photo by Leah Barad
I have a really great dad. He’s always been there for me and my sister, has always been loving and fun and patient and kind. I always loved when he’d pick me up from the train station and we’d have that long car ride together, talking about everything that was going on in our lives. I have never had to doubt for one moment that my dad is proud of me and loves me. That is a truly wonderful (and too rare) thing. And now he is a grandfather, “Poppy,” to my son, and they are best buds. Giles smiles so big when Poppy walks into the room. They have this sweet connection, something really special, that I know they will always share.
When Greg and I first started dating I said to him, “I want to have kids. Soon.” He responded with something like, “Okay, cool.” Once we were engaged I said I wanted to start trying for a baby as soon as we got married. Again, Greg agreed, probably thinking it would take awhile to actually make one of those tiny human things. But, low and behold, we got pregnant on the first try. And from the first moment Greg has stepped into his role as Dad so beautifully and completely. Watching him and Giles together makes me fall in love with him more every day.
Thank you Pops, for always loving me and supporting me and taking care of me, and for being my friend. Thank you Greg, for being our kid’s dad, you’re so damn good at it. I love you both so much.
So, here’s to the dads. And the moms who have to be both mom and dad to their kids. And to the people who’ve lost their dads. And the dads who’ve lost their kids. And to the surrogate father figures, and those who struggle with dad relationships. Love to all of you.
May 6 to May 14, it’s been a full week.
First, Giles turned one whole year old. I cannot really believe that it’s been a year since that long 30 hour experience of giving birth. It felt so endless that it seems impossible that I am not still in the hospital room, pushing and pushing and pushing. I can no longer remember the exact feeling of the pain, but I remember my reactions to it. My body has changed many times. Presently: my breasts are empty which is a strange feeling, my tummy is soft with less wrinkles and a bit of strength underneath, my arms are strong from lifting a growing baby, my linea negra is still faintly there and stretch marks too. I am smaller, stronger, more able and better feeling. I do not “have my body back” because that is not a real thing. I have my new mom body, which still changes every couple weeks, but has finally become something I understand (I think).
Giles has changed too. He is standing, crawling, walking while holding onto something. He laughs, chatters in baby talk, says “mama” and “dada” and something that almost sounds like “ball.” He has personality, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor. He loves to dance. He eats almost everything we give him, though he has preferences depending on the day. He has friends. He is more than three times the size he was at birth.
And now, at one week past his birthday, it is Mother’s Day. Last year we spent the holiday in the hospital with 2 day old Giles, still so new, learning how to breastfeed. Now I am done breastfeeding. Now I am a mother on my second Mother’s Day and the fifth Mother’s Day without my own mom.
It’s a complicated day. “Complicated AF” as my friend Ashley says. So true. I am so happy, so full of joy to celebrate being Giles’ mom. And then there is this hole, this cold feeling, tears behind my eyes and knots in my stomach. I miss my mom. I want to make her a card, talk to her, dance with her, help her in the garden or do whatever other chores she wants me to do. I want to have brunch with her and Giles, make waffles in her kitchen, watch her hold him and play with him and talk to him in Spanish.
There’s a lot of things I want but can’t even say.
There’s an envelope in my jewelry box (my mom’s jewelry box which is now mine). It’s a letter from Mama, for me to read when I had a child (or didn’t). I read that letter as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and a few more times since then. I haven’t read it today yet.
Greg and Giles brought me breakfast in bed and the sweetest card. They gave me a truly great Mother’s Day. I also have to make room for the sadness. Joy and grief live together now and always will.
My scanner is currently out of order, so here is a photo of this comic I made recently about Giles getting sick a couple weeks ago:
I’m changing every day. My body, my mind. I have muscles in my arms from holding Giles as he gets bigger and bigger. I weigh almost the same amount as I did six weeks postpartum, but I feel strong and good most of the time. My periods are heavy and painful (no one told me before that postpartum menstruation is its own monster), but I’m used to them now. My milk production is slowing down. I cry at the slightest provocation by commercials or songs or how every night at dinner Giles seems just a little more grown up.
We’ve started formula. Giles drank it up without hesitation. I cried during the first feeding, but also felt a little bit free. I can see the finish line of having my body back, of my breasts getting smaller, of no more nursing bras, of no more pumping…of letting go of breastfeeding. It’s a freedom, and it’s sad too. It’s our special connection, our thing that no one else is part of. But we’ll find other things.
My hair is longer. I am less tired than I was a few months ago (still tired, just not as overwhelmingly so). It’s amazing how it really does get “easier,” although “easier” is the wrong word. It gets “different,” just like with anything. It changes. I know Giles better, and he knows me better. He starts to become a functional person– sitting up, crawling, kneeling next to the box of toys and picking out what he wants, pulling up to standing. He says “Mama” and “Dada” and other increasingly complex talking sounds. He and my dad have their own language– staring and smiling and making funny sounds at each other.
My grief continues to get “different,” and not at all easier. Missing my mom is part of my day, part of everything I do. Giles’ eyes have taken on a quality that her eyes had. It strikes me sometimes. He will look at a photo of her hanging on the wall and smile with recognition. He stares at her paintings and pumps his arms with excitement. I cry and cry. Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I am okay.
Why is there such pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed? I would never judge another mom for how she feeds her baby. It wouldn’t even cross my mind to do so. But somehow, feelings of guilt get into my brain about transitioning from nursing to formula. Most of the time I feel fine about it, and I know it’s the right decision for us. But then there are moments when emotion overwhelms me and I start crying in the shower, or while making dinner. I feel guilty. Guilty for what?
