Just Like Daddy?

People keep telling me she looks “just like Carl.”

This shouldn’t bother me, because throughout the pregnancy I kind of hoped she would. In fact, we would occasionally have those sticky-sweet arguments young couples do, each hoping she would look more like the other.

YOUR nose. No, YOUR nose!

Nauseating, right?

A couple of weeks before she was born, Carl came home from work and reported over dinner a factoid his coworker Nick had passed along: Most new mothers over-emphasize the resemblance between their babies and the babies’ fathers. The article speculated (of course) that this was an unconscious evolutionary ploy women had developed in order to assure new fathers that the baby was in fact theirs, thereby encouraging the father to stick around to help provide for the new infant.

“She looks like both of you,” Nick said pointedly when he and his wife came over to meet Iris for the first time.

He was the first and only person to say that.

Now, the fact is, some babies DO heavily favor one parent. And—in certain pictures especially—I see that with Iris. Take this one for example:

The eyes! The nose! The little mouth!

She DOES look a lot like Carl. I love it.

Ok. It was also a tiny bit grating, I admit, that first week when everyone kept saying how much she looked like Carl (chopped liver, I). But we did spend the first week surrounded by Carl’s family, and naturally they would pick up on every nuance of the similarity between him and his baby. They know his features so much better than they know mine. I figured if we were around my family, they would probably zero in on the ways Iris looks like me too.

And like I said, overall, I was more than willing to believe Iris takes after her daddy. Lots of babies do.

Then my brother and his wife had a baby.

She looks just like Jon!

Then my other brother and his wife had a baby.

Oh my, I really see Michael in this one!

Hmm…. I started thinking about all the babies I’ve known and… yeah. It’s pretty annoying when you think about it. Again, it’s not annoying when it’s true. I love when you can see features and expressions on a child’s face that come from either parent. That’s just fun.

But the whole flatter-the-father-lest-he-abandon angle is pretty gross. Dude, if flattery is what keeps you in the game, I’m pretty sure nobody really wants to play with you.

Actually, to be 100% candid, what annoys me the most isn’t the sexism. It’s the way people (researchers! journalists! media!) want to use evolutionary who-ha to camouflage their sexism. See, it sounds way better to say women may have developed this reflexive belief to reassure their partners that the child is theirs than to say men are historically flaky and much more likely to walk out on their families than women are, and since women are expected to do all the childcare it’s pretty hard to also work a full time job (also they don’t get paid equally for their work) so it’s kind of important to convince the guy to stick around. Although he totally won’t if he doesn’t feel like it, so LIVE IN FEAR, LADIES!

I think that’s what they meant to say.

Ha. And now y’all are probably making mental notes never to comment on how much Iris looks like Carl (or, alternately, how to get under my skin should the need arise), which wasn’t exactly the takeaway I was aiming for. The theory bothers me, but it’s hard to feel at all indignant personally because, like I said, some babies really DO look like one parent or the other—and that’s just cute. I always said a tiny part of the reason I wanted a baby was because I wanted a horcrux for Carl, a little sliver of him wrapped up for safe keeping, a sense that if something terrible should happen to Carl I wouldn’t have lost him completely. (Morbid, but so true).

Anyway, it’s fun to compare baby pictures, so that’s what I’ve been doing today while Iris grouches on my lap (she’s stuffy today and it makes her cranky).

It’s hard, to be honest, because to me she really just looks like herself. And, depending on the angle and the day, she can look so different anyway. But here are a sampling of her faces from the first couple of days.

Here’s Carl as a newborn:

And here’s me in my homecoming suit (not a very clear shot, but the best I can do):

What do you think?

And also, have you noticed this phenomenon before? Do you tend to notice the way babies look like their fathers or do people often tell you how much your kids look like their dad?

Guilty Pleasures

No surprise to any of you parents out there, but I am currently working harder than I have. Ever. In my life.

I pretty much expected that, but what I didn’t expect was the easy pace of it so far (if you’re laughing, please recall I have only 1). I move at baby speed now, which is somewhere between a crawl and a nap but is always awake.

Ok and sometimes bored.

I swear I do stare lovingly at her precious face, and I do play with her, and I do change her diapers (relatively) promptly… but she nurses about 10 times a day for 20-30 minutes. That’s a lot of time to just sit there.

