Sunday, May 25, 2014

baby FAQ, month one

[In which I admit to dreadful things, and am NOT, repeat NOT, soliciting breastfeeding advice. Let the judgement begin!]

Q: Has parenthood shown you your amazing inner resources of which you were previously unaware?

A: Absolutely! I had no idea I could operate a remote control with my feet.

Q: I meant more along the lines of, you know, a capacity for love you never before imagined.

A: Oh, you mean the phrase all new mothers are expected to state, publicly and loudly: "I never knew what real love was until now". You know what I think whenever I hear someone say that? That if I were their spouse / partner, I'd be pissed. (If I were their childless friend, I'd be a lot more than pissed, having just had my entire human capacity for love dismissed out of hand.) Of course I love Perdita with every fiber of my being, but before she was born there were already people (and, let's be honest, dogs) whom I loved with every fiber of my being.

Q: Wait, you're operating remote controls? As in, exposing your child to television?

A: My tolerance for staring, astonished with love, at another creature was already highly advanced thanks to my tendency to do that with the dogs. But when you have to feed a baby every two hours, and it takes two hands to do so (meaning reading is virtually impossible), by the third or fourth or fifth feeding of the day I have to look at something else. If that something else is BBC period dramas on Netflix, I refuse to feel bad about it. (I also refuse to feel bad about the occasional really, really trashy movie.) Although the other night she did deliberately turn her head to look at the television and I was like, well, crap, that was fun while it lasted. Time to download some audiobooks.

Q: How excited are you to not be pregnant anymore?

A: It's the best. Not least because I have been waiting all this time to watch "Call the Midwife"!

Q: How many episodes of "Call the Midwife" turn out to involve baby abduction or death and are thus basically the worst thing imaginable for a new parent to watch?

A: SO MANY. Berowne and I shriek in distress and / or end up crying almost every time we watch it. I believe the one we have on deck involves spina bifida! Oh God!

Q: At what point did you finally tip back into sanity regarding your massive guilt around your poor milk production and your child's subsequent dependence on formula?

A: When I realized that I was feeling crippingly, sobbingly guilty about anything I did which wasn't pumping, since pumping was the only thing which might build up my supply - and I do mean anything, including laundry, eating, sleeping, showering, leaving the house, and interacting with my actual child, just to name a few. The instant Perdita fell asleep in my arms after her bottle, guilt told me that I should put her down and start pumping, instead of keeping her skin and breath and heartbeat against mine. Because if you don't feed her breast milk, it doesn't matter what else you do: you're a terrible mother and your sickly, obese baby won't even get into Vassar. And so instead of knowing that having Perdita warm and sleepy in my arms, snoring softly against my neck with her hand curled around my collar, is one of those experiences for which the world was made, I'd be staring at the clock and silently shrieking at myself to put her down and turn on the pump. My first child, who will never be two weeks, or three weeks, or a month old again, and with whom I only get six more weeks before going back to work, and society has convinced me that getting milk out of my boob and into her is more important than anything else. More important than holding her, or singing to her, or walking with her along the ocean. More important than loving her. A thousand times more important than loving myself, heaven knows.

(No, of course these aren't mutually exclusive things if breastfeeding works out well for the mother. But if it's a struggle, as it has turned out to be for me, then, well... no one should ever have to tell herself, You get thirty more seconds of holding your child; that's it. And I was telling myself that about twelve times a day.)

My epiphany came when I was standing in the kitchen at lunchtime, shaky and damp-eyed with hunger after no real breakfast and a four-mile walk with the stroller and the dog, and telling myself, You need to pump. Stop thinking about yourself. Stop failing your child. And, to totally blaspheme, the still small voice spoke and said, This is fucked up. And lo, there was lunch, and lo, it was good.

Epiphanies for me, especially ones around self-care, are always one step forward, two steps back, but I'm going to try to remember this one.

Q: What did you do this weekend to make room for the crib?

A: We packed up and put away Darcy-Bear's crate. It was very, very sad. I am pleased to report, however, that behind said crate were clumps of hair which defeated a Shop Vac. He would have been proud. 

Q: Is there anything which reliably soothes Perdita when she's screaming her head off?

A: Reliably? Very little. I have to experiment with books or music or Youtube to find the Secret Soother of the Day. Today it was Patrick Stewart reciting Shakespeare (Ian McKellen reading the Odyssey was not an acceptable substitute). Tomorrow it might be me reading whatever mystery novel I'm in the midst of out loud, or a melancholy banjo, or the ceiling fan. I never know! It's like being Indiana Jones, except you have to go back to the temple every day and the ways through the traps have changed each time ("damn it, kid, the penitent man routine worked yesterday, what is your deal?"). Also there is poop involved. 

