When he is asleep, Elinor Anna’s daddy is a dragon.
And that makes Elinor Anna a dragon hunter.
When he sleeps she creeps into his fluffy den of blankets and pillows and cat fur. Her little feet pad through the carpeted tracks left by his big ones, so quiet. She waits for a great big grumble before she steals stealthily near.
Elinor Anna can see her daddy’s dreams all gummy in the corners of his eyes. He’s breathing fire over a great hoard of golden gaming cartridges, circa 1988. His scales are made of circuit boards and his tail hooks protectively as her arm around her lovey. She goes as close to as she dares, nose to nose, and sees that theirs are the same. She gasps and her surprise is mirrored in her daddy’s face when he wakes and finds his talons turned to tickling fingers, his shrewd, slitted eyes to soft ones.
Elinor Anna can’t be a dragon hunter, after all. Not when she’s a dragon, too.
For a first time mama, I make a lot of time to read. Which still isn’t a whole lot, or nearly as much as some others I know (envy!), but I do what I can. I also try to read in front of my daughter as often as she’ll let me, because I want her to know that I’m a reader, that I value books, and they’re more fun even than the Farscape marathons that accompanied her early nursing days.
But being a baby, she doesn’t have my unrivaled attention span for a new book (though she does toss the ones she doesn’t like to the floor, which I can appreciate after reaching the end of Cold Mountain). So when we’re not listening to “Pollywog in a Bog” or “Prairie Lullaby,” I’ll often listen to some old favorites on audiobook.
I indulge in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy at least twice a year, and the full cast version of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, too. There are a few books that listening to has actually made readable, though I’ve gambled on others I neither enjoyed in print nor by ear. And let’s just say I can’t even wait to hear as well as read one of my favorite writers later this year.
Listening to a book is such a dozy pleasure, like nursing a cup of hot chocolate in December, or taking a bubble bath. I can’t race right through, and I’m not competing with my cat for a comfortable spot to rest my arms. Listening also means I can get away with things like folding diapers or building block towers at the same time. While I’ve got to start being more mindful about what we’re listening to as my baby girl grows up (I don’t want a repeat of when this book got super unexpectedly sexy, super fast), listening to books seems to me like a lovely way to share some of my favorites with her.
And a way to take advantage of what precious little spare time motherhood provides.
How can I begin to tell the story of my daughter’s birth? With the end.
After more than an hour-and-a-half of pushing and six-and-a-half hours of unmedicated labor, my eyes boiled shut as canning seals, the midwife said to me, “Reach down and take your baby.” My baby. Mine. Reach down and take your baby. So I did.
And there she was, only, I didn’t know yet that she was a she. I observed her slick head, plastered with dark hair, her roaming eyes and slowly pinking limbs. So profound was M’s wonder that he nearly forgot that we wanted him to announce her sex after waiting so long to find out, these last hours the longest. He lifted her leg, surprised, delighted, and told me, “It’s a girl!” We’d been so sure we were having a boy. During my pregnancy I’d had only one dream where our baby was not a ravenously toothed animal, and in that dream, she was a she. It seemed this was the wicked smart and lovely gal I’d conjured in my sleep.
I lifted her from my belly to my chest and marveled at the little person we had made. We named her Elinor Anna. Already she is a passionate and pensive girl, sweet even when her howling mouth fusses at my breast or wordless wails to change and dress her as quickly as possible, please and thank you.
I find I miss her after a particularly long nap, that I need to see her face or risk mine running with tears only to begin to cry when she wakes anyway. I am overwhelmed by her existence. There are such depths in her steel blue eyes, darkening and deepening with every new day we spend together.
I really, really, really love her.
I like mysteries.
This isn’t the answer I can give to the many questions I’m getting lately about baby (am I making any progress, how big is baby, will baby be late or early or emerge with just enough time to be enrolled in kindergarten), but it’s the reason behind why I haven’t got any answers. Contrary to the amount of preparatory reading I’ve done for labor and delivery and the number of sensory play activities and ways to manage challenging behaviors I’ve pinned in anticipation of being a parent, knowing less in this instance seems best. I don’t want to spoil the surprise of baby’s arrival, and I don’t want to get myself wound up over nothing.
While I’m certainly and sorely tempted to ask at recent appointments with my midwives, I’m also a bit of a romantic. In novels and generally more interesting times, a woman had only her intuition and the stories of mothers and aunts and sisters to guide her, astray or otherwise. I imagine she awaited her baby’s birth with only as much fear of the inevitable as is reasonable. I’ve wanted for the same things, and tried to experience pregnancy as naturally as possible and as woman-centric as possible, which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the menfolk (and won’t be relying tremendously on M, as I have and always will). But this is the place where our bodies are wondrous and strong and capable, when I’ll know how to ask for what I need and when.
