One Year With a Baby: It's not so bad. Really.

A year ago I was the proud (and uptight) mama of a one year-old.


I remember feeling like things were desperately close to chaos – which things I can't remember: was it the laundry? The thank-you notes? The diapers? – and expending a lot of energy just trying to stay afloat (and keep the sheets clean).

I still do this, but although there's evermore to wipe up, I'm less concerned these days.
Surrender to the process, they say.

I try.

And of course, it being a year later, the ship having been afloat for 365+ days, was Sweet Baby James' birthday last week! I made him a birthday blog post and a nutritious molasses-blood orange-mascarpone cake (recipe coming) and the three of us sat down at the dining room table and celebrated. We live-broadcasted the whole thing and it was fun to be on TV for a while. It was a great way to have a big party – 25 people joined us – without (much) mess.

Sweet Baby James shoveled some cake into his mouth, did a little dance to Gnarls Barkley and deftly manipulated a musical birthday card. The stuff of genius. You can join the fun (click here).

It's been quite the year.

On average, babies consume 25 oz. of breastmilk per day in their first year. Given that ours was the size of a one year-old at 3 months, I feel OK about doubling that. That's an estimated 18,250 oz. of breastmilk. Which is 1,140.7 pounds. Which is about the size of the endangered [Canadian] Wood Bison.

Whatta cutie!

I wish I could say that having a baby is the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's not. Birth was definitely the most painful (and the most love-filled). Cumulative sleep debt is annoying crazy-making. But raising Sweet Baby James has not, thus far, been nearly as tough as I expected. Why?

I have help. Awesome help. From my husband. The kind of help that shouldn't even be called help, because it's almost like I'm the one assisting him (OK, that's stretching it). As I mentioned in my lavender ice-cream post, he cooks all the meals, even breakfast. He does laundry. He agrees to shell out for things like childcare, diaper service, and 'nipple pads'. He takes the baby for his night-time walk so I can write ├╝ber awesome blog entries. He cleans, like gets-down-on-his-hands-and-knees cleans. He also tells me I am beautiful.

Don't send a woman in to do a man's job...

I have been able to breastfeed. I had some soreness and blood blisters at the beginning, but once I let Sweet Baby James take charge of the scenario, it's worked out great. It's so easy. It's food on the go, and the best thing to calm an irate baby. It's helped me get back into shape and maintain happy moods. I was supported in breastfeeding by my healthcare providers, my friends and family, and most importantly, my husband. We'll see how long it lasts... I'm going for extended breastfeeding, bitches.

Breakfast time (18 weeks).

I haven't had to work a job other than motherhood. This, of course, is an opportunity open to a privileged sub-section of American society. But within that privilege it was a choice: we prioritized me being home with the baby for the first few years – over stuff, property, and a double income. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but I'm happy I decided to have kids at a young(ish) age, not yet feeling committed to a career I'd have to rush back to. Also, because I still feel funny wearing a suit.

No, this is not me. But I so wish it was.

The other three reasons are specific to me: I've been through worse (my life rocks! It used to suck!); I have a pretty easy baby (equal parts luck, genetics, and AP); and I really did expect the worst, spending most of my pregnancy ruminating about how I would cope once I'd given birth to a baby with ADHD.

I'm not saying I don't have my bad days (I have my bad days!). Just that they're less common than they were before I had Sweet Baby James, and now I have good reason for being upset sometimes, like when he poops in our bath. My point is, having a baby isn't the death sentence it's made out to be.

The actual task of making a healthy, happy child is not in and of itself impossible. If you've got good support, if you can breastfeed, if you don't have to run out the door after three hours of sleep every morning, and you have a 'normal' baby, it's totally doable. You can even move to a new country, start a new grad school program, tour Canada, and read an entire library of ethnopediatrics books (though I wouldn't recommend it).

It's our treatment of mothers that is the problem. I really think it's our belief that pregnancy and motherhood should be invisible, should accomodate a consumerist, individualist and career-driven lifestyle; and our refusal to support women with things like lactation consultants, childcare, maternity leave, and self-cleaning ovens. So much of our parenting advice focuses on the baby: what kind of baby you have, what kind of sleeping schedule he/she has, how to best entertain or educate this little blob – but what really makes a difference is how the mother is doing. It's social and economic support.

The sleepless night isn't so bad if you can nap the next day (napping with a baby is the best – you wake up at the same time! Always!). Birth and breastfeeding aren't so hard on your body if you're not expected to make all the meals and clean the house for visitors. The isolation of staying at home with a baby isn't so scary if you know you've got a friend coming by to relieve you for an hour. And dammit, resentment doesn't build when we're truly being appreciated for the work we do.

What really drove this point home to me was traveling. I wasn't a mother at the time when I went to 37 cities over the course of 18 months so I wasn't wearing my mama-goggles, but from what I did notice, motherhood was a lot more fun outside of Canada and the US. In Bringing Up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman writes about how the French moms she knows are a) relaxed, b) sexy, and c) confident about their parenting. The obvious causes I would attribute this to are a) national healthcare, b) French fashion, and c) good state-provided daycare.

But even in some of the so-called developing nations where national healthcare, daycare, and Yves St. Laurent capris are not the norm; and where we persist in seeing motherhood as 'so much more difficult' (kind of condescending when you think about it), it seems more enjoyable to be a mother. I saw struggles with health, prejudice and poverty while I was traveling; but I also saw a lot of poor young mothers having a good time. Laughing. Chatting with their friends. Flirting.

Not seeming very worried about being the perfect mom.

I took a bike trip through central Sri Lanka in 2007. I met a very young mother-to-be (she couldn't have been more than 16) in a Buddhist temple in Matale. She was there with some female family members, getting blessings for her birth. She was heavily pregnant, and her smile had the openness of someone with mild mental retardation. Her family members spoke to us a lot, but I'm not sure if she could speak.

Naked bulb hanging off a cornice at the temple in Matale

Veronika and I, in bike-riding/temple-going white.
If I look ten years younger here, that's because it was five years ago. 

So there was a heavily pregnant, single, possibly exploited teen mom (I was going to say she was literally barefoot and pregnant but everybody leaves their shoes at the door of a Buddhist temple). Surrounded by an air of celebration. I don't know what her situation was, or what concerns she or her family member held to be most important. But they were all so excited for the baby to come, and kept inviting my friend and I to touch her belly. She was dressed in bright clothing. They weren't hiding her, or the pregnancy. It was, I hate to say it, really touching.

How likely are you to see a poor, teenage, (possibly) mentally retarded, (possibly) exploited/raped single, pregnant girl in an American church – smiling? Moreover, how likely would it be that she had gone there for the priest's blessing (for her birth!) and with her family?

I get that there are stressors in other parts of the world that I can't even dream of, and thus can't see. All I'm saying is: our way, the way in which a woman's life goes into a downward spiral when she elects to create another's, is not the only one. And since we're hogging all the world's money and resources, the least we could do would be to treat our mamas a little better.

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