Burying The Placenta

Yesterday was Placenta Day.

For us, that is, not nationally. This was the name we gave to the last day of the fourth trimester—the first three months of life during which infants develop from little blobs of burpy sleep to babies who move, digest, and have personalities.

To celebrate, I dug a two foot hole in the back of the garden. In it, we threw Felix’s placenta, which had to this point been cooling out in the freezer next to some hamburger patties. As I ripped off the biohazard bags that had frozen into a series of skins around the red ball, my hands became sticky with thawed blood. Almost immediately upon hitting the warm August air the placenta, hard as an ice cube, began steaming. It released the dark, tangy smell of Felix’s birth, and with it, a lot of memories.

S filmed me covering the placenta with dirt, while I rambled about how cool it was that her body made an entire organ just to support and nourish Felix, which will now feed the garden—the same pocket of land S played in as a child and that our son will enjoy as soon as he gains a little trunk control and hand-eye coordination.

“And that is all I have to say about that,” I said, abruptly concluding my wonderful oration, as the camera rolled on. Then S ran off to deal with Felix—crying because of a mosquito bite—and I plopped a plant down to cap the hole and mark the spot. The ceremony, such as it was, had come to a close.

In the attempt to be more articulate, I’ve thought long and hard about ways to top this account off. The blog as a whole, I mean, not this post specifically. But any final analysis implies a conclusion, while this is just a beginning. Two weeks from now, S will be back to work and I’ll be at home, caring for Felix. I can’t wait.

In part, I can’t wait to just get started with this new period in our lives so that I can stop feeling nervous about it. I look forward to Felix and I falling into a pattern together, and to S and I to adjusting to the new time commitments and strains her return to employment will likely put on our relationship. Financially, I worry about the thin margins we’ll be living within and about finding a way to contribute to our budget. Personally, I hope to eventually conclude one of my writing projects, either the novel I worked so hard on in school or the family history/memoir I dove into a few weeks ago. There’s a lot of change, and many unknowns.

But mostly I’m excited to spend time with this wonderful little kid who’s already taught me so much about myself and the world, and who’s opened me up emotionally in ways I never ever would have anticipated as a non-parent. Looking back on old posts feels like reading the work of another man. The cliché is true about how kids change your life, providing markers by which you measure your years. That was before I had children. This is after.

Maybe I’ll decide to keep broadcasting my adventures in fatherhood to the world at large. But for now, I’ve reached the end of my blog, the end of my “to-be”ness. Now it’s time to just be a daddy and spend time with my son.

Thanks for reading!

Tripping With Baby

Back from a long weekend road trip—a night at my parents, a night with each of our brothers, then back to my parents, and finally home again. About twenty four hours in each stop for Felix to see his uncles, and for S and I to explore the cities they live in. I had anticipated this as being relaxing, as I figured more hands would allow S and I time to be grownups. But I’m far more exhausted today than before we left.

It’s not like we schlepped a lot of baby stuff with us. Other than my parents’ pack-n-play, we traveled light. Nor was Felix especially fussy. But travel meant a different routine for him each night, with new people to see and play with, and an unusual sleeping environment. He was up and down more to feed in the wee hours, and his energy was variable during the day as he fell asleep whenever we drove longer than two blocks.

Of course we had a good time watching him interact with fam. And we did a lot of things we’d always wondered about: changing him in strange places, having long meals out in crowded restaurants, strapping him in the car seat for record amounts of time, discovering the limits of his binky appetite, adding to the number of public venues he breastfed in. All of which taught me that even though other people can help out, there’s a special role the parent plays in caring for the baby that only they can fill.

This was less so when Felix was a little bundle of sleep, able to be bounced and rocked by anyone. But as he gets more and more of a personality, we become more and more of the experts on how exactly he likes to be cared for. It’s gotten so that certain holds drive him nuts, and that he cries differently when he gets sleepy than he does when trying to take a shit or bored. We’re the best at interpreting this.

So while Felix had a lot of fun with his fam, S and I had a constant eye and ear attuned to him, which made being social and seeing sights and navigating new places more draining than usual. Once, on a tour of the brewery my brother works at, S swore she heard baby wails when we were deep in the basement, far from him. Add to this the disruption of sleeping in strange beds just inches away from baby and the psychological weariness that comes with living out of a bag for four long days and you get one tired daddy.

I’m not trying to imply we’re the kind of nutty parents who swoop in whenever the baby’s discomforted, or that our family members didn’t know how to care for him. Quite the opposite. I learned a great hold by watching my brother, and we happily left him in other people’s care at least a couple times each day. But I do agree with the truism that no one knows their child quite like the parent. It makes sense—we’ve spent the most time with him.

And not only do we feel responsible for helping Felix be as comfortable as possible, we don’t want to annoy or inconvenience our hosts. That’s part of being a good guest, and it’s in our best interest too. We love to travel, and appreciate a spare bedroom. But who wants a crying baby coming to visit?

