043

i pull up to an unfamiliar, imposing office building off the tollway and scroll through my emails in a blind panic.  is this the right location?  did i accidentally show up at the corporate office?  this doesn't look like a medical practice.  my cheap h&m blazer is too tight in the armpits.  it's only march in texas but i am starting to sweat.

call this number when you arrive, the recruiter had emailed me.  i call, and a man tells me to hang tight.  a minute later, he comes striding down the hallway to meet me.  he is in his early forties, but has a boyish, grinning charm.  he wears a perfectly tailored suit with ease.  the word 'rakish' comes to mind.  

i'm brandon, he introduces himself assertively.  i try to shake his hand with a practiced confidence that says BUSINESS but i end up sort of hopelessly squeezing it with a clammy tenacity that says OCTOPUS.  he leads me into a clinic that does not look clinical, into an office full of rich woods and gold accents.  i perch on the edge of a couch trying to hold my posture into a position that isn't my native gelatinous slouching.

brandon leans forward conspiratorially and asks: so tell me, mimi- can you talk shit?

nearly four years later and i still remember this job interview like it was yesterday, can see myself in those polyester pants and black ballet flats (i didn't even own heels), desperate to land this job and steer myself out of the no man's land between graduate school and the adult workforce.  only a few months after my optimistic promotion to management at the surgery center, my new boss had swept in through a regime change with leadership books, disparaging comments about my clothing, and a way of delivering simpering criticisms through insincere smiles that made my skin crawl.  and when i had one semester left until graduation, the dolores umbridge of healthcare pulled me into her office and threw down an ultimatum- school or work.

both, i thought, with an uncharacteristic anger that burned deep.  and i started the job hunt.  i interviewed with a cardiology group in search of an office manager, escalating through several rounds until i was happily chatting with director of operations about the future of healthcare technology.  well i'll be honest with you, mimi, he told me at the end of our interview.  you're obviously very qualified and i think you'd do a great job.  but i have a feeling you won't settle until you're the vp of a company.

nooooo, i wanted to cry out in protest.  no i am very unambitious!  i just want enough money to preorder video games and buy indian food. 

i didn't land the cardiology clinic.  but two weeks later, i sat in that ornately decorated office and met brandon and johnny.  and two weeks after that, i started the first day of my new life.  

and then these two men became collectively "the boys" to me, and their clinic became my second home, and all of the nonstop expansions and purchases and endeavors far beyond what i originally signed up for became my obsession.  not so much healthcare management or human resources or revenue cycle, not the actual substance of what this job entailed- but what it demanded of me.  more time.  more focus.  more presence.  more integrity.  more loyalty.  more strategy.  more resilience.  more more more.  and it never got easier but somehow i always got better.

and this whole entry so far seems apropos of nothing because this isn't about pregnancy or parenthood but it never fails to surprise me that somewhere along the way, my meandering lack of ambition that always made me think idk maybe one day i'll just be a wife or work at a gamestop or tell my parents i'm in med school but actually go to optometry school became a honed and practiced priority in my life.  motherhood widened that lens, but didn't refocus it.  these days i am working longer and averaging 2 hours of face time with james.  it's not the ideal setup, not when little man is becoming so vibrant and lively and social- but it feels like the inevitable push in the endless ebb and flow of work-life balance.

and i often remind myself- the self-development of my career path bleeds over to my growth as a mother.  learning patience, learning flexibility, refining communication.  remembering that change is the only constant, that pragmatism sometimes needs to trump principle, that empathy will always be a valuable asset.  and i didn't accept the ultimatum between school and work back then, and i don't accept it between work and baby now.  

after 16 years in practice and 14 as the CEO of his professional association-turned-multidisciplinary group, johnny appointed me as his COO this monday.  i have been fulfilling this role de facto, but receiving the recognition of the title was a gratifying moment.  it was also a beacon of reassurance- becoming a mother doesn't mean giving up your professional edge.  

both, i thought, with an unfamiliar pride that swelled in my chest.  i arrived home late that night and watched james fall asleep to the gentle tinkling of his tinylove mobile.  it occurred to me that there is still so much ahead of us, so many more late nights at work, doctor's appointments, school plays, deadlines, acquisitions, pta meetings, board meetings, unforeseen crises, unscheduled disruptions.  there's a long game of balancing acts up ahead for me, ian, and this darling little dude with the bright eyes and loud yelps.

but here, right now, in this very moment in time, we are all doing a great job.

042

young james why you trappin' so hard? 

baby boy endured his slightly belated 4 month checkup today, an ordeal that involved yet another round of vaccinations.  after the first of three consecutive shots, james locked eyes with his beleaguered nurse and growled at her like a very small bear.

he has been rife with cute antics these days now that he is a real human guy.  on monday morning, i finished my nine millionth pumping session and walked into the nursery to see baby james propped up on elbows, sprawled across his activity mat.  the arch of his back and the steady strength of his neck were astonishing to me in that moment.  hi mr. james!  i said.  he turned his head towards me, peered at my face, and smiled.   a real boy.

his pediatrician seems as impressed by him as i am.  you're the best-looking baby i've seen all day, he tells james amiably.  my dude weighs in at 16 lbs, 9 ounces.  he is 26 inches long.  a big, tall boy, dr. macdonald says approvingly as he jots down "97th%" next to both measurements.  i realize fleetingly that one day this little loaf will loom above me.  my pointless brain sings IT'S THE CIRCLE OF LIFE AND IT MOVES US ALLLLLLLL but now dr. macdonald is asking about james' average length of sleep and i am bursting with excitement to tell him that all three of us are blessed with 11-12 hours straight for the past two months.  

i read this sleep training book while i was pregnant, i gush.  at this point i feel like i have promoted myself to suzy giordano's hypeman.  she is my new george r.r. martin, though i have only read her book once.  once was all i needed.  though i have muddled through the rest of new parenthood with graceless, frantic googling through a wormhole of chrome windows, james' eating and sleeping are the two things that i feel like we've managed to approach with some level of confidence.

the first 3 weeks of his life were a tearful, exhausted blur of leaking breasts and misplaced glasses and praying fervently for continued sleep.  we feed on demand and wake on demand and james sleeps in a bassinet beside our bed, jolting me out of halfhearted dozing every couple of hours with his confused little sobs.  after 3 weeks, my mother encourages us to start stretching out the time between his meals (calculated from the start of one feed to the start of the next)- little by little.  so slowly, 15 minutes at a time, day after day, we increase the wait from 2 hours, to 3, then finally 4.  james quickly becomes less demanding and fussy as his mealtimes settle into predictability.  7 am, 11 am, 3 pm, 7 pm.  pretty much ian's mealtimes as well.  and like his father, james begins to eat significantly more during each feed. 

by 5 weeks, just the regularity and quality of meals drops his nighttime wakings to a manageable 2, and we move him into his nursery.  i begin to use the bassinet as just another hamper for clean laundry i can't be bothered to fold.  i stub my toe against it many, many times.  step 2 of suzy's plan is to drop the night feeds by slowly reducing the nursing time of each feed in turn.  it takes several weeks because i am unwilling to preemptively pry my sleepy little newborn away from my body and second guess my approach every single day- but it finally works.  i go slowly, shaving off one minute every couple of days.  surprisingly enough, james neither protests nor clings, and falls back asleep whenever.  by 10 weeks, he decides that 3 minutes of nursing is not worth waking up for and sleeps straight through the night.  ian and i track and tally his 4 daily meals with obsessive detail, counting every half ounce to ensure that he's receiving all his calories during the daytime.  

the third step is about nap schedules but james is not here for that.  for all of his perfect angelic nighttime sleep, he fights naps like a insomniac demon who needs to be held at exactly the right angle and bopped with exactly the right tempo and velocity to even consider closing his eyes.  the lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

and finally, the fourth step is keeping him in his crib for roughly 12 hours straight, from after his 7 pm feed to the start of his 7 am feed.  there is something here about encouraging babies to quietly entertain themselves and self-soothe, but mostly it falls into place like a natural byproduct of the previous efforts.  james drifts off to sleep on his own while chewing on his fingers and wakes up with the biggest, goofiest grin plastered across his little face.  we greet each other with these big smiles in the morning; he shouts and kicks and giggles with a level of excitement unbeknownst to me at any hour prior to lunchtime.  he looks so ridiculous, a big pink meatball head poking out of a puffy yellow spacesuit, flailing tiny, icy fists and crowing in triumph- but man, it is a beautiful sight.  

041

honey, i still don't think james even knows who i am.

you should spend more time with him.

what time?  i'm so busy-

-pushing that car around in final fantasy?

ian is not wrong.  final fantasy xv came out last week after a full decade in production and i've logged 26 smooth hours of circling around marshy patches looking for five dumb frogs.  my autobiography should be titled i know i am wasting my life but i can't stop.

mr. james turned 4 months old on december 1st, cruising on an arc of sensory and motor development that peaked in the constant desire to cradled by his father like a baby otter.  he is less excited about being carried by his mother, who has such astonishingly poor upper body strength that she might clinically be an anemone.  i also need to sit down a lot for reasons unknown.

he is exhibiting all the symptoms of teething already.  his little cheeks always look mad flushed like he's tried on every blush at sephora, there is a steady river of drool pouring from him at all times, and he is gumming ferociously on anything and everything within reach.  he has rolled over a grand total of twice and decided that he wasn't about that life.  he is also now a real enough person to clutch his own bottle and put his own pacifier back in his mouth, albeit with arduously clumsy and fumbling motions.  when he flails awkwardly with his little ham fists and biscuit arms, he finally looks like me- a drunk person.

in addition to his physical development, baby james has also picked up a mental shrewdness that has definitely surprised me.  after 3 solid months of being a turnip, james now recognizes his favorite faces (ian, my mom, his own) and cries when there are too many people around (same).  he has even locked eyes with momo a few times, but continues to ignore jean-luc (same).  and most importantly, he is happier and louder in leaps and bounds with every week that passes.

the curse of the infamous and dreaded 4 month sleep regression, that flame of udûn, has yet to plague our household.  james has truly been sleeping 11 hours through the night, every night, since around 11 weeks old.  i try not to gloat about this but every day feels like an undeserved miracle.  the desperate scrabble for two hours of sleep during the first month seems like a distant memory of a half-forgotten hazing.

and of course, i'm squandering all these precious nights by staying up too late reading old lipstick alley threads, trying to find that tea on what weird stuff drake is into.

