Birth Story; Part 1. (Though it’s an odd way to begin.)

This morning I dreamt of my cousin who died by hanging himself from a tree in a small grove outside his apartment near the airport. To move so far out of his town, to live alone, we wish over and over that we had heeded the signs that were all there. My uncle says that when he saw him there was a beatific expression on his face. In my dream he was a boy of about six, but the memory is not from a time with him but from a photograph of him at that age. I placed my hand on his back and I could feel him with my palm and it was exactly like my palm on my boy’s back. My sister in law was with me, and she said, “Yes, it’s inevitable.” That he was going to grow up to be the young man who would die by suicide (die of suicide); that we only had this time now. My crying woke me up. (Or, I woke up crying.)

My uncle’s loss is vivid to me now that I have the boy. My son. His son. I remember the back of my uncle’s neck while we carried the coffin. My uncle believes in tradition, in authenticity, to be genuine; we were actually carrying the coffin, it was not for show, and the weight was shocking and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to do it, my shoes even had small heels, but I knew also that I had to. The church rang a bell slowly and I watched his neck and I knew I would remember that this was happening always. My hand was calloused after and I posted an image of it to instagram without explanation.

When my grandmother gave birth to my uncle, her first child, it followed years of trying to get pregnant. It followed a doctor telling her, “Madame, you are categorically barren.” She was “old” for a first child. 35. She had married at 23 because she’d wanted a family and was afraid she was running out of time. The irony, she says, is that she thought he would be a good father. In the hospital the maternity ward was right down the hall from infectious illnesses. She heard the coughing. After the birth  (I never asked her for her birth story, not really, and she never told me, though she told me so many other stories) the doctor told her he had given her an extra stitch, “for her husband.” She never told me this. My mother did.

She had a second child, her daughter, my mother, four years later. I never heard anything of this birth story either.

Postscript to Three Months and Eight Days

I’ve brought the babe back into the bed at night and I’m letting him nap on me again. I think I thought that at three months he was going to cross some magic line, or we were going to, and once on the other side I was supposed to turn into a mother with a child who lies down for a morning and afternoon hour and a half long nap every day, who sleeps six hours in a row without getting hungry, who I can walk away from for a few hours. And maybe I could be that mother, and he could be that child, if we had to be. But we don’t have to be. There are no other siblings tugging at my hand and I don’t have to juggle a work schedule yet and the truth is I love it when he naps on me and I sit there under the fan reading a book. That is a lovely lovely thing.

I think I’ve been trying to be more independent than I actually want to be. That’s always what I sought…to be unfettered, strong, strong willed. But with him, now, I’m more relaxed when he’s close to me. I need some breaks for sure, but turns out not as many as I thought, and not as long as I thought. The tension for the last few weeks was building as I kept trying to create that distance, trying to turn him over to my mother for long and longer stretches, but it didn’t work for either of us. I’m even a little embarrassed writing this now…scared to be judged…a mother who’s too soft, too lenient, too attached.

But I feel better these last few days than I have in weeks.

Our nights now this rhythmic weaving in and out of deep and light sleep that are leaving me calm and rested. I don’t care about the trucks squealing by in the middle of the night; I don’t wake up to see if he’s breathing, resting my hand, a feather, on his chest. The night simply passes; not in hours of uninterrupted sleep but something else, hazy and mellow and sweet. I’m amazed that it’s working but it is.

And he has woken from his nap just now, beside me this time, not with a startled cry but smiling. He’s looking at the fan and pooping. I’m showered though not dressed. The day is early still and I know this afternoon could have a hot, stressful bout of hard crying because there’s always that chance, but for now I’m happy to have him sit on my lap while I type this last line. I thought I needed more space, but for now, his feet pushing my laptop away is what’s making me happy.

Two months and 3/4


Boobs boobs boobs boobs.

The fourth trimester is almost over.

