Dear Baby Girl,
Tonight, as I was rocking you and calming you and trying to get you to sleep, I whispered in your ear. You had been crying. You’re having a rough time right now it seems – you’re teething, you’re growing, you’ve got a cold and it seems as though you’ve reached the separation anxiety stage that I thought we’d skipped.
Tonight, as I was rocking you and your tears were drying I whispered in your ear. I told you, Baby Girl, that we will always come back for you.
This is a message I want you to remember. No matter where you are, no matter what’s going on in the world, I will always do everything that is in my power to get to you. I will keep you safe.
We will always come back for you.
There is a switch inside of me that gets flipped without me even realizing what happened.
It’s as though I hit just that point of tired or hungry or frustrated or sad or all of the above and I transform like the Hulk.
I hear myself getting angry. I hear myself saying things that aren’t completely true. I hear all of my frustration from hours or days flowing out of me in a mean, sometimes incomprehensible way.
It shakes me. I don’t always recognize myself and I rarely know where exactly it comes from. Often the true cause of today’s explosion comes out somewhere in the middle of things. It’s almost like an out of body experience.
The rain. The rain makes everything worse. I can’t take the baby or the dog for even a short walk. I’m getting no exercise at all right now and that makes it worse. The stress relief I might get from exercise is coming from spending money I don’t need to and eating things that are bad for me.
I make a lot of excuses, still, and on days lime today I don’t feel bad about it. I’m hurting myself. I have a page in my notebook full of reasons to give up sugar, not the least of which is the way it affects my mood. I know I feel better when I eat better, when I cut down on caffeine, when I drink tea instead of coffee, when I get some exercise. Then why don’t I? Because it’s hard and on days like today I can’t handle hard. So much is hard already.
I’m a sabotage. I sabotage myself and my life, I think ill of myself and assume what others think of me. I assume that there are some things that I just won’t get right. If I were doing this for someone else it would be done in plenty of time, but for me? That goes on the back-burner.
And when I put myself on the back-burner I get days like this – days when I’m too tired to handle small stresses and everything spirals out of control.
Once again I need to pause, step back, and regain control. Deep breaths.
For most of my life, the part of my life when I’ve considered such things, I would never have described myself as happy. Content, yes, some of the time, but never so far as happy. Happy was too extreme an emotion, and my extreme was usually the other end of the spectrum.
And so I think I can honestly say that I have never been happier. Even with the struggles I go through, even with the questions I face every day, my baby girl has started saying ‘ma-ma’ or ‘mum’ or ‘mum-mum-mum’ or something that sounds just like it.
Yesterday, after spending most of the day with her daddy, she saw me and reached out for me and grabbed on, with a big smile on her face.
She recognizes me, she reaches for me, she calls to me and she’s as excited to see me as I am to see her.
It has dawned on me lately that as a new mother there are a lot of things that have changed for me.
I’m not talking about all the things that I knew were coming – my time is not my own, I am not my top concern any more…
The thing that has been smacking me in the face these past few days is that, as a mother and as my own woman, I will be judged for everything I do, every decision I make. I will never be safe from others’ opinions. I can’t even pretend any more.
In the past there were things I shied away from sharing with people because I was afraid of judgment, but it’s harder to do that with a baby.
People see me preparing formula for her, they see me changing her diaper, they see the way I let her play, they see how I hold her and how I speak to her.
People see that I dress my baby girl in blue and don’t think twice when people call her ‘him.’ They’re going to see that I forgot to take her hat to the arena last week, or that I left her socks off when we ran around yesterday.
They’re going to wonder how my daughter is going to handle growing up with a mom that has tattoos and doesn’t wear make-up or high heels very often.
People are going to know that I’ve gone back to work and put her in daycare. They’re going to know that I want to go back – that I want something that’s mine, that I want to be in a place where I can have intelligent conversations about things that I care about and that I am of the opinion that an unhappy mother means an unhappy family.
Every move I make will be the wrong one in some one’s opinion, and some of them will say it out loud, if not necessarily directly to me. People will make off the cuff remarks not realizing that they are making me feel judged, and I know that I will do the same thing, inadvertently.
