Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We're Gonna End up a News Story, or, Don't Worry About Me, I'll Sit in the Dark

Q--How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A-- Don't worry about me. I'll sit in the dark.

"We're gonna end up a news story," I used to say over the phone to my husband.

Kid O was a beautiful baby. Every unwanted or unexpected noise or motion would upset her. She used to scream in my ear as I held her in my lap. A sister in-law recommended a nanny to give me a break. She had had experience with preemies, I was told. But by the time this woman had met that preemie, the little girl was more like a normal baby. No complications. I knew my nanny was quitting the moment she handed Kid O back to me as if passing a football, and bolted out the door.

The neighbor woman who had had a child about six months before me, found other women with babies to stroller with and go to the park with. Kid O and I were alone. I would take us out. Sometimes, like most babies, Kid O would doze in the stroller. But other times she would scream bloody murder. Resentment welled up inside me. I wanted to get out and get some sunshine, see the flowers, and I felt that this tiny person was denying me that pleasure. I also felt extremely self conscience. There wasn't a large enough rock for me to crawl under. Intellectually I knew that she wasn't doing this on purpose, but that's how it felt.

I had a baby who hated being in the stroller, got upset by every single train, plane and automobile and even quiet conversation from below our second story window. Until I shifted us from the sun porch to the back bedroom, would take me on average four hours to feed her. Kid O would keep me up for hours while she was teething. She would scream on average twenty minutes if I tried to put her back to bed. She wasn't even sitting up on her own, never mind standing or walking. I couldn't breastfeed her. I was too topheavy and Kid O was too tiny. In frustration I hurled The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding clear across the room.

There were times I wanted to hurl Kid O across the room, too. Even now, years later, I fill up with shame that that thought even entered my mind. I used to imagine it in grim detail, with my husband coming home to find me sitting on the couch and a broken body nearby. What stopped me was that, aside from not wanting to go to jail, was being fearful of losing his love. That's right. I cared more about having my husband hate me than whether or not I still had a baby. Of course I would have felt tremendous remorse. Kid O is the child of my heart, and I would have been beside myself. But in those moments, I didn't care. I just wanted my time back. I wanted my sleep again. And I wanted a "normal" child. Like all the other moms. I wanted a child who was physically able, and, above all, I desperately wanted a child who would say all those cute, clever and precocious things that other kids seem to say to their moms. I am still waiting for "I love you, Mommy," although I know that Kid O and I have a very deep connection. She was and remains my "beautiful mystery."

Why didn't I snap? I often wonder how I managed to survive Kid O's first two years. I have always had a strong moral compass, and I always had a deep reservoir. Even at my lowest, there was always something I could reach in and grab and use. I did this even though I had post-partum depression. Aside from my mom, I had no one to really talk to. My husband was crew for a sailboat race team, and when he wasn't doing that he was off riding his bike. We have healed from those early days, but it was difficult. Family members always seemed to have their track shoes on. No one seemed to have time for me. Or for Kid O.

Months later I received an apology from a friend of mine. She hadn't realized just how difficult a baby Kid O had been. My next door neighbor apologized right before she moved. Seemed as if someone from their birthing class also had a preemie who had cerebral palsy and a disorganized nervous system. This couple was forced out by their condo association. No screaming baby in their building. Nosiree. All of it was cold comfort. Where were they when I needed them?

I looked into a support group. Even if we had a car then, I am not sure I would have gone. I am more of a cave dweller than a joiner. The woman I spoke to talked about her child needing a feeding tube and oxygen. At least Kid O was healthy, as handicapped as she was. I felt as if my need for support was somehow illegitimate. It was a foolish notion, but I never again looked into it.

Sometimes my rage turned inward and I became suicidal. Sometimes I turned my rage outward. I didn't recognize this rage filled woman. I always felt really horrible whenever I expressed rage. I would make the same promise that all abusers make to themselves and to the people around them. I will not do that again. I promise. Thankfully it was sporadic. Didn't make me a bad person. When I wasn't expressing rage and more myself, I was a kind, compassionate, loving woman.

My struggle with rage came to a head when two friends of mine, independently of each other and several months apart, told me that they would no longer deal with my tantruming. I took a good, hard look at myself and decided that somehow or other, the rage had to stop. That was not who I was. That was not who I wanted to be. I did not stop the rage cold turkey. But I did stop. The pain and the shame slowly lifted. There is still a lot of work I need to do, but at least I have overcome the worst of it.

When I first started to leave the dark places behind, I was sure the light was an oncoming train. And then I started to see that it was daylight. I am still getting accustomed to that. Joy is slowly returning, and I am starting to feel whole again. I have returned to gardening. I have a better outlook. And all because people cared enough about me to tell me the truth --- that I was driving them away.

It is easy to judge people, especially when you don't know them. If people had only assumed the worst about me instead of looking at me as a whole person, I'd be in deep trouble now and so would everyone around me. When I read news stories about a mom or a dad harming a disabled child like Kid O, my first reaction is self-righteous anger. How dare they harm a child. But then I think about how life can change in an instant. I ended up with what seemed like an impossibly difficult child. I developed coping skills, but, also, just as I thought that no one cared, people reached out. Many times I could have been that news headline. But somehow I wasn't. When I read these stories I always think: could have been me.

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