I think I lasted about five days into our solo parenting experience before I went to Target and bought myself an iPod Touch. We’ve talked casually for a long time about whether or not I should get an iPhone—I love the email access, the web browsing, the apps, but couldn’t really justify the monthly data plan. I spend 90% of my time at home where I already have WiFi. The iPod is Steve Jobs’s gift to nursing mothers.

I love it.

I am now following an inordinate number of blogs and if we’re Facebook friends I’ve probably read everything posted to your wall in the last two weeks. Also I am amazing at Bejeweled.

And then I discovered iBooks. I’ve never tried any kind of e-reader before (mostly because I’m one of those snobby people who wax lyrical about the smell of old books and the feel of paper and the satisfying heft of biographies), and I’m too cheap to pay $12.99 for an electronic copy of a book that cost approximately $ 0.00 to reproduce (although I DO understand authors, editors, and publicity people must earn their keep, and I would happily pay something for that… but it doesn’t make sense to me yet why an electronic copy costs almost as much as a paper copy).

So I haven’t bought anything.

But I do love the “Sample” feature, which lets me read a chapter or so of anything for free. Woot! It’s like wandering through Barnes & Noble without leaving my cushy glider. I immediately compiled a list of best books, fiction and non, from 2011 and started reading samples.

Which led to me ordering one book and stopping by the library to snatch up another.

Where I came across this little gem:

I mean, how could I not? Totally over-the-top excess of diva fest, guilty pleasure to the max. I am currently 162 pages in and having a fantastic time.

I’ve always liked Elizabeth Taylor, though I don’t really know why. My brother Michael and I watched her epic Cleopatra a couple of times as young adults and had a howling good time. Such epic camp.

Her relationship with Richard Burton is also sort of fascinating for being so… well… foreign. I think they defined a kind of lavish, mid-century type that’s barely recognizable now—the womanizing mountain of brooding masculinity and the sexy, bullying patron of excess.

I’m not saying those types don’t exist anymore, but it all seems sort of campy and trashy now. Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller, you know? Not something you really want to emulate—and I’m not talking about the deeply religious. Current celebrity culture also understands that in order to be popular and respected these days you have to have a charitable cause, appear in at least one PSA about the environment or homosexuality, and ideally adopt a child from a majority world nation.

We are probably not individually any more moral, responsible, tolerant, or kind than the generation that came of age in the late 50s and 60s… but we sure take our image-care seriously.

Anyway.

Iris no longer has to worry about being hurried through a meal. And if the book has inspired me to rewatch Cleopatra (instant watch on Netflix!) in 20 minute segments—well, that can totally be our guilty little secret.

Getting Back to Good

 I have cleaned out the dishwasher, put away the laundry, and addressed the first batch of thank you notes but the snuggliness in the nursery (see photo LEFT) shows no sign of slowing.

I’m down with that.

And I guess I could be cleaning out beds in the garden or washing windows, but I’m calling this a catch-my-breath moment. A chance to enjoy the progress we’ve made.

Carl is able to get upstairs now, and with a folding chair in the bathtub and a new, detachable shower head he’s even able to take a real shower. For the first time in a month, I even took a shower while Carl shaved after his and we were able to carry on a casual conversation while doing it.

If you don’t think that’s amazing, you should try busting your ankle some time. Daily life—after it stops sucking—will be all kinds of magical.

Yesterday we even hired our first babysitter and went to California Pizza Kitchen for lunch. It was kind of weird. I mean, we hadn’t been out to eat together for a month, and we hadn’t been anywhere together without Iris, and we’d never paid someone or had to watch a clock just to grab some food before. I felt, for the first five minutes anyway, like we ought to be making it count and having some kind of awesome adult conversation or something… and then the feeling went away and we just had lunch.

It’s nice to be normal together.

We talked about the accident and how it’s made us see things differently. We talked about being parents. We talked about our waitress and how much I liked my strawberry iced tea.

We had a good time.

Also Iris snoozed in the sitter’s arms the entire time, so the experience appeared to be a positive one for everybody. Win-win-win.

And a final bonus win: since Iris didn’t wake up, I still had a small bottle of milk in the fridge that night when she hit her fussy patch between midnight and two. Turns out she likes to REALLY chow down before sleeping, and it further turns out that 2 additional ounces before bed make her a much happier camper.

