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Almost 6 years

I’d forgotten about this blog.

And what’s funny is that after rediscovering it, I’m noticing my now-6-year-old asking me often whether this is a dream. Are we awake? Am I dreaming? Is this real?

Out of a dream and into this. Whatever this is. Everything that this is.

Life really is amazing. All the curiosity, wonder, discoveries of it. And rediscoveries.

Jinx

Well I really screwed myself with that last post. It’s like when I laugh at someone who has hiccups (I’ve learned NOT to do this…) and then get them immediately after. It all started with the line “When milk is spit up all over my shoulder, I don’t immediately need to change my shirt…”

I had been worrying that sometimes she spit up a little too much, and maybe it was puke. Maybe she was sick … but all of the information I could dig up online said “you’ll know vomit when you see it.” Not really very helpful, but oh so true! Of course, it took being vomited all over to learn that it was true. All over my shirt, pants clinging to my thighs wet with regurgitated milk, spattered on the rocking chair, and dousing the yoga mat spread out on the floor for play time.

Oh yes, we welcomed our very first virus into her wee body. I’ve tried to explain to her that since we’re breastfeeding she should let me get sick first. Then she would be able to breeze through with nary a cough, riding high on the work of my immune system. But no, she was a go-getter, tackling that bug on her own and then joyfully sharing it with me so we could share sleepless, snotty nights.

And when I say joyfully, I do actually mean it. She was a trooper throughout the week-long illness and following week of patchy coughs and leaking noses. She actually laughed after the first time she spewed all over me and the room. I’m sure she did feel a lot better after getting that out, but I didn’t expect laughter from a sick baby.

A tale worth telling

There seems to be a general consensus that becoming a mother changes you. I’ll admit I’ve seen it happen. Rock stars turned into prudes. Free spirits racked with fear.

Many things have changed for me. When milk is spit up all over my shoulder, I don’t immediately need to change my shirt. I hardly even find it disturbing. I sleep a lot less and appreciate the smaller blocks of sleep I get … all without getting grumpy over being woken up in the middle of the night (like I used to). And breastfeeding fascinates me where it used to make me slightly uncomfortable. I thought those women breastfeeding on planes or in stores wanted privacy, and maybe they do. But I’m coming to realize that it’s not that big of an issue, at least to a mother with a hungry baby. Now I’m filled with curiosity when anyone talks about it: How does she hold her baby? Does the baby claw maniacally at her breast (like my daughter sometimes does) throughout the feeding?

But who I am isn’t one of the things that has changed. If anything, I feel that it is important to be more me than ever. To recapture the energy, curiosity, and urge to explore that has taken a backseat to things like school, house renovations, and falling into the trap of money worries that have taken up most of my time the past two years. The person I want my daughter to know is the one who tangoed in the snow on an Alaskan trail, who spent New Year’s Eve in a crazy bar in Brussels the night they switched to the Euro, who slept on a train bunk bed in Spain on Halloween, who goes on a road trip to see an amazing singer performing over a thousand miles away (multiple times), who thinks of something fun and exciting and does it …

Having a child makes me want to do more, see more, be more. With her. Not to curl up in a safe place and fret over the recalls, pedophiles, viral infection of the year, and other hyped up threats to life. In the words of one of my favorite poems “Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.

In The Wild…

In the wild, I’d be dead. Something in the past four months would have killed me, that is if I’d made it this far to begin with.

It’s possible I’d have made it through the birth. The medical industry is after all balanced upon a notion of fear. So it’s possible that when they scared me into allowing forceps to be used because it was the final dance on the way to an emergency C-section after 28 hours of labor … they may have been exaggerating. She did shoot out on her own before they even got the forceps unwrapped after all. But then there was the tearing and bleeding. And the constant bleeding for 8 weeks that followed delivery, which sent me back to another emergency room for another round of prod the woman and try to understand the mysteries of the reproductive system.

The one thing I learned in this process of pregnancy and birth is that no one knows anything.

