Nine Months In; Nine Months Out

Forty-one weeks ago, Miss P made her long-awaited debut- all 7 pounds, 1 ounce, and 20.5 inches of her.

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Introducing Little Miss P

She didn’t emerge with gusto, the way some babies do. Instead, she was limp and silent.

We were transferred from a free-standing birth center to the hospital in the final stages of labor. Before Miss P’s entrance, a nurse explained that there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. Though this didn’t necessarily signify a problem – it actually wasn’t too uncommon – a team from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would be standing by incase of complications.

The moment Miss P was born, time was suspended like the lingering pause between a bolt of lightening slashing the night sky and an angry crack of thunder in the distance.

“Meconium. It’s the meconium,” I heard someone say.

The doctor rushed to cut the umbilical cord, swaddled a languid Miss P in a receiving blanket, and placed her in my arms for a fleeting moment – a moment in which someone snapped our first family photo. I barely had the chance to look down at her before she was taken from me, whisked away to the NICU.

Suddenly, there was so much going on around me: bright lights, loud voices, medical staff shuffling back and forth. I could hear the incessant chatter and laughter of nurses seated at a desk in the hallway and the bleeps from equipment in neighboring rooms. A nurse scolded me- something about bending the IV – an IV I wasn’t even supposed to have – as I gripped my cell phone and tried to focus on the 2″ by 3″ photo of my baby girl the student midwife from the birth center had sent me before she left the hospital.

The whole thing was so far from the peaceful private entrance I’d been fantasizing about since we switched to midwifery care and found a supportive doula.

Then for the first time in forty-one weeks, I was completely and utterly alone.

Miss P had what we like to call a rough start, but less than halfway through the day, she was breathing unassisted, alert, and nursing like a pro. Even so, the first 48 hours of her life were spent in the NICU under observation. During this time, Tim and I were allowed to stay with her. We were allowed to hold her and care for her, though not quite in the same ways we would have had the situation presented itself differently.

I find myself often wondering what it would’ve been like had my baby not been pulled from my arms moments after her birth- to have experienced the “Golden Hour” they often referred to in our childbirth classes in all its sanctity: no weighing and measuring, no bath to compromise the precious vernix, no generic blanket and cap to mimic the warmth of that initial skin-to-skin contact with the mother.

I wonder what it would’ve been like to hold my baby close without a tangle of cords hooked up to various monitors intruding between us, to know the sound of her breath without the drone of equipment – equipment that in our case was completely unnecessary. I also wonder how I would’ve felt had I not had to watch a nurse push the empty plastic bassinet from my room, its wheels squeaking across the tile floor.

I don’t often recount the first days of our lives as a family of three, but when I do, most of my listeners tell me to move on. After all, I was fine. Miss P was fine. It was just a rough start. We live under the guise that a healthy mom and a healthy baby are the only things that matter when they are not. And, by the way, the term healthy isn’t limited to outright physical vigor. We can’t know for certain the repercussions – regardless of how delayed or seemingly unrelated they may be – of separating a newborn baby from its mother. I’m not sure I’ll ever emotionally heal from Miss P being taken away from me, even if it was only for a few hours, even though we both ended up being outwardly “fine”.

As much as I daydream about it, I can’t go back in time and make Miss P’s entrance a peaceful one. I can’t change the fact that she spent her first hours in a stark bassinet  instead of in the arms of her mother and father. I can’t change that she spent her first two days adorned with tubes and wires. I can’t alter the past, but I can move forward consciously and with intention.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve really resonated with many aspects of attachment parenting. I didn’t set out to be an attachment parent; I didn’t read books on the subject or watch documentaries, I just started doing what, to me, felt natural, and I’ll continue to do what feels natural- to utilize the mother’s instinct that was born with my daughter. I don’t want my sweet baby to succumb to fear or loneliness. I want her to know I’m here for her, now and always.

So, here I sit, forty-one weeks later, with Miss P napping beside me. The room is dimly lit, piano music is playing softly in the background, and the scents of lemongrass and cedarwood tangle in the air as they escape the diffuser. This has become our evening ritual- a nightly Golden Hour of sorts, albeit delayed.

