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It is no small thing to talk about the child who made me a mother at age 24.

Isaac’s cries, his coos, his giggles, his feet plumping up, taking one tentative step then another- these were the things that ushered in my adulthood. They were the soundtrack playing while I became more patient, a bit stronger, more selfless and a bit more myself.

These days I am reminded of Isaac’s toddlerhood (not the tantrums or the sobbing, mostly) but the incredible deliciousness of discovering his apartness from me and the novelty getting to see him from a far. I remember noticing his growth- how large he would seem in my mother’s arms, or at the top of a slide. I remembering him returning to me more himself than before with a satisfied grin and sturdier legs – a being who owned his space in the world.

These years will be more of the same. I am proud to be your mother- the one you can leave and return to as more and more of yourself. You are funny, you are kind. You are smart. You have more thoughts at one than most people I know. You are fiercely independent and helpful at the same time. You are a loyal friend, brother and son.

When you were born, the nurses put you on my chest and my first words were struggling ones- words I know now are the very essence of young motherhood trying to integrate the pure body experience of pregnancy with the reality of a needy,wet human in her arms. I said, “Is that you? Is that you? Is that who you are?”

Every day since day that you have told me, “Yes.”

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After a post went up from a Babble blogger that shamed mothers who breastfeed without a nursing cover, and piece over at Slate that indicated the simplest way for us to move forward as women in society would be for lactivists to care less and the market to over better nursing covers, I was invited to write a guest post for Annie at PhD in Parenting. I hope you will visit me over there and join our conversation about misogyny, the female body, judgments and the mommy wars.

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Monday: Pasta, I sort of like this and sort of not. I cannot make my mind up about tomato sauce. I like salsa and ketchup and sometimes I like tomatoes, I am just not sure about tomato sauce. Isn’t that random? I’m not just over excited about pasta, let’s put it that way. But there is bread. I like the bread, oh! and baby carrots. Yum. I will have good night vision, like a cat, but I am taller.

Tuesday: Mac n cheese, I’m a normal amount hungry. I prefer my apple sliced because my teeth are sensitive to the cold. Dad is not home. My brothers are loud and say underwear almost incessantly. Mom rolling her eyes at me to make me feel better.

Wednesday: Snow day! Dad home, score! But lots of shoveling, then it rained all day. Little brothers still stuck in underwear mode. Mom and dad took us out for pizza.

Thursday: I just got home from viola and I am so hungry. Oh, good, it’s eggs and toast. I love eggs and toast, especially toast. And, I’m already done my homework, score!

Friday: Roast chicken, yum. It smells so good. I think I will hang around the kitchen and talk about how hungry I am. I am wicked hungry. Mom doesn’t understand that use of the word wicked. This chicken is good but I’m not sure about the potatoes. They are sauteed, which I like and there is ketchup, but some of them are purple. That does not seem right to me. It’s like green eggs from Dr. Seuss or when mom insists on making green pancakes for St. Patrick’s Day. I like green, like salad. Salad is supposed to be green. I’m just not sure if potatoes are supposed to be purple. This salad is good. It’s drenched with pear vinaigrette and has pears in it. It makes me think that it would be a good idea to water our lettuce with pear vinaigrette. Wouldn’t that be great? We should try that. Can we try it mom?

Saturday: Mac n cheese again. Okay, but why? Oh, they are having soup. I am not a fan of soup,which is kind of weird, don’t you think? My little brothers are going crazy but they do like mac n cheese. Uh-oh, they are going to make rhymes with the word soup…and now mom is putting them to bed. Night-night, score, more time to read Harry Potter with dad.

Sunday: Meatloaf. Little brothers are already in bed and I am trying to understand long division. I found this homework assignment in my backpack and now mom and dad are making me do it, because we are eating a late dinner and soon I will have to go to bed. This meatloaf is really good but I wish it were Parmesan couscous, that is really, really good. There are apricot hamentashen, and I’m being super good with my long division steps so I can ask for one at the end of dinner.

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I’m not holding out hopes for much support here, but I am starting a grudge match against the country of Italy. Anyone want to jump on the bandwagon with me? No? Okay. What if I made an exception and said you could still like the people, the art, the music, the food, the wine, the coffee, the lingerie and the shoes?

That’s better. My best friend is moving to Italy in a matter of months now & I’m not taking it well. I’ve decided to boycott Italy – again, except for when I visit her & except for the people, the art, the music, the food, the wine, the coffee, the lingerie and the shoes….so, really more just the concept of Italy & of Sarah moving there.

