By the time my maternity leave was over and I was going back to work, I felt like I was a little more adapted to the process of getting everything together to go out with the baby, but I was still so worried about being caught out unprepared that I had a suitcase-sized bin of “just in case” items in the trunk of my car at all times. I had all of the diapering accessories, of course. I also had the binkies, spare baby clothes, nose suckers and every other baby item known to man. I was set for every baby-related emergency I could imagine, but Dash would show me at his four month check-up just how badly he could take me by surprise.
I was in the Army at the time, so our pediatrician was located in the military hospital on post. I left work and swung by our daycare (also on post) and arrived at the pediatric clinic. I checked us in and the receptionist told me to “undress baby down to a dry diaper.” The room was a little chilly, so once he was undressed, I held him against myself and put his blanket over him. His tiny body was so small that with his head on my shoulder, his bottom still didn’t reach down to my lap when I sat down.
The waiting room wasn’t quite packed, but was pretty full of other parents and their babies, about half in uniform like myself. This waiting room was for the “Well Baby Clinic,” where one could be reasonably certain the other kids were not poisoning the air with all manner of horrible infectious germs. People looked around at the other children, some making polite conversation about each other’s little ones.
Dash gave a big sigh and a little wriggle. I looked down at my beautiful baby boy and thought what a wonderful baby I had. He suddenly tensed and smiled. Uh oh. Then the hushed whispers of other parents lulled into a particularly quiet moment, and Dash pooped. Loudly. A couple of quiet laughs tittered through the room. We’re all parents, here. No one is very grossed out by this kind of thing. I scoop up the diaper bag and step into the restroom attached to the waiting room. As I remove the blanket to place it on the changing table, I see that this was no standard diaper mess. This is a blow-out, and I am not talking about a party. I’ve dealt with plenty of messes that a diaper couldn’t contain at this point, but usually, Dash was wearing pants or at least some pajamas to act as a second level of protection and most importantly, to help with containment.
I looked down at myself and the front of my uniform was covered in baby poop. I was momentarily paralyzed with how disgusting this was, as I tried to think of how to best fix this in the most efficient way. Dash was looking at me in confusion, or perhaps amusement. Once my initial revulsion wore off, I pulled off my blouse and saw that my undershirt had only a very small bit of liquid that’d made it through. I removed it as well and rinsed it off in the sink, then set to trying to rinse away the worst of the mess from my blouse. It was beyond what I could manage in a public restroom sink.
A woman walked in and saw me there, standing at the sink in only a bra, trying to manage my little crisis as quickly as possible. I can only imagine what she was thinking as she decided she really didn’t need to go that badly and walked out.
I dried my undershirt under the hand drier until the wet spot on the front was damp rather than soaked, and put it back on. I wadded up my blouse with a sense of failure and I set about cleaning up my fithy baby, who was happily looking around the room and just enjoying our little outing. Being covered in crap was all in a day’s work for him.
I walked out of the restroom and knew that my
restroom visitor had not been shy about sharing. Everyone was looking right at me, most with looks of sympathy. One woman helpfully informed me that the nurse had called for us and they told her we were in the restroom. I walked over to the stroller and grabbed a plastic bag to put the soiled shirt into, just as the nurse returned to see if we were ready. The rest of the visit was mostly unremarkable until we left.
On the way out of the hospital it was like doing a walk of shame. It isn’t uncommon to see people walking around in uniform on a military installation. It also isn’t uncommon to see people wearing civilian clothing. It is unusual to see someone walking around half in their uniform and wearing only an undershirt. This is acceptable when soldiers are doing heavy labor or working in very high heat, but when it’s about 45 degrees outside, chilly enough that most people are wearing a coat, it stands out. I was cursing myself for having skipped wearing my own jacket, but since I was only going to be going from the car to the hospital doors, then would want to remove it rather than be too hot, I felt like it was just unnecessary. Add in that there was a big wet stop over the front of my torso, and I got quite a few strange looks.
That was the first time I felt like parenting itself, and not just childbirth, is a lesson in humility. It definitely wouldn’t be the last.