Thursday, June 30, 2005
Our bodies, our selves
So now that I'm five and a half months postpartum, I'm gonna share the secrets with you, 'cause I like you. One of the big initiation rites of joining the Sisterhood of Mothers is that when you meet pregnant women who are wondering what labor feels like, you have to say (usually in a fairly condescending been-there, done-that tone), “Oh, you’ll know. If you have to wonder, you’re not in labor.” Now, I am sure my Chapter Representative will probably refuse to give me my pin or something for saying this, but honestly, I didn’t know for the first few hours. I’d been having odd crampy feelings for so long that I thought it was simply a continuation of the not-comfortable-but-don’t-get-excited theme. I mean, it was hard to tell because everything else was so uncomfortable at that point—the aerobic kicking my son was doing in preparation, apparently, for his first 24 hours of nonstop sleeping, the strange tingly pains under my breasts where my giant stomach was stretching the skin, the “what’s all this, please?” messages from my wobbly pelvis and the general gritchy feeling of being exhausted but not being able to sit still too long lest the house collapse around me like a high-gravity neutron star.
Now, this is not to say that I didn’t eventually figure out that what I was experiencing was labor. I did. Much like the way one realizes that the small dots of light in the distance are, in fact, an oncoming Mack truck. It’s simply to say that Mother Nature, being a clever beastie (and a mother at that), found it best to ease some of us more whiny and wimpy beings into the laboring process so that by the time we certainly did know we were in labor, it was too late to turn back, call for a time-out, or break for coffee.
So yeah, labor. No picnic, that. I will confess to using my “You’re not gonna die from it” mantra quite often during the last few hours and to throwing up from the pain. But to be honest, once it’s over, it’s almost hard to remember, especially when you’re looking at a sweet face that seems unimpressed (or just plain tuckered out) by what you—and he or she—have just been through.
Still, I feel it’s my duty to bust yet another myth of the Sisterhood (I hope the dues are refundable): labor pains are not the worst things Mother Nature has in store for you—at least that was my experience. Not that they are any cake-walk, as I’ve said. Certainly not. It’s just that there were things that I personally thought were worse. There was the fact that for at least 6 weeks I felt vaguely as if I had, I don’t know, say, put my vagina on inside-out. Things just felt very exposed and “hi there!” down in that region. Not worse than labor to some, perhaps, but certainly not a repeat offender in the catalogue of sensations.
There was also the small matter of not being able to decide when I would pee. This just seemed to be a gratuitous power play on Mother Nature’s part. I figure, there are so damn many things that motherhood wrenches from your control, you can’t at least be left with the ability to PEE when you want?? I remember when I was clued in to this interesting phenomenon, which, to my recollection, had not even garnered so much as a sidebar in the endless books about pregnancy I’d read, including What To Expect When You’re Expecting (a book which I unapologetically loathe. But that’s another story). Maybe it had been mentioned but the Technicolor awfulness of it just hadn’t come through? Whatever the case, I did not see it coming.
So I was toddling around on my husband’s arm while Davis was in the nursery to be looked over—something that was evidently necessary every 4 hours or so but which, I was too polite to point out, was grossly at odd with the nurses’ insistence that I sleep as much as possible (which of course, it’s impossible to do when people are coming in and turning the lights on and checking your 8 forms of ID, admonishing you about whatever you were supposed to do or not do with your newborn, and trundling said newborn down to the nursery). I had eased my way across the hall, enjoying my mobility and gloating (very quietly and in, I thought, a non-show-offy way) about my having been able to do natural childbirth and have such an easy labor when suddenly I felt a huge rush of blood on my legs. I actually remember thinking this was some form of karmic payback: “Grasshopper, you must never gloat about your birth experience or you’ll end up bleeding out in the middle of the hallway!”
I grabbed my husband’s arm, told him I was hemorrhaging and looked down to assess the situation.
There was nothing.
Well, on closer inspection, there was what appeared to be water, but that didn’t make sense. My water had broken hours ago. I was honestly puzzled until I realized I hadn’t peed since just after delivery. Once I figured out I was, in fact, now a Depends poster-child, I was mortified. In addition, my socks were wet. While I was impressed with the ability of my Smartwool socks to absorb what would have translated into several gallons of sweat, I can tell you that being embarrassed beyond belief is not made better by standing around in wet, rapidly chilling socks.
