Sunday, November 27, 2011

Letter to Greta: 1 Month

Dear Littlest One,

Happy one-month birthday! A month ago, I was finally seeing the fruit of my labor at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt—“labor” as in “four-week internment culminating in a C-section.” Labor, indeed. All of that has faded in the weeks since then. We are deep into Infantland, conversations in bed as likely to happen at two a.m. as four or six. My shoulders are reliably dotted with baby saliva and spit-up. There are milk stains on the fronts of all my shirts. We are tired. So it is, four weeks in.

But you, unlike your exhausted parents, are thriving. You gained fourteen ounces your first week home from the hospital—a good eater from the start. You are a very good little breastfeeder, though it’s wearying for me sometimes, and often I feel like I do little but nurse you. Sometimes, when you’re particularly intent on eating, you nurse with your hands splayed, as though warning anyone who comes near—“I’m eating; don’t come near me; don’t you dare interrupt.” Sometimes you nurse yourself to sleep. Sometimes you scream-cry with gas pains for a while. Sometimes, particularly at night, you fall asleep but still make insanely loud grunting noises; it’s like sleeping—or, rather, not sleeping—next to a pigsty.

The only time you don’t make those noises—and often the only way we can get you to stop—is when you sleep in bed with us, curled into my arm. This is ridiculously cozy. But, much as we love you, we do not want to co-sleep. And so we eventually return you to your bassinet, where you resume your grunting as soon as your head touches the sheet. You are a baby who just wants to be in someone’s arms. During Lucia’s naps, you nap in my lap, turned nearly face-down across the Boppy.

You still have the look of a small woodland creature, with your darting eyes and the soft hair on the tips of your ears. But your cheeks are filling out now, your gaze is becoming more direct, and a few times you seem to have given me a smile.

We’ve taken you out in the world several times in the sling and the Bjorn, both of which you immediately despise but eventually fall asleep in.

You sleep for long spells during the day. And you are a good sleeper at night, knock wood—if we could just get your barnyard sounds to cease, we’d actually be getting some decent sleep. You usually sleep from about midnight to four, or from ten to two; and are up again about two or three hours after that to eat again. Not bad at all for a four-week old. Of course we’ve had some projectile vomiting (two instances), and some fussiness, but there has been no need for four a.m. spells on the playmat like there was with your sister. Thanks, littlest one, for that. And, again, knock wood.

You have so far refused the pacifier, and we have not yet given you a bottle. Sometimes you suck your thumb.

I love this cuddly infant time, but I am also greatly looking forward to seeing what kind of baby you become—we’ll have fun, the four of us, once our life consists of more than just nursing and calming. Until then, I’m trying to enjoy the warm, snuggly naps and the heavy weight of a sleeping infant on my shoulder.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Brooklyn Thanksgiving

Andrew and I have celebrated Thanksgiving in a variety of ways over the past five years. In 2007, we cooked a huge meal just for the two of us in our apartment in Sacramento. In 2008, we ate a Zen vegan feast in a small, middle-of-nowhere lodge in Japan. In 2009 and 2010, we ate outside in Napa with the Clarks. And now, for the first time ever, we had Thanksgiving in Brooklyn.

Molly and Ian came up for the holiday, and while Molly and I tended to Greta and Lucia, Andrew and Ian prepared our meal. Andrew ambitiously followed a Tom Colecchio turkey recipe and made an amazing dried-cherry-and-pecan stuffing from Cook’s Illustrated; he spent much of the previous evening doing something with turkey necks. This picture illustrates why Andrew, not I, was in charge of the turkey. (Raw turkey skin—ick.)

We had Barbra, Chris, and Alex over for the meal as well. Lucia tried a bite or two of squash, two cranberries, half a roll, and a miniscule bite of turkey, as well as some sliced American cheese and steamed baby carrots. (On a better day, she might have tried more; but she has been sick again, coughing and stuffy, slightly feverish, surely beginning a several-years trend of one or the other of our children getting sick over the holidays.) Greta was not at the table with us—she slept through the meal in her bouncy chair—but we were all happy she was with us nonetheless.

