A week ago, we sat in the exam room, Jay in my arms, the doctor tapping on his laptop on a stool nearby. He turned the screen my way, and took a good, hard look at us. He asked how I’d been feeling, and the answer was good but tired. He asked how Jay was doing, and the answer was good but a little fussy. After a careful explanation- you both have fast metabolisms, you’re looking a little peaked, he’s a physical kid, you’re eating and resting well, but he’s a few ounces lighter than he ought to be- he told me to start supplementing with formula.
So we stopped at the store on the way home and bought some devil milk. I got a large, dark coffee. Roughly ten minutes after arriving home, Jay asked to nurse. I made up a bottle and handed it off. He protested for a minute, the same way he does when he’s offered breast milk in a bottle, and promptly sucked it down in what appeared to be one big swallow. The second serving went down a little slower, but with no less enthusiasm.
My milk went rather quickly. I nursed last night, but I don’t know that there’s much point tonight. He’s happier than a pig in shit. Literally. His cheeks are getting reassuringly chubby, and the sweet note is gone from his scent, replaced by a hint of sour milk and diapers brimming full with a foulness the likes of which I’d long forgotten. I’ve been seeing a lot more of that heart-stealing toothless grin, which more than makes up for the stench. I feel better physically, if you don’t count the tension headache I’ve been fighting the last few days. The level of my fatigue wasn’t apparent to me at the time, I assumed it was the cost of new motherhood. He was literally sucking the life force out of me.
Devil milk was the best thing for both of us, and I met the moment when you concede your pride and your idea of what kind of mother you’ll be, and you hide your shame beneath your relief, or maybe it’s the other way around, but you do what is best for your kid, even if it means admitting that you’re not enough. Except, oddly, not being stubborn about it is exactly what makes you more than enough.
So it is that I finally have just enough control over my basic existence that I can now contemplate getting fully dressed on a semi-regular basis, and I can tell you that I am slightly relieved but mostly terrified. Women write about losing themselves in motherhood, about realizing that you can’t go home again, if home was the bar, or the dance floor, or a lazy afternoon with a bottle of wine. Because even when you find the occasion, you’re a different person.
I haven’t really struggled with that; I feel more like I’ve finally become who I always was, in some comforting, Alice in Wonderland kind of way. Emotionally, I have both a security and a freedom I’ve never felt before. That isn’t to say that I never feel overwhelmed or guilty or crabby, but there’s a rightness to even the hardest moments; that good, sweet ache that only comes from working to exhaustion. The isolation is hard, but it’s largely self-inflicted. I’ve been nothing short of reclusive since last spring. It was what I needed at the time.
Now the silence is tiresome, but the idea of resuming public and social life is heavy with inertia, agoraphobia, and wariness. I need to move forward, I need to get out and about, I need to leave the baby at home, I need to take him with me, I need to talk about him, and I need to not talk about him. I need to figure out how to talk with all of you again, how to make a call, send a text, write an email. In my signature style, I took things too far in one direction and now I’m struggling to move back towards center.
So much about my personal life has changed in the past year. I don’t know what to do about socializing, and sometimes I fear I’ve forgotten how. Just like the car I’m sharing with my Dad- I know how to drive a manual transmission, but I’ve not done it in years and years, so there the keys sit, waiting for me to find not just the time, effort and energy to try, but the courage.
I will find that courage, just like I accepted our early and unexpected weaning. Because if there’s one lesson the past year has taught me a little too well, it’s that there really isn’t any use in crying over spilled milk.