Alex goes back to work full-time next week, sadly signaling the end of summer. This time of year always comes with conflicted emotions, especially this year given we now have Emerson at home. It's going to be a huge adjustment for all of us, after spending the first three months of Em's life in a baby bubble—growing close as a family, slowly figuring out how to manage the new dynamics, and enjoying the comfort of constant support during the challenging times. It's been amazing to witness the bond between my husband and our baby grow. My heart feels giddy knowing that my daughter was blessed with having both of her parents around, totally engrossed in her every movement and sound, throughout her newborn period. And now, I'm nervous. Nervous to become the primary caregiver without any help, and nervous that Em and Alex will miss their daily rituals together. Sigh. Mostly, I cannot believe that in one season, my baby went from THIS:
What? And now, some random photos from this summer….
Somewhere around the 24-hour mark, when I was in labor with Em, I sung out "I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman" in the midst of a contraction. The room erupted in giggles as I sung, but I was in a groove. I was in pain. I was loving the pain. Not because I'm a masochist, but because my body was in the middle of its most heroic act in life, fulfilling its purpose, and totally rockin' out with its bad self. I felt…well….strong and invincible and proud to be a woman, in that moment.
This feeling continued throughout most of labor and birth. Then there was the awe. Immediately after I gave birth, I was in awe—not just of my new baby, but of myself. When I opened my eyes after hours in a trance, after pushing my child through my body and successfully into the outside world, I felt a high like never before. Surely, part of that was the natural rush of hormones that women are blessed with after giving birth, but there was also the part that was the result of what I had just accomplished. I had survived 51 hours of labor, about 40 of which were unmedicated. I stayed awake for three days with no sleep (other than a few hours on the third day). I made it the last 24 hours on only water, ice chips and a honey stick. I dug deep into a reserve that I was previously unaware I possessed. I overcame enormous obstacles along the way (read here, here, here, and here) yet never fully lost my spirit, my humor, or my determination. It was the hardest work I've ever done—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And I did it. No one could do it for me. Damn, did I feel proud of that.
It occurred to me, in replaying the birth over and over in my head for weeks afterwards, that I had discovered what I was truly capable of. There was no way I could allow thoughts of insecurity or negativity to tarnish the experience or the feeling of pride I had in giving birth. There hasn't been anything like that, in life, that has opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of my strength, courage, positive spirit or determination (even though I've surely conquered a lot). And so, I thought to myself, "what can I accomplish in life, now knowing that this reserve is here?" Before giving birth, I often talked myself out of feeling confident or strong. I rarely did anything without a little self-doubt, and if I did behave confidently and courageously, I'd eventually run into some self-defeating behaviors. I could make excuses then, I could act as if (and even believe) I could not conquer the challenges in front of me. But now, I can no longer ignore what I know is there. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman. I can do anything. It's been almost four months since I gave birth, and I still find myself contemplating these thoughts amidst the chaos that is motherhood. Motherhood is challenging and will test you, much like birthing. So, it's not surprising that when I have moments of triumph—when I make it through a difficult hour/day/week/phase, for instance—I feel that same feeling I felt in childbirth. In fact, I found myself singing "I am woman" while out for a run for the first time since before I was pregnant (over a year ago!). I hit the pavement and immediately felt a high. It was physically painful, yet I didn't slow down or give up. And it was a bit emotionally painful too, given I have never been more than a room away from my child since she's been born (granted, I only ran down my street and she was at home with her Daddy for all of 12 minutes, but it's a start). It was a short run, but that didn't matter because I felt strong in it. Mostly, I was glad to suddenly remember the song I sung out in labor, because I was reminded of that reserve tank and the fact that I have all I need, right here within me, to get through motherhood (and that run!).
Sorry, Helen Reddy, but I prefer the Sex & the City gals' rendition (although, the movie was gravely disappointing)
Emerson turned 3 months on Sunday—yes, our little one is no longer a newborn, though she hasn't felt like one for quite some time. I am in complete awe watching her develop. It's miraculous that I pushed her into this world just three months ago, and now she's laughing, babbling, blowing raspberries, grabbing both her feet in happy baby pose, and growing out of clothes and diapers at warp speed. She's also lost all of her hair, except for one patch at the crown of her head that makes her look like girl is rockin' a yarmulke. I find myself anxiously awaiting the beauty that will emerge along with her new hairs. I see the very beginning of soft, platinum blonde hair beginning to poke its way through her scalp and imagine her running around the backyard as a 5-year old, long, wavy locks streaming behind her.
