I’ve shown few people my favorite picture of us. You are a few weeks old and asleep on my chest under my old red bathrobe. I’m smiling, but my eyes are over-bright and red-rimmed from crying. I’d spent the last hour trying to convince you to nurse, and as we both became frustrated, emotions and fears overwhelmed me. I sat in the chair that I never seemed to leave and cried to your dad that I shouldn’t be your mother, that I was failing you, that everything since your birth had gone wrong. Your dad convinced me to put you skin to skin, where you finally nursed and fell asleep. He snapped that picture, and in the years since, I realize how it resembles our relationship – love-filled, but fraught with emotion.
Everything was hard those first months after your birth. I was shattered by your delivery. Your heart rate plummeted when I started pushing and nurses rushed into the room, injecting stinging epinephrine into my veins to bring you back. I pushed for hours, the epidural long worn off after thirty hours of labor, only to have a C-section. Hearing your cries, my heart swelled with joy and love, but I was denied touching or seeing you for interminable minutes. Instead of the joy I expected to feel after your birth, I felt fear. Difficulties breastfeeding and an illness that put you in the hospital for a week when you were only a month old further compounded my feelings of inadequacy.
I spent so much of the first weeks of your life crying, and I wonder how that impacted you. You’ve always clung to your father. I wonder if your heart remembers those sleepless early days when I cried almost continuously, cataloging my failures – my body’s failure to deliver you, my breasts’ failure to nourish you, my heart’s failure to rejoice in you. Even now, whenever you say, “Not you, I want Daddy!” it feels like I’m paying a penance.
Over time, things got easier. I went to a psychiatrist, who gave me small green pills that brightened the world around me. The postpartum hormones faded away, and I began to believe in myself as your mother. I learned how to make you laugh. I peeked at you at night, your knees tucked to your chest, blonde curls damp on your neck. I learned the contours of your personality as I watched you discover the world – the way you preferred to look at plants, bugs, and flowers than climb on playground equipment, your sharp gasp of laughter every time you saw a dog or cat, the way you pulled all the books off your shelves and then looked through them one by one, chubby fingers turning the pages and pointing at pictures.
I learned to love motherhood (I always loved you, even at my lowest point).
Despite our rocky initiation into parenthood, your dad and I decided it was time for another baby. I knew things would change after your brother was born, but I had taken for granted the equilibrium we’d finally achieved, and we were all thrown off balance when he was born.
Those first days and weeks, when your dad took you to the park as I nursed the baby or tried to sleep, I felt distanced from you. Nolan’s birth and first weeks were easier than yours, and I felt like I was cheating on you with this new, tiny person.
Even ten months later, I miss the relationship I fought so hard to achieve. I miss going to Cool Haus for ice cream sandwiches, you eating the ice cream, me eating the cookies. I miss sitting in your big chair, reading to you for hours. I miss going to the park with you two times a day.
My attention is forever divided now. While I could never wish away your brother, I grieve for that intense period where it was just the two of us. Once again, we are navigating a new phase in our relationship. Change is difficult for both of us, but I trust we will learn how to navigate the fluctuations of our lives over time.
Seeing your gifts emerge, experiencing the world at your level, is such a gift. I am productivity oriented, always armed with a to-do list. You force me to stop and count the petals of a flower, to watch a snail make its steady way across the sidewalk. I eagerly anticipate seeing you experience things for the first time, whether a ride at Disneyland or pistachio ice cream. My heart swells when I see your gentleness with babies and animals. Today you held a praying mantis in your hand and whispered, “I love him,” before releasing him into the garden.
Sweet boy, I worry about you. Your tender heart is easy to bruise. Like me, you are thrown by change. You want the world to make sense, and rage against it when it doesn’t. I worry that some how it is my fault – that the postpartum depression, the inability to breastfeed, the days you didn’t see me at all because of my 12-hour-shifts, have permanently damaged our relationship, and consequentially, permanently damaged you.
I try to focus on the beauty in you, to let sunshine obliterate my fears. This morning you had a tantrum when your dad left for work. I held you and sang your special lullaby, the first thing I ever sang to you when they finally placed you on my chest and let me hold you. Somehow, I can always calm you with those words. Our relationship may not be easy, but our love runs deep, and I know we will teach each other all our lives. I love you more than the sea and the stars in the sky.
Lorren Lemmons is a mama to two blue eyed boys, a military wife, a nurse, a bibliophile, and a writer. She recently moved to Washington state with her family. She blogs about books, motherhood, and her undying love for Trader Joe’s at When Life Gives You Lemmons. She has contributed to the Segullah blog and the Literary Mama blog.
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