Running a marathon was hard, not just because I was physically broken, but because I ran the last half alone. Tearing my rotator cuff was painful, but the doctor said to take Ibuprofen, and then the pain went away. My wedding day was emotionally exhausting, but relief came as soon as I made it down the aisle. Moving to Comstock unraveled my organizational self, but this trumped them all.
The doctor had bad news.
“I had this once, and I felt like I was going to die. Really. It’s that bad. Take Ibuprofen and if that’s not enough take Tylenol. But you can’t stop. Keep feeding every 2-3 hours: day and night, fever or no fever, blood or no blood.”
I obeyed, getting up at 12am, 3am, and 6am to relieve the pressure, sometimes I shook with chills; other times I was sweating with a 103 temperature. I kept my beanie and scarf by the bed so I could bundle up. Later I woke up wet with sweat. I slept in spurts. 1.5 hours was average; 2 was lucky, a light sleep too, kept awake by the baby’s grunts and sighs and squeals. He was happy. I was broken. The antibiotics flushed me out a little too well, so I was on a diet of jello, rice, and applesauce. I was dehydrated, sore, tired, bleeding, and still asked to perform.
Even with Phil helping with the night feedings and my mom coming over everyday to watch Lee so I could nap, I was in tears. I couldn’t think straight and forming sentences was a chore. I was trapped in this body; I was trapped in this three-hour pumping schedule. I was trapped in this tiny home that dozens of well-meaning people had crowded with their gifts.
Why hadn’t anyone told me about this part of having a baby? All they talked about was labor and delivery. Or when they did talk about postpartum, they just chuckled and said, “Enjoy your sleep while you can.”
Maybe if I’d taken a class…maybe if I’d read a book, I might have known that when the little old ladies at church smiled at me and said, “Isn’t motherhood wonderful?” that I would either have to become the world’s best actress or shock them with my candid reply: “No, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Moms told me it would get better after six weeks. They said my supply was adjusting to what the baby needed. They said I’d get more rest after three months, that I’d emerge from the fog after half a year. Half a year? How could I think about years when I was struggling to make it through each day?
I remember stepping into the shower to let the hot water relieve the pressure and I asked myself, “What have we done?” I didn’t want this. Couldn’t things go back to the way they used to be? Just Phil and me in our studio. Quiet evenings. Oodles of time. Tasks completed. Sweet sleep. A clear head. Health. Organization. We’d had it so good and now everything was in upheaval.
“…the joke or tragedy of it all is that these golden moments in the past, which are so tormenting if we erect them into a norm, are entirely nourishing, wholesome, and enchanting if we are content to accept them for what they are, for memories. Properly bedded down in the past, which we do not miserably try to conjure back, they will send up exquisite growth. Leave the bulbs alone, and the new flowers will come up. Grub them up and hope, by fondling and sniffing, to get last year’s blooms, and you will get nothing. ‘Unless a seed die…’”
-Letters to Malcolm
I choked on the words. Die? My past life must die? My friendship and romance with Phil must die? They must become memories? But I thought that they were good. I thought that our relationship had reached the peak of its bloom, that this was how it always should be. Hadn’t we been doing everything right? Why till the soil when we were in the middle of enjoying the harvest? No. I couldn’t let it go. I was not ready to bury it.
It took a month of trying to put my house in order, a month of trying to clear my head to write like I used to, a month of trying to catch Phil’s attention when he’d already passed into the new thrills of fatherhood. I felt left behind, and my first Mother’s Day came and went like some obscure news in Africa.
“It is simply no good to try to keep any thrill. That is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go. Let it die away. Go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow. And you will find that you are living in a world of new thrills all the time…It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them.” -Mere Christianity
At the Tea Leaf and Coffee Bean with Lee asleep in the stroller next to my table and my thoughts fleeing my mind through the keys on this keyboard, I fought to keep a hold of what was already dead and gone. I clung until my fingers shook like they do after rock climbing. I saw that life passing out of my grasp and it felt like leaping out of an airplane without knowing if the parachute would open, like stepping onto a rope bridge without testing the stability of the planks, like flying a plane without running through my pre-flight checklist. Funny, those daredevil feats were so much easier compared to this. Those were gambling with my life; whereas this was gambling with my soul.
I have everything to lose and must lose everything because unless a seed dies, the plant won’t grow, the bulb won’t sprout, the flowers won’t bloom. So I let it die knowing that the best is yet to come.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.