Thursday, April 18, 2013

I was just reading this email from a friend after her due date before her baby was born. The strange limnal state of waiting. The urgency that was there for me for so long--from two weeks before the date when I went to Easter in Connecticut against the advice of some--all the way through to the due date that came and went, that urgency is gone now. A quiet sort of calm has set in. Not for many neighbors, who pounce on us in the halls and elevators hourly, asking for news. These aren't people we know well enough to have otherwise told, but you'd think it was the biggest event since JFK cut the ribbon at the dedication for this housing cooperative. I feel bad that Alex has taken to snapping at them. Me too, a little bit. Though sometimes my version of snapping is simply not to respond gushing with enthusiasm, but in a more matter of fact way. Wally is the most confused. People keep asking him, "Where's the baby?" and acting surprised to see us going about our normal routine. "You're not supposed to be here!" they exclaim, doing a double take when they see us walking outside in the morning. We're not? Since it's routine for babies to be "late", why is it such a surprise to so many people? The midwife gave me the date of around April 26 to induce if nothing's happened yet, so I'm now giving that to people as the official new date. It doesn't stop the questions or comments, but I like to change the frame. Not an assignment for which you missed the deadline. Not an overdue library book hidden under the couch. Not anxiously waiting for someone that's lagging behind to finally arrive.

The birds are chirping outside. It's pretty quiet now, even for Manhattan, though the dogs are starting to bark, traffic starting to pick up. I'm still just waiting. I wish like Anne Tyler I was still just writing. I am doing a little of that. And a good amount of work that I didn't think I would get to which should put me in better shape for the maternity leave I can't really take. I also, for the first time in ten years, filed my taxes on time, a few days early, even. No running out to the post office at a quarter to midnight, no extensions, no irritating post-it note reminders as we near mid-October that the extension is nearing its end. A cartoonish image of the IRS guy standing outside my door tapping his watch. You are already late. You are already behind. Six months was plenty of time, he'd say if he spoke. But he doesn't need to. The finger tapping against the watch is enough. What kind of idiot files for a 6-month extension then waits until the very last second again? Someone who is always running late. Over the 3 years of writing this blog I think I've finally gotten out of that pattern.

It's light outside. Alex and Wally will be waking up soon. Wally will rush into our room looking for the baby, with a bit less enthusiasm than he had yesterday, when he had a little less enthusiasm than he'd had the day before. This pregnancy I've been for ultrasound after ultrasound, fetal monitoring every week for the past 5 weeks, but the mystery of something as routine as having a baby defies science. A baby may be due a certain day, but that's probably not when he or she will arrive. We can induce, schedule c-sections, drink castor oil. But otherwise there's such uncertainty there, the timing of the baby's arrival being one of the few things in life we don't control. I suppose that's what it is that makes people so frantic about it. But go way back, way back to the beginning. Neither creationism nor evolution fully satisfy as an explanation for how things began, for how we got here. The beginning is always a mystery. Maybe the uncertainty around each baby's arrival recapitulates that essential impossibility of any of us being here at all.

Monday, April 1, 2013

So, after initially posting about being more anxious for the delivery this time around I've mostly slipped back into my usual dissociative state. No longer struggling to understand why the whole natural/pain-free/hypno-birthing movement can't seem to produce any reliable first-person accounts. I've lost interest -- which is what I do, I guess, when something makes me anxious. (The dissociative state I've come to realize only works for me for mid-level life concerns -- college, kids, careers, relationships, money, etc. I've never been able to employ when it comes to big existential fears or minor neurotic insecurities.)

Before I had Wally a friend told me how strange it is, the end of labor, because you have to bear down into the pain. You have to go against instinct and make it worse. Dive into the wreck. 

Another friend, this one from California, said he ran into Adrienne Rich's Diving into the Wreck again at a bookstore a few weeks ago and was floored by it.

I first read that poem in March not so many years ago. I was in a tiny used bookstore in Connecticut, in the town where my grandparents used to live. I had gotten off the train and was poking around the little downtown area before I was going to call a cab to bring me to the cottage. It was empty by then and my mom and her siblings were getting ready to sell it. But it was still intact, still had the lovely tea cups Kate Sullivan brought on the ship with her from Ireland, the pink curtains, the key in the yellow vase on the front porch. 

Inside that afternoon I drank tea and worked on my novel. That one is still undone and long abandoned. I put a few Blue Moon beers in the snow drift on the roof sloping away from the upstairs bedroom. My sister and her family were on their way to meet me there that night and stay over as well. I was still in the single phase. We'd had our CD release party at the end of January, and though the band was falling apart I wasn't thinking about any big life decisions at that time. I still had the time and energy to be a fully-dedicated aunt. It's a role I unwillingly gave up. I feel bad about it, but I can't see any way around it. That night drinking Blue Moons with my brother-in-law I wasn't anywhere near thinking about having my own kids. Yet a year later I was listening to nature lullabies with Wally in the bassinet beside me. 

I'll have to reread the poem. It's amazing how gender roles have changed so much since then in some ways, but in others, not at all. There are breast pumps, daycares, nannies, even, for $49.99 "Mr. Milker" --"Now Men Can Breastfeed" contraption As Seen on TV. Still, there is not all that much you can do to escape biology. I remember a friend of mine who said, after having her first baby, that her husband was frustrated about not being able to drink as often or stay out as late with friends. Every single thing in my life has changed -- she thought to herself. And he's annoyed about leaving the bar before closing time. Adrienne Rich wasn't talking about parenting roles, but that's where my mind keeps circling around now.  

I am hearing some of the same kinds of dire warnings now about having two kids compared to one. A few people say the leap to a second child is not as hard as the leap from 0 to 1, but most say it's just way way harder to have two kids than one. I'm being advised, again, to prepare myself, "Life will never be the same!" People really like dire warnings, I think. At every stage, there are those further down the line waiting to tell you how much harder the next stage is. Now I am pretty quick to believe that, because the age Wally is at now seems really pretty easy.

He wrote a story today about the baby. People have been issuing warnings to him, too. It's made an impression on him, I guess, because in the story he described this scene: "In the middle of the night, I couldn't sleep because she was crying so much. I sang her more lullabies until she went back to sleep so I could take a long, long nap."

There is a car alarm that has been going off for over an hour outside. Alex finally shaved the beard that was driving me nuts. We had Easter by the ocean at the house of my aunt who never had kids of her own and could always be and remains a fully-dedicated aunt. The house in Connecticut by the ocean near the other house by the ocean, the cottage where my grandparents used to live which I last visited after reading the Adrienne Rich poem and taking the cab through the snow-filled sea-town streets five years ago.

Having a baby obviously means your family grows and your connections grow and people just seem to be so drawn to babies -- not me, I'm not one of those people, but the world seems to be full of them (maybe mostly women). Women full of good advice and bad, bearing lovely pink ribbon dresses and beautiful hand-knit blankets, having a baby feels like this very social thing. And yet there is such an aloneness to the actual task, the actual feat of bringing the baby here. There is a line from Rich's poem I am thinking of now. 

"I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element."