Looking Back on Birth

I never knew I’d write so much on pregnancy and having babies.
I guess I wasn’t one of those girls playing house or stuffing her kid-abdomen

with a pillow, pretending to nurse, none of that, really.

baby  excited k  swingy girl

I never thought I’d move off to Japan and have kids there.
Then again, I never played “wedding”, never thought past being young and scampering around South Florida. The most I daydreamed about was, perhaps, maybe, at some point, taking a ride to New Orleans where I’d live off beignets and dance round the jazz. I’ll pack for two weeks and end up staying years, I thought. Paris also called me, but I was really a lackadaisical poet, floating in the breeze. It would have taken more planning that I knew how.

Yet, here I am, blogging about having cute little babies in Japan.
It’s a whirlwind, it’s glamour, it’s hard work, it’s pay off, it’s tears, and beading bracelets with gold; it’s exposure to the grandest sort of love, daily. It’s finally getting out of those nursing bras.

-Melissa Maternity Jan 2013 WEB-51

Tired, restful, yawny maternity photo by Mel Willms

Here is my part in an amazing tour of what it is like to live abroad, learning another culture, while growing a family. Here is my experience in Japan.

I am so proud of this series, and just very appreciative of Iulia’s work on Best of Baby. Before I became pregnant while living in Japan, the very idea of becoming pregnant, carrying, and later, carrying for a baby in this new place loomed with scary impossibility. It would be madness! How could I possibly even think of having a baby when I couldn’t even communicate with the clerks at the grocery store! I still cannot carry on any real conversation with my neighbors. How could I even think of taking-on another life? I needed intensive language training! Meditation! And yet…

Life goes on, that “biological clock is ticking like this”, (spoken like a gawdy Marisa Tomei). What are you gonna do, wait, wait, terrified, until you go back to America? You could…you could try…or you can just let life unfold. Learn about care in your new country. Get support. Find out what works. And you know you won’t like all of it. You’ll probably make faces at the traditional old wives’ tales. You may mock the selection of maternity clothes. But you make it work. Life and sweetness all happen. You arrive. You age. You make friends who throw you the shower of your dreams, the one you never even thought of a gazillion miles away, actually. You get everything you need.

-Melissa Maternity Jan 2013 WEB-55

mel-SB-33

So you write and you blab and you live, wanting to boost the other women you see, pregnant, trying, or wondering, scared if they should really let themselves be so far away from their mothers, far away from the system of care they’ve always known and readied, steadied themselves for. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes you cry and cry and eventually contribute to a book on raw postpartum experiences. Sometimes, though, like all the hard things, you learn how tough the skin on an egg really is. You learn to let the tough hits flake off of you somehow, too. You are fragile, but my, you are won-over with grace and a deep satisfaction. This is growth. These are the moments for which crazy-loud dance parties with the kids were created.

This is what it is to split and move and multiply cells and have to deliver all that pressure. This is the stuff of growing a family, the making and shaking of love.

I love this series and all the ways we learn it’s okay. It is the thrill of surprise, the joy of life, unknown, unfurling.

All gorgeous photos taken by my friend, Mel Willms

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He’s Doing Just Grand…but I have a confession

Here is an essay I wrote fairly recently for an amazing online course, Motherhood & Words, by Kate Hopper. 

Just being vulnerable, putting it on my open hand, & letting it breathe. xoxo, thanks

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“I’m so relieved you were but a baby but O, your innocent skin scorched, made to know searing pain. I wanted to just disappear in my disgust, melt down in one slick puddle of oil. I burned you quite badly, baby, my buddy.

 

In one moment I wanted to feel quite helpful, in control, successful, not needy, not recovering, not dealing with any post-partum malarkey. In a gust of new energy, I offered to make my visiting mother tea.

 

And wasn’t it great to be strong to hold you, baby, and do nearly everything? I could breastfeed anywhere—whilst walking dogs, up in the whipping air on a Ferris wheel. Wherever. So I became accustomed to holding you. It was easier than crying. I held you as the metal French provincial blue teapot passed over your right calf, forged and fired your feather delicate skin. I branded you “disaster to new mother”, and when you didn’t cry, I hoped all might be well. Maybe I imagined the graze. Maybe it was like the poof of powder; just wipe it off.