My days start sometime between four and five a.m. these days. I'm awakened by Emerson squirming around beside me, intermittently emitting a shout to let me know she's ready to be picked up. I prop her up to a standing position and she immediately begins to roister around the bed, stomping her feet, giggling, and loudly blowing raspberries as she lunges for my face to say "good morning, mama." This sort of thing carries on for a while until I resign myself to the fact that my day is beginning at five a.m. Again.
It's not long before Em will be begging me for her first nap of the day, though, so I'll soon find myself bouncing on a big, blue birthing ball (the only way she will nod off to sleep). I sit and I bounce with not much to do but watch the day awaken outside my screen door. I stare at the house across the street—I've come to know the front of that house quite well in all my hours spent bouncing in the living room. The house is yellow with red trim, a color combination that truly irks me. But, there's also the black and white photo of Alex and I on the wall next to the door, and I spend a lot of time staring at that, too. It's one of the photos from our engagement session—Alex is holding me in his arms while we are locked in a kiss, standing on the beach down the street from our old apartment. That photo speaks of our passion, of the days when we were so obsessed with one another that we could't keep our hands off of each other. And now, our hands are busy changing diapers, patting burps out of our baby's belly, carrying the child who will not be put down. But, Emerson carries the torch for us, she is proof of our love—our genetics dancing together across her face, our nurturing kind of love hiding in the warmth of her skin.
And there will be passion again someday.
It's crazy to realize that this time last year I had just conceived Em (eight days, and three hours ago, to be exact). And now she's here, she's three months old, and I am a mama. All of that is still a lot to process (I probably say this every month). I catch glimpses of myself holding my baby in the glass cabinet door in the kitchen, or the bathroom mirror as I wash poop off of my hands after a diaper change, and the image is confusing. Beautiful, but confusing. Who is this woman, and who is this baby she's holding?
My own face has become almost foreign given all the time I spend staring at Em's. So, I put a little bit of makeup on the other day to reclaim the existence of my face. It's been four months since I've worn any—wow—and boy did I feel like a different person. It's amazing what a little bit of mascara, under eye concealer and blush can do for a gal (bye, bye signs of sleep deprivation!). Of course, I hadn't washed my hairs in days, but that's neither here nor there.
Three months, and we are slowly piecing this life together as parents. It doesn't look the same, but it's starting to feel normal. Of course, everything is about to change as Alex goes back to work in a few weeks after being home since Em's birth, and I will become a full-time mama (the same as now, minus the help) and a part-time aspiring artist.
I have done a complete overhaul on my blog several times since the time I started it, and yet it appears it's time to do so again. The first year or so, this blog was completely unfocused and I didn't post with much consistency. I pulled my act together and started blogging daily the following year, but still without much of a theme. I eventually narrowed my focus and set up pages like the New Reader page to make my mission clear (somewhat). But, it seems my mission has changed.
The blogs that I personally read and love have a clear voice and a story. That is what I've been lacking. But, I felt a voice and story begin to emerge from me during my pregnancy and this blog has slowly become something I never intended or imagined it would. I'm hesitant to label it anything at this point, though some could say it's a parenting blog. I just know that writing about my pregnancy allowed me to share on a deeper, more relatable level and the feedback I've gotten has been overwhelming. I've received numerous emails and comments, since my blog changed course, that confirm I am moving in the right direction.
I always said that having a child would somehow connect me to an opportunity in my personal life (i.e. career), but I had no idea what that looked like. I have been working on my photography business, little by little, off and on, for a few years now, and right now I feel most drawn to photographing pregnant women, babies/families, and possibly births. I'm so in awe of all those things, and can't imagine anything more beautiful and meaningful so it makes sense that I would not only want to photograph it (as that is my artistic medium), but also write about it. We'll see where this all leads…..
So, I will have to overhaul this blog yet again—it needs a new, pithy name (suggestions?), new banner, new tagline, etc. Now I just have to find the time to work on this with a small infant….oh….she just woke up. And she's hungry. I'll get around to all this work someday.
