When you want to shake the baby

Rage and Gentleness by Daniela Uhlig via DeviantArt

When you announce that you’re pregnant, a tidal wave of advice follows. Everyone who’s ever seen a baby wants to tell you what they know, what happened to them, what you should do. Most of it is horrifying.

“It’s fantastic what you’re doing. I love the way you’re handling this. It won’t be like what happened to Michelle.”

“What? What happened to Michelle?”

“Oh, did I say Michelle? I didn’t mean to mention that, I’m sorry. Don’t worry…she was a fool. She ate vegetables and drank water. The baby came out her ear. You’ll be fine.”

— Dylan Moran, Like, Totally

And it doesn’t stop after you have the baby, either. They want to tell you about insomnia and poopsplosions. If you know them really well, they’ll tell you about leaving the baby in the car or giving unnecessary Benadryl.

But there’s one story no one tells. One piece of wisdom that’s rarely passed along because it’s absolutely taboo to even think about.

It’s this:

You want to hurt your baby sometimes.

Before I had a baby, I was aghast that anyone could ever shake one to death, even on accident. What kind of monster does that?!

And then that monster rose up in me.

When Mackenzie was about a month old, after a day of inconsolable screaming despite hours of nursing, barely-damp diapers, and putting nearly 10km on the stroller, I felt the awful urge to just. make. it. stop. I knew I could. It would be so easy.

A twist of the neck. A dash to the tile floor. A blanket she couldn’t pull away.

I lifted her out of the carseat, still shrieking like an injured pterodactyl, and my arms tightened around her. My cells buzzed with the undeniable compulsion to shake her, slap her, cover her mouth, anything to make the screaming stop just for a second, to make her understand how senseless it was, how frantic and insane it made me feel.

Why won’t she stop crying? There’s nothing wrong! Just. Shut. Up!

And as quick as the desire to hurt came, a flash of clarity rocked me back.

She’s a newborn. The world is traumatizing. This is the only way she can communicate. You’re her mom. It’s your job to protect her.

Then I cried, too, as I used the same arms that wanted to squeeze the breath out of her to protectively clutch her little body to me. All I could say between hitching sobs was, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry,” over and over.

It was a moment of insanity–true disconnection from reality–that could quickly have turned fatal. It was so real, so fast, so dangerous. Such easy darkness, such ferocious, selfish rage.

And despite being surrounded by mothers of all experience levels, no one ever warned me.

If there’s any proof for the existence innate evil, this is it: that I could not just imagine but crave deadly violence towards my own helpless child. I’ve struggled with emotional disturbance, but I’ve never felt anything like this. Animal rage borne of despair and exasperation chased with shame, compounded with the certainty that if you tell anyone, they’ll report you, damn you, shun you.

Worse, it’s not just a one-time thing.

This demon squats inside me, waiting for a vulnerable moment to throw sand in my eyes and see what I’ll do. It doesn’t go away because I’m aware of it or because I fought it off once.

What’s important is that I’ve never acted on it. And neither have thousands, maybe millions, of other mothers.

But some have.

They’re the ones we see on the news. The ones who lost their battle with the demon. Their stories mirror our own, forcing us to hide our experience lest we face the same condemnation despite our victories.

This is a call for truth.

If you know this rage, this shame, talk about it. When we can be open, we can support each other, and we can beat the stigma. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s horrific. But until we can speak truth to the darkness, guilt and isolation will continue to rule. Knowing that it’s not just you, that you’re not a broken monster, steals the demon’s power. It can literally save lives.

Don’t let your sisters, the mothers-to-be, get blindsided. Share your story so they don’t have to share your pain.

Things I wish I understood about being a mom before I became one

Infant Insomnia by KelleyBean86 via DeviantArt

I like to think I’ve learned a few things in the six months I’ve been a mom. Most of them involve how much poop/barf/cereal you can leave on furniture before it’s permanent, but there are a handful of lessons that run a little deeper. Keep in mind this is my experience; your mileage may vary, etc.

All your emotions now go to 11.