I can’t alter the past, but I can move forward consciously and with intention.

As I sit here this evening watching Miss P sleep, I’m trying to wrap my head around the significance of this extraordinary milestone we’ve just achieved as a family: nine months in; nine months out. Or, in our case, forty-one weeks in; forty-one weeks out.

It’s no secret that human infants are nearly helpless at the time of their birth. Though a full-term baby is born around the nine month mark, its gestation period most definitely continues outside the womb, and in many ways, the nine month milestone, with its bold determination and mobility, seems to bring this external gestation full-circle.

I think back to the night we brought Miss P home from the hospital. Those first few weeks were visceral. They were full of laughter, tears, ambivalence, joy, and utter mental and physical exhaustion.

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Relaxing during our first week home

Everything was methodical, and there were so many calculations to keep track of: last nursing session, which side it took place on and for how many minutes, wet and soiled diaper output, frequency and duration of naps, and duration of nighttime sleep.

What was her temperature? Did she burp after she nursed? Did she burp twice? Was she too hot or too cold? There was also the uncertainty about how much milk she was actually consuming- a figure that I now know wasn’t something I needed to worry about, yet I spent our first month together agonizing over this lack of information and intermittently texting my midwife for reassurance.

And don’t even get me started on the fit of anxiety that stems from clipping those itty bitty fingernails, keeping her floppy slippery body upright during baths, and pulling her head and delicate limbs through the tiny openings of her sleepers and onesies.

Now Miss P tries to climb right out of her bathtub, and she pulls her shirts up over her head to undress herself. She creeps and crawls and cruises along the walls and furniture. She points when something catches her interest, bounces when she hears a song she likes, and she clears out the kitchen cabinets at least five times a day.

She calls for our cat, Oliver, with me- says, la la, pssst psssst – and wobbles with excitement as he trots over to us. She buzzes and hums and clicks her tongue, and she never tires of smiling at her reflection in the mirror or probing her finger along the owl wind chime that hangs in our living room if you hold her up beside it.

She’s full of spunk and a touch of sass, and she has so much energy that all of our latest pictures are blurry because I can never get her to stay still for more than a moment.

Our baby girl has now grown outside the womb for more or less the same amount of time she spent developing within, and although her exit was turbulent, every day thereafter has been filled with peace and love and a surprising amount of clarity.

Sure, there’s clutter, and chaos, and exhaustion sprinkled in as well. There are often dirty dishes piled in the sink, and baskets of clean laundry that take far too long to get put away, and there are days here and there that end before I’ve even had a chance to shower, but there’s a certain element of beauty in imperfection, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.

I’m constantly astounded by this little person who now consumes me. I don’t know how I existed before her, and then I remember I didn’t exist; I was born alongside of her forty-one weeks ago. And oh, how we’ve both grown!

9 months Chalkboard

Happy 4th of July. Miss P is 9 months old!

41 In 41 Out

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8 Months

8 Months Chalkboard

Tomorrow marks nine months for Miss P.

NINE MONTHS. I can’t get over it.

But, first, here are some eight month updates. (Better late than never.) 8 Months 1

8 Months 2

8 Months 3

June – Miss P’s eighth month – was a month of ups and downs around here: Miss P’s first airplane ride, adventures in Upstate New York, visiting family in the breathtaking rolling mountains of Pennsylvania, and let’s not forget the latest developmental milestone P’s been tackling- STANDING up and FALLING down, a new trick that leaves me rife with anxiety and hovering over her at all times. {Hello, porcelain tile floor!}

Miss P’s newly acquired mobility coupled with several projects I’ve been juggling over the past two months have kept me from this space. Gone are the days of spending hours at the computer while occasionally glancing up from the keyboard to admire my peacefully sleeping little one. Oh yes, long gone.

