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I sometimes think that the best way to track Sylvia's emotional state is in her choice of bedtime stories. Books seem to help her transition into or out of intense emotions--after she's hurt herself, when I'm cuddling with her on the couch, she'll say through her tears, "Read me a book, Mama," and if we've given her a time out, that's usually how she wants to come out of it. So what does it say that these days, she's obsessed with the Dora board book she's had for two years, A Day at the Beach? And that last night, she said, "Mama, in this picture, I'm Dora and you're Boots. And Baby is in your tummy. And Papa is the shell. Say, 'Hi Dora, I'm Boots.'"
"Hi Dora, I'm Boots," I said, laughing. "Veddy nice to meet you." I like being a pregnant monkey.
"Hi Boots, I'm Dora," Sylvia laughed.
"It would be easier in some ways if Lena was back in my belly, huh," I said, being careful not to knock the very pointy "Freud 101" hat off of my head.
"I'm Dora," she said.
Here's the rub with having a second baby: I hadn't realized, the first time around, how well-suited to each other newborns and new mothers are. We're both tired and tender, content to spend our days gazing at each other, eating, and sleeping. It's a honeymoon of two very boring people. But--to extend the metaphor past its relevance--if you're already married, and this is in fact your second honeymoon, you might hear some very loud and insistent knocking on your hotel room door. That's your first spouse--by which I mean "child"--wanting to be let in on the party. Or at very least, disrupt it.
When I was still pregnant, I expected to only feel guilt and remorse at the time I'd need to spend with Lena, and how I'd be forced to neglect Sylvia. I did not expect--couldn't even imagine--that while I do feel guilty about neglecting Sylvia, what I'm doing while neglecting her would be so alluring. I thought newborn Lena--no offense, future Lena--would only be an obligation, a drag. A sleeping, eating, crying, diaper-needing drag. In reality? Lena is a sleeping, eating, crying, diaper-needing joy. I am a fool for her. In front of others, I try to play it cool. I point out her peeling skin, her grouchy expression when she's sleeping. But it's all to ward off others' knowledge that I am simply, stupidly devoted to my baby.
I thought that I was the sort of parent who got through the early months, but really liked the toddler years, and would like the preschool years even more, and the elementary school years even more than that. I didn't feel too badly about this idea of myself--after all, it means that I enjoy each stage better than the next. But having a second baby has given me this wonderful gift: Because I'm not as anxious this time around--because I trust that Lena will grow and develop in due course (whereas with Syl, I was more concerned about her hitting those milestones on time, and doing everything "right")--I'm just loving the newborn stage, and already ache at the idea that she'll grow out of it.
At the same time, because I spend so much time with my noncommunicative, sour milk-scented, soft-headed little mush love, I've also been blown away by Sylvia. It amazes me now that I have a child who will pretend to be on the phone and say, "'Okay, so I'm at the store now... I'll call you right back." Or look like such a frickin' grown up with her new "short cut." Or run around in her gymnastics class, ignoring the teacher half the time and goofily waving to me after a somersault. Last night in the bath, she wanted me to be the little girl, and her to be the mama, and we both couldn't stop laughing--we "got" each other expertly, her saying after pouring water on my head, "Aww, it's only water. You don't have to cry."
A morning in the life
Those are the great moments, the ones that give me hope. But maybe you've noticed that these great moments take place when I'm with one of the kids, not both. Those moments look more like this morning. I'm sitting at the table, nursing Lena, who stops every 45 seconds to spit up, and there's no cloth in sight, so my robe and her fleece PJs are acting as sponges. Sylvia has gotten up from the table after eating one bite of her peanut butter and jelly toast, and is leaning over Lena's head. "I said not to bother her while she's eating, Syl," I nag, even though Lena doesn't seem bothered. "Back in your chair. Come on."
"But I don't like my placemat," she whines.
"Fine. Go get another one," I say.
She comes back holding six placemats on her head. "I'm a placemat seller!" she says, and just as I say, "Just like in 'Caps for Sale!'" they all fall to the floor. She picks up one, and starts walking away. Lena snarfs and gurgles at my breast.
"Pick them all up, Syl," I say, my tone immediately angry--I feel powerless and tethered to the chair.
"But I don't want to," she says.
"Then you're going to have to sit by yourself in the living room."
"BUT I DON'T WANT TO!" she whine-yells-cries. "I don't want to be alone, Mama."
Who doesn't give in at that point? A more confident parent? A less confusing parent? A mean parent? I give in. I am only Boots, after all, Boots with a baby at his boob. I am not yet evolved enough to know the answer.
Join writer Emily Bloch each week as she chronicles her pregnancy--and now, life with a new baby.