Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An ode to poop

This (with more profanity but fewer pageant mom jokes) was originally published on Offbeat Mama.

Poop face!

When I was about seven months pregnant, I found the website STFU Parents and vowed never to commit the site's cardinal sin: posting about my baby's bowel movements on Facebook. This seemed like an easy promise to keep... I was freaked out by the concept of changing a diaper myself, let alone sharing this experience with my former college roommates and coworkers.

But now that my daughter is two months old, it's becoming more and more tempting to post about poop. I'm pretty sure the reason is that my daughter's excrement is exceptionally fascinating, exhibiting signs of brilliance and creativity in the bowel department, not disgusting and smelly like that of other babies.

Or maybe I've just become a mom.

During the first days after my baby was born, poop became a source of both pride and fear. Pride: with every sticky meconium-tarred diaper, I found validation that she was getting enough to eat. Take that, nurses who suggested my newborn was wailing because I didn't have enough milk! Fear: so why WAS she wailing? Had I put her diaper on wrong? Was I going to be able to put on those tricky hospital clothes again if I took them off to change a diaper? Would her umbilical cord start bleeding again if I bumped it? Where exactly was I supposed to swab with alcohol? How many wipes would it take to scrub away that little bit of black poo?

When her poop turned to wet, curdled yellow (at three days! So advanced), I felt more pride-- more than my aching boobs, this was incontrovertible proof that my milk had come in. It also felt like the first significant milestone in my baby's life, the first distance from the womb. She was now pooping out the milk I gave her, not the scum from her amniotic fluid. She was a real person now-- an eating, pooping little person.

It seemed weird to feel proud of someone else's poop, and I hope this isn't the precursor to becoming one of those parents who sees every one of their child's outputs as an extension of their own. (And, let's face it, I may have fixated on my baby's poop because my own, er, outputs weren't going so smoothly a week after vaginal birth. In celebrating my baby's poos, I was a bit like those overweight, disheveled pageant moms tending to their pristine daughters' manicures.)

But I also felt fascinated by the effort my daughter made with each poo, proud she was willing to work so hard to master a complex task. She would start to grunt, her eyes glazed over with internal concentration, arms jerking as she tried to bear down. Her cheeks would get red. Her face would contort. Then-- SQUIRT! (Who knew baby poos were so loud?) Newborns have limited social interaction; she would nurse, cry, and sleep. But when she pooped, she was animated. I posted a picture on Facebook of my daughter with her mouth in an "o," eyes bright, and people commented on how thoughtful and alert she looked. They didn't need to know that this was her poo face.

Diaper changing, like everyone said it would, quickly became second nature. It continued to be a proxy for growth. While at first my daughter screamed so hard with every diaper change that our neutered male cat literally leapt onto the changing table to her defense, soon she became calmer, able to be fascinated by the black-and-white border on the mirror over the changing table or the flower mobile dangling above her. Her skinny chicken legs developed fat folds, then fat folds inside of fat folds. She went up a diaper size.
At six weeks, I started finding more diapers that were simply wet-- before, every single diaper contained poop, so fewer than eight poopy diapers in a day seemed like a sign of maturity. Then she inexplicably stopped pooping for three days, finally pooping with such vengeance that I cut a onesie off of her body instead of pulling it over her head. (I think baby poop should be classified like house fires-- instead of a four-alarm fire, that was a ten-wipe poo.) She started smiling during diaper changes, looking around and kicking with her legs so hard that it took me several tries to close the diaper. Three days ago, her poop suddenly turned bright green for two dirty diapers before reverting to mustard yellow. Come on, tell me that doesn't make fascinating fodder for a Facebook update. Green poop!

One of my favorite baby care books, a Hebrew guide called "Why Babies Cry," says it's important to respond positively to your baby's dirty diapers because negative reactions ("Yuck! Nasty diaper!") can make children ashamed of their bodies. I tell myself this is why I praise my daughter for each bowel movement. But really, in her poops I see my own process of becoming a mother. I see my ability to feed and provide for my child. I see the way I need to respond and care for her, on her own schedule-- I can't decide when she poops, and I have to change diapers even when it's 5 AM or I am already ten minutes late for a doctor's appointment. It highlights the deep love motherhood draws out, the affection I didn't know I could feel for the act of wiping down my little daughter's butt. (I've heard I should enjoy this odorless, breastmilk-only stage while it lasts.) In the horror in my friend's eyes when I say my daughter needs a diaper change, I see just how much I have changed in the past two months. Forget water-- parenting involves baptism by poop.

And, let's face it, that sh**'s fascinating.

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