Desi is five months old today! And to celebrate, he spent the past week screaming and squeezing out real human tears and generally not sleeping at all. Meanwhile I lay on his floor in a semi consciousness, my back seizing as I augmented the batteries in his swing with vigorous pushings the likes of which usually put him to sleep but which this week only managed to reduce him to the soft growl stage.
And then lo! This very evening! Out pops a sharp little tooth, his very first one!
Ah. Well then. That makes perfect sense, then. Grow on!
One of the things that so freaked me out when I was pregnant were the (always sourceless) romantic-doom statistics that people kept quoting at me. Couples fight eight times more frequently after they have a baby! A couple’s split rate is highest in the baby’s first year! And so on and on. It got me worrying that by having a baby, I was recklessly gambling with my heretofore happy relations with Marco, and I wasn’t entirely sure I would prefer what lurked behind Curtain Number Two. Harmonious little family? Buxom blond astride cantankerous burrow? Matching bedroom set?
And having this baby has indeed been hard on our relationship. There are all the obvious reasons: the crippling lack of sleep, the crimped sex life, the sudden inability to hit the town at will. But also I’m not…entirely…at my best right now? Rather I’m an unkempt shrew with confusingly large and leaky breasts, snapping clichéd complaints at Marco (“Don’t Wake the Baby,” “Why Are You Spending Time with The Boys (and Not Helping Me at Home),” and “Money”) through clenched, unbrushed teeth.
My unattraction goes beyond the poor hygiene and poor-me whining. On a deeper level, I fear I’ve gotten into the bad habit of letting my lesser, more selfish self take the brain reins.
As a pregnant woman, you’re given the green light to be bitchy and whimsically needy. Bring me the black rose from the top of Mount Impossible! And some marzipan ice cream! Over the duration of my pregnancy, the basic human lessons I mastered in kindergarten — how to be nice, how to share, how to temper my tantrums — slowly began to unravel.
I keep thinking of this irrational pregnancy behavior as a deer run. Despite the No Trespassing signs, you let yourself go down it again and again, and eventually the overgrown little trail becomes a beaten path. Then a road. Then a freeway. Until finally it’s the only route you ever take, regardless of your destination. Crave a delicious morning bun(s) for breakfast? Don’t ask your pardner nicely if he would be so kind as to get them for you, provided he has time, or (crazy) go get them yourself. No! Stamp your feet instead! Weep! Wave your scepter! Until the world bends to your will and those mawesome rolls are placed, as if by magic, at your swollen feet.
Oh but then the baby pops out and suddenly you’re deprived of the blank check a swollen belly gives you to be a complete monster. Unfortunately by that time you’ve developed nasty habits of voicing your every frustration and expecting to have every whim satisfied. But weirdly your mate is no longer in any way willing to indulge these habits? Especially now that there’s a new kid in town, screaming and wailing out his every whim and frustration?
Another small but not insignificant part of the problem is that Marco and I are now spending more time in each other’s company than ever, never before. Constant togetherness is nice if you’re on vacation, sunning your parts on the Lido Deck. But it can be nerve-wearing over the longer, less-sunny haul of parenthood, especially during these dark newborn days, a frantic, sweaty time steeped in ineptitude and self doubt, and getting increasingly tense and pressurized. And when I’m finally ready to blow my top, a state I achieve at least five times a day, the only adult in range of the molten vileness is Marco. And vice versa!
Best of all, we exchange the majority of our petty hissing while desperately trying to get the baby to sleep, a time when we can’t actually hear anything due to the brain-fraying murrr of the omni-constant white noise machine — fuzzy static being a key aural ingredient in out constant battle to get and keep the baby asleep.
Evany, muttering: [Some sort of complaint wrapped in criticism infused with passive aggression.]
Marco, in a whisper-yell: “What?!”
Evany, eyes rolling: “Huh!?”
Miami Sound Machine: Murrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Until we just about want to stab each other’s brains out with forks. Quietly.
Of course it doesn’t help that the door to our bedroom is being propped open with a bowling pin, which randomly topples just as the baby’s drifting off to sleep. The hair-trigger smoke alarm isn’t doing us any favors, either.
Still, I think we’re doing okay, despite the alarm bells and hissing fits. We manage to find things to laugh about every day, and there are definite bright spots…sipping coffee in bed, decorating the tree, singing at the baby. Good, cockle-warming days! But for the first time ever, I can understand how something as small as a baby might unravel an otherwise happy twosome. Just as I can now see how a woman might go so crazy as to drive her kids into a lake, something I could in no possible way fathom before. Not that I would ever do such a thing. (Relax!) But I can sense the first icy glimmers of how such things could go that far.
