the second child; surviving the epoch

When I think back to where I was when Nels was born, it seems like the end of one chapter in my life and the beginning of a new one – one that is even now drawing to a close. Or maybe his birth heralded even larger transitions, like a “Part III”, or something. At any rate, the distance of a couple years provides welcome perspective. As I’m mulling things over in my mind I’m thinking to myself, I am so rad that I held my family together and didn’t go nuts! A possible regret? Not going nuts, so I could score some good meds.

It wasn’t until the moment he was born the timeline clicked up a notch. Up until then, I was just growing a larvae and mostly busy wrangling my oldest child. My pregnancy with Nels was perfect, health-wise. I did a minimal amount of medical tests, I felt and looked great, I gained weight on a traditionally healthy curve. Visits with midwives were less like seeing a physician and more like visiting a hip aunt’s for a cup of tea. No “scary paper dress that scratches your tits”, no undignified or uncomfortable exams. I’d show up in a sunlit cottage, pee in a cup and put a lab testing stick in the cup to read my results, then sit and talk with a beautiful woman with capable hands who’d sit crosslegged with bare feet and red toenails while we talked. I think the amazing experience of a midwifery model made childbearing a completely nondisruptive part of regular life.

I was healthy enough but toward the end of my term I felt sluggish. Once on an outing, my daughter refused to walk anymore, forcing me hike all the way up the Haller Fountain steps while carrying her. Tourists and locals swished past me on the steps – a nine-month-plus pregnant woman carrying a two year old – avoided eye contact, and did not offer to help. That was the definitive moment I was done being pregnant with a toddler to care for. I was ready to move on and have this baby, to experience life a little fuller.

When he was born, and from the minute I was allowed to stand up and get out of the heated water we birthed in, I took off, got going, and didn’t stop for months. That first night I lay awake with him long after everyone else had left, gone home, gone to bed. The two of us were communing long into the night. A few hours later I got up and took him out all day. I couldn’t stop moving. I weighed myself nine days postpartum and my weight was gone. I was so enthralled with and energized by my small family. I remember, a day or two after he was born, driving out to the Fort in my parents’ bus. Bob Marley played on the CD player. I held my son in my sling, close to my body where he belonged. I felt like I’d known how to hold him my whole life. My daughter in pigtails and hoody snuggled next to me, proud of her baby brother and beautiful and strong. I was high. I was hooked.

Six months later I was beginning to learn about burnout. I was coming to grips with the hard, humbling lesson that to have an orderly home you sometimes sacrifice too much. My husband learned of neglect. He learned about overwork. He learned he didn’t have the tools to ask for what he needed. He was jealous. He’d stayed home with the first child; I got to stay home with the second.

Through it all, the child himself was easy to care for. Busy as I was and fearless as I was, he was happy to be carried along with me and my daughter. At the same time, I asked much of her. Within months she knew she was expected to bring diapers to me or wait while her brother’s more immediate needs were met. She also learned how to care for, notice, and respect other people; those smaller than her, and those larger.

I neglected some friendships. They survived, though. I fled, fearful, next door to my girlfriend’s to watch movies and escape from the house I was trapped in by day. I asked for advice from my mother, having first qualified to her that my adolescent embargo on her opinions was long over. She began to trust me, and to volunteer her observations and guidance. She tells me how much she respects me for staying home with my children, a challenge she did not take up. She tells me that to be honest, she didn’t think I could do it. Part of me thinks, “Aw, thanks!” Another part thinks, “You bitch!” I remain close to my family; they have informed our parenting more than any other outside source.

Today my son is weaned, sleeps beautifully, and suddenly my babymaking and rocking and nursing days are drawing to a close. My marriage survives. My integrity is strong, my love is fierce. Every day I am bolstered with the knowledge that these two little strangers continue to be just that – even as they are constant companions in my days and nights and our chemistries are forever entwined.

Happy birthday, Nels. Happy Big-Sister Birthday, Sophie. And to all a good night.

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