 

040

cool things about having a baby:

  • you instantly become a more relatable person and develop a small talk expertise
  • people are finally interested in your iphone camera roll
  • it's finally okay to go out for dinner at 4:30 pm
  • everyone thinks you look tired because of new motherhood but really you just stayed up all night looking for woke memes
  • you can touch his chubby little body and smell his buttered popcorn cheeks all the time
  • and also he looks like a turtle when he laughs
  • you fall madly in love with your man daily when you see him on that dad grind
  • you gain a newfound appreciation and closer bond with your own parents
  • you can excuse yourself from every social interaction in the whole world by blaming the baby even though his meals and his sleep are better and more predictable than your own have been in all 29 years of your dumb-assed life
  • somebody finally stops crying when you hold them
  • nobody calls you after 8 pm
  • well nobody ever called you anyway regardless of your family situation

dumb things about having a baby:

  • you have to do laundry every other day as opposed to the once a lunar year schedule you honored in the past
  • you have to learn how to eat with one hand and positioned 5 miles away from your plate but somehow avoid spilling food over his little head
  • even 4 months out he's still kind of floppy and you secretly still don't know how to hold him
  • working full-time means you see him for like 3 hours a day and you develop the sneaking suspicion that he'll never really know who you are or why you make him dance to spotify's rap caviar playlist
  • being a milk machine is uncomfortable and inconvenient and nowhere near as serene as all these asshole hippie moms all promised
  • your wild dogs' barking will become 100 times more annoying
  • when he cries and fusses but you're embroiled in a pokemon battle you secretly hope that he'll chill or your husband will scoop him and then you wonder if you're an awful mother or suffer from postpartum depression and spend a great deal of time silently berating yourself for not feeling all these grand sweeping emotions of motherhood and martyrdom and you wonder why on earth you were given the gift of fertility when you would've been totally cool just drinking yourself to an early and better-looking death and your baby probably deserves better than a mom who is resolutely unchanged as a person but at the end of the day it has only been a few months into a lifelong journey and there is still time for personal development and sacrificial commitment to parenthood and you are still very much in love with his big bright eyes and chubby buttery face and despite your best efforts to be dispassionately objective he is still the cutest and happiest little light you have ever known

sorry not sure what happened to this entry i am a little drunk

039

it is last weekend in new orleans, and i am sitting outside in the courtyard at pat o'brien's.  the four of us, veterans of last year's vegas trip, sip hurricanes that taste like cough syrup and talk about instagram.  priscilla is pretty and sullen, her face in repose looking like an expensive mask.  stela is the brazilian beyonce, a bombshell in short shorts with bronzed legs that could be measured in kilometers.  claudia is a petite and effortlessly beautiful salvadorian whom ian once dubbed "circus boobs."  i am a walrus wrapped inside a stale taco shell and wearing borrowed clothing because i left my own pants in the dryer at home.

but for the very first time, i have something in common with these three party hoes aside from a shared love of inebriation.  we are all mothers, 500 miles and 2 overpowered drinks away from our babies- refusing the self-flagellation of mom guilt.

so he says "how do you travel so much when you have a kid?" and i'm like, "my son has a father."

no one would ever ask a guy that question.

right?  people expect you to stay at home all the time when you're a mom.  excuse me?  i love my daughter and i do everything for her but i'm not going to stop living my life.

we live our lives unapologetically this weekend, stumbling up and down bourbon street, giggling and yelling and failing to locate our uber drivers.  priscilla angrily kisses a stunned middle-aged dude in cargo shorts.  some unspecified members of our group flash their circus boobs.  cheap, tacky beads rain down from balconies thronging with drunk onlookers.  a kind indian man hands me an extra chili dog while our two disparate gangs idle on a street corner at 2 am.  crowds gather around a guy breakdancing to "pump it up."  stela gushes about how much she loves this city while i criticize a misspelled smile if you masterbate sign held up by a group of vagrant teenagers who panhandle for booze.  i pour out half of my hand grenade for them regardless.

in between the raucous, blurred events spanning friday and saturday night, i make my escape to public restrooms.  the girls flit around me anxiously and one of them holds back my hair.  these detours feel so overwhelming familiar but this time i am 29 years old and no longer a drunk neophyte throwing up in bathroom stalls.  instead, i relieve the mounting pressure in my breasts.  it is an indignity of a different kind, milking myself ineffectually.  i did not bring my electric breast pump on this trip, hoping to save space in my suitcase for the pants i forgot to bring.  so i resort to hand-expressing all weekend, an arduous and pointless exercise in giving myself hand cramps.  a drunk blonde girl who has more instagram followers than i have hair follicles offers to help me squeeze my boobs.  she tells me that she just turned 22, and for a moment i feel like performance art of the elephant graveyard.  the strobe lights of the dance floor can't touch me here, in this grimy stall, in this aching pressure, in this deepening realization that no matter where i am or who i'm with, i am always and forever a mother.

as daylight savings time rolls back and gives us another hour to waste in the club, these girls' thumbs are glued to their phones.  they try to take poorly lit selfies and tap out increasingly drunker text messages to exboyfriends or future boyfriends.  i recall vaguely that two years ago, i would've been doing the same.  but i am a different creature now, and my phone is a permanent gallery of my little family.  even here, at  3 am, in the middle of the bourbon heat dance floor, i am smiling stupidly at a picture of my boys.   

so you're like the mom of the group, huh?  a dude who's been hitting on me ineffectively all night comments while i shepherd the drunkest girls into a pizza place for medically necessary sustenance.  mimi's always taking care of us, claudia slurs as i corral them all into an overpriced cab.  even the cab driver calls me mami, though i suspect with sexual overtones.   it is inescapable, like a poorly written tv show plot device.  we arrive back at the airbnb and the girls scatter upstairs to drink, gossip, and hook up.  alone downstairs, i tie back my hair and perch at the edge of the bathtub to wring out my unforgiving breasts.  and i never stop thinking about baby james.  how he has been making increasingly louder noises, delighted to hear his own squawking.  how even his feet are getting fat, looking like puffy little boots.  how he always smells like a bucket of buttered popcorn.

three of this gang of four return to dallas on sunday night, exhausted and desperate to be back with our babies.  for all of our carefree revelry and flagrant disregard of parenting double standards, we are blatantly relieved to be back home.  no matter how often i protest that my life is still the same, all the telltale signs of motherhood are there.  my center of gravity has unmistakably shifted.  it realigns my thoughts, pulls me closer in.  

ian and james, my sun and stars.

038

two weeks ago, i promised i'd sit down and write with optimism for a change to counter a well-detailed list of grievances that i've already printed and framed in james' nursery.  like sure, everything hurts all the time and this weird little pizza-faced alien is simultaneously demanding but uninterested in an exhausting way that causes my mind to run a ticker tape of nonsense self-probing and guilt trips forever- but yet, there are also so many things that aren't as hard as i once expected.  maybe i am getting better, finally mastering the difficulty curve of the newborn phase.  maybe my brain chemistry is leveling out and i no longer feel like a sociopath with an icy pallor of annoyance freezing out all maternal instinct.  maybe james is rapidly graduating from a floppy nonsense potato into a bright-eyed and happy real person.  or maybe none of the above, and it is just time and confidence and acclimatization.  

fresh on the postpartum campus of grief and pain, feeling so inexplicably fragile that i braced myself to shatter on a daily basis, i survived on an hourly hunt of when does it get better?  i typed this into reddit, on the bump, on babycenter, netmums, anything, anywhere, a desperate one-woman search party for hope.  and most of the answers were vague, but i clung to them like lifelines, marking off future goalposts in my mind.  by 12 weeks.  by 4 months.  by the time he smiles.  by the time he laughs.  by the time he weans.  by the time he applies to grad school.  it'll get better.  it'll feel brighter.

and here's how it has gotten better, the things that i steeled myself for that became so much easier:

sleep.  i know, i literally just wrote a dissertation about the cool math of sleeping in 30 minute increments like the victim of some cruel sleep deprivation torture tactics- but the overall duration of this trial was so short.  during the first month, my mother the actual saint came over twice a week and acted as a night nurse to get me through the wakings as painlessly as possible.  ian took over in the early morning and let me sleep in on the weekends (or as long as my exploding granite tits would allow).  and most importantly, i had the foresight during pregnancy to read my new bible: twelve hours' sleep by twelve weeks.  james is 12 weeks now.  he has slept 12 hours through the night exactly 12 times so far.  after his 7 pm dinner feed, baby boy lies calmly in his crib and dozes off on his own, sleeping straight through the night to be woken up shortly before 7 am.  ian and i feel more well-rested than a pair of new parents deserve.  my face is still haggard but only because of my genetics.  i do not fall asleep at my desk.  suzy giordano's plan sounds lofty, but is approachable and infallible, stretched through four steps and several weeks.  we barely completed step two before lil lazybones took over and started sleeping like a snorlax of his own volition.  i feel like an irredeemable asshole for being so gleeful, and i know the big sleep regressions are lurking around the corner to ruin my life, but in the interim thank you dear based god for this one sweet victory.

diapers.  i have no idea why parents and non-parents talk about diaper duty and poop obsessively because it is seriously no big deal by any measurement.  somehow the act of producing a new human makes you absolutely immune to the grossness of their bodily fluids, like you are a battleworn veteran icu nurse who has seen every drop of moisture produced from every orifice on the human body and have successfully cornered the market on low gag reflex.  diaper changes quickly become muscle memory, diaper pails are the greatest and most under-appreciated miracle of the modern age, and you passively realize that you will weather his diarrhea and vomit with more grace than you would handle even your own drunkest fallout because he is your baby and doesn't seem to smell as bad as a regular person.

marriage.  despite my gloomy predictions that ian and i would immediately descend into bitter quarrels and stewing resentment, my cynicism continues to be trumped by his eternal optimism.  to this day, ian and i still have never had a fight.  we've never argued, raised our voices, or felt anger towards one another.  we talk in a never-ending dialogue about james, but it is still one of many subjects- we do not lose the thread of other conversations that matter to us- work, friends, jokes, the dumpster fire of the republican campaign. despite my reflexively passive aggressive tendency to probe honey did you wash bottles? while staring at a sink full of dirty bottles, ian has continued to weather the pains of being married to the human garfield with his characteristic cheer.  and as for me, the wild and intensely heavy love i felt for him immediately after birth has mellowed into a deeper, more nuanced sentimentality.  it is the thing that swells my heart when i see him chatting animatedly with james, rocking him to sleep, feeding and burping him with a practiced and expert confidence.  it is the realization that no matter what happens, the two of us will always be bonded for the rest of our lives through this ultimate joint venture.

and most importantly, username29352 was right.  it gets so much better when he starts smiling.  when he starts laughing.  regularly, responsively, and most importantly- when his eyes find mine.  i don't know what kind of sorcery this is, what unlocks a treasure trove of oxytocin, but when chief cheeks peers up at my face and smiles, my own grin becomes so wide it actually hurts my jaw.  i smile back at him like a crazy joker, my voice becomes ten octaves higher and i rub his belly repeatedly to elicit giggles.  somewhere, in the back of my mind, i think vaguely that i would do literally anything to hear his delighted, yelping laughter.  maybe even an armed bank robbery followed by methodical betrayal of my getaway driver.

i think it is the most motherly thing i've ever felt.

 

 

 

037

today, ian and i browse the aisles of buy buy baby so that i can pick up a few more item for jessica east's baby shower (she's the saint who hosted mine).  i realize in this instance that i have finally done it, despite swearing up and down that i will remain detached and oblivious til death-  all of a sudden, i am a mother with a lot of opinions and advice.  i feel some type of way about baby bathtubs.  i recognize many brands of diaper rash cream.  i would like to engage in a long discussion about how to assemble an ideal registry.  i am not proud of my foray into this particular wilderness of knowledge.  like, i still can't read an analog clock and i can't remember how world war 1 started but i'm out here praising the merits of a rubber ass spatula.  the worst.

if i had a nickel for every time i googled what is a baby registry, i probably would've been able to finance the entirety of mine.  the world of baby supplies and gadgets and timesavers is an endless, horrible void of amazon affiliate links and paid reviews and suddenly it's 4 am and you've have 8,000 chrome tabs open but you still don't know which bottle nipple will lull your baby into a cool, easy feed and which one will balloon up his little belly with gas and misery and bullshit and also what exactly is a bottle nipple.

i'm deeply pleased that between my miserable google grind and the insanely kind generosity of my friends and family, we've stocked our nursery closet with very cool, useful items that will support us during the first two years of trying to keep this little dude alive.  and as we're nearing the end of the fourth trimester, i want to pose a special shoutout to a few handy items i'd unequivocally recommend for any new moms and also myself again in a couple of years when ian inevitably tricks me into having another one.

