Living through 2020 has reminded me of the first baby postpartum days, when you wonder how much of this is temporary, how much of this is just the haze of having a newborn, how much is this my life forever?
Is *this* the kind of exhaustion everyone made jokes about? Will I ever have any parts of the Before back, or I am destined forever to cycle through feeding, changing, caring, worrying, eyeing, shushing to sleep, scrambling to sleep, being torn from sleep? Will I see my friends again? Will I ever look at the clock at a party and say “holy hell it’s already 2am!?”
Will I have a spicy meal and an icy drink in a crowded loud restaurant wearing a slip dress on sunburned shoulders?
Or will I forever be on this couch, on this rocker, in this bed, this sacred holy vessel of life attached to my body, sucking and sucking, taking and taking, needing and needing?
Both my babies are now officially not babies, and I have a number of dear friends who are currently both navigating those terrifying questions, with a newborn attached to them at this moment, as well as the questions the whole world is asking —
How much of this is 2020, and how much of this is forever? When will the numbers stop going up? Will we keep wearing masks? Will school always be hybrid? Will I go to a conference in Austin with hundreds of thousands of people, will I go to a music festival without having to stay in a cordoned off box, drawn in the grass with masking tape, will I shake someone’s hand upon meeting them for the first time? When will we actually grieve?
I tell my new mama friends the only thing that brought me comfort as I went for months on only a few hours of sleep a night, as I began to meet and know the child I had birthed and was keeping alive with my body and my body alone.
It passes. Yes, even this. The exhaustion is unlike anything you’ll ever feel. The worry, the fret, the figuring out how to close a stroller for the first time in the narrow entryway of a crowded Brooklyn brunch spot as everyone you used to want to impress looks upon you with what you you imagine to be disdain and dread.
All of it gets diluted with time. All of it mellows inside of you, it sifts and settles. It doesn’t feel this way forever.
There are parts that are gone forever. Not just memories, but whole possibilities.
You can still see scenes from the other side, like dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. A 20 year old struggling to set up a tent in the frigid desert night at the first ever Coachella. A long haired wild child linked in arms with her wild child friends, on the far edge so she can still have a hand free to smoke a cigarette, headed to a bar because someone knows someone who’s DJing there. An eager student turning in the first real short story she ever wrote, terrified and desperate for feedback. A married, childless woman on a road trip with her partner, stopping for beers near dunes in Texas, detouring to see a friend’s band play in Phoenix, laughing at the filth of a motel in Elko, Nevada.
You’ll have that spicy meal again. Without a child attached to you. It will happen. But you’ll check your watch, you’ll check your phone, the band will play a song you sing to them and it will give you a pang in your gut. You’ll wonder if the babysitter remembered to turn on the sound machine, you wonder if you should call and check.
You’re having fun, you’re still exhausted, but you’ve crossed the bridge.
From the Before, to the Hard Part. You’re in the After.
Your kids are, the goddesses and spirits willing, walking, and talking and telling the babysitter where the Sour Patch kids are, and that Mommy lets you have one (a few) after dinner.
If the gratitude you feel for making it this far was an animal, its mouth would be so wide it would swallow the Pacific Ocean in one gulp.
But now, collectively, humanity is still in the Hard Part. We are, it’s certain to say, birthing something new. But the baby is still a newborn. We haven’t slept for weeks. Our bodies hurt. We long for “normal.” We aren’t sure what awaits us, but it’s clear that the Before is gone.
And what’s hardest about this is that there are no Mamas to promise us that it’s temporary, to tell us what parts will pass, because no one on earth has ever made it to the After of this particular crisis.
No one alive can tell us what we will still have when all of this is over, and what is truly gone forever.
But still, out of everyone, I trust the Mamas. I trust the wisdom given to me when I was that bewildered young woman, holding a baby in my arms that had only moments before been inside of my uterus. I trust my own experience with life and death and grief and moving on. Of changing forever and of letting go.
I trust what was told to me and what I’ve repeated countless times to my Mama friends as they navigate the dark nights of early motherhood.
The only way out is through.
No one can tell us what awaits us on the other side, or when we’ll feel like we’ve gotten there. But there will be an After, and it will not feel like this.
You’re doing a marvelous job. I see how tired you are. I know how lonely it feels. It will pass. I promise. We’ll go out again one day. We’ll get sunburned even though we’re nearly 40 and should know better. We’ll order a third round of martinis and dance with the band.
And yes, you probably will call the babysitter just to check.
But it’s the smallest price to pay for how far you’ve come.