Thursday, April 26, 2012

What IS it About a Baby?

Ending a volunteer stint counseling breastfeeding mothers was the best form of birth control I ever practiced. What is it about a baby that makes me want to have another? For seven years I worked new mothers through engorgement and thrush and sore or cracked nipples. I walked them through the benefits of colostrum, proper latch on, and the concept of supply and demand as it applies to breast milk. I highlighted the impact their efforts would have on baby’s health, reduced risk of allergies, childhood obesity, and certain cancers, improved jaw and facial development, visual acuity, and cognitive development. I fielded questions on pumping, cosleeping, nursing during pregnancy, and sex. For seven years I guided new mothers as they made their way through this thing called breastfeeding, this thing that everyone assures a woman will just come and causes her to feel like a complete failure when, in fact, it doesn’t. For seven years I held babies while these mothers readied car seats and coats, helped older siblings with potty breaks, grabbed snacks and drinks, and chased down errant two-year-olds. For these seven years I was pregnant, nursing, or thinking about getting pregnant.

Life gets complicated. I did not intend to have so many children. I did not intend to stay home with those children. I did not intend to help other mothers do what I myself did not originally intend to do. I did not intend a lot of things, like putting off career for twenty years, splitting up work on my degrees like I have, or questioning at forty-eight what it is exactly that I want to do with my life.

But for now I teach, and I am fine with that, except that for now I am overwhelmed, overwhelmed with end of term projects and papers and presentations. I am feeling flustered and ready for a much-needed break. I am overwhelmed with other things as well. I am overwhelmed with remodeling projects left too long undone, with adult children who are stretching to find their way in this world, with dinner and schedules and bills and the matter of making time to write and to read and to walk in the woods. I am overwhelmed with nagging questions that won’t leave my head. Have I parented as I should? Have I given my children the start they needed? Have I given them enough of whatever enough means? What about me? Am I doing what I was put here to do? Am I operating at half speed or giving life my fullest? Am I too ambitious, too arrogant, too aggravating or absent?

Let’s not even talk about my marriage. I pinky swore long ago to leave THAT story off the page. I am wedded to a private man who would rather have his eyeballs plucked than bare his soul to random readers of unknown origin. As much as it pains me, I respect his wishes and leave many an essay posted only in my head. So, to allay the fears of certain Facebook followers that there is trouble brewing because I do not fling connubial perturbation or praise across my page, no, in fact, I am not headed for divorce, but merely being considerate. Still. I question both my intent and my behavior as well as that of my spouse over the past twenty-six years we have spent together as husband and wife. I question a lot.

A former student visited the other day. I knew her well as she had taken three classes with me. She confessed midway through her child psychology class that she was expecting and would be using her personal experience as part of her final project. Agreed. I insisted, in return, on a real life visual once the baby arrived. She showed up to make good on her promise. As I made my way to class through the crowds of bodies and backpacks, I could see the tiny pink fleece, the overstuffed diaper bag, the car seat perched on Mom’s lap, rocking, bouncing, comforting. As I approached, I laid eyes on the roundest, sweetest face topped off by a silken mop of jet black hair.

I am not sure I exactly asked if I could hold her.

What IS it about a baby? Though my arms had not done this in nearly fourteen years, they knew. They knew their place. While marketing genius would have us believe that infants require scads of complicated equipment, drawers loaded with coordinating outfits, and nurseries outfitted to a decorator’s delight, the basics really are very simple. All a newborn really requires to thrive are food, warmth, and love. A breast from which to nurse, arms to be held in, and a heart to love.

Life starts that simple. Why do we complicate it as we do? Isn’t this all any of us really need? Food, warmth, love. As I felt that baby breath rising and falling in my arms and sensed the serenity that comes from knowing all is well with one’s world, I could not help but think my problems insignificant. I could not help but think them of such very little consequence. I could not help but think that I was fed, and I was warm, and I was loved, and that THAT was good enough.

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