Note that both my children are absent from this group picture, though the edge of Greta's chair and the back of Lucia's head are both visible:

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving and a lovely few days all around. Lucia warmed to Molly and Ian immediately, not least because they brought her a talking Elmo and a whole package of new Play-Doh. The night before Thanksgiving, Andrew and I had a particularly difficult night with Greta, involving very little sleep as well as a dramatic instance of projectile vomit; in the morning, after Andrew got Lucia out of her crib, she ran out into the living room by herself, ready to play—remarkable since even with beloved grandparents she usually needs some easing-in time each morning.

I desperately wanted Ian to take a family picture of the four of us, but that did not go according to plan. Lucia seemed fully willing to sit for a picture until it was time to sit for the picture I wanted. Ah well. This is probably a better representation of our current life anyway:

Lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, cranky toddlers included, though I have to confess I did a horrendous job of introducing Thanksgiving to Lucia. She loved seeing all the pumpkins, ghosts, and so on in the neighborhood for Halloween, and knew that ghosts say “Boo!”; but she can’t even make a gobbling sound. I had grand plans for turkey crafts, appropriate books, and perhaps even Charlie Brown, but none of those things came to pass. (Greta is to blame, of course, but she’s too cute to single out here.) I shall redeem myself at Christmas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leaving the House

This weekend, it took Andrew and me one and a half hours to leave the house with Lucia and Greta. First Lucia melted down after spotting some Halloween decorations in the storeroom. She wanted to take them all with her on a walk. I denied her this wish after giving her two of the pumpkin cutouts. Of course, I should have just said fine, take them, but by then we were deep into a tantrum that I simply could not reward by giving in. Then Greta needed to eat and be changed. Then everyone needed coats and slings and shoes and snacks. We did make it out eventually, and we did make it to a playground where Lucia and Andrew kicked a ball around for a while. And on the way home we even spontaneously stopped at a little pizzeria with a happy hour and had a fast—very fast—pizza while Lucia dipped her straw into my water glass and then dabbed it on the wall while murmuring “Mess. Mess.” Andrew left a large tip.

Yesterday I took the girls out by myself for the first time, around the corner to the mailbox. Andrew was working from home, phone at the ready in case I needed him to rescue me. We made it, however. When we got to the mailbox and I said we had to turn around to go home, Lucia said, “No. Playground” and began walking in the opposite direction; but I managed to get her to comply by suggesting we collect acorns. Anyway, it was a start. A small start, but a start.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Home Alone

Greetings. So far, I’ve survived the week alone with the girls, and they, too, have survived. We started off with a bang on Monday, when, within the space of ten minutes, both little ones had peed on the floor and/or on their clothes and/or on me. Lucia jumped up from the floor before I could get her diaper on, scream-laughing as she ran across the room and then peeing as soon as she hit the kitchen floor. Greta just decided a good time to go was as soon as I took her diaper off, soaking the changing pad and her sleeper. Fun times.

It was one of many moments this week when I had to just take a deep breath and remind myself that there will come a time, sooner than it seems these days, when I will no longer have babies but children who a) are potty-trained; b) no longer breastfeed; and c) sleep through the night. When I will no longer negotiate how many bites of food must be eaten before watching Elmo. When I will no longer spend my days in a milk-damp nursing bra, leaking milk at odd moments. Whenever I make remarks like this to Andrew, about taking comfort in the fact that infanthood/toddlerhood won’t last forever, he gives me an exaggeratedly tender look and belts out the refrain from “You’re Gonna Miss This” by the country singer Trace Adkins: “You’re gonna miss this / You’re gonna want this back / You’re gonna wish these days / Hadn’t gone by so fast / These are some good times / So take a good look around / You may not know it now / But you’re gonna miss this.” Probably true, of course.

