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For Emily: Notes From the Trenches

December 21, 2013 § 2 Comments


One of my oldest and dearest friends, Emily, is pregnant right now. She and I have shared many milestones, and it was magical to be pregnant at the same time. Emily is due next week. Due next week! Here is a picture of us at my baby shower in October… back when we were not so tired of being pregnant. Back when we could lift ourselves out of bed without propping up on elbows, back when we could tie our shoes, back when we still felt sort of compact and cute. In the last three weeks of my pregnancy I prayed every night that labor would come. I really did: those last few weeks are hard. Emily, I feel you right now.

But! There are some things about being pregnant that are really nice. I should rephrase: there are some things that happen to you when you are not pregnant anymore that you don’t expect, and that make carrying your little one around intact an enviable state of being.


So Emily: As you know, I love my Max, more than words. But here are a few things I’ve discovered that are different now. Other than the wounds from giving birth, the effluent spit up, the sleeplessness and the wailing–which sounds like the scariest alarm you’ve ever heard and sends a shot of cortisol straight through your mothering spine every time it starts up. You may find that when your darling girl is born:

1) You use every limb. For example, you’ll pump milk with one hand, feed yourself as quickly as possible with the other, rock your baby’s bassinet with one foot and stand on your free leg. This arrangement works in many iterations, so find out which leg you balance on best now and practice.

2) Everything gets done in 1/2s, 1/3rds or 1/4s. For example, you’ll finally get the baby down after a fussy morning of eating and rush quickly to make your bed. You’ll pull up the flat sheet, and hear her making peeps in the bassinet or crib. You’ll go back–maybe she’ll be silent, but you’ll check to be sure she’s breathing. This will remind you that the humidifiers are low after the evening. So you’ll refill the one in the nursery. Then you’ll realize, while your hands are wet, that there are so many dishes and that you’ve got to do them because dirty dishes are depressing. You’ll fill a big bowl with soapy water and get started, only to hear a tiny wail. (Remember, you can’t ignore this terrifying alarm.) She might be still, in which case, you’ll check her breathing again. Then you remember that she’ll need a bib on all day because of the effluent spit up. Which reminds you that you have just washed them all and that they’re in a load of laundry sitting in the drier. (Yesterday’s work, 1/3 done.) You’ll fill the laundry basket, and take it to your bedroom to fold, only to realize that the bed isn’t made. So you’ll pull up the comforter, fluff one of your pillows, and wonder, “Did I just hear her make a sound?” You’ll go back to the bassinet again to check her breathing and see the undone dishes. This will bother you because dirty dishes are depressing, so you’ll debate: which is more important while she’s sleeping… laundry, bed or dishes? Or perhaps you should water the Christmas tree so that it doesn’t become a deadly fire hazard. Or maybe you should call someone to see if they’ll take the poor dog for a walk. What you prioritize may vary from day-to-day, but be okay with the fact that whichever one you opt to tackle may not get done in its entirety until 5pm. When the babe is awake, add diaper changes, feedings and burping to this mix.

3) At some point or another, you’ll do all of the above naked, or semi-naked, because putting on clothes also falls into the 1/2 done or 1/3 done or 1/4 done category. Close your blinds, especially in the morning and after 4pm. Remember: when it’s dark, you can’t see out, but they can see in.

4) Your baby will, even when she is sleeping, demand your full attention. This isn’t always the case, but it tends to be true when you’ve just managed to calm her down from a fussy period. You’ll have diligently swaddled her, shooshed her and rocked her to sleep, and you might think to yourself: “I know that if I put her in the bassinet or crib, she’ll wake up and wail, but maybe I could just read this newspaper or book while I hold her…” And the second you sit on the couch and open your periodical of choice, she’ll open one eye, give you a dirty look and wail again. She sees you when you’re sleeping. She knows when you’re awake. She knows when you’ve been 100% attentive or not, so be 100% attentive for goodness sake.

5) You will start bragging about the night you slept for 4 hours straight. Ahh, I remember being pregnant: I could sleep for 9 hours then go down for a 3 hour nap. And still, somehow, I felt tired. Now, I’m thrilled by the zing I have if I can go down from 12-4am. (PS: it’s only happened once.)

