When I can’t sleep, I picture you, my son. I can feel your weight in my arms as I drift off to sleep. Your warm body tucked into my arm, my lips kissing the swirl of hair on the crown your head, your fingers wrapped around mine.
Many of the parenthood sayings have been around for generations for a reason: they’re true. One I’ve been thinking about lately is: “It takes a village.”
We live in San Francisco. William’s grandparents live in New Jersey and Southern California, respectively. My twin brothers are are across the country – Nashville – and the world – London. My brother-in-law is in Oakland, and we also have family near Mendocino. Many of our closest friends are far flung as well, from Perth, Australia to Manhattan along with Dallas, San Diego, and Los Angeles. The close friends that we have in the Bay Area have young children, too, so even pre-Pandemic, getting together meant coordinating nap times and feeding schedules. Easier said than done.
This past week, our daycare was closed for its belated “summer break.” I had to have Mohs surgery to remove some skin cancer on Monday, so Sunday night my husband and I looked at our calendars and sent invites for our most important meetings. We cobbled a loose schedule together for the week, but we were pretty much in survival mode and on our own. My husband wore the baby for the calls that he could take on walks; I led Zoom calls while giving him a bottle and thankfully my recovery from surgery was quick. William spent a lot of time in which we have jokingly started calling “the pen,” pictured below, which is basically a corner of our living room.
The pandemic and wildfires in San Francisco have made what can already be an isolating time – early parenthood – even more isolating. I have an amazing network of women spanning my closest friends, fellow moms at my company, former coworkers, my baby group, and more, but this week really made me think about “our village” and how there isn’t a replacement for someone being there physically to hold your baby when you need an extra set of hands.
My body doesn’t feel like my own. My baby is ten months old, and I’m still getting used to the way my formerly taut stomach has loose skin that pools and puckers. My baby is ten months old, and I’ve stopped nursing, but I know my breasts will never be the same, more full than before, but deflated still. My baby is ten months old, and after months of losing my hair, I’m now trying to tame the baby hairs that have sprouted along my hairline.
My son knows this new body better than I do. When having his bottle, he runs his pointer finger along my clavicle back and forth back and forth. He’s so close to walking, and uses my body to steady himself before taking a step. When I’m rocking him in my arms at bedtime, he curls his right arm behind my back and reaches his left arm up to touch my lips or run his fingers through my hair. When he’s sleepy or scared, he sucks on his middle and ring fingers, clutching my chest with his other hand. His place of comfort and safety is my source of shame.
My body is as familiar to my son as his own, I suppose because he knows it was home. But when will I start to become used to this body?
We’ve only left San Francisco a handful of times since Shelter in Place was implemented in late March, mainly spending our time wandering our neighborhood and finding new routes to Golden Gate Park. Truth be told, we’ve always done a lot of walking since moving to the Inner Richmond because we have a dog and now a baby, but the pace is slower now that we’re five months into SIP. I started really paying attention during our daily walks, and wanted to document the Inner Richmond during this time, from signs thanking essential workers to Black Lives Matter posters, masked Fnnch honey bears encouraging people to wear masks, and empty, closed parks that would typically be full of families.
I started having “the visions” as soon as we brought William home from the hospital.
Crossing the street, I picture a car hitting my son, babbling away in his stroller.
Lifting my kicky baby out of the bathtub, I picture his slippery body sliding through my arms and his head meeting the cool, tiled bathroom floor.
Grabbing his chubby, rubber band wrists before he plunges his hands into his (dirty) diaper, I picture him flipping off the changing table.
I mentioned these visions to my therapist and she asked if I’d ever actually dropped my son or lost control of the stroller. The answer was no.
What she said next was really helpful: “This shows how much you love your son – and also reminds you to be present when with him.”
Motherhood is full of high highs and low lows, and it seems it’s only socially acceptable to talk about the high highs, or, if you’re confessing to feeling a low, quickly caveat it by saying how lucky you are.
