Monday, January 12, 2009

A Rattle in the Hand

Ayla is making leaps and bounds in her development lately. Her motor skills are becoming more refined. She is more engaged and interested in her outside world. She tracks things with her eyes. She has found her hands. She is spending more time on her belly. She reaches for things.

We just can't believe she's already 10 weeks old!

Hold Your Head High!

Yet another developmental marker - ability to hold her head up at a 45 degree while on her tummy.

Just another sign Ayla is the definition of perfection.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Six Weeks Postpartum Reflections

More maternal musings, six weeks postpartum (written December 23, 2008)

In an unusual turn of events, I have finished the day’s most requisite emails and Ayla is still asleep, but beginning to stir, in the newfound baby-delight mother-liberator known as the battery powered swing. Yeah, my no-electric/battery operated, no plastic, no artificial substitute for parents idealism has lasted all of six weeks. At least we haven’t plopped her in front of the television yet.

Last week was our last appointment at Alma with our midwives, and it generated some reflections at six weeks postpartum. Last night Jason and I wrote of some of the newest discoveries, but also on my scribbled list of notes from reflecting on recent weeks were some particularly maternal observations to record. I had thought that six weeks was an arbitrary marker, defined by the end of occupational maternity leaves and the medical definition of the end of the postpartum period by the return of the uterus to the non-pregnant size and location. Women have written about the marked absence in such definitions of the emotional, psychological, spiritual and bodily experiences following birth, which are not ‘over’ in a mere six weeks. Those interested in evolution and cross-species biology have noted human babies have a “fourth trimester” of three months (that is, twelve weeks) outside the womb of intense, rapid development (humans, unlike other animals, cannot be born ready to run, for example, because our brain and skull size required for such coordination and autonomy would be impossible to deliver, and so is born utterly helpless, minus a handful of neato reflexes.) Thus, I have been surprised how much six weeks actually does feel like a significant transition time, but am reminded that ‘traditional cultures’ worldwide have celebrated the first 40 days.

I was talking with another new mama about Ayla’s new, engaging smiles [that, by the way, make you feel like the most special person in the universe! and, as Jason said this morning, we may be jealous when the Blizzard ends, we leave the house and she starts smiling at other people!]. It has been so fun and remarkable to see these new things she can do suddenly emerge that our orientation seems to have become quite in the moment, and even slightly forward looking, in anticipation of more to come. My friend reminded me of the conversation we’d had a few weeks ago, when it seemed the preciousness of the sacred cocoon, the very newness of birth and her body and spirit here with us in a quiet protected inner world of our bedroom, was beginning to slip away. There was a sense of needing to treasure every moment, for it would soon become only available through nostalgia. The transition now feels less sad for the loss of recent days, and instead more matter-of-factly getting on with daily life, and excited for the coming days. For this I am actually glad, for it is not easy to fully inhabit time when you are also too acutely aware of its fleeting nature.

Those early days and weeks had a preciousness, but also a tender fragility and subtlety, that, as Ayla packs on the pounds, has become more solid, grounded and less dreamy. It seems in recent months we have become aware of many babies and parents who have not had the ideal development and start to life that we’ve enjoyed (so often we think of William Jude, Prajna, Calvin, Filipe, Isabella, and the ones without names). But our sense of gratitude and fortune could also take on a heavy obligatory feeling when mixed with knowledge that we can never completely empathize with others’ struggles. Thus, it was so refreshing to just delight in the way our midwives exclaim over Ayla’s perfect eyelashes, her substantial heft, her shockingly long head-to-toe measurement, her evident gusto for breastmilk, and her sweet feminine features; to laugh about her appointment in the midst of a virtual blizzard recalling how the power went out during her birth, and wondering who and what she might pee all over this time. In their soft, smiling and sure ways with her, I can see a definite appreciation for the preciousness of life and the miracle of birth, but with a levity and grace that expects nothing less. Health, they helped me remember just by their example, is natural, not a state of fragility warranting anxiety over its potential demise. So, these days I am thinking of the balance of “miracle” and “normal” in one lovely little body.

For my birthday, one month and three days after Ayla’s birth-day (which feels like my real birth-day!), I chose to do a long walk in Forest Park, and Jason knew a relatively level trail. I’d still been feeling some looseness in my pelvic joints, and some continuing healing in pelvic muscles when we went for longer walks in the neighborhood. Some ways into the woods, silently breathing in the moist clean air and the vibrant greens of mosses, lichens, ferns and evergreen needles, I felt those ‘bruises’ as receding and had a surprising moment of not wanting them to completely disappear! Those pains were the last remaining evidence of the birth, proof to myself that it had been challenging and that I had done it – had it not really been that momentous I wouldn’t still be feeling it, after all, yet here I was, still carrying bodily remnants and memories. I’ve had moments of missing being pregnant, but mostly shock at how long ago it seems that I was ever pregnant. That birth could also feel like it was a long time ago was held at bay somewhat by lingering pains. But now, at six weeks (really, probably at five weeks), the pains I feel are new ones: upper back aches from carrying and feeding a baby! And, in fact, the constant, constant, constant presence with her is so immediate that there isn’t much time or energy really to dwell on what’s passed.

Gladly, we have an increasing sense that we understand her communications and are anticipating her needs. She rarely cries these days, and only for shorter bursts while we do whatever’s needed in order to respond appropriately. She has learned the sequence of breastfeeding, for example, and, if I haven’t prepared early enough to pre-empt hungry fussing, will immediately calm as soon as I lie her across my lap, watching and waiting patiently as I undo a bra and lift my shirt. We feel that we are building trust and security in our relationship with her, and that our presence to her and our attentiveness, even in the absence of a perfect ‘solution’, creates the more important lasting impression.