Marcus is two months old tomorrow. When he was first born and everyone said, "Oh, enjoy this time, it'll go by so fast," I could not believe them. Every individual day was both long and short at the same time--full, busy, over in a blink, yet full of nothing more than sitting on the couch nursing, or sitting in a chair holding him, or lying in bed looking at him. Now, though, I can't believe that it's been a whole two months. It has gone by fast--so fast--too fast. I don't think I've ever been more content than when I'm lying in bed on my right side, holding Marcus against me, with Robert lying behind me holding me. Large, medium, and very small, we are, perfectly contented and connected to each other.
I've realized that motherhood instantly turned me into a primitive, animal self: like a monkey, I pick nits out of his hair (or small bits of gunk from his nose and ears); like a cat, I lick him clean (or lick a finger and dab at dried milk from his chin).
By now Marcus weighs 11 pounds and is 22 1/2 inches long. He's wearing some newborn (0-3 month) and some 3-6 month clothes. He's solidly in size 1 diapers, though occasionally they leak. He's filling up his Moses basket, and soon he'll move to his crib. He's got a huge double chin now, and solid, fatty thighs. He just started gurgling and babbling and cooing this weekend, and he'll sometimes hold long conversations with us, very happily. I hold him easily now, shifting him from the left to right breast without worrying that he'll break en route. We're comfortable with each other--we look at each other and recognize each other now. When we're alone, neither of us panics now--we have a rhythm, and we know what to expect. We know how to make each other happy now. If birth is a miracle, then so is this--this birth, this growth, this intense organic formation of motherchild or of family itself, one unit fused together of two (or three) separate people over the past two months.
You see pictures of Marcus on this page from the last two weeks: happy and smiling; being diapered by Robert; cuddled by me and Great-Grandma Helena; looking fat and inflatable; showing off his hand-made fur booties sent by our Alaskan friends the Harts; cuddled up in a towel after a bath; and worn close to my chest as we walked through the corn maze at Davis Farm and Mega-Maze in Sterling, MA. Marcus is a lovely baby: he's a good sleeper, good eater; he's calm and easy-going; and, as Dr. Meyers said at his two-month check-up, he "read the book" on babyhood and is developing right as he's supposed to.
This week I went back over all of the video Robert shot during the birth, because Robert's grandmother Helena asked to see the birth video. She was completely knocked out (Twilight Sleep) when she had her only child, so between a total lack of sex ed. years ago and a lack of first-hand experience on her own part, her only real knowledge of birth comes from TV and the movies ("Those babies aren't even newborns," Robert will complain now when he sees a baby born onscreen, at the drop of a hat, now that he knows what a real newborn looks like. "And Christina didn't sound like that in labor at all!" he'll argue.). I edited the video down to seventeen minutes of the last hour of labor, the birth, and the first few minutes after the birth. Rewatching and editing the video was an amazing event--it was an entirely new perspective on an experience that I had both been a part of and had not, really, been present for: it was like I was floating above everyone during the actual labor. The most surprising thing to me was that there was so much talking on the video. Part of the time the talking was Kelley, my primary midwife, to Tara or Zion (the other midwives) about the baby's heartbeat or position, but most of the talking was Kelley, Zion, and my mother to me in warm, supportive tones. It was constant:
"You're doing great, Christina, keep going."
"That's it, that's exactly right, that's how to push."
"Oh, Christina, you are doing great, you're going to meet your baby very soon."
"You're doing beautifully--now hold that push, just hold the baby's head right there."
I wasn't consciously aware of any of it at the time. I only remember being asked direct questions ("Do you want something to drink?" "Do you want to change positions?" "Can I use the Doppler on you now?") and I remember, sort of, answering them in a rush (mainly "I don't care, anything, yes, whatever!") between alternate moments of vocalizing and silence--rocking back and forth with my eyes closed, clutching cold cloths to me in a sort of trance. But I think the constant supportive, encouraging talk was essential, even though I wasn't aware of it at the time, and I really feel bad for women who don't have that level of encouragement during labor.
The other kind of talk that you can hear on the video, and that I do remember during labor, was Robert's peculiar, typical-of-Robert, questions. He'd make some unique observation or ask some specific, hypothetical Robert-type question, and though he didn't mean anything by it, his calm, flat, curious, scientific and yes, even male voice sounded so out of place that it just cut through all my delicious mental haze. "StoptalkingRobertpleasestoptalking," I'd say very quickly, just to get it to stop. On the video, you can hear Kelley and the other midwives laugh at this, and you can see them look at each other and Robert in an amused way.
I thought about putting in subtitles on the video, for Helena, but given my iMovie skills at the moment, that would have taken more time than I was willing to invest in the project this week. Instead I'll settle for transcribing some of the dialogue here.
"Whoa!" Robert said as the baby came out. Then, "She's a boy!" he said.
"What does that mean?" I asked irritably.
"A boy!" he clarified.
"Mmmmm, Marcus!" I said. We had decided on both boy and girl names ahead of time, but I had been insisting that the baby was a boy for the last two months or so. "I knew it!"
A little later I said, again triumphantly, "See, I told you it was a boy!"
"I can't believe we actually have a grandchild!" my mother said at one point just after Marcus was born. You can see in one frame of the video my mother fussing with a tissue, while my father also has tears of happiness in his eyes, before Robert swivels the camera back to the bed.
