Motherhood Year One: A Story of Coming Undone

Where has the time gone?

I understand that we exist on a space-time continuum; that time exists; that it isn’t merely a method to mark passage; that there is always only right now, a beacon in the wash of the ever-present always.

My baby daughter turned one the other day. A milestone of milestones. A checkpoint that stands out, bold and clear.

All year I have been asking myself, why is this so hard? Why would the universe build itself this way? If we are meant to reproduce ourselves, why isn’t it easier?

I think maybe now I understand. The first year is like boot camp; it breaks you down to build you back up. I’m not a military person, but Tom Robbins describes basic training for the Air Force like this:

“From the hour one lands in boot camp all thoughts of future fun and past attachments are pounded out of one’s consciousness; one is locked in a perpetual present designed to purge one of any trace of individuality and extract from one any energy with which one might presume to resists” (Tibetan Peach Pie, p. 110).

Much like the boot camp Robbins describes, the first year of parenthood removes your vanity, your privacy, your sleep, your time, and so many other indescribables in order to beat you over the head with one simple, but hard to swallow mantra: You are not the center of your own life anymore. You are now forever tethered.

Being tied down gets a bad rap, but it isn’t always a negative. If I were floating weightless in the abyss of space, I’d sure love to be tethered to my vessel. And if you just widen your gaze a bit, you’ll see that we’re all literally hurling through space right now. It’s awkward when you first find yourself gripping, but I’m not sorry I chose to hold on.

When my daughter was a few weeks old, a dear friend of mine told me that the year her first son was born was the hardest year of her life. Her situation was similar to mine: their baby carried a wedding and big geographical move in his arms. But even still, smug and optimistic and not yet weathered by the many months of sleeplessness. I thought, “The most difficult year of my life? No way.”

When newlyweds and a newborn make a new home, the tensions and transformations are so big you can’t even see them. Everything about me changed: my name, my address, my job status. I gained so much weight that I didn’t look like myself. I couldn’t even wear my own clothes. I had to discover a new self.

I was wrong. My friend was right. The first year is almost exclusively thankless giving: giving and giving everything you’ve got, more than you ever knew you had to give. And in this way, you come to know your strength. You stretch your capacity for loving without expectation.

Nothing magical changed from January 31 to February 1. My daughter did not suddenly begin sleeping through the night. The difficulty did not all at once evaporate. But I can see that we are getting into the sweet stuff: the juicy joys of childhood, the excitement of discovering the world, and the unparalleled beauty of expression. She is so smart and funny and silly and lovely that I could just cry thinking about it. Let’s be real: I am crying. I love her so much that I literally cry when I try to put that love into words.

Motherhood has broken me in the best ways. This year, we begin to rebuild.

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