It’s a bit early to be all “mystery SOLVED!” over her late night Grumplestiltskins routine but I can’t help hoping the mystery is, you know, actually solved. I would like to get to sleep before 2am some time in the next year.

The other thing we’re working on is getting Iris comfortable playing on her own in her crib or buzzy seat for 10-15 minute stretches. Enough time at least for me to get a quick shower or stack dishes or write a couple of thank you notes. So far Iris is taking to her solo time better than I thought she might. She doesn’t last long, but it’s a start.

I am at least able to visualize a future where I: A) do things, B) with BOTH hands (!), C) without hearing her cry.

Either life is getting back to good or I’m entering the manic phase of new mommyhood. I guess I’m good with either.

The Garden in March

But what a strange March.

It’s been hot and summery this week, and we’ve left the back door open to the play of breeze and birdsong. When Iris is fussy, all I have to do is step outside and she instantly quiets, ears straining at the unfamiliar sounds, eyes squinched up in the blazing light.

Too bad I can’t carry her around the back yard and take a nap at the same time. I’m a good multitasker, but even I haven’t figured that one out yet.

Lawn lounge chairs? Hammock?

I’m working on it.

Speaking of irises, it turns out we have four big wheels of them in the front garden. I’m curious to see what colors and types they are. Right now they’re just little green spears shooting out of the earth. According to my idle googling, irises usually bloom in June in our zone—although with their jumpstart this year it might be more like May—but either way it looks like we’ll have to wait a while to find out what we’ve got growing.

 

The shrubs along the fence are starting to leaf too. I still don’t know what they are. My mom said maybe Rose of Sharon about the middle one, but it’s still too early to say for sure.

And the tangle of canes at the bottom of the garden—whether blackberry or raspberry I don’t know—are putting out their starburst leaves.

I love this part of the year. The beauty is so delicate and tiny, so easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. My life has become incredibly concentrated lately. I barely leave the house, and when Iris is settled for a nap then it’s time to clean enough dishes for dinner or help Carl shower or make doctor’s appointments or otherwise manage this strange, unfamiliar life we’re living now.

I haven’t even started really working on the garden, but I’m already enjoying the enormous benefits of having one. A green place. A breathing space. A patch of earth to watch and notice and plan for.

So good for the soul.

A Birth Story: Iris Edition

Well, my two favorite people are upstairs dozing; the M took off Sunday, leaving groceries, clean sheets, and potted hyacinths in her wake. I have even breakfasted and showered. And the back door is open to the birds and breeze.

Must be time to regale you with tales of birth.

If I can remembered them. Am kind of living in a haze right now, which is SO every new parent’s badge, but I say it now with total humility and contrition: all that stuff about sleep deprivation and newborns is true. It’s less crazy-making than traditional insomnia… but only by the narrowest of margins. I asked Carl this morning how it’s possible to love being a mother so much during daylight hours and feel so bitterly frustrated by night.

The answer, of course, is vampirism.

Vampires, werewolves, trolls, and small babies.

Beware.

Super funny, Mom.

Anyway.

Tales of birth…

Carl had his first surgery early in the morning on our due date—February 26th. “When are you due?” one of the prep nurses asked us cheerfully, trying (I think) to take our minds off the surgery. “Today,” I said.

Oh,” she said.

Later, when I was out of the room, the anesthesiologist’s partner would ask the same question and give the more correct response—the four letter one that starts with F.

I left Carl at the hospital that night, went home and cried for a while. The surgery had gone well, but it would take a different type of surgery to remove my memory of seeing him that morning before the procedure, crooked and small-looking in a hospital bed with a gown tossed over him. They told us that he would need a second surgery, either the end of that week or the beginning of the next. If Iris came on her own it would be some time later that week. My OB office routinely induces babies after 1 week. In either scenario, Carl’s second surgery and Iris’s arrival had a high probability of coinciding. So I went home and cried.

I cried for about half an hour before it occurred to me that I did have some say in the matter. If Carl could ask to have his surgery scheduled next week, and I could ask to have the induction scheduled for Friday instead of Monday (assuming she didn’t come on her own before that), then the two events would definitely NOT overlap. And if the baby came on Friday, then my hospital stay would exactly coincide with the weekend when our friends and family would be most likely to be able to help out. Genius. I sent shot off a couple of manic texts with brow-raising phrases like I HAVE FIGURED IT ALL OUT, crawled back into bed, and conked right out.