I was shocked that I’d seen no mention of this in my prenatal reading, but I finally figured out it was nature’s way of teaching me humility and making sure people didn’t hate me for having such an uncomplicated, harmonious birth. Also, it taught me the importance of kegel exercises and regular potty breaks. But really, the big lesson was humility.
One other thing that I felt should get a little mention is the Great Schism of 2005, which took place along my abdominal wall. Did you know a woman’s stomach muscles can actually split down the middle to accommodate the growing being inside, à la Alien? I sure didn’t. And I don’t much fancy that to this day, my meek little tummy, who lies there so softly and passively, minding her own business, takes on the disturbing appearance of a conehead when I sit up too quickly. It’s a little frightening. Yet another glaring omission of WTEWYE and its ilk.
Finally, the books also miss the reason so many of us actually get pregnant—the miraculous side of it. There’s the crazy feeling when the baby first kicks and you realize that hey, that’s not a jumping muscle, that’s a jumping peanut-sized fetus! Whoa! And the feeling when the baby is actually coming out, like wow, it’s show time; those pangs actually meant business! And then when I actually started to feel milk letting down (which didn’t happen for months); I felt such wonder, like it’s amazing how well-planned all of this is, how synchronous life is, how much order there is in spite of apparent chaos. It's all very Circle of Life.
I guess a book couldn’t really tell you that, though. And I guess the Sisterhood can’t let the uninitiated in on that, either, or heck, nobody would believe us, and if they did, then everybody’d want to join the club.
But it’s enough to make the things I’ve been grousing about in this post worth it a dozen times over.
And that, my friends, is a miracle.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Hey, baby, what's your ideology?
Let me give you an example of what I mean: I found a picture of me in my baby book, sleeping peacefully on my tummy at about 2 weeks old.
Okay, those of you who have had children in the last half a decade or so kinda stopped breathing a little bit when I said "sleeping peacefully on my tummy at 2 weeks," right? And the rest of you--those kid-less or whose kids are older--are like "what? I sleep on my stomach all the time." This demonstrates a decided difference of ideologies. For those of us with kids preschool-aged and under, the SIDs-fighting Back to Sleep campaign has so effectivelydemonized tummy-sleeping for little babies that we find it a miracle of Lourdes proportions that so many of us who were put to sleep on our tummies in the 70s and 80s made it to adulthood. The rest of you, functioning outside of the scope of the Back to Sleep ideology, don't have these same associations. I'm not saying Back to Sleep is a bad thing--far from it. I am simply noting how effective it's been in supplanting the dominant ideology of my childhood, which was that babies should sleep on their tummies.
So, moving on to parenting ideologies: as best I can tell, most of the books/essays/message boards I've read tend to separate out into two distinct ideological camps: the attachment-parenting/Dr. Sears-lovin'/baby-centric camp and the independence-fostering/Babywise lovin'/parent and family-centric camp. I can usually tell which camp an author falls into by examining his or her comments on the following situations:
1. co-sleeping/family beds versus cribs-in-a-separate-room
2. the importance (or lack therof) of parents maintaining a schedule
3. the damaging effects (or lack therof) of "crying it out"
4. their comments on what will happen if one follows the 'other' style of parenting.
#4 has to be my favorite. I think I've actually read things like "well, if you can't stand to let your baby cry it out, by all means, pick him up--and then get used to people calling him a spoiled brat freeloader hippie scum, because he will be just that if you indulge him." To be fair, though, the other side is just as shameless: "Some parents may decide to allow their child to 'cry it out' without understanding the ramifications of this policy; our neighbor's daughter, who was left to cry it out, could explain its dangers... if she weren't in a maximum security prison."
