When I Was a Brand-New Mother

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Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Last summer, I was a brand-new mother. I had a soft, bulgy belly and hips that were too wide for shorts I’d worn easily the year before. I lived in a total of three or four outfits and wore makeup zero times. (The no make-up was wonderful, freeing.)

My days and nights had swirled into one big daydream. There I was at the center of it—on the couch, on the bed, on the couch, on the bed, outside on the steps—with the same loving people passing around me, always doing something, or keeping me company, doing nothing.

When they were gone—silence. My dog, a constant warmth at my feet, was vigilant, aware of the change in the air.

My life felt like an abstract painting that I was painting blindfolded. Looking at it now, I find the painting beautiful. I wish I could reach back into those days and swim there for a little while longer. Dip my feet in and tell myself it gets easier. Mostly, tell myself that I am amazing. I didn’t feel amazing. I felt happy, yes, but there were frequent dips of sadness. (With any gain a loss must come, a loss needed to make room for the new.)

I was in a daze, not working for the first time in years, listening to the sound of cicadas at dusk, I mean really listening, and contemplating the hot laziness that was summer, with a feathery new weight on my arm.

What was being lost in those days? Me.

Or, the me I had known up until the day I gave birth to my daughter.

I was unfurling into something, someone, who I’m still discovering today. Peeling layers and painting new ones. This is motherhood, a constant layering, a constant stream of newness to encounter. I was… all the phases of the moon, moving back and forth between pre- and post- mother me, trying to find common ground between who I was and who I was becoming.

*

My breasts felt foreign to me. They were too big for my chest, too tender to sleep on (so much for being able to sleep on my stomach again), they ached at certain times of the day and no longer belonged to me. They were on center stage, doing things I never knew they could do, teaching me about myself and about perseverance, patience, pain, power, selflessness, strength. Breastfeeding is hard.

*

Last summer, I was without a washer or dryer (perfect timing with a newborn), but I had my stainless-steel kitchen sink, a bar of laundry soap that smelled of cypress oil, and I had my trusted clothes rack, the kind that folded into itself, that I would set outside in my backyard on the sunniest days.

I loved to sit on the stairs that came out of my kitchen’s back door—my baby in my arms, still too delicate to hold her head up—and watch her clothes hang there in the sun, like tiny kisses. I never thought laundry could look so cute.

I felt anything but cute.

My hair was still lush from pregnancy, but my body felt… like an empty boat, bobbing in the middle of an ocean. In the celebrated realm of mother-to-be no longer, I’d been thrust into a strange new reality of am-now-mother, where I was supposed to get on with it and just know how to be.

I had nine months to prepare for this day, but let’s face it. I’d spent those months daydreaming about the blissful moments I’d spend holding my baby in perfectly clean outfits and sheets, seraphic music and chirping birds playing sweetly for us in the background. So unaware I was of all the bodily fluids, stained clothes, discomforts, well of emotions, loneliness, exhaustion, demands, decisions, hunger, diapers that awaited me. I mean I knew, but I didn’t know.

Everything felt so heavy (me physically, my tears, people’s opinions and advice, the new responsibility, the social media I finally turned away from, the thought of going back to work). Everything came down on me so fast, a sudden monsoon. I listened for my motherly instinct while voices crowded around me, all the while wondering, how in the hell have women been doing this all this time? (Also, my God, mom, thank you; I love you.)

On those steps of my kitchen’s back door I heard my heart say:

I’m someone’s mother. I’m… mom.

I watched my daughter’s onsies, white and pink and yellow and blue, play in the wind as these words rolled around in my heart, picking up old wounds and planting new hopes.

*

An image of my daughter playing in this backyard one day conjures before me. I see her but I can’t see her face. I wonder what she will look like, just as I had wondered what she would smell like when she was still doing somersaults in my womb.

My womb, it feels like a bruised grapefruit.

I feel like a fallen tree.

I’m alone and it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, probably, I don’t know, I don’t check the time these days.

I’m happy, I tell my heart, who keeps fumbling with the words, trying them on for size—I’m mom.

There’s no selfie here and no social media to prove my feelings to. Good. There’s no one who calls to ask if I’m happy. Not so good.

I think my friends are giving me space. Others, I think, don’t know what to say. I’m too busy, they must think. Too busy being a mother and being happy.

*

People come over to hold my baby. I don’t put eyeliner on for these occasions, but I put on earrings. Earrings make me feel put together. They make me feel pretty.

The people stroke my baby’s sleeping face, softly, with their fingers, and my insides scream. Please don’t touch her face, I want to say, but I decide to wait it out and be polite. Later, I run a damp wash cloth over her cheeks (as she still sleeps).

(When will I stop treating her so delicately? I can’t picture treating her any other way.)

Before I had my daughter, everyone told me to get ready for no sleep. But that’s all my daughter does is sleep, all day, she sleeps. Even at night! Dare I say. Sometimes, I sleep too. Other times, most times, in the silence of the day, I watch her sleep.

I google questions that lead to more questions. I watch movies. I drink so much water. I wait for my husband to come home.

My dog wonders why we don’t walk together like we used to. I try not to think about it because I don’t have it in me to consume the sadness.

