Two toddlers are sleeping, all arms and legs and tangled blankets, and it is a glimpse of glory. My boys have it in their contracts that I must witness this little miracle after an especially unhinged day of the toddler-crazies. Tonight as I tiptoe in and nestle their soft heads with my hand, whispering prayers over their sleep, I breathe deeply. Charlie snuffles at me and for a moment, his eyes open. He looks like a newborn, weighed by sleep, squinting and groping for my hand.
Four years ago, when I would tiptoe in at night to reach out to my new baby, my prayers sounded like this: "I can't do this. Help. Please." I would stare down at the tiny head with all that goose-down hair and feel . . . nothing, or worse, duped. Resentful. My body was drowning in a cocktail of hormones, and within days I was choked by dread. I dreaded the waking cry of a hungry baby. I dreaded facing the mirror. I dreaded visitors. I dreaded my husband's increasingly confused and probing questions. I dreaded going to sleep because I knew I would have to wake again to that mewling insistence.
I dreaded myself. I had failed motherhood. I wanted to change my name and live in Wyoming as a ranch hand (yes, I actually did let myself wander to that state in my twisted musings). All the while, I fed Charlie, changed him, carefully swaddled and walked with him, but he just felt so very heavy.
Darkened Rooms and Darker Thoughts
After we brought Charlie home, it seemed like my house was all shut doors and drapes, darkened rooms and even darker thoughts. And then my mother came to visit, which, as you know, can be easy. Or it can be hard. With my mom, it was a mixture of both, mainly because I was trying so desperately to act like what I thought a new mother should be. Beatific. Peaceful. My hair smoothly tied back with a ribbon, nursing Charlie, and gently singing a lullaby. Rocking. Smiling tiredly—or something like that.
My mom opened shades and shutters and hummed a lot and kept up with my charade for a few days, busily cleaning and cooking and puttering about. She is a master at the putter. However, all the while she was watching her girl, her baby, until at one point, she saw me trudging with Charlie up and down our hallway, and she witnessed the raw terror on my face.
It was that evening when I finally found myself having a real conversation about how I was drowning. My words came slowly, dropping like stones. "I don't feel anything. I don't love him. I don't love anyone. I just want . . . out."