Saturday, June 12, 2010

Comfy

While I was waiting for the train last Tuesday, my first day back at work from maternity leave, I turned on my iPod. The first song it played was Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place":

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb — born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's OK, I know nothing's wrong ... nothing


Related tangent, and I'll get to the point in a second:

A couple weeks ago, I got a haircut. My hairdresser is in Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood known widely as being a hipster Mecca that is as inconveniently located from my own Brooklyn neighborhood as a place can be. It's actually more direct to fly to Detroit than to go from Park Slope to Williamsburg. Anyway, it was a gorgeous, cloudless day. Sixty-seven degrees. In true Williamsburg form, I walked past a busker in the subway playing Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" on the pan flute. A woman sitting on the sidewalk next to a bed sheet covered with old shoes for sale was strumming a ukulele. While I was buying an iced coffee and a marble muffin (first of all: yum), a permanently assfaced woman standing behind me with her giant iced coffee was bitching to her unfortunate and unamused companion about somebody else's coffee habits: "If you're going to do that, just go to Starbucks. GAH. They're a giant corporation. UGH. Um, can I have a separate shot of wheatgrass?" On the way back to the train, I followed a person of indeterminate gender wearing a prison-issue jumpsuit. Dark blue, not orange. I wondered how s/he got it out of the joint. So all in all, amazing people-watching. And getting my hair cut felt fabulous. It was the first time I'd felt normal in more than two months. All the stringiness and cumbersome length that grew on my head since having a baby were left on the floor. Josh had told me to take the afternoon for myself and enjoy the day on my own terms, but I high-tailed it back to Park Slope.

Like a codependent cliché, all I wanted to do was go home to my boys.

On March 9, at 5:14 a.m., I gave birth to Stefen Robert Garfield Banks. He was three weeks early. I was so unprepared that I didn't have my cellphone charger with me. I didn't have a camera. Nothing. I went to work and came home with a baby.









Basically, here's how it went down:

March 7 was Oscar night, a.k.a. the last time anybody thought Jesse James seemed like a good guy. It never matters how horrible or long the show has gotten; for me, it is a holy night of observance. This year, though, the boredom was crippling. So boring, Oscars; you have gotten so boring. I think that's when my water broke — it probably did so to pass the time, or maybe my body started crying — but because I'm an idiot, I didn't know my water had broken. So I kept watching the Oscars, went to bed around 1, couldn't sleep at all, and after what was basically a two-hour nap, woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Monday the 8th to go to work. Every Oscar Monday, I have to be at work at 7:30, but I get to go home early. I scheduled a crew to come to the apartment the next morning — Tuesday — to do a deep clean to prepare the place for the baby, who was due March 26. The apartment had just been painted, patched, fixed and improved, and things were coming together for the arrival of Comfy.

Here's the deal with not knowing your water has broken, because I promise that I may be dim sometimes, but I'm really not as stupid as this all sounds:

When you're pregnant, all kinds of klassy things happen to your body. One of these things can be a change in the characteristics of your body fluids. About a month before, I ended up in the hospital because I thought my water had broken, and it just turned out to be regular, garden-variety fluids that had gotten ... leaky. Great. Sweet. Awesome. Hot. Whatever. The doctors said that that would be my new normal, that until I had the baby, I'd be leaky and if it got heavier, I should see my OB. So, fine. I went about my life.

While I was watching the Oscars, it did get a little bit heavier but not enough to be alarming. By the next morning, though, it was heavier, and by the time I got to work, I was beginning to panic. I was underslept, hormonal, and stressed. I closed the early page I was working on around noon, went to the bathroom, saw a tiny pinpoint of blood, and just burst into tears. But it still never occurred to me that it would have been my water breaking. I don't know if it was denial or shock or brain-freeze. We're all led to believe that when your water breaks, it's a torrential gush that soaks your Manolos and you immediately launch into contractions and while you're huffing and puffing, somebody puts you in a cab and the driver panics and while he's speeding you to the hospital, you have a near-miss with a baby carriage that's actually filled with soda cans and you careen around a solemnly strolling group of nuns, because that's what happens in movies and on TV and everything in movies and on TV is true. Reality: Sometimes when your water breaks, it's a trickle and that's it. And you don't always go into labor afterward. Nothing is self-explanatory in pregnancy except the fatness, and even that isn't self-explanatory because I didn't get fat(ter) until my seventh month. Go figure.

