Rather than gold, my broken places feel crusted with sludge. They are dark and slippery, with a strong gravitational pull towards the depths of despair.
People like to say that adversity strengthens you, and yet I still feel vulnerable in my past trauma, like those parts of my heart are permanently bruised and tender, unable to take even the most gentle brush of present hinting at past.
So much of my fear in having a second child was that I would once again feel the way I did after the birth of my first. Feelings that were exacerbated by Penny’s colicky newborn demeanor, but feelings that were completely mine to own. The reeling anxiety that loss lurked around each and every corner, the inability to believe that I could actually be given something so precious to keep. The anger that this wasn’t the happily ever I had anticipated and was instead a portal to new challenges that would try me and find me lacking in oh-so-many ways.
And largely, this time felt as different as I needed it to at first. This baby smiled. This baby was content to lay back and look and listen and be. There was just one glitch, small at first, something that I could live with, but then all of a sudden it was no longer only impacting me.
My first time as a mother was chaotic and somber, rife with dark and twisty moments, and yet the one thing I could count on to instate a temporary cease-fire was putting my baby to the breast and letting her eat. She would calm and then I could calm. For those minutes, it was something almost serene. My enthusiasm for breastfeeding was steeped in this magical power it had to make my messy life seem for a moment like what I thought being a mother would be.
But this time, that magic never happened. This time, eating came with sputtering baby and lacerated nipples. This time, it felt like work, and damn hard work at that. This time, I met with multiple lactation specialists. This time, I took her to have her mouth structurally evaluated. And every opinion could be distilled to the same thing – it looked ugly but it was working since she was gaining weight. Until all of a sudden, she wasn’t.
Her four month appointment showed that she had fallen off her curve. Eating felt like more a toil than it ever had. Apparently, this aligns developmentally with when the infant’s mouth and jaw expand dramatically, creating additional space inside that her hindered tongue couldn’t successfully navigate. So now the surgery that would have only benefitted me seemed much more necessary for her. So I scheduled it. I took her to it. I returned home with a protocol of tongue stretches that feels like medieval torture. Every four hours, I don a pair of purple gloves and the mere sight of them makes her begin to cry. I probe around a raw wound in her mouth, attempting to alter the body’s natural proclivity to leave no trace in healing so that when the wound sets it doesn’t pull the tongue back into its too-tethered place.
And I do all these things with my husband 9,520 miles away, as he has been for nearly three weeks at this point. I wake her in the middle of the night when the darkness outside matches the black fear in my heart that this isn’t the right course of action or that she’ll somehow remember this betrayal, this pain and never quite trust me in the same way. In these moments, my broken places don’t feel flecked with gold and my past trauma feels all too present. I’m a mother having trouble breathing, a mother baring herself from googling, a mother letting fear of the future steal any possibility of joy from the present.
I never wanted to be that mother then. I certainly don’t want to be her now. But the truth is no matter how much progress I make, no matter how much time passes, loss has made me all too aware of my own limitations in what I can bear. My broken places are shoddily patched seams in which one more hit just may be enough to blow the whole structure to smithereens.