Oof. I am just so damned, dog-dead tired.
Fuzzy, hazy, tater tots for brains tired. Achy-jelly-floppy bones tired. Tired to the edge of delirium. That kind of tired where you’re so tired that even your tiredness is tired — an ooey-gooey layer cake of cumulative maternal fatigue.
It’s a tiredness so complete and all-consuming that after six months spent plowing through my days from beneath its soporific mantel, the sensation has somehow ceased to be unpleasant.
I feel, instead, as if I’d quickly downed a generous pour of red wine on an empty belly and it’s begun to wind its way to my extremities, making everything buzz and tingle.
Once, during a long-ago breakup, a soon-to-be ex remarked to me that “sadness” seemed to him to be an outsized word, so infinitely shot through as it was with possibilities.
That’s how I feel about “tired.” It’s a big word; its configurations, endless. The metaphors for this degree of tiredness, brought on by new motherhood and a long, long baby sleeping strike, are also endless.
I could go on. But of this chilly and fleeting fall afternoon, as my fussy baby dozes fitfully at my side in our shared bed and I punch these typo-ridden words into an almost-dead phone, I don’t really want to waste time writing about sad stuff.
Lately, truly, and for the first time maybe ever, there’s not much Heavy to catalog. Of course, I still think about them some — those other, heavier times, and the spaces between who I was then and who I am becoming now as I try this new identity of motherhood on for size.
Last night, halfway to the bottom of an old-fashioned cocktail my husband made me in acknowledgment of our long and hectic week, I remarked to him that one of the things I loved best about him was the fact that he didn’t seem to contain a lot of darkness. Sure, life conspires to fuck with him in fair measure, but when it does, the dude can bounce. He winces, he recovers, and he plows the hell on.
“Oh, I can go to dark places,” he said, looking wry. “I just don’t stay there long.”
I, on the other hand, kept a semi-permanent address in some pretty Deep, Dark Places for much of my life. I’ve always been prone to brooding. I’ve been anxious and lonely and dangerous and lost for a larger portion of my time on earth than I’d care to acknowledge.
But these days, as my responsibilities grow weightier, my soul grows somehow lighter. Freer. Less full-up with remorse and dread.
Each night and day, hours and hours of which I spend with my baby at my breast, I blink into the ethereal glow of our rock salt nightlight and I rub my achy eyeballs and I count a running tally: mistakes made, triumphs celebrated, lessons I want to carry forward into tomorrow.
Today, I organized a few boxes of baby clothes, was (hilariously) projectile vomited on three times, took Gabi to the library, and took photos of two mama friends and their babies in a park so brilliantly cast in fall colors and earthy tones I could’ve sworn we’d tripped and fallen headlong into the pages of a 1980s autumn-issue JC Penny catalog.
On the other side of the ledger, I became so furiously angry with a man for tailgating me that I flipped him off and made a dramatic show of taking photos of his license plate at a stoplight, I ate a cookie instead of a real lunch, and I got into a bitter argument about formula with another mom in a Facebook parenting group. All these things left me momentarily petulant and raw (except maybe the cookie, which I don’t regret). But mostly, probably, beneath the prickle, I was merely tired. And that can do strange things to you. If you let it.
You’ve got to be so careful.
Tiredness is an old, mothballed overcoat that drapes itself upon new moms of its own, saggy accord. You can’t shrug it off, but how you choose to wear it matters — a lot. Sometimes, all those folds and contours can start to drag, slowing your way forward and throwing you off course, driving you to dark and desperate measures.
But, oh, I didn’t want to write about heavy shit today. My sweet sleeping baby is snoring at my side, and I’ve lately felt so optimistic and full of longing for what is to come, plus a bit awed at what our little family has already survived in the six months since Baby G flopped out of my body and into her Papa’s waiting hands.
Mostly, being a mom has me feeling incredibly pegged to this very moment right here. This tired, soupy moment in which my brain is marinating like some great thick slab of meat. I mean, I’m keeping an entire other human being alive with nothing but my wits and my tits. That’s the equivalent of like three full-time jobs, plus I’m working an actual part-time job as well. Devoting even a fraction of my energy to brooding seems like a foolish waste of precious free time.
So when the heavy comes knocking at my door, I mumble the same refrain, over and over: There’s nothing else but this. Nothing else but this.
It helps. I swear it does.
An old axiom holds that if you attempt to live in the past, you’ll be depressed, and if you attempt to live in the future, you’ll be anxious.
But we are composed of blood and guts. We cannot escape our own temporality, and acknowledging the value of any given moment requires acknowledging that each moment of our lives is destined for us, and destined to abandon us in due course.
It takes its own sweet time.
Where does that leave a struggling new mama?