All of this left me pretty puzzled, as I have never been good at following any one party line. Heck, I am the only person I know who can have a day that starts out decidedly carboholic and ends up seriously Atkins. I am just a chronic half-stepper, I guess: I want to have a family bed, but my son The Thrasher makes that difficult (as I believe I've mentioned). I like keeping a schedule because I tend to overthink things if I don't know what to do next ("so if I feed him now, that means he'll be ready for a nap in one hour and 26 minutes, but the grocery shopping will take a solid hour and a half, so maybe we should take one 27-minute walk, read for 16 minutes..."you see what I mean? Half my daylight is gone by the time I decide what to do!), and I can't bear the idea of not trying to comfort my kid when he cries. So when people ask, "So, which are you?" I really think the only answer is that, well, I'm Bi. I like parts of both camps. My dirty little secret is that I'm ruled more by the moment than by philosophy.
I have become adept at discussing my hybrid ideology. I simply am selective about which parts I discuss. Par example, my attachment-parent friends all know how much I love my sling and how I want to breastfeed my son until his wedding day, and my schedule-advocating, crib-lovin' friends all hear my confessions about how much I really, really want a good night's sleep.
It's been interesting, living this double life. Sometimes my friends from one camp will rage about something they don't know that I do: "She tried to get him to sleep through the night at five months! As if the pacifier wasn't enough--why not just kick him out in the snow with a sandwich board saying 'will work for developmentally inappropriate food!'" Or I'll catch myself editing or omitting a funny story because I know they won't understand. I don't know what I'm afraid of--that they'll figure out I'm a phony and don't really fit in to all the assumptions they've made about me as a parent? That they'll revoke my Attachment Parent certificate or make me go to Cry It Out without passing GO? That they will finally confirm what they've suspected all along: that I'm a lousy mother.
It occurs to me that those who spend the time and breath spent defending, explaining and advocating parenting ideologies/philosophies are driven by the same fears that I hold: that people will think they're frauds and a terrible people and will refuse to nominate them for the Mother of the Year award. As my wise-beyond-her-years friend Kathleen recently reminded me: other people's nasty comments and observations "are so NOT about me."
Really, this is the eternal lesson of parenthood, isn't it? That no matter how much you'd like it to be about you, it just ain't.
Which is why I still don't get why I was picked for this position. But that's another entry for another time.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Accessories not included
Um, whatever. First, my son seemed to hate all things sling-like...he was one of those odd infants who didn't like things around his head and fussed whenever I put him in one. The bjorn-type carrier we had was somewhat better--he liked not having his head squished, but he was such a big guy that I felt about a hundred times bigger than when I was pregnant (which I guess I was, since he was 15 lbs by the time he was 2 1/2 months old). My new 'proportions' made things like doing dishes and laundry somewhat comical, though I did finally figure out some alternate uses for some of my least favorite yoga poses.
So, reluctantly, I started letting him sit in a bouncy chair occasionally. Some dear friends had bought us one--too seasoned to believe me when I said we wouldn't use it--and in it he sat, watched me work in the kitchen, and napped. He actually seemed to like being able to watch me from afar instead of always having the boobs-eye view of things. I wasn't sure how to feel about this; my pathetic needy side might have wanted him to hate it and insist on mommy, please, and accept no substitutes, but it wasn't to be, so I was grateful that he seemed to like it.
The swing--again, a hand-me-down I swore I'd never need--crept into the living room in a similar way. Every so often, this child would get so incredibly fussy that no amount of rocking, walking, jiggling or bouncing would do, and, for lack of a better solution, I would kind of lose it right along with him. This happened when my mother, the venerable Bee-bee, was visiting; she popped him in the swing and lo, how sweet the sound--he was quiet, contented and even happy enough to drop off to sleep. I felt like Early Man who had just heard about' this groovy new thing the kids are calling fire;' in short, I was amazed.
And here's the problem: for me, it was kind of a slippery slope from "oh, wow, he likes that; we should try it once in a while" to "he won't mind being in there another few minutes while I eat lunch/do laundry/do dishes/take a shower/check my email/etc." I found, for instance, that one day I'd almost gone through the day just sitting him down places: from the boppy to the bouncer to the car seat to the stroller to the car seat again to the swing...and this migration to being a Setter-Downer had happened in like a week! I'm sure that scenario works for many parents, but I wanted to be with Davis more, to feel like I was savoring every minute of babyhood in case this is the only chance I have to experience it. So we started slinging (now that he can kind of sit in one, he seems to like it a little better), bjorning, rolling around on the floor and doing more lap-sitting.
