I was going through the drafts folder of my gmail account (what, don’t you keep half a dozen drafts around and then periodically go through and delete them?), and found a little gem dated October 9, 2012. V was 16 days old, and two years later, I still agree with every word of what I wrote. I’m not sure why I never posted it. Self-consciousness? Feeling it wasn’t “finished”? No idea. But with two years of perspective on it now, I feel like it’s time to just press “publish” already and be done with it.
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Everything They say about babies is wrong. Everything They say about pregnancy is wrong, too.
I’m not sure why it took me the entire nine (ten, actually. See?) months of pregnancy plus the first 16 days of my daughter’s life to figure this out, considering I learned the exact same lesson two years ago with the corollary: Everything They say about weddings is wrong. Now, I don’t mean that every single piece of advice about weddings, pregnancy, and babies is absolute garbage and should be ignored. There are some real gems of advice floating around out there. But the majority of the things you hear over and over and over are just… well, saying they’re flat out wrong is just as inaccurate as what They tell you anyways.
Take the sleep thing, for example. “You will Never Sleep Again”, “Get ready for interrupted nights!” First of all, as any pregnant woman can tell you, she hasn’t been sleeping through the night for months. When my daughter was one week old (you know, last week), she started giving us four hour naps at night. FOUR WHOLE HOURS IN A ROW. I actually woke up from that before she did because my poor bladder hadn’t gone that long without a break since April.
But the story, “You will never sleep again”, reminds me of our wedding and all the people who said “Oh, you won’t get to eat a thing all evening.” My husband and I spent a lot of time with our caterer and were really excited about the meal, so we made it a point to get food at our wedding. And we did. Not only did I have a full plate of dinner brought to me from the buffet, at dessert, I got to go through the line myself. Why? Because we made it a priority. And right now, I feel pretty well rested with a 16 day old baby. Why? Because I make it a point every day to get a daytime nap in addition to our nighttime ones. Did I get 8 hours uninterrupted sleep? Of course not. I haven’t had that since February, and that’s okay. But I’m not dying of sleep deprivation, like They all swore I would.
I’d also like to point out that They said I wouldn’t get any time for myself early on. “You won’t even be able to go to the bathroom alone!” But here I am, able to sit down and type despite the fact that my hungry little girl wants to feed for an hour at a time every two hours because my husband and I are doing this as a team and he currently is sitting on the floor next to the bed with a thumb in her mouth so my poor breasts can take a break. (Thanks, hon!)
There’s something really important one of our midwives said to me at our last prenatal appointment (at 39 weeks, the day before my water broke, when she told me most first time moms don’t deliver until week 41, so don’t get your hopes up! Even fabulous midwives can sometimes be the infamous They.) She told me that while they are experts on pregnancy, no one would know more about my pregnancy and my labor than I would. I think that applies to a lot of things in life — pregnancy, babies, and weddings, as well as the little things. No one knows more about your life than you do. And this tiny little creature we’re just getting to know? Nobody else has spent 16 full days and nights tending her needs, which means nobody knows her as well as we do.
Our pediatrician reminded us at our one week visit that there is no right or wrong way, there’s just what works for you.
This was not the plan.
For the majority of our relationship so far, I have earned more money than Ben. So, we figured, when we had kids, I’d keep working and he’d be primary care. Obviously, given the strange schedules we both have worked, this would not have meant 9-to-5 style homemakery. And, as a well brought-up feminist, I liked the warping of traditional gender roles.
And then, four months into my pregnancy, I lost my job, and couldn’t get a new one, and lost my insurance, and fell deeper into the identity crisis spiral that had begun a year or so before when my first career started to fail me. And then, our lovely little girl was born and everything just looked so different.
It’s not that I just couldn’t imagine being away from her, because there was that (hormones are hell). It’s not that I suddenly felt some deeper yearning for the domestic life. It honestly does just boil down to the fact that Ben has a higher earning potential than I do. To start with, there’s that whole messy gender pay gap business. But also, while I certainly have plenty of useful skills, his are more marketable. People don’t want to pay me for the things I can do, whereas people do want to hire people who can do what Ben does. Besides, he definitely has the better work ethic of the two of us. If I had paid leave, and V really begged to go to the zoo and the weather was awesome, well, I’m not sure I’m disciplined enough to actually go to work in the face of all that (have you seen her begging face? It’s a work of art).
