March 14, 2016 by Jaimie Gusman
“…but I abide, accepting in so far as I can, that I am taking the only road open to me, the only one I’m allowed to drive on this way until some unforeseen detour alters my course”
— from “An Autobiographical Preface”, C.D. Wright
I’ve been so happy. I spend the days watching my daughter discover the imperfect world around her with perfect wonder and ecstasy. I brush my cheek against her tiny feet and she smiles. I make strange noises in public and she laughs. I tell stories about zoo animals and talking crayons and she cries. I show her how a boy turns into a wolf and how a moon hangs from the black sky while she falls asleep.
It’s a privilege, really. I’ve heard friends with kids say this for years and now I know how it feels to love unconsciously & endlessly. Babies are magic. It’s easy to let that magic sweep you up.
For weeks I’ve been obsessed with poop. It’s various textures: slimy, hard, mucus-y, watery, mushy. And the colors! Shades of green: lime, mutant ninja turtle, army, forest, moss, fern. I think I see blood. Blood clots, blood streaks, rust blood, shiny blood, veins of blood. Is that red bright or medium bright?
The time I spend looking at a dirty diaper ranges from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. I squint hard. I put on my glasses. I hold the stool up to the light and shift the diaper so I can see it at every angle. I wish for yellow.
At night I ask my husband to look with me. Sometimes he does, sometimes he says he does. Sometimes he’ll listen to me read the latest Google result about mucus-y infant poop. Sometimes he’ll Google it too. Eventually, he falls asleep while I stay up cataloguing our daughter’s daily stools.
When your daughter who cannot speak holds her stomach in pain and screams, you hold your stomach in pain and scream. But your screams take the shape of a silent bulb.
Sometimes when she cries I cry. Like the first time I clipped her nails and I got some of her skin. I was in shock when the bright red blood puddled at the tip of her index finger. As though I didn’t realize before this baby would bleed. I held a tissue over the cut and kept saying I’m so sorry, Momma’s so sorry she hurt you, both of us weeping.
The first and most important job of the mother is to feed the baby. The nurse emphasizes this after she places your baby on your bare chest, pushing your breast into the baby’s barely opened mouth. The nurse says it’s okay that the baby isn’t taking the breast right now. She’ll be back to explain.
After the birth of your daughter, you’ll see half a dozen nurses and a handful of lactation consultants who will tell you about the cradle and cross cradle positions. They will suggest the “football” position after telling you that your right nipple is inverted. They will show you a nipple shield, which makes you feel a little less human but you can’t explain in that moment why.
I was exhausted after the birth of my daughter. Lines marked my face where the oxygen mask was placed. I felt like I had been doing splits for days. I was sewed up. After labor, I could only half-remember. Words slipped away. Images were foggy at best. I lost a lot of blood, felt like my knees were made of vaseline.
But still, the nurses came in. Head goes here. Hold the neck. Lower. Make sure the lips are flipped up. Like this! See? See? No, I can’t see a thing.
A lactation consultant will later tell you not to rely on the nipple shield. That your nipple is not inverted. Who told you that?
Why did I believe it?
Your instincts are challenged with every new day. Your capacity to believe is diminished. You just need sleep, you say. You just need one quiet moment with your body.
At a follow-up visit the midwife tells me how awful it is to use the nipple shield after you tell her, with tears in your eyes, how difficult it has been to learn how to feed your baby. I cried to my husband. I just want to feed her. I end up spending hours everyday to try and get her to take the right breast.
Then, I do. I get it. She gets it. I am thrilled. We both stop crying. The rain pours sideways against the mountain where we live. I am shocked at the power and shape of insistence.
One day I am sure something isn’t right. My daughter screams after every feeding. I nurse her more. She cries harder. When I change her diaper her stool has a green hue. It must be all the kale smoothies, right? The spirulina popcorn? All the dark leafy vegetables that will fix my anemia?
But the lactation consultant told me that a weeks-old baby’s stool color should not be affected by what the mother eats.
We let things go. We pick our battles. That’s what parent-friends say when they talk about the problems they have with older kids. Bedtime routines. Sleep schedules. My son hates wearing clothes. The girl just doesn’t like pulverized pumpkin.
When my daughter pounded her tiny fists against her stomach and turned red from screaming after each feeding, I went to the pediatrician. Maybe it was a virus, she said. We gave her Pedialite. This was probably wrong. She didn’t have a virus.
Back to Google.
Back to obsessing over poop.
Maybe she has an allergy.
I talk to other BFing moms. Yes, yes, those are the symptoms!
The Google village confirmed what my real life village had already told me. A milk allergy is common. So I started eliminating dairy from my diet. Then, I started to eliminate soy when we saw the pediatrician almost a month later. I’ve whittled my diet down to anything made of coconut or rice.
I can live with that if my baby can.
I’m not reading or writing as much as I’d like to be. Right now I am sitting in a sports bra and teal post-pregnancy underwear from a Target multi-brief package on the bed. I am supposed to be taking a nap. Or showering. My husband watches our daughter coo in the office. But I can’t sleep. I just need this moment with my body and a vocabulary it can muster.
I’m thinking about the C.D. Wright quote above. I’ve been thinking about it for a week now (which is how long I’ve been writing this post), since I heard about a woman–a mom of three–who I knew back in my teens. We worked as camp counselors together in Florida in the 90’s. She was 35, and passed away from a pulmonary embolism just two days after giving birth to her third baby girl. The woman’s name was Ali, and I only knew her for a brief period of time.
I don’t know why, but after the news about Ali came up in my Facebook feed, I couldn’t get the tragedy out of my head. Against my better judgement I thought, how will her baby know her now? how will her baby eat? even though I know better than to conflate life with memory. Motherblood is a loving ghost.
I cried on and off that day. Then I cried the day after that. Then the day after that. I couldn’t and still can’t understand this “unforeseen detour.”
Then, I find myself asking, what is mine? when is it coming?
When I was seventeen, I ditched my high school’s “senior trip” to go to Key West with my girlfriends. We took a detour to Islamorada, drank Special Brew and saw a fortune teller who advertised her talents in a local tourist flyer. Her house/place of business was a purple cottage on the side of the road. Her address had the same last four digits as my checking account. When it was my turn to have my cards read, she splayed out my future so easily. She told me I would die young. That I would accomplish something big, then die.
I think about this $40 scam often. Mostly when something happens that I can’t explain. Like when I was so sure my grandmother’s ghost came to visit me one night in Seattle and threw a picture frame at my head at least five times while I slept. Like when I found out I had a Dandy Walker variant after an incidental MRI and thought I would need brain surgery.
When C.D. Wright writes about detour she is, of course, referring to poetry as much as she is about life. The perception is: this magical road is as unique as our lives. We can and must accept its course, wherever it takes us. This is, after all, the road that life assigns us, “the only one I’m allowed to drive on”. Or maybe it’s the one we assign to our lives.