I love sci-fi. The Twilight Zone is my favorite TV show of all time. The X-Files, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, E.T. “phone home,” I Am Legend, 2001: A Space Odyssey… the list of classics goes on and on. This sci-fi influence definitely spawns from my parents, my dad in particular. Star Wars haunts me as a kid. I have this recurring nightmare of Darth Vader’s “The Imperial March,” with an army of storm troopers invading my street. When my younger sister is a baby, my mom has this bright idea to shave her head. Then her and my dad proceed to take a portrait of her wearing her fresh bald head, a Star Trek gown, holding a lightsaber. This 18” x 24” framed portrait still graces my parent’s living room to this day. My mom once told me not to talk to strangers because there are people out there who have a third eye on their forehead, and they would kidnap me and take me to outer space, or something to that effect. She had probably just watched The Twilight Zone classic “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up.” When E.T. is first released, back in the 80s, I find that character ugly and scary. But my parents insist that it’s a good movie and I will love it. And they’re right, I do. Smash cut to my sister and I wearing E.T. shoes from Buster Brown, t-shirts, and lunch pails to school, and crying our eyes out when E.T. has to fly home in his spaceship. And I have to admit, when I see a bright light in the sky at night, sometimes I like to wonder, airplane or UFO? “I want to believe.”
Well, last year I myself got to star in the sci-fi epic film of my life: Childbearing. Zod was my creation. As it turns out, my daughter’s initials are Z.O.D., or Zod, like General Zod in Superman, as a friend and fellow sci-fi lover so vividly informed me while acting out that entire scene in the movie for me. And Zod of course, is not my creation alone. It was 50% me, 50% my husband and 100% God, our executive producer. And June 30th, 2010, was the last day I was able to enjoy a meal without having to do something else at the same time: breastfeeding, signing hospital documents, getting my blood pressure checked, breastfeeding, cradling a baby in my arm, putting on make-up, breastfeeding, pumping, writing, breastfeeding, spoon feeding a baby, breastfeeding, working, breastfeeding, entertaining with toys, breastfeeding, talking on the phone, breastfeeding, making homemade baby food, breastfeeding and oh my gawd with the breastfeeding! Seriously?! Why doesn’t anyone tell you how hard this is going to be? Apparently doctors don’t want to tell women how hard and painful breastfeeding can be, because they don’t want to “scare women.” Really? I delivered a person from my vagina—wait, no, my “birthing canal.” Legs spread on metal like, bam! Here it is. Infant. Full head of hair. Doctor and husband talking about the Lakers in between pushes. This human incubating in my womb for nine plus months, all Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like. I think I can handle a little warning about breastfeeding. Just tell it like it is. Don’t be trying to sugar coat it with mothers, okay. We are not only women, we are mothers. Cut to: we can handle it. A person has morphed from one night of passion, into limbs and bones bursting out of stretched-out skin of pregnant belly, Sigourney Weaver Alien-style like “Blehhhh I’m coming to get you!” When I’m ready to push, Mulder and Scully from the X-Files are there, investigating my case. And the whole time, Mulder believed but Scully begged, “I want to believe, I want to believe in child birth.” Well believe it! Babies come out of your body all bloody and slimy, then husbands cut the cord and baby cries loudly, “Waaah waaah!” Then they show you your creation and you think, a la Homer Simpson, “Meh.”
