Thursday, August 24, 2006

How do I love thee?

I have always struggled to put in words my love for Eleana. It is, aparantly, something most mothers struggle with, as noted by HBM. I think I've finally reached the point where I can articulate these feelings, at least for now. To read other mother's gush about their obsessions with their babies, go here.

No words can describe the tingle I feel deep within my blood when I inhale Eleana's breath. I can't explain the sheer excitement and admiration I feel for her when I'm holding her and she decides, on a whim, to talk against my cheek. I turn my face to place my mouth close to hers in hopes of inhaling her sweet angel breath...and she usually turns away to giggle or makes her scrunchy mean face at me. I can't explain how honored I feel that I am able to turn off all my anxieties and fears when she is in need of Calm Mommy to rock her to sleep while she's teething.

I cannot express how excited I was the first time Eleana responded to my kisses with an actual "kiss." I gave her several kisses in a row on her mouth while she was playing and she actually turned her face upward toward mine, closed her eyes, and pressed herself against my mouth. I nearly cried.

I love how well she and I fit together. I love it when she grabs for me in the morning from her crib. She smiles at me from behind her pacifier, then reaches her precious little hands up to my breasts (because that just happens to be as high as she can reach), and I scoop her up eagerly awaiting my morning hug. Her arms wrap perfectly around my neck, her head is tailor made for my shoulder.

I have never been able to fully articulate the special bond Eleana and I have, especially not to Joe. I think he understands it's there, he just doesn't know how or why. I also don't know how or why it's there, perhaps magic, a form of beautiful mommy-baby magic from Nature. Joe witnessed this magic firsthand as much as I during my pregnancy and labor. He was in constant awe of my ever-changing body with child. He called me a goddess. He frequently stood in awe of me and my pending mommyhood, amazed that I was actually able to create life, that we created life. He says now that he felt as though having a baby made me a "real woman." The fact that we could reproduce, not just make love, made us something more than human...or something less? He is fascinated by our child and the fact that we are now more family than we have ever been.

He was there for me in the hospital when I had my breakdown/breakthrough. I have never been very receptive to children. I didn't like babysitting (and only have a couple of times my whole life) and I didn't like holding babies. I never went, "awww, how cute!" at the sight of random babies either. Not until about 6 months before we conceived. I went baby crazy there for a while. I always knew I'd have a child, a family, a home. I always knew I would be someone's mother eventually, I just didn't know how cut-out for it I would be until Eleana arrived.

I did everything normal mommies do. I held her on my tummy, all gooey and fresh, while the doctor made Joe cut her cord. I listened to her cry and thought it was the most beautiful sound in the world. I watched her become comfortable on top of me, and watched the nurses take her for her first bath. I watched Joe follow her out of the room. Later I attempted to nurse her, snuggled her, rocked her.

The second time I attempted nursing, Eleana freaked out. She was sucking well, but she was so hungry and I was still so empty of real milk. We attended a nursing class that night, and later were told Eleana would have some tests done to check her sugar levels. A few hours later Joe informed me Eleana was put in the special care nursery and my heart broke. Joe was so sweet and gentle, as if approaching a wild bear. He spoke to me almost as if I were a child myself and it actually helped. Eleana's sugar was low. She was born big (8lbs, 15oz) and my body wasn't providing her with enough nourishment. She was being supplemented with formula, and her sugar closely monitored. Joe says in that timid voice, "Would you like to see her?" and I cry, "Yes."

"You'll have to put on your robe and slippers. Since she's hooked up to the monitors we can't bring her to the room. You'll have to go there to see her."

At this point I start bawling. A million things are going through my mind. I'm asking myself what this means. How long will she have to be here? How long will it take for her to regulate her sugar? Is she going to be all right?

Upon returning to my room from visiting Eleana down the hall, I was a wreck. I curled up in my bed, held the first shirt Eleana had worn which still smelled like her, and cried. I cried for the child I barely knew. I cried because I knew if I lost her I would lose myself. I cried because I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know I could love her so completely without even knowing her and yet knowing everything about her. I cried so much I couldn't sleep and needed medication.

Of course Eleana was fine. Of course there were babies in Special Care who were 10 times worse off than she. I only let myself grieve in self-pity for less than 24 hours. I soon realized I needed to pull myself together. I was comitted to breastfeeding and this meant that every 3 hours I had to go to SC to nurse her, bottle feed her formula, then return to my room and pump. Every 3 hours. Joe was there with me the whole time. Usually he'd go with me so he could bottle feed her and I could get a jump on my pumping. I was usually on my own for the 3 am feedings,letting Joe sleep. I learned within days that I had to push my fears aside for my child. I had to be stronger than I was previously. I had to grow for her, for our love and life.

However, Eleana's first month of life was very different from this. I grew tired of mommyhood very quickly at first. I was stretched too thin because Joe went on deployment when Eleana was less than 3 weeks old. I freaked out. Our first week alone together, Eleana and I, was very stressful. She wasn't sleeping. She refused to sleep. I wanted nothing but sleep. The only ways she would fall asleep were if she was in her bouncy seat, in my arms, or nursing. Eventually my grandmother flew up to be with us and I had some relief. I showered the day I picked my grandmother up at the airport, when before that day I hadn't showered in about a week. With an extra body here, an extra pair of arms and hands, I was eased gently into motherhood at last.

I realized, though, that I was already a mother, and doing things a non-mother wouldn't be able to do. Nursing aside, I had that secret 6th mommy sense that allowed me to hold my sleeping baby in my arms in bed, and fall asleep myself, sure that I will not drop squish or suffocate my infant. Until Eleana moved into her crib I never truly slept. I half-slept. I was always semi-aware of my surroundings in case she should stir or whimper, so I could quickly react in whichever way was necessary.

