as far as the headlights

One of my favorite quotes is this one, from E.L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving at night.  You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  It is very true and reassuring, especially for someone like me who never outlines their work.

But writing a novel while also being primary caregiver for a baby is like driving at night and it’s raining, but the windshield wipers keep getting stuck, and the car is slowly leaking fuel, and the muffler is dragging, and there’s this weird tapping noise, and every time you get out to refuel or fix those damn windshield wipers you run the risk of clowns pelting you with cream pies.  You can make the trip, but it’s miserable, and takes for-fucking-ever.

For a few months now, Eloise has let me nurse her down for a nap and then slip away once she’s asleep, so I get a few short breaks during the day, but there’s so much that needs to be done and it’s hard to prioritize myself/writing.  Her naps are pretty consistently half an hour, which is not enough time to get into a state of flow with writing, so when I do write it’s just cranking out words, with the idea that it’s better to get something down because you can’t edit a blank page, but it doesn’t make for particularly satisfying writing.  And then a week or two or more will go by where I don’t write at all outside of journaling, and I just get frustrated and self-pitying and angry, and so I force myself to write even just a sentence or two and I feel a tiny bit better.

So I’ve been working on Mirjam’s story, which still doesn’t have a decent working title, but I’m embarrassed at how few pages I have.  I feel like the quality is… okay.  Editable, at the very least, and better than I feared this draft would be.  I also have a a list of few more small presses that I want to send Tigerlily to, but I feel like at this point I want to reread it again before I can properly pitch it, so I need to scrounge up some time for that.

There are larger issues in my life to write about: incorporating motherhood and individuality and how that relates to the pursuit of happiness in various forms; the difference between Postpartum Depression, Regular Depression, and A Normal Response to Normal New Mom Stress; why do I spend so much time feeling like a loser and a failure and this can’t possibly be normal and if it is how do other people deal with it?

But it’s hard to write about.  I start blog posts but then run out of time and steam, and by the time I get back to them the words feel old and hollow.  And then I sit around moping about feeling alone in my struggle to blend motherhood and writing/art/everything else, but then I am part of the problem by not sharing my story.  But I feel like I want to do it “right,” and it’s just so hard.  Much easier plunk through some fiction, or a blog post that is mostly about writing progress.

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post-baby writing progress

So, with all that nursing and holding the baby while she sleeps, how’s writing going?

Yeah.  About that.

Writing has been pretty much nil since Eloise was born.  When she’s sleeping in my lap while I’m at my desktop computer, I only have one hand free, and can only type so slowly that it’s barely worth it to plunk out a Facebook comment.  If I plan ahead and can successfully nurse her to sleep on my left side so that my right hand is free, and I’m in bed and have all appropriate pillows in place, I can journal longhand, and I’ve been trying to do that when I can, just for the sake of my own memories.  But proper writing, that requires forethought and creativity and long stretches of uninterrupted time necessary tying ideas together in a graceful and cohesive fashion?  These handful of blog posts are about as “proper” as I’ve gotten, and that’s not saying much.

My time nowadays is so fragmented and unpredictable—just now I nursed the baby in bed for twenty minutes, hoping she would fall asleep there and I could journal or read, but no luck, so then I put her in the Boba and slowly bounced around the house singing The Banana Boat song (you know, “Come Mr. Tally Man, tally me banana / Daylight come and me wan’ go ho-ome.”  Hey, it works.) for another forty minutes until she finally passed out, and now I have most likely half an hour until she wakes—and it’s hard to scrape up the energy for writing.

I don’t put much stock in inspiration.  That is, I don’t feel like I need to wait until I’m “inspired” to write.  I’m instead a great believer in the power of practice, and that the more you write the more you will want to write and the better it’ll get.  But it’s hard to get time for practice into a baby-nap-sized time frame, and even if I don’t need inspiration exactly, I need something—enough time and the right headspace.  Being with people—even people I love more than anything, like my partner or baby—shakes me up like a snow globe, and I have to wait for all the particles to settle to be able to do creative work, but I just don’t have the luxury of that kind of time anymore.  And never mind the sleep deprivation inherent in raising a baby.  Or maybe I am just in a oxytocin haze.