My goal for future trips is to slow down a little so we can all acclimate to our settings. Instead of planning a broad agenda—hopping from place to place—we’ll go deep, settling in before moving on. This is my natural inclination when traveling anyway. Again I’m reminded that, like with most things baby related as well as in life at large, I’ve got to trust my instincts.

Caught in the Act

Boy, is sex different post-baby! When we manage to slip it in, that is. Baby has left us with little time for elaborately costumed role plays, and without my powdered wig, velvet smoking jacket, and aubergine-stuffed breeches I somehow feel less of a man. Nor can I afford to be tied down and gagged, and my typically operatic vocalizations have been muted. Sure, the bedroom is still a minefield of toys, but they’re no longer ours. Where has all the fun gone??

Timing has become problematic in other ways as well. The other day Felix woke up from his nap at a pretty inopportune moment. Hearing him shifted the whole mood, as our parental selves took the reigns. Our brows furrowed and we exchanged “oh shit, what do we do?” looks. The proceedings nearly ground to a halt before we wordlessly decided that he could cry for a bit as we wrapped things up. These days it’s catch as catch can.

I tell you, no part of our lives has been untouched by the little guy.

And On The Seventh Day…

Felix’s digestion made a quantum leap about three weeks ago.

Whereas he used to leave a smear of yellowish crap in almost every diaper, he suddenly stopped pooping altogether. I told S not to worry. After all, Felix was his usual fun self. I figured we had one of those rare babies every new parent dreams of—even tempered, sleeps through the night, doesn’t defecate. Very advanced.

Turned out this was a developmentally appropriate slow down. His maturing stomach was doing a better job at sucking nutrients out of the breast milk, making for longer breaks between poops—for some babies these breaks can be up to a week.

Finally, after five days of calm, Felix woke up fussy and crabby. He gnashed at his fists, wailed, turned red in the face—off and on the entire day, inconsolable. That evening, it finally exploded in his pants. Jesus! It was like Dorothy stepped out of a mustard colored Kansas and into the green, stinky clutches of the Wicked Witch of shit. It was poop on another level from what we were used to.

After that, he went into a somewhat regular routine of going every couple of days, until last week, when the muddy river dried up again. This time for seven days. We fretted and feared about what might happen when the dam would break.

Then yesterday morning, sitting on my lap, he let out a grunt. I paused and looked him in the eye. Could it be time? His face turned beet red for a flash and then went ghostly pale. “Unh,” he said, his breath short and quick.

Oh no, I thought. I knew that breathing pattern. I sensed he was on the edge of panic, a meltdown. It was early in the day. This could, if not handled properly, ruin our entire Sunday. No lazy naps, leisurely strolls, or afternoon beers. No family fun time. Instead we’d be bouncing and jiggling a digestively challenged baby all day long.

And that’s when the mantle of fatherhood asserted itself. It was up to me, I realized, to teach my son that it was ok to take a shit, and that pinching a loaf, even a huge seven day old one, was nothing to be scared of. It’s just something that happens.

I sat him on my lap, facing me, and I tensed everything, so he could feel my abs of steel tightening beneath his chubby thighs, and I grunted along with him. “Unh. Unh.” We pushed. We changed colors. We passed gas. In between efforts I drooped my eyebrows and gave him one of those “Phew! This is some hard work, but I can handle it!” smiles, the kind men flash when lifting furniture or while making love. And slowly, over the course of a few minutes, I felt his cute little bowels loosen as a week’s worth of shit released into his diaper, one of the new cloth diapers we’re giving a try.

The smell brought tears to our eyes. The effort had all the folds in his arms and legs—the ones that look like he’s got joints where no joints should be—and the dimples on his elbows wet with sweat. It was a full body shit. We exchanged high fives, rejoicing.

Mommy was napping, but I knew she’d want to be wakened to revel in his accomplishment and clean it up. As I lifted him into the air above me, I put my fingers right in the slurry that had oozed out the sides of the diaper and onto his thighs. It was then I realized that it wasn’t just sweat making my legs wet. It was a shit that could not be contained. Like the blob, it managed to seep everywhere, leaving an orange trail of stink in its wake. Somehow even the inside of my shirt got stained, and when I took it off, shit smeared across my chest. Felix’s arms were stippled with it. With the diaper off, it was like he was wearing orangey brown boxers. His penis looked like a soft serve ice cream cone that had been dipped in toxic oatmeal.

It took a daddy son bath, a bathroom scrubbing, and a load of wash to make all well again. Thank God for mommies.

On Time and Feelings and Cartoons

What is it with me and Pixar movies? I watched Finding Nemo on Saturday night with Felix in my lap for part of it and managed not to cry. Barely.

