The Light We Lost (Page 28)

Because of my distaste for surprises, I read books—I can’t tell you how many books—on different people’s birthing experiences, on what to expect, on the choices people had. I thought it might help prepare me—might stop the nightmares I was having about giving birth on the subway or in my office or in a taxicab. Or the ones about the baby tearing me open like that scene in Alien. I made a birthing plan, like the doctor suggested, but I knew as I was making it that the baby could have her own birthing plan that I would not be privy to.

I went into labor at night, after dinner at Heights Cafe. I ate a burger—actually, half a burger because there was practically no room in my stomach then for food. The baby was due in two days, on November 21st, and Darren said that we should get in as many date nights as possible before she was born, even if it just meant half a burger at a restaurant within walking distance of our apartment. We’d figured out as much as we could by then. We knew we were going to name her Violet, after Darren’s grandmother, who’d passed away when he was sixteen. I loved the name—the sound of it, the way it was a flower and a color, the nickname Vi. We’d decided on a middle name, too—Anne—after my great-aunt. Violet Anne Maxwell. I still love her name.

So after dinner, as we walked home, me with a coat that barely closed over my stomach, my underwear started to feel damp. Is this too much information? Do you actually care what it felt like the night Violet was born? If you tell me to stop, I will. Just give me a sign. No? Okay.

I remember thinking: Really? Now? One of my modest pregnancy goals was to make it through the whole experience without “making a mistake,” as we called it when we were potty-training Violet. Kate had needed to change her underwear almost every time she sneezed while she was pregnant. I’d really hoped that wouldn’t happen to me. When we were a block away from our apartment, though, the trickle of wetness turned into more than a trickle, and I realized what was happening.

I turned to Darren. “I think my water broke,” I said.

He stopped dead in his tracks. “Really?” he asked. I could see the excitement in his eyes. “Wait, you think or you know?”

“I think I know,” I answered.

He laughed and hugged me and kissed me and said, “Can you walk? Are you okay? Should we call the doctor? Right now?”

Even though I was already worrying about what would happen from that point on, and even though my leggings were wet and getting cold, I told him I was pretty sure I could walk the block to our apartment with him, and that we could call the doctor when we got there. He held my hand the whole way, talking much faster than he usually did about who we had to call and what he couldn’t forget once we left for the hospital. (The phone chargers! His laptop! His iPod and speakers!) He’d made a few playlists for us to listen to at various parts of the labor and delivery experience. I wasn’t sure I’d want to hear any of them, but it gave him something to do, a way to prepare.

We waited at home, trying to watch a made-for-TV movie that I can’t remember at all, until my contractions were five minutes apart, just like the doctor said. And then we took a cab to the hospital. Twelve hours later, Violet was born. She was beautiful and perfect with dark hair and dark eyes and the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen on a baby.

Darren has this thing where he thinks all his friends’ babies—and Jay and Vanessa’s triplets—looked like either Winston Churchill or Mr. Magoo when they were born. He’ll still hold up his computer screen every now and then to show me someone’s kid on Facebook and say, “Churchill or Magoo?” And truly, they do always look like one of the two options.

When Violet was washed and dressed and wrapped up like a burrito, with a little striped hat on her head, the nurse handed her to me, and I looked up at Darren. “Churchill or Magoo?” I asked him.

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“I think she’s the first baby in the history of the world who looks like neither. She looks like you,” he said. “Lucky little girl.”

Then he slid off his shoes and climbed into bed with me, and the three of us cuddled. At that moment, I truly was in awe—of the way Darren and I had created a person together, of the way genetics made her look like me, of the way biology works to make this moment of happiness possible.

“I love you,” I told Darren.

“I love you both,” he said back.

I need you to understand that I do really, truly love him. What he and I have isn’t perfect, but it is absolutely love.

lii

When I got engaged, all of a sudden I felt like I’d joined a club, one that had a membership that went back decades, centuries, millennia—the Club of Women Who Had Become Engaged. I felt the same way about getting married, like my membership in the Club of Women Who Had Gotten Married was shored up when I put on a white dress and walked down an aisle and said I do. But nothing felt more like joining a club than having a child. There was a dividing line between the women who had babies, and the women who didn’t. The Moms and the Not Moms.

