by Alice B.
"Aww," said the lady at the grocery store. "How old?"
"Eight weeks!" I was so proud, I puffed out my chest a little.
She tickled his feet and with a sideways glance at my partner who was debating the lettuce, declared: "Oh, he's a new one. So that's why Dad is still around!"
I didn't get it. I hadn't slept for more than 4 hours at a time in well over two months. We were quietly driving home when it hit me, and I got very angry. I wanted to go back and tell her off.
I was 18 years old and I had a baby. BUT! I would say. I'm 18 but I'm going to college next year! I'm still with the dad, we're so happy! We're getting married! I love being a mom, it's so natural!
I painted a picture of pure, perfect mommyhood to anyone who would (or had to) listen.
He rides in the sling all day! I never get tired, I'm too happy! I grow all of his food in my backyard and I have a nice, hot dinner on the table for my partner when he gets home from his hard day at work! And we never, ever fight. I was born for this job!
This is more the truth. Nolan and I hung out together all day. Those first many months I felt as if my head was in a thick fog. In the morning I woke up to his cry, and wished desperately for a "mute" button so I could go back to sleep. Sometimes I looked at his beautiful face and thought "What have I done?!"
When my partner walked in the door I would beg him to take the baby. Often, the kid would scream through the afternoon, only to smile and coo at the sight of his dad. Two seconds later I would close myself in the bathroom and turn on the shower. Many times I stared and wondered at my hollow looking face in the mirror until it fogged up. I wondered where the old me had run off to. I felt doomed. I loved my son more than anything, but I felt this strange emptiness that didn't seem normal.
My partner noticed it, too. He has commented that he misses me, the woman I was before Nolan. I sarcastically shoot back: "I'm sorry if pushing your child out of my vagina changed me a little, geez." Our relationship is not perfect. In fact, it's on the rocks.
We both felt blinded by our new life. There were highs and lows, but on the outside I only acknowleged the highs. At the worst times I thought about running away. Often when Nolan cried, I cried with him.
With all of the joys there were disappointments.
For instance, I assumed I would breastfeed. In fact, I looked forward to it. But it didn't happen for us. I tried so hard, he never latched. We saw specialists and I pumped into a bottle for 6 weeks. Finally I had to give up. The first bottle of formula I gave to him, I sobbed the entire time. My breasts had failed me. I was so angry at myself for giving up. I was frustrated with him for not latching properly. Even still when I mix bottles I look at my breasts and shake my fist.
Guilt is a hard thing to live with. Being a parent is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. That's not recognized nearly enough. When a milestone isn't passed "on time," when he's still in the bottom 10th percentile for weight there's a voice in my head screaming "failure! failure!" That voice, I have come to realize, is only my own.
One of the hardest things to do is to reach out for help. To tell someone that you feel like dropping your baby out the window, or that you told him to shut up in the middle of the night. Talking about behaviors that are taboo in our culture.
In my life I'm learning that I not only don't have to paint a pretty picture, but that I shouldn't. I brought a life into the world and he is amazing. Right now I'm taking it one baby step at a time.