“This is her idea of a great morning,” Adam said, holding the squirming baby on his lap when I came up from my basement office to say hi. “Smiling at Mommy … while literally stepping on Dad’s dick. Which is what she’s doing right now. I think she’s trying to make sausage wine. It’s possible that she thinks she’s in a log-rolling contest. Anyway, ow.”
One thing they don’t tell you when you have a baby is that they beat you up all the time. Baboo gets super excited whenever I come into the room, and she expresses this by grabbing my face and pulling whatever she has in her hand. Sometimes, it’s my nose. Sometimes, it’s my cheek. Once, I swear she nearly got my eye out. Nearly. But there’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.
She’s the cutest and most vicious person I know. Of course, none of this is malicious. Also, it would help if I kept her nails trimmed, but that’s harder than it sounds. You put your sweet, innocent baby to bed with normal baby nails, and she wakes up with sloth claws. I’m guessing that this is a sign of good health. I’d tell you how grateful I am about that in person, but it’s hard for me to speak as this morning she reached right out and ripped my lips off my face.
It’s public-restroom changing tables. There, previewers, I saved you a click.
If you’re still with me, I’ll explain. Public changing tables are predictably loathsome. They’re in a public restroom, obviously, so they’re covering in filth both visible and invisible. Visible: actual feces, more often than seems reasonable or even possible. Invisible: IDK, C.diff? The plague? Hepatitis Q?
I was expecting the filth aspect. Before Katie arrived, while I was still bloated and weary with preeclampsia and lounging around while Adam nested for me, he ordered several pouches of Clorox wipes for disinfecting public changing areas and anything else that was giving me slow feelings of death. This had the dual effect of preparing for our baby and calming some of my zanier fears about being a parent.
Perhaps you are one of those people who goes blithely about her business, walking down city streets without picturing falling air conditioners and getting on ferries without worrying about forgetting not to throw your eyeglasses and your purse and perhaps your shoes over the side. If so, I respect but do not understand you.
I have a lot of fears in general, is my point. Parenting added to the pile.
One of them was using a public restroom to change a baby. In my mind, I would enter the restroom with a pink, healthy infant, and leave with a sickly green ghoul covered in sores. The baby would have acquired a number of festering bandages during its time in the bathroom, and also a snarl punctuated by one slightly yellow broken tooth.
Like most of my parenting fears, it turned out that my worries were wholly justified but just slightly off the mark. Public restrooms are repulsive, but I had all these wipes now. Surely I could mitigate the filth factor with good, old-fashioned bleach substitute, right?
I failed to factor in the baby.
My baby is four months old now, which means that I’m basically parenting an octopus who’s been in a horrible accident. She has four limbs instead of eight, but despite these limitations, she’s still much smarter than me. Plus, each limb seems to have its own brain and once I get one under control, the other brain-limbs slither out and start touching absolutely everything in sight — a stranger’s lunch or breasts, any stray electrical outlet … the feces-covered changing table in the bathroom at the diner.
I’m shuddering as I write this, because the changing table at the diner was covered in literal feces, and I attempted to use it anyway, because I was in denial about what I was seeing.
Let me explain. It’s Sunday, but I had to work today, because I’m a freelancer who’s attempting to do without childcare and that’s how that goes. Adam and I were both feeling bummed out about that, so I offered to take an hour or three off in the morning to get some brunch.
After a few reversals — two bottles, a diaper change, and finding out our local place was closed for August vacation — we wound up at a diner about 15 minutes away from home. We’d never been to this diner. That’s important, as you’ll see in a minute.
Shortly after we settled in and placed our orders, Katie started crying.
“Ah wuh wuh wuh,” she said.
“Why is this baby crying?” I asked, as Adam unbuckled her from her car seat.
He took a big whiff of her pants region. “Whew,” he said. “I think we have poopy.” And then, because he’s a 21st century kind of dad, he grabbed the diaper bag and headed for the restroom.
