Monday, November 30, 2009

All You Need is Love?

Had The Beatles written this song after they'd become parents its title would have been a much less concise but far more accurate "All you need is love...and sleep...and food...and good communication...and a sense of humor." In the absence of attainable goals such as these, I have decided to channel some of my frustration into a monthly book review for new parents like us and for those who have yet to fall; those who still live with the illusion that their parenting experience will be different, restful, and sane. Carrie and I used to be in that boat, convinced that we would have infinite patience, energy, and intuition, but like the Titanic our optimism sank when it careened into an iceberg known as reality. Now, three and a half weeks in, we're just another set of cliche parents - tired, grumpy, and quickly learning that our hopes and dreams have very little bearing on our child's temperament.

The past few nights have been challenging - again. I would like to take a moment to normalize my feelings of exasperation; feelings that have given rise to thoughts like, "What the fuck were we thinking?" or "I can't remember why we decided to do this," or "Isn't infanticide legal in some countries?" If there are other new parents who are feeling insane from time to time, please accept that you probably are, that you're not alone, and that it will no doubt get worse before it gets better. I hope this helps. My saving grace, besides Amari's undeniable cuteness, is that Carrie shares my dark sense of humor, that we can say these things out loud knowing that they're just momentary expressions of frustration. If you suffer from occasional feelings of buyer's remorse or intense inadequacy, I urge you to share them, dilute them in the comfort of someone you love and trust. I don't really hate my Amari - ever - and I certainly don't want to kill her, but sometimes I do hate how crappy and incapable I feel in the face of her shrieks and tears, and in those moments my own death feels like a welcome option.

I began this entry yesterday after three sleepless nights in a row. Thanksgiving's gratitude felt like a distant memory. I started to believe that I might have to start using the "C" word, though I never imagined it possible that I would have a colicky baby. It sounds like something along the lines of the plague or consumption or some canine disease. Nonetheless, Amari's digestive pain and incessant crying persisted, so it merited consideration. In addition, she had also developed a mild case of the sniffles, so even when she did sleep she sounded like the long lost offspring of Darth Vadar. "Isaac...wheeze, sniffle. I'm your...wheeze, sniffle...daughter." It really creeped me out. As bedtime approached last night, we decided to try something new. When Carrie went upstairs, I took a full two ounces of pumped milk and fed it to Amari all at once. About half way through she started to drift off, but I managed to keep her awake until she finished the job. Sated and smiling, she crashed out - for four hours! After that, she woke up only twice more for additional feedings. By morning, Amari's sniffles and all of our moods were much better.

Tomorrow, I will submit my first review of a book by Dr. Harvey Karp called "The Happiest Baby on the Block." Amari may not be in the running at this point, but we're doing our best, and the book has helped me through many challenging moments.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

No Woman, No Cry

"Isn't that song about rape?" Carrie asked when I shared what I thought was a clever title for an entry about pumped breast milk. "I don't know. Would that be inappropriate?" I said flatly. I was going for the "No woman, no problem," interpretation, but uncertain of the song's origins, I decided to do some good, old-fashioned, on-line research - which means I looked for opinions on Wiki and Yahoo Answers, and then went with the first one I read twice. Legend has it (pun intended) that Bob Marley gave partial credit for "No Woman, No Cry," to a man named V. Ford - a friend and struggling song-writer - so his family would receive royalty checks. Apparently when Ford was terminally ill, his wife was at his bedside crying and Ford said "No woman, no cry" to her, which inspired Marley to write the song. Seems pretty clear. Another opinion is that Bob Marley had a strong premonition that he would die young, and wrote this song as a future comfort for his wife, Rita. A more recent interpretation has to do with exhausted mothers and jealous fathers feeding their children while trying to balance their lack-of-sleep schedules.

So what does this Bob Marley hit have to do with parenting? Nothing really - just trying to be thematic with the occasional song-titled entry. A couple of weeks ago I wrote "Superheroes and People without Breast Milk," (remember that song?) where I shared my feelings of inadequacy, my boob envy if you will, and the resulting compensatory skills I developed. As Amari continued to eat and grow, the boob gained in significance while my skills took on diminished importance. Except in the season six finale of "Macgyver," clean diapers never really saved anyone's life. Increasingly, I felt like Robin to Carrie's Batman, and there were some days when Amari ate so often that I actually felt about as useful as the lesser known Wonder Triplet - the one that couldn't even turn into an eagle or a bucket of water.

Amari has turned out to be a grazer, a snacker, sometimes preferring to just nap near a breast rather than take full advantage. I understand that comfort, but breast milk, much like our economy, is at the mercy of supply and demand. If Amari demands only a little, then only a little is produced. Sleep, however, appears to have an inverse relationship - as Carrie's demand for it increased, the supply started to fall. Nursing every hour for a half an hour will do that. Carrie needed a break, and we needed a solution.

We were told not to consider using pumped milk for at least thirty days because it might cause something called nipple confusion. This is not to be confused with nipple indifference, nipple intolerance or nipple insecurity, which are all terms I made up when I was trying to remember nipple confusion. Artificial nipples require different mouth, tongue, and swallowing action, so when bottles are presented to soon, infants sometimes have difficulty remembering when to use which skills and natural nursing becomes problematic and frustrating for everyone. Apparently thirty days is the magic number when the chances of nipple confusion drop dramatically. Unfortunately, we were only about half way there.

During the week, Carrie spoke with a friend who bottle fed right away because her infant was jaundiced, and then began nursing two weeks later. She continued to do both and never had any problem with nipple confusion. We were sold - one personal opinion is like two WikiAnswers. That afternoon, Carrie began to pump, and the next night I got my first shot at superhero. It couldn't have come at a better time. Amari had been feeding on and off all day, and it felt like every time I held her she started rooting, then fidgeting, then flat out crying. I started to take it personally, to feel like Amari knew that I was of no use to her. Sometimes a pacifier or my pinkie finger would work as an interim, but not for long. By seven o'clock that night, Carrie was done. I suggested she try to get a head start on sleep, that I would take the first shift armed with my trusty ounce and a half of milk. Pumping was very slow-going at first.

Initially, the transition was smooth. Amari and I lay on the couch for an hour before she began to stir at all. Then came the rooting, the stretching of her neck towards the closest solid object. I knew tears were only a moment away; my only saving grace was that her eyes were still half-closed. I had to act fast - a skill I'd already sharpened as a sidekick. I removed the bottle from the fridge and submerged it in a cup of hot water. Amari began to kick inside her swaddle, to pull out her Houdini moves as her arms wiggled towards freedom. She knew something was not right and she was about to protest loudly. I tested the milk. Too cold. Shit! Amari began to cry. I offered a finger. Rejected. I tried bouncing her a little. The tears increased. I sang a verse of "Rainbow Connection" with a Kermit the Frog voice. She stopped, looked at me like I was crazy, then started crying even louder. The milk was finally ready and I offered her the bottle. The tears paused for a moment when she felt it at her lips, but then escalated to new heights when she realized it wasn't a breast. "Damn you pre-nipple confusion," I thought - my first nemesis as a hero. I tried again, and Amari started shaking her head to bat the nipple away. I went to my tool kit, dug through the Five S's, and pulled out a loud, repetitive "Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh," about three inches from her ear - a technique I learned from the book "The Happiest Baby on the Block." Her body relaxed immediately, the tears turned off like a faucet, and I continued to "Shhhh" her as I offered the bottle again.