Once I saw the blood, I went to the doctor. I figured I'd be back at the office within two hours, so I left my computer on, didn't really say goodbye to anyone, and hopped into a cab. I was still crying, I could not stop no matter how hard I tried, so I called Josh and asked him to meet me at my OB's office — something I never do. I just couldn't calm down, and I was so angry and embarrassed that I'd cried at work. I was convinced this whole thing was nothing, and I was pissed at my hormones for making me all histrionic. Josh left his bag at work, grabbed his wallet and his phone and headed uptown to my doctor's office. Between the two of us, we did not have a whole phone's worth of battery power — and no charger.

When I got out of the cab, I looked across the street. My doctor's office faces the Museum of Natural History, my favorite building in New York, and on a bench in front of the side entrance sat Glenn Close filming an episode of Damages. I'm still convinced that means something. So there I am, crying, with godknowswhat running down my leg, and I walked up to a production assistant, all, "What are they filming?" I actually contemplated waiting around to watch Glenn Close act. Because I am stupid. But you would do the same thing because Glenn Close is awesome.

Within five minutes of walking into the exam room, the doctor (not my own; as luck would have it, my doctor was on call at the hospital) told me I'd ruptured and they were sending me to the hospital. I was all, "Um, I wasn't planning on having a baby today." She laughed, of course, because to people who don't go to work and end up in labor three weeks early, this is funny and charming. I dried off my legs, got dressed, and paced the hallway until Josh arrived.

After that, everything moved quickly. At around 1 p.m., we got to the hospital, where my doctor told me they estimated that my water had been broken for 12 hours, maybe longer, so they wanted to induce labor to avoid infection. (Once your water has broken, the baby's barrier from germs in the outside world is gone.) Around then I started feeling movement and light cramping; at 3:30, they put me on Pitocin, the drug that induces labor; at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, I finally decided not to be a hero with the pain and asked for the epidural; and I fell asleep until 3:30 a.m. My doctor checked on me then, I still had not dilated past 3 centimeters, the baby had not dropped, and the cord was loosely wrapped around the neck. They decided to do a c-section, and at around 5 a.m., I was wheeled in. In the meantime, my dad was in a car en route to New York from Detroit and my mother landed in New York in a hot second, insisting she'd stay at my apartment on Tuesday so I didn't have to cancel the cleaning crew ("That baby has to come home to a clean apartment!").

Three things:

1. This sounds certifiable, but I wanted to go as long as possible without the epidural because it was important to me to know what labor feels like. I had a good nine hours of considerable pain, and once I could no longer concentrate on my breathing or get distracted, that shot could not show up fast enough. You wait and wait and wait to ask for it, and the second you do, you are beside yourself that it hasn't happened yesterday. The most uncomfortable part of getting the epidural is putting yourself into position for the shot. You have to drop your shoulders just so, jut out your back just so, and you still have a baby in your body who's trying to get out and you're having contractions. It is a feat. And then you go numb and fall asleep.

2. Despite all predictions to the contrary in my previous post, I did not wig during labor. I actually did most of it pretty quietly while Josh dozed in a chair beside the bed. I didn't want to wake him because I figured we had a long, long night ahead of us and someone should be allowed to get some sleep. For the most part, I worked through the contractions on my own without too much drama. When I finally needed help focusing, I woke Josh up and he talked to me and squeezed my ankles to redirect the pain. He later said, "Your labor wasn't too bad, huh? I didn't hear you at all." I said, "Just because you didn't hear me doesn't mean it didn't hurt." I have to say, I was awesome.

3. I don't know why this was surprising to me, but when you have a c-section, you are drugged out of your tree. You're awake but numb from the chest down. Which means you're groggy. Which means that during the birth of your child, you are pretty much guaranteed to fall asleep. I remember asking the doctors, "Am I seriously going to fall asleep during the birth of my baby?" I was so out of it that, when the anesthesiologist asked Josh if I was sleeping and all I heard him say was, "Oh, yeah, she's out," my eyes flew open and I yelled, "WE HAVE A GIRL?!?"

At 5:14, I felt some shaking, heard a cry, and then ... nobody told me what flavor the baby was. I kept asking, but, naturally, everyone was focused on the kid. Finally, my doctor said, "Josh, do you want to tell her what you have?" He said, "Oh, yeah. Uh, it's a boy." I paused and asked, totally bewildered, "Really?" I was so convinced we were having a girl. Worst maternal instincts ever.

They cleaned him off, closed me up, and moved me into recovery, where I finally saw him. My son was ...

... totally busted.

I firmly believe that the world would be a better place if people would admit when their babies are ugly. Most newborns are shriveled and purple and swollen, and babies born vaginally have coneheads. But c-section babies can be quite pretty. My nephew, Alex, was the most beautiful newborn I'd ever seen, but then again, at more than 9 pounds and four days late, he was basically a full-grown adult.