Meh? Wait a minute; I was “meh.” I was tired and uninterested. My first thought when the doctor pulled her out and showed her to me was, “Is she okay is she okay!?” Good. She’s okay, she’s healthy. All limbs are in place. Again, Homer Simpson, “My work here is done.” But then, they presented her to me and all I really wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep. I just labored for 15 hours—wearing full make-up, mind you—and pushed for three hours straight. Or like my girlfriend says, “Took the biggest shit of my life” for three hours straight, and now you want to me to hold and care for this baby? Seriously? I wanted to be left alone and have this unnecessarily strong high blood pressure medication take me to la la land. Am I a bad mother? “Am I a bad mother?” The question that haunts many mothers like myself on planet Earth. Am I a bad mother? I was really scared that I was “meh” when Zod was first born. I thought something was wrong with me. As it turns out, I researched this phenomenon of “meh,” and a lot of women go through this when their babies are first born. It’s perfectly natural and your mind and body are simply in shock from the whole gut-splatting experience. Hey, I’m a new mom, okay. Don’t judge me. Motherhood is complex. It doesn’t come with instructions. It doesn’t come with a manual, syllabus, synopsis, thesis, or a how-to instructional DVD. I do the best I can, and in my mind, the baby’s thinking, that I’m doing the best I can. That I’m doing a good job. “Yay mommy, good for you!… Leave mommy alone, she’s doing the best she can!” Yes, yes I am because Zod, I am your mother. Don’t mind me as I channel Darth Vader.
After that epic delivery, my emotions are all over the place. I lay on the hospital bed in the middle of that first night, trying so hard to keep my eyes open. I stare at this tiny baby girl that lies next to me, through the plastic hospital bassinet she soundly sleeps in. Poor thing. She must be just as exhausted. Babies feel the contractions, too. I was so focused on what my body was doing, the pain of the contractions I was feeling, the pressure in my stomach, that I forgot that babies feel all of this, too. She was getting pushed and turned and sucked through some dark and horrifying vortex in a silent scream begging, “When will this be over already! How hard is it to freakin’ push!” The next morning, my mind is exhausted from the trauma I experience. That visual of the nurse reaching high up in the ceiling and pulling down this white, round, ginormous and bright hospital lamp flashing all up on my exposed body while saying, “She’s ready to push…” keeps haunting me. I think of the bright light they keep flashing on Janet Tyler’s face in “Eye of the Beholder” when they’re about to take that “monster’s” bandages off. The way I feel the next day, I could easily interpret the disturbia of birthing and write a gruesome horror saga on how to torture someone painfully and slowly. With impeccable detail and haunting scenes of evil, macabre and gore. Stephen King would be so proud. But as I’m coming down from the shock, and struggling to learn how to breastfeed, a group of technicians and interns walk in and ask me if it’s okay to give Zod a series of tests. I say sure, so glad to have them take her off my hands so I can sleep. I try resting my eyes but all of a sudden find myself concerned for Zod. Tests? What kind of tests? I tiredly turn my head to the left and see four people in hospital garb put my baby under a lamp and hover over her like alien abductors poking and probing their latest acquisition. They test her hearing, her limbs, take down notes and so on. I see her vulnerable, naked body and for the first time, really notice her. A sensation takes over me and I suddenly become…protective of her. When they’re done with the tests, a technician asks me if I’d like to hold my baby or have her sleep in the bassinet. “I’d like to hold her.” I take her delicate body, cuddle her on my right arm, and feed her. We’re both still struggling to learn how to breastfeed and it’s incredibly painful. And I realize she still feeds off my body, even outside the belly. She tries her hardest to drink the colostrum, so hungry and desperate. I curl my toes from the excruciating pain. Then I see her tiny, wrinkled, right hand gripping on my breast, over and over, as I hold her close to my body. There is something beautiful and magical that happens when you breastfeed your baby…and I was smitten in love. Well, there goes my Stephen King novel.
Our baby is nine months old now. The same amount of time I carried her in my pod.