It’s a big old frumpy and over-loaded junk heap of question, as rhetorical as it is practical, but its answer is cold, elegantly unadorned and maybe inevitable: we’re floating through an eternally receding present. The here and now becoming the there and then, quickly and neatly and over and over, replaced by a new here and now, dialectically, ad infinitum and all that jazz.
You can’t hit fast-forward and you can’t hit rewind — the Buddhists and the Hegelians were both right on this count.
However. I’ve been thinking about it, and there actually is a trapdoor out, one that we may elect to slip through if ever that eternal present feels sufficiently intolerable. But don’t be mistake: its wages are steep and ruinous.
I’m talking about suicide, which is, despite our most earnest and concerted efforts, still the only viable form of time travel we earthlings have been able to concoct. Hanging oneself in one’s closet with one’s very own necktie. Driving straight into the ocean. Eating an oiled gun, or an astringent bottle of pills — it’s all to the same brutal end: In one obliterative instant, you skip all that messy, shitty in-between stuff and proceed straight to the final chapter’s very last sentence.
Today, I’ve been thinking about an old friend who hurtled herself down that existential escape hatch a few years back. She was a new mom herself, and her suicide was later attributed to postpartum psychosis.
By now, I don’t think of her often. We hadn’t spoken in years before she died. So, when I do consider her, it’s with some remove, some unscalable distance that makes her expiration feel like a metaphor or a warning as much as its own discrete tragedy. And that feels selfish. I can summon tears for her, but they feel summoned and also self-referential and are therefore unsatisfying. Inadequate to her memory.
Considering her death feels looking at a reflection of a reflection, as in a hall of funhouse mirrors, the shapes bouncing and shifting as you turn your head, hard to catch dead-on and take measure of, refracted straight on into infinity until the angles unfurl and recorrelate themselves into a monstrous new form.
But, again, I must beat my retreat from the World of Heavy Things. Cause suicide is dangerous like that. Spend too long trying to detangle it and you’re liable to find yourself hanging from the noose of all those contradictions and the justifications. They say suicides often happen in clusters, and I think it’s got something very much to do with that.
Motherhood has been, for me, life-affirming, despite its incredible challenges. But what it has taught me about the work of existing at all amounts, at least on this chilly and fleeting fall day, to a single triplet: it’s fuuuuuucking tiring.
From the start, it’s exhaustingly, flesh-rippingly hard. They say death holds every woman’s hand for awhile when she’s giving birth — it’s the moment of existence in which both she and her child are at the greatest risk of demise.
It’s bone-breakingly hard. The newborn babe mewling in nihilistic and unbelieving protest, a fuzzy-haired, pointy-headed little philosopher dripping blood and brine down his mother’s heaving breast can tell you that.
And so can his newborn mama as the blood and liquid and tears gush out of her and this incredible and gruesome work her body has had to do is finally, blessedly finished, so the rest of her work may begin.
Becoming a mother means reconnecting with life’s fundamental nature, which is, as the Buddhists also promised, inextricably tied up in suffering. Loads of the stuff.
So, today, as bodily exhaustion seeps from my bone marrow like fine wisps of smoke and my babe rests and I fight the urge to nap, I busy myself by marking moments, little insta-tallies of all the Tiny Beautiful Things. I note the sodden orange leaves the color of campfires outside our bedroom window, I consider the minimalist piano records my husband has lately been leaving on the turntable and that I play to give me a shot of serenity while I wait for the coffee or tea to kick in. I smell Baby G’s soft, biscuity-scented head as she rouses from sleep, then rock her close to my achy body and mumble to myself like a benediction, “Nothing but this. Nothing but this.”
And: “I love this, I love this, I love this.”
I suppose that gone-away friend of mine felt overwhelmed by her earthly obligations, just like I am. Maybe her baby cried a lot, just like mine does. But there, our paths diverged. Maybe, while I was playing my piano records and being propped up by strong cocktails and soft words from my husband, she sat crying at her window, facing that interminable procession of strung-together moments alone, her hair a’tangle and her blood awash in hormones. Maybe, when I beat back my tired to go frolic in the fall leaves with my friends, she repaired to her darkened basement in defeat, her phone silent, her soul withering.
I can’t stand the thought of it.
How can we save ourselves from our own worst fates? And who or what can we enlist to assist us in such a mighty task?
Can a talisman as fleeting as a leaf or a piano chord or the wheaty scent of a baby’s head really protect us from the perils of a universe so hemmed in on all sides by darkness? These things are so small, and the contours of what conspires to ruin us are so large.
I don’t know if they can. But I do hope they can. I hope this for myself, and for my new family, and, even though it’s well too late, I hope it for my dear, dead friend, and for the sweet baby boy she left behind here on earth.
I hope it so goddamn much.