There are other things I think about now. Now that Eleana is older and I have more time to actually think full thoughts I wonder about many things. First of all, how could anyone give a child up after having them in their lives for a couple of years? When I was 3 I was adopted. I have talked abou this before on this blog, and will not go into too much detail to spare readers from feeling they've already read this. I just wonder how my mother could have said, "Well, this 3-year-old is a handful and I've got too much shit going on in my life to keep her right now. You want her?" I realize that my birth mother was going through some things that caused her to not be fit to care for me by the state and she was probably told she needed to give me up. But it always seemed so easy for her. I was young though, and my life is a blur during that time, so it probably just seems like nothing to me. Now that I am a mother myself I can certainly sympathize with the pain and heartache my BM must've felt when she had to give me up. However, this is the same woman who supposedly "sexually abused" me. Which leads me to my other issue.

One of the main reasons I bring my affection for Eleana down a notch when in public or around people I don't know well is because of this past abuse I experienced. Though I don't remember anything that had happened to me (and often wonder if it was really real or just made up by an attention-starved child) I am aware of it, and in turn find myself questioning my actions with my daughter. Is it okay to kiss her on the mouth?

I ask Joe this constantly. The first time Eleana kissed me I asked Joe if he wanted to see if she'd kiss him, too. He said, "No honey. Maybe later. It's not my thing."

"What do you mean? Should I not do it?"

"No. I just mean that's your thing with her. That's for the two of you."

I am always aware of that ick factor. I am constantly thinking, "If someone were watching me right now, would they approve?"

I hate that I feel this way, and am learning to ignore that paranoid voice in my head. Especially now. Especially now that I know so many other moms are feeling the same love and connection for their children as I am for mine. I know I'm not the only woman who kisses her daughter on the mouth.

I am glad I read a lot while pregnant, especially about breastfeeding. I remember reading a passage about this feeling some women experience during "letdown." Though I never was aware of my letdown (the process of breastmilk flowing toward the nipples, readying for a meal) as much as other mothers, and never really leaked too much, I did sometimes experience that all-over body tingle while nursing. It freaked me out at first that my insides would have such a strong reaction to my tiny child. Because the feeling was sexual in, my uterus contracted. And for the longest time my sexual organs were still aware of the absence of a child within me. I learned to adapt to these feelings, and again realized I wasn't the only person experiencing them.

I imagine one would think that breastfeeding wouldn't be the first thing on a sexual abuse victim's mind. But, as I don't remember my abuse, I always had a healthy outlook on sex and sexuality. Breasts could be a source of pleasure, but were always in my mind a source of nourishment first and foremost. I never doubted I would breastfeed. How can you imagine motherhood without imagining a mother nursing her child?

I also think that growing up close to nature helped me have a healthy image of motherhood. On the farm I witnessed every kind of animal doing every kind of thing possible. I've seen horses get it on, I've seen horses nurse their colts. I've seen calves being born. I've seen kittens being born. I fancied myself, for a while, a kitten midwife. For a long time there wasn't a month in which a litter of kittens wasn't being born. I monitored mama kittens during labor, and assited kittens in nursing. I watched as mama kitten would tenderly lick her kittens, one by one. Something about mama kittens' eyes as they're caring for their young really spoke to me. Especially Sable. She was calm, even as her kittens scratched her tiny nipples while nursing. She never winced with pain. She always held her eyes half-open, as if constantly sighing with peace and love. I wanted to be like that when I had my child.

I hope that Eleana never feels uncomfortable about herself, and espeically about our relationship as a family. The best way I can communicate my love for Eleana to her is through kisses. The most common phrase out of my mouth is "I love you" or "I love you so much." Sometimes Eleana tries to repeat me. Sometimes I'm not sure if she knows what I mean when I say it, which is why I always follow up with a hug, kiss, or tender touch of her cheek. I guess my favorite spot to kiss her is her mouth or cheek. Joe likes kissing the nape of her neck when she least expects it. I am obsessed with her beauty. She makes me want more for her, want more of myself. I want to be the best I can be for her. She practically commands it of me just by being.

Though I miss her being completely dependent on me, I do appreciate even more the times when she does. Recently she prefers to be standing while going number 2. If I'm in the room she'll crawl to me, pull up next to my leg, and hold on tight while in action. She'll look down, grunt, then look up at me and chuckle. This is a precursor to those future times in which the scariest of things will be made better by holding my hand. I love being her rock - her loving, squishy, soft, reliable rock.


Bri said...

What a beautiful letter. Eleana will be proud to know she has a wonderful, loving and caring mommy.
Continue showing her all the love and affection in the world, it will make her grow to be a strong and secure person. I kiss Samantha all the time on the mouth. It is so natural and not wrong!
Thank you for sharing this letter with all of us in the blogging world!

coffespaz said...

You have really adapted to being a mother so well. I am proud of you, the fact that you have adapted so easily. E. will surely grow strong and well developed emotionally with you and Joe as parents. You are doing a terrific job!

Her Bad Mother said...

Nichole, this took my breath away.

Paige said...

This is just so lovely. I really like what you said about pushing your fears aside for your daughter; it's so amazing - the ways they motivate us to grow. Thank you for sharing.

Sojourner said...

Wow. Just wow.

It's okay, Sweetie said...

Apart from our personal friendship, it's a real pleasure to learn more about you through your writings, N. And in this you had some beautiful sentiments. Especially "...This is a precursor to those future times in which the scariest of things will be made better by holding my hand."

I show affection, and you can see as a result how my daugther gives back. i.e. how she hugs and kisses you all the time. That's no coincidence. With that in mind, keep doing what you're doing and Baby E will blossom into the same loving beauty that you are.

Damselfly said...

What you wrote is beautiful -- and so encouraging.

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