The 9 Months After
It’s February. There’s a chill in the air like no other. A kidney stone, a five-day hospital stay, and a traumatic birth bring her into the world two weeks early. I fall back onto the bed, surely dying, but then they hand me a wailing newborn. She’s orange with jaundice – tiny and helpless, screaming. Everything is urgent. Everything demands constant response. How are we going to make it? The trees are bare, and so am I, in every way.
I bawl in the car as we leave the hospital. It’s dark, raining, and freezing cold. Twice, an accident nearly happens. A semi almost smashes us. Another car swerves ahead of us, forcing us to slam the brakes. A two-day-old person rides in the backseat, and she’s at the mercy of this world and us. Are we even going to make it home?
Days go by. Meals from kind people fill the refrigerator and line the counters. In every room of the house, the floor is cluttered with our new life: diapers, pillows, granola bar wrappers, swaddles, nursing pads, pacifiers. The doorbell rings. I open it to find the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I’ve ever seen. “Welcoming Riley Jane”, the card says. It instantly lifts my spirit.
I’m in so much pain – everywhere. How is it possible for your whole body to hurt at the same time? We visit the lactation consultant. All Riley does is scream, and all I want to do is give up. I email HR about maternity leave. I call the insurance agent to add a new person to our plan. I cling to the light from our big open window to keep me from drowning, but it feels as if I’m drowning anyway. The days blur together. I’m a shell of a mother, with frazzled hair, hollow eyes, and a heart being consumed by darkness. How does anyone do this? Ice packs, squirt bottles, and lanolin have taken over my life. I forget how to smile. I spiral further down with each new day.
March arrives with a tease of warmer days. The jaundice is gone and she’s not orange anymore, but she’s still screaming. The colic won’t relent. I can’t even think about ever going back to work. I’m barely surviving.
We wake every two hours, sometimes one, and I battle insomnia when she sleeps. There is no rest for this house. Mornings are a fresh mercy to my heart, because they mean we survived another night. My spirit lifts with the daylight, just as it falls downcast with each approaching evening.
Time drags by. I don’t know how to take care of myself – I can barely care for her. How are we alive? Isolation eats me. I attempt to laugh, I reach for joy – I play The Office on Netflix, running it into the ground. Mom makes lactation cookies with chocolate chips, flax seeds and oatmeal. I cry so many tears. A pretty robe makes me feel a fraction more human. I never take it off. I live in it day and night. I dread every night.
It’s April now. Finally, I figure out how to tie the baby sling. We go outside, heading to the mailbox. She falls asleep afterward, and for the first time, I lay her down. I take a gallon of iced coffee to the back deck, and sit in the sunshine. I get ten minutes in the fresh air. It’s glorious. The colic has relented. I put on makeup. We take so many Target trips, wandering the aisles just to get out of the house.
Even so, something’s not right. The fog won’t lift. With every middle-of-the-night panic attack, he begs me to see the doctor. I sit in the OB’s office, my eyes unable to look anywhere but the floor. He talks me through my feelings as the OB takes notes. I couldn’t have done this without him. We pick up more meds.
We go on a first date night without baby, slurping ramen across from one another, and it feels like we’re dating again. I don’t know how to balance feeling so abnormal with life moving on so normally. Days creep by at a snail’s pace. I’m so disoriented. A sudden ray of tiny hope jolts me – hope that we’ll finally find our groove.
May brings more change. The day comes, and I am a bucket of tears as I kiss her forehead and drive away. I can barely stand to leave her, and her face is burned in my memory. How I arrive to work in one piece, I’ll never know. What is my job again? Sitting at my desk, I scroll through hundreds of emails, and a sense of normalcy returns. Her almond-shaped eyes, and her backseat gurgles stay with me all day as I hang photos of her at my desk. Pumping in the car is a huge inconvenience, but I do it twice a day. I adjust. I grow. I find strength. Things will be okay. A new normal will have to work.
After 5 PM, I leave my work at work. She giggles and splashes at bath time. A personality begins to emerge. Good things are coming.
June is relentless. High stress paired with no sleep means I’m back in survival mode. Or maybe, I never really left it. We eat so much takeout and have so many anxious conversations. I feel so trapped. I search for something, anything – to give.
Yet, there are small pockets of joy. There are baseball games in the summer air. Mom & Dad come to visit. Uncles fly in. The house gets painted. Riley laughs.
July brings a sleep regression and even higher stress. I’m caving under mounting pressure at work. I take on a new freelance job that, in the back of my mind, is a lifeline for later down the road – if I can’t do this anymore. I am now working two jobs. Why, when I could barely handle one? There is no time. There is no energy.
For dinner on Wednesdays, we buy $5 sushi from the local grocery. I feel maxed-out, worn thin, and overwhelmed – every single day. This is all just too hard. I can’t keep going. Will something ever give? Where is the grace that so many had described?
In August, the weight of life crushes me. I lash out. I hate myself for it. On weekends we see friends and walk around town with a diaper bag full of bottles and bows and pacifiers and diapers. We forget wipes. Are we failing at parenthood?
I drink orange cold brew from the nearby coffee shop to get through the workdays. There are meetings, so many meetings. I am finally healed from birth. My second job has me pounding laptop keys late into the night. We celebrate Riley’s 6-month-birthday in a sunflower field with a dollar-store balloon.
Finally, there it is – a burst of hope and courage. We set a date. I write a letter of resignation. There’s an end in sight.
Is it really September? We are gifted with a tinge of relief to the heavy heat of summer. Our chunky girl sits in her high chair, and sings loud. There is so much joy in this house; difficult doesn’t negate good.
A door is closing. I set my heart to finish strong, to finish well. I work hard. A new season is straight ahead – in all regards. We’ll slow down. I’ll drink more chai. We’ll eat less takeout. We’ll take longer walks. There will be less rushing, and more sitting on the back porch – less mental strain and more crockpot suppers. There will be less money, but my heart will breathe.
We thank Him profusely for making a way. Yet I know now that we can face what’s to come, because His strength redeems weakness, and His grace sustains hearts.
October is unwritten. It’s going to be good.
He holds all things together.