As of 8:38 this morning, Rebekah has been part of the world for nine months. This doesn't mean that she has been outside as long as she was inside; she was inside for 40 weeks, and it's only been 39 on the outside. (That final week of pregnancy felt interminable, and I will not let that week be forgotten!)
I'm feeling a bit wistful as I recall my intense, even agitated anticipation of Rebekah’s arrival and the agony I endured to bring her into this world and into my arms.
At nine months old, Rebekah is a joyful, adventurous, social, and opinionated baby. She enjoys eating sweet potatoes, baked apples, halibut, broccoli, zucchini, and most of all (but perhaps not the best parenting decision), maple custard. She also takes pleasure in books, both reading and eating them. She scoots around our house, army-crawling her way to Schroeder’s crate, water bowl, and Duck & Potato Formula. But her story is hers to tell, and her privacy is important to me. Someday she can have her own blog, or whatever the informal medium of choice turns out to be in a decade or two. So that's all I will say about her for now.
Because my precious time to write is limited (I’m working part-time at American University, tutoring days a week at Chain Bridge Speech & Language, and starting up my own writing center), and because we’re in the middle of a childcare transition, I can record only a few disconnected reflections at this nine-month mark.
At times, caring for a baby—even my own!—is tedious and demanding. Nobody admits this, but it's the truth, at least for me and most moms I know. Everything a baby needs takes precedence over the first thing the caregiver needs, which, though taxing, is how it should be. So, when I'm caring for Rebekah with another adult, or when I get or a break from cleaning her tray—a task oh so irritating because the darn tray is just slightly too big to fit comfortably in the sink—or someone else changes her blowout diaper, or she doesn’t scream in the car, or I have a moment’s peace to take a shower at my own pace … at those times, some of the joy and tenderness of the early, sleepy days returns, and I realize, yes, this is what I wanted—this relationship with my own child—in spite of it all: disposing of the now-daily pungent pancake turds, the stocking and restocking of four different types of wipes (for diapers, pacifiers, pump parts, and her face after each meal); researching the best bibs with pockets and the least garish play pens; winding cords into plastic “babyproofed” containers; and scrubbing bottles and pump parts. Amid it all, I love her so much.
On the subject of pumping, I have to say how wonderful it is to pump while driving: I know, it seems crazy, and I used to think people who did it had truly lost their minds, but now that I am routinely pumping in the car, I find it liberating to multitask so efficiently. I can adeptly turn my neck to look for cars in my blind spot while preventing the milk from spilling onto my lap. I can unscrew the parts while stopped at traffic lights. Most importantly, I do not have to ask random strangers for keys to lactation rooms.
My body remains in milk production mode, which means that I cry reading articles about maternal mortality because it seems cruel and unnecessary to die while creating another human being and to leave that little person without you. And ll the news coverage about infant mortality, SIDS, car seats being installed incorrectly ... it means that when I leave her I worry that it's the last time I'll see her. I always kiss her on the top of her head and tell her I love her.
It's not just baby-related news that evokes tears, but almost all the horrible news these days, from orphaned refugee children, to innocent people killed by the police, to all kinds of systemic injustice. Even reading the second chapter of Brave New World with a student was difficult (hint: don't read it if you have a baby!), so much so that I'm concluding that having a tiny, fragile, helpless being around makes me more sensitive to everything.
When Rebekah accompanies me to the bathroom, or watches me shower—which she does if we are at home alone together because she will otherwise eat lint or hair gel—I sometimes point out my c-section scar and say, “You came out of there.” Because I want her to know that she’s part of me.
And perhaps that’s part of my reluctance to stop breastfeeding: I long to maintain our intimate physical connection, for her to know that she needs me for sustenance, and literally, for life.
At the same time that I know I will be thrilled when Rebekah starts to speak and use forks, I know that those milestones will mean that she wants fewer hugs and cuddles, and will need me less and less, or maybe just in a different way. I can't decide whether I want her to grow up faster or return to being a cuddly little burrito content to rest on my chest. This isn't ambivalence, because that's far too mild a word to capture the highs and lows, the triumphs and the despair, of early parenthood.