Spent the night thinking about everything.
Everything includes: the protests in Charleston, McCauley Culkin, Bloody Mary Tudor, my cats, my dogs, the endless boogers in my nose, how I used to call burgers boogers as a kid, Charley, my bank account, my Spanish boyfriend from 2003 when I was studying abroad. And I’m thinking about the baby.
It’s amazing to me that I’m growing a human in my stomach. And it all began on a spontaneous road-trip. First my egg was fertilized by the sperm on a fireball-inspired trip to Vegas. Thirty hours after conception, the cell split into two. Three days later, the cell (zygote) divided into 16 cells. After two more days, the zygote migrated from my fallopian tube to my uterus. Seven days after conception, when I was back in Jackson, working at a bookstore, the zygote was burrowing itself into my plump uterine lining (endometrium). The developing baby was tinier than a grain of rice.
By the fifth week, while I was still blissfully ignorant and doing ab workouts from an iPhone app, the baby was resembling a tadpole and the size of a sesame seed. By the sixth week, she was the size of a lentil.
By the seventh week, her heart was beating and I was buying pregnancy tests at Smith’s. She was the size of a blueberry. The embryo had developed a placenta and amniotic sac. The placenta had burrowed into the uterine wall to access oxygen and nutrients from my bloodstream.
The eyes, mouth and tongue started to form in the ninth week. I went to a free clinic then and she was barely visible because of an ovation cyst I’d developed. It turned out to be no big deal but it meant an emergency trip to an OBGYN, and that’s how I met Dr. Roberts and initiated the Medicaid process.
By week ten, Dakota’s embryo became a fetus. All of her body’s organs were formed. Teeth started to form in the following week and baby Dakota was the size of a grape. Fingers and toes were visible in the twelfth week. By week 16, her brows and lashes appeared, and she had grown to the size of an avocado. By week 20, her genitals could be detected. Charley joined me in Dr. Roberts’ office and we found out she was a girl. This began my endless lists of baby girl names: Chloe, Fiona, Hazel, Trinity, Margot, Sophia, Dakota…
Our baby was the size of a banana. By week 28, the body has caught up with her big head and she had grown to the size of an eggplant. By week 32, her head was facing bashfully down and away from the ultrasound to prepare for birth. By week 35, (tomorrow), little Dakota will be the size of honeydew melon, with fully developed kidneys. If somehow I were to make it all the way to week 39, her physical development would be fully complete. She would be about the size of a mini watermelon and would only need a little more fat to take on the outside world. By week 40, baby is usually more than ready to get on with it. I doubt I will see week 40, but you never know what will happen. The baby makes all the decisions.
By nine months babies start solidifying memories that can last a lifetime. Few adults remember anything that happens to hem before the age of three. My earliest memory is sitting on a floor waiting for a move. There were boxes everywhere and my parents were arguing. Since it couldn’t have been our first move from San Antonio (I was only one) it must have been our second, from Wichita Falls to Fort Worth. I was three.
First memories are often intensely positive or negative. Either way they tend to be unforgettable for a reason and connected to an emotion, which makes them stick. If you want a baby to remember good times, and feel good, then the unconscious memories being formed from the beginning, to the conscious ones developing over time, all need to be taken into consideration.
I don’t want to ruin my health, but I don’t want to short-change Dakota’s, and I’m determined to begin this process with affectionate womb accommodations, a compassionate introduction to the outside world, and continued service to her wellbeing as a miniature human. Just as my dogs are my companions and not my belongings, so too will Dakota be another spirit I’ve been allowed to nurture, not an object I get to own. I think a lot of moms fail to differentiate between these two things, especially if they chose to have a baby to fill a hole in their lives. More important than anything, I want to secure the healthy emotional connection between a mom and newborn, and never lose gratitude for what the universe has brought into my life via drunken irrationality and cheap, pink Walgreens short shorts.
Research shows that a strong emotional attachment between mama and baby may prevent diseases, boost immunity, and enhance baby’s IQ. Dr. Deepak Chopra said, “Those hugs and kisses are a force of nature more powerful than ever thought.” With a baby, kissing, cuddling, breastfeeding, hugging and eye-gazing are all good ways to increase oxytocin (the love drug or feel-good hormones), and the mother-baby bond.
