On this day last year, I was in labor. Zygote will be one tomorrow. In a nutshell, this has been a fast, exhilarating, terrifying, educational, sleep-deprived whirlwind of a year.
Of course, I have been all about the reflecting this week on her birth story, and I recently told a work colleague that I was really starting to LIKE spending time with Zygote, that she was fun and smart and that this was very different from the ferocious mother love you feel. Of course, I love my child. But now, I’m enjoying watching her discover new things and play games. I would choose to be with her even if I didn’t have to be.
This is different from those early, hazy, sleepless days. When she was born, I was thrilled to see her, but the thing I felt the most was this overwhelming sense of responsibility. And fear. A this-is-it-welcome-to-the-big-show-youre-an-adult-now-don’t-fuck-this-up inner monologue was on constant repeat. Looking back, it’s obvious that there were a number of factors contributing to that. Zygote was born when YG was still dizzy and recovering from his hearing loss. My labor was extremely long (30+ hours.woot!) and painful (back labor.woot!) followed by major abdominal surgery (C-section.woot!). MG and YG got sick with the flu right after Z was born, so they couldn’t be near her and the medication that Z had to take made her cry pretty much 24-7 for two weeks. Then MG got appendicitis and had to have surgery. And I had some pretty bad postpartum depression that required medication.
But at the time, I wasn’t able to see how all of that may have contributed to my totally fragile emotional state. I wasn’t really seeing anything. I was just living one long continuous day and FEELING everything. I remember sitting in my doctor’s office, filling out a form that asked questions like, “Do you feel you have lost the ability to be happy?” I couldn’t stop crying, and I tried to take as long as possible to answer the questions so I could delay having to go home, to have to go back to THAT PLACE, where everyone needed me. I like being alone. I was not, and to some extent still am not, used to all this contact. I was also convinced, deep in my core, that YG was going to leave me if he got even a whiff of vulnerability from me. It sucked.
Prior to birth, I had referred to my maternity leave as “my summer off.” I thought it was going to be all mommy play dates and beers on the patio and going to museums and writing with my beautiful, snoozing infant in her eco-friendly sling. What a load of crap! When I realized that all I would be doing for the first few weeks was choosing what chair to nurse in next, I was overwhelmed by grief. Every little task like picking up the dry cleaning or emptying the dishwasher or even taking a shower took on monumental significance – I had to prove that I could accomplish SOMETHING or else everything would come crumbling down.
It was over a month before I even attempted grocery shopping, and because I am a glutton for punishment, we went to Costco. Zygote screamed the entire time, while I angrily shoved the cart around the store, and a teenage girl and her mother gaped at me wehn they caught me hissing, “Jesus Christ, will you shut the fuck up already?” The next day, during an epic screaming fit and a diaper change that resulted in shit all over the wall, I bit Zygote’s leg. Not hard, but enough that she stopped the crying to notice. I didn’t know what else to do. I gave up. I had zero confidence in my ability to function as a normal human with the capability to love. I longed to go back to work (this should scream DANGER if you know me), but at the same time, wondered how the hell people managed to have anything left over for their jobs or really, anything besides the baby. YG told me that we would cross that bridge when we needed to, which I interpreted, of course, as “get your shit together. I’ve done Crazy once. I’m not doing it twice, and if you can’t get it together, I’m leaving you and this kid and hightailing it to San Francisco.”
I don’t know what the turning point was. There was no magic bullet. It just started to suck less. Medication certainly helped, but it wasn’t the cure all I wanted it to me. I still had to feel and fumble my way through shit and I hated that. I started to ask for help. Made lunch dates with people. Accepted the offers of the pastoral care team at my church for company and conversation. Joined a mom’s group. Everyone recovered from their illnesses. The sun came out. I walked for miles every day, sometimes feeling like I was sleepwalking, but I discovered a bunch of new neighborhoods and watered our plants a lot. I learned how to nurse and read at the same time, despite Dr.Sear’s (AAAAAH) advice that I should savor every moment of our bonding time. Barf. I read good and bad books, sometimes out loud. I wrote a teeny tiny bit. And I watched the entire My So-Called Life series again. Twice.
Zygote started smiling and knowing who I was. I started to realize that I knew how to comfort her. We went away for two weeks at the beach. YG and I spent two nights away in Atlantic City. We started to figure out a new normal.
I went back to work. I’m trying to figure out the dreaded “work/life balance,” but I’ll be forever grateful to my kid for giving me some perspective. My mom stayed with us for a month and then YG’s sister sat for Z before she started daycare. We trusted our instincts and switched her to a different daycare within a month. Words cannot express how much I love it.
We did Christmas in New Jersey. We did her first snowy winter in New England. YG and I each survived a week on our own with Z when the other had to go away on business. Nothing quite beats seeing that shock of crazy hair and toothy grin, when you’re stumbling up the front steps after a particularly hideous red eye. We did Easter in Florida, and our first family trip to Disney. I did not wear white sneakers. Or a visor. We did MG’s 11th birthday on a Spirit of Boston cruise. We survived.
But it was more than survival. We got to know one another. To like one another. We learned how to be a family of four. I started to learn how to be a mom. I made several attempts at cooking. I learned that I still really, really, really LIKE my husband.
To use corporate speak, I am continuing to work on my “areas for development” like patience and patience and patience. And I am becoming more confident in my abilities to not totally screw this kid up. In fact, I think I may be able to teach her a thing or two.
Happy Birthday, Z, one day early. Love, Mama.