It’s not about her. It was about me. It was always about me.
It was about being the Lady of Constant Damp. While my husband and visitors shivered, I glistened with sweat. I got out of the shower and watched as fountains of milk geysered onto the walls. I held my 1000 degree child to my breast and felt milk and sweat pool on my skin.
It was about being the Lady of Constant Exhaustion. I nursed every two hours, which meant I got 60, maybe 90 minutes tops to sleep, eat, and function. Even if she didn’t wake me after an hour, my swollen breasts did. While my daughter would cat nap in her crib at night, during the day she would only sleep if I was holding her.
It was about being the Lady of Conflicting Expectations. I was supposed to enjoy every precious minute, even the minutes of screaming and pooping. I was supposed to breast feed on demand, but also put her on a schedule. I was supposed to pump milk to supplement with, but also use formula. I was supposed to let my husband sleep, but I was also supposed to make him get up and change her diaper after the nightly feedings. I was supposed to respond to her every desire but also let her cry in the crib if I felt angry or stressed out. I was supposed to go back to work after 12 weeks, but never put her in daycare. I was supposed to put her on her tummy several times a day, but never allow her to sleep on her stomach.
It was about the fact that I didn’t feel anything.
“How are you doing?” “How’s it going?” “What’s your favorite part?”
Nothing. I felt nothing. I was too tired, too damp, too frustrated.
It was messy. But it was beautiful.
After two months, she was diagnosed with a diary allergy, and once I removed dairy from my diet she was able to sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time: a blessing for us both.
After four months, nursing was my favorite part of the relationship. I would put my little one to my breast and watched her latch on eagerly. She would peek at me with her dark gray blue eyes, looking for all the world like one of those Kewpie dolls.
After six months she developed a gorgeous open mouth grin combined with twinkling eyes and an irresistible laugh.
It was messy because it hurt like crazy, and I lost friendships, and I felt a lot of unnecessary guilt. And it was beautiful because I learned exactly how to be the best mother that I, Elaine Frances Bayless, can be, independent of all the “shoulds” and “how-tos” and “best practices.”
In the end, post partum was my messy beautiful gift: a trial that brought me freedom.