All This Intensive Labor Just So I Get My Heart Broken?

posted August 8, 2006

In the proverbial village in which I live, one of my elders gave me a book when Lila was born. The book is called Oneness and Separateness: From Infant to Individual and it’s by Louise J. Kaplan. That’s about all I know, since I’ve read very little beyond and the New York Times since Lila was born, but this much I did manage to glean in my bleary eyed 2am post-nursing readings: the baby and the mother start out as one and, from the moment of conception on, begin a process of individuation. In other words, or from my occasional perspective, breaking up is hard to do.

Lila turned 3 months last week, and after a blissful honeymoon in which she snuggled with us in bed every night, traveled with us everywhere in her Baby Bjorn, Guatamala wrap or hand-me-down sling, happily sleeping on our bodies for hours at a time (attachment parenting experts call this “baby wearing” and we wore our baby with joy!) she began to exhibit very clear signs of wanting some more independence. Now, other mothers and child experts might take issue with me (in fact, I know some who would hang me out to dry for what I’m about to say), but what Tom and I noticed in our child was a distinct unhappiness with the status quo. Where she used to like taking naps on our bodies, she was growing quickly discontent, squirming and fussing after only a ten minute catnap. And yet, when we tried to put her down to sleep in a more independent place (like our bed, her crib, the sofa, a swing, the car seat) she seemed unable to fall asleep, almost as if she didn’t know how. She whimpered and cried and scratched her face and Tom and I looked at each other with the uncatagorizable misery every parent feels when his or her child is unhappy. Moreover, we began to notice that nighttimes weren’t quite so cuddly. By about 2am, she began kicking off her wrap, boxing me in the breasts and generally raising a ruckus. She seemed tired all day long, and yet unable to sleep. What gave?

We talked to every parent we knew, past and present; to our lactation consultant, to our childbirth expert, to our pediatrician. And we got all sorts of advice: your baby’s too young for a schedule; your baby should have had a schedule weeks ago. Your baby needs to sleep with you; keeping your baby in bed COULD KILL THE BABY AND THE MARRIAGE! Etc. Etc. Etc. Why is it that child rearing brings out such strong passions in us? Hmmmm.

The best advice, and the advice we finally took, was this: every baby is an individual and every parent is too. Love your baby, watch your baby, tune in to yourself and make choices in the moment that seem like the next right step. Ah! Familiar advice, finally.

And so, last week, we began to try to “teach” Lila how to sleep. We did whatever it took. We sang to her, we read her books, we held her and rocked her, we lay her in her crib, we let her suck on our little fingers. Once or twice, I even crawled with her into the crib, stroking her back until she fell asleep. Quite early on, we had success with morning and afternoon naps. And then, a few nights ago, for the very first time, Lila went to sleep in her own crib at 8pm. Tom sang her ten verses of “High Ho the Rattlin’ Bog” and she was out. When he came back to our bedroom without the baby, I sat up and cried and cried and cried. I just missed her so much. All this intensive labor just so I’d get my heart broken? Is this the parenting deal? (Don’t answer that.)

When Lila was born, I felt a kind of completeness, a wholeness, I’ve never experienced before. I thought, “all my problems are solved.” It was not unlike the feeling of falling in love, come to think of it. And we all know the end of that story. Healthy or not healthy, soul mate or big mistake, sooner or later a blissful couple who seemed uncannily alike, who seemed like twins separated at birth, eventually find out that one of them likes organic half and half and the other secretly prefers Coffeemate. Or that some beloved in-law is completely impossible for the one not related to her. Or that the perfect guy is actually married (see Grey’s Anatomy, the end of the first season. Can you tell I’ve been completely dependent on Netflix this summer?)

So far, mothering has been somewhat similar. I am madly in love with my child; I believe her to be perfect in every way; I want to spend my whole life staring at her little eyelashes…and I can’t wait for her next nap so I can go do something for myself, like practice yoga, go for a run, write in my journal, cook a meal, take a shower, call a friend and not be interrupted. And then, ten minutes after she’s down, I miss her so terribly my heart feels like her two tiny hands are wringing it. I steal into her room and stare at her sleeping body—is there anything cuter?- and watch as she sucks on an invisible breast, wiggles her toes, her chest rising and falling so steadily. I want to give up my whole life for her.

And I know (from past experience) that that’s not necessarily the best thing I could do for her. When I see families that seem to do it right, I see moms and dads who spend lots of time with their kids AND they have interesting lives outside the house. They go on playdates AND they hire a babysitter to have grown up dates. They listen to Dan Zanes and his Rocket Ship Review AND watch Margaret Cho DVDs. So I practice my yoga and meditation; I (try to) write in my journal (and not always about Lila) I go on dates with my husband and I think about the books I am writing, the songs I am singing, the albums I am working on, the environmental choices I am making.

And I try to savor every single moment I get with this amazing little girl who changes so much from one day to the next. I hold her in my arms and let her nurse, watching as she pulls away to give me one of her half crooked, slightly drunken grins. We are two different people, from two different generations who will have two totally different experiences walking on planet earth. But for now, we’re together.

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