My eleven-month-old son Max is taking quite a long nap. It’s giving me the opportunity to do some admittedly long-overdue spring cleaning. I started in our bedroom but ended up in the bathroom, staring at our horribly disorganized closet. My hands are full of yet more stuff to cram in there. I look at the contents of the shelves and see a pattern, realizing they chronicle my life over the past four years.
On each shelf, I can find at least one artifact that represents the journey my husband and I have been on to have Max. Four years of ups and downs. Four years of anxiety and laughter. Four years of happiness and tears. Four years of hurt and healing. Four years of loss and love. All of which is on display in our bathroom. But only I can decode it.
The sanitary pads from Whole Foods are on the top shelf. I’ve only purchased pads from Whole Foods on one occasion; the day before I went to the hospital to have a D&C after I had miscarried. They were bought in haste. My mind was cloudy. My heart was heavy. My body hurt. It didn’t occur to me that it would be cheaper to go the Walgreens across the street. I barely remembered I was supposed to buy them. I will never forget the hurt of knowing the baby in my belly was no longer alive. It was Valentine’s Day when I lay in my Doctor’s office while the ultrasound tech tried to find a heartbeat. February 14th will never be the same. These are the moments of loss.
The alcohol swabs on the bottom shelf look harmless enough to the innocent bystander. I bought them because I had run out of the swabs they include with my home-administered fertility injections. I gave myself shots for months as we rode the ups and downs of trying to get pregnant. They remind me of early morning “cattle calls” to the clinic to check progress, measure eggs, take blood tests and calculate my odds, which were not great because I was over 40. But miracles happen. I remember a phone call from our fertility nurse Antoinette; “Jen, it worked.” I remember seeing an ultrasound picture of a teeny, tiny Max. I remember feeling him flutter in my belly later in my pregnancy. These are the moments of happiness.
On the upper-middle shelf sits a row of prescriptions. These are the medications that helped me recover physically from my C-section and gallbladder surgeries, but also mentally when I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. I wanted a baby very much. I love Max with my whole heart, but don’t be fooled, ladies, being a mother is hard. Especially those first few months. Your life is not your own. Your body is not your own. And as much as daddy or a partner can help, you ultimately are your baby’s world. When you are not well or are struggling, you feel like a failure. These are the moments of anxiety.
Don’t get me started about ointments. I have ointments for stretch marks. I have ointments for scars. I have ointments for cracked and dry skin. Max has definitely left a mark on my body. You can see where my C-section was. You can see stretch marks. You can see where I had my gallbladder removed; yet another side-effect of being female, fertile and forty. The amazing thing is that even though I had no clue what I was doing, my body instinctively did. Despite having to listen to a cranky old pediatrician tell me on day two of Max’s life, “We’ll have to see if you can even produce milk at your age,” my body delivered. But it also needed time to rest and recover. It had, after all, produced a life. These are the moments of healing.
Damn you nursing pads. I literally hate you. I hated wearing you to bed. I hated wearing you during the day. You were totally annoying. There were times I rebelled. “I’m not wearing you today.” One day, pad-less and fancy free, I navigated the aisles of the grocery store feeling bold and brazen. Because, screw you nursing pads. It wasn’t until I stopped to look down that I noticed that it was really me that was screwed. My shirt was literally soaked and dripping with milk. These are the moments of uncontrollable laughter (and a few snorts).
We have a section now in our bathroom for Max’s stuff. We’ve got baby Tylenol, a thermometer, bath soap, rubber duckies, and waterproof books. He has fit so perfectly into our lives. As I sit here and type, I can hear him begin to wake up. He is babbling quietly to his sleep sheep. I am smiling. These are the moments of love.
With a deep sigh, I realize that I am never going to have nice and tidy bathroom shelves. Life is never going to be nice and tidy, either. Becoming a mother has been the most real thing I’ve ever done. It has made me a better person. Certainly, it has made me a stronger person. Life, I have found, is messy. So I shove the rest of this crap into the closet, and quickly close the door before it all falls out again. I’ve got better things to do, you see, like go babble with Max and his sleep sheep. These are the most important moments.
Jen lives in Chicago. She is wife to Alastair, an Englishman she met on a ski trip to Breckinridge, and mom to Max. She loves traveling, food, wine, playing the guitar, writing, and watching really bad reality TV. When not changing diapers or picking up toys, she is the Marketing Director of a digital agency.