The New Reality

We took Claire camping for the first time this week and it was pretty glorious to watch her lying on a blanket looking up in wonder at the birch and pine trees towering above her. But it was hot. Hideously hot. We took her to Athabasca Falls and up to the Edith Cavell glacier, and it was beautiful, but I was obsessed the entire time with finding shade, adjusting her hat every few feet, trying to cover her legs, getting Jeff to walk sideways or backwards to create shade with his body…Not exactly relaxing.

When I got back I called my brother to see how he and his wife, now 40 weeks pregnant, were holding up. The pregnancy is taking a toll on her petite frame and he said, “I can’t wait to have my energetic and happy wife back.” Oh boy. I couldn’t bear to tell him that she likely wouldn’t be back for a few months. When I mentioned this to my husband, he said in a jokingly grim voice, “she’s never coming back,” while looking at me. Whoa. What did that mean? Now that Claire’s sleeping through the night and I’ve recovered from sleep deficit, I had thought I was pretty much back to my old self.

But does anyone really go back to an “old self” after having a child? The first night camping, I woke in the night from a deep sleep and reached for Claire and, for a second or two in the dark with no contacts in, I couldn’t find her. In that brief moment of purest terror, I felt the side of the tent for a slit through which someone or something might have dragged her away into the darkness. I can still hear the foreign sound of my own voice, deep and hoarse, repeating “I can’t find the baby I can’t find the baby” like a frantic mantra. This is the new reality, the new self — this person who wakes irrational and insane with fear in the middle of the night, who is wracked with guilt at the possibility of having exposed her baby to sun damage that will give her wrinkles at forty.

Elizabeth Stone has said, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Yes. It’s kind of insane, and you become a slightly insane new you, but it’s a trade for all kinds of wonderful.