Saturday, November 11, 2017

Third World Green Daddy 69: Reading my way through a pregnancy

When I recently got the news that my wife was pregnant again, I was sublimely ecstatic.  Of course I had been thrilled when I learned of the prior two pregnancies, but this pregnancy was different, both in how unexpected it was, and how expectant I was.

During my wife's pregnancy with Sam, I was very active, very conscious of the pregnancy and getting ready for the childbirth and childrearing.  He would be my first biological child, and in my typical busybody fashion I set about doing all sorts of logistical preparations:  getting or making clothes and other supplies, setting up hospital logistics, figuring out bottles and breastpumps and diapers,  But I was so busy doing, and it was all so new, that it sort of went by in a flash, and I couldn't step back and think about it.

When Paulo was in the womb, I was less conscious than with Sam.  Caro and I had worked out the mechanics and logistics once before, so they didn't require as much time or thought.  In addition, we went through four jobs and five living spaces in the course of Paulo's pregnancy, so I for one was sort of overwhelmed, just keeping my head above water.  I was much more involved in Paulo's childbirth itself than I had been with Sam, but when I finally did catch my breath, I realized that that pregnancy had gone by again in a flash, and I had been even less able to stop and enjoy it than with Sam's gestation.  Where I'd written fifty-some Third World Green Daddy blogs during Sam's first few years, I wrote just a few during Paulo's gestation and infancy, and these were often way late.  Witness my writing about life in DC almost a year after we'd left--I just didn't have much time to write when I was trying to juggle a new job and a new baby.

But in the four years since my second son was born, I have taken on much more of the parenting duties, and I feel like I've grown a lot as a person in the process.  I am calmer, wiser, better able to focus on what I really consider a priority for myself, and to prune out things that aren't as important to me.  I have come to appreciate the personalities and quirks and strengths and weaknesses of two very different little people, and also to adapt myself to how they see things, how they experience the world.  Each milestone of Paulo's took on special significance for me, since I also saw it as the end of something.  When he stopped breastfeeding, I thought, "That is the last time we'll breastfeed a baby."  When he outgrew clothes I put them aside, assuming they'd have to wait years until our grandkids came along.  When he lost interest in a particular baby book, I thought that I would be putting aside that part of me and of our relationship, at least until a grandkid and perhaps forever.  This letting-go was the bookend to that first joyous discovery, when I was 28 and with newborn in hand, that I was recalling the songs and stories and shared rituals that my parents had given me and that had lain dormant for 20 years or more in my mind and heart.  Now I would have to deactivate that part of me that had been reactivated for the last five years or so.  I think this was less traumatic for Caro, since Paulo was her third child (arriving 18 years after her first), and she had really been able to enjoy and cherish these moments with him.

But for a few years now Caro and I have been considering bringing another child on board.  We've looked into adoption in the three countries we have ties to, but because of our mobile, transient lifestyle, we haven't found a way to make it happen.  Each country's adoption authority is accustomed to dealing with people who live there long-term, who have community ties the agency can interview, a permanent household the agency can visit.  We just don't quite fit into that box.

At the same time we've gone back and forth on whether to have another birth child.  Caro was pretty happy to finally be getting her "normal" body back, after years of pregnancy and post-pregnancy and then the unexpected sedentary office lifestyle that we had been able to avoid during our years in Colombia, before Sam came along.  I was worried about population pressure on the world scale and adding my own little bit to it.  But then we'd have spells of dreaming of a new baby, of all the special moments and rites and warmth.  It didn't seem to make much difference in any case, since even when we were in a "trying" phase (or at least not an actively "preventing" phase), Caro wasn't getting pregnant.  She figured that age or mileage or the inevitable medical travails that accumulate over a lifetime had gotten the better of her reproductive apparatus.

This was fine--we're flexible and tend to accept what life gives us.  I did though sometimes recall with nostalgia the different steps of pregnancy and babyhood, the preparations, the dreaming, the milestones, the siblings meeting a new family member, the pride and the challenges, all of that stuff.  And I felt bad that I hadn't had a chance to savor these when I was actually going through them.  With Sam I had been so busy living them that I didn't appreciate them, and with Paulo I was removed, trying to get the rest of our life in order while Caro's belly grew. 

