In the weeks leading up to my son turning one, I had a lot of feelings. And still do! Apparently all I do now is feel, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s annoying that all the motherhood cliches turned out to be true, including those along the lines of “you can’t really know until you go through it.” It’s like surfing– I can explain to you how to surf, but until you physically try to get up on the board and ride a wave, there’s no real way to describe it. Also, I have never surfed.
The physical load is obvious, and thankfully the mental load of being a parent is being discussed more openly. What I wasn’t prepared for– especially as a Millenial who ate up cultural messages about feelings = bad, being apathetic and aloof = cool– was the emotional load that has come with loving my son. I say this as a person who does not identify as an empathetic person, a person who has been told countless times that I have no tact. I’ve been called out for using humor to deflect real emotions, and I fully admit to being an emotionally immature person who usually has to experience something myself before understanding its true impact. The logical part of my brain has always been more dominant. If a friend said their baby was in the NICU, I understood that it sucked for them, but figured, “Well, they’re the best nurses in the hospital. You’ll get to take your baby home soon.” If you are one of those friends, consider this a public apology.
The baby exiting my womb a year ago woke up the dormant emotional side of my brain. Becoming a mother has cracked me wide open to a full array of feelings, and quite frankly, it’s often scary. I feel so fragile loving something outside of myself so much. I am keenly aware of the life loads & continual slogs of shit happening around me and their impact on those experiencing them. Especially working in a children’s hospital and previously on the maternity floor, I have feelings all damn day long. If I were to try to type an analogy here that will absolutely crash and burn, it’d be something about the baby being an exposed nerve in my tooth that makes even the smallest things radiate pain through my body. (I told you it was bad. And a bit lazy, writing-wise, but it’s what you get on a free blog from a sleepy person.)
Now if a friend’s baby gets sent to the NICU, I start crying about how hard the separation must be for them and feeling so thankful my baby is healthy. The trippy part I’m currently struggling with is that the logical part of my brain is still there, wanting to make sense out of it all and be the fixer. I have friends who have experienced stillbirth and infant loss, and many people I know are struggling with infertility. This new, raw emotional part of me cannot handle any of these things. There is no logic-ing or fixing for parents who had a baby who never came home with them. But, like, this is the entirety of the human experience?! People- parents or not- who are feeling big feelings over unimaginably hard things yet somehow going on. I feel very dumb that this is all just now coming together for me, but like I said, I was really good at just doing me for at least three decades.
Of course, the baby has brought out all the fun emotions, too. I never thought I’d be so content just sitting in our backyard- sober!- watching a kid play fetch with himself with a mini soccer ball, yet there I was just this weekend. It’s a daily battle to be present in the good feelings without being scared that I’m now also capable of the hard ones. It’s an internal balancing act to be supportive of new moms without word vomiting unsolicited advice about the semitruck of emotions that’s about to run them down out of seemingly nowhere. When I tell a new mom, “If you need ANYTHING…” I don’t actually know what I have to offer them. I can fold the sh*t outta some laundry and will make you food for days, but I so badly want to be able to fix the parts that I know felt so adrift in myself over various time periods of this entire past year. There’s no way someone could have articulated this to me in advance- and I don’t know that it would have been helpful or I would have understood, if they did- yet I still feel compelled to try.
So I guess this is me trying, Natalies: we tell you it’s hard, but we mean it’s hard in unexpected ways. I was prepared to not sleep much and not love how my body looked for a while, but I wasn’t prepared that having such intense feelings for my son would make everything else that much more intense, too. It’s just all a lot.