Here’s something my husband said recently that maybe he shouldn’t have:
“I feel great! I got 12 hours of sleep last night!”
The Barnacle, my sweet, sweet boy, is 3 months old, and already he’s lived through earthquakes and some of the worst wildfires California has ever seen. His new trick is shoving both of his hands in his mouth, and he looks very serious when he does this, as if he is doing something and must concentrate. He is so chubby that recently someone guessed he is 9 months old. He is a healthy baby!
His mother, on the other hand, is a “bundle of symptoms,” as my husband noted.
Here’s the list:
1. Two aches that had gone away with pregnancy: shoulder impingement and metatarsalgia, a fancy word for your foot fucking hurts when you walk on it
2. Weeping, blistering eczema on three fingers so bad that my skin has cracked in two places
3. Some sort of itchy inflammation on one toe, so the knuckle is red and swollen
4. My bleeding hemorrhoid
5. Constipation. Seriously, when the fuck is my system ever going back to normal?!
Oh, and my hair is falling out in clumps.
But the real bitch is I have two — two! — baby-related conditions! To wit:
1. Dysphoric milk ejection reflex, or D-MER: Right before my milk lets down, I get a horrible, intense feeling of sadness and loathing, I lose my appetite, I get incredibly tired, and I have trouble focusing, which means I have trouble talking. Just as suddenly, it goes away, and my boobs get all full and sore-feeling, meaning that in another few seconds the baby’s going to need to nurse (biology is amazing).
About a month ago, in the middle of the night, I googled, “Why am I sad when I breastfeed?” It turns out this is a thing, and it’s not postpartum depression. The theory is that some women react more strongly than others to the drop in dopamine that happens simultaneously with the rise in prolactin, the hormone involved in milk production and release. I am one of those unlucky bitches, although I’m fishing around for reasons it could be my fault. Too many uppers in my 20s? Either way, 10 times a day, for 20–30 seconds, I am awash with depression — but then it goes away! Yay!
2. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis: Otherwise known as “Mommy thumb,” from picking up the baby who gets heavier and heavier. I have constant pain on the thumb side of both wrists. Icing and ibuprofen help a little, but mostly, I live in wrist guards. Sexy!
To distract myself from the pain, I turned to my absolute favorite book ever, What to Expect the First Year, from “America’s Best-Selling Parenting Series.” It is full of useful advice for the modern mom! I love it so much! For example, this is an illustration from the subsection “Getting Back Into Shape”:
Yes, let me just dig out a pair of dark socks, lace-up brogues, and biker shorts, wheel my stroller to a public place, and get cracking on this exercise which is designed to increase self-esteem.
Recently I perused Chapter 23, “For Mom: Enjoying the First Year,” which has another subsection entitled “What You May Be Wondering About.” These are what the authors feel I may be wondering about: “Exhaustion,” “Not Being in Control,” “Not Feeling Competent,” “Urinary Incontinence,” and “Stretched Vagina.”
This is what I’m actually wondering about:
1. If I walk away from the baby for 45 seconds to throw the laundry from the washer into the dryer, will he suffocate?
2. If I leave the baby in the swing for 45 seconds to put steroid cream on my weeping eczema, will he suffocate?
3. If I take a bath with the baby when no one else is home, will I have a heart attack and drop him in the water, leading to him suffocating?
4. If I leave the baby in the swing for a minute so he’s not engaging with anyone, will Child Protective Services take him away?
5. If I pick up the baby when he gets frustrated during tummy time, will I turn him into an entitled brat?
6. If I nurse the baby longer than absolutely necessary because I want to sit in one place for five minutes to update our financial spreadsheet, finish a chapter in The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, catch up on emails and text messages, or stare at the wall so I can panic about turning the baby over to daycare, where he will walk his first steps, say his first words, and slowly forget my face, will I ever be able to forgive myself?
7. What is sex like?
The subsection “Getting Everything Done” starts with this fake question from a fake mom:
“Now that I have a baby, I’m falling behind on everything: cleaning, laundry, dishes, literally everything.”
Feminism quiz: What is wrong with that sentence?
“My once immaculate house is now a mess.”
Oh god, no, not my immaculate house.
“It will … help to: Get hold of yourself.”
Get hold of yourself, JENNY.
“Dwelling anxiously on what you have to do makes facing it twice as difficult.”
I find dwelling anxiously on what I have to do calming in the way I find it calming to obsessively check that I haven’t left any candles burning or the kettle on when I leave the house since I have done both.
“So relax. Take a few deep breaths. Then, instead of trying to do it all at once (which you can’t)…”
But on the next page you say “Get good at doubling up”?!
“[B]anish thoughts of household chores while you’re with [baby]. … When you look around later on, the clutter and chaos will still be there.”
WTF has my husband been doing while I’ve been keeping this baby alive?!
“[…] but you’ll be better able to deal with it.”
If I’ve been keeping this baby alive and no one else can see fit to clean the fucking bathroom, I doubt I’ll be able to better deal with it.
“Get rest. Paradoxically, the best way to start getting things done is to start getting more rest.”
That doesn’t sound like a paradox to me, but okay.
