I fell in love with my son the weekend after his 1st birthday. It was a warm August evening, my husband was out of town and Max and I headed to dinner with my mom and siblings. There was a gentle breeze, the kind that tastes like sunshine and summer, and the sounds of children laughing all around us. While waiting for a table at the restaurant, I took him to a little playground overlooking the water. He was giggling and pointing to the slide, and as he gripped my fingers in his little hands, he looked up at me and gave me a crooked, seven-toothed smile and squeezed my fingers tighter. In that moment, we both fell head over heels in love.
Max and I got off to a troubled start, from the moment he was forcibly ripped from my abdomen, covered in his own poop, and whisked away to the neonatologist to make sure that he was OK, my husband yelling, “It’s a boy, it’s a boy!” as he chased after, and I was sewn back together. I marveled at him when he was placed on my chest, sparkling clean and screaming. The biological need to provide and protect , that was there from the beginning. I didn’t have breastfeeding issues despite a long recovery from a traumatic and stressful birth and no postpartum depression that I could sense, but our love was complicated, our relationship not all that rewarding.
My husband took the bigger sacrifice and stayed home to take care of Max as I went back to work 10 weeks later to a demanding tech job. He survived the dirty diapers, the fussiness, the gas, the bottles, the bathing, and somehow managed to keep his freelance career alive during naptime.
While at the office I pumped over emailing and international phone calls — my tether to motherhood trapped in an oscillating machine, literally sucking my mommy juices out to pass on to my husband the next day. I did the night feedings and co-sleeping, always slightly distracted. We practiced rolling over, sitting up, hitting major milestones (early!), and then our lives came to a screeching halt when my mother had a double lung transplant and moved in with us during her recovery.
Very suddenly I wasn’t a busy working mom just trying to balance it all. I was a working mom, caretaker, and hostess. My mother was the optimal houseguest and patient, but she was still in our space as we were trying to navigate the new world of parenthood. There was already mounting tension in our marriage, and this didn’t exactly help. In any other instance, I would have fallen face-first into taking care of her and her recovery, but with a 6-month-old and a crazy job, I was barely phoning it in for every direction I was pulled.
During my pregnancy, I traveled 60 miles each way Friday nights to Sunday mornings to my mother’s house to care for her in the end stages of her idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She was dying and needed the help with little things that could wait until weekends — laundry, changing sheets, helping with bill negotiation, doing dishes, weekly meal prep, washing her hair in the sink because taking a shower required too much oxygen. I managed until it became too close to my due date to take care of her as well. When she was in the hospital for 15 days after her transplant, I drove from work to the University of Washington Medical Center campus every night to spend some time with her and check in on her progress with her nurses and doctors before heading home to my husband and baby.
As a result, I never really spent quality alone time with Max in his first six months, or even during his gestation for that matter. Once my mother moved out, Max was 7 months old, and he and my husband were in the full throes of a loving, reciprocal relationship. I saw the way they looked at each other with adoration and fascination. Max always asked for his “Da-da” and couldn’t have been more in love with my curmudgeonly, kid-fearing spouse who had suddenly turned into the biggest softie and super-dad on the planet. I traveled intensely for my job, often dragging them with me so we could keep breastfeeding, but Max and I struggled. He saw me as food, clearly, as he would wake and cry until I forced a boob in his tiny face, and then he’d spend the rest of the nursing session “fidgeting” by scratching, pinching, slapping, and pulling hair. I often sported large bruises along my arms from our nursing sessions.
By the time his 1st birthday rolled around, things had leveled out a bit. My husband’s freelance work started to pick up, and Max and I were forced into spending more time together. I pulled my head up from the cloud that covered the previous year and saw a fun-loving, giggly, always happy, curious little boy staring at me with nothing but love. He started asking for me, giggling when I walked into a room, and I felt an urge of desire to rush home and play with him, as opposed to dreading coming home to be beat up by a nursing terror. My husband had raised, mostly on his own, my favorite person on the planet.
While I don’t believe I had postpartum depression, I definitely had postpartum something — survival maybe. I have almost no memories of his small milestones of infancy. I couldn’t tell you when he rolled over or giggled for the first time. I couldn’t tell you what the weather was like on his first stroll in his stroller, or even when that was. I will always remember, though, the day that true, unequivocal love washed over me. Now every night when we snuggle before bedtime and I kiss the top of his head and smell his lavender shampoo and apologize to him for not being there his first year, I’ll remember his toddler toes, his expressive eyebrows, his mop of blondish hair, and marvel at this child I created. I will not be ashamed that I didn’t feel this way until he was a year old, but I will wish with all my heart that he stays this little a little longer.