 

But no. You did cry, must have been shock at first over being branded for the sake of tea. On Mother’s Day when I decided I better send back every card. I can be no mother. This lousy wretch was ashamed and altogether inconsolable. “Don’t even call me a mom”, I thought, moving ashen, room to room.

 

I called our English-speaking paediatrician. “What do I do?”…I was under a chair, tail tucked; talk me down from the bridge. I hid behind the idea that I was simply overtired, exhausted. Things were harder now that I had two. You can’t just nap. Yes, burning my child must mean I need time for me, time to sleep properly. Something had to give. Something beautiful broke.

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It was good my mom was there. It would have been hard not to lie.

I never told my sister in law. I would have omitted it from anyone but the wrapped leg was telling. The principal and nurse of my daughter’s school asked about it. I cheerfully brushed it off while my cheeks felt hot like sunburn. I was more than vague when cornered. “He hurt himself,” as if he were a cowboy, a bandit renegade barreling shotgun of a toddler at reckless speeds. Really, he was barely filling my arms, tush sitting in the smallest diapers. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day to him wrapped in liniment and sterile gauze. I gave him a second-degree burn. His worried sister looked on. I had let her down, too, in hurting her baby, as she called him. “How did it happen?” She wanted to know everything.

 

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Deflated and raw, I took him to the dermatologist the next day. His leg was dressed in those peculiar hard plastic Band-Aids to protect the slow drip of skin healing, a hidden kneeling down in church when it’s really time to sing. Moss mixed with mold growing up a wall. I damaged my boy. This “do not disturb” Band-Aid was not supposed to come off until a sign from God, until all oozy woozy sadness had passed.

I go on to describe the doctor visit, how the band-aid came off and the blister popped. How we had to go every morning for almost three weeks so the doctor could check and undress his burn. Baby skin heals quite quickly. There is no mark. I am responsible for treating my own wounds, the ones that burned each of my layers of skin and heart. I get to muster the courage to be a great mother even through this. 

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Our guy is healthy & very well, now just over 1 year old.

He has been out in the real world for two Mother’s Days now. The first one (the episode I write about above) thankfully didn’t dictate how I viewed myself as a mother (too much) this past Mother’s Day. I can tell you shame is a powerful emotion. Fortunately, love & forgiveness are stronger. Shine light on that deep, painful thing, & all the power of shame flees. 

Supply & Demand

Also do not forget

the way your children smell,

the feel of your lips

on their sleeping foreheads

or the fleshy cheeks,

the just-right-

every-moment

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and looking back,

you, too,

may concede that their cries

were cute, too.

Tender.

The physiology of need

as your mind goes tense

and milk is there,

to be sopped up,

used to nourish.

Your babies grow fat

and you feel proud,

the teamwork

of supply and demand.

The husband pointing-out

the modern art headboard

that is milk-splatter.

And I’ve even gotten my son

like a fire-hose

flashed across his face,

displayed in his baby soft hair.

We are in the business of making milk—

fatty, fortified,

sweet thigh milk.

And it is good work.

Have you ever suffered that wholly-cringe response where your baby is crying and a well-meaning stranger or family member is laughing? It is the WORST feeling and your body has its own physical, hormonal response. That laughter just wears on me, but I’d like to think I am getting more graceful in my responses. 

Any splash-worthy nursing experiences? I produced SO MUCH MILK with my first; even now with my son, we often wake up in a swimming pool of milk. 

breastfeeding

breastfeeding means that i am

always

hungry, voracious,

starvin’ marvin’

wanting sustenance

while i float out all my calcium

and need more iron.

 

breastfeeding,

sometimes i ignore my own tummy

as i cuddle

and snuggle

and host my gummy-smiled child

who is also

ravenous

and thankfully,

satisfied.

 

We all know about pregnancy cravings, but how has your appetite changed while in the season of nursing? I swear I should enter pro eating contests! What’s the best snack for breaks in between nursing your child? Weirdest, funniest confessions? Have at it!

Bit by Bit

Writing in a cafe with bebe is like expecting Steve from Blue’s Clues to write the next great American novel, on air. Image

it’s like, just take a bite & be happy you can chew. write w/ lipgloss, a highlighter, & get outa there.

 

How do you merge and manage to upkeep the practical and the creative in your life? Certainly having kids changes things, but life can easily demand our time and creative energy, no matter what–kids or no kids. What are your successes in growing as an artist in a busy world?