Pheromones- the chemical-bonding smells that first attracted me to Charley- are also responsible for strengthening the love moms feel for their babies. In one study, 90% of moms were able to identify their newborns by scent alone after spending only ten minutes with them. And the mere scent of a mother’s milk is enough to calm and ease her newborn’s pain.
A newborn is a disorganized bundle of nerves- like a miniature Woody Allen. According to Patty Ordenko in Parenting Magazine, babies “literally don’t know what to do with themselves and they’re incredibly sensitive to hunger, temperature changes, pain, light, everything.” They need to be held and soothed to take on the new sensations of the world outside mom’s womb. Basically, they’re babies under stress, and we all know that stress is a physical burden and sometimes a silent killer. When a baby (or mom) is stressed, immunity deteriorates, leading to sickness. When babies are consistently stressed, it can permanently affect their immunity. “Immune cells have memory of experiences,” says Dr. Chopra. Stress on a child (usually caused from neglect or abuse) alters the genes that control immunity because immune cells “remember” damage.
The bond forming in the womb is just as important. Beginning early in pregnancy, a baby can hear what’s going on around her. So if you argue and fight with your husband, she can hear that. If you play Fur Elise on the piano she can hear (and feel) that too. The baby’s natural rhythms and responses develop; and she listens to mom and mom to baby, often subconsciously. After birth a newborn usually is already familiar with and responding to mom’s voice, touch, and smell. Bonding forges through soft music and soft conversation, daydreaming-and making art- about the future you’ll have together, and from finding and sharing pieces of joy every day.
“Bonding is not an instant glue- it develops over time and every family is different,” says pediatrician William Sears, M.D., author of The Baby Book and a father of eight. “Just because you didn’t hold your baby the first hour after she was born, or you didn’t breastfeed, doesn’t mean it’s all over.”
Bonding can be difficult and near impossible in a country without paid maternity leave and an onslaught of responsibilities, bills, and burdens. “The responsibility is not just the mother’s,” says Dr. Chopra. “Her partner, family, neighbors, and coworkers all need to help ease her transition into motherhood. And obviously a mom needs time to herself, to recharge; otherwise, she won’t be able to give her baby the quality of attention he needs.” So if she’s working and on her feet constantly, giving her baby over to the grandparents or just half-heartedly “dealing” with the cries, then she’s doing herself and the baby a disservice. It’s the quality, not the quantity, that truly matters, Chopra insists; so don’t worry that working will interfere with the connection between you and your baby, but also don’t let work overpower your relationships with your family.
Dr. Chopra believes in “nourishing all of your baby’s senses” by holding the babe, massaging and singing to her, using soothing scents (lavender, rose, vanilla), and exposing her to colorful and odd shapes and objects. He says, “A single-cell embryo divides only fifty times to become one hundred trillion cells, which is more than all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.” After labor, all the cells in both mom’s and baby’s bodies act in synchronicity to create simple but intense connections between the two.
Take time to rest. Take time to revel in all you have and will have. Mentally (I love you and don’t you doubt it) and physically (boop boop poke). It’s simply the power of love.
“It will be a joy you’ve never experienced before,” Charley’s mom Tracy says. “It will change everything.” She worries about the dogs, particularly Duke. She thinks he is pure chaos, like a tornado, she wonders how I’m going to handle him with a baby. I try to reassure her even as she makes me nervous. I picture Duke growing up- a big pit and collie mix, he hovers over Dakota, watches her closely, protects and loves her. I picture the ideal. I mean, Charley is chaos too. I have to picture the ideal if I want anything near it to be true.
My delivery “goal” has been October 11th. That’s 37 weeks and a couple of days. That’s still a little over two weeks away. The thing is, after making it this far, with everything besides my blood pressure being nearly perfect, I’m wondering if maybe I could make it even farther.
Again, I’m thinking about how weird it is that I’m in this hospital at all. Why am I here? I could probably go back to Jackson right now and stay with my parents until I deliver and it wouldn’t matter at all. But I’m here. I have a room with tv and food service and if anything crazy happens labor & delivery is right downstairs. My mother-in-law is neutering my dogs. Charley is learning to do things on his own. I’m not taking care of anyone but myself. Celebrities pay millions for shit like this (granted with beach-side views and makeovers).
