regarding the first year. The great thing about triplets is what it did for me, the daddy. With singletons, it tends to be all about Mommy & Baby, Baby & Mommy. It’s about breasts and feeding and holding and burping… and dads sometimes feel left out: stuck in a corner, glancing about with awkward boredom, saying, “I’ll just, um … go and check on, uh… coupons for baby food, I guess,” before sneaking into the TV room to watch ESPN with the volume down.

That was a luxury completely absent in our house. Even with two parents, we regularly felt outnumbered. So with triplets, it seems, daddies are essentially, constantly, and unequivocally involved. There’s no escaping it – as 3,000+ diapers a year will attest – because someone has to do it. And here’s the really crazy thing about the diapers – something I’ve mentioned only to one other person. Now that my diaper years have just recently ended, I confess I miss it. I mean, not entirely; not the stink and the disposal and the expense and lugging of diaper paraphernalia everywhere. But within the complete dependence an infant has on you, in his/her vulnerability and need, there is a special intimacy and care in changing your child’s diaper.

One of my favorite moments was having to feed all three kids, before they could grasp their bottles, let alone hold them up by themselves. So I lined up all three kids in their Snap ’N Go car seats, side-by-side on the bed. Then I fed one child with a bottle in my right hand, one child with a bottle in my left hand, and one child with a bottle in my mouth. I looked an utter fool, pun intended, but it was a great moment.

My mom once remarked that one irony of parenthood is that your children end up teaching you far more than you ever teach them. That line, like most things she said, became ever clearer that first year.

However, children are not infants for ever. Time’s winged chariot drives them onward to toddlerhood. Just two weeks shy of their 1st birthday, they took their first steps. All three kids within 48 hours.

Baby steps, for them, and me.

J.J. Jamieson is a writer and producer in Hollywood. He lives with his wife and three children in Santa Monica, CA.