Signs of the times

Laurel’s language acquisition has really taken off in the past couple of months — not in terms of words, but in terms of various signs she knows and uses. Granted, she does few of them “correctly,” and in some cases it’s clear she doesn’t really know what they mean, but that’s how we started with signs like “milk” and “cat,” and she clearly understands them now.

She’s learned some from us, some from her babysitter, and some from a couple of books that teach various signs (many of them not exactly ASL — but baby-friendly alternates). It’s hard to keep track of how many she knows, now, but here’s a pretty good list: milk, more, cat, book, love, naked (she made that one up herself), light, sleepy, bath, eat, cereal, banana, bird, butterfly, hot, bib, gentle, hurt, and water. I’m definitely forgetting a few. She’s experimenting with “dad” and has been known to sign “moon” and “ice cream,” but not consistently. I’m trying to teach her “please” and “thank you,” but they haven’t caught on yet.

I just learned today that she knows “hurt.” I’ve been trying to teach it to her, because she’s been teething and she has bumps and scrapes and I wanted her to have a way to tell me where she’s hurting. When you use the sign, you use it over the body part that hurts. I just started teaching it a few weeks ago, and today, after she’d hurt me and I said, “Please don’t do that, it hurts mama,” she signed “hurt.” So I encouraged her and used the sign over the part of me that she hurt. Unfortunately, she seemed to be experimenting with this later on in the day by biting me various places and then watching me sign “hurt” and signing it back to me. Being the basis for all of her psychological experiments is not my favorite part of parenting, but I suppose it’s one I’d better get used to.

Alas, Laurel really hasn’t been working on verbal language, at least not that we’ve noticed. She still has a few words, including “shoes” and “cheese” (without the vowels), as well as “moo.” She’s experimenting more with “mama” and “dada,” and has started saying “hahahaha,” as the sound she thinks sheeps and goats make. Yeah, I don’t “ba-a-a-a-a-a” very well.

On the other hand, she’s making a lot of progress toward walking. She’s standing more on her own (though usually it’s when she’s holding a toy or two in her hands and forgetting to hang on to a piece of furniture), and spending more time cruising around — walking while holding on to walls, tables, etc. She’s beginning to prefer cruising to crawling, except for long distances, and in one case took a single step toward Devin before letting herself crash into his lap. I don’t think it will be long now before she’s on her feet all the time.

— Beth

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Learning curves

It’s funny, but I never thought much about what kind of mother I would be. Once I discovered that I was about to be SOME kind of mother, I tried to clear my mind — as best I could — of preconceived notions, hoping that I (and we) could let our child show us the kind of parents we needed to be. Sure, we had some ideas in mind: we wanted to be loving and encouraging, not let her off too easily, try to avoid too much mass advertising or junk food (and educate her as to why), that sort of thing. But, I don’t know yet whether I will be one of those moms who’s deeply involved in her child’s school, for example, or how I will frame my willingness to listen as she copes with emotional and social problems as she gets older. I’m trying to keep an open mind.

This week in yoga, the teacher reminded us at the beginning of class to bring our thoughts to the present moment. She said, “Babies are really good at teaching us to do this — to forget everything else and just be here in the moment.” That got me thinking about what Laurel’s been teaching me so far (and what I’ve been struggling to learn, by following her lead):

1. Patience (I’m terrible at this one)
2. Letting her struggle to figure something out on her own
3. Not taking it personally, or thinking it’s my fault, when she’s upset
4. Being present
5. To keep working away at something, even though it’s frustrating, because once you master it you feel really good (nursing her was like this for me)

After a few months of exhaustedly wondering who I’d become since Laurel’s birth, a lot of things feel like they’ve come together for me in the past few weeks. I’m starting to have physical energy again, which helps immensely. With that has come mental energy. I’m having ideas for writing projects again, also a huge relief — and helps me feel more like “myself” again. But I’m not the same old self anymore; a big part of my focus is on mothering, and on learning what kind of mother I am.

Right now, I’m applying myself more to various parenting projects, such as Project Figuring Out How To Get Laurel To Nap and Project Nursing In Public (both of which have been really difficult lately). Historically, I haven’t been at all good at plugging away at something when it’s not going well, but somehow with these I’m undaunted — maybe because they’re things I have to figure out how to do. This willingness to persevere is new for me; it feels a little like an alien part of my personality, but I accept that I’m going to feel that way as I shift into this new role.