As the fog of being a new Mama lifts, I realize there are many things I’ve surrendered since Miss P’s arrival (some temporarily, some for good) such as: sitting down to a hot meal (actually, make that sitting down at all), the vast majority of my favorite tops and dresses as they don’t offer sufficient boob access, make-up (most days), the hair dryer and curling iron, running errands just because, doing anything – besides showering -quickly, napping because I’m tired or not feeling well, meeting a friend for an impromptu lunch or happy hour, etc.

Late nights out have been traded for late nights in, sky-high heels have been exchanged for flats, red wine replaced with tepid herbal tea, and reading time has dwindled from hours a day spent thoroughly engrossed in a quality novel to minutes here and there spent scanning poorly written articles – many of which condemn my parenting choices – shared over social media.

I scroll through said articles while standing at the kitchen counter and gently swaying from side to side as Miss P peacefully naps in our woven wrap or while nursing her to sleep at night in the glider or while patiently waiting for her to wake in the morning, pausing every couple of sentences to look over at her snuggled beside me in bed.

These articles often tackle controversial topics and cross into territories where the author, let’s call her Sally Sassypants, has no jurisdiction: Sleep training, anyone? No thanks, Sally. If my baby cries, I will pick her up, even if that means I’m “doomed” to comfort her throughout the night until she’s a teenager, which, by the way, is a major aspect of the whole parental role- you know, actually being there for your kids.

These articles often promote rigid schedules- schedules that don’t support the baby’s needs, and encourage incomprehensible ideas like letting your baby self-soothe, which we all know is just a euphemism for cry himself/herself to sleep, and I’m thinking, “Damn, we’re a little off,” because I’m not even out of bed yet, and I’ve already broken seven of Sally’s rules.

{Hey, Sally, how about you parent your way, and I’ll parent mine, mmmmkay? And here’s a tidbit for you, compliments of a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing Mama: Do us a favor, and run a grammar check on your articles before you publish them, because there are always, always grammatical errors, and that really compromises your credibility; just my humble opinion, of course.}

I know, I know, I really need to just stop reading this rubbish. I’ve been watching Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar collect dust on my coffee table for months now, a fate that, for me, is right up there with preparing my favorite meal only to gaze longingly at it, thinking how wonderful it would be if I were to devour it. (Maybe I’ll move The Bell Jar from the coffee table to the nightstand so I can partake in some real reading time in the fleeting moments that allow for it.)

So the fog – that haze made up of bliss, hunger, exhaustion, and, at times, the harsh realization that nearly every aspect of your being has been altered – has lifted, and I’m starting to realize that being a Mama can get awfully political if you buy into that sort of thing. I’ve also realized it’s not advice or reassurance I want or need because, at the end of the day, there are only two people it concerns if I choose to nurse Miss P to sleep each night, and I don’t have it in me to let either of us down.

Ah yes, so I’ve traded some things in, but look what I got in return:

P3

 P4

P1

P5

And really, I didn’t give any of these thing up. I’ve heard my share of moms boast that they’re “still the same person” after the arrival of their little ones. {Sally is one of those moms.}

I am not.

When I think of the former me, the “me” before P – and the place she has gone – the hauntingly beautiful description of visual memory Vladimir Nabokov provides in the opening pages of Lolita comes to mind. Nabokov asserts that, “there are two kinds of visual memory…” The me before P is best described as the second of these two: “(the kind) you instantly evoke, with shut eyes, on the dark innerside of your eyelids, the objective absolutely optical replica of a beloved face, a little ghost in natural colors.”

It’s actually the former version of myself that I’ve traded in; the me before P now exists only in photographs and on the dark innerside of my eyelids. She’s ethereal.

And as for the new me? I’m living more consciously than I ever have before because there’s a tiny person who depends on me, and my heart is so full of love and gratitude for her. As an added bonus, my floor is so clean you could eat off of it, and, I suppose, I can temporarily succumb to shoddy reading material and tepid tea.

On a lighter note, I leave you with some pictures from our recent trip to New York and Pennsylvania. {Oh, how I want to go back!}

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Miss P’s first plane ride. (She handled it much better than Daddy.)

