In the past fourteen months, the age of my now-sleeping daughter, I have been so stressed, anxious, overwhelmed by feedings, diapers, all of the needs of my beautiful little girl that I have lost a large piece of the person I used to be. All mothers must feel this way I think, but I can truthfully say now that I don’t think it’s possible to remain the person that you once were, even in part, when fully embracing motherhood. That sounds terrible and anti-feminist, but what I mean is that you grow into someone different completely.
I was not prepared for this – not in the slightest. I had just turned 24 when I got pregnant. That doesn’t sound very young, but for me it felt young. I had only been dating Piper’s father for about 8 months, although impulsive as we once were, we were already living together. The two of us spent our days and nights drinking massive amounts of alcohol that now makes my stomach do a flip to even think of. The combination of our personalities was an addict’s disaster. When I thought about having a baby, I of course didn’t understand the reality of it, as my mother persistently pointed out to me. I didn’t understand the “full-time” aspect of the new role. Though I had no close friends with children, I knew of parents that seemed to still go out, party, and have a great time. I didn’t realize then, that for us, everything had to change, and it has taken me this long to truly realize it.
From the time I had been old enough to be interested in drinking, I had never thought about living without it. At 14, I looked forward to weekends spent tromping around alleys with my girlfriends, swigging pints of vodka. In college, it was daily happy hours that often turned into sleepless nights and sitting on our porch, day-drinking. The list of addicts in my family goes back a long way, and my life had revolved around drinking for 10 years straight. I don’t think I really knew who I was when you got rid of all that. I’m not sure I do now, but I’m learning.
When I got pregnant, my most frequent and beloved activity was taken away. We were broke and scared, but I quit drinking cold turkey – and pretty effortlessly, due to the nausea that persisted until the minute I pushed Piper out of my body. But I had also become anti-social. People expected the glowing mother-to-be, but I was nothing of the sort. I didn’t want to be around people who were drinking, and my friends became reminders of a life I was leaving behind.
At the time I gave little thought to the effect that taking away my biggest stress-reliever would have. I pushed my feelings down so deep in order to do what I needed to do – be a mother – and I was determined to be a good one. So determined, in fact, that around 7 weeks post-partum I actually gave myself heart palpitations, which I still have today. In the same week that I went to the emergency room, Piper came down with infant botulism, a rare and dangerous disease, and we spent two weeks in the P.I.C.U. I was having daily panic attacks that made my chest tighten up and my heart pound. I kept telling myself, “You’re just stressed; you’re just overwhelmed.” But why didn’t I have the capacity to deal with these things better? Probably because I had spent 10 years drinking away any anxiety that ever came into my life. What seemed to me like normal teenage behavior I now know had a huge impact on my ability to handle stress, not only emotionally but physically.
Throughout my life I had been okay with being mediocre at a lot of things. I was a mediocre student, artist, employee, and drinking was mostly to blame for that mediocrity, because it always came first. But what has been the most life-changing discovery is that I did not want to be a mediocre parent. I couldn’t let drinking come first anymore.
Almost two years since seeing the plastic strip say “positive,” I finally feel that I am embracing and settling into this new life. I am inspired and joyful once again and I have my daughter to thank. Perhaps I never knew what real joy was and am only learning it now, because it feels different than ever before. My numbness and sadness and yearning for an old life that was slowly killing my body and my mind is surely going away and being replaced by an active person who lives her life with intention.