Though I try my best to listen and learn from all the mothers I’m meeting, I know that my comments can sound as hurtful to them as theirs can to me – without any of us meaning harm.
As a mother I am defensive, mostly because I only do what seems right and I am terrified that I will unknowingly make the wrong choice. Anything I do could hurt my kid and maybe other moms know better than me, but maybe we just all have different kids.
I have said before and I will say again that I wanted a son and not a daughter. When the ultrasound showed we were having a girl, I was terrified.
It was hard for me growing up, I was a fat girl and I wore glasses, I was quiet, bookish, I was a dork. I was bullied. But when I look back, as hard as it was sometimes – and as dark as it was sometimes – it was never as bad as the stories I hear these days.
There was no Internet, these people couldn’t get into my home. Rumours could not spread as quickly. There were no camera phones – people couldn’t take pictures of things happening in the moment, or shoot videos and spread them worldwide in seconds.
I was scared to have a girl because I am so very aware of how much it can hurt to be a girl, of how much you can be hurt by boys and men and other girls. I know the words that can be thrown at you, the physical violence, the judgements, the almost always feeling on guard.
I am trying to get over the fact that I now live in a world where potentially a dozen teenagers stood around taking pictures and shooting video while a 16 year old girl was drugged and raped in front of them. I can not imagine how anyone can consider that okay. I can’t imagine the excuses those kids (and some of their parents) are making for themselves now.
Some of them still think it’s a joke. They’re still spreading these photos.
I cannot imagine my daughter going through something like that, and then having it be my job to convince her that life is still worth living and that there are decent people out there in the world. I have a hard time convincing myself.
How do I explain to her why even when the woman is a victim, she still gets the blame, because she was wearing the wrong thing, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or because she was alone, or because she trusted the wrong person, or because she had one drink too many?
How do I explain to her that while I want her to be able to pick any job she’d like, some people will still tell her there are places she’s not supposed to be?
How do I tell her that she is her own person when her body will always be up for debate?
How do I make her believe that women can change the world when I know that we’re still fighting for someone to let us? It seems like we will always be fighting for someone to listen to us, like women’s issues will always be on the back-burner, like we will always have to start by explaining why our issues are important when men’s issues are assumed to be.
How can I teach her that she will always have to fight twice as hard, because doors just don’t open that easily for girls like us?
She’s going to have hair in a ponytail and glasses, and she’s always going to be the girl in the movie who has to get the makeover before she means anything to anyone.
I am still amazed at just how much I love my daughter. It boggles my mind that she could be so small and so big at the same time. She is so important and I can’t spend a minute without thinking of her. I often need a break from her, but when I’m not with her I want to be and when I’m not holding her I want to be.
It sometimes enters my mind that I love her so much it’s not possible that anyone could love her more.
And then I see her with her daddy. She is always excited to see him and he her. When he’s having a bad day, all it takes is a peek at her on the video chat. Joe always, always knew he wanted to be a dad and our baby girl is everything he expected and more. And together we are a family full of love.
And then I see her with her grandparents. They dote on her and hug her and kiss her. They talk to her and encourage her. They ask about her, demand pictures and updates, and make trips just to see her. They surround her with love and support.
And then I see her with our friends. They joke with her and compliment her, they play with her and support us in taking care of her.
My baby girl is surrounded by people who adore her and adore us. She is surrounded by people who can help her learn about the beauty of the world and everything in it. She is surrounded by people who want to share with her and guide her.
I love her enough to welcome all these people into her world when part of me wants to protect her and keep her to myself. I love her enough to let her run free when she wants to and ask the questions she needs to. I love her enough to understand that I can’t always be the one.
I have come to the conclusion that my body is not, in fact, a wonderland, but it is a work of art.
Today the baby girl and I went to the National Art Gallery downtown to see the exhibit that’s on since it’s ending on Sunday. I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of art. I don’t understand why some things are considered art, but there are a lot of pieces of art that I consider beautiful. I have a particular preference for artwork that takes something you wouldn’t normally consider nice looking and making them beautiful.