Not only that, there are certain biological realities that happen in the wake of a baby’s birth that make it a lot more logical for the mother to be the one hanging around all day. I have mad respect for the ladies who go back to work and pump for bottles. While I do have a pump, we do not have what I would describe as a pleasant working relationship. And I worked just too damned hard at getting breastfeeding to work to abandon that for the added whammy of the health sacrifices of formula.
So when Ben found an offer for a full-time salaried job when V was five months old (in the throes of 8 times a day feedings and hormones that screamed don’t leave the baby), it just made more sense for me to stay home and for him to bring home a paycheck. And that’s how we ended up, oddly, surprisingly, confusingly, in the long-standing traditional gender roles. Well, from the outside, at least.
And I’m struggling with it. I don’t even know what to call myself. Stay-at-home-Mom is loaded with so much baggage I don’t even want to touch it. Homemaker seems so heels and pearls with a vacuum cleaner. Housewife feels like it doesn’t actually tell the story. Not to mention there’s that whole nagging thing in my head asking me, “Are you letting Women down by doing something we’ve all been told is so un-feminist?” How do I reconcile everything I’ve been taught, everything I’ve always believed about independence and self-sufficiency and fighting patriarchial forces with the choices we’re making? Especially when I don’t always feel like this even is a choice?
Five things that happened this week:
- During our Friday music class, the Sprout was in the middle of the circle the entire time, singing and dancing. The teacher at one point even told her, “You’re so prominent today!” She just loves her music class!
- After the Sprout’s first diaper change of the day, she said and signed “Potty” several times, so Ben took her to the bathroom and sat her on her little potty where she promptly peed. A lot.
- She has made the connection between animals and the sounds they make. It’s just the absolute best to hear her point at Nimitz and say “Meeeeee-owwwww.” (Also, any word with an “ow” sound has about sixteen syllables. ALL of them.
- We got confirmation from the mortgage company, which means in the next couple weeks, we should be closing on a house and then, you know, moving.
- I am starting to find my stride! Tuesday and Thursday, I met with other Moms to just hang out (and it was awesome). Wednesday, I made a big celebratory birthday dinner for my Mom, which involved lots of cooking (and it was awesome.)
You know, the phrase “sleep like a baby” never really made a whole lot of sense to me. After all, people tend to complain about babies and sleep more often than not. And since having a baby? The phrase makes even less sense. Sleep like my baby? Briefly and with frequent snacks? Fitfully and with random bouts of crying? Only when being held?
When I was about 8 months pregnant, I listened to a woman go on a full-on tirade about co-sleeping and how dangerous it is, how it’s tantamount to child abuse and there’s all this propaganda in favor of it when really, parents who co-sleep should have their babies taken away for child endangerment. Which, you know, usually propaganda refers to the mainstream option being reinforced, rather than the subversive subculture trying to restore historical norms. But hey, whatever works for your family, right? I figured co-sleeping was just something that would get in the way of me and my adorable husband having our bed back, me getting my body back, and all that great stuff.
So when our little girl showed up, I was pretty surprised at how strongly my instincts screamed don’t put down the baby. All I wanted to do was hold her, and if she wanted to sleep while I was holding her, so much the better. The few times I tried to fall asleep while Ben was holding her, I couldn’t. So many months of sleeping while feeling these tiny little movements, and suddenly I couldn’t sleep without them (not to mention the near-paralyzing fear that at any moment, she might stop breathing for absolutely no reason. Thanks, SIDS-Awareness programs).
So I broke every rule about baby sleep. She slept in our bed, on her stomach against my chest, and with blankets and pillows still in the bed (albeit moved pretty far from her). And every time I tried to do anything different — put her on the bed itself, move her into the bassinet, anything other than holding her against my chest — she woke up instantly and started crying. So I just couldn’t.
Not to mention the fact that she still feeds 3-5 times during the night, and personally, I’m not real crazy about the idea of waking up to a crying baby, getting out of bed, walking down the hall, picking baby up out of a crib, sitting and feeding her in a chair in her room, getting her back to sleep, putting her back in the crib, walking back down the hall, and getting back into bed only to do the same damn thing two hours later. OR I could just roll over and fall asleep while feeding her and wake up when she stirs for the next meal.