It’s scary! But it’s a helpful scariness, the kind that keeps me alert and watchful and determined not to let things spiral downward. It also gives me a new empathy and forgiveness for parents, or anyone who makes bad decisions, or lets their lesser self take charge, or lets a good thing come to an end. And I kind of like this kinder, tender-er view of my world? But yeah: More sleep, please, and a pinch less petulant shrieking and kneejerkiness.
Extracting milk from your person while on the job is a complicated business. First you need a portable pump, which costs a surprising number of dollars (thankfully I got mine secondhand from a friend), then you need an ample supply of freezable storage containers, plus an insulated bag for transporting the goods.
At the office you have to reserve the “Mommy Room,” a strange Microsoft Outlookian process that involves inviting the room itself to series of recurring meetings. You may find yourself doing this incorrectly the first go-round, resulting in a “Mommy Room has refused your invitation” email that will leave you feeling oddly spurned.
Once you and the Mommy Room come to an accord and you have your designated timeslot, it’s time to get pumping. The pump itself is incredibly, conspicuously loud. Luckily the Room is conveniently located right off the main hallway, so there’s always a steady parade of people walking past, perfectly positioned to hear you in there, chugging away like a little engine that could. Also there’s a sign posted in the Room instructing mommies not to lock the door. So there you are, separated from your coworkers by just one thin, unlocked door, with your exposed nipples twisting in the wind. Feeling exposed? Like a sheepish milking cow? Yes and yes.
When you’re done, you can put your haul in the provided mini-fridge, however there’s no place to clean the detachable suction-cup apparatus. That you have to rinse off in the employee kitchen up the hall, right where everyone’s preparing their lunches. (My apologies, gentle coworker, for splashing human milk on your pulled-pork sandwich! Oh, this? This is my suction cup. For my naked breasts, which I ask you to please stop visualizing. Hey, is this decaf fresh?)
The logistics are challenging enough, but the truly hard part is the dent the twice-daily pumpings leaves in your schedule. All told, you’re pumping at least an hour a day. This means the length of your workday, a day already truncated to the barest minimum by your need to get home to be with the baby, is even shorter. Also you’re brain damaged with sleep deprivation. And your chest is leaking.
Starting at 9am tomorrow, I’ll be back at work after a little over four months bonding with the baby at home. On a perhaps related note, my back appears to have gone out, so as I launder my work clothes and pack up breast pump, there’s a depressingly aged stoop in my step.
With my return to my cube looming large, it occurs to me that this past four months with the baby are probably the longest solid stretch of time that I’ll ever spend with this kid. From here on in, his day-carers and teachers and parole officers will enjoy more together time with him than I ever will.
It makes me sad that I haven’t enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime togetherness more. I spent the first nine-tenths of my maternity leave in a “fumbling to keep baby alive” sweat, feeling like I was faking my way through a job for which I was vastly underqualified. It’s only in these last few weeks that the panic has started to thaw into some kind of glimmer of “maybe I can actually do this“ness. So of course, just as I start to get my sea legs, it’s back to the sea-salt mines.
Part of me wishes that I could take more time off, enough to really start feeling competent, maybe even confident, about this whole motherhood thing. On the other hand, when I watch the nanny we’ve lined up for our nannyshare sit with the baby, I’m striken by how much more attentive a babysitter she is. No watching So You Think You Can Dance over the baby’s shoulder for her! No teetering the baby in front of the computer while she checks email! She’s engaged and upbeat, where I’m stressy and overtired.
So maybe Desi’s better off with me at work? And maybe it’s better for me that I’ll be going back while my maternity leave is hitting a good note, a la Cheers going off the air when the getting was still good?
Or maybe America does it wrong, and I should move to some scandi-land where new parents get six thousand weeks of m/paternity leave, and all the children end up multilingual and well-adjusted and tan. And buses are made of marzipan! And the streets whiff of sun-warmed kitten fur! And new mothers walk perfectly erect!
Today’s Desi’s four-month birthday! And to celebrate, we did possibly one of the most hippiest, dippiest thing ever (aside from the whole birthing tub/homebirth extravaganza itself): Marco dug a hole in the backyard and we planted a wee baby lemon tree…atop the baby’s placenta!
I know. I know! But really, on the tie-dyed rainbow of insane things people do with placentas, a spectrum that includes placenta pills, placenta jerky, and surprise placenta-chili parties, planting it in the backyard was actually fairly tame. And somehow it didn’t seem right to just dump this loveable medical-waste blob that kept our baby going lo those nine+ months in the trash? It deserved better than that. A nice, decent burial. (Maybe should I be worried that I’ve somehow managed to anthropomorphize a placenta? Don’t say yes.)
And just think how much money Desi’s going to rake in from his organic placenta lemonade stand!
I so dearly wanted to spend today doing traditional day-after-Thanksgiving things like lolling under the covers with a book, something nice and low-brow with the author’s name in bigger type than the title. I wanted to eat pie and take nap after nap, and watch television until my eyes bled. Baby be damned!
