Walking through an art gallery with a sleeping newborn

Before I begin, let me say that I meant for the title to echo the Robert Frost’s poem “Walking through the woods on a snowy evening.” Thinking about doing just that  made me feel instantly calmer. Hence the title, which actually has the opposite effect on my state of mind!

This past weekend, we invited some new friends over for lunch and a trip to the museum. They have just moved to town, are a same-sex married couple of our age, and we share some awesome mutual friends – so we’re pretty sure we’re going to continue enjoying their company. But… they have an 8-week old baby girl.

I didn’t know this until the second time we met them. We first met at said mutual friends’ wedding, when we found out D and A were planning on moving to Chicago for D’s new job. Then, said mutual friends came to Chicago to visit D and A and their new baby, and wanted to see us, too. Great, we said, let’s do brunch. Great, they said, and good news! D and A and baby can come too!

This wasn’t good news. At least, not to me. I liked D and A when we met them, but I had no interest in brunching with a beautiful 6-week old. But of course, I couldn’t really say no. It’s been over a year since my son died; surely they wouldn’t understand that newborns are still hard for me. I didn’t want to alienate either new friends or old. So we went.

And it was fine. Little E slept through the whole thing, all bundled up for the Chicago weather. I barely saw her. In what was to me a spirit of magnanimity (as I was in the mood of “I don’t want to see this baby, I don’t want to meet this baby or be anywhere around her, but I’m making an effort”), we gave her one of our knit hats and a card honoring Mabel on her first birthday. We were reminded of just how much we liked D and A, and how much we have in common. So, we scheduled a second “date.”

February is free for Illinois residents at the Field Museum (which is usually pretty pricey), so we planned to go this past Saturday. We had them over first for a lunch of spring rolls and an Asian-y salad. This time, E was alert, but this time, I was in a better frame of mind. It was still hard to think that WE should be the experts on breastfeeeding, on diaper changes, on which brand of car seat is best for which car, but it was okay. A is a pediatrician, after all; I’m okay with her being an expert before me in this situation.

We took their car to the museum, and waited in the line of traffic to enter the parking lot. And waited. And saw the lines stretching out of the museum, and decided (after 45 minutes) that we didn’t really want to wait any more. So, we decided to go to the Art Institute. Ironically (or not; we seem very similar), D and A have exactly and only the same memberships as we do (Art Institute, Arboretum), so this was a fairly easy decision to make, as it’s right down the street and would be free to all of us anyway.

But: they had forgotten a carrier for baby E, and didn’t want to lug around the car seat. She’s pretty wee, so they figured it would be easy enough this time to just carry her around; we would have to sit fairly frequently so she could nurse anyway. So they did. And we did. Both K and I offered to take a turn holding her, relishing the babyness, wishing we could claim her as ours when people asked. Because here’s the thing: when you are carrying a baby around an art gallery, you are stopped by EVERYONE. Other mothers stop to let their toddlers touch her hand and ask how old she is and commiserate with breastfeeding and offer advice on later weaning. Older women comment on clothing choices and ooh and aah. Tourists point and coo and practically tear up to see them taking a family portrait in front of a Monet in the Impressionist gallery (“baby’s first cultural experience!”).

It is sometimes disconcerting how much we missed out on, what it’s like to have a “real” baby that you get to carry around art galleries, that strangers stop and admire every few feet. This is something that I didn’t think about having been deprived of, yet now I know just how removed I am from the mother club. I have an invisible baby. He is not cooed over, but ignored.

It was a beautiful but hard day.

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2 Responses to Walking through an art gallery with a sleeping newborn

  1. TryTryAgain says:

    Bless you, I’m so sorry that this was unexpected and difficult, but I’m glad that you managed to handle it ok. Lots of love xx

  2. Oh, yes. I know this. It’s a hard hard thing. I actually find that I feel this way quite a bit now that we have our living baby. Strangers stop and make faces and ask questions and while it’s lovely, I’m always thinking about our invisible firstborn and all the silence after his birth.

    If it helps to think of it, your boy is not invisible here. We remember too.

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