(Forest Wander Nature Photography)
I wrote this letter to my daughter in the dark of her nursery late at night, the two of us tucked into the glider, me typing somewhat one-handed on my phone while she finally slept in my arms. It sounds far more sweet and peaceful than my reality was at the time. It was just before Mother’s Day, and I was in the throws of postpartum depression, still healing from her delivery nearly 12 weeks later and fumbling my way through taking care of her on my own for the first time. All of the moms around me were trumpeting their love of new motherhood and adoration of their tiny humans while I fought the guilt of wishing some else could hold her, please, while I just curled up in a little ball until everything stopped hurting.
“Sometimes love isn’t fireworks, sometimes love just comes softly.” – Janette Oke
I remember hearing and reading that quote for the first time, and it has stayed with me since then. Everything in Hollywood and even most books will try to teach you that love is fireworks. Fireworks burn bright and hot and beautiful. Sometimes they keep coming and other times they don’t last. For some people, that is how love happens and that is okay. But then there are those who get only a quiet night sky with the soft reflection of the stars. Even with the common sense parenting of your Nina, I still fell prey to equating love and fireworks when I met your dad. But love comes softly for your mama, and I put your daddy through some tough moments because I couldn’t recognize that.
I knew better when it came to you. I knew that tough births can make for tough beginnings and that sometimes it can take weeks or even months to get that moment of drowning in love. Yes, I knew that love for us didn’t have to mean fireworks, but a part of me very much wanted it to. And every question of “have you ever felt more in love before?” and “aren’t they so worth it?” emphasized that difference and hurt me. My first look at you didn’t drown me in love. Neither did your first smile. Even as I sit here with Mother’s day fast approaching, the waves aren’t knocking me down; I am firmly on dry ground. That is perhaps the hardest thing – to see the fireworks going off all around you and be alone in your silent patch of sky.
It was nearly two months before I could care for you myself and during that time my body hurt so much and sometimes my heart hurt even more. After so much separation, we have had to find each other. That is not an easy thing to do. It takes work and time and patience. But, your Nina has taught me that if you keep doing the things that love does, eventually love will come. Softly perhaps, but it will come. I’m holding to that lifeline of a promise and the belief that James Thurber is right when he wrote that “Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.” By that standard, I really do love you more than anyone in the world, and I think that is enough.
So, I will keep doing the things that love does even when they hurt and even when they are too hard for words, and I have decided that if the waves of love aren’t going to drown me then I will just dive in head first. And love is coming, tiptoeing softly to meet us tonight. Still no overwhelming moments yet, but plenty of love just the same.
I didn’t know then that a mere week later I would be sitting at the far end of our dining room table one morning holding my girl up in front of me when a delight so fierce would overtake me that the only way to express it was to kiss her little cheeks and squeeze her as hard as was safe. That was the first time I understood the phrase “I could just eat you up” and the day I first found joy in my daughter. I can still tell you the date.
Believe me, I know that everyone’s story is neither that simple nor straight forward, and there can be a much longer and sometimes messier road to enjoying their children.The tough times didn’t end there for us by any means. The next 6 months were littered with crises and heartaches of many different kinds. I watched as the joy I took in my daughter was repeatedly stolen. Hard won things sometimes have to be fought for again and again. Life can be relentless like that. But I rarely let on how much things were crushing me at times. Everywhere I looked were moms, even ones in the trenches of sleep deprivation, overwhelmed with love for their little ones (rightfully so), and I felt like an outsider who couldn’t speak up.
When my daughter was first born, it took days before my mind would even process the idea that she was mine. People kept handing me this baby to try to nurse when I really just wanted to be left alone. I couldn’t summon up feelings of deep love or obsession over her adorableness. When I looked in the mirror, I would swear I was holding someone else’s child. The compounding detachment was precipitated by a hefty dose of pain and disability for myself after her birth. How do I describe the difficulty of bonding with your baby when you can’t care for either of you for months at a time?
When I think of those months I remember with each tick of the clock I felt the grains of something infinitely precious slipping through my fingers – the moments of my first baby’s newborn life. Oh my little one, I told myself that I did not hold you enough even when some nights I held you for an eternity. I didn’t nap with you, and I have to remind myself that you didn’t sleep. I desperately want to go back and trade you 3 months of adoration for the 12 weeks of struggle. You didn’t get the deal I wanted for you. How do I reconcile the burning desire to give you the best of my love with the idea that I did – I did give you the best of what I had in those moments even if it was a broken, pieced-together mess of frustration and struggle dripping in tears. I am a perfectionist by nature and the thought that that was the best that was in me galls me with a sense of helplessness. It is the pulled thread in my wrap, the stain on my shirt, the mistake written in ink. I want to go scrub it out, white it over, pull it through, but I can’t because life doesn’t let you do that. It sits there messy and broken, and I can’t clean it up or fix it. It got added to the list of those events and times in my life that are impossibly hard to let go of.
How long will it take me to process all of that and not just push past it? I don’t know. But this is the letter I would write you now, sweet girl.
You are the first star in my quiet night sky, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shine on, my beauty.