anxiety, art, baby, beast, birth story, body, breath, bus, choice, commute, commuter, counselor, depression, fall down, fear, fears, grow, growth, head, help, love, metro, mother, play, postpartum, postpartum depression, public, see, share, silence, sit up, story, supplement, talk, telling, therapy, throne, train, tunnel, whole, woman, work, writing
15 weeks | We fall down | no. 0008
He has taken away my sleep. He has taken it and spit it back out to me in the drool that gathers at his grin. That it is morning is only apparent to him, but that is all that matters at whatever many minutes past 4 AM it happens to be. There is no amount of breast I can stuff into his mouth to settle him. Eyes wide open. Legs kicking furiously. Get up, Mommy. He strains to be upright now, or rather I am holding him up on my side. I use my hip as his throne. He rules the day.
I fight this reality because now my stomach is hurting too. I am terribly aware that were I not awake to feel it, it, theoretically, would not be happening. And I am only awake because he’s up gurgling at me in the dark. Of course, because he’s so proud of his ability to communicate, I have to be a positive and responsive mother. He misinterprets this good parenting as a mere incentive to stay awake. Relief is once again dependent on untangling too many interconnected things. Might as well change this diaper then.
The day has started anyway. Perhaps, though, I should be paying more attention to my symptoms (and no, munchkin #2 is not on the way just yet), but I don’t have the mental stamina to go over what could be causing the nausea and abdominal discomfort that has been randomly inserting itself into my postpartum body. I only hope that if I can dismantle this wakeful moment fast enough— before I am on my knees retching over the toilet and my baby is shrieking to be fed or held or burped— then it won’t matter how much pain I’m in. Let us pray.
None of that happens, though. And instead I am nursing a newly cleaned munchkin and sipping water from the glass jar beside the bed. I swallow a big gulp and stare blankly at the shadows on the wall. Now the real fight begins. A ticker runs across my mind. Each undesirable thought so obvious and undeniable as it stains a canvas that is never bare. The beast that sleep somewhat keeps at bay yawns. It is time to worry. About what? About everything.
Before I was pregnant, my naturopathic doctor prescribed a supplement that would support lowering my anxiety and initiating healthier communication patterns in my neurotransmission. Basically, my stress signals needed help getting the message to turn off. Like muscle memory that you have to unlearn, my brain often functioned in a fight-or-flight mode, even when nothing was wrong. From the physiological perspective, this inability for my body to discern when to be stressed out and when to chill out, created a chronic energy drain, among other imbalances. On top of that, my hypersensitive nature made it hard for me to just shake things off. If something troubling impacted me, it stayed with me for a while. Its scene embedding itself deeper into the sea of things I wished I could forget.
Still, though, I was skeptical about needing such a thing. After much pondering and consulting with a herbalist who also highly recommended it for me, I decided to take the supplement because I trusted it would do more good than harm. I also worked on redirecting my emotional awareness when I experienced anxiety, which most times was in the form of a worrisome or fearful thought. Initially, I practiced this a lot when riding on the subway, where because of a few traumatic incidents, I was often unable to ride even a few stops without playing out some tragic scene in my head. (Even now, I have yet to take the baby on the train. If we’re on public transportation, it’s only the bus. I need to be above ground, and I need to be able to get off whenever I want. It’s the little things that help me stay calm.) My doctor told me to try to make a mental list of what was actually going on around me, to become present with the details of what was usually an uneventful ride with peaceful people. Lady with blue scarf reading a book. Maybe the bible. Man on cell phone runs hands through hair. Silver wedding band. Happy child looking in her backpack. Not being beaten or cursed out by an angry parent. Mother is resting her eyes. Earphones in.
It seemed rudimentary, but it took much effort to formulate newer, gentler thoughts while riding the metro. Slowly, I saw little flecks of progress. After I discovered munchkin was on the way, I researched if it was safe to use the supplement during pregnancy. There was no conclusive data, but I felt like it was best for the baby’s brain development to happen naturally without interference from something that was intended to redirect elements of my neurological activity. My doctor concurred. This was hard to do though, as now there was nothing to soften the rumbling caused by what felt at times like raging storms of anxiety during my pregnancy.
