Entries from June 27th, 2019

Unnecessary Terrors

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Baby Rowan, 11 days old

He told me one time he forgot himself & his heart opened up like a door with a loose latch & he tried for days to put it all back in proper order but finally he gave up & left it all jumbled up there in a pile & loved everything equally.
–Brian Andreas

When my son Rowan was born almost two weeks ago, I was nothing if not prepared. I’d gathered all the essential gear and several non-essentials, too. I’d cleaned the house and shopped for groceries as if I would never have another opportunity shop or clean again. I’d frantically bought last minute baby care things from Amazon Prime, thinking I probably wouldn’t have time for that, either.

And, I’d collected stories. Lots of stories.

Stories is a nice way to put it, because most of the stories I’d gathered were nightmares. Nightmares about breastfeeding, infant illness, postpartum depression. Nightmares about failures to bond, loss of selfhood, the horrors of endless sleep deprivation and the unshakeable exhaustion that comes with new motherhood. Nightmares about c-section deliveries and what could go wrong during and after surgery. Lots of stories.

My husband says this is my personality; I’m a worrier, and worriers tend to prepare for the worst. This is true. But plenty of other people, in-person and on the internet, played their part. I’m not on social media anymore, but still the internet is full of narratives about how hard it is for new moms, about the inequities between men and women raising children, about our awful society that doesn’t support families. I added all of this information to my file of nightmares. If motherhood was an endless hardship, an epic sacrifice, then at least I wasn’t going into it alone.

***

Leading up to the birth, many people asked me how I was feeling. As in, was I feeling prepared? I never knew how to answer this. If I said I was feeling prepared, they’d tell me I could never be truly prepared. If I said I wasn’t feeling prepared, they’d say the same thing, only with a more ominous tone.

So I tried to express ambivalence, which I certainly felt; I gave a guarded, cautious response that covered as many bases as possible. “Sort of prepared. As much as I can be, you know, given that I can never be prepared.” While I said this, I secretly fingered the worn corners of my file of nightmares, knowing that all manner of struggles awaited me on the other side of pregnant. I guess there was comfort in this, the thickness of that file, growing like the mysterious baby inside me.

***

My parents had their first kid in their late teens; the next two came shortly after. I was born into poverty to two parents who had traumatic childhoods and no time to heal, find themselves, or go to college before they married and had a family. Times were different then; they were just following the social clock laid down for people with their cultural, socioeconomic, and familial backgrounds. As a result, my childhood was its own nightmare; I have very few memories that aren’t tinged with the deep dread of when the next fight would break out, when the other shoe would drop. A worrier I am, but I came by it honestly.

By the age I am now, 38, my parents had finally called it quits on their unfortunate union. Mom and Dad then began what I’ve had my entire adulthood to work on—healing past traumas, learning new ways of relating to myself and others, and becoming a reasonably well-functioning person. Somehow, when I gathered stories of what to expect from early motherhood, I failed to factor in my current circumstances. Unlike my own parents, my husband and I have a stable, healthy relationship. We are middle class. We have decent careers in jobs we find rewarding. We know ourselves fairly well. We’ve both been to therapy. I quit drinking entirely, and Thomas almost never drinks anymore. We have hobbies and interests, and a lovely, peaceful home. We can be trusted to water our yard and houseplants. We keep our cats alive. We get routine dental care.

We are privileged, lucky, fortunate–all of it. Unlike so many people, we do not live from crisis to crisis.

***

The logistical preparation I did for the baby was helpful. When we brought Rowan home, I had a serious surgical wound in my abdomen. The pain was milder than I’d predicted, but I was still limited. Strategically placed baby beds, diapers, wipes, swaddling blankets, and burp cloths eliminated unnecessary trips up and down the stairs. Frozen food made for simple meals. A clean house was just plain nice.

But as for the nightmares, so far they have proved untrue. For all my preparation, I never once considered it could actually go well.

Yet going well it is. I’m recovering quickly from the surgery. Rowan arrived a little on the small side, but he’s perfectly healthy, and he’s gaining weight quickly. Nursing has been easier (and so much sweeter) than I anticipated. The whole experience of taking care of his little being feels natural and just…right.

***

I was so scared to get married, and a hundred times more scared to have a kid. I didn’t think I could do it, and on some level didn’t think I deserved to. I certainly didn’t think that freedom, joy, belonging, and connection could come from such massive family commitments.

Tomorrow marks two weeks since Rowan was born. Since we brought him home, I’ve cooked several yummy meals. I’ve started a new painting. I’ve taken a few trips to the grocery store and a couple walks around the neighborhood. I’ve spent precious time with friends and family. Sure, I’m leaking breast milk, but I’m also taking showers every day. Occasionally I even nap.

Admittedly, my relationship to time is different now. While Rowan sleeps, I can accomplish in an hour or two what used to take me several. And yeah, I know it won’t always be this way. Babies change quickly, they need more things, they motor around, they make bigger, stinkier poos, they get sick and get their parents sick. Eventually we’ll have to teach him about climate change and institutionalized racism and cancer and death. We’ll try our best to expose him to wonder and prepare him for our difficult world.

That being said, I was wholly unprepared for feeling an unbearably big and deep love for my baby boy. Nowhere in the stories I collected, at least not the ones I noted or archived, did I expect to experience the kind of overwhelming love for Rowan that I continue to feel.

***

The other day, when I tearfully shared my impossibly vulnerable joy with Thomas, he looked in my eyes and said, “Good thing love isn’t something we have to prepare for.”

I’ve lived most of my life with a lot of unnecessary terrors, and the guards that come with that kind of fear. Now Rowan is here, and I’m starting to think my husband may be right.



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