7 months

The other day my mother asked me how I was, and the question sounded so foreign that I had to ask her what she had said.

“How what?”

“How are you, sweetheart?”

I thought for a moment and answered that I was fine.

“Yeah?” she asked, looking over the steering wheel.

“Yeah.”

Lately the only thing that’s mattered to everyone else is how Aspen is. Whether she’s crawling or trying to walk, whether she likes to eat purees or whole cooked food and whether or not she’s choked or gotten a cold or learned how to wave hello and bye. Sometimes I forget that I’m here, too. Sometimes I just feel like the shadow that carries around the baby and roasts vegetables and keeps the house looking tidy.

How am I? I am a stranger in my skin. I am lonely, even though I’m surrounded by loved ones. I am anxious, even though I have nowhere to be. I want to be touched, but I also want to be left alone. I want everything to change. I want nothing at all.

Today KC held onto me too tightly and my breasts leaked milk through my shirt. I groaned and pushed him away and he said, “I feel like I’m doing everything wrong.”

And I wanted to tell him that he was, that I just needed him to be gentle, that I was hurting, that my heart was sore. I wanted him to know that I was broken in two and overflowing. That I felt there wasn’t enough love left in my heart to give to him. That I didn’t ask for help with the baby because I felt that she was my burden to bear. That I should be able to hold her and cook dinner for three and finish my studies and write great novels, all at once, because I was the one who "wanted her."

But I didn't.

I told him that everything was fine.

Fine.

how we stay together (3)

Last night I was making coffee (because coffee after seven in the evening has become a post-partum ritual of sorts) and you were watching Aspen when I heard her little head hit the carpet. She had been sitting proper between your feet, and some flailing bit of excitement had made her fall backwards. She wasn't hurt, but I was angry at you for watching your phone rather than your daughter, so I snatched her up from the floor and held her to my chest like a stolen diamond.

"You're not allowed to watch her any more," I said, and then spit a venomous "ever!" just to make sure I had been clear.

You were standing already, arms out, reaching for her, but I held her closer still. "Why not?"

"Because! You don't watch her watch her. You have to look at her and see what she's doing and make sure she's not going to fall off a fucking cliff or something."

"Look at her!" you pointed, "She's fine!"

"That's not the point!"

You sat back on the couch and froze over, like you sometimes do, your face ripe with pain and flushed with thought. After a minute, an hour, a day, I threw a pink rubber block at your chest. "Hey! Talk to me!"

"You've been so upset with me lately! I feel like an awful father. Not at all like my dad was. Like I'm not the father you wanted me to be. You wanted the baby -- "

"I wanted her? So does that mean you didn't?" I cut him short. Aspen laughed at something on the wall, and I started to cry.

"God, no!" you said, "I'm just so young. I don't even have my own shit figured out. Maybe if we'd waited -- maybe if I was older, was more mature -- I don't know. Maybe I would be better. It used to just be us, you know? And we never fought. Not until we had a baby. And I'm not blaming her. It just upsets me that you're so angry with me all the time now, and I don't know what I can do to make you happy."

I sat down on the couch with the baby in my arms and watched her swallow the living room with her eyes. She didn't need much these days, milk every so often, a rock to sleep, my arms, my breasts, and in that moment I felt that I needed everything from you -- even the things you couldn't possibly give me. "I'm sorry," I said.

"You're not though." you fumbled at the buckle on your pants.

"I am! I'm sorry. Do you think this is easy for me? That it isn't a big change for me, too?" I swallowed. I thought to tell you that you should leave, that you should go live your life, the one you were missing, the one we chose to skip by getting married at 19, by having a babe at 21, but I knew that would only cut you deeper. I swallowed again. Thought of the truth, and how bitter it was in my mouth, but I said it anyway. "You have to understand than I'm broken in so many ways. I've been on edge, and it's not your fault, and it's not her's either. I think it's because I'm being torn in so many directions now."

"How so?" 

"It used to just be me, and I took care of myself, and then it was you and I, and I was able to give you all of me, to touch you and love you and be entirely yours, and I miss that so fucking much, because now I have to care for me, and for you, and for her, and as much as I want to touch and fuck like we used to, I can't do that anymore."

I was sobbing. Aspen watched me from my arms, smiling. I caught my breath, continued, "I'm grieving the life I used to have, even though I chose to leave it, and because of that I'm more upset than I should be over things that don't matter. I'm still the same woman I was before I became a mother. Somewhere, she's in there, but she's dying, KC. Half of me is dying." 