And I believe that what I need now is to find a little something to celebrate each day, to rest, to dream, and to let my body and my baby do what they already know how to do. Baby will be born whether I know what station he or she is in now or a week from now, whether I have weekly growth scans or whether I’ve scheduled my induction. I don’t need to control this. And I like not controlling it, like not knowing in the same way I like not knowing whether baby is a boy or a girl, the way I like not having yet seen his or her face. We’ll meet serendipitously, hopefully the way we were meant to, after so many months of strange intimacy.
The buzz of your beard trimmer before we go to bed is
the closest I come to cricket song.
The kind that kept me up at night when
at eleven and twelve and thirteen years old
I didn’t dream of someday sharing my bed with
an (extra)ordinary man, but an elf.
We read together, stealing half hours from sleep
as I once bribed my mother, promising
just one more chapter before lights out.
This is a chapter in our own lives coming to a close:
your breath white noise I follow soundlessly to sleep;
our baby squirming in my belly between us
when we try to make love,
before us in every future we might occupy.
Until your whiskers shake out sparse and gray, and
I haven’t the bone strength to make babies anymore.
There are few spectacles more ridiculous at the community Y than a pregnant woman doing hand stands in the pool. Tread-tottering, I come up spluttering, my eight-months-gone belly over turning me before I can turn this baby.
Aquatic acrobatics are only the latest in a wild list of things I’ve been willing lately to try. Balanced precariously on the edge of the couch earlier this week, I felt the blood rushing to my head and baby’s lodged somehow more firmly under my ribs. Hips lifted on a stack of pillows, my shoulders grinding into the carpet, I wondered if I could read a book balanced on my breasts at this angle. An ice pack pressed against the top of my tummy as long as I can stand it; an iPod tucked into the elastic edge of my panties underneath my belly, crooning Fleet Foxes and Carolina Chocolate Drops. Come closer, baby.
It’s not that I’m afraid of a c-section (my only option at the hospital, ass-backwards as my baby), which isn’t to say I’m not. Because I am, big time. But it’s more than my desire to avoid unnecessary surgery; I’ve realized that I want to labor. I want to work for it, want the euphoria that follows twelve hours (or much, much more) of the hardest and best work I’ll ever have the privilege to do. I’ve surrounded myself with She-Ra midwives and doulas, the support of the best husband in the known universe, read a whole hell of a lot, all in hopes of being stronger than I’ve ever known myself to be. Despite being told over and over again that my birth would never go just as I planned, I psyched myself into a place where I thought that could mean I might eventually need an epidural, or baby would become distressed and I would need an emergency c-section. But the thought of scheduling a c-section before labor begins on its own? Picking baby’s birthday? Depresses the fuck out of me.
I would and will do anything to cradle this healthy guy or gal in my arms. Still, we’ve got time. 25 percent of babies are breech at 32 weeks, only 3 percent at term. Let’s conform just this one time, little one.
The steering wheel sweat-slipped across my palms. I followed the printed directions to the hospital with my eyes and the manic directives of my heart with everything else, wondering if what I felt in my belly was a thump or the road or my head playing tricks. In my prenatal care sessions we stand together in a circle and hold hands, we repeat after the midwives and the social workers when they tell us to: I love my body, I love my baby. But that wasn’t what I told myself in the car on the way to triage after a day without a discernible kick or roll or five-fingered-punch. The word I used instead of love was trust.
Trust is what I tell myself I need if I’m going to be a mother. Hell, to be a human. I’m real good at putting my faith in other people, but I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m the most reliable, that my heart and head aren’t in the business of betraying me and everybody else. My blood pumps an unpredictable bridge between choruses; my nerves cry wolf.
This baby is taking after mama, intentionally or not. The fetal monitor had hardly hit my stomach before the hum-thump of his or her little heart tidal-tugged a smile on to my lips, tears from my eyes. After the requisite twenty minutes without a single contraction, the nurse said she had enough, but left the monitor on all the same. We’d tuned in to a good channel. Why turn it off?
When the midwife waved her magic wand and brought baby up on the ultrasound, she wasn’t surprised I hadn’t felt much in the way of movement. Baby sat cross legged like a little Buddha in my pelvis, head snug under my ribs. I’m glad at least one of us is totally zen.
But I’m thinking of a quote my aunt shared with me recently, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever your heart go walking outside your body.” I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m trying to trust this little person to take better care of it than I have.