The pieces of me are slowly drifting back together. Not quite, like my hip chafing in its socket, but a closer fit than I’ve had in over a year.
I feel whole. Jumbled, perhaps, with some grinding and grating and shifting, but whole. Strongly myself.
Bonhomme was in Iqaluit with our family, these past couple of weeks, leaving Dearest and I to rediscover ourselves as new parents again, just us and the baby. We still feel a touch guilty for enjoying it quite so much, this vacation from our son. But it made me realize how with Bonhomme gone, a very large part of me was missing. Only once he was back home did I feel complete, secure in the world again.
This is what our children do to us. They enter our lives squalling, their vibrations shaking us apart at the seams, and then rebuild us, redesign us until we barely recognize our own new shapes. Filled with their noise, their needs, we lump around until it all settles into some sort of recognizable new structure, now needing to be loved and squeezed and lived in by tenants other than just ourselves.
I never knew myself until I knew my children.
The days are brighter now, the sun warmer on my comfortably worn skin. I delight in this fresh growing season, the spring green surprising me each day. Now every spring will be shared. Completely.
Hibou is screaming in my ear, an incessant fire alarm of a noise reaching its fingers down my throat and twisting my guts around my heart. She is crying because she wants to be asleep but isn’t. So easily overtired and overstimulated, she can’t figure out how to stay asleep once I’ve finally managed to get her there. Just like her brother, who was the king of the half-hour nap.
Desperate to maintain equilibrium, if not my sanity, I can feel myself deadening to her screams, mechanically patting her back and rocking, disassociating. All my old, ugly resentment against Dearest rises, threatening, whipping me into a frenzy. All I can think of is how he isn’t rescuing me from this screaming maddening noise. I can’t reconcile that with the bottles he is sterilizing, the laundry he is doing, the formula he is making, the other child he is putting to sleep, the lunches he is packing, the clothes he is folding. I am holding the screaming child because I am the one less likely to want to fling her across the room, and I hate my husband for it. For the fact that he can’t take it, for the fact that I can. It makes no sense, but there is no sense in this howling tornado of a room, there is only an exhausted baby, four walls, a closed door, and me.
Many hours later, I am sitting in the doorless livingroom in the slanting, slatted sun, a blessedly quiet sleeping baby sprawled on my chest. The resentment is sleeping too, banished, a hard-won fight.
It isn’t my newborn that I need my stamina for – it’s this other battle, against my own shapeshifting demons. I must come out the other side with children, marriage, and self intact. Failure is not an option. And so, I sit, in silence, and soak up the sun, recharging for the long night ahead, the long months and years of my own private war.
They say that courage is not the absence of fear, but forgeing ahead despite the presence of it. I knew this when we decided to try to have another child, and I know this now, when she is here. Let me not forget.
There’s poetry in my head again, and the hum of a lullaby looping.
The sun peeks out at me through these snowy days, flirting, whispering “soon, soon“.
Melancholy shifts over me, a loose cloak, never quite settling, never quite lifting. But the hum, incessant, pulls me along to its rhythm. Relentlessly warm and comforting.
Hibou eats, and sleeps, and peers at me in wonder. I do the same. She finds peace in my heartbeat, I in her breath. We orbit each other, learning, and relearnng, this dance.
I rediscover the sound of quiet. The shape of the middle of the night. The hope of a newly opened blind, calling out to the day to begin, inviting light.
The poetry comes in fragments, still, single phrases flitting briefly by. But I hear their passing, I feel their wings brush my cheek.
I’m both looking forward to, and dreading, my first glass of wine.
It will taste bitter. It will taste of tears, of guilt, of regret.
It will taste of defeat.
That first glass was supposed to be raised in a toast, to accomplishing birthing my perfect, and last, child. It was to be had in celebration.
Today, we decided to stop breastfeeding. Hibou isn’t built for it, and neither am I. She has a tied tongue, and we’ve decided not to have it fixed surgically. And me, I’ve got unusually slow letdown, due to my brain chemistry. The two combined mean that nursing would require continued superhuman efforts to sustain, not just for myself, but for Hibou too – and we would still have to supplement about two thirds of her diet. And it would guarantee that my current precarious mental state during this time of hormonal recalibration would be at serious risk.
