The birth of my first daughter was a nightmare. Nothing went as planned. I labored for fifteen hours and then she was cut from my belly. They placed me into a recovery room alone. I had only gotten a glimpse of her. I stayed there for hours.
Finally, we left the hospital to head home with our new little girl, our new life. I hadn't eaten a single bite of food. My baby was so tiny her car seat. She was a little diamond and everything in the world threatened to swallow her up. Except in my arms. In my arms, she felt like a very solid thing.
We lived almost an hour away. I was going to college in the country. Kurt drove to the city to work, leaving me in a tiny apartment on a lawn shared by a family with dogs. I pictured what those dogs could do to destroy my life. Scout was so quiet in the back. Her face in the mirror was perfect; she was sleeping.
Kurt was talking to me, only I wasn't there, not really. I was stretching thin across the side of the highway. I was clinging desperately to the child-me, to the person I was three days before. I wanted to run. I wanted to take it all back and I was being obliterated by the sunlight.
"A couple was arrested because their baby was dead," he told me as I stared across a green field spotted with faraway cows. I reached for them. I wrapped their solid legs in panicked fists. I wanted to be anonymous and roaming. "They never changed the baby's diaper and it got so bad that she died of an infection."
No. This was not the world. Pulling away from the hospital, I joked about a murder of crows that suddenly scattered at the sound of our car. That is either a really good omen, or a bad one. Now we had our love all bundled up outside of our bodies, we made a person and the world was mean and terrifying.
Babies didn't die, I thought. They couldn't; because we would all be driven insane at the mention of it.
At home, my little sister was there. I didn't want my mother. I didn't want the women who had come before me. Kurt, Audra and I were kids, but we could do this. My baby was resting on my belly, feeding from my breast. There was a crime show on tv. I hadn't sleep in so long; I couldn't eat. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I dreamed about abuse. I pictured my daughter being stolen and violated.
I snapped awake and things weren't normal. The room was suddenly small and filthy. There was dust on everything. The television screen was a million miles away. The ceiling was tilted and the walls were closing in. "Can I talk to you in the bedroom?" I asked my husband. I handed my daughter to my sister.
This was it, I thought. I had read about postpartum psychosis and now it was happening, I thought. I was losing my mind. I couldn't stand without help. I was prescribed opiates. Kurt helped me into bed. I was trembling. My heart was racing. Everything was wrong. Even Kurt looked different, like his eyes were too big and dark for his face. I buried myself under the blankets and sobbed.
He put on the television for me. Flipping through the channels, I asked him to stop on a car race. I didn't watch this sort of thing ever, but something about the neatness of the oval and the steady pace of the cars was comforting. The voices in the background were even and friendly. There would be hundreds of these laps. I could lay here for hours and the cars would keep going around. This wasn't the sort of world where bad things happened to little girls. How could anyone handle something so ugly?
I fell asleep for an hour. My husband was so tentative and scared to wake me. "She's hungry," he said.
My sister had gone into town and alerted the women, my mom and aunts, that I was sobbing alone in my bed. That I was afraid I was losing my mind. They sent her back to me with bags of produce, told her to cook for me, to get me to eat.
Sitting up, with half a veggie burger in my belly and my daughter in tact, I felt almost normal. She had survived the hour while I slept. Maybe I would try to sleep again, someday. I wasn't sure if it was okay. Did people sleep when they had a newborn? What if she suffocated in the night? What if she cried and I couldn't hear her? What if someone broke in and came creeping up the stairs to get her? It was too much.
That night, nursing her at 4 am, the news on the television told me that a twenty year old father had put his baby into the microwave. He was trying to kill her and make it look like an accident, but the medical examiners knew. The world was full of monsters and I was incapable. I thought I might throw up, but I couldn't stand. I called to my husband. Pounded on the wall. Panicking, I cried his name in the night. Oh, help! I needed to get up. I needed to get away from here.
But, looking down into her little face.
She was so sleepy and still and warm. She smelled like life and her eyes moved under their tiny lids. She dreamed about being inside of me. She dreamed about a world of water and the sound of my heart like the tide. Her little fingers stretched in her sleep. She plucked at the very fabric of existence. I didn't know how, but I would keep her safe.
Was that a footstep on the stairs? My voice reached an impossible pitch. Something was in the basement. I squinted in the dark for the brass doorknob, willing it not to turn. I needed to get up. I needed to throw open the curtains and see the moon. I needed to know there were places where clover grew, where petals were carried on a breeze.
He came for me. Scrambling out of the bedroom, my love came for me asking, "What's the matter?"
Could I tell him? Could I bear to tell him that he was losing me? That I was only barely clinging to being okay? What would happen when I went insane? Who would feed my baby? Who would love my family?
There was nothing on the stairs. The world was sleeping, but that wasn't me, anymore.