I returned to this topic—I need to write, but when and where and how?—so many times in my journal that every time I do it feels like I am just making excuses, but the truth is I still just don’t have good answers to the when and where and how.  On the other hand, the actual answer is an obvious and simple one: I just need to make the time, sacrifice some sleep or food or snuggles, and alter my writing habits as necessary.  So maybe I am just making excuses.

Meanwhile, several weeks back I finally got a rejection on Tigerlily from the dreamy small press I submitted to last year.  I am, I guess, in enough of an oxytocin haze that it did not crush me like I thought it would, but it did seriously bum me out, and does still every time I think about it.  I really thought they were The One, you know?  I recently reread my query letter and synopsis and the first 50-ish pages of Tigerlily.  It’s been a while since I looked at any of those documents, and I was kind of expecting them to be cringingly bad, like there’d be some obvious reason why I get nothing but rejections and now with some distance on the project I’d be able to see that.  But no.  I still think this is a great novel, and after all the struggle I had writing the query and synopsis, I’m still satisfied with the result.  So I guess I should start using those baby-nap-sized snippets of time to research more agents and small presses.

Go Set a Watchman

I am extremely ambivalent about Go Set a Watchman.  On the one hand, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and like a lot of people, I’ve always wished that there was another book by Harper Lee.  But on the other hand, I think there’s a good chance Ms. Lee never wanted folks like me to read Watchman and that she is currently being taken advantage of for the sake of profit and hype, despite released statements that she is excited about publishing it.  And then there is the issue that even if she sincerely supports the publication now, would she have been as supportive ten or twenty years ago—and would or should that even matter?  Should she no longer be allowed to make decisions about her life just because she’s old and has had a stroke?

If the origin story is to be believed, Watchman is essentially a first draft of Mockingbird set some twenty years later, and early reviews are saying that is reads like a first draft, sloppy and unpolished, so I don’t know how satisfying it would even be to read it to find out what happens to Scout.  (And one could argue it can’t even be read like that, since Watchman was written first, not with the intention of it being a proper sequel.)  An yet, as a literary curiosity, it’s incredible to have this peek into Harper Lee’s writing process, and it would be incredibly heartening to be able to see for myself that a even book as exquisite as To Kill a Mockingbird started out as a crappy first draft.  But how can I possibly not read it as a story, in a find-out-what-happens-to-Scout kind of way?

I am currently number 74 on the reserve list at the library for Go Set a Watchmen.  Maybe by the time my turn rolls around I’ll have decided whether or not I want to read it.

magic and hard work

Pregnancy is a lot more magical in retrospect, and now that I have actually met my daughter, the memories of last year are all tinged with warm fuzzies, thinking about how she was with me the whole time.  During the library book sale last year, I was about a week pregnant, too early to have any symptoms and too early even to test to know for sure, but I remember enjoying the idea that I was carrying around a new life, and trying to imagine how I would manage the book sale next year with a baby (answer: only with help; George came along and wore the baby while I glanced over as many books as I could before she woke up).  For my birthday last year, we went camping, a trip planned before I got pregnant.  I was about a month along then, and the nausea and exhaustion were just barely starting, so I was still basically functional, able to hike in and out carrying gear, just a little more tired than usual.  We returned from camping on a Monday, and the following Wednesday the nausea knocked me down for the count, and I spent the rest of summer incapacitated on the couch.  Still, I like thinking back to that camping trip as Eloise’s first vacation, in a way.  Eleven months later she’d take her first vacation on the outside, and we drove up to the same part of the state, only this time we stayed at a hotel.

