Monday, September 8, 2008

The Second Nine Months

Westley turned nine months old last Monday, and I've spent the week watching him and shaking my head. He's changing so dramatically and so quickly, I feel like I'm constantly behind, trying to catch up. This is the second half of our 18-month journey together.

Four Days Old
We take him out of the house for the first time. It's the icy middle of winter, and I desperately want him to wear a hat, but none of them fit. The hat I knit before he was born that looks like an eggplant and fits a grapefruit perfectly is way too big for the baby. A hat we received from a coworker is sized for a six-month-old at least. The only hat that comes close to fitting is the one that came with our birth kit. It's super-stretchy though, and keeps slipping up his forehead while he sleeps. I don't want to pull it down and disturb him.

We arrive at the pediatrician's office and are treated like royalty. Apparently, having a tiny newborn during cold and flu season means you're kept as far away from other patients as possible. The doctor asks how often he eats, pees, and poops, and how many hours a day he sleeps. I feel bad because I don't know. When we get home, Rob makes a Diaper Change Log (with Pee and Poop checkboxes) and posts it above the changing table, along with a pen on a string.

Feeding Westley is torture. He won't latch on. He just opens his mouth and shakes his head, looking for the nipple. "It's there," I coach him, squeezing my breast into an awkward sandwich-shape. "You got it, baby." But when he latches on, he pops back off almost immediately--and wails. Eventually--finally--my mother figures out to push up on his chin when he's in position, closing his mouth in a proper latch. She holds her finger under his chin for several minutes while he gets the hang of suck-swallow-breathe. My husband brings me pillows for my arms, legs, and back. He checks my wrists to make sure they're not crunched into right angles. I didn't know it took a village to nurse a baby.

I can't believe how sore I am. I feel stupid and helpless, carrying a little inflatable donut pillow around the house with me. I also ache all over and sweat like crazy at night, and all of the blood vessels under my eyes are broken. Labor was like running a marathon while being sick with the flu. But I'm also emotionally sore. I feel broken-hearted, and I can't explain why. I don't really believe that Westley came out of me, or that he was ever inside of me. Holding him fills me with calm and confusion and dread. He's so completely fragile and yet so sturdy. He has bones, for fuck's sake! There is no way I could have had any part in making something so beautiful and complex. I'm pretty sure God is going to show up at the door and demand him back. Any minute now...

One Month Old
Mom brings Westley to me in the middle of the night. After his last feeding, she takes him and rocks him, dozing with him in her arms until he wails for milk. Then she brings him to me and keeps me company while I nurse him, bleary-eyed in the dark, feeling a little like a crazy person. Part of me honestly thinks that this is what my life will be for the rest of my life. Part of me is certain that there will come a time when I miss this: sitting in the silent living room with my sleep-deprived mother, feeding a tiny hungry creature.

We have awesomely effective blackout shades on the living room window, but I leave them open all night. When I stumble out of bed, light from the neighbors' security lamps pours in, protecting me like a nightlight.

Westley looks like an owl in the dark, with wide dark eyes. He seems so wise and so confused at the same time. I make a conscious effort to tell him what I'm going to do, even though it feels strange to talk to him. I try to imagine what it would be like to live with creatures fifteen times my size, whose language I didn't speak and who I could only assume had my best interests at heart. I'm surprised Westley is so calm, all things considered. I think he's braver than I am.

Two Months Old
One of my most cherished friends comes to visit and I never want her to leave. She blends seamlessly into my scattered routine. We sit on the couch and watch TV together while Westley eats. I'm finally over my obsession with babies-getting-born shows, so we watch What Not To Wear.

Our adventures are mundane at this point. The grocery store is a big hit. Westley sleeps in the ring sling like a perfect angel. I love having the weight of him on my body. It makes shopping a much slower process, but I'm so glad to be out with him. I used to notice mothers with their babies and smile at them. Now I'm one of those mothers. I don't notice people smiling. Westley is all I can see.

He sleeps through restaurant meals. I drape a napkin over him and try not to spill anything. I'm on high-alert, ready to bolt to the car the minute he starts to seem upset, but it never happens. I come home with sore muscles from tensing my legs under the table.

Three Months Old
I debate long and hard with myself over what to put on The Sign. I finally settle on the very vague "Please Do Not Disturb," print it off so it looks somewhat official, and post it on the conference room door with double-stick tape. I've double- and triple-checked the schedule for that day and the room is supposed to be free for the next hour. But there's no lock. I position myself so that my back is to the door.

Leaving my baby at home is hard, but it's nothing compared to pumping. Pumping at work is awful. It's both mildly painful and a huge logistical pain. I want to cry when I see that I've only managed to express eight ounces of milk in two sessions, knowing that Westley is at home drinking twelve ounces. It's backwards and wrong to have to try to get a machine to suck milk out of my tits so I can be away from my son doing a job I kind of hate.

"Look at you!" the Account Executive says cheerfully when she sees me at the sink with my pump parts. "I remember that. I couldn't do it." Her girls are teenagers, but from her tone, you'd think it was yesterday. She smiles. "Good for you."