Over the next few days I would come to question the wisdom of this plan, but once things got set they were sort of set for good, and that’s how I found myself showering late Thursday afternoon before hopping into Carl’s uncle’s minivan with Carl in the bench behind me and Cameron at the wheel.

“Maternity!” The hospital security officer said confidently as I climbed out.

“Emergency?” He asked more doubtfully as the side door slid open and Carl emerged.

We explained. We’re good at that by now.

They wheeled us up to maternity (apparently it’s policy that expectant mothers have to be wheeled?) and within the hour I had my IV in, two monitors strapped to my belly (so unawesome after even the first hour), and Pitocin started at a nice, mild dose. And then we waited.

And waited.

After 15 hours I was only 20% more effaced. Still 2cm. The contractions had gone from mild cramping to the real deal. But still very manageable. The doctor on call decided (cheerfully) that it was time to start a more “aggressive” approach, upping the Pitocin every 90 minutes and artificially breaking my water.

Which I wasn’t super thrilled about. I knew hospital policy would let me either labor for 30+ hours or go home… unless my water broke. Then the clock starts ticking.

One of those risks you take.

The doctor broke my water at 9am (not painful, btw) and started upping the Pitocin (quite painful). The night nurse had been more obsessive about the fetal monitor and my BP cuff,  but my day nurse was much more chillaxed about both, encouraged me to move and try different positions, even tracked down a birthing ball for me. Giving birth is intensely serious and significant work, but I would totally be lying if I said there wasn’t also a sense—not of fun—but of curiosity and heightened awareness. I don’t like roller coasters, heights, or extreme sports, but I imagine that people who do like them like them for similar reasons.

And then it got hard.

I had alway planned to go natural as long as possible, figuring that if millions of women could do it on their own I probably could too. Then again, I hadn’t planned to be induced with an “aggressive” Pitocin drip. I had planned to have Carl next to me, helping me through the contractions, not trapped on a bed across the room. I had planned to be well-rested, not on the tail end of 6 days of 4 hours or less.

It was mid afternoon, and I was still at 2cm. I said I’d try the Nubain.

Never try the Nubain.

I mean, it totally works. It’s an opioid. I instantly put my head down and started sleeping. It was a miracle! I was so relaxed! For about two minutes until the next contraction hit.

The pain was exactly the same. So in between contractions, when I was feeling fine anyway, I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow, and then when the contractions came I would feel them just as strongly as ever.

Not to say Nubain doesn’t have it’s uses. It’s probably perfect for the woman across the hall from us who SCREAMED and GROANED and SHRIEKED for hours that morning. Not a confidence builder, although my nurse was reassuring. If I saw your contraction monitor from the nurse’s station I would expect you to be either pushing by now or ready to punch me in the face as soon as I walked in the room. You’re SO calm. You’re doing amazing. I wish some of the other ladies on this floor could see you…

I told them to stop the Nubain and, after due consideration (and a couple of really hard contractions) decided to try the epidural. It wasn’t an easy choice, because by this point I’ve read all the natural birthing books and know all about the “cascade of interventions,” and how epidurals are linked to higher c-section rates and other complications I really, really didn’t want. I strongly believe people need to make their own informed choices, and I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, but HOLY MOTHER OF MERCY. My epidural experience was fantastic.

The pain totally went away. And then I went to sleep. For two hours.

I can see how this would be a negative in the engaged-with-the-experience realm, but I had been engaged with a lot of experiences all week, including 18 hours of increasingly hard labor. A 2 hour power nap at that point felt miraculous. I woke up and Dr. Robinson (my favorite doctor) stopped by to say her shift was starting and to see where I was.

4cm! Woot!

The nurse had me try a couple of labor positions to help things along (and to avoid staying in one position for too long), and my sister-in-law Cindy showed up to be on hand in case Carl or I needed anything.

The awesome thing about my epidural—and I have no idea if this is normal for epidurals or not—was that while it completely blocked the pain of dilation up through transition, it didn’t interfere with anything after that. At first I just thought the epidural was wearing off. But this was a new kind of pain. A pushing pain.

I didn’t want to ask for another check, because I had been checked only two hours ago. But when your body wants to start pushing, you sort of have to push. I began, covertly, to push a little with each contraction.

The nurse came back and asked how things were going. I told her I was starting to feel the contractions again. The doctor, nurse midwife, and a bunch of students wandered in, and I admitted I was starting to feel pushy.

