I have a friend who is a photographer. A few days ago she was photographing my family and as we were walking from one location to the next we began talking about her most recent shoot – the birth of her nephew. As she talked about it, I felt this very bizarre sensation. My friend had recently given birth and she talked about how hard it was to see her sister in labor because she could still remember so vividly what it felt like to go through delivery.
That’s when it hit me.
I can’t remember anymore.
Yes, I can remember the facts. I can remember how bad the food tasted that I tried to eat before we left for the hospital. I can remember looking at the clock at exactly 11:45 p.m. as I began to push. I vividly remember the sensation of holding my daughter for the first time, a bundle of soft, warm, slow squirms surrounded by over-starched, stiff hospital baby blanket. I can remember sobbing on the couch the first night we brought her home when I realized I was on hour 72 without a wink of sleep.
But I can’t feel it anymore.
I remember the words associated with what I experienced during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the newborn months. Exhaustion. Fear. Loss. Pain. Grief. Excitement. Joy. Love. Sacrifice. Strength. Disappointment. Doubt. Anxiety. Burden. Shame. Gratitude. Wonder. Basically the whole gamut of human emotion. But I can’t feel them deep down in my bones anymore.
Immediately after delivering my daughter, I felt an overwhelming numbness. I can label it that, and I could feel it intensely for even a full year after. Now I look back and think – was I sure it was numbness? How is that possible? How could I not feel anything? I start to doubt myself – am I remembering it wrong? Weren’t there supposed to be angels singing? Weren’t hot, grateful tears of joy supposed to fall out of the corners of my eyes into my hair? I think of the possibility of delivering again and I am almost immediately brought to tears of joy thinking of holding our second child. How can it be that I didn’t feel that then?
I am in a unique situation, though. A situation where I sat and poured my heart out and my deepest, most honest feelings into this blog of mine, as these things were happening. I have written proof of my feelings in the moment. So I cannot believe I am remembering it wrong anymore. Instead I have a lot more plausible explanation.
They think they do, but they don’t. We are given a tiny window of time of these vivid recollections before time comes in and warps them into something that fits more nicely with our world view.
It would be so much easier for me to remember loving every second of G’s newborn stage, especially when I look back at the sweet pictures of her sleeping or smiling or giggling while her daddy played guitar. It would be so much easier to be able to enthusiastically exclaim that I never felt a love so wonderful as the love I felt the second I laid eyes on my sweet girl. But its not true. None of that is true.
Sometimes it is lovely, being unburdened by these memories, but other times it terrifies me, makes me genuinely afraid that I will be the woman at the baby shower or visiting the new mom spouting off platitudes about enjoying all the moments and the best time of your life and isn’t being a new mom the best thing in the whole entire world?
Mamas still in it, still in those achingly vivid moments of pregnancy, labor, or new motherhood -I am losing touch. But please remember this – remember that other mamas offering you advice, this happens to them too. This happens to OUR mamas, and mothers-in-law and grandmas. To aunties and best friends and co-workers and anyone who isn’t currently pregnant or raising a newborn in this very second. The hard sharp edges are made smooth and soft and time wears away the rawness of feelings. They don’t remember. Don’t believe it if they say they do. They remember what they create, but they can’t remember the truth.
Because to me, those early months felt a lot like drowning, like silently slipping under the water as faces looked down at me smiling, cooing, not realizing a part of me was dying right in front of them. Oh ENJOY this drowning, Ashley! Before you know it, its over! Cherish EVERY MOMENT of this drowning honey! Isn’t this the best time of your whole life? Have you ever known such joy as you are experiencing RIGHT NOW?
It feels lighter being lifted of those drowning memories, where now I am lost in a sweet elixir of regaining a little bit of myself, my life, and being madly in love with my daughter. When women look at me, puzzled, as I talk of my struggles and tell me they don’t get it because pregnancy and birth and new motherhood were the best times of their entire life, I no longer feel like kicking them across the room. I now think to myself “Hmmm. That would have been nice.” And then move on with my day. I am losing that in-my-bones understanding, empathy, ache of knowing what that drowning feels like in the moment.
The intense feelings slip away surprisingly effortlessly, like a balloon lifting slowly away from your hand. You can watch it get farther and farther away, until at one point you have to look REALLY hard to see it at all, squinting your eyes and scanning the sky for evidence. And then you get distracted for a little bit and eventually it really is gone and all you have is the memory of what it looked like and felt like leaving your hand, the ribbon slowly unwrapping itself from your palm, drifting past your fingertips.
That balloon is going to lift, new mama. I promise it will lift.
You will watch it rise slowly, slowly.
Then one day you will wake up with the soft, rosy memory of a different time and you will realize you made it to the other side.