The ranch, we are still at it.

Standard

So a year has gone by.

And what a year it was. 

My child is now just shy of 16 months old. I can say, without hesitation, that the second year has thus far been immensely more enjoyable than the first. Don’t get me wrong; R. was an adorable infant, but the first year is intense. Need on top of need wrapped in need, with very little positive feedback to tide you over. They don’t call it being in the trenches for nothing. Now, the need is still there, but she is a tiny bit more independent, a tiny bit more curious, a tiny bit more observant all the time. Her personality is blooming and it is glorious. She’s so funny. And affectionate- oh, the kisses and cuddles I get from este pequeño ser, and oh, the kisses and cuddles I send right back her way. There is nothing better. 

I’m a Ph.D. now. It feels like one of those movies where, in its final moments, it speeds up and speeds up and speeds up and you know what’s coming but when it suddenly cuts out and ends with a solid black screen you’re still surprised. I’m not quite sure how I got from ambivalent ABD to done. I know it had a lot to do with a couple of timely fellowships that allowed me to focus on writing without having to attend to other duties to pay the bills. It also had a lot to do with the very thing I worried would set me back: having a baby around the house. 

Before R. was born, I was genuinely unsure of the path I wanted to take with respect to work and motherhood. I thought that it was very possible that I’d want to stay home full-time. As it turns out, I am nowhere near hardcore enough to weather that intensity day in and day out without some kind of break. Writing a dissertation, which is another intense experience but one that requires a totally different kind of energy, turned out to be the perfect break from childcare, and vice versa. Being able to leave my daughter with a trusted sitter and spend a few hours playing with the day’s writing project was such a relief after spending the rest of a given 24-hour period with a little person either attached to me in some way or begging to be. Likewise, closing my computer to go snuggle and nurse and play with my favorite person in the world was a welcome break from the isolating and tedious process that is writing the dissertation. 

My marriage was put through the wringer this year. Finishing a doctoral program and becoming a parent are experiences that, on their own, can rock anybody’s world; combining them left me with little time or energy to take care of myself, much less my adult husband. It got pretty rough there for a while, with neither of us feeling cared for or inspired to care for the other. The dawning of the second year of R.’s life, and now my recent defense, have taken some of the pressure off and we’re in a better place now than we were even a few weeks ago. And somehow, on the other side, I feel like that much more of a grownup. I think it’s related to being taken off autopilot. The great realization that emerges from that period is that it’s no longer okay to coast, to just let things happen. It’s time to Take Care of Business. 

So it is with that orientation that I am approaching my professional life at this point. I have a renewed energy and a newfound seriousness about it that still feels foreign to me, but is welcome. I am still apprehensive about full-time work, but I am more open to an academic job now than I have been since before entering grad school in large part because of the combination of challenging, meaningful work and some degree of flexibility. I know now beyond any reasonable doubt that I’m not meant to be fully at home. Because I have been around with a baby and a very open schedule, I have socialized much more in the last six months than has ever been normal for me. I’ve met a lot of very nice people, but none of them have been quite my people, and the experience has given me some insight into the contexts I probably need to be in if I’m really trying to set myself up for personal, as well as professional, success. I’m in a postdoc that involves a lot of collaboration with people I know, respect, and just enjoy like crazy, and that’s been exhilarating.

The weather in Dallas has been great this week: mid-60s and even on up to 70. We’ve taken a lot of long walks. The sun has already made quite a bit of progress back toward its summer home, and feeling the shift in seasons, feeling the spring light, is as invigorating as it has always been. What happens from here remains to be seen, but from where I sit right at this moment things are feeling pretty good.  

Welcome, 2014. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Standard

…I’ve been a little busy.

Somehow, Rocío is four months old. Motherhood has altered the passage of time for me. Everything is slower and faster, longer and shorter. I was wholly unprepared for how rapid some changes would be; in the first days and weeks of my girl’s life, the only thing that made me cry at all was a desperate desire to stop time. Betting that’s not going to go away.

Ever.

