What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.