Next I write a list on all the things I’m thrilled to be able to do again now that I’m no longer pregnant, because, of course, there are so many. But for now, relish!

we had a nice time

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


I went back to the lake house this weekend. I keep thinking I won’t be able to get there again for weeks, and will never go back without the baby strapped into various seats and haphazardly swaddled. And wailing. But I keep going back  in a contemplative car with Christopher and Lupe, and having another quiet weekend. Maybe I’ll do it again this Friday.

Mom is home. She was gone for a long time, working in Europe. Often when she gets back from such long journeys , I have a primal, peevish need to push her away. I’ll be cool for a few hours, days even, until I feel we’ve found common ground again. There is something really scary about being away from your mother–even at 29 years old, I react. I don’t like it, but it’s a testament to how much it hurts to be separated. Especially as I wait for my own child to be born. I want so badly for Mom to be there, and not across the pond. There’s an invisible chord between us all now, baby, me, my mom. I want us attached.


So the visit was as much about thawing out with her as it was about my last (or second to last, or third to last…) infant-less trip to the lake house. Every time I go, it appears more beautiful, even as the leaves fall and the thin gray branches poke and point at the sky. This time, Christopher and I took a nap together on the big couch in the big white room with the big windows and when I woke up I had a thought that I have every year, but always seem to forget. I thought, “The wintry world is purple!” The colors around the lake are iterations of pale blue, pale violet and gray. Naked trees, especially lots of them in the distance, are always more colorful than I remember.

And we prepared: we made my favorite chicken dish, layered with mushrooms, marinara and béchamel and also an incredible curried squash soup, which I’ve put up. It’s so fun to put up food when there’s a reason behind the effort. I feel like a lady bear, gathering herself up for the long winter ahead. And yet, I keep on leaving the den, poking my nose around, smelling and smiling at the world before the big retreat.

a book list

November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


Is there anything more satisfying than a list? I love how they go from neat and concise to crossed out, marked up or wrinkled, so that the final draft looks like a first draft. Even if I do or acquire nothing on my list, I feel secure just having a sense of order in my pocket. These are the things that must be taken care of; these are the things to get; this is the shape of reality. I love finding forgotten lists in journals or coat pockets because they’re primary source material on what was on my mind when I wasn’t aware of being recorded.

One list I love, which I keep in my wallet and have had since 2010, came from my mother in law, Susan Arnold Murphy, soon to be “SAM” to the babe. SAM is a voracious reader: she reads more than anyone I know. Many of my favorite books have come from her. She always sends books in hard cover, and always buys them from a bookshop that’s local to one of us, usually The Corner Bookstore here in New York or from Left Bank Books in her hometown, St. Louis.

One afternoon after Christmas I asked her to tell me her favorite books. She was reticent at first, and I pressed, probably obnoxiously. But look at this gem of a list! I wonder if her choices would be different now.


The day I was put on bed rest, I asked my doctor if I could make a quick trip to the pharmacy on my way home. He said I could. But instead, I went to the New York Society Library to stock up. I filled a shopping bag with heady books, and I regret that choice. I should have looked at SAM’s folded list and picked out some I haven’t read. Instead I hauled away a dozen lit-major classics: Updike, D.H. Lawrence, you know the stuff.

Needless to say, do not read Rabbit, Run when you are expecting a baby. The least upsetting thing that happens in the book is when Rabbit leaves his wife 2 months before she gives birth. Yes, correct. The writing is great, but sometimes a little too poignant. For example, at  one point, Rabbit has this realization about his son, Nelson:

“The best he can do is submit to the system and give Nelson the chance to pass, as he did, unthinkingly, through it. The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her. Then she is through with us, and we become, first inside, then outside, junk. Flower stalks.”

On that note:

1. Keep making babies (& avoid becoming ‘junk’)

2. Read cheerful books

3. Try very hard to find a book SAM hasn’t read and send it off

running out of time

November 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

photo 1

Christopher, Lily and I went to the lake on Saturday morning. It was a sudden departure because we realized we’d have to return early on Sunday morning. The quick turn-around heightened my sense of urgency–we are running out of time! Running out of time to get our winter boots and coats; running out of time to organize our things so the baby can go back to Connecticut at Christmas; running out of time to go to the dock once or twice more before these lives end and new lives begin. We are running out of time to be as we have been for all these years. But of course, I want nothing more than the crusade of labor to begin.