Q: Are you convinced that the big white dog would have been able to comfort her?

A: Absolutely. But he is with us in spirit. And in hair. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

baby delights and my enormous thighs

Every minute spent on this blog has a soundtrack of TYPE FASTER; THE BABY IS STIRRING, in the manner of SWIM FASTER; THE KRAKEN IS RISING. So revisions are tending not to happen, and you're getting just my stream-of-consciousness and its attendant excessive parentheses here. Lucky you!

Perdita's not, by any means, always screaming when she's awake; sometimes she just lies there with her huge eyes open, happily looking around or eating her hands. I actually feel the guiltiest about neglecting her during those times, because I should be shoving educational toys in her face or singing her counting songs in Spanish, even though it's clear she's perfectly content to stare at me or the dog or the wireless router (we finally figured out that one of her swings calms her not because of the swinging, or the mobile, or the various sound effects, but because from it she can see the blinking lights on the router and they hypnotize her). And she knows very well I am not the singer in the family (or the Spanish-speaker, for that matter). 

I have twenty pounds to lose, and am being as rational and self-caring about that as you can imagine: in other words, a lunatic. I am eating normally, because I will hopefully never be insane enough to not know that adding hunger to hormones, and sleep deprivation, and an occasionally inconsolable infant, and the discombobulating experience of not having been to my job in a month, is the shortest route to sobbing in the fetal position on the bathroom floor (okay, maybe not there, since housecleaning has sufficiently fallen by the wayside that you could probably contract polio from our bathmat at this point). But when I went to the Chain Baby Store yesterday, I looked at the women buying equivalent-sized clothes or diapers to the ones I was buying, and they were all thinner than I, and I hated myself for it. (Berowne pointed out later that someone buying a newborn-sized onesie could, in fact, be buying it as a gift, and not be the person who gave birth to that newborn. This was far too logical for me to accept.) 

(Yes, although we keep her in cloth at home, we use paper diapers overnight and when we take her places. And we are still supplementing my breastfeeding and pumping with formula. We're monsters and they should take her away!)

The twenty pounds is especially frustrating because it's largely not in the belly (that's actually shrinking pretty quickly): it's in my thighs, hips, butt, and love handles, meaning that I can't wear any pre-pregnancy pants yet. And I know that all of you are saying, "Well, of course you aren't your old pants size at four weeks postpartum; have some damn patience, lady," but I'm so discouraged by still wearing maternity jeans or yoga pants all the time. And I can't afford a whole new wardrobe, so I need to be able to fit into my old work clothes by early July, when I go back to the office. 

I know, I know: this body grew a person! It's amazing and beautiful and should be honored! On the other hand: I am wearing yoga pants in public. I have enough love for working out and for symbolic transformations in general that I honestly think I'd be excited about a twenty-pound challenge, in a weird way (for a couple years pre-pregnancy, I was exercising to maintain, and it got a little boring), if only it were distributed differently enough that I had wider wardrobe options in the meantime. But such is the nature of the beast, and I'll manage. 

She is wonderful, and this experience is wonderful, and Berowne is wonderful - I knew that already, but going though pregnancy and labor with him by my side, and watching him with our daughter, have made me love and appreciate him even more. We make a good team. 

The books:

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita, by Heather Armstrong. I used to enjoy Armstrong's blog ( about five years ago, before it became all about home decor and how much money she has and how many people work for her (lately it has been, even more unfortunately, about her "paleo" diet, which she proselytizes fanatically), and before her sense of humor became repetitive. I decided to check out her book about postpartum depression, because it's from seven or eight years back and so might be interesting. Her depression and breakdown, despite the title, are only addressed in about two chapters of the book, and I found that I quite liked the book as a whole, possibly because her experiences of pregnancy and labor were exactly like mine (huge, uncomfortable, infuriated by "radiant pregnancy" tropes; induced, epidural, episiotomy) and she was funny as hell about those things. I whipped through it in the brief breaks from the baby screaming, alone with her on a Friday night (Berowne's band had a show), and it was the perfect mix of solidarity and humor to get me through the evening.

Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital, by Alex Beam. A history of Massachusetts' McLean Hospital and of the trends in mental health care throughout the centuries. Fairly interesting but not overly memorable.

Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER, by Julie Holland. Too much about Holland, who is pretty smug, and not enough about actually working at Bellevue. Also her writing is nothing special. 

The Quality of Mercy, by Barry Unsworth. The sequel to Sacred Hunger, which I thought was a pretty amazing novel. This one is not as good, though still very well written and intriguing. The infodumping is just done so clumsily that it distracted from almost everything else, though (not a chapter passes without some character given supposedly informal dialogue about the slave trade or the legal system or coal mining which is basically a paragraph lifted entire from a series of very dry history books, and which lands like a ton of bricks). 

And now I really must run because, according to Perdita, hiccups are the Worst Thing in the World (as are being dressed, being undressed, and having one's hat fall over one's eyes, among many other things), and I must put on some pants of shame so we can go for a hopefully-distracting walk. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

more late-night reading

Apparently this child does not like classical music. I may have to return her.

Kidding! Maybe! I have yet to test her on Bach or Mozart. Anyone can have a day when Beethoven doesn't quite do it (the Handel-related screaming is a larger concern). And she does seem to enjoy D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths very much; that has become our official bedtime reading. By "enjoy" I mean it makes her temporarily fall asleep, which to parents of a newborn is a major measure of enjoyment. Like many babies, she has a crazy-fussy time from about six p.m. to midnight, so bedtime is a challenge. (I believe this is a phase that should pass sometime in the next six to ten years.)

What I have read lately, balancing a Kindle on the Boppy as best I can:

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, by Sam Kean. I found this a lot more accessible and consequently more enjoyable than the book of Kean's I previously read; apparently biology is easier for me to grasp than chemistry. 

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, by Jill Lepore. I really like Lepore's writing, even though the chapters in this book were clearly written as separate essays about specific historical figures or trends, and then cobbled together into a sort-of chronology of man's seven ages (or thereabouts). The second piece is all about breastfeeding, which was certainly timely for me to be reading, although Lepore's impassioned personal view that anything except feeding directly from the breast is horrible overrode everything historical and social she had to say about the subject (seriously, I don't know what a breast pump ever did to her, but it must have been awful, judging from her vitriol about feeding your child pumped breast milk). She tries to couch this view in a very thin layer of maternity-leave-reform, but, well, what she seems to be saying is that working American mothers should have to take a year's paid maternity leave for the sole purpose of having the baby attached to our breasts for that entire year.

Unsurprisingly, I have issues with this. God knows if a year's paid maternity leave was an option, that would be a beautiful thing, but I doubt I'd leave work that long (my job is in an ever-changing IT field, and it would be extremely difficult for me to keep up with a year's worth of new versions of our systems from home), and even if breastfeeding had been a perfect, easy thing from day one (Lepore makes the irritating assumption that it always is and that women only pump or supplement because they had to go back to work), I would probably want to put the baby down now and then. I'm callous like that.

So, yeah. Bad timing on that chapter. Otherwise I liked the book very much.

The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Silver Mine, by Gregg Olsen. The story of a horrible, fatal mine fire in Idaho in 1972. Pretty grim and unrelenting. 

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett. Patchett's memoir / memorial for her friend Lucy Grealy, a poet and cancer survivor who died of a drug overdose at 39. I do like Patchett's writing, but the problem with this book is that Lucy as described has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. She just comes across as a blindingly self-centered and needy person who uses everyone around her. This is pretty typical for an active addict, but where and how she found quite so many people to enable her for so long is not explored: if it was just Patchett, with her admitted Catholic guilt, that would make some sense, but Grealy appears to have a whole network of people willing to pay her rent and clean up after her and take her to the hospital, while she merrily self-destructs. In my experience of addiction, this generally works in one's early twenties, but by the time you reach your late thirties, if you're still behaving like this the only people around you will be people who are behaving the same way, and who are therefore in no position to help you out. Grealy managed to maintain a safety net of people who were financially and emotionally stable, even as she behaved like a sullen teenager her entire life, and so there must have been something about her from which these people derived benefit or pleasure, but Patchett doesn't show us what that was. So I felt like I was just reading about someone being used for twenty years, complete with Patchett throwing in a faint and vague "you can't understand how amazing this person was" defensiveness now and then, but never coming up with anything to write down that actually was amazing about her. Very uncomfortable-making. 

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials, by Marilynne K. Roach. SO DULL. Trying to stay awake with this book and a slow-feeding baby at three a.m. was like fighting chloroform.

Baby-and-music update: reaction to Vivaldi was decent. Maybe I won't give her back just yet.