In the first three weeks, I would wake up (though to say wake up you would think I had been sleeping, when, in fact, I probably had just put my head to the pillow) and my eyes felt like sandpaper. My body ached, and I just felt dirty, no matter how many showers I took, no matter how many strokes I took to my hair with a lovely bamboo paddle brush. My skin was dry and my hair fell out. My face erupted in a landscape of red hot pimples. I had a constant headache, low-grade fever, sore throat.
But I never minded because my son was my saving grace. He was the beginning of what I considered then my actual life. It became clear to me that there are certain things in life that you just can’t understand until they happen to you. Motherhood was like that.
But the love for my son didn’t supplant how fucking hard it was. So many women had babies, I couldn’t understand why no one had told me. People talked about being exhausted. They talked about how much sleep they didn’t get and how much time the baby took up, but they didn’t talk about how utterly life-sucking having a newborn would be.
In the first ten weeks, my son and I were one body. He used me to eat, to sleep, to calm and the truth is, if I could have calmed him enough I could have stood it. But some nights, and those days I considered the nights 6pm-6am, he would cry incessant heaving cries, with no down time except to eat. And then he would be done, and stop, and cry and the cycle of not knowing which was worse would start again.
When my son was born I realized that there is a marketed difference between a mother and a father, and it isn’t obvious from the outside. I wore earplugs to bed, just to get a little distance, and heard him wail in my bones. Nick slept like a rock right through it all. And so every night, like a zombie, I would stagger through the bedroom to pick up my wailing child, and I would hobble, after smacking my knee or my shin or my ankle on something sharp, and collapse with the baby in the rocking chair. Almost every night I did all of things that the inane baby books tell you to avoid. I wrapped him in a blanket, I propped him with a pillow, I fell asleep over him, holding myself up with my hand on my chin. The fatigue was bad, but the failure was worse, because the truth was, at first, at least, I was terrible at it.
But regardless how hard it was, I considered having my son the greatest gift. After all that had happened before this, I had become very aware of how singular my life was, that I didn’t get another chance to do this right, and I took that very seriously.
When people talk about having a baby, I thought, all of the words are just wrong. You don’t have a baby, or make a baby, they have you, and they make you. All of your choices, all of your thoughts, all of you being, at least for a while, but probably forever, are dictated by that fact. When he was born, I was his.