There are things you just can’t do in the trenches of a war, any kind of war. If you try to do them anyway, it will feel like method acting — a pantomime, a view of yourself from above, a dream about what you’re doing.
As we came to terms with the kind of baby Sammi was — easily sick, unable to fill her belly for more than an hour or two at a time, mysteriously unwell — things that other overwhelmed new moms could do became unavailable to me. I had to quit my fantastic job in order to keep Sammi out of daycare, but we could not join mother & baby groups or go to baby yoga classes or anything else that involved lots of children and their germs. I left work in January, and we spent a long winter indoors.
People told me how lucky I was to be home with my daughters. It made me want to run away, forever.
I didn’t want to be home with my daughters all the time, and I also didn’t want to be the kind of person who didn’t appreciate being home with my daughters. Many years later, when they were in elementary school, I would finally recognize that luck, along with the utter joy of walking them back and forth to school, but when they were newborn and three, it was a prison sentence.
I had nothing to talk about with other mothers of newborns, I felt, which worked out fine since I had exactly one friend with a baby. She was wonderful, but my resentment of her baby’s capacity for sleep was like a thick tar roping through our relationship. We had a connection, but sometimes we’d run into that tar, my patience would snap, and I’d feel unjustified in telling her why I was so angry — so I wouldn’t tell her. I’d walk back into the prison that was my house and watch Mary Poppins with Ronni, again, nursing Sammi for hours on the couch.
There was another connection that wasn’t working out for me, and that was with Sammi herself. Ronni had been a hysterical newborn, comforted only by me — not even David could hold her if I was nearby. Her preference for me lasted until she was nearly two. Sammi, on the other hand, would go to anyone. At the end of the day, when David came home from work, I would hand Sammi to him, and he would drape her over his forearm and walk around the house while I, freed from touching her, would scramble to make a dinner. That was the year I felt the first urges to learn to really cook — a skill that would come to serve me very well. In the stolen moments after David came home from work, I learned my first soup and pasta recipes.
David was in love with her in a way that I could not be. I could not attribute it to her fussiness — Ronni had cried even as she nursed at that age — and in retrospect, I believe that my very soul was warning me not to get attached to her. I cuddled Sammi, nursed her, held her, changed her, never had one fleeting thought of hurting her — but I resented her so deeply that it shut down several tunnels to my heart.
From the outside, and even when I thought about it at the time, our first nine months look very much like I was a mother with postpartum depression. I was convinced something was wrong with my baby; I had horrific insomnia; I had middle-of-the-night panic attacks; I worried all the time that I would never feel like myself again. I now believe that while the hormones played a part in this, the larger issue was that my instinct to protect her and myself was clawing its way through my veins, screaming. It was giving me armor, which I was able to rip off only when I had the right weapons to fight our way through the battles.
Connection is another luxury, like love, which has a high price in a war. If your main goal is survival, you take with you only what you absolutely need.