Not Much Time Left

My return to work date is less than 2 weeks away, and I’m not sure how that happened. Two months sounds like a lot, but indeed, it is not at all when it comes to transitioning to life with a baby. Even at this point, I have not reached a comfortable or familiar pattern. I am constantly torn between wanting to do nothing and everything. After being on two courses of antibiotics, I’m really trying to take it easy, but it’s hard to know how. The more I do, the more overwhelmed I become, but the less I do, the more anxious I become about not doing anything. 

I fluctuate inexplicably between wanting some time to myself without a baby attached to my body for hours a day, and literally not wanting to go downstairs to play piano because I don’t want to be too far from Little V. It makes no fucking sense. Sometimes I crave social interaction, but then the problems and timing associated with feeding, pumping, and changing make me never want to leave the house. Or the bed, for that matter.

Another difficult thing I’ve had to grapple with is how many fuckups there are because I simply know nothing and am completely unprepared. Every time we think we’ve figured something out, it stops working after a couple of days (which apparently is an expected phenomenon). Every time I think I’ve taken all reasonable measures in furtherance of a mess-free feeding or pumping session, some minor disaster occurs and I end up covered in milk, or with a new batch of laundry to do. Every time I make what I believe to be a productive effort to bathe her, trim her nails, or clean up, it seems the effort is undone within a day (crazy how quickly those razor sharp nails grow – they are not kind when she decides to give my nipple a squeeze).

I started elimination communication training with great zeal, but after a week or so, it’s feeling like too much effort for too little gain. I also wonder whether I’m training her or she’s training me. I’ve tried to pay attention to her cues before she goes pee and poo, and don’t feel I’ve made much progress. Apparently, we are both failing at training each other. I know it’s borderline ridiculous to have such expectations at 6 weeks anyway, but I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother at an (in?)opportune time, which has inspired me, but also created a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me not to be lazy about being a parent, especially when I am not working. If I let things slide now, just how indolent will I be when I go back to work in 2 weeks?

As I finished the paragraph above, Little V gave some grunting cues indicating she wanted to poo. I figured I’d finish just the last two sentences, but in the 2 minutes it took me to do so, she had pooped and I missed the opportunity for potty training. Tiger mom would be tsking me.

Husband and I discussed working from home one day a week, but at 2 weeks out from my return to work date, I have not raised this with my boss yet. I’m going to have to bring this up within the next couple of days and I’m not real keen on having this conversation, mostly because I’m quite sure how to approach it. Instead, I’ve asked the office to throw me some work so I can get back into the swing of things, and prove by my actions that I’m fairly efficient and reliable when working from home.

The good part is I am indeed reliable and efficient. The bad part is then I don’t feel I am making the most of maternity leave. Rather than starting the day slowly, listening to some music, reading to Little V, blogging, and practicing a little elimination communication, I set up my laptop work station, put her in a rocker, and plow away at research and memos while peeking on her every once in a while. I’ve tried to type one-handed while feeding her, but that was excruciatingly inefficient.

I have no idea how I am going to return to work in a functional manner, given the current circumstances. I’m sure this is no news to veteran moms, but our morning routine is an unexpectedly time-consuming process alone. Feeding and pumping takes about an hour, and even though I can get myself ready in 15 minutes, I figure even if I skip breakfast, I still have to wake up at an ungodly hour to be able to take her to daycare and arrive at work on time. And I might add that when it comes to babies, she seems relatively easy: she sleeps through noise, she sleeps in long stretches at night, and she does not cry much.

I am constantly wondering how this will all work out logistically. I feel pained at the idea of sending her to daycare already, even though I have an ideal situation when it comes to daycare – she will be taken care of by family. Given my highly fortunate and favorable circumstances, I question how any other mother, perhaps with fussier babies, no family nearby, ever make it out alive.

Hello, World

Hello, world.

My name is Vale. I am a few days past five weeks old. Like all babies, I eat, poop, and sleep a lot. These constitute my primary activities in any given 24-hour period. I am a serious baby and frequently have contemplative expressions on my face, or look at people out of the corner of my eyes suspiciously. I don’t smile much, I frown a lot, and occasionally I am prone to a smirk here and there. I will probably be sarcastic as an adult.

