On Getting My Life Back : Letter to My 25-Year-Old Self
Dear 25 Year-Old Self:
Congratulations: you’re pregnant. I know -- this is a little surreal. It’s like getting that acceptance letter from your dream school, or like falling in love: you’re pretty sure you wanted it to happen, but now that you are here, you can’t help but wonder if that envelope was addressed to somebody else. You alternate between shock, euphoria, and white-knuckled fear. You pee, you call your mom, eat a couple of crackers, and pee again. You wait for what’s next.
You don’t know this right now, but you are going to spend the next six years of your life given over to the task of making tiny humans. You will lose two babies, very early on, and nevertheless grieve them bitterly, because you are not sure you will ever be able to give your firstborn a sibling. You will. You will again and again. Each time, it will be a genuine miracle. Each time, you will wonder if it is your last. You will wonder if that is even what you want.
The first time around, you will have time to focus on yourself and the pregnancy: you will do yoga every other day; stubbornly, you will haul your seven-month belly to the gym. You will congratulate yourself with that smug, assumed invincibility of the young. You will learn cool new words: sacrum, laguna, vernix. You will learn some new words you wish you never had to know: edema, engorgement, thrombosis. You will roll these words around on your tongue like foreign, precious morsels. Reluctantly, you will buy some sensible shoes.
You will watch your body become strange even to yourself. You will gaze at your rapidly growing belly, your swollen feet; you will trace your fingers over the veins that have suddenly appeared on your thighs, raised and blue, like a bruise. With each successive pregnancy, you will feel the floor of your pelvis grow ever, impossibly heavier, until some days it takes all you have just to move under the weight of your own skin. You will feel weaker, more helpless than you ever thought possible. You will beg the gods for twenty minutes of sleep.
You will wonder if you will ever get your body back. You begin to wonder whose body this is, anyway.
And yet you know it’s yours, only with this newly discovered superpower. One that simultaneously stretches and scars, one that both tethers and tears. More than just to be looked at, to be preened and controlled, your body is fierce, feral, a force to be reckoned with. You will learn to trust it, to trust in how it was made, what it can do. In the immense weariness will reside a deeper gratitude.
You will grit your teeth through two natural childbirths and then cave and get the drugs for two more. Each time, you will come to the end of yourself, and then out on the other side. You will come to understand that this is the heart of motherhood: a kind of life-giving that feels a little bit like dying. The doctor will place a slippery, shuddering little being on your chest and ask if you’d like to nurse. It is a small miracle when the baby latches, a sort of sacrament, marked with colostrum and blood. This is the beginning of years spent in this gentle dance of mother and child, in this making and giving of milk, this tender, sometimes turbulent transaction.
But for the moment, you will exhale.
You will inhabit that mixture of awe and fear that is particular to parents; you will discover a capacity for love more fierce, more steadfast than you ever thought possible. At the same time, you will find yourself, some days, tearful with exhaustion, ablaze with frustration. Your babies, one by one, will pass the nights writhing with reflux; your toddlers, the third in particular, will leave a path of senseless destruction everywhere they go. They will confound, exasperate, and mortify you on a daily basis. You will wonder whose kids these are, whose genes are to blame. You will wonder, some days, if you will make it to bedtime (and each day, I promise you, you will). You will wonder if you will ever get your life back.
And yet, you will know that this, right here, this is your life, only given over and now multiplied a thousand-fold. Because what you have created is so much bigger than your own body, so much more than just about you. And yet you will still be yourself, except tougher, and somehow, more tender. You will be more spent, and yet somehow, more satisfied. You will grow steely with devotion, the contours of your spirit refined with a gentle wisdom, radiant with a quiet joy. You will learn to take care of yourself -- to truly take care of yourself. To be kind to yourself. To be humbled, and to forgive yourself. You will learn what it is to know yourself and to know what you don’t know. To trust yourself. To ask for help.
You will learn the truth of the adage, The days are long, but the years are short. You will learn the power of being present.
Some days, you will look at your husband and wonder out loud how you got here. It will become something of a joke -- because, of course, you know the scientific answer. But what you are really asking is, how did we get to be so lucky? To be witnesses – no, more than witnesses – co-creators, to this wonder of life renewing itself, of grace in motion. And you would –- and you will -- gladly die for it all, die in a thousand different ways, because you realize: this is love. There is nothing that could scare you more than losing the chance to give yourself fully to these hapless little monsters.
You will learn surrender. You will learn that it is the key to receiving anything of true value.
So in short: don’t be afraid. You think you’re giving up everything -- and you are. You think your life will never be the same -- and it won’t. You think you’re not ready -– and you’re not. But maybe that’s why they call it a leap of faith. Maybe good things, the really good things in life, aren’t about making calculated choices, but about putting it all on the line for this one crazy hope that it will all be worth it. And it will. It will take work, it will take prayers, it will take everything you have and more. But I promise you, it will be worth it.
Congratulations, mama. You got this.
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