Anyway. Lucia continues to be an adoring, and adorable, big sister. She likes to go up to Greta and take her hand, then say to me, “Hold hands.” She likes to kiss Greta’s forehead. She likes when Greta lies on her play mat and I sing songs to her. With a smile, she observes and remarks on Greta’s actions: “Kicking! Coughing! Sneeze! Moving!” This is all very cute. And Lucia has been very mellow all week, which has helped—some instances of being demanding, and a couple of baseless near-tantrums, but nothing to write home about. Books, sticker books, drawing, Play-Doh, and pretend-cooking have occupied our time.

It has, however, been very tough being homebound. And there are some good reasons why I feel homebound. First, Greta is just three weeks old, so I hesitate to take her outside in the cold. Second, Lucia moves so fast these days, and requires a good deal of hands-on help at the playground, and I’m just not up to it yet—I’m moving around just fine, pain-free, but I’m not exactly ready to run. And third, Lucia is a sometimes unpredictable toddler. Wrestling her into her stroller when she was unwilling to leave the playground was hard when I was pregnant—it will be impossible with Greta strapped to my chest. I need to get my courage up, basically. This will come, I’m sure, mainly because if I spend too many more days inside I’ll go nuts.

An aside: I’ve been eating a lot of peanuts, a good quick snack, and Lucia knows that nuts are only for Mama. She’s intrigued by this forbidden snack and loves looking into my bowl of nuts and announcing, “Nuts. Mama.” Which, after a few more weeks of home-alone time, might take on an entirely new meaning.

Last night, Andrew went to the National Book Awards ceremony/dinner for work, leaving home all gussied up in a tux. When he left, I was sitting in a milk-stained shirt at the kitchen table, nursing Greta while undertaking UN-caliber negotiations to get Lucia to eat her dinner. I'm gonna miss this...I'm gonna miss this...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Letter to Lucia: 25 Months

Dear Little One,

Together again! After our long separation, we’re finally back to Mama-and-baby, full tilt now that our post-new-baby visitors have gone home. Daddy went back to work this week (though he’ll be home with us off and on for several more months), so we’re settling back into our days together. Of course, these days look much different now that Greta has joined us, even though, for now, she does little but eat and sleep. The biggest difference is that so far we’ve spent our days inside. I’m still healing from surgery, unable to run after you or lift you, and Greta is just too little to be toted all over the place. This will all change, and one of these days I’ll be one of the mothers at the playground with a toddler in hand and an infant on her chest. Not yet, though. Not yet.

In the month we spent apart, your language just took off, and we really chat now. You are saying entire sentences now, like “I dropped it” and “I can’t reach.” You make observations when we read books: “Birds eat berries.” You shock me with the words you know, like apricot. Today when I offered you a larger-than-usual piece of pear, you instructed me to “Cut it.”

Your favorite activities these days are crafty, to my delight—drawing, Play-Doh (which you call “pee-o”), sticker books. You of course still love reading. You also like to cook in your play kitchen with the pots and pans we got you for your birthday, and a fun assortment of play Swedish breakfast food we got at Ikea. You love your little stroller. And New Bunny—the bunny our upstairs neighbors got you while I was in the hospital—is your constant companion. Whatever you do, Bunny does, whether it’s having a “stinky diapo” or trying to hold the baby.

Most remarkable of all as you reach your twenty-fifth month is how loving and concerned a big sister you’ve proven to be. You frequently kiss Greta, and anytime she fusses you run over, Bibi held aloft, and offer it to her for a snuggle. Each morning you toss Bunny into the bassinet. And though your offerings are temporary—“Bibi back,” you say after a few moments—your feelings are touching and show an empathy that is truly astounding. Sometimes you seem to scold me if Greta fusses for a second without a suitable response from me—“Mama, up!” you say, wanting me to pick up the baby, or you remind me that the baby wants “Milk. Milk. Milk.” So far you haven’t seemed to mind when we have to pause in our artwork or games so I can nurse Greta. I’m hoping this continues as Greta moves out of the constant-sleepiness of infanthood and becomes more demanding as we go along.