I don’t know if I was really dealing with my commuter anxiety when I was pregnant with the munchkin. But I did discover that if I just detoured through the city and took the bus, I could breathe easier and the thought of going home didn’t bring about a slew of horrific images. On many third trimester days I would spend two hours taking the bus, instead of hopping on the train for an easy 15 minute ride. I stood in the sweltering July heat, crammed onto crowded buses, inched along in bumper to bumper traffic, held my bladder while the driver made every stop. All this I did to avoid the rare possibility of being trapped underground in a tunnel on a packed train car with broken air conditioning and that one irate, potentially unstable passenger who doesn’t believe the conductor’s repeated usage of the word, momentarily, to be true. My claustrophobia aside, the larger thing I feared was witnessing some particularly violent scene while stranded in that 90 second interval from one stop to the next. Doors closing. An event that would never be unknowable, thereby exposing my unborn child to the emotional scarring of unwanted memories. Or worse, encoding the perinatal cerebral cortex with a propensity toward panic attacks when traveling in small, communal spaces.
It takes me all of five seconds to give life to a thought like that. And it might be hours, days, forevers, before its imagery dries up and stops taking root. My anxiety grows like this, expanding and winding into impossible knots that sometimes no manner of rational thinking can untangle. This is not some new phenomenon of my mothering. I have been this way since childhood. I accept this about me. I have counselors, family, my writing, my art. I’m working on it. All that said, I still was not prepared for how life with my son outside of the womb would amplify every anxiety space I had. That everyday I would struggle to mother freely under the weight of all I did not want to be thinking about.
It is still dark outside and he has only moved farther away from the place where we left sleep waiting. I have given into him somewhat. I lean back onto the pillows and draw my knees halfway towards my chest. He reclines in the crease my thighs provide him. I challenge him to hold himself up by taking my hands away for seconds at a time. He thinks this is a game. And I am willing to play. I need to play.
The music is on. Cesária Évora often assists by infusing these solitary moments with beauty, interrupting the picture I am painting in my mind that is not pleasant. Usually it’s a scenario that results in my being separated from the munchkin in some distressing situation. An accident, an injury, an emergency. In these scenes I see myself loosing my mind, not being able to comprehend anything, or stand up straight, or breathe.
This is the beast at its finest. And in the too-early morning hours when my partner has left for work, and the munchkin needs me to be more alert than I want to be, and the unnerving, ambiguous shadows swallow me, unrestrained they are in the absent certainty of light, I often lose this fight.
Munchkin is unphased by my defeat. After all, he spends the majority of his time embracing failure. Falling over on his side, or on his back, or on his face, where he exhausts himself trying to raise his heavy head above the collecting pool of drool under him. This he generally does in good spirits, confident always that someone will come shortly to reposition him. And then he can try again to hold himself up by himself. This, we call growth. And the only potential thing bothering him in an otherwise perfect, pre-dawn moment is that Mommy is not paying attention to the new tonal range in his ever-maturing babble, let alone that her hands aren’t stabilizing his back and he’s managed not to tumble over. You did it!
Five whole seconds go by before I realize he’s managed to not fall down. As soon as I cheer his victory, his core muscles give way and he succumbs to the right. He falls so willingly. I catch him and he is none the wiser that he did anything amazing. The ticker of my thoughts is suspended as a whole new feeling comes over me. Even after the fall, I’m still here.
Munchkin alternates between squealing and sucking on my neck. He is happy to just hang out in my arms. I am no longer looking for the sun to rise and confirm that now is really the beginning of my morning. The beast has not magically dissolved, but the munchkin anchors me to this present moment in a way that my anxiety can never quite achieve. I am grateful that be(come)ing his mother means having many opportunities to fall down inside these imperfect and uncomfortable feelings. To face the limitations of my fear spaces daily, and still work to extract something valuable, always. Each breath then is this labor, a commitment to celebrating the tiniest new bloom amidst whatever part of my journey might appear to be in ruin. That precious thing that would almost go unnoticed if my son weren’t here to help me see it.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.