Thursday, September 28, 2006

On Being a Mom

There is something so magical about watching Swee'pea fall asleep in the sling, at least one of his hands wrapped around at least one of my fingers, his eyes fluttering, adjusting his head slightly to get comfortable, until finally he settles into stillness. It's moments like these that make me feel like the first mother ever. Yet I take comfort in the fact that I'm not, that women have had babies for millennia and that there are elements that must be universal: the heart-stopping jolt of anxiety when our babies are sick, the overwhelming warmth of love that envelops us when we hold them sleeping or nursing.

I have been thinking about Metro Mama's post about women's work. I remember when Swee'pea was just a few days old and I was talking to my friend about the high craziness of the whole birth/motherhood thing. This was the woman who told me that childbirth hurts like hell but who I didn't really believe. I naively thought when I was pregnant that she just wasn't doing the right things. Maybe that's true and maybe my labour wouldn't have hurt so much if I hadn't been strapped to a bed the whole time because every time I sat or stood upright the baby's heartrate plummeted. (I have recently been musing about just how naive I was when I was pregnant. I believe those books that said that women don't have to feel pain giving birth. Maybe that's true for some but definitely not for all.) Anyways, I was talking to this friend and she asked, "So is Sugar Daddy a complete git around the baby?" And my answer was an absolute, unequivocal No. If anything he was more comfortable around Swee'pea in those early days than I was. I was too sore from the c-section and couldn't do anything more than nurse him. And even while I was nursing, Sugar Daddy took his role, as laid out by the lactation consultant, very seriously. He duly stroked Swee'pea's cheek and or legs to wake him if he fell asleep; he even took over the prescribed breast compressions when my hand cramped.

There were so many other c-sections in the hospital that day that I had to share a room with another woman. In fact, her c-section had been scheduled for that morning, but my emergency had bumped her back to 4 in the afternoon. The upside of the roommate situation was that it was actually a room for 4 patients so Sugar Daddy got his own bed instead of a folding cot. This roommate was up walking that night (!) and going to the bathroom and everything. For some reason her husband didn't stay at the hospital. He even worked while she was there. I imagine they figured they would save his time off for when she was home and didn't have nurses to help her. But I think this ended up being a mistake. For one thing, the nurses were helpful in the middle of the night when Swee'pea had hiccups and Sugar Daddy got nervous, but for the most part, we were solely responsible for Swee'pea once he was out of the nursery. So she ended up walking the corridors at night trying to settle her little one while I slept and Sugar Daddy held Swee'pea. Her milk was slow coming in and they had to supplement with a little feeding tube attached to her breast. I believe she needed more rest than she was getting for a good milk supply. But I'm coming to my real point. Her husband visited early in the morning before he went to work and at the end of his work day. Then he would go home to sleep uninterrupted so he could be fresh for work.

We were all really nervous handling our first newborns. But my roommate, Sugar Daddy and I just muddled through it. We didn't know how to settle these creatures but we figured it out by trial and error. But my roommate's husband didn't have the benefit of observing this trial and error. He just saw his wife handling their baby with confidence. And I believe he felt incompetent. I overheard her on the phone, talking to a friend, lamenting that her husband didn't really want to hold the baby or change his diaper because he was too nervous. "I keep telling him," she said, "I don't know what I'm doing either. I just keep trying. But he won't. He's too nervous." I often think of this woman. I didn't exchange details with her so I have no way of getting in touch her now but I wonder if her milk ever came in and if she was able to breastfeed, if her husband managed to get past his nerves.

I have another friend who says she's in charge of all things baby and she likes it that way. Her husband asks her before he does anything related to the baby. He sleeps in a separate room so that at least one of them is rested and he can cook dinner. This woman is so together I don't believe he even took any time off work. But he does the grocery shopping and other chores when he gets home at night. I really admire just how together this woman is, although that division of labour doesn't suit our family. I think it might be related to the fact that she is the one in their family who goes with the flow on most other topics.

