Tousled whisper thin golden hair fell softly around my face as I pulled a stuffed animal from beneath a toddler-sized shirt. Cradling the stuffed creature delicately in my arms, I leaned down to whisper a promise:
“I’m your Mommy. I’ll love you forever. You’ll see.”
In toddler years? Forever lasts two minutes. If that. I repeated this action over and over again as a child. Motherhood, you see, was my dream. My aspiration. My definition of self.
20 something years later, I grew three real babies over the course of four years under an assortment of plus-sized maternity shirts.
I learned birthing a baby was nowhere near as easy as yanking a stuffed animal from beneath a shirt. It was hard work. It hurt. It was traumatizing. And that love? It’s not always there immediately. Sometimes, it’s confusion. Frustration. Anger. Doubt. Guilt. Apologies. Tears. Overwhelming sense of failure. Depression. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Anxiety. Post-Traumatic Mood Disorder.
In short, birth and the aftermath is MESSY.
You can’t turn your back on the aftermath. There’s a creature there requiring attention when you want to sleep. Needing to nurse or feed when all you want to do is cry. Wanting to play when you want to sit. Asking questions when you long for silence. There’s this intrusion on your life, this thing to which you may not know how to relate.
What do you do?
Some rush forward, headlong into the fray, successfully.
Then there are those of us who hate those who rush headlong into the fray successfully. Because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We’re frozen by fear. Frozen by anticipated judgment of our decisions. Frozen by the potential for failure. The potential of screwing up our kids. Frozen by selfishness. By not knowing what to do – by not wanting to be a parent. By the loss of ourselves. The loss of our lives. Failing to integrate our lives with the needs of this new intrusion, this tiny helpless being imposed upon us. We retreat. We fall back and wonder what’s wrong with us. We wonder why we’re flawed.
But are we flawed? Is there really something wrong with us deep down? Should we be afraid of these “flaws” or should we embrace them?
Yes, there are parents who suffer from Mental Disorders after the birth of a child. I know, I was one of them after the birth of both my daughters. I apologized to my first daughter when she was 7 days old for not knowing how to talk to her. As if she had already memorized Merriam Webster’s entire dictionary, Mother Goose, and Hans Christian Anderson. I refused to leave the house unless I had to because EVERYONE judged me with just a glance. (They didn’t, but inside my fishbowl head, they absolutely did.) I cried. I screamed. Horrible thoughts zoomed in and out of my head.
But I learned.
When my second daughter arrived, we recognized symptoms sooner. Help arrived quicker. Yes, I was hospitalized but it was necessary. I recovered much faster despite the additional complications of her special needs and NICU stay. I started to heal.
Then her brother dropped in as a surprise. I quickly worked on advocacy and care for myself. I was the complication, not the baby. Already experienced in advocacy for others, advocacy for self came naturally. My doctor worked with me, not against me. He treated me as a trusted partner instead of a subordinate. I developed a Postpartum Plan for myself. Handed it to my everyone involved in my life and in my care. I thrived and had a successful Postpartum experience until three months after his birth when all hell broke loose in another area of my life. But because of my careful planning with my postpartum experience, thankfully, I had everything in place I needed in order to deal with this dam break.
I still failed with the hell which slid my way after his birth though, because instead of diving in to advocate for my own care, I waited for someone to dive in and help me. I didn’t ask for help. I waited. Like a fool. I focused on daily living while I waited. Only the necessary – just enough to get by. I buried my issues with the situation at hand and moved forward without dealing with it. I failed to reach for my scalpel and explore the problem. I didn’t dig around to figure out the landscape. So it festered until it exploded, my marriage along with it.
Instead of accepting responsibility for this explosion, I shifted it to everyone else when in reality, I failed to deal with the issues appropriately. Yes, the source rooted elsewhere, but my failure to deal with the aftermath appropriately is ultimately what caused the explosion. No one is responsible for my actions but myself.
Life is messy. It’s not some neatly wrapped package to be displayed in a store window during the holidays like a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s more like a Jackson Pollock piece in progress. Somewhere, eventually, someone will think it’s fabulous and want to buy it. But most will simply see the mess instead of the passionate art deep within.
Bernard Baruch once stated, “The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.” Life is art if you just let go of expectations, of definitions, and learn to LIVE instead of satiate the constant needs of others. Selfish? Yes. But ultimately selfless. How? By letting go and living for YOU, you give more of yourself. You learn what brings you passion, you learn your flaws, you recognize them as beautiful, you recognize that yes, even your weakness is beautiful and not something to be hidden away.
For a very long time, I’ve wrapped my problems in wrapping paper, placed them gently and neatly on a shelf inside my head, then walked away. It worked until the room overflowed and the door burst open, dust, paper, and all my issues flying every which way. I’m sitting in the middle of my brain these days, cleaning house. Step by step. Inch by inch. Face to face with issues I thought I dealt with ages ago.
I don’t know who I am completely these days. I’m not sure where I’m going in life.
But I do know one thing – that room in my head? The one with the shelves? Won’t be rebuilt.
Instead, I’ll be grabbing my scalpels and digging around in my messes in the hopes of understanding them before moving on. Yes, it will be chaotic and unrefined. But it will be resplendent imperfection.
I’m far from perfect. I will make mistakes. I will fail. But I will learn from those mistakes and failures. And that? Makes my life the most beautiful piece of art I will ever have the honour of witnessing.
Be messy, imperfect, and blissful.
Make your life Art.
There’s no other way to live.