Sometimes in the mirror I can see a network of blue veins beneath my skin-they start around my collar bone and spread, a web, before focusing again at the nexus of my nipples. Again and again the physicality of this new life. My body! I am in my body. My boobs are at times satisfyingly round and straining the edge of my bra, but they are so clearly functional—industrial even. Worker bees. I continuously forget a nursing pad when I sit down to feed him. The boy on one boob triggers the other, and without a pad (or a towel or a paper towel or one of his shirts lying within reach) the milk runs down my side and collects at my waistline. I have milk spots in the middle of most of my shirts. I can’t fudge laundry anymore; once I have worn a thing it can not be worn again. It is milk after all, and it smells just as bad when it turns. The scent surprises me sometimes in new places, like the sleeve of a sweater. Also behind the boy’s ears. Although on him it’s different because I smell it most when he is nuzzling his face into my neck.

The varicose vein behind my knee that began in college is officially much bigger. A speckle of tiny spider veins is visible up and down my legs. And across my body I have more moles and spots then I did before, all appearing in the last year since I first became pregnant.

My body.

Sometimes when he is nursing he rests the palm of his hand flat on my boob. Sometimes when I go to kiss his head, he swivels and it lands in his neck. Sometimes these motions fire currents into the parts of me reserved for lovers, for B. I’ve been ashamed of these whiffs of arousal but I confessed them finally to B. and he thinks it’s just the body doing what it does; autopilot triggers beyond my control. I know that this intimacy between the boy and I is fleeting and that after these few years of childhood I won’t ever again know his body as I do now. Nor he mine. I wonder when it will be that he will be too old for us to take baths together. Once I was at the house of a family friend and their young daughter called to me from the bathroom. When I stepped in she was sitting on the toilet and  she told me she was ready for help wiping. It wasn’t the fact of her needing help that surprised me but that she would have been fine with me doing this for her. Walking in my neighborhood, I look at boys of eight, of thirteen, young men of twenty and try to imagine the boy at these ages. I spotted one ten year old pushing another, and taunting him. Which will my boy be on any given day? Will he tell me?

Sometimes I crave B.’s touch as a counter to all this mothering, and sometimes I want no one to touch me at all, and sometimes I want us all to nuzzle into each other like a stack of spoons.

I’m unsure if the boy still needs constant comfort or if it is good for him for me to step away and let him be alone to look out a window and smile at no one in particular. I know a few moms with their second kids and I see their babies doing fine when they walk away but I’m still caught by the impossible goal of trying to prevent him any distress at all. Something I fail at every day anyway, judging by the volume of his cries and the glare he’s been giving me from the car seat on this road trip.

That thing still happens in the middle of night when he wakes me up; I feel as if he is literally in my arms and I freeze, afraid to move, to roll onto him, to drop him. I feel his form in my hands but it’s as if I can’t find him, and I search in the sheets until I am awake enough to understand he is beside me in the bassinet. And then this new thing…with my eyes closed I feel as if I am myself a baby, not that I am literally an infant, but like I am being held as a babe is held, as I hold him. I feel the arms cradling me and sense eyes gazing and hear the sounds of being soothed. This is at night, but also in the bright quiet afternoon when I close my eyes.

B. right now holding the boy and rocking him back into a nap. The sound of very light rain on the trees of our friend’s orchard. Why do any of us have to work ever? Our rhythms have continued to smooth and we’re sharing the care of him ever more seamlessly.  I tell myself it’s going to be fun to get into an outfit and roll the boy downtown and meet B. for lunch. Which I know it will be. But what happens when the quiet of the house becomes too quiet and I can’t get myself out the door? What happens when my part time hours start and we’ve had a sleepless night and B. is not there to help? And there’s this whole new realm of money sharing coming our way. My mother keeps telling me my job is to care for the boy, and everyone else’s job is to care for me. I’ve never let B. care for me in so many ways before. Many of our fights of these last two and a half months were triggered by me feeling guilty for not doing enough and picking at him to cover up this guilt. And now financially too.  I’ve always kept my money private and we’ve functioned almost as two roommates would with shared bills. Our only truly joint ventures have been our travels. I keep calling the boy our biggest adventure, so maybe I can think of it that way.