Instead I spent the day reading slender tongue-twisting books aloud, and swabbing baby parts, and hauling my boobs in and out of my shirt, and playing endless rounds of Scarf Face.
It wasn’t even a bad day. In fact, it’s been one of the better baby days I’ve spent with him. My Fraudulent Parent feelings were at an all-time low — usually I feel like a bad actor playing the role of Mommy. But today I almost felt natural as I cooed and clapped and sang my weird self-narrative songs (“Now mama’s eating cold stuffing with her hands!”). But it definitely wasn’t the all-about-me day I was hungering for.
When I first got knocked up and started to consider what it might actually be like to have a baby, I figured I’d miss the impromptu nights out…the dinners with friends, the movies in actual movie theaters, the strip clubs. But in practice, I’m finding that more than anything I miss the plans-free, pants-free days at home doing disgusting amounts of nothing at all. It’s hard to imagine getting a sitter just for one of those kinds of blank days. In fact, planning in advance to have such a day would defeat the whole purpose.
Desi had his four-month checkup today, and he now weighs in at just under 17 pounds — enough to feed nine adults and five children, according to the Buterball portions calculator. He’s grown four whole inches since he first debuted, meanwhile the circumference of his head (and who knew they measured or cared about the circumference of babies’ heads?) is in the 90th percentile, meaning his melon is now larger than 90% of the heads of other lesser babies.
Last night, after four months of camping out with us in our room, he went to sleep in his own room for the very first time (if you can call waking up and yelling until your parents to come to your crib and let you suck their thumbs until their arms go numb every forty minutes “sleep”).
And he has a special new ear-piercing, air-vibrating scream, which he sounds in times of both extreme joy and darkest rage. Marco and I shudder whenever we hear it, knowing as we do that we’ll be hearing such shrieks for many years to come, uh-oh.
He’s also starting to roll over, and grab at things (hoodie strings, newspapers, lips), and scornfully push away his parents’ hands. Almost all of his baby hair is gone now, and coarse, Marco-and-Evany troll-doll hair has grown in its place.
And he smiles now, all the time.
Watch, next he’ll be drinking Manhattans and picking up the drycleaning and converting to a Roth IRA. And flossing. Flossing!
Do you think if I bound his entire body in tight, tight straps to force him to stop growing, that would make me a bad mommy?
Half a lifetime ago, back when I was a dewy-fleshed twenty-nothing and heading off to enjoy a year of tea and rain and deeply fried things over in mother England, I arranged to meet my boyfriend (and future first heartbreak) one last time before I left the states.
He had moved back to Los Angeles by that time, and I was still in the Bay Area, so we decided to meet halfway, geographically speaking. I drove three and a half hours south, he drove three and half hours north, and we united in the middle of the middle-of-nowhere destination spot known as the Lemoore-Hanford truckstop off I-5. We got ourselves a $26.95 room at the Best Western and spent one awesomely overwrought night sighing and goodbying and pining in advance.
Twenty years later, I decide on a whim to take advantage of my final week of maternity leave and drive down with the baby to Los Angeles for one last-hurrah weekend with my best friends Sophia and Jonathan and their kids and chickens and budgies and cats and bunny. Desi and I leave early in the morning, just in time to catch his first nap of the day. After three heroic hours of solid snoozing, he wakes with a start and immediately starts demanding some service. As his keening ramps up in earnest, I point my car at the next offramp — Lemoore Hanford!
The Red Robin that the boy and I bonzai burgered at that heartached weekend long ago is now shuttered. There’s a Chinese restaurant there now, and though it’s new to me, it’s already been there long enough for the sign to have lost some letters. And while I very much like the sound of “Chin Food,” Desi is in no temper for a sit-down meal. Instead he nurses his lunch in the car, then I change him, we exchange some coos, and we finish up with a quick session of practice standing. An hour later, we’re back on the road.
As we drive away, I giggle with thinks about how boggled Yester Evany — she of the 100% youth-addled sureness of where her life was headed and who she was going to spend it it with — would be if she could see Evany of the Now, with her job at the bank and her house in El Cerrito and her fine upstanding man and this brand new traveling mate:
Looks like somebody’s been enjoying the Chin Food.
Since this baby hit the scene four months or so ago, I’ve kept my hair in a constant state of be-ponytail-ness to avoid having my hairs caught and torn in the vice-like grip of feisty baby fists. The result of all this hair tethering is that I now suffer from almost constant “ponytail ache,” a minor malady on its own, but surprisingly wearying when experienced cumulatively.