Really, I’ve known that for a long time. I even wrote a paper about it for my master’s degree that caused a professor to question my emotional balance. (Why is it that radical questioning is seen as depressing? I find it exciting.) But somehow I did not understand that it applied to pregnancy and birth. There’s just so much literature on the topics that I figure somewhere in there, there was some knowledge. Nope. It’s all guesswork.

According to the literature I had everything going for me. It should have been an easy birth. I did yoga through the entire pregnancy. I was one of two women in the birth class who could squat down to the floor and stand back up on my own at 33 weeks. I could still touch my toes and shave my legs to the end. As for the labor itself, we set it all up to be in a non-stressful environment at the birthing center. We had food, drinks, music, a jacuzzi tub, and no drugs. Drugs have been shown to slow down labor, make it take longer and be more difficult. That’s funny because in 20 hours I dilated 4 cm without drugs in a relaxed, nurturing environment. At that point the midwife wanted me to rest so she shuttled me off to the emergency room where they plugged an epidural in my back an hour later. In that time of high intensity stress I dilated another 2cm, which hadn’t happened in hours of transitional labor. Then I slept for four hours and finished dilating. I don’t know about all that research, but drugs seemed to make my labor faster and less painful. My water didn’t break until right before our daughter shot out. (And by right before, I probably mean about an hour before since the pushing phase took hours and it’s all a big blur to me.) Supposedly that alone should make the entire process less painful. Instead I had back labor for 28 hours.

An even bigger area of guesswork is breastfeeding. There is so much contradictory information floating around that I don’t even know how the milk is made. It seems like a high school anatomy class should be able to cover this topic, but apparently not. Some resources say the baby experiences many tastes and textures through the breast milk, introducing her to a variety of food through her mother’s diet. Others say the mother can live off of cheesy poofs and diet cola for all they care, the baby will still get the same nutrients. The mother will just feel horribly drained. Folk sources say eating gassy foods leads to gassy babies. Scientific resources say milk contents come from the blood, so nothing that causes gas in the mother’s digestive system passes into the baby’s system. Lactation experts say the foods the mother eats can increase and decrease her milk supply. Others say there’s nothing you can do about milk supply. It’s all just a big mess of possible information.

And if I had made it through the delivery, breastfeeding would have surely killed me by now. I’m recovering from mastitis attack number two. Lucky that I can support my daughter with my milk supply, but unable to do so in a manner that keeps me healthy.

Mastitis is an exciting infection. It makes your entire body hurt. The latest attack began creeping up on me Friday afternoon. I was confused when my fingers ached as I changed a diaper. That was odd. And somehow my daughter had gained a ton of weight overnight, because she was so heavy to lift I could hardly play with her.

The best part is when the fever kicks in. When I get a fever I’m sort of like a stoner, I think I’m really really smart all of a sudden. The thoughts that are racing through my head are pure brilliance, shining diamonds in the sky. Magical.

Even before the thermometer would register a fever I lay in bed, because being up was too difficult, with my whole body aching. My skin hurt where it was touching the sheets. I wanted to sleep. But my pre-fevered brain was not having any of that. It was excited. I lay there for 2…3…4 hours thinking mad thoughts. In that time I composed an application to Google’s Fiber for Communities on behalf of my neighborhood, figured out important aspects of my dissertation — I may have even completed the literature review, wrote those thank you notes that I have been unable to get to, and blasted through a few posts to this blog. This streak of productivity hardly compares to the other time I had a fever and theorized on the progressive nature of consciousness concluding that it is a virus passed on during the prenatal period.

Of course, I was lying there sweating through my sheets and didn’t have a pen and paper much less a keyboard near me so there’s no knowing whether those compositions were anywhere near as magnificent as I thought they were. If I’m really like a stoner, then it’s probably for the best that these ramblings stay in my memory rather than scrawled across the walls.

Why babies are amazing

Before I had a baby I did NOT think babies were amazing, awe inspiring, or even adorable. Babies do baby things. We’ve all been babies. It’s nothing impressive, it’s actually quite mundane.

Of course now I think my daughter is all of these things and more. How can this be reconciled?

