Friday, February 22, 2013

Shit Happens: An Excremental Affair

A Brief Introduction ...

Eighteen months ago, I joined an ancient, time-honored, and exhausted clan. I became a parent. And not just any parent. I became a parent to twins, a pair of beautiful boys. I wasn't naive. I certainly knew my life would never be the same and that no book or site could possibly prepare me for what was to come, but that didn't stop me from buying a couple of books about pregnancy and my babies' first year, reading countless sites devoted to various parenting minutia and consulting as many friends and family members with kids as possible. Don't get me wrong, many of those sources were rich with helpful tidbits. But I've realized that my research contained some significant gaps, particularly when it came to some of the um, let's say less glamorous aspects of parenting. Hence, this blog. I come from a long line of very proudly blunt and open individuals and hope that my candor might help you in your preparations, or at least make you laugh in camaraderie. These entries are in no particular order in terms of timing or importance, just what happens to strike my memory strongest on a particular day.

Shit Happens: An Excremental Affair

Here is one crucial tidbit they don't tell you in What to Expect When You're Expecting. Poop is the cornerstone of parenting a young child.

I'm serious. I have never had more conversations about poop than in the last 18 months, particularly during the boys' first year. Amount. Frequency. Consistency. Texture. Color. You name it. My husband and I have talked about it with the same gravity and depth as we might politics or world affairs.

There is good reason for this. Turns out a child's, especially an infant's, poop is quite an excellent barometer for his health. I definitely don't remember this being addressed in any high school health class. Though I could  certainly envision the classroom discussions.

In the hospital, we were told we should record each diaper change and anything we noted about it. We should be changing at least a certain number of pee and poop diapers a day. On a side note, for the twin to-be-parents out there, this daily diaper tally is kind of Freddy Krueger scary. We were told by many to figure on about 10-12 diaper changes a day ... per kid. Seriously? My bank account threw up in its mouth a little when it heard that.

Once home, we became journal zealots, noting down times and amounts for feedings and changings. This proved a lot more challenging than expected for twins. It was really hard to keep straight who'd done what, but a lack of sleep will do that to you.

When they were very small and I was pumping breastmilk, it was: What color brown was it? Was it mustardy enough? Was it too dark? Too light? Was it too watery? Too thick? What in god's name were those little curdy things in there? (Apparently, it's undigested material from the breastmilk and totally normal.) Were there enough curds? Too many curds? Oh my god, it's green! Is he allergic to something I ate? Did I eat something that upset his stomach? Did I eat a lot of green stuff yesterday?

When we started introducing formula, we were told it would be more green.Thus it became: Was it too dark of a green? Was it too light? Were there dark spots in there?

Add in solid foods, and we were really thrown for a loop. Why was it orange? Seriously, carrots can make it that day-glo orange? Oh my god, there are black specks in his stool. Could it be blood? Oh yeah, I gave him kiwi for breakfast. (Turns out, since those seeds are hard to digest, they come out pretty quickly.) Wait, I didn't give him kiwi this morning, could it be an allergy. (I have had occasion to have poop diapers tested for blood. It was pretty easy, and our pediatrician was very understanding of our, sometimes irrational, concern.)

We strove to become forensic poop experts, examining each and every diaper and seeking out assurances that our boys continued to healthy.

We wore our newfound skills with pride. And that wasn't all we wore.

Turned out infant poop is a WMD: Weapon of Multitudinous Disgust.

Every parent learns a valuable lesson early on. Do not stand immediately in front of a baby's butt. It's like staring down the barrel of a gun, a gun with surprising range and power.

I learned this lesson three times over in one weekend. One second I was innocently changing a diaper. The next I was assaulted by streams of human mustard that marked me from shoulder to toes. I was astounded by the sheer force of the stream. Newborns may be weak, but their sphincter muscles sure seemed to be hyper-developed.

Did I learn? Apparently not quickly enough. My other son nailed me the next day, and the first soaked me again two days later. OK, I got it now. Just take a couple steps to the side and put your face anywhere within range.

Another valuable lesson: When your young baby doesn't poop for a few days, keep more than a few diapers on hand for the next poop.

One of my boys, Big Boy, always struggled to poop. Fun fact of the day, humans actually have to learn how to poop efficiently. That still fascinates me.

After scouring the Internet about poop for the umpteenth time, (Just wait, if you're not a parent yet, this will be you. If you are a parent, you know what I'm talking about.) I happened upon a number of sources that talked about how babies actually have to learn how to use their abdominal muscles -- and build up those muscles -- to push effectively. Where's the Baby Einstein video for that one?

My other son, Dimples, was like clockwork. Food would touch his mouth and, unnnnnh, contents emptied for full intake. Big Boy, though, would contort his face and turn all shades of red, sometimes without success. We had actually taken sometimes to trying to help him poop, pushing his little legs in and out. (Seriously, it helped sometimes.)

He would sometimes go a couple days without pooping, which actually is nothing compared to some kids. Afterward, I would be treated to thick Baby Jiff. But once, he went three days. I knew whatever came next was going to be epic. And Big Boy did not fail to deliver.

I had just changed a diaper when he started doing his poopy face and motions. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, he filled the diaper I'd just put under him. ... And another diaper. ... And another half of a diaper. I still have no idea how that much of anything could have fit inside that little body. From start to finish, a five-diaper affair! I actually took a picture and texted my husband. Gross, yes. But someone else had to experience this, and grossness kind of goes out the window once you become a parent.

Our most recent lesson came courtesy of Dimples. Once your child becomes pretty adept with his hands, always put a onesie on him if you're going to put him in two-piece jammies.

To an adult, poop is gross. To a toddler, poop is fascinating.

Dimples had recently taken to pulling off his bottoms occasionally when he slept. No big deal. The room was warm enough, and it didn't seem to bother him.

Until one morning, after seeing him pantsless on the video monitor and then entering his foul-smelling room, I realized that he was not only not wearing pants but also not wearing a diaper.

I quickly brought him out to put a new one on him when I saw the brown smudges around his nose and mouth and realized that he was still holding a pooplet in his hand.

After throwing up in my mouth a few times, I promptly fervently scrubbed him down in the tub, after which my husband fervently scrubbed down his crib and the wall after stripping everything off the bed.

Now, don't get me wrong. I was actually quite thankful. I have heard stories of Poop Picassos who so generously adorned their walls with expansive artworks. But there is nothing quite like calling the pediatrician and saying, "Um, yeah, I'm not sure whether my toddler may have eaten some of his poop."

But, as they say and as is truly applicable to any parent, shit happens.

About the Author: Christina Vemuri
I am a mother to 18-month-old twin boys on a two-year hiatus from teaching high school English, trading tomes for tots. I will be re-entering the adult world in August, returning to teaching, though I will certainly miss seeing my boys' crazy antics on a 24-7 basis.

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