He isn’t here, but now someone else is, this thrilling splendiferous second baby, and like any mother I can’t imagine taking the smallest step from the historical path that led me here, to this one, to such a one.Elizabeth McCracken
“Before we were conceived, we existed in part as an egg in our mother’s ovary. All the eggs a woman will ever carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born….”
— Layne Redmond, When the Drummers Were Women
Great epigraph to the new book by Ashley Audrain, The Push. As sweet as the above quotation is, the book is a suspenseful psychological thriller about a mother who increasingly suspects her daughter is dangerous. One of the blurbs on the back cover claims the book will set your nerves “jangling in both horror and recognition.” Gulp. Recognition. Is this what I’m in for, with our 14-month-old? Will I, like the narrator, wonder if her behavior is normal toddler antics, or something more…sinister?
My husband said he already worries our daughter has a mischievous side. I slowly set The Push down.
“What do you mean?”
“Like when she picks her nose even though she knows we don’t like it, or drops food on the floor.”
They would be teenagers now,
those crusted-nose, mismatch-socked,
pig-tailed grinning first graders.
On December 14 there were presents already
hidden in closets and drawers of dressers
or out under the tree
(Santa gives gifts
but so do parents)
and I wonder,
what did parents do with those gifts
after December 14?
Ten days ’til Christmas Eve.
Were siblings giddy on Christmas morning,
and then stopped and remembered?
Did a mother forget a gift she’d bought and hid
in the upper left cupboard above the washer,
finding it three years later when the family packed to move
from Sandy Hook to Anywhere Else,
and with the thud of sudden remembrance
found herself trembling,
scraping at the tape,
sure and unsure of what was inside?
- Read Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother. Then read it again.
- Listen to The Birth Hour podcast—it will make you marvel at the variety of labor stories, and the astonishing empowerment of birth!
- You don’t have to change a wet diaper in the middle of the night—just a poopy one. Our doula tried to tell us this, but we didn’t listen until our baby was like seven months. What a difference.
- Oh—get a doula.
- Take a trip with your newborn at 4 weeks, 8 weeks, even 12 weeks old—they’ll sleep almost all the time, and you can sightsee (albeit through sleep-hazed eyes).
- Don’t try to lose the last 10 lbs. of “baby weight” if you’re breastfeeding—the baby needs you to keep eating and drinking plenty so you can keep up the milk factory. Or to quote my friend, “Eat like a linebacker.”
- Tulip-hem/open-front nursing shirts from Motherhood Maternity will be your sole wardrobe for the next year. Sans bra.
- A midwife and a birthing tub can be your two new best friends. (The model of midwifery care was light-years beyond typical OB-GYN care. It was like the difference between lighting a candle & sinking into a couch…vs. napping on the divided seats at the airport.)
- Be Team Green! Don’t find out the sex of the baby in advance. The surprise at birth is 100% worth the agony of waiting. Plus, you won’t have to suffer through endless blue baby shower gifts, or endless pink.
- Don’t register for a changing table. Change the kid’s diaper on the floor. Stick a puppy pad under them and you’re good to go. You’ll feel the need to wash your hands like three different times by the end of each changing, and what will you do with the baby then? The floor prevents baby from…falling to the floor.
- Read Magda Gerber’s book Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect, or anything by Janet Lansbury—ditto Lansbury’s podcast Unruffled. You know all those things other parents do that annoy you? You don’t have to do them! It’s a miracle.
- Haakaa silicone breast pump! Lightweight, portable, perfect! You stick it on one breast while you’re nursing from the other. No cords, no batteries. You can score so many extra ounces this way—I stopped using a regular breast pump! But on that note:
- Elvie breast pump if you have to work outside the home! These cordless gals tuck into your bra and let you pump while driving, walking, or preaching (okay, I took them out for preaching, as they would have made my congregants wonder if I’d gotten implants—they are a tad large—and they light up like Fembots).
- Don’t give up on breastfeeding at 6 weeks when you want to, or 3 mos. when you want to. You’ll finally hit your stride by 6 mos., and then you can do hardcore things like nurse in the middle of a waterfall in the mountains of NC or on a chilly beach in Alaska:
- Write down, or do a voice memo of, all your memories of labor & birth before too much time goes by. Before any time goes by. In those bleary and weepy first few days, jot down whatever details come back to you—put them on your Notes app or in a journal, just somewhere you can access it at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. These are unbelievably priceless.
- Yes to a maternity photo shoot (though you will be tired). Yes to labor/birth photos—ask your doula to take them. And yes to a newborn photo shoot (though you will be tired). 110% worth it.
- For those who want to keep some semblance of a spiritual practice amidst the new normal of chaos—open your holy book and set it on the table beside your nursing chair. Glance over now and again while nursing, and try to commit a verse to memory. (My current verse: “You have put gladness in my heart, / more than when grain and wine and oil increase” Psalm 4:7 BCP—so chosen to remind me to be GLAD!)