(no affiliate links or rewards or paid incentives here because nobody reads this blog or gives me money or cares about my thoughts)

  1. babybum diaper cream brush.  this feels like a weird thing to endorse- because who on earth needs yet another dumb gadget to muck up the diaper changing process?  who in this cruel world is so grossed out by the prospect of touching their own baby's butt that they would enlist the help of a silicone utensil?  not me.  i love james' weird little pointy ass.  but diaper cream is the fucking worst and applying with your fingers is an uneven effort at best that leaves a thick greasy coating all over your fingers and under your nails like you've just eaten a mess of fried chicken but without the joy.  using this thing feels like i'm frosting his butt like a beautiful little bundt cake, allowing nice, even access to all the parts of him he'll feel weird about later in life.  (also, lol @ all the cool organic ~healing balms~ that did nothing but made me feel momentarily smug, triple cream is the only thing that clears up diaper rash immediately.)
  2.  boon orb bottle warmer.  you guys there are so many goddamn bottle warmers out on the market and i thought i'd be real cool and conservative by skipping this purchase and heating bottles under the faucet like an old school moms but that turned out to be a study in hunching over the sink for 40 hours at a time just hating myself for spending $300 on dinner but skimping on a bottle warmer.  amazon reviews for all warmers are deeply polarized and the instructions for this one seem like they were written by an employee who went on a bender and decided to quit their job halfway through but it's small, fast, efficient, and hasn't burned down my house yet.
  3. swaddleme original swaddles.  check it out it's ya girl mimo who's almost 3 months deep into being a moms and 29 years deep into being a person but still doesn't know how to follow blanket or towel folding instructions so it was highly unlikely that i'd ever figure out how to swaddle a dang baby (when u wrap lil' dude up real tight and cozy like a delicious burrito so he feels like he's back in his original digs).  the hospital gave us a couple of ez velcro swaddles and i should've pilfered more, because they really are the best.
  4. boon lawn countertop drying rack.  the lawn version is bigger than grass, and that's the one you'll want when you immediately devote your life to washing bottles, nipples, and breast pump parts like it's your one true calling.  you will not be running the dishwasher 7 times a day, you will be scalding your palms in soapy hot water and fantasizing about a day in the distant future that doesn't begin and end with rearranging items in this drying rack.  it's cute tho.  also, use dishwashing gloves every time or your hands will immediately transform into a macro shot of the cracked earth in death valley.
  5. oxo tot perfectpull wipes dispenser.  i didn't fuck with a wipes warmer because i didn't want a fire hazard hanging out immediately adjacent to my baby, and james became acclimated to the momentary discomfort of a room temperature wipe pretty quickly.  no complaints here- this keeps wipes moist and the lid has a very satisfying clicking thing happening.  if i knew how to design a thing and that thing was a box that held wet wipes, this would be it.
  6. parasol diaper subscription.  after james steadily destroyed the several boxes and tiers of diapers we received prior to his arrival, i decided that what i am really into is never setting foot in a store ever again- so i needed to get diapers delivered, like just about everything else in my life.  and because i handle money like i'm a six year old playing monopoly for the first time, i balled out on parasol diapers.  they are aesthetically and functionally on point and their wipes smell like cucumbers.  james has also never experienced a blowout while wearing these, which i think is a term used to describe the cool disaster of a baby shitting liquid puddles up his own back- truly terrifying.  and by the very scientific test of me rubbing my face on a variety of (clean!) diapers, these are also the softest.  it's $85/mo for diapers + wipes, or $70/mo for diapers only- so that works out to be like, 27 cents per diaper vs 23 cents for pampers swaddlers or 0 cents for putting yer baby in split pants and letting him throw down some loose poops like he's in them mean streets of beijing.
  7. comotomo baby bottles.  there are a lot of things i purchase in life only because the alternative options are truly ugly, and baby bottles fell into that category.  like, these are so whack-looking.  in addition to being pretty, the comotomo bottles are recommended for breastfed babies because they're supposed to mimic the feel of a boob, thereby reducing the possibility of nipple confusion.  "nipple confusion" is a scaremongering theory that dissuades new mothers from introducing bottles or pacifiers for fear that their babies will get stressed by the differences between artificial nipples and real nipples and never breastfeed again and do poorly in school and grow up to operate a vape shop.  james only suffered nipple confusion in the sense that he thinks everything is a nipple- ian's nose, my mouth, his own arm rolls- he will literally suck on anything with the slightest suggestion of a curve.  he wild.  so on the basis of my own anecdotal experience, these bottles are great- james switches between bottle-feeding and nursing with no hesitation.  the only downside is that function has sort of been sacrificed for design here- trying to read the ounce markers feels like doing a magic eye puzzle in the dark with glaucoma.
  8. cybex priam + cybex aton q.  please don't judge me for this website that claims URBAN STREET POETRY- i also feel disgusting peddling a stroller that comes with a backstory and boasts an ostentatious collaboration with jeremy scott.  the cybex instagram feed is full of celebrity babies enjoying the ~urban street poetry~ of a travel system that costs like, 3 car notes- but y'all it is a truly smooth ass stroller.  paired with the aton q car seat, it is a joy to push.  i can maneuver curbs and negotiate sharp turns with one hand.  strangers stop us to ask where to buy it, and by strangers i mean that one cashier at raising cane's.  the frame itself has very little bulk, though the car seat is on the heavier side- but it's cool because ian has big arms and i'm still using my c-section as an excuse to not lift anything heavier than a wine glass to my face.
  9. munchkin step diaper pail.  it's lame to get so excited about a glorified trash can, but i am loving this diaper pail.  it's still early on in this love affair, but it continues to be completely and perfectly odorless.  use the refill rings with it- basically one neverending trash bag that you cut and tie off at intervals when you're ready to dispose of a 20 foot bag of diapers that uncoil from the can like bright yellow intestines.  i was bracing myself for a life of constantly smelling poop, but so far new parenthood has been remarkably scent-free.  unless you count momo after she has traipsed through sprinklers.  i have also considered putting her in this trash can.
  10. tiny love take-along mobile.  mom, stop buying stuff for james i pleaded over and over again.  he doesn't need a mountain of baby things.  but my mom continues to show up with new shopping bags with a practiced tenacity bordering on deafness.  i buy, she shows me this mobile one day.  it is everything i hate in baby toys- plastic, bulky, brightly colored.  but once she clips it to his bassinet and switches it on, i am immediately converted and apologetic.  i thank her for this mobile daily.  it has wrested more smiles and coos from james than anything else in this world.  it placates him through fussy bouts, engages his excitement when he's alert, and soothes him to sleep.  it's just a slow-moving mobile with a loud tinkling melody that automatically turns off after 30 minutes, but it is indispensable to our daily life.  i would save this in a fire.
  11. wubbanub fox.  i resisted this thing too, which is a soothie pacifier attached to an ugly stuffed animal.  there are like, fifty different animal models and they all look like i personally sewed them in a bomb shelter.  but after the eight billionth time of replacing a pacifier in james' mouth while he flopped and flailed in confusion, i gave up and finally ordered one.  the weight of the attached fox helps keep the soothie in place, and i have finally rescinded my weird feelings about needing all baby toys to be up to par with my aesthetic expectations- which is especially whack in light of the fact that i have terrible taste.
  12. burt's bees burp cloths.  doesn't matter what brand, what size, or what design- burp cloths have been so, so useful.  we keep these, towels, bibs, and receiving blankets in box right next to the nursery glider for easy access.  a burp cloth is just any piece of fabric that you can use to shield yourself from the neverending fountain of liquid that's constantly pouring out of your baby's mouth- a washcloth, a towel, ian's v-necks, doesn't really matter.  but soft ones are especially nice because then your little man won't stare at you like you've just wiped his face with steel wool and broken bottles.  i think people forget to register for innocuous little essentials like these because they're not fun and sexy like toys or a shirt that says I'M THE BOSS but when it's 3 am and you've misplaced your glasses and your little dude is expelling spit-up like mount vesuvius you will realize that all you want in life is an ocean of burp cloths.
  13. hatch baby changing pad + app.  veteran parents will probably chalk this one up to an unnecessary, hypervigilant gadget but fuck y'all this thing is the best.  i mean, it's not great that we have to mar the beauty of the changing pad with a constant layer of towels because james has an untrustworthy bladder and an uncanny precision to accidentally pee in his own face, and yes i have recently realized that the scale is off by 4 ounces so i have to figure out how to calibrate it BUT it has been a super useful gadget from the very beginning.  the primary draw is that the pad is a scale, and allows you to weigh your baby before and after breastfeeding sessions so that you know how many ounces he ate- an especially important quantity for premature babies or babies who have difficulty nursing.  the accompanying app, which is fully functional as a standalone product, is polished and perfect.  we track every ounce he eats because we're doing parent-directed feeding and need to ensure that he gets all his calories in during the daytime.  we track all his diaper changes because my husband has adhd and can't ever remember how long it has been since the last change.  we track his weight because i like the novelty of hoping for a weigh-in line graph to increase over time.  if you're a data fiend, this is your setup.  

oh my god it is literally 1 am what am i doing with my life.

036

it's the hardest thing you'll ever do, people told me bracingly.  it's so hard.  it's hard.  but rewarding.  so rewarding.  but hard.  no sleep.  exhausting.  worth it.  but hard.  the warning signs of impending parenthood read like a donald trump speech- a nonspecific, jumbled word salad anchored by some expansive adjectives.  seasoned parents' recollections have been imprinted by multiple, ever-changing seasons of challenges, new parents are lost in the dark mire of sleep deprivation- the message boards and blogs bear no concrete fruit.  they are a mishmash jello of despair with one unifying thesis: it is so hard.

ian chafed at the ambiguity.  he thrives on specificity; i warm to thematics.  where he is deliberate and detail-oriented, i am decisive and cursory. which things are hard and how are they hard?  ian fretted.  idk let's play some more super mario 3d world, i shrugged.  we made it to the first bonus world.  but neither of us felt like we knew what loomed ahead.

ten weeks out, here's exactly how it has been hard for me:

sleep.  first and foremost, the ubiquitous and punishing castle level at the end of every world.  the sleep deprivation of parenthood is infamous and ongoing.  within the first week of returning home, i was sobbing to ian nobody ever explained the logistics and i never did the math.  they tell you that newborns need to eat every 2 to 3 hours.  the pointless chocolate pudding masquerading as my brain fired off two broke ass neurons that thought no problem, i can sleep 3 hours at a time!  but the reality of the numbers is this: your baby stirs and wails, you bolt out of bed and trip over at least one dog in your desperate bid to soothe him as quickly as possible.  you weren't really even asleep anyway, but resting your eyes and hovering, barely skimming the most superficial surface of sleep like a watchful ninja.  your little man waves his mouth around haphazardly until it makes contact with one overripe breast, but both of them burst into floods when he starts suckling.  while he feeds on one, you scramble for any scrap of fabric to dam up the broken faucet that is your other nipple.  you are positive that you had at least 14 burp cloths and 3 towels around you at any given time, but now that milk is drenching the bandages of your c-section scar it becomes clear that you will never again know what it feels like to be clean and dry.  baby feeds for 30 minutes and falls back asleep happily with milk splattered all over his face.  you hoist him over your shoulder carefully like the world's most fragile purse and pat his back like you've seen people do on tv.  sometimes he burps, sometimes he makes a small noise of dissent, but all the time you are not quite sure when to stop, and eventually lay him back down to sleep with the delicacy of a bomb disposal expert.  you are now 40 minutes deep into this process, and you chide yourself to hurry up and go back to sleep as soon as possible- but instead you stay awake googling baby makes a weird sound while sleeping is he dying for at least 10 minutes before you give up and try desperately to will yourself into restful slumber.  your brain wanders aimlessly for 30 minutes and your body tenses up every time you hear your baby rustle, wheeze, or cough.  you finally sleep for 30 minutes.  but it has now been 2 hours of this ordeal, and your baby wakes up again to feed.  you're jolted back up and think fleetingly of how great it would feel to die.  your husband sleeps like a coma victim through it all.

