in praise of five-year-old Noah’s handling of this intense, challenging pregnancy

I had no idea a person just five years into life could be as kind, understanding, empathetic, and patient as Noah has been this year. Our culture doesn’t teach us to expect much from children, or to give them a lot of space in which to step up. But I have to say, Noah has handled this difficult pregnancy and all the practical challenges it’s thrown at our family with stunning grace.

I’m not saying he’s always been thrilled about it. All three of us have absolutely pitched fits at various times, dealing with the fact that our needs weren’t being met (either by each other or by, like, the universe). We’ve all gotten to the ends of our ropes. But my point is that, with all of us at the ends of our ropes, Noah has held on to his and often encouraged us to keep our grasps as well.

Here are some of the things Noah has done or said during the past 8+ months:

  • He understood that early pregnancy might not lead to a baby and said things like “that would be sad, but we’d try again.” He also stuck with phrasings such as “I’m glad you’re probably going to get a baby out” until much later in the pregnancy, when we were all feeling more confident about the whole project. Meanwhile, the adults around us tended to act as though any pregnancy at all = for sure fun baby times!, which made me feel weirded out.
  • Around eight weeks, I said I wish I didn’t feel so sick and that I missed being able to play with him more, and he said rather wisely, “Yeah … I wish you felt better too. But this is just how you feel when you’re pregnant.” I asked whether he’s still happy I’m pregnant even though it’s like this, and he said “Yes. Do you know why I’m happy?” “Why?” “Because I hope you’ll get a baby out.” And then we talked a little about why he wants a new baby in our family, and he cuddled into my lower belly, where he knew the embryo was, and it was all very sweet.
  • On countless occasions throughout the pregnancy, he has noticed I’ve fallen asleep, turned off the lamp on my bedside table, and then crept out to tell Eric “We need to be quiet, because Molly’s sleeping.”
  • He’s kissed me gently in my sleep instead of waking me all the way up for a good-night kiss.
  • He’s conspired with Eric to let me sleep in on many, many non-work mornings.
  • He’s taken the weird crap I’ve said in stride. For instance, one day I announced “I think the fetus is trying to kill me,” and Noah said, “no, the fetus is not trying to kill you.” “Oh, yeah? What do you think the fetus is trying to do?” “It’s just trying to develop,” he said in an exasperated voice. Well-played, my friend. He has maintained a sense of perspective even when I couldn’t.
  • He’s chosen to sit with me and watch birth videos online, asking all sorts of questions and offering commentary, and always asking if we can watch one more.
  • One day back in October, as we embarked on our dog’s morning walk, I said something or other about labor and Noah asked, again, “what’s labor?” And I said it’s when the uterus contracts over and over so that muscle can get the baby out, and that sometime it goes on for several days and sometimes just for a couple hours. And he said, “when you were getting me out, it was just a few hours, right?” even though we’ve told him a bajillion times that it took forever to get him out, though I guess he mostly focused on the super-long pregnancy part. So I said “no, it took a few days,” and he looked up at me very seriously in the sunshine and asked earnestly: “How did you stand to do that for that long?” (I just chuckled and said, “I’m very strong.” But I was highly amused that that was his reaction—so empathetic! so imaginative! It’s not like I even mentioned pain …)
  • On at least one occasion, Noah actually asked his teacher whether their snack had garlic in it, so he’d know whether to keep his distance from my face, “because I don’t want to make you feel sick.”
  • When Eric and I were both too sick and exhausted to decorate the Christmas tree we’d bought, Noah peacefully accepted doing it the next week instead. And in many, many smaller ways, he’s accepted when I can’t cook, can’t read him a story, can’t get up and play, can’t talk right now. He’s generally been so flexible and open to compromise.
  • At a low moment, he reassured me: “It will be over in a few months. Months feel long, but it’s just a few months.”
  • He’s tried so hard not to get me sick when he’s had colds, and not to breathe anywhere near my face when he’s eaten something that makes him smell bad to me. Lots of hugging and kissing my legs or abdomen.
  • He once asked if I’m a carrot dog, and I said I’m a human person and I have a fetus inside me and that’s my magic trick, and he said, approvingly, “Girls have good magic tricks.”