A few drops of milk fell on her tongue and she began to grab hold of the nipple. When she figured out what was going on, she latched on and began sucking, slurping down the only sustenance she knew even though it was coming from a new source. She was staring at me with wide eyes, almost fearful, as if to say, "Holy shit. I didn't know you could do this." I returned a knowing "I told you so" look, but what I was feeling was more like wonder mixed with relief mixed with the fear that her expectations of me had just skyrocketed. I felt like Robin getting a promotion, getting the best tool of all added to my Bat Belt. "Holy haberdashery of synthetic silicone nipples, Batman," I thought, "I'm a superhero and a sidekick." Amari gulped down every bit of the milk. Towards the end, her eyes began to glaze over, then flicker closed, and finally, as she sucked in the last drop, she released the nipple and fell asleep. I tip-toed us back over to the couch, turned on SportsCenter, and watched her sleep across my chest while I listened to highlights. She woke for another moment, briefly contorted her face, spit up all over my shirt, and went right back to sleep. Being a superhero is awesome.

A few minutes later, I heard sounds like a small toilet flushing and saw a sleepy smile cross Amari's lips. The Bat Signal had faded. This, my friends, was a job for Robin.

PS For those wondering if we experienced nipple confusion the next day, I would have to say "Maybe." It's hard to tell. She was fine throughout the day, but had a meltdown in the evening. She was rejecting Carrie's nipple, and we wondered if she was too tired to do the work of natural nursing. I now think we may have been looking for signs of confusion, but whatever the case may be, we decided to postpone bottled milk for a few nights to see what happened. Amari had a similar meltdown the next night, but in both instances what ultimately soothed her was some movement in her own underdeveloped intestines. We have since used pumped milk every couple of nights, and so far we haven't had any problems.

*Please note that my opinion above is equal to half of a WikiAnswer because I'm not the one breastfeeding.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Much like housecleaning, paperwork, and "To Do" lists, chronicling my parenting experiences has me feeling like I'm constantly playing catch up while simultaneously entertaining the illusion that one day I actually will. Today will not be that day. I am quickly learning that any plans I may write for my near future must first pass over the desk of my new editor in chief. She is a benevolent leader, albeit demanding and unpredictable, and she has taken the helm of our little enterprise with unabashed authority. Amari is now what happens while I'm making plans. Today, as she sleeps peacefully between feedings, I am writing this for her.

Dear Amari,

Happy Thanksgiving, little turkey, and Happy Three Week Birthday. For your dear, old dad, this day has evolved from a once detested holiday into one that, when stripped of its origins and traditional gluttony, has become a personal favorite. When I was a kid, holidays were a time of year when your grandparents tried - for the sake of us children - to harmoniously join their once concentric circles of friends and family. Drinking began mercifully early but ended painfully late, and things were always friendly right up to the point when they weren't. There was inevitably some sort of cooking disaster - like your grandfather trying to roast a turkey on a plastic tray - and invariably a dramatic finale that resulted in loud, drunken arguments and at least one person being removed from the next holiday's guest list. And those were the good years. When your grandmother was in India, as she often was, your grandfather would drag us to someone else's similarly disastrous and compulsory attempt at seasonal social courtesy. And sometimes it was your grandfather who was removed from future guest lists. Good times. Good times.

As I grew older, perhaps wiser, and definitely farther away from home, my holiday experience changed. I drew a circle of my own friends that fast became my family - your family. Thanksgiving became a day of gratitude, of joining with people I had found along this strange and mysterious way, and of appreciating what I have. During dinner we would take turns sharing something in our lives that we were thankful for, and by the end it felt as though our gratitude had multiplied. In this spirit, I would like to share with you a few things I am grateful for in my new experience as your dad:

1. Seven hours of sleep last night: without it, I probably wouldn't feel for anything. You actually slept for four solid hours, three of them stretched across my chest as I lay on the couch downstairs. I love that it's one of your favorite places to sleep, and I love that it has become an evening ritual. It's also really great that we love all the same late night sports shows.

2. Carrie: without her, you would not be possible. She has been incredibly patient with you, with herself, and with me. Not a day goes by that I don't catch myself looking at her with a new and deepening admiration. There is a depth to mothering that I can only appreciate as a witness. I hope you're as patient with us as your mother has been with you.

3. You, Amari: for without you this blog would be dull, non-existent, or all about my growing resentment/unshakable faith as an aging San Francisco Giants fan. The Giants are the new Red Sox, but you, my dear, are the new everything.

4. Granny C:
she has provided us with a home, a sense of family, and a large (sometimes much too large) community of animals for you to play with. Although I tease her somewhere between often and all the time, I love and appreciate her just as much.

5. Friends, Family, and Community:
for supporting me through the most challenging and now the most joyous of times. I have no doubt that I have the best village of all to help raise you.

So there you have it, chief. I'm back at the computer because you are sleeping on a pillow shaped like my belly, which is most pillows. Today was another good day - your tears are less frightening now that we know they generally mean one of five things, and although the volume and pitch of your screams indicate otherwise, none of them are life-threatening. The other day Granny C asked me, "Is Amari being fussy again?" to which I defensively responded, "No! She's communicating." How can a three week old be fussy? If you could talk, I know you would. And when you start, I have a feeling you won't stop, and you'll be just as quick to ask for what you need.

So goodnight, Amari. Thank you for being here this year, and thank you for choosing us to be your parents. I now look forward to every day with a new enthusiasm and a revived curiosity. Who knows - maybe next Thanksgiving you'll actually be old enough to fuss just a little. See you when you open your eyes.

Lots and lots of love,
Assistant to the Editor (and to your mom)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Amari B Goes Public

Although there is no lack of inspiration in being a brand new parent, free time has become a scarce and valuable commodity - kind of like sleep. Amari is proving to be a true "fourth trimester" baby, which is to say she doesn't much like being anywhere except pressed up next to our bodies. It's as though she has an extra-sensory radar that tells her when we're more than five feet away. Sure, we can put her down and her periods of independence will sometimes last as long as fifteen minutes, but when the high from her last hit of breast milk begins to wear off, she makes her "Ummm, hello, I'm a new born infant that's used to the constant comforts of a uterus" noises which tell us it's time to start wrapping up the dishes and other "leisure activities" and get back to work. Putting her down is as effective as setting a timer. She'll stare off into space for a few minutes, find something interesting to gaze at, suck her pacifier rapidly, stare harder, begin to believe that whatever she's staring at produces milk, spit out the pacifier, start stretching her neck and rooting towards the object, then the "timer" goes off, the noises begin, and we'd better be done.