A few minutes later, he returned.
“No changing table in the men’s,” he said apologetically. “But I can take her to the car.”
“Let me check the ladies’,” I said, and went off to do that. No dice.
Finally, a nice waitress pointed us at another bathroom that had a changing table — women’s room only. After Adam spent a few frustrating minutes waiting in vain for it to clear out, I took over.
And there encountered the poopy changing table.
It looked fine at first. It was that light brown rugged plastic that they loved in the ’80s, so it was hard to see whether it was clean. I got out my wipes, dodging a small child and her mother who were trying to wash their hands nearby, and somehow balanced the baby and my pack while I swabbed off the table. Then, I laid out my changing mat and plopped the baby — now complaining at being held around the waist for so long — on the mat and got to work.
“Guh guh guh,” Katie said.
All four chubby baby limbs immediately squirted out and started exploring their environment. And that’s when I saw it: poop smears on the very top of the table, where it would fold up when not in use … and Katie’s little ravioli hand inching toward it.
With a shriek, I scooped up my baby, the mat, my pack, the wipes, and the tattered shreds of my sanity and stomped back into the restaurant to get my car keys.
“Was it OK?” the nice waitress asked.
“NO. THERE WAS POOP ON IT,” I said, verging on hysteria.
“Oh, yikes,” she said, looking nervous. As anyone would, when confronted with a crazy lady holding a wiggling infant and the disjected contents of her diaper bag.
Adam was at the table, where our food had arrived. “How was it?”
“THERE WAS POOP ON IT,” I yelled.
Later, he told me that the cheese on his Monte Cristo smelled a little like poop, and when I said poop, for a minute he thought his sandwich was contaminated. He ate it anyway. Parents are typically ravenous and it’s always a treat not to eat over the sink, even if brunch smells like poop.
“Let me take her to the car and change her,” he said.
“No, I got this,” I said, snatching the keys off the table.
“Eeeeeeh,” Katie said, swinging her legs as I stomped back through the diner, down the ramp, and into the hundred-degree parking lot, sweat already running into my eyes.
I’ll spare you the blow by blow of changing a baby in a diner parking lot, but here are the important parts:
The poop was contained in the diaper. It hadn’t reached the belly button or the pants. This is A Good Poop, in parenting parlance.
The baby was giving me very frightened and very grown-up side eye the whole time. It might have been because I was red-faced and sweating and it might have been because I was muttering, “Poop! Who leaves POOP everywhere? These are the people who pee on toilet seats. POOP.”
After I was done changing her and was tying off the plastic bag with the diaper in it, I took my eye off the baby for one second and when I looked up, she was chewing on the changing mat. The changing mat that was just on the poopy changing table. Whereupon I had a heart attack and died and now I’m typing to you from the afterlife.
“How did it go?” Adam asked, once we were settled and eating french toast and Monte Cristo sandwiches. We took turns holding our little octopus, who felt so good now that her butt was clean, she had to spend maximum energy charming the older couple seated next to us.
“The baby has staph all over her body and also hepatitis and probably TB,” I said.
“Oh, if that’s all,” he said, and took a bite of his poopy-smelling sandwich.
“I just have to tell you, your little boy is beautiful,” said the woman seated next to us.
If you’re in a certain demographic of impending motherhood, breastfeeding is not really a recommendation: it’s an assumption.
And although I feel like I should have a lot more money to be in the mandatory-breastfeeding demo, I am an older, college-educated, white female person — which means that I’m part of the club, whether I want to be or not. (Note: plenty of women breastfeed who do not check all these boxes. We’re talking assumptions, not reality.)
I’ve written extensively before about my decision to exclusively formula feed, and I meant every word. But to be honest, even I suspected that I might waver in the face of overwhelming pressure. It’s really hard to stick by your choice when the whole world seems to be telling you that it’s a bad choice for your baby.