In college I read one radical feminist who argued an idea along the lines that the care of house and children could be literally quantified and that it’s a societal responsibility to reimburse women financially for that work. My worth is certainly not going to be determined by my salary, although I’ve never really made enough money for it to give much satisfaction. Not since I was a bartender at least, making the most I’ve ever made in my early twenties.  When we get home from this trip, we’re going to have to start prepping for B.’s new work, and I suppose mine too.

This trip has seen a few milestones: Hiking with the boy, me driving the boy alone, the boy’s first wedding, and…the very first time the boy has woken up from a nap while B. and I were still having sex. We didn’t stop and as B. said, “That’s a new life experience,” because yes, we finished (albeit quickly) while the boy howled in the other room.

Oh yes, and the boy is rolling! It’s a huge deal and he is exceedingly proud of himself.

…and 13.

We’ve decided that the boy was not conceived in the Adirondacks but actually two and a half weeks earlier, on my birthday when we were on our epic trip to Turkey. The trip that was our big adventure before baby trip. Which means that the boy has been in existence for a year now.

It can be depressing or wonderful that the simple act of riding my bike for 25 minutes today was a revelation. The first blocks were pure pleasure. The whole thing was pure pleasure. It’s hard to comprehend that in my former life I could ride my bike wherever I wanted to on a summer evening. I saw a woman bike by, slim, in a pretty blue dress with toned arms, and thought this: “She’s so free.” But when I was so free it was so hard for me to feel settled. Or at peace. And I feel at peace all the fucking time now. One writer I love wrote that he didn’t feel truly grounded after finishing his first novel, or after buying a house, or coming to know his father again; it was only this, having a child, that did it.

I used to have this thing, biking around the park in the warm weather, where I would be watching the summer scene and wish that I could be a part of it. And then I’d remind myself that by virtue of being there I was in fact part of it. But it didn’t feel that way. The setting as a glossy postcard I could not enter. But now, with the boy, I always feel a part of it. I feel fully here.

It’s hard when the boy cries. And he cries a lot. Less than other babies, and more than some other babies. But these last few days he turns it up to full howling quickly and easily and his red-faced, stiff bodied crying has been punctuating our days. Both B. and I have crying-baby fatigue. Today the un-shaded blocks on our way home from our morning wanderings were our own personal Death Valley and B. lost hope a few blocks from home. We keep on trying to convince the boy that he likes the stroller. He is not yet sold, and when one of us picks him up his cries very quickly settle and he gets that this watchful, knowing expression on his face, and I imagine him thinking, “How many times do I have to tell you guys just to carry me in your arms everywhere you go and all will be well?”

But then! We brought the boy into bed under the ceiling fan and what followed was two epic hours of him napping and nursing between us. I read a little, slept a little, opened my eyes to one of B’s joyful eyes on me. When it was all done, B. said, “That was like an entire vacation.” And it truly was. The boy also slept for just the exact right half hour in the stroller today to allow us to eat ice cream cones for lunch.

You know, grown-up stuff.

What in the world did I use to do with all that time?

Two months and twelve days.

Tomorrow is my birthday and today I’ve been crying because the crazy ache for this boy needs some kind of release. Today he is too vulnerable, too small, too loved for me to contain. Today when he cried it was too much for me to not know why or what to do exactly to fix it. Sometimes I nurse him lying on my side, and he is also on his side facing me, and I curve around him and that is the impulse today. The impossible impulse. To be the barrier between him and every single hurt; between him and the world.

Thought today that I’ll be ready for the time when he’ll be able to tell me in words what it is and what I can do.

I am too powerful and too powerless.

Two months and eleven days.

