One year ago, I labored in a hot and sweaty bedroom in an effort to bring my child to birth. I remember the way the air smelled coming in through the open windows, and I remember the relief when the heat finally broke. I remember how cold the air-conditioned hospital room was when I finally admitted that home birth just wasn’t going to happen, and I remember the real kindness in the anesthesiologist’s voice when he explained the epidural to me. I wanted to be fully present. I thought that I could hold onto that awareness after he was born, and I tried desperately to catalogue every tiny detail in my mind, so that I could call up the early days of motherhood with ease later. As a woman who planned to have only one child, I thought at least I would always have these precious memories. I was wrong, and a combination of factors (postpartum depression, pain, the drugs I had to be on, exhaustion) have left my memory of my early days and weeks of motherhood mangled and destroyed. My first days and weeks as a mom are a blur, and I desperately wish that wasn’t the case.
In the place where my nostalgic recollections of new parenthood should be, there is a vague cloud, colored over with the things that I know happened but don’t actually recall fully. Rather than remembering all of the tiny details of my newborn and my new life with him, my recollections are a blur of confusion and pain. And my inability to be nostalgic about that time, my inability to even remember huge stretches of it, is completely breaking my heart. I look at the photographs I took during those first hours and days and weeks, and I find that I often can’t remember when they were taken at all. It’s just another part of the blur. I read snippets of things that I wrote, and I feel such a palpable ache of loss.
After we brought our son home from the hospital, I wanted to soak up everything about those early days and weeks. I wanted to lay in bed for hours recovering from my birth, just drinking in every detail of my new baby. I pictured it so clearly in my mind beforehand: I’d be surrounded by my cats with the sun coming in through the curtains, drinking a cup of tea, and singing softly to my baby, and I would remember it for always. I have always been a sap, deeply nostalgic and sentimental, and it seemed to me that motherhood would be the most sentimental thing of all for me. I figured, without a doubt, that I would remember all of these moments so effortlessly. But now I ache to recall them — and I find I can’t.
I was in survival mode, and I was letting the time wash over me without really feeling its passage. During the hardest parts, it felt like a kindness not to remember each detail, or at least it did at the time.
How could my early memories be stolen from me? The reality is, as sad as it is to say, I wasn’t really able to enjoy early motherhood much at all. I loved my baby deeply, but my postpartum period was such a challenge for me that most days the best I could do was just to get by. I was in survival mode, and I was letting the time wash over me without really feeling its passage. During the hardest parts, it felt like a kindness not to remember each detail, or at least it did at the time. It’s like I was in a dream, and then when I woke up from it my baby was no longer a newborn and I was less of a “new mom” and more of, well, just a mom.
It isn’t totally surprising, considering all that happened, that I mentally checked out a little bit. And the few details that I do remember are far less romantic than the joys of the new baby smell or his first true smile: I remember driving around the city with a good friend, feeling my c-section incision burning white hot with pain, while we tried desperately to find a pharmacy that would fill my prescription for my pain meds; I remember trying to make small talk on the ride back to the hospital when I realized that the incision was infected and starting to open up; I remember the nurse and the midwife assuring me that no matter how many drugs they gave me, I was still going to feel them cutting my abdomen open with scissors — they were right, and my whole body tenses up when I even think about it.
I had expectations for new motherhood, expectations that turned out to be totally different than the real thing. I thought I would be able to savor every moment, even through all the difficulties and challenges. I thought I would catalogue them all in my brain, and play it back like a movie. Instead, I’m learning to live with the gaps in my recollections.
But the magical journey of becoming a mom? I cannot really recollect it at all. I want those memories back so badly, but a lot of them just aren’t there. There is a vague and cloudy blur in their place. I know that the baby did cry and my wife and I did pass him back and forth between us trying to soothe him, but I can’t remember what that felt like. Maybe I didn’t feel it, maybe I was numb. Maybe I wasn’t there at all. Except I must have been there, because the baby breastfed at my breasts and grew and thrived and became the little person he is today.
I guess, just like everyone else, I had expectations for new motherhood, expectations that turned out to be totally different than the real thing. I thought I would be able to savor every moment, even through all the difficulties and challenges. I thought I would catalogue them all in my brain, and play it back like a movie. Instead, I’m learning to live with the gaps in my recollections. It’s painful and heartbreaking, yes, but I’ve slowly started to realize that the more I fixate on that loss, the less present I am for the magical moments that are happening right now.
I don’t know if anyone else goes through this because I haven’t really talked to any of my parent friends about this deep and bizarre sense of loss. But I have a tiny inkling that I’m not alone. If it comes up in casual conversation, I find myself looking off into the middle distance, and muttering something about how “they really do grow up too fast.” I used to hate it when people said that about their kids, but now I think, maybe they are like me. Maybe they too are trying to grapple with the things they feel like they somehow “missed” even though they couldn’t have. I hate that there are so many things that I can’t remember, but I’m trying not to dwell. Yesterday my son said “hello” for the very first time. I still remember that. And I have to try to let that be enough.