Meanwhile all the extra hair I accumulated during pregnancy is now falling out in droves. And since I’m rarely trashcan-convenient these days — what with spending 98% of my time either feeding the baby, rocking him to sleep, or making sure he isn’t choking or taking a header — I keep winding up with fistfulls of hair with no easy way to dispose of them. So I keep secreting these tangles of loose hair into my pockets “for later.” By the time “later” rolls around, I’m usually too comatose from sleepiness and round-the-clock babying to clean out my pockets. And hair, it turns out, is actually very washer-dryer resilient.
So that’s me. I’m the one with the aching scalp and the human-hair nests in my pockets. The personal ad just writes itself!
One of the freaky things about baby caring is that whatever magical thing seems to work one day — singing the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” jingle at him makes him stop crying, tapping his forehead while making a “pwt-ting” sound like his head is a spittoon makes him start laughing — doesn’t always work the next day.
Just when you starting to get that “I can do this!” feeling, his interface shifts, and it’s back to the drawing board. Maybe he’ll stop crying if I turn up the heat? Turn down the heat? Turn him upside down? Right side up? Jostle his stomach while yelling “washing machine, washing machine”? Pudding? You want mommy to put you down in your crib and go get herself some pudding?
I know people in corporate USA like to say they prefer a job where they’re always tackling new problems and learning new skillsets, but now that I’m actually living that particular American dream, I say: Bring back the monotony and predictability! I want the parenting equivalent of stuffing envelopes, please. Not for all time, of course. Just long enough to give me the delusion that I know what I’m doing.
Oh my god, this is almost too awful to type, but in the interest of posterity, I have to come clean. Or come unclean, more like…
We have fleas! Or at least Desi does. I caught one crawling around on his foot, and our friend Marilyn spotted one hopping around on his FACE! We are awesome parents.
I’m not entirely sure what to do about this dirty, dirty problem? We’re not thrilled about the idea of setting off a flea bomb — while we’re lame enough to turn our baby into flea food, we’re not quite lame enough to coat his environs in a toxic cloud. Marco dosed the dog with a round of Advantix tonight, so hopefully that will put a dent in the vermin population. Not sure what else we can do, though…wrap the dog in plastic? Dig a moat around the baby? Move to a new house? Town? State? Or maybe we should just hand the baby over to the Child Protection Agency right now.
When I talk about baby matters, I get some interesting reactions. Sprinkled amongst the many supportive “congratulations” and “I want to bite that baby’s cute fat cheeks off“s are some strangely off-putting responses, and they seem to fall into two categories. At one end of the spectrum we have the “If You Think This Is Bad” spoilsports. On the flip side are the “Surely You’ve Never Loved Like This Before?” unsinkables. And even though one is pessimism embodied and the other is the purest expression of incomparable, undiluted love, I find them both equally disheartening.
Say I announce at the water cooler that pregnancy is killing me with its stupid two-to-three-hours-of-sleep insomnia. The spoilsports hop gleefully in to announce that if I’m suffering now, just wait until the baby gets here! At which time I can kiss all sleep goodbye, and also travel, reading, any and all me time, and happiness in general!
Since I’m barely hanging in here as it is, baby-having wise, it’s never fun to hear that things are going to be even darker just around the corner. Maybe I should give up now?
Or maybe, maybe it doesn’t always get harder? Or, if it does, my parenting skills might evolve to keep pace with the baby’s spiraling degrees of difficulty? But somehow those encouraging words never seem to be part of the message. Why are these spoilsports so fired up to inform me how in for it I am? Maybe they just want someone to keep them company in their hard, cold Legion of Doom?
Meanwhile I post new chunky, pink baby photos online, and the unsinkables rush to gush about the new levels of love I’m surely achieving.
Now. When we birthed this baby, after the midwives and cheerleaders had all cleared out, I quietly confessed to Marco, “You know how everyone says that the moment your baby is born, you feel a love like no other? Yeah, I didn’t feel that.” Don’t get me wrong! I was very happy when the baby was born. I just wasn’t euphoric like all the books and movies and Friends episodes had prepared me for.
I’ve definitely grown to love him, over time. (Especially now that my tore up vagina’s all good and healed!) But it hasn’t exactly been rainbows and bunny bellies…parenting is hard. So hard! And there are times when I love the baby a ton, like when he’s…sleeping. Or when I squeeze his soft, chubby American thighs. Or when he laughs and shrugs his shoulders and makes his cheeseburger face. But there are also times when I like him a whole lot less, like when he’s bolt-upright awake at wrong-thirty in the morning, or when he’s vociferously refusing to take his bottle from the nanny-share nanny so she has to call me and I have to race back over to the nanny-share house to coax him into taking it, thereby negating the many positives of paying for childcare.
So when someone goes to bond with me over how amazing and transcendental it all is, I don’t really relate. And not being able to relate to that sunny sentiment makes me feel like a heartless alien robot by comparison.
