"…be careful! Minotaurs lie in wait in the labyrinths of memory." – Isabel Allende
I’m getting the feeling that everyone who hands out advice, or writes it down, carefully forgets the first two months – at least. Nothing applies yet. And I only know that now after running in circles trying to make things apply. He barely fits in the carriers; no, he is not sleeping through the night for godssake. Perhaps eager to show me another world of caretaking, people are obsessed with asking if he’s started to smile. No. Not that either. He’s too little. He’s little. Little. He makes some killer faces, but none of them include smiles. This is the raw stuff. Just hard.
My emotions ping pong violently around in a tiny box that I think is labeled "Monster." There is nowhere for them to go. If I feel them, I subject my baby to them. If I don't, I swallow them for later. They are trapped. And everything is true for only about an hour at a time. I don't know how to describe this.
The old ladies that staff the benefit thrift shops downtown love to coo over Isaac. Like everyone else, they have advice for me: Cherish this time, they tell me. It goes too fast and life can get pretty lonely. Memory is a funny thing. Spend ten hours alone in a little apartment with a five-week old and then we can talk about lonely.
Monday, March 28, 2005
"…be careful! Minotaurs lie in wait in the labyrinths of memory." – Isabel Allende
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Some folks have been inquiring how the cats and the husband-guy are handling the new baby. Here's the report:
Zap Mama – my co-dependent, neurotic freak – much to my surprise, became again the mom she once was. For the first couple weeks of Isaac’s life, she ran to him at every sound he made. She stared at us while he cried, seeming to demand what exactly we might be doing to her baby. Now, she doesn’t rush to his side all the time – only at the most desperate-sounding of squeals, (like when I put him down while attempting to drain my mac of mac n cheese fame, aka my lunch, and he bawled like I’d abandoned him in a dark alley). More recently, Zap has instead put most of her energy toward running under foot while I carry baby. - In essence, things are back to normal. Emily is in need of super-attention since her little brother entered the picture, though these days she doesn’t always bolt at the first sign of a wiggle or a gurgle. When he fusses, she stares at him, comes to no conclusion about his origins or purpose, and leaves the room.
And then there is Mike. As anyone who knows him might expect, husband-guy has been a great help to me and has held up pretty well in handling the first weeks of parenthood. And he’s learning to give me less advice on breastfeeding, although he still wanders into that mine field once in a while. There are cracks here and there, however. I try not to mention the cut onions I found in the cabinet with the dishes, or the groceries that went missing for two days until I asked "Didn’t we buy watermelon?" and the bag was located out on the patio.
I think that couples must survive on the memory of each other in these first weeks. You have the vaguest of notions that the man over there, the one with the red-ringed eyes repeating "Take your foot out of your diaper. Take your foot out of…there you go!" resembles someone you once had a thing for, that there was a day not terribly long ago when you had enough time, inclination, and energy to make a baby.
At about 7:00pm last night, with the baby recently fed and relatively content, I told Mike I needed to lie down for a little bit, but that I didn’t want to be out for the night. "If you fall asleep," he asked, "when do you want me to wake you up?" "Maybe half an hour."
At about 9:00pm, I opened my eyes as Mike tip-toed into the bedroom with a sleeping baby. Thank god he hadn’t listened to me, didn’t even remember the part of the conversation about the "half an hour" (that’s my guy). Mike put the baby down, and I mercifully kept sleeping another 2 ½ hours before I was called forth for snack time. After the 11:30pm feeding, there was a 2:00am feeding, and a 4:00am feeding/don’t want to go back to sleep time. I got Isaac situated again by 6:00am, and he, in turn, woke me up again at 7:00am. Some days you just have the munchies.
By 8:15, I was part of an all too familiar scene: I was reading – two articles down and one more given up on out of boredom – and quite awake, and the boys were asleep, Mike next to me, and Isaac crashed out on top of me.