- They tell you to take Ibuprofen for the recovery pain, but hello? It makes you constipated! The last thing you need is a herculean effort to push anything else out down there.
- The cliché is true: It goes by too fast. Savor it.
- And finally, the real secret to happiness in your new life as a parent to the world’s most precious kiddo: Only have one.
- **edit** Had to add one more I just thought of. You don’t need to heat the milk. Or the formula. Or the purees. They will drink/eat it cold. Trust me.
As the mother of a baby girl, I feel my ears prick up in newly painful ways whenever I read about gender disparity. I’m currently reading Boys & Sex, by Peggy Orenstein, having appreciated her previous Girls & Sex. Also reading Fair Play, by Eve Rodsky. I forget which of these books clued me in to the “pink tax,” but, I’d just read about it before going to Amazon to look for bottle-cleaning brushes.
Lo and behold….
Click here for pictures of products in stores–blue and pink, side by side–with the mismatched price tags as proof.
When it came time to leave for the birthing center, after a night of fighting delirium and contracting muscles and vomiting bile into the hotel trash can, I had enough presence of mind to pick up my miscarriage memorial bracelet and put it on. I could barely walk, but this I remembered to do.
When we arrived at the birthing center, I was 9 cm dilated, though I didn’t learn the amount until later — I asked not to know. My only other memory of the bracelet is when I was on all fours on the bed, my wrists locked and propped on pillows. Mostly my eyes were closed, but as the sun began coming through the blinds, I saw the bracelet there. Soon after, the midwife told me to flip around, and be fast about it.
I had heard that I wouldn’t think about the miscarriage as much, once the baby came, and I’m afraid that’s true. The bracelet sits in my drawer now. It’s been thirteen days since the birth, and any tears are reserved for this child, not for the one that came before.
I hope this is not a betrayal.
But, that’s because I put it there.
Or, more accurately, my husband put it there.
A huge mattress stuffed into the bathroom, taking up all the floor space, so that walking to the toilet requires three steps across the squishy foamy square.
This is my new plan for dealing with 5x/night potty breaks: Sleep in the bathroom. The walk from the usual bed to the bathroom was just too long.
The move happened just in time, because I’ve been battling a head cold/sinus infection for the past week. Now the bathroom bed is surrounded by Sudafed tablets, glasses of water, a box of tissues, a trash can, an eye mask, a pair of earplugs, a book light, a pregnancy book, a tube of chapstick, a pillow for my heavy legs, and the night guard that would keep me from grinding my teeth, except I can’t sleep with my mouth closed anyway, because I can’t breathe out of my nose, which is perfect, because third-trimester pregnancy doesn’t give you enough dry-mouth as it is.
But I can’t complain! I can, but not on a deeper level. Because I still get to feel those baby rolls and reflex kicks…I still get to see the surface of my stomach move with this growing child…I still get to talk to Little Swan and be as one. I’m not yet ready for pregnancy to end.
The Birth Hour podcast. It is a judgment-free zone. I marvel at how every single woman’s birth story is different. They’re different from other women and they’re different from child 1 to child 2, 3, and more.
Of course I have daydreams of how my own birth story would go. I picture being in the peaceful room of a birthing center, no IVs stuck in my arms or monitors strapped to my belly. I picture the baby being brought immediately to my chest (okay, if the cord is tugging, then maybe just my abdomen). Of course I hope for euphoria. Counting on those natural hormones….
Being pregnant so quickly after a miscarriage does not remove the pain of said miscarriage. I cried on Mother’s Day, in D.C. on our babymoon. We had scheduled the trip when we were expecting our first. We decided to keep the train tickets even after the loss, and here we were, expecting again. It could have been worse — I could have not been pregnant — but still I cried in the church around the corner while the choir sang “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”
I was supposed to be 23 weeks along, in the peach glow of the second trimester, ballooning with joy and turning heads. Instead I was 11 weeks along, falling into bed every afternoon while it rained outside our rented basement flat. Walking through museums exhausted me, and all our dinner dates — Thai larb, Indian paneer, thick foot-long doughy pizzas — weren’t enough to encourage my appetite. We finally rented city scooters, and as we bumped along the sidewalks, I wondered if I would lose this baby too.
Will the remembrance of miscarriage always make tears coat my eyes? I imagine so. I’ve been keeping track of when and why I cry about the miscarriage — each instance since January. The most recent was August 5. I ought to average them out.
I am excited with each baby kick from “Little Swan,” as we’re calling this one, and I’ve recorded the rapid-hoof heartbeat from the doctor’s Doppler. But when the heartbeat sounded through the exam room, I couldn’t help my first thought, of the baby before: I never got to hear his heart.