Exhausting as parenting is, Amari brings a wonderful novelty to formerly mundane, unconscious activities. A few days ago I was standing in the kitchen preparing apples for the dehydrator. I was staring out across the yard watching a feral cat sleep peacefully in the corner of one of our raised beds. I used to spend moments like this reflecting on the past - where was I this time last year, five years ago, or as a child? Even when the memories weren't good, the nostalgia was intoxicating. This time, however, instead of reminiscing about past fruit dehydrating experiences or where I was in November of '81, I was thinking about Amari. This time next year, she might be walking or balancing by my knee; when she's two she'll be saying, "Me Appow" as she reaches her hand for some fruit, by eight we'll be happily dehydrating apples together, and when she's thirteen she'll probably say, "I fucking hate apples, I hate you, and you can't make me do anything." Mmmmm, intoxicating future nostalgia.

Later that afternoon we took Amari on her first outing - a trip to the grocery store and the beach. We learned two things quickly: 1) Amari's a terrific traveler and, 2)the rim damage from last winter's pothole that amplifies the intensity and volume of our car's acceleration turns out to be an excellent pacifier. It's the best, loudest, most constant "Shhhhh" ever. By the time we got onto Highway 1, Amari was fast asleep, while Carrie and I had another tool in our slowly growing belt.

Taking Amari into public was fun. I was proud and practically glowing, while Carrie was protective and...well, protective. I imagine if she could have, she would have made people use sanitizer just to look at our daughter. Nobody pushed our boundaries - we mostly just got smiles and goofy comments like "Ooooh, a baby," or "New baby," or "Do you know which isle the dog food is in?" Stupid dog people. One person had the audacity to say, "Wow. You look tired," to which I wanted to say, "Thanks, and you look depressed and overwhelmed by the insurmountable feeling that life has no meaning," but instead I offered a sarcastic, "That's so nice of you to say." The next day at the high school and the elementary school, Carrie and I were both more relaxed about showing Amari off. Everyone was very warm, receptive, and loving, and nobody tried to touch her. We received gifts, compliments, stories, and countless promises that we would one day sleep again.

The best part of introducing Amari to the world is that people feel compelled to comment on who she looks like. A day after Amari was born, when I can honestly say that she looked like a very small, dark-haired, cone-headed, toothless old man, we e-mailed pictures to friends and family and posted a few on Facebook. The comments came flooding in, and it started to feel like a popularity contest. Who does she look like? I, of course, was rooting for "She's as beautiful as her mom," because who wants a little girl that looks like me? After few days, Carrie and I found that more often than not a person's comment or comparison could be predicted according to the following hierarchy:

1) Which parent the person has known the longest
2) Which parent the person feels closer to
3) Gender stereotypes - girls get the mom vote, boys get the dad vote
4) Non-partisan - the split vote, mom gets eyes and lips, dad gets more ambiguous features
5) Accurate - the few honest people who are willing to say she looks like a stereotypical baby or miniature elderly or Pod People from "The Dark Crystal."

My favorite comment came when Amari was four days old. I should mention that the morning after her birth, Carrie said, "It's too bad she got your lips," which is her kind and loving way of saying, "Too bad she's lip-less." Three days later one of Carrie's oldest and dearest friends (see numbers 1 and 2 above) wrote to say, "She really looks like Isaac, but those lips are definitely Carrie's." Hmmmm. Whoever Amari ends up looking like, she's absolutely beautiful today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sleepless in Fort Bragg or Babies Suck

Today is Amari's two week birthday. May she find all the joy her heart desires - preferably in the form of sleep and silence.

People say kids help you feel young again. I'm learning now that they age you dramatically first, so it really just balances out. The past few nights have been very challenging. Carrie and I are slowly finding our way, while our illusions that an easy pregnancy portends an easy infancy are quickly being shattered. We both genuinely believed that Carrie's mild morning sickness, even temperament, and minimal physical aches during pregnancy meant that Amari was far too busy learning to walk, talk, and sleep through the night to cause her Mom any unnecessary discomfort. Volcanoes, I have found, are also easy, even beautiful when they're dormant and I've often imagined that if one were to explode, I could easily outrun its slow-moving lava. Ahhh yes, the naivete of first volcanoes.

In a physical vacuum, holding, hugging, swaying, singing, changing, and feeding (Carrie might disagree with this one), are relatively easy tasks, even blissfully enjoyable. Add serious sleep deprivation and all the rest of our worldly responsibilities that we suddenly have to do one-handed or in shifts, and the very basic begins to feel incredibly demanding. It's both a blessing and a wonderful design of evolution that Amari is so damn cute. Crying, sucking, and poohing? Not big selling points. Cuteness? Priceless. Just for fun I Googled "ugly babies" the other day, which definitely reinforced my gratitude and my belief in Darwinism. Check it out - tell me you wouldn't get more frustrated with a Cabbage Patch Kid or Junior Potato Head. Seriously.

So I guess parenting isn't all fun, games, and obscure references. Well, it may still be the latter (see end of this paragraph). Fifteen days ago, when Amari was still resting quietly inside of Carrie, eating, drinking, and sleeping to her hearts content, I was absolutely certain she would emerge as a very mature infant thanks to all the pre-natal communication we'd inflicted upon her in the form of '80's and 90's synth-pop. At the very least she would be able to moonwalk or take herself too seriously.

Early on (I know - way back in the first week) we had a couple of good nights - even Carrie slept for 2-3 hours at a time. Then the tide known as Amari shifted and she was suddenly up every hour to "graze" on her exhausted mother. This lasted for a couple of nights and began to wear on Carrie's nerves. I remembered how she'd been afraid during her first night of labor that her contractions might keep her from sleeping. Now I'll bet she reminisces about contraction-filled sleep. Although I'm happy and proud of the bonding I've been able to do without breasts, these moments when Carrie is fragile, vulnerable, or just plain done leave me feeling helpless. She has always been there for me in similar moments and I really want to be able to return the favor.

The tide shifted again, and for two nights in a row Amari began the evening curled up on my chest as I watched basketball and Carrie got a head start on sleep. I was convinced that what we needed to buy was a co-sleeper that breathes, is shaped like a 38 year-old belly, and whispers play-by-play commentary all night. Apparently she loves that. I've also contemplated decorating our bedroom to look like our car, the beach, or the grocery store - all places where she absolutely loves sleeping. Grrrrrr. That night on the couch, Amari received her first lecture. I held her in front of me and said, "Listen, sweetie. Your mom is more than just a milk factory. She's a human being and she needs her sleep. Trust me - you'll thank me later." That was it. When I took Amari upstairs she slept for seven more hours with only a single interruption. Carrie's smile and optimistic glow had returned the next morning. "Did you give her a talking to?" she joked. I smiled and gave Amari a knowing wink. Amari looked right past me and drooled lactose.