I was too desperate for sleep and the odds of a re-awakening too risky to move my floppy baby. So, as I have many a night before, I attempted to just slide down, baby where he was, and get some rest. This move inevitably results in – the wedgy. Do I even have to mention that they don’t talk about this part of motherhood in any of the prenatal classes?
I’ve already lost my chance to guilt Isaac with the story of a long and painful birth, but I’ll always have the wedgy. Sure, sure, I’d throw myself in front of a U-Haul truck to save him if needed, but that’s a one-time, spontaneous sort of sacrifice. It’s the little everyday things - the pebble in the shoe, pea in the mattress, underwear stuffed up the butt crack - that show your true love.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
I never would have thought to name my baby Isaac, except that I…dreamed it. Uh, yeah, honest. It was the only baby dream to speak of that I remember. The day I found out I was pregnant, I had a dream where someone was writing down the name, underlined it and told me "This is the name you want." I wrote the name down in my journal, looked at it alone on the page, and hunkered back down into my denial for another 8 months. But meanwhile, I brought it up to Mike and when we found out the meaning we were sold. (His middle name, Raphael, is for my dad.)
The nickname situation is still up for grabs. There is "Ike" -- and then I have "Mike n Ike." There is Zac(h) -- and then every one thinks his name is Zachary. My current favorite is Izzy, which I'm getting lots of flack for. Is it not a mom's perogative?? As if kids on the playground won't be able to make fun of him no matter what his name is.
Now, time to show your true colors. When you hear "Isaac," (or "Ike"), besides an adorable 5-week old, you think of:
a) political candidates of the 1950s
b) that bastard that held Tina back from her full, leggy potential
c) bartenders on cruise ships
d) biblical figures that barely escape with their lives
Now, about the part where he has only his dad’s last name…
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Sunday, March 13, 2005
It’s midnight and I’m fighting with my three-week old. We’ve both agreed he’s hungry, we just can’t agree on the angle of boob that will satiate this hunger. He latches, detaches, latches, detaches. Throws his head back, flailing his tiny hands dangerously near my tender nipples and screams. We try again. I’ve been told not to expect any patterns of behavior or routines, that babies keep changing and changing what they do, when they do it, and how. But let me tell you, for the last week, this is our pattern.
I’ve been duped. Of breastfeeding my friends said: "I loved it!" "It was like a drug!" and "It was easy!" I hate my friends. And I hate breastfeeding. If you quote me, I’ll deny it. What? You’re gonna say you read it on the internet so it must be true? Nice try.
But before the Mommy SWAT teams come to drag me away, let this humble missal be my final triumph…
At 2:30am, I hear him again. He’s generally a calm baby and by the sound of the lose-his-mind cry I can tell he’s been trying to get my attention for a while. We engage in the dance – I offer boob, he rejects it, cries, tries his fist instead, cries some more. He latches then rears back, my nipple at last well-secured in his mouth. At 3:30, after achieving minimal ingestion of nourishment, I bounce him to a tenuous sleep and roll over.
But the gods are merciful this evening, and the Wee Beast does not awake again until 7:00, light already sifting through the blinds, the cats not having bothered to pester us for breakfast yet – they too are relieved. On a whole three-and-a-half-hour stretch of sleep he looks oh-so cute again. We coo at each other, and I feed him with mild success and renewed patience. Before he can decide he wants more, I bound out of bed (my prison so many mornings) and suggest to Mike that I’ll get breakfast for us.
I put on water for some Earl Grey (decaf, naturally. look, I just can’t breastfeed, I’m not a barbarian!). Something is spilled on the burner as usual and I turn on the blower to try to shoo away the stinky smoke. I clear off the counter happily, though I realize I’m destroying some system or other my husband has devised there. I find random items to create a breakfast out of = some cheese, some granola. I find the orange juice container in the frig with .01 drops of oj left and cheerily drip it into a plastic cup then crush the empty carton with fervor and toss it in the trash returning inches of sacred space to my life. I fill the cats’ water bowl and feed the extra water to the fern. Order and control have returned to my world. I am gleeful.