You sat back against the sofa and your face softened, and I knew that you understood. Maybe not entirely, but enough to know that we were both hurting, that we were both trying, that we were both changed in the most profound way that a person can be changed.  

Later on, after Aspen had gone to bed, we made popcorn to eat with our coffee and laughed about how wild it would be if we hadn't talked things through. If we had stayed silent and sour and wondering why the other was so bruised. "That's how people fall apart," I had nodded, and you agreed.

And with coffee and sugar and butter and salt, with love and old hands and new skin and pink rubber blocks, for now, my love, we stay together. 

the saffron grill

We ordered samosas and garlic naan and bowls of basmati rice to be passed around and covered in different colored curries. Aspen patted the table and patted my arm, feeling the difference between the two. She reached out for a cup of coffee and nearly grabbed hold of the rim.

“No, no,” Ken said, and he moved the cup away.

I like to watch her toying with the idea of determination. She reached out once more for the coffee and cried out when her little fingers were met with empty air.

The owner of Saffron Grill is a marvelous Indian woman, dark skinned, dark eyes, breasts that meet belly and arms meant for holding onto the shoulders of another human being. She came to our table and reached her hands out to Aspen, motioning inwards. I tossed the little baby’s body in the air once to get her smiling, caught her, and handed her off. 

Aspen looked wide-eyed back at me, head bobbing as she was carried away into the kitchen. I heard men setting down pots and knives, calling out and singing to Aspen as she met them all, one by one. My mother heart broke open. A stranger had carried my child away, and though she was safe, I felt resistance simmering within my womb. 

Lately I’ve been surrendering more and more to motherhood. When I want to hold on, to protect with all I have, to hold Aspen instead of allowing her to crawl, to stand, to fall, I breathe in. I close my eyes. I surrender. And that’s what I did then, too. I spooned some cashew cream over my rice and dipped the salty corner of a samosa into chutney. I heard Aspen laughing from behind the kitchen wall, and I could feel her joy as if it were my own. 

It was my own, really. 

6 months

In the beginning, they're very small and very still, and you might not realize the profound nature of what you've done. But very soon they grow, they reach and pull the glasses from your nose and smile at you when they wake, and suddenly you know that you've created an entire person, and everything you do and everything you've ever said or done will shape them like clay between your palms. This is equal parts terrifying and insanely beautiful.

Last night I sat with KC and said, "They don't tell you how much it hurts to be a mother, or a father. Babies wreck you."

"How do you mean?" He said, leaning against me.

I tried to find the words, but nothing fit properly. "It's like walking around with your skin torn off - everything is so tender and raw. I've never felt so much. You look at this sweet thing, this person, this other-worldly being, and you think, my god, I can't imagine a life before her, or a life without her, and to imagine her hurt or sick or scared makes your entire body ache. She's blown my heart wide open."

He smiled at the floor and nodded. "I agree. You could end a war with this kind of love.”

5 months

I'm under the impression that we're not honest enough about motherhood. It's beautiful, yes. But sometimes, it's fucking hard.

Because sometimes, Aspen wakes up at seven in the morning with a smile, and by 7:12 is quite possibly the most exhausted that she's ever been in her entire 6 months on the planet. And it's an emergency, obviously, because she starts to tear her own face from her skull and rub her eyes into oblivion and scream and cry and flail her arms like a broken windmill after every yawn. She hits me in the face and kicks me in the stomach. I bite my lip and try not to cry out. And then I pick her up, and tell her "shh, shh, my little love, it's okay. I know you're tired. Here, let's go back to sleep." I rock her gently and play the song that was playing when she was born. But she doesn't want to sleep. She wants to arch her back and remove her pacifier from her mouth and hold it above her head with both little fists and examine it with narrow eyes until it frustrates her enough that she throws it across the room. And then she cries, and she cries, and my husband wakes up only slightly and says "goodmorning," before rolling over to sleep. I want to kill him, but I don't. I want to not-so-gently put Aspen down in her crib and cover myself back up with the blankets so I can't hear anything but the sound my own heartbeat. But I don't.

Because sometimes, I've taken a shower for the first time in three days, and I smell like lavender and clean skin. And then, just like that, I'm covered in milky vomit. It's in my bra, and in my belly button, and somehow it's on my feet, too. And Aspen smiles up at me, half-digested milk covering her chin, and I want to think she's cute, but I'm disgusted, and I feel like crying, because I probably won't get to take another shower until my skin has crusted over and turned sour. 

