B and C

To become a mother. That was really all I had ever dreamed of and hoped for as a little girl. Those countless classroom writing prompts, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? A Mommy. There was really never any other answer for me. As I grew older and eventually went off to college, I started to get self-conscious of my secret wish to someday be a stay-at-home mother. I certainly couldn’t declare that as a major, and many of the strong, smart women I befriended and surrounded myself with were all so driven, so motivated to have it all…the jobs, the success, the family, and the role as mother. I jumped on board, looking for a major and a job that would carry me through. All the while, secretly dreaming of the day I would wake up in a sun-drenched room, roll over and see my perfect, little pink baby, curled up next to me in bed.

I feel fortunate that I found my husband and our life fell so effortlessly into shape. We wanted the same things: family, children, a life based on love and togetherness. We wasted little time after our wedding before trying for a baby and were shocked and overjoyed when we found out we were expecting. At the time, my husband was working as a Marine Engineer and would be home for one month, and shipping out for the next. So for half of my pregnant experience, I was alone. Not ideal and definitely not how I had imagined and dreamed it would be. The pregnancy itself was somewhat different than I had expected. I gained a lot of weight, which made me very self-conscious, somewhat irrationally so, and I experienced morning sickness, which prevented me from really basking in that “motherly glow.” My husband missed many milestone appointments like finding out the baby’s gender, being there for the first kicks, taking me in for routine appointments and nursing me through sickness and harder times. But we made it through, keeping our eye on that final prize, our little baby. We had worked his schedule so he would be home six weeks after the baby was born and it was going to be our heaven. Our new little family would be all together, fulltime, for six full weeks. Well, six weeks if all goes to plan and little baby arrives right on time. I didn’t know the secret rule that happens when you get pregnant and have a baby, that rule that if you make a plan, it will, without fail, not come through. You say you’re never going to be a short order cook? HA! You’ll have the pickiest eater! You’ll never push a pacifier? You’ll wake up with a two and a half year old completely and utterly obsessed with a binky. Mark my words, mama’s-to-be, never say never.

I ended up having to be induced at 39 weeks with our sweet son, Charlie. We had gone in for our routine appointment and my doctor noticed I had dropped 3 cm in diameter, a little too much for comfort. An ultrasound revealed I had a slow leak of fluid and there was only one cushiony pocket of fluid left cradling our little boy, so it was time to go to the hospital and for him be born. My beloved doctor, now my dear friend, instructed my husband to drive me to the hospital, register me, then head home and get our bags and things we would need. As soon as she left the room and reality of the situation hit us, I panicked and made it clear he wasn’t dropping me anywhere and we would race home together. We called our friends and family on the way, sharing our exciting news, holding hands and kissing at stoplights, unable to fully grasp just how significantly our life was about to change. I had a somewhat routine delivery. Charlie was pretty well lodged in the birth canal and started to get into distress at the end and we ended up having to use the vacuum. My doctor later shared that it was a sweat-worthy moment and we were very lucky things went so well, but at the time, I wasn’t really aware of how serious the situation may have been. Once that squirmy little angel came out and was placed on my bare chest, I was hooked. Big, navy eyes, purple little quivering lips and a pterodactyl cry I instantly fell in love with. Complete and utter, deep love. I didn’t want to let him go to be cleaned off, checked out and measured. Shortly after he was returned and I had had my third degree tears, rips and mess all sewn up, he was back in my arms, where he stayed for the duration of our hospital stay.

The hospital time is so surreal. The constant interruptions of nurses, doctors, food services, registration offices, etc. at all hours of the day and night…it’s overwhelming and it is exhausting. Everyone coming in to check on you, to look the mother in the eye, are you ok? As if post-partum would necessarily sink in that quickly, that I was going to lose my mind already. I remember feeling so frustrated thinking, yes I’m ok! Stop asking me! Fighting with the nurses to keep him in our room with us, not wanting him out of our sight for even a second in the nursery. The forcing of watching the retched Purple Cry movie – ugh, let’s have a collective sigh for that one. I was ready to go home as quickly as we could.

