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I ordered a jumbo-size box of Huggies while waiting on an elevator at work. It was 6:15 in the morning. I had used the last diaper in a massive four am diaper blowout two hours prior.
I leaned my head against the wall and closed my eyes as I ran through the never-ending to-do list in my mind. I was so tired.
We needed more Buttpaste. Add to cart. And more wipes. Add to cart. Wonder what I should do for dinner?
I opened our baby monitor app and stared at my sleeping daughter. She had just started sleeping on her stomach, her knees tucked in ever so tight, her bottom high in the air.
I wanted to reach through the phone and scoop her up. My eyes filled with tears, and a knot formed in the back of my throat.
The ding of the elevator prompted me to swiftly swallow my tears.
She’ll be fine, my brain murmured. Twelve hours to go.
My feet felt heavy on the floor as I entered the ICU. I was anxious to start my workday, to get my mind off of how physically and emotionally miserable I felt.
This was par for the course lately. As was smiling and lying straight through my teeth when asked how I was doing since returning to work.
While I was lucky enough to get an extended, unpaid maternity leave, I still returned to work earlier than I had wanted. I was four months postpartum, and I was trying.
Trying to wean. Trying to sleep. Trying to care for lives in an Intensive Care Unit. Trying to make sure there were enough diapers and enough milk and enough love for everyone who needed me. More times than not, I was just trying to keep it together long enough to make it through my day.
Ding. A patient’s call light brought me back to my task at hand. Eight more hours to go.
I wanted to hold her, to feel her weight in my arms. I felt like crying.
I had just done this four months prior, re-learning my new normal. A normal that involved far less sleeping and endless piles of laundry. Nevertheless, despite the hormone shifts and hair loss, I was adjusting. Only to be dismantled yet again as I was thrust into my fifth trimester when I reentered the workforce as a new mother.
Everyone warned me about how difficult the transition back to work after having a baby would be, what it would look and feel like. And like other trimesters, regardless of the advice, I felt blindsided by a harsh reality of learning how to be a working mom.
It’ll get easier as time goes on, someone would say. False. I ached for my child all day long.
You’ll pick up right where you left off. False. I was distracted. Exhausted. Slower than I used to be.
It will give you purpose outside of motherhood. False. I didn’t know who I was anymore outside of motherhood.
Ding. My phone buzzed. Motion detected in my daughter Macklyn’s crib. I opened our baby monitor to find my husband fighting to get her down for a nap.
She needs me, and I am not there. Two hours to go.
I needed to pump, but I was now preoccupied with my rapidly declining patient.
Ding. Ding. Ding. The heart monitor of my patient alarmed. My patient was now in cardiac arrest, and our efforts slowly became futile. I felt like I was failing as a nurse and as a mother. Five more minutes to go.
Before I left work, I went and hugged my patient’s daughter. She felt heavy in my arms, as my daughter would one day too to someone comforting her. The knot was too big to swallow this time. Tears streamed down my face.
As I drove home, my thoughts jumped from one corner of my brain to another, competing for attention. I weaved in and out of traffic, while my daughter’s bedtime clock ticked loudly in my ear. I had already missed her bedtime the last few nights due to unforeseen circumstances at work, and I did not want to miss it again.
Ding. My phone vibrated as I walked in the door. It was my reminder to meditate. I’ll look at it later, I thought as I scooped my smiling daughter in my arms.
She was warm. The Sunday afternoon sun kind-of-warm. As she snuggled against me in the dark, I felt grounded as I breathed her in. My breath slowed, as did my heart. She was giving me somewhere to land, helping me find calm within the chaos of my emotions.
I rocked her slowly that night as I meditated with her in my arms. Her breath felt dewy on the nape of my neck. With each of her inhales, I opened myself fully to acceptance. And with each exhale, I made space for my passing feelings.
There was love, and there was peace. There was anger, and there was guilt.
Tears slid down my cheeks as I thought about all the moms rocking their children in dark rooms across the world at the exact same moment. I wondered if they were experiencing the same boundless joy and worry, fear, and grace. Through breath and through the life tucked tightly against our chests, we became deeply connected.
My heart ached deeply for the mom that had to choose between providing for her family and bedtime. I felt joy for the mother who loved her job and also loved her family. I extended grace to the mom who forgot to get diapers on the way home and burned dinner. And to the mom who didn’t feel like she was enough- I extended peace.
I placed my daughter gently in her crib, fully grounded, and recharged.
Ding. The washing machine had completed its cycle. Our clothes were ready to be put away.
I am eight months into my motherhood journey today, knee-deep in the trenches of my fifth trimester. Motherhood, for me, is about shedding and transforming. And I have found that as I navigate the highs and lows of each new season, I am a stronger version of the woman I was yesterday.
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