And all was well.
At least, until we discovered the doorway jumper. Even if you're not a parent, you know these things: the little baby bucket that suspends from a spring on a grappling hook that hangs from a doorway? When we discovered that the boy's powerful thunder thighs were good for more than just kissing, nibbling on and squeezing, we knew we had to find some way to let him exercise those little legs. So we got a doorway jumper.
And he loves it. I mean, he loves it. It's right up there with Rachel & Leah, daddy and our black cat. Before, with the bouncy chair and swing, I could kind of pretend he didn't care one way or the other. But the jumper? He squeals, grins, talks up a storm and fusses when I take him out. And I, of course, ever mindful of the temptations of items like the jumper and its ilk, which my husband jokingly calls "the potential neglectomatics," am torn between limiting his time in it and high-fiving everyone in the house (okay, usually just Davis and the cats) because it means I can cook some breakfast for myself and actually eat it before naptime.
Oy vey. And they wonder why mothers have cornered the market on guilt! I ask you!
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
This, to me, is the true badge of motherhood. It's not stretch marks, the scent of spit-up that is our new perfume or even the realization that yes, running shoes DO go with everything. It's the ability to talk about a baby's excrement at any time or under any circumstances. We talk about it after church services, huddled around the foyer or the coffee urn. We talk about it to complete strangers, even ones who have no children. I remember once my friend Joanna was talking about her son's pooping habits--including a graphic tale of having to stimulate his rectum in an attempt to "get things going" and then getting sprayed with a stinky blast. This was WBD (Way Before Davis) so I was a little horrified at the level of detail in the story (and this is after having dated a veterinary student, for pete's sake, so it's not like I was a wimp to stories of bodily functions). But I guess I knew intuitively that this was something that comes with motherhood, like a short haircut or the ability to do almost anything --type, make a sandwich, fold laundry-- while holding a baby.
And then my own moment of poo-mania arrived with the birth of my son. Not only did I insist on keeping a record of whenever my son, say, "crapped his nappy," but I found I was able to maintain an almost catalouge-like knowledge of consistency (what do you mean, 'soft?' Soft as in foamy? or soft as in runny?) and color. I seem to remember an exchange like the following: someone, probably my husband, who is the Diaper Changing Champ in our home, was changing Davis and announced the presence of fecal matter in the diaper.
"What color is it?" I demanded from the other room.
Clearly, this lovely person had no idea that I was looking for a color more along a kind of J. Crew palette.
"Brown?! Like Spring Dirt? Cherrywood? Warm Brownies?"
There was a slight pause-maybe it was the food reference that hung him up?- and then,
"Um, no, more...yellowish."
Finally, instead of yelling the entire spectrum of crayola crayon colors and feeling like a Pottery Barn consultant at that, I stopped whatever I was doing to go and inspect said feculence myself. "Oh, I'd say that's somewhere between Burnt Sienna and German Mustard."
And that's when I realized I was too far down the road of Poop Inspecting. I backed off after this, mostly because keeping up with the stats was too exhausting, but also because I finally realized that all kids are different, and if mine was content and gaining, there were probably, as Anne Lamott says, a few dozen other things I could mind-f*ck to death instead.
All this is to preface for those of you without kids why it is so crucially important when an infant poops and to have you understand in some small way how it is I might know, for instance, that it had been 5 days and 6 hours since my son's last poopage when he finally went yesterday. And why, when he finally did go, my husband and I were ready to declare it a national holiday, complete with a theme song and day off of work. God had answered our prayers (and, for a change, in precisely the way we asked to have them answered), the universe was re-aligned, and the birds were chirping just for us.
So you're thinking, are we mothers really so insecure that a few days of no poo is enough to make us think we've caused our children permanent physiological damage? Speaking strictly for myself, yes and no. Logically, I knew my kid was fine lo those 5 long days: he was generally happy, ate well and slept about as well as he'd been sleeping when he was a once-a-day kinda guy. Also, there is a Benevolent Soul who watches out for him so that even I can't screw him up too much.
