It was the swaddling that put me over the edge. We’d been back from the hospital one day, and it was time to put the baby to sleep. Jake put her on a blanket, one of the six striped ones we’d stolen from the hospital, and wrapped her as tight as a burrito. “How’d you learn that?” I said.
“One of the nurses showed me. It’s easy.” Swaddling was the key to calming newborns, we’d read in a book. If they can’t move their arms or legs, it reminds them of being in the womb.
He took her out and showed me the folds—down at top, right arm, legs, left arm. I did exactly as he did. “I’ve got it now,” I said. “This is one tight swaddle.” Just as I said it, she popped her arm out. If she could have held up her middle finger, she would have.
“It takes a while to get the hang of it,” Jake said, and did it again himself. Two seconds later she was out cold.
“You’re really good at that,” I said as we got into bed.
“You’re good at breast-feeding,” he said.
“That’s an instinct, not a skill,” I said, “and even if I am, I just wish she acted more grateful.” Before I’d had her, when I thought about breast-feeding, I imagined her staring into my eyes like in a Pietà. But with her head on that Boppy pillow, she just looked blandly ahead.
“She needs me but she doesn’t love me,” I said. “She loves you. She’s always falling asleep in your arms.” Three times in front of guests she’d gone to sleep in his lap, but when I held her she fussed until I fed her, and when I pulled her off she’d cry.
“That’s because she doesn’t associate me with the breast. You, on the other hand, only mean one thing to her. But don’t worry. It’ll pass.”
In the morning, the baby woke us up, but he lifted her to the changing table before I had a chance. “We’re going out today,” he said.
“Why?” “All this air-conditioning is bad for you. If you want to feel better, it’s going to take fresh air, exercise, and vitamins.” It was the most ludicrous thing I’d ever heard. I was Brooke Shields and he was Tom Cruising me. But after we got dressed, we went to the park. He wore her in the Björn, and every attractive young woman we passed made eyes at him. A dad straps on a baby and he gets hit on. A mom does and suddenly she’s invisible.
We lay on a blanket, and I breast-fed like I didn’t care who saw, feeling very nipple Nazi. The baby pulled off and wailed. “That’s her wet-diaper cry,” said Jake.
“How do you know?” I said. “It sounds poopy to me.”
He undid her onesie: wet and white. He smiled triumphantly. Suddenly I understood the real cause of my depression. It wasn’t hormonal imbalance. It was the competition. I had dreamed of marrying a man who would take care of my kid so I could work, but now that I had one I felt jealous. What did either of them need me for? I could pump enough milk for a year and move to a Caribbean island, and he’d use a Manary like in Meet the Fockers.
Before I had a kid, I’d watch the moms pushing strollers, the ones wearing smug, self-satisfied looks, and pity them for needing all that public validation. Now it all made sense. It wasn’t enough just to have the baby. You had to show it off, alone, so people could see how capable you were.
That night she fell asleep quickly. I turned over to face Jake, but he was still gazing at her lovingly. “I miss you,” I said.
“I’m right here,” he said. “I used to feel like there was a part of me that was private, that needed to be separate. That’s gone now. You two have all of me.”
“Keep talking,” I said. I slithered down under the sheets and dove at him with crazy eyes. When I finished, I flopped back on the pillow triumphantly. “That was definitely in the top three,” he said. I couldn’t open the stroller with one hand or adjust the Björn while it was on, but at least there was one job I was good at.
In the morning, we met our friends for coffee. The couple oohed and aahed about the baby. I took her out of the stroller and latched her on. The wife asked me about my birth story, and I started to tell it. When I looked back down at the baby, her eyes were closed. “She fell asleep in my arms,” I shouted triumphantly. “That’s because she loves you,” Jake said. Maybe that was why, or maybe it was the ambient noise. But I didn’t argue with him. Instead, I just adjusted her on my lap.