Kiddo was born at 40 weeks, 2 days, full-term and fully-cooked. She was born fully alert, with her eyes wide open. She had several signs of a post-dates baby, but we’re sure of dates- she was just ready to rumble. Her tininess was due simply to a smaller placenta. Genetic luck of the draw. (And for a first baby, I would definitely consider it luck.) We had her at home, and it was perfect and transcendental and lots of things that sound like total hippie bullshit. She was born right around the time that day slips into night, and that was about right, as we spent the next couple of weeks in a hazy sort of dream world. Behind the veil. No time except the time between feedings, no other outside forces. Just getting to know one another, just life. New life, for all of us. Those, I think, were the most special days I’ve ever had. Pretty fucking cool.

Not that that lasts. V. went back to work after two weeks, and we slowly made our way back above ground. Now we’re a normal family, with normal stress and normal we-have-a-new-baby bickering and normal adoration of our normal AND TOTALLY ADORABLE NOT THAT I’M BIASED little girl. I am experiencing the tugs in opposite directions that most mothers do, wanting to be with my daughter instead of my dissertation and needing my dissertation to give me a break from my daughter, god love her. I am doubtful of wanting full-time work for a while, and not at all doubtful that we were never meant to raise children in isolation. I don’t feel much doubt in general. I don’t feel an identity loss. I feel stronger instead of weaker (and good thing). Relationships with family and friends have been shaken up in ways that I could not have foreseen. In some cases it’s a little bit distancing. In others it’s the complete opposite. This was the right move. This was an exhausting move. It’s a move that I am already convinced I will want to repeat (but not yet..).  My kid smells like heaven (unless she doesn’t). My kid laughs hysterically and it’s like a drug. She opens her eyes in the morning and when her brain registers that I’m there she smiles, big and almost involuntarily, because I am mamá now.

How’s about that.

Becoming three

Standard

I’ve been deeply appreciative of my relationship with my husband lately, maybe more than I’ve ever been. It’s similar to the way that everything you love about a place stands out more when you know you’ll be leaving soon. I’m not going to work that comparison too hard; we’ll both still be here, but I know things will be different. V. has been working long, long hours lately, which in some ways is less than ideal, but then we’ve been having these great long meals where we just stay at the table and talk. In the space of those meals, I see all these amazing things happening- talk about the relationship and life after baby (big because he’s not generally comfortable articulating emotional stuff in conversation), improving the way we communicate both about our feelings and ideas/beliefs, and learning new things about each other. This last one never fails to shock me. We’ve been together for years. I figured we’d been over pretty much everything. It’s kind of great that we haven’t. Those meals, along with the time we sometimes take weekend mornings to just read quietly together or any other ‘just us’ things, are going to be much harder to pull off soon, so I am really savoring them more than ever. I’m grateful for the push to appreciate those things.

About a month ago we went to a weekend-long childbirth education class. We’ve since forgotten most of what we couldn’t have just read in a book, I think, but I took away something much more valuable. On the first night, the instructor asked us to fill out a short survey, and to write on the back a) the first five things that came to mind when we thought of labor/childbirth and b) the most important thing we wanted to learn. When we were done, she read these out loud, and although he had never hinted at these thoughts to me, I knew immediately which were V’s:

What I think about labor?

  1. The most beautiful experience in my life and my wife’s.
  2. What should I do? How can I help??
  3. Need to be relaxed even if I am very scared
  4. I want it to happen very fast and painless
  5. Hearing my daughter crying for the first time

What I would like to learn

I would like to learn how to support my wife during labor. What kind of activities should I do? (I want to be an active part of the experience.) How to hold the baby after labor.

And yeah, I totally made the instructor lend me that paper so I could bring it home and make a copy, and yeah, I’m totally blowing up his mostly-anonymous-anyway spot here, but.. I can’t not. Hearing and seeing those words made me fall that much more in love with my husband, and almost made me cry right there. (The instructor was clearly touched, too, if only because most other fathers’ five things consisted of such gems as “pain”, “blood”, and “screaming”.) That last part- he dreams about the baby. I have had exactly one, right before our 20 week ultrasound, in which the baby was born at 5 months’ gestation, a little girl (I was right!) who, despite being extremely premature, was perfectly healthy.. because she was an alien. Meanwhile, in his first dream, he dropped and disfigured the baby, and that nervousness was hard to shake.

