Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Motherhood: The First 6 Months

July 16, 2010

Purvis’s cries crackle through the baby monitor. I pull the pillow off of my head, hesitate for a second before I look at the clock. 2:38. Not bad. Better than when she starts to peep 15 minutes before my alarm is set to go off. This way I can sleepwalk through her feeding then get some more z’s before the cruel beep of the alarm rips me from whatever dream is creeping around the edges of my subconscious this night.

New recurring dream: Mr. Crud and I have sold our house for some unknown reason and now we must find a new house, but we can only afford to rent. And all the new houses have leaky basements or crazy landlords who spit orders at us to mow our lawn. Why oh why did we sell our funky yet loveable house? We can’t afford a new one in our neighborhood, not in this market.

“That’s not at all symbolic,” Mr. Crud says.

“It’s almost disappointing in its obviousness,” I say.

The motherhood experience is not known for its subtlety.

Back in bed I wait a few more moments. Don’t go to her too soon, advise the parenting books. She may just be between sleep cycles. If you go to her too soon, she’ll never learn to sleep through the night. Nothing strikes more fear in the new parent or parent-to-be than the phrase “never learn to sleep through the night.” I’m actually getting more sleep now that Purvis’s out of my belly than when she was in. In part I am too exhausted to lie awake all night, letting my fears drag me hither and thither. Before she arrived six months ago, I didn’t know what it would be like to live in this new unstable house. I knew that my beloved sleeping schedule was fucked. I knew that I’d be a hormonal ball of goo. I knew that I would love my baby, but I didn’t know-know.

Was I fit to be a mother? I am a pretty fantastic aunt—an awesome aunt according to my favorite mug given to me by my niece as a Hanukkah gift—but did my auntie skills translate to mothering? Was sacrifice in my vocabulary? I got a preview of sacrifice during pregnancy. I had to give up two of my favorite foods—sushi and martinis for 9 long months. (Boo hoo.) I had to dial back my yoga practice, which wasn’t as hard as it once would have been since I’d been contending with injury the last couple of years. But still. No more jump-backs, no more headstand. I had a front seat to my yoga compatriots advancing in their asana practice, looking elastic and free, while I rolled up blankets so that I could prop myself into a restorative pose. But really, these were small potatoes. Tater tot sacrifices. (And now that I’m finding myself blocked after this paragraph, let’s go to a list.)

Sacrifices: The Early Months
• Where are you keeping my pre-pregnancy body and can I have it back now, please?
I believed the hype: Don’t worry about the pregnancy weight gain, you’ll burn it off no problem when you breastfeed. When I read that not every woman experiences the year of magical weight loss, I averted my eyes. No, I won’t be one of those poor souls. I’m joining the eat-what-you-want-without-consequences club. I actually couldn’t wait to reach my breastfeeding culinary free-for-all. Not like I denied myself much food-wise when I was pregnant (aside from the tsk tsk tsk list of cold cuts, smoked fish, sushi, et al), but I didn’t consider myself overindulgent. I was holding back, biding my time for breastfeeding when I was assured by articles in the NY Times and mother friends that I could go wild with gluttony. Yet 6 months later and I am still wearing, actually barely fitting into, the size up wardrobe that I’d saved during my last round of weight loss 5 years ago. I feel like I actually gained weight after Purvis was born. Maybe my daily walks with her were a little too heavily focused on visiting the fine local bakeries in our neighborhood (Damn you, Little T and your delicious chocolate chip cookies!), but I was supposed to be burning off those calories feeding the baby.