While it is admittedly pretty neat to think back to doing my kick counts and now being able to look at those little feet that were pummeling my internal organs, pregnancy and birth were the most ass-kicking experiences of my life, and I am perpetually glad to be on the other side of them.   As exhausting and all-encompassing as motherhood can be, there are a lot more nuanced choices to be made about it.  During pregnancy, my choices were pretty black and white: continue the pregnancy and be miserable, or end the pregnancy and lose the baby.  But in motherhood, I have options.  So while nursing on demand does indeed mean being prepared to drop whatever I’m doing if baby needs to nurse and not being able to hand her off to anyone else for very long, that’s the choice I’m making.  I have the totally valid option of formula feeding available to me, and if I were to choose that, everyone would survive just fine.  Likewise, if it was important to me, I could attempt to sleep-train her and schedule naps, but instead I am choosing to cosleep at night and wear or hold her for naps.

Our parenting style can best be described as “winging it” but a lot of it falls under the umbrella of attachment parenting.  According to the literature, attachment parenting will lead to kids that are more confident and adventurous, because they have a strong foundation of security and trust from having their physical and emotional needs consistently met.  That would be great, but honestly, this is just what works best for our family, and it’s a lot easier than the alternative.  When I was pumping and supplementing with formula, there was so much crap to wash and prepare, but now that we’ve got the hang of it, nursing is a breeze, and when she is hungry or fussy, it is so convenient to be able to solve problems with my boobs.

Likewise with sleeping, I could put her in her crib and endure the crying—because like any other little primate, she just wants to cling to her mom—but it’s just so much simpler to bring her to bed with us at night or to let her sleep on my lap while I read or click around the internet, or wear her in the Boba or the sling if I want to get stuff done while she naps.  (This blog post has been written during an epic two-hours-and-counting nap, with my laptop set up on the kitchen counter and the baby strapped to my chest, so I can bounce her back to sleep when she starts to stir.)  I get the occasional snotty comment about how “spoiled” she is because she expects to be held all day, but honestly, this is just easier.  Especially considering I don’t have a work/other schedule to try to coordinate childcare around, and nobody around here cares if the house is a mess.  (If anything, I’m the spoiled one, because I get baby snuggles all day; there’s going to be a time, and it’ll be sooner than I’d like, where she’s not going to want to snuggle with Mama anymore.)  Parenthood is full of hard work no matter how you do it, and I’ll take my breaks where I can.

trying to write about motherhood

Eons ago I used to keep a livejournal, where I would write any nonsense that entered my head, or would share my secret thoughts.  But I seem to have long since lost the ability to write public diary entries, even if I were as semi-anonymous here as I was there.  It’s not just shyness or a desire for privacy—although, yes, there’s that, too—but also I feel like I want what I write/post to be if not polished then at least cohesive, like I can no longer afford uncertainty or vulnerability.  I would make a terrible memoirist.  As to why I feel this way, well, that’s a topic to be explored some other time, although lord knows it certainly won’t be here.

So writing blog posts about parenthood has been really difficult for me, because how on earth can I make a point when I’m only four months in?  How can I write confidently and authoritatively about something I am learning afresh every day?  I can barely even respond to message board posts about small tangible task that I actually do have some experience with—“What kind of cloth diapers are best for newborns?”—because while part of my brain wants to answer (“prefolds and covers”) but the rest of my brains resists, because what do I know about other people’s babies?

It’s hard to write about the good stuff, because I don’t want to look like I’m bragging about being successful where I know other parents are struggling, and it’s hard to write about the challenges, because I don’t want sympathy or advice—what do other people know about my baby?  And actually, it’s hard to write about anything at all, because everything is good and challenging.

Take nursing.  We had a tough time establishing a good breastfeeding relationship, and the first two weeks she kept slowly losing weight.  It took her a full month to regain her birth weight, and it should normally only take a week.  I was pumping and using an SNS, and supplemented with formula for a few days.  For a while the routine was nurse, then pump and feed her the pumped milk with the SNS or a dropper syringe, then top her off with as much formula as she would take.  The whole rigmarole took an hour and a half—and then we would have to start all over again an hour after we finished.  And the whole while I was obsessing about every ounce that went into her, and how could she be eating constantly and filling so many diapers and still not be gaining weight?

