Applying eye makeup whilst crying streams of hormonal (but real, very real) tears is no small feat. The day the doctors and nurses discharged us from the hospital with our first real human baby I cried approximately 17 times. I only wish this were hyperbole. After a scant 3 hours of broken sleep, interjected by foreign baby cries, prods, pricks and blood pressure checks, I hobbled my listless legs to the hospital bathroom. Reaching for mascara in a futile attempt to resemble my old self, to open up my eyes that were nearly swollen shut from the influx of excessive IV fluid and the strain of pushing a baby out of my body, I caught a glimpse of an unfamiliar woman in the mirror. My heart fluttered into the depths of my gut. Wherever that was. I was like a caterpillar inside it’s chrysalis, an amorphous mess, completely rearranged and broken.
You know those moments in film where the protagonist has a surreal awakening experience as she gazes at herself in the mirror? (I am quite certainly conflating this notion with Paul Rudd’s wildly inappropriate/hilarious improv mirror scene in the movie Wanderlust.) Well, I had one of those moments. As I gazed at my reflection in equal parts awe and terror, I contemplated the purpose of looking like my “old” self again if that woman no longer remained. Frantically, I scurried to piece together my new identity, deciding “well, I’m a mom now, but I’m not afraid of that. I’m still the old me. I’m not going to be one of those “mom-types” who lets becoming a mother alter the fabric of her being. Hell no.”
To cope with this monumental life change, I began bolstering myself with lies, but just as they arose in my mind they began seething and bubbling like a cauldron of hot soup, ready to explode. Warning: contents under pressure. Lying to myself only works for so long. Then boom. Soup on the ceiling. As I gazed into the plastic bassinet where my beautiful 8 pound daughter lay fast asleep, the flames of self deceit subsided. And as a cool whisper of truth blew over me, I wept.
I wept because my pre-mother self was no longer and I forgot to bid her adieu. There’s so much I wish I would have told her, but until now I would have never known what to say.
I definitely would have mentioned that ordering one more “must have” accessory from a mommy blog would in no way aid in shaping her new identity (barring the Halo SleepSack because that thing is worth its weight in gold for a feisty-from-utero babe like mine. And my new self would require some morsel of rest.) Also, I would have let my pre-mama self in on a little secret…just as they say, life would never return to what it was before. It would be so very difficult. So very exhausting. But it would also be so very wonderful.
I wept as they wheeled me past the nurses station. Waving goodbye, I may or may not have pulled a nurse towards me by the shirt and begged to put her in my pocket.
God bless Caroline. (Where are you, Caroline?) I wept as we drove away from the hospital and into the real world, at roughly 5 mph, wailing to my wide eyed husband that it would be our daughter’s “last first time” going home from the hospital (oh, the melodrama). As he tenderly explained the levels of importance for each landmark and restaurant on South Lamar (Maudie’s TexMex…VERY important….Cindie’s Lingerie….UNIMPORTANT), a tear rolled down my face as I realized he wasn’t talking to me.
And now, as the memories of three(ish) short months ago come flooding back in all their visceral, vivid splendor, I weep. I weep in equal parts gratitude and sorrow that the newborn days are behind us. Maybe if I inhale my daughter’s plump, rosy cheeks long and hard enough, the scent will somehow amalgamate into the folds of my memory forever. Maybe if I hold on just tight enough, she won’t have room to grow up.
As I breezed past the hallway mirror this morning, I caught a glimpse of a more familiar woman. I paused and this time, I smiled. This woman, with hair askew and eyes bleary, bouncing a jovial, footie pajama clad baby girl on her hip, was unassumingly radiant. This woman was very much me.
With buckets of grace, humor, a whole tribe of fellow mamas (not to mention the very best new papa), and carving out sacred space for myself, I’m happy to report that we’ve emerged from the famed fourth trimester cocoon not only alive, but also wildly whole. Ready to take flight.