“Da da da…” he muses thoughtfully as he runs one hand over the other for the millionth time this morning. Fascinated by his own dexterity he opens and closes his sticky fist again then suddenly, shrieking with glee, he throws himself backward wiggling those fat little feet toward the ceiling.
He looks up at me with huge ocean blue eyes, waiting for approval, his tiny hands and feet beating furiously against the carpet as if he might explode with happiness at his newest discovery.
“Oh my clever boy!” I coo enthusiastically as I sweep him up into my arms. I nuzzle his neck and breathe in his sweet smell like I may never hold him again. He rolls into a ball and pushes his face into my chest, emerging with a huge smile that would melt the coldest of hearts. I brush the whisps of blonde and brown away from his forehead and kiss the smooth, warm skin. It is a delicious feeling, and I kiss him again as I squeeze him tight, holding desperately onto this beautiful moment of pride and discovery and love.
Soon he arches his back, his face contorts into a look of discomfort and the arms he so joyously punched back and forth a moment before are stuck straight out from his body like matchsticks, his red little fists screwed tight. He looks at me to make sure Im paying attention and then, with all the flavour of a recently bathed cat and a yowl to match, he wriggles and forces his way out of my arms and onto the carpet once again to continue his marvelling.
The emotions rise hard and fast. As he wriggles onto his little pot belly, my hot tears spill down my face and onto the carpet. There are not many eight month old babies who enjoy being held the way he was, and although his huge slobbery smile is back and he is once more reaching for my hair to climb up, the bitter sting of rejection deep inside is what I feel strongest.
I know that he loves me, I know it when I look at my cherubs face and see my own eyes, so full of wonder and amazement stare back at me. When he leans forward and stretches with all his might just to touch my hand. When he falls asleep nuzzled into my chest like he never can with anyone else. When he wakes crying in the night and just a stroke down his face reminds him he is safe and loved and sends him straight back to sleep. There is no doubt in my mind that the love we share is beyond all understanding.
And yet every bit of it can be washed away so quickly, so easily. The lump forms in my throat, the guilt washes over me in waves so strong I feel I’ll drown. The pain cuts into a piece of my heart never reached before. I know its not his fault. I know he isnt sending what Im receiving. I know hes not trying to hurt me, but right now I feel so overwhelmed and unbearably sad, it doesnt seem to matter whats real and whats not.
“I’m a terrible mother.” The familiar mantra rears its ugly head. I trawl through memories and parade them in front of me once again. I remember when he cried because I picked him up. When he sat on my knee stretching to play with Dad instead. When he gleefully stared up at him and shouted “DA DA DA!” in his biggest big boy voice. I remember every tiny slight and they cut like a thousand tiny knives. “How twisted must I be” I wonder, “to take such a beautiful baby boy and impose on him the responsibility for my feelings. What a monster I am.”
The thought terrifies me. I know no matter how much love I give or how much my heart swells with pride for his every breath, eventually Im going to fuck it up. Eventually all of that painful horrible mess inside of me is going to spew out and smother him, irremovable and permanent like hot tar. No matter how beautiful he is, no matter how amazing and comforting he finds me now – one day hes going to be old enough to realise that Im not supermum, and not just that but not even close.
What if this dark cloud which has slowly smothered and suffocated me for the last eight months swallows him too? How can I protect him from myself? How can I spare him this crippling heartbreaking agony of rejection and worthlessness and failure, which rears its head at the slightest opportunity? How can I teach him the fullness and satisfaction of being true to yourself, when I feel like a ghost, an empty shell of who I was?
The guilt is crippling, and I panic and I cry and I whisper apologies for now, for yesterday and tomorrow into his tiny ear as he rests his head on my shoulder. I pray desperately that God will spare him this agony I myself have inherited, and I pray for the strength never to show him the wreck I truly am.
I hate who Ive become, I hate that everything hurts when it shouldnt. I hate that even as I say “I know its not real” it cuts deeper than any physical pain ever could. I hate that my family suffers for my weakness, for my inability to control my irritation and my emotions in general. I hate that they have to spend so much time on my rollercoaster that often they miss out on their own.
Please God, if you need me to feel like this for the rest of my life, if I have to spend every waking minute feeling inferior, inadequate, stupid, worthless, lonely and small. So small… then so be it.
But please God, dont give this to my baby. Such an amazing gift I know I can never afford. Help me to raise a happy, healthy, stable child. Dont let him know that I doubted my maternal ability for a second, dont let him see my broken heart. Let him know that I love him unconditionally, that I would die for him if he so much as mused on it. Dont let him see me broken. Please God, dont let him see me cry.