Yesterday I took a mother/daughter walk with Bailey. Which feels more significant now that she can talk a little bit. “Walk!” she says, as I get her shoes on. “Outside!” she cries in disappointment when I put her and the stroller in the car to drive to our destination- she wants to hurry up and walk right now.
She is becoming such a little human.
One of the main comforts that I took in my first hospitalization was that she was too young to know what was happening. It was agonizing, to be sure, to be away from a newborn that long, but at least I could say with confidence that she didn’t know the difference.
This most recent hospitalization felt different.
She was a more active participant. She was there as the police and EMTs tried to coax me into the ambulance. I was holding her at one point, until it became clear that I was unsteady on my feet and Matt took her. She was surprisingly calm, just taking it all in, wondering why so many people were in her living room.
Once I got to the ward, my calls home were much more lucid than last time, and I could hear a little voice on the other end saying, “Mama!” or “I love Mama!” in the background.
It simultaneously got me through those days in the hospital and irrevocably broke my heart.
You see, I am terrified to know what will become of Bailey. She is the most perfect child, and yet I’m afraid that she’ll remember these hospitalizations (and any future ones I may have) and be traumatized by them. I’m afraid she’ll think her mom is crazy and that it’s ruining her life.
I’m also afraid that she’ll be like me and have this terrible disease. I’m afraid that she’ll blame me and resent me for it, even though I didn’t even know I had it when we decided to have her. Unfortunately, the reality is that her having (or not having) bipolar is out of my control. I can’t teach her brain chemistry how to function properly any more than I can change her eye color.
But what I can teach her is how to respond to whatever her brain or body or life throws her way.
I can teach her that a diagnosis doesn’t define her, only gives her fuel to make herself stronger.
I can teach her that kindness and compassion, to herself and to others, can carry her through more difficult times than she could know.
I can teach her that therapy is her friend and something we will take her to as regularly and normally as if it were dance lessons or piano class (regardless of what formal diagnosis she is given).
I can teach her about exercise and mindfulness and how hard they are for mama but how I try my best anyway: because I care about Bailey and being well for her.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got out of the hospital this time- whether she’d be excited or confused or even angry that I’d been gone. So when she came home from daycare I approached her eagerly, but cautiously.
“Mama!” she cried- urgently, but not with exuberance- just a need to be together.
Then we hugged each other for what felt like years. A deep hug, full of sorrow and promises to do better and, most of all, relief. My little baby who never stops moving placed herself fully in my arms as though she would never let me go- first standing where we were, then sinking onto the couch so we could stay there forever. It felt like going back to the early days of skin-to-skin contact: where we were both still adjusting to our new status as separate beings, no longer inhabiting the same body, and needing to stay as close as possible to make that adjustment bearable.
Our breathing patterns matched each other, my husband and mother disappeared from our consciousness, and it was just the two of us against the world.
In the two weeks since then, she’s been a little clingier. She still loves to play with everyone, but if I’m there and I leave, she gets more upset than she used to. If Matt picks her up from daycare and I’m not in the car she asks about me.
I can’t say our separation was without effect this time. But she’s also too young to understand the why or how behind me leaving: for all she knows I was on vacation, or a work trip.
She is a good kid. She is a resilient kid. And, like most parents, I will spend the rest of her life trying to shield her from a world I can’t control.
Thanks for Reading,
76 miles down, 24 miles to go