And so Clara sat and watched and waited. And knew the agony of doing nothing.”
Louise Penny, Still Life
*Trigger Warning* Miscarriage
I had originally scheduled my next book review for today – and may post it as a bonus post later this week instead – but as I have been focusing on my mental health this week in response to the latest (albeit unsurprising) extension of the lockdown here in Ontario, I felt a change of plans was in order.
This is a post I have been ruminating on for a while now. A difficult one for me to write because I’m not sure how much of the insanity of last year I want to share with the world just yet.
Despite my hesitation, my feelings on this topic have been begging to be written down, to be shared, to be allowed a resolution and a sense of closure. So, here goes.
I have technically been a stay-at-home mom (though one working several freelance contracts simultaneously) since July of last year. While I went back to work initially three months after giving birth to Aria, I found that the stress of keeping on top of all my work tasks while keeping a little human alive was too much for my mental health to handle. Not to mention the fact that we were all also trying to find our rhythm in the midst of a global pandemic.
I don’t know how mothers in countries without parental leave do it…
Her mother, she knew, revered light. It was, she’d been told all her life, what we all strive for. That’s why it’s called enlightenment.
Louise Penny, Dead Cold
Light is often something we lack in these dark winter months. Though we may brighten up our living spaces with as much artificial light as possible, nothing compares with the real thing. And once the Christmas decorations are down, our homes can seem even darker than usual!
Compounded with the seasonal lack of light, which is already difficult for so many in the best of times, is the fact that we are still battling a global pandemic. Though curfews (where they exist) take effect long after the last rays of sunshine have dimmed, stay at home orders mean that many of us are experiencing much less natural light than we are used to – much less than we need.
And then there is the metaphorical light many of us are finding hard to locate in these rather dark times. When all we read on the news is story after story about deaths from Covid-19, projections of further loss (both in terms of human lives and economic certainty), and timelines stretching far beyond our already surpassed limit of isolation-tolerance, it seems impossible that this overlong tunnel has anything but, well, more tunnel at the end of it. Or maybe even a dead end where our lives never return to any semblance of the normal we crave.
However, there is indeed light, even if it may seem a little dimmer than usual due to our screened-out, tired eyes. Beyond the doom and gloom reporting lie stories of complete strangers helping one another to weather this storm. The orange oaf has been voted out. Anti-racism movements and wide-spread empathy are slowly starting to heal the centuries-old wounds left by racist, divisive policies and discrimination.
And a new generation is growing older, stronger and wiser, day by day. They are our hope and our future and I for one am doing my best to help leave this world better than how I found it: for them.
As many of you know already, I became a mother for the first time mere months before the coronavirus changed our lives as we knew them. My daughter, Aria, who was born at the end of January 2020 just turned a year old. She entered a world just beginning to understand the nature of the Corona-beast and crawled gamely into her second year around the sun incredibly and happily oblivious to the fact that her parents were grieving the lack of family surrounding their precious child on her first birthday.
And yet, despite our sadness at not being joined by all our family and friends as we celebrated this milestone with our little girl, the small number of guests did not seem to faze her in the least. Though she resolutely refused to take a bite out of the sunshine cake I had cobbled together for her – let alone smash into it like some babies do on their birthdays – she treated us nonetheless to her sunny smile and bubbling giggles the whole day, only pausing to frown when I tried desperately to get her to ingest some sugar-filled icing. When I finally accepted defeat and released her from her high-chair’s captivity, she babbled away under the dining room table while we ate the cake that was so repulsive to her. As I chewed my surprisingly good (albeit VERY sweet) piece of sunshine, I marveled at how happy she was to just explore her own little world – no comfort eating coping mechanisms necessary for her.
I have read a lot of articles over the past year about how hard this pandemic has been on parents and, don’t get me wrong, it has not been easy. There is a reason they say that it takes a village to raise a child. Parents, especially new ones, rely heavily on their support networks (be it family or friends) to get them through the particularly difficult first few years of a child’s life. The newborn phase in particular is filled with sleepless nights, tears, and more questions than can ever possibly be satisfactorily answered. My heart goes out to those parents taking their first foray into the stewardship of a young one’s life without so much as an hour off to go out for dinner with their partner or a friend. And I can’t even imagine what parents of school-age children are going through. Yes, indeed, this pandemic has hit families hard.
But despite the obvious frustrations of parenting during a pandemic (my own daughter has not spent more than a few hours away from us…ever!) there is a light to be found not just at the end of this tunnel, but throughout it as well: Our children.
You see, children truly are extraordinary. Even the older kids in my family, who are obviously more aware of the pandemic and the effect it has on their lives (no or fewer playdates, their parents’ exhaustion, being stuck at home way more than usual), have amazed me with their resilience. They continue to see the incredible in the everyday, and still look at this world with wonder when many of us adults have stopped seeing much of anything good in it.
If my daughter ever reads this some day, I want her to know that she has been my guiding light through the past year of fear and varying levels of isolation. Even on the hardest days, when the tunnel we are in defies my best efforts to positively discern a light at the end of it, all I need to do is sit with her for a little while and the haze of despair that temporarily clouds my eyes lifts. She smiles and the whole world brightens. She laughs and the future seems full of promise once again.
I hope she one day realizes that she is the one who helped her mother to not only see but revere light again. And when this pandemic ends, and it will end, I hope to help her share her light with the whole world.
I would like to know, dear reader, what has brought you light in these darker times? I’d love to hear more stories of positivity.
Take care of yourselves. And, remember, Life is beautiful.
