As a healthy wound bleeds cleanly, free flowing, the zombie state of new mamahood is the way it's supposed to be. Awestruck but sleep-deprived, unkempt, squinting at the rest of the world for its sparkling unencumbrance. Shuffling along uneventfully towards contentedness. All along wondering, will I ever be just a woman again? Will I ever not smell of sour milk?
Above and beyond the mandatory shuffling, there’s a heavy sort of solemnness pressing down, smothering the me I'd otherwise expect to return to. After all this, I don’t even know if she'll exist anymore. Not as she was.
I wish I could stop time-travelling. The last time I saw this person, I wasn’t even pregnant yet. Or in this picture, I was a few days pregnant but didn’t know it. Or the last time I was here, I was pregnant, and the boys were whole and safe. None of this had happened yet, and I was still just myself.
It makes my stomach turn with longing, this unrelenting wistfulness.
Every morning I wake steeped in forgetful sleep, a gift for the first ten seconds before opening my eyes. Then the weight of the boys and their uncertain future presses down on me and I think dammit, it’s done, and it’s true.
Every new mom doubts that she'll ever resurface from the hibernation. That she'll ever regain the time or self-acceptance to relish in herself. Deliciously impractical clothes (or anything not smeared with offspring snot). Girly shoes, wine, yoga. Unhurried conversations. Spring-in-your-step stuff. Any food other than that which is formed into bite-sized crocodiles.
Waiting to see where Liam lands on 'The Spectrum'—and to see that Ben is clear of it, simply by virtue of being a preemie—already exhausts us both. The pursuit of past-life sparkle is hopelessly distant, shallow in comparison to what's at stake. But that doesn't stop me wanting it. To enjoy life again without the fresh sting of feeling betrayed by it.
Today I walked into Liam and Ben's new home, the transitional care nursery, to find the nurse on break. They’ve graduated not because their release is imminent, but because they’ve been upgraded from 'The #1 and #2 Sickest and Smallest Babies East of Toronto' to 'Very Small But Somewhat Less Complicated Babies Who Are No Longer Dire Enough To Require a $65,000 Bed In Critical Care'. Progress.
Dropped my bag in the cubby, peered and whispered at both of them in greeting. Liam welcomed me with a fruitful grunt. Looked over both shoulders, wondering: is it okay if I just go ahead and change his diaper?
I feel like I'm shoplifting. Opening the greenhouse wall and taking liberties without asking permission, without a guide. I want to get it right, this balance between mama and nurses. It's my baby, but it's their turf. I respect their work immensely, their sheparding of our mechanical wombs. I hear them when they think they're unobserved, hands through the portholes, working deftly while cooing at someone else’s tiny daughter or son. Oh! You little scrapper you. There you go, shoosh, shoosh. Goodness gracious, that’s some set of lungs. You’ll be full of beans, won’t you? Here now mister man, let’s get you all nested.
Meanwhile, I'm a bull in a china shop. I can never find the wipes and get tangled up in the wires and can only flip them back-to-front, not front-to-back. But I'm getting there. Today, all three of us strapped together skin-to-skin like kangaroos, Liam’s deep sleep stalled into several apneas, momentary lapses in which he forgets to breathe.
The alarms go off and I look up, assessing his heart rate on the monitors. I wait a moment, see if he'll come back on his own. Tap my fingers on his cheek, rub his back. By the time the nurse pokes her head around the curtain, all is well.