Sunday, August 29, 2021

Seven Months: Back to Work

This month, Zoe has learned to live without me.  I don't mean to sound self-important, but she's been relying on me for survival since she was born... er, conceived!  So naturally, the separation was not easy.  I would say that it went as smoothly as it could have gone, though.  She and Wes have a strong bond and he's still at home with her every day.  Luckily, she gets to stay at home in familiar territory because Wes's mom has been coming over to take care of her.

I'm sure that it has been a very hard few weeks for Zoe, but she must feel so much more independent now.  She's learned to do so much: bottle feed, fall asleep on her own at night, sit in a high chair to eat solid foods, digest and poop out the solids, roll over from back to belly.  She may now also understand some Cantonese!  We also have learned how smart babies can be.  It took her a lot less time than we had anticipated to take the bottle, even though previous attempts have all been failed.  I think she was more perceptive than we could tell--she knew that if I was there, she had no reason to take milk in any other way.  Also, she has never slept in, but I had to actually wake her up on my first two days of work (yes, of course I was late because of this!).  I am not sure if there was something in the breast milk or if she can sense my impending absence, but she definitely knew and wanted to prevent me from leaving the house.  It sounds far-fetched, but she woke up at her regular times on Saturday and Sunday, but come Monday, when it was time for me to go to work again, she slept in again!  

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Invisible Load of becoming a Dad

Sidelined.  Demoted.  Nonessential.  New dads aspire to be so much, but quickly realize when their baby is born that they are all of the above.  In the hospital, Wes had to ask for permission to hold the baby.  The nurses quickly obliged, realizing that they had forgotten to include him.  The extent of his labor and delivery duties was to hold my leg up in the air and do the honorary snip of the umbilical cord, which grossed him out until the very last minute.  After that, he looked on as Zoe was placed onto my chest for comfort, watched as nurses taught me to feed her from that place.  From the start, expectant fathers come to the uncomfortable realization that they are just not very important.

Society tells the dad to look out for his family, to wait on his wife, to be that loving hero to his daughter, to be the image of strength to his son, to be the one that everyone can and should depend on during such a fragile and volatile time.  It is assumed that the father has no emotional needsno guilt, no sadness, no fear.  There is undeniably more support for women postpartumcourses designed for mothers to relieve burnout, podcasts run by women painting a one-sided perspective of parenthood, social networks for new moms.  For dads, the available resources and outreach are few and far in between, but that is no indication of the level of stress that men shoulder as well.  Plus, many men are not disposed to advocating for themselves emotionally anyway, especially not when it's time to "man up."  I have to say that Wes has made it all look easy, but that does not mean that it was easy.  I just wanted to intentionally reflect on and write about the invisible load of modern fatherhood from his perspective.  Of course, like every mother's experience, every father's is unique.  This does not do justice to the beginning of every fatherly journey out there, but it's one in a million hidden stories that never get the spotlight.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Letter to Our 6-month-old

Dear Zoe,

I have been waiting to meet you my entire life.  Now that you've been here for six months, I still feel like I'm just barely getting to know you.  Are you still getting to know me, too?  It's crazy to think about how you must think that I'm everything to you right now.  You came out of my body and you survive off my body.  But I still know very little about you, and this is probably how it will be for our entire relationship, because you're always changing and growing.  Just when I feel like I've figured you out, you throw me in for another loop.  I'm not sure that I can ever keep up.  It's both amazing and sort of crushing.

