NOTE: This letter is about 2 weeks old. I didn’t have the opportunity to post it since I was sans internet.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you regularly, and for that I apologize. You’re one of my dearest friends, and the least I owe you is regular correspondence. Thing is, since moving back to my folks’ place, I don’t have an internet connection. I’ve tried leeching off of my neighbors’ wireless, but all of them have protected access. Go figure.
As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s been a lot going on with me. I don’t even know where to begin. This is where I’d usually launch into some raunchy story about my experiences as a dominatrix, or (in my earliest blogs) about my sexcapades out in public with random men. But alas, dear Internet, I’ve settled down and become – in comparison to my old life – a boring old lady. Wanna hear about my day-to-day? It goes something like this: Feed Riley. Burp Riley. Change Riley. Cuddle Riley. Read to Riley. Swaddle Riley so that he can sleep. Use the breast pump. Repeat ad nauseum, until Rob’s shift kicks in and I can get a solid 5 hours of Me time. Somewhere in the mix: Squeeze in a shower for myself and a bath for Riley. Bond with Rob. Oh, and remember to eat.
Yup. I’m a barrel of laughs.
It’s funny, this change. There are days when I take it in stride and think, Hmm… So this is what it’s like to be a real grown-up. Then there are days when I think, Why did I wanna grow up so fast? This blows. In between those two thoughts are a bunch of others ideas, mostly centered on the act of writing and my lack thereof. A million article-, story- and blog-ideas clog my brain every day, and I’ve taken to re-reading my copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. I wonder what’s to become of my stunted writing career, of all the stories I’ve written and still want to write. I think about the plans I’ve made and broken. I find myself empathizing with the character so often portrayed in art-house cinema: the washed-up, middle-aged American who fels drained and lifeless.
How did this happen? It’s like I’ve been running after the school bus and even though I could’ve sworn I’d already hopped aboard and become the most popular and exciting passenger, I’m really still outside, feet pounding the pavement, trying in vain to catch up. How did I wake up one day and become a 24-year old woman with a boyfriend and a baby? Why am I wondering that, anyway? What’s so wrong about being a 24-year old woman with a boyfriend and a baby? Does this line of thinking mean that I’m not fulfilled? Or that I made a wrong turn somewhere? And here’s the kicker, the question that I’ve never asked and that is begging to be answered: Did I take a wrong turn somewhere, and am somehow living one big mistake?
It’s 3 a.m. and I’m in the kitchen, fixing a bottle for Riley. He’s due for a feeding in 15 minutes, and I’ve learned to prepare in advance if I want to save myself from his screams. These are screams that are supernaturally strong; I’m convinced they hear him down the block, around the corner, and in other time zones. They’re screams that are so loud and violent, they have Rob’s mom wondering if we’re abusing her grandson. At their most intense, they turn Riley’s chubby-cheeked and cherubic face beet red, and make Rob and I question our right to be parents – so you can see why I’m doing my best to avoid them.
In case you’re wondering, it’s breastmilk that I’m warming in Riley’s bottle. Sometimes, it’s formula or a mixture of the two, but this time it just happens to be straight breastmilk. I know, I know. Why aren’t I breastfeeding? Wouldn’t that be simpler than having to fix bottles? Don’t I know that breastmilk is the best milk for babies? What kind of mother am I, to deprive my child of my breast? Yeah, I hear your screams of disapproval, and believe me, I wish I were breastfeeding. I feel pangs of guilt whenever I consider the visiting nurse’s advice, that all it takes is one day of trying to get Riley to breastfeed; she swears that given the choice between starving and breastfeeding, his sucking reflex will start working double overtime. But this just hasn’t been the case. I’ve tried this method for all of 6 hours (aka 3 feedings) and all I learned was that I can’t stand to see my baby’s frustrated and starving face scrunch up and let out screams.