It then occurs to me that the blower is still creating white noise and whatever splooged on the burner is long gone. I hesitate, but turn it off. Sure enough, it had been drowning out a wee cry emanating from the bedroom. I taste the oj and dump it in the sink. It’s turned into iodine. I pile the rest of breakfast carefully onto my arm and head back to my bed. There, I find my son and husband locked in a staring contest. The baby is wearing the last un-peed-on outfit in the drawer and two different socks. I can see I’m not needed here. I drop off the food and jog back out to the living room where my journal has been sitting unheeded for days.
Haul me away if you want. Of freedom I say: "I loved it!" "It was like a drug!" and "It was easy!"
Saturday, March 12, 2005
I believe it’s a good thing that when I looked at my new-born son for the first time, I did not crush him to my chest and weep with recognition of "my baby". Rather, we stared at each other with mutual curiosity and befuddlement. It's a good thing because maybe I'll be less inclined to expect things of him and more apt to discover who he really is. For my part, I am still wondering about this little person and just how it's happened that he has been delivered to my care. (Nine months, labor, and how many blog entries later, I still don’t get it. Sue me.)
We’re getting to know each other -- slowly. It’s kind of, but not really, like when you meet someone you really click with and you stay up all night talking, except we just stay up all night and there’s not much talking. There’s some eating and some crying, a few nonsense songs, and a lot of time spent trying to figure out what the hell the other one wants.
That’s just it. Without clear cues, like for instance Isaac telling me "Mother, I’d care for a snack please." or "Would you be so kind as to unwrap my legs so I may kick violently while I’m filling my diaper?" – which would be helpful as cues go – we’re left to try to read each other on some other level.
Here’s what I’ve learned about my son in the first three weeks:
- He prefers one sock on at a time. It’s daring, I know, but with the aggressive marketing campaign I’ve laid out it should be hot on the runway this fall
- He must have his arms outside the covers at all times. The better to conjure spells at a moment’s notice. Screw preschool, I’m reserving this kid a space at Hogwart’s.
- He startles at things like the CD player changing CDs, but makes no response when the smoke alarm low battery warning shrieks. Awww, how sweet, selective hearing – definitely from his dad’s side.
- He wears his hats at jaunty angles and can take on the appearance of a fry cook, a sailor, a hip hop artist, or a Smurf, depending on his mood. Flexibility in today’s job market – a must!
Maybe it’s a rather paltry collection of information so far, but I suppose a mother has to start somewhere.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Today is my official due date. I think Isaac arriving two weeks earlier than the doctors predicted is his way of thumbing his nose at their method of counting. It’s just dumb. They devise your "EDD" (estimated due date) by counting from your "LMP" (last menstrual period) instead of the presumed date of conception. Huh?? Thus, they add in approximately two more weeks than the "gestational age". Who came up with this system?
The dreaded EDD and LMP show up everywhere – on every scribbled note and official record associated with my pregnancy. These dates will live in infamy. I’m just waiting for someone to give us some cutesy handmade frame-able thingy for Isaac – the kind that has his name embroidered on it flanked by teddy bears and blocks. Under that will be his date of birth. And in fire engine red above it all - the date of my LMP.
Good ole LMP even appears on the form for the birth information my midwife left me to file with the courts and get his birth certificate. Does the county really need to know the last time I had my period??!? I think of my recent struggles in searching for information on my family history. Just a marriage license here or there would do. A consistency of spellings could be helpful. A hint of the year so and so was born. And yet some day, when I’ve been long ago scattered to the Pacific, thanks to our obsessively modern record keeping, my descendents will know the day I stopped buying tampons.
And here I thought the medical community had no understanding of women’s bodies.
(not the baby kind, the kind you take to get clean)
I get to take one every other day or so it seems. That’s with Mike still home from work. We’ll see what happens in the near future. I’ve noticed a few things about the post-partum shower.
1. At some point, I wake to consciousness standing under the water, soap stilled in one hand, rocking. Am I rocking the new baby I hold most of the day now, or am I rocking to quiet myself?