On a little walk before lunch I pass a scrawny young man who’s probably 18 or 19. “That’s twins for sure,” he smirks, he says to his family as I walk past. I walk back.
“You know what, it’s not twins.”
“And you can keep your comments to yourself. It’s hard enough being pregnant.” I waddle back into rhe hospital and to my room where I sit fuming.
The door opens slowly. A pause. Ah it’s my dad, up for a short visit. He hands me two local newspapers and some food. He climbed the Grand (he’s 76) last week and this week he was “relaxing”. And here he was driving five hours each direction to visit me for a couple of hours.
“Where do you get all your energy?”
“I’m not having a baby.”
I open the giant box with the carseat I ordered and we talk about Dakota.
“Maybe you can teach her Judo. I wish you’d taught me Judo, or boxing.”
“You were difficult to teach things. Remember the bike?”
“Yeah I remember you threw it in a ditch.”
“You wouldn’t get out of the road. Do you remember the apartments?”
“Yes in Fort Worth. I remember.”
“There were TWO kids that were hit by cars that year at those apartments. And they died.”
“I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me that?”
We walk around the hospital. It’s sprinkling- the perfect welcome to the first day of fall. We listen to Perry Como in the car and drive ten below the speed limit to Goodwill because he doesn’t want any bumps or accidents to hurt the baby.
My med schedule was moved around and it’s a confusing mess. Each nurse stares at the computer trying to figure it out. George Sand said in a letter to Armand Barbes in 1867, “Le vrai est trop simple, il faut y arriver toujours par le compliqué,” which means, “The truth is too simple: one must always get there by a complicated route.” Here I am, fully caught up in this complicated detour between A and B. In all the complicated routes we find things to talk about, to gripe about, and to solve problems and accelerate our energy. With problems to solve, we keep “improving”, and who doesn’t like to do that?
September 23rd, Friday- Dakota is 35 weeks today, over 5 pounds and punching like a very light welterweight boxer.
“Are you getting fat?” Charley asks on the phone. He needs the landlord’s number.
“No Jesus. I look the same as I did last time you saw me. And I just gave you her number.”
“I lost my phone.”
“Of course you did.”
I’m still kind of mad about the fat question an hour later. In my book about French parenting, it says French moms usually lose the baby weight in no more than three months. Unlike American celebrities, they do this naturally. First, they didn’t gain a million pounds to begin with, and second they watched what they ate and started exercising immediately after the delivery. I suppose exercising would be the wrong word. French people don’t exercise- they take long walks everywhere and maybe run in the park and swim. They do what I would do- what I will do- when I no longer am a marinating walrus in a hospital bed.
In the middle of watching “House Hunters”, (which is mostly young people spending a dubiously large amount of money on new homes after complaining about them), I’m reminded of my trip to Vegas. This was the most likely place we had conceived Dakota, and for the one night Charley and I were there, it was a mostly uneventful experience, by vacation standards. We didn’t do much besides walk around town and then of course have sex. However, it was jam-packed with some memorable moments: shitty karaoke singers, free wine, a massive steak, fireball and tight Vegas shorts from Walgreens, singing fountains at the Bellagio, the fake Eiffel Tower, and a group of homeless people Charley knew.
He begged me to give them something.
“What? No.” I’d lived in Portland and San Francisco. I was used to beggars and street kids looking for beer money, and I hadn’t given money to one in ten years.
“But I know them.”
“How do you know them?”
“I lived with them on the road.” Charley used to be a road rat. It was his bizarre, gritty life experience just as moving to Korea to teach English was mine.
I gave him two cigarettes and walked ahead while he caught up with them. I made him walk back to the hotel with me from the other side of the street.
To me they just looked threatening- beckoning Charley back to a life void of commitments and responsibilities. They looked ratty, drunk and diseased. Two men and one pregnant girl. They annoyed me. I just wanted to walk around under the lights and feel rich and sexy for a couple of hours. I was in Vegas goddamnit.
But I wondered now where the pregnant girl was and if she was okay. What was her earliest memory? What were her dreams? I wondered if the baby was okay. Probably not, and I just gave them two cigarettes.