I laugh and smile in my sleep, and also coo and make grunting noises. I rarely cry for unexplained reasons, and have never wailed for any extended period of time. When I do cry heartily, Mom calls me “ugly fetus face” because my whole face scrunches up into a big mess of wrinkles. I sleep through extremely loud noises and social gatherings, and have been sleeping in 5-6 hour stretches already. Mom and Dad (perhaps too optimistically) hope this will continue.

I don’t mind baths too much. The first time I was plopped in a tub, I thought I was going to cry, but then decided it was not so bad. I don’t like clothing, and spend most of my days just wearing a diaper. Mom takes me out in public like so and sometimes people say, “Ooh, a naked baby!” I guess other babies usually wear clothes. I like to cuddle with Daddy the most. I love to eat. Eating is great. I could…I mean I do do it all day and night.

Mom makes me listen to Arcade Fire, Billie Holiday, Elliot Smith, and other hippie crap during the day. We go for walks sometimes with grandpa, because I am supposed to get some sun every day, but I hate having sun in my eyes. Mom is training me to pee and poo on cue to eventually stop relying on diapers. Mom and Dad started this process by doing a whistle every time they change my diaper. The whistle is Rue’s whistle from the Hunger Games. Don’t ask me how they decided on that one; my parents are weird.

I have two cat sisters who do not pay me much mind. I think they resent me, but they are not particularly unfriendly. They always like to be close by to Mom and Dad, even if I’m around. Sometimes I disrupt their slumber at night and they grow irritated and leave the bed. Fiona steps on me when I’m trying to sleep. Maybe one day we will get along better.

Mom

She wakes in the morning wishing she had as many arms as Kali

The hours and days blur and in the middle of the night

The rays of the cheap LED nightlight illuminate the sparkles of her ring and she feels lucid again for a few seconds

Puke

In February of 2012, I took a 72 hour trip to Taipei (including the approximately 26 hours of flying) to attend my cousin’s funeral after her unexpected death. Of the dozen or so times I’d been to Taipei, this was the first time I was going in the wintertime. Coincidentally, Little V’s name constitutes the first four letters of my cousin’s name; I did not realize this until she was born and an old friend pointed it out to me. That’s what childhood friends are for; they remember details, facts, and stories about yourself, your family, your friends, and are able to have insights and see connections where others may not.

Surprisingly, EVA tickets were cheaper than China Airlines, and I took a window spot on a forest-green colored seat next to a three-year-old child and her mother. Throughout the flight, the three-year-old girl was quiet, pleasant, and drank from a bottle. About 5 hours into the flight, she projectile vomited all the milk in an impressive spray, all over the seats (fortunately missing me), and her mother literally tried to catch her puke in her cupped hands as she frantically called for assistance from a flight attendant.

Of course, the EVA attendant was gracious and helpful; she brought towels and changed out the puke seats (it had not occurred to me that airlines keep extra seat cushions around for such occasions). My feeling at the time was simultaneously of horror and humor. I horrified because it was gross and I felt terrible for the mother, but part of me also wanted to laugh (a little) at the unfortunate occurrence.

Five and a half years later, now that I am a mother myself, and am pretty much constantly wiping and cleaning spit-up and puke, and frequently getting spit-up all over my body, my clothes, my sheets, and my furniture, the EVA air experience in retrospect seems a little less funny, and also a little less gross.

Little V Is One Month Old

October just arrived and I took some one month photos of Little V. She was a little fussy about it, but complied after a change and two feedings. I had fun with some cat ears a dear friend sent along for Little V, as well as a skull I bought from a bone church in the Czech Republic. Here comes the Halloween season!

As I write this, we are having another typical day. I read poetry from the Tang Dynasty to her, did some tummy time, and we are listening to music again. Dear God…Did you make disease and the diamond blue? Did you make mankind after we made you? And the Devil too! Followed by something a little lighter, Bebel Gilberto’s version of Girl From Ipanema. 

Ah, por que estou tão sózinho?
Ah, por que tudo é tão triste?
Ah, a beleza que existe
A beleza que não é só minha
Que também passa sozinha

This week, Little V’s neck strength improved significantly, and we were able to take her out to exercise on steep hills in the neighborhood in her jogger without her head constantly flopping forward. It feels like this happened overnight; half a week ago, I aborted the workout because I constantly had to adjust her head while walking up the hill.

