connor ashley (connorashley) wrote,
connor ashley

I keep wanting to say something about motherhood here. I tried and failed to say many important things about pregnancy, but I was so sure I'd have things to say about being a mom. I lie awake at night, listening for sounds of catastrophe from my son's room, and I write letters to him in my head -- stories of him, stories of me, stories of daddy, stories of us. In daylight, with my son safely at home playing with daddy or cozily ensconced at his grandparents' house, I can't seem to find the words or the memories.

The problem is that I have to tell these things as they're happening, and usually when they're happening I'm too busy and engaged to bother taking notes. Poetry is supposed to be emotion recollected in tranquility, prose is supposed to be a memory translated into language, but the problem is that there's just so much to remember. I have to formulate phrases for this experience one at a time, but sitting here to write an entry makes me anxious to remember everything, all at once. Still, there are things I don't want to forget. There are things I want Connor to know.

I think this may be a futile attempt at storytelling, but here goes nothing. Here goes my best.

Ideally, this would start with a detailed story of the birth. Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot of the details. I remember strange lighting and mean nurses, the bizarre absorbent pads they put on the hospital bed, the shape of the clock I watched anxiously through contraction after contraction. Do I remember the contractions themselves? Not as such -- I remember pain, but my body is stubbornly silent on the subject.

The story is kind of blurry for a while, actually -- the birth, the first couple of weeks, and then in a less serious way, the first couple of months. The first two weeks or so after having Connor, I was positively euphoric. The first dirty diapers! The first time he kept his eyes open for more than five seconds! The first bath! The first time he had to go to the hospital and come home with a strange, glowing blue contraption to wrap around his tummy! These first couple of weeks were so anxious and new. Every time I saw the baby, I expected to be surprised and was let down (not by him, I mean, but by the lack of surprise). He was so familiar, and it was so astonishing that I knew what to do. He was also, completely unexpectedly, really cute. It's hard to avoid clichés here; it's also hard to avoid being flip. Being a very new parent is exhausting and hard and stressful, but it's also fun and funny. Michael and I spent a lot of these first few weeks just laughing -- there were bodily functions to giggle about, there were silly faces made by the dozen, there were strange sounds made at top volume.

Until Connor was about two months old, we spent all our time trying to figure out how to get him to sleep and then, once he was asleep, trying to figure out how to keep him that way. We tried letting him sleep in his swing, which worked twice. We tried pacifiers, which didn't work at all. We tried everything except putting him on his tummy, because I was so afraid that he would die of SIDS. Finally, I took to bringing him into bed with me, figuring that we could both get sleep that way. It worked wonderfully for him; he'd sprawl over my chest and snore lightly for three or four hours... and I would stay awake, terrified that if I fell asleep I'd roll over on him and crush his tiny body. I also stayed awake because it was so absolutely wonderful to lay there and cuddle my son. He was very tiny and compact and warm. He had soft, wispy hair and skinny little fingers. There were many, many exquisitely formed details, and it was so hard to study him when he was awake -- or when he was asleep but about to wake up -- or when he was asleep but drinking a bottle -- or when he was having a bath.

It was hard, in the early days, to get to know my kid. I wanted to feel his skin but he was always covered with diapers and onesies and sleepers and the ubiquitous receiving blanket. I wanted to look into his eyes, but he was always asleep. It's astonishing and terrifying to love someone so much when you don't know them at all. It was hard to connect with him; I wasn't a mother who instantly or even quickly bonded with her baby. We took some time to warm up to each other. At the same time, I loved him so very much. Michael found me crying on the closet floor one day because I loved this kid so much and yet it felt like we were complete strangers. This was the first time in my life that I'd had carte blanche to love someone, without questions and without doubts and without limitations. I didn't have to worry that my love was inappropriate or annoying. It was absolutely bewildering -- the right thing to do, the absolute right thing to do, was to love this little person! And I did love this little person, but it was very hard to let him know about it. I spent three months getting past the hurdle of silence. Connor spent three months getting past the hurdle of always being asleep. It didn't help that he had hernia surgery when he was two months old -- there was sleep disruption and stitches to be careful with, along with fear and worry and probably too much caution.

