If I were to make a pie graph of my activities in the 24 hours following my son’s birth, it would be: 35% holding him and staring at his miniature, perfect features — the button nose, the seashell ears, the outsized fingers and feet, 28% watching family (three and then four of them, crammed into our tiny shared room) hold him and stare at said features, 7% trying, with great bewilderment, to nurse, 2% actually nursing, 1% wolfing down massive trays of hospital food, 12% sleeping, and 15% checking the levels on my bag of pitocin. The bag, see, was attached to an IV that was attached to my arm, and while it remained there I could not leave the aforementioned tiny room, or even my bed, without great, lumbering difficulty. By the time the bag was empty and the IV was removed from my arm, I had been supine for over 30 hours — small change to many, I realize, but big change to me.
Birth is the most crazy, normal thing I’ll ever do. It is a true crossing over a threshold, a morphing of identity. Unlike marriage, birth’s threshold crossing happens all at once: one instant you are not a mother and in the next, you are. (Okay, legally, so does marriage, but emotionally, the identity shift is much more gradual.) It’s wonderful and magical and also terrifying, and for me, the idea of resuming the things my prenatal self held dear helped combat the terror. I was a mother, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still write, or watch The Americans with my husband, or host and attend wine-fueled dinners with friends, or tinker at the piano, or swim a 100 fly or run the woodsy loop in Prospect Park.
Except, of course, in the beginning, I couldn’t do any of those things, not properly. So I settled for their vestiges. I couldn’t write fiction, but I could, at least, jot down a few impressions of Day 1. I couldn’t watch The Americans, but I could watch Modern Family (actually no, no I couldn’t. Was it always so canned?) Wine was still out, as was the piano, but while I could not run, I could walk. And so, once the IV was out, I did, round and round the ward, which was pasted with encouraging signs – “1 lap = 1/20th of a mile,” “You got this.” “Walking is the best thing you can do.” Even on bandy, post-labor legs, 1/20th of a mile doesn’t take much time — even 5/20ths barely dents 10 minutes — but it was a start.
Today, my son is 17 days old (and watching me write this while intermittently cooing, harrumphing, and gnawing on his fist). Watching The Americans was the first activity I resumed, followed by fiction and wine, with and without friends, and yesterday, I went for my second run. It was shorter than the first, but faster; my body felt less like the Scarecrow and more like the Tin Man. Now only the piano remains, but its vestige, records of the Beatles songs I used to play, have yet to compel me to dust off the keys. Perhaps it’s just as well — the Beatles are much better at playing their songs than I am.