You know, a couple of years ago, I was very strung out. I've always been an intense person, very energetic - almost compulsively so - and I've hovered at the margins of anxiety since early childhood. Some of you will know how exhausting it is to live so fast, always evading the voices that loom large.
Nine years ago, I had M - a person who's been running the show ever since. She arrived on the scene in a fashion that would render the most moderate of women total mush. First, there was the damage to my own body (enitrely drug free home birth, complications, paramedics in my living room as midwife literally scooped her hands into me and pulled my baby out). Thank God the baby scored high on the Apgar scale moments later...
My psyche, fractured by 9 months of constant nausea and vomiting - and a surge in anxiety and depression I couldn't even recognize (so far gone was I) - was not quick to rebound from a trip to Sick Kids two days later, motivated by midwives (health providers with whom I would gladly trust my life again) who observed that M's resting heart rate was exceedingly low for a newborn. That whirlwind trip to the hospital was the beginning of a days-long ordeal during which my baby was poked and drugged and prodded up the yin yang, during which doctors with years of experience advised she might die (though they couldn't say how exactly). I should mention that my aversion to hospitals and germs is such that I chose to have a home birth so my newborn would not be subjected to the very kinds of things she ended up experiencing so fulsomely two days thereafter.
There's some irony for you.
Bear with me as I mow through this "here's how I went kind of nutty" thread by saying that I am tremendously grateful to everyone who participated in the "adventure". The care - from midwives (who were astonishingly capable), doctors and nurses, and in particular from my dear friend Hilary, now a pediatrician with years of emergency room cred - was first rate.
Truly, I can never express my gratitude adequately to Hil - who jumped on a plane from BC - where she had only just arrived 24 hours before - to spend days in the hospital with us, advocating, working with the doctors as they did 3 lumbar punctures on M, keeping me sort of sane though I was practically catatonic. I remember asking her how she thought it was all going to go. (It's still hard to write this, to remember it, a question no parent should consider...) And she told me, which gave me more hope than few other things ever have, that she'd seen many sick babies in her time - held some before they died - and that in her official opinion, M was not a sick baby.
Turns out that M was not a sick baby - thanks to all the powers in the Universe - just a bit different, but it was almost impossible for me to accept that - hormonally unbalanced, physically traumatized by a birth that was so not textbook, hallucinogenically exhausted - worse still, innocence snatched. Never again would I see the world gently, through the prism of immortality. I'd observed the crush and chaos of bringing about life and being powerless for all of that. I was terrified.
Years went by. Early parenting with no family support structures and very busy, unsatisfying, precarious jobs, did not improve my marriage. I loathed parenting. I did not want to be alone with M. She was challenging. She didn't sleep. I couldn't really engage with her. I was compulsive about keeping her away from germs. I had to keep her safe. It was an endless, fruitless effort.
You'd think, having dodged a bullet, I'd have been on cloud nine to "mother", but the more I did it, the less I suited it. It made easy things hard and everything else that much harder. I was trapped by the burden of excessive responsibility. I was trapped by the omnipresent feeling that there was no good alternative. I was trapped by the gut instinct that I would have been better off to have foregone this reasonably common, if profound, life experience. I was angry for having brought it on myself. I was angered by my powerlessness - but I was locked in my brain with it.
Lots of things happened in those years, and I know many of them were very good, but I don't remember much. Eventually, after burning out my brain chemistry on hideous anxiety, sleeplessness, horrible amounts of junk food, caffeine, booze and other mood alterers, I woke up one day and recognized that I couldn't keep living my life that way because it sucked. I know, this whole post is rather drama-plus, but don't wander off now...
I blogged about this part of the story in lots of detail last summer, during Health and Lifestyle theme week. This is where I got really sick, and in my time of reflection (two weeks bedridden) decided that I had to do something transformational. I know, big ideas... But there's one thing you really should know about me: when I finally decide to do something, get the fuck out of my way.
Two and a half years ago, I made some pivotal changes in my attitude which led to huge improvements in the health of my mind and body. Of course, my baby is now 9 and increasingly independent in all ways. I love that. I love the balance in sleeping well (most of the time) and eating well and exercising (which I always did, admittedly) and being vaguely moderate despite my love of all things immoderate. The impact of these changes is a better relationship with practically everyone I know - specifically my daughter (whom I now allow to touch public door handles - joking, sort of).
I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to say I love full-on parenting because, really, I don't. I do love my child (irrationally) and I want the best for her. I look forward to seeing where this is all going (though I recognize we are energetically at odds, some of the time, that it may be an ongoing challenge for us). I still panic when she gets a cold, but I'm trying to have perspective.
Recently, it hit me - like a punch - that I have been irrevocably changed for the better, by motherhood. I spent a long time feeling like a movie stand-in, oddly disassociated from the role. (You know how so many mommy bloggers tell the tales of their immediate, visceral affinity for parenting? Well needless to say, I have only ever read those blogs to more effectively imagine what that's like.)
Saying this, I know now that I am not the person I would have been if I had not had a kid, that I am someone who has been markedly challenged - and truly improved - by the job. Not bad gain for the pain. If nothing else, I could run a small country on the efficiencies I've learned :-) Hmmm...