A friend warned me about this, but for some reason I thought I was immune. I’ve lived with depression and suicidal ideation, endured mania, fallen in love on a first date, and had over-affectionate feelings for cats–I’ve run the gamut. But none of that prepared me for babyfeels. New levels of fear and joy unlocked the second she was born. No rejection has ever sliced so fine and sharp as her refusal to nurse; no smile has ever healed so easily as her first.  The way her cries of distress paralyze my soul; the bone-deep satisfaction of her giggles. Every emotion I’ve ever had is suddenly raw with unfamiliarity, as if it’s never been handled before, almost like I’m experiencing things the way she is–for the first time. It’s both amazing and terrifying.

Mother’s intuition isn’t automatic.

There is no switch that flips when you have a baby and now you magically know how to feed, clothe, clean, and soothe it. No matter how nurturing you are by nature, there are things you have to learn like any other skill. Much like learning a foreign language, you pick up concrete things first (diapers, food) and then move on to abstract concepts (tired vs boredom vs gas). You develop mother’s intuition by becoming a student of your child; what looks like an innate sixth sense from the outside is really the fruit of experience.

You forget those precious first days.

It’s heartbreaking but true. The first 6-8 weeks are brutally beautiful., and I didn’t feel like I came up for air until after 12. You have no idea what you’re doing, you’re exhausted, there’s so much crying and so few answers, and you can’t stand how cute they are. But no matter how many pictures you take, endless days and sleep deprivation slowly rob you of what you wish you could hold onto forever. The closeness of nursing, the wonder of holding them for the first time, the moment they look at you with recognition, how tiny their newborn body feels in your arms. You know you did it, but the realness is gone, like it happened to someone else. I’m convinced that it’s this forgetting that makes us want to have another baby–we want to remember.

Your body is different: forever.

I’m not talking about muffin tops and stretch marks (although they’re certainly a factor). I’m talking about being physically reshaped. Your bones and muscles and tendons are subtly changed by nine months and thirty hours of increasingly hard work. Your butt and hips don’t hold up your pants they way they used to, now too broad and round. Your shirts and bras have shifted position, a little fuller and lower. Your face is changed. You walk differently. One day you look in the mirror and realize that this body isn’t the one you started with. And that takes some getting used to.

Every choice has a consequence you can’t foresee.

Breastmilk or formula. Attachment or babywise. Parent-led schedule or baby-led schedule. TV or no TV. Back to work or stay at home. Your baby’s life is shaped by the choices you make every day, big and small, and you have no way to know if they’re the best ones. It is so, so easy to let fear take over and make you obsess about every possible option and outcome. But there’s no right answer, and no matter how unsure you are, you still have to decide. You have to use what you have and know and trust that it’s going to be okay.

You’re never alone. You’re alone all the time.

I’ve never experienced anything like this paradox before, and it’s hard to wrap words around. As an introvert, I like spending time alone, often going days without stepping foot outside, but I wasn’t prepared for feeling isolated while being tethered to someone. You’re juggling the baby’s feedings, sleeps, baths, and playtime while caring for the house and your partner, all while trying to shoehorn in food, sleep, and hygiene for yourself. You spend more time with your baby than anyone else; you’re constantly in contact and on call. But it’s not like they can converse about world affairs or help with dinner, so you end up feeling desperately lonely. And given everything you’re managing, it’s hard to connect with someone who doesn’t secretly poop themselves. When you finally do, you’re so relieved to speak in polysyllables that you swear you’ll get out more. Then you don’t because it’s so much easier to just stay home. And it starts all over.

Your best isn’t good enough.

No matter how hard you try, you’re going to flub something. It’s going to happen. You’ll mistake gas for hunger and make it worse. You’ll sacrifice naptime to run errands. You’ll nurse too soon after a beer. You’ll give meds when you’re not sure if it’s necessary. You’ll forget to buckle them into the carseat. You’ll drop your phone on their soft spot. (Yes, I’ve done all of these.) Control is an illusion; perfection, doubly so. And you can either let that be a prison of condemnation or accept that fucking up is inevitable and be set free. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m working hard to break out of jail. Every day, the bar gets lowered a little, which is actually a good thing. It means I don’t have to be Mom of the Year every day. As long as we survive until bedtime, we’re good.

Don’t wish it away. Don’t look at it like it’s forever.