Two nights later, Amari was back to her interval training. "She sucks," we both said. We meant it, and it was also true - practically once an hour day and night. Some of the best advice I've been given thus far was from a fellow newbie with a nine month old daughter who told me, "Whatever happens, good or bad, don't get attached." Nonetheless, this was not the least bit comforting in my return to helplessness and Carrie's return to sleep deprivation.

So Happy Freakin' Birthday, Amari. Now go to sleep for chrissakes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Big Lie-Bowski

Now that the trauma has begun to fade, I am issuing this entry as a warning to any and all expectant parents. I'm guessing that friends and family never thought to caution me about the dreaded PKU test because they continue to block it out, imagining that it was merely a nightmare or some sort of gory, sleep-deprivation-induced hallucination. Maybe it's one of those secret parenting initiations that you have to go through without preconception just to prove to those who have fallen before you that your skin is thick enough to deal with this parenting thing. To that I say: Enough is enough! Let the secret be told - PKU is a euphemism for Baby Torture. It's a necessary evil, but have no illusions - it is evil.

Last Thursday afternoon, we took Amari to the hospital - our first official family outing. What a lousy first field trip. Maybe there are some people love hospitals, who associate them with successful surgeries or the blissful after-glow of pneumonia, but I have never been a fan, never thought to myself, "Man, this sterile, white corridor and rooms full of sick or dying sure brings back fond memories." Come to think of it, I did really enjoy the game room at UCSF when my dad was sick with a staff infection. This time, however, there would be no games, unless you fancy and quick round of Bleed the Baby.

Our midwife mentioned the PKU in passing at the end of our Wednesday visit, handed us a referral, and suggested that we do it at our convenience - no big deal - but as soon as possible. The afternoon of the test, a colleague told me that the PKU is very important, that it tests for an amino acid deficiency that can ultimately lead to mental retardation. She's a kind, compassionate friend, not the sorority or Skulls type, so I don't think she was in on the initiation, and I can only imagine she omitted the details of the test to spare me the added anxiety. Her overall tone was "This important, but also no big deal." So, until we arrived at the hospital, the biggest deal I anticipated was taking Amari in and out of the car seat. Guess what? No big deal.

By the end of the weekend, I was brave enough to Google PKU, because the acronym and even the word itself - phenylketonuria - sounds innocuous. During the test, however, I was convinced that PKU was a Latin acronym that meant Infant Blood Letting or Phucking Krazy Unbelievable. I felt misled, even betrayed by the nomenclature. Call it what it is for Pete's sake. If you're going to puncture my baby's foot and juice it until her blood fills five circles the size of her palm, give some kind of indication in the title. Call it the BBJ - Baby Blood Juicer or even the PTT - Parental Trauma Test, anything that would give us a sense of what was about to happen.

When the nurse pricked Amari's foot she began to cry as quickly as the blood began to pour out of her foot. I watched for a while, hoping that she only had to fill one quarter-sized circle on the test sheet. When she moved on to the second circle and Amari's blood was already beginning to clot, I thought, "You've go to be kidding." At one point I said "I need to use the bathroom," hoping it was somewhere on the other side of the hospital, hoping that by the time I returned this would all be over. "Sure. It's just around the corner," smiled the homely, sadist lab tech as if to say, "You can still hear your daughter's screams from in there."

When I got back, Carrie asked me to take Amari's leg that she was holding in place. The wailing had reached new heights, a pitch we hadn't experienced yet. I felt conflicted about putting my face near her to soothe her crying, worried that she would think I had something to do with all of this. I wanted to whisper, "This is all her fault," and turn Amari's face toward the lab tech, but Amari was too consumed with screaming and blinded by tears to see anything. I thought in that moment that I would craft a mask resembling one of my least favorite relatives for future occasions such as this.

Her blood clotted and the nurse had to puncture Amari again. On the plus side, I guess she's not a hemophiliac, but it was too soon to see that silver lining. I was annoyed; I was certain the lab tech was incompetent, leaving patches of cotton swab on the bloody foot, telling us to wipe it off later when we give her a bath. I brought a swab-free, un-punctured baby in here and she wants me to clean up her mess? The second time the blood came faster and so did the tears. I imagined Amari as a young child or a teenager suffering from an injury or an emotional loss. I knew this was the first of many heartaches for me, helplessly watching her in the hospital were just part of the parenting territory. I'm pretty sure that, with time, it will get easier...and then harder...then easier again, and so on.

Carrie and I felt fragile when we got back to the car, each expressing it in our own unique ways - she with tears and humor, and I with humor and indignation. Amari, on the other hand, snuggled tightly in her car seat beside me, had already traded in the PKU for some R.E.M. To us, she might have said, "Mom, Dad - no big deal."

Unsolicited Parenting Advice: Now that I'm licensed by birth to pass along my opinions, the only suggestion for those who have not experienced the PKU is to ask if you can either feed or just hold your baby during the test. Our lab tech did not give us that option, and we were too rookie to ask.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Thursday was Amari's one week birthday, which also happened to be my first day back at work. She'd only been alive for one hundred sixty-eight hours, I'd been with her for nearly all of them, and it felt both unjust and abrupt that I had to leave her for almost half a day. I'd be missing the next 5.3 percent of her life, I thought to myself. Math, which has been historically soothing in times of crisis, was failing me.

I woke up earlier than usual that morning and held Amari for a long time before I left, running my hand over her dark, wispy hair, imagining mine would probably have the same thickness in about thirty years - maybe sooner. I'd watched her closely over the past seven days, the subtle changes in her facial expressions, the mercifully drastic changes to the shape of her head, the countless changes in diapers, and I wished I could put her on pause until I got home. "Don't go changin'," I whispered in her ear, which she probably interpreted as, "Beard Man is handing you to Boob Lady now." I passed her to Carrie with a wistful smile and walked out the door. As I headed down the driveway, I felt like a little kid going to my first day of school again - excited, worried, proud, and pining for the days of five minutes ago.

I remembered mornings like this from my childhood in Bolinas, a few days from the last rain, mist rising from the frosted grass as the sun rose slowly through the trees. Instead of pine then, it smelled like Eucalyptus, and instead of heading straight to school, I would stop at every puddle to search for polliwogs; gathering them into glass jars with holes in the lids so I could take them home and watch them grow into frogs. It was futile. They would morph slowly, grow small legs, absorb their tails, and I would actually see these things happening. I paid close attention, knowing they would transform completely any minute. Then I would wake up one morning or come home from school some afternoon, and they were suddenly frogs. I'd missed it. This is how I imagine parenting feels sometimes.

