Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How far have you come?

Niobe asked today if you ever look back at where you started--I didn't comment over there because it would have been out of place for me to do so among the women grieving for lost babies. Z. is alive and well and in her bath with her Mommy as I begin to type. She's thriving.

And since I started this blog, I have come to understand that deeply. One of my big accomplishments this Spring was to let her go to school five days a week.

Oh, where to begin on keeping her home? Z. was home with me for the first six months. We were lucky to have a parent at home that long. But when I tell you I was bleeding from her birth right up to the eight-week follow-up appointment, will you understand that my sanity was also precarious for that long and longer? Forget getting showered and dressed, forget brushing my teeth: if I made it off the bed before A. came home, it was an accomplishment. When A. returned I would thrust Z. into her arms and flee to the garden.

And yet I think that time on the bed was where I respun the threads of connection to my daughter and started knitting my sanity back together. At first, she didn't like being cuddled or touched that much. She didn't resist it, but she didn't seem to relax into it, either. Baby massage didn't calm her down. I did a lot of experimenting with what kind of touch worked--wrapping my hand around one place on her ribs, below her armpit, worked. Rubbing her head a little bit firmly along her suture line. Stroking her legs, sometimes, too. And she wouldn't sleep unless someone was spooned with her, which I found encouraging, though it has taken us until last week to teach her she can go to sleep on her own.

Of course I read all of this in light of her NICU time. She spent her first week in a plastic box with needles in her--and at that point, her first week was very very very recent. So a lot of what I was doing on the bed was teaching her how to be touched and I don't downplay it. But limiting my world to a mattress was not the healthiest thing to have evolved so early in my parenting career.

The best thing I did that summer was hire a girl Friday, a former student who was my mother's helper and assistant in all the preparations for the store. She only came a few hours a day, and not every day, not nearly as long as A. was gone (A.'s school-year schedule keeps her out of the house around 11 hours a day), but knowing she would be there made a huge difference in structuring my day. And then A. finished school and things were easier, and Z.'s day care started a couple days before A. started up again, and then, officially, I was a day-care mom.

I counted myself a failure in the stay-at-home department. I adored the baby, but she took everything I had. I wasn't like those moms who I see walking with a baby in a sling or pushing a stroller to the co-op, moms with routines. Moms with weekly baby groups. Who get out of the house every day. Instead I was home with pillows all around me and a boppy in my lap, unwilling to move a sleeping baby even to get some sleep myself. I had traded away functioning as a professional in the world--or functioning in the world at all--in order to spend all day nursing.

It is unbelievable to me now that I didn't recognize this as depression. Why not? Who knows? I mean, I do know: I saw myself getting better gradually, and I was, at least until the store opened. And I knew that I didn't have post-partum depression. Once Z. was home I was really very fierce about our connection and I didn't question whether I was a good mom, not fundamentally. And it wasn't really six whole months on the bed.

I bawled the first day I left her in day care. She came down with this coxsackie virus only a day and a half after starting. She had an uninterrupted cycle of colds from October to June. I distrusted the mom of three who was the lead teacher because I was sure she was judging my parenting--I mean, she was judging it. But that time away from her was full of renovations and preparations. And when the store opened, it was never enough time.

Her first year, the plan had always been to keep her home on Fridays, but the colds kept her home a lot of other times, too, sometimes so many days that she would have to go in on a Friday instead just so I could get things done, so I wound up seeing her schedule as very flexible. This didn't matter when she was an infant or even a young 1, but I kept it up past her second birthday, and by that time I had to admit I was keeping her home for me, because I didn't want to face work or I because I felt like I could give myself Mama points for putting her needs above mine. I did it because having a flexible schedule was one reason I started my own business--lord knows it wasn't for the financial stability. And I did it, I think, because I liked being at home with her as a toddler in a way I didn't like being home with her as an infant. We got out. We did things.

But there were huge tantrums in the morning, and finally I realized that she never knew whether she was going to school in the morning. That was when I got it. And I got it from having put up a blog post--in not giving her a clear line on this one, major thing, I was keeping her world unstable. So she started going to school every morning.

And I think that was an important moment for me in giving her credit for her health and survival. It meant stepping back from her, hovering less, and in taking that step, the emotional piece followed. She's no more likely to die than any other two-year-old. And, of course, no less. But I'm seeing both sides of that now.

Do I still imagine the car that's going to slam sidelong into Z.'s carseat when we go through the intersection? Well, since A.'s accident in May, it has become the car that will slam into our front while we're turning left at the end of a light cycle. But we turn left less often than we go through intersections. So that's progress.


niobe said...

I'm sure no one would have minded if you commented on the post. Especially if you had prefaced it, as you did here, with some kind of acknowledgment of others' grief.

I remember the first post of yours I ever read. It was entitled something like "When Z came home." Until I got to the end, I assumed that the title was ironic and that Z hadn't survived. Partly, that was because of what happened to me and to so many women whose blogs I read. But partly it was because the post made it clear just how traumatic and painful the experience surrounding Z's birth had been for you. There are so many kinds of grief.

E. said...

S., you write very eloquently about the process of moving from Z.'s early days to where you are today. I'm happy/sad/moved and impressed with how far you've come.


furrow said...

Reading so many stories of various birth traumas, from prematurity to stillbirth to exhaustion and nursing problems, has, I hope, helped me prepare for post-partum reality. There always seems to be some sort of grief involved. Grief for the experience you wanted, thought you'd have. But, of course, a part of me still expects a fairy tale.

I'll write my "How Far I've Come" post in a few months. I'm still getting there.

Thanks for sharing yours.

S. said...

Niobe, I remember that first comment you left--it was a startling kind of affirmation of how I was feeling.

But I still think it would have been out of place for me to comment on that thread--I love your blog and your writing, and I do feel that my experience resonates quite strongly at times with yours, and if I'd come in on the thread earlier I might have commented. However, by the time I did get to it, I think it was my role to listen to how what you wrote echoed for others.

E., thank you.

Furrow, what you say ties so closely into *all* this stuff I'm thinking about and working through. I fervently hope you have an easy experience ... but oh, yes, the fairy tale is pretty much exactly that.

Magpie said...

Strong and moving post, interesting insight. You seem to be in a pretty good place now, but that first six months sounds like it was horrid. I'm glad it's behind you and that you all are thriving.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I'm very glad that you're seeing both sides of that now.

S. said...

Magpie, thanks for the nice words and good wishes.

Phantom, I've said this backchannel, but I'll say it here in public, too: you helped me. Thank you.