31 January 2009

The Kindness of Strangers, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wail

They say that babies don’t come with a manual, but that isn’t entirely accurate. After a few sleepless nights and senseless worrying about completely normal infant behaviour (sleeplessness, crying for seemingly no reason) I begged Bruce to order us What to Expect in the First Year. I suspect it will serve much the same purpose as that initial pregnancy bible, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which I only referenced in times of extreme uncertainty or distress. It didn’t always help, but it does give you a momentary sense of purpose, and the fleeting impression that you’re in control - even mothers need security blankets, see.

My sister-in-law is over and I’m stealing a few moments to check emails, drink a cup of decaf and do a few basic things hands-free before they are once more filled with infant need. Starting Monday, the two of us will be left to our own devices when Bruce goes back to work, and rather than panic about it, I’m just going to go with the flow and do what I’ve been doing all along – feeding, changing, settling and then co-sleeping away those hours of down time when he needs nothing else except rest.

Last night at some ungodly hour, I tore open the poppers on the legs of a new little sleeper our neighbour gave us as a gift recently, and a massive black spider scurried out from inside it and across the covers. Rather than lose my shit as I’m wont to do around spiders, I scooped it up in a soiled baby vest, crushed it and tossed a shirt over the minor massacre, reaching instead for the adorable ducky vest that my excellent internet friend Lass sent through the mail (thanks Lass!) (Well I wasn’t going to put him in the spider sleeper, as it will henceforth be known - at least to me, and until I’ve washed it a few dozen times to be sure there are no remnants of spider or microscopic spider eggs).

*Also in the package from our kind Lass was an incredibly cool little bib that will come in handy when he’s older and onto solids, and some lovely burp cloths for when I’m able to fit back into the tops I actually care about (having breasts isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, especially when they have the potential to win you the wet t-shirt contest you didn’t intend to enter).

I’m still amazed at how something as uncommon as a new baby - especially in the virile, ever-multiplying district of Muswell Hill - can inspire kindness in the most unlikely of people: namely neighbours we’ve never met or ones who’ve expressed no prior interest in knowing us.

But then it’s not until you’ve had one that suddenly, all the things that once pissed you off about crying, weird-looking potato-headed little people start to become the very things you grin your face off about, such as when you’re in a restaurant and someone’s offspring suddenly bursts out into a chorus of Waaaaah, waaaaah, waaaahs. Even in the middle of the night, there’s no denying that this is the happiest, most life-affirming sound you will ever know.

*photos to follow when His Sleeplessness properly wakes from his fitful nap

28 January 2009

Getting to grips

You know how sometimes you go to a fair and see a ride and think to yourself, Hey, that doesn’t look so bad – in fact, it looks pretty tame and you get on and the ride starts up and it’s everything you thought it would be; that is until it suddenly shoots about a hundred feet into the air and tilts at a crazy angle that makes you feel as though the worn out old seatbelt could at any moment tear away from your hips and you’ll go spiralling over the heads of those poor sods queuing up for that other ride about twenty kilometers yonder and just then it starts to undulate in such a way that your stomach isn’t sure if it wants to explode or implode or maybe jump ship out your ass and you’re like, Actually, MOTHEROFCHRISTGETMEOFFATHISFUCKINGTHING! except that you should have thought of that earlier, because now it’s much too late and you know you’re going to have to suffer this horror for at least another five minutes?

Except that parenthood lasts a wee bit longer than five minutes, and involves something very small and vulnerable that you can’t help but love with your whole entire being, and he’s on the ride too except fortunately for him he hasn’t the wherewithal to retain bad memories and will root around on your chin, the edge of a cushion, a duvet cover or whatever because he hasn’t figured out yet that only mummies and not faces or inanimate objects have nipples, and for this reason you need to make sure that you stay firmly in the seated position because otherwise neither of you will make it through this thing alive.

Bruce and my dad have nipped out to Mothercare for a few essentials, and both our mothers are out there in the other room with our sleeping infant, who seems to have become more unsettled by this whole Being Alive in the World condition than he was last week. He refuses to nap until you feed him and then joggle him around a bit and then feed him again and then change him and then give him some gripe water and then joggle him around some more and then sacrifice a chicken when the moon is in the seventh house and then feed him – every two to three hours. But then he sleeps like an angel.

This mixture of love and concern, joy and sinking despair can be very overwhelming when you’re onto a third day where none of you have slept and you find yourself sniping at the very people who are there to help take him off your hands and your husband is stumbling around like the living dead and trying to get you to have a nap instead of chewing your fingers into little stubs or possibly saying something that will forever fracture the delicate relationship you’ve managed to foster with your parents who, might you add, have not yet clarified whether they’ll definitely help finance a whole year of maternity leave or whether that was just something they said and maybe even meant but only in the moment. Not quite yet.

Then this tiny mite starts to cry and I feel my stomach sink a little bit but I’m up like a hero and taking him into my arms and he roots around on my cheek and my chin and my nose for a nipple, stabbing his little face at me like a tiny anaconda and going Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah until I have him lying on his side in bed next to me, my boob out and in his face, and he tenses up and makes two fists which he pulls back like an angry little man winding up as if to say Why, I oughta . . . except that instead he stabs around at my breast with his whole face until his mouth finds a good latch and he gives an almighty suck that makes both of us go quiet.