The cruel truth: some ladies—apparently I am one of them—actually find it more difficult to lose weight while breastfeeding because our bodies hold on to extra fat in case of famine. Although I have promised my stomach, hips, and thighs that there is no way that I will let them go hungry, they refuse to give up the ghost. It’s not like I’m sitting on my duff waiting for the pounds to melt away (even though it was promised that this scenario was in my future, NY Times Article of Lies). I go to yoga 6 times a week. I sweat my ass off. Before I returned to work, I went for at least 3 walks a day toting Purvis around in the Ergo baby carrier because the little darling refuses to nap unless she is nestled against a human chest. My weight loss pattern has always started with losing poundage in the boob area. Damn you, cruel weight loss fate. Looks like the ladies are continuing in their gatekeeper role. As long as I am a Double D, the hips (and stomach and wide ass) stay in the picture. Thus I have added a new silent affirmation to my post-yoga meditation: I am patient, loving, accepting, and compassionate with my body. Well, at least I am not loathing it, but me and mirrors are still keeping our distance.

• The Redefinition of Sleeping In
Pre-Purvis: sleeping in = waking up at 8:00 or 9:00
With Purvis: sleeping in = waking up at 5:30 or 6:00
The morning that I was thrilled to have slept in until 6:00 a.m., I knew that I had turned a corner. Purvis actually will sleep in until 8:00, but because of my breast pumping schedule I must awake by 6:00 or not have enough bottles of milk for her evening feedings. These bottles allow me to go to bed early—before the sun sets—since I have to wake up in the middle of the night to feed her.

• Wine? Beer? No, thanks. Sigh.
I can count on one hand the number of drinks I’ve had since Purvis was born. Well, make that two hands, but definitely not three. Drinking while breastfeeding is tricky. I have to wait until she eats, guzzle my drink, and then wait for the effects to subside before I can feed her. She eats every 2-3 hours so these perfect windows of opportunity are few and far between. Not to mention that a drink puts me right to sleep. Last week, Mr. Crud and I ordered barbecue. A beer sounded perfect.

“Maybe we should split it. A whole beer sounds like too much,” he says.

“Yeah, you’re right. I’d pass right out.”

I don’t think that I’ve split a beer with someone since I was a teenager trying to spread the intoxication around with limited supplies.

On the plus side, I’ve regained an appreciation for beer for some reason. I theorize it’s the handiwork of my boobs who are trying to plump me up with beer calories for the famine they think looms on the horizon.

• Is that a breast pump in your saddlebag or are you happy to see me?
I have some variation of this conversation everyday when encountering an acquaintance with my bike gear in tow.

“Wow! That’s a lot of stuff. What you got there?” asks Random Acquaintance.

“My clothes.” I hold up big-ass bag #1. “And a breast pump.” I nod to big-ass bag #2 and hope Random Acquaintance is not forced to fend off images of me hooked up to the hated milk machine. .

“Oh wow.”

“Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass, but whatcha gonna do?”

The conversation then veers into one of two directions—good for you for keeping up with the breastfeeding or an inquiry into the cost of breast pumps. “Why don’t you just buy another one?”

Oh Random Acquaintance, I considered it. I was thisclose to plunking down another 200 smackeroos to save myself the added weight to my commute, but then Purvis’s childcare came into question and purchases that weren’t 100% necessary (like the cute zebra print hat from Baby Gap) seemed unwise on the chance that I have to quit my job to become a full-time momma.

Someday I will regale Purvis with tales of lugging a breast pump to and from work on the back of my bike all so that she could be healthy, happy, and strong. And she will shrug and say, “Whatever, Mom.”

• Hard Assana* (see also Where are you keeping my pre-pregnancy body)
I returned to a take-it-easy yoga practice 6 weeks after Purvis’s birth. I took it way easy during the first month, opting to keep ashtanga on hold for the time being. I felt pretty good about my decision until I met a woman who told me she returned to her practice two weeks after she had her child. Oh, wow, well that’s, uh, great. (I know I should not be comparing myself to other yogis and that doing so is about the opposite of practicing yoga. Yeah, yeah, yeah.)

“I felt stronger than I ever have before,” she added.

