When I look back at the first year of my daughter’s life, I see only one big dark blur of chaos, baby puke, diaper blowouts, endless sleepless nights, teething (prime reason for the endless sleepless nights), tears (both my own and the baby’s), and many glasses of wine. Add to that working full-time, a big certification exam for work, recovering from surgery, very little childcare support, and postpartum depression, it’s really a miracle any of us survived. Honestly, I never enjoyed the infant stage. When my daughter cried and nothing I did comforted her, I felt like the garbage bag of used kitty litter my husband throws out each week.
Everyone kept telling me, “You are such a good mother. You are so intuitive. You make motherhood look easy.” Every time I heard those compliments, I felt more and more guilt, because at home, when no one was looking or listening, things couldn’t be more opposite. One day I finally broke down to a friend and told her how I yell a lot and sometimes to my daughter.
“I’m a horrible mom.” I wept. “How could I call her names and cuss at her? She’s just a baby. She doesn’t know better and now she probably hates me. She’s be traumatized for life for the words I’ve said to her. Just the therapy bill will be enough to bankrupt us all.”
My dear friend patted my hand. “Welcome to motherhood. If you don’t screw up once in a while, or all the time like me, you probably aren’t doing your job properly. We’re human. We make mistakes.”
“But, but,” Big sobs erupt. “She must hate me.”
Between my therapist and friends, they all assured me that my daughter didn’t hate me. I told myself the same thing, but deep down inside I didn’t believe a word of it. Maybe it was the depression or some irrational quirk in my brain, but I knew she must hold a grudge against me for not being the loving, nurturing mom the first year of her life.
And then one evening…it happened. The thing I never expected occurred. I remember I was washing dinner’s dishes, thinking about my upcoming book that I had completed the first draft, trying not to stress about the cases I had pending at my day job, or fretting about how I was going to pay Boo’s next month of daycare, when I felt two little arms wrap around my right leg and a warm cheek rest on my thigh.
“I wuv you, mama.”
The hurricane of thoughts and stress of everyday life melted away in that moment. Every cell of my body swelled at the sound of those four words and time stood still just like in the movies. She squeezed my leg and then ran off into the living room squealing, “Can’t catch me!”
And just like that the everyday cacophony of noises, thoughts, and stress crashed back, but everything had changed. A new idea joined the endless stream of thoughts. Did she mean it?
Then it happened again. And again. Every time in random places and times. But the one time her words really stuck was right after bath time and I was helping her get into her PJ’s. The top had a big heart on the front.
“Look mama, it’s a heart.” She smiled and pointed at her chest. “A heart says I love you. I love my mama.” Then she looked up at me, as if she forgot I sat there in front of her on the bathroom floor. “You are my mama and I love you.” She threw her arms around me and squeezed tight.
“I love you too, baby.” I whispered while reaching for the toilet paper with one hand and hugging her little body with the other.