But you know, things often seem so tenuous with an infant--one minute, he's laughing and kicking and ready for the world and the next he's decided that you alone are repsonsible for the dropping of the favorite toy, the howling of the dog downstairs and the electing of George W. It makes one crazy sometimes, the general inscrutability of babies, and things like lists of Normal Behaviors are supposed to take the scariness out of all that. But they don't, really. If anything, they can make it worse, like when it's your kid who goes for 5 days and 6 hours without dirtying his diaper. I've found that often the best I can do is follow common sense and thank the Benevolent Soul for being so tireless, patient and vigilant with my kid.
And also for being so tireless, patient and vigilant with me.
Friday, June 17, 2005
The Chuck Wagon
The Dairy Queen.
These are all the ways I've referred to or heard myself referred to in the last 5 months--it's one of the many benefits of being a breastfeeding mom. You'd think the bond with your child, the being able to eat (almost) anything you want, the instant infant-food readiness factor (bottles in the middle of the night, are you kidding? I can barely find the crib!) and the extra 500 calories you burn a day would be enough, and then you find out about all the cute nicknames.
My mother even named my breasts, for heaven's sake: Leah's the left and Rachel is the right (if my son's name were Jacob, things would be extremely Old Testament around here).
I really wanted to nurse, right from conception, it seemed (though many of you might know that the conception part was something of a surprise. Not in a "oh so THAT'S how that happens!" kind of way but rather in a "so the rhythm method isn't totally reliable?" kind of way). Davis nursed right away in the hospital, and things were going great until I thought it'd be nice to let him nurse, say, 30 minutes on each side on breasts that had yet to be, ah, "broken in," as it were (or, as my friend Kierstin put it, they "hadn't been leathered up." Attractive turn of phrase, non?) .
Now, you must bear in mind that my adorable and winsome child, whilst nursing, did put me in mind of the phrase "could suck a bowling ball through a garden hose" (only without the skanky overtones, of course), and I quite honestly didn't know if I'd be able to hack the whole breastfeeding thing that first week, as it felt--not to put too fine a point on it--like someone was holding my nipples with a somewhat overheated pair of needle-nosed pliers. Luckily, cooler heads (and hardier nipples) prevailed, and with some great coaching from my angelic mother, I was able to stay the course and ended up enjoying the whole thing immensely. Word to MY mother, yo.
And so Davis drank. And drinks. And enjoys--you know, kids are allowed to thoroughly and publicly enjoy the most functional things like eating (and pooping, but that's another story) in ways that would embarass grown persons. It's very visceral. He eats with gusto--often smacks his lips, vocalizes and gives me milk-stoned smiles. Lately, he'll curl his toes, rub his head and roll his eyes back in his head and then later, I'll get a coy grin as he peers up at me, wide-eyed with the nipple still in his mouth. Or he'll pull off, sing some Ode to the Breasts in that Thai-Hugarian Creole that he speaks, duck his head as if he's embarassed ("did I say that out loud?") and latch back on. It's as entertaining as cable, and plus it makes my heart hammer with love.
Anne Lamott says in Operating Instructions that she sometimes imagines nursing her son through college: "I'd stay totally out of the way, let him have his own life." I can see why. I've never been so close to anyone or so intimate. It's a place where the emotional and physiological are almost inseparable. Part of me feels like I could do it forever.
And yet now he eats solid food, so I am starting to see the beginning of the end. The end won't be next week or anything, but someday the food he's learning to eat now will be all he needs to sustain himself (okay, he'll probably have to eat more than a few tablespoons of rice cereal and mashed avacado, but you get the point). Rachel, Leah and I will be superfluous. The buffet will close, the chuck wagon will be left behind.
I don't want him to stay little--or even nurse--forever, certainly; I want him to grow up and enjoy food and all its trappings. Anyone who knows the Rehns knows that we certainly do...
