By Alison Ogilvie-Holme
I wasn’t always this still; this helpless. There was a time, not so very long ago, when the advent of motherhood displaced inertia. All of my senses heightened after giving birth to Owen — the world suddenly thrust into maximum overdrive. Once urgency took hold, it refused to let go.
“Everything’s fine,’ Sam would insist “It’s just your maternal instinct kicking in, nature’s way of ensuring survival. I’d be more inclined to worry if you didn’t respond as quickly.”
But why did every wail elicit such panic in me? Didn’t the sound of hunger vary from that of pain or mere boredom? Was there really a ‘fake cry’ for attention?
Whenever I left the room, Owen would melt down in a spectacular display of waterworks. My heart felt constricted, as though the human body could not possibly contain the breadth of a mother’s love for her infant son. A love so deep it hurt.
The worst moments passed in silence. Each morning held new, frightening possibilities. Reliant as I was on my human alarm clock, hush signaled danger. Every time Owen managed to sleep past 5 a.m., I became frantic with worry, certain that he was gone. Maybe my fears had invited disaster. Maybe I didn’t deserve such a blessing.
The nurses at the hospital had warned us about S.I.D.S. and cautioned us to be vigilant in laying Owen down on his back in an empty crib. Sam balked at the suggestion because of my initial desire to swaddle Owen.
“Baby Jesus himself was swaddled,” he insisted. “Do what you think is best.”
And yet, I was no Virgin Mary. And there was no risk worth taking when it came to Owen. So, I would lay him down on his back wearing only a fresh diaper and the lingering scent of pomegranate shampoo. I would stroke his forehead and sing lullabies, creating new lyrics to replace forgotten ones. I would stay by his side until he drifted off to dreamland. I would never once entertain the idea of sleep training. Mothering was my full-time job; I was biologically driven to meet the needs of our child. This simple truth propelled me forward at lightning speed under every new circumstance.
By seven months, Owen was sleeping through the night. A harsh winter yielded to early spring and we began leaving the house with clockwork regularity. After the first feeding and diaper change, Owen settled into his stroller for hours of sightseeing. I chattered away in a bright voice, ever the robust tour guide.
“Oh, look at the pretty flowers, Owen! Do you see the pretty flowers? Are you getting hungry, love? Here’s a cracker to snack on. No, silly boy, you can’t eat your fist. Really?! Is that so? Tell Mummy all about it.”
It seemed that I had finally discovered the cure for crying – perpetual movement. Of course, there were designated stops along the way: the park near Daniel Street with the rusty baby swing, the duck pond behind the old youth arena, any Timmy’s Coffee Shop within a five-kilometer radius.
Our days were filled with laughter and carefree wanderings, a mother and son exploring the great, wide world of sheltered suburbia. Evening found both of us curled up on the sofa together in contented exhaustion, Owen tucked safely in my arms.
True, the minutiae of everyday life sometimes got lost in translation. Housework was frequently neglected. Dinner rarely made it to the table. Life revolved solely around my ability to keep Owen happy.
Sam didn’t complain, despite any adjustments he might have been grappling with as a new father or upstaged husband.
“You’re busy being a mom,” insisted Sam. “That’s the most important thing.”
He never wavered in his support. I remind myself of this fact over and over again.
The raw adrenaline which buoyed our existence gave way…slowly, at first, like drowning in quicksand or sinking on the Titanic. An iceberg appears innocuous, only revealing a fraction of its true depth. Danger often lurks just below the surface.
It started with a summer cold. Somewhere, I caught the sniffles and gradually began to decelerate. While symptoms like sneezing and congestion alleviated with time, my energy continued to wind down in protracted motion.
By first frost, Owen’s stroller was always parked in the garage. We often stayed home instead of venturing outside. Owen was soon mobile and no longer needed me to settle his restless body or soothe his tender spirit. All of his Mommy tears had magically dried up. As he zipped around an imaginary indoor track, fatigue crept into my very bones, preparing to hibernate for eternal winter.
There followed a series of medical assessments designed to isolate the worst possibilities: Lupus? Cancer? Multiple Sclerosis? What type of critical ailment awaited diagnosis?
Sam was insistent, “It’s just a process of elimination. You’ll see. In a few weeks’ time, you’ll be unstoppable again.”
I peer through the front window and sip cold tea. A walk to the microwave feels too daunting at this moment. I’m conserving my energy for the visit. At six o’clock, Sam will arrive bearing pizza and Owen. We will eat dinner together, the three of us mired in the complexities of trial separation, prolonging the inevitable end to our story.
“I love you, Owen.”
This mantra will be repeated ad nauseam. Words are the only currency left to express my affection for a cherished son. Actions require strength and stamina and mental acuity. Postpartum has robbed me of all these things, of everything.
What started as a mad sprint has now slackened to a desperate crawl. I sit and wait — gridlocked.
Alison Ogilvie-Holme is a mother and aspiring writer. Her words have appeared on such sites as Spelk, Down in the Dirt, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine, and Fat Cat Magazine, among others.