3 months

Natalie shows off her favorite newly-acquired skill: the fist suck.

And we’ve made it to the end of the fabled “fourth trimester.”

I guess this means we should stop swaddling her at night. Or putting her down for naps in her swing. Or cuddling and bouncing her every time she cries. Now that she’s a mighty three-month-old, Noodles is theoretically ready to function as a nonfetal human being.

Or maybe she’s not quite there yet.

If you hold your finger in front of her face, she will reach for it, grasp it, and attempt to direct it into her mouth. Then she’ll give up, let go, and just suck her fist. The fist-sucking is perhaps Natalie’s greatest victory in her three months of life on this earth. She’s also grown fond of her activity mat, and just the other day impressed us both by reaching up and grasping a toy rattle that dangled from the arched rafters above her head.

But her biggest accomplishment this month was her first documented giggle. She’s repeated the feat several times since, and while it’s a little tough to pin down — a giggle can sound a lot like the squeal that prefaces her descent into fussiness, just as her smile can very quickly morph into a grimace — we think that within the next few weeks, she may be ready to laugh on cue when she actually finds something funny.

She and I went to a new moms’ group at the DC Breastfeeding Center yesterday, and according to their scale, Natalie weighed in at just under ten pounds. My little girl is still shrimpy, despite my best efforts with the Big Gun (which I’ve returned to the center; my small wheezy porta-pump, which I’ve dubbed “Louise”, will hopefully serve from here on in). But it was instructive to sit in a room full of babies, aged 0-4 months, and see just how different they all were one from the next. One wee fellow behind us was more or less the same size as Natalie, but still sported his umbilical-cord dongle and the puffy pink face of a newborn. Another, a few seats down, looked pinched and bony and bug-eyed; he was eight weeks old and had yet to crack eight pounds.

“They told me to supplement with formula until he hits ten pounds,” his visibly stressed mother reported to me.

I guess we’re lucky. My lactation consultant only told me to pump. We’ve independently decided to supplement, but thanks to a munificent friend with oversupply syndrome and a freezer full of surplus breastmilk, Natalie has yet to taste formula.

(Although it does drive me a tiny bit crazy, how greedily she fastens onto a bottle. This child will pop off the breast, and/or fall asleep, well before the tank is empty. But give her a bottle and she’ll suck it back like a drunk, burp with gusto, and clamor for more. I came home from rehearsal last night to learn, to my chagrin, that Natalie had polished off ELEVEN (11) OUNCES of expressed breastmilk in the THREE (3) hours I’d been gone: the remainder of a bottle, plus an entire freezer bag, plus four ounces of my own freshly-pumped milk that I’d been planning to freeze. But she won’t pull more than three or four ounces per feeding when I nurse her. GAAAAAAHHHH)

In any event, she’s gaining weight. Her tummy is round and warm and begs to have raspberries blown on it. Her second chin has filled out deliciously. Her arms are no longer spindly and flabby, and joy of joys, she’s beginning to show the first signs of leg chub. She may be small for her age, but she is no longer objectively undersized. If you passed her on the street, you’d see a happy, healthy baby.

“Look how alert she is!” one of the moms’ group mothers remarked. “Look how she holds up her head! She’s always looking around!”

“She’s just being lazy,” my mother judged when Natalie spat out the breast, preferring to fuss rather than nurse. “When she’s good and hungry, she’ll eat.”

Maybe I’m trying too hard here. Maybe it’s Natalie’s choice to be this small. If she were hungrier, she’d nurse harder. Perhaps I’m imposing my own body image issues on my daughter, in the superformative days before she’s even aware enough to fight it.

It doesn’t help that I am still preggo-fat. Nothing in the closet fits me other than maternity clothes and yoga pants, which are absurdly tight. I have not lost an ounce since beginning to breastfeed; indeed, I have actually gained weight since Christmas. Three months postpartum, I am still within ten pounds of my nine-months-pregnant weight. I am so heavy that it hurts to walk any distance in shoes I actually like. In my mind a vicious cycle spins: if she’d eat more, I’d metabolize more, then she’d get fatter and I’d get thinner and all would be as it should be, instead of this weird reverse antiworld where my three-month-old is undersized and I’m fifty-odd pounds overweight. But the doctor has ordered me to consume 2,000 calories a day to sustain my milk supply, which needs all the sustenance it can get, so The One Diet That Has Ever Worked For Me (tm) is not an option right now.

It’s a shame. So many people have such wondrous associations with breastfeeding; such confidence that they’re doing the 100% Right Best Thing by their baby; such a miraculous experience, bonding with their offspring as they magically provide all the nutrition the child needs. For us, nursing is a far more pedestrian, yeoman effort: Natalie eats, sometimes better than others, and then either protests or falls asleep. It’s unclear, and I think it always will be, whether or not she’s getting enough from me. She would much rather take a bottle from her daddy (or, for that matter, from a stranger). She may or may not know who I am; she smiles at me, but she’s a good-natured kid in general. Maybe she’s just smiling because she’s happy.

But in the end, maybe that’s all that matters.