Dr. Robinson checked me.

I was 10cm and the baby was already descending. Things got suddenly very serious and very hyperactive. The bed was positioned. The table of instruments came out. People put blue surgical hats on. Somebody thought to pull Carl’s bed closer to mine so he could reach my hand.

I pushed for about an hour, and this is possibly oversharing, but if you should ever find yourself trying to push a baby into the world, I would heartily recommend the little mirror they sometimes place down there so you can actually see what you’re doing. There are few things more motivating than the first sight of that tiny, perfect, fluid-slick head.

Somebody put a warmed baby blanket on my chest, and I burst into tears. I don’t think I’d fully realized what it meant that I was going to have a baby until I felt that blanket go down.

The student nurse stationed on the right side of my bed started crying too. Guess I’m not used to this yet, she said, laughing and wiping her eyes. Later, after Iris came out and was being weighed and measured, I would look around the room and see tear tracks down Carl’s face, Cindy’s eyes ringed with damp mascara.

That was later. After an hour of pushing, both Iris and I were starting to spiral into distress. I felt dizzy, like I might pass out. Iris’s heart rate was spiking on the monitor. I don’t normally like to do that, Dr. Robinson would tell me later, but when I heard her say she was going to give me something to numb me, I knew she was about to cut me. That also wasn’t part of the plan, but you know what?

One more push after the cut, and the head was clear. Another push for the shoulders, and then the rest of her body came squirming out, like a sea creature caught in the weeds.

It was over. It was just beginning.

… That’s one version.

There are other stories in those hours—about Carl, about Cindy, who was amazing in the delivery room and even ended up cutting the cord (leading to a smattering of glowing texts over the following days. Nothing like the heady intimacy of going through delivery together). But this is one part of the whole.

It wasn’t what I planned or expected. But it was really, really good.

I don’t recommend the induction process to anyone, but looking back I would still do it that way—given our situation. I had a lot of insecurities about the epidural, but it turned out to give me exactly the break I needed. (I didn’t end up with a c-section. Iris scored an 8 and 9 on the Apgar and latched like a champ). Nor would I join an episiotomy fan club, but at that point in the game it was worth the four stitches at get Iris safely delivered in two pushes.

Anyway. You know it can’t have been that bad if my thought process afterwards was focused, not on disappointment, but on what I would or wouldn’t do differently some not-too-distant next time (Simple things for the most part, like: have a husband who is not vomiting from his own pain issues).

Anyway.

That’s how it happened. That’s how Iris was born.

Welcome, tiny traveler

Iris Magdalen arrived last Friday night at 7:54, weighing 8 lbs 11oz and measuring 22 inches.

Although we first fell in love with the names in other contexts (a movie and a book, respectively), the more I thought about the names the more perfect they became. She’s named for a goddess and a saint, which is not too shabby for a person somewhat smaller than a seedless watermelon.

In Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow and a messenger of the gods, appearing on urns and statuary as a beautiful young woman with golden wings.

Mary Magdalene was also a messenger, called the “apostle to the apostles” in some Christian traditions because she was the first to see the risen Messiah and the first to carry the good news of his resurrection to the other disciples.

Carl, who is generally the less pretentious half of our marriage, tells people that what this really means is that our daughter is going to grow up to be a postal worker.

I prefer my version.

Our daughter is our message from the (G)ods, our reminder that life is good. Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, and in the Christian tradition the rainbow is a symbol of hope and promise. After we lost our first baby last year, I joined a message board to process that grief with other women who had experienced loss or fertility problems. That’s where I first heard the term “rainbow baby.”

One of the moms explained it to me like this:

“Rainbow Babies” are the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it does not mean that the storm never happened. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and the clouds.

You don’t have to experience fertility issues to know that life is sometimes hard. We each get our chance to deal with disappointment, loss, and grief. Or, you know, broken ankles and multiple surgeries. Storms are an inevitable part of life.

That doesn’t mean life is bad.

Life is still good. Still a gift.

That’s what her name means to me, although it’s definitely a coffee-shop type of thought and not something that engenders especially mystical feelings whilst trying to resolve latch issues and decipher the secret language of poop consistency.

But you give your child the best you have. I have words and symbols. So that’s what I give. A name that is also a blessing.

And if she grows up to work for FedEx, that’s cool too.