In my family, Sugar Daddy mostly goes with the flow and I make many of the decisions. I find this role tiring, and often try to encourage Sugar Daddy to participate in decision-making. Obviously, his participation has increased with the arrival of Swee'pea. Here is something that really matters to him (bathroom tiles and long distance plans and mortgage payments don't really do it for him). But still, he almost always asks me what to dress Swee'pea in; and he forgets to change his diaper before putting him to sleep for the night; and I find myself reminding him to put him in pajamas and change his diaper as I'm leaving for my belly dance class.

Sugar Daddy has many wonderful qualities: foremost among them, he tolerates me and my neuroses, even loves me. He is a great dad and you can see that Swee'pea adores him. He cooks most meals, does all the cat care, and he puts out the garbage without me having to remind him. But there are many times when I have to tell myself that it really doesn't matter if he washes the mugs before the plates, if he folds pants differently, or if he puts Swee'pea's clothes on a different order. But I do wish he would stop asking me what to dress him in. Or where his clothes are.

Last night was my third belly dance class since I was 7 1/2 months pregnant. Swee'pea apparently was great and mostly slept while I was gone. This is a great improvement from the screaming that ensued when I went out for a couple of hours a few months ago. And I think it is definitely essential for Sugar Daddy to have time alone with Swee'pea, even if he is mostly asleep for it.

I gained nearly 50 pounds during my pregnancy. And I loved the ripe look. I lost nearly 35 of those pounds within the first three weeks post partum. Then I started putting the weight back on. I think it mostly happened in July when it was insanely hot and I was very unhappy, feeling sorry for myself that Swee'pea wasn't remotely close to sleeping through the night, or even in his crib. My unhappiness lifted when I started this blog, and when I accepted that he wasn't going to sleep in his crib so I may as well just make the best of it. Anyways, here I am, still 25 pounds heavier than I was before I got pregnant.

There is a wall of mirrors that we face in my belly dance class. I am still surprised when I see myself in it. The time of me dancing pregnant has faded in my memory so I don't expect to see a pregnant belly. But I also don't expect to see my pendulous breasts, whose momentum throws off my rhythm when I do a shoulder shimmy, or the larger belly and hips. Sometimes I start to feel disappointed in my body. But I've noticed something happening over the course of the class the last two weeks. By the end of the class, my body looks slimmer. Maybe it's because through the dance I lift my shoulders, chest and chin, and engage my abdomenal muscles. But maybe it's because the dance allows me take joy in my body and its movements, a different joy from the joy and surprise of providing sustenance for my son with it. And even though I'm desperately out of shape, even with the pendulous breasts and new ripples of flesh, I gotta say, I still got some moves. I am still capable of sensual undulations and hip circles, and playful shoulder twists and chest circles.

One school of thought holds that belly dance originated as a way of teaching girls how to be women and preparing their bodies for childbirth and labour. I certainly found shimmying helpful during my early contractions before they strapped me down (I don't mean that to sound resentful; I believe all the interventions were absolutely necessary in my case, especially the c-section, and you can read Swee'pea's birth story for more details if you like); and I was disappointed that I didn't get to do more belly dancing later in my labour. I think it most appropriate that this form of dance is also allowing to me to enjoy my body despite, or maybe because of, the changes motherhood has wrought on it. As Sugar Daddy said when I was pregnant, "Your life will never be the same again; it makes sense that your body won't either."


mad_hatter said...

Sugar daddy sounds like a real catch.

Thanks for putting me in your blog roll. Your description fits me to a T I think.

penelopeto said...

Great observations. Your huz sounds like a good one (I have one of those too).

and, if it makes you feel any better, my babe had nuthin' but lap naps until a year, still doesn't sleep in her crib, and is the cuddliest, most affectionate 16-month old around. enjoy it.

sunshine scribe said...

That last line from Sugar Daddy was my favourite. You've got a good man there. You really do.

Penny said...

Sugar-Daddy sounds wonderful. And, I love this description: "pendulous breasts and new ripples of flesh". Isn't how amazing, though, how it just doesn't matter as much as it did, before we were moms? I think that is kinda cool. Our minds change as your bodies change as our lives change, when it comes to having a child.

Your labor sounds like an interesting story, which I'm going to go and fill myself in on right now.


Nancy said...

Finally getting over here from my gazelle (well, non-gazelle) post to read this. I love your description of belly dancing -- so sensuous and appealing.