I recognized her desperation. She was trying to speak over it and tuck it behind a smile she’d been rehearsing with everyone who asked, “how are you?” and “how’s the baby?” I know everyone asked: the cashier and the neighbor and the parent at the conference and the best friend and the random runner jogging passed the stroller and and and… They all had an answer in mind, too, one that dripped with the syrupy sweetness of every stock photo of babyhood that has ever existed in the Getty archive: cuddly cherubs in fleece, footed jammies; soft lighting; and bed time stories; and adorable firsts with giggles and coos; and baby poop that doesn’t stain.
When I asked, “how are you?” and “how is the baby” all those stock photos ran through her head like a flip book until maybe her brain would stop on one she could use to convince me that everything is just as it should be. But she couldn’t. So she said, “No, it’s good. I’m good.” And then, “It will get better.” She forced a smile.
I wanted to hug her. I wanted to reach across the table and hold on to her and say something that would make having a baby who screams all day and night feel bearable and doable. I wanted to slip her the secret recipe for getting enough sleep, but all I could think of were the platitudes and glittering generalities from memes with sunsets and silly fonts.
I knew that desperation. I spent 14 months staring at it in the mirror, trying to cover it with foundation and illuminating crème and $54 eye shadow palettes that might scream something other than “help!” I tried to drown it in coffee that I hoped would resuscitate enough of my former self to make it through another day. I gave it pep talks; you can do this! Snap out of it! Motherhood isn’t martyrdom, Em.
It’s one thing to be given lemons, as the adage goes, but it’s another entirely to feel like the lemon—wrung out, misshapen and sour.
Would she understand if I told her I sleep in the basement now on a futon/sleeper sofa hybrid in the bowels of the house next to hockey equipment and a worn out weight bench because I realized that sleep had to win—for me, for my baby, for everyone in the house that I love most of all? Would she add me to the ranks of people who think they are parenting experts because “I am so not” I’d promise (and mean it).
Before December 23, 2014, Josephine’s birthday, I never would have recognized that desperation. Three babies into motherhood, and I would have dismissed this woman’s wan expression as exhaustion, as “oh, motherhood is tough sometimes.” We all know that because we joke about it in cards and on sitcoms because “it’s adorably funny” HAHAHAHAHA. “Time goes by so fast!” “Savor every minute” “You’ll be fine!”
Until you’re not and your chin is quivering in front cialis ne fonctionne pas of almost-strangers and you’re fighting back tears. But you bury the truth because if it falls out when you open your mouth, what will people think? Will they suck their teeth or question your devotion or doubt the depth of your love?
“I won’t,” I’d tell her.
“I get it,” I wanted to say, “but not in a way that dismisses what you’re feeling because you’re
feeling so much or maybe nothing at all and both are terrifying. Maybe you don’t recognize your internal voice anymore because it’s so sleep deprived it sounds unfamiliar, and you daydream of catching just a few hours of sleep, of peace. You chase it and fantasize about it like it’s a fix you need because you do. You need it.” But then I’d tell how to make levitra work better her that that might not be her story because her story and her baby and her motherhood might be different than mine is and was and will be.
Was. I can say “was” now because that desperation passed; it’s my past. I wasn’t brave enough to talk about it until it was “was.” But that doesn’t have to be her story either.
I wanted to hold her hand.
I wanted to listen and say the right things.
What I said was: “I’m so sorry,” and I hoped my eyes told her the rest.
But they couldn’t possibly.