This is a practiced story, but one I could tell over and over again.
Babesie was my sunshine girl from the very beginning. Her labor was exactly as I wanted. Surrounded and supported by loved members of family, held by her father, my Boyo, I caught her in my own two hands as she came out of me into the warm water bath. I brought her close to my chest and let her curl up her tiny scared self into my heart and I held her close. I loved her from the very moment I knew her on the outside, our little jumping bean. She had dark, unblinking eyes that reached the heart of you with soul and intelligence. Our relationship was the bright sunshine of a first love, brilliant and perfect and easy. I was enough for her, she was more than enough for me.
Then came our Bubs. Quiet on the inside, he led me down a path of fear and anxiety. It was hard to feel him there, curled deep inside, huddled against my spine like he was. He dislocated my hip while I was carrying him. Already the beginning of our relationship was marked by immense pain. I worried he would take a long time to come out because of the position he was in, but when it was time to go, he went fast. Too fast. Scary fast. Intensity was our little boy. He came into our lives like lightning, and like lightning, struck some things apart, even as he illuminated others.
I didn’t want the change. I feared it and hated it and felt so sad when it came without warning. I never had time to get on top of the contractions and then he was out and here, and I still didn’t feel like I had any time.
I know now that this was not his fault. How could it be the fault of this precious, bright-eyes boy that I felt so sad and so frightened and so alone, even as I snuggled him, close against my chest and longed for him to snuggle back, just like I remembered Babesie doing. It wasn’t my dear Bubs’ fault that I was broken inside. But still. His birth broke me, a little.
My Boyo tried to bring me back to myself. My strong-armed husband wrapped me in good food and warm embraces. I didn’t want food and hugs. I wanted out of this mess. Indy clearly didn’t need me, sleeping as he was in his own crib by the second week of life. He nursed well, slept well, rarely cried. In hindsight, he was a sweet, mellow, cuddly little bug of a baby. But I didn’t want him.
I wanted to want him. I would not allow myself to have carried this little boy into the world only to resent him for being more than I thought he would be. Everyone else seemed to love him with ease and I didn’t know how to explain to anyone that where the love should be, there was only a deep empty pit in my heart.
I was angry that I couldn’t love him, angry that he was here needing that love, worried that Babesie wasn’t getting enough of me. I was sad and hurt that it wasn’t easy to love him like it had been with Babesie. I was crushingly guilty that I couldn’t simply relax and enjoy my sweet snuffly boy.
At my six-week exam I melted into a helpless puddle on my midwife’s floor. “I don’t love him and I want to!” I wailed.
She sent me to therapy for Post Partum Depression. It felt like a relief and a death sentence at the same time. But I called and set up a date with the first name on the list. By that point, I was so constantly anxious and sad that my steering wheel bore the permanent dents from my white-knuckled grip. I dropped Babesie off at school and drove out to my therapist’s in-home practice.
It was a beautiful property. A little stone house at the end of a curved driveway. Redwoods everywhere. A fountain by the front door and lavender growing wild along the fence. I remember thinking “Great. I’m already mentally deficient and now I also have to try and not be jealous of my therapist.”
I hefted my little nugget of a baby onto my shoulder, his nose snuffling in my ear, his head bobbing already for his morning snack. I went through the little wooden gate and up to the front door. I held Indy close. I’m doing this for him.
I knocked on my therapist’s door, and a sweet voiced woman named Tina opened it. Shoulder-length curly brown hair, a solid, motherly body, and kind gray eyes. She took him from my arms like the precious thing he was. She bade me sit on her overstuffed couch, offered me tea, and got me talking. “How are you?”
So many people had asked me that, and so many times I had smiled and nodded. “Well,” I would say to them. “You know. I have a newborn. So. As well as can be expected.”
Most would laugh, as I wanted them too. Some would nod knowingly. A few wise souls would pause, look deeper, maybe ask again. But it wasn’t enough to unlock it. There, on the couch, with the soft music playing and the fountain burbling outside–there, with my baby in someone else’s arms. It was enough. “I’m obviously not ok.” I said, “I don’t think I’d be here if I was.”
When Babesie was small, I did all that fun mama-baby stuff you get to do. I took her to puppet shows, festivals, farmer’s markets. Long walks in the park. When Indy was small and Babesie was in school, I took him to therapy. I didn’t get to do a lot of that fun baby stuff with Bubs. I was too busy working through the dark. Instead, we had ‘mommy and me go to therapy’. ‘Mommy and me overshare’. ‘Mommy and me cry-time on the couch’. Despite the discomfort and remaining guilt, despite the daily tears, I kept at it. I kept him with me. I told him he was worth it, even when I didn’t believe that.
Eventually, I began to believe it. I can’t tell you when it happened and I know, mama reading this and treading the dark, you want me to. I know you want the magic cure for the sadness and deepness inside you. I wish I could give it. I don’t have it for you. There are still some days that I’m not sure I have it for myself. When you open up that well of darkness, when you understand that it is in all of us, sometimes you can’t just put it all back again. Things will not ever be what they were. However, I can tell you what Tina told me. “It is okay to feel that way. You are not at fault for your feelings. Whatever you feel, that is an okay way to feel.” Feelings are not anything more than pieces of us speaking out. Its what we do with those emotions and those voices that matters. I chose to hold my boy close even when the feelings were sad, and angry, and hurt.
The good thing is, time passed. I kept going to therapy, I kept talking to my midwives and my Boyo. I cried on multiple friend’s couches. I opened up, and to my surprise and gratitude, people poured into me what I didn’t seem to have for myself. Eventually, as time passed, I began to be enough again.
One morning, I woke up smiling. I got my boy from out of his crib and snuggled him close, as natural as could be. I danced around the room with him (something I promised myself I would do every day if he wanted). I hugged my suddenly-grown-up-girl, and I looked forward to the end of the hot bleak summer. The crispness of fall was in the air, and I felt better.
Six months after Bubs’ birth, Christmas came. Christmas with Indy is when my life began to shine again. The look in his big blue eyes at what would later be his first word was one of the many things that healed the cracked hole in my heart and filled it up with new feelings. Love, peace and joy. As my little son says: LIGHT! The first snuggle Brielle gave her baby brother, who was just learning to snuggle her back. Our first “family-of-four” Christmas. Celebrating the birth of my Savior, grateful now for the birth of my own little boy, I was reborn. I was a mama for both of them.
When Babesie was laid in my arms, it was an immediate joy to behold her, to have her. To hold her. For my dear little boy, I had to walk through the shadows to find the light. And though that makes our story sadder in the beginning, it makes it even sweeter now. Because we fought for each other. We won each other over. I’m glad to say now that my bright, reckless adventurer boy was worth the darkness.