When I left work last week, I was an expectant father, in some ways still that child in Bolinas. I was nonchalant even flippant at times about the whole alleged "most incredible experience of my life" that was just around the corner. I knew intellectually that having a child would be transformational, but I did not expect it to deepen my emotional well so quickly. I arrived back at work proud, probably glowing, triumphantly carrying around a manila folder with Amari pictures from days three through six. I may as well have had them laminated, printed on a t-shirt, or tattooed on my forehead. I think I may have even shown them to a few people I'd never even spoken to before.

In fact, on my first outing earlier in the week I saw a student from the middle school at the grocery store and said, "Hey, look what I made," flashing my Amari cell phone wallpaper. Her mom gave me a who's-the-weirdo-talking-to-my-daughter look and asked, "Is she yours?" I then returned a what-kind-of-dumb-question-is-that look, wanting to say, "No, I just collect infant photos on my cell phone." Weirdo. I decided then that I would be more discerning about whom I boasted to. I quickly forgot I'd made that decision by the time I got to work on Thursday. People were great, loving, even kind enough to say that I didn't look very tired. I received cards and gifts and compliments and congratulations. I felt like it was my one week birthday.

I also received a backlog of news on students who had been struggling. Issues of school violence, suicide, and sexual abuse had me pining for the simplicity of the "Feed me, hold me, change me" problems I'd left at home. Frogs have much larger problems, but I'm convinced that many of them can still be addressed with tadpole solutions. As the Beatles wrote, "All we need is love," and food, and shelter, and some half decent parents.

When I saw Amari again that afternoon, she was still my little polliwog. She had on a new outfit, her eyes were more alert, and her hair was spiked in a fauxhawk, but other than that she appeared unchanged. I smiled at her, and I'm convinced she smiled back. Although some say that babies can't smile, that it's just gas, I prefer to believe they can because "What a beautiful smile" sounds much nicer than "What a beautiful expression of gastro-intestinal discomfort." That's an un-poetic mouthful. After a traumatic and mandatory trip to the hospital for Amari's first blood test - a topic for a future, less nostalgic blog - we returned to our glass jar with the holes on top to watch our baby morph.

At ten o'clock I was on our back porch trying to lull Amari to sleep. The frost I'd watch dissolve that morning was reforming at the foot of the steps and a much colder mist was hovering nearby. Amari was swaddled tightly in a soft, cotton blanket, hat pulled down over her ears, eyes still wide open. I swayed her back and forth, dancing to the best of my ability, combining the "Five S's" I'd read about to activate her calming reflex. Swadle, sway, suck, side, shhhhhh. Swadle, sway, suck, side, shhhh. As it turns out, the forgotten sixth "S" is Singing - preferably popular '80's songs. For the next half hour, I hummed and sang Bobby McPheron's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Sadly, I only know the first verse, but I sang it over and over and over again. Happily, Amari doesn't know that there are more verses or how to speak English, so she payed more attention to the vibrations coming from my chest as they resonated through her. Eventually, her eyes grew heavy and so did mine, and eventually we both went inside to get some sleep.

"Tomorrow," I said to myself, "Depeche Mode."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Superheroes and People without Breast Milk

That's me and about forty-nine percent of the planet, maybe less now because of all the popular and ubiquitous medications. It’s a little known fact that men have mammary glands, too, and they appear to be the target every new drug's side effects. Nipple shrinking, nipple sensitivity, engorgement, third nipples, you name it. If you want to feel better, don’t expect your man boobs to follow suit. Thanks to the pharmaceutical empire, we men may actually breastfeed our children in the future, while conveniently curing them of infant depression, anxiety, and erectile dysfunction. Warning: breastfeeding may cause dizziness, nipple bleeding, and chronic jealousy from Milk's Original Manufacturers (MOM's).

When we woke up from our first solid sleep in three days, Amari was swaddled up beside us, dreaming peacefully beneath a much too large hat. Carrie confided, “I feel abused and ill-equipped.” I listened quietly, I shared my own worries and doubts, and we both knew that time would be the only remedy for our fears. We turned our attention to Amari, marveling at her tiny little head, her fragile fingers, her thick, black hair, and her eyes struggling to focus on her giant, gawking, ill-equipped parents. Just six hours ago she’d been inside of Carrie where she’d floated peacefully for nine months, and now she was resting peacefully between us. It was amazing. In fact, it was so amazing that everything that used to be “amazing” had to find a new, less meaningful adjective. Looking into Amari’s eyes as they blinked our world into and out of existence, there was suddenly no room in my heart for fear.

The first few days were an education. Though I'm sure we’ll eventually heed people's advice to sleep when Amari's sleeping, it's tricky resetting biological clocks that have been set to "childless" for decades, and for the firs four days I suffered from major baby-lag. Monday, Carrie's milk came in which instantaneously changed the playing field. Where my sweatshirt or finger once sufficed momentarily in lieu of her high-nutrient, pre-milk colostrum, my soothing wardrobe and I have now taken a back seat to the all powerful boob. If Carrie were a superhero I would barely be a sidekick. While she would have a cool name like or The Provider or The Pacifier, I would be dubbed Nappy Boy or The Housecleaner or Only-Catches-Criminals-When-They’re-Sleeping-or-Nutritionally-Sated Man. In my defense, I can leap dirty diapers in a single bound and I’m faster than a speeding…well, I’m not really fast.

I imagine this is why some fathers end up feeling neglected, even jealous of the mother-child relationship in their first year of parenthood. The first two nights Carrie and I acted as co-workers sharing the graveyard shift, changing posts every few hours to provide each other with a brief respite and some sanity. Now that Amari is Coo Coo for Carrie-Puffs, I can actually sleep for solid blocks of time. Unfair? Maybe, but I think Carrie's feels pretty powerful right now, maybe even a little bit equipped.

Although Signmund Freud completely glossed over the phenomenon in his writings, there have been fleeting moments when I've suffered from Boob Envy. I see the way Amari looks up lovingly at Carrie, the eye contact coupled with hormones creating an irreproducible bond. What makes sustenance so great, I thought? I asked Carrie if we could paste photos of me on her upper breasts every other feeding. I started by asking for tattoos, then worked my way down. It's an old sales technique. She didn't bite, so I had to take matters into my own hands. One useful technique I've discovered - delusion. I pretend I'm driving Amari to the Boob Mall, my treat. Tit J Max, Eddie Boober, the sky's the limit - nothing's too good for my little girl. The next time Amari began fussing, "rooting" for milk as they say, I lifted her in front of my face, looked deep into her occasionally crossing eyes and said, "Are you hungry Amari? Look at me. I can help you." Then I passed her to Carrie, being very careful not to let them make eye contact.