Other than the simple need for survival, a biological imperative for the child to be cute and the parent to fall in love with the child, I like to explain it away with exploratory curiosity. Mine and hers.

It’s really not interesting to see a clip of the development. Say you’re a friend of the family and you see the child every few weeks. The child goes through huge developmental milestones between each visit. And you are rewarded with spit bubbles or hearing about cooing or rolling over. None of which are very impressive on their own.

The real magic is in the effort, the process behind the steps, and the realizations each one brings. The journey is, truly, the destination. In fact the end-point destinations are boring, by the time they’re in sight there is something new on the horizon to explore.

Hands? Check. Been watching them for weeks, think I understand their function and am now able to control them without inflicting facial damage. But what are those other things down there that are usually covered with socks that seem to also have phalanges I can grip things with … ?

Ah yes, the daughter is now staring at her feet. I imagine they will soon be making their way into her mouth, just like everything else.

Accepting Slumber

Even as adults we often struggle with sleep. Lack of time devoted to sleep, important intrusions, thoughts spinning so enchantingly they keep us awake when we do have the time and peace for sweet slumber …

But it seems like a different kind of struggle for a baby. It’s those limbs again. The brain and limbs are connected in a dance that is inching toward mastery. But when the body and brain are exhausted the moves that were smooth during the day become twitchy. Hands that have learned how to clasp one another suddenly smack into the face instead of the other hand. The face that was so peacefully relaxed, eyes closed. Or suddenly both arms are spinning and legs are kicking.

When our daughter is on the verge of sleep these spasmodic actions, which seem divided by left and right more than arms and legs, usually just makes her turn her head from side to side and whimper or grunt depending on how long the flailing lasts. She seems to be a lover of sleep, willing to put up with a little bodily imprudence as long as it will soon fade into slumber with her.

Eyes & Laughter

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with eyes. As a child I would see faces in everything: my parents and I sitting at the table (“you’re the eyes, I’m the nose”), the patterns of plate settings and those on the dishes themselves. In fact, I still do. Just last week I told my mother that her pepper grinder looked like it had eyes.

Eyes are outlets, inlets, and everything in between. I can identify people by their eyes alone. I always look into people’s eyes.  Looking into eyes offers a sense of understanding. So much can be said with eyes.

If you want to interact with our daughter, you have to look her straight in the eyes. They’ll light up, she’ll smile, she’ll flail around and laugh. If you don’t look her in the eyes, she’ll turn and talk to her favorite stuffed frog who just happens to have huge eyes that are always open and concentrated on her.

Magical Hands

The arc of physical control that we experience jumped out at me as I was reading a novel. In it an elderly man sits at a window, knowing his death is just around the corner. He attempts to raise his hands up to the trees he’s watching, but they just tremble instead. At this point in his life he can think back upon all of the strength they had in them, all of the things those hands have done. Yet he finds all he has left to control is his voice …

And that too is how we come into this life. Screaming, with no understanding of language but at least some control over our vocal cords. Our heads flop, necks too weak to support them. Hands, arms, and legs flail meaninglessly for months. At some point we make the connection that those arms magically are a part of our bodies. Our bodies to control. Once the synapses begin to connect.

It’s a slow process. One that seems to require vast consumption of milk and near constant sleep. My daughter is still going through this process. I can see the concentration in her serious eyes, her still face, as she pinwheels her arms around and kicks her legs. Crosses her eyes and learns to pull them out again.

At 10 weeks old, this week, she managed to reach out and grab both hands of a stuffed frog — one in each of her hands. With that accomplishment she laughed out loud, yet another new discovery on her ride through life. The two of us sat laughing together. She continues to learn to use those tiny little hands, and her curiosity about other hands has begun. She stares at our hands as they go through the motions of daily living that have become so routine to us yet hold so much mystery and power to her developing mind and body.

Out of a Dream

This is a story about life. Not my life, but about the beginnings (and endings) of life. About how we come in and go out, how we adapt to our bodies and learn about our worlds.