Postnatal yoga is not like prenatal yoga

After our midwives gave me the all-clear to exercise last week, I decided to check out the mom-and-baby yoga class taught by my prenatal yoga teacher (and birth class teacher). I’d heard it was pandemonium, and also that it was very straightforward yoga with less of the feel-good stuff from the prenatal class. I had my doubts that we’d get through it with Laurel staying calm (or independent), but I wanted to try anyway. Today we did.

(The morning was already challenging enough — she was miserable during her mid-morning feed, having tummy trouble. Which, when I helped her work it out, turned into an epic poop that looked as though someone had frosted her entire diaper area like a cake. She finally fell asleep around 11, so I packed her into the Moby and headed off to the yoga studio.)

My suspicions were correct. Laurel was calm for about 5 minutes at the beginning, when I gathered my yoga props and did the opening sutra. Then she wanted to eat. Then she wanted a diaper change. Finally the teacher picked her up and carted her around the room for about 15 minutes, so I got some sun salutations in. When she brought her back, she said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I think she wants to be a yoga teacher. Look at how happy she is!” And she’s right, she was.

Then Laurel wanted to nurse. And be held some more. Laying in shavasana at the end of class I was finally able to get her to calm down and nearly fall asleep — and then only because she was laying on me with my thumb in her mouth.

Many of the other babies fussed at some point during the class, or needed nursing, etc. Some occasionally shrieked their brains out. A few were in car seats, so they could be rocked by a stray hand or foot, which was a good idea. I noticed that the babies older than 3 months were more independent, though, so maybe we’ll do better by then.

Until Laurel is more indepedent, I’m not sure I’ll go back, although I miss yoga terribly. On the one hand, I paid money to mostly sit and tend to Laurel, but on the other hand, I feel really calm and centered now. Despite the pandemonium.

There’s another class closer to home with fewer moms/babies that I might also check out — I hear the teacher likes to hold fussy babies too. :)

— Beth

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Going Back

Tomorrow morning I’m going back to work — my leave is up. Laurel’s seven weeks and a day and a half old, and sleeping on a blanket next to me on the sofa.

I have a novel and challenging job, but my enthusiasm for going back to it full time is muted. Looking after a baby is exhausting and frustrating and sometimes tedious, but it comes with a lot of built-in rewards that make it feel good when you’re doing it. We had almost two months to orient ourselves towards being a family and get accustomed to what taking care of a child is like. We got to spent most of our waking hours watching Laurel develop in lots of little subtle ways that you can see when you spend that much of your time and energy watching. It’s been really rewarding.

The subtleties of development worry me a little, because they’ve been important in appreciating Laurel as a growing person, who’s gradually acquiring abilities instead of just switching from lacking them to possessing them. They’ve also been, in part, why it feels good spending time with a creature that’s otherwise just a small bundle of almost constant needs. My job’s going to take a big chunk of my Laurel-time directly, and require me to defend another chunk from her needs when I’m around so I can get enough sleep to do my job adeqautely. In what time is left, I can be with her, and with Beth, and tinker with gadgets, and tend the garden and work for the Debian project and the other hundred things I overload my time with.

I had more time to spend at home than most fathers get, and went to quite a few parental events where I was the only man in the room, or walked around on streets where I was the only man carrying a baby. I got to obstinately carry a pair of testicles into events described using the word “mom,” and was for the most part accepted and encouraged. But it wasn’t going to last, largely for the same reason that there weren’t any other men in those rooms; most of those moms had partners supporting them (or, this being San Francisco, had inexplicably weird careers you can pursue from home or cafe in small snatches of time and a lot of cellphone conversations.) Income distributions, workplace patterns and biology being what they are, most men don’t have the option to reduce their work load that far.

All of which points to the part which bothers me the most about going back, namely that Beth and I will be playing an unavoidably asymmetric role in Laurel’s life for a while. She won’t see me as much, won’t have me involved as much of the time, which makes maintaining my own importance a bit harder than it would otherwise have been. Doable, but harder. I’ve heard plenty of perfectly reasonable arguments that young children focus more on their mothers regardless of who’s around, that things even out a bit later on, etc. I’ve heard a couple of quite touching stories of kids spending years looking to their mother for care and nurturing before one day turning to their father for guidance on how to grow up and deal with the world. So I don’t mean to sound fatalistic about my prospects; the downside just looms a lot closer right now.

With all that being said, there are some obvious positives. The extra adult-time will be nice. The excitement of my job will be good, at least once I re-learn how to deal with it. The prospect of feeling like a provider could be a good one. I’ll have a good reason to leave work at reasonable hours. I have a short commute, and my family will be right on the other end of it.

This seems as good a time as any to note some things that I did get to do while on on leave:

  • Helped deliver Laurel, obviously.
  • Learned how to keep her fed, comfortable and not smelling too horribly like spoiled milk
  • Carried her through the Castro just before midnight on a Thursday night
  • Wore her everywhere, thus getting fawned over by women of all ages
  • Logged her first hundred or so public transit miles (and three zipcar rentals)
  • Gave her her first diaper change, bottle feeding, spoon feeding, pouring-from-a-little-bowl-and-making-a-huge-mess feeding; her first bath, first change of clothes, first walk around the block; saw her first smiles, heard her first cooing sounds.
  • Let her sleep on me lots of times
  • Worried over something that was wrong with her, worked on a solution, fixed the problem, stopped worrying
  • Took a lot of pictures
  • Got on friendly terms with our neighborhood UPS man
  • Kept her out of the hospital (as a patient, anyway)
  • Introduced her to all her nearby family
  • Introduced her to heavy metal, industrial/EBM, synth-thrash and NPR comedy programs
  • Watched her focal range expand so that she’s now fascinated with the world rather than continuously screaming about it

It was a good seven weeks.

