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39 weeks | What did you do with my baby? (or, ‘These 9 months have taught me this’) | no. 0032
You’d think the munchkin was turning one or something. I am in deep reflection mode. I am basically replaying every scene from pregnancy, to labor, to birth, to the first weeks, to first everythings, to now. I don’t know, but this milestone feels heavy! It makes sense, I guess, that as time moves on, the fullness of all that has come before it would take up more space in my memories, pull harder on my heart strings. Still I am like, “WOW!” I mean at 6 months I was going through bittersweet lamentation too. And now I’m even missing that stage. The precious days when he could not roll over in a blink of an eye and kick the diaper changing water onto the floor. This now happens sometimes three, four times in one day.
The munchkin’s legs have grown long. His arms extend outward in every direction. Nothing is too far away for him to reach, grip, and fling. This work brings him joy. He will even protest if you move the desired object out of his way. At times it is so hard to take his crying seriously. I remember when he was a new-new baby, every cry would make me rush to make it all better. Now, I’m like, “You ah-iyte,” (that’s “alright,” in my DC voice), when I know there’s nothing really the matter. I even laugh at him sometimes, and this offends him. It’s just that his determination brings much humor to my days. When he is trying to get my attention by wailing on about nothing in particular, I call him out on it. Baby, where you think you got all them dramatics from? My mommy-eyes have sharpened over these first months; I can see through fake tears.
Now teething though, that’s no laughing matter. Six teeth have made an official entry. It never stops, though. The pain that is. There are varying degrees of intensity, but it seems just as one breaks the gum line, another one or two are gearing up to make mommy’s day cranky and tear-filled. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do to soothe the gums for long. Poor munchkin, growing up is such lonely work at times. And yet we all must do it.
I think somewhere in the munchkin’s brain he knows this is what life means. He exhibits a perseverance to push through the unpleasant parts anyway. Even on his most challenging days with teething, he immerses himself in play, in discovery. I wish it didn’t have to involve so many of my pots and pans, but on his rough days I let him have at it. You can actually tell what type of day we’re having by the spread of toys. If the floor is a frightening collage of real baby toys, recycled pieces of stuff we’ve made into toys, random articles of clothing that fell out of the laundry pile (that didn’t get washed), assorted cookware, and loose pieces of mail, papers, and the dislodged contents of a once nicely-packed baby bag– then you can bet on two things for sure: 1. Mommy was too tired to take the munchkin somewhere outside; and 2. The munchkin was grossly understimulated by the day’s play options and so the house came undone trying to placate him.
I find myself just staring at him in those blank moments when I’m all tapped out. I keep asking myself, and even asking him, “What did you do with my baby?” You know, the little newborn that would sleep on my chest, stay put when I went to rinse out his washcloth, allow me to control the latch when he nursed, be quiet when I was talking on the phone. Once upon a time, I tell myself, he was this fresh human being, his limbs folded and pressed tightly to his body underneath the swaddle to mimic his position in the womb. And sleeping most of the day!
When the munchkin was born, it was so obvious to me that there was something delicate about his young existence on the planet. From the first hours when I held him, I felt my job was to protect his acclimation to life as an independent body. To go slowly, and honor the enormous implications of the work it would require to breathe from his own lungs, and pump blood through his own veins. The majority of his heartbeats had all happened inside of me. And up until now, this week marking the threshold of 9 months on Earth, he had still technically spent more time on the inside than on the outside.
It has been difficult relaying the sensitive nature of the infant year to some family and friends. There is so much information inundating our minds and encouraging an accelerated process. But for what? This artificial, external pushing is extremely stressful for the mother who just wants her and the baby to take their time. The key I’ve learned, to preserving the organic evolution of the motherbaby’s inevitable separation is to stay as close to your baby as possible during the first year. The amount of growth-work a baby’s body does between birth and the first birthday is unparalleled to any other season of life. There is enough turbulence going on with the natural progression of things. Being so close to my munchkin helps me stay confident that I can continuously adapt to the whirlwind.