Tomorrow will be my first day back at work, and Amari's one week birthday. I will miss the luxury of lying in bed as she takes her waking slow, reflexively punching and kicking the air, contorting her face in all sorts of curious poses, ambiguously smiling or passing gas, every little development in her life. She's changing so fast that it breaks my heart to think I'll miss any of it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Guest Appearance by LeBron James

That's right, my wife is the LeBron James of the birth experience and we're all just witnesses. That's a Nike ad campaign if anyone's muttering to themselves, "That's a weird and obscure reference." Though we may have some overlap in our descriptions, Carrie sheds a vivid and insightful light on the experience. Enjoy.

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale...

A tale of a fateful trip,
That started on a Monday night
and ended early Thursday morning with much swearing, crying, and icky bodily fluids.

Labor started (maybe not officially but definitely in my book) Monday night with regular contractions, then stopped Tuesday during the day, then started again Tuesday night and continued regularly Wednesday and into Thursday morning. Isaac took time off starting on Tuesday, so I've had lots of support from the beginning. The first stage of labor was pretty mellow. We watched TV, went for a walk, and listened to music. The midwife came to stay in the late afternoon/early evening. The harder labor didn't start until 7 or 8. I was trying to watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but I had to keep checking out to manage the contractions. It got worse and worse, but still seemed manageable, right up until right before the pushing phase, when it became pretty unbearable.

Now, I had read that the pushing phase can be a "relief" to the laboring woman. To that I say "bullsh*t"! First of all, I didn't know what I was supposed to be pushing on. Second of all, the midwife, Carla, told me to hold my breath and push. How am I supposed to hold my breath if I'm vocalizing through the pain? Have you ever tried to NOT make a noise when you've stubbed your toe? Plus, I was so tired that I almost kept falling asleep in between those final contractions. I hadn't slept through the night since Sunday and here it was Thursday morning. After maybe half an hour or so into the pushing, I began to think that I was going to end up at the hospital. I thought, there's no way I can do this. I also thought, how can anyone do this more than once??? Why would you knowingly put yourself through this kind of agony? Would I have had a natural childbirth if I knew what it would be like ahead of time? I don't know. I would want to try--that's the mindset I had going into this anyway--and by the time I regretted my decision, the baby was almost born! My midwife Carla really came through at that moment when I felt like "I AM DONE!" I really felt that if she thought I couldn't do it, she'd send me to the hospital anyway--so I might as well just carry on until I have a baby or end up at the hospital!

Finally Amari started to crown--what a euphemism! Finally, she started to rip through my lady parts into the outside world. Carla put up a mirror so I could see--but all I could see was what looked like a hairy finger! "That's not a head," I thought. That's like a cat or something! Carla kept saying "almost there" and all that, but I wanted her to be more specific. Exactly how many more pushes do I have to do? Amari's damn head kept popping back in again--it was SO frustrating!!!!! So another misconception that I had heard was that this part feels like taking a big dump. Well, unless you're pooping a giant turd out of your vagina, it didn't feel like any dump I ever took. Turds are nicely colon shaped, and babies have evil round heads, and even though these heads attempt to conform to a nice cone shape, they still look and feel like giant beach balls forcing through teeny rubber inner tubes. Looking in the mirror, I was both appalled and enthralled. I could NOT look away.

At this point, I was in "kill me now" pain. I was crying and whining and not being very stoic at all. Each emergence was like a new level of torture. I was shocked by the amount it HURT! "Oh my GOD!" I whine/moaned. "God can't help you now!" Carla replied. "You're going to have to push her out yourself!" I disagreed. I was convinced Carla could just reach in there--"Take her out of me!" I commanded. Fortunately, that was very close to the end. Amidst tears and cries of pain, her head popped out. Carla placed Isaac's hands so he could deliver the rest of her and then the rest came splooging out. Then I was stupefied! Everyone was saying "shhhh"--so as not to disturb Amari--I was sobbing. Don't shush me! They placed her on my belly and I said "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I felt very bad for her having been through that journey.

Carla was working on getting the placenta out and it came out shortly after Amari. I had seen pictures of them in our birthing class so I asked "is it gross?" The ladies said "oh, no!" but Isaac said "yes!" I appreciated his honesty.

So that's the birth story! Now it's like you were all there--but without the visual images that you will never erase from your consciousness. Amari's cute as can be and we're figuring out this whole baby thing one day at a time. Often one hour at a time.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Holy Crap - It's Still a Girl

With a few three hour naps under my belt, I now have a few words to describe my daughter's birth. Words like amazing, scary, long, surreal, exhausting, magical, and a little gross. That's right - it's not all butterflies and moonbeams. One such moment came when our midwife, Carla, delivered the placenta with a giant sploosh into a ceramic bowl. Carrie heard it and immediately asked, "Is it gross?" The three women in the room said things like, "Gosh no," "It's beautiful," "It's the nicest placenta I've ever seen," but Carrie caught my obviously-disgusted-face staring at the giant, nutrient-filled sac and I nodded and mouthed, "It's pretty gross." Carrie smiled at me, and although I thought it would be impossible after she gave birth to our child, I loved her even more. As for me, where I once envisioned Carla delivering a small, delicious piece of Italian cornmeal, I don't think I'll ever confuse those two things again. Not even in jest.

I'm not sure when most women consider their labor to have begun, but in my completely subjective opinion, Carrie's began when she had her first contractions Monday night; when she lost her ability to sleep or experience enduring periods of painlessness. By this measure, Carrie's labor lasted almost 60 hours, and not once along the way did she waiver in her decision to have an intervention-free home birth. Carla arrived Wednesday evening and stayed with us through the final twelve hours. What I once considered a lack of affect on her part became a beacon of fortitude. Although there were moments towards the end when I felt scared, wondering if this was all too much for Carrie and Amari, Carla remained calm, confident, assuring; she even napped on occasion between contractions during the pushing stage. How could I be afraid if someone who has delivered over a thousand babies was so serene?

As the active labor escalated, the women offered words of support and encouragement. "You're almost there, "You're so strong," "A couple more contractions and we'll try to push," and so on. I joined in on occasion, but as the labor persisted, I started to feel like a big fat liar. There was a funny moment when Amari began crowning, when Carrie could see the tuft of black hair begin to emerge and she yelled through a push "Oh God, get her out of me." Carla looked straight into her eyes and said, "God can't help you now, Carrie. You've go to push." You gotta love her.

A half an hour before Amari was born, Carla asked me if I still wanted to deliver her. I suddenly remembered asking if that were possible about two months into Carrie's pregnancy when it was easy to be cavalier about such things. "I'm a little nervous," I admitted, "but I think so." She suggested I hurry up and decide, because Amari's sleek, black hair was beginning to show. I quickly realized this opportunity may never come again, that I would regret it if I didn't, and that if I were to balk now I would not be able to honestly say during some ridiculous argument with my future teenage daughter, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

The final stage of labor arrived, Amari was crowning. Carrie had been working hard for nearly an hour, and I wondered how on earth that tiny tuft of hair could be a head. It looked more like something our cat had spit up on the rug. Then it got bigger, Carrie was doing it, I couldn't believe it. The rest happened in an instant. Carla said, "Okay, Isaac, put your hands here. Twist this way and deliver her to Carrie's chest face down." All at once the tiny hairball burst into this world followed by a cone-shaped head, an alien-like face, a fluid-covered body, and purple limbs. Magical...and kind of gross. But mostly magical. I burst into tears. Carrie was crying already and saying "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," over and over again. Later, when I asked her why, she confided that she was worried Amari might have been hurt because it took so long to push her out. It was one of many genuine expressions of maternal love I have already witnessed.