Though I did have a big schmaltzy lump in my throat when the dad holds little Nemo’s cracked egg in his hands and promises not to let anything happen to his son. Recognizing, of course, that this was one of the messages of the movie—that it’s impossible for a parent to prevent their child from ever being harmed, and that a certain amount of emotional letting go is necessary for a healthy parent/child relationship to develop—still I found myself back in the NICU, my protective instinct flaring up. During the commercial break I followed these feelings into dark daydreams, imagining how I might feel if something happened to Felix, and my chest constricted for a tick before I remembered to breathe deep and appreciate the vulnerability, instead of getting carried away.

In this way—by feeling deeply a wide range of emotions and being more consciously affected by their crest and fall—I’m finding that Felix has changed my life in a way I could’ve never anticipated. Every moment feels bigger than it used to, because my awareness has become more sensitive. I am more closely attuned, trying to hold on to each instant long enough to make a mental note or to let the image burn itself onto my memory, secure only in the knowledge that I’ll never get it all down or be able to find it later even if I could. The fleetingness of time increases its worth, like a fragile piece of thrown porcelain whose like can never be duplicated.

That’s always been the case, and a part of me has known it, but only now, watching this baby grow and change from day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, have I really understood. I want to protect and hold and horde, but I have to let go. I want to remember it all, but I’ll forget. Such is life.

With Great Power Comes Great Irritability

The paternal instinct hides like a mutant power inside each potential father. Once unleashed, it is impossible to turn off and sometimes difficult to control. This has come as a surprise to someone who’s been anti-fatherhood for the majority of his life. I’ve never pictured myself as the knight protectorate of the household—I still don’t. But I can’t ignore my new, sometimes hyper defensive stance in the face of domestic snafus. What’s even more unexpected is that the urge to nurture and shield doesn’t stop with baby Felix—it covers S too.

We spent the past two weekends seeing the grandparents, and during both visits ran into the same problem. At home, the little guy sleeps near us, but in his own room with a set of French doors that muffle his night noises—the soft coos and the animalistic grunts and the occasional chill-you-to-the-marrow shrieks. (What dream could cause him to scream like this? A floppy tit that produces powder instead of milk? Or does he have nightmares of being trapped inside of S, struggling to breathe? We’ll never know.) At the grandparents’, he was right there at the foot of our bed, and each nocturnal outburst awoke S. She spent half the night tossing and turning, cursing whatever instinct it is in her that responds to his every cry.

Fortunately, (and some jaded readers might add, typically) this instinct’s paternal equivalent is not quite as sensitive. I actually slept better with the little guy right there, because—ever the neurotic—I could always hear him breathing.

S ended up sleeping in a separate room from Felix and me for both visits, though not before blowing the majority of the first night tossing and turning. The next day she was wasted, her nerves stretched taut as she tried to fulfill the roles of mother and daughter or daughter-in-law as best as possible while running on vapors.

This got that protective instinct I was talking about tingling. While the sensitive old me would have been like “have some coffee and deal with it,” the new, paternally powered me became upset and unsettled. S—the baby’s food source and my partner in care-giving—was off her game! I needed to help her recover so that she could care for Felix. After all, I am, at this point, just the sidekick of this dynamic duo. (And we all know that Robin, despite the cute suit, never pulled equal weight to Batman.)

I’m only partly joking. I know it’s ridiculous—S was tired after all, not in any danger, and we had grandparents more than willing (hungry, in fact) to hold and play with the little guy—but I worried that my wife’s exhaustion and mood might rub off on Felix or slow down her milk production. The fear was baseless and made no sense. I mean, if mothers couldn’t produce milk when they were tired and cranky, then many newborns would never be fed. And S’s factories have never had a production problem (knock on wood).

Ah, but such is the double edge of the parenting instinct. It brings enhanced emotional sensitivity and reserves of strength, optimism, and affection, but can also make smallish things seem enormous and scary. Like how, if Superman couldn’t control his super hearing, he’d be deafened by all the sounds he could pick up. So I found myself tense and full of worry that S somehow wouldn’t be able to mother Felix because of her sleepiness.

All for naught, of course—the grandparents took great care of us and S had no trouble nursing Felix to contentment. This was, after all, the woman who hobbled out of bed eight times a day to feed him while he was in the NICU. Talk about some super powers! Next time the paternal alarm bells start ringing, I have to remember to stay cool under pressure, instead of letting the little things trip me up.

Rise and Shine

Every morning around a quarter to seven, S nurses Felix in bed. Afterward, he lies between us grunting and stretching, enthralled with the ceiling fan. He eventually makes his way to cooing and giggling as we shake off sleep and start playing with him. He finds S’s unkempt curls hilarious, loves getting raspberries and kisses on his stomach, and imitates our bad singing. It’s a sweet way to wake up, which for me—especially in the thick, humid weather of the past few days—can take awhile.

I’ve been up late writing the past few nights, and yesterday S asked if I would prefer her to feed him somewhere else so I sleep in longer. I told her no way! How could a smidge more shuteye recharge me more than seeing the little guy’s smiling face next to me every morning? These are really some of the best moments with him, and it’s a lovely bit of family bonding before the business of the day blows in.

At times like these, I love this new job.