The things I tell myself one year after giving birth

baby's tiny feet

By Emily Brisse

Remember your name. Then say it—out loud. This is important. In the past twelve months you have become Mama and Mommy and Mum, comfortable and soft and sing-songy and milk and bread. These are complex, intricate, beautiful things. They fit around your body like a winter blanket. But you are also still you.

Sometimes it will surprise you, this speaking of your name, this connection to the you that was you before you became Mom. You will feel awe: that that you and this you can coexist. You will ask, How? Twelve months in, I will tell you: don’t try to figure it out now. Think instead of how wide and deep and expansive you are. 


It will be okay: all of it. You will be scared of so many things. The labor and delivery, the tending of this helpless human being, the moment when the food prepared by family and friends runs out and you will have to leave your tiny son for the longest forty minutes of your life in order to buy bread and milk and a few minutes of solitude. You will feel helpless, in those first 3am mornings, when you have been pacing the floor, rocking, shushing, and still he cries. You will feel helpless when the thrill of his first steps wears off enough for you to sense the insinuation: that this is how it starts, the walking away. There will be weight charts and pureed yams and a fever and a rash and a fall and a bruise and all those many hours you are gone from him, working.

You will doubt yourself. You will consult books and read comment threads and ask colleagues and finally buy the thing that is meant to fix the other thing, and then two days before it arrives, whatever was troubling you (and him?) corrects itself, heals, disappears as if it had never existed in the first place. Twelve months in, you will have a slightly bruised child who cannot move his feet fast enough to enter your embrace. It’s okay, you’ll tell him. And it will be true. 


Ignore the machine. And by machine, I don’t mean the swing or the bouncer or the mobile, although in a way I guess I do. Ignore the societal impulses behind them. Ignore the articles and influencers and any kind of other that makes you feel inferior. As a new caretaker, you will be susceptible to the message that if you don’t buy or give the right kind of thing, you are doing it wrong. Don’t believe this. But when you do (because you will), try to be gentle with yourself.

Remember that women birthed babies in caves, carried them on their backs wrapped in animal skins, fed them meat that had been in the sun too long. And still these children grew, and became your ancestors. Let the Expectations of Motherhood slip from your forehead into the dust of our repeating history. Then walk forward, your small boy nestled in your arms. Twelve months in, you will know that this is all he really needs. 


You will need to learn to ask for—and receive—help, especially from other mothers. Especially from your own mother, who you’ll understand and appreciate more than you ever have. You will say thank you over and over. You will say, I get it now. Twelve months in, these women will feel like a sturdy net around you, and when you think of them, the long rope of their linking arms, you will feel held up.


Your relationships—especially with those who are not mothers—will shift, and sometimes suffer. You will struggle to return emails. Texts will be forgotten within moments of your reading them. Birthdays will pass without you picking up the phone. On an eagerly anticipated ladies-night-out, you will sit, childless, with your dearest friends, and wonder at yourself, your inability to focus, your inability to express, their inability to see. You will want to talk about this with your husband. But by the time you return home, both he and the baby are sleeping, and in the dark and milky fog of morning, you will lack the energy to pick up the pinpoints of yesterday’s thoughts. So another conversation floats off unhad. Another morning passes where your husband—off to work, in a world that feels a million miles away—only knows that you’re tired. Another day fills up with baby and baby and baby, darling baby, and you tell this wee one all your secrets, wanting desperately to be known. Twelve months in, though you will be getting better with birthdays, this is still what you’ll want. 


Your once wide world will focus itself, sharply. Every book or film that features a mother and son you’ll experience differently. You will see photos of boys, grown up young men, and you’ll be startled by sudden tears. You will make dinner, make space in the living room, make plans or not make plans on the weekends, based on your child. Everything you write will somehow tie back to him. You will try not to do this, sometimes. You will worry over all your other aspirations. But twelve months in? Sister, give in. His gaze will not stay focused on you much longer.


Despite your narrow focus, or perhaps because of it, you will dream about A Bigger Life. These dreams will involve your career, involve traveling, involve—you’ll see it later—a multitasking perfection that is a little over the top, a little straight crazy (like perfect always is). But then, something will happen, your baby will whisper something, and you will look at him, this bringer of old wisdom, and you will feel all that hot and frantic do! do! air that has been building up inside you release. You will pull him into your chest, kiss his stomach, and just breathe. Yes, twelve months in, it will surprise you: how short and how long life will seem simultaneously. How the present is the full and fluid dream.


And most importantly, there will be joy. Even with the postponed adventures, the expectations, the strained relationships and tired eyes and implausibility of ever mastering something you so desperately want to get right, there will be joy. Not all of it. Not every moment. But the moments that count. Joy when he first discovers wind. Joy when he first tastes orange. Joy when he bangs on the piano, giggling. Joy when he brings you another book, curious. Joy when he presses his forehead against yours, Mama. Joy when, at two months, you kiss his face repeatedly, and he smiles and coos and smiles, until you realize he has fallen asleep beneath you, just like that, covered with the comfort of your tenderness.

This Mother Love. It is your chest squeezing. It is your bones breaking under the weight. It is a realignment of language, where this means that, and wait means yes, and always has no alternative. Twelve months in. Twelve months in. Look at him, there, tearing another leaf off the philodendron, leaving sticky finger prints on the patio door. Listen to me: here, Joy is capital-lettered. And it means hold on.

Emily Brisse is a high school English teacher, an essayist, an in-process novelist, and a sometimes letter-writer from Minnesota, where she lives with her family. You can find her at @emilybrisse on Instagram and Twitter. She loves checking the mailbox, and (now that she no longer has infants) always writes back.

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