Only sociopaths don’t care what people think.*I care what people think. A lot. And I want to be a good mother. But I also know that breastfeeding is not for me.
Before I got pregnant, I assumed that I would know a lot about my baby long before she was born. My mother says that she knew who my sister and I were when we were in the womb — and this was before ultrasound was common, so she couldn’t even see us.
Adam scoffed at this when I told him.
“This is like when you claim to remember things that happened to you when you were six months old,” he said. “Memory is unreliable. You think you remember because you saw pictures and filled in the gaps.”
“No, it’s for real,” I insisted. “My mom knew that I’d like to stay up all night, because I started doing the rumba as soon as her head hit the pillow, and she knew that Meggy would be shy and quiet, because she was a much more mellow baby. The memory thing is real, too: Meg remembers being weighed on a baby scale.”
“Sure, she does.”
“Women remember things much earlier than men do.”
“That’s because women are lying liars who make things up.”
I’m not going to get into the memory thing here, but Adam may have a point about inventing insights about babies, because I can’t say for sure that I really know that much about the Great Baboo (aka Beano, aka The Miracle Child).
I’m sure of the following:
Beano hates: the Doppler, loud noises, and when I get stressed out about stuff
Beano loves: car rides (Zzzz), spicy food, Mel Brooks movies, her thumb
Also, on the last ultrasound, she clapped her hands and got the hiccups. It was the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I once got to feed a baby lamb with a bottle.
I have a few other inklings. I feel like she’s probably a very determined person, but that might just be based on the skill with which she avoids the ultrasound wand. I think she’ll probably be a very silly person, but I don’t know how she’d turn out differently with me and Adam for parents.
I don’t know whether she’ll be shy, chatty, bookish, athletic, practical, dreamy, organized, creative, and/or analytical. I don’t know what her romantic or sexual orientation will be, or her gender identity, or whether she’ll be a plump person like her mom or a muscular person like her dad or a lean person like my aunt or my grandfather.
I’m guessing she’ll have wavy or curly hair, based on our hair, and that her eyes will be brown, because Adam’s eyes are brown and mine are hazel and I still remember a few things from high school science classes. She probably will not be excessively tall, since both her parents are compact, for ease of travel.
I hope she’ll love the Oxford comma, and be kind to herself and others, and be fairly liberal (or at least not someone who would cut funding for CHIP). I don’t care what she does for a living when she grows up, or whether she’s a genius or good at school or sports.
All jokes about punctuation and politics aside, she doesn’t have to like the things we like, although I hope for her sake she can at least tolerate hockey and Sherlock Holmes or it’s going to be a long childhood.
Most of all, I’m just glad she’s here. I wish she would live in my belly forever, and also that her birthday was tomorrow.
Yesterday, on the car ride home from Christmas at my sister’s, I told Adam that I thought the solution would be to grow a pouch, like a marsupial.
“That way, she could climb back in whenever she got cold or we needed to go someplace in a hurry,” I explained.
Since that’s not possible, I guess I’ll just focus on enjoying the last four months of pregnancy. It’ll be good to keep that goal in mind, since I’m already getting a few mid-to-late pregnancy symptoms that tell me the third trimester will be less comfy than the second has been.
For instance, on our car ride to Maryland, my feet swelled up to the size of pontoons and spilled right over my socks. It was like something you’d see on a medical reality show, and I was honestly afraid that my skin would burst.
They went back to normal pretty quickly though, and I got out of a lot of kitchen duty during the holidays because everyone was horrified by my hooves. So, I guess I can’t complain.
And in any case, I don’t mind having a few complaints. I’m just glad that Beano – the Great Baboo, the Miracle Child – is with us. We’ll figure the rest out as we go along.
Here’s how happy I am about being pregnant: it’s a real struggle to avoid using the phrase “over the moon.” Given that I spent a solid 20 percent of my pre-pregnant life making fun of people who say stuff like that, it’s pretty clear that I’m delirious with hormones and love.
