Thursday, May 13, 2010

Levi Cells

Today I learned that certain types of fetal cells cross the placenta during development and enter maternal circulation. Is this astoundingly awesome to anyone other than me? How did I never know this before? Is it an oversight that no one ever mentioned this to me, either as a pregnant woman, or as a student of biology? Apparently in the mother's body, these cells continue to survive and replicate for decades. Maybe forever? They were discovered when researchers found Y chromosome-carrying cells in the blood of mothers who had given birth to boys (Thomas et al., 1994, Lancet 343:413-414).

This makes me so happy because it means that there are little bits of Levi that will always be inside me. Of course it's kind of silly to be so sentimental about cells. Haven't my years and years of training as a cold, objective scientist deadened my inclination toward such romanticism? In fact these fetal cells turn out to be associated with autoimmune disease in the mother and so they aren't actually that great.

My enthusiasm for the Levi-cells in my own blood is a personal, irrational indulgence, but it's one that I'm not going to appologize for because it makes it a litle easier for me to accept how quickly he is growing and changing. In a previous post, I marveled at the fact that his little body was literally made of me. Even after he grew inside my womb, I conintued feeding him breastmilk, and until recently, he never had anything besides breastmilk. I could therefore say that every molecule inside my son's body had first passed through mine. I don't really think that the mutual origin of our tissues explains why I felt like an amputee when I first had to leave Levi at day care, and I don't think that mothers who don't breast feed are any less connected to their babies. But still: Every molecule of Levi came from my body! Can't we just appreciate how amazing that is?

But I've been really slowing down on the breast feeding recently, and mine and Levi's biological mutuality is getting smaller. My body is finally being returned to me to use for my own purposes, and Levi's body is assimilating ever increasing bits of sweet potatos, pears, bananas and peas that were never eaten by me.

He is almost 7 months now, and it is disturbing how fast the time is spinning by. He's got two bottom teeth now, he wants to sleep on his tummy, and you can tell that he knows the difference between mommydaddy and everyoneelse. He will crawl soon, and a few days ago he climbed out of this little baby chair that we sit him in for meals. When I look at pictures of him as a newborn or think back to the sunny afternoon when Shayne and I drove home from the birth center with our new baby in the back seat, I just can't believe it. There is a part of me that is really grieving the passage of all this time. Things are happening too fast and the day-to-day challenges are too great for me to be able to thoroughly appreciate the specialness of these moments. I'm only able to look back nostalgically at moments that have passed, whole stages of development that are over. My mind generously filters out the difficulty, and I'm left kind of pining for things like how his kicks felt inside my pregnant belly and what his hair smelled like when I snuggled him to my cheek when we were together that first night after he was born. So even if it is perhaps a little silly, I find myself surprisingly comforted by this new knowledge that there are a few cells circulating in my body that contain the blueprint for my perfect little boy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What the pump.

I'm getting mighty tired of pumping breast milk. Tired of lactating in general, but having mixed feelings about when to stop. I can't believe it but Levi will be 6 months old tomorrow! When he was born, my goal was to breast feed for at least 6 months, and I hoped to do it for a year. Unfortunately Levi has never nursed well and despite the coaching of some wonderful lactation consultants, breast feeding for me has meant attaching this ungodly device up to my chest and allowing it to milk me like a cow five or six times a day. It is significantly uncomfortable to use, a hassle to clean, annoying to have to haul around every where with its many tiny parts. It is cumbersome, restrictive, and decidedly unsexy. I have to get up an extra half hour early in order to pump, I have to plan the activities of my day around pumping. If I don't pump every few hours, my boobs get huge and start to ache in this crazy bursting way. Not too long ago I stopped getting up at night to pump because the tiredness hurts more than the burstiness. Now I wake up in some agony every morning until I can get the thing on.

