Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

I Said A Lot of Things

General StuffTeresa Strasser106 Comments

One promise I kept: not to take one of these photos. Ever. I was full of pronouncements before I had this baby.

While new moms seemed to whine incessantly about not having time to shower, in a triumph of will and excellent planning, I was going to be the impeccably groomed mother of a newborn. I would make time for blow-outs and pedicures and basic hygiene, because I’m vain, own 17 tubes of lip gloss, refuse to wear too-tight Juicy Couture sweat pants and be all sacrifice-y and bland.

Cut to me sitting around in my own filth with breast milk stains on my husband’s giant plaid shirt, spit-up on my jeans and hair so dirty that when I finally went to the salon, the hairdresser asked me, with more genuine curiosity than disdain, “How long has it been since you’ve washed your hair?”

“Maybe four days?” I lied, before playing the new mom card. And there I was, in that second, manifesting the cliché and flying right in the puffy face of my own naïve declaration. On top of which, I had to ask the hairdresser to hurry it up, the sitter was waiting. The sitter was waiting. This is my life now. I’m this person.

It’s not unusual for me to take a hooker shower in front of the bathroom sink with a couple of baby wipes and almost no shame.

Like I said, I made a lot of pronouncements.

I also proclaimed I would never be one of those moms who has entire conversations about my child’s poop. So, last night I Googled “green poop” on my iPhone while nursing and have now had lengthy conversations with several moms about the causes and potential dangers of green poop. (Just so you know, poop is only concerning if it’s white, black or red, according to Babycenter.com.)

Now, I get it, I get the poop talk. As a new mom, I’m just trying to do right by Buster and he is very limited in his modes of communication. At ten weeks old, he has to let his poop do the talking. We have even photographed the green poop, lest our idea of green and our pediatrician’s differ. Mint green? Forest green? Mossy green? Let’s break out or camera and show you the exact hue. On my camera, there is more than one picture of my child’s poop. This is my life now. I’m this person.

To anyone who would listen, I announced that you would never catch me in any kind of Mommy and Me bullshit, or one of these New Moms support groups at the Pump Station. Now, I’m desperate to fit one into my schedule. If you have been a mother for even one day longer than I have, you know things I don’t and you have things to teach me. Whereas I used to assume I would never fit in with women who would populate these classes, that I would never be one of the stroller lugging mom masses who give a shit about the tensile strength of swaddle cloths or the most effective diaper cream, now I just want some more mom friends. These days, it’s not unusual for me to practically molest moms I see on the street, at restaurants, anywhere, peppering them with questions: Do you like that baby carrier? Does it hurt your back? How long did you breast feed? How long does your baby sleep? When did she start sleeping through the night? What exactly is a Sleep Sheep? Did your baby ever get a rash on her cheeks? What pediatrician do you go to?

I start feverishly taking notes about whatever sleep schedule DVD or book she says was the magical sleep maker. I buy it all.

When I get a mom in my clutches that seems to have her shit together, I don’t stop at the easy questions, I pry her for information about vaccines and anything else she seems open enough to reveal.

Just like the new kid in school who is trying to fit in, I’m starting to inch up to the mom crowd, to figure out what they wear and how they act and think. The clerk at the Pump Station told me that the Monday afternoon support group is empty, because all the moms go the Mommy and Me movie over at the Grove that day. Get there early on Tuesdays, she added, because it’s standing room only. And I realize, the moms travel in a flock, and maybe I’d be better off getting in formation than flying solo.

If I go where they go, maybe I can learn what they know. Part of me is still wary of joining, because I want to do everything my own way, but I’m starting to think my own way sucks and that there is an inherent wisdom to the flock. Besides, in every social situation I’ve ever been in, I always find the one other girl who feels like a complete outsider and we become friends, even if that bond is at least in part based on judging everyone else who seems happier and better adjusted.

What I’m saying is this: yes, I am sitting here in public (very public, at the Public Library, in fact, where a girl can look homeless and stink a little without bothering any of the registered sex offenders) wearing what is really kind of a nightgown with ankle socks and sneakers. This is my life now. I don’t even care. I’d rather not run into any ex-boyfriends, but essentially I don’t care.

I said a lot of things before.

I said I would never use a picture of my child as my profile photo anywhere, because I would rather lose my identity in more subtle ways. While I’ve resisted, my cell phone wallpaper photo is just Buster, no me, no dad, just the boy. That is a gateway baby photo, which can only lead to more serious use of the baby’s picture to stand in for my own. It’s happening.

Only stone cold bores and anti-intellectual twats spoke for their infants, imbuing them with all kinds of adult thoughts and feelings they could never, ever possess, the way a spinster announces that Mr. Fluffy loves “Friday Night Lights” but doesn’t care for the sound of the mailman’s voice. That would never be me, I said.

That was before my soul took a dip in maternal hormones and dried off only to find it appropriate to say, “Buster has a crush on you” or “Buster is flirting with you” or “Buster loves Jimmy Page guitar solos” or “Buster just can’t wait to see grandpa” or “Buster feels so dapper in his cardigan” or “Buster just loves his bath.” Like I know what the fuck that guy thinks or feels.

The fact is: I don’t show shit. I literally don’t know shit about shit.

I don’t know why poop is green or if it matters, I don’t know what goes on in my child’s mind, if anything, or how best to plan his nap and feeding schedule so he sleeps through the night, or when to stop swaddling him or what causes a baby rash or if I should really stop eating milk or nuts or soy or whether he really needs all of his vaccines on one day or if he’s fussier than other babies or cries more or sleeps less or if, in fact, he is totally average. Do I hold him too much or not enough? I just don't know.

It’s like I met a guy, fell in love at first sight, flew to Vegas to get married that day, and woke up a couple of months later to find I was madly in love with a stranger.

I know I love the child, because when I listen to John Denver songs and look down at him I cry right onto his onesie with a feeling of euphoria I can only call narcotic (later I cry because my stomach still hurts from the C-section and I just want to put him down, but he needs to be rocked all the livelong day).

Yeah, I'm certain I love him, I just don’t know him, or if there is much to know. I'm not totally sure how to make him happy yet, or how best to care for him, so until I get that down, which may be never, all of my pronouncements are out the window.

When he smiles up at me in the morning, squirming on his changing table, it’s like a shot of morphine right to my heart. I spend the rest of the day chasing the dragon.