It’s Done and I’m Okay with That

So I’m not pregnant and I’m not going to be pregnant. I have had so many feelings since we started trying and even more since we decided to stop trying but they generally boil down to this: I’m disappointed I won’t get the chance to be pregnant but I’m happy that I won’t have to live through late night feedings or any of the other really really hard parts of living with an infant.

After we made the decision that the last IUI was it, I started making a mental list of the positive things about not having another child. That’s harder than it seems. For every upside, there are tiny white onesies and sweet smelling sleepy babies. But as the month wore on, it turned out there were a lot of positive things about not being pregnant. Or, in the spirit of the list, positive things about having an only child.

As Becky mentioned, sleepovers. With one child, we can look forward to her going on overnights and not having another hanger-on at home to entertain. A sleepover means a whole night alone.

We’ll be able to afford to nourish special skills, extra tutoring, lessons, activities, whatever school she wants to attend. We’ll be able to ferry her around to soccer games and piano practice without having to weigh schedules for two children.

Once RR is out of diapers, we’ll be done with diapers. Done. Those things are expensive (and so is formula) and that extra money each month would be a godsend.

We won’t have to endure the uncertainty or the risks associated with having a child at an “advanced maternal age”. I was deeply worried about nuchal tests and unforeseen circumstances, gestational diabetes and postpartum depression. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I was queasy thinking about possible challenges and catastrophes. It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to worry about my health or the health of an unborn child.

Speaking of risks, I won’t pass on any genetic hiccups. I’ve had my share of mental and physical illness and I’m not proud that we were taking the risk passing that on to a new person. Not to mention, I won’t have to address the uncertainty of staying on particular medications while pregnant.

I can go back to speculums once a year and seeing my doctor when I’m sick. I don’t dig doctors. I’m always stressed out that my blood pressure will be too high or I’ll have gained too much weight. I’ve made a miraculous turnaround from the crying jags I used to go on every time I went to the gynecologist and I wasn’t looking forward to 9 months of probing.

I’ll admit, I was terrified of labor.

Vacations will still be doable with a family of three. Sure, we’d have still been able to do it, but we’ll be able to save for vacations instead of going into and paying off debt. We’ll still be able to afford plane tickets. Four people would have put us over the edge.

My mom played favorites. Still does actually. I might be the actual favorite in that I’m everything my parents hoped I could be, but it’s my sisters who get the extra time and attention. For years my parents have poured money into my sister’s family, paying her mortgage, serving as daycare, sending them on vacations. They baby my other sister and try to give her the moon. Seriously. Look outside. That moon you’re seeing is just borrowed from my sister. And yet, when my parents visit us, they try to spend as little as possible. They take advantage of our hospitality and ignore our requests (see: dog attacks cat, parents feign ignorance). I was scared I’d play favorites with my own children, trying to prop them both up to the same level and, in the process, freezing out the more confident, capable, successful one.

I am acutely aware of how different this decision is in light of it being a second child instead of a first. Without RR, we’d have an entirely different landscape to navigate. I feel both lucky and very, very sad. For me, it was my first. I wanted to have that special, totally unique experience. I’m a little relieved, too, but that’s a story for another day.

So this is a special call to the only children, to the parents of only children, and to the children who wish they were only children sometimes even though they’d never admit it: What is wonderful about only children? 

Part One: Dark Times

A bombing in Boston, an explosion in Texas, poisoned mail, complete suspension of civil liberty in Watertown, and those are just the ones with the most news coverage. This post is dark. That’s because it’s about a dark time and dark events, not unlike the last week of catastrophe. It’s also my life (as much as I which I could erase it).

In 2000, being in the Foreign Service was a pretty amazing profession. There was a history of danger, yes. Not only from terrorist actions, like those in Iran, but of “small” hazards like cerebral malaria. I knew I was in foreign airports when I saw airport officials with semi-automatic weapons slung over their shoulders*. I took seriously, but admittedly not too seriously, the admonitions to vary my route to and from work and to stay off public transportation. This was only in the dangerous cities, of course. In Brazil. In Ethiopia. In South Africa. In Mozambique. Places that are now comparatively safe and the average robbery at gunpoint includes tea and crumpets.**

And then, September 11th. If I could, I would post an image here of my reaction to the event. It was mid-afternoon in Africa. There wasn’t internet, per se. My African colleagues nervously shared the news. I spent a long time staring out my window (do you care? the sky was sharp, blue, clear, unripped) before an armored vehicle picked me up and took me to the Embassy. There’s more to that story – you can fill in the gaps from your own experience. It left me fragile.

Two weeks later, in order to to relax and disconnect from the continual stress and lockdowns, half of the embassy took a “getaway” trip to a remote river. It was also a brilliantly sunny blue day (I have learned the sky has no bearing on reality) as we took boats to stop at a collection of huts for the night. There were canoes. There were no cell phones or radios. No television. Just 16 people who wanted to live, just a little bit, as they had before. Until two of our embassy marines took a canoe to the other side of the river. It tipped. They sank while we watched. I watched closely, having sped over in a boat and tossing a life preserver to suddenly empty space.

