The dentist is my age and a little nervous, but very handsome. Handsome in a way that makes me question if I’m comfortable with him rooting around inside of my mouth with sharp instruments. I stop myself from asking if he remembers a particular episode of MTV’s Newlyweds in which Jessica Simpson has her teeth cleaned for the first time in a decade and is riddled with cavities. Do dentists have pop-culture touchstones?
He offers me something for anxiety but then looks at my paperwork and sighs “well, I guess you can’t if you’re nursing.” The thought of getting high at the dentist makes me even more nervous, lactating or not. We make small talk about the baby. I ask if he’s seen the x-ray image of a fetus’s skull with all of its teeth waiting to erupt and he scrunches up his face in a way that makes him less handsome but more human. “Yes, it even haunts dental students,” he says. When I inquire if he has kids he shakes his head so firmly it strikes me as odd until later when I see his orange Tesla sporting a vanity plate in the parking lot.
Once he’s x-rayed me and called out numbers to the hygienist while digging around in my gums, I ask if I can take a photo of my teeth, “you know, with my phone. For my Instagram stories,” and immediately feel like an idiot. He chuckles like this happens all the time. Are all of us Millennials with generalized anxiety disorder just gassing it up at the dentist taking photos of our #mouthbones? I did find his office through an Instagram ad that followed me around so much I eventually relented and booked an appointment. There’s a $75 promotional Visa gift card waiting for me at the end of this experience and I’m assuming he knows it.
Later, I celebrate my lack of cavities by buying an excessively gaudy sugar cookie from the Swedish bakery next door and eat it on a bench in the sun. The cookie is in the shape of a shoe and decorated with shiny marzipan flowers. As the airbrushed icing crunches between my teeth, I remember how my mouth ached after giving birth. Forums full of nursing women confirmed that it was, indeed, A Thing That Happens and I waited it out, not even mentioning it to my OBGYN. How would he save my decaying mouth? It felt like asking a plumber why my smoke detectors keep beeping in the middle of the night.
In the last year I’ve learned to give every seemingly pressing issue I’m worried about at least two weeks of space before making any drastic moves. Are my teeth falling out of my head? Will the baby ever learn to walk? When will the big earthquake hit?
I post a photo of my teeth to my Instagram stories and watch it disappear after 24 hours. I scroll through Instagram while the baby naps, clenching my jaw and wondering if our emergency kit supplies are all expired. The dentist finder app keeps advertising to me long after I’ve made a follow-up appointment. So does a subscription service that promises to send me 16-18 fresh, sustainable sprigs of eucalyptus every month. Who could ever possibly need that much eucalyptus in such precise quantities, I think?
I see the same meme posted over and over again by parenting accounts I half-heartedly follow. It’s a quote rendered in that familiar bouncy handwritten script on a watercolor background: “remember when you prayed for the things you have now.”
I’m almost sure it’s not meant to be cruel, even though its calligraphic scream-whisper haunts me, asking “isn’t this what you wanted? Isn’t this enough?”
I think about the photo that Jessica Simpson posted of her giant, swollen ankles just before giving birth. How are her teeth holding up? Is her baby walking yet?
I cash in my Visa gift card and spend it on a bathing suit that’s been following me between Facebook and Instagram, fully realizing that I’ve become stuck in a social media commerce loop. The end feels particularly nigh and in the small hours of the morning, I ask myself if life would be better with 16-18 fresh, sustainable sprigs of eucalyptus every month.
I nurse the baby at exactly 3:40 am even though I’ve proclaimed too many times that we’re officially done with night feedings. But more and more teeth are making their way into her mouth and waking her up. I hold her dimpled hand in mine while she dozes, still attached to my nipple. At thirteen months she’s the size of a two-year-old and quickly losing her babyness. We’re in a strange limbo now, belonging to each other less and less as she grows stronger and leaner. When I was pregnant it was too much to consider every layer of skin or every tiny organ my body had to grow to build a human. Now, her body is like sturdy carry-on luggage I packed diligently for 263 days. Her teeth are tools arranged neatly, all awaiting their turn.
This is exactly what I wanted. This is almost enough.