“Give yourself a chance to recuperate fully from childbirth and you will be better able to tackle your new responsibilities.”
You seem to be referring to my new responsibility as a domestic servant.
“Get help. If you haven’t already arranged for household help — paid or unpaid — and taken steps to streamline housekeeping and cooking chores, now’s the time to do so.”
This is somewhat of a tall order for someone who can only manage to change the maxi pads in her underwear instead of the actual underwear.
“Also be sure that there is a fair division of labor … between you and your spouse.”
Sure, and I’ll just get that era passed while I’m up. Anybody need anything from the kitchen?
“Get your priorities straight. Is it more important to get the vacuuming done while baby’s napping or to put your feet up and relax so you can be refreshed when she awakens? Is it really essential to dust the bookshelves, or would taking the baby out for a walk in the stroller be a better use of your time?”
I don’t like your tone.
“Keep in mind that doing too much too soon can rob you of the energy to accomplish anything well, and that while your house will someday be clean again…”
Umm, not unless somebody cleans it!
“… your baby will never be 2 days, or 2 weeks, or 2 months old again.”
What is the fucking fetish with constantly telling new moms that this incredible joy they’re experiencing is going to go away, never to return? I cry every time someone tells me this, and someone tells me this almost every day.
“Get organized. Lists are a new mother’s best friend.”
I like lists.
“First thing every morning, jot down a list of what needs to be done.”
This alone takes two hands. Do you even have kids?
“Divide your priorities into three categories…”
I can’t return a text message with one hand, let alone do something that has two parts.
“Chores that must be taken care of as soon as possible…”
Why is the fucking assumption that child care means cleaning the fucking house? Here’s another idea of lists to make:
1. Countries I want to travel to
2. Ideas for a T-shirt silk-screening business
3. People I’m going to apologize to if it will benefit me in the long run
“Those that can wait until later in the day…”
All of them.
“Those that can be put off until tomorrow, or next week, or indefinitely…”
All of them.
“Assign approximate times to each activity…”
When you visualize a new mom, is it a woman in a bathrobe with her hair slightly askew sitting at a kitchen table with a steaming mug of tea (Who made the tea? Where was the baby when the tea was being made?), musing at a notepad with a pen cap in her mouth and jotting a list of tasks, categorizing them, and then assigning approximate times to each? Because that is not how my mornings look.
“Get simplified. Take every shortcut you can find.”
Done. No chores.
“Make friends with frozen vegetables…
Funny. Some of my best friends are frozen vegetables.
“Your local salad bar…”
If you mean Whole Foods, I’ll tell you right now: There is no way I’m going to wander the aisles with a newborn at noon. Nope. Never.
“The pizza delivery guy…”
That I can get with.
“Get a jump on tomorrow tonight. Once you’ve bedded baby down each night and before you collapse onto the sofa for that well-deserved rest, summon up the strength to take care of a few chores so that you’ll have a head start on the next morning.”
Wait a fucking minute! What happened to get rest?
“Restock the diaper bag.”
“Measure out the coffee for the coffee pot.”
“Sort the laundry.”
“Lay out the clothes for yourself and the baby.”
“Get good at doubling up. Become a master of multitasking. Learn to do two things or more at once. Wash the dishes or chop vegetables for the salad wile you’re on the phone. Balance your checkbook or fold the laundry while you catch the news on TV. Check your e-mail or help an older child with homework while breastfeeding. There still won’t be enough hours in the day, but this way you may only crave 36 instead of 48.”
Hold on. I can’t see because of this popped blood vessel in my eye.
No, no, you get out. You.
“Plan an outing every day — even if it’s just a walk around the mall.”
Because the mall is where women go? Also, if I do this, how can I greet my husband at the door every evening with manic eyes, one slipper, and a T-shirt soaked in breast milk and scream “I haven’t left the house all day! Take this fucking baby. I hate you!”?
“Get the joke. If you can laugh, you’re less likely to cry. So keep your sense of humor, even in the face of total disorder and other clutter; it’ll help you keep your sanity, too.”
That rage you’re feeling at being tied to an organism that is literally sucking you dry and still somehow being responsible for “washing dishes,” “chopping vegetables,” “folding laundry,” “balancing the checkbook,” and “doing child care for a second child” (see above) is the real problem. Not the fact that you’re being given conflicting advice from the two women writers, no less, on how to “get everything done” when maybe the problem is with the patriarchal system that assumes “everything” to you means child care, cooking, and cleaning, that this is all your responsibility and you need to accomplish “everythin”g to the standards of an unattainable ideal. Where’s your sense of humor, bitch?
“Get used to it.”
Never, never, never, never, never. NEVER.
Here’s some advice: Marry a man like my husband, who, when you hand him the baby in the morning and say, “Can you take him? I’d like to do some writing,” says in reply, “And when would you like breakfast?” and is not joking.
I used to make this ginger fruit bowl for breakfast every morning, although it’s been since before I had the baby. You need:
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- Fruit of your choice: mixed berries, chopped banana, peaches, and/or pears
- Handful walnuts
- 1 tsp. chopped raw ginger
- Spoonful honey
You need to:
- Combine and eat. You never knew you liked raw ginger first thing in the morning. But you do. YOU DO.