One week later, I drove one of my friends to the morgue. I kept him company while he waited under a sheet for his plane ride home. There are so many details of open air morgues you can’t unhear. I am crippled by flies.

Two weeks later, we received a mail shipment full of Halloween candy, packages from Amazon, letters from home, new credit cards, birthday cards, and care packages. We also received news that it either contained or had been touching anthrax-laced letters. As the officer in charge of the facility, it fell to me to remove the mail and soak the room in bleach. The airtight suit and gas mask were hard to breathe in. The packages to our dead friends were burned along with everything else. I had no spirit left.

The Foreign Service sees more tragedy now. Daily. New places are a disaster and the danger pay my friends receive to go there (and keep returning there) isn’t enough to patch them up. They do it for patriotism, because it’s a job, because it’s a sure way to promotion, for freedom. Many of the joined because of September 11th. Even as they do it, the dangers in the “safe” places continue. Including at home.

I have been taking every opportunity to practice compartmentalizing my personal damage, knowing that I will, someday, need to explain tragedy to my daughter. When I do it, I need these memories need to be locked safely away. There’s no time and place for this. I don’t know how or if those of you with kids are doing it. Relying on Mr. Rogers (a person who my child won’t know or understand)? Limiting the news? Filtering events? How do we keep our own sprits whole enough to grow a child’s?

* I have since seen this at home.

** These rules still exist and for good reason. Carjackings are not atypical for my friends. Bombing happen but aren’t covered by our news. Entire buses full of people face murder and rape.

I’m a Drip (Literally)

I’m sure you all saw this already but if not, please use this handy guide to determine why your child (or you) is crying:

Reasons My Son Is Crying

I am not currently crying (win) but I am a hair trigger sort and so my list would look something like this:

  • That commercial had an older person who is happy despite being near the end of life.
  • I saw a fly in the bathroom and he might have flown into my hair.
  • This stupid door won’t close right.
  • My mother is coming to visit.
  • You said something so kind that I got butterflies.
  • Those flowers are beautiful and I haven’t seen them since LAST spring!
  • I am just so happy right now darnit.
  • Ad infinitum.

I’m pretty sure I would make a terrible pregnant lady. Onward!

There Are a Lot of Italics in This Post

Life has changed dramatically in the last week.  RR, who previously was a sweet child, now defies description.  True, she has been grappling with some things she normally doesn’t have to deal with (at least not all at once): a rash on her face, teething in multiple spots, early signs of pink eye (defeated, thankyouverymuch) and a classroom where the children have rotated through pink eye and puking like they are in some sort of bizarre and unpopular virus amusement park.  We’ve escaped the worst of these so far, but it’s clear something has infected our tiny, untarnished soul.

Tantrums are upon us.  She has several new moves which leave me in a state of utter disbelief every time she busts one out.  Surely this is not my sweet cup of sugar.  Surely, this is a changeling switched in the night by a fiendish fairy.  Surely, this is Not. My. Child.  And then I feel a stillness inside.  Sort of a dampening over my ears and a cottony heart, as if I’m observing this terrible behavior from another room.  I love her and cuddle her, but since I want to cry (and, in fact, have cried) I think I might be reacting by curling up and dying inside.  Obviously, I’m so ready for a teenager.

Lest this post drag you all down with me, I bring you a day in the course of our lives.  For a saner take, see my wife’s rendition.  Clearly, one of us is more stable.

–Wake up shouting.  Bellowing.  Screeching.  Mamas wonder “What happened to baby babble?
–Give our tiny ball of joy milk as she coos at us.
–Slide her onto the floor to play while we accomplish basic personal necessities like brushing teeth.
–Commence Clinging for Dear Life (Shrieking, weeping, wailing and clutching at a leg.  Clawing to get up and bouncing like her feet are burning in a pool of lava.)
–Distract her, sort of, with music and/or tampons.
–Dress everyone.
–Commence Battle Roll (Violent flipping onto one side as far away from the mama as possible while moaning, hollering, wiggling and kicking.)
–Proceed to breakfast and a moment of peace.  We are, of course, accustomed to and prepared for, “all doneget down” and givememoremusicnowdammit which manifests as a pleading “peease.”
–Try to put on coats and leave the house.
–Commence Fleeing in Terror of Outerwear (Said fleeing is done loudly and with a great many tears, as if the coat will flay her with its razor-like lining.)
–Drop her at daycare.  Pretend not to be crying in the car.

–Pick her up at daycare.
–Commence Drag to Hell (Pulling on a mama’s finger and charging for the door screaming bye bye at every teacher and child in a frantic, sob filled voice.)
–Strap her into car seat.
–Commence dramatics which cannot even be named (The seat is a lion and she is a steak.)
–Take her home and enter the house, skipping past Refusing to be Held, Demanding to Walk and Bludgeoning the Door if it Doesn’t Open Fast Enough.
–Pick her up when she asks throughout the evening.
–Commence Straight Back Slippery (In which she throws her arms up, arches her back and weeps as if you are a perfect stranger all while trying to escape.  It’s the most fun move of all.)
–Put her to bed and silently die inside.