I’ve also had well-meaning friends ask when we’re going to get our daughter onto a schedule. I totally get it when it comes to working mothers how a schedule could be the difference between sanity and losing it completely. But see, I don’t have a schedule. I don’t even know how I would put her on a schedule. Not only that, there’s this whole thing about eat-play-sleep cycles which confused me a bit before she was born and now…
Look, this whole parenting thing is a lot more complicated than it looked from the other side (and it didn’t exactly look like a cakewalk). Ben and I have just been trusting our gut instincts and trying to make choices that really felt right for us. That means a lot of our baby decisions have been driven by my hormones. And there are a lot of hormones involved. I’ve really been surprised by just how strong these instinct-level responses are.
And sometimes, it’s hard to listen to your gut when the entire world around you says to do something else. Put the baby in the crib, don’t let her fall asleep while eating, get her into her own room.
I still maintain my pre-baby comments about Dr. Sears. I still disagree with a lot of his philosophies (not to mention his total misuse of the term “attachment”). But yes, we are doing several things he recommends. Not because he recommends them, mind you. Honestly, it’s because that’s how I was raised. Hold your baby, love her, and listen to your gut.
You know what’s sadder than trying to take care of a baby while fighting a cold? Tiny baby coughs. Oh, the heartbreak! But she doesn’t fully have it yet, so I’m holding out delusions that she won’t catch it, and it’s not that bad anyways and I’m practically all better already even if I am a little worse than yesterday, but hey, she won’t get it anyways because it’s not like I touch her ever. Or, you know, she spends 5 hours a day with my hands in her mouth. Nothing like that. She’ll be fine.
My sinuses are so full right now it’s not even funny. This is an awesome way to start off Housewife, Round 4. Only this time, there’s no firing me later, because I will not only be Housewife, but Stay-At-Home-Mom.
Cause that’s not weird to say.
Monday, Ben starts a full-time job, which means I join millions of women in trying to figure out what the hell to do with a tiny baby solo for 8-10 hours a day. I know I should consider myself really lucky to have had Ben around for the first four months, and we won’t be able to do anything that awesome for Baby #2. But man, caring for a baby just isn’t a one-person job, and it just sucks so much that our society turns it into one.
This is going to be a crazy ride, possibly the hugest step we’ve ever taken, and it’s going to turn our lives upside-down. But you know what? Despite the congestion and the tiny baby sneezes and coughs, I think it just might be a change for the better.
Our little Sproutling has decided that, at four months, she is now old enough to sleep on her own, for brief periods of time. That means for (possibly) one 2 hour daytime nap in the swing or pack ‘n play (but I still have to hold her for the other one), and then from her bedtime (9pm) to ours (11:30-12ish), I have a baby monitor instead of a baby. Weird.
So, first, an update on yesterday’s pie. The crust is definitely too thin, and the whole thing looks like crap. But the flavor is great and the seminole squash is sooooo silky. And the whole recook the pumpkin/temper the eggs/strain out the clumps is clearly unnecessary. Take that, America’s Test Kitchen. I have officially perfected my pumpkin pie recipe. Now if only I can remember that for next year.
I make no promises on regular updates to this here blog thing, but I will try. See, I envision having a lot more to talk about over the next few months as Big Things Are Afoot (again). Ben is on the hunt for a for-real full time job, and that puts me yet again staring Housewife right in the face. Only this time, it’s not just Housewife, it’s Stay-At-Home-Mom. I need to parse out what that looks like still, but suffice to say, there is a lot churning around in my skull right now.
Tonight, I made pie. It was, shall we say, rustic. After the Sproutling had gone down for the night (with much protesting, because what if she misses something, I don’t want to eat I’m so hungry but oh so sleepy DON’T MAKE ME SLEEP!), I whisked myself off to the kitchen to make the long-overdue pumpkin pie we’d been planning for a while with the leftover Seminole Squash. The first half had gone into a magnificent black bean pumpkin soup (I’m currently having a love affair with the smitten kitchen archives and the cookbook which was a Christmas present).
At Thanksgiving, I finally settled on My Favorite Pumpkin Pie Recipe, which is the Baking Illustrated Pumpkin Pie, only with fresh pumpkin (because, for some reason, the same people who think it’s perfectly reasonable to use fourteen different types of flour in a single recipe think that fresh pumpkin is just. too. damn. hard. and instead you should put canned pumpkin through the food processor, overload it with spices, and then recook it on the stove, making it necessary to temper in the eggs so they don’t scramble and then putting the whole mess through a sieve for a nice smooth texture) and my old faithful pie crust, which we usually make 4 at a time and freeze.