Then, when Marcus was put in my arms, cord still connected to me (he had a nice long cord, not at all wrapped around him), I gasped and said, "It's a baby!" as though I had expected something else. I kept repeating "Oh wow, oh my, oh wow!" over and over when he was in my arms, and you can see my hands running over his body, checking him, though I wasn't conscious of doing so at the time, feeling his head and arms and chest and legs and feet.
Since I was looking at the video and thinking back on my pregnancy, labor, and birth, I thought I'd make a list of things that I found essential to have then. I was able to immediately list Heart and Hands, a midwifery handbook by Elizabeth Davis, and the hypnobirthing relaxation .mp3 tracks by Marie Mongan. Heart and Hands was a great book to refer back to in between my midwife visits, when I had any pregnancy symptom whatsoever, or when I wanted to check out fetal positions or any other detail. The hypnobirthing tracks were essential to me--I used them every night, sometimes multiple times a night (depending on how many times a combination of feeling anxious/exited and having to go to the bathroom got me up in the middle of the night!), to relax before falling asleep, and the calm voice on the tracks spoke aloud in my head when I was tense but away from my iPod, even during the day. Beyond those two items, however, I was having trouble finding more essentials to put on my list. A soft, stretchy nightgown--that was possibly my most important maternity wear purchase, so that would make the list, and our bathtub--lovely for relaxing in at all stages of pregnancy, never mind of course during my labor--would also go on the list. But beyond this relatively short list of items, everything that I started to realize was essential really were intangibles: a flexible and accommodating job, a warm and skilled midwife, an excited and encouraging family, and an incredibly patient and supportive partner. Those were the really important things, and I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did that the essentials really were about people, about relationships, and about love.
1. On the mysterious, biological work of pregnancy:
"In colors of blood and air I spin without stopping: colon, foot, eye. By day, by night, for nine months, I weave you: precisely. Faithfully. No wonder I'm slow at other tasks.
"What do we spin today? The shape of your smile? A last-minute gesture? Do we go over, once more, what's already there? Checking up, making sure that nothing's been forgotten?
"Ah! You're moving through the eons, the centuries, more swiftly now, growing larger. The design grows thicker, swings back and forth on the loom of me. Testing it. Making sure it will hold. Making sure it will break.
"I wish I could see you! I wish I could play with you, just once, while you're still in me.
"You'd frighten me. I'd be a tiny visitor, shipwrecked, disturbing your great sleep. Would you look at me with one red eye? Crush me by turning over? Devour me, spit out my bones? What would you sound like?
"Are you lonely?"
2. On the miracle of a newborn, minutes-old baby:
"Oh, baby. Washed up on the shore so naked. Come, flop onto my warm belly-beach. Come, creep into the crook of my arm-tree. Climb higher. Nuzzle me. There's wet fruit to eat. Don't stop. Come closer. Eye to eye, soul to soul. Come say hello to your new-born mother.
"You are a bloody miracle. That which is incomprehensible--but so. You exist. You really exist. But how? I knew I was pregnant, but I never believed that you'd pass through me into being."
3. On the joy and paradox of a young infant:
"I dream of your sudden death. The stopped breath. The violent choking. The mysterious convulsion. My fear paralyzes me. . .
"Only you can comfort me. By remaining alive. I dread your cries. I crave them.
"You fall on my breast, fiercely, like a lion. When you lose my nipple, you rage, grow desperate. Sightless, you burrow for it in my shoulder, under my breast. Frantic, ridiculous.
"This is a matter of life and death for you. You clarify human nature for me.
"Such peace, when I breast-feed you. Such pleasure! When you put a hand to my nipple, I tingle, I flush. There is no end, no rude climax to this sensation. . .
"When will you and I be satisfied like this again?
"Will this nightmare ever end?
"Your repertoire of hand gestures are--embarrassingly--all mine! You preach Mountain Sermons. You pontificate. Your whole little hand makes Talmudic spirals in the air.
"Your testicles fall to your knees. A grandmother's dugs. . . .
"You're a toothless grandfather. You're not a baby yet. How long does it take to become one? As long as it takes to become a mother?
"Every hour you're being born again. You breathe furiously. Your skin gets blotchier. Your fingers scratch your face, gasping for air.
"Asleep, you're an arabesque in pink--oh, so pink--and gold. . .
"Asleep, you seem to be living other lives, remembering terror, power. Just now, you laughed out loud. Eerie. Wonderful.
"Who are you? How many are you? There is too much to catch hold of. Too many expressions, memories. Yours--and mine too."
4. On the conflicted state of mothering an infant:
"I feel an impostor. I am not myself. Is this how it will be: me, pulled apart, existing on at least two opposing levels at the same time? With no one comprehending all the levels? The level of my longing to be alone with you. The level of my longing to be just as I was before you. My being leveled into fatigue.
"I'll 'pass' for normal as usual. At what cost?
"Can I actually pull it off?
"Doesn't everyone see how different I am? Are they just being polite?
"Am I permanently split apart? Me in one room? You in another? No longer One?"
5. On the beauty of breastfeeding:
"What a steady little motion you make at my breast. How warm and busy your hands are. Laid flat across my breast, or clutching my finger.
"You are hope, unafraid, as you pounce on my nipple. Eyes closed, you suckle fiercely, swiftly, as if demons were at your heels. Sated, you sigh sweetly, groan softly."
1. Gurgling Baby
2. Visit with Great-Grandma Helena
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Created: 10/21/08. Last Modified: 10/21/08.