breastfeeding.  agonized over in mommy groups exclusively, breastfeeding is the dreaded water world- albeit with a warp pipe in every level so you can bail out and switch to formula to preserve everyone's sanity.  i think about this warp pipe daily, with a longing that is starting to feel like hunger.  within the second week of returning home, i was sobbing to my mother nobody ever told me how terrible this would be.  during my hospital stay, the nurses questioned will you be breastfeeding? with a judgement-free flippancy that seemed well-practiced.  i said yes because i didn't even realize there was another option.  i am lucky in this endeavor.  james latched with no hesitancy or difficulty, glomming on and inhaling milk fiercely like a little kirby.  he regained his birth weight in 4 days.  but i feel bereft, because even at its most straightforward, breastfeeding is no easy endeavor.  it hurts.  it hurts with a relentless, endless predictability.  i am prometheus bringing milk to my baby, punished by having eagles tear off my nipples in a cyclical pattern of regeneration and ravaging.  it pains me to put on a shirt.  it pains me to wake up with a rack that feels like forty boulders grinding against a whetstone on my chest.  it pains me when i sense that ian is even thinking about touching them.  the sporadic reflex of letdown feels like hot, acidic knives.  a bout of mastitis felt like crawling across a bed of glass.  i have a lot more similes for pain these days, and a respect bordering on reverence for women who choose to breastfeed a whole damn year or more.  pain aside, i have moved to almost exclusively pumping by virtue of being ~a working mother~.  it is a new level of depressing, spending great swathes of your day chained by the nipples to a breastpump while you look yearningly at your baby from across the room and think bitterly about all the bonding time you have sacrificed to your cruel medela gods.  my pumping sessions last for 30 minutes no matter how much i wring my breasts like sponges to rush through the process, then i store bottles and wash pump parts and burn my hands and think about how shitty it is that i've taken on the cleaning drudgery of formula feeding along with the pain and discomfort of breastfeeding like it's my job to seek out the most masochistic middle path available.  and as much as it occupies my body and my time, it also occupies my brain.  there is already not a lot of free real estate up in here- but now my day begins and ends with a calculation of how much milk i have to produce.  i stay hyper-aware of exactly how many ounces i have stored in the fridge and the freezer, developing a weird propioception of my milk supply like it is a phantom limb.  i remember that a very long time ago, i never ever thought about milk.  i thought of cool jokes instead.  and cute dresses to buy.  and dogs i wanted to pet.  now i am a thousand years old and either waterlogged with a soaked shirt or panicked about a drop in supply and always in the back of my mind a primitive drumbeat is chanting MILK MILK MILK MILK MILK MILK and i push through one day at a time because my little man's face smells like a puddle of ice cream and i am nothing if not committed to the fucking grind.

ennui.  the haunted mansion of obstacles, this one is the hardest to put my finger on, the trickiest to describe- but ian and i have discussed it a lot.  this is why maternity leave felt like a nightmare struggle for me, though by the numbers it should've been a fairly easy ride.  all newborns do is eat and sleep, right?  i planned to work from home during the first month.  i planned to read several new books.  i planned to seize naps whenever possible.  my plans were dumb and i am dumb, because the inertia of the first few months feels like a suffocating stopgap between a normal life and a parenting life.  within the first day of returning home, i was sobbing to anyone who would listen nobody ever told me i would feel so trapped.  our baby is not yet a fully interactive child, but he's there.  his needs are few, but they demand the utmost attention and responsiveness.  we sit in this house that is a prison cell because we cannot break out without carefully timed strategies, and we futz around with no ability to commit to either leisure or activity because we are on call around the clock.  breaks feel unpredictable, but the work feels unproductive.  ian thrives on organized strategy and i revel in expedited pressure, but taking care of a newborn flies in the face of two business-minded weirdos who are incapable of cobbling together a day out of this start-stop motion.  we cannot become invested in productivity because our focus is interrupted so frequently- but we cannot fully relax and enjoy hanging out because we are always anticipating his next moves.  and ultimately, we cannot spend the entirety of our time fully engaged and staring at a little potato who sleeps a collective 16 hours a day.  so we hover in limbo, living in 2-3 hour segments.  ian browses the same ten memes on instagram over and over again with a trigger finger and i listen to the same audiobook over and over again with a detached annoyance and both of us feel restless and uncomfortable in a way that doesn't feel synonymous with being at home.  but now that i am back at work full-time and ian is back at work part-time, we have sidestepped the weight of inertness- an especially good choice for me, since it would have absolutely dragged me down into the bowser world of postpartum depression.

next time, on this cool blog of all my complaints, an entry about the stuff that isn't hard.  preferably with no more dumbassed mario world analogies.  you can really tell that it took me way to long to write this because i obviously started regretting it halfway through.  like just about everything else in my life.

 

035

on monday night, i come home to an immaculately clean house.  my sheets are laundered and replaced, my bed made.  my mother hovers anxiously over the piles of freshly washed and dried clothes and towels, apologizing for not having time to fold everything.  

she does this twice a week now, every time she comes over to take care of james.  ian and i go off to work; she showers little j with endless attention and still finds time to clean dishes, tidy the kitchen, do all the laundry, and make my bed.  i protest, ask her to take it easy, tell her that i will get around to the housekeeping.  but still, she persists.  i take care of you, i supposed to do she tells me stubbornly.

when i stare at the clean laundry, my eyes swell with tears and then i am standing in my bedroom, sobbing over this pile of towels.  i realize that one day, i will come home and there will be no carefully folded quilt on my bed, no fried rice still sizzling on the stovetop.  and i will be completely lost without my mother, the one person who has sacrificed everything in her life and survived innumerable hardships to bear two daughters and bring them to america.  this remarkable, resilient, and endlessly selfless woman whom i will never be able to live up to.  the person who loves james with an overwhelming and boundless tenderness that she swears is kismet.

so it's my birthday today, and i finally understand exactly what this day means.  it took me 29 years to figure it out, but now i know that october 5th was never about me.  it is this day, back in 1987, when my mother endured the greatest agony to give life to me.  it is this day, back in 1991, when she made exhausting treks back and forth from alxa zuoqi to beijing to file repeatedly for american visas, refusing to leave me behind with my grandparents as everyone else suggested.  it is this day, back in 1995, when she made me a jello cake for my 8th birthday party but decorated it with peas and carrots to make it more colorful.  it is this day, back in 2002, when she told my sullen teenage ass not to act entitled on my birthday- daring to rack up yet another hurtful fight between us because the alternative, the possibility of raising a spoiled, selfish, and unaccountable human being was not acceptable.  

late nights, when i am up with james and he is wailing into my shoulder, choking up rattling mouthfuls of milk and pulling out a fistful of my eyelashes in his desperate squirming- i think my mother did this for me.  year after year, she did this for me.  without her own mother beside her, without her husband who had already left for america.  night after agonizing night, day after unforgiving day.  i spent my infancy shuttled back and forth to the hospital for one infection after the other.  she weathered all of it and then some.

this is what a birthday means.  so i buy her flowers today, but they are such a paltry token of thanks.  even as i struggle through sobs to tell her how much she means to me, i still can't fully explain how wrecked i will be when i look to find her and she is no longer there beside me.  

how can i ever repay you for everything you've done?  

more babies, she beams.

034

mr. cheeks is two months old today, and life has almost completely normalized.

i work.  i fret about work.  i sit through meeting after meeting.  my mind reels with the neverending tally of action items.  sometimes i manage to pop my shirt off and pump for 17 minutes while i slouch behind my monitor and peruse vacation spots on tripadvisor.  sometimes i don't, and i come home with swollen breasts.  i leave a little earlier than usual these days, so i can soak in as much happiness time with baby james as possible.  from 5 pm to 6:30 pm, he is all smiles and squirrely little baby noises.  he is still most fascinated by this mobile my mom bought in her indefatigable quest to purchase the most baby items despite my constant refusal.  he smiles and waves enthusiastically at it like he's on a parade float.  at 6:30 pm he fusses and yearns to be in his dad's arms.  he gets his dinner feed at 7 pm and steadily trounces an 8 oz bottle of breastmilk.  he falls asleep just about anywhere without complaint or ritual, drowsing just as easily in his crib as he does in my arms.  little man is out like a light by 8 pm.  ian shortly follows suit.  i stay up and google can i lose 30 lbs in one month eating only beef jerky.  i wake up between 1 and 2 am and nurse james for a timed 5 minutes while momo skulks around me in the darkness, daring me to trip over her.  james crams his whole fist in his mouth and sucks it enthusiastically on his journey back to sleep.  and then our day starts over again at 6:30 am. 

it is not all that different from my old life, save the happy addendum of a puffy, slobbering little creature who is becoming truly interactive with a rapidity that leaves me saying he's growing up so fast! and then immediately hating myself for resorting to this tired ass parenting soundbite.  realistically, he is growing at the absolute appropriate mental and physical pace for an infant.  he is 12 lbs and his arm roll count has reached a pleasing 7.  his dopey little hairstyle is becoming truly silly.  aided by my insistence on parent-directed feeding, he is eating happily on schedule 4 times a day- so it becomes simpler for us to plan our outings around his mealtimes.  and we do still go out.  i still drink too much at brunch.  i still nap too much at home.  i'm planning a weekend trip with my entire office staff next month.  i'm cramming my permanently widened pelvis and enduring back fat into a hard-won (but still unacceptable) size 6, but sometimes with the unpleasant accessorizing of baby vomit.  i'm back to complaining vociferously about my whack body and not being able to wear my thottiest getups.  and above the fray of my resolute mediocrity, ian continues to endure me with the patience and kindness of a saint.  the more things change, the more they stay the same.

