There is this uplifting scene towards the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas where the Grinch’s heart expands to three times its normal size. Having a kid is somewhat like having this happen-except throw frustration, sleep deprivation, anxiety and abject terror at the responsibility for keeping this totally helpless tiny human alive into the mix.
To be honest, ever since our daughter Ellie was born six weeks ago, I have walked around with a totally different perspective on motherhood. I have looked at other mothers-especially those with multiple children-and wondered just how the hell they do it.
I don’t mean how do they do it on a day to day basis.
Yes, the sleep deprivation outright sucks. But no matter how long and frustrating the nights get, things always seem a little brighter once the sun comes up (because, let’s be honest, the first few weeks are mostly just about survival).
And yes, the constant crying and occasional screaming (newborns are sort of like dachshunds – a body that tiny really shouldn’t be able to produce that loud a sound, it just can’t be natural!) is frustrating, but at some point it always passes.
No – caring for a baby is hard work for sure, but it’s something that slipped into our lives like it was supposed to, because loving our daughter just made it so. What I wondered about these other mothers-now that I am one-is how they walk around with this expanded heart. A heart filled with boundless love but also what must be boundless anxiety and a fierce sense of protection.
I wondered – how have these women managed to temper these feelings and carry on with their daily lives, appearing so nonchalant? I wanted to know the key – I wanted to know their secret to somehow resuming a relatively normal life and regaining some sense of who I was before the baby. I wanted to know once I found her-this old Jenni-how I could marry who I used to be with this new identity as a mother. I reasoned that surely this must be possible.
Everyone else seems to be able to do it.
A few weeks after Ellie was born, I got on my horse for the first time since last October. At the barn, I felt a curious blend of emotions – a brief taste of independence and its joy mixed with the absolute visceral need to get back to my baby. Still, I pressed on and enjoyed a brief ride because it’s a part of who I am.
I also recently began running again, slowly re-building my stamina. It’s just 30 minutes, but something about getting outside, pounding the pavement with my two (giant) feet and just sweating helped me to slowly start seeing that it just might be possible to still be me.
Perhaps becoming a mother for me doesn’t mean that I need to accept a completely new identity – maybe it just means accepting that I am capable of having my heart expand as such.
Becoming a parent has been everything and nothing like what I expected. I expected the day to day to be exactly like the way it is – the constant nursing, the dirty diapers, the lack of sleep. But while I knew instinctually that I would love my child, I couldn’t have braced for the depth and degree.
I learn something new about Ellie literally every day. It’s amazing to watch her grow and experience the world – at times, I definitely feel like I’m fumbling my way through this, but a few days ago, she cracked her first really big smile at Paul, and I thought there is nothing I would rather see.
I wouldn’t describe myself as overtly sentimental on the surface – but, I will take that memory and store it inside my ever expanding heart.