How Early Motherhood Has Changed My Reading Life

Ten days ago, I became a mother when my son was lifted out of my abdomen behind a curtain, his cries filling the room and my heart welling up with relief. It was a long labor — 30 hours by the time he arrived — fraught with run-of-the-mill complications — meconium in the amniotic fluid, a labor that failed to progress leading to a multitude of interventions I hadn’t really wanted (but that I was grateful for in the end), and a baby that ultimately just wasn’t in the right position or of the right size to pass through the birth canal, despite the best efforts of my husband, myself, my doula and my baby to make it happen.

My son at two days old.
My son at two days old.

This is my first time writing anything at all since that day, although there has been so much to say — more to say than I can wrap my head around, and so little time in which to say it. As I write this, my son hangs off of me in a sling, sleeping in a diaper with his little chest puffing up and down. This is my first proof that I can find a way to make writing and motherhood compatible — I failed fairly miserably at writing throughout my pregnancy, when the best I could do was book reviews and journal entries a few times a week after I soldiered through a NaNoWriMo novel while feeling like I was going to puke at any and every moment in the first trimester.

When my husband and I had our final meeting with our doula before labor, she reminded us that at the end of pregnancy and during early parenthood, we would have to get used to doing things on a “small” scale. Smaller meals to ward off heartburn. Small naps when the discomforts of late pregnancy made it hard to sleep through the night, and when a newborn’s nursing schedule caused even more sleep disruption. Small breaks to connect with my husband, relax, watch a TV show or movie, play a game. I’ve noticed that my reading life has also become “smaller,” although these snatches of pages that I find time for here and there somehow seem more nourishing than they ever have before.

Nursing and a reluctance to wake a baby who has fallen asleep on my body often confines me to the same location for hours at a time. This means I read what is within reach, and my inability to be monogamous with books has reached a whole new level.

blue jay's danceAt the rocking chair where I nurse my son, I have a copy of “The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood” by Louis Erdrich that I read a page or two from when I can’t bear to look at my phone screen for another moment. My MP3 player is also within reach of that chair, so I listen to “Gregor the Overlander” for my book club, although I’m skeptical about whether I will finish it on time for our meeting on Thursday. Also, I listened to so much of the beginning section while sleep deprived in those first few days that I am playing catch up on who some of the major characters are. I always feel especially incompetent as a reader when I have trouble following a middle-grade novel — and no, this is not the first time that it’s happened, although I arguably have the best excuse now that I’ve ever had.

In bed, I pull “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” down from the parenting reference bookshelf behind the bed and read it during those long breastfeedinglate-night feedings.

In the basement, where I used to do the majority of my “pleasure reading,” I read “How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes” while I wait for my husband to be ready to watch TV or play a game together. My time in the basement is limited — because of the C-section, I can only do one “stair trip” a day, and I stay down there only as long as my bladder holds out. Then the books and TV set and all the baby clothes and baby supplies on that floor are again out of my reach for the rest of the day.

I page through cookbooks at coffee shops while I wait for my husband to finish a political meeting. I listen to Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance” on the car’s CD system as I nurse my baby between any errands that take us away from home for more than two hours. I wonder whether my son recognizes Ansari’s voice from the time I spent listening while he was still inside the womb.

My progress through these books is very, very slow. When my son is awake and alert on my lap, I put them all aside so I can read to him from a couple board books that are also beside the rocking chair. There is a very good chance I will not meet my goal of reading 100 books this year, but I will continue to fill my eyes with words at any chance I get — and perhaps that more than anything keeps me feeling connected to the person I have always been as I make sense of the person I have been in the process of becoming ever since I saw that plus sign on a pregnancy test at the beginning of November.

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