But, things eventually came around.  We both got more comfortable with breastfeeding.  Now I no longer need five pillows and three hands to nurse—now I can nurse at the table, holding her up in the crook of one arm and using the other hand to eat dinner and play backgammon.  We can nurse in our sleep; I only have to wake up enough to latch her on, and she only wakes up enough to root around to let me know she’s hungry.  There wasn’t then and isn’t now any other reason to be concerned—she’s alert and active and meeting milestones, often early, and filling a perfectly average number of diapers.

But she’s still slow to gain—she was only in the 11th percentile at her two month appointment.  Which, realistically, means nothing—somebody’s got to be small, that’s how averages work—and her pediatrician assures us she’s growing fine and there’s no reason to worry.  But after those first two weeks, I do worry.  So I eat oatmeal with flax and take lecithin and drink Mother’s Milk tea, and I don’t know if any of it makes any significant difference in my supply (they all just feel like talismans), but I also packed the scale away because it’s just too crazymaking, and instead tend to focus on the fact that she is outgrowing her clothes and making great strides in development every day.  And when strangers coo over her saying, “Oh, she’s so tiny!” I just grit my teeth and smile and resist the urge delineate all her other accomplishments.

So is nursing going well, or is it a challenge?  The answer to both questions is yes, although most of the time I’m leaning more to the “going well” side of the fence; my nursing challenges nowadays are largely insignificant, like learning to nurse in the ring sling. But then we might have a nursing session that is in all other ways perfectly idyllic except that she pulls off and acts like she’s done after five minutes.  On the one hand, I want her to learn to listen to her body, to eat when she’s hungry and stop when she’s full, but on the other hand, I want to see the numbers on the scale go up faster, even though I know the numbers are not the end-all be-all of infant development.  But they are a very easy and tangible (and yet wholly imperfect) way to measure my success as a nursing mother.

baby time

So, this happened.

photo of a smiling baby

Baby was so anxious to meet us that she came ten days early.  So much for resigning myself to a March baby.

Birth, by the numbers: Labor was 23 hours long, almost to the minute (the first contraction I noticed was at 6:55 a.m. on a Sunday, and baby Eloise was born at 5:56 a.m. Monday), four hours of pushing, ending with a third degree tear and a 8.5 pound baby.

She has mostly been an easy-going baby, taking in stride all the new experiences she’s had on the outside, like clothes, baths, the Moby wrap, having a cat lick your head—you know, usual baby stuff.  She gets fussy in the evening most days—which I’ve heard is a normal developmental phase a lot of babies go through and which disappears by three months—and the past few days she’s had some daytime fussiness which I am blaming on a growth spurt, since she has also lately been marathon nursing for hours at a time to the point where I just feel utterly deflated.

It would be easy to chirp smugly about how an unmediated birth, on-demand breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, and all the other hippie crap I do contributes to her calm and peaceful personality.  And maybe it does, but honestly I think I just got lucky and wound up with an “easy” baby.

But even “easy” babies are tough.  I’ll write about our early challenges with breastfeeding some other time, but right now what’s on my mind is the fussiness.  Nearly every baby book and website will tell you that fussiness is normal, especially at night and during growth spurts or when baby is learning some new skill, but that knowledge doesn’t make it much easier in the thick of things when she is crying inconsolably despite all our best efforts.  I sometimes feel like my primary parenting skill right now is lactation, so when she doesn’t want to nurse I feel a little lost, especially since I don’t have a lot of luck with rocking, bouncing, etc., because even if she doesn’t want to nurse, I still smell like milk and I feel like the instinct for nursing muddies her thoughts and her ability to settle down.  At that point it’s better to just hand her off to George.

