Friday, April 15, 2011

There is no such thing as an A+ in parenting

Six weeks ago today, I cancelled a conference call that I was supposed to have at 2:30pm because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to speak through the contractions. 17 hours later, Amalia came screaming into the world.

As with all of the other milestones (one week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks) I can’t believe that time has moved so quickly. I can’t believe that she has been here for 6 weeks, I can’t believe that I only have another 6 weeks of maternity leave. I can’t believe that in another 6 weeks, she’ll be 12 weeks old. Parenting math is much harder than pregnancy math (a math story for another day).

There have been so many times in the past few weeks that I have wanted to pick up my computer to write down what I have been thinking about. And for some reason, I just haven’t been able to do it. People have been cutting me slack, assuming that it’s exhaustion that’s getting in my way. But that’s not it. I mean, I am exhausted, but that’s not what has kept me from writing. It’s the sheer enormity of it all, the fact that wrapping my head around this most recent life change is basically just as overwhelming as actually experiencing it.

It has been an up and down week. Last weekend went by too quickly. I had too little time with Matt and by Sunday at 11am, I was already missing him, even though there were still many hours until he had to be at work on Monday. On Monday I cried in Cris’s living room, trying as hard as I could to soak up every parental-advice tidbit she could give me, feeling grateful, so incredibly grateful when she would say things like, “I remember feeling that way,” but simultaneously feeling so doubtful of my ability to make it as a parent. But today I am feeling alright, confident in my ability to wear Mollie to the grocery store in a sling, certain that I will be able to pull off a Passover Seder six weeks after I had a baby.

I have come to the conclusion that I am trying to get my PhD in parenting right now. I am in the lab/classroom years. It is my job to repeat the experiment until I have something I can publish, something I can hold up in front of my committee and say, “look, this works!”

An ideal day goes like this: Mollie sleeps for a 5-hour stretch, eats and goes back down at 4:30 and sleeps until 7:30, she has a lovely day involving minimal spit-up or wardrobe changes (for either one of us), she smiles affectionately at the ceiling fan and enjoys her tummy time, and I manage to shower, eat three meals, drink enough water, tackle some of the laundry, and pump 4.5 ounces. We have had bits and pieces of the ideal day. She will sleep for 5 hours one night and spend that entire day gassy and uncomfortable, producing such a massive spit up that it bypasses the burp cloth and lands squarely on her father’s (clean) pants, dripping onto the floor. I will manage to eat enough food and pump, but she will be miserable every time I put her down for even a second. Or she will take good naps, eat without problems, but I somehow haven’t managed to shower, eat, or drink any water until Matt comes home at 6pm.

So every day, I go to my lab and try to re-create the pieces of the day before that worked, and then tweak the things that didn’t work to see if I can get them to work again.

I keep copious mental notes, reminding myself of when she ate, how much she ate, when she pooped, how much she pooped, whether I wore my hair up or down, whether I had three burp cloths or two, whether I burped her during or after she nursed. Of course, I can only hold on to these notes for approximately 3 seconds before I have forgotten everything I was supposed to remember. This means that my life is less like a controlled experiment, and more like a chaotic stab in the dark. I will never get a PhD this way. I will never produce publishable results. I will be ABD forever.

So the new trick is working to become okay with this chaos. It is a very difficult trick. I am filled to the brim with self-doubt, a cliché of a new mother, constantly worrying myself over questions like, “has she had enough to eat?,” “do I make enough milk?,” “how much spit-up is too much spit-up?,” “does she like me?,” “if she hasn’t smiled by exactly 6 weeks, is she developmentally delayed?” I know that these questions are cliché, because when I start to type in “how much spit-up” into Google, it smartly finishes my question with, “is too much spit-up?” Clearly, I am not the only one in a parenting lab. Oddly, this is of little comfort when it comes from strangers on the internet. When other mothers, experienced or inexperienced, ask the same questions, then I feel comforted, elated to know that I am not alone here, not the only one blowing up her lab space.

I am sickened by the thought of going back to work, of leaving Amalia in the care of strangers. Not because I think that I can do it better (see above), but because I cannot bear the thought of being apart from her all day for three whole days a week, cannot bear the fact that someone else will get to hold her, cuddle her, comfort her. I do not mind nursing her at 3am because I love being the only person in the world who sees her beautiful face at 3am. Sharing her with anyone other than Matt is difficult for me, even though I have no idea what I am doing, even though she sometimes cries so hard that she turns red and her lip quivers. I want to be the one to stop the quivering lip, to be there to kiss her delicious cheeks, to wipe away the tiny little tears that pool in the corners of her eyes. This time, there is a conclusive result: I cannot always help her, sometimes I need help. Both of those realities are intensely, emotionally trying. It must be painful to watch me struggle with it.

This afternoon I went to see a lactation consultant, one of the myriad of people whose jobs absolutely baffle me. They are like magicians, pulling breastfeeding tidbits out of a hat just when you least expect it. In the middle of the consult, Beth had Amalia on her lap and had just finished weighing her. Mollie started to cry, which was reasonable given that she was both naked and hungry. Without thinking, I leaned in and started talking to her. “It’s okay sweetpea, you’ll eat soon, I know you’re hungry and I can’t wait to feed you.” Mollie stopped crying, turned her head towards me and opened her mouth in that perfect little “o” that makes my heart stop. And Beth said, “that’s right sweetheart, that’s your mommy,” and handed her over to me. Time stood still for just the briefest of moments, and this is what I learned:

I will always be working towards my doctorate in parenting, always trying to create the ideal day, the day that works and flows just like I want it to. But what I really need to learn is to recognize the moments, good and bad, that are totally out of my control. In other words, I need to simply relax and let time stand still when my well-fed, perfectly developmentally appropriate, beautiful daughter hears the sound of my voice and feels calmed. Really, that is all the affirmation I need.


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