Learning To Hold The Light

Elizabeth Hollis Hansen Postpartum

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Here I am: half naked on the gliding rocker that smells of sour spit-up and liquid shit and day-old diapers, and my breasts have not been covered in days because what’s the point of putting on a shirt when the next hours will be spent sitting, or lying sideways, or even supine on the bed, which doesn’t really work so well for breastfeeding. I am exhausted, un-showered, wearing the same leggings with holes that I wore to bed last night and yesterday.

My daughter, she sleeps. She finally sleeps. She rests against my chest and I am too afraid to move off the glider and put her in her bassinet because moving is such a delicate process, so slow and almost not-breathing because an infant sleeps with an awareness of movement and temperature and environment that is hypersensitive. There is an intense need for maintaining homeostasis, something I no longer have hopes for myself—a state of equilibrium.  I am ragged. My brown hair is knotted on my head, the skin on my belly sags, my breasts sag and are heavy and sore, and I am thinking (constantly) and worrying (obsessively) about everything that is happening around the baby.

Or maybe I’m not getting up from the chair because I am just too tired. I am too tired to shower, to feed myself—but I must feed myself! Do not under-nourish yourself because the baby is using up so many of your calories. Be careful not to deplete your energy because your milk supply will not keep up and the baby will get hungry and cry. I am hungry and feel like crying. My husband is not here to bring me crackers and juice. He has gone to the store to get more diapers and Butt Paste; the stuff that prevents diaper rash. Poor thing.

He is also exhausted. He is running errands and cleaning out BPA-free bottles and bouncing our daughter in the Moby when she cries and taking her for walks outside so I can sleep. We operate like machinery. We negotiate minutes. We look at each other in disbelief, with pleading eyes. We didn’t know it would be like this.

But then, there’s the baby. The baby! She is so tiny and so unbelievably real. Holy shit, she is the coolest, most amazing thing ever. Despite all the fatigue and discomfort and the lack of sleep and neglect of one’s personal hygiene, through the moments of self-pity and the subsequent moments of surrender, there is this baby that is the most perfect human being. She is Buddha-like in her nature. She is empty of thoughts – she does not have the words yet to form them – and she is full at the same time. Full of breath and of a teeny-tiny body and a little heart that pulses life into this expanding universe. My mind is blown: it’s like I’m seeing the world in a way I never have before. Suddenly life feels less like a spectrum and more like a flash of light. More like a firefly than a flame.

I’m beginning to sense the years compress in knowing that this perfect being, this sweet child, is going to grow and change and one day she will be in high school and then college if she wants, and then she will move away from me and I’ll become old. Old like a pair of skinny jeans that no longer fit. And it will all happen so fast—I just want to hold onto it. I want to hold onto the light.

She moves her head on my chest and does that suckling thing with her lips. I should get up. I need to get something to eat. I need to shower. Time flies when it’s measured in intervals between naps. Soon my husband will be back from the store and she will wake up and I will need to pump more breast milk into that plastic suction-cup contraption. God, I hate that thing. I hate its mechanical whine and metronomic constriction of air around my nipples. Pump often, they say. Every few hours. Don’t go for more than four hours or your milk supply will wane.

I tilt forward and rest her head in my palm while my other hand supports her back. I feel her breathing. I move with the slowness of a praying monk, every small movement rolls over me like a grain of sand through an hourglass. I lean forward from the gliding chair. I put weight in my feet. My legs feel sturdy. I lift us both together off of the chair and walk with careful even steps to place my sleeping baby in her cradle.


May 2016 – Cherish
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About the Author

Elizabeth Hollis Hansen

Elizabeth Hollis Hansen is a writer, editor, mama and yogi based in Oakland, California. She writes to explore the gap between what we really feel and the stories we tell ourselves. Elizabeth is a student at The Writer’s Studio in San Francisco. You can read more of her work on .

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