At the same time, I’m treading into some difficult emotional territory by reading Hope Edelman’s “Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes The Parents We Become.” So far, she has confirmed my suspicion that having a midwife helped me overcome that need for a knowing maternal presence during pregnancy and childbirth. She also writes about a specific kind of body memory in a way that was very comforting for me:

According to psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein and Nancy Chodorow, the memory of being lovingly cared for as a newborn — assuming one was lovingly cared for as a newborn — remains encoded inside us all until our own children are born, when it’s then summoned up and transferred into action. … “We remember in so many different ways, not just in words and images,” Maxine Harris explains. “We also remember with our bodies. If your child squirms and you lean into her and cuddle her a certain way, that bodily expression is actually a memory. You can feel tremendously comforted by a sensation that really is a connection to a mother you may have only known for a couple of years.”

Granted, mothering is still relatively easy at this stage — I don’t have to decide how to discipline her for sneaking too many cookies or figure out how to talk to her about sex. And, for the most part, I haven’t had to make any sudden mothering moves; I’ve had time to think before I act. I’ll be curious to see what skills and traits emerge when I have to act quickly.

Devin can speak for himself (or not) on this topic, but so far he has been a wonderful father, more than I could have imagined him to be. He’s so loving and compassionate with her, but also encourages her to work hard when she’s trying to learn something. I’m learning from him, too, because he’s set a great example so far. I feel lucky to have two such good teachers as my core family, and I’m trying to take as many notes as possible.

— Beth

What I Did On My Maternity Leave, By Beth, Age 35 and 11/12ths

This morning I was waiting for the 27 by Halladie Plaza. There was a trio of middle-aged African American folks sitting in the shelter, loudly and cheerfully shooting the breeze. One of them looked at me and asked if I wanted his seat; I politely declined.

“You having twins?” he asked.

“Nope, just one — very soon.”

Thus ensued the usual questions from all three of them, two men and a woman: when I’m due, how I’m feeling, whether I’ve gotten all prepared. The woman said, “You need to walk. A LOT.” One of the men said, “My wife’s had five babies. It hurts while you’re having them, but as soon as they come out it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“How would YOU know?” the woman teased him.

These kinds of conversations happen pretty often when I’m waiting for buses, which I do a lot these days. Sometimes I feel like an ambassador for all of pregnant-lady-dom. I don’t really mind it.

It has been kind of a pregnancy-laden day anyway; we had just seen our midwives and I was off to walk the outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. The labyrinth was lovely — two other late-term ladies turned out, along with Jane, our birth/yoga teacher. It was sunny and mild, and when we reached the center of the labyrinth a hummingbird flew straight through the center. I returned home for lunch sleepy and relaxed.

It occurred to me this morning that I have posted very little about what happens when our midwives visit — usually it’s a lot of talking and getting caught up, updates on anything new that has happened in the pregnancy, and any tests scheduled for that phase of pregnancy. Today was pretty low-key. One of my favorite bits is the short exam at the end, where they take my blood pressure (mine’s totally normal; no pregnancy-induced hypertension here!), ask my weight, and then have me lay down so they can listen to the baby’s heartbeat (also still very healthy), measure my uterine growth and feel the baby’s position.

I love how they always say “hello” and talk to the baby. Our Seed has been good about staying in an appropriate delivery position — s/he has been head-down, with head quite low in my pelvis, since about 18 weeks, and is spending more and more time in LOA position, which is considered ideal for labor. They also estimate that the baby is somewhere between 6 and 6.5 pounds, a perfectly respectable weight for this stage. S/he is also still moving a lot every day.

We’ll see the midwives every week now until I deliver. :)

Anyhow, I’ve been on leave from work almost two weeks now. I spent most of last week running around like crazy trying to get tons of things done. This week has been mellower; lots of yoga, massage and napping, though I’m trying to get out every day (especially when the weather is nice). I’m finally beginning to feel myself relax and unwind — this is the longest stretch I’ve gone without doing some kind of full- or part-time work in 11 years. I feel like being calm and relaxed is going to be an important place from which to start labor, so I’m glad I’m getting there.

— Beth

Not long now

In addition to the string-cheese-wrapper conundrum, I seem to have picked up a new absentminded habit: forgetting to close or lock the doors on public restrooms while I’m using them. Thankfully no one has barged in on me yet. Given the frequency with which I am using toilets these days, that’s nothing short of a miracle.

Our home-birth kit is done (early!). The midwife reports that our wiggly, squirmy little co-creation is now roughly five pounds or so, while the Web sites report that all its internal organs are basically ready to ship, and now all it’s doing in there is getting fatter.

I can tell you that’s not all it’s doing. It’s also performing diaphragm workouts (read: hiccups) 2 to 3 times a day, plus some kind of butt-gyrating exercises that would make Jane Fonda proud. Also, it has figured out how to press on all sorts of uncomfortable abdominal fasciae and nerve endings with its head. This, coupled with the fact that my pelvis has turned into one of those toys that collapses when you press on the bottom, makes walking rather more unpredictable than it was a year ago.