*

My hands sting from the laundry soap even though it’s suppose to be gentle on the skin. Washing gloves… I’ll walk to the store to get washing gloves. I’ll take my daughter and my dog.

But my daughter, she’s so new and the sun is so hot. What if she gets thirsty or too hot and she can’t tell me? What if I trip and fall while crossing the street and the stroller goes rolling out of my hands? (Extreme, but not far-fetched.) What if it starts to rain? (Very possible where I live.)

I decide to stay home because honestly, leaving the house requires a militarized kind of effort. And I think I need to nurse her soon. Her laundry is done anyway, and her clothes are probably dry. I go down to inspect the tiny colorful things. I’m happy, my heart tells me again. (I need so much reassurance these days.)

*

My eyes live on my daughter. I memorize her eyelashes, her nose, the dip in her upper lip, her chin, her hair, so dark and so much of it. I marvel, so thirsty to know her. I try to remember what it was like when I didn’t know her face, when I was so eager to know it.

*

The wind is warm and blowing a little too strongly now. The clothes rack shakes and threatens to fall, but instead of rescue her clothes, I retreat inside with my daughter (still asleep). My dog follows me, collar click-click-clacking.

You’re happy, aren’t you? I ask my daughter, and for a moment I imagine her replying, Yes, I’m happy, mom, because I’m with you. You’re the only person I’ve ever known and the only place I want to be. Can’t you see? You’re perfect for me, exactly as you are. (This makes me tear up because I hope that I am.)

I’m inside now, away from the wind. I settle into my nest of pillows and throw blankets on the couch. Remote control, check. Water bottle, check. Cell phone, check. Yes, my daughter is definitely happy and content. I feel a bubbling in my heart because I know this to be true, and the sureness of it and its simplicity puts me at ease.

I kiss her nose and as I do this I hear the soft thud of the clothes rack fall outside in the grass, but not a drop of worry accompanies the sound.

I’m mom… it’s all good… I’ve got this, I hear my heart say.

The Importance of Doing Nothing (Sometimes)

I made a peanut butter banana smoothie earlier, and the blender, emptied of its contents, is waiting for me on the kitchen counter.  I can’t see it because I’m in my living room right now, but I know it’s there.

The plates from lunch are also there, waiting. And there may be a block of Swiss cheese under one of them that I forgot to put back in the fridge.

My baby’s bib is crumpled up on her high chair, also in the kitchen. Just another item in the long list of things waiting to be cleaned. It’s one of those long-sleeved full body bibs that has saved me from having to wash her clothes after every mealtime (we do baby-led weaning, which is extremely messy). The bib, however, as I’ve just noted, needs cleaning, so really there is no escaping constant washing and cleaning when you have a child.

My baby is finally asleep and I haven’t picked up the toys strewn upon the living room floor (that my dog lazily assesses from the couch). And I haven’t folded the clean clothes that have been sitting in the laundry basket since last weekend (today is Saturday).

I’m sitting here with my dog contemplating all these things I have not done, and these things are making me feel claustrophobic. I start to get up… then I decide to ignore them and do nothing. (How glorious!) My dog is quite the expert at happily doing nothing, so I’ll just take my queues from her tonight. She never judges—she understands.

Here are some things I did do today though:

I went to a car dealership (didn’t get the car I wanted but it was a cool learning experience).

I played with my baby. Marveled at her as she crawled—everywhere. Watched her raid my bookshelves and very much enjoyed the entertainment she provided removing every book and tossing it on the floor.

I watched a weird kids movie called Gnome Alone. Not sure how I feel about it. Wasn’t the most intelligent kids movie I’ve seen.

I fed my baby, bathed her, told her I loved her as I kissed her toes.

When I first sat down after she finally went to sleep, I felt guilty that I didn’t accomplish any of my chores that I had set out to do when the day first started. I felt guilty for sitting down instead of turning to the next thing that needed my attention.

Something always needs my attention. (The books she tossed on the floor? Still there.)

But sitting here doing nothing (well, now I’m writing) is bringing me a peaceful kind of joy.

And joy needs nurturing.

A blogger I follow tends to say “being present is being productive” when she talks about motherhood. I really like this mantra, especially on Saturdays like today, when I spent so much of my afternoon just being with my baby instead of putting her in her playpen so I could run around the house doing chores.

Saturdays—weekends in general—are the holy grail of “when I’m going to get things done.” But sometimes Monday comes along and I look back at my would-have-been productive weekend and I sigh and push everything to the next weekend.

In the midst of doing so many things=, all the time, on high speed, on auto-pilot, or on copious amounts of caffeine, it’s really good for the mind to do nothing sometimes. A healthy dose of not doing can help you achieve balance when you spend so much of your time doing. Self-care, self-preservation, protecting your sanity—whatever you want to call it and whatever that looks like for you—doing nothing should be a necessary part of the week.

The dirty blender and plates in my kitchen? I know they’ll greet me tomorrow morning. The clothes in my hamper? Sure, they may be wrinkled, but at least they are clean. The toys on the floor? They will be played with again tomorrow.

All is well. All is okay.

I simply can’t do everything all the time.

Sometimes, I need to do nothing.  I need to. And as my dog would agree, it’s a perfectly fine way to pass the time.

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