Just a few minutes after Margaux Juliet arrived :)
Here are the things I knew I was giving up when I had a baby:
1. My body. That’s an obvious one. For eight months, I watched my body change and change. Everything expanded, my belly, of course, but my legs grew thicker, my hips spread, my rear rounded out until my profile was three undulating curves: my breasts, the bump of my growing baby, my behind. My cheeks reddened, my nails grew fast, a line ran straight down my stomach, perfectly in the middle, so that if you folded me along it, I would be in two precise halves.
2. Sleep. But I’d learn to live with it, or without it. I got an expensive glider for the nursery—I had saved the picture on my phone no less than three times to show people and had agonized over the material, the color, its placement in the room—and I imagined rocking my tiny, perfect baby in the darkness of 3 A.M. until she drifted back to sleep and I crept to my own room to snuggle up beside my husband, who would rouse just enough to thank me for taking care of our new daughter, who would stumble out of bed and rock her in that same chair just hours later when she woke again. “It will totally be worth the money,” I said firmly to anyone who dared to raise an eyebrow at the price tag. “After all, I bet I’ll end up sleeping in it with her every night!”
3. My time. Of course I wouldn’t be able to do everything I usually did. But we would have date night, I would carve out time to write, I would wear her in a sling when I cooked dinner. I would be the cute mom with the cute baby at Whole Foods, and everything would be different but manageable, completely doable.
And I have given up those things, and I’ve given them up in ways I wasn’t prepared for. My body still doesn’t look like the body I had a year and a half ago, and it doesn’t look like the one I had six months ago either. I never slept in that chair because I was too afraid to sleep while I held her, terrified she would stop breathing or slip out of my arms when I closed my eyes. I didn’t rock her in the glider at 3 A.M. I nursed her and nursed her and paced around the house with her and cried theatrically and bitterly when Josh didn’t wake up when Margaux did, and it was only me in the middle of the night trying to figure out what was making this mysterious little creature so unhappy. And my time: no time has belonged to me in months.
Yeah, we're those idiots who bought the newborn photos they do in the hospital.
Then there are things I didn’t know I was giving up but did anyway:
1. My relationship with my husband. I still have one, but it’s different. It’s unfamiliar. When I was pregnant, we used to tell people how glad we were we waited as long as we did to have a baby, but in the very early days of Margaux’s existence, and sometimes now, I wonder if it was a mistake to have taken those five years and spent it wholly on ourselves. We had figured it out in so many ways, had learned how to be married to each other. And so when two of us became three, I delighted in my baby but mourned how much things had changed between Josh and me, how different our life had become. Our life was good and happy and easy, and now it was so hard, and I thought obsessively about the things we had done in the past: lazy brunches, museums, afternoon movies, late dinners, days spent entirely on the couch, hibernating in both the winter and the grueling Texas summer, hiking trips in exotic places. When Margaux was born, the wallpaper on my phone was a picture of Josh and me in Santorini, and on the screen we glowed, tan and unfettered against so much blue: the water, the sky, the roof of a church. It hurt me to look at it. “We’ll never go anywhere again,” I told Josh in the first month after Margaux came. “That was it.”
“At least it was a good trip,” he said. Now we’re learning all over again how to be with each other, how to be parents as well as husband and wife. It was a good trip, I know, and I think this one can be even better than the last. It’s just that we’re in a different country, one we’ve only heard about and never visited, and the terrain here is at once jagged and beautiful, and this is where we live now.
2. Friends. Some of my friends didn’t last through pregnancy. Most of my friends did, and I’m so thankful for that. But some of them didn’t. My life was changing, and maybe theirs wasn’t, and that made it hard to relate to one another, or else theirs was, and we were just changing in different directions, turning away from each other, our friendship a circle cleaved in half, each side falling away, turning away so that we were no longer connected. Pregnancy, for me, was a selfish time, so many days, weeks, months devoted to focusing on my body, on my baby growing inside it. I'm willing to accept my culpability here, in the weakening of these friendships. If you're one of these people, I'm sorry. I forgot to look up, I know. I just didn’t know I needed to.
3. Identity. I’m a Christian, and so I believe my true identity in Christ is greater than any other one I claim. But it’s so hard, going from simply being myself to being the mother version of myself. Nothing I do now is the same as what I used to do before I had a baby, and that’s been a difficult adjustment for me. When I go places, I go with Margaux, and now people see me as a mom. Before, people would see me, and I could have been anyone, could be going anywhere, but now I’m pushing a stroller or bouncing a crying baby up and down and making a shushing noise really loudly in her ear or I’m running out of the store/restaurant/building because she’s wailing, her tiny fists little balls of rage, her perfect cheeks hot and red, and everyone around me knows I’m going home to continue doing mom things there. Here, in this sad Margaux situation, being a mom is my defining characteristic. But even when she’s happy, that’s still true. I’m dying for someone to comment on my baby so that I can talk about her. When I open Google on my phone, all I have to do is type “what” and it fills in a baby-related question. It’s an all-consuming job, and I get tired of being consumed by it. I want to sit and write because I know I’m not just a mom (no one is!), but it’s nearly impossible, and I start to forget what I know is true: I’m more than Margaux’s mother, although that’s certainly important and special, and I’m grateful for that gift.
Last month, I went to residency in Vermont, my last one, and I was apart from Margaux for five days. I felt split in two—I missed her in an aching kind of way, but at the same time I felt almost giddy because only a few hours into my first day back, I realized I was still who I remembered being after all. I could write and discuss things and tell stories. I could hold a conversation. I could do things besides take care of a baby. When Margaux came with my family up to Montpelier, I cried when I saw her, my most beautiful, wonderful girl. But—and it’s hard to admit it—I found myself grieving the end of the time I had to be myself again.
My mom told me a story about when I was a baby and she a new mom. She was taking kids to Young Life camp, and I wasn’t there. It was only a few hours into the long bus ride to Colorado, and she realized the same thing I did, nearly thirty years later in the green mountains of Vermont. “I was still me,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Every night I have "Baby Bottom Appreciation Time" right before her bath, and this is what that looks like.
I’ve given up smaller, much less important things too: dairy, TV, going to the gym, physical books because it’s impossible to hold both a book and baby. But what I’ve gained, though, cannot be contained in a list. It is impossible to name, except for this: for all the things I’ve given up and all that’s been hard—which feels like everything—I have Margaux. I tried for her, I prayed for her, and she’s here, and she’s a miracle. I adore her. I love her more than I could have ever thought. It’s just that it’s a new world for both of us. Sometimes I think about how much Margaux has learned in five months, and it’s pretty incredible. And now that she’s here, learning and growing, I know how much I have to learn and re-learn myself: how to be a mother, of course, but also a wife, a friend, a writer, how to hold onto what is true, how to remember who I am.
My first Mother's Day!