So I started off with the pie crust from the freezer, only it wasn’t quite big enough for the 10″ pie plate, which I was substituting because last time this recipe filled a 9″ pie, 6 cupcake molds, and a mini-cake pan. And then as I measured out the leftover pumpkin, I discovered I only had 1 1/4 cups instead of 2, so I learned how to overcook sweet potatoes in our brand new microwave (which is really confusing that they’re overcooked because I used the “sensor cook” setting). Then I wanted to pulse the potato in the little Ninja blender, only I’d used that for tuna at dinner and I really didn’t want the flavors mixing, and the baby needed a snack so I ran upstairs while the crust was blind-baking and the potato was resting, then back downstairs to mix all the ingredients together, only Cooks Illustrated wants you to recook the pumpkin on the stove to get rid of the canned taste and then temper the eggs in since it’s all hot, but since I was starting with FRESH, I figured what the hell, and then my crust came out looking like ragged parchment paper, oh just shut up and eat your damn pie. It’s not even a holiday, unless you count Pumpkin Spoilage Avoidance Day, and you’re getting a pie so say thank you and go wash the dishes for me.
Oh wait, I think I hear the baby again.
Having a baby is hard. Nobody lies to you about that. But I do think that having a baby in our society is harder than it has to be, and that is something nobody wants to tell you.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still way happier to have a baby than I was to be pregnant. Being pregnant was the most uncomfortable, unhappy time of my life. I would rather go through labor once a month for nine months than be pregnant every single day.
And that’s really where this conversation gets started, I hope. See, we spend all this time talking about pregnancy and childbirth, and all this time obsessing over what honestly amounts to a rough day. Everyone has advice for the pregnant woman, from how to be pregnant to why she made a mistake by being pregnant. There’s special parking for Expectant Mothers, despite the fact that walking is really healthy for the pregnant body. Hell, when we realized I was in labor, the first thing we did was take a walk around the neighborhood in the hopes that we’d speed things along.
But the new mother who is still bleeding and really shouldn’t be walking around? No special parking. No special attention. People ask how tired you are and how much sleep you’re getting, as if that’s all that matters. And if anything isn’t going well, nobody wants to talk about it. After all, if you have a healthy baby, what else matters?
The early days for us were really hard. Breastfeeding was a constant struggle. Everyone told me “you just have to toughen up” or “it gets easier after a few weeks”. Or my absolute favorite, “But she’s so healthy. Stop worrying.” I spent the first few weeks of my daughter’s life in tears more often than not.
I’m just starting to get time at the keyboard again, so I’m trying to sort this all out still. But this is a big conversation, and it’s one that’s really important.
Well, that was exciting.
I came downstairs to grab a snack, and while I was in the bathroom (because, of course, that is my first stop after a flight of stairs) I heard Nimitz scratching at the basket we keep the shoes in. I yelled at her, which usually works, but not this time. When I got into the hall, she was staked out in front of the basket, clawing at it, and snapping at her didn’t help. So I picked up the basket.
And out scurried a lizard.
Now, I totally should have gotten a photo of this, but I had two options:
1) deal with the fury-crazed cat, panicked lizard, and my front hallway or
2) photograph the lizard.
So I called Ben, obviously, as Nimitz chased the poor little formerly-blue-tailed skink around the bathroom floor. Fortunately for the skink, Nimitz has lost the killer instinct, so she would give it a little claw-free tap, watch it skitter away, then tap it again. She managed to get it towards the front door, where I picked her up, opened the door, and tried to let it out. She started squirming like crazy, so I tossed her in the bathroom and shut the door (easier said than done), then opened the storm door for the lizard, where it finally slipped out. I let Nimitz out of the bathroom, where we looked at the poor little thing as it sat by the door mat, its little sides heaving.
Look, I know the skink is probably just going to get eaten by one of the many neighborhood outdoor cats. I get it, really I do. My mom’s cats are indoor/outdoor, and not only have I heard all about the things they bring home, I’ve helped Mom rescue a couple. I totally get that cats are the ultimate killing machine, that lizards are lower on the food chain and often eaten by predators. That the animal kingdom is full of tiny creatures dying every day.
Just not in my front hallway, okay?