This doesn’t cover the two parking lot tantrums we’ve had this week.  My god, what will the twos be like?

Other Mothers

Having a baby has made me insecure and guilt-ridden, apparently.  How the hell did that happen?

My subconscious drew up a complicated birth plan and a rigorous set of rules for RR.  Worse, I find myself comparing our actual experience and techniques to those imaginary standards and the experiences of everyone we meet and coming up short.  Imaginary standards.  In moments of clarity, I’m reminded that this unflattering and inherited tendency is one that nudged us toward D carrying.

Aside to RR: Look, I’m sorry.  I don’t know about these hidden expectations until they actually happen.  So if I inexplicably want you to wear that plaid skirt on the first day of school or take pottery classes, just chalk it up to mama’s craziness.  Hopefully, it’s not contagious.

Here are the things I apparently boxed us into without even realizing it: all natural, drug-free childbirth (complete with a grassy hidden glade and frolicking fawns), breastfeeding, baby-wearing and cloth diapers.  And when it hasn’t worked, I feel like we’re doing it wrong.  Don’t hit the comment button yet.  I realize this is insecurity.  I know it’s unflattering.  I know we’re doing what works for us.  But what’s WRONG with me?   Here’s what’s happening:

We had the perfect childbirth for us.  Sure, it could have gone differently.  There was, in fact, no grassy hidden glade.  I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have witnessed the miracle of my wife laboring.  When I hear other mothers talk about their eight centimeters dilated and water breaking and no epidurals, I feel a little as if we didn’t try hard.  In fact, we tried very, very hard.

We can’t breastfeed.  It didn’t work.  Thank goodness we don’t have to contend with cholera, hoards of the unvaccinated, or distant medical care. But when other mothers talk about breastfeeding and how they have to feed on-demand, I hear the implication that we have it easy because formula fed babies don’t need to eat when they first get hungry and that they sleep for days straight.  We don’t have anything easy.

We opted not to cloth diaper and thank god.  I see other mothers do it and I’m so incredibly envious.  This was something I actually articulated that I wanted.  Disposable is what worked better for us, but when I see other mothers sighing about having to change their babe from cloth to disposable for the ride home I feel an intense pang of regret.  I’m suddenly certain RR will be in diapers until she’s 18 and will be scarred for life with permanent diaper rash, not to mention the gas mask she’ll have to wear cause I’ve single-handedly ruined the environment.

Also, I said I’d wear that baby everywhere.  But you know what?  It’s summer and she’s hot.  I get enough screaming at home without poking her with a hot stick while we’re on a walk.

I dread the other imaginary standards at which I don’t even I know I’m about to fail.  I got a hint of this the other day when one of the other mothers said that they don’t ever have time to watch tv.  In fact, she can’t imagine the last time she turned it on.  At our house it’s on.  Perhaps RR’s brain has rotted already.  Good.  Then she’ll wear that plaid skirt I mentioned.

All those other mothers aren’t trying to be superior – I’m generating this inferiority complex on my own.  I wish I could be less hard on myself.  Because I’m not the mother I expected I’d be, I’m a better mother than I expected I’d be.

Parenting is all Roses

RR is 6 weeks old.  And gorgeous.  Love. Her.

I almost stopped there.  After all, there hasn’t been much else to say lately.  And, while we tell everyone else how old she is, we just murmur about her beauty to ourselves like raving mad hatters.  But I can tell you about the rest.  I mean, the not beautiful parts, because I think we can agree that you only need to hear once…or twice…how lovely she is.

I’m not sure who else to tell about the 6:30-9:30pm chaos punctuated by screaming like a bloody lunatic and cooing, eye batting, sneak attacks.  Come here, pretty mama, play with me…that’s right…NOW LISTEN TO MY WRATH!  I’m afraid to consider daycare in just a few weeks.  That’s right, 6:30-9:30pm is the only time I’m going to get with my little stinging nettle.   Thank god her personality has changed twice more since noon.  In two weeks she’s likely to be off on an entirely different rampage.  Or right back here again.

We’re pretty patient people, but when I’m watching her turn purple with rage and grow two foot horns, I can see how even Gandhi could give up.  As expected though, she makes up for it by falling asleep with a cupid’s bow mouth and the gentle rosy blush of sainthood.  Then I forget that I’m bitter about the hearing loss and harpy claw marks.

She’s a good kid, actually.  And she’s lovely, did I mention that?  Cause if I didn’t, I should have.  It’s all the sanity-protecting ammunition you have and you’re going to need it.

It’s a…Squirrel!

Overheard at the hardware store:

Man: So I see you’re expecting!
Very pregnant woman, at least as pregnant as D, rubbing her belly: Oh yes!  (giggle, coo) This is Chase and…
Us: serious, serious eye rolling
Very pregnant woman, at least as pregnant as D, rubbing her belly: and…he’s due October first!

Us: OMG

This woman was easily as round as D. – if not bigger.  Between stifling laughter (mainly at her tone, I’m sure YOU don’t sound like that) and gaping at each other we realized the truth…

We’re not having a baby.  It’s a squirrel.