After that, it got better. It got a lot better. Connor was around four months old when, suddenly, everything clicked. He was a real baby now -- he stayed awake long enough to play, he'd plumped up into this fat, dimply, smiling, giggling... baby. I was finally a mother. I was his mother! Things got really fun. He started vocalizing, and I started vocalizing back. We gave him baths in the real tub, with a baby seat, instead of awkwardly hosing him down in a tiny infant tub. He played with toys. He held his own bottle when we fed him. He slept better. He smiled when he saw me. He laughed when he heard my voice over the phone. He interacted. He decided, one week, that he loved me more than anything. He wouldn't take a bottle from anyone else, he wouldn't play with anyone else, he cried when I left the room. The week after that, Michael was the favorite, and I was somehow bereft. Michael showed him the mirror -- look, there's Connor and Daddy in the mirror, and there's Connor and Daddy right here! -- and he laughed. I showed him the mirror -- look, there's Mommy and Connor! -- and he cried because he saw Mommy holding another baby. Oh well.

Perhaps as a byproduct of all this bonding, I developed a very scary habit around this time. I stayed up late at night, listening to the baby monitor and reading the tragedy pages in my baby books -- all the chapters about the things that can go wrong with babies. I learned about babies who are born without their brains. I learned about Down syndrome. I learned about cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis, the latter of which made me remember an absolutely tragic book I'd read as a child about a girl who had CF and the way her parents had to hang her upside down and pound her back brutally to dislodge mucus. She died at the end of the book. I read infant first-aid procedures for every eventuality; I spent three nights memorizing exactly what to do in case one of Connor's limbs was ever severed. Michael found me near tears more than once because I could picture Connor's arm lying on a bed of ice, and the exact shade of red the towel I pressed over his shoulder would turn. I read about babies who are born so premature that they can fit on the palm of a hand. I learned how to clear an infant's airways, I taught myself what to do should Connor ever swallow a razorblade, I studied and memorized the symptoms of and treatment for every fatal illness that can strike a baby.

When Connor turned six months old, I started watching him anxiously for signs that he had Tay-Sachs disease. It must be pointed out that this is a symptom that only strikes Ashkenazi Jews, and then only if both parents are carriers. Still, I had to keep an eye out. The symptoms of Tay-Sachs are as follows: the baby is completely normal at birth, and for about six months afterward. Around six months, however, the child suddenly starts regressing -- he stops eating, stops smiling, stops crawling, stops rolling over, starts sleeping all day... and eventually he regresses so far that he is blind, deaf, unable to sense his surroundings, unable to swallow, and eventually dies. There is no treatment or cure. This was the most horrific thing I could imagine, this beautiful baby I'd gotten to know for six months suddenly regressing and dying. It seems like such an unfair disease. I was terrified that one day my baby would suddenly not smile at me when I picked him up in the morning, that the next day he'd have forgotten how to roll over, that the day after that he'd be an insensate lump who bore a horrifying resemblance to my beloved son, and the next day he'd be dead. (The disease does not progress that fast. Nor are we Ashkenazi Jews.) I had to be vigilant. One day he slept almost around the clock and I was beyond terror -- was this regression? No, he was starting a cold.

He's seven months old now. He's still progressing. I don't read the tragedy pages anymore. I learned, somehow, what I needed to know. I found what I was looking for, even though I didn't know I was looking for it. I learned that my baby was alive, and normal, and healthy, and that he was really going to stay that way. I'm looking forward to his tenth birthday. I'm also looking forward to picking him up from his grandparents' house in a few hours. There is no difference. This is what motherhood has taught me so far.

You know, this is not at all the entry I wanted to write. I forgot to write about the first solid-food feeding, and I forgot to write about favorite toys. Michael is almost lost in this narrative, and that's a real shame, because he's not lost in our apartment at all. I forgot to write about the obsessive way I plan things -- what to feed the kid, what he should wear, how to teach him not to touch the stove, the ways in which we are going to childproof our house, the endless philosophical reasons I have come up with for not giving him antibiotics. Maybe I'll try again later.
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