But one thing that has a pretty good track record so far of calming her is taking her outside.  It was bitterly cold the first few weeks after she was born, but once the temps warmed up I’ve been trying to take her outside for at least one walk every day.  One the days where I’ve missed our walk she fusses a lot more that night, and last Sunday we were out for four hours and were able to keep the bedroom window open at night, and that night she slept like a dream.  If we can catch the evening fussiness at just the right time, another walk at night will sometimes get her down to sleep, and during the day I’ve been able to calm minor fussing by just stepping out on the back steps so that she gets some fresh air and sunshine.

At five weeks it is way too early to make any predictions about her personality, but I would love to have a baby/kid who needs to spend a lot of time outside, so I am totally reinforcing this behavior.  I have been saying for years that I want to get outside more and/or go for a walk every day, and this is the perfect excuse.  Once I figure out how to comfortably carry a bag while wearing her in the Boba 4G carrier, we can go for longer walks than just around the neighborhood.

37W 2D

I am now 37 weeks pregnant, which is full-enough term to birth at the birth center where I’ve been getting all my prenatal care, and not have to transfer to the hospital just based on dates.  37 weeks means that the baby might theoretically come any day now, or it might not be until March.  It’s kind of hard to be zen about that.

I’ve been feeling for the most part very calm and confident during this pregnancy and not fretting about and overthinking things like I usually do.  The only worry I really felt was that the baby might come early, and so because it was the only thing I worried about, it felt significant and meaningful.  So it was a relief to hit 24 weeks, when a fetus is officially considered “viable,” but ever after that I would angst about every little twinge of indigestion, thinking, Oh, what if this is early labor??  Around 33-ish weeks I started getting antsy that we didn’t have all the stuff ready yet—the diapers weren’t washed!  we didn’t have a car seat or co-sleeper!  the baby’s room was just a mess of non-baby-related clutter!  But we got all the stuff ready, and at 35.5 weeks we finally got a car seat and I felt a great wave of relief.

Two days after we bought the car seat, I started feeling more pressure and the occasional stabby sensation on my cervix and my lower back and hip pain suddenly ratcheted up.  It felt like the relief of having all the stuff ready triggered the baby dropping and the start of pre-labor.  And maybe it did, but for first-timers like me the baby drops on average two to four weeks before actual, active labor begins.  Still, I spent about a week waiting and hoping for things to start really happening, and nothing happened.

First-timers also tend to go late, past their due dates, and I had nothing, no complications or family history or anything, to think I’d go early, other than a vague intuition.  Meanwhile, I am so tired that tagging along grocery shopping wipes me out for the rest of the day.  My sleep is in two hour segments punctuated by pee-breaks, and even if I didn’t have to pee I’d have to get up and rearrange my nest of pillows around my big, awkward body because my back or hips are hurting.  Other women go into labor at 36 weeks and get to take their babies right home without a lengthy NICU stay; I’m ready to be done with pregnancy, can’t my baby be ready to be born?

Nope.  Which is for the best, of course.  Baby will come when it’s ready, nobody is pregnant forever, etc. etc.  All the clichés apply.  But pregnancy has not been a magical, spiritual experience for me, and I’m really ready to meet the baby and move on to the challenges and pleasures of parenthood, and instead I just get more discomfort and fatigue.

I moped about that for a few days, but in the end what good does that do?  The time will pass either way, and probably quicker than I realize.  The latest I could go would be March 5; that’s two weeks past my due date, at which point the midwife would have to transfer my care to the hospital, where I would be induced.  Which is not the birth experience I want, but then at least the pregnancy will be over.  It actually helps a little to think of March 5 as my “actual” due date, in the sense that that is when the baby is truly due, no extensions allowed.  And in the meantime, assuming everything is okay with the baby and me, my body is doing exactly what it needs to do, and I should try not to despair that I am not “early.”

March 5 is five weeks from now.  Five weeks ago was just before Christmas, and that doesn’t seem so long ago.  And it’ll be summer in no time, and we’ll be going on adventures with the baby, and I’ll be working in the garden with the baby strapped to my chest.