Because sometimes, I feel entirely absent from motherhood and entirely present in the sun-bleached skin I used to know before Aspen was born. And I want to run away. To travel to Norway, or Italy, or San Francisco. I want the time to draw something, or to write something, or to watch an entire movie without breaks. I mourn the life I used to have, sometimes. I can feel myself shedding layers, my bones growing long, becoming new, becoming Mama. It's painful. And it's beautiful. And equivalent in depth and travail as giving birth - though this labor is much, much longer.

Because sometimes, Aspen falls asleep at 7 in the evening without a fuss. She tucks herself up into a little ball of milky flesh under the bedsheets, and I marvel at her for a moment before quietly closing the door. "I made you," I think. "I made all of you." I walk into the living room and think of all the things I ought to get done, but I somehow spend four hours looking at photos of Aspen, and thinking about Aspen, and wishing Aspen were awake so I could kiss her and hold her and toss her into the air. I feel myself drowning in a love so ancient and consuming that my uterus actually contracts, as if I were in labor all over again. I think that I might be having a heart attack. I debate whether or not to wake her, just so I can see her eyes. I decide that I can wait until morning.

Because sometimes, I fall asleep beside my babe thinking that motherhood is the hardest thing ever. That I had no idea what I was getting into. And then I wake up four ours later beside that same babe, and she's wide awake with the sun, licking my armpit and singing a little song in baby-tongue. And I think about how beautiful motherhood is. How lovely. How sacred. 

We post pictures of our children and caption them, "My sweet baby," and "the best thing that ever happened to me. I love her so much." And those things are true, yes. But they could just as easily be captioned, "I feel like I'm losing my fucking mind right now. Someone please send help," and "I really love this kid but please for the love of everything holy someone come hold her for a second so I can wash the milk from my hair."

When we minimize our emotions & close the drapes around the fact that motherhood is the hardest fucking thing we will ever do, we unknowingly tell all the mothers who are weak in the knees that they aren't trying hard enough. That in some way, they're not doing a good job. That they're less Mama and more Monster for feeling angry, for feeling sad, for feeling as if their child hates them and never wants them to sleep again. 

But when we're honest, and we share both the good & the bad, when we ask for help, we are allowing other mothers to soften around the edges. To see us as mirrors to their own vulnerability, their own travail, their own love. We're inviting those who understand to say, "fuck, me too." To reach out. To laugh. To offer a loving hand.

And, above all, when we make room for radical honesty, we show those who haven't yet found their voice that they are not alone.

how we stay together (2)

I've been too busy with a babe at my breast to notice that you're feeling lonely. You reach out for me, like you used to, playful and rough-handed in the best possible way, and I tuck away from your touch, because there are other things to do, you know. Because Aspen might wake, or because my skin is too glossy and sour from dried milk, or because there are dishes in the sink, laundry to be folded, hands to wash, bread to bake.

BUT I'M LUCKY, BECAUSE I'VE FELT THE WEIGHT OF LONELINESS ON MY SHOULDERS BEFORE. I CAN RECOGNIZE IT, BEFORE IT GETS TOO HEAVY TO LIFT.
 

You took me by the shoulders today and I fell into you and stayed there for a year, it seemed.  And I felt then that we were woven so tightly together, and yet we were still fragile, too. It would be far too easy to ignore your loneliness. To tend to the babe and allow you, my love, to shrink down, grow older, grow heavy. I think this happens, sometimes. A child comes, and the love is shifted, shattered, rearranged. 

BUT I REFUSE TO FORGET ABOUT YOU.
 

My mother came by today to see Aspen, but the little thing was sleeping soundly in our bed.

"This is good," my mother said, "now you'll have time to wash those dishes in the sink. Maybe pick up a bit, yeah?"

"I could," I said, "But I'd rather spend time with my husband."

She turned her eyes back toward the tower of stained saucers and milk-smeared glass. "When you were a baby, I would get all of my chores done when you were sleeping. Cross things off the to-do list."

And without thinking, I let resentment boil up and bubble over. "And, how did that go for you?" I spat.

"Excuse me?"

I swallowed. "How did that go for you, mom?"

But I don't think she understood. She shrugged. "I got everything done," she said.

When I was a girl, I could feel the weight of my father's loneliness on my skin. From the time I was born (or maybe earlier even - I'll never know), my mother chose chores over the touch of my father's hands. She was always buzzing about, never still, always worried. Forever tending to me, and tending to supper, and tending to the spiderwebs that built up in the peak of the ceiling. But never to him.

And so, he left.

