Last Thursday, I moved around the house, sorting through piles of dirty laundry, restocking baby wipes, cooking apples to make applesauce for Charlie. A lump in my throat swelled. Charlie sat atop a quilt my mom made, belly pushed out over his forever-in-motion legs, raking toys in his plump hands, while smiling, squawking, babbling and screeching in delight. A wave of love, tinged with grief rolled over me.
My soon to be eight-month-old son is growing up. Each day, he grows, he develops, he becomes less of me, and more of him. This is what a parent hopes for. A healthy baby, moving through childhood. In bed that night, before we turned out the lights, I looked at Cole and cried, “He needs me less and less. He no longer nurses before he goes to bed. And soon, so soon he’ll be eating solid meals three times a day! What about me?!” Cole squeezed my shoulder.
Since last January when I learned I was pregnant, I’ve been flooded with this sense of creation and dependence. For those 39 weeks in utero, Charlie was utterly dependent on me. For his life. My life, no longer my own, was submerged, swimming through the often cloudy waters of pregnancy, strange and unknown, uncharted but navigable. Consumed, obsessed, full (pregnant, in so many senses than the physical) I was heavy, preoccupied, concerned, anxious, excited, nervous, terrified, ecstatic for the baby. It’s all I thought about. And when you’re pregnant you need little reminder of what you’re carrying. (And oh god, once baby arrives. Obsession/worry/anxiety/joy –as in am I getting high off the feeling of the weight of his small body on my chest?– goes to an entirely new level.)
Cole says I’m willfully independent, sometimes to a fault. So, here’s what happens. You take a willfully independent woman and turn her into a mother. For all those weeks of gestation, you tether her to her unborn child. She is one and two at the same time. She gives birth and the physical symbol of connection is cut, but she is terrifyingly still connected to this child. She has to continue to sustain his life. Sometimes she feels like she’s drowning, a feeling that is a combination fierce love — a sense of devotion that floods her veins — and also fragility, caused by exhaustion, fear. Oddly, this sense of drowning is beautiful. She’s buoyant. There is, actually, air. She can breathe.
Yet this boy, he starts to float away.
This business of motherhood is a lesson in letting go. In surrender. In trust, in faith. In allowing yourself to be carried by the waves, taken further and further from shore.
I inform Cole that I’ll breastfeed Charlie forever. He laughs. Then in his matter-of-fact, “I love science” way, he tells me that no longer does my breastmilk provide all the nutrients Charlie needs. He needs other foods.
There it is, right there, in that sentence: He needs other….
I could not have become Charlie’s mother if I did not need, experience “other.” And he needs other: others to give him love, nourishment. For others to dote on him, to spoon the mess of applesauce into his bell shaped mouth. For others to hand the wooden block to his outstretched fingers.
I know not to dam my heart, but rather to let myself take on the swells. My boat will surely take on water, list and tip. No one said the crossing was smooth sailing. Like the many times on Lake Huron when we rode my grandmother’s Boston Whaler through a storm, fog so thickly set between land and water, bow of the boat crashing into the whitecaps, the wind and boat’s engine mixing together into one all encompassing sound, we rode up, up up into the waves, bow airborne for a second until the fall, and then hitting water again, a brief pause until we hit another wave. Exhilarating, surely. Face wet and cold from the sting of rain pellets, I did not bury my face into the collar of my rain jacket. I looked out, staring at each wave, knowing my grandmother could always handle the boat with indomitable confidence and skill. I did not worry about our stormy journey, we’d always make it back to the boathouse, even if the boat swamped with water.
Here’s my life raft: the boy will float, carried through the surges of water, and like the waves, will at some point, return to shore.