2. Every now and then, for just the briefest moment, between the shampoo and the conditioner, I forget.
3. I admit that sometimes I spend a bit longer hidden away under the weak jets of rusty water that block out crying, a routine I have no grasp on, than I might need to for reasons of cleanliness.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Doh! Thanks, Barb. My apologies for mis-posting the Witches' line from Macbeth - Of course it should be Double, double, toil and trouble... Shame on me. Happening already, is it? I'm slipping away from all I formerly knew...
While we're taking care of business, I just wanted to also mention thanks! to all who posted comments about the Little One. Cute these creatures, no? Trouble. Hey Tracy, I had a dream that I met you!
Mothering a newborn is as difficult as I’d imagined it to be. And actually, I underestimated what it would take for my own physical recovery. It’s a major double whammy. Makes me think of a comedian’s routine I heard once (I think it was Lewis Black) "Starbuck’s coffee’s expensive, but at least the lines are long."
Ah, what's that? The sweet sound of my infant? Must go.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
One of my friends has admitted that when I refer to the (three) midwives she can’t help but picture the opening scene of Macbeth - Boil boil toil and trouble! I have to remember to tell them that; they’d think it was very funny.
The midwives were/are so great. Literally spoon-feeding me after I gave birth, coming to the rescue when panic sets in, spending hours telling me everything is all right. There are no more scheduled visits until Isaac is six weeks. Of course I can call, but…There are other babies set to arrive. We have to recede into our own lives. The moments of terror can be blinding.
At one of the follow up visits with the midwives, they are gathered around my bed just as they were when I delivered Isaac. They are listening while I still marvel aloud at the work involved, not just in care, but in labor and in recovery. I feel gutted. And then, after the nipple cracks heal and sleep returns to normal – maybe decades from now, light years - I will be left to raise a boy in this world. It’s all huge. Pam nods. "That’s why women are opposed to war," she says softly, "they know what it takes to make a person."
Angela: Did you moo?
Angela: Moo. It’ll make you feel better. Go ahead. Moo.
Angela: There. Feel better?
Kitty: What gives me the feeling I’m not just any cow, I’m one of those Far Side cows?
Scene: Saturday, February 19th, 2005. Small Town, California.
Characters: Kitty (preggo), Mike (Kitty's husband), Maggie (the midwife), Rachel (midwife's assistant), Pam (midwife's assistant 2), Isaac (baby)
6am: Bounce out of bed to email everyone I owe emails to.
7:15am: Dive back into bed, because for godssake, it's Saturday.
7:16am: Mary calls from Brooklyn demanding to know what I'm doing up so early emailing her. We catch up. She leaves me with wishes for a pleasant birth. "I'm sure it will be ... " (being the nurse and never one to sugarcoat, she searches for something appropriate) "... memorable."
10:15am: Finally get out of bed again. Don't feel very good. The rain is hard and steady. I comment about "what beautiful rain" out loud to myself watching it through the front window. A minute or two later, Mike comes in and notes "Cool rain."
Mike heads out to do errands – gathering bits and pieces for all the last minute projects before the baby arrives, in two weeks or so. I stay home and attempt to clean the house. I'm moving slowly since my stomach hurts. Damn indigestion.
12:00pm: While washing my hands in the bathroom, I notice the giant conch shell that lives on the window sill. It's the one Mike brought back from a research trip to the Bahamas almost six years ago. I grab it and start scrubbing the dust out of the crevices. I chuckle to myself unsuspecting that this is just the kind of thing women were said to do when they started labor – become gripped by strange urges to madly clean things they would otherwise not even notice.
3:30pm: Mike finally gets home from the stores and we put together the closest thing we have to a nursery – a corner shelf from Target that we fill with the baby's books and Pooh characters from Grandma.
6:30pm: After continuing to feel bad all day, I try to go to bed and block it out. From that point on I am up and down, up and down from bed, miserable with what I think is gas pain.
