The song that made me a mother.
There was a song. It was a nice song discovered at 38 weeks pregnant, hurriedly added to a birth playlist in a fit of mild panic and forgotten about. It was a song listened to in labour that took on new meaning, it would swell and swoop and with it my excitement would soar. I would grip onto the fireplace through contractions, knuckles white, and cry at the pain and the beauty of each one. And then, with each crest, I would follow music back down and feel giddy at the thought of each and every one bringing me ever closer to meeting my daughter.
There is a strange kind of knowledge in knowing that your own child’s first moments were not yours to share too. That while she made her first noises earthside, lungs smarting in air, I lay just across from her dreaming them away. That I met her, barely lucid, when she was hours old and had been held and cared for by so many before me.
She didn’t feel like mine. This small thing, belly rising and falling, face hidden by masks and tubes. I touched that little curve of stomach just about, the wide void between her bed and mine keeping us apart. It felt like she had been ‘othered’, seen so many faces with those wide awake eyes before mine had even had a chance to flutter open. I had to crane my face almost entirely back, to even get a glimpse of hers. She was beautiful and perfect, yes, but I wasn’t sure who she was. I had gone to sleep pregnant, and woken up a mother. We hadn’t been properly introduced, at least not how I’d imagined we would be.
I can’t do this. The sentence rushes from me in a whoosh akin to deflation, and I immediately try to claw that thought back in and hide it away. It’s whispered in the dark, the third night of a hospital stay and she is fine now but will not, will not stay asleep. ‘Second night syndrome’ I’m told, a year later, as though it is common knowledge and I should have known. I feed her and feed her and feed her until she is asleep and then the second I try to put her down, tiny arms fly up into the air and she is awake. We start again. “I can’t do this” is whispered as I sit in a hard chair alone, and my arms almost give way underneath her as I will my eyes to stay open at 3am. I want to go home.
I want to protect her, I would die for her. I feel the urge to punch the lovely nurse who adjusts her cannula and causes her to wail. Hot tears roll down my face as I am told that maybe she won’t be able to come back on the ward with me tonight. I scream and scream for help as her tiny legs ball up and her face goes a bit purple as she splutters, and the midwife tells me its just mucous coming up. But do I love her?
The people I love, I love them because of their quirks and the way they smile and the things they like to eat and the valleys of their speech as we talk. I love them because of the kindly words said in the trickiest of times, and the many ways they have made me laugh until my ribs felt broken and my eyes streamed. This small little scrunched up human, this baby who is so obviously mine from the shape of her nose to the legs frogged out in just the way mine were, is so very new to me.
I marvel at her, stare at the softness of her, feed her. I worry constantly about her being too cold at night, the blankets are adjusted often and my hand slips between her chest and sleepsuit. I spend the longest time gazing deeply into her eyes - newborns always look so very wise, as though if you look hard enough you could see into the very heart of the universe - and I cannot believe that I created her. I rub my lips across the roundness of her cheeks and feel the softest breaths. I am amazed and in awe. And in survival mode. I hand her off at any chance I get, and then fret about her in another’s arms until she’s back in mine and I want another rest from it all. I don’t know what to do with myself, I feel as if I am floating away, untethered, lost in that universe within her.
Four weeks in, things are still difficult and she smiles and I do know that I love her but part of me is still just surviving and I feel like this is not my life, just some utterly bizarre dream that will never end. We are housebound, and stripped of freedoms like driving or even managing to get the pram out myself, and as the light fades there comes a deep fear of the unknown that is the night with the newborn. I feel a little like I am doing the motions of motherhood, but not feeling them, and not feeling much of anything at all.
I don’t know what makes me do it, but my mind wanders to some notes of a song heard a few weeks prior and I want to hear it. I falter at the name, search the lyrics and then it plays. We lie in bed together, listening to it soaring and stare at each other until it suddenly occurs to me that I am crying. I have cried so many times in these four weeks, but for the first time these are happy tears, a catharsis that soaks the sheets. And as the song swells so does my heart and we soar together, and this is definitely love. This is it, we got there and we made it in our own sweet time, and it looks the same as a love that is instantaneous and a love that is hard fought for. “I will carry you” are the words and I do. Together we listen to the song three times more, and by the end, I feel like a mother.
And this is all to say, that whether love is immediate, takes time to grow or is even a little learned. It will bloom, and flourish and it is all one and the same. No matter how you got there.
This is our song.