It isn’t always an awesometoberfest having a helpless 15-pound being on your payroll. Sometimes he wakes up at three in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep unless you stick your thumb in his mouth and push him in his swing 500 times. Sometimes he plays with his food, smacking painfully on your budders like he’s blotting chapstick. And sometimes he blows right past his bedtime and Marco’s already asleep because he has to get up at 5am for work so you have to hold the baby’s squirming body in one arm as you type up the evening’s web log entry with one hand.
On the bright side, we get to dress him up in the world’s cutest outfits! Hooryay!
Since this baby hit town, our floors are now adrift in infant accessories. Bouncers, swings, carseats, plastic keys, stuffed animals, various vibrating danglies…they’re everywhere. Sleep deprived and distracted as we are, navigating the boobytrapped maze of stumblebles has left us scraped and bruised, and our nights are punctuated with whispered swears.
Marco harbors a particular grudge against Desi’s cradle, which he’s tripped over no fewer than twelve separate times, and he’s threatened to “chop up into a million fucking pieces and throw into the middle of the goddamn street” more than once.
Meanwhile I’ve acquired a teeth-grinding hatred of our fitted sheets, which react to all the scootching and rearranging of midnight baby feedings by peevishly popping off at the corners, leaving me to try and levitate, with baby in arms, my sleeptime sweatpants slowwwly creep down, as I stretch and strain the stupid thing back into place underneath me.
A glimpse of exposed mattress corner now flies me into a homicidal rage. A loving, nurturing, new mommy homicidal rage.
In the late 90s, I did my California-required year in therapy, a somewhat less than satisfying experience that seemed to leave me with more self doubt than I started with, which, considering how doubt-full I was in my 20s, is saying a lot. I couldn’t decide, though, if the digression was the fault of my faulty brain, or my faulty therapist? Ultimately it didn’t matter because I ran out of money and could no longer afford to keep going.
On the night of my last session, I went to make my final payment and discovered I’d already written my last check. When I came back later with a check, I somehow managed to leave my coat behind. Et cetera.
Could my subconscious be more transparent?
Last month I took my cat of ten years, Marbles, back to the fancy SPCA from whence she came. Much to my sadness, she had celebrated our blessed, bouncing arrival by peeing in all the heating ducts, a tactically genius maneuver that transformed the house into a reeking cloud of cat urine whenever we ran the heat. She also took to howling in the hallway at 3am. And then she bit the baby.
After many tears and frets, I decided that we would all, Marbles included, be happier if she found a new home. The nice ladies at the shelter were very optimistic about her likelihood of getting adopted — apparently extra-toed cats are a big draw? Anyway. It was hugely depressing and made me feel like a horrible, bad-cat-mommy monster. And the actual handoff was just awful. But after mopping my eyes and filling out the ten tons of paperwork, I finally managed to stumble my way home…only to discover that I’d left my driver’s license behind. Oh, subconscious.
Today we did a dry run with Desi’s nanny share — we’re sharing a sweet young childcarer with the baby of a lovely couple (Colleen and Mike, friends of the Liz Dunn!) who live a conveniently scant six blocks away. I dropped the baby off at 8am, then proceeded to wend the rest of the day in a hazy daze. I went to Peet’s, I went to Trader Joe’s, I took a two-hour bath, I made cupcakes…basically, I lived out a page from my decadent, pre-baby youth of just over one year ago.
The only problem was, each fancy-free hour was marred with a nagging, sinking, lightly blue feeling that I’d once again left something important behind.
Over the past months, we have received many a great baby-related gift — incredible hand-knit sweaters, body- and heart-warming blankets, gorgeous hand-written checks…the works. We’ve also purchased more than a few items ourselves — swings, tinctures, salves, batteries. But out of this blessed mountain of lovely and practical stuff, possibly the most valuable acquisitions we’ve received so far are the dozen or so plain old cloth diapers that (I think?) Natalie recommended we register for, and that (I think?) Erin and Adrienne actually purchased for us.
Above and beyond their intended use as a catchall for a baby’s hindmost quarters, plain old cloth diapers, it turns out, have no end of ingenious uses.
They swab up spit-up, clean up coffee spills, and protect the changing pad when the changing pad cover has already been soaked in pee yet someone (Marco! Or wait…no, that was I. Many apologies from Past Me!) forgets to replace it. They prove handily absorbent for tears shed over Anne of Green Gables, a happy rediscovery from a box of childhood books recently rescued from my parents’ attic.
