It’s 3:30 in the morning and, once again, I find myself in the epic throws of compromise: my breasts are engorged and my nipples have the flow capacity (and deep cracks) of a defective dam, but my newborn is voraciously hungry and has early signs of reflux. I am the walking dead, hopped up on post-labor painkillers and no sleep, but I am the only one who can feed my baby since he patently refuses the bottle.
This is familiar territory. The last time I was in this position, I was surrounded by abundant assistance. My husband and mom tended to me with the type of care usually reserved to the diffusing of an EOD; I worked with lactation consultants and hospital nurses; I read countless books, attended lectures, and prepared myself in every way I could find; and yet, throughout it all, felt so many crushing and overwhelming emotions about myself and my new baby.
Yes, I had undergone an unplanned c-section with my last pregnancy and was certainly experiencing “baby blues” for the first time, but ultimately, I was learning, and it was HARD. The world had shifted dramatically, and I was re-identifying my place in that new world, that heretofore oft-researched but not personally experienced world of motherhood. Ultimately, I couldn’t be the me that I had known. I needed to be more. I needed to be “Mom.” Along this journey, I sought community at new moms groups, solicited advice from trusted family members, and even went so far as to pseudo-stalk absolute strangers with children, seeking to observe whatever insights and examples I could find.
It wasn’t until I had my second child that I fully realized that my greatest and most influential mortal guide along my journey to motherhood was YOU, my daughter, my firstborn. It was you who taught me about the efficacy of nursing positions, burping, and soothing. It was you who helped me and your dad work as a team through little-to-no sleep and the challenges of mutual parenthood. It was you who wordlessly (if not soundlessly) encouraged me to examine and explore new facets of my personality and uncharted depths of my capabilities. You taught me to love in the deepest, and many times, most painful and sacrificial way imaginable. As I jokingly said to a friend, “you broke me in.”
It took years and a second child to realize that I, indeed, had been broken in. In fact, it wasn’t until I brought my second child home from the hospital that I realized how I no longer chafed and bucked as violently to the challenges of early motherhood. To be sure, I have faced new types of challenges with my second born, he is after all, a uniquely nuanced person in his own right. But, I am already “Mom.” I may adjust and re-evaluate aspects of myself along this new journey, but I’m not as “green” as I was before. Thanks to your tremendous being, my firstborn, I now traverse this world of new parenthood armed with knowledge born of experience, with attempted grace under fire, and with a tested love surpassing my deepest understanding.
It was you, dear oldest child, who I have to thank for breaking me and, even more importantly, for helping to make me whole again. This new me, this “Mom” identity, isn’t perfect: she isn’t confident at all times, and she certainly isn’t always right. But, she is a whole person, a complete person. For all that you broke me in, you ensured that I fit back together the pieces of my body, my spirit, and my soul. Through breastfeeding, you helped me lose the weight I gained during your pregnancy. Through your smile, you eased my feelings of inadequacy in those early months. Through your unquestioning and boundless love, you allowed me to appreciate and respect my abilities as your parent. I am not merely whole again, I am whole in a new and greater sense.
As I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, I am overcome with joy and gratitude to you, my first baby, for guiding me here. Once again, my body may be torn and leaking, my emotions may be gripped by hormones, but this time, I am already facing this journey as Mom. I already answer to the call of tears in the night. I understand, not merely through late night Internet research, but through experience that this is a stage to be enjoyed as well as endured. I know what it’s like to respect the irrational and incomprehensible desires of new life. I am capable; I am whole; and thanks to you, I know that I am enough.
With my love and gratitude,