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And even in that club there was a subset—the God Help Me Moms and the Expert Moms, the ones who Facebooked photos of their children dressed in pristine outfits, asleep on satin pillows, with captions like I Dream of Daddy.

I was not that kind of mom. I am still not that kind of mom. I will never be that kind of mom.

I joined the Mom Club—had to, there was no way around that—but I counted the day a good one if both Violet and I were clean and fed and had slept more than five hours total in a night. I had three months of maternity leave, but by the end of eight weeks, I felt like I was fraying at the edges. Being a stay-at-home mom was nothing like I imagined it would be.

Kate called at least once a day to check in on me, even if she could only chat for a minute or two. She’d had her daughter, Victoria, six months before and her firm had a really generous maternity plan, so she’d just gone back to the office and was working like crazy, trying to make sure she wasn’t mommy-tracked. “It’ll get easier,” she told me. “I promise.” But it didn’t feel like it was.

I was nursing, and Violet ate practically all day. Or at least that was what it seemed like. On some days I didn’t even bother putting on a shirt. And I came up with what I called the Fecal Incident Levels. Level One was no big deal. Level Two filled a diaper. Level Three leaked out through the leg holes. Level Four oozed up her back. Level Five was the worst—it basically meant there was feces smeared from her shoulders to knees. It required a bath. And often a change of clothes for me too. Between Levels Three, Four, and Five, I threw away so many onesies, it’s amazing she had enough to wear.

One day, though, Violet somehow managed to reach Fecal Incident Level Six. We’d had a great morning. She was clean, I was clean, we’d both eaten—though I hadn’t really slept more than three hours in succession in days—and since the heat in the apartment was blasting, she was wearing only a diaper and a T-shirt. She had just started to smile, and my heart melted a little each time she did.

We were having such a good day that I’d decided to make a real dinner, something that had happened maybe twice in the last eight weeks. I’d put Violet in a little baby seat that vibrated and turned it on. Then I’d defrosted some chicken and started breading it. The radio was on—a ’60s station that reminded me of my dad—and I started singing along to “My Girl.” My hands were covered in eggs and bread crumbs, but I felt great. And then Violet started wailing.

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I looked over, and froze. The first ever Fecal Incident Level Six. Maybe it was because of the vibrating chair, or the angle she was sitting in, or the lack of clothing other than diaper and T-shirt, but somehow there was poop on her thighs that had gotten onto her hands and into her hair. I took a deep breath, quickly rinsed my hands, and lifted her out of the seat. She flailed her arms, so now there was poop on my cheek, on my shirt, and my wrist. And then she spit up in my hair. She was still screaming, and I started crying too.

That was how Darren found us.

“Lucy?” I heard him yell from the entryway. “What’s going on? Why’s Violet . . . ?” And then he made it to the kitchen. “Oh,” he said. “Oh my God.”

He dropped his briefcase on the floor and took off his suit jacket. “I got the poop machine,” he said. “You go shower.”

I looked at him and took a shaky breath. “Strip first,” I said. “You don’t want to get this on your suit. And she’s not just a poop machine. She’s a puke machine too.”

“Yikes,” he said, working the buttons on his shirt and dropping it on top of his jacket. “What do you think the headline should be for this one? Naked Man Saves Wife from Soiled Baby?”

I laughed a little bit. “How about Naked Man Does What Wife Does All Day Long with Soiled Baby?” I suggested.

“Really?” he asked. “This happens a lot?” He’d gotten completely naked, except for his boxer briefs, and took Violet. “Oh, gross,” he said, once he had her by her armpits.

“Well, not a Level Six,” I told him, “but Level Five isn’t that rare.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, as the three of us walked to the master bathroom. It had both a tub and a shower, and we’d put the little plastic baby bathtub in the larger one for Violet. Annie joined our parade once we got upstairs, barking her confusion.

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