Once we had tucked his teeny body into the seemingly way too big car seat and managed to drive 30 miles per hour home that first night, my husband and I found ourselves completely alone with this new little tiny life. We were suddenly just us three. With nothing to do. We changed his diaper, I tried again to nurse (with no success), and eventually we sat down on the couch and put on a movie. A seemingly easy Saturday night ABC movie, of Dumbo was on. Have any of you watched Dumbo since become a mother? So it turns out Dumbo was a big emotional trigger for me. As I held my three day old baby in my arms and watched a movie of bullying, a mother going crazy for protecting and defending her son and subsequently gets locked in a prison cell, unable to care for him or love him, ahhh it’s horrible!! As I sat there watching this Disney movie I’ve clearly seen hundreds of times with a fresh pair of mama eyes, well, let me just say, I lost it. Emotions ran through me like wildfire. I sobbed, held Charlie close, ordered my husband to turn off this retched movie, then started the waterfall of fear. What have we done? Can we take care of this little life? Who’s checking in on us to make sure he eats? What if he doesn’t ever eat? Could he die from not eating and how long would that take? What if I fall down the stairs while carrying him? What if we don’t have the car seat in right? What are the chances of SIDS? Will he die in his sleep? I don’t dare to sleep! What if I am not holding him and he has SIDS?! I looked at my husband and he somehow looked too young to be a Dad and I felt too young to be a mother. He collected us both, realizing quickly it was time for bed and we proceeded to turn in for our first night at home.

I’d like to say that first night was rainbows and our first morning together was one of sun drenched motherly bliss. Charlie and I never actually slept. Nursing wasn’t happening, my milk hadn’t come in despite the massively, overwhelming size of my breasts and Charlie was unable to latch. At five in the morning I called my sister-in-law crying. I need you, please come over, I don’t know what to do with him. He won’t eat, he won’t stop crying, I don’t think he likes me. She was over in 10 minutes, standing in the bathroom, with the fan on high, his tiny, frantic arms swaddled tightly against him and was fast asleep before I could even wipe the tears of frustration and exhaustion off my face. I tried to put it out of my head that she was able to comfort my new son in a way I wasn’t able to, and instead, stumbled back to bed, thankful for the quiet and desperate to close my eyes.

It slowly got better after that. It’s wasn’t instant and it wasn’t without a lot of work. I still wrestled with crazy irrational fears. I was completely terrified of SIDS and was rarely able to sleep without waking in a panic, checking to see if he was breathing. We almost bought the SIDS mattress alert system, but my doctor cautioned me that it might make me more obsessed and more fearful. He reassured me that all parents are terrified they are going to accidentally harm their child, and he could tell that I loved my son and would do everything I could to keep him safe. My own recovery was very slow because I wouldn’t take the time to take care of myself, which so many new mothers are guilty of. I was numb to my physical pain when I was holding Charlie, which is ultimately a blessing, but when someone would come and hold him so I could have a break and take some time to myself, that was when I would get into the shower and just cry in pain. The stitches, my swollen, stretched, engorged body completely repulsive to me now that it didn’t harbor a precious life inside. It all hurt so much and the only way to stop thinking about it was to focus on Charlie. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t until Charlie was close to two months old and my mother came down to stay with us that she forced me to start taking care of myself. It was amazing what showering, putting on real clothing and blow-drying my hair would do for my confidence, not only my mental well-being. I felt I was slowly pulling myself together.

We suffered through nursing. I went to specialists, consultants, Le Leche groups, and it turns out we needed to use a plastic apparatus called the Nipple Shield because my nipples were inverted and prevented him from latching on effectively and correctly. It was incredibly time consuming, exhausting and I literally spent all day and night working on nursing for the first three months of his life. I guess I didn’t realize how completely insane it was at the time, because that was really the only job I had to do. I realize now, as I’m pregnant with my second little love, that I am not willing to make that sacrifice again. While I completely and wholeheartedly believe that breast milk is the best nutritional gift I can give to my children, there is a new perspective I have in being a mother of a two and a half year old. I realize that while I will live and die for my children, forever, that a happy and complete mother is also a mother who takes care of herself.

It took me a long time to get into my natural swing of things. To find myself again. To have confidence in myself, and my choices as a mother. To not just define myself only as a mother, because as rewarding and as completely fulfilling as it is, there is more to life that I want to enjoy. I want to be a wonderful wife, a lovely friend, a loving daughter and a supportive sister. I want to find passions outside of my motherhood realm that allow me to become refreshed and passionate and come back to my role as constant caregiver with fresh eyes, rejuvenated arms and a bubbling spring of patience. I believe completely that each parent has to find this balance within themselves in their own time. It is not possible to force this readjustment or balance and is only possible when you’re ready to make the changes. It’s sometimes hard to put away those guilt bags and think, I’m doing something for myself right now, because often times as mothers, we’re expected to be self-sacrificing to the end. That if we really love our children, we’ll live only for them. In my life and in my experience (which is the only experience I have the right to judge and share about) that isn’t all this life has to offer for me. I am a mother, I am a woman, I am a wife, a daughter and a friend. I am a lover of music and written words, of warm summer sunsets and cold Maine waters. I love my son and soon to be daughter with a fierce, love that is even more powerful than I could have ever have imagined. But it isn’t all of me. It’s just my most precious, most sacred part.