Well, my daughter, this month has been a rough one.
Not because of you — of course, my darling. You have continued to be the most charming baby I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with, and I’m not just saying that because you’re mine and I made you from scratch. You grow even more happy-natured and joyful by the day. Just when I think you can’t get any more smiley or sweet, you do.
No, this month has been a hard one for me, as your mama. This was a month where I barely felt like I got the opportunity to enjoy the privilege of being your mother. This was a month where I felt I spent the majority of the time running and running, and a few times a day, I stopped and shoved a boob in your mouth before bouncing you to sleep, and little else.
There was the emotional struggle of you being underweight, which I talked about here, and the decision to occasionally supplement a formula bottle here and there. (And I’m pleased to report that your follow-up appointment went great, the doctor was very happy with your progress, and told us to keep doing exactly what we were doing — nursing at every opportunity, pumping at work, and feeding you a formula bottle twice a day when I’m working to ease the strain on everybody.) That was a lot of emotional and physical stress on me, and then, you know, it’s been December, and Christmas, and all of that hoopla.
I wanted very much to make your first Christmas a beautiful and special occasion, and I do think your papa and I succeeded in doing so — but it’s been an exhausting month. I felt overwhelmed by my work — particularly busy for this time of year — any time I’ve gotten close to getting caught up, I’d have to leave my desk and run to pump. I get up early, early in the morning to rush to get myself ready and rush to nurse you as long as possible, and rush to get out the door remotely close to on time. The week I had to be at work by 7 AM every day really almost killed me. I came home on lunch, long enough to nurse you and stuff food in my mouth before I was back out the door again. I came home after work to enjoy the last few precious hours of your awake time before putting you to bed for a couple hours, waking you to nurse again, and then tumbling into bed myself. And then there have been all the Christmas celebrations, with friends and family and work and church. Don’t get me wrong — I’m happy to have those demands on my time. I’m happy that we as a family share a rich and full life with so many people who loves us and enjoy spending time with us. Not every family has the opportunity to star as Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus in the annual live nativity. As your papa said, you got to time that just right to get that invitation. And I’m always so happy to gather our friends together at this time of year, your Aunt Ali home for a visit, and meeting your Uncle Ryan for the first time, being passed from lap to lap at a Christmas get together just like the little scraps of paper we played the movie game on.
But all of that wore on me. I wanted in my heart to be joyful and light, but instead I felt dim and heavy. Listless and unenergetic. Snippy and short-tempered. Traits that don’t normally characterize me, not by a long shot.
I hope you will never have to learn this lesson, my darling; I hope you don’t suffer the mental health issues that have plagued me and my family, but genes are what they are. And when we suffer anxiety and depression, I’ve found there’s that denial for a long time. I talked a bit about my seasonal depression last winter, when I first found out I was pregnant with you, and I had that same feeling of reluctance then. None of us want to admit that same problem comes back. None of us want to be bogged down by it if we can help it. But that’s the thing — we can’t help it. I found myself feeling crabby and burnt out and not wanting to do the things that normally bring me joy, not wanting to see the people whom I love and who I know love me.*
I had that week where I melted down, and then I had that shimmering moment of realization. It wasn’t just a bad week or that your papa wasn’t helping me enough (spoiler alert, he absolutely was helping me enough, and continues to work hard to support both of us when I’m not feeling my best) — it was my seasonal depression creeping in a little earlier this year. Sure, it normally doesn’t roll in hardcore until January — but with the stress and the strain on my body and on my time, and on my heart — it’s natural that my cup fell emptier sooner, and that I felt dried out earlier.
Naming the thing that plagues you is often a comfort, as strange as it sounds. When it is vague and formless, it is suffocating with fear and distaste and unknown. Named, the thing is understandable. Named, the depression doesn’t carry as much weight. I am — we are all — reminded that it is not we, our deepest self being such a prickly, grouchy mess of a thing — it is the chemical imbalance in our brains. It’s easier to believe people when they remind you that you are good and whole and loved, once you admit to yourself the source of the problem.
And happily, my darling, you are such a comfort and a source of joy to me. In this time when I have felt more tired and more dried up, you have been the thing that has given me a sense of purpose, that has given me drive and willingness to keep working hard, day after day. You in your innocent sweetness have rekindled the fire in my heart and kept it going. You and your papa both — and just getting the gift of being your mama, over and over again, each day — that brings joy even in the dimmest of days.
You, as I said before, continue to grow in sweetness and joy day by day. I am amazed at your zest for living. In the morning, you are all smiles, you cackle at every little trick your papa and I try on you. You love the sound of your own voice now, you live to lie or sit and see what kind of sounds you can make, how high you can squeak, how loud. You coo and babble to yourself, or to Papa and me, you are so conversational. Your noises are often an indication of your mood — they’re soft and gentle when you’re content and amused, they grow slowly but steadily louder as you get more tired, ready to go home, until you’re practically shouting, don’t ignore me, parents!
You are a wiggle worm these days! Rolling over is old news by now. We barely set you down, and wham, you’re over on your belly, head up, looking around. You’ve learned you can try to roll while we change you, or when lying against my chest, and we have to keep an extra close eye (and hand!) on you to keep you in place. You love sitting up and watching the world, in fact, you insist upon it. Lying down in someone’s arms is for little babies, or else only very sleepy Ari. You’re learning to practice standing up, and you love that too — your little self standing tall, strong legs, bending and swaying and testing out your balance. We’ve spent mornings that way, me or Papa in a chair or on the couch, helping you from lying down to sitting up to standing and back down again, you giggling all the while.
You are a very smart girl, smart and alert — that certainly hasn’t changed. Everyone still comments on how wide-eyed and attentive you are. You love watching people and places and movements, and as you’ve gotten more comfortable being out in public for longer periods of time, you’ve grown to love sitting with the grown-ups, at holiday parties or visits to your grandma and great-grandmas. You love to watch and listen, and take everything in. You’re starting to really focus on the books we are reading you, and when we take you outside, you stare up at the trees and the sky in wonder.
You’re such a cuddle bug these days, and I admit I get the most of those cuddles. We nurse, early in the morning or late at night, and after burping, I lay you against my chest and you work your little head under my chin, your hands up on my shoulders, entangled in my hair. Nothing feels better to me than to have you perched on my lap while I visit with your marmee or your aunties. It feels so right and good to have you there, playing with your paci or my bracelet. It feels like a final piece of the puzzle of my life locked into place.
You’ve become such a big girl, something I both love and hate. I love watching you develop and grow, your personality blossoming, your skills strengthening. I love seeing you become who you will be. I love that you’re healthy and strong and smart. When I look at you now, I see glimpses of the little girl you will become, glimmers of the young woman that will follow. I see pictures or videos or play in person with your little friends, Teegan and Norah and Jude and Lucy, and I imagine what you will be like at each of their ages. I imagine doing with you what I see your aunties and uncles doing with their little girls — and I’m so excited.
But already — is it too soon? — I feel like my little baby is slipping away from me. I know this is what happens. I know that babies are so magical because they are such a short period of a person’s lives. Babies are demanding and intense, rewarding and miraculous — and part of all of that is because that first year of a person’s life goes by so quickly, and changes so drastically. I miss my little frog baby who snuggled up on my chest and I held with one hand — but I love who you are now. I love who you are becoming, I love your joy and your kindness and your spunk and your humor and your sensitivity and even your stubbornness.
I love being your mama, little one, and I’m so glad I get to be that for the rest of our lives together.
*I’m obessing over this whom/who and I think it’s right but Grammar Nerd in me isn’t 100%?!?!