Echo was born on the 2nd and here we are at day #12, nearly halfway through the moon month and she is nearly two weeks old! They say time goes fast when they’re so little, but I really didn’t expect it to race by this quickly.
Sometimes it feels so natural to have a child. Like nothing monumental has happened and all is right and as it should be. Other times, I look at her and am struck hard with the awareness that I have a daughter! I wonder if she’s real and if this is all just a crazy dream or someone else’s life. And then, just as quickly, it will revert back to the feeling of just being so natural, like an extension of myself, another brick in the path of this life, just the next phase that was always pre-written anyway.
Post partum has been interesting. There are so many ways that I’m relieved to no longer be pregnant. I can put on my own socks again. I can lie on my stomach. I don’t have to pee every five minutes. I am waddling less and less every day. I feel lighter and more centered now that I’m not housing another life within my skin. Even though I still look 8 months pregnant (okay, maybe 7), at least I don’t look 9 months pregnant! Slowly but surely, this baby bump will shrink and I’ll be reunited with BELTS. I miss belts. J
In fact, I think my face is returning to normal. I still have a bit of a double chin, but I may have to admit that ice cream is more to blame for that than pregnancy! On the second day after giving birth, however, I looked down at my legs and almost whooped for joy; my shins and my ankles look like mine again! My old friends are back, at least from the knees down. The rest of my old friends, body-wise, will take their time to return I know, but at least a few have hastened to reunite with me so as to keep my spirits up while the others doddle.
Another thing no one tells you is how traumatic childbirth truly is on one’s body. I had no idea. My bones are still aching, especially my hips. I can feel my uterus contracting with every feeding. My tailbone and coccyx still struggle with prolonged periods of sitting. My nipples are a war zone that people keep telling me will go into peace talks any day now, but I still wince at the beginning of every feeding and find myself apologizing to my poor, battered nipples as I coat them with pure lanolin afterwards (while also whispering apologies to the sheep!).
But all that is just part of the recovery.
She is… magic. I look at her and I feel like the world’s questions can all be answered in the rhythm of her breath. And, like every mother that ever came before me, I think she is absolutely perfect. Every hair on her body, every cell that makes up her perfect skin, is like a medicine to any ailment of the body, mind or spirit. I hold her and I feel held. She is everything that makes anything matter.
So, yes, I am in love. Purely. Differently than ever before. Divinely.
The first four days at the hospital were, surprisingly, really great! We stayed an extra day at their request for a few extra tests (and then realized that we had to pay for that—oops, live and learn!) and felt like we were in a protective bubble of care and attention from the staff. Oh, and the food was absolutely amazing! It is an outside company that caters to new mothers and their vegetarian fare was diverse and delicious. I could have stayed on longer just for the food! I may have to admit to stashing a business card into my bag before leaving in the event that I ever feel like treating myself to catered meals in the future!
When we left on the Friday after her birth Monday evening, I felt weepy to be leaving our haven. In fact, I choked back tears at the hospital’s threshold as I carried an extremely bundled baby Echo out the doors and stepped into the waiting car. It felt like a huge step into the unknown and I was full of fear and worry and anxiety. Oh yeah, and hormones. Let’s not forget the buzzing hormones partying in my body right now!
Since being at home, though, we’ve found a bit more of a rhythm. As you know, taking this time called the “moon month” has been about staying indoors and allowing others to care for me. You were all right when you urged me to give into it. Allowing myself to be pampered has been a really healthy decision and the opportunity to rest my body (not having to worry about meals, particularly) has been too valuable to express. I have been able to nap with her when I’m tired and simply be with her. The household chores are getting done without me and Echo is eating when she’s hungry, sleeping when she’s sleepy, as is Mommy.
The moon month has also had its trials on a family level, however. In exchange for a mother-in-law who is extremely attentive when it comes to food and laundry and tidying up, I also have the full-time presence of a grandma who is extremely over-protective when it comes to her grandchild. The first week of the moon month included constant education and directives, chiding and criticism, lectures and instruction.
