By Corey Colwell-Lipson
It’s amazing how things can change. One moment I am an over-achiever in perpetual motion: driven, focused, ace. I am stressed out, overworked and loving every minute of it. I organize the notes of praise from my boss and my boss’s boss by date and de-clutter my closet, phonically: ankle socks, belts, cardigans. It is physically impossible for me to sit still without trying to do at least five things at once. No sir, I’m no couch potato, I tell my husband, you’ll just have to get used to watching the Thursday night line-up with a Mexican Jumping Bean. In one half hour episode I have ironed the clothes, finished the dishes and done 75 sit-ups, push-ups and releves. For Christmas my mother-in-law gives me a magnetic photo album. I can’t wait to fill its sticky pages with color-coded printouts of my top two hundred baby names. The priceless lists I have been keeping since Jr. High
No matter that I hadn’t had a baby yet, nor was I expecting one. But when I did, boy, would I be ready. I had already begun my research into the pros and cons of cloth diaper wipes, the safest/ sturdiest/most economical brand of nursing pads and of course the ins and outs of cord-cell preservation. I knew when we would conceive, what position I would birth my baby in and how to teach my 8 month-old sign language so that he would not be flustered (and therefore permanently damaged) when he desperately wanted to say the word, “duck”. And yes, I just had the feeling that my first child would be a boy.
We conceived after only one memorable attempt which threw us both off course (the pregnancy, I mean). I should have figured as much as my mother always told me that the women in our family are so fertile we can get pregnant standing downwind of a guy with his pants down. Okay, so my husband was still in school with no job and I was working 60 hours a week in an emotionally draining job that robbed me of my will to nurture even the dog (YOU feed him tonight, honey! Why is he so damned needy all the time???). We’ll just have to make a new plan. Because after all, I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mom.
During my pregnancy, the Universe gave me ample opportunity to learn that I, in fact, was not in control of my life. Alas, I was slow to catch on. I continued grasping ferociously to the belief that I had some say in the matter. I proselytized, to anyone who I could tackle, that research, planning and organizing were the cornerstones of a productive life and after all, productivity equals happiness. Even through morning, noon and night sickness, pregnancy induced migraines and acne in places that I’m too embarrassed to mention, I held fast to my delusions. It wasn’t until I went into premature labor, while in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10 freeway, heading out of Los Angeles on the night before Thanksgiving, that I began to reconsider my worldview. This is not what I had planned. I was thirty-two weeks along.
For the first time in my life, I felt utterly helpless. I had not dreamed labor would come eight weeks early, while my baby’s lungs had yet to mature, in a hospital in a town I did not know. I had no plan A for this derailment and definitely no plan B. I understood quickly that being a patient in a medical emergency robs you of all the control you once thought you had. Sure, each nurse in the 24 hour parade asked me how I was doing, but I could tell by the way their eyes scanned the various instruments I was connected to via tubes and straps that my responses were completely irrelevant.
“Any contractions in the last hour, Mrs. Lipson?” a night nurse asks as she flips on every florescent light in the room, never mind the fact that it is 3:20 in the morning. She lifts layers of folded paper emerging from the device buzzing over my head and raises her unibrow.
“Uh-huh, strong ones. Two minutes apart for the last forty-sev…
“Well, good! Looks like the medication is working. You’ll be outta here in a few hours then.” She slides out the door, with an air of satisfaction. Lights remain blaring.
In and out of the hospital I went, arriving home just in time to get back in the car for another trip to the emergency room. Of course I knew the medications were not working, but apparently, nobody cared. The Machine said I was not having contractions and so I wasn’t having contractions. Amen.
A week later, I was home on complete bed rest and confronted with the daunting task of doing – I shuddered to think – absolutely nothing. No tooth brushing the baseboards. No alphabetizing my cleaning supplies. Be the dreaded couch potato. Doctor’s orders. Oh God – ask me to walk on hot coals, make my toilet run in the middle of the night for no apparent reason but lay, not even sit, in bed day after day? Give me strength!
And it came.
952 infomercials, 204 naps and every Shirley McClain memoir later, I went into labor again and this time my baby came. A day before her due date. A girl. All of my books, pamphlets and interviews failed to prepare me for the mind-blowing experience they call childbirth; and still I managed to push my daughter into this world without intervention, at home as planned. But as I wondered and awed at my infant’s beauty, unbeknownst to me, I also bid farewell forever to plans coming to fruition. Gone were the days of knowing what would come next and knowing what to do. Tiny baby in arms, I too was newly re-born.
I have been told that some babies of Type A mothers know intuitively that their mammas would not, by choice, sit quietly feeding their babies without a care in the world as all babies deserve to be fed. Instead, Type A mothers, believing that failure to multi-task is a cardinal sin, and not knowing how not to multi-task even if their lives depended on it, will attempt to feed their children while at the same time waxing the car and balancing the checkbook. Indeed, I have seen it done. But these intuitive babies, smart as they are, are also self-preserving, and figure out quickly that in order to get their mommy’s complete and full attention, they must be calculating in their approach. So while the medical community labels them “colicky” in reality, they are ingenious. In order to get their mommies to relax and let go of their milk, these children scream at the top of their lungs, 24 hours a day, unless their mommies are nursing them while lying on their side (therefore without the use of one arm, one leg and one ear), in bed (hence not at the computer) and at home (thus not at Costco). These special babies are also blessed with an infinite amount of patience. They will continue their screaming, fussing and boob boycotting until their mommies figure it out. Focus on me. I need your complete and utter attention.
Like I said before, I am a slow learner. And if truth were told, I was terrified to give up my addiction to action. What would I do without my crutch called perfection? What if someone catches me lounging serenely with my baby and thinks I’m lazy? Will the world actually come to an end if I don’t have the time or energy to handcraft Christmas cards for the residents at the assisted living facility this year?
I decided to take a leap of faith and give my baby what she knew both of us needed. Well, maybe leap is the wrong word. Inch, is perhaps more like it but day by day, week by week, I learned how to ignore the demands for accomplishment and order that swelled up from within me, planted there long ago by my father, grandmothers and Jr. High musical theater teacher. I opened to the pleasures of mothering. Slowly, surely, I unshackled myself from the pursuit of perfection and grew consciously tuned-in with the little piece of perfection that snuggled contentedly to my breast. I began to follow her cues and answer her cries, ignoring self-imposed obligations so that I could cherish each and every sacred moment with her, knowing that someday, far too soon, I would have all the time in the world to create order in my life. For now, on these days, I would bask in the glow of the mysterious, exotic lands known only as liberation and surrender.