Thanks for all your support, dear readers! And thanks for reading!
There are a myriad of reasons that I find myself shocked and ashamed of our country when it comes to birthing and mothering. One such reason is our country's annoying sexualization of the human body. This is something that has always bothered me, but when I conceived a child, I became more bothered by it than ever.
I've always been closer to the nudist colony side of the modesty spectrum, so it's not entirely shocking that I have a problem with the shame and self-consciousness over our bodies that plagues us in this country. After giving birth, it now feels downright ridiculous. I have often heard that giving birth strips you of your self-consciousness and I wholeheartedly agree with that. It's kind of difficult to give birth and be modest at the same time. I mean, that baby is going to come out of your vagina whether or not you feel cool with it. And, at least a few people are going to have to witness it. So, let's face it, once a room full of people (some of whom you've never met before) have seen your bare ass up in the air as you try to push a human being out of you while on all fours, or you've had a nurse stick a bed pan under you so you can pee in bed (and then that same nurse cleans you up after said peeing has occurred), or you've had four hands inside you at once as they try to help your baby out, or you've had a blot clot the size of a tangerine fall out of your vagina, right onto a nurse's foot…..well…..you are less inclined to feel the need to cover up your bare body out of shame or embarrassment.
After I gave birth—in a room full of eight people, two cameras, and a video camera—I saw little need to cover up. Halfway through the pushing phase of labor, I yanked my hospital gown off, and remained naked until about an hour after my baby was born. The rest of my hospital stay, I only put on clothes when family came to visit. The rest of the time, though there was hospital staff coming and going constantly, I hung out in bed with my baby on my bare chest, rocking nothing but the enormous mesh underwear the nurses bless you with after birth. I wanted my baby to have all the skin-to-skin contact she needed (and you are urged to do so by doctors/midwives/baby books). I also knew my baby needed to nurse constantly. Why would I put clothes on when I had to take them off every hour?
And so, the great boob exposure began. Every nurse, doctor, midwife, pediatrician, blood drawer, housekeeper and delivery person on the maternity ward had to deal with it. The interesting thing was that I rarely even noticed that my boobs were out…..unless I got a strange or uncomfortable look. And yes, there were some uncomfortable looks. That is where my annoyance over the sexualization of the female breast began to grow. I was in a HOSPITAL where one would expect a bare human body to be no big deal (as far as doctors and nurses are concerned, at the very least), AND I had just given birth so my baby obviously needed feeding round-the-clock. Also, the nurses wrote me daily reminders to make sure to get plenty of skin-to-skin time with my infant. But, even under those conditions, a couple of nurses and doctors looked visibly uncomfortable to walk into the room and see me sitting in my bed in only my underwear.
Then I went home. And began living in the normal world, as a mother of a small baby, a baby who is breastfed.
My breasts haven't felt like sexual objects since before I was pregnant. As a pregnant woman, my body became a body—a beautiful, strong, miraculous body able to create and nourish life. And that feeling only multiplied after giving birth and breastfeeding. My vagina births babies, my breasts feed babies. And why can't we appreciate that? Why does everything in this country have to be about sex? Why do I need to use a "hooter hider" to feed my baby in public (I had one gifted to me, but never use it).
I'm not saying that I never cover my breasts while feeding my baby in public—when I am in public places that feel breast-feeding friendly, I don't hesitate to whip a bare boob out, and when I'm not, I'm a little more discreet. But, being discreet sometimes feels as if I am valuing random strangers' discomfort/horror over my baby's need to eat. And that. That makes me feel sad, because this country has imprinted its sexualized ideals into my psyche thus causing me to feel I have something to hide or be ashamed of for fear of offending somebody. OR, I am feeling the eyes of someone leering at me who clearly has a sexualized view of breasts, and I simply want to make that stop.
My point is, I am now in a mind space where I often forget my breast is even exposed (there have been several accidental boob exposures after forgetting to snap my shirt back together after a feeding) yet I am often reminded that the vast majority of the population hasn't been freed from limited thinking. We are a highly sexualized society, with half-naked women on billboards and magazine covers, half-naked women starring in movies, pornographic material clogging up our computers, young girls dressing provocatively well before they've even developed breasts. But, at the same time, we are highly ashamed of our bodies and find birthing videos and breastfeeding in public offensive. There is a total disconnect here.
