The pain was real, and I was trapped in it. The dark room had melted away and all I could see were the faces that stared at me from above – my husband, my midwife, my doula, the nurses. I was trapped. Trapped by an epidural that had failed to relieve the agony but left me unable to move to escape it, trapped by the pain which had begun to consume me, trapped. I laid on the bed for hours, crying, searching, trying, enduring.
And then suddenly, a baby.
I had forgotten about the baby. The pain which had stormed through my thoughts and my body for the last fourteen hours cleared, and there he was. It was a he. My body exploded with love. It pulsed through my veins, released by my tears. The joy was exquisite.
In two days, I had journeyed from being heavily pregnant and enduring the most physically taxing undertaking I have ever experienced, to carrying for a new infant who depended on me. At the end of my son’s first full day of life, I had slept for only three of the last fifty-plus hours. After another night of fitful sleep, we would take him home.
The first few days were a fog of blankets, milk, diapers, and cuddles. I proudly showed him off to family and friends, but after a week or two our families returned to their own homes, and my husband returned to his work. We spent our days dressing and undressing, feeding and changing, bouncing and rocking and singing. I was in love, heartily in love, but the fatigue began to creep into my bones where it would soon settle and refuse to leave.
I would heard his cries in the middle of the night. My body, still bruised and broken from the birth, was slow to respond, and I felt guilt at the annoyance I had whenever his tiny voice cried out in the dark. I fed him, and handed him to my husband who would rock him to sleep. I would return to our bed and cry, cry because I was too sore to rock my own son, cry because I thought this phase would last forever.
When he did sleep, I did not. In the middle of the night I would wake suddenly and violently, throwing off the covers, convinced he was suffocating underneath them. I would back asleep in a cold sweat, listening to the sound of his breath beside me. Sleep eluded me during the day as well. Even when I managed to lay the baby down for a nap, I stayed awake, overwhelmed by the fact I was the only one home to care for this tiny creature.
Eventually, I began to fall apart. Before I had children, being tired meant staying up late to finish a paper in school, or feeling run down from a mild illness. I had never experienced sleep deprivation for days, not to mention weeks, on end. Thoughts flowed through my head like a faucet I could not turn off. This was a mistake. This will never get better. I’m not a good mother. My body still ached from the birth, and my soul began to ache along with it. I was in love, but I could not stop crying.
After finding his wife hysterically sobbing one day, my husband insisted I tell the midwife what was going on. At first I did not want to admit how I felt. I loved my child, and I thought confessing that I was struggling would reflect poorly on my ability to love him, to be his mother. I was worried I would tarnish our bond. Love, however, did not grant me immunity from the effects of the hormones crashing through my body; it did not protect me from the exhaustion I felt.
Eight weeks passed. He began to sleep for two, three, even a blessed four hours in a row, and I slept alongside him. The snows of that winter slowed and we stepped outside into the sunshine. I told no one that every night, I took a pill to help even my mind.
They say that you forget the pains of childbirth, and I can attest this is true. I remember clearly that it hurt, but how exactly slips my memory. As my oldest child grows taller, I have noticed the darkness that clouds those early weeks has begun to leave my recollections. I now think first of the kisses, snuggles, the simplicity of the season. I am tempted to rewrite that era completely, leaving the tears out of our story, focusing instead on the joy and the love that we shared. But that version would not be the truth.
One morning early on, I held my son as he slept against my chest, rocking him as I watched bad daytime television. “You are safe, you are sound,” I whispered to him over and over as he slept, wanting to assure him that the world he had entered was good. Now I realize, I was whispering to myself as well. This is the memory I will cherish, the one where love and pain sat down and rocked together.