More recently I see this all becoming more real for him. I could see early on that actually carrying the baby made things concrete for me in a way they weren’t yet for him, but since the beginning I have been able to picture very clearly how fast and hard he would fall in love with his daughter once she actually arrived. He’s been a great caretaker throughout the pregnancy, even when he didn’t ‘get it’, and has lately become all the more loving with me and the roundness in my tummy. He’s about where I am with respect to talking to her- he mostly says hello and asks her if she loves him and if she wants to play- but he definitely outdoes me with the kisses and occasional songs. His interest in reading and practicing the abouts and how-tos has officially been activated. This past weekend we went to a newborn care class, which might have been a waste of money but for the opportunity to see him change and hold that doll, and to let him experience that- I don’t think he really even noticed, but he treated it like the real deal the whole time, even when the instructor had moved on to non-hands-on topics and I’d set mine aside. And it looked like he’d been holding babies forever.

Long story short.. He’s got this. I’ve known that since before I married him, and I think he’s finally starting to understand it for himself. I can’t wait to see him in action. :)

One month from now

Standard

Today is August 15. (Really!) My due date is September 15. Another way to put this would be, holy shit, I could have a kid basically any time in the next six weeks. In another week and a half, baby will be cooked enough to proceed with our midwife as planned (i.e. considered term), but at this point in time I’d really just as soon she hang out and take advantage of those last few weeks of lung/nervous system/chub development. (Ask me what I think about this in a month. Or don’t. Don’t will probably be better.)

Since Week 28, let’s see. The weeks around 30-32 (31-33? ish, whatever) were uncomfortable. My chiro has been nothing short of miraculous, but even with the weekly adjustments, there is definitely a learning curve involved in adjusting to life in a less/differently mobile body. Needing new strategies and new muscles to get up from a couch/chair/bed seems pretty trivial, and in the grand scheme of things it probably is, but I found the process really frustrating. Heartburn was also at its worst during this period, and I had my first and only foray into the land of swollen feet, which I expected to be gross but did not know would be painful.

The past few weeks, though, have not been that bad- bending down or reaching up high are out, but my body has pretty much acclimated to its current new normal. Heartburn is not gone, but is a lot better, and being sent to bed for days to nurse a cold seems to have hit the reset button on the swelling. (Yes, babying the hell out of the cold was a must. I whine about how lame the pregnant immune system is. My midwife responds: “Yes, it’s.. busy.. doing other things.”) I am tired a lot, which means I work too little, but I’m more and more at peace with that. I have ongoing piriformis pain, which is to say, a shooting pain in the ass that’s pretty intense with certain positions/movements, some of which can’t be avoided (sitting up to get out of bed) but many of which can (lots of tailor sitting instead of leaning back). A dear friend came to visit a couple of weeks ago, which made me really happy. I also enjoyed freaking her the hell out by describing my effacement pains, which I told her are like a Pap smear, but from the inside. (And the light ones are. The stronger ones aren’t like anything I’ve experienced, and they do stop me in my tracks.) So all in all, while I’m a little bit wary of what the next few weeks will bring, I have really been enjoying this time of relative calm.

And really- I’m typing out all the minutiae not because it matters but because I know I won’t remember how things unfolded. I’ve already started to forget. And almost all of that is completely unremarkable, even to me, except in that it is how I experienced my first pregnancy. But there are other, happier, more important things I want to remember about these final days.

I love the check-ins from the baby when I’m not paying attention and she moves, especially the little feet pushing up. This babe has hers up in the arch of my ribcage where it doesn’t hurt, it’s just sweet, like little kneading kitten paws. She doesn’t get a ton of hiccups, but when she does it’s pretty damn cute. She’s finally big enough–full size, really, just working on fattening up–that I can tell how she’s folded up in there, which makes me feel more connected with her on the inside and more impatient to be able to hold those hands/pat her butt/chew on her knees out here. (Baby knees: They look like you should chew on them. The feet, also, are clearly for eating.)