We took her to a few social outings, including to the park to meet some friends (she slept through the whole thing), and to grandma and grandpa’s house to hang out with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. She has continued to do tummy time at home with grandpa, and was a bit of a showoff with her bottle skills when friends came to visit over the weekend. Apparently, she likes needs an audience to prove her competence.

Little V also went to the beach for the first time on a clear, bright, Monday, with mom, dad, and grandpa. She experienced southern California beach life on a week day morning – not a soul about (not even a surfer) except for us and a couple of dudes who were likely non compos mentis, yelling at seagulls and ranting nonsense to each other.

Enjoying The Arts With Little V

This week, Little V danced to I Love You For Sentimental Reasons by Nat King Cole, a song I’ve loved since I was a child, and once performed at a close friend’s wedding. We breastfed to Snoop’s Drop It Like It’s Hot, and Nothing Better by the Postal Service. Afterwards, I burped her for a little while to the rhythm of a Strfker song on her back. As I am writing this, we are chilling out to Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley and Sprawl II by Arcade Fire, followed by Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead.

I also read Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty to her when doing tummy time, and sometimes follow it up by playing Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu and Etude Opus 10 No. 3, and Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. My favorite is Waldstein, but I’ve let that lapse; it required quite a bit more upkeep than Pathetique. I’m just prepping her for her inevitable future in which she will likely play the piano (and/or cello or violin), and definitely memorize Chinese poetry.

At night, when daddy comes home, we’ve been reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother together and having a good laugh, though she might not find it as entertaining or funny as we do. I can only hope she will one day love reading as much as I do. Indeed, I’ve taken the hours spent late-night breastfeeding to do some reading. I’ve finished Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl; Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse; and am currently reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. 

I Am A Character In A Greek Myth

Taking care of a newborn calls to mind many a Greek or Roman mythology allusion. The number of rags and receiving blankets we tear through is obscene; the moment I put on clean sheets, and tunnel my way into clean, soft, bliss, they are christened with sprays of breast milk (my fault) or spit up (Little V’s fault). Sometimes, during a diaper change, Little V will pee and/or poo right as we are putting on the new diaper. On one particularly egregious occasion, I went through 4 diapers before I was able to finally take leave of the changing table. On another, after putting away 3 loads of laundry today, I realized another entire (almost full) load had accumulated in the meantime.

The time she spends feeding is not per se an unmanageable amount of time, but it seems that with the feeding, burping, feeding again, changing, burping again, then possibly changing again, a 40 minute process turns quickly into a two-hour ordeal. Or I finish the process, sit down for 10 minutes to start something, and it’s time to go again. I’m usually an extremely efficient person, and it’s difficult to suddenly realize 4 hours has passed, and not really be able to identify what I’ve accomplished, aside from feeding Little V. Today, I finished putting away 2 loads of laundry – by the way, I didn’t even do the laundry, my dad did – wrote a thank you note, cleaned the cat litter boxes, Googled symptoms of newborn constipation and acid reflux, and called an online boutique to bitch about the fact my order was placed 19 days ago and still has not been shipped. It’s now 1:45 p.m. Next up on the agenda include a call to lactation support, working out, and bath for baby. Let’s see how we fare.

This certainly harks back to the story of Sisyphus, who was doomed to roll a gigantic boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back to the bottom, repeatedly, for all of eternity. My mother once told me cleaning up after us was a Sisyphean task, except she was referring to me as a teenager, not a newborn, so I guess this will continue for many years.

I also frequently describe leaving the house with a newborn (to do practically anything) as a Herculean task. Even a quick trip to the grocery store has required a concerted effort. We’ve had to learn how to make her comfortable in the car seat, time the outings when she is sleeping, and make sure there’s an exit plan in case she starts crying or gets hungry while we’re out. I like to think we’ve actually done quite well. We usually take no more than 15 minutes getting everything together on our way out, which I think is an accomplishment in and of itself. Yet, the planning and supplies that go with any outing do feel a bit daunting.

I’ve also always said that reproduction is an act of narcissism, in that people’s self-love drives them to replicate themselves. I do look at Little V sometimes and think she bears quite a bit of similarity to me as a baby. On the other hand, I saw a picture of her the other day and hoped she had not inherited my asymmetrical eyelids and that it was merely the angle of the photo.

