“Yes, You Have a Cute Baby. No I Don’t Want To Hold It.”
A few months ago I walked around in the mall like a lost puppy trying to find its mother. Except my “mother” was the allusive pair of black work slacks that could camouflage my stocky legs, pones* and hips.
*In my family, pones are another word for saddle bags. I’ve never been able to find an exact definition for pones, or why the heck anyone started calling them pones, but in my mind I picture my great-great grandmother traveling by covered wagon across the west. She was bored and there were no books. She made lots and lots of corn pones in her skillet by the fire while the coyotes wailed in the distance. And she ate them. She ate all of them. What bored pioneer woman wouldn’t love carbs? Then she grew saddlebags on the sides of her legs. She knew what had wrought such agony to her girlish figure. Those darn corn pones. Thus, she dubbed them pones. That’s the story in my head anyway.
After a few hours of squeezing myself into ill-fitting pants with no success, I found myself in the food court with a large grape slushee. As I watched tiny teenage girls skip in and out of Forever 21 with their hipster garb and giant glasses circa Melanie Griffith Working Girl, I came to an important realization.
I am just a big butted woman trapped in the land of little girls and size 0 tight ankle pants.
My forehead broke into a sweat and I had to get out. I wrestled my giant mom purse and football size set of keys and raced to the elevator.
The cold hard facts hit me like a wall. My child was almost two years old.
The time had come. It was time to get healthy.
I cried a little in the car on the way home, partly because I was frustrated that it had “come to this” and partly because my grape slushee was super cold and gave me the hiccups, and we all know that hiccups can hurt. I decided then and there to take advantage of the indoor track at work.
“I will walk at the same time every day during my lunch hour!” I declared to myself and my pones.
Fine. You got me. I didn’t end up walking every day. If I had I’d be two sizes smaller by now. I walk about three times a week, and the other days I spend my lunch break running to the post office, buying diapers, and sitting in line at McDonald’s and trying to shield my eyes from the calorie count on the drive through board.
That’s just reality.
But I love the three days that I do walk. I listen to music. No one talks to me. I talk to no one. I’ve come to realize that these are the three hours a week I can count on to truly, honestly, realistically, take a break from my life. I’m just Liz, 33-year-old working mother, Harry Potter fanatic, lover of all things coral pink, walking and listening to my Pink Martini station on Pandora with no diaper to change, no clothes to fold, no bill to pay. It is heaven. If only for an hour, I'm not an employee, or a wife, or a mother, and I don't have to say things like:
"I'm sorry sir, I can't find that invoice but I'll get the ball rolling right away."
"Did you forget to take out the trash again? The garage smells like eggs."
"See, the dog doesn’t like it when you put pony tail clips on her tail.”
"Don't jam that crayon in your ear, you'll go deaf."
Besides the fact that it’s great for my mental health, there’s also the bonus of losing weight.
I usually see a handful of the same people walking and running who are on the same schedule as me. And one day, as I rounded the track, with its blue lane for walkers and red lane for runners, I realized I'd never seen the woman walking toward me before.
She was young, with a long blond ponytail. She was skinny, except for a little extra cushion around her midsection. She was going the wrong way, against walking/running traffic, which is a particular pet peeve of mine (hello OCD trigger). I was going to say something to her, and then I stopped.
She had a carrier strapped to her chest with a tiny baby sat inside. The little baby's head bobbed as it gazed around with eyes far more alert and mature than its neck muscles. It was a little girl. But what I noticed was the woman's face. It was haggard and pinched.
She kept glancing down at her baby's bobbing head, not with love light streaming from her eyes, but with a stressed, frantic expression that read, "Please don't start screaming, I need to walk at least a mile. Just give me that ok?"
As I walked past I couldn't help but ask, "How old?"
She gave me an exhausted smile, "Almost three months."
I smiled back and kept walking.
I should have stopped and said, "Here, let me hold her while you finish your walk. It's OK if this isn't fun right now. It’s OK if you feel tired and frustrated. It's OK you're not having a good time. It's going to be OK, and one day very soon it will be much better."
Of course she would have thought I was a nutball, and clutched her baby and run away from me, and I would have shouted, "You just burned ten extra calories, you're welcome," not only confirming to her but the rest of the gym that I am, indeed, from time to time, a nutball.
Instead I walked as fast as I could, as far as I could, to get away from those memories in the foggy parts of my brain. My hands grew cold and sweaty, and I felt a little bit dizzy as the past began to crowd my thoughts.
The truth is, I still feel a little bit panicky around a newborn baby.
I think they’re adorable.
I don’t always want to hold them.
Nowadays when I see a toddler the same age as my daughter Jane, I’m all smiles. I always lean down to talk to them.
“How old are you?”
I love it when they move the pacifier in their mouth to the side like a cigar and say, “I twoooo!”
But the babies. They still scare me a little.
And even though they scare me, I still love them. I love their little soft skin, the way their heads smell, their dove-like cooing sounds. I’m getting better. If I can just avoid them during those first few weeks, in the head floppity stage, I do much better. After the six month mark I never miss a beat. I’ve asked my therapist about this; she says it’s only normal to be a big trigger shy after a postpartum experience and, with time, I’ll get over it. I believe her.
It’s been two years since the cheese slid off my cracker. In the past month, I’ve visited all three important medical doctors in my life, or as I like to call them, the female trinity. They’re all women; my OBGYN, primary care doc, and neurologist. Come to think of it, my therapist is a woman too.
Apparently I’m a little bit sexist when it comes to my mental and physical health care.
They all say the same thing, these women that I’ve come to love and trust. They say it’s best if I don’t have more children. They recommend adoption if we want to expand our family. They’re clear that it’s up to me, of course, but their opinions hold great weight.
My migraine related vertigo sits on a knife’s edge, acting up once a month when my hormones spike. It’s not fun, but it’s certainly livable. Being pregnant means no vital medications, huge hormone fluctuations triggering worse migraine related vertigo attacks, and let’s just say it, I ain’t getting any younger.
When I weigh that, and the higher risk factor for postpartum depression, I’ve decided not to physically have any more children. I don’t want to gloss over this decision and give the impression it was an easy one. Matt made it clear that the ball was completely in my court, but his vote was that he didn’t want me to get pregnant again. I agreed.
Getting to that decision hasn’t been easy. It’s been gut wrenching. Sometimes it still comes and sits on my chest, like a heavy, invisible elephant. Even though their little floppy heads and soft spots scare me, I can’t imagine anything more precious.
It’s kept me awake at night. It’s made me cry at inopportune times, like baby showers or church sermons. When people noticed and asked what was wrong, I lied. I told them Jane wasn’t sleeping well, or work is stressful. It was just too raw, too painful. I had to work it out in quiet, in private, just between me and the Lord.
These days we get a lot of the same question. The “when are you having another kid?” question. It stings, sometimes, but I have a patent answer.
“We may have another child someday, but it won’t come from my uterus.”
Sometimes it takes people aback, and they look a little uncomfortable, but that’s alright by me. If you ask a personal question, you should be prepared for a personal answer.
But in all things there is a silver lining. Actually, there are usually a dozen silver linings; we’re just not programed to look for them. In this situation there is sadness, but I have so much to be happy for.
I’m relieved my body won’t go to pieces like that again. I watch Jane go about her days playing, napping, singing along to cartoons and counting her crayons completely out of order (five, one, two, ten), and I realize I can’t ask for anything more. It’s kind of greedy.
God has blessed me a thousand times over.
If he never does again, it’s still more than I deserve.