Mama Says Om: Ache
You thought you knew; were a little smug about it, in fact. You’d read all the books--Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child; The Happiest Baby on the Block; Nanny Wisdom; The Baby Whisperer; the oeuvre of Doctor Sears. You prepared yourself meticulously, getting ready for the most important event of your life. You worked feverishly, trying to quell the voice inside that warned of prior failures, disappointments. But no...this was way too important. You could not screw this up. And you wouldn’t. Your pregnancy passed by like a happy parade.
This is what you’d been seeking all along, after all. Motherhood would fill the empty spaces, wallpaper over the cracks of your history. The dreaded boredom that lurked, gray and sodden, on the edges of your life would be banished forever--what could be more fascinating than this majestic unfolding of a whole new life?
Oh, sure, you are still a modern woman, vowing to light a candle at all of your pre-motherhood shrines. Surely you’ll continue to be the same multifaceted woman you are! So you check in with yourself regularly during the weeks leading up to the blessed event; re-read an old manuscript and half-heartedly try to revise it. But you can’t seem to muster up the interest. This secretly pleases you, because you were hoping motherhood would finally rid you of this pesky desire to be a writer, with all of its frustrations and silences. Forget the manuscript, you are the one who is being rewritten.
Labor should have been your first clue that your ideas were off. You expected it to be painful; in fact, that one fact was the only cloud over your nine months of bliss. You’d spent most of that time braced for it. You searched for the perfect metaphor to dissolve your fears (ah, still a writer after all!). Labor would be like a "baptism of fire, brief but searing". No, still too scary. How about "an orgasmic oneness with the universe"? More optimistic, but doubtful. "How bad could it be?" you reasoned. Everyone else seemed to have done it, and most even more than once.
Labor came like a churning ache, a ceaseless stabbing pain, leaving you unable to do more than gasp. No metaphor could have softened this experience. This was just pain, unambiguous and eternal.
Still, you got through it, and you thought that was the end.
Until the silence slithered into your tired ears. No crying?
Those weeks in the NICU were a different labor, protracted, unrelenting. Somehow you had failed--divided your own heart and left the weaker part to her. But she recovered, in her time, and you allowed yourself to breathe again. The ache subsided. All would be smooth from here on out.
At first, they are all physical--the pains of recovery, sleep deprivation, and change. You are weary but cheerful, thankful that the black cloud of postpartum depression has seemingly passed you by.
Until that day it started. Your old selves began to ache like phantom limbs, surprised into being by the catch in a singer’s voice on the radio; by a glimpse of a photo of a leaner, sexy you; by a cheerful pre-baby memory shared with your husband (and oh, you don’t want him to know). You are stunned by a desire to write so intense it shakes you from your skin. You watch it fall around you like snow.
You try to shush these voices, feeling incredibly guilty. Your baby could have died! How could you long for the past so strongly? Do you wish her out of existence?
Adjust, they all say, impatient. But you can’t, not quite. Your daughter’s beautiful face is full like the moon; it crowds out your vision. You yourself are quite small.
You hadn’t expected it--to feel so lost. You hadn’t expected to feel so unborn yourself--mushy, the borders between you and your daughter liquid and translucent. You weren’t yourself, not anymore, and you weren’t quite a mother either. And the ache counts off your days like prayer beads.
As you cuddle your small baby like a shield in front of you, you hear them, the voices like a Greek chorus of chaos. They pull you back and forth in time. Only a blessed few in monks’ robes sing of the now--of the lovely ache of walking your growing child in the twilight, knowing that soon she’ll walk herself. Every moment alone, ripe with pleasure pain. The ache of two new lives stretching past their margins.
The ache of knowing you know nothing at all.
Mama Says Om