Excerpt: 'An Architecture of Early Motherhood (and Independence)' by Stephanie Guest and Kate Riggs


What You Can Count On

You learn never to count on anything being the same from day to day, that he will fall asleep at a certain hour, or sleep for a certain length of time. Some days he sleeps for several hours at a stretch, other days he sleeps no more than half an hour.
Sometimes he will wake suddenly, crying hard, when you were prepared to go on working for another hour. Now you prepare to stop. But as it takes you a few minutes to end your work for the day, and you cannot go to him immediately, he stops crying and continues quiet. Now, though you have prepared to end work for the day, you prepare to resume working.

— Lydia Davis, ‘Things You Learn About the Baby,' The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.





an exchange May 2017
Melbourne, London

[22 May 2017, 19:20, in Anne’s
green-blue kitchen, London]

THRESHOLD
I am in London again, continuing
(attempting) a new start of sorts.
I’m unsure of what I want from
this chosen isolation. My mum
is supportive: ‘Solitude is a rare
luxury’.

[19:40, the cat Tilly comes
into the kitchen]

[26 May 2017, 10.38, at the dining table, the baby is upstairs in her cot, grizzling between sleep cycles]

I was studying architecture when I got pregnant. My second undergraduate degree. Centrelink said they wouldn’t pay.

I asked for an assignment extension and my lecturer (crimson velvet top, cowboy boots, lots of eyeliner) said, in her thick Spanish accent, "this is very political!"

I started taking up more space in the hallways. Tutors looked at me awkwardly.

At the end of semester, my lecturer summoned me into her glass-box office and proffered a manual breast pump, a baby carrier, and velour leopard print baby onesies. She lifted her top and put the device to her breast, exaggerating a pumping motion. "See, you could do this in a lecture. It’s very political!" She strapped the carrier to her torso and clipped and unclipped it with one hand. "This gives you independence."

*




 

[22 May, 20:15, in Anne's kitchen with tea]

ADJUSTMENTS
I am staying in the guest room
at my godmother Anne’s for three
weeks. She doesn't have many
visitors and I would be the most
permanent resident (this is my
third time in 6 months) to be
accommodated in the room for years.
One consequence of this is the
presence of an ill-considered
blind on the western wall of the
room, directly behind the head
of the bed. When drawn at night
it reveals itself to be too short
to cover the full height of the
window. In winter’s darkness this
was not really a problem but I
discover that the now-early rise
of the sun illuminates the room
(and my forehead) at 5am. After
a few early rises I learn to use
the ample cushions on the bed as
a shield, wedging them between
the ornate bed head and the window
sill. This imperfect solution
seems fitting for my state of
transience, a secret night-time
adjustment in a room that
is not mine.

[21:10, the sun has set and the
kitchen is now dark aside from
the glow of my laptop, I move
upstairs to my bedroom]





[2 May, 12:34, on the 64 tram, the baby is asleep in the pram]

We taped al foil over the windows, pane by pane.

The high circular window was the trickiest. Truncated circle with thick dimpled glass, usually lets in diffuse afternoon light. Now nothing. Patrick climbed the ladder, I passed strips of masking tape up to him.

The seal on the rectangular window is dodgy,
though. We hadn’t thought
of that. Air seeps
through and now rattles the foil, a shimmer sound too irregular to be 'white noise.' We select 'rain' on our baby-sleep app and rip the foil down.

[26 May, 10.44, at the dining table, the baby asleep upstairs]

At sleep school, light filters in around the blinds. Patrick twitches, holds the edges down. The nurse says it doesn’t matter.

 

[22 May (continued) 22:15, in
bed at Anne’s]

KIT OF PARTS
iPhone close to me all the
time, even in bed, a poor-man’s
replacement for real physical
proximity. I look at my photos,
check the Australian news, trawl
instagram (I read somewhere that
instagram causes the most anxiety
and stress amongst teens, more
than Facebook, temporarily delete
off my phone). I check my steps
in the health app, a reassuring
consistency and a small sign of
achievement!

headphones     I put them
on when I leave Anne’s house.
I play podcasts on repeat, not
really listening but comforted by
a chosen background noise that
(almost) blocks out the tube and
traffic commotion. Simon bought
me new headphones when I was
back in Australia, robust, the same
as his. My new armour.

bed      is all spaces; my
workplace, social space, dining room.

[22.30, my iphone distracts me...]


Figure C. Bed is all spaces

[9 May, 14:12, sitting in my mum’s office waiting for the baby to wake from her pram-nap so that I can feed her before catching the tram home]

We prop the baby up.

2 x ‘bouncinette’   One is bigger, covered in pictures of farm animals, with a rainbow arch holding toys over it. (We decommissioned the arch because it is too ugly). This one lives in the bathroom so that we can wee, poo, shower while keeping an eye over the baby. She also sits there when I run her bath each night. Our baby is getting very wriggly. We now buckle her in for safety. The other one is navy with green teddy-bears printed all over. Three grubby stuffed animals dangle from an adjustable metal bar. The stains are second hand. We speculate about their origin—maybe coffee. We picture scalding liquid spilling over the previous bouncer. This one sits by the piano so that the baby can bat at the so targets while Patrick ‘teaches’ her music.

1 x baby carrier   Our baby is addicted to being worn. We strap her onto us and she always matches our outfits. Navy goes with everything. She nuzzles into our chests and peeps out at the world until she burrows back in and falls asleep.

[17 May, 9:55, just put the baby to sleep upstairs and am downstairs listening to her sleepy grizzles, wondering whether I need to intervene]

1 x pram   The pram was an unreliable prop until a few days ago. With the bassinet attachment, our baby couldn’t see out and she felt excluded from what was passing by. We think. Babies are mysterious. Mostly, we ended up carrying her and pushing the pram, as if we had two babies. People would peer into the pram and look confused when they saw an open packet of chips, a plastic bag of shopping, or my coat instead of a baby. Now, in a more upright position, our baby loves the pram: she stares at strangers on the tram until her eyelids begin to droop and she nods off. ‘I have that effect on people,’ one woman says.

1 x bassinet   Our baby is learning how to fall asleep in her bassinet. I guess it must be cold and lonely compared to our warm chests. We sit next to the bassinet and comfort her, straining our backs to lean in.

Our bodies   We contort our bodies. Our baby loves to be over our shoulders or facing the floor with our hands under her belly. I draw my legs up to help hold the baby while breastfeeding: she’s getting heavy. In bed, I form a c-shape around her on my side, attached by a single nipple. When we bump into my aunt on the street while carrying our baby in our arms, without the carrier or pram, she says ‘don’t you look casual.’

[10:37, I hear the baby stirring; she’s quiet again]

 

This piece won the The Lifted Brow and non/fiction Lab Prize for Experimental Non-fiction, and appears in full in The Lifted Brow #35. Get your copy here.

Stephanie Guest studied literature at the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, and has begun a degree in Architecture. Kate Riggs studied architecture at RMIT and is working for Urban Design London. Guest & Riggs met in year 11 at Narrabundah College in Canberra. They will be running a series of baby-friendly events at MPavilion in 2017-18.