The fatigue seeps in from the start –
with the counting of peak days month after month and the praying for two red lines because the counting drains you and the davening does, too, especially when the answer doesn’t come fast enough and you’re worried it may not come at all.
When the lines appear one day, you believe with complete faith that the future will be smoothly paved, no bumps or potholes along the way. That’s because parenthood is mostly theoretical at that point. All you know for sure is that those lines have changed everything.
– overtaking me in ways I never imagined.
Nausea knocks me to the couch, my body shapeshifting to make room for the two of us. In time, the baby gets bigger and I expand and the exhaustion seeps in faster and deeper until I’m sure it’s been with me forever, like a muscle I didn’t know I had until it quivers by way of introduction.
With the arrival of my first born, I am in awe. I count again – fingers and toes this time. One mouth, check. Two ears, check. I thank G-d every single moment of the day, at least when my eyes are open. Yet my body is spent from a trimester on doctor-ordered bed rest, my mind numb from watching too much HGTV because I was too uncomfortable and too worried about losing the baby to do anything else, not even read or sleep.
Later, weary from the trauma of the delivery and the anesthesia that lingers for what seems like forever in my body, I bask fully drained beneath the maternal glow. I begin to nod off, grasping at a luxury I don’t have. But I stop myself. I need to feed my son and adore and sing to him, to show him the world and our values and how much G-d loves us. And then there’s all the laundry.
I pull myself up and head back to the office. Meanwhile, I nurture the new now-we’re-parents incarnation of our marriage and struggle to get back into shape and back to myself, though I’m no longer sure who that is. How immediate it is, this cleaving in two – into the fading memory of the old me and the new one in the mirror, the one with rings beneath her eyes and a roadmap on her stretched-out stomach.
There is much more to fret over. Developmental milestones. Yeshiva tuition. And of course, what others have to say about my parenting, the kind of commentary that reverberates long and loud in my brain. All of that thinking drains whatever is left of my energy after the arrival of our other sons in a quick succession of difficult pregnancies and deliveries. I subdivide again, filled with awe and wonder, cupping my babies in my arms and kissing their soft little pates. I proclaim my gratitude to G-d while fighting the urge to slump to the floor as more pieces of me disappear. By the end of any given day, I am sometimes so tired I feel I’ve run a thousand miles through an obstacle course in a downpour.
The terrain changes as the boys get older. Time passes, though I can’t shake the feeling that I am ill-prepared, that I haven’t the proper shoes or equipment. Still, my love keeps growing. I am present, there for them, finding my way without a map or a manual.
Breathe said the OB and breathe says my husband’s Aunt Bea. But we can only breathe as easily as our children do. My unease in this precarious world is a stream running through my veins. It’s exhausting though necessary to silence it, to keep my sons from hearing the sound. And yet, they know because they know me.
It doesn’t hinder them, though. They crawl, walk, drop my hand, run. They bike without training wheels, always adding new links to the chain of independence that casts them farther upstream from me. They say shema by themselves and read alone and stay out late with their friends. They learn to drive, almost all of them now, and before long, they will steal away with a quick glance back at me, or perhaps none at all, as I shrink in the rearview mirror.
The longer the tether, the longer the worry. Out of sight is by no means out of mind. So it’s another kind of weariness that comes these days – something spiritual that puddles on the inside, not the physical depletion I experienced while chasing my sons around the playground when they were small. On the nights when they are all at home, I put my hand on my chest to feel it expand with the rise and fall of my breathing, to count my blessings in time with my heart.
Breathe says Marcus, my yogi at the gym, when I try to locate the old parts of myself in the shadows the boys cast as they step into the rest of their lives. But there’s no way to catch up with them, nor can I return to the past. Motherhood is different now. And so am I.
Photo: Jordan Whitt on Unsplash