I am only allowing myself ten minutes here tonight because the boy has been asleep nearly two hours which means I have two hours left, tops, before he first wakes up. I’ve been lying on the couch reading Divergent because young adult fiction is my version of watching reruns of The Golden Girls.

Also, I need to go look at the boy’s face. How long does this ache last? How does a mother ever let her child go off and do anything? He is not allowed to ever attempt to climb Everest. But in order for him to not want to, I’ll have to make sure to act like it would be no big deal. The defiance gene.

Our neighbor’s son is about to go to college, and he is surly and withdrawn like I remember myself being on hungover Sundays at the museum. (If I could only give back to my mother and grandmother every hour I was an asshole.) I am very sure his first year of college is going to entail a lot of inebriation. He barely nods hello at us when we pass, and I know we don’t register to him, me and B. and the boy. He has no manners. I remember being that wrapped up in myself. One night this winter B. and I were up late on the couch–ah yes, it was the night before the city snow day–and we saw out the window this same boy coming home alone in the lamplit snow. Instead of walking he was sliding, one foot after the other, like half a waltz, dancing his way up and down the sidewalk, delaying his exit from the snowy night.  The next morning, I made muffins, and was disappointed when the sun came out. I wanted the storm to keep on. And I was pregnant then, imagining being a mother and making pancakes for my kid on their future snow days.

B. and I decided to extend our trip, and we’re going to be driving far north of the city. All of this seemed like a great idea when we booked our nights, but now I’m picturing the boy’s face and wondering if really we just need to tuck in and not go anywhere and keep cuddled up and cozy right here where we are; where we’ve spent most of the last two months. Our borders are expanding again; taking the boy further and further afield. When I go to bed in a minute, I’m going to first stand next to him and put my hand on his chest to make sure he’s breathing. It’s the first transition into sleep that is the hardest for me, and the moment when the lamp first goes off, taking him just that little bit out of my sight.

It’s been longer than ten minutes. Didn’t get to my discussion of bras yet. Bras and how to keep the boy always safe. Some fool on the street is playing music way too loud and I want to block out all the stupid noises of a day that might disturb him. I give drivers the evil eye quite a lots these days; bikers too, and resist the urge to kick over the Tour de Brooklyn bikers racing around the park. And then sometimes the boy wakes up crying like he’s had a bad dream and there’s literally nothing I could have done to prevent it. So I hold him and we bounce and he sleeps some more until the next need or fear wakes him and I bounce some more and on and on we go. And on and on we will go.

2 months and ten days.

Way back in week one or two I watched a documentary about whales. Grey whale mamas travel up the Pacific coast with their baby whales, the calves, once a year. They hug the shore so as to hide in the murkier waters, but when they get to Monterey Bay they cross open ocean because it’s faster. And there wait the only animals besides humans that could be a threat: Killer whales. The killer whales move in packs to separate the calf from the mother, and if they can, they attack and attack until they have killed and eaten the baby whale. The mother whale is too big for them.

Sometimes when the boy nurses he watches me with one eye, and it likes a little whale eye gazing at me.

I could not handle watching the baby whale hurt, but more than that watching the mama whale trying and unable to protect it. And it’s total bullshit that the camera people on nature shows don’t interfere. Natural processes and all that, but it’s not as if we haven’t been interfering for centuries. What? We can massacre thousands upon thousands of whales but can’t save this one?

And then today lying down for a nap I was thinking about the logistics of a potential train trip coming up and then I am picturing the train speeding up, too fast, and me knowing an accident was coming, and I am quizzing myself: What do you do to protect the boy? How will you save him? Ditto for a hypothetical car accident. In that one, I’m nursing the boy after the accident while waiting for an ambulance and bleeding from the head.

B. took the job by the way.

I might be feeling a little vulnerable.

One month old.

Mothering so far is mostly in my body. There are the thoughts, yes, but those are simple and straightforward. I am happy. I adore him. This works for me. I am shocked in fact, by how uncomplicated my reaction is. I tested myself last night. You are never going to stop being responsible for this person. You have years and years ahead of you of caring for his needs. How does that make you feel? And my answer? Fine.

