One Year Old

(*Written March 1, 2020, two days before my son turned one year old.)

I’m struggling so much around Jonah turning one. I feel intense dread in my body and sick to my stomach. I can barely eat. I cry just writing or thinking about it. It feels like I need to cry and scream and rage outwardly, but there isn’t the space, and I’m also scared to let myself do that because I’m afraid of how intense my feelings feel. On top of feeling this way, there’s an amount of shame present here for me. I see others celebrate their children’s birthdays on social media with a “cry face emoji” and text along the lines of “how has it been a year already!?” I’ve always felt things deeper than those around me do, I’ve always struggled with intensity of feeling and wells of tears bubbling up inside me from nostalgia or reflection – sometimes suddenly and surprisingly. Am I alone? I don’t see anyone writing about grief and confusion around their kid’s first birthday. I can’t possibly be the only one. Am I? 

For me, being a mother has been the single most important thing in my life, and I know it will continue to be the most important thing I’ve done. Mothers and babies and women’s sexual and reproductive health was also my passion even before I became a mother, so it’s double intense because I pour my heart and soul into it everyday in a way that many don’t understand; for me, my identity was tied to this even before I was a mom, and now the intensity has only risen – for better and worse.

I feel time slipping away from me. I want to honor this. Honor myself. Find the sacred again. Be back in the early postpartum bubble. I want to feel cared for again. I want someone to help me honor this and remind me of the powerhouse warrior I am/was the night of his homebirth. I need to process that and be honored with someone. And yet, I’m here feeling alone and forgotten and like I’m the weird one yet again who remembers things vividly and cares “too deeply” and wants to reminisce and connect with those who were there – a custom that isn’t often valued in our society. I don’t feel seen. I want to be back in the beginning of it all – so badly that I can taste it. And yet I can’t be. I’ve been watching video after video of us in the early days, and I feel deeply panicked and lost. I’m writing this while sobbing in the Sprouts parking lot because it’s the only time I was alone and could let some of this loose on the page.

Last year at this time, I had less than 24 hours before my water would break, before I’d begin the biggest, most important transition and transformation of my life. I was a pregnant woman, not yet fully a mother, waiting. Not knowing when the waves would come. Not knowing when I’d meet the human for the first time who would transform me. Tomorrow, my water broke one year ago. And I started the journey. I was prepared and yet utterly unprepared. But I look at that woman and see someone I’m not anymore. Part of me sees how I’m “harder” — more tough and strong and have an outer layer that doesn’t let much bullshit inside. I’m more confident in who I am and in who I am as a mother. Part of me sees how I’m “softer” — more patient, more compassionate, less judgmental, more humble and joyful and silly. My body feels tired (my back aches from side-lie breast-sleeping all night, and my shoulders slump more forward with the weight and joy of a year so far of breastfeeding). I don’t necessarily feel like I like the way I look right now, but I like myself more than I ever have. And there’s an internal flame that glows stronger than any glow from a good haircut I’ve ever gotten. My belly and womb are empty, and yet I look down and see the way the skin hangs a bit over my belly button in a way it hadn’t before Jonah, and I smile thinking about how big I was and how much space my body made for this gorgeous human. I smile remembering how much I loved being pregnant and how I felt magic every single day and how I’d lie there and watch the waves of his movement inside me. I can remember the line – now faint – going down my belly from my belly button, marking my pregnancy and the tissue there. He was eager to come, the way he’s been eager to do anything and everything – crawl, sit up, roll over, walk, see what’s happening in the world. Eager and sweet. Deep and engaged. 

I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know what he’d be like. But I knew I would love it. Mothering. And I do. It’s my calling. It’s the intersection of everything I know and love and desire. I know I found some joy in every day of the past year. I know I was present. I don’t have regrets. I know I did it the way I saw was best and enjoyed what I did. The hours upon hours of breastfeeding and breast-sleeping. I’ve been feeding Jonah with my body for a year – plus 10 months of pregnancy. For almost two years, my body has been serving someone else – someone who is thriving and vital. What a gift. What a privilege. I watched him sleep on me for naps and nights. I watched him breathe, I watched his smiles and twitches and sweet little noises. I smelled his head and body and reveled in that combination of sweat, baby, milk, pee, spit up, sleep, coziness. He was skin-to-skin with me and Joe constantly. I sang to him, rocked him, was patient with him, made him feel safe, slept next to him every single night. He is part of me. And though I know I didn’t miss out, and I know I did what was right for him and enjoyed it, I miss it and want it back. I still yearn for those early days — feeling that seen and cared for, where the whole focus is consuming, and it’s clear what I have to do and want to do and feel justified in doing without any explanation to others or myself. Now I feel like I still have the same priorities but they feel not as honored or I have to doubt them. Or something. The bubble isn’t contained.

I wonder if I’m resisting “moving on.” I don’t know how to transition to this next phase. Of course I’m enjoying him thriving and growing, but the bittersweetness of it is overwhelming. My feelings feel so big that they’ll swallow me whole. Even though my post-birth hormones of bliss have subsided, can I keep pieces of these memories and still live them? How can I honor this? What does that look like? Is that okay or silly and unrealistic? Do I have to “get back to real life” or am I onto something brilliant that others can’t see or maybe don’t feel? Am I weird or brilliant? Or both?

All I know is that it was the time I felt the best in my whole life. I was awestruck by what I had just done. I was able to rest in a way I never could before where I was so at ease with myself and so at peace and so empty and full at the same time. I could just be. Finally. Complete. I felt complete – neither needing nor wanting anything other than what I had and where I was. And I gave myself complete and utter permission to just be in that in a way I struggle to now and have always struggled with. I want to give myself that permission back. What I felt then is how I want to feel. The ability to close my eyes and simply rest knowing I’m at pure and gentle peace within myself – with full compassion and awe and joy in myself. What a true gift that was and is. There are so many pieces in there that I want to take with me into this next era. 

And I’ll never stop remembering us, tucked into our postpartum cave, the sweet music we had on through the birth and beyond, the way we tended to our space each day in such simple and cleansing ways, the rhythm we had and the beauty in the rest and waking and reveling in baby smell and cuddles and nursing. Deep deep satisfaction and fulfillment and joy and laughter – oh the delirious, sleep deprivation laughter – and connection. This is everything. EVERYTHING. And I get to experience it. Holy wow. 

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