Out of respect for what she was providing the household, not to mention respect for her position in the family, I dealt with it. I nodded in agreement. I listened to her advice and tried (most of) it. I let her forbid certain clothing and blankets, for instance, determine where she should sleep (the crib has now moved to our room, as it’s warmer in here), and I even let her take Echo when she was fussy and shoo me out of the room to go and eat, even though I knew she was just hungry and hadn’t finished nursing.
The tides turned at the end of the first week, though, when my prolactin (nursing hormone) had truly come in and I was an emotional wreck. I was getting more and more sensitive to the constant criticism and I realized that I hadn’t heard a single positive affirmation regarding my mothering skills from my MIL since Echo had been born. That is very typically Chinese, however, and so it normally wouldn’t bother me. In my fragile state, however, the nitpicking was starting to wear me down.
It was day #7 of her life and Echo and I were enjoying the beginnings of a nap after she had finished a feeding on the bed. I had fed her lying down, one of the most restful positions for me, and she had drifted off and I was just about to do the same. She was in the crook of my arm, with no pillows or heavy blankets threatening her breathing, and I was protectively curled around her.
My MIL came into the room without my hearing her, reached around me (my back was to the door) and removed the baby from my cradling arms and put her in the crib! I was awake enough to ask her what she was doing. She brusquely responded that I should never sleep next to the baby on our bed because the baby could suffocate, that it was dangerous, that I could roll over on her!
I disagree wholeheartedly. Women have been co-sleeping with their children for centuries. Echo has been sleeping both with us and in her crib since she was born, depending on the hour of her feeding, and she has been perfectly fine. What’s more, the direct removal of a child from its mother is enough to elicit any MOMMA BEAR response. I wanted to roar in protest! I was livid. I took a deep breath and bit my tongue. I soothed myself with the reminder that my mother-in-law sleeps elsewhere and what we do for sleeping arrangements after she leaves our home is entirely our business.
Later that day, my mother-in-law continued her constant clucking about the cat hair that invariably lives in our home. I was raised with cats and so, too, will Echo be. We are not dirty people and our floors get swept and washed regularly, as does our bedding. Still, my MIL has been muttering about the lack of hygiene the cats bring to our home since the baby came home. She was doing it again that afternoon, brushing anxiously at Echo’s bedding in the crib, in a not-so-subtle, passive aggressive way while I was quietly feeding Echo in the corner of our room. It wasn’t the first time and so I asked her politely to please not mention the cats again. They are here to stay, I said, and they’re part of our family. Echo will be fine. A whole continent of children in the US and Canada (not to mention Europe!) who grow up with cats and don’t have ensuing health problems can’t be wrong, I reminded her. She stopped muttering but we didn’t discuss it further.
Finally, in the evening of that same day, as Echo took a pause in her feeding and I could feel she wasn’t done, I nudged her ear to get her to continue suckling and then stroked her perfect cheek. When that didn’t work, I nudged her jaw bone and my MIL, who often hovers when I breastfeed (which is annoying to say the least, but I got used to it at the hospital with the hovering nurses and doctors), pounced upon me and swept my hand away from her face saying, “Don’t ever touch her cheek! It’s bad for her salivation. Her saliva glands won’t develop properly and she’ll always drool if you do that!”
What?! I have never heard of that.
This is when the dam broke, I’m afraid. I couldn’t keep up my patience any longer. I admit to being inarticulate and disrespectful. I admit to losing my cool.
I stammered in messy Chinese, “This is MY BABY! I know what I’m doing! I am not hurting her!! Your culture is only one culture and my culture does things differently! I can’t stand all of your constant education and criticism ANYMORE! I know what I’m doing, okay!? Will you PLEASE LEAVE this room now!!” And I pointed to the door in anger and she stood back, surprised. The insertion of the word “please” in that final sentence didn’t soften the request, I’m afraid. She protested, calmly, that this point (about salivation) has been something that centuries of parents have known in China and I repeated, “Yes, but in China! Please go!”
The truth is it wasn’t about the saliva glands; it was about her respecting that I have my own mothering instincts and I have a right to some space. She should give me the benefit of the doubt. C’mon, at least once!