You're just a little baby, but you're tougher than you appear.  You've tolerated so much of my bullshit already, at such a young age.  Remember how I didn't brake the stroller and it rolled off our front steps and you fell onto your face?  And all of that blundering through breastfeeding in those early days, the awkward rocking/bouncing/pacing/shushing, the tears that dropped onto your innocent face as I held you all alone because I felt like I wasn't good enough to raise you.  You've had to deal with Mommy and Daddy's screams of horror (and sometimes elation) when we opened your diapers, our unintentional reversing of your digestion by putting you on your tummy too soon after you ate (eek!), that time you had a diaper rash because we didn't use the right butt cream, the times that I trimmed your finger flesh along with your nails (you didn't even flinch, don't worry), those awkward first baths, wiggling you into strollers/carseats/carriers/high chairs at funny angles until we got it just right... thank you for your patience!  You still look into our eyes with utter trust every time after you've cried, even when we were the cause of your frustration.  You're such a tender and innocent baby.  

You are so young and dependent on us now, but you will soon be your own person.  You have a whole life ahead of you, which is really crazy to imagine.  Already, I see you pushing away the breast, tearing off your hat, or snatching the Nose Frida out of Daddy's hand.  You will soon be annoyed because my drive to protect and nurture you will make you feel like you're being controlled.  You'll realize that we are not all-knowing, so you will test the limits and find your own answers.  It'll be so cool to see that fire ignite within you, but I know that it will also be so hard to let you go your way, especially since you have been nothing but ours up until now.  I'll miss these days of innocence, but I know that it's going to be beautiful and wonderful when you gain the insight to be able to actually question us and set yourself apart.  I'll try my best to listen with an open mind, remember to apologize, and let go willingly.  I'll try to put myself in your shoes, because I was there once, too, and it isn't easy being a kid. 

We only have a few more days left together before I go back to work.  I hope you feel that we had an overall good time together, just you and me and Daddy, before I go back to my job.  Six months is a lot compared to what others get in terms of maternity leave, but it's such a small fraction of your life.  I know you won't remember this time by the time you can talk about it, but I hope you feel safe and happy now (and forever).  It makes me sad to think that you still have no idea that everything you've been used to is going to suddenly change, and there's no way for me to really prepare you.  As a mother, a part of me feels like you're not ready, but if I'm not careful, this will become a theme for the rest of our lives.  You are ready.  You are a strong-willed, observant, and curious girl.  You, my little darling, will soon learn how to get along without us and you will discover that your world is not limited to us three.  You'll start by falling asleep without our rocking, getting nourishment without my breast, rolling over by yourself so that we cannot dictate the length of your "tummy time" anymore.  This is only the beginning of your long path forward, and we can't wait to see what's around every corner with you.  Thank you for giving us this amazing journey to be on and for the many opportunities to mess up and learn!  You are exactly what we hoped for and you always will be, no matter where life takes you and what you do.  

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Five Months: Just in the Moment

Our Zoe is five months old.  It's hit me that I only have one more month left to be with her 24/7 before I go back to work.  I have spent a lot of the past five months ranting about how much of an adjustment it has been, becoming her mom.  I have spent a lot of time feeling tired, rushed, and overwhelmed.  I have complained and acted ungrateful.  But through all of the unpredictable hours of the day and the enormous feelings of not being enough, I have beheld such beauty, such inspiration, and such connection, unlike anything I've ever felt.  I still live for every one of those sweet everyday moments, like when Zoe plays peacefully on the floor while I sip my tea, when Zoe looks up at waving leaves in sheer wonder, when Zoe discovers a new way to move her body, when Zoe locks eyes with us.  I have to thank her for slowing me down, for teaching me to appreciate life for the sake of being alive.  There are still times aplenty when I just am impatient for a hard moment to pass, but seeing Zoe grow so rapidly, watching how nothing seems to bother her innocent mind, and knowing that I've only got limited time to be always with her before I go back to work helps me to snap back into the present.  