There were moments, of course. Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
I feel as if nearly every post on here this past year has begun with some kind of apology for being away for so long. And this one, unfortunately, is no different. Though writing is one of the great loves of my life and I am trying to figure out a system by which time is regularly spent tuning into this aspect of my person, I do feel the need to cut myself some slack for what has honestly been a few lackluster years as far as writing is concerned.
You see…though I mean it when I say that writing is one of the loves of my life, the last few years have been spent discovering the others – my other great loves: my husband and my daughter.
In 2019 alone, Louis and I got married, I left a job that was no longer fulfilling me, we found out I was pregnant with our first child, and we bought our family home where we are now living (happily ever after).
I would say this would constitute a pretty big year for anyone. Even still, I managed to return to my writing here and there as things periodically and briefly slowed down – as evidenced by my sporadic posts on this blog. But it wasn’t enough. The writer in me never felt satisfied.
Protest as she might, however, my inner writer needed to be patient just a little longer as the biggest change – the biggest of all I’d say – led me to ignore her completely for the last few months of 2019 all the way until today.
I’d like to think that despite her constant niggling at my self-conscious brain, my radio silence was warranted by the best possible reason. On January 27th at 11:44AM in the morning, Louis and I welcomed our first child into the world: Aria Adele.
Before I continue this post, however, I should probably write something of a disclaimer regarding my photo policy for any posts written about motherhood or our parenting journey – and this does not constitute any judgment of how other parents choose to do things. As far as public platforms go, I will not be posting any photos of Aria’s face, even though she is incredibly cute and I am dying to show her off. Louis and I made this decision as neither of us are huge into social media and we want Aria to be able to make her own choices about her social media presence, or lack thereof when she’s older. Apologies ahead of time for depriving you of baby photos!
But back to why Aria’s birth at the end of January led to me ostracizing this poor writer for the first part of this year. Not that I need to explain myself, of course, but the writer is demanding compensation for being ignored for so long.
Leading up to Aria’ birth, I was exhausted and impatient. Daily. Though I had continued to exercise every day all the way into my 8th month of pregnancy, the last bit kicked my ass for lack of a better way to describe the experience. Despite sleeping more than I think I have since my teenage years, I was tired. All. The. Time. Everything became a chore – even the activities I had always found to be both rejuvenating and relaxing. Writing, reading, yoga, even socializing were abandoned one-by-one until I was left lounging on the couch day in, day out half-heartedly bingeing various shows that continued to feel like fillers regardless of how good they were objectively. I felt like time was somehow crawling and racing forward at the speed of light simultaneously and the sensation made my head spin.
Everyone always tells you to enjoy your time as a couple during your first pregnancy before two permanently becomes three but no one added the caveat that enjoying the last few weeks of my pregnancy journey would be so hard. Each morning seemed to bleed into evening and I didn’t have the energy to do much other than get myself up from the couch once in a while to go to the bathroom. Louis was wonderful and kind and understanding to a fault, and he will tell you he relished the chance to take care of me without me bounding around doing 40 things at once, but my lethargic state didn’t allow for us to do much together other than watch episodes and read from the baby book once he got home from work every day. Before I knew it, and without having “made the most” of our last few weeks together per say, Aria’s due date had come and gone and then…well then the impatience set in.
I know, I know, everyone knows first babies are late. And I had told myself time and again that she would be two weeks late since that’s the longest most OBs will let you go before they will induce you – but this didn’t make the waiting any easier. As a first time Mom, I had no idea what to look for in terms of labour symptoms and so every single cramp, ache, heck even bowel movement, was taken as a sign that it was “go time”. And it never was. No matter what I tried, it seemed, whether it was bouncing on a yoga ball or forcing myself out for a walk or eating my weight in dates, this baby was not budging.
In fact, Aria held on as long as they would let her: I was induced 11 days past her due date of January 15th. And even with all that waiting, when they inserted the cervidil in the hospital on the late afternoon of the 26th they gave me the following warning: it would likely take 24 hours minimum to kick in. In fact, they would likely need to dose me again the next evening with the hope that things would get within 48 hours or so. However, they added in passing, there is a slim possibility you could hyper react. But that isn’t likely. See you in 24 hours.
Well, world, guess what.
We left the hospital at 5:30PM that day and by 10:30PM I was back having gone from 0 to 60 without warning: I was contracting every minute leaving me barely any time to catch my breath.
I won’t go into too much detail about what transpired over the next 12 hours but suffice it to say nothing went according to plan. But does it ever? Maybe I’ll actually learn this lesson some day.
Even with all of the complications that ensued, however, I agree with every Mom you’ve ever asked about childbirth (I’m not the only one who has always been curious about this, right?). It was all, all of it, worth it. Every second.
Because when all was said and done, when the pain and the fear dissipated at the end of the longest road I have ever walked, time stood still – just for a moment. In my arms was this perfect little girl, the most beautiful creature I could have ever imagined. And she was ours, our child. Our newest love. As I gazed at her precious face and cradled her tiny body against my chest, everything that had transpired suddenly made sense. All of the exhaustion, the nausea, the impatience, the pain, there was a purpose for all of it: her. Aria’s little hand stroked my collarbone and I knew, I just knew, everything was going to be OK.
My existence in this moment was indeed balanced on a perfect point – no matter what came next, the highs and the lows, the light and the dark, I knew Louis and I would be able to face whatever it was because now we had someone depending on us to see everything through.
Those small spaces of time, her first moments earthside, were soon over (too soon it seems) and the weeks that followed were hard, filled with moments of both joy and frustration. But what brought us through was this little human who doesn’t even yet know the love she has inspired in us.
I’m still going to continue posting about my travels, I promise, but I hope you won’t mind the occasional post about motherhood because, well, I have a feeling this might be my new passion.