Ten years ago, I had a six-month-old and was living, for the first and only time, on the West Coast. We were renting a small house in suburban Sacramento, the yard full of fig trees and redwoods with turkey vultures in their branches. The sun shone all the time, but in April, the heat wasn’t yet oppressive, as it had been when I was pregnant the previous summer. Locals dismissed the heat and extolled what they called the Delta Breeze. My husband and I, displaced New Yorkers, called that hot, ineffective wind the Devil’s Breath. We hated Sacramento, had hated it from the second we’d moved there three years before. For a while, pre-baby, I was actually paid to write a blog about how much I hated that city.
Home all day with my baby, I’d never felt so out of place, so isolated. During long walks around the neighborhood of small bungalows, I wouldn’t see another living soul. I’d stop in at the local Trader Joe’s for a random, unnecessary item—an extra jar of peanut butter, a box of crackers—just for the chance to exchange pleasantries with the cashier.
That is, I’d do this if the baby wasn’t screaming. She often was. My first daughter was a fussy baby, and she and I did not spend our days at home peacefully. Until very recently I’d been exclusively breastfeeding, which hadn’t come easily and never improved, and I was too indoctrinated by the natural-childbirth-exclusive-breastfeeding ethos of our California women’s hospital to even consider switching to formula. Breastfeeding was only one of many struggles. That April, I’d sunk into a two-week-long spell of insomnia. The haze of babyland was hazier and more fraught than ever. Without family nearby, I was on my own. I counted the seconds every day until my husband got home from work. I cried a lot. One day I cried so much that a contact lens fell out, into the baby’s bassinet.
Having a baby is stressful and exhausting for every new parent, but I felt other moms were doing better. The moms I’d met in my prenatal yoga class were enthusiastically taking their babies on outings, easily breastfeeding in public, and timing mall visits for naptime so they could stroll and chat in peace. I, on the other hand, structured my entire morning around naptime so I’d have two hours to write. I put so much pressure on myself that April. I ignored the advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and felt the burden of my desperately-clung-to creative life. No one told me it’d be okay if I just lay down for a while, that the books I dreamed of would come, would come.
I had a secret that April: my husband was in the final negotiations for a new job, a job that would take us back to New York. At long last, our California life was entering its final weeks. A family now, we were ready to resume the city life we’d left behind.
Little did I know that being isolated in a suburban home would pale in comparison to the isolation of a small Brooklyn apartment with no outside space. Little did I know that the fervor of the California parenting style would prove to be gentle compared to the strident beliefs of the Park Slope Parents. Little did I know that I’d be pregnant again within the year, and that we’d decide to leave New York again for the larger, greener, suburban pastures of New Jersey.
All I knew, in April 2010, was that a new stage was beginning. I felt an excitement, an easiness, that I hadn’t felt for months. We’d be near family. We’d be back in a big city. I’d go for walks with my baby and be surrounded by people, and I wouldn’t ever have to go near a mall. My baby was eating solid foods, lessening my feeling of being solely responsible for her survival. I was sleeping again; the spring-in-NorCal sunshine was glorious; and when we put a bonnet on the baby for our weekly trips to the farmer’s market, people said
she looked so cute as to be unreal, a cartoon, a doll.
Margo Orlando Littell is the author of the novels The Distance from Four Points and Each Vagabond by Name, both published by the University of New Orleans Press. Originally from southwestern Pennsylvania, she now lives in New Jersey with her family, where she collects card catalogs and oil portraits of strangers. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @margolittell or on her website www.margoorlandolittell.com.
Margo encourages you to donate to Fistula Foundation, which provides life-changing surgeries to women in rural Africa and Asia who suffer from obstetric fistula. Read more and donate at fistulafoundation.org.