Hey mama, I see you.
I see your beautiful baby, too. She is fresh. New. Awake in your exhausted arms.
Those same screams echo in my nightmares. They make me feel undone. There use to be so much noise in my world, too.
I see you splintering, withering, trying to survive. The curvature of your body still knows her shape, yet your hands don’t know how to soothe her. You are feeling unwanted by your very own flesh.
You gave birth to your brokenness. The dam was wrecked when she came earthside, and now the water is running rapid above you. Your instincts shout at you to keep her alive, but you don’t know how to swim.
Maybe there is depression shouting at you, too, but you are too tired or too afraid to think of anything bigger than your wailing child.
I see you nursing ceaselessly, but her hunger is not satisfied.
I see you feeding yourself pouches of cinnamon flavored applesauce with your free left hand to give your own body some sustenance.
I see the unbearable hours of sleep you are missing. The rest that is stolen in increments; in the seat of a hard rocking chair, or in the back of your car at the end of the night when you realize you haven’t eaten anything that resembles a meal, and your baby has yet to stop crying.
Your husband chauffeurs you through the dark city to calm her while you weep hot, bitter tears and scarf down a cold drive thru meal that will probably make your milk even more toxic, and harder to digest. Your baby closes her swollen eyes for the first time since sunrise.
I see the knots in your filthy hair and the fear and resentment you feel when your husband escapes to work.
I see you in the emergency room, desperate for answers - for reasons - and being told you are a paranoid new parent. “Hypervigilance” is written in permanent records. I see the stacks of papers and pamphlets, the words in your hands that have no relief to offer you.
I see you grateful and sad, all at once. You are thankful that she is here, but there is sorrow in this time being stolen by underdeveloped intestines and a tiny wind bloated stomach. I see you trying with every fiber of your postpartum being to notice the times your heart feels like it is healing. I see the times one second smiles crack across her lips, and she collapses folded like a frog on your chest to sleep.
I see you trying to notice.
I see you rock, shush, and cry, rock, shush, and cry. You thank God for this blessing, but why does it have to be so hard?
I see you wishing the days away.
(You are allowed to do that. You are allowed to not love these moments. You are allowed to wish it was better.)
I see you. I hurt with you. I know, in my bones, the desperation, loneliness, and depletion that you feel.
But what I also see - is the light in passing time and reciprocation.
She is eight months old and her body is heavier now - nourished. Her hunger is finally satisfied. New insulation cushions her bones. Dimples punctuate her arms, and doughy rolls dance as laughter thunders out of her body. She has two teeth and they greet you every morning behind the bars of her crib after sleeping all throughout the night.
Then, it is month thirteen and she is toddling around on Bambi legs. After telling her you loved her since that very first day, she looks at you and as clear as day repeats, “I uv ooo” for the very first time.
Now she is four, decorated in pink tulle, and demanding classical music on Spotify. Her eyes are barely seen through slits because her mouthful of baby teeth is filling her entire face with pure joy. She practices plies and corrects your toe points as you twirl around the living room together.
I see you falling in love with the pieces of motherhood that you envisioned before her birth.
I see what comes after the entire days that feel too hard, and in the middle of moments that feel too hard.
This is only the beginning. This is only the ebb to the flow - so hold on.
I see you.
Words and photo by N'tima Preusser.