In a recent conversation about babies, I flashed back 8 years to the earliest months spent with my newborn son. Those days were precious, if drunkenly enjoyed on the nectar of way too little sleep. And for me, the earliest most sleep-deprived months were spent in a kind of washed ignorance. Postpartum Depression didn’t set in until three months postpartum. I was hopelessly devoted, in service to his every peep, and I didn’t give a second thought to my own basic and complex needs. Stay up all night? Sure! Let him nurse for hours to soothe? Well, okay. Showering … optional. Getting up to pee? Could I take him with me and balance him on one arm?
I snicker at my newbee self – fighting sleep while pulling an all-nighter on the couch so he could doze soundly on my chest. But mostly I kind-of feel bad for her; because in that self-less-ness there was already the seed of burn-out, of going crazy. And at no time in that devotion did I even think of asking someone to give me relief – so I could sleep, shop, bathe or simply enjoy a slice of pleasure.
Many cultures around the world envelop extended family members into the care of children. There is a communal effort to raising kids and tending house. There is a shared economy of child-rearing and this perpetual presence, the strength of many helping hands helps to eleviate some of the strain of loneliness and necessary self-sacrifice. I was lost in those early days, to myself and then eventually to others too, finally to my own son. Here’s the montage that summed it up: a late August night with still the stickiness of summer and a baby’s breath of a breeze through the curtains. My son, perpetually unhappy, crankily twisting in my arms. The house is otherwise still. It is still because him and I are the only ones home. Amidst the turmoil of hour 2 with his crying and fighting sleep I begin to become unhinged. It’s like a bike breaking off at the wheel – first one spoke – maybe a hint- and then the whole thing comes crashing down. And if a woman cries in her baby’s room, and no one is there to hear her, does she really cry. It’s heart-wrenching for me to re-live that moment when I felt so utterly alone, so utterly afraid and finally so utterly helpless.
I used to sing Beatles songs to my children when they were swathed and in arms. This is partly because I know them so well, partly because my out-of-tune singing voice murders the tone slightly less than some other songs. I also found them strangely soothing: “I don’t like you.” Yes, imagine singing that one to your red-faced newborn wrenching at your breast as the whole house sighs in pity for you. Your husband left, for just one night of fun with a friend, and you hate him so much for it you can’t even breathe. You wonder why on earth you even signed up for this in the first place and when the heck – how the heck you can get out of it. I don’t like you.
But I love you. . Because I can seem to do anything else but hold you, and long for you, like you are a part of me and like I can’t even exist (for one moment) without thinking I should be there for you.
Motherhood is so painfully complicated. It is at once the coming together of hearts, and the one thing that can make you feel so utterly alone. If all you need is love to get through it, well then you need a heck of a lot of it.
Which brings me to my village … and to my plea for you. How can you create a village to help a mother raise her child? How can you lend a helping hand, a shoulder, a sympathetic ear?
Why do we think we need to go this alone? That somehow we need to wear motherhood like a mark on our chest – martyr?
I watched the new Netflix* show Beat Bugs with my kids (this movie is taking me back). It features the music of the Beatles. When they play that music and my now 8 year old baby snuggles in closer to me on the couch …. I feel that complexity of emotions in my flashbacks to the very difficult days when he unknowingly, unfairly triggered my illness. “But I love you. Seems like I am always thinking of you.”
*Netflix provides our writer with free service in exchange for consideration. Our thoughts, opinions (and emotions) are entirely our own.