Stefen was not that. Stefen was 6 pounds, 2 ounces, 21 inches long, and all lips and nose. Seriously, the lip-to-nose ratio, it was not good. He was hairy. (Babies in the womb are covered with protective hair called lanugo that falls out if not soon before birth, then soon after. Stefen was early, so he was a little ... tufty.) He just wasn't done cooking, is all. But I was terrified that when I sent the e-mail announcing his birth, people would forward the photo to their friends saying, "Oh my god, you have to see this picture. My coworker had the ugliest baby." I mean, he wasn't ugly ugly, but basically, he looked like an old Jewish man. I started calling him Irving, and Irving goes to Battery Park to play chess with his pal from the war Morty, and they wear their pants really high and feed pigeons and Morty always cheats at chess but Irving lets him because of what went on during the war. There's no pal like Morty.

And it's not that he wasn't beautiful. The kid had some great angles; he just needed to grow into his face, which he did, and a week later, he was a total looker.



Ultimately, you're lying there in recovery and someone hands you a baby — your baby — and it's the most surreal moment of your life. And you try to figure out how this person is part of you, and Stefen looked nothing like me or like any baby I thought I'd have because when you picture your baby, you picture you as a baby, so I couldn't identify at all. He's the spitting image of Josh, who is a gorgeous adult but his adult face does not belong on an infant. Stefen looked so much like Josh that I might as well have not had any part in the creation of this boy. It was so surreal and scary and wonderful, but I was too tired to feel happy or excited or anything other than just ... mesmerized and overwhelmed.

He was in an incubator for a day and a half to correct jaundice, so I was able to go into the nursery and feed him alone in a storage closet. I loved that time. In our storage closet. He was so little, and the only responsibility I had right then was to feed my son, study his long fingers and his face, and try to understand him. In the following weeks, I mourned the lost weeks of my pregnancy — I really loved being pregnant but only showed for a short time and then I delivered early, so I had to grapple with losing part of that experience — and just adjusted while going from feeding to feeding, walks around the block, and trying to remember appropriate songs to sing to him at 3 a.m. I found that very few songs aren't totally sadistic or depressing. Lullabies are violent, the only song I sing on key is "Do That to Me One More Time" by Captain & Tennille, and camp songs are insane. Here's one from summer camp that kept popping into my head but I refused to sing:

A Tamarack goat
Was feeling fine
Ate three red shirts
Right off the line
A boy named Jack
Gave him a whack
And tied him to
A railroad track
And when that train
Came roarin' by
That Tamarack goat
Was doomed to die
He gave three shrieks
Of awful pain
Coughed up those shirts
And flagged the train
The train didn't stop
SQUISH!


Just like anybody else, before I got pregnant, I was terrified I didn't have what it takes to take care of a baby. I was 10 when Lauren was born, but I didn't raise her. I thought I wouldn't be able to handle the sleeplessness or the constant activity or the keeping on top of things. It was never automatic for me that I wanted children, so I didn't know what kind of instinct I'd have. But it's so true that the things you have to do you just do. It's automatic. And now, with very little guidance from me, my son is smiling and grabbing my hair. He laughs at his own poop. He rubs his eyes when he's tired. He has more than doubled in size.







He holds his head up. He grins in his sleep. He launches himself over pillows and propels himself around in circles on the floor. He sleeps through the night. He pushes his face into the wind and sunshine. He has a few super-cool pals who we met during the post-fog weeks of my maternity leave, and we all have a standing date to meet at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens every Tuesday (I don't work on Tuesdays) until the rest of the moms go back to work because it's dreamy there and we all really like each other. And he just started going to daycare. Josh and I are in a basically permanent state of shock, but we're doing it. The past 13 weeks have been the absolute fastest of my life — to the point where I feel like I left work pregnant and came back the next day no different other than I am minus an occupant — but I'm glad to be at the office even though I miss my son every second. I now understand why parents put so many pictures of their kids on their desks.

I miss maternity leave.

Spring is the best time on the planet to have a kid, but all the change can be disarming. The first time I left the apartment after bringing him home was the first time I'd left the apartment since going to work the morning I went into labor. Which means on March 8, it was chilly, I was pregnant, there were gloves and a hat in my bag. A week later, it was warm, I was no longer pregnant, and I was somebody's mother.

The amount of laundry that has to be done is staggering.