They also help the baby sleep. Per Van Halen, our cradle indeed rocks. Unfortunately, rather than sooth Desmo to sleep, all that the traditional side-to-side rocking does is stimulate him into bright-eyed, bushy-tailed wakefulness. But! By wedging cloth diapers under both rockers, we have been able to totally take back the night:
Plain old cloth diapers are even powerful enough to keep the baby asleep during a deafening nail storm:
Note: As you can see, longitudinal rocking (vs. the cradle’s latitudinal rocking) as produced by his swing is for some reason fine. He is a very particular baby. We try to use the swing only sparingly, however, because my gut tells me the sleep it provides isn’t as wholesome as the zzz produced by more stationary bedding. But sometimes the swing is the only thing that works. Parenting, I’m finding, is full of last (vs. tropical) resorts.
Something about motherhood seems to be making me eat like Cookie Monster, where only about 27% of what I attempt to ingest actually makes it into my mouth. And since the baby is frequently in close proximity to these feeding frenzies, he catches the bulk of the fallout, like a passive remora collecting food around a shark’s mouth. Witness…
Food eaten by me only to be later discovered on my baby’s person:
> Macaroni and cheese, found tangled in his hair
> Black bean soup, discovered hours after lunch on his left pant leg
> Ice cream, dripped upon and then eaten off of his right arm
> One sesame seed, unearthed deep down the back of his diaper
And for his part, Desi has spit up on my back, front, and everywhere in between, sending his breastmilk back with a vehemence bordering on rudeness.
Back and forth we go, spilling and dribbling on each other in the world’s slowest, most protracted food fight.
Today was a rough day, one of those “up at 4am” brain-churn days full of frets, tears, and doubts…about my dread of leaving this teeny baby to go back to work at the end of this month, about the maybe brain-scrambling dangers of vaccinations, about the baby’s addiction to adult thumbs and violent swinging, about our ability to pay the mortgage, about the leaky roof and the upcoming rains, about burglars and raccoons and disembodied torsos…everything.
Luckily Tuesdays are the day that the ladies from my birthing class gather at a local bakery to chat and pat and coo on each other’s babies. And the fact that I had somewhere to go with all my worries sure did help a lot.
It’s a wildly varied group, our birthing class, and I don’t think we would have ever met if we all hadn’t gotten ourselves knocked up around about the same time. But unlike other random gatherings of strangers that life throws at you — traffic school, cuddle parties — the slender overlap of this group’s personal Venn diagrams, i.e., baby-having, has proved itself to be a commonality fertile enough to encourage actual friendships to grow.
And it really was such a comfort to be able to sit down today and hear that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling totally overwhelmed by the avalanche of contradicting baby books, or getting freaked out by friends with perfect-sounding babies, or catching themselves fantasizing about doing something ill-advised to their inconsolable babies…such as bounce him off the floor or toss her 600 feet into the air or gently push him deep into a magically permeable wall. See? All perfectly normal.
One of the things I’m looking forward to as a parent is the chance it gives me to bore my kid’s brains out with scintillating tales of how caveman crazy things used to be when I was little.
Like how no one had cellphones, which meant that if you were meeting a friend at the mall, you had to have your exact meeting place and time all figured out in advance, and you actually had to be there when and where you said you’d be.
Phones were tethered to the wall with long ringlet cords that got twisted over time, so you’d have to let the headset dangle periodically to unwind the cord back to normal. We still had the old fashioned finger dial, which meant you always dreaded making calls to numbers with zeroes in them because you’d have to wait five thousand years for the dial to finish its rotation and return to the starting point. And there was no Redial button, so trying to be the radio station’s Eleventh Caller was actually hard, sweaty work. There was also no answering machines or voicemail, and no call waiting — people just got busy signals. I bet you don’t even know what a busy signal is.
We didn’t have ATMs. The only way to get cash was to actually go inside the bank and get it from a bank teller, and you were always scrambling to get there before closing time, which as an absurdly early 3pm. Savings accounts came with tidy little passbooks that got stamped with each deposit and withdrawal.
We still had a black and white television, which had to be switched on a good half-hour before a show started because it took that long to warm up. Also we’d watch whatever show came on afterward, purely because changing the channel would mean having to stand up and manually turning the dial. (We didn’t have a remote!)
MTV was brand new and we’d stay up all night watching it, not letting ourselves go to sleep until a really great video came on, something totally surreal, like Pressure by Billy Joel, holy shit.
Kids didn’t sit in car seats, or wear bike helmets. And we walked ourselves to school.
I got $3.65 an hour at my job at the movie theater, where I sold tickets for just $5 ($3 for matinees). Gas was $.75 a gallon, and the Golden Gate Bridge toll was one measly dollar.
People would wave to drivers in other cars as a thank you for letting them merge.
Ziplock bags were this new invention, and only attractive, well-liked kids seemed to get them in their lunch bags. All the weird social-outcast kids in the too-short cords (here!) still had to use those baggies with the fold-over tops.
Frozen yogurt was new and weird and totally gross-sounding.
