Our little girl, Phoebe June Barber, was born at 9:30pm on February 23rd, five days after her due date. After 48 hours during which labor started, stalled, then started again in earnest, plus three and a half hours of pushing, she came into this world facing up—the nurse called her a “stargazer” baby. My eyes, almost entirely swollen shut from the exertion, could barely open to see her as the doctor immediately placed her, crying softly, on my chest. She felt as warm and toasty as a freshly baked loaf of bread, and her skin was velvety soft. Finally, after months of waiting, we looked at the little squishy face, the long fingers and feet, perfect little lips, and eyes that blinked slowly up at us in slight consternation.
The two days spent in the hospital passed by in a blur, Jonji and I alternating between trying to sleep and staring in amazement at Phoebe. We arrived home to Mom’s soup bubbling away at the stove and flowers in vases on every surface. It was surreal to one day be living life as a couple and a few days later come home with another family member whose needs usurp anyone else’s—there’s no way to truly prepare for it.
I won’t get detailed about the birth experience, but I will say this: women are incredible creatures with the physical and mental strength to make it through an experience that feels like being squeezed in a giant vise from the inside for hours on end, culminating in pushing a little watermelon out of something that doesn’t feel nearly big enough to do so. I am in awe of the countless women who’ve come before me.
Before Phoebe arrived, Jonji and I spent most of the day in the hospital in order to turn our little breech baby in the right direction which, thankfully, was a success (it often doesn’t work). I was 38 weeks pregnant. It was a surreal experience—I lay stretched out on the table, arms fanned out as if for crucifixion, while my doctor and two residents pushed down and around the baby as hard as they could to get her to pop into the right position. I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing the whole time, trying to avoid thinking about the immense pressure, which felt like they were trying to push my belly off of my body. The relief I felt when it worked hit me in a wave, and I almost couldn’t breathe. We spent a few hours being monitored (Phoebe barely seemed to notice anything—her little heart just kept chugging along like nothing had happened) and then finally went home.
I wrapped up my last week of work before maternity leave on the 5th, so the last couple of weeks were all about food prep for the postpartum period, churning out soup, enchiladas, labor lemonade, and finishing any other last minute organizational tasks before our baby arrived. I spent the last few impatient days before she came out walking a ton, running stairs with Mom, and knitting with cats in my lap.
Phoebe is now 12 weeks old, and we’re finally getting used to our life as a family of three (actually five, if you count the cats and, let’s be real, we always count the cats). Phoebe is pure light—even when I wake up at 3am to nurse her, her sweet and almost surprised smile when she sees my puffy-eyed face is enough to make my heart (and any frustration I felt at waking up) melt. She loves to kick her legs and pump her arms when she’s laying on the changing table, almost as if she’s doing a horizontal jig. Her delight with her ability to move her own body is infectious. She’s just learned that she has hands, and is now figuring out she can move and hold things with them. When I show her herself in the mirror, she smiles like she recognizes the adorable little cherub in the reflection. Her voice can be mighty, squawking and squeaking for fun or to signal displeasure with her surroundings, or it can be gentle, cooing up at me after a meal with carefully crafted sounds, her concentration apparent. Babs has clearly understood Phoebe’s place of importance in the family, and runs in to be close by when Phoebe is crying, just in case she needs to protect her. She often climbs onto my lap when I’m rocking Phoebe to sleep, draping a paw over Phoebe’s leg as if to say, “Mine.”
I spend most days with Phoebe in the front pack, eating with a bowl held close to my face so I don’t drop any morsels on her little downy head. My favorite moments are those when Phoebe falls asleep with her head on my chest and her fist on my collar bone, her little squished face turned up towards me, mouth open. I breathe in her warm, milky baby scent and wish I could fold the corner down on this page before the chapter ends, so I could return to it one day when she’s too big to take naps on my chest.
I’m back to cooking most nights, but we often eat a lot later than we normally would because babies aren’t super into schedules. I love the freedom to eat anything again, although I’m still drinking decaf coffee (because caffeine never did much for me anyway) and when I drink alcohol it’s in super small amounts (because the only people sleeping worse than a new mom are new moms who had a lot to drink). I was a huge fan of mocktails during pregnancy and I’m still a fan of them—if I can get all the special-occasion-feeling from a fancy drink without worrying about alcohol affecting my milk or sleep, I’m a happy camper. Bailey came up with this one recently, and we all drank them on Mother’s Day a few weeks ago. Bailey claims, “It seriously is an award winning drink,” and she’s basically the New York Times so you’d best just try it. By all means, add a shot of gin or vodka if you’re feeling frisky. And if you’re looking for someone to toast, raise a glass for little Phoebe, our sweet stargazer.
Bailey’s Strawberry-Mint Mocktail
makes 1 drink
1 1/2 oz strawberry (or 1 large strawberrry)
1 1/2 oz lemon juice (from roughly 1 lemon)
5 mint leaves, torn into pieces, plus a sprig to garnish
1/2 oz simple syrup (optional)
Crush the strawberry in a sieve over a bowl using any utensil you think would work best, trying to extract as much juice out of it as possible. Scrape the strawberry juice into a cocktail shaker and add the lemon juice and mint leaves. Pour in the simple syrup (and/or alcohol), if using. Add a handful or two of ice or at least 4 regular ice cubes to the shaker, cover, and shake vigorously 15-20 times.
Add ice to a glass of your choice (I love big ice cubes for cocktails, but if you only have standard ice trays just use 2-3 cubes in your drink). Strain the mixture into your glass and top with tonic water, then the mint sprig. Enjoy!