Four months ago today I gave birth to a gorgeous, healthy baby boy. He was eight days early and arrived after thirteen hours of labor. Seeing him for the first time blew my mind. Through tears and still screaming from the final push I said, “Oh my god, oh my god!” over and over and over. When they handed him to me I felt myself split. In that instant I became two people: 1) the person I had always been, and 2) a boy’s mother.
I wasn’t quite sure if hovel was the right word for the title of this post, so I looked it up. I found the following definition: “a small, wretched, and often dirty house.” The word derives from late Middle English, and early definitions include “a shed for animals” (mid-fifteenth century) and “a rude or miserable cabin” (early seventeenth century).
As I type this one-handed on my phone I am sitting on the kitchen floor holding a breast pump with the other hand and rocking my son in his baby seat with my foot in the desperate hope that he will fall asleep. Scattered on the floor around me are dirty bottles, various breast pump accouterment, an overused spit-up towel, a pair of dirty socks, and a tumbleweed of hair and dust. If I look up I will see more of the same in the next room, where our table and chairs are drowning beneath dirty laundry, diaper bag contents, grocery bags, jackets, unopened mail, and on and on.
I think I was pretty spot-on with hovel.
But for me the hardest part of all this has not been the perpetual mess (which drives me insane) or the sleep deprivation (which is sometimes physically painful) or the screaming that is so high-pitched that it makes my ears ring (I am seriously worried about my hearing). The part that I’ve struggled with the most in these past four months has been the sudden and tragic loss of that first version of myself, the person I had always been. She is like a ghost; I glimpse her occasionally when I’m able to hold a book in one hand while I nurse my son, or when I choose writing or editing over sleep even though I know I’ll regret it. Last night my son woke me up at 12:30, 3:30, 5:30, and 7:00am, at which point I gave up trying to get him to go back down, but even if I do get him to sleep right now I’ve decided to keep writing instead of napping, because I need that connection to my other self. I need to know she’s still there.
Yesterday I hung out with a new friend who is also a mom, and together we mourned the loss of our former selves and talked about how ambitious we once were and how much we miss our work. When I mentioned that I hadn’t written anything on this blog in over a year she suggested I dive back into it, just as an exercise, to get myself going again. So here I am. On the kitchen floor. Writing.