Wednesday, August 27, 2014

baby FAQ, month four

Q. What have you read lately?

A: The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen, by Susan Bordo. Fun, intelligent popular history / pop culture exploration of what we actually know about Anne Boleyn (a very small amount, given the lack of source material and the propaganda around her in all directions) and what we as a culture think we know about her. The first half of the book is about the historical record and the contemporary depictions of Anne; the second half is about depictions of her in literature and film since and how those change to reflect the times. Bordo does come off as scolding other writers quite a bit, and at the very end gets a little weird about feminism (pro? con? trying to claim we're all too postmodern for the label? I couldn't tell), but it's a smart and enjoyable book. 

Re-read In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. Still pretty impressive, though the true-crime tendency (which I believe Capote started) towards printing long letters or manifestos written by angry, often racist, almost always misogynist, uneducated criminals, is something with which I have no patience. Didn't want to be in Gary Gilmore's head; don't want to be in Perry Smith's either. Skipped right over those parts without even skimming.

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. Was this (enormous) book amazing and beautiful and an awesome display of Helprin's imaginative powers? You bet it was! Did I skim the hell out of the last 300 pages? You know I did! At a certain point I simply could not spend another twenty minutes of my life reading a description of an aggressively whimsical building or a bizarre philosophical conversation between two hobos (I've seen "Waiting for Godot" something like six times, so I'm good, thanks), and once animal cruelty and infant death came into the picture, I was just like, "LA LA LA," and whisked through to the end.

Q: How is Perdita?

A: So awesome. I am absolutely obsessed with her babbling and cooing, not to mention her laughter.

Q: Any screaming?

A: If I try to listen to anything but NPR in the car, yes. She is not into music while driving these days, but will sit wide-eyed and thoughtful-looking while terrible things are reported in soothing voices and Mama says choice words in a less soothing voice.

Q: As you travel more and for longer periods of time with her, how is bottle-feeding in public going?

A: I never would have thought that not whipping a boob out in public could, on occasion, make me so self-conscious. But fortunately no one has yet given me overt shit about it (one dude did tell me I had her "facing the wrong way", but I couldn't tell whether he was concerned for my child's nutritional needs or just wished my shirt was open).

Q: A mother feeding her baby in public is fair game either way, no? Either she has to have a boob out in public, and risk skeeviness or hostility, or someone's going to comment on the bottle.   

A: Far better someone comment on the bottle than that a public space not be nursing-friendly, though. After all, barring someone actually knocking the bottle out of my hand, which even the most ardent member of the Breastapo is unlikely to do, Perdita's not going to go hungry because a space is pro-breast-feeding. And being a mother in public generally means someone's going to give you unsolicited advice no matter what you do. 

Q: Is it still hard to feel supported and validated in your bottle-feeding? 

A: Alas, yes. I'm so, so happy with our lives as they are. Perdita's growing like a weed (she's in six-month onesies because she's so tall) and sleeping through the night; since we weaned I've lost all but seven pounds of the pregnancy weight (I know, they all tell you it only works the other way around, but I didn't lose an ounce while breast-feeding, because it made me hungrier than I'd been while pregnant and chained me to the couch and the pumping chair); and I'm able to get the cancer screenings I need. I am so much happier since I put that pump away, and I know that I made the right choice for my health and my family. But. 

The exclusion I feel from the maternal inner circle, from this perfect ideal of What Motherhood Should Be, is pretty severe. I know that that ideal exists mostly in my own head, and that all parents have their struggles and doubts, no matter how healthy and organic-cotton-scented their lives appear from the outside. But breast-feeding has such potency as a symbolic act, and for me it took on the weight of Motherhood Visibly Done Right. I've never thought of myself as the warm maternal sort, or as a natural mother. I felt like I did pregnancy completely wrong by hating almost every minute of the nine-month experience (perhaps someday I'll post about my wicked antepartum depression, which I didn't even know was a thing but which made my last trimester one of the hardest periods of my life), and that I would be doing a major part of motherhood wrong by going back to work full-time and early, and so I already felt excluded from the inner circle of good happy natural mothers well before the baby came along. Nursing was pretty much my only chance at redeeming myself, and when it turned out to be such a disaster - and when it became apparent that the choice to stop completely was going to be something I would have to fight for - I felt so, so alone. I've not quite gotten over that feeling yet. 

I suspect that almost every parent has something which makes them feel excluded from the inner circle of perfect parenthood, whether it be an economic situation, a child's special needs, a non-traditional family structure, or the fact that the kid hates the Moby Wrap*. I know I'm not alone in feeling alone, and that if I were exclusively breast-feeding I'd just find something else about which to feel inadequate and isolated. I don't regret my decision, but some days I still feel like the clubhouse sign says ONLY BOOBS ALLOWED.

Okay, I really will try to stop being defensive about it. Getting to be a little bit of a broken record around here.

Q: Speaking of music, what is your husband's idea of making a Johnny Cash song baby-appropriate?

A: "Early one morning while making the rounds / I took a shot of cocaine and I rented a clown."

Q: And you wonder why she sometimes shrieks in her sleep.

*While I was still technically on leave, Perdita and I went into work for two trainings; for one I snuggled her into the Moby Wrap like a good nurturing mama, and for the other I left her strapped into her heartless, head-flattening car seat. Guess which training she slumbered through angel-fashion and which training I missed nine-tenths of because I was out in the hall with an inconsolable screamer. Since then the Moby has lain in the car's back seat absorbing spills. 


  1. I will sing the "rented a clown" version forever from this day forward.