When people ask me how I’m feeling about the baby coming, I start out being honest. I’m worried, I say, about how we’ll do it. In response, people are universally upbeat: You’ll be fine. The second one’s always easier. Maybe this one will be a good sleeper.
Here is what I would say next if I could reliably say any of it without crying:
After Ingrid was born, I didn’t feel good. For a long time.
It’s hard to admit. I didn’t want to be anything less than blissed out by her very existence. I had imagined and anticipated her babyhood as a sweet, gentle time, and in a way it was.
But also I was anxious. A lot. About what might happen to her. About nothing and everything. I was set on edge by sounds—her crying, especially, but also other things: the TV, certain people’s voices—that seemed louder and rawer and more grating than usual. The farther from Ingrid I was, the more of my skin seemed to be missing. I dreaded leaving her to return to work, and at the same time I desperately needed breaks from her, from all the physical contact and all the vigilance. I guiltily fantasized about moving away alone, and I felt so ashamed about craving solitude (a bad mother! contemplating abandonment!) that I didn’t talk about how very much I needed a break, even to A, until months and months later.
The speed of Ingrid’s growth—the constant change—unnerved me. The pace of it felt violent. Boxing up each set of outgrown onesies, I felt so sad and weirdly lost, like I wanted to grab onto something but didn’t know what.
Possibly more than anything, I needed sleep. Sleep I wouldn’t get for months and months and months. Many mornings, I was so tired I cried as A put his shoes on and left for work. How am I going to make it to the end of this day?
I was isolated. It’s embarrassing to admit how isolated I was. I’d assumed that being alone with a baby would be like being alone, which, for me, means invigorating, renewing. I didn’t count on being so drained by it and so lost without any point of reference. What are three-month-olds like? Do they all do this? I had dear friends with children who lived far away, and I had dear friends without children who lived nearby and worked all week, and I read a lot of books, but that wasn’t enough. Ingrid was born in May, and it wasn’t until September that I joined a parent/baby class and started to understand what a difference it made to see other babies and talk with other parents.
But it was still a long time before I started to feel better. It was a long time before I even realized (or admitted) how bad things had been.
There was joy all along: Ingrid was beautiful. She was precocious. She was snuggly. She had the world’s most kissable cheeks and the ineffable quality of being the world’s most magnificent child and, my god, she was finally here. But the joy was always at the edges. I was never just happy being a mom, I was uncertain but happy or, more frequently, exhausted but happy.
One evening this winter as I sat with Ingrid while she fell asleep I realized that I felt really content. Nothing notable had happened that day; I’d just had a really good time hanging out with Ingrid, doing the things we do together. It was the first time I remember feeling simple contentment without at the same time having to hold something else down with both hands. I’d been feeling better, gradually, for many months, but this was the first time I remember feeling at home and right and simply happy. Ingrid was about 20 months old.
This is all hard to admit, not only because I’m so sad that it went that way, but also because it seems so silly in the face of a whole world where people, all the time, raise kids in poverty or sickness, or lose children, or aren’t able to have them in the first place, or confront a million things worse than anything visible in my life. But neither that nor the fact I longed for a baby for years before we were lucky enough to have Ingrid changes the fact that her first year on earth utterly knocked me on my ass.
I don’t want to turn this blog into some kind of therapeutic spot. There’s already a nice lady getting paid for that. But this is a big part of our story, and I want to try to tell more of it as I start to make more sense out of what happened and what to do next.