And a good thing it is, too, because it I weren’t, I might be annoyed about all the advice I’ve been getting, much of it from perfect strangers. I was safe for the first four months, when it looked like maybe I’d just had a burrito for lunch, but now it’s obvious that I’m pregnant. I own a lot of shirts with ruching all of a sudden, and sometimes I knock things off shelves with my stomach. Plus, I groan a fair amount. I’m a clear target for busybodies.
To be totally honest with you, I’m not a big fan of life advice even when I’m not pregnant. Career advice? Sure. Recommendations about auto repair places, dentists, restaurants, or vacation destinations? Send ‘em my way! Advice about how to live my life generally? Hard pass. I try not to give this kind of advice, and when people offer theirs unsolicited, I grit my teeth and escape as soon as possible.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far — and really, it might be stretching it to claim that I’ve learned even one thing — it’s that no one really knows what anyone else should do in their personal lives. There are just too many variables, and it’s too hard to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. The right answer for me might be the wrong answer for you, or the lady down the street or the guy at the market.
But that doesn’t stop the advice-givers, who are sure that every pregnant person and parent needs their insight desperately.
“Thank God I went mini-golfing today,” they must think to themselves. “Otherwise that pregnant woman wrangling four kids might not know that she should be avoiding gluten in order to get at least one child who can behave in public.”
People who give unsolicited parenting advice should be flogged, is what I’m saying. But since that’s illegal and immoral, and since I usually think of the best retorts when I’m in my car 20 minutes after an interaction with a buttinsky, I’ve decided to rely on literature to help me get through.
With this in mind, I’ve gathered the following list of inspirational quotes, mostly drawn from Victorian literature, with the occasional Romantic or contemporary writer thrown in. Because if society is going to pretend that every single minor parenting decision carries enormous, life-changing weight, we might as well respond appropriately.
I hope you’re eating well for that baby! (Or: Here’s what your baby/toddler/5-year-old/teenager should be eating, and why doing anything different is child abuse.)
“At present I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
You should really at least try to breastfeed. Breast is best!
“This is the end of the line for you and the rest of your ilk. We shall no longer seek the counsel of false matriarchs, keepers of the Old Order, quislings whose sole power derives from the continuing bondage of their sisters. Like the dinosaurs, your bodies will fuel the new society, where each woman shall be sovereign, and acknowledge her rage, and validate her neighbor’s rage, and rejoice in everybody’s rage, and caper and dance widdershins beneath the gibbous moon.” – Jincy Willett
Let me tell you about the advantages of natural childbirth/unassisted birth/dolphin doulas.
“And if no Lethe flows beneath your casement, And when ten years have not brought full effacement, Philosophy was wrong, and you may meet.” – John Crowe Ransom
Have you thought about sleep training? (Or: Don’t let that baby cry it out. That’s child abuse!)
“In his house at R’lyeh dead C’thulhu waits dreaming.” – H.P. Lovecraft
You absolutely must get a nanny/do daycare/stay home until the child is X months or years old/become a stay-at-home-mom.
“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Whatever you do, don’t worry. If you get stressed out while you’re pregnant, you’ll give birth to a litter of rabbits … and the rabbits will all die.
“Memory haunts me from age to age, and passion leads me by the hand–evil have I done, and with sorrow have I made acquaintance from age to age, and from age to age evil shall I do, and sorrow shall I know till my redemption comes.” – H. Rider Haggard
Does your child do sports/take music and art classes/know sign language and Mandarin/have SAT prep built into her preschool program?
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – Charlotte Bronte
I can’t help but notice that your child has a behavioral and/or medical issue. Have you tried essential oils/prayer/a vegan diet/family calisthenics/moving to a yurt?
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
How much screen time do you permit your child? (BUZZER NOISE.) Wrong.