Guilt is a familiar feeling. Am I a good daughter? Sister? Friend? Wife? Mother? Am I taking care of everyone enough? Doing enough? Working hard enough? Do I eat enough vegetables? Watch too much tv? Am I too demanding? Too bossy? Was my mom mad at me when she died? Am I too selfish, wanting time to myself? Am I ignoring all my friends while I figure out how to be a mom? Did I pass on this mutated gene to Giles? Will having more kids be bad, because I might pass the gene on to them? Do I call my grandma enough? Is it awful that I still haven’t mailed our holiday gifts? And I’m really late on those thank you notes…Do I do enough housework? When was the last time I cleaned the litter box? Was that thing I said yesterday too bitchy? Am I not bitchy enough? UUUGGGHHHHH
How do we let go of guilt? How do we know that we are enough? How do we help others know that they are enough?
I know it’s my choice. To start weaning now and get the mammo and MRI as soon as possible (which will be about a year or so from now) or nurse Giles as long as he needs/wants and delay the screenings? I hadn’t realized how long it takes to wean a baby. It’s a slow, gradual process. If I start now it may take months until he is completely weaned. And it’s at that point that the nine month clock starts. So much waiting.
There’s emotions. And hormones. Breastfeeding is such a hormonal thing. At the very thought of stopping I start to cry, and I run over to Greg and Giles on the couch, where Giles is happily taking a bottle. I cuddle against them, my eyes big puddles of tears, Giles looks up at me.
And then there are moments when I feel ready, and know that everything will be fine.
Except everything isn’t fine. I’m afraid of what will happen to healthcare, to women’s healthcare specifically, to the idea of pre-existing conditions. I’m worried for my body, for my mind, for my future second pregnancy that will happen sometime during the Trump administration.
So many things to worry about– both big picture and very personal. I don’t really know what I’m going to do. But I am going to do things, one tiny thing at a time. Ask for help, seek out other moms who can reassure me or give me mother-led-weaning tips. Get back into some kind of therapy. Talk to my husband a LOT. Walk. Do yoga. Snuggle my baby. Cook something new. Buy local produce/meat/cheese. Get my son his first library card. Read to him. Dance with him. Sing. Draw. Write. Take a hot shower. Say “I love you” a lot. Keep my own medical records. Slowly shorten nursing sessions. Check my breasts for lumps. Call my doctors and ask questions. Pay attention to my body.
And after a lot of months, after a year, after an undetermined amount of time, get a mammogram and a breast MRI and get prescribed Lorazapam for these procedures to help calm me down.
Ever since being pregnant, and birthing a baby, and being a mom, there’s a lot of extra hormones raging around inside my body. I cry a lot. I’ve always cried– like at the movies or on the NYC Subway. But now I cry more, and from the faintest hint of any commercial involving babies (the first time Giles successfully put Cheerios in his mouth I cried retroactively at every Cheerios commercial I’ve ever seen). When we first brought Giles home I cried every evening at 5:00 sharp. For two months.
Sometimes I am crying about more than what it appears I am crying about.
Luckily, Greg often seems to understand exactly what it is I’m really upset about. Sometimes he doesn’t know, so he asks. Sometimes he puts a bowl of cereal in front of me because he knows I am actually just hungry.
The top photo is me as a baby, and the bottom one is Giles.
“It’s crazy how much you still look exactly the same,” my sister wrote on Gchat when I sent her this picture combo.
The older Giles gets, the more I see myself in him. Of course, yes, he looks so much like Greg. But those eyes. He has my eyes. And my hair. And are those my ears? I can see pieces of both Greg and I, and other family members, but there is also something that is just Giles. He is already himself and that’s incredibly special to watch.
I was talking to my sister yesterday, and saying how excited I am for her to see Giles’ daily life when she visits next: waking up, eating with him, doing bedtime. And she said, “It’s really good you are a mom.” It’s true. I get a lot of joy out of these small daily things. Because really they are not small. This tiny human is growing and changing and learning every single minute. Our little family of three is the most important thing in my life, the best thing. Creating it brings me deep joy. I’m reminded constantly of my family when I was little– growing up with “four wheels on the car” as we called it. Playing games together, cooking, eating, hiking, camping, dancing in the living room. As I read to Giles favorite books from my childhood, I can hear my mom’s voice and cadence reading the same words.
There are moments when I don’t love it. Or, I still love it, but I am exhausted or sad or lonely or the hours are dragging by and I haven’t had a minute to myself or its’ too cold to leave the house and I’m going crazy. There are moments when I miss my perky D cup breasts (they seem so small and so long ago!), and my strong flat stomach, and my pretty dresses that hang in the closet but I can’t wear and may never wear again. There are moments when I am heavy with the weight of responsibility for this lovely young life, hoping I am doing all the right things. There are moments when my own small self feels lost or neglected or gone completely.
Being a mom is hard. If you know a mom, especially a new one, please be really nice to her.
Parenting articles are always popping up on my Facebook news feed. “15 Scary Things Evert New Parent Does That Will Destroy Their Baby” or “10 Foods You Should Have Never Eaten In Your Life Or Your Breastmilk Will Be Forever Tainted.” I used to read them, thinking there was information there that I had a responsibility to learn. Maybe there are things I am doing that I don’t know are bad! But I don’t read them anymore. They are terrible. And dumb. And stupid. They make me feel guilty and worried and I’m already worried/guilty/tired/stressed ALL THE TIME. It’s enough.
I’m enough. Keep repeating that. I’m enough.