Zoe has been smiling a lot this month.  Recently, there was a moment when I was so pissed that she did not fall asleep after almost half an hour of rocking.  I laid her back down with a huff, and she just looked up at me and smiled her innocent, cheeky smile.  It wrenched me back to the reality of how special this time is.  Some of my favorite moments with her have been the ones where we are just lying down looking at each other, or when I prop her facing me on the Boppy pillow for a little dialogue after she eats, or when I hold her in my arms and we look at our reflection in the mirror together.  I do find myself trying to fill our time with books, music, tummy time, walks, and toys, but I think this next month I will be spending more time lounging with her face pressed up to mine, with no other objects in sight.  I will not be focusing on naps or sleep or rolling or sitting.  I've been up and down the rollercoaster of caring and not caring about trying to get her to nap "properly" because her naps have all been so short.  I'm going to just ride the wave this month, now that I've built something like a bare bones foundation there.  It's honestly only a big deal when I compare her to other babies who sleep longer and give their mamas a break.  But maybe starting now, I can see her short naps as a blessing in disguise—it means that I get to spend more time interacting with my baby.  When I head back to work next month, I would do anything for just another hour together, so if that nap never hits sixty minutes, I'll still count it as a win. 

Also, I've been talking about getting her on a bottle since she was three weeks old, but no matter how hard we tried, Zoe refused to have anything but my nipple in her mouth. There were countless nights of waking up every two hours to feed her insatiable appetite. Now that she's almost sleeping through the nights and just about putting anything and everything that she can get her hands on into her mouth, she's finally showing some potential with using a bottle for milk. While I was celebrating, I was surprised by pangs of sadness. It hit me that she would not need me in that way anymore. And that is both the beautiful and heartbreaking part of motherhood—they grow more and more independent every day. There was another day where I was just watching her play on the floor, and I guess that heartfelt Classical background music didn't help either, because I suddenly felt all of those sappy newborn feels again. She has already come so far from those days of total dependency, and she doesn't know it yet, but she will not be accessing me as much anymore. She can't understand it (or maybe she can), but I was crying tears all over the top of her head yet again. Her grandma will be here to watch her, but I've already started to put together a spreadsheet of daycares nearby in case we need to use them. I went about it in a businesslike fashion, not allowing my brain to get emotional. There won't be time to do this later when I go back to my job, so I'm just getting ahead, it's not real yet. But just the fact that we have initiated this process is a sign of what's imminent—Zoe's going to grow up and leave this house on her own. It's too much for my heart to handle!

Though I have been craving some separation and a "break" by returning to work, I still feel completely honored and blessed to be Zoe’s mom, and the identity is starting to suit me more and more. I don’t know if it’ll get any easier, but I think the harder it is, the more humbled I am as a human, the more empathetic I can be to other moms, the more appreciative I am of the easygoing times. Zoe, thank you for choosing me, trusting me, and believing in me.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Four Months: Out of the Fog

Sometimes the timing of things is surprisingly perfect.  As we finally emerge from the fog of what the past four months have been as new parents, nationwide restrictions regarding COVID-19 are beginning to lift.  Now that Zoe's actually interested in meeting people, we have the privilege of introducing her to family members, friends, and neighbors with masks off.  Also, I finally feel like I actually have the energy and motivation to go out and be social rather than having visitors come to us.  It's interesting to think about how much we've been through over the course of the pandemic in terms of growing our family.  I can't believe that I was getting tested for infertility at the beginning of the shutdowns, going to appointments at the height of infections, celebrating holidays quietly at home with a big belly bump, and delivering the baby as vaccinations started to roll out.  It's been a long, anxiety-ridden road leading up to this point.  For the first time since Zoe was born, I've had the mental space and time to take it all in and breathe a sigh of relief.  It's just been so fast-paced since her birthday, that I have not actually thought about the past very much until now.  I'm so grateful that it all worked out in the end.  Zoe is no longer just a figment of our imaginations--she's a real-live baby in the flesh, and she is absolutely perfect.  We were just discussing that we can't imagine having a different baby, and we didn't know it then, but she was the one who we were waiting for.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Mom Thoughts

