The first time I was away from Penny was two nights after she was born. We were still in the hospital and she had been crying incessantly for what seemed like hours. I refused to let her be taken to the nursery, so David and I took turns trying to console her and attempting to sleep, with no success at either endeavor. Finally, David insisted on taking her to the nursery so I could get some rest. He promised to stay there with her the entire time, so I gave in and let them go. I cried myself to sleep. Four hours later, they came back and woke me up so that Penny could eat.
The second time I was away from my daughter, she was three weeks old. My mother was visiting, and David and I left Penny with her and ran up the street to our favorite Mexican restaurant for some nachos and beer. I cried on and off for five hours before we actually left, but once we got out of the apartment I felt amazing. We were gone for an hour and half.
The third time I was away from Penny, she was six weeks old. I needed some time to myself and David needed some time to bond with Penelope after going back to work. I sat in a coffee shop and wrote up her birth story while drinking coffee and munching on a gourmet ham and cheese sandwich and a donut. On the way home I went grocery shopping and ran a few other errands. I was gone for a total of six hours.
Last night I was away from my daughter for the fourth time. Penny is seven weeks old, and David and I went on a date.
I spent much of pregnancy grieving. I did not want to become swallowed by motherhood. I did not want to be a slave to my child. I didn’t want to lose all the things that make me who I am on my own. Could there be room for everything? I wanted to be a mother, but I didn’t want to be ONLY a mother. I grieved for the end of my autonomy, but mostly I grieved for my relationship. I was irrationally afraid that having a child would cause my marriage to suffer. Even though I had no reason to believe that this would happen, I was obsessed with the conviction that my marriage was on the brink of crumbling. I spent most of my pregnancy in fits of weeping whenever David showed me kindness, which was often. In order to harness this fear, I vowed over and over again to make my marriage a priority after the baby was born. We would continue to communicate, we would continue to show one another affection, we would go on dates, damnit.
Despite the fact that my fears are unfounded, I’ve taken them seriously. The first night we brought Penny home from the hospital was the worst night of my life, without exaggeration. I was struggling painfully with breastfeeding, and no matter how hard we both tried, Penny was clearly starving and not getting enough to eat. She spent the evening howling inconsolably, body-shaking, heart-wrenching screams. I sobbed endlessly, with my heart gurgling in my throat, drowning in my own despair. All three of us were beside ourselves, and I remember thinking that it was going to be impossible to survive until the morning, when we had an appointment with the pediatrician and lactation consultant. David was in problem-solving mode, but since the problem was breastfeeding it was one he was unable to solve.
Finally I turned to him and said, “I need you to be my husband for the next ten minutes, not just my co-parent, ok?”
And we crawled into bed and held each other and whispered lots of good, reassuring things. Just for ten minutes, but those ten minutes were an amazing recharge and we were able to make it through the rest of the night.
David, Penny, and I have come a long way in the weeks since.
So when I got an email this week from Hennepin County Libraries saying that one of my favorite writers, Lorrie Moore, was in town promoting her latest short story collection with a reading and book signing I knew we were going. David’s mother kindly offered to babysit, and after leaving her with some pumped milk and simple instructions I blew Penny a million kisses and went to pick David up from work.
We got drinks and some appetizers at a bar a few blocks away from the library and chatted about the things we’d like to do in the next few years. We arrive at the library and were able to snag front row seats for the event. I felt so overwhelmingly happy that my eyes welled up with tears. We held hands through the reading, which was smart and funny and striking. We stole sidelong glances at one another and flirted. We went on a damn date, and it was wonderful.
“I feel like my old self,” I said to David as I squeezed his hand. “This is something the old me would do. Drinks. A bookish event. Kissing you on street corners. This is exactly the kind of thing I was afraid I would never do again after being a mom. But look! Here we are!”
There we were. And home in time to put our sweet baby girl to bed.