And that was the opposite of how I felt when I did return to my ashtanga practice a couple of months later. My chaturanga dandasana was non-existent. My warrior pose wobbled. My shoulders howled in poses that once felt breezy and light. Hadn’t I lost weight (at least 7 pounds of baby) since the last time I practiced? Wasn’t this supposed to get easier now that I was no longer toting a fetus around in my belly? So much for second series, which I had been working on before becoming pregnant. It’s back to primary for me. Poses I had taken for granted are now difficult. Now you’re really practicing yoga, says my inner guru. Yeah, thanks for that.

• Tough Titties
Nursing did not come easily to me or my sensitive boobs. Thankfully Purvis was a natural with a strong sucking reflex. The fresh young lady had already given me two hickies before she was an hour old. But even when the latch looked perfect, it still hurt.

“If it hurts, then it’s not a good latch,” said the nurses, my doula, the internet, the breastfeeding book.

We tried and tried again. I let more people manhandle my ladies than during my college years (a time of a very liberal boob-touching policy). Still, ouch. I came to dread the nursing sessions. I yoga breathed my way through each latch and prayed that there was a purpose to my pain, that she was getting nourishment.

The day of my lactation counseling appointment, my nipples were raw and bleeding. I broke down in tears. I felt embarrassed. I was supposed to be good at this. I had believed it would come naturally even as the nurse who led our breastfeeding class warned that it’s harder than it looks.

After 2 lactation consultations, many hours logged on the internet in search of tips, and a truckload of gel nipple pads, it stopped hurting. I felt triumphant and proud that I stuck with this first of many parenting challenges. To be honest, I don’t think I was ever doing anything that wrong, my nipples just needed to toughen up. The day I nursed Purvis while walking around the house, I knew I had come, seen, and kicked breastfeeding’s ass.

I hear tell that after I’m done breastfeeding that my current Double Ds will return to their itty bitty starting size. Alas, they don’t really feel like instruments of seduction anymore, more like an appendage that feeds my baby. About as erotic as a knuckle. Purvis hasn’t gotten a cold yet—knock on wood—so the trials and tribulations have been worth it.

• Who Likes to Rock the Party? I like to rock the party
I miss the days when the main factors to consider when receiving an invitation were if Mr. Crud and I felt like it, the distance between the party destination and our humble abode, and if I should tote along a bottle of wine or take my chances with a keg. As we grew older, we grew lamer for sure, but now there’s the baby factor. Where will the event fall in her eating-sleeping-napping schedule? Can we get her to take a nap so as not to break down into a howling heap once we reach the party? Will I be able to drink one precious beer?

Yesterday was our first party attempt and, all things considered, it went well. She screamed bloody murder in the car while we were stalled in some freak Sunday afternoon traffic jam. She was not able to sneak in a nap while at the party because, upon arriving at our friend’s house, a dog peed on the baby carrier I had so wisely stashed on the ground. Thus our stay was cut short by a couple hours, but all in all we ate, we laughed, and I drank a beer. I also let a record 5 people who weren’t me or Mr. Crud hold our precious child.

Each time I handed her over, I nervously smiled. “You got her? She’ll probably start crying in a minute or two. She’s going through a phase where she’ll only let me or her daddy hold her.”

Meanwhile inside I was mentally willing her to stay aloft in my friend’s arms with the same powers I once used to keep airplanes in the sky while I white knuckled the armrest. Please, please let her start crying so I can swoop in and carry her and not get a rep as overprotective mother. She didn’t make a peep. She kicked, she grabbed at eyeglasses, and she seemed to be over her phobia of strangers in an instant to my silent chagrin. Thank goodness for that beer or things might have gotten ugly.

Evening outings are still out. Our one trip out to see Aziz Ansari (Hilarious!) was a good time all around for us. Our babysitter on the other hand was trapped with one pissed off baby. We can’t stay out late anyway because—and this is the big neon lesson of parenthood—there is never a day off. I always have to wake up early, always have to be ready for a peeping baby at all hours of the night. Always, always, always. (Unless it’s Mr. Crud’s shift when I can sleep through the baby crying bloody murder.)