Josh and my big idea to spell Stefen's name phonetically so nobody would mispronounce it failed like a big fat fucking fat failure. It's Steff-in, not Steff-ahn. Not Steven. IT'S STEFEN, PEOPLE. Also, Stefen was the only name Josh and I could agree on. (He's named after my grandfather Sidney.) We decided Stefen Banks sounds Scandinavian, which we are not, so we loved it. It suits him.

I am a much more relaxed mother than I ever thought I'd be. I think it's because I'm old.

This whole thing has shown me how really on-the-same-page (to overuse an overused term) Josh and I are. I think it's because we're equally clueless.

If you paint your apartment before you have a baby, make sure you use washable paint. If you have a boy, he will pee on the wall.

All the anal-retentive research was worth it.

Josh's and my parents have been amazing, We haven't had to worry about food, childcare, anything, for three months.





When I had this baby, I did not have a change of clothes, juice in my phone, a camera, or a pediatrician lined up. But things do work out anyway. People make it so.

I'm still waiting for this boy's parents to come pick him up. It was so nice of them to let us take care of their lovely son for so long.

My problem with Miley Cyrus prancing around half-naked isn't that she's a teenager, it's that she's fug.

The Betty White episode of Saturday Night Live was epic.

The 15 minutes between the time Josh took Stefen to daycare yesterday and the time I left for work was the first time I'd been in the apartment alone in three months.

I still think those women who say parenthood is "the most important work we do," meaning women as a whole, are insufferable. It belittles other important work, and it discounts people who don't have children. Parenthood is a choice, and we're not saving the world, we're actually overpopulating it. When it comes down to it, Josh and I wanted to make a family and it worked out for us. It's not any kind of higher plane. It's not unimportant, of course, but it's pretty much important only to us and the people closest to us (regardless of what the length of this post might convey; it certainly appears I think this baby should be monumentally important to you too). Raising Stefen is the most important thing to me, yes. I'm madly in love with him. I chose to have this baby and I chose to take on the responsibility of raising a good person. But I don't like the idea that just because I have a child now, I have a greater role on the planet. Maybe it's too much pressure on him. I just think that, like anything important to you, you just want to do a good job, be happy, and make the people you love happy.

So far, so good.























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9 Comments:

Blogger Amy said...

He was gorgeous from the very first photo I saw. I am sure he was gorgeous on day one. You're crazy!

When Ethan was born, while in the c-section drug induced haze I was in, I heard the doctor say, "Ten-eleven!" I asked if that was how much he WEIGHED!?

It was the time he was born.

I think I posted that as my FB status when he turned one, come to think of it. Sorry if you've heard that story twice now...

Anyway, thanks for the post. I wondering when you'd update. I realize you've been busy...

Glad you are well!

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Zora said...

What a great post, Marla! Thanks for all the gory detail. And there's something exceptional about seeing those photos, from early days up till now, all in one batch--the transformation from little half-baked guy to real live human is complete!

12:06 AM  
Blogger I'm Jen. said...

I loved the post. You are spot on about parenthood. I had never considered that perspective but I agree. Stefen is a handsome little guy and I love the pictures.

10:41 AM  
Blogger I'm Jen. said...

Blogger ate my original comment. I love the post and I am addicted to Stefen pictures.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Marla said...

Amy: I love that story. I think I would have responded the same way. You have no context in that surreal, drugged-out moment. And thank you for praising my very handsome son! I promise, though, lots of first-week photos were screened. Poor kid.

Zora: Thanks! It's kind of like Spawn or something, the unfurling of the alien-human. I do intend to keep up with the gnome perspective photos, if he'll let me. I have these visions of him carrying it to his high school graduation. Josh is mortified.

Jen: You're too kind. Though it makes me happy to know that someone besides me is obsessed with pictures of the boy. You've always been so awesome as to indulge me. Miss you!

1:08 PM  
Anonymous jfgarfield said...

Boo,

What a fabulous description of everything. You have a way with words. Have you ever considered writing or copy editing as a career?? The pictures are great. Our little mentsch is wonderful.

Dad

7:42 PM  
Blogger Halle said...

Marla, that was a beautiful post. This was the first time I've read your blog in a long time and I'm so glad I checked in. I loved seeing how much Stefen has grown and changed in such a short time, and how much you have learned from the surreal experience. Which reminds me...I have news for you. I'll email you and Lori soon. -Alle

6:50 PM  
Blogger Marla said...

News! NEWS! GOAL!!! E-MAIL!!!

7:21 PM  
Blogger BBC said...

I found you randomly on a page that tok me to a page and then here. I read every word and made a desktop folder amongst all the work and research folders that says: Just Fun

You are there. You made me smile thank you and as a child free by choice person, thank you for your insightful words.

Warmly,

BBC

3:15 AM  

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