After Carrie held Amari and I held Carrie, she passed our daughter to me for the first time. I walked away from the light of the living room to ease the transition from womb to world. In my head I kept thinking, "Holy shit. Holy shit," an expression I notice pops into my head or out of my mouth during completely unpredictable, unfathomable moments - like when Carrie and I were hit head-on driving over Highway 20, or when George W. actually managed to swindle his way into office. This was a wonderful "Holy Shit," but a holy shit nonetheless. Albert Camus once wrote, "A person's life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art or love or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened."

This, my friends, is as open as it gets.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Labor of Love...and Other UB40 Albums

I've never attended a birth; never been with someone as they experienced the many symptoms and stages of labor. I've read books, listened to stories, taken classes, and accepted or rejected advice, but I still had no idea what to expect on our own journey. Rather than attempt the impossible of recapping the hours and days once they'd passed, I decided to tuck moments away as we went along. This is the fragmented story of our daughter's birth, which does little justice to actually being there.

Monday, 7:17 AM -
I was up early reading about the fourth trimester theory in a book called "The Happiest Baby on the Block." We may live on a small block with lots of unhappy babies, but one can dream. When I went upstairs to say good morning, Carrie smiled and told me that "things were happening." I never imagined that words like mucous and plug could elicit such joy in either one of us. I felt a surge of adrenaline, which always inspires me to ask, "Should I stay home from work?" "Call me at lunchtime for an update," she replied. The adrenaline faded. At least I could add some new information to my t-shirt that reads "No baby yet."

Monday, 4:06 PM -
I was very excited to report this morning's development to our midwife. Surely this would be the piece of news that elicited some enthusiasm in her. Instead, she looked vaguely fatigued by the very notion that pre-labor had begun and maybe even a little concerned that we'd past the due date. She told us she would make appointments for tests if labor hadn't started by next Monday. It felt like a threat. I felt defensive. It's only been a day, I said. This was not the comforting news we'd driven fifteen minutes to get. Then, on our way out, her secretary added, "I never like to give advice to first-timers except that they should always add two weeks to their due date." This is why the words never and except should not be allowed in the same sentence. It's the equivalent of "No offense, but..." or "I hate to do this..." They're just lies designed to assuage the guilt that comes with truth. Why not avoid both?

On our way home, Carrie and I talked about how people suck and how they should just shut the hell up. Who finds late-baby-stories comforting when they're hovering around their due date? That's like telling excruciatingly-painful-labor-stories after the first contraction. "When I was your age, we had labor in the snow and my cat was our doula." We talked about labor inducing options like warm baths, spicy food, and sex, but decided we wouldn't need any of it, because Amari would be here soon.

Monday, 8:33 PM - After having sex in a warm bath of salsa...

Carrie's back was aching when I arrived home from class. I massaged her for a while and she told me that she felt some tightening. Later on, she mentioned the words, "I'm scared," for the first time. I asked what she was afraid of, knowing if I'd been her I would have had an extensive list. "I'm afraid I'll go into labor in the middle of the night and lose a bunch of sleep." Not even on my list, but fair enough. She really appreciates her sleep, and I really appreciate her when she gets it.

Tuesday, 12:06 AM - When I finally got to bed, Carrie was mid-contraction. She had another one 12 minutes later. "Do I need to call anyone or do anything?" I asked. I was getting that primal adrenaline again, ready to do anything but sleep. Carrie assured me that she was fine, that I should try to get some rest. When I woke up again it was 3:40, there was a blazing fire downstairs and Carrie was curled up on the couch with one of our cats. "Damn old school doulas," I muttered to myself. Carrie was fine; she'd had several inconsistent contractions. She'd come downstairs so she could walk around without waking me.

Tuesday, 6:26 AM - Carrie was still downstairs, still not sleeping, and still contracting from time to time. I offered to stay home, which I was getting much quicker at. At first Carrie seemed ambivalent, but then told me that she didn't feel like being alone. Although I'd spent a great deal of time remodeling her menstruation shack into a birthing hut, it looked like she could really use the support.

Tuesday, 10:37 AM - Carrie's mom is a piece of work. She has lived a full life, thinks alternatively, yet has somehow cultivated the belief that her world view is more often fact than possibility. This can be challenging at times - like daily and during deep, painful labor contractions. She asked Carrie to promise that we wouldn't wander farther than a block away from home lest she jump into the final stage of labor and give birth in the bushes. When we left for the beach, she kind of frowned at me when I said we'd be right back with her granddaughter. As she has reminded me, things were different back then.

Fortunately, Carrie hasn't lost her sense of humor. When she was doubled over in pain at one point, I stupidly asked, "Contraction?" to which she responded, "No I just like looking stupid." By the time real labor starts I will have either exhausted all my stupid questions or learned to keep them to myself.

Tuesday, 3:55 PM - We just got home from a walk around Lake Cleone. I took some final pregnancy pictures, including my attempt at an artsy belly photo which involves a tree and a mediocre photographer. As we walked I noticed a surge of euphoria that could not be explained away solely by a Vente iced coffee. It was one of those defining moments that I was absolutely certain I would remember. Glancing back along the trail, I recalled how often Carrie and I had walked along this path during the past eight years, through many joys and challenges, break-ups and reunions. Then looking ahead, I felt profound love and admiration for her as she climbed through the brush with our daughter still inside her, imagining that for many years to come we will walk this path with her as she grows older.

The contractions came more consistently as we walked, every twenty minutes like clockwork, and Carrie endured the pain with barely a grimace. We sat by the ocean for a while, each in our own thoughts, then in each others, a certain knowing in both of our eyes that the next time we visit this beach we We made our way home to continue the wait.

Tuesday, 10:46 PM - The contractions have been consistently 8-10 minutes apart this evening. Carrie walks around the living room, sits on the yoga ball, and bravely fights through the pain as I take on the less painful, less courageous job of "timer." It's getting late, Carrie has gone upstairs again to rest up for the home stretch. She looks so strong, beautiful, and sleepy. I suppose I should rest up, too - I'm sure I'll have more "timing" to do in the morning.

It's interesting to sit here in the glow of technology watching my sad attempt at describing this experience with words. I believe tomorrow will be my daughter's birthday; will be a day that marks a new beginning, a rite of passage, an indelible mark in the course of my existence. I will remember this day forever. Unless, of course, I have a memory like my father's in which case I will have to make another child just to remind me of family birthdays and anniversaries.