I'm not a crusader, but I do think this is an important discussion—discussing it is what makes others think and consider an issue. In an ideal world, I'd love to see this country change its thinking. But, for now, I suppose I am making others think about the issue every time I accidentally (or knowingly, without a care) flash them. I'm doing my part, one boobie at a time.
All I know is that right now, as I write this, my baby is lying next to me in bed, latched onto my breast, drifting off to sleep completely content and it's one of the most beautiful, heart-warming moments of my day. It's crazy to me that this could ever be seen as offensive. The end.
Since Em has been born, the one thing I've made a valid attempt to keep going (because, let's face it, with an infant almost everything gets the back burner) is writing my blog. For a while, I was impressed with my ability to keep up with my writing. I didn't write every day, like I used to, but a smattering of posts here and there is still impressive with a newborn, as far as I'm concerned. But, for the past few weeks writing has joined the rest of "me" on the back burner and I feel myself slipping away.
I've heard so many times that the first month with a baby is the hardest, but I'd beg to differ. Of course, I am sure I will always look back to former phases and remember them as being easier. I suppose it's like I said in one of my posts last month, it doesn't ever get easier, it just gets different as things shift. At any rate, right now I am remembering the first few weeks of Em's life as a time when I was able to maintain a tiny bit of "me time." That "me time" was always had with a baby in my arms, or at my breast, but it still somewhat resembled time for myself as I would fill it with writing blogs or long emails to friends, editing photos or even watching movies or TV on Netflix (a huge luxury I'm sure I won't see again for a few years). It's not that my child didn't need me during that phase, because she was absolutely glued to my body 24 hours a day and I only left her for 10 minutes every three days to take a shower (yes, I only showered every third day in those early days). But, the majority of time spent with my child—apart from the hours I would spend just staring at my beautiful little angel in awe—was time that I needed to occupy myself, because she was mostly just sleeping and eating.
Now, I have an incredibly alert, interactive baby who is awake for longer stretches and who has decided in the past few weeks that she only wants her mama. It's obviously natural for a baby to prefer her mama, and natural to go through these phases, but it doesn't make me any less tired knowing that. It's a tough gig, being a mama. And, when your child goes through inevitable "phases," it's difficult to remember that the phase won't last. That's what Alex and I have been hearing from everyone since Em's birth—a constant chorus line echoing in our ears…."It won't last. Things will change. It's just a phase." As comforting as it is to hear that, it's often difficult to remember when in the throws of a 3-hour fight to get your baby to sleep, as your palms sweat and you've tried ever baby soothing tactic you know and Dr. Sears' magical tactics are just plain failing, and you can't hand the baby off to daddy without cries so hysterical that your boobs start leaking milk and all the mothering hormones in you rush and surge to the point of you wanting to cry, because the pain of seeing your child upset is unbearable…..so you grab the baby back into your chest, though you are running on fumes. Yes, it's hard to remember that those three hours will ever end, let alone remember that some day your babe will be self-sufficiant and you will be crying for her to want and need you that much again.
So, my writing. My writing has been swallowed up by long cuddle sessions on the couch, guided tours around my house for the little one whose hungry eyes need to just "look at things" for a good few hours each day, running around like a maniac trying to accomplish a week's worth of household chores in the few minutes a day off of my body that Em graces me with, long chats and giggle sessions on the changing table as Em shows off the new tricks she's learned each day, bouncing the baby to sleep on an exercise ball every other hour (because it's the only way she will take her naps right now), animated Dr. Seuss readings, dangling toys and random household objects in front of my baby so she can touch and explore them, and the general trouble shooting of various noises and cries that emanate from my sweet girl round the clock. And, that's okay. That's the job. I'm a mama, a mama with a small infant. I wouldn't give her any less of myself, because I can wait. But, I'm still hoping that I'll find the time to be "me" once in a while too.
P.S. I'm also hoping I find the time to take more photographs of my little one! Time is moving fast and she looks so different every day, so it's killing me that my crazy baby photogging has slowed down recently.