So here I am, fixing a bottle and consoling myself with facts. Fact One: In another 7 weeks, Riley and I will be in the Philippines and I’ll be attending classes, so he’d have to be bottle-fed anyway. Odds are good that after the bottle, he wouldn’t want to go back to the breast. Fact Two: I breastfed him exclusively for his first day of life, then fell asleep too long on the second day and ruined his feeding pattern. By the time I tried to breastfeed, he was so hungry that he didn’t have the patience to breastfeed. Then nurses convinced me that I was starving him, and that I should bottle-feed him. After that, he hasn’t wanted to breastfeed at all. Fact Three: I’m making up excuses, I know. But I just don’t have it in me to attempt breastfeeding. Not right now, anyway.
As the seconds tick by and I remember that I should be using the breast pump to keep my milk supply up, I feel like I’ve already fucked up royally as a mom. I’ve been inundated by so many facts and figures about why breastfeeding is best, and I’ve convinced myself that the most natural way is indeed the best way, so there’s no wonder why my lack of patience and persistence bothers me so much. I tell myself that I’ll try breastfeeding again. Right after this next bottle feeding.
I climb up the stairs, to the master bedroom, and realize how slick with sweat my neck is. Ever since Riley was born, I’ve been waking up between early-morning feedings with an alarming amount of sweat on my body. I realize that there’s a physiological reason for this (it’s my body’s way of secreting excess pregnancy hormones), but dammit, it makes me break out in the least attractive of places. Pimples have sprung up on my neck and congregated on my upper back, and all I can do is wait for the sweating to stop.
Speaking of waiting, I still have three weeks to go before my six week post-labor check-up. There are 15 or so pregnancy pounds still left around my middle and on my thighs. And I can’t do much more in the way of exercise than Kegel’s and carrying Riley till I get the green light from the doc. This is all especially alarming since my ass has disappeared, making me look like a funhouse mirror version of my former self. Take a look, ladies and gents, at the amazing assless fat woman!
Okay, okay, maybe there are some positives to all this. Like, when I lay on my side, it’s evident that my Coke bottle figure is all the more accentuated after having a baby. And I’ve gained considerable muscle in my back and arms from carrying Riley so often. And I was able to wear normal pants a week after giving birth. So yeah. Maybe I shouldn’t complain so much.
But ya know what? I don’t recognize my physical self as MY self. I don’t like the way my hair falls, or the scar I got a couple months ago on my right cheek from an oil spatter. I don’t like the dark rings that have circled my eyes, or the silver stretch marks denting my stomach, or my inability to work out. I hate not being able to do anything about disliking my figure. I hate that my sense of humor has pretty much vanished; Rob and my dad joke about my lack of ass or the extra fat around my middle, and I’m reduced to tears. I hate that even though I know it’s only a matter of time before I can get a haircut and my scar will fade and I can resume working out and gaining back my butt, I still have issues. I know full well that all I need is a little patience, but I can’t summon it. I’m just not used to having to wait. I’m not used to being at the mercy of Fate. I’m not used to not having my way. And that, Internet, is what really bothers me. I chose to become a mom, but now I feel like I don’t have any choice about much else.
I think of the person I used to be: So confident, so self-assured. I could walk into a room and command attention and respect. I could be brazen and bold. I could own any situation. I could bend people to my will and make them love me. I knew how to read situations, how to read people, how to come up on top in any predicament. And now all of these traits seem diminished, if not gone altogether. They’re replaced by my ability to keep sane, stable and responsible – three traits I was not in the habit of having before I became a mom.
The trade-off was definitely worth it, especially when I consider what my previous person would’ve probably become. But still: I miss her. I miss being loud and obnoxious. I miss feeling like things could be new. I miss being the life of the party. I miss not worrying all the time. I miss not second-guessing myself. I miss my wicked sense of humor.
Now I can’t leave the house for more than an hour without feeling the urge to call home and make sure Riley’s doing okay. I doubt my abilities and second-guess every decision I make on Riley’s behalf. I take every criticism of my mothering skills to heart. Everything now is filtered through Riley’s eyes, and although I love sharing everything with him, I miss being the primary person. I miss experiencing things first-hand. I miss feeling my own self. I’m a slave to my newborn son. He takes up my every thought, causes or taints my every action, chooses the emotions that fill my head and my heart, and controls every other detail about me.