But I feel weird calling myself a mom still. It’s not like I can have conversations with her where she responds something other than a blank look or “da da da” followed by a squeal of joy. Teach her things, or help her with her science project. Hold her hand to cross the street, teach her how to pray, or how to carve a pumpkin. Or give her advice on college, careers, or discipline her so she doesn’t turn out to be an escuincla. She’s just a baby. Motherhood for me has consisted of breastfeeding this child around the clock. Beautiful connection yes, but that is some serious commitment! My boobs are tired. My body is strapped down to this contraption that pumps out milk day in and day out. I better not dare say “Mooo,” or aliens might mistake me for a cow and abduct me. My husband and I joke about that. About how when our daughter is 13 or 16, talking back to mommy, acting unruly, we’re gonna strap her down to a chair and make her watch Flip video after Flip video of mommy pumping breastmilk for a year, every two hours for twenty minutes. Let’s see, that’s 804 hours of footage that we’ll sit you down, all Clockwork Orange-aversion-therapy-style to watch, just so you can see how much your mother sacrificed to feed you your “glass of instant smile” when you were a baby. Am I a bad mother for saying that? Like I said, what have I done as a mother in nine months, really? I starred in that childbearing epic sci-fi movie of my life. I’ve struggled with breastfeeding and my low milk supply. Pureed a few beans here and there, rocked her to sleep, held her tightly in my arms, and carried her around the house not wanting to put her down. I’ve loved and nurtured her, gone on sunny stroller walks, combed her beautiful, curly locks. I haven’t slept much for nine months and admit, gone through a few meltdowns and a slight case of postpartum anxiety, where I felt like maybe I was abducted by aliens and injected with lame female hormones. My baby doesn’t walk or talk or do anything yet, other than look cute, say “mama” and “dada” and eat—and poop some pretty remarkable diapers. So it’s hard to think of myself as a mother, in the educating sense of the word. In the life lessons and role model sense of the word. Sure, I read to her and show her flash cards and although at first it was all blank stares from her big eyes, I do feel like now she’s starting to get it. And she’s so happy. So, so happy at the world because everything is brand new to her. I love to see that huge smile and hear that loud squeal of joy when I wake up every morning.
I’ve been doing it all on instinct, and maybe that’s all I can do. Maybe that’s how you’re supposed to do motherhood, I don’t know. “I want to believe” that I’m already well-equipped to take care of this baby girl and help her fulfill her purpose on earth. For now, I’m just taking it day by day. And if my body can continue to produce milk from
God knows where, that actually smells like real milk, then at least I know she’s well fed with super food. Our female bodies are amazing. And mine is even more amazing, after having a baby. Milk comes out of my chichis. My feet grew a whole shoe size…yay, can they get any bigger? My hands grew as well, I had to get my wedding ring resized even though I had lost all the weight. My B.O. is pretty spectacular sometimes, my hair is luxurious and smells oily, and I sweat profusely. I’ve become this mutant, mood swinging, big foot, big hand,00 supermom who was abducted by aliens, injected with hormones and now smells swampy and tired, “It’s alive, oh, it’s alive it’s alive!” And her? My bambina? My baby girl? She smells…like love. She smells like my gift from God. Like everything’s gonna be okay, and every second with her, is worth it. She wrote, directed and produced the best sci-fi story of my life. I am so happy, and so thankful, that she cast me. And now, I have to go. My boobs are hurting, so I need to go pump.
Gabriela López de Dennis was born and raised in Los Angeles to an artistic and musical family. She is a writer and producer, and as visual artist has specialized in the arts, entertainment and music industry for over 17 years. Gabriela works with USC School of Pharmacy’s production of health education foto-audio-visual novelas (English and Spanish), as writer, graphic designer, video editor, director and animator. Recent projects include Rosa Out of Control (broadcast on KLCS in spring of 2014), Forgotten Memories (broadcast on KLCS in spring & summer 2015), Gloria Takes the Leap as lead writer, and the forthcoming Infectious Rumors as lead writer and co-director. She was co-writer of the award-winning 10-episode educational web series Fixing Paco starring Paul Rodriguez. She is co-writer and producer on the feature film Edith & Harvey currently in post-production. As co-founder and C.E.O. of Lone Stars Entertainment, she co-wrote the screenplay and was producer on B.O.O.S.T., and the short film version was an Official Selection of the 2016 CineFestival and 2015 Big Latino Cinema Festival. In September of 2015, PBS/WORLD Channel began airing Episode One: Jasmine of her documentary short Overcomers, and she recently released Episode Two: Myles. Overcomers is a docu-series for the American Graduate initiative that she co-created and produced, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NALIP. Gabriela lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their 5-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and 16-year-old cat. Twitter: @thegabriela