“I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.” – Elizabeth Gaskell
You know, you should really take care of yourself. I do yoga/train for marathons/fast every other day, and I lost the baby weight 45 minutes after giving birth.
“Fuck you.” – Unknown
Image: Mother Goose ABC, New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1891, via Pinterest
Did you know that about a quarter of American women return to work within two weeks of giving birth? It’s true. Twelve percent take a week or less.
This means, as John Oliver pointed out when the report revealing this terrifying statistic dropped two years ago, that nearly 1 in 4 women are forced to return to work before they’re even healed, never mind psychologically ready to return. (Or confident that their baby is ready to be left with a caretaker.)
I knew all this before I started trying to get pregnant, of course. In fact, I spent a long time talking about it with my therapist when agonizing over the fact that I really, really wanted a baby, despite it being just about the stupidest thing you can do in American society today from a practical perspective.
A few sample convos, to illustrate my dilemma:
Conversation 1: Financial Realities
Me: Did you know that infant care in the greater New York area costs $400 a week?
Therapist: I did know that, yes.
Me: Who has the money for that?
Therapist: No one, really. And yet, people pay it.
Me: I assume that the bulk of it goes to the actual caregivers, who are frequently women of color and/or recent immigrants to this great nation.
(Therapist and I laugh uproariously in unison … and then pause in silence to consider the torment of modern life.)
Conversation 2: A Horror Movie
Me: Here’s another problem.
Me: I don’t want to put my baby in infant care.
Therapist: I don’t blame you.
Me: They don’t even have neck control yet.
Therapist: It’s true.
Me: Also, every time you hear a horrible story about a baby dying in daycare, doesn’t it seem like two things are true? 1. The facility was unlicensed, or the license had lapsed; 2. The baby was about a minute old.
Therapist: It’s really terrible. We’re the only industrialized country that thinks this is OK.
Me: And then when something happens, everyone blames the mother, who didn’t even want to put her month-old baby in daycare.
Therapist: Well, I hate to tell you, but people often blame the mother. Period.
Me: I hate humans. Animals are way better.
Conversation 3: Anxiety
Me: If I hear one more story about how middle-class parents are ruining their children with their anxiety….
Therapist: Oh, I know. Why would they possibly be anxious?
Me: Ha ha ha. HA. Ha ha. Ha ha ha?
I’m bringing all this up now because I thought I was really clever and it turns out I’m not. I’m a freelancer, so prior to getting pregnant, I purchased a disability policy that covered maternity leave. Today, I decided to confirm with the insurance company that said policy was still in effect — I pay my premiums, but you never know — and also to see about the claim and coverage situation.
Are you ready for this? My policy, which again, I pay every month, entitles me to four weeks at half pay … if I have a C-section. For a vaginal birth, I’ll get two weeks.
Now, you can say that I should have already known this, having carefully done my research when I purchased the policy, and you’d be right. However, I just want to point out again the absurdity of anyone thinking that someone who recently gave birth should be up and ready to go two weeks later.
Things aren’t as bad as they could be, because Adam gets paid parental leave, thanks to New York State’s new legislation. I’m also banking money now, during my pregnancy, to support a self-funded leave. I’m lucky to be able to do that, and I’ll probably be able to swing two months off.
I’ll also be better off than most new moms even when my leave is up, because I’m my own boss and have a flexible schedule. So I won’t have to choose between a part-time job with no career path and a full-time job that won’t let me see my kid. This is a tremendous gift, and one I’m grateful for every single day.
But I find myself thinking a lot lately about countries with decent parental leave. In Sweden, for example, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave — and 90 days have to be used by each parent. What a difference a year-plus would make!
Alas, we live here, in the country that absolutely doesn’t want you to have access to birth control or abortion, but also does not give two shits in a hat about that baby once it’s born. There’s a lot on my list of things to protest right now, but these facts are near the top. Of course, it’s hard to take to the streets when you’re working constantly or healing as quickly as possible so that you can get back to work ASAP.