My husband just left for work. My mother is moving home today, back to California, which may as well be the moon. I’m sitting in bed in the dark with one of my twins asleep in my lap trying to give myself a pep talk, but I am not very good at giving myself pep talks.
I don’t usually say things like, “What kind of mother does x?” Still, I turn that judgmental little phrase on myself sometimes.
What kind of mother is afraid to be alone with her kids?
The answer is laced through the question. I don’t have to spell it out.
I’ve been here before, the day my mother moved away and my husband went to work and I was alone, truly alone for the first time, with my baby. He was probably ten weeks old. I had never been alone with him longer than a few hours for TEN weeks.
Here we are at about nine weeks with my twins, and I have never been alone with them at all. I have been by myself nursing them while my husband is unavailable in the shower. I have been inside with them while my mom is outside playing with my toddler. I have gotten the babies out of the bedroom and into the living room by myself, mainly just to prove that I could because I knew today was coming. But I have never been at my house with no other adults here, mothering my two infants and toddler.
I am terrified.
I’m not afraid I will hurt any of us. This isn’t a cry for that kind of help. But I am battening down the hatches and watching the day descend upon me too quickly, too slowly.
What am I afraid of? I’m not afraid of them dying or being injured. I’m afraid of helplessness, choicelessness, having my hands tied. I’m afraid of the many hours in a day. I’m afraid they will all cry, and I won’t have enough arms, and their need will be bigger than I ever could be. This is not life and death, but it is. Because I’m the kind of mother who cannot accept the inherent imbalance of motherhood. I will always want to give my kids all that they need, and they will always need more than I have.
There are parents who know from day one that they can handle their babies. First baby, tenth baby — it doesn’t matter. They just know, or at least they fake it really well, that they have a job to do and they are capable of that job. I envy that.
When this day came the first time, I cried over my baby and held him on the couch all day. Every time he cried, I offered my breast, and he nursed back to sleep, or at least back to quiet.
I haven’t figured out how to pick up two babies at once. I can put one on the bed and go get the other and lift them one at a time into my lap or onto a nursing pillow, but it’s not quick, and once they’re there, I am stuck under them. The process for getting them to another safe place is also slow. I haven’t mastered burping two babies at once. They writhe and fuss, and the only thing I can do is put one down. But not feeding and burping them together also has its drawbacks. Once I have one at the breast, I can’t do much for the other one. A clock starts ticking, counting the time I am with one and not the other, comforting and neglecting, soothing and abandoning.
And this is just two of them. There is still a third child. His needs aren’t as urgent, usually, but he has them.
There is a version of things where I am enough. It’s a version where one or two or three kids are crying at the same time, and maybe I am crying, and all I can do is hold one, pat another, tell the third I am sorry, I know this is awful, I’m so sorry. It’s not pretty, and it’s completely exhausting. And somehow, I know, even this will get us through the day. It won’t be nearly enough, but it will be enough. I will always want to be better, but I will be enough.
The day is here, heavy. On the other side, I will be the kind of mother who has taken care of her kids alone. It seems a little silly that it’s taken nine weeks, that I’m still afraid, that this is such a dramatic milestone. But there it is. Wish me luck.