The baby girl and I walked through the Pop Life exhibit, which was all about people breaking out of the boundaries of what art was ‘supposed’ to be. After we finished our walk through we sat in the gallery garden for a bottle break and in the quiet I got the chance to think. And I started thinking about me.
I am made of ordinary materials, put together in an extraordinary way. My body is not exactly what is expected, but when you look at it from all angles, it’s beautiful. The scars, the stretch marks, that tattoos for specific times and places, all come together to create something that I can look at and appreciate, the same way I appreciate an Andy Warhol or a Pablo Picasso.
I remember when the gallery had a Picasso exhibit when I was a teenager and my family went to see it. In the middle of all the kids of paintings he was known for, I saw an early work. It wasn’t cubism, it was people, and all I could look at were the feet. To this day I remember how precise and beautiful the feet in that painting were. I came away with something totally unexpected.
Someone drawing or painting me would take care to include my stretch mark, the chicken pox scar, the hair on my arms. Because everything imperfect makes it more beautiful.
I love my daughter. I love spending time with her and holding her and rocking her. I swear I do.
But we’ve fallen down on this putting her to bed thing.
We’ve been trying to develop a routine. Daddy will make her a bottle and take her into her room and rock her until she falls asleep. He’ll play music for her and put her in the crib when she falls asleep and then he’ll sneak out of her room and we will have a restful evening.
Or she’ll wake up as soon as he puts her down or shortly thereafter and the whole process will begin again.
Sometimes she refuses to sleep and starts screaming and crying and eventually falls asleep in your arms once she’s screamed out.
(This is the part where my mother would feign shock that a child would ever have such a hard time going to bed while starring at me pointedly).
It’s incredibly frustrating and often painful – she tends to smack us around, pull hair and sometimes bite.
What I’ve been trying to do lately is put her in her crib, let her fuss and cry a bit while I sit in her room with her, picking her up when she gets really upset.
What I want to be able to do is lay her in her crib, play her some music or read her a story and have her fall asleep on her own. I have no idea if that’s unrealistic for an eight month old. It shouldn’t be. I don’t think it’s unrealistic for my child, if she could just relax.
What I don’t know is how to make it happen, or how to make the transition from falling asleep in mommy or daddy’s arms to falling asleep in the crib.
All suggestions welcome.
*And my mom
I’ve told other moms that I know that without Twitter my journey into motherhood would have been much, much different. In fact, I think that without my online world my PPD would have been that much worse.
How did Twitter, and in fact other forms of social media like Facebook and blogs, change my life so much for the better? I have constant contact with sympathetic ears. I am within easy reach of great resources. I have met so many people that I may never have run into without meeting their online personas first. I have met women and men who understand the absolute love I feel, even when all I want is for the baby to go to sleep already.
I’ve met other moms that understand why I love being at home, and why I’m kind of excited to go back to work.
I have magically connected with women in my community who don’t judge me. Going into this motherhood thing, that was one fear I had – that other mothers would judge me because I was never sure I wanted to be a mom and I didn’t prepare for the life change that would eventually happen. I have connected with other moms who hadn’t ever held a newborn until someone handed them their own.
And I treasure these women.
From the mother who showed up on my doorstep in the midst of my post-natal panic offering a breast pump, to the mothers who started a blog for people like me and invited me to playdates so I could see that it’s not such a scary world after all; from the mothers of older kids who can remember when they were who I am now and can offer advice without force, to the mothers who have offered their own teenage daughters as babysitters if we ever need a break – and the whole community reminding us that we shouldn’t feel guilty for needing a break.
When I posted about our issues with sleep – that we were rocking the baby for two hours before she would fall asleep and there would often be tears – I got advice from all corners. What I love most about this result was that none of these people were forceful about it, they merely pointed me towards a book or tactic and said “it worked for us, that’s all I know.”
I love that I get to learn a little bit more about these people, that I get to share a little more in common with them, and that they care enough to offer help.
Twitter has taught me that I’m not going through anything that no one else has experienced, that the people I connect myself with empathize and want to help, and that all the things I was so scared of aren’t so scary when you’ve got back-up.
I wish I were brave enough