sometimes i think that my memory is just a study in the morphology of time- and time washes over every experience, pressing even the most hard-etched recollections into neat and pliable molds. the painful details wash out to a muted, neutral landscape. my episodic memory becomes distilled into the vaguely happy detachment of watching reruns on xanax. yeah, it was fine. everything turned out okay.
a week postpartum, deep in the trenches of the baby blues, i sobbed to ian why didn't anyone warn me about this? why didn't anyone talk about it?
i realize now it's for the same reason i reminisce fondly about gut-wrenching breakup experiences, or relish the opportunity to wax nostalgic about abdominal surgery. time is the great healer, but it also moonlights as a makeup artist. once you're far away enough, contours cut away the bleakest details and leave glittering highlights that reshape the experience. i am six weeks postpartum now, and the hardships feel diffused by an increasingly rosy glow. another six weeks from now and i'll probably be able to fathom having another baby. by next year i will be saying things like oh my god it was the best thing i've ever done. i might even change my instagram bio to read wife & mommy <3
jk i will never do that.
but now, when someone asks me how was it? i waste no time. i do not hedge. i launch into a monsoon of hyperbole, recounting the details of my neural nightmare and rehospitalization. i talk openly about the blanket of regret that enveloped me during the first two weeks. i tell them that newfound motherhood struck me as particularly annoying.
i don't want to forget that having a baby, at one point, felt like the fucking worst. that even for all my careful planning and excitement, the initial fallout was a letdown unlike anything else i had ever experienced. i don't want to see a pregnant friend and tell her chirpily that she will be SO in love with her baby, because i have forgotten about how it felt to not love mine immediately. and most importantly, i want to remember the reality of this experience when ian and i eventually decide to start talking about number two. i want to be ready with the l-tyrosine, 5-htp, and costco pallet of kleenex.
because honestly, it doesn't really feel that way anymore. it feels really good. i catch myself wanting to prance around the office with a new photo of james to show everyone. i am starting to say "he's so cute!" instead of critically evaluating his face for symmetry like i'm judging a livejournal rating community application in 2005. when i creep into his nursery for his midnight feed, he immediately halts his little sobs and peers up at me through sleepy eyes. i marvel at that solid, fat little body, the warm weight of him in my arms, how perfectly round his face is. you're a real person, i think dumbly. and you're mine!
i can safely say that aside from time, the two other biggest factors in my mental turnaround have been support and routine.
it is one thing to have a partner who begrudgingly wakes up once in a while to help with a diaper or two. it is another thing entirely to have a child with ian smith. i would recommend it to everyone.
"you are so lucky," my mother reminds me enviously. "back in mongolia, men don't have anything to do with new babies. your dad didn't do anything."
"i washed diapers!" papa refutes indignantly.
and maybe he did rinse a couple of cloths. but ian does nearly all of james' diaper changes. he handles the majority of his meals, feeding pumped breastmilk from a squishy comotomo bottle. he wakes up at 5 am and buys me as much sleeping in time as i could possibly want. he holds little man like the two of them are magnetized together, bopping him around in elusive rhythms that never fail to calm. he changes clothes, gives baths, swaddles, and puts james down for bed every night. he stays home on tuesdays and thursdays so that i can fully launch myself back into work. and in between the neverending childcare duties, he finds time to work, run, take care of the dogs, make me cocktails, and watch every episode of catfish (why). i am mario reaping the benefits of an infinite coin block. i have hit the jackpot. i don't deserve him.
if ian is the champagne in my life that buoys me into a place of optimism, work is the addition of orange juice that normalizes my days and sweetens the experience. yes, i'm comparing my existence to a mimosa. yes, i am a really bad writer.
it sounds bonkers to be so thrilled with returning to work, especially in a country with notoriously awful maternity leave policies. i honestly expected to feel differently, to be filled with anxiety and hopelessness at the idea of leaving my child for 8+ hours a day, to be wracked with feelings of unfairness and professional pressure. but instead, i had two bosses who gently encouraged me to take as much time as i needed, who would've paid for any length of leave, who checked in on my health and held back any work-related communications.
and when i decided after 5 weeks' leave that it was high time to return to work and fall back into a familiar schedule, i experienced a rush of joy unlike anything i've experienced before. stepping back into my clinic felt like thawing out after a deep and painful freeze. despite the persistent pain from my unorthodox c-section, despite the unwieldy awkwardness of squeezing myself into a compression garment and the again into several layers of business casual, despite the cumbersome 30-minute stretches of pumping in my office and accidentally spraying milk across my imac screen- i am back where i belong, leaning hard into the identity i've worked for years to cultivate. managing something other than my own breasts, engaged in concerns that are bigger than my own self-absorbed musings. i practically prance down the hallways at work, preening when yet another patient tells me i look amazing for having given birth last month.
(they are lying, i look like a bag of laundry stuffed inside another bag of laundry. my stomach regained flatness but the topography of my other body parts makes me look like i was drawn by a teenage boy suffering a grand mal seizure).
and when i return home, the angles of my house have straightened themselves out into a familiar perspective once again. james' nursery is now imbued with warm light instead of nightfall anxiety. our time together becomes more precious, more important, and i am no longer desperately waiting for him to fall asleep. i hold him happily against my chest while ian watches yet another episode of catfish that ends in embarrassing confrontation. and like that weird teenage lesbian who's been pretending to be an instagram model for 4 years, i am also finally coming clean and absolved of pretense-
- identifying with the reality of my new life and embracing it for the first time.