– Devin

In a positive light

I told Devin the other night, “I’ve decided to think of a full night’s sleep as a great friend who has gone away for a while, but will be back again someday.”

I think it’s helping… :)

— Beth

Hello, baby

Many of you have already seen this little video Devin took of Laurel hanging out on the changing table last week, making faces at the mobile he made. But I thought I’d share it with those of you who haven’t, especially since there’s a big old grin at the end.

She does new little things every day, the sorts of things you mostly have to be obsessed first-time parents to care about. However, there are big(ger) things: diaper changes no longer freak her out. She loves looking around at things, and spends most of her awake-time these days staring as far off into the distance as she can. She can sort of get her fingers in her mouth, but not keep them there. Her tear ducts occasionally work, which means she sometimes has tears when she cries. She recognizes us and smiles often when she sees us. She’s got an ever-expanding vocabulary of coos and random noises, and she likes it when you repeat them back to her. She’s got pretty good control of her head, but only for a few seconds at a time. She sleeps well (and thinks we both make great furniture). She doesn’t like hot weather, but she also doesn’t like being unclothed — laying on a cold pack, on the other hand, is very comfy.

She passed one of the first major timeline milestones — she was six weeks old on Saturday. In a few weeks she’ll go back for her two-month pediatrician visit where, eek, she’ll get her first round of vaccinations. Which one of us will cry more?

— Beth

This land is your land

A couple of weeks ago I was standing in the kitchen, I pulled out one of my breasts for another woman (OK, it was one of our midwives) to feel, and that’s when I became certain that my body is not my own — at least for now.

Oh, sure, I had an inkling before, like the 41 weeks in which a small person grew inside of me, or the fact that being naked during the birth meant it was easier for our midwives to check on me, or the fact that every couple of hours I stop what I’m doing, including sleep, to nurse the aforementioned small person.

And then there’s all the medical personnel who have looked at or touched various bits of me in the past six weeks — from the half-dozen or so who watched as a UCSF doctor stitched me back together after Laurel was born (and the three who have checked the progress of my healing) to the countless folks who have looked at touched my breasts to show me nursing techniques or check them for lumps during two rounds of mastitis, not to mention everyone who’s seen me breastfeed so far.

I’m not an especially modest person by any means, but found myself strangely amused during one of our mastitis-driven visits to UCSF, when nurses kept trying to protect my privacy by closing a broken curtain around my half of the room and I kept telling them not to bother, since a) it was broken and b) too many people had already seen my breasts for me to care anymore. I was amused because I wasn’t always so lax about it.

I kind of wish someone had said, “pregnancy and motherhood will mean that your body stops belonging to you.” I don’t know if I would have believed them, any more than I would have believed that taking care of a baby takes all your time and energy, but someone could have mentioned it at least.

A lot of women grow up feeling like their bodies aren’t theirs to begin with, between self- and society-imposed body issues and the sometimes-predatory nature of sexuality in our culture. Some of us work pretty hard to develop healthy boundaries so we respect and care for our bodies while also knowing when to tell people it’s OK to touch us and when to keep their distance. And then pregnancy and childbirth come along like whiplash and create a space where all those boundaries have to be on hold.

I can imagine it would be too much for some people. There are times when it’s too much for me, but I attempt to both honor and suspend the part of myself that is troubled by it, because I recognize the importance of letting myself be communal property, so to speak, for the time being. But I do hope someday I’ll return to being someone who minds ever-so-slightly when I have to undress for or be manhandled by medical personnel, or even non-family.

— Beth

Routines

Sorry for the quiet around here; we’ve had few major milestones in the past week or so, and are mostly getting accustomed to our routines and finessing the small things — nursing, using various baby carriers, assessing whether our adult brains still work, etc. However, Laurel had her one-month birthday on April 7, which is something to cheer about.

After losing so much weight in her first days and then plateauing, Laurel is now gaining weight quickly, which makes us happy (although our arms are more tired from holding her; we’ll get stronger). She’s learned to smile although she only does it kind of randomly, and one side is always bigger than the other. Sometimes when she does it she also says something like “ah!”, which is very disarming. She’s also dangerously close to learning how to reliably get her own fingers in her mouth, which is nice because we’ve kept our fingernails religiously short this past month so our fingers can serve as pacifiers at a moment’s notice.

We’ve had one “reunion” with a group of parents who were due in early 2009 and delivered with our midwives — it was great to see everyone (and their babies!). The other reunion, with our birth class, won’t happen until early June, when Laurel (one of the youngest babies in the group) will be 3 months.

In addition to family, we’ve had several friends over to visit and meet her, and everyone has been charmed. And we’ve been able to get out of the house with her a couple of times for non-doctor-y things, including a “new parents” group yesterday, which involved a roomful of nursing moms and young babies who were alternately playing, sleeping, or fussing. It was chaotic, but nice to see some more moms I’d gestated alongside.

Really, we’re just spending most of our time getting to know her, and getting to know ourselves as parents, and trying to get the hang of everything. Certainly we’re much more confident than we were a month ago. And we’re looking forward to the months — and years — to come.

— Beth