Addendum to Letter to Lucia (11/17/11)

Little One,

I forgot to add two bits to your letter: At 25 months, you can count to ten and identify and say your colors (the whole rainbow plus pink, black, white, and brown). However, you continue to say “mai” instead of “more”—this seems like something that’s going to stick around a while, especially since Daddy and I say it now too. “Do you want mai cheese?”

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Yikes. It says something about the state of things around here that I didn’t even realize that yesterday’s date was 11/11/11. Perhaps it’s for the best. How best to mark such a calenderic event, anyway, besides feeling vaguely panicked about not finding a meaningful, memorable way to mark it?

We’re over two weeks into two-kid-hood, and all is well. I’m off painkillers completely now, though I’m still taking the occasional Motrin for annoying and persistent pain from breastfeeding (though this finally seems to be settling down). I had my two-week checkup earlier this week, and my incision is healing perfectly; I was released into the world as a regular human being, done—finally—with monitoring and checkups and daily questions about whether I’m bleeding or cramping or leaking fluids. Andrew and I had driven into Manhattan for the appointment, taking Greta with us (leaving a feverish, coughing Lucia at home with Andrew’s mom), and we even managed a stop at Zabar’s for cheese and olives before heading home. Real human life!

And nothing signals I’m-healing-successfully-from-a-C-section like a trip to the worst Target in the country, which is what Andrew and I did on Thursday. Fortunately, another, better indicator of said healing is having dinner out, which Andrew and I also managed to do last night—we had Thai food just a few blocks from home while both little ones slept soundly at home under Granny’s watch. Today, all of us walked to the farmer’s market and joined the bustling crowds buying apples and Indian corn and leeks. It sometimes hits me as I look around on these gorgeous, crisp fall days that I missed out on an entire month of life—all of this was going on while I sat in a hospital bed on 59th Street, reading vampire novels. And even though Lucia was a bit surly, and Greta needed to be nursed on a bench, it was a relief to finally be part of it once again.

Now we are on our own: Andrew’s mom left today, and it’s just the four of us. On Monday, it will be just me with the girls, as Andrew returns to work for a while before using more of his ridiculously generous paternity leave. Good thing I still have six Percocets left! Ha! Kidding! At least, I am right now!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Week In, and Two Celebrations

Greta has been home with us for a week and two days now, and things are going surprisingly well. “Surprisingly” because we’ve been remarkably free from the fatigue and chaos that generally come with an infant. Greta has proven so far to be an outstanding eater, and a stellar sleeper, with little inclination to cry. Knock wood. Knock knock. I’m fully aware that this can and probably will change, but for now we feel surprisingly…human. She’s been sleeping in three- or four-hour stretches, with a five-hour stretch thrown in now and then just to keep herself in our good graces. She’s cute, too, so I guess we’ll keep her around.

In the week or so that we’ve been home, we’ve had two celebrations. November 3 was our four-year anniversary, which we actually managed to celebrate. After we put Lucia to bed, I fed Greta, passed her to my parents, and Andrew and I hurried around the corner for sushi. We’ve been going to this sushi place since I first lived in the neighborhood in 2005-2006, and it’s where we ate our final meal before getting into the U-Haul and moving me out of NYC. The restaurant is still there, but things have certainly changed for us.

On Saturday, November 5, once my dad had arrived, we finally celebrated Lucia’s second birthday. We kept it small—just Andrew and me, my parents, and Barbra, Chris, and Alex. Andrew and I had gotten her a table and chairs set, which we set up while she napped and adorned with some balloons; her gifts were arranged on the coffee table. She was initially surprised and displeased by all the new things when she came into the room, but quickly got over it and had lots of fun opening her presents and tangling herself into the balloon strings. And, of course, eating a cupcake and ice cream. She seemed unaware that her actual birthday was three weeks earlier.