But then came the Sunday morning when I was sitting on the toilet and little Pauli slipped a positive pregnancy test under the door to me, special delivery from his mom.  And since then I've been in a euphoria.  I could start all over again!  All those things I'd thought I was leaving behind as Paulo outgrew them, could have a final encore performance!  And this time I'd be much more aware, much more conscious not only of what I was doing, but of the momentousness and meaning and joy of each thing, beyond the tangible doing itself.  I felt like Scrooge when he wakes up Christmas Day and learns he still has a chance to turn things around.  Not that I'd been shirking or miserly as a father before, but this pregnancy and infancy I could savor for what it was, neither worried nor uncertain as with a first child, but rather appreciative with the knowledge that it would be my last stab at the experience.  I've heard that older parents enjoy and appreciate certain moments more, because they have an accumulated wisdom, and often have known the agony of childlessness, in a way that younger parents don't.  I don't consider myself too old at 35, but I do feel like an older parent in this sense.

One of the ways this heightened consciousness has played out is in a voracious desire to read during my wife's pregnancy.  With my first son I read lots of fairy tales, poetry, even the Bible to him while he was in utero (I had a lot of free time, as I was not formally employed!).  I didn't have as much time during my second son's pregnancy, but we started The Odyssey, and finished getting through it when he was a newborn.  In this same latter vein, and influenced by both my sons' current interest in Classical civilizations and myths, I got an edition of The Aeneid translated by the same guy who did my dad's copy of the Odyssey that I'd read to Paulo.  I've been becoming gradually more diligent about reading sessions of the Aeneid with Caro's tummy.

I'm also reading a lot for myself.  I recently finished The Local Food Revolution, a mind-blowing tome that lays out the pretty bleak picture for human life on this planet in the next few decades (more on that in an upcoming blog).  When that got too heavy, I turned to Ruben Dario's Blue, a sort of intentionally frivolous but masterfully lyrical work of what he called "poetic prose", which actually has a lot of astute social commentary hidden beneath the ruby inlays and marble statues and French-style gardens and porcelain fairies.  I'm also reading a fascinating biography of Archbishop Romero called "Shepherd of wolves and lambs".  I need to finish this in time to give it to someone in Colombia for Christmas, so I'm rushing a bit.  It highlights a piece of Catholic social teaching that I've only recently come to appreciate again after years of focusing on the option for the poor:  that the rich are in fact often those most in need of ministering and salvation, as they are the ones sinning by oppression, greed, corruption, and the like.  So while we need to protect and advocate for and empower the poor, we also need to think of the rich not just as enemies but as souls in need of healing.  Romero juggled that delicate balance between fearlessly fighting for the poor, but without demonizing the oppressive oligarchs that he often counted as personal friends.

None of this has anything to do with babies, but for some reason I've been inspired to read these things, and mentally associate them with the current pregnancy.  More explicitly baby-related is Dr. Spock's book of childrearing, which thus far I've just skimmed to learn more about what Sam and Paulo are going through developmentally at this point.  My wife has a plethora of childbirth books related to her part-time vocation as a doula.  Most of these aren't too interesting to me, but there's one called the Birth Partner that is next on my reading list.

Lastly, I found a book called Baby Bargains (the 2004 edition or so) in the free library shelf at my office.  I wanted to check it out to make sure we're covering all the bases in terms of getting the basic supplies--diapers, crib, stroller, etc.  My wife wouldn't have done it--she hates consumerism more than I do, and is particularly set off by the US style of scientific consumerism epitomized by this tome, which basically gives advice on how to shave a few dollars off the price of a lot of shit you probably don't need anyway.  Anyway, I've now done my due diligence, and feel reaffirmed in my conviction that we don't need that book, and can just get our diapers and bottles and stuff the same places we always have.

Of course this list wouldn't be complete without some stuff for my current boys.  We've been plugging away at a great translation of the Arabian Nights for a few months now, and they love that, but I've also made a point to do regular readings of Where Did I Come From?, which has a very useful, concise month-by-month breakdown of fetal development.  This gives a nice complement to bringing our boys to ultrasounds and planning what they can do to take care of the baby (one guy wants to do bottle and pijama detail, while the other is oddly fascinated by changing diapers!), all in the spirit of getting them involved and excited.

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