Friday, September 3, 2004

Before and After

Before and After
Laura Moulton

November 2003

My first entry after a long dry spell. The last journal was populated with dreams of snakes and teaching ESL and careful notations on quirky pregnancy behavior (i.e. "Week 10: a new fascination with paper clips and with chasing down crisp dry leaves to stomp them") and it's painful to read the entry from last December, in which I'm sitting in a waiting room, there to have my blood drawn, so that they can make sure all is well – I write to the fetus: Please be okay, little fetus. Please don't have any wacky diseases or be retarded or that sort of thing. The painful part comes in turning the page. It's dated 3 days later and there's blood and red sketches of what came out of me – the miscarriage pages – and then the journal goes on. Ben and I take a 6 a.m. yoga class, biking each morning in the frosty dark, we fight about when to try and make a baby again, and I go see a free counselor who lives in the suburbs and who hands me tissue from his swivel chair and clucks sympathetically. By spring, we're pregnant again. I live in fear that one false step will dislodge this new creation, just like before, but this one sticks. My middle fills out and my breasts begin to resemble those of a Baywatch character. I feel rosy and lustrous-haired. Big and sexy.

My fetus accompanies me to protests against the war in Iraq, though I avoid the most crowded places, the skirmishes and potential tear gas. I maneuver this belly in and out of an ESL classroom, where students give me spinach and tomatoes from their gardens, and guess about the sex of my baby. I drive to a medium-security prison each week, where I teach writing to a class of women prisoners. We even go on a trip to England for six weeks, where we roam the countryside and live on a boat with friends.

Finally I dare to jot a note to the new fetus: Baby, you are 36 weeks old in there. You're a wonder, a mystery. I can't fathom the sex of you, your shape, your already partly-formed personality and eye color and nose. Some days I want you to be here in front of me so that we can play together, so I can get the hang of feeding you with my breast. But other times I wish we could just communicate by letters and postcards for a while first, to get to know each other, so that I might learn what your pet peeves are (I hate those diaper covers, you might say, or I can't stand adults who engage in that mewling baby talk). Then I could be prepared. And then you would know about me, too, that I am excited to be your mother but also afraid of some things: that I won't be able to adequately shield you from the world's harsh parts, that your coming will wreck my sense of self, that my stomach will be stretched and flaccid as an old balloon and that I'll grow sluggish and apathetic, eat potato chips for breakfast and watch court TV. That your father and I will fight because of you, because we're sleep-deprived or because we don't agree on whether you're sick, whether you're hungry, etc. But I have a hunch it's going to be okay. If you can just get here and get settled (I admit that even as I fold little clothes and blankets, organize a space for you here, I find myself trying to be practical – what if you die before I can dress you in a fuzzy pajama suit? I am gun-shy after the miscarriage. I can feel you, big and marvelous and kicking around in there, but occasionally I am faint of heart and doubt the universe will come through). So come through, baby. Come through.

June 2004

He came through. But he took his time. The war happened, despite our best efforts, and every day there is bad news from Iraq. My ESL students threw me a surprise shower, and my students at the prison had a reading and invited their friends and family to come. Nine days past the due date, my son, Coen Isaac Parzybok, was born.

It's incredible to me that six months has passed since then. We learned breast-feeding together (it was harder than I thought it'd be, but he took to it like a champ), and we figured out cloth diapers. Contrary to my fears, I didn't commence watching bad daytime television or fighting with my husband. I am stronger and fitter than I thought I'd be at six months postpartum. Coen is sitting up by himself, looking at (and chewing on) books, and starting to grow a tooth or two.

For months my journal has filled with pictures of Coen, with observations about how he chirrups like a little bird in the mornings, or how he studies a photo of himself and grins. But things have come full circle now – the part of me that was consumed by the pregnancy, the birth, and now the caring for my son has begun to step up and demand itself back. My fear that the arrival of a baby would alter my sense of self was not unjustified: I am a different person than I was before he came along. But what I didn't know then was how adaptable I could be, how I am many different things at once, and none of them needs to replace the original.

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