I fell into you today, and I stayed there while the babe slept in the bedroom, while the dishes grew cold in the sink, while the Earth rolled on beneath our feet. I'll never forget about you, my love. And this (oh, this! the feeling of your fingers dancing along my spine! the taste of tobacco lips, your cigar smile! a moment spent, or two, or three, skin to skin, heart to heart!) is how we stay together.

3 months

This afternoon, I was thumbing through a rack of little coats and jumpers labeled 6 months at a thrift store, when a woman walked in carrying an infant car seat with a newborn strapped into the buckle. The poor thing was all red in the face, crying in a way that Aspen grew out of around month three - the kind of wail that stops every now and then for lack of breath, that rattles in the lungs and gets louder, sharper, more desperate. She walked slowly and bounced intentionally with each step, all the while looking through the clothes, unfolding little pants and then folding them again, taking things from hangers, checking the screen of her phone. After a while, the boy still hadn't stopped, and the woman sat the car seat by the front desk and walked back to the racks of clothing.

She set him down like something that was too heavy, a screaming, sobbing burden, and left to shop. The woman's mother was with her, and I heard her say, "Jesus Christ, sometimes that crying really gives you a headache, doesn't it?" The woman nodded, holding her temples.

I stood fixed to the floor, watching this fragile little babe wailing alone in his seat, tearing at his buckles with those trembling, newborn hands that my own daughter had so recently exchanged for reaching, grabbing ones. I had Aspen at my side in her sling and I started to rock, patting her on the bottom, telling her that it was alright, that he was okay, that everything was fine.

But it wasn't.

"Someone pick up that baby," I whispered to the wall. "Please, for the love of God, someone pick up that baby." I wish I had been louder. I fought my feet, for they tried to carry me over to the front desk. I fought my hands, for they wrung nervously and itched to unbuckle him myself, to pick his quaking body up, to bury him in my chest, hold him close, shush him and rock him while his own mother picked at her hair in the mirror. 

My milk let down. I crossed my arms across my chest, but still the milk soaked through the cotton of my shirt. Aspen started wiggling in her sling. She could smell the new milk growing in dark rings around my breasts. The baby was still there, crying on the floor, so I left. I ran away, really. I simply had to. I was sure that if I stayed, I would die right there on the tile, torn in two by the boy's helpless cries.

I should have stayed. I should have raised my voice. "Someone, please pick up that baby!" A shout, not a whisper. But it wasn't my place. Motherhood is a strange and certain thing, like religion, like politics. Everyone's right and everyone else is wrong and only you know how to care for your child.

I got back into my car, clicked the snaps on Aspen's car seat, and she started to whimper. So I pulled her back out again, shifted the car into park, and held her for a while longer. I watched the woman walk out of the store with her mother, a bag of folded clothing in one hand, and the car seat in the other. The baby had fallen asleep, it seemed, his little head leaning over to one side. And I kissed Aspen's velvet cheek and told her, "For the love of God, I swear I will always pick you up. Carry you close. Touch my skin to yours when you cry. Dear one, I hear you. You're not alone. Here I am. Here I'll always be.”

1 month

Aspen is a strange and wonderful little beastie. Trapped somewhere between the spirit world and ours, ocean eyes searching the walls, the sky, the skin on my face. Knowing nothing and everything, all at once. She is the most marvelous sort of empty. Like the desert, like the cosmos, spacious and new and old and allowing all the world to pour into her. I feel the presence of many ancient and wise beings with her in these early days, maybe guardians sent to watch over her transition from one side, to the other. 

I thought that I would know her completely when she was placed on my chest at birth. Like we would be old friends. Instead, she’s a wild and unfamiliar creature, all animal noises and smacking, thirsty lips. She teaches me what soothes her (steady bouncing, constant movement, cradling her fuzzy head in my palms) and I teach her how to smile, how to coo, how to sleep soundly in the crook of my arm. We’re slowly learning how to handle one another. And it’s a beautiful relationship, really. More than just a mother towering over her child, always right, always older. Rather, we are equal. Both children: new, learning. I hope it’s always like this, even when she’s as old as I am now. Her learning from me, and I from her, a friendship, sharing, growing together in love, and in life, and in Spirit.

These early weeks will be lost before long, I can tell. They’re already such a blur of messy diapers and midnight milk soaked towels and bedsheets. But I don’t want to forget. Not the way the apartment smells (kind of sour, kind of sweet, all covered up with lavender and incense), or the way chores that used to only take a moment (putting a fresh bag in the trash) now take minutes on end and one hand, not two. Not the way she throws her little, dinosaur arms into the air and frowns every time a noise or a touch startles her. Not the way her papa looks at her in wonder, strokes her cheek with his thumb, calls her his squid, his little bird, his love. Not the way she fall asleep like a frog on my chest. Not the way she is right here, right now, all soft and new and perfectly empty.

