[Editor’s Note: This post is today’s featured entry in the Journey to Motherhood with Ricki Lake story contest. Find out how to submit your story and see the video message from Ricki here -- you could win a wonderful prize package! -- Jenna]
I stared at my squawking six-week-old where I'd laid him on our bed. With his face wrinkled and red, even in his cute blue teddy bear onesie, he struck me as a flailing miniature monstrosity. My breathing was shallow with panic and anger; I'd changed his diaper. I'd rocked him. I'd nursed him. I'd followed up with a full bottle of formula, as my milk was meager, and even in that fact, I felt a failure.
"What? What is it you want?" I barked, unheard above his own screaming. It was the first time I would bark at my child, and certainly wouldn't be the last. But I felt a terrible shame in being so angry at my tiny miracle. His crying was relentless, his eyes clenched as tightly shut as his fists -- those fists I remember unfolding to marvel at the fine detail of his tiny fingers, cradling him after my C-section.
I'd just nursed him, and he'd latched on perfectly! It was the symbiotic relationship of mother and child I had anticipated all ten months of my pregnancy, in all my shopping endeavors to find the safest crib and changing table; cutest crib sheets; blue and yellow valence curtains of stars set against a perfect sky. A blue rug decorated with green ecstatic frogs.
But even that first time holding and nursing my son, he'd screwed up his face and started to cry. The nurse could see I was growing distraught and had gently taken him from me, saying, "It's just his personality. Some just cry for no good reason." I had been offended that she should think she knew my child better than me! But staring down at my flailing child, puzzling him like some wild creature I was afraid to tangle with, I felt I didn't know him at all.
When my husband came home, I handed him the squawking bundle. I ran away. I escaped to Starbucks. I remember cradling a cup of cappuccino against my trembling lips, my eyes blurry with suppressed tears. I saw how I looked for the first time in six weeks, in sweat pants and a milk-stained T-shirt. I hadn't had time to file my nails. I found time only to take a shower. And the perfectly prepared nursery was in completely disarray, soiled onesies littering the frog rug.
Sitting there in Starbucks, I faced up to exactly how unprepared I was, as if I'd embarked on a trip without even remembering to pack a single bag, let alone a tooth brush. Truthfully, in all my preparations for motherhood, I'd never once considered that my limits could be so thoroughly tested.
It's only looking back now, eight years later, that I can recognize that Starbucks moment as a revelatory mommy one; I was acknowledging fully and for the first time, that becoming a mother is not about when you first set eyes on your little miracle. It is not even about first being able to own up to the cold fact that mothers do have their limits.
It was about the moment when I looked at my watch -- Instinctively, I was able to rise up out of the comfy Starbucks chair, rise above my exhaustion and despair, and know that I had to leave; I might have been gone too long. He might be crying for a very good reason now. He might be hungry. He might be needing me.
There are still those times when I look to escape. But only briefly. That mothering instinct has only taken deeper root. In many ways, my son needs me more now than when he was small enough to cradle, even as he may pull away, embarrassed, when I kiss him goodbye at school. Because he still just might turn around to mutter, "I love you, Mom. I'll miss you all day long."
A breeze can blow his fine hair askew, and I can be as struck by him as when I first unfolded those tiny fists. He can still test my limits. But he remains no less miraculous.
Photo Credit: rchristie.
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