On Picking Up & Slowing Down
This post originally appeared on our old blog, Born to be a Bride.
A friend recently shared that she has trouble enjoying the baby months as she knows how much better it gets. She is accustomed to the loving words and constant discoveries of her older child, and knows that her second will soon be just as fun. I read an article the other day on the same subject. Wishing away the newborn days seems like a common thing — the exhaustion, stress, endless questions, minimal time to do things for oneself.
But I had a different experience and I wonder if mine was even more painful. As friends longingly look back and say they wish they’d savored the time more, I wonder if I should have savored it less. Let me explain.
When Willow was a tiny baby, I became completely and utterly consumed by her. I still am, by the way. The feeling has just gotten better and worse as we’ve gone along. From the first moments at home together, I would stare into her sweet face, eyes closed against the world, grunty noises coming from deep within. I would get up with her in the night, care for her, connected to her as only a parent can be.
I loved my baby with an ache and a depth that was both comforting and terrifying. It was (and is) bottomless, consuming. I savored each moment to the point that I regretted each one that came before, worrying that I hadn’t done enough. If she slept in her stroller while I walked around a mall procuring things for nursery or wardrobe, I regretted a nap that was not taken in my own arms. If she spent three straight hours screaming one afternoon, I tried everything and in the end found myself in a puddle on the floor, angry with me for not savoring the tantrum. And so it goes.
I have bullied myself into believing on many occasions, in fact, that I am unworthy of Willow’s love. With time and perspective on my side, I’m finally able to see that perhaps it was a spot of depression, a mix of hormones, or some other factor outside of my emotional capacity. Something I couldn’t fix. But it didn’t feel broken at all — it felt like I was swimming in liquid gold and sunshine and trying to keep it all forever while knowing there was a leak in the ocean and one day it would empty.
I know it will empty and I know it won’t. It’s as simple and perplexing as that. I see the love my brothers and I have for our own mother, float above myself witnessing as I pen her letters or make her gifts or talk about her strength and wisdom. And I pray Willow will love me like that, too. But I see also, just as clearly, that I left my mother’s nest as children grow to do. That I broke her rules (and trust) as teens and young adults will. That I spoke cruelly to her on occasions when I should have just sat and listened.
When I would push my very young baby around in her stroller and an older woman would approach me and tell me something along the lines of, “You don’t know it now — but these are the best days of your life!” I wanted simultaneously to hug her and to toss her off my path. I did know it. I do know it. I am painfully, disarmingly aware of the importance of this moment. It’s why I take so many pictures and write down so many thoughts. It’s why sometimes I sit in the corner of my couch with a tissue in hand and wonder when she’ll wake up from that damn nap I tried so hard to get her down for. Because my ability and need to covet and to savor each day of this little one’s life hurts.
My expansive, inconceivable love for Willow has changed me from deep inside. I realize that it is different for every mother. My clutching, relentless love for my daughter is felt in other ways. I never said or never meant that it is the same for us all or that it should be. I wrote a post on this blog about the surprising ways Willow changed my scary vision of motherhood. Enough people agreed that it got shared and shared, republished in many languages. But enough people dragged me out into the Town Square with torture devices in hand to let me know that my views on the newborn days were false, sappy, and worthy of bodily injury.
I have grown up this year and my blog has grown with me. I have started to realize (finally, honestly, truthfully) that it does not matter. Not everyone is going to agree with what I write, and not everyone is going to appreciate it. I honor and respect the different ways in which you experience motherhood (and life) and I do not intend to strip that down or make you feel like you do not have a friend in me, because you do.
Sometimes I wish that the particular way in which I loved Willow was different. I would get a lot more sleep if I could forgive myself at the end of the day for any eye roll I had let slip during a tantrum. If I could get over the fact that I did spend 20 minutes catching up with a friend via text instead of sounding out the names of colors and shapes that afternoon, letting my eleven-month-old play quietly at my feet.
There is another side to savoring the baby days, is what I am getting at in a very roundabout way. There is a way that clutches your soul and pushes your limits and makes you doubt every move that you make, every word you say. I will never look back and say I didn’t savor my daughter’s babyhood. In fact, I did the opposite. I held on so tightly to each moment that I trapped myself in a painful cycle. I haven’t wished away a single moment. I do wish, though, that I had spent fewer of them crying over their very passing.