Staying close for me has meant breastfeeding only– not pumping (anymore) or using bottles, and delaying the introduction of solids. It has also meant cosleeping, which maximizes the sleep I get as the mother of an exclusively breastfed child. Babywearing at home and in public has been an essential component as well. The stroller just seemed like way too much separation too soon. (Literally, just yesterday I contemplated finally taking the munchkin on a walk to the park in the stroller for the first time.) And I think most importantly, this has meant being with my baby at all times, not going more than an hour or two apart from each other. The hormones generated by our close proximity to each other sustain the core of our slow motherbaby flow.
In realizing how different some of my choices are from mothers in my family and many mothers in my community, I am dreaming up ways to expand this conversation on what I have coined as “slow mothering.” I think that the choice to take some or all of the baby’s first year slowly looks different for every family. There’s the mother who has to negotiate limited maternity leave, and the mom who is supplementing with formula, the mother who enjoys being able to be away from her baby sometimes– and so many more mothers still whose mothering shapes itself around other needs. All of these voices are vital to ensuring we all have room to mother with authenticity in our communities, in our workspaces, in our families, in our homes.
The last, and I feel most intangible, component of my commitment to being physically connected to the munchkin during his first year, is the tiring work of honoring my intuition and advocating for myself. The mothering heart knows what’s best for her child. So many moments, I thought to myself, if I had not spoken up, something I wasn’t ready for, or that did not feel right to me as the mother, would have happened anyway. I think this unfortunately takes place all the time, not because mothers are not in tune with themselves. But because it is exhausting having to explain yourself over and over again. Because after awhile, you start to question your feelings so much, and this too makes you weary. So you concede that perhaps, underneath your thin veil of certainty, you are wrong about the thing you know you are right about.
Many of us give in to something or another, and do what auntie says, or grandma says, or doctor says. We tell ourselves that in the long run our babies will “be okay.” We swallow the invisible thing that was lost in that moment we dismissed ourselves as being too sensitive, too new as a mommy. Whatever it is we say, we must justify this singular hurt that is merely one of an infinite number of moments we’ll share with our child. We pride ourselves on an ability to “keep it moving,” because there will be other times when we can stand up for ourselves. But this one, this moment is gone.
I think this is all a part of the heaviness of each impending milestone. The accumulation of those many instances when I did not wish to let go, but did anyway. The truth coming home to bear as each increasing digit on the calendar marks the days we leave behind. All my genuine efforts to mother slowly and courageously, folded unceremoniously into the relentless march forward. And still, I too know the intricate heartache of what it feels like to go against your mothering spirit.
This is what makes the whole growing-up thing so incredibly overwhelming. Life will only entertain my attempts to slow down time for so long. Just when I think I’ve got a hold of something the munchkin is doing, I have to accept that his first year is whizzing by me in a blur anyway. He is fast, ever devoted to his rapid development as a self-sufficient being. One that will soon talk and walk on his own, pick and choose what he likes and dislikes, observe, imitate, and reinvent the behaviors he sees around him. He’s watching everything!
I get this part of the mothering work too. I am constantly figuring out this negotiation, adjusting even when I sometimes don’t want to.
In these 9 short-but-long months I see the munchkin maturing into his own person. He still needs his mommy though! He has specific demands, intentions, curiosities, disappointments, triumphs. He has the almost daily calamitous fall from the modest height his wobbly stance has finally achieved. He wakes up with the purpose of moving on immediately, whether or not I am there to greet his opening eyes. He embraces the art of repetition on his quest to master the skills we cherish in life. Standing, communicating, balancing, reasoning, navigating, listening, watching, choosing. He grips each fleeting opportunity to get it right in the fierce clutch of his small, but mighty hands. I have the scratch marks all over me to prove it. Nothing, it seems, is too unattainable for him. In the meantime, I am a newborn mother breathing in the swell of these changes.
Onward we go from here.
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.