College papers were written on word processors, which had a little screen that held up to one line of text at a time, which you could actually edit before hitting Print and moving on to the next line — so much more flexible and forgiving and modern than the electric typewriters we learned on in high school typing class!
We held up lighters during slow songs.
We made mixed tapes by taping songs off the radio on our ghetto blasters.
And there was no email, or internet, or websites. Nor solemn mid-life-crisis blog posts about how quaint and strange this old world once was.
Three months ago today I was floating around the gigantic inflatable Lay Z Spa II (“an ideal way of relaxing in the afternoon or enjoying the ultimate romantic evening”) and throwing up into a plastic tupperware tub from Ikea.
I remember at one point, maybe twenty hours into labor, I completely broke down, crying pitifully on the corner of my bed, convinced I couldn’t possibly go on. It was as awful as awful can get — total Ultimate Westley-from-Princess-Bride Suffering — just the worst, most soul-splitting moment ever.
I also remember, just few hours later, stopping mid-contraction to apologize to my delivery team for my disgracefully unshaven legs. Most mundane moment ever!
I feel like I’ve been pingponging between those two extremes — small, regular-life baby moments intermingled with biblically epic moments — ever since. One minute I’m weeping over nightmarish thoughts of “What If This Baby DIED?” (I can no longer watch news stories or Law and Order episodes or Biggest Loser confessionals about babies dying, I just can’t.) The next minute I’m sitting peacefully, just watching the baby flap:
Did you know that babies can go three, four, even five days without shitting? Apparently their little bodies become so efficient at processing knockermilk that their bottom ends slow to a virtual standstill. This marked lack of productivity can be alarming for new parents (such as yours truly), but according to the baby-shit experts, it’s perfectly normal and not in any way cause for concern. However if, at day five, you can stand the suspense no longer, simply place a call to your pediatrician. As I discovered firsthand, one panicked phone call to your baby’s doctor is all it takes to make said baby’s ass explode in a fit of excellent “oh, wait…nevermind” timing.
On one hand, the shit-delay feature is pretty nice, since the pee-focused diapers that occur during the quiet before the storm are relatively scent- and mess-free. (Mess-free with the notable exception of the occasional surprise moments-between-diapers urine geyser. Ask Marco to tell you about the time he thought Desi had a piece of string stuck to his penis, a piece of string that somehow disappeared when Marco when to grab it…after a number of sleep-deprived attempts, Marco finally figured out that the string he was trying to grab was actually an elusive stream of urine. Ah, parenthood, etc.!)
On the other hand, when the day of reckoning ultimately arrives, it’s pretty spectacular. Shit Day cleanup involves a complete outfit change for both the baby and whoever was unfortunate enough to be holding him at the time of detonation. And cleaning up the baby is positively sisyphusian, with any progress you make repeatedly undermined by his shitted-up heels, which he bicycles gleefully, thereby redistributing the wealth of excrement over any areas you may have already managed to swab. It takes many, many wipes, and possibly a rinsing in the bathtub, to finish the job. Sometimes even the floor even needs to be mopped.
The whole process is usually a two-person job. Whoever’s holding the baby will yell, “It’s HAPPENING!” and the other person sprints into action.
Which is why, when Desi cut loose today — as indicated by his suddenly red, red face followed by an audible trumpeting from his hindmost quarters — rather than rush him to the changing table, I picked up the phone and called Marco.
Me: “What’s your ETA?”
Marco: “Traffic is awful…should be home in about an hour. Why?”
Me: “Do you think, if I sit here absolutely motionless, Desi’s shit-packed diaper can maintain its integrity long enough to wait for your return?”
Or maybe I should just wait until his nanny share begins in November to change him?
So…where were we? Oh right, I squeezed a baby the size and weight of a party ham from betwixt my lady parts and then the WORLD AS I KNOW IT EXPLODED into a parade of projectile baby shit and special vibrating chairs and complicated-sleep-system books frantically scanned in the wee, wee, wee hours (with infant screaming under) and also fountains of urine.
These past ten weeks have been strange indeed, chock full of contradictory feelings and sensations. We spend the bulk of our days just sitting on the couch, thrilled yet also scared and even just a tad bit bored as we gaze unto the baby, watching him lava lamp from criminally cute Professor Smile to ear-wrenching, purple-faced Enraged Tadpole. The months have whizzed by — it still seems like he was born just yesterday — yet somehow my life back at work feels like ten hundred years ago. Meanwhile I manage to feel simultaneously far too ancient (listen as my knees pop every time I lean down to pick up the 15-pound bowling ball of a baby) and entirely too immature and inexperienced to be a parent. On our first visit to the pediatrician, Desi suddenly found himself drenched in pee, and the nurse was all, “It looks like someone put his diaper on wrong….” Cut to Marco and me, whistling innocently. Nurse: “Well just wrap him in his blanket for now.” Back to Marco and me, exchanging stricken looks of “blanket? what blanket?”