033

sometimes i think that my memory is just a study in the morphology of time- and time washes over every experience, pressing even the most hard-etched recollections into neat and pliable molds.  the painful details wash out to a muted, neutral landscape.  my episodic memory becomes distilled into the vaguely happy detachment of watching reruns on xanax.  yeah, it was fine.  everything turned out okay.

a week postpartum, deep in the trenches of the baby blues, i sobbed to ian why didn't anyone warn me about this?  why didn't anyone talk about it?

i realize now it's for the same reason i reminisce fondly about gut-wrenching breakup experiences, or relish the opportunity to wax nostalgic about abdominal surgery.  time is the great healer, but it also moonlights as a makeup artist.  once you're far away enough, contours cut away the bleakest details and leave glittering highlights that reshape the experience.  i am six weeks postpartum now, and the hardships feel diffused by an increasingly rosy glow.  another six weeks from now and i'll probably be able to fathom having another baby.  by next year i will be saying things like oh my god it was the best thing i've ever done.  i might even change my instagram bio to read wife & mommy <3

jk i will never do that.

but now, when someone asks me how was it? i waste no time.  i do not hedge.  i launch into a monsoon of hyperbole, recounting the details of my neural nightmare and rehospitalization.  i talk openly about the blanket of regret that enveloped me during the first two weeks.  i tell them that newfound motherhood struck me as particularly annoying.   

i don't want to forget that having a baby, at one point, felt like the fucking worst.  that even for all my careful planning and excitement, the initial fallout was a letdown unlike anything else i had ever experienced.  i don't want to see a pregnant friend and tell her chirpily that she will be SO in love with her baby, because i have forgotten about how it felt to not love mine immediately.  and most importantly, i want to remember the reality of this experience when ian and i eventually decide to start talking about number two.  i want to be ready with the l-tyrosine, 5-htp, and costco pallet of kleenex.  

because honestly, it doesn't really feel that way anymore.  it feels really good.  i catch myself wanting to prance around the office with a new photo of james to show everyone.  i am starting to say "he's so cute!" instead of critically evaluating his face for symmetry like i'm judging a livejournal rating community application in 2005.  when i creep into his nursery for his midnight feed, he immediately halts his little sobs and peers up at me through sleepy eyes.  i marvel at that solid, fat little body, the warm weight of him in my arms, how perfectly round his face is.  you're a real person, i think dumbly.  and you're mine!

i can safely say that aside from time, the two other biggest factors in my mental turnaround have been support and routine.

it is one thing to have a partner who begrudgingly wakes up once in a while to help with a diaper or two.  it is another thing entirely to have a child with ian smith.  i would recommend it to everyone.

"you are so lucky," my mother reminds me enviously.  "back in mongolia, men don't have anything to do with new babies.  your dad didn't do anything."

"i washed diapers!" papa refutes indignantly.

and maybe he did rinse a couple of cloths.  but ian does nearly all of james' diaper changes.  he handles the majority of his meals, feeding pumped breastmilk from a squishy comotomo bottle.  he wakes up at 5 am and buys me as much sleeping in time as i could possibly want.  he holds little man like the two of them are magnetized together, bopping him around in elusive rhythms that never fail to calm.  he changes clothes, gives baths, swaddles, and puts james down for bed every night.  he stays home on tuesdays and thursdays so that i can fully launch myself back into work.  and in between the neverending childcare duties, he finds time to work, run, take care of the dogs, make me cocktails, and watch every episode of catfish (why).  i am mario reaping the benefits of an infinite coin block.  i have hit the jackpot.  i don't deserve him.

if ian is the champagne in my life that buoys me into a place of optimism, work is the addition of orange juice that normalizes my days and sweetens the experience.  yes, i'm comparing my existence to a mimosa.  yes, i am a really bad writer.

it sounds bonkers to be so thrilled with returning to work, especially in a country with notoriously awful maternity leave policies.  i honestly expected to feel differently, to be filled with anxiety and hopelessness at the idea of leaving my child for 8+ hours a day, to be wracked with feelings of unfairness and professional pressure.  but instead, i had two bosses who gently encouraged me to take as much time as i needed, who would've paid for any length of leave, who checked in on my health and held back any work-related communications.

and when i decided after 5 weeks' leave that it was high time to return to work and fall back into a familiar schedule, i experienced a rush of joy unlike anything i've experienced before.  stepping back into my clinic felt like thawing out after a deep and painful freeze.  despite the persistent pain from my unorthodox c-section, despite the unwieldy awkwardness of squeezing myself into a compression garment and the again into several layers of business casual, despite the cumbersome 30-minute stretches of pumping in my office and accidentally spraying milk across my imac screen- i am back where i belong, leaning hard into the identity i've worked for years to cultivate.  managing something other than my own breasts, engaged in concerns that are bigger than my own self-absorbed musings.  i practically prance down the hallways at work, preening when yet another patient tells me i look amazing for having given birth last month.  

(they are lying, i look like a bag of laundry stuffed inside another bag of laundry.  my stomach regained flatness but the topography of my other body parts makes me look like i was drawn by a teenage boy suffering a grand mal seizure).

and when i return home, the angles of my house have straightened themselves out into a familiar perspective once again.  james' nursery is now imbued with warm light instead of nightfall anxiety.  our time together becomes more precious, more important, and i am no longer desperately waiting for him to fall asleep.  i hold him happily against my chest while ian watches yet another episode of catfish that ends in embarrassing confrontation.  and like that weird teenage lesbian who's been pretending to be an instagram model for 4 years, i am also finally coming clean and absolved of pretense-

-  identifying with the reality of my new life and embracing it for the first time.

 

032

sweet baby james is one month old today, so i guess it's time for me to stop griping about how annoying life has been and focus in on what actually matters- this lil cutie pie.

having a newborn is weird because no amount of lurking babycenter.com really prepares you for what it's like to bop around with a little potato that isn't interactive enough to recognize or enjoy you, but is sentient enough to fart and fuss and flail around.  you have access to all the information in the entire world- but when it comes to childrearing, it is all mad conflicting.  

wake him up to eat every two hours.  don't wake a sleeping baby.  feed him on demand.  space out his feedings.  if he naps all day he'll be up all night.  but make sure he's napping a lot because sleep begets sleep.  put him to sleep in his crib.  put him to sleep directly on top of you.  put him to sleep in a carefully constructed cocoon duct taped to your solar plexus.  let him sleep anywhere he sees fit.  put him on his back.  prop him up at a 43 degree angle.  swaddle him with arms in.  swaddle him with arms out.  don't swaddle him.  put the swaddle blanket on your head and pretend to be a spooky ghost.  nurse him to sleep.  don't let him associate nursing with sleep.  breastfeed for as long as your sanity allows.  breastfeed until he pledges a fraternity.  breastfeed until the coroner confirms your cause of death (breastfeeding).  pump to build up a freezer stash.  don't pump excessively or your tits will be poppin' off with overflow while you're trying to use the self-checkout at kroger.  talk to him constantly.  read your copy of dhalgren to him and rejoice in his confusion.  never stop holding him.  wear him like a squirmy 10 lb accessory.  superglue his face to your chest.  you can't spoil a newborn.  but don't create bad habits.  do anything for him on demand.  do everything for him on a schedule. 

i have decided to stop using the internet for anything other than browsing dank memes and buying too much makeup.  no more 3 am feedings while browsing r/babybumps for keyword sleep, no more googling how often should i be sanitizing everything i own is once a year okay.  less knowledge is well, not power, but maybe sanity.  i will raise this baby like i've handled my career- making it all up as i go along.

and so far, it's working!  james is alive, thriving, and has gained 3 lbs in one month so he's definitely my fat-assed child.  he feeds happily every 3 hours during the day, and sleeps for one long stretch- 5 or 6 hours- at night.  he switches back and forth from mangling my nipples to inhaling a bottle with ease.  he gets his life from car rides, and snoozes through nearly all of our excursions (i have been taking mad advantage of this setup and demanding brunches like, daily). he has stopped screaming in protest at the merest suggestion of being undressed for either a diaper or outfit change.  he is calmest when his face is cradled against ian's neck.  he is happiest when my mother sings him mongolian folk songs.  

james reserved his very first social milestone for his grandmother- yesterday, he smiled for the first time in response to her cooing.  not a sleepy grimace, not the rictus of an intense bowel movement- but a genuine, interactive, happy smile.  

it is starting to feel worth it.

 

031

twice a day, i spread a towel down on my bed, pull on a pair of latex gloves, and slip my underwear down.  this is not a sexy story.  there is a plastic bin beside me, and it is filled with medical supplies: 4x4 gauze pads, sterile swabs, saline, iodoform packing strips, a suture removal kit.  i put on an episode of the read to distract myself.  a tab of the iodoform strip pokes out of the opening in my incision- it is damp and red, flicking out from the smiley face of my c-section scar like a sly tongue.  i breathe deeply and pull it out with tweezers- a foot and a half of packing tape unfurls from this hole in my abdomen.  it is like a disgusting magic trick, yanking a neverending parade of silk scarves out of a hat.  the reversal of it is the hard part- with the tip of a sterile swab drenched in saline, i shove a new length of tape back into myself, digging deep into the wound space until it is fully packed.

as far as seromas go, this one is innocuous enough.  in two weeks, it will heal.  it's a small price to pay, i tell myself, looking over at james in his bassinet.  his eyes are bright, alert and awake.  he entertains himself quietly by slobbering on his little hands.

but the small costs have added up to what feels like an overwhelming upfront debt.  some of it has accrued slowly and quietly.  in bleary-eyed, six-hour stretches of cluster feedings, in the 43rd time of accidentally burning my hands in the scalding water used to wash bottles and breast pump parts, in brief moments when i lock eyes with my baby and feel nothing but the inexorable weight of responsibility.  

some of the costs have been debited quickly and punishingly.  in the sight of my mother on her hands and knees in my living room, wiping up puddles of blood.  in my fever, chills, and tachycardia while an unknown man in the emergency room bay next to me vomited loudly and ceaselessly for an hour.  in the gut-wringing misery and fear of being confronted with yet another hospital room that was indistinguishable from the postpartum suite i had only recently escaped- this time, with the admitting diagnosis of sepsis cellulitis.  the dawning realization that i would be spending several nights away from my baby.  the guilt of feeling relieved by the prospect of uninterrupted, ambien-laden sleep. 

after a barrage of iv antibiotics, some wound exploration (this sounds like a fun magic schoolbus adventure but was actually just my doctor jabbing a swab in me until rivulets of blood and pus poured out of me yet again like a stomped bag of gushers), and a crash course in diy wound packing- the possibility of feeling like a normal human woman dawned dimly in the horizon.  i returned home covered in a roadmap of allergy rashes and blown vein bruises, determined to clear this last obstacle and revert back to my new normal. 

except then my milk supply dropped, and the cost continued to climb.  

the magic of the human body fires off the prolactin hormone immediately postpartum, which serves the dual purpose of making you feel mentally unhinged while also animorphing you into an actual miltank.  by day 3, your breasts forget that they are breasts and puff up into shiny, painful boulders that are also sprinklers.  you forget that they once used to look amazing in harness bras and lacy lingerie and magnetized attention that wasn't just the gummy ferocity of an infant's mouth.  after a few days of sopping rivers of breastmilk down your body until you feel like the world's grossest waterslide, your breasts recede slightly to a more tolerable- but still bonkers- size.  over the next couple of weeks, the frequency of nursing and pumping establishes demand, and your milk production will normalize to supply it.  we have now exceeded my understanding of breastfeeding.

after my hospital stay, what was once a bacchanalian feast for my fat little baby dried up to nearly nothing- the postapocalyptic fallout of 4 days spent pumping infrequently and bogged down by a plethora of iv medications.  nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, i apologized to a frustrated james who gnawed mercilessly at my empty breasts.  i grappled with the pronounced feeling of inadequacy- as a mother, a woman, and bag of milk.  i told myself that if similac was good enough for 2chainz, it'll be good enough for my son.

but mostly, i drank herbal concoctions of fenugreek + blessed thistle and ate bowls of oatmeal until i felt sick.  i nursed and pumped through every other excruciating waking hour, painfully eking out half ounces here and there, hoarding a collection of small, pathetic bottles like pirate gold.  slowly, very slowly, my efforts here are paying off.

but it is not the only mission on my ever-evolving quest log:

  • recover from infection
  • finish wound care
  • restore milk supply
  • build a freezer stash
  • return to work
  • figure out childcare
  • convert body from milk factory back to boner factory
  • fall in love with this child

this last item on the task list gets slightly easier, day by day.  despite a recent spat of interminable fussiness, james is a quality baby.  he's packing on weight like blac chyna; his little hogbody has already grown out of his initial newborn outfits.  his glorious hair is starting to show signs of waviness, and i expect we'll be able to style a little pompadour by his first birthday.  his head smells like happiness.  he is not yet an interactive human being, but seems to like his father a great deal.  he spends a lot of time staring in wide-eyed wonderment at ian or else gumming and drooling on his biceps.  he does not seem to like me much, but i don't blame him.  i am bringing nothing but some milk and a lot of shade to the table.