It still feels as if one day I might wake up from this dream (or nightmare, depending on how I'm feeling)—that's how surreal motherhood has been for me.  I have about three months of mothering under my belt, and I still feel totally lost a lot of the time.  A lot of people have told me in the past that I would be "such a great mom" because they had seen me interact with their toddlers, or because they know what I do for work (pediatric occupational therapist in the school setting), or probably because of the naturally bubbly energy that I bring to social gatherings.  When I was pregnant, I was imagining all of the fun things that I would do with my kids—crafts, sports, shows, hikes, reading, cooking, rolling through the grass, you name it.  I also imagined that I'd be fun-loving, tireless, and gracious.  Of course I knew that I'd have to get through the newborn phase, but hell, I don't think that anything could have prepared me for just how exhausting and mentally challenging this time has been.  

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Three Months: Trials and Triumphs of the Newborn Phase

I used to think that I was not into newborns.  They cry, they don’t reciprocate, they don’t have personalities.  I wanted to have kids, of course, but I wanted to skip over this phase and get to “the fun stuff.”  Now that Zoe is moving out of her newborn months, I feel a sense of bittersweetness.  I truly did enjoy each day of the last three months, even though there were tears, aches, and sleepless nights.  She’s just full of surprises—like that one night when she popped up on her forearms for the longest time, that afternoon when Wes stuck a rattle into her hand and she maintained her grip and brought it to her mouth, that time she grinned from ear to ear on the changing pad and let out a laugh.  Newborn babies change so quickly, if you so much as blink, you might miss something!  Now that we are at the three-month mark, we’ve actually seen many signs of a personality and reciprocation.  But even before she smiled back or looked into our eyes, it didn’t matter.  She’s ours, and I honestly never would expect anything of her except for her to just be healthy and well.  Basically, all she has to do is to exist and we’d be happy.  

We just watched the Oscar-winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher on Netflix, and it really reminded me of how we've observed and learned so much from being with our newborn.  In the documentary, the filmmaker studies an octopus in its habitat and arrives at not only an appreciation for biological phenomena, but also introspection into his own mind and what matters most to him as a human being.  He watches as things happen to the octopus that he does not expect and cannot control.  He cannot help but become attached and emotionally invested, so much so that when something painful happens to the animal, he feels the same pain himself.  What used to be an otherworldly creature suddenly becomes part of him.  Zoe is just the same kind of an enigma to us.  We were drawn to her from day one, but we understood nothing.  Now, we are just shy of a hundred days, and we are still constantly perplexed and amazed by her...our own little octopus who has her tentacles wrapped around our hearts.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Two Months: Firsts and Lasts

These days, we often lie in bed at night and marvel at the fact that there is a tiny human in the same room. She has been on this earth for nearly two months now. We roll over and watch her sleep, her big head turned towards us to her left shoulder, one arm straight out, cheeks spilling out of the collar of her onesie, perky lips slightly apart, her tiny chest rising and falling quickly with its rhythmical irregularity that we have become so accustomed to. She might let out a sudden gasp or wheeze, a whimper, a snort. We’ve gotten so used to it that we laugh and put on our earplugs. We feel mostly at ease around her and we trust that she will let us know if she needs anything.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Zoe's One Month Celebration

Zoe is now a month old and nearly eight pounds heavy, according to our jerry-rigged baby scale (we use our food scale with a large plastic serving dish on top, lol). She is still a sleepy little newborn, but she has started to show an increased awareness of her being and of her environment, which unfortunately comes with much fuss, much cling, and much drama.

In Chinese culture, a baby's one-month birthday is cause for a big celebration because it usually indicates that she would have a good chance of surviving.  Back in ancient times, infant mortality rates were high.  Today, Chinese families keep the tradition going because no matter what, reaching this age is still a gift and a relief.  Zoe has gained back the weight that she had lost after birth and then some!  She's looking quite chubby and that hair is full and lush.  Though Wes's family is Cantonese and my family is Taiwanese, there is still overlap in each family's Chinese roots.  Both sides still recognize the one-month mark as an important milestone.