Thursday, November 19, 2020

Dear Ben: I Kiss You Differently

Dear Ben,

I kiss you differently.

I kiss you knowing just how quickly this second will slip away from us, knowing it will disappear inch by inch, moment by moment, until I glance up from the trenches and it’s gone.

I kiss you without frantic fear, just putting my face on your soft belly and breathing it in with familiarity. You are new and old at the same time.

I kiss you just to smell that perfect, sweet, milky breath, your mouth wide open and drooling down my face. I nibble your little ears and gum your chin while your brother runs into the room in a makeshift Ninja costume, grabs your hand, shouts, “Hi Ben, hi Ben!”, and then runs back out again. I kiss the soles of your chilly, clammy, little feet.

I kiss you without tabulating your wake ups or timing your feeds. I kiss you knowing that you have been who you are since the moment you breathed the air into your lungs and cried your first cry, and everyone wept with relief. 

I kiss you and my lips melt into your soft, squishy cheeks over and over while you giggle and grab my hair. I kiss you with a beautiful ache in my belly.

I kiss you understanding that all I can do is shepherd you from one milestone to the next, holding my breath, balancing on a wire, crossing my fingers that if I do it with enough grace and love and humility and courage, you just might keep letting me kiss you.

I kiss you trusting that this will be just fine. We will be just fine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Dear Ben: We Are Scared

Dear Ben,

In between family snuggle time and heart-melting brother cuddles, there are tears. From all of us. 

There is blood. There are tantrums. There are lost tempers.

There is a long scar that I don’t like to look at, not because it looks bad, but because it reminds me of how scared I was right before they cut you out of me, and how the last thing I remember before I went under was crying out that it burned. You have a faint, matching line beside your right eye where the scalpel nicked you, too. I take comfort in the idea that in some way, we did that part together. There is trauma.

Daddy draws a diagram of the hospital rooms for me; where I was, where he was, where they brought you to me. We combine our separate memories to try to stitch together the story of your birth. My body was there, but he heard your first cry. Neither of us saw you, but that cry meant you made it to us, whole and breathing and everything that they told Daddy not to expect. 

When I woke up, they brought you to me and you were perfect and I asked over and over if you were ours: I wasn’t there, so I needed them to be sure. As soon as we got back to our room I saw you looked just like your brother and then I knew for certain.

We fiddled with the car seat for half an hour before we got you out of the hospital. There was no ceremony, no wheelchair, no escort, just a slow shuffle through the long, empty corridors to get to the car. On the way home we listened to the music I thought we’d play during your birth, and Daddy and I held each other’s hands and cried.

I was scared to take you home because I felt so vulnerable; partly from being bruised and bloody, and partly from realizing how close we are at any moment to losing any one of us. 

Once we were home with your brother, it felt better. When we are all together, I can count our four fragile bodies. I can gather my family into one bed and feel your skin and measure your heartbeats. I can breathe you all in and smell breastmilk, grass and dirt, sweat and laundry detergent. I can try to work out what and where is safe.

In between caressing your soft, duckling-fuzz hair and arguing with Daddy over what colour that hair will be, there is grief. In between teaching you what a kiss is and your brother reading you books he has memorized, there is gratitude. There is relief.

Love came easy with you, little Ben, and with it came the deep, dark fear of knowing that we almost lost you. We are tender and bruised. We are worried and joyful and sometimes sad. But we’re going to try to let love be the story.

-Your Mother

photos by Sharalee Prang

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Dear Small Boy: Any Moment Now

Dear Small Boy,

Yesterday I picked up this used baby carrier. I washed it and sat on our back deck while Daddy mowed the lawn, and I watched YouTube tutorials on how to use it and practised looping it through, pulling it around, tightening it, and doing it all over again. The rainbow carrier made me feel excited to put a small baby in it (that’s you), snuggled to my chest, and that’s a moment that I hold tightly to.

I’ve become accustomed to perinatal depression meaning that I’m not excited to have a baby. I’m just excited to not be pregnant. And I’ve learned to accept this part of my brain and heart and biology, mostly with a shrug and sometimes with a lot of tears and anger and fear. 

So when I feel that little nugget of joy or contentment or anticipation I treasure it up and ponder it in my heart. 

It’s the chestnut I carry in my pocket and rub with my thumb until it is perfectly shiny.

It’s the hand I hold to my heart when I wake up in the middle of the night, gasping and reeling.

It’s the cool grass between my toes when I run outside barefoot just to take a deep breath and check that the mountains are still there. They are. 

You will be here soon, kiddo, any moment now, and I will hold you close to me in a rainbow carrier.

Your Mother

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Dear Small Boy, Round 2: Another Mother's Day

Dear Small Boy,

It’s Mother’s Day, and you have the hiccups.

Your daddy and brother have gone out on a mission to fetch breakfast I think? We are waiting quietly in bed for their return.

Hic, hic, hic, on the bottom left of my belly. Hic, stretch, hic.

You are the last baby I’ll carry in my belly, this I’m certain of. As interesting and extraordinary a privilege it is to create a human in my body, I do not take well to this work. So as I struggle to see this through to the end, to you joining us on the outside, I seek hard for moments with you to treasure. I mine for them and clutch tightly to any sparkle I find in the damp and the dark.

Your brother and daddy are home, I hear the clump, clump of the disintegrating rain boots your brother insists on wearing in 20 degree weather, because he can put them on himself, and he likes to “stomp”. The table and chairs scrape over the floor above me. They burst into the bedroom and, trying to carry everything, Daddy spills coffee all over the flowers and the floor. They have brought all the wrong food; runny eggs and sauce on the sandwich, raisins in the chocolate, and not a waffle in sight. But the latte is good and I eat three servings of side potatoes and decide to ignore the coffee stain seeping through the sheet into the mattress.

We have packed up all of the vases, so I come upstairs to find your daddy has put the flowers into an empty coke can. This is our last week in the house I grew you in that you’ll never see. You and I carefully navigate the stacks of boxes together. Your brother asks for the “biggest squeeze in the world” while we snuggle on our crumb-y couch, and we give it to him. The four of us are getting ready for something new.

-Your Mother

Monday, April 20, 2020

Dear Small Boy, Round 2: How to Take Care of You and Me

Dear Small Boy,

I found a sunny spot on the deck.

I watched a bee fly into our house through the open door.

I listened for your brother who was supposed to be napping but was “karate chomping” an imaginary enemy in his bed.

I thought about making myself throw up.

I wondered where we would put you. Where do you put a baby who has no home yet? On me I suppose.

I took a sip of water.

I scoured the Internet for a reckless purchase to make me feel happy.

I heard your daddy’s worry vibrating from downstairs. 

I felt you stretch and poke around inside me, reminding me it’s getting cramped in there (I know, bud, I know).

I counted down 9 weeks.

I breathed in the fresh air. There are trees around the deck.

I did the best I could in the moment.


Your Mother

Dear Small Boy is a series of letters about perinatal depression.