jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Becoming a Parent

Do you remember the first time you held a newborn?


Cabot, 3 days old
June 2010

I was sitting in my sister’s house. She pulled out a boob that no longer even faintly resembled mine (we had shared a bathroom growing up, I know we had the same boobs), took my niece and started feeding her with her newly minted monster ta-tas. Somewhere during this visit she also described to me what actually happened when using a breast pump. I looked at her aghast. No wonder her tiny girlish nipples were gone.

Two years later my childhood besty had her first child. She handed him to me and I nestled him directly under my chin, stunned. He smelled so sweet and felt so warm and was so very, very lightweight. I was incredulous, frozen in place. All I kept thinking was that I would involuntarily twitch and he would just slam into the ceiling destroying a quarter-century friendship with one horrid SPLAT.

Those newborns seem an eternity ago.

Tonight I got up to blow my nose. Being the environmentalist I am (read No Impact Man, you’ll feel guilty for-ev-er…) I went to get some sort of washable nose-blowing implement. I headed right for the laundry room and the towels on the shelf. Terry cloth washcloth? Too scratchy! Bath towel? Too big! Teeny tiny lamb-soft baby washcloth? Just right.

As I took the washcloth back to my bedroom I was suddenly struck with amazement that I still had it. My smallest baby is 3 ½ years old now and even that scratchy terry-cloth washcloth couldn’t scrape the temporary tattoos, smelly markers and black bean soup off her big pink face. She walks around looking like Mike Tyson most days, all scribbled forehead, bruised cheeks and so on.


Cabot, three years old
December 2013

But this tiny washcloth was from those first days. Do you remember those days? The baby tub you fill up and place on the counter in the bathroom? The spouse over your shoulder, “It’s too hot! It’s too cold! I think he just peed on you! Why is he crying? Is that thing still on her belly-button?!” That time was such a time of wonder.

They were so small. I remember my husband walking around the house balancing our oldest, only a few weeks old, sitting on his palm. Thankfully the baby had a neck like a linebacker at birth. He would just wobble in place, slumped on himself, sturdy as can be.

The twins, in their total lack of girth were scarier to handle. In the NICU I’d touch them with shaking, freshly Purelled hands. I remember when Reid was about five days old trying to change her diaper for the first time. She peed (of course) all over everything. I started crying as the nurse sighed dramatically and came over to change out the whole intricate preemie isolette situation.


Tim changing Mica’s diaper.
October 2008

Then there was baby #4, Cabot. When she was born the other three were still in diapers. I’d line them up on the floor in the living room and whip right down the line- diaper, diaper, diaper, diaper, BAM! When she needed bathing I would literally dip her in the cesspool that was their bathwater, pat her bits, dry her off, dress her and then see who else had survived bath-time. It was like she was never really a newborn at all.

wheres.cabot.6.20.10 four days old

Ready for MMA Fighting, yo!
(Who does this to a four-day-old baby?)
Cabot and company, June 2010

Holding that washcloth tonight I had the most visceral Mama feeling. I thought, “Oh, someday when they have babies, I’ll be able to show them how to bathe them! How to change a newborn! Someday…” But who am I kidding?! I’m not getting grandkids anytime soon. And even if I did, would I even know what to do with them? It’s already been so very long since I held a newborn of my own.

When my first child Jasper was ten days old we took him in for his two week check-up (four days early). Somewhere between listening for his heartbeat and checking for his blood pressure the nurse ran out of the room and then the doctor came forcefully in. “Has he always had this bruised birthmark on his forehead? Is he always this lethargic?”

Always?! “I don’t know. I just met him!” I replied.

His heart rate was over 300, unsustainable. He was rushed to the emergency room, then to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia with SVT (supraventricular tachycardia.) One of the last things I remember saying to my pediatrician as the EMTs swept him out of the office strapped to a gurney was, “This would be SIDs, right? This is SIDs, but before they die?” And she looked at me, “Yes. Possibly, yes.”

