One of the most surprising emotions I experienced immediately following my daughter’s birth was anger. And it seems I’m in very good company. Anger itself I can handle, as can most others, on the daily. But paired with guilt, blame, resentment, shock, and ambivalence (to name a just a few of the many emotions), I was mother-f*ing fire-starter angry. Only, I didn’t realize how angry I actually was until two days after I had been discharged from the hospital.
Though I had a friend with me, going back to the hospital was extremely hard. Just walking through the same doors I had left was yet another reminder of how off-narrative motherhood had suddenly become: I had left without my little girl. Just left her there, there at the hospital, under the blinding blue glare of the bili lights and surrounded by strangers. I had pushed my own wheelchair through the doors, shuffling because I was dizzy with medication and still had trouble finding my feet. I wore fuzzy orange hospital socks because my feet were still too swollen for shoes, a logo’d hospital gown over the clothes I had been admitted in because my robe was still in a moving box.
And I still hadn’t had the chance to hold my daughter.
My friend and I shared an elevator up to the NICU with a new mommy, who was there for a post-partum checkup with her o.b. She looked exhausted. Her infant in his carrier fussed as we lifted off the ground floor, and she began complaining to my friend, who stood between us, about long, sleepless nights.
And I thought my head would burst into flames. Long, sleepless nights? I would have killed for long, sleepless nights, the kind where you’re roused from sleep by a piercing wail, rather than an alarm clock on your phone to remind you to pump, because as horrible as it is to attach a vacuum cleaner to your tits in the dead of the night, it’s the one thing you can do, and so you do it religiously, every four hours. I wanted to lunge across the elevator and shake her hard–“what’s wrong with you!?”–but my friend was standing in the way, which I felt very deeply was an act of betrayal, to even talk with this other mother, like everything was peachy keen (I wish I was kidding). But even if my friend hadn’t been standing between us, I wouldn’t have had the physical strength to work up a confrontation–my blood pressure had skyrocketed to the point where I started to get all shaky and dizzy all over again.
The new mommy stepped off the elevator, and it was like, once the doors closed, my immolating anger, deprived of oxygen, burned out, and I was all of the sudden mortally ashamed of myself, even if it was all up to that point, all interior monologue. She was just a stranger, she had her own thing going on, and she had no idea what my story was. And why had I become so mad at my friend? It didn’t make any sense. I felt like shit and a scummy human being. More than that, I hated myself, and I began to sink into depression.
My friend, sensing my sudden change in mood, fussed over me a bit when we arrived in the nursery, but gave me some space once she had secured a nice stool for me to sit by my daughter’s isolette.
Watching my daughter through the plastic portholes in the side, who was worrying loose the foam “glasses” which shielded her eyes from the light mounted above her, I hated myself for everything that had happened which had landed her there–rightly or wrongly or irrationally, or no, because when I stripped away all the “if-onlys”–if only I had driven to a hospital where my o.b. had privileges when I thought I was having a heart attack, if only I had demanded to be re-admitted to the hospital when I started showing the first signs of swelling, if only I hadn’t gotten so angry at my mother, who like an uninvited cassandra fretted that things would end badly–strip all that away, and what was left was the simple fact that because my body had crapped out, I had already failed my daughter.
I felt like shit, and very gradually grew angry with myself for all this self-pity, for having the unconscionable nerve to work through my issues in a level III nursery, while my daughter was hopefully not having another brady episode–the alert sounded after a five second delay. My blood pressure was beginning to spike again, and I nearly fell off the stool. I thought I was going to be sick. My friend happened to rejoin me then, and mistaking my anger for depression, boldly and loudly demanded that our nurse allow me to hold my daughter when it came time to change her linens.
And she did! It was the very first time I had been allowed to hold my daughter, and it lasted all of ten minutes, before my daughter brady’d again, but it was the most incredible ten minutes I had had in a very long time. And when it was over….I realized I was thinking about me, yet again–how I felt, how incredible it was for me–and the cycle of anger-guilt-depression started ramping again.
It wasn’t for a few more days that it would finally be disrupted, and by, of all people, Michael Bublé. I kid you not.
It was a Friday, twelve days after my daughter had been born. By then I had held her for approximately three and a half hours. NBC’s Today was segueing into the Kathie Lee & Hoda show as I carefully applied concealer under my tired eyes that morning. My coffee was still more cream than black–I found the warmth of my mug soothing, though the coffee itself was still too bitter for my palate.
So, concealer. And a bit of mascara to wake up my eyes up. Hoda (or maybe Kathie Lee) introduced the day’s concert series guest, right after this commercial break, the Canadian vocalist Michael Bublé.
After a spool of commercials, the interview with “excited father” Michael Bublé finally began. I had caught a few of his songs here and there, but I hadn’t actually seen him in an image or video until then. He’s a handsome guy. But my first thought when I saw him was, “what a dipshit.” And wherever that came from, just like that, all of that anger I had fought to suppress began bubbling up to the surface. I hated him, I fucking hated him, which was irrational and I knew it–what had this enthusiastic stranger ever done to me?–but the more he talked about his beautiful wife and his beautiful son-to-be and about how fucking amazing his wonderful life was, the more I wanted to punch him in the fucking throat, and for no other reason than that he was a new father and he was really and genuinely happy…
But then he started to sing “Young at Heart.” I had just found the remote to change the station, but there was something about the first line of the song made me stay:
Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you/If you’re young at heart.
As he continued to sing, my heart began to melt, as did my mascara, streaming down my cheeks in black rivulets toward my jaw. “Young at Heart” was exactly perfect.
You can go to extremes with impossible schemes/You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
A gentle song but a swift kick in the ass—and I needed it. It was a much-needed reminder to take one day at a time, and to celebrate all the big moments as they came. My daughter was exactly where she needed to be, for the time being.
And if you should survive to one hundred and five/Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive/And here is the best part, you have a head start/If you are among the very young at heart.
I think it was another half hour before I finally stopped crying. And then I downloaded Bublé’s entire album from iTunes. Later, at the hospital, I hummed a few bars of the song to Daphne as I held her, and again as I watched her dream in her sleep.
I have no idea what it was about that song–maybe the optimism, maybe the gentleness, maybe the timing–but it was beautiful, and it disrupted the cycle of negativity that had nearly run me over.
Which is not to say my anger magically disappeared, poof!, just like that. Oh, I was still angry. I was still depressed, still experiencing guilt and remorse–still human, in other words. But the weight of these feelings wasn’t so crushing, allowing me to work though them as best as I could, as they came up, so that when I sat at my daughter’s bedside, I could find a positive energy and be a better mother. And I have Bublé’s cover of “Young at Heart” to thank for that–it was a turning point, and it became my way of, well, of getting out of my way.