“Put the baby in the center of the bed. Go outside; take five deep breaths. Come back.”
This is the advice my midwife offers me as a 3-day old mother, the orders she gives after hearing my tears over the phone, the baby’s shrieks, the panic in my voice. My confidence in motherhood silenced by a series of sounds, decimals, waves.
“Colic is hard,” she says. “Sometimes the safest place for the baby is apart from you.”
She is right, although the words still sting.
Bee cried every evening from 5-8, sometimes longer, for weeks and weeks and weeks. We tried the drops, the baths, the oils, the massages, the swaddles, the bouncers, the car rides, the long walks, the short walks, the carriers, the swings, the music.
Ken and I cleared our schedules for three hours a night, taking turns bouncing her as we paced laps around the kitchen island, ear plugs in tact. One of us paced; the other watched Friday Night Lights in the living room. We’d switch during a touchdown, or when the other was close to losing their mind.
I have always struggled with anxiety, an uninvited predisposition toward imagining the worst case scenario at any given moment. (If you’re similar, this has helped me tremendously.) And yet, motherhood anxiety* was a new beast entirely. My shaky spirit was crushed by the weighty responsibility of new life, one that seemed so uncomfortable, so unhappy in my arms.
Bee’s colic washed away any shred of confidence I’d mustered in those early days. Visions of breastfeeding by the moonlight were replaced with a harsher reality: cracked and bloody nipples, Lansinoh cream at the ready, wincing in pain and failure. I’d pictured lullabies and coos and smiles, not panic and despair and calls to the midwife.
My head filled with irrational doubt: Am I not nurturing enough? Am I not what she wants? What she needs? Will I ever be?
It would be weeks before I work up the cheerfulness for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
And yet, mostly, it passed. The tears, the despair, the calls to the midwife. (The failure is still very much there at times, as is the panic, doubt – Am I doing this right?). But the nipples healed. The colic faded.
I see now that it was all a gift, an early and hard-earned realization that we are not our children, that our children are not us. That it is not our job (nor within our capacity) to control their behavior, to manipulate their environment, to allow their trajectory to define our own. Their progress is not our progress report.
And so, we trust in something larger.
“Sometimes the safest place for the baby is apart from you.”
We can pour love and dreams and hope into their hearts, we can sing lullabies, we can work toward the strongest bond imaginable for eighteen years, and yet, sometimes, we will find ourselves back in the kitchen, pacing around the island for three hours each night – all tears and shrieks and doubts.
Are we nurturing enough? It is not up to us to decide.
We do it regardless.
Finding my confidence in motherhood has been nothing more than finding confidence in myself. It has been sidling up to failure, getting cozy with doubt. It has been questioning the unanswerable, praying the unthinkable. It has been understanding that my role here is to love and love and love. To teach, to train, to ask forgiveness. To bite my tongue.
To go outside, take five deep breaths, come back.
It has been understanding that this work is hard, that the fruits of our labor are slow to witness. It is trusting that there is growth just under the surface, not yet visible, and wondering if and when we will see it is far less important than watering it daily.
It is patience. It is faith.
I do not consider myself to be a confident mother, and yet, I am immensely confident in the work of motherhood. That the daily tending of needs, the tilling of soil, the pruning of flesh offers a greater promise that growth is imminent just beneath the surface.
We can’t always see it – in ourselves, in our children – but it’s there, small and fierce, quietly sprouting.
Apart from us entirely.
*Also, a practical tip: If you’re a new mother, or a mother struggling with anxiety, Vitamin B12 helped me tremendously.