I don’t know if we’re at the point where we’ve tried hard enough, or long enough. I will never know, and I will likely always wonder. What I do know is that we’re at the point where the costs of breastfeeding far outweigh the benefits, and we’re not just risking doing harm to mom or baby – we actually are, to both.
It’s not just that breastfeeding seems like this beautiful, sacred thing that has been stolen from me – it’s that it’s my disease’s fault. And therefore, in my heart of hearts, mine.
Would I change my brain chemistry if I could? If it meant not being an artist anymore? Not being the kind of creative parent that can just barely stay one step ahead of Bonhomme?
I soothed both my children to sleep tonight, using my brain, my body, my love, my words, my breath – but not my breasts.
I have a few days of pumping to face, to help alleviate the engorgement as I wean. For me, in this situation, it turns this beautiful, warm, nurturing, sacred act into factory farming. It reminds me only of what I can’t do, what I can’t have. Along with this, I will have another hormone crash to survive, on top of the post-birth load that I am still processing. It will mean some more days of tears and torture.
I know Hibou is just fine with this bottlefeeding plan – it will allow me to give her more of myself, not less. It’s my complicated, guilt-ridden, ridiculously illogical feelings about my mental health that aren’t so fine.
Switching from breast to bottle gives us the gift of time. Hibou will need my cuddles even more, but I will be able to give them while sitting in the sun reading, while holding her in a sling while doing chores or playing with Bonhomme, while doing a puzzle and allowing my body to recover from surgery. It will let us both sleep more at night. Soon, it will give me the freedom to go out with Hibou, to walk and regain my strength, to do all the things my non-medication approach to my mental health requires. It will allow me to enjoy life, to enjoy Hibou, to have the fullest experience of motherhood that is available to me.
I will try to find some sweetness in that glass of wine. Some earthiness, some complexity, some body and weight, some subtle nuances. I will look for a balanced bouquet, flavour, length, feel.
It will taste of acceptance.
“How’s it going?” Friend asks, checking in on me.
“Today’s a hard day,” I reply.
She murmurs sympathetically.
“Well, there’s going to be hard days,” she says.
There were always going to be hard days. Even the most angelic baby is hell when establishing breastfeeding. They don’t mean to be, but repeated and prolonged suctioning of two of your most sensitive body parts on almost no sleep while rebalancing nine months worth of hormones and coming off of pain medication while healing from major abdominal trauma will bring anyone to their knees.
Dearest helps me get through a good cry.
“Tomorrow will be better,” he reminds me.
“Don’t underestimate the effects of morphine withdrawal,” he wisely comments when I start sobbing over my inability to relax and sleep every time I get the precious chance. “It’s not necessarily your anxiety disorder.”
I kiss five tiny toes.
I’d tell you that I don’t know what we did to deserve this miracle child, sleeping, eating, snuggling so peacefully, except that I think that I do. We got here.
We’ll get through.
Bonhomme is a big brother: enter Hibou.
She is a delight. And other than his eyes and shoulders, she is nothing at all like her brother.
She sleeps. She eats. She settles. None of which Bonhomme did. Now, he did have the monopoly on movie star looks, I’ll give him that. Not that Hibou doesn’t hold her own, but to me, it is her demeanor that is stunning.
I finally understand how people can have siblings that are close in age, by choice. “Every baby’s different,” they kept telling me. I just thought they were lying, or forgetting, or conspiring. And even if they weren’t, what if they were wrong? Based on my experience with Bonhomme, I knew I needed my stamina and fortitude well renewed. What a wonder to have all that worry be unnecessary.
I’m sure there are many new and unexpected challenges ahead. But even today, in the midst of hormones doing their tectonic post-birth shift, Hibou gives me hope and gratitude overflowing.
We’re not out of the woods yet, I know – there’s a ways to go recovery-wise, and while there are moments of bliss, there are moments of a whole lot of other things too. But this child is a miracle through and through, no matter how long or hard the road has been to get here, or from here it wends.
