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Breaking the Girl

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Meiday! Meiday!, 2008
Photo by Brendan Goco

My daughter Selah turned a month old last weekend. The last month has been a haze and it’s been difficult to get a grip on myself. The first few weeks with a newborn is a forced quarantine. Even if we got the go signal to emerge out of hiding from our pediatrician, I’m still terrified to face the outside world. Selah is exclusively breastfed and fed on demand. It’s a major understatement to say that I wasn’t prepared for breastfeeding and getting mother and baby to pick up the skill took up all my energy and sanity. With whatever free time I have, I would rather sleep or lurk on the internet.

My baby also spends 95% of her time sleeping, feeding, and crying. The remaining 5% is what I assume everyone is excited to see: her smiling face and her sweet eyes. I’d rather wait until the percentage of her being cute and sociable ups some. I still fear having to manage my screaming baby in public. Oh, but how I love this girl.

I guess that’s how I can put words to the situation. I’m no longer the girl in the family, Selah is. Somewhere in that last month, the girl in me had to die in order for the mother to emerge. It’s the biggest thing I’m learning about motherhood so far — that I had to be ready to be stripped of everything I based my identity on. When I take care of Selah, she couldn’t care less that mommy does graphic design, likes to write, and has a penchant for striped bateau shirts.

It forces me to deal with what’s left. I have had many moments where I keep questioning my worth as a mother. It turns out that this is normal but it doesn’t make things any easier. This is what the books and Google searches don’t tell you, that you’ll have to learn where your grit will be coming from. I thought I had a lot of faith but I haven’t been tested like this ever.

Selah is going through her second growth spurt and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve spent the last two days stuck in my couch alternating my breasts for feeds and not being able to do anything else. All sense of bodily modesty is gone. I’ve let my body hair grow all out — I’ve done away with personal hygiene. I don’t step out of my apartment. I don’t know what it’s like to have a leisurely meal anymore. I feel like a shell of a person and that my mind has left my body.

There have been ugly nights where I pretend to smother Selah with a throw pillow. I have fantasized running out the door and abandoning my family. Or giving my baby girl away to someone else who could be a better mother than me. I’ve cried out of despair and frustration when nothing I did could stop Selah’s wailing.

I look at my old photos and I see the girl I used to be. There used to be a time where all I wanted was to travel impulsively, look pretty, and be free. I like her a lot but I’m wondering if the slowing down in the last couple of years was a long, drawn out goodbye.

I’ve been afraid of womanhood, to be honest. I was never comfortable with being called a woman. The idea of womanhood has always been a huge mystery to me. I never resonated with being maternal or coming to terms with my body. It’s an unknown I was always afraid of.

I knew I wanted to have a baby and it was my brain that nudged my heart to open up to it. I wanted to learn how to love and to give myself up for something other than myself. I didn’t want my life to pass me by without ever understanding firsthand what that was all about. Many people approach it in different ways and I’ve been yearning to find out what my path would be. I believe that’s what you call a dangerous prayer.

I’m learning that you can choose to fill yourself with love when you don’t know what else you’re left with. “Show me what I’m made of, God,” I said. It’s the season of dangerous prayers.

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4 comments… add one

  • Sandra Friday October 9, 2015, 6:30 pm

    I will always like you, Marla, no matter who you become 🙂

  • Nathan Friday October 9, 2015, 11:50 pm

    Marla, I so appreciate the gripping honesty and clarity of your writing. Thanks for sharing this!

  • MemMom Saturday October 10, 2015, 4:56 am

    What a beautiful take on the agonies of first-time motherhood. My son was born 21 months ago and I well remember the difficulty of those first months and I remember having thoughts along the lines of “Motherhood is nothing short of slavery,” “He’s not as cute as everyone thinks he is” and “Only seventeen years and 11 months to go before this kid is on his own.” I was sure that I’d made a giant mistake and I felt like his continual crying was a ruse to take the little sanity I had left.

    It DOES get easier – a million times easier – and more fun, and you will learn to relate to yourself and your beautiful daughter differently as she grows. My advice is, however, to read some different takes on parenting methods if you have the time. I fed on demand for the first few months of my son’s life and then finally put him on a flexible schedule to see if he’d mellow and settle down, and that worked excellently for him and we were all better able to relax after that.

    But you keep doing what you’re doing, mama! You know best what’s right for your family. And thanks so much for sharing your experience with such gorgeous and honest writing! Selah is lucky to have you!

  • Regina Saturday October 10, 2015, 9:48 am

    You’re amazing, beautiful and motherhood makes you all the more so.

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