Sounds of Silence

12Apr07

[Nick Dewar’s “Positive Attitude,” available at ThumbTackPress.com]

I’ve been relatively quiet on the posting front lately. The truth is, aside from being completely ambushed with work around the house, work for school, and work on the dissertation, I have been feeling guilty that most of my posts this year have centered on baby. I know that most of the people who read this blog (friends, family) are, for the most part, quite interested in baby, as are Brian and I. But I feel the urge to write about something different, and yet nothing comes.

I have, lately, been thinking about my friend from prenatal yoga, and although I know her from there, the reason I’ve been thinking of her a lot isn’t because of babies. It’s because of attitude.

This girl, let’s call her Girl, is just this outgoing, friendly, super-positive girl. The best part is, it doesn’t come across as fake. On day one of prenatal yoga, when she was 29 weeks pregnant (one week ahead of where I am now), I remember her gleefully declaring that she had loved every single day of her pregnancy so far. I, of nightly debilitating headaches, sat up and took notice. I wondered if I would ever be so brainwashed by hormones that I might say the same thing. But I also really admired Girl. I couldn’t help but think that her joy wasn’t the result of some extreme form of pregnesia but, rather, a form of good attitude. I am 100% positive that Girl must have had aches and pains. As we started going out for cookies and smoothies after yoga class, I learned that she was getting nightly massages, which I inferred to mean that she had nightly back aches. I also know that towards the end, her ankles were swelling and so were her hands (although they looked pretty good compared to most pregnant ladies I know). And I’m sure Girl must have mentioned some of these things now and then. But I hardly remember, because I was so busy being impressed by how positive she was about all of it.

Girl and I have a lot in common, incidentally. We’re about the same age and we both spend at least 6 months of our pregnancies without a typical day-to-day job or the day-to-day interaction that comes with such a job. She had quit her job in October (and had the baby in late March) and I was on a two-quarter break from teaching from September to March. But whereas I was beginning to go completely crazy by January, desperately seeking hobbies, employment, or other forms of diversion (while still writing the dissertation), she was enjoying her days. I was bursting into tears two nights a week because I felt so isolated and crazy, and she was decorating her nursery, taking her little dog for walks. I mean, I was doing stuff like that, too. I was going to school twice a week to do administrative work for Project Narrative. I was going to yoga. I was reading a lot, and baking, and taking lots of walks through the neighborhood. But I just couldn’t muster that “Everything is great, even despite the small things” attitude that Girl seems to have. (That she had even after 22 hours of labor! Just about every non-critical thing that could go wrong during Girl’s labor did go wrong — from water breaking too early to not progressing at all to needing drugs after so many hours without change — and yet when I talked to her five days later, she just sounded so cheerful and, well, awake.)

My history tells me that there’s just something about the Ohio winter that gets me every year. My first year here, it was less noticeable because we bought a condo and moved right smack in the middle of winter, but in the years since, winter has brought bad times. Last year I nearly took a year’s leave of absence from school to take a fulltime job. Sure, there were financial reasons (our budget projected we’d be $11,000 in the hole by the end of 2006 if we didn’t figure something out, which eventually we did through various means, none of which included me taking time off from school or taking a fulltime job). But there was also something else, something more desperate.

And so it was this winter, too. It’s weird because it’s not like I didn’t grow up in a much worse winter environment. I think I lived a total of 19 winters in Rochester and 3 in Ithaca, plus most of a winter in Boston with three Nor’easters. I am no stranger to dark, drab, snow, ice, and cold. And back then it never affected me, not one bit. I never had S.A.D. or whatever they now call the winter blues. And I don’t really think that’s what it is now. But I really can’t pinpoint it, either.

But I digress. Back to Girl. The thing that still has me thinking about Girl (other than the fact that we’re still friends and that her baby is adorable and I can’t wait to meet him and for him and our baby to become friends) is that when Brian asks each day how I’m feeling, I want to give the Girl answer and say, enthusiastically, “I’m feeling great!” but instead I give an honest assessment of how I’m feeling: “Well, my back’s hurting a little bit today and for some reason my calves are killing me. But I don’t have any heartburn.” Is it a matter of attitude? Perception? Is there a way to affirm each day that I do feel great and yet still acknowledge the small aches, pains, and inconveniences of pregnancy?

Interestingly, the deep dark secret that lurks beneath this question, for me, is one of attention. I crave attention (and praise, but that’s a different post), and despite my reputation for being cloyingly optimistic, or maybe just welcomely optimistic, the only way I know how to sustain someone’s attention is via negativity. I can be funny, but only when I am being cynical or, even, slightly mean. In restaurants, my end of the conversation often strays towards goodheartedly but still negatively mocking other restaurant-goers. And when Brian asks how I’m feeling, if I say great, then I probably won’t get any sympathy, any hugs, or any backrubs.

Maybe the trick is learning to ask for the things I want (hugs, sympathy, backrubs) without having to focus on the negative. It’s learning how to be interesting without being mean.

And yet then I wonder: is Girl this positive with her husband? Does she tell him she feels great or does she, like me, list her ailments? Am I, with my optimistic tendencies, really just Girl too, only I don’t know it? Or do I really need to learn to focus on the positive more. Or even more extreme, do I need to learn to let go of the need for constant attention and ask for the things I need or want? God, now we’re getting into scary territory.

The scariest of all is that I already sense some negativity creeping into my thoughts of postnatal life. Mostly, I am already thinking about how exhausted I am going to be, whether I am going to want so much family coming through for four weeks, whether I am going to feel like I am carrying the brunt of the load because I’ll be breastfeeding. Girl, I feel confident, would be excited about all of these things. She would see the side that I’m not seeing. The side on which I’m not focusing, anyway. She would be so excited about everyone coming to see her new baby, and she would be thinking about bonding with baby during mealtimes, and thinking about how it’s only a few months that baby wakes up every two or three hours to be fed.

Don’t get me wrong: I am totally excited about baby’s arrival. Each morning I tell baby, “Good morning, little boy” and ask him how he slept and talk about how excited I am that he’s going to be here soon. I can’t wait to put him in adorable little newborn clothes and I can’t wait to know what his name is going to be and whether he’s going to have my freckles or Brian’s curly hair or his inch-long eyelashes. And yet there are these things I just can’t seem to get positive about.

How does Girl do it?

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