by Annie Redman
Originally published in Mountain Record journal: “Mystic Earth” (2002)
Midwives say that at every birth, a mother is also born. During all of the difficulty of my first months with Simon, it was comforting to remember that the great cycle of birth that was manifested here included me, too. That being born inherently involves a mother. And that I was a newborn, too.
After Simon was born, when the labor was over—suddenly and completely over—I had no idea what I was supposed to do or say or feel. I felt emptied out of all the noise I had been making and all the space my pains had been taking up. There was a crying newborn on me with big eyes and a centered certainty, and I was totally flummoxed.
That night, I couldn’t walk right, I was vibrating with hunger, and there was this tiny curled-up whisp of strong going-to-be that I was charged with mothering (whatever that meant). It took a week before I could admit to my husband Matt that I did not know Simon. I was scared because everyone kept saying, “Oh, of course you do,” which wasn’t true. I was lost in hot, humid July in our upstairs apartment with a new baby and a new version of myself that seemed incredibly important to get right.
I was afraid that my whole life would be this way. I was nursing for 45 minutes at a stretch, which meant not moving from the couch and wishing I had remembered to go to the bathroom and get a glass of water and a book to set beside me before we’d got started. My butt hurt a lot of the time. Having a baby was a new, foggy life and I didn’t have the skills or knowledge—perhaps temperament, or enough love or wisdom, either, I feared— to see what needed doing.
After two weeks, Matt had to spend more time working, and my days opened one after the other to nursing, and “wearing” Simon in a baby sling while I puttered a little. I made myself go outside every day, where people smiled at me like I held the best thing in the world, and I took a shower every day. These were points of pride—I thought I was supposed to take care of myself, too. The truth was that those showers were a feeble (however hygienically necessary) gesture at independence against the reality of being a mom.
Simon had a modest case of colic. He screamed two to five hours every evening. Matt and I took turns putting him in our slings and pacing the living room rocking and singing made-up songs that made us feel like we were soothing this wide-mouthed squall; it made my whole heart ache that he could be so miserable. We’d chant, ‘’A little little walk around a little little block” as we circled the coffee table, or, “Storm cloud, he’s a little bit loud” over and over and over. Matt would try to get me to nurse him more, but by then we had thrush (which makes nursing really hurt), and Simon refused most of the time anyway.
My life with Simon has changed so many times since then. The colic disappeared at about ten weeks when I had the bright idea to nurse him to sleep at 7 p.m. before it all started. The thrush went away, so nursing didn’t hurt anymore. Simon and I started to understand each other, and to love each other. I felt physical pulls, like tides, in my body when he was crying, and I knew that was good. We started to fall into the same sleep rhythm—stirring at the same time, a quick nurse, and back to sleep. My lifelong insomnia is washed away by the calming energy of nursing, and I fall back to sleep easily.
Simon at nine months is a whole different person. He has preferences and desires and ways to express them. Yesterday he was upset about being in the car when he was tired, and when I came around to lift him out of his car seat, he stiffened his body and growled at me just to let me know how he felt. When I put some food on the high chair tray, he tries it, and if he doesn’t like it, he picks it up, piece by piece, and drops it off the side, like a teacher making a point. He understands some sign language and responds to my signed suggestions with either enthusiastic arm flapping or indifference. He crawls all over the apartment and pulls himself up on furniture. He laughs when I tickle him just right—and my body sings to hear it. We usually share a bath at the end of the day, which is a highlight for both of us. Matt plays him the guitar, and Simon crawls right up in front and strums too.
As a mother, I am past the colicky newborn phase myself. As we ease out of our infancy, our lives seem more particularly human and civilized than they were in those first months. Simon used to just nurse and sleep (and cry) like any new mammal, and now he plays with toys, grabs the cat’s feet, and eats Cheerios. I used to just nurse Simon, hunt for food in the kitchen, and care for my healing body. Now I grocery shop, do laundry, walk to the park, work part-time, and think through what kind of life I am creating with Simon.
But my heart still pulls when Simon cries, and I often can’t fall asleep until Simon wakes up to nurse. Even while I see that Simon is becoming more independent, I feel our body connection more than ever, if that’s possible. His body wasn’t just inherited from his parents at birth. He is growing with us, and of us, and intertwined in our lives: in the food we all eat, the air we breathe, the schedule and rhythms we follow, and the fact of considering each other. Our family is becoming an ever-richer matrix of roots which support the big trees of our lives is more and more depth and strength.
It was a pleasure to read this piece again and reflect on those first crazy months from today, seventeen years later. I’m glad that I didn’t write only about the heart-opening, rapid-fire skill, building of new motherhood. It was also really hard. Having children is not the easy path, that’s for sure. I have so much more confidence in my mothering now, and at the same time know that I have been incredibly lucky to have kids who don’t need a perfect mom.
Simon—a thoughtful and very kind person—is applying for colleges now and we will all miss him so much next year. Gus is thirteen and is full of affection, snark and surprises! Matt and I have been married for almost 27 years and look back fondly on our time as MRO students. I turned 50 this year and even while I look forward to the freedom of having an “empty nest,” I will miss having my dear kindred spirit (Simon) and inspiring sprite (Gus) around.
I still work as a midwife—baby count about 2,400 now—and feel so blessed to have the chance to be intimately, helpfully present with mamas being born and their quiet, awake babies.
Annie Redman lives and works in Sacramento, CA with her family.