Stronger With Time

Swimming lessons. I think that was my favorite part of his first year. His chubby legs splashing in the water. His whole body relaxing into me as we swayed back and forth. He was quiet and calm, completely content to float and glide. While the other kids took their time getting used to the water, Camden didn’t once make a fuss. The days were long and hot, but in the water we were both cooler and lighter.

It was in those summer days and in that pool that I started to feel like I could do this. And that I could like it too. That I could have the parts I enjoyed about my life before becoming a mom, and I could blend them with my new identity. I started to feel like I was part of the club of other moms wrapping kids in towels and smothering them with sunscreen, no longer merely an outsider with no idea what I was doing. What for so long had felt awkward and clumsy started to finally make sense.

It took time. It wasn’t sudden. So when other moms talk about the overwhelming feelings of love they felt during their pregnancies and upon meeting their newborns, I feel conflicted. On one hand I would never tell another person their reality isn’t true. Another person’s feelings and experiences are valid, and who am I to say otherwise?

On the other hand, I have a hard time believing them. Because it was just not that way for me at all.

The most resounding memories I have from my son’s birth and the weeks after are pain and exhaustion, which I have written about and talked about extensively. Even if it had not been for the depression I fell into, I was simply not prepared for how difficult the transition to motherhood would be and how much I would long for my “old” life.

The night before Camden turned one, I rocked him to sleep as I always do, resting my chin on his soft hair and breathing him in. I thought about every hard night, and really every hard day we’d spent in that chair, rocking and crying. The guilt washed over me in large waves and before I knew it, the top of his head was soaked in tears. Why couldn’t I have loved his newborn stage with the same fierceness I loved him now? Why couldn’t I have adored him as much as all the other moms adored their babies? Now his first year was gone, and I’d never have it back.

Although I knew and acknowledged postpartum depression was not my fault, it still took me a long time to forgive myself and to accept my experience for what it was. It took a long time for me to not feel defective, like I had done something gravely wrong. To accept my humanity in all its imperfections seemed bold and raw, and I often felt alone in declaring it.

We’re told lots of things as women in our society and we receive dozens of messages a day through all the media we consume. That we must be pretty, that we must be quiet, that we must be polite, that we must be generous. Perhaps the loudest of all, at least in my experience, is the value attached to marriage and motherhood — that these are the most important.

But you see I wasn’t told the truth about any of that. I wasn’t told the truth about how difficult the journey would be. I wasn’t told the truth about how becoming a mom would truly feel — that I would miss the person I was before and have a very difficult time finding her again. But most importantly, I wasn’t told the truth about my worth. That it was there long before my pregnancy and would be there long after I’d raised my child.

Just how much are our feelings about motherhood and toward our children the effect of what we think we are supposed to feel and how much is the truth? What would our world look like if we were radically honest about it? What would it mean for women and girls to know their worth is inherent and not contingent on how much they give to everyone else?

I believe our babies choose us, and I believe we all choose each other. It’s not straight-forward and conscious, but rather a silent pull toward the light in others, our souls yearning to know and be known. We are here with a purpose, bound by love, and if we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable we will learn who we are in the reflection of others.

Camden is just getting started teaching me, but in one year of knowing each other he taught me something I had only barely begun to learn without him….how to love myself. How to listen to myself. How to believe in myself. How to face my fears and come out stronger. How to ignore every voice who whispers I am not enough. I am supposed to be the one building him up, but it was he who built me.

I vividly remember our first day in the pool together. I laid him on his back on top of the water and crouched down below him, so he could rest his head on my shoulder. He relaxed, fully trusting me to not let him sink under. His instructor commented about how calm he was in the water. I nodded and smiled, beaming with both pride and love.

A love that wasn’t always there but has grown stronger with time.

 

Camden 11 Months Old

Camden is almost one year old, and I want to remember him like this forever.

This is what happens when your mom decides to use bath toys for your monthly photos shoots but there's only one number one
This is what happens when your mom decides to use bath toys for your monthly photos shoots but there’s only one number one

So happy. So curious. So full of joy.

What? I'm not feeding the dog my chocolate chip pancake.
What? I’m not feeding the dog my chocolate chip pancake.

He is full on walking and toddles all over the place. He also still loves to push things all throughout the house — laundry baskets, toys, stools, whatever he can get his hands on!

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He got his first hair cut a few weeks ago and was very calm and nonchalant about the whole thing.

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I’ve lost track of how many teeth he has. 10? 12? His little grin is looking so grown-up (er, well, like toddler grown-up) and he enjoys using his pearly whites to get down with all kinds of food.

"Who needs Santa when I have Auntie?" SO TRUE
“Who needs Santa when I have Auntie?” SO TRUE

We had a wonderful Christmas with loved ones, and being the first and only grandchild on both sides of the family, Camden got alllll of the toys! He didn’t sleep very well being away from home, and refused a nap all day on Christmas (didn’t want to miss any of the fun I guess!), but was fairly happy all day. He brings everyone so much joy.

Camden's great grandfather
Camden’s great grandfather

We had to rein in the grandmas a bit — between Steven’s mom catering to Camden’s every whine and whimper and my mom trying to sneak hot cocoa into his sippy cup (WTF? NO!), the spoiling is in full swing. But that’s OK. It is our job to make him eat his vegetables and teach him he can’t have everything he wants, and it’s their job to spoil him.

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He seems to be weaning himself from breastfeeding, which I’m surprised about. I thought I would be the one to initiate it and wasn’t planning to for a few more months, but gradually Camden has been nursing less and less and my supply is dwindling. I thought I would be more emotional about it, but I’m not. I suppose because it is happening slowly I’m able to prepare myself. I have loved nursing him this past year, and am so grateful I was able to, but I’m ready to leave pumping behind and not worry so much about my supply. I can also get back to training and racing, which was hard to do when I was feeding every three hours and had to pump first thing in the morning if I got up before him.

Playing in the ball pit Aunt Cori got him for Christmas
Playing in the ball pit Aunt Cori got him for Christmas

Camden weaning from breastfeeding sooner than I anticipated is just another example of his independence and his self-assuredness — things I think will come to define him. It’s funny the way kids come along and teach you so much about yourself.

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I was prepared to be all attachment parent-esque — to baby wear, co-sleep, and to respond to every sound my baby made, but when I stopped forcing those things on Camden and started letting him guide my parenting, we’ve both been a lot happier. From the very beginning — from my labor with him — he has wanted to do things by himself, and while he knows I am there he doesn’t need me the way I thought he would. He hardly bats an eye when I drop him off or pick him up from daycare and he can entertain himself for long periods of time just by studying toys and figuring out how they work. He doesn’t seem to need constant interaction. He is his own person, and even as a baby I’ve had to learn to give him the space to be himself.

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While I’m not too emotional (yet) about our breastfeeding journey coming to an end, I am a little sad about his quickly approaching first birthday. We’re entering a new phase of toddlerhood, and as always, I have no idea wtf I’m doing. Long gone are the squishy newborn days when his entire body would fit on my chest. It’s funny how I look back on those times with rose-colored glasses and fail to mention those days were also filled with hours of endless crying. I guess you really do forget.

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I’m a little sad to be turning the page — closing the baby chapter and starting a new one. While Camden will always be my “baby.” he also isn’t. He’s a toddler who will become a kid who will become a teenager who will become an adult, and my joy and heartbreak with each new stage is what it’s all about.

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Growing up is kind of the point.