Feeling the Feels

I’m in a postpartum body riding the proverbial emotional roller coaster. I have hormones dancing around that I never experienced, creating emotions on a level never felt before. I realized upon returning from the hospital that I am in new territory when I felt a multitude of emotions…all…at…the…same…time. I never realized until I sent myself to therapy 10 years ago that having multiple emotions was even a possibility. Honestly, I had no idea what I was feeling back then, except sadness and a lot of yuck. In those days, if someone asked me what I was feeling I couldn’t do anything except blink at them, fumble for an answer, and inevitably give them a dishonest answer. In reality I was miserable, depressed, and full of anxiety. I was a hot mess.  Now I have tools in my toolbox that can help me navigate life. Lately they have been scattered and hard to find in the dark, when the nighttime delirium takes hold. I don’t do it perfectly, but I do it with as much grace as I can muster. I make mistakes, I fall back on old patterns and habits, but I catch myself and try it all over again. It’s a good thing I’m prepared for this.

I’m navigating new territory. I have a son and it’s astonishing how much I have fallen in love with him. He cracked open my heart and let in all the light of this world…and all its vulnerabilities. I don’t think I’ll ever recover from the multitude of emotions that I feel after bringing him into this world and witnessing his life, in fact, I hope I never will. His life, and my experience as his mother, is too profound, too sacred and holy to just chalk it up to mere experience. This is Life. It’s beautiful. It’s messy, and I’m not just talking about the spit up that flows down my chest after nursing Quinn.

As I adjust to motherhood with the late night feedings, the diaper changes with the pee and the poo, the crying, the coos, the laundry, the smiles, his bright eyes, and the new schedule,  I am also adjusting to new emotions. As I experience these hormones I am feeling BIG feels. I feel pressure to do it “right” because I don’t want to mess up my kid, I feel joy and delight, I feel sadness that over 2 months have passed and how such a short amount of time has quickly gone by, I feel frustration when I have to do laundry (i.e. cloth diapers) and Quinn needs me (i.e. is crying) because though he needs fresh nappies, his care is most important. I have to set my face and keep it together for this little guy who is also feeling the feels. We are both on a learning curve here. The difference is that I have been in Life longer than Quinn and, with Calvin’s help, we have to educate him on Life and all its curve balls.

I’ve already learned a lot on our brief journey, mostly that babies are in two words…very frustrated. For instance, Quinn fights his sleep and it’s painful to watch knowing that if he just gave in to the drowsiness he would become comfortable. All we can do is find what will soothe him whether it is swaying, singing and humming–his favorite songs are You Are My Sunshine and Greensleeves–changing his diaper, gently bopping him up and down…you get the picture. When those things don’t work, I try to take the cue that maybe he just needs to cry. Being a parent takes huge amounts of empathy for these little people in tiny bodies who have such BIG feelings. When I remember that I don’t like it when people try to keep me from feeling, because they are uncomfortable with my emotions, I pause and just hold on to Quinn. I tell him I know it’s hard and frustrating. I ask him what can I do and just love him through his anger, frustration, and sadness. It’s heartbreaking. There are times I feel like I’m not doing enough for him, that I’m doing it wrong, and if I could just find that magic combination of comfort, all will be okay.

But I realize that Quinn is already teaching me that if I remember to do the same self soothing, I will be able to teach him by example. It is very important he learn coping skills, you see, Quinn has a double whammy of alcoholism and addiction that runs on both sides of his family and it runs deep. One of the most important tools we can give him is that of being able to identify and cope with his feelings in a healthy manner.

One night he was fighting his sleep and managed to calm down. As we were looking into each others eyes a Peter Gabriel song started to play, The Book of Love. Though this song is about the love of a couple, I heard it through the eyes of my little boy and I cried over its tenderness and simplicity. This is all Quinn wants now, to be loved, to be read to, to have me sing to him, to have this moment. In exchange, he is my gift of a love so immense my body can hardly contain it. Through him I see so much beauty in the world. And it’s terrifying, it’s just so…BIG.

We went to church for the second time this week. He started fighting his sleep and wanted to nurse. I self-consciously stepped out to take care of him. I sat in a chair in the hallway and nursed. Since this is my first time nursing in public, I felt out-of-place and had all these questions running through my head. The monologue went something like this:

I shouldn’t be here, I need to be in a room, I vaguely remember a nursery, or was it a nursing room? I’m all confused. Quinn calmed down, so I straightened myself up and he got fussy again. His little head tilted back, his eyes red and slightly closed. I shuffle, I hum, I walk around, he calms down, he sleeps, he wakes back up again, he cries, I step outside, and we do some more of the same. I start to sing to him, “it’s okay, it’s alright, just fall to sleep, I’ve got you tight.” He eventually does fall to sleep as I’m slowly walking the parking lot. While I’m doing this I start thinking crazy thoughts:  I feel so alone, I don’t belong here, maybe we should just go, I need to get Calvin, but how do I get him with a crying Quinn in my arms, maybe I shouldn’t come back, it’s too soon, he’s too little, wait…what are you thinking? What other place is more perfect to nurse than in a church?! What more perfect place for a baby?! I know the people of this church. They are happy to have us here, to welcome little Quinn, they prayed for us, brought us food, and communion, they love us…I eventually beat back the demons that created the insecurity and self-doubt.

I realized while I was out there that this is another example of how my life has changed. I felt a loss since I couldn’t hear Pastor Amy’s sermon, but then I realized that just being there was enough. We are on holy ground, we are in a place where the messy is welcome and understood. Quinn and I made it in time for communion and his blessing. I see now that God was there with us, helping us through our feels. To reflect the words I sing to my son, God tells us, “It’s okay, it’s alright, release it to me, I’ve got you tight.”

We have some difficult days, but under it all it’s still beautiful and wonderful. Just remember to find the joy in the mess. It’s there.

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