Other Voices

When I nurse my baby, I hear my mother's voice telling me how, as a baby, I always had to make eye contact with her when nursing. How I never slept more than two hours for the first six months. How needy and demanding and sensitive I was. She loves me very dearly, but these things were always presented as facts about who I am, how different I am than my brother, and how much self-sacrifice it took to have me. Later in my childhood, I was alone a lot, and looking back as an adult I often quietly assumed that was excusable given how much of a pain I was, how much time I took, when I was a baby.

But now that I have my own baby, I can't even hold her in a way so as to make eye contact while breastfeeding. I can't figure out the logistics of how my mom must have held me. So, if she's demanding it, I don't even know. She goes through growth spurts of not sleeping more than two consecutive hours over many days, and that's tough, but sometimes she sleeps longer. Is she a better baby than I was? I found myself telling a friend yesterday that yes, she is a better baby. But I also already plan to be careful about constructing the narrative of her babyhood for her someday. I want to tell her about how loved she is, how many places she goes, and how awesome we think she is. Even when it's hard, I don't want to tell her how hard it is. I want it to be less about who she is innately, and more about what we experienced. As an adult I have often used the anecdotes of my baby-neediness to prove how demanding I can be, and now that I have my own baby, I think that's a shame. Those are the parts of me that were told to me, and they may or may not be all my own fault. What if I had a mom who really wanted to make eye contact with me and made sure that she could? What if the idea of self-sacrifice makes her feel good even when it makes me feel bad? Where do these things come from?

I'm not actually saying that I was an easy baby---I bet I wasn't. But pregnancy and infancy are experiences made up of so much more than what's actually happening in the moment. Recently I have heard my husband's mom's voice in his baby-nurturing voice, the voice he uses to soothe Peony. It made me wonder if my nurturing voice echoed my own mom, so I listened...and yep, it sure did. That's OK; that's how we learned the concept of nurturing! How incredibly lucky we both are to have been so carefully and lovingly cared for in our first years of life.

I also hear a lot of other voices from the moms around me, young and old, as I care for my little family. Here is advice I got from other moms that I have found holds true in baby-care. Not all of it was what I wanted to hear at the time, of course.

  1. While on maternity leave, be sure to take a shower every day, just so you feel human.
  2. Get outside every day with your infant, even if it's you running into Starbucks while your husband waits in the car.
  3. The sleep deprivation is insane. Sleep whenever you can.
  4. Pump breastmilk whenever you can---save up those ounces to give her a bottle and yourself a break now and then.
  5. Unfortunately, make sure you have both Preparation H and stool softener when you come home from the hospital.
  6. Wouldn't you rather be held than put down? Give her time to get used to the crib.
  7. Forgive everything with your husband in the first couple months---you guys are just going to be tired and stressed.
  8. Don't sit down to breastfeed without something to drink, even if it's tap water you grab while the baby is fussing.
  9. The first couple months are rough. But it really does get better.
It doesn't paint a pretty picture. But it helps!


It Takes Life to Love Life

As soon as I finished that last post I took advantage of a rare moment of quiet to look at some past entries, and found an old one with a good message.


This morning, Lucinda gets my priorities into focus.

I knew my upstairs neighbor was expecting a visitor from his past. I could tell because he had placed a mannequin on his front porch, put his own bright orange jacket on it, and twisted strands of Christmas lights tightly around its neck until it looked both like a threat and a desperate cry for help. I paused on my way inside, looked up there, and wondered how we'll ever sell our condo. He feels like he's being strangled and tries to make it a statement about how quirky he is; I feel like I'm being strangled and try to look away, but can't no matter how hard I try.

For the millionth time this morning, after a night of bad dreams about scary neighbors, I asked my husband how we could move. Moving seriously limits us in the long term, considering our financial hopes and goals---and where we live now Is. Absolutely. Perfect. Except for one thing. The upstairs neighbors.

For a long time I have tried to quiet the sad mantra that wormed its way into my brain in childhood: Something always has to be wrong. This belief is crippling and unhealthy, and though many others believe it and repeat it, I've noticed that the people who don't believe it tend to be a lot happier. I want to be like those people.

Another trap of resignation: I also tell myself it could be worse. Sure, their dogs are too many, too loud, and far too aggressive. Yes, they care not for the common areas and leave poop in the backyard. Indeed, these people are home almost all the time and almost always loud---there are few moments when we don't know where they are in their condo or even what they are doing, if it involves talking or watching TV. Yes, they wake up the baby nearly every day. But couldn't it be worse? They go to sleep early, still feign caring about what we think. It could be worse. But still.

