You Are Doing Just Fine
This originally appeared on my old blog, Nothing But Bonfires, in October 2013
One of the things that has surprised me so much about having a baby — and there is so much that does surprise you; leaves you reeling, in fact — is that almost everyone I’ve spoken to in the last eleven weeks since my son was born has asked me how I’m doing. How I’m doing. Once we’ve ascertained that the baby is thriving and well and sleeping just enough that my husband and I aren’t contemplating driving him back to the hospital and asking about their return policy, their attention is turned to me. “And how are you doing?”
Oh right, I just grew a brand new human being and pushed him out of my body. I just changed my entire life. I will never again flaunt the midriff of my 21-year-old self or wake up in the morning without wondering where and how my baby is. I guess that does require some asking-after.
It has taken me eleven weeks to write about my own crossing-over into motherhood because it has been both hard and wonderful. It continues to be both hard and wonderful, and you know, I think it will probably be both hard and wonderful for the rest of my life. Here you are, you see, thrust whiplash-quickly into a role for which you feel entirely unprepared. The stakes are impossibly high and the learning curve is impossibly steep and this tiny sleeping person on your chest — you made a tiny sleeping person! — is utterly dependent on you. He is a blank slate. He is an unimaginable responsibility. He trusts you so wholeheartedly — his whole heart is yours, your whole heart is his — and the thing is, you just can’t afford to mess it up. There are so many ways to mess it up.
On my second day in the hospital, a few hours before they discharged me, I started crying and I couldn’t stop. “I don’t know why I’m crying!” I wailed at my husband and my mother and my sister, and that made me laugh, and then I was laughing and crying at the same time, which is what I was doing the exact moment my son was born, except that laughing and crying had been rooted in happiness and excitement, and this was rooted in helplessness and fear. In his clear-sided crib, my son lay bundled beside me, forty-four hours old and inconceivably small. My mother put her arms around me, and then she put them around me again three days later when I burst into tears at the dinner table over some perceived slight, a move so unlike me that I felt almost crazed, like someone else entirely had taken over my body. She put her arms around me and then she ran me a bath and I sat in the bath and cried some more and I still didn’t know why I was crying.
Well, except that I was exhausted. That I was overwhelmed. That breastfeeding still had its hitches, and that I was hopped up on hormones, and that I had a days-old baby who’d come two weeks early, before I’d even hung his mobile or set my Out of Office or found a decent nursing bra.
Up and down it went, for the first couple of weeks, and though there were always far more ups than downs, my heart felt like a plucked chicken, raw and bare and quivering, laid out on a slab for anyone to batter and kick. One night when my son was about ten days old, we picked up a takeout pizza — my husband sitting in the back of the double-parked car with the baby while I ran in with the credit card — and there was a misunderstanding at the register and the cashier was so terse and unkind about it, and I was so tired and vulnerable and fragile that it undid me. That one uncompassionate interaction — so meaningless and insignificant! — was exactly enough to undo me. I sat down on a bench in the restaurant while people talked and laughed and ate around me and I just cried.
I cried a lot in those first couple of weeks. I cried because I felt so happy and I cried because I felt so helpless. I cried because time was moving too quickly and I cried because — at two and three and four in the morning — it wasn’t moving at all. I cried in the living room and I cried in the kitchen and I cried in the backseat of the car, one hand holding my son’s while my husband reached awkwardly back behind him for my other one.
One afternoon, I lay on the bed with the baby asleep on my chest and I tried to nap but I was at the point of tiredness where your body revolts against the one thing you want to do and holds sleep frustratingly out of reach, and because I couldn’t think what else to do with myself, I googled “new mom when does it get easier?”
Like there was actually a clearcut answer. Like I was stuck in a tunnel and I just needed someone to point me towards the light.
Three weeks or so, that’s when it gets easier. That’s when you stop crying in pizza places and start to feel a little more like yourself. It gets easier at four weeks, when you lift your hungry baby to your body and feel not the dread of oh god, is it going to work this time? but the quiet reassurance of yes, we’ve got this. At five weeks, you muster the confidence to leave the house by yourself, to collapse the stroller even when it makes that weird clicking noise, to change an explosive diaper in a parking lot, and it gets easier then too. It gets easier at eight weeks when you learn to breastfeed half-asleep in bed, the lonely hours of rocking in a darkened room while watching the sky get lighter a distant memory now.
At eleven weeks, you walk with your baby strapped to your chest, long marches across the sand in the fog and the gloaming, his warm body snuggled against you like a small animal, his breathing slow and steady. His eyes closed. His crying stopped.
I have decided that I don’t want to write about my son very much on my blog. I thought I did, back when he was just an unknown bundle of cells and an ever-growing bump, back before I knew the sound of the small soft sighs he makes when he’s content, the swirling whorls of hair that make the top of his head look like a cinnamon bun. I thought I wanted to write about the way he was born and each milestone he reached, post monthly pictures of his changing face, make pithy jokes about the number of old ladies who stop me outside coffee shops and tell me to put some socks on his feet.
But sometime in the last few weeks, I’ve realized I don’t. I don’t really want to share him. He is gorgeous and perfect and amazing and wondrous, but I kind of think I want to keep him all to myself.
So it gets easier. It gets easier every day, and then some days it gets hard again, but even when it gets hard again, it somehow always gets easier. You will not always be spitup-stained and sweaty and squeezed uncomfortably into those jeans. You will not always make all your meals one-handed. You will not always feel guilty about the time you stopped feeding your baby to answer the door because you knew it was the UPS man and he’d tried twice before and if you didn’t answer this time, they’d send your package right back and you’d have to spend an hour on the phone with someone trying to track it down. You will not always feel this tired. You will not always be in your pajamas at 2pm, and you will not always send angry texts to your husband to find out how many minutes — no seriously, tell me exactly how many minutes — are left until he walks back in that door, and you will not always be slightly suspicious that you are doing it all wrong.
At least I hope you will not. I hope I will not.
Here is a quote I like by Cheryl Strayed, which I read when my son was four or five weeks old, sitting out in the backyard with him while he slept against me in the hammock:
“In spite of my fears, I didn’t regret having a baby. My son’s body against mine was the clarity I never had. The first few weeks of his life, I felt honestly rattled by the knowledge of how close I’d come to opting to live my life without him. It was a penetrating, relentless, unalterable thing to be his mother, my life ending and beginning at once.”
I read that and I felt the prickle of tears again (again!) and I thought yes, that is how I feel. I thought yes, I recognize that.
But here is the weird thing. Some days it isn’t particularly easy but it isn’t particularly hard either, and it isn’t really anything except how you’ve always expected it to be. Some days you look down at that sweet baby and you think oh, you got here finally, you’re here!, and that’s all it is: not some momentous rite of passage, not some entry into a secret club, just another day that you’re living your life, except now your life involves wiping someone else’s bottom. You had a baby, and now you have a baby. See how normal it feels? See how right? Look, here is the place in your heart where he fits so perfectly. You didn’t even know it had been empty.