I’ve cleaned the bathroom, packed bags for the hospital, cleaned the car seat and figured out how to thread the darn straps through, finished a jigsaw puzzle, baked cookies, caught up on my e-mails, got my son dressed, fed and off to school, defrosted chicken for dinner, brought down baby clothes that are too big for now, brought up toilet paper and paper towels and baby wipes, found the baby bath, refilled the hand soap dispenser, checked the mailbox, made breakfast, snack, tea, lunch, put clothes away… and missed a doctor’s appointment that I swore was at two, but was alas at one.
Why is it that I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done?
Is this what maternity leave will feel like – my hands and body busy in one place, my brain left somewhere in another room? Constant activity but no sense of accomplishment? What on earth does one accomplish moreso than growing a baby? You would think that I could at least acknowledge my success in that.
I am not living in the moment. I am living outside of the moment. In some foggy, Baby Brain land, where time never runs on schedule and I speak in a foreign tongue.
Baby will arrive next week. I am ready – and not. Same as Baby, I imagine. We will have to learn each other, outside-in, instead of inside-out. I will once again not believe that I could have created such a creature, carried, borne, birthed. My world, and my body, will continue to become increasingly strange, before eventually settling into something vaguely familiar.
The music of a snowstorm seeps in through the window, car tires slushing, shushing along. This could be the last storm of the season, winter too waiting for the arrival of something new. Perhaps this sound will forever mean hope to me, now. A melting, messy, quiet-loud, soothing hope, one that grows with each trickling hour.
Come, Baby, into this waiting space. It is waiting for you.
A large, glistening, naked boy fresh from the bath runs up to me, gives me a sideways lean, and whispers to my belly:
“I love you Baby.”
And runs, dripping, away.
I stand there, rotund, bemused, slightly shocked.
This was the first time Bonhomme has said such a thing. Everyone keeps asking me whether he’s excited to become a big brother, and I am forced to tell them that after all these months, I’m still not sure. He seems worried, or uninterested, mostly. Until tonight.
“What kind of brother are you going to be, do you think?” I ask him, after stories.
“An everything brother,” he replies, smiling a small, shy smile.
An everything brother.
Sounds just about right.
The sun is warm on my back.
I am out, navigating shoals of snow and melting ice, walking for the first time in three weeks.
The flu, bronchitis and a fractured rib – on top of third trimester pregnancy – made this Christmas one to remember.
I’ve never been so sick.
The ruts of tired snow, iced layers of tracks and slush, make this walk around the block more of an adventure than I care to admit.
I walk carefully, oh so carefully, balancing my battered ribs against my abused abdominal muscles, back straining to counteract Baby’s sloshing weight.
I will heal just a couple of weeks ahead of the next onslaught, torn rib muscles and pressure fracture racing against a planned C-section.
This walk will be a victory then too.
Water drips from every roof, every branch, syncopated to my coughing.
Hatless heads and bare hands are an Ottawan measure of warmth on this bright January afternoon.
I turn the corner, and the sun warms my face.
The sky is smiling.
Slow, shuffling, faltering, still -
my steps walk to the beat of poetry.
“Mommy, are you proud of me for taking my own shower this morning?”
“Love, I am so proud that I barely even have words. I’m amazed. I’m astounded. Let me smell that sweet hair again.”
He giggles as I sniff his neck, confirming that he did, in fact, actually take his shower, with soap.
“And, I got dressed by myself, and made my own breakfast before you even woke up!”
I will most certainly qualify a half-eaten bowl of soggy shreddies as adequately nutritious on this auspicious morning.
“And look at how pleasant this morning has been, with no rushing, and no nagging and no yelling. And you got to watch TV for a while too!”
“Yup! I’m big now.”
“Yes, getting ready for the day all by yourself is a very grown-up thing to do. I’m very, very proud of you.”
“You know why?”
“Cause you have to be able to take your own shower when you go to M.I.T.!”
“Well, yes, that’s very helpful. Definitely an asset.”
“Yup! That’s what I am! An asset!”
And humming, future world-changing (and hygienic) scientist and I, hand in hand, go.