So we look at our options for the gazillionth time, but none of them feel good. What we want for right now is to stay here, grit our teeth through any hardships, and emerge in a couple years with a healthy nest egg. The problem is, I am tired of my teeth hurting.


It's In Moments

Bathroom, just after a wonderful warm evening bath. I am still in the tub, and my baby daughter is lying on her towel on the bathmat, being toweled dry and dressed in her pajamas by my husband. Now all dry and warm, she looks over at me and dazzles with a killer smile. And she coos, a kind of gurgle ending in a long vowel. I coo back, a clear high pitch. And she answers, in the same high pitch. I do it again, and she answers again, with gusto. Blue and I look at each other and laugh, and Peony and I repeat. And repeat. Each time she brings her voice up louder and louder. She arches her back to get the sound out, lifting her chin and taking a few seconds to really try to form the vocalization. It is so wonderful, so much more wonderful than I could have imagined parenting might be. I actually have the thought, "This might be one of the happiest nights of my life." Her beautiful voice experimenting with sound and communication, her eyes sparkling with pleasure, talking to her mama, right at the beginning of her life, moves us both to tears. Later, Blue mentions how much more special it was because we were both there, sharing it together. I think about being in his arms in a river in Costa Rica at the beginning of our relationship, and how we didn't know we had this experience in front of us. But I remember crying on the plane back home, telling him how I wanted a home and children with him. I love him so passionately, and this moment is part of our love affair. And yet, it's something else, too; something outside of us. A different person, learning what she can do. Those happy eyes, excited by her new strengths. Every day, a stronger girl.


This Morning's Milestones

Baby: First day in gym day care! Mama: First boxing class p.p.! First workout on a rebounder since 3 months of pregnancy! O joy! Things went well for both of us. It feels so good to sweat and to move. I usually wish it was a more anonymous experience, since members and fellow staff alike all know me, but today it felt nice to have so much recognition, coaching, and encouragement. Teanna held the heavy bag for me as I pounded it for 2.5, then 5, minutes. "Am I doing it right?" It had been so long. "Yes!" she said. "Look at your endurance--better than my advanced class!" I balanced on the Rolo board; I got pushed and coached and pummeled by Joanna; I took VJ's advice on the Stepmill; I shined and sweated and felt excited and happy and strong. My baby cried a little, and got held a lot, but stuck it out for an hour in that day care, cared for by two women named Maria. When I left her there, she was looking into the face of one of the Marias, her eyes bright with stimulation and curiousity. "Enjoy your workout!" said the other Maria. And I relaxed.

That kind of positive energy further reinforced my conviction after a tumultuous weekend: it's time to only hang around people who are kind to me, inspire me, and make me feel good. On both days, by happenstance, I spent time with people who just don't seem to like me. It doesn't matter what I do or how many years pass. Usually I grin and bear it, but I can't right now. Feeling bad is too much of an imposition in these days of 24/7 responsibility for my little peony. I don't have room in my heart.

My experiential tips for brand new moms:
1. Hang around people who are good to you.
2. Find a new mom's group and go. If the people are good to you.
3. Work out, and make sure you sweat. But don't do it until it sounds good. Then do it every day.
4. Don't stress about those moms who do whatever you just can't right now. For me, reading literature while breastfeeding, not sleeping during the day, cooking delicious food, and sewing clothes for my baby are all out of my reach. It's not exactly OK with me, but my baby seems pretty happy, so something is working.
5. Lactation consultants all say different things, but sticking with one who works for you is really valuable.
6. Buy comfy, warm loungewear you find attractive! Nothing fits post-baby.
7. Remember this: "The first couple months are rough." But I hear it gets easier after that.
8. Keep a long view of things while savoring the moment. Your body will not always be like this: Comforting. You will get nights with your husband again: Comforting. But also, she won't ever be 6 weeks and 1 day again. She won't ever hear herself make that noise for the first time again. Be present. It's fleeting.

In short, it's hard to be comfortable when you have a newborn, both physically and emotionally, so make your life as comfortable as you can. But stay aware.

And someday, you'll have a night like Peony did last night: 5 hours and 15 minutes of straight sleep--a new record. A new milestone!