Doctors eventually got his heart rate down, and he stayed in the hospital for three more days, on medication and nightly heart rate checks for five years. But I’ll never forget the second day in the hospital when he just wouldn’t sleep (because of the beeping machines, the distraught, disheveled mother, the constant checks by nurses) and a nurse said, “Oh, I think he needs a binky.”


Jasper, ten days old at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
May 2007

“No, he doesn’t,” I replied. For the first time since following the EMTs out of that pediatrician’s office with my first newborn baby, I was firm. “He doesn’t use a binky. Thats’ not the baby he is.” And I was right. He was a thumb-sucker strung out because his preferred thumb was connected to every sort of tube and monitor wire. Instead, I cradled him and sang.

I guess none of us are mothers or fathers when they first hand those new children to us. We’re just big people holding total strangers who are too small to survive without us. And so we just do. We get to know them, feed them, change them, bathe them. We teach them how to be humans and eventually, they teach us how to be parents.

Jen and Jasper -- day 2

My first newborn, Jasper
May 2007

12 comments on “Becoming a Parent

  1. mollytopia
    January 9, 2014

    This is so beautiful! I remember all those moments too. But not often enough. Thank you for the walk down memory lane : ). You are a lucky lady – four kids – makes me smile.

    • jgroeber
      January 12, 2014

      Don’t those newborn baby moments feel like an eternity ago? It’s like how they give really good skin to insecure 18 year olds… they give adorable, sweet-smelling infants to exhausted overworked mothers. I hardly remember a bit of it. And most days I do feel really lucky to be surrounded but all these wacky kids. I just keep reminding myself, “Remember this moment. This one is passing, too. Remember this moment…”
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Really, it means so much.

  2. talesfromthemotherland
    January 10, 2014

    Oh my Gosh… I’m pretty sure I just had let down, and my youngest is 17! Such delicious baby pictures. I’m gonna go make a baby right now! I want one. Now…. wait, it might in fact be easier and faster for me to wait for that grandchild! 😉 Again, love, love.

    • jgroeber
      January 12, 2014

      Ha! Thank you!! As I scrolled through the pics to find these photos I was stunned. I remember so little of this. Worse, I still think they’re babies now. Until I try to pick one up!
      And I imagine we both have a little while to go before we get those grandkids. I for one just keep looking for stressed out Mamas in the school parking lot, “Want me to hold this little one for you? Is it okay if I smell his head?” And if they’re not totally creeped out, I get a free newborn sniff without 9.5 months of pregnancy and another c-section. 😉
      You made my day!

      • talesfromthemotherland
        January 12, 2014

        I hear you! I ache to hold babies, and some young mothers get it, while others avert their eyes and pull their baby away, clearly alarmed. Alas, I will have to just creep around FB and blogs. 😉

        • jgroeber
          January 12, 2014

          Sometimes I just sidle up and surreptitiously sniff their soft heads. I use my four little ones as the distraction. It totally works! 😉

  3. Janice
    January 12, 2014

    Just think, that tiny little newborn has grown to be a young man in spite of me. You are so right about how they teach us. I have had the opportunity to marvel at so many things that weeks before had been overlooked. They have taught me patience, forgiveness, and that burps from the mouth or bottom really are the fodder for some of our amusing nights.

  4. jgroeber
    January 13, 2014

    Gees. You are all over this blog this week! The goddaughter newborn, the Super Girl PJs, the newborn baby I almost threw at the ceiling, Pretty Woman, 7th grade.
    I’m so glad you pioneered this whole motherhood thing for me. It was much easier knowing you’d survived it. (I’ll never forget what you said the biggest change was, “You’ll never leave the house the same way again. It takes for-ev-er to leave the house now,” or something like that. As always, pure wisdom!)

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  6. Margie S
    February 26, 2014

    You have had it tough with your little ones. So glad to hear it was a small blip in the road. The days with the young ones seems to go so slowly but when I look back, the weeks, months and years fly by. Keep up the photography, your pictures are great!

    • jgroeber
      February 28, 2014

      Thank you! Some of those awesome baby pics are my husband’s photography, to be honest. And i have to say, I was reading a Mama-blog that chronicled her day with two very young children and I realized that I had NO idea how I spent the hours just three years ago. No idea. Ha!

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