I don’t know why it’s fine for me, and where this lack of ambivalence comes from. I’m kind of amazed by it. Once again my notion of being a feminist setting me up for a whole other set of experiences. I thought I was supposed to feel confined and trapped by having a child. I assumed that that was part of the deal and The Issue I was going to wrestle with. I get that I’m only a month in and that there’s always time for the angst to come in, but it’s not here yet. Mostly my mind is as calm as it felt this one night on mushrooms when it went as still as a lake surface in the very very early morning. That night I had a clear visual for it; saw the water’s surface and the ripples vanish and it was a sweet little relief.

In week one, I was thinking a lot about the language around having kids; how it’s treated as the most normal, traditional, conservative next step. Boring, almost, a dead end, an end of romance, an end to excitement and adventure. I’m thinking here of the endless sitcom jokes, the routines of stand up comedians, the snide New Yorker cartoons, the dialogue in movies, the asides of single, city dwellers in bars. And then I thought of those shelves of self-help books; how to be happy, how to be fulfilled, how to meditate, and I imagined telling the world, “I have a way for you to feel happy, to heighten your senses, to bring joy and love to you that you had not previously imagined. It will calm your insecurities and ease your anxieties. It will make your fears about ambition and success seem silly. It will make you braver.” If this was a book, or a diet, or an exercise regimen, or a retreat, or a pilgrimage; people would take it, would seek it and save for it. But the it here is simply this: deciding to care for another person for the rest of your life. And the world scoffs.

The only thing I don’t like about my mental state is that it’s making it a whole lot harder to get here, to the screen and the keyboard. When I’ve gotten those pockets of time there’s always been something I wanted to do a whole lot more. Like shower. Or stretch. Or eat without a guppy fish attached to my boob. Or, best of the best, take a walk by myself. It’s my body right now. Those are the needs and wants and pleasures. I had no idea how physical parenting would be. (I can’t believe he just woke up. One second, he looks blissfully asleep on the lap/nursing pillow and the next he’s regarding me with that one whale eye of his, unfathomable and of another realm. Now he’s yawning. Now protesting. Now pooping. Now contemplating my armpit. His profile is the best.)

But yes, not an existential existence these days. Parenting is in my back muscles and in my arms; my spent boobs and my chest marked with tiny scratches because somehow cutting his nails is the impossible task for us. It’s in my butt after too many hours sitting, and it’s in the milk dripping from one engorged boob while he feasts on the other.  And so, this entry gets ended not by content but by need. What the lines don’t show is that this entry took about two and a half hours. In between the paragraphs, there was a poop leakage that I somehow got his ear into. There was rug time when he wiggled and I stretched. There was a shower break during which he decided to start howling the second the water went on. There were a few burps and two spit ups. And of course, there was nursing, switching from one side to the other. So I end here because what I need most is to free myself from beneath this (now) sleeping babe and get my shoulders un-hunched and get my legs moving and pray for me that he doesn’t need to nurse again before I get some movement.

20 days old.

B. says I need sleep so I’m not going to write this today.

I’ve been slowly watching a documentary about dolphins for the last two hours because I pause it every time the boy makes too much of a commotion for me to focus on it. It’s gotten kind of dull anyway because it’s testing whether dolphins have a “higher” form of intelligence, aka existential awareness. Awareness of self. I’m tired of everything having to be proved all the time; isn’t it obvious that they do? Just as it’s obvious that this son of mine is both of me and completely independent of me.

Today I made a resolution. When someone asks me how it’s going, I’m not going to mention sleep. It’s just a shortcut answer. But B. is now whispering at me from the stairs. I really do need to sleep.

But, how’s it going?

Well, it’s life altering, and very quiet all at once.

Off I go. It’s windy like autumn and good nap weather and I want to spoon with B.