Above all else, having my daughter changed so much of how I lived my life. A wake-up call. Photography has been the tool to help me connect these feelings with others, and if I have learned anything from this experience, it is that sharing our stories is so important. Whether it's through images or words, it helps us know we are not alone. And that we all stumble from time to time. So one small resolution for 2015 is to share a little more of what drives me to photograph what I do.
Around three years ago, I sat in the corner of the room waiting for the lactation consultant to break off from her mommy-and-me group to come speak to me. I was far past sleep-deprived and trying desperately to hold back tears so that I could prove to these smiling women -- who all seemed to have it perfectly together, who had these happy babies in their laps -- that I wasn't overwhelmed and more importantly, I had it all under control.
"I know it's hard right now, but it gets better," one of the mothers had come by and said to me. I think at that point I was in full-sob mode. I'm not one for a great poker face.
I didn't believe her at the time. On the inside I was terrified that things would never get better, that I would always feel this way. I felt like a shitty mother who couldn't nurse, who resented every nighttime feeding because all I wanted to do was sleep. Other moms would talk about watching tv shows while their babies nursed away, and all I ever did was watch the clock, frustrated. I felt guilty when all I wanted was my entire family to be with us after the birth, but once she was born I just wanted to be left alone. I didn't feel guilty when I had to go back to work after 6 weeks, which wasn't the problem in of itself except for the fact that I felt like a bad mother because of it. And I was overwhelmed when the only thing I could do to stop her from crying and fall sleep was to hold her in my arms, or my husband's -- when the books and well-meaning people would tell me I was setting up bad habits and she needed to cry it out. I felt shitty when holding her didn't work and I would collapse on the floor of her room and cry and cry alongside her. And that the very first time I got her to sleep on the bed I felt so clueless as to how to use my free time, so I just put on makeup and took selfies. And I am not a selfie person.
The months of pregnancy, the baby books, the friendly advice...it does absolutely nothing to prepare you for the impact of a child in your life. And no matter how many times someone will tell you "a baby changes everything" you won't understand until it happens to you. You just can't.
I was 11 days overdue and it was all I could do to not burst into tears at the sight of every newborn in my OB's office. The mothers looked so calm and beautiful and knew just how to soothe their child. I wanted to be that mom so badly. I wanted to finally hold my daughter in my arms and experience the joy of motherhood, which of course meant nonstop beautiful golden light shining over us in our rocking chair as we gazed in each other's eyes and bonded.
We didn't even own a rocking chair.
I did cry tears of joy the moment she was born, but after the rush and the newness of the moment wore off, there was this tiny little human. And me, with a fierce protecting love for her but an equally-present "what have I gotten myself into?".
I was someone who had been hurting a long time and didn't understand the magnitude of a child's presence into her life. And when you hurt so deeply that you don't even realize it because it is buried so deep inside, a child will bring to light every fault and scar and sadness you didn't even realize you had and wake you up.
I was very much a needy person. There was so much of me stuck in my past. So much still waiting to be sorted through and fulfilled. Certain memories felt all too relevant despite the years between, and although I had come far with who I used to be it continued to carry with me. To the point that I questioned every thought and every feeling until I had no point of view at all. And if you have ever dealt with any kind of anxiety, sometimes all you can do is wonder how long these feelings will keep going. When will I stop searching for the one thing that will make me whole and how long will it finally sink in that there is nothing outside of myself that will fix this? And at what point will I feel like a successful, productive grown-up and not someone who sits at home overwhelmed, relentlessly self-examining for what is right and what is easiest?
All of this to say that bringing into my life a helpless, needy child almost certainly caused conflict with the needy child inside myself. It manifested itself as the tears, the guilt, the resentment and the sadness.
When someone tells you that having a child is a beautiful thing, yes it's the tiny little fingers and toes, the toothless first smile. But it's also the fact that it is the hardest, most challenging aspect of your life until that point. That there will be times when you question everything about yourself. The beautiful part is that a child will force you to deal with all the shitty things in your life because it is the deepest love you can ever imagine and a child deserves the best possible version of yourself to thrive and flourish.
And to the mother who empathized with my sadness in that room, I totally get it now. It did get better. Little by little, I got the hang of things. With continued therapy, I found myself needing less. But there are still some doubts and fears. They've just changed with each milestone. I still fight the balance of tuning-out and hyper-vigilance when it comes to parenting. I continue to work towards putting my guilt in check and trying not to compare myself to the 'all-knowing parent' that I've somehow established as every parent except myself. I think we all secretly do that, which is funny to think that we all envy people who are probably as equally terrified as us on the inside. And it will never be perfect. But somehow you just deal with it, because you have to.
The beauty is knowing sometimes we will fail but we will always try again. For them.