Day 08- A moment you felt the most satisfied with your life
I distinctly remember how dry my mouth felt when I woke up.
I couldn’t tell what time it was, but I assumed it was late in the afternoon, because the sun was coming in through the window looking over the lake. The apartment was eerily quiet. I felt disoriented, like I was supposed to be doing something important when I fell asleep. I lay still, trying to remember exactly what it was that I was supposed to be doing, but my mouth was so dry, I couldn’t think.
My body was also really stiff, and I noticed I was still wearing all my clothes. Someone had taken off my shoes, though. I remember trying to recollect how I ended up in bed, and slowly, the details from earlier that day started coming back to me.
I had been discharged from the hospital that morning.
“You have to leave the hospital in the wheelchair," the nurse told me as she handed me my swaddled baby. "Do you want to hold him as we wheel you out? Or should we put him in his carseat?"
I looked out the window as she spoke. "The carseat is fine," I mumbled. I wished I could stay in the hospital a little longer. The nurses prodding and poking me was annoying, but the thought of going home by myself with my new baby was horrifying. I’d take the uncomfortable sterility of the hospital any day over the overwhelming responsibility that awaited me at home.
We carefully tucked Michael in his new carseat for the very first time. He was so tiny in there, so vulnerable. So needy. The nurse put me in the wheelchair, and we all went downstairs to wait for the car. When he arrived, he carefully helped me into the car first before securing the carseat. When he was sure we were both safe and the bags were loaded into the trunk, he pulled off, slowly. He seemed almost nervous to drive, as if he were acutely aware of the precious load he carried in the car with us.
When we got home, my father was there. He'd come over with groceries and a new mattress for me. I hugged him, and he admired his tiny new grandson, asleep and snoring.
"How are you feeling?" he asked me.
I nodded. "I'm okay," I told him. "I'm sore. Tired."
"You should go lay down," he told me. "I'm fixing dinner. Your comfortable new bed awaits."
I remember walking into my room, and collapsing onto the bed. That must've been hours ago.
Now, I was awake, and dying of thirst, and overcome with fear.
I’d pushed my son out at 5:45am two days prior. When I held him for the first time, I waited for the overwhelming feeling of love and belonging that all new mothers experienced the first time they saw their babies. I’d been waiting for it my entire pregnancy, actually. I never felt love for my growing baby. I wasn’t excited. I was always hungry, and always had heartburn, and resented the fact that I couldn’t see my feet anymore. I wasn’t worried, though, because all the books said that when I finally held my baby in my arms, I would feel love unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The entire time I was in labor, as I threw up all over myself and the floor of my hospital room, as the contractions came in waves so powerful I wanted to die, as I struggled to stay still through my labor pains during the discomfort of my epidural, even as I pushed and pushed and pushed, I waited for that feeling.
The nurse handed me my baby at 547am. I looked at his tiny face and felt... nothing.
I felt nothing.
No overwhelming love. No longing. Nothing. I was completely and totally indifferent. The nurse asked me how I was feeling.
"When is breakfast?" I asked her. "I'm hungry."
I lay the baby in the bassinet and the nurse wheeled him toward the nursery.
A few minutes after breakfast, the lactation specialist came in with my baby to show me how to properly nurse. I listened halfheartedly to her instructions. I knew nursing was my only option; I was a poor college student who couldn't afford formula. When Michael first latched, I yelled, startling him. He began to cry. I did, too. This was my new life. I was 20 years old and a mother. While my friends were attending parties and going on dates, I'd be home with a new baby. I wouldn't get much sleep anymore. My clothes would probably always have food or puke on them. My boobs would leak. This was my life.
I cried so much that the lactation specialist took the baby away and promised to come in later, after I got some sleep.
For two days, I stayed in the hospital. Eventually, nursing became less uncomfortable, which was a blessing, because my kid was always hungry. I didn’t mind holding him, but I didn’t hold him much because the guilt I felt for not immediately loving him was eating me alive. What was wrong with me? I wanted to be a good mother, but how could I be a good mother to a baby I didn’t even want? I couldn’t even look at him without feeling like crap. I’d been waiting for that feeling of love for two whole days.
Now, I was in my quiet apartment, almost unable to breathe with the weight of my fear. I wasn't afraid of being a mother; I was afraid of being a mother who didn't love her child.
I lay still, staring at the ceiling, feeling my hot tears sliding down my temples and pooling in my ears. Many minutes passed before I heard his small whimper.
I thought maybe if I didn't make a sound, he'd stop. I held my breath. He kept whimpering, a little louder now. He seemed angry. Impatient.
"Hello?" I called out, thinking maybe his dad was home.
I got no response. By this time, the whimper had become a small, shrill cry.
I swung my stiff legs over the side of the bed, stood slowly, and made my way into the beautifully decorated nursery next to my bedroom. I crept up to his crib and peered over the side at him. He stopped crying. His little eyes were blinking though. They were bright eyes. Beautiful, bright eyes.
I carefully loosened the blanket swaddled around him and studied his small fingers. I placed my finger in the palm of his tiny hand. His grip was so strong, it caught me off guard. He cooed softly and focused his eyes on my face.
We locked eyes. It seemed we were both studying each other, sizing each other up, determining whether or not we could trust each other. Those bright eyes were fixated on mine.
It took a few seconds before I realized I was crying.
This was my baby. My son. My whole world was in the crib in front of me.
My whole heart. My whole life.
In that moment, I knew I would never know a love so intense as the one I felt at that very second.
Life probably wouldn't be easy. I was a young, single mother going into my junior year of college. His father was a screw-up, and I knew that the odds that I would raise this kid alone were high. I didn't know anything about being a mother. I was positive I'd make a million mistakes along the way. The house might not always be neat, we might not always have a lot of money, but I knew we would always have each other. I looked at those bright eyes and saw my purpose. I saw my future.
I saw my son.
I picked him up and held him close to me as I walked across the room and sat in our brand new rocking chair. I rocked him until the sun sank behind the lake and the crickets and frogs began their lullaby. I told him that I would always protect him, always love him, and dedicate every breath in my body to making sure he was always safe, always loved, and always at peace. Eventually, he fell asleep, but I kept rocking, studying his tiny features.
This was the moment I felt the most satisfied with my life.