3 weeks

No one ever told me how much having a baby would make me miss my husband. I ache for him all over, the way things used to be, freely loving and laying about the apartment and talking about silly, little things into the early hours of the morning. I miss him now, more than I ever have, even when he’s sitting right next to me. 

It’s part of the old me that’s hanging around, I think. Clinging white-knuckled to the way things were. She’s the part of me that mostly slipped away when Aspen was born, and what’s lef of her is resisting change, even though for the most part, the change is lovely and sweet.

I miss my husband, and so for a few days in the early weeks of Aspen’s life, I hated him, because he seemed like a foreign, lazy creature that sat about while I vacuumed and bled through my underwear and slung a screaming beastie over my breast for the third time in an hour. I didn’t ask him to help, even though I should have. I expected him to know that I needed him. And when he didn’t, my insides silently soured. 

On the ninth night, he woke up to the sound of me sobbing over a child that I loved too much to put down, and I was too tired to control the words on my tongue, so I told him that I hated him, that I couldn’t stand him, that I felt like a single mother. And then I watched my husband cry for the rest of the night. I was too tired to sort through the words in my head, so we both lay there, quiet and broken and sorry, with a squirming bundle of new life snuggled up between us.

But there was relief, on day thirteen. We ate. We rested. We slept. Aspen found solace in the sound of the rain, and fell asleep soundly by noon. My husband lay down and closed his eyes, and I found the crook of his arm that used to be familiar and made myself a home there. I inhaled slowly, remembered his smell, and knew then that nothing had really changed.

“I’M SORRY FOR WHAT I SAID,” I TOLD HIM, AND HE SAID THAT HE WAS SORRY, TOO.

And for three rainy, afternoon hours, we lay skin to skin, waking every so often to get closer after drifting apart in slumber, always finding each other once more, lacing fingers, tracing constellations of freckle and scar.

They told me that having a child would make me fall more deeply in love with my husband. For the first twelve days, I called them all liars. But on day thirteen, I understood. It’s like falling in love a second time, climbing over mountains and scraping your knees but continuing to climb, tumbling together, deeper and deeper still.

how we stay together

No one ever told me how much having a baby would make me miss my husband. I ache for him all over, the way things used to be, freely loving and laying about the apartment and talking about silly, little things into the early hours of the morning. I miss him now, more than I ever have, even when he’s sitting right next to me. 

It’s part of the old me that’s hanging around, I think. Clinging white-knuckled to the way things were. She’s the part of me that mostly slipped away when Aspen was born, and what’s lef of her is resisting change, even though for the most part, the change is lovely and sweet.

I miss my husband, and so for a few days in the early weeks of Aspen’s life, I hated him, because he seemed like a foreign, lazy creature that sat about while I vacuumed and bled through my underwear and slung a screaming beastie over my breast for the third time in an hour. I didn’t ask him to help, even though I should have. I expected him to know that I needed him. And when he didn’t, my insides silently soured. 

On the ninth night, he woke up to the sound of me sobbing over a child that I loved too much to put down, and I was too tired to control the words on my tongue, so I told him that I hated him, that I couldn’t stand him, that I felt like a single mother. And then I watched my husband cry for the rest of the night. I was too tired to sort through the words in my head, so we both lay there, quiet and broken and sorry, with a squirming bundle of new life snuggled up between us.

But there was relief, on day thirteen. We ate. We rested. We slept. Aspen found solice in the sound of the rain, and fell asleep soundly by noon. My husband lay down and closed his eyes, and I found the crook of his arm that used to be familiar and made myself a home there. I inhaled slowly, remembered his smell, and knew then that nothing had really changed.

“I’M SORRY FOR WHAT I SAID,” I TOLD HIM, AND HE SAID THAT HE WAS SORRY, TOO.

And for three rainy, afternoon hours, we lay skin to skin, waking every so often to get closer after drifting apart in slumber, always finding each other once more, lacing fingers, tracing constellations of freckle and scar.

They told me that having a child would make me fall more deeply in love with my husband. For the first twelve days, I called them all liars. But on day thirteen, I understood. It’s like falling in love a second time, climbing over mountains and scraping your knees but continuing to climb, tumbling together, deeper and deeper still.