This Friday, my little guy is turning one. As the date of his birth nears, I find myself weeping at odd times. Yes, I wonder where my little baby has gone, and my heart breaks a little bit as Silas is cheerfully developing the skills to walk away from his mama. But my tears are not so much for sadness and nostalgia, but more for sheer relief.
I made it. Oh my god I made it through the first year.
While rationally I understand that there wasn't much danger of this happening, still there were plenty of moments in the past 12 months when I actually, truly believed I was going to die. It is astonishing to be that I am here, alive, and happy.
Plenty of things did die. Little bits of ego, each day, withered and fell away. Thoughts about who I was, and what kind of mother I would be. Plenty of expectations bit the dust.
In these last weeks of my son's life I have felt a new space opening up. There is more ease and joy in our days now. I am more comfortable in my new mama skin. And while I know there will be plenty of tough times ahead (terrible twos, I am looking at you), I take a lot of comfort in knowing that we won't have to fight these first year battles again, and that the lessons we have learned this far will do a lot to carry us through what lies ahead.
The two most important lessons are:
- You are not your thoughts. I forgot this at my own peril, and wept with relief when I was reminded in a particularly poignant yoga class. All those nasty dark violent thoughts you are having are not who you are. They are not reality. They are just thoughts, as temporary and weightless as clouds in the sky. No matter how mean and dark and menacing they may look, they are just vapor, and will blow away.
- You are a good mother. It's hard to feel like a good mother when plagued with such dark and nasty thoughts. But I was, from the start, a good mother. Maybe not good in exactly precisely the ways I wanted to be, but I was. My husband, my mother, my friends, my son have always known it. It took me a while to see it too. When people tell you you are a good mother, even if it feels the furthest thing from the truth, believe them. Try to. They can see more clearly than you in that moment.
And in no particular order:
- Mamas are all in it together. Sharing doubts, fears and dreams with my fellow mamas has quite literally saved me many times over. I don't expect that will change. They make me feel less crazy and less alone. I need all the less crazy I can get.
- Ask for help. Over and over and over again. You would totally do it for others. Let them do it for you.
- Forget the advice you have been given. Advice can be wonderful and life-giving. It can also be confusing and paralyzing when it doesn't quite fit with the reality before you. It's okay to let it go. Tuck it in your back pocket, though, as it may prove helpful in time.
- Take care of yourself first. No one else can do this one for you. You can pass the baby off to another caring adult to be changed, fed, cuddled. But no one can shower, relax, nourish yourself but you. Your baby deserves a calm and happy mama. It's okay to invest precious time to refill the well.
- It will change. It will all change, and sooner than you think. It's so easy to get locked into thinking that a specific difficult period or circumstance will last forever. It won't. You know the saying, "If you don't like the weather here [insert location], wait ten minutes?" That goes for baby weather too. Nothing lasts. You can huddle and live through pretty much any bad weather. There'll be a bit of sun on the other side for sure.
- You can do it. You are doing it. That voice in your head that repeats "I can't do this"? It's just a thought. See lesson #1.
- Love is all that matters. I have worried about a lot. There is so much to stress about: are we dressing/feeding/stimulating/washing/photographing this little being enough? Are we doing it right? One thing has never been in question: Silas is everyday being showered with love. Love covers over a multitude of sins.
- You'll forget most of this anyway. Time is merciful that way, it erodes the rough edges, leaving memories soft and easy to handle. Already I've gone back to reread journals of Silas' first months and if it hadn't been written down, I would've forgotten how hard it was back then. Everyone else around you will forget, too. None of this will brand you forever.
What are some of the lessons that are carrying you forward? I'd love to know!