Act IV:9:00 or 10:00pm: A fleeting thought - "What if this is labor??" But I blow it off. Shortly after that Mike has the same thought, but I blow him off too. I try a Gas-X and Mike reads about indigestion in his medical remedies books. "I can't deal with this pain, Mike. How am I going to handle labor??"
11:00pm: We try a walk in the rain. I head up the hill at mock speed. "Do you want to slow down?" Mike asks. Though colorful retorts fill my head, I do him the favor of declining to answer and plow steadily forward through the dourpour. The rain battering the umbrella is the best thing I've felt in hours. By now, the pain is clearly rhythmic. Denial digs deeper into its foxhole, peers out with beady eyes – labors can stop, it tells me.
11:30: (Back home and still stubbornly waiting for the Gas-X to kick in.) I let Mike convince me to sit and watch the beginning of Saturday Night Live. Okay, the Botox talk show bit is actually pretty funny and I make it through most of it before squirming away to writhe on the bed some more.
Midnight: Panic. I'm inconsolably miserable. I can't be anywhere. What if this is really labor?! And then... Ohmigod! The house is still a disaster! I beg my husband to straighten the living room, finish the dishes... Mike leaves me with an Eyore rattle to ring for him when I need him to come be with me. Unable to tell him immediately just how insanely stupid this idea is, I wait until the next contraction, throw Eyore across the room, and scream Mike's name. No one heard from Eyore again that night.
1:30am: We call Maggie. "Do you feel like you want me to come right now?" she asks me. Apparently bent on preserving my misery, I hesitate. "Then call me back in half an hour and tell me what's going on."
2:00am: My waters break.
2:15am: We call Maggie back. She's on her way. (The home visit, where she would have come here and made sure we had all the supplies we needed, we'd have staked out the place for birthing, and just allowed the midwifery team to see where the hell we live so they weren't – uh – looking for the apartment for the first time in the middle of the night, was set for four days from now...)
Months later (2:50am): Maggie arrives. "Hi, pretty lady," she offers. Ugh. Start with me. Pretty my ass. I quiz her about whether she let the cats out when she came in. She is slightly puzzled, but used to me. Mike reports on the exact locations of the cats and appeases my neuroses.
3:00am: No sense of time left: Maggie is vigilant on the cell phone still trying to get ahold of the assistants. I need her to focus on me. She'd tell me later how quietly freaked out she was to find me ready to push with no back up, nothing set up and no instruments sterilized. I wasn't worried about any of that, I just had to have a baby. With instruments boiling on the stove, the smoke alarm sounds. Could these people have mercy on my poor cats?!
I am lost in a haze. Relaxation techniques are the biggest fucking joke right now. "Did I mention labor hurts?" Maggie quips. I stare at her from within my pain, shooting daggers but helpless. "Did I mention it hurts alot?" She smiles.
Pam arrives. She looks fresh and calm at 3:30 am. I'm glad to see her.
3:40am~4:10am: At first I'm not pushing very hard. I'm tired and the pain has shifted, it's less intense, I'm resting. I change positions a couple times and with directions on how to push more effectively push the head down. "You can reach down and feel the head!" Maggie tells me excitedly. I take this in and ignore her. "Feel the head!" she repeats. She should know better, I do not want to feel any heads emerging from my yoni, but she is full-on midwife mode now, my inclinations meaningless to her. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity!" Even now? Even now, I have to be a people pleaser?? I feel the head. "It's weird!" I conclude. "Did you feel the baby's head though?" Maggie prompts. "Yes," I tell her, "And it's weird!"
4:13am: Rachel arrives. I ask her if she let the cats out.
4:14am: Mike is holding my left hand. I turn to him, "Are you ready for this?" "Yes," he answers. I laugh at him, it's that half-crazy laugh. I see a flash: the blue/grey of the cord entangled with floppy limbs - all of Isaac shoots into Maggie's hands.
(No Pooh characters were harmed in the making of this production.)