Shortly after Mackenzie was born, I turned to my mother and said, “This week has been the longest day of my life.” I was in pain, the baby’s cries petrified me, and time made no sense. My mind grasped at imaginings of an easier future where I didn’t have to nurse with cracked skin (or at all) and the nights were uninterrupted. But I knew I had to stay present or I’d miss the most precious time of my daughter’s life. I’m constantly wanting to be elsewhere/when, anxious to get to better times, if only this would stop or that would change. But that’s how I end up with regrets, how I’m blinded to what’s precious right now. I will always regret wishing away nursing–and getting my wish. Reality is that momming doesn’t get easier; it just changes. You (I) have to remember they’re only this little once. This is the most they’ll ever need you. Don’t rush because it’s hard. Don’t miss it.

Love wins.

So much of what I’ve learned about being a mother has been hard. A lot of it no one talks about, some of it I didn’t believe, and the rest requires stretching myself in uncomfortable ways. I never had a love-tsunami wash over me like a lot of moms describe; it trickled in quietly. But on the days when she’s crying and I’m crying and nothing is okay and darkness presses in, that slow, steady love is a life preserver holding us both up. It makes her happy to see me after a hard-won nap. It makes me cling tighter when she’s angry. It makes each morning new. No matter what happens today, tomorrow is a fresh start because we love each other in a way that I don’t fully understand. And that’s enough.

Writer’s note: I cut a point from this list because it’s so important and potentially inflammatory that needs its own post. Stay tuned.

Quick, before the baby wakes up

Remember when I had a blog? Yeah, me, neither.

*gets locked out after too many incorrect passwords*
*blows spiders out of comments section*
*tries to remember how a keyboard works*

So, uh, turns out that having a baby takes up a lot of your day.

Stop laughing.

Okay, you can laugh a little bit.

I said a little. Geez.

The last time we talked, I was still T-minus a month or so to babyhaving time. It’s been…a bit…since then. Miss Mackenzie is pushing six months old now and looking more like a person and less like a happy meatloaf every day.

Mackenzie 4 months
I’m told she gets her judgy stare from me.

What you’re seeing here is the primary reason I haven’t posted, novelled, tweeted, or done anything much since the spring.

I’d heard tales of moms who wrote their first book while nursing their newborn, and inspired and filled with wild optimism, I figured I could at least keep a steady, if slow, pace with Apple of Chaos during feedings and naps. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Yeah. No.

There’s another (very long) post I could write on all the things I didn’t expect about being a stay at home mom with a baby-baby who also wants to, you know, do stuff that requires focusing for more than 10 minutes together. The joy, the despair, the exhaustion, the anger, the fear, the simplicity, the pride, the loneliness. The feeling that I’ll never do anything except manage someone else’s food and sleep for the rest of my life.

Don’t misunderstand. I love this squirmy ball of poop and giggles, and I will cut you if you wake her up.

But I miss writing.

There’s not a lot more to say about it at the moment. Babies are masters of the fake-out. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, they flip out, regress, or explode. They force themselves into the center of your world. You adapt or die. Or at least sob quietly while pushing a stroller around Walmart for an hour and a half praying the next price check doesn’t wake the baby.

Not that I’ve done that.

(I’ve done that.)

Right now, I’m taking it easy–which I’ve said in my last, like, four posts–and fighting the voice saying I’m a disappointing failure because I haven’t written a full book while learning to be a mother.

Thankfully, my husband now watches Mack every other Saturday 9am-2pm so I can escape to Starbucks and write. I’m not novelling yet, but I’m working towards it. Other projects have insinuated themselves into the hierarchy–my leadership course is all speeches this year, plus I landed a sekrit projekt but I’m not sure how it’ll be received, so I’m sitting on it–so I’m constantly juggling priorities. Alone time is precious these days.

I still hear Cora’s voice asking what’s next. I still brush against Jack every now and then. Their story isn’t over. It’s just waiting for me to learn how to write it again.

There are days I touch who I used to be: the expansive, creative woman in control of her time and who bathed regularly. Most days, though, I’m the uncertain, worried new mom trying to find something to laugh at so she doesn’t cry about what she’s afraid she’s lost.

Sorry, that got a little maudlin. Here’s another cute baby picture:

Mackenzie sleeping

Basically, I popped in here to say that I haven’t forgotten about you guys. I miss you the way I miss writing. I want you to know I’m working my way back, slowly but surely. This is a hard time in my life, but if baby-having has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is forever. We’ll be together again soon.

Until then, my loves: See you ’round the ‘verse.