And then there’s no denying that it’s all worth it somehow. I’m not sure why, but that’s the honest truth. Motherhood is so much harder than I thought it would be, and so much better too.

20 January 2009

Batteries not excluded

Thanks to all of you who stuck it out for so long when things went silent here. I apologise in advance for the paucity in both words and depiction, as the experience of labour and ensuing baby-ness is more than I can adequately describe.

I had my first contraction at 8 p.m. on Friday 9th January (my due date!) and finally delivered our son on the 11th of January at 11:46 a.m.

My ‘natural childbirth’ scenario was deftly revised after 19 hours of difficult contractions, when my extensive list of birth plan thou shalt nots went swiftly out the window and I heard myself whining pitifully at the new midwife on staff, But Comfort said I could have both the Pethidine and the epidural! Thereafter I was sucking back as many different kinds of pills, gas, air and injections as the antenatal and labour wards had on offer.

Towards the end, it came down to whether or not my labour was progressing quickly enough for a truly natural childbirth, and even though staff and family maintained an optimistic outlook, doctors and midwives were meanwhile confabbing about the possibility of having to conduct the dreaded ‘c’ word, which is something no first-time mother should ever have to consider.

But my next internal determined that baby seemed to be quite happy where he was for the time being; meanwhile I was 9 cm along and so was instructed to push. It took only seven minutes of pushing before the doctor finally lifted a real, warm baby onto my chest and the room broke out into ecstatic mayhem, though the exhaustion and shock of what had just happened rendered me fairly numb.

We were in hospital for far too long recovering from our respective minor ailments, and during this time I struggled to fill the enormous shoes of motherhood, which require you to not only be there in body but in soul as well. It wasn’t until we escaped that chaotic environment for home, however, that the bonding process truly began to take place. Since then I have been perpetually buffeted by a feeling that I can only describe as love, though it’s much different from any kind of love I’ve ever felt before.

Bruce thought I’d be able to aptly describe the process of labour, and until last week, I was pretty sure that I could. But just as ‘period pains times a million’ barely touches upon the real experience of labour, so does ‘love for your favourite cat times a million’ poorly illustrate the overwhelming mixture of sadness and joy I experience every time I look down at his sweet little face and wonder how something so beautiful could possibly have anything at all to do with me.

I envision so many different scenarios wherein I fail him completely as a mother that paranoia infiltrates my dreams and turns me into a nervous wreck when he’s not completely at ease, asleep. Bruce has taken to fatherhood quite naturally and is very good at settling him when he cries at night and also at reassuring me that I’m doing a good job (though my only weapon against distress seems to be the boob).

He’s been in our lives for just over a week, which isn’t very long at all, though already he’s changed us profoundly - as a couple and as individuals. Things won’t ever be the same again, but I’m not sure that such comparisons hold any meaning for me anymore.

I will try to write here as often as I can, though babies really do take up as much of your time as everyone says they do. As scary and consuming as it is, though, I truly love this new role and can’t imagine wanting or needing to do anything else right now.

08 January 2009

An event

This morning I woke at an ungodly hour to stumble to the toilet for something like the fifth time, when all of a sudden . . . POP.

A snap came off the maternity jumper I was trying to dislodge myself from.

And that is truly the only thing of note to have happened in this pregnancy since I last wrote here. Yes, well I’ll see your disappointment and raise you an agonising bout of acid indigestion.

When you take everything else into consideration (heartburn, pelvic dysfunction, carpel tunnel, insomnia), traumatising my reproductive organs by passing a live human being through them starts to feel like the lesser of many, many evils. Why it took me so long to recognise just how evil this particular proposition is likely to be, I can only guess (denial?).

I decided that in preparation for the big day, I would read birth stories to familiarise myself with the general way in which labour progresses. What I discovered is that these generalities don’t exist and that, actually, there are many, many different potential worlds of fear and pain to experience in the labour room, and even within the hours leading up to hospitalisation.

Bar none (okay, bar one), the consensus seemed to be that this horrific ordeal was really nothing compared to the joy of seeing that smushed up little face for the first time, and that Project Reproduction would be going ahead for a second and possibly even third trial just as soon as their mangled lady parts were up to the task.

Though to be honest, it’s a bit difficult to take heart when most of what you’re reading is along the lines of:

I begged my husband to claw out my eyes so that I’d have something else to focus on. In retrospect, I now wish that I’d asked for the epidural much sooner, and that I’d asked them to put it IN MY BRAIN. Like, THE WEEK BEFORE.

It was the happiest day of my life.

So a slight sense of panic now accompanies each new twinge or movement in yonder netherparts, and I’m trying my darnedest to tame this wild stallion of terror before I too find myself having to climb up the walls of an unfamiliar room wearing nothing but a backless gown and a grimace.

Last night, as I was falling asleep to the dulcet tones of a tech-head from Holland who was giving Bruce a video tutorial on how to turn our EEE PC into a touch-screen, radioactive, six-piece dinette set that can save lives and makes toast, I started to feel these wild undulations from the tip of my womb to the base of my pelvic bone and vaguely thought, I think it might be happening.

But it hasn’t, and now I’ve nearly eaten all the snacks out of my labour bag, which has been packed and ready by the front door for the last few weeks, though I'm starting to doubt its relevance. Tick tock, little one.