Little one, I can’t wait to know you! I can’t wait to see your face, hear you breathe, watch you sleep. I can’t wait to find out if you are a boy or a girl–and I’m so proud of us for living with the mystery, challenging as it has been. One benefit is that we have not projected a thing on you: I don’t imagine you with pigtails or toy trucks. You are a clean, blank slate, free of my imposing (if well meaning) expectations. Gender is so wrapped up in those things. By the time I start imagining your life, you’ll already be living it.


But at the same time, I am scared out of my mind. I am scared out of my mind. I started to cry on Saturday night in that heaving, breathless way because I realized suddenly: parenthood is so selfish. What if life is not what you wanted?  What if you are sick or painfully shy or not made for the structures and systems we have? Even if you pop out a robust, extroverted, over-achiever, with all the qualities our culture glorifies, you will be unhappy in spells. Sometimes long spells. And I will be at the root of your pain, having decided one day, “I want to have a baby.”

I snuck into Lily’s bed late at night because I couldn’t sleep and was having emotional hiccoughs–my chest kept having little chokes and spasms, even when I thought I was calm again. She was still awake and I told her what I was feeling. “But it fought for that, Isabel,” she said, “It fought so hard.” And I guess that’s true. One little gamete, then two little gametes, fighting to be alive. All we did was set them in motion. And here you are now, a thumping and spirited beach-ball in my middle, ready to fight your way out. And I will be fighting with you.

a wheady mile

November 6, 2013 § 1 Comment


I came across a Huffington Post article a few weeks ago that was full of good words and phrases. We all know what a wheady mile feels like, and I was so happy to find that this experience has been defined. See below.

A Wheady Mile
The wheady mile is the last mile or so of a journey that, for some reason, seems to take much longer than it should. It’s an old dialect term from rural Shropshire, but it still applies to modern journeys. It feels as though you’re about to walk through your own front door and collapse into a chair, but instead there’s still the twists and turns and then, even when the wheady mile is complete, you’ve got to find somewhere to park the car. Mind you, a wheady mile is better than a Pisgah sight, which is when, like Moses on Mount Pisgah looking at the Promised Land, you can see something whilst knowing that you’ll never get there.

And now I am delighted (delighted!) to report that I am experiencing its application. Last night and into this morning, now afternoon, I have  trudged the wheady mile of pregnancy. Get this baby cooked and get this baby out!

I am grouchy. I feel like my body is not my own. I’ve noted this in general during pregnancy, but especially now that I am on bed rest. Everybody seems to enjoy a right to comment on how my body looks and on how I’m doing, and whether I am actually not doing as much as I ought not be doing.

I am also a little bit nauseous and a lot fatigued…I’ve been laid up since October 23rd and have five days to go until I reach full term. Full term means baby is mostly developed. Read: I can get off the couch. But there’s no telling how long it will take for him or her to exit after that. My guess? A wheady mile.

PS: Do look at the article. Another great phrase? “Going to siege,” which translates to using the bathroom. As author Mark Forsyth rightly notes, the metaphor “firmly implies a dose of constipation.”

PPS: Isn’t this little face wonderful? Christopher’s mom, Susan, gave it to us as a gift. He has many emotions, all of which I appreciate. Soon I’ll be this one.



November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


A few pictures from Oct. 12th when Mom and Lily hosted a few of my favorite people on Lake Waramaug for a baby shower. We’ve had the most beautiful autumn I can remember, and that Saturday was no exception. The air was bright gold and electric.


There was hot cider for Emily (my pregnant best friend) and me and lots of wine for everyone else.  The food was incredible and we sat by the fire that night eating leftovers. Then again for breakfast. Then we doled them out, took them back to NYC and ate them again. It will be a long time before I want to look at a plate of apricot chicken salad.


My favorite were the sugar cookies and pea-in-the-pod cupcakes, which I wish I could have gilded and saved forever.


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