Yeah, good for me, but I don't know how much longer I can manage. I never really envisioned myself as a stay-at-home mother. My goal was to have a professional identity in addition to being a mother and a wife. But the job I'm doing now is not the job I was promised when I returned from maternity leave. It's not my employer's fault that the client changed her mind, but no one let me know that things had changed. My favorite coworkers have already moved on to new jobs with more stable companies.

This is not the professional identity I wanted. I think I have to quit.

Four Months Old
How is it possible that everything in my life is the same and completely different at the same time?

Five Months Old
I can't remember the last time we had to wake Westley up to feed him, but we still sing the song we wrote so that we wouldn't have to cry about gently jiggling a tiny baby. It sort-of-but-not-really goes to the tune of "Wake Up Little Susie."

Wake up, little Westley, wake up
Wake up, little Westley, wake up
You know it's time for food, 'cause you are in the mood
I'm shakin' you to waken you 'cause you're my little dude
Wake up, little Westley
Wake up, little Westley
It's time to eat food

It's fun to sing to him, especially the silly songs we come up with on the spur of the moment. He seems to love music, and Rob and I started putting his name into whatever song pops into our heads. "West" rhymes with lots of good stuff ("Nobody does it half as good as you/Baby, you're my West"), and it's pretty easy to fit "Westley O" somewhere into a line.

He has a hundred nicknames, but I almost always call him "Westley O," like he's a First Lady.

Six Months Old
You and I have a Mutual Admiration Society going. You smile at me all the time, everywhere, like I'm the coolest person you know. Like you're surprised to see me in the supermarket. I snuggle you and kiss you and nuzzle you and nibble your sides saying, "Corn on the cob! Yum-yum-yumyumyum!"

I'll probably say it again next month, but this is my favorite age.

Seven Months Old
Westley and I ride the bus to a mom's group, which turns out to be a terrible idea. The group part, that is. I'm the youngest mother and Westley is the oldest baby. The women want to talk about issues that should really be discussed with therapists, and Westley wants to crawl all over their tiny, squalling infants. The group leader wants us to sit quietly and "meditate" at the opening and closing of every group session. Um, not so much.

The bus-riding part is awesome, however. Westley watches everything with giant eyes, and flirts tentatively with the elderly woman next to us on the way there. On the way home, the middle-aged Jamacaian woman sitting next to me asks me how old Westley is. Then she asks, "Breastfeeding or bottle?" I'm caught off-guard and hear myself answering her while I'm wondering what kind of question that is from a stranger.

"I'm breastfeeding him."

She doesn't say anything after that, and I don't continue the conversation. But I wonder, does she think I shouldn't be breastfeeding him? Is she polling all of the mothers of babies she sees, conducting an informal survey? I wonder what strange thing she would have asked me if she'd been on the bus route I rode while I was pregnant.

Eight Months Old
My son is speaking to me. It's like a miracle is taking place in my living room.

I can see the wheels turning inside his head as he figures it out. This is how you communicate. His babble goes up and down, with the highs and lows of real sentences. I listen hard, trying to pick words out of the strings of sing-song vowels and consonants. I try to find the words I know he recognizes.

Mommy, Daddy, milk. More, up, kitty, gentle. Glasses, hi, no. MaMay, Granddad, nap, night. Bye-bye.

So far, everything is "ma." It's his go-to sound, and he uses it to mean Mommy and everything he needs. He cries "mamamama" when he wants me to hold him, when he wants to nurse, when he's bored and fed up with being in the car seat, when he's tired and feeling like crap.

He never says "mama" when he's happy. Instead, he flashes his sparkly eyes and laughs with his mouth wide open. With each laugh, I love him even more than I did a minute ago.

Nine Months Old
You are nine months old, and napping sweetly in your crib. You sleep so well now that you're spending each day tiring yourself out. If you could, you would spend every waking minute moving, playing, exploring. At your nine-month check-up, I told your doctor that you were doing the commando slither, but not crawling yet. You crawled that same afternoon, because you're sneaky like that. My sweet punky-pie, my little man.

The best times are just watching you enjoy your world and figure it out. You love breezes, ceiling fans, the sound of the creek rushing through the backyard, splashing water in the bath, any and all music. You know how to pet the kitties gently, but you yank my hair out by the handfuls. Friendly strangers in the grocery store make you crumple and cry, so I squat low and push you in the shopping cart fast, making race car noises.

Thank you for being so patient with me. You forgive me when I mess up, and are always delighted to tell me when I get it right. Having you by my side, on my hip makes me less self-conscious. I sing more often because of you. Old sights, sounds and smells are fun and cool and interesting and "Wow!" I can't imagine where I would be without you. You are my monkey, my elf, the little king who totally saved my life. It breaks my heart how much I love you, Bunk. You're growing so strong and fast. I hope I can keep growing with you.

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1 comment:

L-E said...

Seattle is high on my list of places I'd like to be.



Lots of love,