My mother took the photo above — our first picture as a family of three. We were returning from Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago after I’d delivered my daughter via c-section three days prior. After being discharged, I’d had to walk multiple long hospital corridors in order to get down to the car, white-knuckling it as I’d pushed myself to keep up with the nurse, who — it seemed to me — was walking at a manic speed. The climb into the car and every subsequent divot in the road on the way home jostled me and shot off new rivulets of pain. Beyond the incision woes, I was exhausted from nearly 72 hours without sleep, emotionally overwhelmed by the birth experience and the indecencies of recovery, having trouble breastfeeding my daughter, and knocked sideways by the medication, which left me feeling as though my head was disconnected from my body. I was also weepily tender about my daughter — her blinking eyes, the noises she made, the fact that she was mine. Her presence was a reality that felt nearly incomprehensible to me. I wanted to hold her around the clock. I could not take my eyes from her. I was living on the moon. Meanwhile, love swallowed me each time I watched my husband tend to both my daughter and myself. I was humbled by his devotion, rent in two when I’d look over at my daughter’s tiny form against his chest. At the same time, I was beleaguered by something a close friend had said to me the day before my daughter was born: “It will never be the same. Soak up this last night, just you and your husband.” I think she meant something positive or perhaps was trying to “give it to me straight,” but the words kept ricocheting through my head, forcing me to think in terms of the befores and afters and all the changes to my life. I did not want to say it aloud — could scarcely pony up the courage to say it to myself — as I worried it made me seem unmotherly, or ungrateful, but I inwardly wondered whether life would ever “go back to normal”? Would I ever feel better? Would I ever find stasis or calm? Would my husband look at me the same way? I wanted to be positive, but I felt like I couldn’t get my bearings: shiny, new, enormous thoughts raced through my mind as though on a freeway joyride.
So when my mother opened the back door to our home to take the photo above, I distinctly remember blinking back tears whose provenance was difficult to make out.
Of course, when you look at this photo, you see a squinting smile and the start of something new and beautiful. Which it was.
I guess I am writing this to say that the euphoria of new parenthood is only a part of the story, not all of it. I had been so focused on the unknowns of delivery that I had not even remotely accommodated the emotional aftermath. A few minutes after my mother took this photo, I would attempt to climb the stairs to my bedroom and stop halfway through, clutching Mr. Magpie’s shirt in sobs. I remember that the stairs were painful, but that the challenging ascent was more an excuse to let the tears flow than anything else, and I needed that catharsis. I wept so many times during those first few weeks of motherhood. I wept to my mother, alone in the shower, on the phone with friends, in Mr. Magpie’s arms. I wept for no reason and every reason. I wept without knowing why. A friend stopped by a week after my daughter was born, and she asked about the birth experience, and I opened my mouth and no words came. Instead, tears streamed down my face. I was embarrassed and confused by the enormity of my emotions, and apologized. She reached over and squeezed my arm. “Let it out, girl. Let it out. Hormones, medication, the intensity of the experience — it’s a perfect storm.” When my son was born about two years later, my mother came into the recovery room, her hands outstretched. I watched her make a beeline for the baby, who was ensconced in my husband’s arms, and then stop mid-stride and shake her head before pivoting to come to me. “I have to check on my baby first,” she said. I will never forget the wisdom baked into that course correction. As a new mom, it can sometimes feel as though you are meant to sideline all of the emotional and physical chaos you are enduring in order to fawn happily over the baby. But the mother matters. The mother is half — arguably more — of the equation. And becoming a parent is a lot.
I write this not to be morose or discouraging, because not all tears bespeak grief or pain, and every birth experience is different,
and I write this careful not to tarnish in any way the unfathomable, gorgeous gift of having a baby,
and I write this at the risk of sounding ungrateful and possibly unmotherly (I hope not, I hope not, I hope not),
because if there is anything I wish for a new mom, it is the space and freedom to permit herself to feel how she feels, and fully.
Motherhood is a surfeit. It is too-much, too-fast, and I can’t say that feeling of over-the-top-ness ever goes away. Yes, you get into rhythms and find your sea-legs, but the emotions of parenthood remain outsized, surging, wont to spill over. I wish I had known that. I wish I had given myself the grace during those early days; I have needed it constantly since. Earlier this week, I learned that my daughter, who has an eye condition called amblyopia that requires her to wear a patch over one eye for several hours a day, would need to return to her patching regimen after a brief break during which we were trying to assess whether we had permanently corrected the condition. My daughter took this information on the chin, nodding solemnly at the doctor, then asking after a picture hanging on the wall, then happily selecting a superhero sticker for her dress. We discussed a plan — routine, rewards — in the car ride home, and she trotted off to her room afterwards, seemingly unfettered by the regression. When she was out of earshot, I closed the door to my husband’s office and cried on his shoulder. The next morning, after I’d affixed her patch for the first time in several months, I squeezed her and then absented myself to the back patio, where I grounded myself by staring at the dew on the kiwi vines that wrap around our patio railing, and praying that Mary stand with me there. Her condition is correctible and in the grand scheme of things not a big deal. We have done this for years. And yet I carry this modest burden as though lead because I do not want anything to weigh her down. Like Demeter, I would walk to the ends of the earth, live in tundra and stone, for her. I cried, in other words, because I am her mother, and what happens to her echoes in me.
+Another intense and beautiful memory from my daughter’s birth.
+Some of the wild emotions of motherhood.
+My daughter cheerleading me on.
+Ordering these for our outdoor dining chairs.
+This white dress is spectacular for a bride-to-be…or a big anniversary!
+Fun heart bezel necklace.
+Love this punchy tunic.
+Cute personalized sleepshirt.
+This feels like an approachable way to get in on the knit dress trend.
+These adorable terrycloth shorts for littles are under $10 (orig $32!)
+Gorgeous embroidered skirt.
+Love this popover dress in the navy.
+This $30 sweatshirt reminds me of the styles from Sporty and Rich.
+Loving this new lilac print from Rhode.
+Some really cute mommy and me matching or coordinating options here — great for family photos.
+Another inexpensive pair of running shorts getting some good buzz.
+Hunter Bell always has such great, fashion-forward pieces with the best details.