Still, she left the room AND the apartment in a hurry. According to Guo Jian, she didn’t even eat dinner. I pictured her brooding and angry—sulking, even—alone in her apartment on the other side of the complex and it made me progressively more angry and irritable throughout the remainder of the evening.
As soon as she left, I sobbed for ten solid minutes. A bewildered Echo stared up at me while I sobbed, and I rocked her so that she could rock me in all her wisdom. I am sure she calmed me down, too. She knows her Mommy loves her and doesn’t like to lose her shit. Who does? I think she understood.
I tried to go to bed early when Echo fell asleep but I couldn’t stop the spinning of the wheels in my head. I was upset. I knew I had acted inappropriately, but I also knew that I had a right to put my foot down. Eventually, I decided to phone my mother-in-law to talk about it. In Chinese culture, issues like this (read: emotional ones) often don’t get talked about but are instead swept under the carpet so that life can resume the next day like nothing has happened. I have pushed Guo Jian many times to speak of something that transpired between us when his preference has been to learn from it quietly and move on. I worried that I was going to make his mother uncomfortable by phoning, but I decided to do it anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest without at least trying to dialogue about what had happened, this time calmly and rationally.
She was really receptive. She said she wasn’t angry at all and actually had eaten before she left and so she hadn’t left the house without dinner as Guo Jian had surmised. Once she arrived back home to her apartment, she had spoken at length to a friend of hers from her home city on the phone and realized that she was just dealing with our cultural differences, nothing more. She actually said that she thought I was doing a great job already.
I thanked her immediately. I said, “Mom, that’s the first positive thing I’ve heard you say about my being a mom. Thank you so much. I really needed to hear that.”
I really hadn’t expected to find her in this kind of mood and it meant that I could finally exhale. Predicting I’d have to massage things back to peacefulness with a lot of tact and grace, what a relief it was to discover a much easier situation on the other end of the phone. I apologized for my behaviour, of course, and told her that I shouldn’t have gotten angry and that I have too many emotions and hormones going on right now and I was sorry to have not been in better control of them. She understood.
I also had a chance to remind her that I’m not in my twenties and therefore have experience with other people’s children and extended family’s children. I ended the conversation saying that I really hoped we could develop more mutual respect and understanding for our different but equally important wisdom when it comes to children. Even though she’s raised one and I haven’t, I said, I have done a lot of reading and listening and learning, and I also have my own instincts. She agreed. She even said that, in the future, she’ll say less in the way of instruction and we’ll go from there.
The next day, everything was back to normal, minus the incessant muttering and critique. I guess it pays to let the dams break sometimes when you really want to clean up persistent messes in the energetic sphere.
And Echo (or Ruyi, whichever language we’re using) gets cuter with every passing day. Guo Jian and I have started a great rhythm where I’m in charge of “imports” and he’s in charge of “exports.” That means that I feed and he changes diapers. It works, for the most part, unless he’s not at home!
I’ve also started pumping once during the day so that he can take on a nighttime feeding and let me sleep. This makes the scales balance when you consider the diapers that I still have to change, not to mention the fact that it makes me a lot more fun to be around during the day when I can sleep a bit more at night! He seems to like the opportunity to feed her, too. I admit to being awake when it’s happened the past few nights just to observe (and because when she cries, I’m instinctively awake even if I wish I weren’t!) and so I can personally report that it’s super cute to see him cooing at her as he lovingly watches over her in his arms.
Yesterday, he was out on an errand and he phoned to say he missed me and he missed “Little Spark.” He said, “Now I have two people to miss at home! It’s so strange to miss both of you!” It was very cute.
And name-wise, when we’re referring to the baby together, we still call her “Little Spark.” It’s the habit we got into when she was in my belly and the habit has stuck. When he’s talking about her to others or directly to her, he calls her “Ruyi” and, likewise, when I’m talking about her or to her, I call her “Echo.” That’s the habit after two weeks of her life outside of me, so who knows what will transpire from here.
But, regardless of what she’ll be called most often, she’s ours.
She’s the best thing I’ve ever made.
And she’s so loved.