For now, good night, Amari. I'll see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 5:52 AM -
Sleep came in 5-6 minute increments for Carrie. Any doubt that women are the stronger, more patient sex is surely erased in the hours preceding and during childbirth. I did not want to leave Carrie alone, but when we'd finished all six episodes of "The Office" (an excellent early labor DVD by the way), she kicked me out of the living room saying, "One of us should get some sleep." While I'm surprised by my own calm, I'm completely in awe of Carrie's fortitude and perseverance. She's exhausted, hurting, and has been nothing short of exceptional. She says she feels her hips opening and Amari moving down, which briefly elicited panic in me, but Carrie knows her body, her process, and I trust that if something needed to happen right away she would tell me. We'll call our midwife later this morning.

Wednesday, 9:05 AM - Our midwife stopped by and told Carrie that she is 2 cm dilated and her cervix is "wafer thin." I looked incredulously at Carrie when she went on to say the contractions might start to get intense at 4 cm. What the hell were the last 24 hours? The good news - Amari should be here by this afternoon or evening. As Rita Mae Brown once wrote, "People are like teabags - you can never tell how strong they are until they're in hot water." My fatigue disguises my fear, convincing me that it's only excitement. I know how strong Carrie is and I'll soon know how I feel about myself.

Wednesday, 11:20 AM - Although I am convinced that I can type with one hand and hold Carrie's with the other, I fear it may not appear very supportive yelling "push" from the downstairs computer. Our house feels calm right now - pregnant with anticipation...and with a pregnant woman. The sun is shining outside, and the trees are swaying gently in a cool autumn breeze. Tomorrow, the same trees will sway, the same sun will shine, the same breeze may gently blow, but everything will feel different.

Thursday, 3:40 PM - I have neither the energy nor the words to describe the last twenty-four hours. Our daughter, Amari Becker Fishman, arrived in our living room at 4:21 this morning. She is 6 pounds 8 ounces, she is beautiful, and she is all ours. I'm sure every man who witnesses his wife go through labor and childbirth believes that she is the strongest, most persistent, and courageous person on the planet. Tomorrow I will try to describe Amari's birthday and the hours that led up to it, but suffice it to say that Carrie is now, and forever will be, my hero.

Welcome to our world, Amari. I love you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Day the Womb Stood Still

Over the course of Carrie's pregnancy, we've been given due dates ranging from October 31st through November 3rd. I, of course, was hoping for yesterday. It was the earliest prediction, it was a holiday of sorts, and it happened to land on a weekend. I'm also really excited to meet our daughter. It's as though I've been invited to a Your-Life-Is-Never-Going-To-Be-The-Same Party but I have no idea when it's going to begin. In some ways, it already has. I've spent nine months imaging the many possibilities - what Amari will look like, who she will become, whether she'll be a lefty or a righty, and how lethal split-finger fastball will be. I've spent nine months cultivating an extensive list of unrealistic expectations to balance out my unconditional love.

After our fall break last week, I was reluctant to return to work, wanting to stay by Carrie's side so I could know the minute labor began, as if I could somehow contribute in those early moments. I'm also enjoying the nesting process. Our house has never been so clean and from what I've heard it never will be again. The truth is, I've always been prone to inertia - when I'm an object at rest I like to stay that way. It was so nice to spend long days with Carrie, knowing they would be our last as an independent couple. We went to the movies, enjoyed eating out, began our days slowly and silently, and stayed up late watching Netflix without consideration of content or volume.

When I did go back to work, I continued to field questions about Carrie's well-being, signs of labor, and the sudden fascination with my readiness for parenthood. If I had a do-over, I would make a shirt that said "Carrie's fine, I'm ready, no baby yet." In the staff room on Thursday it became comical, as though "No baby yet" were the magic words to get to the fridge. Unfortunately, this eventually led to an endless chain of birth stories. As though I'd never heard that the due date was meaningless with the first child, fellow staff members felt compelled to not only remind me but to share detailed stories of labor ranging from 17-33 hours. And, as if that weren't enough, several went on to describe the quick, effortless exits of their second children. Thanks for those comforting images anonymous co-workers.

Towards the end of the week, I began to feel excited. I was convinced that Carrie's smooth pregnancy was an omen for a quick and easy delivery. Although I've lost sleep at night wondering how I will respond under the pressure of birth - whether I will be supportive enough, serious enough, quiet enough, or capable enough to deal with Carrie's fluctuating needs - during the day I am confident that I will be able to put one foot in front of the other, and one foot in my mouth if necessary.

During one of these moments of confidence I ran into an old friend and doula. If you don't know what a doula is, neither did I - and I'm still not entirely sure. To borrow an old SAT format, I believe doulas are to midwives as paralegals are to lawyers. They offer prenatal, birth, and postpartum support. According to Wikipedia, a highly respected information source, this support includes massage, cooking, and light housecleaning. That sounded a lot like me, so when my friend asked, "Who's your doula?" I confidently replied, "I am." When I got home Carrie reminded me that doulas are traditionally women who have given birth themselves, but concurred that I was going to be acting doula. I felt proud to break the chains of gender norms. Later, out of curiosity, I Googled "male doulas" and found a small population of men who, under the self-proclaimed "ridicule of peers and the criticism of feminists," have made doula-ing their careers. Yet another confirmation that there are no untapped markets.

Halloween came and went without incident and I was so self-absorbed with my parental musings that I wondered to myself when all of the homeless, midget vampires moved into town. At the grocery store I saw one of my third grade students dressed completely in camouflage, face painted, and real twigs and leaves sticking up from his bandanna. After my joke that I could barely see him fell completely on deaf, green-painted ears, I asked him what he was, assuming GI Joe or something else contemporary. "I'm a Vietnam Helicopter Special Forces Combat Trooper," he grinned, shoving his very real looking hand grenade into my face. "Wow!" I said trying to hide my "yikes" expression, "I'll bet you're the only one of those in town." I then made an excuse to leave before his retired Special Forces grandfather showed up.

Although I've always wanted a little girl, there were times in the first months where I imagined both possibilities - the pros and cons of each gender. I had to mourn the loss of some possibilities either way. Vietnam Helicopter Special Forces Combat Trooper Halloween costumes complete with possibly live grenade will not be mourned.

As we were running our errands yesterday, we discovered a new joy - answering the question "When are you due?" with a casual "Today." Sometimes truth is better than fiction, especially when I follow it up with, "Woah. There goes her water." Carrie once told me that during the birth, she wants me to give her the play by play of what's going on down below. I asked her if I could do it as though I were a sports commentator. Three months in she said, "Sure," but I have a feeling that opinion may change when Amari's crowning and I put on my Vin Scully voice. That being said, today feels like the seventh inning stretch. I'm expecting someone famous to come into our house any minute now and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" poorly and then yell "Go Cubs." Until then, all I can do is wait...