Everyone is taking Facebook quizzes, with the result: everyone I know should live in fracking Italy, according to the “What country should you live in?” quiz.

Hey, Facebook, stop ending questions with prepositions & please stop suggesting that people I like leave the country because it is “better” than here – I’m sure Italy is better than suburbia, but I refuse to let something so irrational as reality get in the way of my feelings on the topic!

I’m not saying I won’t go to Italy. I’m just holding a grudge. The truth is that I am going to miss this friend more than I can say, more than I can blog about in any serious manner…I cannot see how my stay at home mommy life in suburbia will not work without this woman, people…. I stumped. I can’t figure out how I am going to make it work. She has henna hair & a nose ring.
If you have a tattoo, body piercings or a broomstick, please move here so I can be friends with you and we can be safe at the playground together. Even if you are Italian, I won’t hold it against you. (Bring wine!) Last night, I had nightmares that the women at the playground cornered me because I was friendless at our upscale park. I a totally pathetic, I know. (Bring chocolate!)

I have other friends here (hey people, love you! let’s have tea and cookies!) but some are working, some live a little further afield, some do not cuss as much as me because they are better Christians, and some have kids not quite the same ages so they are running in different circles – soccer practices & school pick-ups, not play dates & library story time….Sarah, she’s my person.

You suck, Italy. I hope you appreciate the gem you are getting to enjoy for three whole years. When I get over their to visit, you better not be making her cry or I’ll eat all your chocolate & drink all your wine.

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The year Thinker was born was, May 8th fell on a Saturday. My labor had begun early, slow and light on Friday afternoon. I spent the afternoon in our townhouse style apartment. When Matt got home from work I was excited. This was in fact our first pregnancy, our first baby. The previous summer I had had enough of the pill and was happily pregnant two months later. I gained lots of weight, fell nauseated and incredibly tired for 4 months. Then I felt wonderful, up until the very end of the pregnancy, when I felt incredibly large, weepy and unable to get a grip. Even early labor was a relief, and it intensified as the evening wore on. Knowing what I know now, I never would have gone to the hospital when I did. My labor was at a tipping point, but hadn’t tipped on its own yet. I was really fine at home, but off we went, bags packed, nearly midnight, cheerfully succumbing to the hospital process. The nurses were surprised I was 4cm dilated. Young and healthy, I was not expecting a lot of medical intervention in my birth. I just hadn’t imaginatively considered the need/desire for it. It was a complete blind spot. When things slowed down and the interventions started, I was existing on two levels. My conscious speaking brain did not feel invited or welcomed into the decision making. Underneath, there was a deeper knowing that rejected all of it, but the part of me that was accessible to the OB floor resident could not access that part of me that wanted to say ‘go away and leave me alone.’

Instead I got pitocin, which I had a very negative reaction to. I can hardly think of anything I have experienced that was more painful (and I have since vaginally delivered two babies with no epidural). The pitocin had me literally writhing around in the bed, my belly jerking into the air with each contraction and flopping from side to side in the bed. I tried to get up, put the pain laid me flat. Matt and I were both unprepared, shocked. No one had warned us of this potential.
I have since learned the following:
A. Not everyone has that experience, some women tolerate pitocin just fine. It was probably not common so the staff were unprepared to cope with me. Some women have had the epidural first so the pitocin doesn’t feel that bad. Other women just seem to not go crazy on it.
B. They could have just turned it down a little to see if it still created progressing contractions without all the sobbing I was doing.
C. It’s possible they didn’t do that b/c they are so accustomed to epidural use that it is easier for them to see the epidural as the cure for that problem, rather than re-considering the source.
D. Some women do not feel pelvic pressure through an epidural, my was wearing off, that was probably very good; they are actually much better at epidurals now than they were 9 years ago. The know more, they time them better, the can control them better. Less poker, more relief without the vegas style shrugs when you ask questions.

In any case, the epidural allowed for sleep and some much needed emotional recovery. I was happy to push him out, but confused by all the counting. The directions of when to breath and not breath. I could feel plenty of pressure so I couldn’t understand why they thought I needed to be shouted down. In any case, again the part of me that was having that thought was not attached to the part of me that was still able to talk.

