A few weeks ago Mr. PW and I went kayaking on Lake Wingra. It was a gorgeous day, not too hot, with a good breeze and calm waters.
Lake Wingra's pretty small. It's very calm, and I think at its deepest point only 15 feet deep. But as the rental attendant pushed my kayak backwards out into the lake, I experienced a moment of deep, stomach churning, lizard-brain terror.
You know that feeling? When your brain is fairly sure you're about to get eaten? It's rarely rational. As far as I know, there are no sabre-toothed tigers in Wisconsin. And I'm about 75% sure there are no kraken in Lake Wingra.
So what was my brain reacting to?
It's been a hard few months for me. Becoming a mother is something you can't prepare for. Rocking Little Girl to sleep the other day I realized it was, in reality, a grief process.
1. Denial - Denial started while I was pregnant. "Nothing will change! She'll have to fit into our life, not the other way around!" I'll give you a moment to finish up laughing. This is still actually the goal. We've just made allowances for the fact that she's a little need machine. Many, many allowances.
2. Anger - Anger at the squalling potato. Anger at the husband, seemingly not doing his fair share and living his life just as he had before. Anger at yourself, for being dense and slow and unable to do everything flawlessly the first time. Anger at bottlecaps that won't come off and a phone that keeps jumping out of your hand and doors that creak when you're trying to sneak out of the nursery. Never mind what reality is. Just pure, white-hot rage at everyone and everything around you.
3. Bargaining - Okay, we're stuck with this new life. How do I make it work? Let's see... if I feed the kid and dress her in the morning, can she hang out with her dad while I get dressed? Okay, that only leaves me ten minutes to get dressed and I haven't showered for four days. Time to renegotiate.....
4. Depression - That saying about mothers coming last? It's not true. We're not even in the lineup. I will never shower again. I will never wear pants that fit again. I will never read another book. It will always be this way. (Again, may not reflect reality.)
5. Acceptance - ...I have no clue what acceptance looks like. I haven't hit it yet. Sometimes I feel like I might be close; obviously I'm in love with my kid and my husband. But to be honest, these days I'm still bouncing between 2, 3, and 4.
But grief is not a linear process. Note that acceptance does not imply peace, or having everything fixed. It simply means that the grief finds a place inside you, nestling down I to your center. It may hide for weeks and then pop out at a moment's notice, just as raw as the first day.
They say when a woman gives birth, two are born: the child and the mother, reborn from her former self. But that creates the expectation that the process is over when the umbilical cord is snipped. In reality, it's a whirlpool swirling just behind your kayak, and being able to paddle yourself out of it means jettisoning all the baggage of who you thought you were and who you used to be.
So what was I scared of as my kayak slipped into the water?
I think it was the loss of control. I was moving, and I hadn't done it; someone I'd never met before was pushing me. To get myself turned around, I was going to have to work hard, and who knows what would greet me when I righted myself. And once I began paddling, I didn't know if I'd make it all the way around the lake.
I still don't know.