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Oct 24 2013

Preparing for a Newborn With or Without a Superstorm

By at 12:45 pm

superstorm sandy boys

It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night. The power had gone out hours ago, and we’d put the kids to bed on the early side with flashlights and tiny battery-powered votive candles. That was when it was just a heavy rain.

But just a few hours later, the noise outside was cacophonous. Rain slapped the windows with a fury. Trees snapped like twigs, as gusts of wind pounded our old house and sent broken telephone poles like toothpicks scattered into the street. The dark sky lit up over and over with jagged lines of lightning, and an odd green luminosity that we later learned was produced by exploding electrical generators.

Among the many miracles of that Superstorm Sandy night a year ago: our old house remained standing and intact, and our children, including our week and a half old baby, O, slept through the night unperturbed. I, on the other hand, huddled under my husband’s arm as though he could protect me if a tree fell into our house. Submerged in exhaustion, fear and postpartum stress, I cried.

A superstorm is a lot like a newborn; you are told by various predictive forces that it’s coming, you have no idea what it will be like until you’ve lived through it, and each one is different from the one that came before it. You go shopping for all the requisite gear prior to the event at Costco. You fill your car with gas so you’re not caught unawares. You make sure your cell phone is charged so you can contact those you need.

As my due date approaches for kid number five, nearly a year after kid number four, the trauma of our Superstorm Sandy experience lingers for me. To make it quite clear, my family didn’t suffer nearly as much as so many others–not even close. Our home and car remained intact, unlike a house a block away that had a tree drive straight through its roof. The damage we sustained was minimal. We all emerged in one piece.

But I will say that having no power for two weeks with three kids and a newborn in the house was an unforeseen unpleasant experience. Figuring out how you are going to feed your older three kids when you have a newborn is hard enough, without the added logistical hurdle of not having a working refrigerator or stove (stupid electric range). Telling your older kids to go play outside–even when there is a freak snowfall–is impossible when there are wires strewn all over your yard that may still have electrical charge in them. Life with a newborn is much harder, as it turns out, without access to a washing machine. The battery-operated breast pump seemed meek in comparison to its plug-in cousin, but it didn’t matter much since there was nowhere to store the pumped milk anyway. Going out to hopefully scrounge up some gas for the car at 2 a.m. so as to avoid lines of an hour or more at the station wasn’t much fun either (on the plus side, as it happened, we were awake anyway).

All this, of course, in the grand scheme of things, can be filed under the hashtag #firstworldproblems. When I dared complain that this whole “two week blackout with a newborn” thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, I immediately thought of all the people whose homes and livelihoods were devastated by Sandy–to say nothing of those in the world who live without power all the time. And then I felt guilty…as well as dirty (sporting the unwashed clothes with the spit-up epaulettes), cranky, and tired.

Getting ready for the birth of my fifth child one year later, I find myself anxious; mostly because I am anticipating some sort of disaster. The post-traumatic stress disorder has had its residual effects. In addition to figuring out childcare arrangements in preparation for the birth, I find myself secretly stockpiling batteries and bottled water. No, there has been no forecast of another storm. Yes, I suppose it’s a little odd.

Perhaps the most traumatic thing about Sandy, though, was just how starkly it was made clear that there are things that are completely beyond my control. I can huddle in the dark with my husband and children, but there are times when we all find ourselves powerless, perhaps literally as well as metaphorically. This is particularly wrenching to realize as a parent, when small creatures depend on you completely and utterly for shelter and sustenance, and an ill-blowing wind can prevent you from giving it to them.

It’s a valuable lesson. And when I come from the hospital in a week or so, God willing, with a new baby in my arms, I will take a moment to be thankful for the roof over my head, and hope to have the strength to keep holding on, both to her and my sanity, no matter which way the wind may blow.

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