I just want the chance to trace these nursing experiences onto my memory with a bit more indelible ink before they're gone.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
We have run into an early version of this with Davis...as he has recently discovered the wild world of consonants, his new words are "nnnnGEH" and "aynay" (or perhaps "aenae?" A five-month-old's dictionary skills leave something to be desired) . In order to avoid the aforementioned problem of simply repeating his words back to him, we have decided to simply use the new words in much the same way that the word smurf was used on the 80s cartoon of the same name, as in "It would be really smurfy if you could smurf me a glass of water." So this is what we are attempting to do with Davis's new words in an effort to show him that we are at least trying to figure out the correct uses of his new vocab. As such, I found myself saying this sentence--out loud, mind you-- today: "So are you feeling nnnGEH or is it just me? I think I'd like a little decaf aynay if you're having some, but don't nnnGEH out of your way or anything. I can always aynay some later."
All of which left me with this realization: Shoo, I need to get a hobby.
Oh well. Perhaps I'll take up nnnGEH. Unless, of course, you need an aynay for that.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Sleep, baby, sleep
The only reason I attribute this new no-sleeping jag to the crib is because he will often take 2-hour naps if he is sleeping on me. Not--and I'm saying this for the benefit of the co-sleeping gurus mentioned earlier--next to me. Oh, no, that won't do--he must be ON me. Even in 90 degree weather. Heck, especially in 90 degree weather, which makes me feel like an aging relative's couch, all covered in plastic with a small sweaty body stuck to me. I just don't get it. I mean, I'm flattered and all, but we're getting to the point where I may not have, say, 2 hours to just hang out being the kiddo's human mattress. At some point, I'm going to have to write my dissertation and stuff.
So...do you have any ideas? We usually bring him into bed with us around 5-6AM, at which point he (sometimes) sleeps (marginally) better, but the fact that we have only a double bed and a gi-normous baby means this arrangement can't last forever (we've even thought of getting a bigger bed, but 50s-era apartments were not built to accomodate king-sized anything. I don't even think they anticipated double beds--this apartment must have been built with the old Lucy-and-Ricky twin-bed arrangement in mind). As it is, he and I usually 'share' (and I use this term loosely) my half of the bed, which is to say he gets the middle and I have about 5 inches on either side of him. Which will be great once I learn how to zip off the right half of my body.
So I'm open to new options. The only thing I absolutely cannot do is let him cry it out. I wouldn't sleep for a week after that kind of trauma.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
The mommy gig at 5 months
I feel that moment of "seriously, me, a mom?" comes back so often. Like on certain days when we haven't had much to do, or when it's been so miserably hot (like the past week) and we have just been kind of laying around the apartment, I'll feel like I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing to mother this child. Do I sit and simply watch him as he insists on rolling himself over on his tummy and squalling because he--you guessed it--is now on his tummy? Am I allowed to check my email if he's just hanging out, slobbering on his favorite chew toy, SassyDog? Does is make me a bad mother if I want to call a friend and have a conversation while he's awake instead of waiting until he's asleep? I am not even kidding--I actually think these things, and what's worse is that I am SURE other mothers don't do this. They have the Mothering Instinct. They got the memo with the bulleted points laying out Better Parenting Skills. For pete's sake, they probably even have a Schedule.
I guess I just feel Andrea Buchanan put it most succintly in her wonderful book Mother Shock, in which she describes feeling like she's somehow not deserving of the title of mother--like she should have to take a preparatory course, apprentice to a Veteran Mom, or get officially certified or something. At the very least, they should make us wear nametags that say "I'm in training." That's how I feel most of the time. I do relish the moments when I know Just What to Do, and they are getting more and more frequent, but honestly, I think there should be a disclaimer on the whole mom title that this woman may appear to be more knowledgable than she really is.
But I'm trying not to overthink it.
Monday, June 13, 2005
I have no idea how to start blogging except to just write. I'll confess, I find blogs to be pretty narcissistic and just plain odd, but I like the idea of having a kind of online journal. So we'll see. I'm not making any promises about how often I'll post (remember, toning down the expectations here) or whether or not the posts will even have anything to do with my son or my job being his mother, but I'll try to be honest and perhaps even witty.
Thanks for reading--stay tuned.