I pump in the car and am pretty sure that strangers in big trucks have often been able to see right in when stopped at a stop light. I'm always afraid I'll get pulled over and have to explain myself. I've pumped in the window seat on an airplane (not a full flight). I've pumped in restaurant bathrooms, friends' guest bedrooms, parking lots, and drive through windows. I pump about 40 ounces of milk a day (that's two starbuck's "ventis"). Levi drinks about 30 or 35 ounces a day, so I've been slowly building up a freezer's worth of surplus, which for some reason I am very proud of.

Levi recently started eating a little bit of cereal with his milk. His first food that is not made by my body. Until this point I have enjoyed the idea that Levi's little body is made and nourished entirely by my own. For a little while, I was losing weight at the same rate that he was gaining. I was down a pound for every pound he gained, and it seemed like I was directly transferring quantities of my body to his. Feeding him anything other than breast milk, or stopping pumping, feels like the next step of separation between mother and baby. It's not that I think that my bond with him will be diminished in any way when I stop pumping, but stopping breast feeding is another marker of the time that has passed since he was born. I'm having a hard time with how fast everything is moving, how quickly he is growing and changing. Shayne and I got pregnant immediately when we decided to try. The pregnancy itself flew by, and now the first half year of his life is gone! So as much as I complain about pumping (and I do complain) I find myself reluctant to stop because I don't yet feel ready for another whole stage to be in the past. I want to hold onto this time a little longer.

Anyway. What the pump.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My baby bear

I’m the first to admit that I have done a poor job of keeping in touch with many people in my life since my son was born last October. The most generous among you will not take it personally and will just assume that I have been too damn busy and tired to write or call. True, true. And so I submit to you here, my attempts to write down a description of the ridiculousness that I have created for myself (given birth to).

I am simultaneously happier and more miserable than I have ever been in my entire life. It is a completely incongruous state where I often find myself laughing and crying at the same time. Levi does this too, and we like to cuddle together at the end of the day, cackling maniacally while the tears stream down our faces. Having a baby leads to a special kind of insanity. Sleep deprivation is probably the biggest cause of it, but so is the fact that I love that baby more than my mind and body can possibly contain. And it is not necessarily the gentle, nurturing, motherly love that I imagined I would feel for my child. It is more of an urgent, visceral, exploding love. It is an insatiable, demanding, crushing love. It is kind of like a punch in the face. But it's a punch in the face that you just want more and more of. In fact you want it so much that you joyfully throw most of what used to seem important directly into the trash just so that you can get your face bashed in even harder by babylove. Hence the insanity.

I think what is going on here is that I have become addicted to my son. In a heroin kind of way. Is that a bad thing? I think about him constantly, and when I'm not with him, I am always scheming about how I could get to him, how I could get more of him. When I finally do get to him, I clutch him desperately to my chest, I feel my heart rate increase. My lungs fill up with him, and I breathe in as much as I possibly can of him. For a minute or two, everything beyond what I hold in my arms flickers and fades, and I cannot hear or see anything else. (If you tried to get between me and my son in these moments, I think I might kill you. In fact, I think I would rip your limbs off with my bare hands. Which is why this blog is called “The Momma Bear.”)

Others have written about this opium den of new motherhood and have been criticized harshly by the contingent of feminists who believe that this is a social construction engineered by patriarchy in order to oppress women. I don't really have an answer for that. Before I had my son...before I grew him inside my body, nourished him with my blood, pushed him into the world through my vagina (yes, my vagina), and then fed him with my own milk, I probably would have agreed. I would have been irritated by educated and talented women who had worked so hard and then made such drastic compromises in order to be with their babies. Women who sacrificed everything just so that they could stay home and raise their husband's children. But now, here he is. A little person in this world who is made entirely of me, who has not one molecule in his body that hasn't first passed through mine, and I guess I feel differently. I don't think that what I am experiencing is a device of patriarchy. I do feel like I am at the mercy of a power that is much greater than myself, but that power is definitely not Men. It’s a power that is a secret between Levi and I and I mostly feel grateful it because it makes it easier to make the difficult choices that motherhood is confronting me with.

And now I have to sign off because I’m starting to get all itchy and I need to go and get my babyfix!