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.