Since the birth of my child ten months ago, I have come to realize that I would have made an excellent member of the U.S. Army. These two industries do not seem like they would have anything in common, I know. The standard image of motherhood is a Mary Cassatt painting featuring a roundish woman cuddling an even rounder child, both with roses blooming in their cheeks and golden light encircling them like a halo. The standard image of army life is a man leaping around barbed wire under a hailstorm of bullets, all of which is happening in an extreme climate (cold or hot, take your pick). But there are more similarities than the collective consciousness is willing to acknowledge.
# 1: I Remember Sleep...
Everyone knows that army life requires getting up early, unexpectedly, and often. During his first six weeks of life, my son would sometimes sleep for three hours at a stretch, and sometimes only for fifteen minutes. Day or night, he snoozed and screamed whenever he bloody well pleased. The books tell me he really should have started sleeping throught the night around six weels of age. Liars! He's slept through the night about a dozen times in his life, and averages one wake-up per night. Sometimes, he wakes up more often if he has a cold. Or if he's teething. Or if it's a day that ends in "y."
#2: What's Privacy?
While I didn’t have to endure communal showers or anything like that, I did have about a dozen strangers in the delivery room with me staring at me in all my glory. Since then, I’ve had a companion in the bathroom when I’ve showered; I now leave the door open when I’m, er, using the bathroom facilities, and a little man toddles into my room whenever I'm changing. I'm also a nursing mother, and you can't exactly be Victorian about your breasts when you're pumping milk or a hungry baby is squalling for some nourishment. Man, those folks in the gas station parking lot must've gotten an eyeful.
#3: Terrible Food
Now, I really only have myself to blame for this. But I've found it impossible to prepare savory and nutritious foods and actually eat while the meal is hot. Or cold, if you're having gazpacho. My meals over the past ten months have been generally been room temperature. And calling them "meals" is generous. I don't think an English muffin smeared with Nutella should really be called dinner, but when you've got five minutes to plan, cook, and eat a meal, you take what you can get. My husband is good enough to cook dinner before I get home from work, but it's a fifty-fifty chance that we'll actually both be able to sit still for 10 minutes and eat together.
I'm a nursing mother. But I'm not independently wealthy, so I work too. This means I pump milk at work. Oh, 'scuse me; the euphemism is that I "express" milk. If you look up "express," the definition is "to squeeze or press out, as juice from an orange." Nice image, eh?
Now, the books will tell you that expressing by hand is the preferred method by mothers who master this technique. I don't know who these women are. I've tried it, and all I've managed to do is squirt myself in the eye or otherwise miss the collection cup. My preferred method is a hand-pump; there are those who will think I'm nuts for not using one of those hospital-grade electric mammer-jammers. But that thing grunts like a cow giving birth, and I couldn't swing with co-workers passing by my office (or bathroom stall) and hearing the mystery noise from within [see: "What's Privacy?"].
In the seven months I've been back at work, I've discovered that I can assemble a hand-pump in under twenty seconds, pump for 10 minutes, then dismantle and clean the thing in about a half a minute. With a little training, I'm pretty sure I could tackle a rifle with the same dexterity.
#5: On-the-Job Training
More than anything else, I'm learning as I go. I thought I knew what to expect when I was expecting. Wow, was that a false assumption! I mean, who knew that I was going to have to figure out how to pin a child with one elbow while changing his diaper so that he doesn't twist his inquisitive little self right off of the changing table? Or that I could, in fact, pump milk while driving (though I wouldn't recommend it)? Or that scraping a spoonful of food against the inside of his upper gum is a decent way to keep my baby from spewing his strained carrots all over me?
I know there are more comparisons (battle wounds, anyone?), but I'm tired, in a crowded room, am hungry, and I have to go pump some milk while I figure out how to brush four Tic-Tac sized teeth : )