"not worth it," i tell ian sometimes, half-wry, half-dejected.  my body feels broken; my mind feels bowed.  this is supposed to be the best thing that has ever happened to me, but so far it just feels like surviving a meteor crash.  and cognitively, i know that i am building equity in my ideal life, that this down payment is just a moment in time, a blip on the calendar of the longest shortest time-

but when i think about the entire month of august so far, it feels analogous to an incident that occurred two years ago.  while driving home, i received an important alert on my phone that distracted me completely- and the joy and excitement of finding out that olive garden was running a promotion on neverending pasta bowls was followed immediately by a head-on collision that destroyed the front end of my car.  

don't ask me how that parallel makes any sense.  i have been sleeping in 2 hour increments.

 

030

later, much later, i will realize that the most daunting word ever introduced to my vocabulary was postpartum.  that in the peaks between pregnancy and parenthood, there is a miserable valley that no one ever talks about.  it becomes my personal inferno; the contrapasso for the joy of giving new life is a period of intense mourning and grief.

one week after james' birth day, i return to dr. grisham's office to have my staples removed.  as he clips them away, he remarks "your body has bounced back really well."

these are words i have always wanted to hear, but now that i am on the other side of this pregnancy, i realize that i am no longer preening over my waistline or critically evaluating the appearance of back fat.  i find that i have no questions for dr. grisham about weight loss, postnatal exercise, or uterine retraction.  instead, i ask him:

"will i ever stop crying?"

all throughout my pregnancy, i lauded myself for what i perceived as mental fortitude- no mood swings, no crying jags, no inexplicable anger or sadness.  everyone talks about pregnancy hormones, but i escaped the oft-hyped, estrogen and progesterone-fueled rollercoaster of emotions.  i went about all of my days as usual, mostly feeling like i ate too much.

but for all my smugness in the comforts of a unicorn pregnancy and a relatively simple delivery, i received my comeuppance in the form of a postpartum mood disorder that hit me with the velocity of a bullet train.

"you have the baby blues?" dr. grisham asks detachedly while swabbing my incision site.

fuck whoever came up with that term.  baby blues are a range of playful pastel colors.  baby blues are a 1990s comic strip i always skipped over.  baby blues are ian's beautiful eyes against the backdrop of his summer tan. 

and yet, it's also the innocuous terminology that encapsulates 10 days of my closest brush to mental illness.  it feels hyperbolic to type that now that i am feeling fine.  now that little man is napping in his bassinet and i'm lying in bed replaying pokemon heartgold (typhlosion sucks, should've gone with water starter per tradition).  but there's no other way to explain the sheer velocity of unjustifiable, unpredictable, untenable emotion that flattened me completely on day 4 postpartum.

there are times when i come home from a vacation, a long stretch of time spent away, or some other break in the regularly scheduled programming- and my house no longer looks the same.  nothing has actually changed, but my perspective has shifted.  my perception of the layout is slightly altered based on the time of day, the route home, how long i've been away, or some other inexplicable factors.  it is this cognitive differential that hits me first when we return home from the hospital with our little souvenir.

so my house feels different, and my brain begins to process that as the first clue that a terrible rift has occurred between my old life and my new.  now this is no longer the happy safe haven that belonged solely to the two of us, full of warm yellow light, trap music, and saturday night pizza parties.  every room belongs to james now, and all i can process are the details that feel concrete from the aftermath.  the folders full of hospital discharge paperwork.  the drying rack for bottles and breast pump parts.  the baby swing in the dining room.  we are barely one day into our new routine and i begin to feel like an animal trapped in a cage.  the nursery immediately transforms from my favorite room in the house to my most dreaded.  

i peer into james' tiny little baby face and feel nothing.  he looks like a tomato, i think listlessly.

and then i think that something has gone horribly awry.  where is the instantaneous, incomparable, boundless love everybody promised?  

"it's your baby!  of course you'll love him immediately!" the girls from work reassured me several months ago.

but i am a cynic and an asshole and i have never loved anyone or anything at first sight.  my affection for ian built up from a slow burn.  i am still trying to figure out if i like momo.  and then it occurs to me that my feelings for james will follow suit- like everything else important in my life, our bond will be a marathon and not a sprint.  i grapple with this.  i fluctuate between determined acceptance and abject disappointment.

meanwhile, that wild, wonderful, and heavy love i should've felt instantly for james seems to have been misplaced- misdirected and funneled to ian instead.  in the depths of the days immediately postpartum, my feelings toward my husband become amplified, all-consuming, and decorated with anxiety.  when he showers, shaves, or changes clothes i feel my pulse speed up and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach- i worry that he is about to leave the house.  the idea of being separated from him, even for 15 minutes, makes me sick.  i cling to him like velcro, and just the feeling of pressing my face against his chest wrenches pavlovian sobs from my lungs.  i feel like i love him so much the enormity of it will break my body in half.  

on day 6 postpartum, ian lies down on the nursery floor rug.  i burst into tears, thinking that he is tired or maybe his back hurts.  

we are both bewildered by my ceaseless and unprompted crying.  it is unlike anything i've ever experienced before.  i go through at least 7 rolls of toilet paper, sobbing relentlessly, perpetuating a constant state of congestion.  

worse still, the endless crying is accompanied by a timed melancholy that settles on my chest like a weight as soon as the sun begins to set.  evening after evening, i stare through the blinds in the nursery at the last rays of golden light like i am peering out of a prison cell, trying hard to fight off nauseating waves of panic, anxiety, and sadness.  "the sun is setting," i tell ian, attempting but failing to keep the note of fear out of my voice.  i feel trapped and claustrophobic.  i conjure up images of all the things we could've been doing with our weekend nights, all the places we could've gone.  an arrested development joke becomes a looping soundbite in my brain.  i've made a huge mistake.

the next day, we go on a walk down the street in the 105 degree heat because i feel like i will die inside the house.  when a domino's delivery driver passes us, i think momentarily i wish i had his life.

and i feel like i'm trapped inside a glass box that has upended my perfect life into a nightmarish, cloistered, isolation chamber.  ian sits besides me and holds my hand, but i am so unbearably lonely.  by day 7 postpartum, i do not recognize myself.  i feel like i have been horribly and irrevocably transplanted into someone else's brain.  i start reading everything i can about the postpartum hormonal shift, hoping against hope that literature and facts will interject some sanity into this space of sourceless misery.

 monoamine model of postpartum blues. a: after delivery, estrogen levels drop 100- to 1000fold; the estrogen decline is greatest during the first 3 to 4 days postpartum, with a modest decline thereafter. b: monoamine oxidase a (mao-a) levels are significantly greater in the early postpartum period, with a peak on day 5 postpartum. c: in the early postpartum period, up to 70% of mothers experience sadness, mood lability, anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, and irritability, with mood being lowest on day 5 postpartum. &nbsp;credit: max planck institute for human cognitive and brain sciences

monoamine model of postpartum blues. a: after delivery, estrogen levels drop 100- to 1000fold; the estrogen decline is greatest during the first 3 to 4 days postpartum, with a modest decline thereafter. b: monoamine oxidase a (mao-a) levels are significantly greater in the early postpartum period, with a peak on day 5 postpartum. c: in the early postpartum period, up to 70% of mothers experience sadness, mood lability, anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, and irritability, with mood being lowest on day 5 postpartum.  credit: max planck institute for human cognitive and brain sciences

i have all the support and love i could ever want, a good little baby who feeds happily and naps well, and a scientific grasp on the validity of my changing brain chemistry.  it is still not enough to combat the baby blues.  the only prescription here is more time.  i rifle through google search results like a madwoman, reading discussion after discussion about how commonplace this really is, and how it is certain to get better.  

"two weeks," i tell ian.  "i should be fine in two weeks."

today- right as of this hour, actually- i am two weeks postpartum.  i have found my way out of the haze of hormonal fluctuations and neurotransmitter instability.  i have not cried in three days.  i finally feel like myself again.  so much, in fact, that i debated the necessity of this blog entry.  the squall of my baby blues passed through turbulently but quickly, and it is hard to believe that i ever cried at the sight of ian putting on a fresh pair of slutty shorts.

 

 

 

029

upon my hospital discharge, dr. grisham informs me that i will not be able to drive for two weeks.  my guts are held in by staples and i can barely walk a lap around the maternity ward without struggling, so i think that this is a perfectly reasonable post-op constraint.  but only two days later, i defy my doctor's orders.  i convince ian that i am perfectly capable of driving 10 minutes down the street to a wendy's drive-thru, and that jr bacon cheeseburgers are essential to my recovery.  i sit in my sweltering hot car for several minutes before i turn the engine on, but the heat and sunlight feel like a warm, welcome panacea that suffuses me from the inside out, thawing out the vital core of me.  the brightness of this saturday morning is an antidote to the 72 hours following james' birth.  

later, when i review the filmstrip of my life, i will see the darkest frames here- a solid band of black dividing an old life from the new.

i am wheeled back to my l&d suite immediately after surgery, and our families take turns to adore this tiny new addition, passing him around in careful cradle holds.  i am mildly surprised that i have no objections or anxieties to anyone holding this thing that was removed from my body only moments earlier.  in fact, i feel a bit relieved to see well-practiced arms handling him, providing a demo for me- he is so incredibly floppy that i can't quite figure out how to hold him myself.  his anatomy is like 7 pounds of flubber, and i worry that my awkward fingers and sharp nails are too dumb and untrustworthy to be properly positioned on such a delicate frame.

after an hour, we are all trundled off to the recovery ward.  my room is c-480, directly across from the nurse's station.  a nurse mentions that i will receive pain pills, but no one brings me any.  i am still woozy and exhausted- from labor, surgery, excitement, or a combination of the three.  i want to sleep and james wants to sleep, but instead we are coached into our very first round of breastfeeding.  the terms latch, feed, and nipple immediately skyrocket to the top 25 most over-utilized words in my vocabulary.  ruth, my night nurse, is efficient but detached.  she seems to want me to manipulate james' neck in order to cram my entire breast into his mouth.  this is a geometric impossibility, and also i am still afraid to handle him.  i curse my hands for being so small, my ring for being so high-set, and myself for being the worst.

the three of us- me in my recovery bed, james in his little isolette, and ian on a plasticky and uncomfortable loveseat- settle in for some much-needed sleep.  but i quickly realize that sleep is not an option for me, because the pain from my c-section creeps in- slowly at first, then in unbearable torrents.  i jam on the button of my epidural fentanyl drip in rapid succession like i'm trying to enter the konami code.  ruth comes in every hour on the hour to evaluate my pain score.  i curse those stupid dopey faces on the wong-baker pain scale and instead try to remember hyperbole and a half's revised version.  i am a 9.  i am positive that my epidural is no longer effective, or else this cassette of fentanyl is just an apple juice box.  ruth unhelpfully informs me that i am no longer receiving marcaine, so that explains why i can so acutely feel the effects of having been gutted, cauterized, and stapled back together.

