Breaking the waters

posted May 24, 2006

The fact that Lila’s birth began with the very unexpected breaking of my waters seems like an apt metaphor for what I have so far (in my grand total of two whole weeks) come to understand about parenthood. I had been hoping to avoid what I grew up seeing all around me: parents blaming their children for ruining their lives and children blaming their parents for the same. Parents complaining that the children fed off of them like parasites and that they no longer had any time for themselves; children claiming the parents never really paid attention to them. One big blame game. But here I was with the facts: the amniotic sack ruptured. An act of God if ever there was one. Not my fault. Not Lila’s fault either, even though some people sent sweet notes saying, “She must have really wanted to be with you guys to come so early.” I myself thought she was eager enough to attend the shower that was scheduled for May 6, she might make her entrance early. But given that she had so much trouble breathing once she arrived on the scene, I quickly came to doubt that her early arrival was her own doing. It’s not like she had a Swiss Army knife in there, or even fingernails. No one’s fault; no one’s plan, exactly. It just was.

Lila arrived and immediately, my life turned inside out, like one of those silk scarves magicians use, with one color inside and the other outside. I felt then and continue to feel completely skinless, as if there is no amniotic sack protecting me from the incredible joy and incredible pain of the world. I look down at her lovely little face and the tears well up in my eyes at the thought that she and I won’t be together forever and ever, that I will die, that my parents will die, that she will grow up and have to go through the seventh grade, that she’ll get too heavy for me to hold in one arm, the way I can now (she’s just five pounds.) In short, I don’t want anything to change from this moment of pure perfection. And, as Anne Lamott stated so potently (and accurately) in her memoir of her son’s first year of life (Operating Instructions), if anything were to happen to her, “I would be f-cked unto the Lord.”

A daughter! A little girl! I have to say, I’m relieved. As all my psychic friends plus the majority of the old wives tales insisted me I was having a boy, I prepared accordingly, buying a blue rug with dinosaurs and eschewing anything pink. I love boys, and was looking forward to raising one, but a girl was what I always wanted, especially as my first child. I have two sisters, no brothers, four aunts and no biological uncles. Even my dogs were all females up until Cody. I went to two all girls’ schools, worked in two different girls dorms, taught mostly girls, wrote songs about mostly girls. I know girls. I figure with all the other curveballs parenthood will surely toss my way, it will be nice to be ahead of the game in this one respect.

What I was not prepared for was the overwhelming, physical love for my child which gripped me from the moment I set eyes upon her. She was placed in my hands and I instantly felt my heart grow at least three sizes, like the Grinch’s. Then she was whisked away and placed under oxygen to help her little lungs adjust to the world outside her watery womb. I didn’t hold her again for thirty-six hours, but once I did I haven’t let go, much. Tom gets to hold her (though we fight over whose turn it is constantly) but no one else. Hey, I never said I wasn’t selfish.

My friend Melany is a neo-natal nurse, and she explained the motherhood gig like this: you take in, you take on, you take over. I liked the sound of that, especially the take over part. So I diligently tried to learn everything the nurses told me to do, particularly in the breastfeeding department. As I was resting in the post partum room, one of the post labor nurses informed me that I was anemic following the delivery and needed to eat more foods with iron. “Beef, spinach and yams,” she said, and of course, wanting everyone to like me and think I’m a good little patient, I immediately began my iron rich regimen, complete with an iron supplement. Another nurse, whom Tom swore was an ex-nun, wielded her authority cleverly, by first telling you that all the other nurses were incorrect and/or liars, and only she really cared enough about you to give you the straight truth. Then she terrified you with the consequences of your doing anything other than what she recommended. Her method of making sure Lila was awake enough to breastfeed properly (an issue as Lila was 4 lbs 13 oz at the time) was to vigorously pinch her tiny ears and rub her head so forcefully that I was afraid she’d give my daughter whiplash. Initially. I took this in, and then tried to take it on once home, only to find that there were other more humane ways of getting Lila awake enough to eat. This same nurse also said the reason Lila was gassy was because of all the spinach I ate. “Iron,” she sighed, shaking her head. “Babies just don’t like it.” And again, I had to remember, no one’s fault; this is just one of those situations. And here’s where the parental transformation reveals itself: I immediately stopped taking the iron supplements (though I continue to eat spinach. The idea that spinach has a lot of iron is a conspiracy perpetuated by the creators of Popeye.)

I’d like to veer off topic for a moment to mention that my whole life is about breastfeeding these days. No one really tells you that your body completely stops being your body once you have an infant. I eagerly signed up for breastfeeding when I heard that breastfed babies have way fewer colds, flus, have lower obesity rates as adults, are more likely to be young Einsteins and Michael Jordans, can leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc. etc. Plus, the idea of spending thousands of dollars on formula didn’t appeal when the good Lord gave me plenty of what my child needs for free. But I somehow slept through the part about how you breast feed for a good half hour at a time and have to do a feeding every two hours, three max. Figuring into this equation the fact that premature babies don’t really want to do anything passionately besides sleep, there’s a good fifteen minutes devoted to rousing our teeny child for each feeding. This means, I really am spending more than half my life focused on feeding my baby these days. Once she is latched on and grooving at the job, I have huge impulses to multitask. I want to talk on the phone, check my email, read my Dr. Sears Baby book, have a meal, get Tom to entertain me, watch TV, listen to the new Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions CD (a blog topic in and of itself!) and fantasize about doing the laundry and rearranging all the furniture in my house. But if I do these things, I inevitably fail to notice that my baby has fall off the breast and is dangling, half asleep from her little nursing cushion (marketed as-I kid you not-“My Brest Friend.”) Yet another annoying lesson in the virtues of mindfulness.

In the novel I wrote called The Big Idea, there is a character named Rhodie Becket who has a baby named Margarita. Every time Rhodie, a member of a folk band, tried to pick up her guitar and practice a little, Margarita would wail, as if uncannily knowing that the guitar was her main competition for her mother’s attention. Sitting in my customary spot on the sofa with Lila at my breast, I gazed across the room at my own little Martin, once the apple of my eye, standing forlornly on its stand, completely neglected. Once or twice last week, I tried to pick it up. I got as far as tuning it when Lila began crying from her basket where I’d hoped she would take a nap. I had two songs written for her in the womb, which I wanted to sing for her, but she would have none of it. Until today. Today, Tom held her and I sang. I’d like to report that my child awoke, opened her almond shaped blue eyes and gazed at me with sudden recognition and devotion: “That’s the voice and sound I heard so close to my head for all those months in my watery warm little world, the world I inhabited, I thought, alone. But no! She was with me all along!” Nope. Lila just fussed and squiggled around as usual. Her mother, on the other hand, wept big old tears, fusing finally the song with the intended audience. She’ll hear it properly one day, when the time is right. I can wait till then.

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