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I think of my time with my baby as "meditative", by which I mean that it's boring in a mildly pleasant way, if I can maintain a specific mental equilibrium. When that equilibrium is disturbed, then it's just regular boring. Babies want constant low-level stimulation, requiring just enough that I can't space out into a separate train of thought or focus on a podcast, but nowhere near enough to fully occupy my attention. I can interest her in basically anything, whether it's a rattle or a book or a piece of cloth, by shaking it a few times in her field of view. In the early days when she was prone to unexpected projectile vomiting and I was sleeping only three hours at a stretch, there was a certain edge to the experience. But now it's just that meditative slight boredom.
How are babies so heavy? I'm not particularly athletic but I work out occasionally, and a 20-pound baby is just heavier than a 45-pound dumbbell. I don't know how but it's true. Babies want to be held in some specific way that somehow engages a set of muscles that is completely distinct from the ones you might have built up in any other circumstance.
A family friend named Natalie has been helping us care for our baby. She is so, so good with her. She has a lot of previous experience with daycares and new mothers, and she was a steady hand and a godsend especially in the dazed early months. There are so many little techniques you don't know you need until you need them. How to hold a baby's ankles in one hand without mashing their ankles together, so you can pull up their legs for a diaper change, or how to tilt a bottle up to stimulate their palate, then back down to restore the flow. How to warm and massage a mother's breasts when her milk ducts are clogged. How to cradle a screaming baby downwards, their chest against your forearm, and rock them until they relax and fall asleep. For various reasons, none of our parents were able to come and help us after our daughter was born. Instead we had Natalie.
She didn't tell us until after she'd come by several times that her daughter had passed away unexpectedly just a few months before ours was born. Her daughter was just a few years younger than us. When I found out, I didn't know what to do or say. Was it good for her to be around so much hopeful new life in the middle of her grief? Or for our daughter to be around such deep sadness? She hid it well from us, but babies develop a quick grasp on their caretakers' emotions, one that seems all the stronger for their inability to comprehend anything else.
She still comes by often to help us and I am grateful in a way that is not really possible to put into words. She speaks no English and my Mandarin is somewhere below a first-grade level, and it seems impossible to say anything meaningfully comforting across this chasm. Her loss is a wound in the world, appalling and unfair, impossible to heal.
Before our daughter Gloria was born, I had a lot of thoughts about the kind of parent I wanted to be and the kind of values I'd try to instill. I wanted her to be independent and resilient, high-agency and resourceful. The kind of person who would be inspired by some pretty photos one week and the next would sport a used DSLR and a little gallery website she'd put together with the help of a friend or a Youtube tutorial. Her photos would start out amateurish but evince some hidden spark, and over time they would get better and better until her genius (of course!) was undeniable. I wouldn't hover or helicopter, I'd give her space and let her learn that failure is a part of the process, but I'd help with her projects and show her that she could make a dent in the world.
Maybe that stuff comes in later, I don't know. So far it's mostly been about trying to get her to drink her milk without puking. It turns out you have to hover a lot in the early days just to keep them alive. And it's hard to be chill when (as they say, and it's true) your heart is walking around outside of your chest.
Our daughter was born six weeks early due to a condition her mother developed during pregnancy called preeclampsia. She was born with her skin blotchy red, her limbs spindly and birdlike. She was so small and helpless that just drinking a few milliliters of milk wore her out. Lying on the tiny hospital bench listening to the monitors beep over mother and daughter, I cursed myself silently for having been so relaxed and unaware of this impending near-disaster and vowed in the future to bring every molecule in the world under direct control to prevent anything like this from ever happening to them ever again.
The delivery nurses are studiously reassuring. We are told repeatedly, unprompted, that this was no one's fault. They do not ask about work pressure, or sleep schedules, or whether the maternal grandparents had perhaps been inconsiderately badgering the mother throughout the whole damn summer about idiotic and irrelevant concerns, which one imagines could only raise the mother's blood pressure (preeclampsia being really just a fancy way of saying that) and contribute to the whole mess. Said grandparents later calling only days after delivery to raise yet another set of inconsiderate/idiotic/irrelevant et cetera, et cetera.
Later, fortunately, it turns out that it is difficult to stay upset with someone when your daughter adores them, regardless of how rude or inconsiderate they may previously have been.
These days it is easy to entertain Gloria but hard to make her laugh. Peekaboo made her giggle for a few days, but now she only smiles. There was one week where she'd always laugh if you looked at her upside down, but the next week she was over it. Yesterday my wife made a buzzing noise through her closed lips, and Gloria laughed until she started coughing.
Some things stay the same and some change faster than you can believe. It's been eight months and she can't even crawl yet, but in another four she'll be able to kick a soccer ball. She used to be so floppy that we had to support her neck to pick her up, and now she cranes and twists her entire body to grab the thermostat as we carry her past it. One day she'll be too big for us to carry at all.
Today Gloria wants to watch us dropping things. A ball, or a book, or her crinkly elephant toy. We think that maybe she is learning about gravity, the way that everything falls if you let it go. She is delighted every time we drop something today, and by tomorrow maybe she'll have moved onto something else. So we pick up a toy, and let it fall, and listen to her laugh, and we do this over and over and over again until finally she stops.
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