And so here we are, dual citizens of Infantland and Toddlerland. And here I am, feeling remarkably good, with new-breastfeeding pain actually surpassing the pain from my incision. But all is well, despite the discomfort: we took Greta in for a checkup today, and she’s gained 14 ounces! Double the amount the doctor had said we should look for. She’s now 7 lbs., 3 oz. So we’re off to a good start.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Greta’s Birth Story

My C-section was scheduled for 7:30am on Thursday, October 27. Andrew got to the hospital at 5:00am, and we sat on my hospital bed, whispering while we waited in the dark, trying not to wake my roommate. I’d gotten an IV for hydration the night before and was wearing a hospital gown for the first time since checking in on October 2. After what seemed like a long wait, I was wheeled down to triage, where I’d wait for the surgery, Andrew following behind with my suitcase.

We waited in triage for a long time. I got a second IV—the worst-case-scenario IV, inserted so they’d be ready for anything in the OR. The surgery was changed to 8:00, then 8:30, as the various anesthesiologists and doctors tried to get coordinated. Finally, my doctor came in, wearing scrubs and a plastic mask over her face. “We’re walking,” she announced, and took my IV bag down from its hook. We walked down the hall to the OR. Andrew began putting on his surgical outfit while my doctor took me inside.

It was a real OR—huge bright lights, steel instruments laid out on tables, lots of equipment I of course couldn’t identify. I sat down on a table and got my spinal, which was uncomfortable but not unbearable. Then I was laid down and transferred to the operating table, and my lower half was hidden by a sheet. My legs got tingly and my doctor started pinching my abdomen, asking if I could feel it. I was sure I could feel everything, and kept saying so, terrified that I was somehow resistant to the anesthesia. But eventually my answers clearly weren’t aligning with what was happening, and they deemed the surgery ready to start. Andrew came in then, and it all began.

For some reason I had it in my head that, recovery aside, a C-section would be easy—you get drugged up, you lay down, and the next thing you know, your baby’s crying. I had no idea whatsoever that I’d feel every single step from the incision through the suturing, even if that “feeling” wasn’t painful. I’d been warned that I’d feel “pressure”—but this was more than pressure. I felt like someone had rammed their hands into my body cavity, and I felt every tug, pull, and push. It felt horrible, like something from a nightmare. My doctor tried to engage me in small talk to calm me, but I still groaned in horror now and then, and at one point she said if I didn’t stop they’d have to put me under. “You are not feeling pain,” she said. It was true, and I tried to focus on Andrew’s face and the fact that this would eventually come to an end.

Eventually it was time for the baby to come out, and there were some moments of my doctor speaking sharply to whoever was attending her, someone pushing powerfully onto my upper abdomen. The baby would not come out. She somehow positioned in such a way that her head was trapped. The moment didn’t last long, and suddenly I heard the gasping squall of an infant. She was finally here. She was taken over to a warming table and evaluated; her Apgar scores were 8 and 9. A few moments later, Andrew could go over to take pictures.

I got to see her for a brief few seconds when the pediatrician brought her over to me, but that was all. Andrew was then told he had to leave and wait in the waiting room while I was sewn up and moved to another table, leaving behind all the bloody pads and gowns from the surgery. Then I went to the recovery room, where I was hooked up to lots of electrodes and blood-pressure monitors and, blessedly, an IV drip of pain medicine. The baby was brought in to me, and Andrew joined me there shortly. I was able to nurse her despite being little more than a tangle of wires and IV tubes, and then she had to go to the nursery. Andrew went with her while I rested.

After a few hours, it was time to move to the post-partum room where we’d be for the rest of our stay. Andrew went to the nursery and retrieved Greta in her little hospital bassinet, bathed and calm. We were lucky enough to get a private room, which required only that we get onto a waiting list as soon as Greta was born and fork over her first year’s college tuition. No matter. It was such a relief after three weeks in the hospital and a morning of surgery to be wheeled into the closest thing to a hotel room a hospital room can be. There were warm lamps, a soft couch, a mini fridge full of juices, waters, and sodas, a large flat-screen TV, and a nicely tiled bathroom.

