And then there’s the realization that this has all become your routine. The hours spill into days spill into weeks and suddenly, impossibly, you’ve become used to getting only 3 hours of sleep a night and somehow, impossibly, you don’t even feel that tired. Or you are that tired but you’ve lost track of what tired even feels like and it’s just the new normal and you are just sleepwakewalking through hours that could be daytime, could be nighttime, the only difference being whether the coffee is fresh. The blinds are drawn and the lights are dim and MSNBC plays on a constant loop until evening when the dinner hour is delineated by the next episode of the current Netflix binge and a rotation of choices of meals that can either be delivered or microwaved.
Huck has been with us more than a month and we have barely left the sectional couch. God bless the sectional couch in it’s perfect ordinary beigeness. Huck has gained enough weight so that there are creases in his arms and thighs where see-through skin over bone is now plump with fat and the yellow jaundice has given way to rosy peach skin. He has learned to latch and suckle and the chirping noises he makes while feeding have given me his pet name: Cricket. Sometimes, though: Bug. Jamey prefers Goose. Or Little Man. Or “my buddy, my pal, my friend”. We stare at him, watch the lines on his forehead crease with questioning, or curiosity (or, most likely, gas). We watch his lips — rising into two sharp peaks that are the copy of his father’s lips, above the same chin of his fathers, under the nose of his grandfather — we watch the mouth purse and open and curl and we say “Can you believe he’s ours?” Over and over.
It is a day/night period punctuated by 2 hour shifts. Feed, burp, stare, change, nap, feed, burp, stare, change, nap. I am astounded that my body produces milk. I am astounded by the whole scientific magnificence of it all. I still cannot believe that this chirping creature was created inside my body and survived 9 months to be this beautiful. 9 months of peril. Of tests. Of the wait. Of The flu. Bronchitis. 3 car accidents, one of which resulted in an overnight stay at the same hospital, the same floor where he’d be born only a few weeks later. He overcame all that and my fears and doubts. I had to wade through years of pent up shame to allow for the lightness I needed to give birth to possibility.
And it is no different at 50 than I’m sure it is at 20 or 40. I read of a famous woman who just announced her pregnancy at 48 and I read the criticisms and concerns and I’d like to reach out and say to her, “Ignore them. Your body is a fierce machine.” I thought this would be much harder, physically. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a cakewalk. It was challenging. But I don’t know if it was harder than any other younger pregnancy. AARP came to interview me for a website piece on first time mothers over 40. The woman who interviewed me over the phone and on subsequent emails was very cool, but some of the questions pushed an edge and I think I may have puffed up my wings with some bravado as a countermeasure. I think some was authentic, but I certainly wasn’t showing the vulnerable fears that are also just as true. Like when she asked me if I had any fear that my kid would think I’m out of step because I’ll be old as he grows up. Or did I have any hesitancy because I may not live to be old enough to see him grow up. My initial reaction was snarky — “Oh, no I hadn’t thought that part through, the ‘me being 70 when he’s 20 and I may be dead before he has children’ part. But thanks for bringing that up.” Nah. I just answered the questions with honesty and strength as I could falsely muster, put on some lipstick and posed in my backyard with Huck for the photographers, hoping that I wouldn’t look too tired and paunchy.
AARP. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, and I’m flattered. I’m also grateful because it’s the best story to tell now, from stage. That in one week Vogue almost came to do a photoshoot but bailed, so instead AARP came. This is true. It’s also very funny. You can’t write this stuff…
I started this blog piece a few weeks ago and am finishing it tonight, as I’m on the late shift, which means I stay up for the 11pm feeding and then wake up for the 6am feeding, while Jamey goes to sleep around 9 or 10pm, wakes at 3am, and then gets to sleep till about 8. We’ve settled into this routine well, each of us getting 3-4 hours of sleep, twice a night. Tonight I am on the beige couch with Huck and he has been alive for 8 weeks, which seems crazy to me. 8 weeks is nothing. I feel like he’s been here forever now. I look at him sometimes and the tears well up and when he’s feeding off me my eyes blur over and the tears drop onto his cheeks, now even chubbier. Just this week, I think, his vision changed, so that one morning I woke and came to the couch to join Jamey and I leaned over to put my face to Huck’s and his eyes widened and he smiled. He wasn’t just seeing lights and shapes. He saw me and knew me. Three days later, he’s watching my mouth, shaping his lips to mimic mine, his tongue inside his mouth curling around in there, trying to form sounds. I’m watching him discover language. He’s far from words, I know this, but to see the beginning of that process, to watch him discover what has always been there for me is awe-inspiring. His arms jerk up to the ceiling and his legs kick out, so I know he still doesn’t have muscular control. But there are times I swear he’s reaching for me intentionally, his arm outstretched to my face. And I watch his mouth move in sleep and his eyes move back and forth under his eyelashed lids and I wonder what a newborn dreams about. Lights and sounds and scents? Are his dreams little movies like mine are? And when does fear show up in a baby and how can I protect him from that, control that, change that, stop that (and I ask that knowing that I cannot).
I loved him the minute I saw him. And it was big and overwhelming. But it has sunk deeper into my body each week. There are moments, I’ll be completely honest, where I’ve felt detached, but that feeling lasts only as long as I’m out of sight of my son until my breasts start to swell and hurt and I can feel my milk let down and I know it’s time to feed him. I feel like a woman who is just paddling around in water and once every few days strays a bit beyond the buoy just long enough for someone to tug at the rope around her waist and bring her back to shore where she belongs. Even going to the grocery store alone can feel like I’ve gone too far from the beach. I want time to stop here, on this couch, this ground zero of my family. I want my husband to not have to go back to work. I want to not have to work myself. I want to play music and do shows and tour and I also never want to tour again. I never want to leave my son. Every day there is something new to see in him and I’m afraid to miss the moment he wakes up fully to the world around him.
As much as I love, though, I fear. I’ve never known love like this. And I’ve never experienced the kind of paralytic fear that makes me imagine the worst while looking into this beautiful boy’s new smiling face. I love. I fear. It feels like it’s all the same soup right now.
I’m afraid of dropping him. Of drowning him while I bathe him. I’m afraid of the germs on the counter that I never cared about before. I’m afraid that the pot we are boiling the water to make the formula that we use to supplement the breast milk may give off some contaminate in the water into the formula into his stomach that will make him sick. I’m afraid the swaddle we swaddle him with will choke him. I’m afraid of disease and disaster and war and bullies. I’m afraid of every gurgle and click from his mouth in the middle of the night, that he’s not breathing, so I lean up out of my side of the bed and peer over into his bassinet and lay my hand on his swaddled chest to feel the rise and fall.
I’m afraid that now, after all these years of wandering in the dark, to finally find what I was always looking for, that I’ll do something to mess it up. Because I will. All parents do. Huck was born from two beautiful disasters. We’re hoping, at the least, it will give him a great sense of humor.
But just to be on the safe side, I’ve got a piggy bank started for his therapy fund.