There’s so much I’ve been wanting to capture here in these pages! But unfortunately I don’t seem to have the energy or time or brain matter to spare on writing. I feel like I’m constantly playing that game Concentration, the one where you puzzle plastic shapes into their appropriate holes as time tick-tick-ticks away, and if you don’t finish in time the whole game flies apart and you leap six feet into the air and then spend the rest of your life in therapy? These days I’ll get maybe two minutes into a bath or a bowl of oatmeal when The Tyrant Awakes (“Baby Alive!” yell Marco and I) and I’ll race to spoon a few more food morsels in the direction of my mouth and then — quick, quick! — it’s back to the mommy salt mines. Even when he does manage to sleep for longer than a handful minutes, the downtime is tainted with the looming spectre of his potential awakening. I always have one ear cocked for baby yells, a state of constant readiness that scores my long, house-bound days with a spicy mix of tension and intrigue and lower back pain.
As I type these words, it’s midnight and I’m nodding off and Desmo is scheduled to awake any minute, so I’m frantically trying to squeeze in a session with the freaky Metropolis-esque breastpump so hopefully the baby will have enough to eat when I scarper off to the Russian River this weekend to get myself wined and massaged at the Broad Summit. (Yay! And yet…the idea of two whole days away from the baby makes me more than a little nervous. What if Marco has a meltdown and permanently goes out for cigarettes? What if all the time on the bottle causes him to develop a fetish for rubber nipples and he refuses to breastfeed when I come back? What if I experience some sort of biological baby withdrawal and come crawling back just one hour after I get there?) And while I’d love to type to you about my near-religious experience ziplining trip through the redwoods with Maggie and how the 1.5 solid hours of adrenaline it produced sent me down a Pavlovian spiral of labor flashbacks. Or how the cat’s been celebrating the baby’s arrival by peeing in all the heating vents. Or about how there’s this book called Black on White that is nothing but page after cardboard page of black silhouettes of everyday objects. (Here’s the back-of-book description (spoiler alert!): “Black illustrations against a white background depict such objects as an elephant, butterfly, and leaf.” We call it Desmond’s Boring Boring Book…but he absolutely LOVES it. He can and will spend hours studying its spartan pages, while you cast about for some, any kind of color commentary. “See these two shapes that look like crackers? See how…round they are?”)
But all I have time to share is this one short message: To whoever programmed the Medula “Pump In Style” Breastpump to wheeze in such a way as to sound exactly like the first tentative cries of a baby slowly awakening in the next room: Thanks a lot, jerk.
On July 28, after about 30 hours of labor (twenty-eight hours contracting from zero to ten centimeters, an hour of strange floating nothingness, followed by about 45 minutes of true pushing) and lots and lots of undignified hurling (30+ times, holy moly), Marco and I are so lucky and moved and proud to announce the arrival of 9 pounds, 4 ounces and 22.25 inches of bouncing, frowning, hungry baby boy, who came preloaded with a working set of dimples, pterodactyl cry, great nose, lovely fat earlobes, and a whole mess of hair.
We spent about a quarter of the labor in the insane gigantic birthing tub, which helped with the pain (which was epic!), but because the tub was so gushy (the whole thing is inflatable), I didn’t feel like there was enough there there to hold on to, so ultimately we retired to bed for the actual delivery.
The midwives had been monitoring the baby’s heartrate throughout the labor, and by the time it came to start pushing, they were concerned by how the baby’s heart was slowing with every contraction, and they straight up told me, “This is it, you need to push and make this happen!” So I just hitched an arm behind one knee, Brazilian wax-style, and went for it. The pushing part hurt, a lot, hoo!, but not nearly as much as the contractions.
(Oh, the contractions! I’d say each and every one was more painful than the sensation of my appendix rupturing, if that gives you any idea. So, so terrible!)
At 5:18am, after about twenty monster pushes, the head was out, followed seconds later by the shoulders, stomach, legs, and feet…an unearthly slithering ba-da-da-da-da-da-da sensation that felt on my end more like I was delivering a centipede than baby…a howling, hungry baby that they rushed directly into my arms (reportedly at this point I addressed the baby as “Slippery McGee”), where it immediately started grubbing around, looking for breastfood. Because it was covered in a blanket, and because the midwives didn’t pause to check the sex before hustling the bundle to me, none of us knew the sex for about 20 minutes, which was wild. But after I successfully delivered the placenta and the midwives were satisfied with my physical okay-ness, we finally peeked under the covers, peered around the confusion of umbilical cord, and confirmed the presence of penis. Boy! Oh boy.
Desi Thomas Baroz
Born July 28
9lbs, 4oz, 22.25 inches!