(Disclaimer--this post is written just before having to go back for a one year cranio check up, so melancholy abounds)
Lis has been doing this new thing where she will only go to sleep if you lay her down in her crib, with Lambie stuck under her arm, and then rhythmically rub her back in circles. I did that for a half an hour, and I watched her eyelids slowly droop, fluttering open and shut, and then shutting. Her breathing steadying, and she twitched for a bit, just like she always does, and just like Vor always does. They’re sleep twitchers, the both of them.
I brushed my hand over her head, letting my fingers drift over her slightly ginger curls.
It was so, so, so hard for me to become a parent. I don’t mean physically—that was all, Hey, Ireland, Guinness, whoa, pregnancy test! I know that’s hard for some people to hear—I have many friends who have suffered fertility problems. I thought I would be one of them, given my, um, female issues. I wasn’t. I mean it was hard emotionally. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a parent. I sure as hell didn’t want to be pregnant. I like alone time. I can be selfish with my time and my emotional energy.
Sure enough, the first few months of Lis’s life were hard. I felt drained, unimportant, vacant, and invisible. I loved her fiercely, but it was an instinctive, protective love—not a love from shared experience or happiness. I loved her because I loved, because she was my baby who needed hugs and smiles and care and protecting. I loved her because of her need, not because of mine.
Surgery made it all harder. I was really just coming out of whatever depressive episode I had been in when she was diagnosed. I was terrified of losing her and of losing my mind if I lost her. Something like that can really screw with your ability to become closer to your baby—fear and terror are burdens, or walls, or something that just stand in the way.
I have no idea when it all shifted. I just know that it did. I know that the instinctive, reactive, hormonal love I had for infant Lis at birth and the months afterwards pales in comparison to the love I have for my daughter Lis, my daughter with a sparkling personality, a mischievous smile, and a quick and ready hug.
After getting Lis to sleep, I came downstairs and confessed to Vor that I had a crying jag in the daycare parking lot that day. I had seen an ambulance whipping towards Lis’s daycare, and I thought it turned into her parking lot. It hadn’t—it was next door. But suddenly, in a flash, I was back in surgery, looking a freshly Lis who was pale and grey, and looked—well, it’s a cliché, but she looked like death warmed over. I started crying again as I told Vor about it. He hugged me close, and I know he’s had some bad moments lately too. It’s that time of year, and every.damn.thing. seems to remind us of her surgery.
There was a time when Lis had no curls—in fact, she was basically hairless. Just when her hair started coming in, it was shaved off for surgery. When it came back in was ginger! and curly! There was a time when it was hard for me to feel anything other than instinctive and protective towards Lis. Then, just when things were shifting, and I was enjoying her, the world came crashing down. But Humpty-Dumpty was put back together again, the world righted itself, the stars aligned, and whatever ever other stupid metaphor you can imagine and oh, how the hell did this end up getting related to her HAIR? and things returned to normal.
See, I’m not saying that I never loved. I’m saying it was different. When my love came back or changed or SOMETHING, it had color and texture, instead of black and white and flat, like before.
I’m not managing to say what I really am thinking. Let’s try this another way.
I was right about myself and my fears about being a parent. I was not right that it would last forever. I’m sure it would have changed on its own—smiles, hugs, and talking would all have shifted that instinctual love into “real” love. I don’t know when that change would have happened. I know that because of her surgery, I have a tangible, real understanding of the fear of possibly losing your child, not just an imagined fear. I know facing that situation made me face things about myself and the way I handle emotional closeness, fear of loss, grief, and crisis management. I know that having a completely dependent, helpless child undergo this horrible thing made me literally say that I would do anything to take her place. I would have. I would have rather they cracked my skull open than hers.
Oh, hell, I’m still not saying it right.
It boils down to this: while it was natural to love Lis as an infant, it was not easy or “normal” for me. It was a need based love, and it hurt. Now, it is easy as running my hands through her curls while she sleeps. Before, I was afraid of losing her; now I would fight with every fiber of my being to keep her healthy and well. That may seem like the same thing, but trust me, it isn’t. One has to do with fear and terror and protectiveness; the other has to do with love.