awkward moments, babies, baby, balance, bath, bathing, be, choice, choose, clean, conversation, dirty, explain, family, fourth trimester, funk, love, mother, new mommy, new mother, newborn, postpartum, postpartum depression, shower, showers, talk, time
12 weeks | What bath? | no. 0005
The truth stinks sometimes. And sometimes, I am the truth. I know I am not alone in this, but most mothers I know keep this uncomfortable phenomenon behind closed doors. That is that sometimes we don’t bathe. Not because we don’t want to. Not because we are out of soap. Not even because there’s never an adequate pocket of time to stand under a stream of hot water long enough to clean the important parts. No, this secret most of us pray stays tucked away in our underarms when you, dear one that you are, pop over to see the baby– and hopefully bring food– is much more complex than all of that.
There are actually many reasons why so many good mothers– who spend hours every week ensuring our babies are meticulously cleaned– might very well delay our own bathing process for a day or three. But most people outside of the mothering have not even a place in their daily-showered minds to conceive of such a reality. I found this out in one of those difficult moments when you realize you’re not ready to be back in the world after the birth, because people routinely say insensitive (read: dumb) things to new mommies all the time. But I digress. So anyway, a few weeks ago, I ran into somebody I knew and she asked about the baby, and being a mommy, and all of that. I was rushing because his father was driving him around the block so he would hopefully stay asleep in the car seat he wasn’t too fond of while I dashed in and out of the store. It had been so long since interacting with anyone outside of my immediate circle of family, midwife, and postpartum helpers, that my tongue felt tangled in the magnitude of her impossible question, So how is it?
It. Right. Umm, yeah. I fumbled over the quickest way to capture the blessing of having him, the exhaustion of caring for him, and the excitement of growing with him. I thought I’d managed well enough at cramming so many coherent sentences into thirty seconds, considering my real thoughts were more like, Oh God, I hope my baby’s not in the car screaming for me because I’m standing here wasting time having this nonessential conversation with you. There was that clean break in the conversation and I should have just walked away. But I had to keep talking. Looking back, I see I was overcompensating for her inability to grasp how significant it was that I was beginning to bathe more daily. Now, all the people in my little bubble had been celebrating this progress in my journey to navigate the demands of life with baby. So I just wasn’t ready for the frown and disbelief that came over her face when I pulled back the veil on mother’s work and answered truthfully about how hard it was to shower sometimes. Another two minutes came and went while she struggled to comprehend why I couldn’t take better care of myself. I said something about how the baby’s needs come first and some days that’s all I have energy for. Oh no! She shook her head one more time telling me, That’s not good.
That’s when I abruptly ended all further discussion and hurried to get those few items finally. Of course, right then my partner called to see how soon I’d be back; I heard the munchkin screaming through the phone and my heart sank. I was supposed to be there to hold his hand so he could calm down, because he’s not yet comfortable in the car, and I ride in the back with him so he can see me and know he’s not alone. And now he was terrified, and there was no place for Daddy to park and tend to him, all because Mommy was inside attempting to elaborate on the intangibles of motherhood. Damn small talk.
This week while bathing the munchkin, on yet another day when I had not seen water on my own body, I reflected again on that encounter in the store and wondered if I had since improved on my showers-per-month ratio. Honestly, as we approach the end of fourth trimester, I can say I’ve made small gains in this area. I even had a big win the other day when I was able to shower without another person being here, because the swaddle was perfectly wrapped, and the baby was able to sleep for a long time on his own. It was such a victorious feeling, and yet I’ve not been able to do it again. No, I don’t feel discouraged by these intermittent advances. Every day there are places where I can feel I am growing, and then there are places where that growth feels imperceptible. Still, this is me be(come)ing a mother, even when it seems there’s been no measurable change.
Gradually, I have been making peace with the inevitable, awkward conversations I’ll sometimes have upon reentering public spaces as mother and child. However, as I rubbed foamy soap into the munchkin’s many crevices, and inspected and reinspected that I had removed all traces of baby funk, I was still wondering why talking to that person in the store had bothered me so much. It wasn’t just that she was telling me I needed to do better when I was already deliriously tired, hungry, and worried about my baby. It wasn’t even that she couldn’t fathom how, over multiple spans of 24 hours, anyone with the means to do so could legitimately forego bathing. Then, just as the soap rinsed away to reveal my baby’s clean, round belly, it occurred to me what the source of that sensation of mommy failure had been.
It was that my son had been waiting for me unnecessarily, so that I could accommodate someone else’s need to have a snapshot of my life as mother. But there are no Polaroids here. And the truth of how it is can be very messy, potentially malodorous, and often frayed at the edges of whatever sense of self I can salvage, wound I am in the bustle of days that do not start or cannot end. Somewhere, in the constellation of choices that a mother navigates in order to care for her child, is always the gentle, flickering hope for a shower. And sometimes, in truth, she doesn’t get to it because after meeting her child’s needs, she is making some other equally vital choice for herself to eat, or sleep. Or maybe even, to write.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.