It all started when the pills ran out. You see, when a 4’11”, petite-in-every-place girl delivers a 10 pound baby, there is a lot of, ahem, stitching and fixing up to be done.
Normally I decline medication, but after Jonah tore into the world my doctor didn’t have to push it. In the hospital, floating on pain medicine, I was still struck by how completely unprepared I was for taking care of a baby, but I was handling it okay.
Then I went home.
My family went home, hours away. I took the last pain pill, and hours later I was out of anything to curb the despair that had secretly been growing inside of me since Jonah’s birth.
I felt unable to care for him properly- nothing in the books helped me soothe him or myself. He almost never slept for more than 45 minutes. Day and night I wondered, “What am I doing wrong?”
I carried Jonah around all day. I felt like I had grown a screaming tumor on my chest.
My pregnancy fantasies of our soon-to-be-family had Benito, Jonah and I at the farmer’s market, outdoor music and art shows, and friends’ houses within a couple weeks of delivery. Instead, I could walk into the front yard.
Everywhere we tried to go, people stared, old ladies shook their heads, friends looked uncomfortable- get that screaming baby home!
We were living in a small college town, and not only didn’t know anyone with kids, but didn’t have a single friend who could be around a child without becoming nervous and out-of-character. Add hours of crying to that dynamic, and we had perhaps one visitor within the first two months of Jonah’s life.
I’d thought, pre-Jonah, that life would go on, just in a new direction, with more meaning. A few days after we came home from the hospital, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was wrong. There was a reason that people had joked that our lives were over: they were.
I sat in my rocker crying, thinking, I will never finish my degree, I will never write again, I will never even have a friend besides Benito.
By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Jonah was two months old and I wasn’t coping with the stress of motherhood any better than in the first couple of weeks of his life. While I had resigned myself to the idea that I was an unfit mother and my life was over, Benito realized that we needed to do something.
So three days before Thanksgiving, Benito packed us up, put us in the car, and drove us to South Carolina to visit my mother.
The car was the only place Jonah slept well, so the ride from Florida to South Carolina was beautiful and oddly quiet. I could suddenly remember life outside of the glider-rocker in our living room. Once they heard that we were going to South Carolina, three of my sisters drove there, too.
Sitting around a campfire with them on Thanksgiving night, I realized that just because we didn’t have friends who could handle children didn’t mean we had to become hermits. Compatible people will continue to tell you a story over the screaming baby, or better yet, offer to hold him.
‘Forget everyone we know,’ I thought by the campfire—we can’t expect them to adjust to a stage of life they aren’t ready for, but we can move on.
Finding compatible people is already a needle-haystack situation without kids, but if we felt pushed away by the arrival of our son, perhaps we should walk away instead.
I realized that a colicky baby was not a ball and chain, and our home was not a jail cell. Scornful grandmothers be damned, if Jonah was going to cry regardless, then why not get out and ease the stress on ourselves?
Benito and I made a pact to get out of the house every day, even if it was just a walk around the neighborhood, even if Jonah cried the whole time. We agreed to go somewhere at least once a week—for a hike, for coffee, anything. If Jonah cleared the place with his screaming, so be it.
My sanity and my life were worth a little judgment or contempt.
I trashed the fantasies of the life I had imagined, grabbed the life we actually had, and decided to enjoy it. There are still times, three years later, I have to push myself to do that… but such is life, screaming babies or none.
I consider myself very lucky to have a partner who realized he needed to thrust me into the world again– and I hope somewhere, someone will read this, feel the pull, pick up the baby, and get back out there.