Most of our conversations with friends revolve around Purvis now. I am trying not to become one of those people who can only talk about their babies. I try to keep up on the pop culture, the movies that I won’t be able to see until they are released on DVD, books that I must read in 5-minute installments. There is always TV. During my multitude of hours logged breastfeeding, I watched an ass-load of TV. And now for a list within a list…

Top Breastfeeding Entertainment Picks
o True Blood
Pre-Purvis, Mr. Crud and I were slowly wading through season one, both still skeptical as to whether we would finish.

“It’s so cheesy,” he said before going on to enumerate its many shortcomings—a seeming ignorance of the vampire oeuvre, terrible accents, and lame plot twists.

I shrugged. “You’re right, but I’m willing to give it another chance.”

It was no Sopranos, but certainly better than John in Cincinnati.

Then into our lives fell Purvis and mindless entertainment became of premium importance. I sprinted through the season one DVDs, finding myself almost looking forward to the marathon nursing sessions, which came every 2 hours (yes, even in the middle of the night.) I developed a kinship with the vampires and their prey as I felt like Purvis was sucking the life from me on the reg. Now I’m a True Blood true believer. The theme song instantly brings me back to those first bleary-eyed weeks when a baby in my arms was a strange novelty.
o Sex and the City
I HATE Sex and the City. The obsession with fashion, shoes, celebrity, and the characters which purport to be archetypes of the modern single woman are only the start of my issues with SATC. Somehow in the haze of nursing, I succumbed to its saccharine pleasures. Maybe it was the episode where Miranda struggled to breastfeed her new baby that sucked me in, but after a few tentative I-can’t-watch-another-episode-of-The Cosby Show DVR-ing of the last season of SATC, I got hooked. I actually let the DVDs take up precious room on my library reserve list. I watched every last shiny, shrill episode and the movie too. Officially I was watching because I enjoy hating on this modern TV institution, but I also came to like it. Just a teensy little bit. I am totally a Miranda. (Who the fuck would want to be a Carrie? She is a horrible writer and is always so full of wist that I want to shake her.)
o The Cosby Show
To be truly appreciated must be watched at 3:30 a.m. when the only other entertainment options are cable news talking heads and Everybody Loves Raymond.
o The Sopranos
Still one of my favorite TV shows of all time (tied with The Wire).
o The Wire
I was so sad to see this series end again. Bye, Omar. Mr. Crud and I were tempted to name Purvis after Omar, but decided that we might be asking for trouble. I also imagined Purvis sharing the source of his name, “Yeah, Omar was a character in this TV show who robbed drug dealers. He loved his grandma though.”
o United States of Tara
Awards are bullshit, but Toni Collette totally deserved her Emmy for her portrayal of the multiple personality-ed Tara. I was slightly distracted by the presence of John Corbett as her husband because he had transformed into Aidan due to my SATC intensive.
o Nurse Jackie
Yay—Edie Falco and the priest from The Sopranos finally get to explore their romantic chemistry in another universe. It’s like Nurse Jackie is one of the infinite alternate universes for these two souls.
o Everybody Hates Chris
So much better than Everybody Loves Raymond, and on right before The Cosby Show.

Of course, it hasn’t all been sacrifice and TV watching. As Mr. Crud frequently says, “All the clichés are true.” Parenthood is wonderful and intense and frightening and fascinating in all its mundane joy. I feel like I am living in capital letters. IT’S GREAT! I LOVE HER!! I NEVER KNEW WATCHING SOMEONE TAKE A DUMP WOULD BE SO ENTERTAINING!! I’m also exhausted. Life has taken on the sheen of an altered reality. Everything is centered around this tiny being. Her whims, her needs, her smiles, the tangle of the three of us feeling around in the dark for the shape of this family we’ve become. (You see, in my altered reality, that last sentence makes total sense. And it’s also soooo deep, man.) I both can’t believe I’m finally a mom and don’t believe that I haven’t always been one, which is probably another one of those true parenthood clichés.

* Please pardon this horrid yoga pun.