Thursday, March 01, 2007

the fourth trimester

Yesterday someone described the first six weeks after the birth of a child as the fourth trimester. The comment has been turning over in my mind as I find more and more resonance with it.

I gave birth to my baby son, Wil nearly three weeks ago. It was two days ahead of plan, but his exit was surgical nonetheless. And since then I have been in that strange freefall where I find it hard to connect thoughts or maintain a conversation or write coherently. I feel mildly divorced from the reality that other people inhabit and locked in a little bubble for two.

This was what I was talking about when my friend made the fourth trimester comment. Because while Wil is now on the outside, he's still connected to me in a way that is so close, so physical and exclusive, it's almost like he's still on the inside. Of course I had forgotten the intensity of this bit.

A good deal of my mind is occupied by him whenever I am awake, and not in a way I can control. He quite literally inhabits my mind, invades my thoughts, grabs my attention. His needs are my needs, his pain is my pain, his hunger is my hunger (I had forgotten how hungry and thirsty breastfeeding makes you!).

It made perfect sense to me when I read that brain scans of new mothers taken while their babies cry show the same neural patterns as when they experience their own physical pain. Like my body hasn't quite worked out that we're separate beings yet.

Breastfeeding makes it all so much more so. The hours I spend on the couch, gritting my teeth while Wil's too small mouth gives me yet another nipple blister, the instinct that propels me out of bed at each and every cry before I'm even awake, the look D and I exchange as he hands an unsettled Wil over to me. The boob is it, the cure all, the panacea, the replacement for the umbilical cord that kept us together for 9 months. There isn't anything D can offer that comes close.

So I just wanted to say hello to all you out there in the regular world. I know you're out there but right now you feel a long way away.