It seems like it should feel by now like we’re all set, but we’re not. Oh, we’re getting there. I mean, we got the car seat, but our midwife reminded us Friday that it’d be a good idea to have someone show us how to actually put it into the car. My mind has been in kind of a mental scramble since then, trying to work out how to fit that into our schedule. That’s just one example among many.

We’re about halfway through our birth classes, which are part pep talk, part practice. Jane (also one of my yoga teachers) is enthusiastic and a little naughty in her descriptions, and she’s introduced us to all sorts of useful things like how to cope when a chunk of ice clutched in our hand is about to give us frostbite, and how to get down on hands and knees while our partners push on various hypothetical sore bits. Homework has included giving each other massages, cleaning the toilet to a sparkling finish (apparently it makes a good labor location), and practicing various labor positions around the house. Given that I’ve heard some birth classes spent time discussing whether newborns should get their ears pierced, I feel like this one is relatively practical.

Devin and I spent part of Saturday learning how to resuscitate mannequin infants and children (the latter represented by adult-sized torsos and heads). The infants had these detachable breast-pieces that, when a small bag attached to the creepily o-shaped mouth was secured into them, rose and fell with each “rescue breath.” Everyone in the room — which included at least one hedge-fund consultant, two reporters and an epidemiologist — did a good job of reviving their mannequins, while also admitting they’d be likely too out of their minds to actually use these skills when encountering their own unconscious child. Even working on a rubber, baby-shaped replica is a little unnerving.

(Devin also got to practice the Heimlich maneuver on me, although the instructor basically said there’s no good way to perform it on a pregnant woman without harming her or the baby, and essentially advised me to switch to a liquid diet until the baby comes out to reduce the risk of choking.)

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of a friend of mine who is conducting a psych study on intentional conception, came by to interview Devin and I about our pregnancy, how we planned it, and so on. I forget what she asked me, but I started talking about how — no matter how much I understand the biology of conception and pregnancy, it still doesn’t totally explain: Where does the baby come from?

A book I read a while ago, The Wise Wound, has a quote somewhere in it about the womb being a doorway to another place, and how children enter this world through that doorway. I wish I could find the quote, but I can’t, so you’ll just have to trust my vague recollection instead.

Anyhow, so I was trying to explain this to the researcher, and how when I try to imagine that place on the other side of the doorway, I can’t — I am just awestruck. It reminds me a little of when I was a child and would look out into the night sky and try to comprehend how big the Universe is, and the thought was so huge that it scared me and I would have to go inside. Trying to imagine the place children come from is like that; not as scary, but no easier to contain cognitively. My mind just goes blank with wonder.

I spend a lot of time, lately, imagining who’s in there — what wormhole he or she came to us through, what s/he’ll be like, and what s/he came here to see and do and show us. It won’t be long now before we find out.

— Beth

On relating to your pea-sized offspring

The Web is full of websites on pregnancy. The innumerable extroverted young women of the world who have been blogging/eeping/twittering/etc their daily experiences supply a ripe audience for informative little blurbs, baby-status-meter gadgets and a hundred other electronic trinkets once they get pregnant. The basic formula seems to be a long clickable timeline (some stop at 38 weeks, some extend outward sparsely a few years beyond). For roughly every week there’s a detailed (if flowery) description, an artist’s rendering, and maybe a sonogram image or two. The colors are usually soft baby-blue/pink/etc pastels.

Now, I’m liking this whole idea of parenthood, and relating to my child as an intellectual idea (observable so far only as a variety of symptoms in his or her mother) is coming along well. But the actual physical state, currently a little lump of delicate tissue about the size of a lentil, is a bit harder to relate to. A little nodule that will develop into our baby’s hands? Neat, but not the kind of irresistable emotional draw that I want to climb in there and cuddle. The whole package is sort of wrinkly and scary-looking, more like a boss monster from R-Type than an impending human. I’ve started talking to it, but of course what I’m really doing is talking to Beth via her lower belly (just as well, because our child doesn’t have ears yet). Beth, for her part, is growing into this a bit more naturally, though she summarizes her communications more as “who’s in there?”

Anyway, for the moment I’m relating to our baby’s physical presence less as a matter of seeing our faces melded together on an artist’s drawing and more as a progression of R-Type bosses, growing a bit more developed and fearsome week by week. It was a great series, after all, and over time the idea of the physical baby will catch up to the emotional one. Sort of.

– Devin