I looked down at Simon’s relaxed face. His little body melted into mine, surrendering to sleep. His rosy cheeks moved rhythmically as he softly sucked on his pacifier. I looked down at him feeling the force of love, and at the same time imagining all the things I would do as soon as I put him down for a nap. I’d check my e-mail, eat, take a nap, then maybe even shower. I imagined the warm soft water washing the dried spit-up off of my body, out of my long dark curls. My hair had become increasingly tangled and I had been finding clumps of it in the shower drain. Yes, a shower would be nice. Simon had been up for hours, alternately nursing and fussing. He was finally asleep.
I gently, quietly lowered him into his bassinet, careful to hold his head and body perfectly level. I slowly inched my hands, sweaty from the summer heat, out from under him. But my hand and his cheek got unstuck too fast, creating the tiniest bit of suction.
His eyes popped open and his mouth gaped in distress. “WAAAHHHH, WAAAAAAH, WAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!”
My ears began to short out with static, like when you leave a loud rock concert and step into the quiet parking lot. This kid would make me deaf!
“Godammit. Godammit. GODAMMIT!!” I yelled, and stomped my foot.
I picked him up and stalked back to the glider, the fancy rocking chair Jack and had I bought together, imagining the bliss of parenthood, peacefully rocking a sweet baby to sleep. Little did I know that was ALL I’d be doing — wearing out the hinges on the thing.
Where the hell WAS everybody? Jack was at work, and he came home as much as he could. My friends were all single, but they professed to want babies, eventually. They could come every once in a while. And my mom could come for a visit. But none of them could possibly have known how hard it was to get Simon content. They’d just want to play with him and never get him to sleep. Then he’d cry and they would come running to me.
I wanted a mama for me. Someone to do the hard things. The trouble was, if I asked, I’d have to reveal how desperate I was. And I’d have to let go of Simon, even if just for a bit. Why should I want to let go? Shouldn’t I want to do it myself?
After a few rocks he was asleep in my arms again. Maybe I tried to put him down too early. But he seemed so sleepy! Finally sleepy! Maybe there was something wrong with him. His body needed sleep, yet he couldn’t manage to stay asleep on his own for any stretch of time.
I wondered if it was like this for my own mother. But then, what was I thinking — she couldn’t possibly understand. She had a full-time nanny for the first months of my life. Probably because dealing with my insane father took up all her time. Now, as I contemplated calling her, they were finally in the middle of a divorce. That was great, but she couldn’t put me first as a baby, so why would she now? If I called her, she’d probably have her usual reaction: “I’m sure everything will be fine, honey. If you really really need it, of course I’ll come for a visit. But you’d probably be happier without me, knowing you can do it yourself.”
I sure didn’t need that. So I called Simon’s pediatrician, Dr. Jones. As I was waiting on hold, Simon squirmed in my arms. He didn’t like that I changed positions to dial. I finally settled him down and when she got on the line I spoke softly so I wouldn’t disturb him.
“He cries all the time, and seems so irritable. The littlest thing disturbs him. Could his tummy hurt? Could I be nursing him too much? He seems so upset and I can never put him down! He only wants to sleep in my arms and then wakes up every time I move. The only thing that settles him is nursing.”
“You sound tired,” she said. “He’s probably just going through a growth spurt. Don’t worry about over-feeding him. If the crying is getting to you, just nurse him for as long as you need the quiet. Really, it’s okay.”
I hung up and kept rocking the baby. The glider was in our bedroom, facing open French doors and a small balcony. It was hot, and a breeze would have been welcome. None came. I took a paperback mystery novel out of the pocket on the arm rest, and nursed Simon, turning the pages with a minimal amount of movement. I’d go as long as it took for him to be content. At least it was quiet.
I looked down at Simon in relief. He really was so sweet, and he needed me so much. I stroked his hair, opened the book and read voraciously. I needed the escape too much to savor the twists and turns of plot. I finished the book in one sitting.
My back was starting to hurt. Dripping with sweat, I shifted in the glider. I needed to get up. It had been four hours. Simon had been drifting between wakefulness and sleep the whole time, in a happy nursing haze. Gone were the dreams of eating, sleeping, and e-mail. I’d definitely settle for a five minute shower. Just a little bit of cool, fresh, new. I felt so old.
I gently unlatched him. His eyes opened, his mouth gaped. He took a deep breath and let out a blood curdling screech. I was instantly right back where I had started, before the phone call to Dr. Jones. Simon was a parasite, a leech on my breast. I began to wonder if having him had been a mistake. I pictured myself boarding a bus or train, and not caring where it took me.
In tears, I put him back on my breast. I stared at the chipped blue paint on the trim of the French doors and rubbed my eyes with my free hand. A quick jab, a vision of him flying out the doors, up over the balcony and onto the street below sprang into my head. Where did it come from? It felt horribly graphic; horrendous even — and yet secretly, shamefully satisfying.
I shoved it out of my mind. My head seared. It felt like a scene from a detective or a cop drama — an episode of “Law and Order” where someone gets tortured and they show a severed hand. If someone else is in the room you look away and say “how awful!” But watching alone; you can’t help but just look and put it out of your mind right after. What was wrong with me?
I loved Simon, with all my heart. How could I have those thoughts? I was so stupid, disgusting! What kind of a mother was I? I berated myself and forgot how hard I had been working to keep him content and happy. The realization hit me: this would never end. This was my life from now on. It would never get better, never be mine again. And I was supposed to like it. Might as well just accept it. This must be normal for a new mom. Days like this one.
If only I could have reached out to my mom. She might have reminded me that if I could get through helping her divorce my father, I could get through anything. Yes, her first reaction might have been to avoid the issue. But maybe she would have called back later, like she does now, and said something like, “I know I was unsympathetic before, but what you said scared me. It scared me because I’ve been there.”
She might have helped me see that I was getting stuck in a depression, that things would get better. Seeing how brave, how unbelievably strong she was becoming, could have eased my pain — diminished my growing fear that life was beating me down. She might have reminded me, that I had a beautiful, incredible adventure ahead of me, and that my love and hard work would be rewarded. That I wasn’t alone, that feeling anger was part of the work of motherhood.