We used to receive extra credit in Latin class for discussing daily references to Greek or Roman mythology, and I’m pretty sure this post would have pleased Ms. Altieri.

Yet, despite my complaints and ridiculous comparisons to mythology, I am incredibly grateful to be able to have a child in my particular circumstances, with the aid of a wonderful husband, parents, friends, advanced medicine, and Google.

Three Weeks In…

The hard part about all of this is, you think you notice a pattern, and then baby switches it up on you. She’ll sleep through diaper changes one day (awesome!), then scream through them the next (damn!). For a couple of days, she was nursing for about 20 minutes on each boob, then 2 days later was doing 10-minute spurts. She certainly is keeping us on our toes, and it’s a constant learning process to say the least.

I’ve started walking the hill regularly and working squats back into the exercise routine. I lost about 9 pounds after giving birth, and weighed about 132 pounds in the first couple days after returning home from the hospital. I’ve been eating normally and lost another 7 pounds over the next 3 weeks. 16 down, 14 more to go. Yet, all the weight loss in the world won’t do anything for my angry stretch marks, which are worse on my left side because Little V threw most of her weight on that side when I was pregnant. It’s amazing how they seemingly developed overnight. I had not a single stretch mark up to week 38; they seemingly appeared out of nowhere and then exploded with the fury of a thousand suns.

I started this post a week ago, and I write this now, I realize stretch marks were the least of my problems. Late last week, I developed mastitis, and had all kinds of horrible symptoms like terrible breast pain, body aches, chills, hot flashes, and a low-grade fever. I’ve never received a flu shot because I honestly cannot remember the last time I had the flu, and this experience confirmed my decisions. They say mastitis causes flu-like symptoms, and I felt weak and horrible in a way that felt quite unfamiliar. I was like oh shit, is this what the flu feels like? What the fuck. All I wanted to do was pound ibuprofen and sleep, but Little V wanted to feed nonstop from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. that night and I definitely cried.

Fortunately, antibiotics acted quickly. I took the first dose at 9:00 p.m. and felt better by Saturday morning. Just in time for an old friend’s wedding reception/anniversary party. This is a friend with whom I’ve made trouble since sophomore year of college, and I had been looking forward to this celebration for some time. The event was held at Syrah, where I had spent many a drunken night, e.g. Halloween, New Years Eve, birthdays, and plenty of times for no particular reason, including one night during law school when I took too many tequila shots and fell asleep briefly in the adjoining parking lot at the end of the night.

In what seemed like a wonderful alignment of lucky stars and good teamwork, my dad was able to watch Little V at a friend’s hotel room only 2 minutes walking distance away from the party venue, Little V caught onto bottle feeding after having been introduced to it just 2 days prior, I felt much better, and we were able to make an appearance and celebrate. I fed her in our friend’s hotel room right before we left, and Husband left the reception an hour in to bottle feed her. All in all, it was a highly successful evening.

Little V’s Week 2

We’ve gotten into a routine, and the best way to describe it is Little V eats and sleeps non-stop but not at the times and intervals I would prefer. She is conked out during the day, sleeping through vacuums, telly, music, chatter, car rides, etc., but becomes fussy when it’s actually bedtime.

She quickly regained her weight and surpassed her birth weight by the 2-week doctor’s visit. Eager to compensate for the previous B(-) in weight gain, she put in her most extreme efforts and literally gained a pound in a week. She was about 7 pounds when weighed at the first lactation group I attended, and was over 8 pounds when I returned to the group a week later. She literally developed a double chin in a matter of about 2 days, and her limbs quickly grew chunky. While the lactation consultant advised everyone babies should have at least 6 dirty diapers a day, Little V had twenty two on her busiest day this week. We went through multiple packages of diapers and baby wipes, and it’s been a bit baffling.

This week, we made it to the grocery store with her, and also met some friends and their 3-month old at a cafe to listen to some live music. Little V slept through all of it. We also attempted twice to go on a walk with the jogger. The first time, she screamed her head off again, but the second time was a success. Hopefully, it sticks.

She’s smiling more and more, and occasionally even laughs in her sleep. She also frequently has a concerned look on her face, as if she’s not quite sure what to make of this world.