It was hard to decide last year when to send my mother home.
She had come the day I had gotten out of the hospital. Never had I been more thankful that we decided to buy a house within two hours driving distance of my parents.
Because sleep is so imperative for people with bipolar (and mental illness, broadly), I was no longer allowed to do night feedings for Bailey.
This snatched away from me one of the most quintessential experiences of new motherhood, and traumatized me in its own right. But that’s a different story.
This story is about my mom, who came not only to support me as I healed, but to make sure that Matt could get some extra help with the night feedings. We were both so grateful to have some relief from baby care while recovering from our emotional trauma and getting back on our feet as new parents.
And yet, if I’m being honest, it was also stressful to have her there.
I think both she and Matt had high hopes that I would come home from the hospital fully recovered. That the medicine that had brought me back to reality was a silver bullet.
My family had been lucky enough to have had limited experience with trauma, and so I think we were all ill-prepared for the long road that lay ahead of us.
So the first time I broke down crying in front of my mom (over what I can’t remember), she started to cry as well.
I can’t blame her.
Now, particularly as a mother, I can understand the degree to which seeing me go through such pain and confusion and loss of self fully traumatized her. The degree to which her tears were an involuntary reaction to realizing how much I was still suffering. To the pain of not being able to take my pain away.
But, at the time, all I knew was that I didn’t want to make my mom cry.
I had already caused everyone around me so much grief. Before the hospital, my mania had protected me from understanding that, but now that I was in my right mind again, I could feel the pain I had caused everyone around me so acutely. I understood, logically, that it wasn’t my fault, and yet I couldn’t stand to cause any more suffering.
So I saved my crying for bedtime.
Having passed off the baby, Matt and I would retreat to our room. Sometimes we’d take a bath, other times we’d watch TV, often we would just sit on the bed together while I cried for reasons I couldn’t articulate.
It was a process that was always going to be exhausting.
But at a certain point, the extra exhaustion it took to save the tears for bedtime was outweighing the relief of having an extra set of hands around the house.
So, just three days before Mother’s Day, we had the difficult conversation.
It was time for my mom to head home.
I had gotten very into color-by-numbers books that week. Dear friends had sent them to me, and I found them calming, and productive. It felt good to be able to focus again.
As she left, I gave my mother one of the coloring book pages I’d completed: a bright display of flowers, with some cheesy saying in the middle. I wrote out a Mother’s Day message on the back.
I was proud of this present, and it wasn’t until much later that I understood the ways in which this was the behavior of a ten-year-old, and probably didn’t help my mother feel confident that I was ready for her to leave. Particularly since she had no idea when she’d be allowed back to see me again.
My COVID anxiety was strong. We had gathered together for an emergency situation, and now that the emergency was subsiding, we both knew that we wouldn’t be seeing each other again for a long time. And no one could know how long.
So when my full two week post-vaccination period fell on Mother’s Day weekend this year, I knew what I wanted to do.
I wanted to see my mom.
This was a partially selfless gesture. I knew how happy it would make her to have our whole family together, and I longed to offer her the quality time with her children and grandchildren that I, the biggest COVID stickler, had deprived her of for so long.
But it was also self-serving. I wanted her to see me as a good mom.
Last Mother’s Day, I did not feel like a real mom. I was a mom in title only.
Technically, I had birthed a baby.
But my unplanned c-section made me feel as though someone else had done the hard work of getting her here for me.
Technically, I had suffered through the late night feedings, the pain of breastfeeding.
But only for about a week before the gift of those responsibilities was bestowed upon others.
Technically, I held and bathed and fed my baby.
But the constant distraction of my own ailments made me feel selfish and robotic and devoid of the raw emotional attachment that I knew I was supposed to feel.
That I had felt, so unbelievably deeply, in my mania.
One of the hardest parts of returning from that state of heightened emotion was the honest truth that my mood stabilizers had dampened the undying devotion and pure love that I’d had for my baby when she’d first arrived.
It was jarring. It was necessary. But it was heartbreaking.
And, fortunately, it was the opposite of how I felt, a year later, when I had fought through so much to be the mom that my Bailey deserved.
I had kept her safe through a global pandemic- even keeping her home from daycare for 3 months while Matt and I both worked full time. I was the one she clung to, I was the one she smiled at first thing in the morning.
I wasn’t just a mother. I was her mama.
A mama that was desperate to prove to her own mother how capable she was.
Each time I had seen my mother that year, outside and at a distance, I had been desperate to show off my mothering skills.
I resented my husband when he would change her diaper or feed her a bottle, because I wanted so badly for my mom to see me doing it. For her to be proud of me as a mother.
Yet my nervousness and self consciousness got in the way. I fumbled with the clips on the high chair, held her at awkward angles.
At my nieces’ baptism, when I realized I had gone slightly too long without feeding her, I froze in the middle of the kitchen, unable to respond when Matt called my name. I’d had a mild panic attack, my bones creaking under the weight of the expectations I had piled on myself.
So when my mom and I decided to go on our Mother’s Day walk together, I was nervous. I had learned by then not to set the bar so high. I had gained confidence that, even if it wasn’t always evident in high stakes situations, I was a good and capable mother.
Still, I placed pressure on the event. I imagined us walking around the town where I grew up, reminiscing about each memory we’d had together in each spot. I imagined us crying and holding each other and confessing all of our thoughts and feelings from the past year.
In reality, we didn’t go very far.
We took Bailey to a playground near my mom’s house, and enjoyed helping her toddle around and swing on the swings.
Then it started drizzling, so we headed back early.
My mom told me about her yoga class, I told her about my latest appointment with my psychiatrist.
It was simple. It was comfortable. In all honesty, it was kind of mundane.
Which, after the year we had had, might have been the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all.
Thanks for reading,