Before I became a mother, I was grotesquely good at taking care of other people. I credit my naturally empathetic, sensitive nature, my incredible-caretaker mother and my co-dependent upbringing. In the months before I got pregnant, it dawned on me that my constant tracking of other people’s emotional and physical needs could be an asset as a mother. What didn’t dawn on me: it would also be my downfall.
In my first few days post-partum, I sank right in to tracking J’s every need and even making some up. When I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to make sure that A, my partner, was getting enough sleep and staying generally well fed and happy.
In return, I became completely desperate for A to take care of me with the same obsessive empathy. The result of this whole dynamic was bad. I felt used-up, pathetic, un-loved and despondent. A felt confused and somewhat mistreated and underappreciated.
Add all that to the typical sleep deprivation of the first few months and the hormone roller-coaster, and we were all pretty screwed.
Things have stabilized since then. We all sleep more. I think A understands more about my plight during those first months. And I see how I my strengths in caring for others have created a huge blind spot. I am the blind spot.
In all of my endless scanning for how everyone is doing, the person I most often pass up is myself. And when I finally do notice my own need for help, I’m usually pretty far gone. Desperate, really.
So I’ve been working on that. I regularly hear something my therapist said to me in those first few disorienting months post-partum:
Do you know what every new mother needs?
So the project of becoming a mother to J has also turned into becoming one for myself.
Last night, I was feeling pretty crappy and sad and vulnerable from a recent schism between me and a friend. So I came home a little early from work thinking, “Hanging out with J and A is just what I need right now.” The minute I opened the door, I started taking a supremely judgmental inventory on all of the things going on that were making my life worse:
A was being a super lazy dad and watching TV with J.
A had not fed J dinner or started getting him ready for bed yet.
A obviously does not care about me at all.
I managed to keep all of these things to myself and ask, “Has J had dinner yet?” And then I just sat down and rested my head on our dining room table and tried to limit the damages of the horror story going on in my head.
In the end, A took care of dinner and bedtime for J. I ate ice cream while watching a show on the couch.
At some point after that, A asked if there was anything he could do for me. My mind spat, “OF COURSE THERE IS, YOU IDIOT.” And I managed to get my mouth to say, “Will you go get me a glass of wine, the leftover Stilton cheese in the fridge and those big round crackers?”
Chalk this night up to victory.