Being her mother is amazing. Entering motherhood, not so much.
Entering this phase of my life in a whirlwind of pain, confusion, and abandonment hurt. At its worst, I felt like I was hanging on the lowest rung in a pit of despair, fighting desperately not to fall down completely. I begged my therapist for an appointment over Skype a few days after getting out of the hospital, while sitting in a Walgreens parking lot. We were buying formula for my skin-and-bones baby who was starving and screaming because I couldn’t make milk. Days after leaving the hospital, I had to return to have my incision reopened and an infection drained. I continued to go every few days for months. I had to hand her over to others while I sobbed uncontrollably over still being on disability, still being a patient, still packing an open wound three months after surgery. I had insomnia for almost five months because every single evening was spent replaying my labor and surgery, wondering why my midwife became distant and then disappeared, and trying to figure out how to dissipate unspent energy left behind when we stopped pushing and started cutting. I hid from my friends for three or four months because the staph infection I picked up at the hospital spread to my skin and a third of my face was covered. These last six months haven’t been kind.
Her half birthday is a special day for her, and for us as a family. We celebrated and reflected on the time she’s been with us and marveled at how much she’s changed and grown. It’s an anniversary too though – one that I recognize silently so as not to detract from this special little person’s day.
In between hugs and kisses, my mind raced back to laboring at home, going from excitement to urgency to transfer. And I tried to remember what happened after.
That’s the hardest part – not having memories. I don’t remember the sound of her crying in the operating room or the first time I saw her in recovery. I don’t remember much of the good stuff from the first two days at all. I remember alarms going off in recovery when my blood pressure dropped, going in and out of consciousness while waiting for them to bring her in, wondering if they’d even be able to if my blood pressure kept dropping, I remember the hospital midwife smirking as she pressed on my fundus so hard that I tried to scream but could barely manage a sound, doctors and nurses in and out of our postpartum room scrutinizing my erratic blood pressure and dark orange urine, I remember wanting desperately to go with her every time they took her to the nursery to do a check-up or draw more blood but I wasn’t allowed to stand up, I remember the intense and unusual feeling of sharp, stinging pain mixed with numbness all over my belly. Most of all though, I remember the unexpected and frightening feeling of the incision inside of me – the one on my uterus – the burning, stabbing, and piercing sensation migrating slowly down my abdomen as it shrank in the days following the birth.
Of all the physical feelings, that’s the one I’d most like to forget. I still have phantom pains. I had them all day on January 2nd. I have them sometimes when I lay awake at night questioning what I could have done differently or trying to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together to convince myself that I did everything that I could. “It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault…” replays as the phantom pain moves down my stomach. It’s worse than the pains of surgery that I felt when the final epidural failed. I feel those sometimes, too.
I can’t pretend it’s all negated by having the privilege of being a mom. I’ve been cut deeply. I hurt, physically and emotionally. I have to hold two spaces – mother, and me. I feel wounded and broken. I don’t have my strength back. My incision hurts still, every day. I have a lot of healing and forgiving to do. I’m also experiencing joy and love I never thought I’d know. It’s confusing, being a mom and being me. It’s hard to find the balance, hard to stop and find space for me, to treat myself kindly and tenderly, when all I want is to make it all go away so I can be strong and happy, so I can just be a mom and focus on her and stop worrying so much about me.
There’s so much going on when I’m Mama – so many things to distract me from the questions and memories (or lack thereof) and the lingering pain. I can be happy, whole, and present. And then in the quiet times, I crumble. Six months, crumbling and picking up the pieces. Over and over.
It’s getting better. Most of the time, I feel normal. Most nights, I sleep. I can reach my arms up high and not feel like I’m about to rip apart. I can laugh without bracing for pain. I can carry my baby without breaking a rule. I feel like I have so far to go though, and every day that goes by, every milestone reached, I wonder if I would have been a better mom and a happier me if I’d done something differently and done it “right”.