  • As my pregnancy progressed way past the point where other people seemed able to accept that I was still sick and wiped out, Noah stuck with me. After one run-in with a really pushy near-stranger who just insisted that I “have to” feel better soon, I told Noah, “I’m really sad.” He said he was sorry I was sad and asked why, and he immediately understood what was hurtful about what had been said, and he gave me a kiss. It’s amazing how much better that made me feel.
  • He rolled with it cheerfully on the day when he got home from school expecting a normal, leisurely afternoon with Eric, only to discover that they were going to spend that time on buses, making their way to the town where I worked because I was too tired and sick to drive home safely and needed to be fetched.
  • As I’ve gotten bigger and am often resting on my left side in bed whenever we have downtime, Noah has taken to ‘checking in’ with me by silently coming up behind me and hugging me with his soft, warm hand on my belly. He’s also made a point of feeling the fetus move most days, ever since that became possible.
  • When we spent five hours in our basement storage unit rearranging and searching for baby stuff (including the dozens of diapers we’d used as packing material, having no intention of reproducing again while that stuff was in storage), he was astonishingly helpful throughout. He trekked up and down the stairs, from the basement to the second floor and back, fetching us paper bags and a flashlight and packing tape and a hammer and so forth. He moved stuff out of the way as we carried big things in and out of the storage room. He found the packing tape for us as we left it in random places and then needed it. He carried little things I had unearthed from various boxes and made piles of the stuff that needed to go upstairs or in separate bags to be accessible soon. He made it so I could sit down more than would otherwise have been possible while still being productive. And he was so totally delighted to help.
  • He’s never grown impatient about when the baby will be here, even though pregnancy is long and he’s excited and he’s known about it ever since we started speculating about whether I might be pregnant. Again, much more patient and accepting than many adults.
  • He very often looks me up and down after I get dressed and says “You look good!” How could this not please me?
  • Now that we’re in veeery late pregnancy, he responds to stuff like “it could still be a few weeks” with a cheerful “or tonight!” Nearly every day, he says “Maybe the baby will be born tonight!” (He’s convinced my labor and the birth will happen at night because my most intense laboring with him was during the nights leading up to his 3AM birth.) He’s even taken to shouting into my belly most nights, things like “You can get born tonight if you want! You can come on out! Any time you want!” (It’s loud and rather threatening-sounding, and he thinks it’s hilarious.) So he’s very, very optimistic. But what’s amazing is that he’s never disappointed that we wake up the next morning and labor hasn’t begun. Just, cool, maybe tonight! It’s this lovely combination of excitement and patience. He said the other day somewhat apologetically “I am unpatient for this baby to be born,” but I laughed and told him he’s been far more patient than most adults.

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4 Comments

  1. Lara
    Posted 9 May 2012 at 8:12 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing those stories — so sweet and wonderful. Some real parenting inspiration (since he is so clearly modeling the love and respect he is shown in his family).

    • Molly
      Posted 9 May 2012 at 12:09 PM | Permalink

      What a kind comment, Lara: thank you!

  2. Posted 9 May 2012 at 2:25 PM | Permalink

    What a treasure! Sweet, caring moments. I saved your post about child spacing to respond to and then have never managed to get around to it, but anyway, things like this are what makes it really nice to have more than two years between kids. A two year old is a baby who still needs you. Almost ALL of you. A 5 year old can be truly helpful. The same holds true after the baby is born–kids over, say, four, are surprisingly helpful and self-sufficient which makes parenting a baby along with other children that much easier (sometimes easier than just having a single baby, since older kids can hold the baby/play with the baby/amuse the baby, etc. It is not just a one woman show).

  3. Libby
    Posted 9 May 2012 at 5:44 PM | Permalink

    You are so wise to be writing all of this down. That’s one thing I really wish I had done.

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