For the rest of that day, and the next couple of days, we really felt rested and nurtured and well. Mom and Lucia visited Thursday afternoon, and Lucia kissed Greta and then came into the bed with me, gentle and calm; I told her she had to sit quietly since Mama hurt, and every so often she’d say “Mama hurt” and give me a kiss. We read a few books together, and then they left. Andrew went back Friday and Saturday night to be with Lucia for bath and bedtime.

Thursday night, we decided to send Greta to the nursery so we could both get some sleep; we ended up sending her Friday and Saturday nights as well. I never thought I’d be okay with this, but it really worked out for the best. I desperately needed sleep, and we still saw Greta for much of the night, whenever a nurse brought her in for a feeding. In the morning, my IV was detached from its drips, my catheter was taken out, and, later in the day, my scary just-in-case IV was taken out as well. This felt like a huge milestone.

Friday and Saturday were just strangely restful periods of watching Greta sleep, feeding her, and relaxing. Saturday we had a crazy snowstorm, and it was so strange to be watching the snow fall from the window, as though we were having a little vacation. I ordered my meals from a leather-bound menu, and the food was actually really good, brought in to me on a white-clothed table. Real food was welcome after my “clear liquids” diet of broth and sorbet on Thursday.

Greta wanted to do nothing but sleep, even falling asleep when nursing; the pediatrician showed us how to effectively rouse her, which pretty much entailed unswaddling her and then letting her roll around in her bassinet, furious, until she was fully awake. This felt cruel, but it worked, and before we left the hospital she’d gained back 2 of the 7 ounces she’d lost after birth, which the pediatrician said was excellent.

Don’t get me wrong: though these days were calm and restful, the recovery was anything but easy. I got out of bed for the first time Friday morning, supported by my wonderful nurse Gigi, and promptly fainted (fortunately not before Andrew slid a chair under me). Walking felt impossible, like a lovely, distant dream, and I eagerly anticipated each dose of Percocet. Saturday, Gigi helped me take a shower, and I actually managed to do some walking up and down the hallways. Each day got easier.

What got more difficult was breastfeeding—not because Greta wouldn’t latch; she latched immediately and well; but because I became engorged very quickly. This is the one thing I’d hoped to avoid this time around, after my experience of Extreme Dolly Parton after Lucia’s birth. Beginning on Friday, I started noticing a familiar hardness and ballooning, but when I told the nurses I feared I was getting engorged, they said I wasn’t. Even the doctor I saw Friday morning said my milk wouldn’t come in for three or four days. By Saturday, the engorgement was out of control. My nurse even brought in another nurse, and they gazed at me, aghast. I tried pumping, but nothing would come out. Sigh. Exactly the same as last time. Andrew brought me a cabbage, which we soaked in ice water, and this brought some relief; but still. Between the engorgement and the painful first days of recovery, it’s pretty remarkable that I felt in as good spirits as I did.

Sunday morning, Greta and I were both examined and discharged. I was wheeled down to the lobby, and then, once Andrew brought the car around, I got my first breaths of fresh air in four weeks. As we drove home, everything looked sharper and brighter than I remembered, as though I were in some kind of fever dream, or had been in one. When we got home, Lucia kissed the baby and wanted to hold her. She couldn’t have been sweeter. Greta slept all day and then found her voice and was up pretty much all of Sunday night.

I spent my birthday (Saturday) in the hospital this year, celebrating with Percocet and vitals-checking and industrial-sized maxipads instead of a cake, but really it did feel like we had something to celebrate. We’re back in Infantland. I’m out of the hospital. My pregnancy is over. Greta and I are home safe and sound. Greta’s birth story was a long, stressful, and winding one, but it fades a little more with each of her tiny, darting glances and each of her kitten-like cries.