[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.