Also, I have since learned that:
A. Directed pushing is standard hospital procedure. There is no way they would have known that I was miserable with it.
B. It “works” – ie babies come out. Babies would probably come out without it too, but since it is standard procedure, very few hospital nurses, OBs or residents know that.
C. They weren’t really yelling at me. Apparently, I was not really in trouble and they meant to be encouraging. They are hopelessly unprepared for those of us overstimulated by counting.
D. This is actually representative of my whole birth experience at that hospital – I got the birth that particular hospital gives to most of its moms – and perhaps that is what they want – quirky me, wanted something else, but had no idea that I’d be rendered speechless with the intensity of the experience.

Thinker was born on Saturday at 4:31pm, with a vacuum assist, as I was falling asleep between contractions/pushes and everyone was hemming and hawing about all the blood. It is no fun to see your doctor dismayed when you can feel your baby’s head in your vagina, but my husband was prepared for this moment and knew that if I could access that part of me that could talk, I’d chime in that I’d prefer (strongly) to avoid a cesarean (as we could see the baby’s head and all) and could we possibly try to assist the baby with the vacuum. God bless the man, everyone’s eyes lit up, like he’d just reinvented sliced bread and wasn’t it so charming. So they went to get the baby suction cup and I pushed and the OB switched a lever and he let out a big wail, so hearty, they told me to look up and I looked at the ceiling, but they meant down and suddenly he was on my chest, a whopping 8lb 12ounces, explaining my incredible circumference, as that takes up alot a room on a person who is 5′ 3″. He was gorgeous and after an initial fuss about low blood sugar, the rest of our night was perfect – in the way that one feels perfect lying in a hospital with 3 or 4 stitches in your labia, learning to breastfeed for the first time and not doing a very good job because you and the baby are so sleepy and you just want to be happy and the feeding makes us fuss. It was perfect and we woke in the morning to Mother’s Day in the maternity ward, where I fainted several times while being forced to stand up and walk to the bathroom – at which point we realized we had better send for help – so my younger sister arrived from Boston (how I wish these pictures were digital as we look like teenagers being sent home from the hospital with our new toy baby!).

That particularly Mother’s Day was so idyllic, as my sleepy new born waited til the following day when we were home to wake up and be hungry. At which point he cried for three days until my milk came in. I sobbed giving him a bottle of formula – which is like comedy to me now in some ways, as you must know – but in other ways I see I was grieving the birth, all its moments of drama and fear – and what was all that bleeding about? – and the very next two weeks were among the hardest of my life, but I somehow don’t remember them that way, because I had an amazing, amazing person to love and nurture and also I was carried by a younger sister who is intuitive an empathic that she postpartum doula’d be without saying much of all – my tucks were on ice, my baby perfectly swaddled – and I mean perfectly, Heather, you need to make you tube videos of your technique for the public – I always had a cold drink and my husband was home for ten days killing bees who entered the house, being a line backer at the door when I couldn’t cope with company and in general admiring everything about me and our baby – and then there was the beer, imported beer, my mother had me drink when on day 5 my milk was nowhere. Half an hour later, our hunger problems were over and the child grew.
By the time he was 2 months old he weighed 14lbs 12oz. I thought nothing of driving 6 hours with him to my mother’s wedding and staying in a house of her friends. . Our postpartum time was behind us and I rarely look back. His babyhood was idyllic and textbook – learning to take naps, learning to not hate the carseat. He ate up milestones and baby oatmeal and made me a Mother.

In many ways, Thinker is still all over my mothering. Tonight he and I played Dragonology. I tucked him up in bed and returned downstairs to put laundry in (exciting, I know). I heard the kettle and was about to pour tea, when I jumped as he had slid so quietly up to my side to inform me that Little Bear was crying very loud and that wasn’t like him and maybe he had lost his passy and he just wanted to come down to tell me. In the meantime, I banged by knuckle right onto the kettle. The blister is forming, but I remain grateful for the extra information about the loud, uncharacteristic crying of the teething two year old and potentially missing passy. At times, I wish he’d take a break from his self-appointed task of making me mother, making me a mother, making me a better mother, making me mother better. I see he isn’t actually making a critique. He just has a need to make sure I am working with all the information I need to make it go our way.

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Long story, no? Where were we? Oh, yeah, juice filled bottles.
All those empty calories.

