The one about flowers, scones, diapers, soup and receiving blankets
In my career I sit with people every day who feel they are not in control of their thoughts; their own mind has betrayed them. Recently, I’ve begun to understand the torture of what that must be like for them. To be clear, I’m not thinking about harming myself or others. If you have been a caregiver for a newborn, you may understand what I have been experiencing. It’s hard to put this experience into words because every moment with Azazel is an incredible experience in love and joy however there is a profound emotional piece to birth, feeding, sleeping and a sudden shift in role and identity that is difficult to explain.
Azazel is 4 weeks old yesterday and I continue to be amazed by her beauty, adorable sounds, tiny fingers and smell. I’ve memorized her eyelashes, lips and belly button. I know how her face looks when she poops and how her arms go limp when she’s full. Every day is a new miracle. Amidst all of that mystery and obsession there are bizarre moments of sadness. Until last week, we had very little success with latching and so every time I fed her, I heard the negative thoughts start coming: “I’m not enough for her”, “She’s not gaining weight and it’s my fault”, “I’m failing my daughter”, “This is how it’s going to be every day: she will want milk and I won’t be able to give it to her”, “I’m a bad Mom.” Whoa. I’m not one who allows negative self talk to take up space in my thoughts, not for very long anyway. But it’s like I couldn’t prevent it from happening and the result was tears, anger, shame, guilt, embarrassment, hurtful words and sad thoughts. The tears scared my partner, but my mind scared me.
A few things have helped me along the way. First, Azazel and I figured out a good latch together. Things still aren’t perfect as she has only reached her birth weight two days ago and my milk supply may not be able to keep up with her needs. Yep, tears are welling up in my eyes as I write that…. but when she needs milk, she no longer cries, chews and fusses when feeding and my nipples are thankful for that. She still likes to sit on me for an hour or two at a time and I love every minute of it. I have found feeding to be an emotional roller coaster. Ideally, I want to be exclusively breastfeeding but we’ve been supplementing because she isn’t getting enough and I feel profound guilt over that despite having little control over my milk supply. It has been difficult for me to let go of that guilt and change my expectations. Values make us who we are and it has surprised me how firmly I grasp to my values even in something as important as feeding my baby. I am seeing how my identity and values must exist in liminal space, in a constant state of transformation. I had thought that they did already, but I am painfully learning that I was wrong.
Second, even though I feel alone when the thoughts come, I have people all around me who have given me unconditional support and encouragement. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have many friends. Ben and I spent more than a year in Kitchener, Ontario for grad school and after having returned to Winnipeg, have slowly made new friendships and reignited old ones. Even in the midst of that, we feel completely surrounded by friends. I have been blessed by my family who has brought me food, cleaned my house, been patient when I ignore their calls or texts for days and given us gifts and love. Friends, new and old, have been there for us offering wisdom, normalizing difficult experiences and emotions, replying to 3am ranting facebook messages, coming over to offer an objective perspective on Azazel’s shade of yellow and bringing flowers, scones, diapers, soup and receiving blankets. If anyone can explain what a receiving blanket’s purpose is, we would appreciate it- we have been using them for spit up! Even strangers to me have reached out. Some of Ben’s coworkers have passed on their number and offered their ear whenever I need it and a kind mom whom I bought a nursing pillow from off kijiji told me that I can email her anytime with questions. We ended our “transaction” with a hug! Best of all, everyone has shown us that Azazel is loved and that she has family everywhere.
Finally, my husband Ben and my daughter Azazel. They are my best teachers. Ben is my biggest cheerleader and I would have crumbled while we were still in the hospital if it weren’t for him! Ben has taught me the importance of patience and modeled it for me as Azazel takes over our lives. He has helped me to enjoy and take time to experience the beauty and mystery of our daughter and the Creator who made her. And, as always, I am learning how to support Ben better, now as a Dad. Azazel teaches me love, peace, patience, true joy, self-control in struggle, the importance of vulnerability and the gifts you receive when you are present each moment. She has taught me about who I am: the beautiful and the ugly. She makes me better.
Every day brings a new experience in joy and struggle. I don’t want a short cut- I do want the struggle because that is how I grow, change and increase in empathy.