But the thing is, you can feel both the high highs and the low lows at the same time – they aren’t mutually exclusive.
I can be happy to do our sweet bedtime routine and settle in on the couch with the baby monitor in full view, while also mourning the loss of a Saturday night out with friends.
I can be grateful that my body carried my sweet baby boy, while also resenting the loose skin around my middle.
I can hate pumping while still feeling grateful for my ability to breastfeed.
I can feel overwhelmed at the amount of laundry and cleaning while still marveling at his tiny socks and rainbow-colored toys.
I can resent being the one to do the bedtime routine while also savoring the moments alone with my son.
When William was just a few weeks old and was still getting used to his big new world, it was isolating to hear his constant crying and feel like I couldn’t talk about it. Why did I feel like admitting that his wails were wearing on me would somehow take away from my delight at my tiny human? Of course, I love him. Of course, there were amazing moments. But hearing him cry was exhausting and emotional and just hard.
I had an idea of the type of mom I thought I’d be, based on how I am in a work setting and assumptions I made about myself and my baby before he was even born! Turns out, I’m not the mom I thought I’d be. Here’s how:
Our son isn’t on a nap schedule, which surprises me based on how scheduled I tend to be. While we stick to a sweet bedtime routine that has worked for us so far, we generally just wait for signs of tiredness and then put him down for a nap.
I find some of the gross parts of parenthood hilarious. When our son pooped in the bath for the first time (yes, I said first time as it happens semi-frequently), my husband was horrified. While gross to be sure, I started laughing and so did the baby!
With cleaning and certain household tasks, I tend to like it done my way – so I assumed I would want things done a certain way when it came to our son. Turns out, I am completely fine if my husband doesn’t button William’s onesie the right way, and haven’t really been concerned with how our daycare does things as long as our son is healthy and happy.
I’m actually a better mom because I’m not the mom I thought I’d be.
One in seven moms suffer from Postpartum Depression (PPD), and black moms are more likely to experience PPD. Despite the prevalence, there’s been little research done about PPD. For these reasons, I’m proud to be part of an ongoing study to learn more about PPD: Mom Genes.
Mom Genes Fight PPD is a study designed to learn why PPD happens, why some mothers experience it and others don’t. The study is collecting 100,000+ DNA samples via mail-in spit kits from mothers, like myself, who have been affected by PPD. The goal is to have a statistically viable amount of DNA to draw conclusions, enable better treatments to be developed, and hopefully, find a cure one day.
Led by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the consortium Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment, the international study is largest postpartum depression study … ever.
It was so easy to participate; I downloaded the iPhone app, sent in my saliva via mail, and answered questions from the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.
Learn more here.
Imposter syndrome is usually spoken about when referencing women in the workplace, and it’s something I’ve personally experienced. I never thought about it in the context of motherhood but, as a byproduct of my postpartum depression or, just slower transition to motherhood, it’s a feeling I’ve become familiar with as a new mom. Whenever my instincts kick in I feel like a “real mom.” That’s a ridiculous thing to even write since I am indeed a mother, but it’s true.
Recently my son spit up and I caught the spit up with my hands without thinking twice. In addition to being gross, it was also a proud moment. I felt like a “real mom.”
There are a lot of these moments now, but they surprise me. When I look into my son’s eyes it’s like we’ve known each other forever, but there are also times when I feel like I’m playing the part of an experienced mom. With work, I’ve come to realize that everyone is just trying to act like they know what they’re doing and I think it’s the same with motherhood.
Here I am (above), wearing my son for a meeting. Pretending like I know what I’m doing!
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I started to think about the things I’d have to tell him and teach him that I wouldn’t if I were having a daughter. I thought about gender stereotypes and how we’d eventually need to talk about consent. I thought about a lot of things, but it wasn’t until this past week that it occurred to me that there a lot of things I hadn’t and haven’t thought about telling my son. These are things that hadn’t occurred to me because we are white. The list includes what to say if he were stopped by the police and how to feel when he encounters racism. The thought took my breath away.