My heart melts when I see Riley’s bundled figure in his cream-colored bassinet, and I realize that he is perfect. He is everything that I need in order to become the person I’m supposed to be. And yet, this change in persona is the hardest I’ve ever come up against. In my desire to be a perfect mom, I’ve lost sight of my knack for making everyone believe I’m the perfect version of the person they’re looking for. And that trait, that singular characteristic, is what’s always been at my core.
Riley’s eyelids flutter as he closes in on wakefulness, and I scoop his warm little body into my arms. I feel his softness push into my chest and his legs curl up inside his swaddle blanket. He is flexing now, his hands taking advantage of the looseness of his cacoon and pushing up into the air as I sit in a chair and bring his bottle to his mouth. He happily accepts the latex nipple and begins sucking, and as I feel his appreciation emanating from his cute little face, my guilt is momentarily curbed.
I think of the other people I’ve been, the other versions of myself that I’ve left behind, and I wonder why those were so easy to slip on and take off. They were so unconventional, so unusual, and so controversial. When I was busy being those people, it felt so rogue and dangerous. And yet this role, this task, MOTHERHOOD, is so antithetical to those roles. It’s so conventional, so relatable, so everyday. People don’t ooh and aah or do a double-take when I say that I’m a mom. They don’t want to hear stories about my day-to-day life. They don’t suddenly find me more attractive or alluring. And maybe there’s a simple explanation for this: Motherhood is more real than any other persona I’ve ever taken on.
Before having Riley, I had a list of experiences to check off – and not just any list. I’d made it my goal to know as much of life, first-hand, as possible. I wanted to be able to empathize with every walk of life, with every decision that could possibly be made, with every cornerstone and milestone and building block of being human. But in order to do this, I could never entirely indulge in any way of life; there was always a danger that I would lose myself in it. So even though I did all those things and became all those people, I guess in a way I can say that none of it was ever real. The experiences impacted me, sure, but they didn’t seep under my skin and boil my blood. They didn’t leave me sleepless and take away all of my control. They didn’t dictate my life, change my outlooks so irrevocably, or undermine the very core of my being the way motherhood does.
Riley is done feeding and I’ve burped him and put him to sleep. I lay him back down in his bassinet and start pumping my breasts while resuming my typing. Somehow, despite my lack of sleep, the right words are finding me and I’m able to zip across the qwerty board, finding the correct keys while my breastmilk funnels into two clear containers. I decide right then and there what I’m going to do: There is a phone call I’ve been putting off, one that I thought of making two years ago, when I was working at Penguin. I’ve been putting it off because it has the potential to become the first step in a real writing career, and being that close to a fulfilled goal seems too good to be true. It’s so much safer to dream without trying, to keep goals in the realm of fantasy, to stand on the precipice instead of taking the plunge into the great unknown.
I realize as I close in on the three-ounce mark that motherhood is a detour that’s brought me to the edge of every opportunity I’ve ever wanted. Now, I write because if I don’t do it now, I’ll be swept away with the currents of whatever Riley’s presently up to. I’m going back to school because the light that is in me and finds fuel in academia might never burn as bright as it does when parenthood is still new. I’m traveling because I want to be able to be young and loud and flamboyant and strange while visiting foreign lands, and I’m not sure how much of that will eek away as I get older.
I guess, Internet, what it boils down to is this: My life, up until now, has been a rehearsal. Now I’m in the thick of reality, smooshed in the heady and intoxicating realness of every decision and opportunity, lost in an ecstacy caused by cliched sayings: Carpe diem. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Take the bull by the horns. The time is NOW. Maybe right now I’m sleep-deprived and not finding myself attractive, but that’s going to change. Everything is changing right now. And something tells me, Internet, it’s not just for the better. It’s for the best.