the pain is unmanageable, and ruth keeps coming back to me with increasingly pointless suggestions.  first, she dispenses a single motrin, which is like bringing me a bandaid while a bear is actively mauling me.  then she brings me a heating pad, which i guess is like bringing me a heating pad while a bear is actively mauling me.  by her 4th check-in, i am sobbing.  she consults with an anesthesiologist, and a one-time dose of morphine is approved.

the pain subsides to a manageable 5 or 6, and then the next several days are a blur of physical depletion.  each day blends into the next, and the recovery room is always dark.  i never know what time of day it is unless i am logging a nursing session.  i feel like i am living in the world's worst casino.  james nurses very little during the first 24 hours, but graduates immediately to voracious cluster feeding by the second night.  ian, unflinchingly calm and patient, changes every diaper because i can't rise from the bed without assistance.  our little family exists hour by hour, punctuated by check-ins from nurses.  i can't cobble together 45 straight minutes of sleep because someone is always whispering i need to check your vitals.  firm hands probe around my swollen incision, press hard on my abdomen to contract my uterus, pull down pair after pair of disposable underwear.  my epidural and catheter are eventually removed, leaving a mess of angry bruises and superglue residue like ungrateful houseguests.

i bleed, i swell, i ache.

everyone always talks about the difficulties of labor and delivery, but no one prepared me for the dual pain of postpartum.  the physical half knocks me off my feet, then mental half creeps in insidiously to flatten me completely.

our family and friends are singular bright spots in the recovery days.  during pregnancy, i read so many reddit posts and message board threads about how to avoid or delay visitors- but i am so relieved to have the love, support, and normalcy of these visits.  ian's family, my family, maggie, and the rasmussens drop by to admire baby j's great hair.  in between the social calls, ian helps me shuffle a few laps around the maternity ward.

before i am discharged on day 3 postpartum, we remember to order the ~special celebratory dinner~ of steak and lobster.  not because either of us really crave surf 'n turf, but because it is complimentary and i am still asian.  my father swoops in to eat my portion.  he seems to enjoy it, because he advises me to deliver my next baby here too.

we are released to disorientingly hot, bright sunshine on thursday afternoon.  to me, it feels like finally waking up.  to james, it is just another landscape to sleep through.  oblivious to the sauna of black leather car seats parked for 4 days in the texas summer, he naps comfortably all the way home.  i watch him dozing off, the delicate peach fuzz of his baby cheeks highlighted by the afternoon sun.  i think that this is it, i have made it through recovery, and everything will finally feel normal again.

but of course, i am wrong.  i am usually always wrong.

028

james is here, and he lies on my lap right now like an unreal homunculus.  he is floppy and bright-eyed, bundled up in a pale yellow hospital swaddler that makes him look like a tiny glowworm.  it is now- and not a moment earlier- that i fully appreciate how little i know about babies, how very unfamiliar with infants i have always been.

a steady diet of norco has tamped the pain of my c-section recovery to a perfectly manageable 3, so i've been thinking a lot about how to write this birth story.  i've read a lot of birth stories.  the entirety of my third trimester was spent eating tuna sandwiches while perusing every submission in the history of /r/babybumps.  i lurked an infinite ring of pregnancy journals, bracing myself for the best and the worst.  i watched the fellow pregnant ladies of my birth month club topple into labor & delivery one after the other like a lineup of pre-term and early term dominoes.

and i thought about inductions.

when the night and day shift recovery nurses tag one another in, they swap the cliffsnotes of james' birth through a quiet conference in a corner of my recovery room.  a few times, i overhear induction at 39+5 for chronic hypertension.  my blood pressure has been fairly well-controlled these past nine months, through my valiant efforts to actually stay compliant to a prescription regimen for once in my life.  towards the end of third tri, however, the combination of steadily lower amniotic fluid and a couple of elevated blood pressure readings started building into a general sense of unease.  nervous about possibly going to late term, fretting about dr. cubitt's characteristically blithe description of cord compression under low afi, i approached dr. grisham about induction.

"by 39 weeks, i feel like he's safer out than in," i rationalized my first big episode of nervous mothering to my no-nonsense obstetrician.  all the natural is best mothers in my birth month club balked fiercely at the entire concept of induction, but i did not have to work hard to persuade dr. grisham.  we scheduled for august 1st, two days prior to james' estimated due date.  i felt weird and guilty about eschewing expectant management, but knew i'd feel weirder and guiltier if i went overdue and anything adverse happened to little man inside my wretched body.

but in service of research and with respect to the innate mysticism of childbirth, i asked for ripening and made every effort to gear my cervix to a more favorable state for induction.  by the time sunday the 31st rolls around, i have done the most.  i have shamefully and unscientifically inserted sticky suppositories of evening primrose oil, only to have promptly ruined my sheets.  i have solicited prostaglandins from ian.  i have waddled around my clinic endlessly in the best imitation of physical activity i can muster.  i am 1 cm dilated and 30% effaced.

the dogs are boarded, the bags are packed.  before ian and i enter the hospital doors by the tower a elevators, he stops briefly and kisses me outside in the parking lot.  it is golden hour and he is beautiful in the sunset.

we check into labor & delivery, and are immediately escorted into an immaculately clean birthing suite.   it is already more well-appointed than all the hotels in inner mongolia.

"can you imagine?  this is where james will be born," i tell ian gleefully.

in retrospect, this is a cool literary device called irony, because james was not born in that room.  he took his first icy breath in the operating room down the hall.

but i proceed through the overnight ripening with the optimistic confidence reserved only for fools and drunks- and the cervidil does its job.  by 5 am the next morning, my setup has softened and dilated to the point of initiating contractions on its own.  i confuse these for inexplicable diarrhea pains because all i've known is a dumpster rat's life of eating too much garbage and regretting it immediately.  a pitocin drip starts slowly beside me to augment the labor, and james registers on the fetal monitor clinically happy as a clam.  at some point, dr. grisham comes in and performs a cervical check like an inexperienced high school boyfriend.

a few hours later, i ask for the anesthesiologist.  my wonderment at finally understanding what labor pain feels like has quickly dwindled, and i appreciate very little about the contractions- but they are still tolerable.  they roll in like small storms, the sharpening sensation of gastric distress modulated with the spasming qualities of a charley horse.  i think back through a lifetime of painful experiences.  this is worse than being dragged down the stairs by momo, but much easier than the first few hours after waking up from abdominoplasty. 

dr. holder comes into my room and questions about me the marcaine? noted by my night nurse under drug allergies.  i relish this opportunity to plague yet another innocent bystander with the story about my pain pump and close call with marcaine toxicity.  we decide that i am not allergic to the drug, but that my plastic surgeon was certifiably wild as fuck for instructing me to refill a 0.25% pump with the wrong concentration.  he starts the epidural.  it feels like nothing, then it feels like sliding into a warm, anesthetizing, toffee pudding.  i can still move my lower body, but the motions come with a comfortably detached ease.  

active labor progresses over the next several hours with textbook pacing and mvus- the epidural stalls nothing.  james' heartbeat tracks happily with no signs of fetal distress, my contractions are pitched perfectly for cervical change.  my nurses and dr. grisham check on me every hour and seem pleased with the results.  i progress to 80% effacement and james drops lower in station, ready to take off on a cool slip 'n slide adventure.  i take some time to beat my face with all the palettes i dragged along, cringing a little at my own inanity as dr. grisham walks in on my careful arrangement of foundation brushes.  

and then things fall rapidly out of alignment, my labor and delivery become a little less perfect.  

in any other context, this would be a midwife's scaremongering tale about the slippery slope of hospital births or the dreaded cascade of interventions.  this could be a blog entry about how it all went wrong and how traumatized i am.  but i went into this pregnancy and labor with a very distinct, unwavering goal and knew that i would never be married to the process- only the outcome.  my only birth plan was to give birth.  i wanted james and myself to both come out of this statistically dangerous day alive and healthy.  and also ian too, but he was really only in danger of having a vending machine fall on him or something.

i know that this acceptance of deviation doesn't come across as a particularly cool plot device or anything, but i can't stress enough how irrelevant the process of birth actually felt to the importance of the event itself.

so little man gets stuck.  and my labor stalls for the next three and half hours.  dr. grisham describes the situation to me with a calm, clinical detachment that silently places the burden of choice upon my shoulders.  i understand the words he is saying, but in the context of my mental imagery, caput succedaneum sounds like an unforgivable curse that voldemort is placing on my baby's fragile head.  i imagine james trapped up in my pelvis, with the force of my contractions bearing down upon the finite space.  my endlessly patient day nurse amanda and i try for a last valiant effort, placing me in increasingly humiliating positions.  but a little after 6 pm, we give up the ghost and sidestep the trappings of natural birth in favor of getting my son here safely.  we go for the c-section.

ian scrubs into his operating room getup, and we both jam on cool hairnets.  we look like we're ready for our first day of work at luby's.  my parents flit around my bed anxiously, realizing that i am taking a massive detour from their limited experience with childbirth (unmedicated, vaginal, directly into a hole dug into the earth of the gobi desert).  my sister, always too cool to be overly sentimental, begins to tear up a little.  i am only being taken a short distance down the maternity ward hallways, but i feel like i'm being shipped off to die in a remote country.  i am very tired, but also very nervous.

the exhaustion really settles in once we are firmly ensconced in the cold clutches of the operating room.  ian sits in a chair next to my head.  he kisses my hair and reassures me that everything will be fine- and i want so badly to look into his eyes and stay connected to him through the surgery, but i can't keep my eyes open.  i am shaking so hard i make myself nauseous.

by this time, i am probably notorious for being the patient who asks every nurse within earshot for some zofran.  i ask for it so often and eagerly i feel like an addict- but it is my secret goal to get through this hospital stay without vomiting.  the crna in the OR obliges me with another hit of my gogo juice, and i spend the next hour on the operating table shivering and sleepy-eyed behind the drape.  ian holds my hand.  i try to not think about the tugging and pressure churning somewhere vaguely south of my neck.

i wish, very hard, to be anywhere else but here.

the pressure then changes, mounts in intensity, and dr. grisham's idle chatter with his nurses and scrub techs shifts into a focused exchanged.  from somewhere distant, i hear a voice ask are you ready? and i don't know if they are talking to me, ian, or james- but the tugging sensation increases by tenfold, and every synapse in my brain is firing wildly panicked, fearful signals while something like adrenaline surges through me into a fever pitch.

ian rises from his chair, and i can't see his face but he is saying oh my god in a voice i have never heard him use, a voice i've never heard anyone use- it is choked with emotion and excitement and i barely have time to register the swell of love and pride before i hear a tiny, powerful cry and dr. grisham appears in my field of vision, holding up a squalling baby brightly outlined in the operating room light and crystal clear through the plastic window at the top of my surgical drape.  he is almost alien in his casing, covered in vernix and blood, and his face is squished into classic newborn bawling- but he is my son and all of a sudden i am choking back sobs, trying to take in the enormity of this tiny little vision, this extraordinary creature who has been, for so long, an invisible little sidekick trundling away happily inside my belly but is finally here in person now and he has so much glorious, thick, dark hair it is still visible through all his gore and all my tears.  i hear dr. grisham say congratulations, he is really cute and a nurse beckons ian to help clean up his son.  i close my eyes, hearing his little squawks of confusion as he is rinsed and evaluated. each time he cries out, i sob in unison.  out of relief, pride, love, incredulity, or sheer animal instinct- i don't know.  one sentence loops in my head over and over again.  i can't believe he's here, i can't believe this is him.

ian lays this clean, swaddled little bundle next to my head and then i am only inches away from the upside-down face of my child.  he is wide-awake, wearing a little white cap, and stares up around him in wonderment.  his big, dark-blue eyes are familiarly almond-shaped and they are brighter still than even these sterile, fluorescent lights above him.  and cognitively i know that all newborns look like puffy, nondescript little meatloafs, but ian and i still point out identifiable features to one another, absolutely mesmerized by his alert and curious face.

he weighs in at 7 lbs, 2 ounces and scores an apgar of 9/9.  i make it through labor and delivery without vomiting.  i am proud of these accomplishments, but prouder still when they heave me back into my transport bed and place this heartbreakingly tiny bundle on my chest for skin-to-skin.  

my body is drained and my brain is reeling, i feel like an exhausted shell of a human body and every sensory input feels oddly pitched to be fuzzier than usual- but somewhere in this haze of befuddlement i remember a lofty thought i had years ago.  if i ever have a baby, my 19 year-old self once hypothesized confidently, i'd want the first words they hear from me to be in mongolian.

so i ask this tiny, brand-new creature "sain bainuu, minii khüü?" and he blinks back at me in response.  my birth plan is completed.

welcome home, temujin james hoshut.