Something is changing in me that I don’t quite know how to describe, but just quietly observe. I think it is the shift into being in the world as a mother. I have no doubt that my actual brain is changing, but without knowing the details there, I can only note this subtle yet monumental change in who and how I am taking place. I’m not sure when in life I’ve been aware of experiencing anything similar.

Baby, we are ready to rock. We washed all your diapers and clothes. We’ve got other stuff, too, though there’s so little you need. We are strong together and ready to be your mamá y papá. We’ll see you in a few weeks.

By the numbers

Standard
  • 28 weeks and change into this pregnancy
  • 81 days remaining until the estimated due date
  • 3-point turns now required to roll over in bed; up to 2 hours a night lost to pregnancy insomnia (1 husband who sometimes has to flee to the guest bedroom to get any sleep at all, and I suspect that’s only going to become more common in the days to come)
  • 10 days of antibiotics prescribed for an infection that was starting to nip at my kidneys (3 cheers for a compromised immune system!)
  • 2 visits so far to a chiropractor who specializes in pediatrics and pregnancy, the first of which instantaneously and miraculously resolved the excruciating lower back pain that had me completely sidelined from things like “sitting” and “doing anything besides lying on a heating pad”
    • 1 visit a week planned throughout the rest of the pregnancy and probably beyond
    • $10 copay for an hour with the on-staff massage therapist
  • 2 dogs in the house through August, one of which takes 2 Prozac a day: little brother has left his anxiety-riddled animal in my care while he traipses around Central America with his girlfriend prior to moving to Medellin
  • $7 to swim at the Fraternal Order of Eagles pool, exactly 2 minutes from my house: this weekend our next-door neighbor left us a note on the front door telling us about it–although it’s close, it’s totally tucked away and we’d have had no clue
  • 106 degrees forecasted for today
    • 0 walks to be taken with the dogs when it’s that freaking hot
  • 10 hours a week is what I’m averaging on dissertation work this month; I might have been able to pull off a few more but despite what I’d wanted and planned, that’s about what pregnant me has to give while also taking care of everyday life and there’s not much to be done about that
    • 5 days from now the fellowship officially kicks in so I can start a whole new cycle of feeling guilty about my output (though honestly, if I weren’t being paid for this, there would be 0 fucks given about any of it at this moment in time)
  • 1 year houseiversary being celebrated today, though it seems like both more and less time has passed. I adore it here, and it feels more and more like a home all the time.

Finally, by way of closing, a gratuitous photo of 10 pairs of colorful baby socks (d’awwwww):

Six months

Standard

(Of ten. Ten months of corporeal colonization. Ah, ah, ahhh. 25 weeks and change, of 38-42.)

This is how we’re doing time these days, when I am tethered to no other artificial calendar or clock. I officially start my fellowship in July; I can bill hourly work right now but have not been taking as much advantage of that option as a wiser person might. I’ve realized that every hour I put in now is an hour I don’t have to think about how to balance writing with caring for an infant. I’ve also realized that these silent hours alone in the house while my husband is at work are, in effect, the last such hours I’m likely to have for a very long time. Which to take fuller advantage of? Conundrum.

When we bought this house, the front yard was bare, the grass having been scorched away by a summer hotter and drier than is right or fair. When I moved down permanently in December, we bought and seeded winter rye. I remember how refreshing the first tiny shoots of grass looked when they sprung up a few days later, how hopeful. The shift into actively building the life and community that will sustain my family in the years to come, after spending the last few years doing my damndest to not put down roots, is.. a lot like that. Tenuous, and vulnerable, and not yet anything resembling lush- but a sign of what’s possible, what this could turn into if we treat it right.

So, at this moment, things are quietly pleasant. There is an underlying hum of stress around renegotiating my relationship to my work; sometimes I engage it, sometimes I block it out. Mostly, I work happily on settling into a life I’d like to inhabit much more fully than the recent past has allowed me to. And from the ‘sweet spot’ of the late second trimester, where I am no longer sick all the time and not yet big enough to be in a state of constant discomfort, I am genuinely surprised by the strength of my desire to have my girl here with me. In earlier pregnancy it was all far away enough to seem almost hypothetical, but the more she grows and makes herself known the more anxious I am for the day when I can bring her out and meet her. Who will this person be?