“In bed with us,” I say.
There’s a pause––barely perceptible––a skipped beat. And then, “Oh!” And then, “But aren’t you worried about crushing her?”
“I was, at first,” I say, automatically, because it sounds too cocky to say, “Nope.” “I was at first, but then when she was born I realized that it’d be pretty hard to crush a baby. They’re pretty lumpy. And they aren’t exactly silent. They’d make a fuss, y’know?”
And here is where I make a little joke about how my particular baby, whose name is Eden, is the Olympic all-time champion universal queen of fussing.
It’s a little script and I know my lines by heart. It’s a new script, though. Before, the conversation went like this:
“So are you delivering at Roosevelt? Or Mount Sinai?”
“No, neither one.”
“Oh yeah? One of the Brooklyn hospitals?”
“No, actually, I’m planning a home birth.”
“Oh!” And then, “Do you have a backup doctor?” Or maybe, “Are you worried about safety?” And sometimes, mostly from people my age, “Cool!”
I was always thankful for the “cool!”s but prepared for the questions about safety. Once, at an elegant work event, I had to reveal the dark secret of my birth plans in mixed company, and another pregnant woman said, “I could never do that,” and turned away. She didn’t even say, “You’re braver than me,” in that tone that women used sometimes to mean “you’re crazier than me.” She said it like “you’re horrible.”
It seems these days that I am always doing something that strikes people as dangerous.
I really don’t mean to. I swear.
Actually, everything I’m doing with my baby seems like the obvious, safe option to me.
It made sense to me to have a home birth. My friends who had planned natural births kept ending up with C-sections instead. They kept ending up feeling powerless, dejectedly repeating things they’d been told about their supposedly faulty bodies. “I guess I just produce too much amniotic fluid? Or was it not enough? Well, the baby might have been in danger, so we couldn’t risk it.” No one ever seemed ready to “risk” regular birth. It seemed risky to me to give birth in a NYC hospital, based on what I kept hearing.
The best part of Eden’s birth: Eden! The second best: I ate pizza and chocolate ice cream in bed about ten minutes later. Oh, and I felt safe the whole time. Hell yes.
Until the moment when I held Eden in the cheerfully purple birthing tub, after a few hours of the hardest work of my life, I hadn’t completely believed in her. And then suddenly there she was, and suddenly I was a mother, and here I am, still reeling from the impact of my old life slamming into my new life. I probably should’ve read a hundred books, but instead I’m just going with it.
Which is why Eden sleeps in our bed. And why I carry her all the time, and why I pick her up as soon as she cries, and why I nurse her constantly, and why I nurse her even on the subway sometimes, even though people are looking at me funny, and why I devote my days to her, and why I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a babysitter yet, and why I have let my priorities shift and eddy and rearrange themselves into new patterns that accommodate her presence in my life.
I sometimes feel for a moment that I can see myself through other people’s eyes, and I look pretty radical. It’s possible that they think I’m making these parenting choices because they all fit into the extreme philosophy I was raised in and have been conditioned to adhere to. You know, that whole unschooling thing. Which is sort of right, but doesn’t tell the whole story. I’m not choosing these things because they fit neatly into a philosophy I’m trying to observe. I’m choosing them the way everyone else chooses a hospital birth and a crib and a daycare center.
But what do homebirth and co-sleeping and homeschooling really have to do with each other? I sometimes wonder. They’re all surprising to most people I encounter. They all sound risky to many. But why do they seem to fit so automatically together for me?
Maybe, I think, they all have something to do with trust.
My parents trusted me to be smart enough to learn from the world, outside of school. I trusted myself because of that. When I got pregnant, I trusted myself to be able to safely birth without an operating room next door. Bear and I trust ourselves not to kill our daughter in our sleep.
And most of all, we trust Eden. We trust her to cry for a reason, even when that reason is just that she’s new and overwhelmed and figuring out how to be a person. We trust her to keep growing and developing, so that she won’t always need to be constantly held and nursed. And we trust her to express her own real needs now, so that she can grow and develop in the healthiest way. I also trust myself to return eventually and gradually to the other things in my life that drive and fulfill me, but I am trying to trust myself enough to let myself focus almost entirely on Eden right now. I’m trusting life to be long. I’m trusting things to work out. I’m trusting nature to know what it’s doing. I’m trusting my body and my instincts.
It’s radical, I guess, all this trust.
I didn’t even know I could do it, before. But I am different, because I am a mother.
God, it’s fun. She is two months old now and she smiles when she wakes up, even on the days that she cries all day. She makes sounds at me and I make sounds back. I look into her face, trying to understand how this happened. How she happened.
“You know what I mean,” I say.
She is a miracle. And she is totally normal. That is what being a mother is like for me. Maybe for everyone. It’s weirdly ordinary, it’s never-ending and exhausting and sometimes boring and at the same time, it’s ridiculous and miraculous and awesomely new, every moment. It’s risky. It feels right. It’s all about following your heart.
She’s crying now, so I’ll stop writing. Or maybe I’ll just learn how to write standing up and bouncing her, so that we can both get what we want. I’m working on it.
Kate Fridkis is a grown unschooler and brand new mother of daughter, Eden. Kate still refuses to answer spontaneous math questions to prove that she “learned something.” She writes the popular body image blog Eat the Damn Cake, as well as blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, Jezebel, and many more. She eats a lot of cake. You know, for research and authenticity.
This article was published in the January-February 2014 issue of HEM