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I was so happy to see a lilac bush, even if it was a tad past its prime.

Miss P does the zoo

Exploring the Safari Bus at the zoo.

Miss P in Oswego

Miss P “strolling” down Bridge Street in Oswego, New York.

car ride to PA

Miss P’s first road trip! En route to Pennsylvania.

Welcome to PA

Oh, the beauty. Welcome to Pennsylvania.

View from the hotel

A view from the top.

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This place was seriously so gorgeous!

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gorge landscape2
gorge landscape1

Howling at The Moon

We’ve been keeping late hours around here lately. So late that I’ve made the executive decision that we will no longer be observing Daylight’s Savings Time in our house. (I get to make decisions like that now.) I’ve never cared much for the whole “Fall Back” and “Spring Forward” anyway. No, I definitely won’t miss it. Besides, arbitrarily changing the time on our clocks throws my circadian rhythm all out of whack.

I’ve always been a night person. Before Miss P came along, I often joked that I was on Pacific Time because I’d be cooking dinner at 9 PM, or if I was in bed at a decent hour – decent meaning 11 PM – I’d toss and turn until I finally gave in, opened a book from the pile on my nightstand and read until a few hours before my alarm was scheduled to go off. That being said, I really need to start getting Miss P to bed much earlier than her new self-appointed bedtime, which seems to be falling somewhere around 2AM.

[2 AM bedtime for Miss P = No time to work for Mama.]

I’ve overheard mothers saying that their little ones are in bed for the night by 7:30 PM, or sometimes even [gasp] 6:30 PM. (6:30? In this house, dinner isn’t even on the table yet at 6:30.)

We typically start our bedtime routine with an hour of playtime around 8, followed by a bath and baby-massage. At that point, the house is dimly lit and quiet, and it stays that way until morning regardless of whether we’re still awake or not. Since we usually don’t have to wake up early, I’m fine with Miss P staying up until, say, 10 or 11 PM, but 2 AM is a bit extreme.

"What do you mean some babies are in bed by 6:30 PM, Mama?"

“What do you mean some babies are in bed by 6:30 PM, Mama?”

So yeah, we’ve been having quite the sleep fiasco, but I digress.

The past month has brought many firsts to our home, and lack of nighttime sleep isn’t one I wish to spend much time dwelling on. I’d rather revel in the thrill I felt as I recently watched Miss P master the complete roll, which means, for all intents and purposes, she’s mobile.

[Oooh. Ahhh.]

That’s right, folks, she’ll roll from one side of the room straight across to the other. She usually only rolls in one direction though (to her left), so once she gets to the end of the room, you have to spin her around so she can roll back. It’s fun and exciting and bittersweet– a word I catch myself using quite frequently these days- watching her growing and changing and acquiring so many new and stupendous skills.

As if the rolling wasn’t fascinating enough, about a week ago she started sitting up. It’s the most adorable thing to see her sitting there with her legs outstretched, knees bent and toes curled under; she always has her toes curled under.

Sitting

In addition to the motor skills Miss P’s been hard at work on, she’s become quite the little chatterbox. She’s always been extremely vocal, but her coos and babbles are now much more pronounced, and they’re really beginning to mimic the rise and fall of sentences. Sometimes she’ll let out a declarative, “blah, blah, blah, blah,” or an excited “la, la, la.” Tim and I both swear she said “no habla” the other day, and we’ve been laughing about it ever since.

One night last week we were all sitting on the couch and she was yammering away. “Come on, Miss P, let’s howl at the moon,” I said, and we yipped and giggled until it was time for bed.

At times like these, I find my mind briefly drifting back to the evenings Tim and I shared long before her arrival. Despite recent sleepless nights, I’m still in utter disbelief at how much joy she’s brought into our lives. There’s something so sacred and beautiful about these intertwining moments of stillness and chaos, something so profound about the impermanence of these fleeting stages, and we celebrate each of them because we understand we can’t have light without dark. Besides, sleepless nights often lead to lazy mornings full of cuddles, and that’s certainly something worth celebrating.

Poet and OliverCuddles