That phrase, empty calories, both haunted me and became completely meaningless. When a mother is stacking stage 1 and 2 baby food jars to see how many of them add up to 550 calories – and wondering if she really devotes her whole day to feeding the baby by spoon, maybe he’ll grow – well, let’s just say she doesn’t need any help worrying about calories. By the way that’d be about 7 jars , provided you don’t waste your time on low calorie food likes carrots and green beans and just go straight for the good stuff:

100 calories per jar! 80 calories per jar!
(more calories in fewer jars = more time I could sleep)

And apparently your about to be 5 month old can too have meat.
Can too.
Calories in carrots were not worth my time. A few bottles of juice didn’t take up any of my time. He drank it himself in the carseat on the way out to buy more baby food and baby Pepcid.
Three formula bottles a day was not enough calories. He was still not an any growth chart a month later. We adjusted his dose and then maxed out what we could give him according to his weight. That’s when our pediatric gastroenterologist nurse practitioner gave me a present:

Apparently, my baby could have Cherry Mylanta – the grown up kind – up to a teaspoon, whenever I wanted. Anytime he had a reflux episode, I could give it to him to stop the pain. I could stop it. The baby Pepcid was there in his system to prevent the episodes. But his little baby body was way out of wack and we couldn’t prevent it all the time – yet.

reflux episode + pink chalky liquid = baby feeling better = mommy getting her game back.

Within a week, he knew the blue bottle meant. I carried it in the diaper bag next to our bottle of juice – and our new favorite kind of calories, a ziploc of arrowroot cookies. How that child loved anything that had a fair chance of staying down!

We had been cleared for breastfeeding and had been playing around with it really. It wasn’t his favorite. It wasn’t a cookie, for example. It was a lot of work for him – probably not a lot of calorie pay off for him, maybe not worth his time – like carrots. He’d fuss a bit, nurse a bit, like our earliest days together. I thought maybe we could go back to breastfeeding on a part-time basis. We never quite worked our way back. For a little while he nursed before naps and bed if we were on my bed together and the room was dark and quiet. I made a cursory effort at pumping. We lived in the dorm at that time and I was taking care of a sick baby – and had a 5 year old. There wasn’t lots of time for pumping. I wasn’t all there for it. I was disappointed in myself, felt I could make a greater commitment to it. I did see some small progress for a few weeks, but then a huge hormonal shift sealed my fate. In February – when he was 8 months old – an unplanned pregnancy and very early miscarriage just flattened me emotionally and I’m pretty sure there was just no milk after that. The turn around time hormonally was just too extreme.

There was, naturally, the accompanying mini-depression in which several rather large issues got tied together into a gigantic knot inside me, inside a cold, hard winter in a job I was struggling with deeply. It was a mix of processing this loss, reflecting on a previous and more traumatic loss, the loss of the breastfeeding – which really represented the loss of mothering the way I planned, or of having mothering this baby be pleasant or easy – and the loss of the sudden windfall of an unplanned (as in I don’ t have to take responsibility for the decision!) third baby (who would be perfect in every way and would nurse for close to two years).

A gift came our way, a trip to England, in perhaps less than ideal circumstances. Matt’s grandfather’s home needed some loving attention. He had passed away in December and the family needed some time together in his space. It turns out that sometimes ocean hopping is just what you need. We found our way there and let the Thinker meander on English countryside, let my husband walk us all down memory lane in Dorset and Weymouth, go out for cream tea with grandparents. LP was quite a charming little 9 month old riding in the back pack here and there in lanes, on beached, in castles and garedens, all the while drinking up his bottles, chomping down arrowroot cookies and drinking juice from a cup (more socially acceptable activity for babies and toddlers.)

We reached equilibrium. It was there in that spot that I sad goodbye to nursing. I watched by baby make his first moves towards toddlerhood, as so many 9 month olds do – practicing on big person food, practicing standing, giving a whirl at jumping. I began to look more ahead than back and the months that followed were an uncovered treasure store of pleasure in him, in our attached connection (that went way beyond the breast, which in fact had never really had much to do with the breast or the milk it produced), in his delightful little personhood. His first words, first jumps – which preceded his first steps, his charm, his laugh, his smile.

I’d gotten kicked around and I was the last woman standing. I’d found a patch of motherhood that I could ride like a wave and it was glorious. I’d put the torn up, battered down pieces of me back together. The absolute perfection of that baby boy at that time was something I never could have foreseen. Aside from the too frequent ear infections (common GERD side effect), it felt very close to perfect. I know it can’t have been, but it was perfect in its completeness; my heart got filled at that time for the months that would follow. For that breathing space lasted all of 8 months.

* * * * *
This is the first segment of Henry’s story.
It’s the story that brought me back to writing. It’s the story whose second chapter brought me to blogging. It’s the story it’s taken me more than a year to get the courage up to write it down. I needed enough space to pass that I could look back at who I was then and keep on loving.
The next chapter will appear here in the coming months.

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