 

 

026

i'm not even going to front like i have a lot of new information or insight to document here, but my mind is hard-pressed to make room for anything other than pregnancy thoughts these days.

i finally did stop overbooking myself with dave & buster's frivolity and managed to attend my local hospital's labor and delivery tour.  i can't pretend that it gave either me or ian a lot of depth or preparation for the whackness of this upcoming tribulation, but at least we know where to park once we arrive.  the childbirth educator was an irritatingly jovial woman who burst into song at random and spent a lot of time reassuring us that the hospital is certified as baby-friendly and mom-friendly.  as opposed to overtly hostile to all parties involved, i guess.

but this means my baby doesn't get carted off to a nursery, à la those two episodes of friends that comprise everything i know about childbirth up to now.  he won't even need to hang out in that little bin that makes him look like a warmed over buffet entree.  i will get to hold him forever, which is simultaneously heartwarming and deeply daunting.  i don't really know how to hold a baby, let alone one that has been in this world for 3.4 seconds.

and yes- i know that i will learn and that things will come naturally and instincts will take over, but that's also what they said about playing kickball in first grade yet coach still got disgusted with my continued uselessness and removed me from the game. 

like, i'm nearing 38 weeks but i'm still out here feeling like i don't really know anything about pregnancy.  today i announced to ian, "i can't tell if i'm having braxton-hicks contractions or if i just have really tight and sexy abs."

but i guess god was like ugh something shitty has to happen to her at least once because it is not okay for someone so physically inept to sail through pregnancy this easily, because while cooking breakfast yesterday, i was assailed with a sudden, violent bout of nausea that resulted in some truly miserable vomiting.  who in this world even gets their first episode of morning sickness this late in the third trimester.  today, while carefully brushing out my eyelashes, i realize a quadrant of my left eye is terrifyingly bloody.  i threw up so hard i gave myself a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

so now i'm nervously stashing ondansetron in my all my purses just in case, but i'm also falling prey to the bullshit lure of dr. google, who speculates (via hundreds of boring pregnancy forum threads) that nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea at the end of third tri is a sign that labor is lurking right around the corner.  this is corroborated by a very unscientific idk it's like ur body knows to prepare itself by cleaning everything out.

my body doesn't even know how to maintain a blood pressure that doesn't belong to a 65 year old smoker having a stroke, so i am highly suspicious of this claim- but i relay it to ian all the same.

"how soon around the corner?" he perks up, excited by the prospect of early labor.  probably psyched that james may be joining him sooner than expected for his marathon of rupaul's drag race season 8.

"they say 24 to 48 hours, but it's probably bullshit," i tell him.  the internet is rife with labor signs superstition.  and 37+ weekers eat it up like pregnancy astrology because by term they are all sick and tired and clumsy and swollen and irritable and desperate for an end to an increasingly intolerable stretch of sobriety.  i am not immune to the lure of symptom lore- not due to any particular discomfort or misery, but because i am feeling super ready to peace outta work.

my last professional hurdle is a very crucial conference call scheduled on tuesday that i can't skip or delegate.  once it's over, i'll begin trying to coax james out of his hermitage with stories about all the cool things he's missing out on.  

"your dad and i are marathoning drag race season 8," i'll tell him.  "if you don't show up soon, you'll miss snatch game- and i bet you bob's going to be sickening."

 

 

025

 

it is november 2014 and i am sitting in a plastic surgeon's office somewhere above a spa in southlake.  i am 117 lbs and my crowning achievement is a clavicle that juts out imperiously when i round my shoulders.  the previous night i discover that i can fit a fist beneath my ribcage.  the topography of my body has become my new best friend, a priority that supercedes all others, and i enter the exam room with a road map of my imperfections to guide us.  but dr. k has been in his field for far too long to be oblivious, so instead we spend my hour-long consult discussing happiness.

he tells me that age is the ascension of a tree, initially bristling with branches of endless possibilities that become slowly sparser until tapering to a final apex.  he tells me that the older he becomes, the happier he is.  it's hard being young, he muses, because you're constantly paralyzed by choices.  so many what-ifs and preemptive regrets for decisions you're too scared to make, so much fear of committing to the wrong thing and losing out on all the other options.  but life makes decisions for you, even if you don't, and eventually you find that there are fewer and fewer different paths available.  so you're better off making the choices yourself and standing behind them.  it sounds scary, but the older i get and the less decision-making there is, the happier i am.  

and then i know that he knows why i am here- why i am really here.  my unhappiness has been retooled and refined to a pointed obsession with my appearance, because there was nothing else to do with the expansive miasma of my existential angst.  and if i had to connect the dots, i would start with the time i told my friend i just don't know what my future looks like anymore, and i would draw a straight line to the time i told my coworker every time i go to sleep i hope that i never wake up, and i would bring it to a conclusive point here, in this room, where a plastic surgeon confronts me with the superficial misdirection of my own misery-

- a girl, still tangled up in the bottom boughs, terrified by the volume of pages in this choose-your-own-adventure book.  

it is july 2016 and i am sitting in this sun-drenched nursery, and i think about how my happiness is so full and complete it is bound to burst ventricles and flood cavities.  how i had never really known before now what it means to be grateful and joyful and all of these adjectives that belong to cross-stitch samplers and coffee mugs.  and it's not because i gained a man, or a baby, or any other trappings of a white picket fence dream.  but because i have committed to choices, to paths, to tree branches that have irrevocably pruned the landscape of my life. i made the decisions. i shaped the bonsai.  

"you're going to be a mom!" people squeal, and i pull a miserable face like i've condemned myself to a lifetime identity of bad haircuts and pouchy jeans.   

but internally, there is a contentment so rich and warm it feels like a hidden power that has been lying dormant for 28 years. this little man is crowding up all the space in my body and soon to expand into the world beyond, a tiny newborn little thing that will be big enough to rearrange my universe.  and he is not the end goal or even the penultimate achievement of my life, but a glorious bloom that redirects and reshapes it. 

as an addendum to my ten thousand blogs, i keep a day one diary of my big dumb feelings through the years.

i have never felt more content or optimistic, i journaled, even before ian and i began dating. before there was commitment, there was quiet confidence. just being around him changed me.

he makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. no, scratch that. not feel, but know. i know that everything will be fine. that i will find my way to the things that are most important to me.

i've made my map. it's unfinished and there's wilderness ahead but it is no longer just a purposeless self-portrait.  

delivery is scheduled for august 1st.

024

the good news is that my amniotic fluid stayed steady this week.  the bad news is that third trimester insomnia is real.  the unsurprising news is that with less than four weeks left until d-day, my workload continues to be relentless, monumental, and ever-multiplying.  i am handling this the only way i know how- saying "okay, i'll take care of it", then sitting in my office thinking about how great it would feel to die.

dr. grisham reiterated that at this point- little j is considered term next week- another drop in my afi would result in delivery.  and i feel like i must've attended the andrea yates school of motherhood because i'm so remarkably unworried about the possibility of early eviction.  shouldn't i be feverishly googling opinionated blog entries about the clinical implications of early term delivery?  stressing about the possibility of a nicu stint or calculating how many neural connections he might be cheated out of?  at the very least, anxious about his tiny baby lungs?

i just feel...so okay.  calm, confident, accepting.  it is an alien sensation, to be so utterly devoid of apprehension with regards to this massive field of icebergs straight ahead.  the possibility of induction, the unknown due date, the pain of labor, the plot twists of delivery, the unfathomable arrival of a little stranger and the wild new world he will bring- the absolutely unforeseeable, unpredictable foreignness of it all.

i worry less about my baby than i do about my work.  

the sleeplessness of this last month is a physiologically induced shitshow, but it doesn't help to be constantly preoccupied with a never ending list of unfinished tasks and unsolved issues and unaddressed behaviors, scrolling through my brain with ludicrous length like ending credits for the extended version of a lotr film.  but it's my mind that's mordor and my job that's mordor and my clinics that are mordor and i can't diversify these metaphors because i am running on very little sleep.

i can't blame it all on the pressure of leadership.  there is also the pressure of my bladder.  james, 调皮 even before birth, sleeps all day and parties all night.  when i clamber into bed for the merciful relief of being horizontal, he immediately recognizes a cue to get turnt.  he headbutts my bladder like a woeful drunk trying to squeeze the last two drops out of a defeated franzia bag.  his elbows flail sharply, forcing me to roll over so frequently i look like i'm pantomiming a charade of restless sleeping.  i try listening to audiobooks.  i try taking benadryl.  i try reading through a year's worth of status updates from my most posturing and boring facebook friend.  nothing works and i scrape together two hours of sleep after a night of whining "cut it outttt" to my belly.  it is lucky that ian slumbers with the tenacity of a coma victim.  lucky and also infuriating.  

and speaking of being highly uncomfortable, i reneged on my indignant self-loathing and actually opted to do maternity photos.  it was a pretty painless process, despite the fact that i threw a literal tantrum the morning of my shoot and laid facedown on the bed weeping about my pointless hogbody.  i was an actual cathy comic.  i think i literally sobbed "i have nothing to wear!"

but of course i wore three different dresses for the shoot and felt monstrously enormous in all of them.  i applied the wrong foundation color, failed to blend my eyeshadow, and half my close-up shots prominently feature excessive eyelash glue.  the photographer was an expert in the maternity portraiture field- she was patient, practiced, and provided the relief of non-stop direction.  i sweated like a pot roast and performed the suggested poses with the gracelessness of a dress barn mannequin discarded in a dumpster.

but the important takeaway is, i did a thing that made me uncomfortable!  because it's not just about me and my whack body image and the fact that my maternity look is less ~serenely hugging my belly nearby a sunset lake~ and more lying in bed with cheeto crumbs in my hair.  i wanted to bypass my discomfort and memorialize this pregnancy for ian, for our little family, and for a future me that will hopefully look back on these nine months and maybe really believe that they were graceful, beautiful, washed in pink light during golden hour.

lol who am i kidding i'm going to still be mad at myself for applying my eyeshadow like i had a fucking seizure.