I laced up my sneakers and breathed deep. I downloaded the latest episode of Marketplace, cued up Kai, punched the orange button on my phone that logs my miles, and started to slow jog.
I’m reclaiming myself, I thought.
Finally. For months I’ve been feeling so utterly disconnected from everything in my life, like I’m watching from a corner as my days unfold without me - I’m mute in the corner, screaming with no sound at it all to pause or slow down or something, but the world is still spinning and it won’t stop, not even for a second.
I set off and as soon as I turned the corner, the truth slammed into me like a truck.
You can’t reclaim yourself.
My feet hit the pavement and with each beat and bead of sweat, it became more and more clear.
It’s not the same, and it never will be.
Something happens when you have a baby for the first time. You get a baby, of course, but - at least I’ve found - you lose yourself.
Every routine, every selfish tendency, every ounce of physical and emotional freedom, every carefree spur-of-the-moment ability to have a dinner date, a phone call, even a hot shower - these little and big things disappear, drowning in a sea of newborn cries and sleepless nights and fear and faith and all the things.
It’s like for the past few years life has been a dandelion, round and full of white puffs, waving in the sun - and here and there a puff dances off on a gust of wind because life and priorities change, but then all at once a great huff sends every bit flying in every which direction, and there you are - a stalk, bobbing in the wind. It is utterly delightful to be wrapped up, physically and emotionally, in a tiny screaming babe, who smiles and giggles and shouts. But you aren’t you anymore, because of all of her. Will you bloom again? Yes. Will it be the same? No.
It is utterly disorienting, like waking up with the same body but with an entirely different brain … and if you’re like me, a brain whose synapses start firing differently, awkwardly, awash in a flood of funky hormones, and they don’t quite click back together the way they are supposed to.
And so from the first days after Ellie was born, I have felt like I have been running a marathon back to who I used to be - desperate with each step to grab onto anything from the past, anything that feels normal, anything that feels like home.
And it has gotten better, as she has grown and my body has smoothed back into place (sort of, in some places but certainly not all) and my work has gotten back up to speed and we can usually at least bring her out to dinner or to the grocery store or to Target. I can catch glimpses of how it used to be and buy into the lie that we’re on our way back to the old normal. But it’s not the same, and it never will be.
I’m running with the ghosts of my old self, trying to keep pace with everything I used to be and do - and as is often the problem when you measure your worth by doing and all of the sudden you can’t do, at least not like you used to - I’m falling so far behind it feels like I’ll never catch up.
When Ellie smiles, her entire face explodes with joy. Sometimes it takes her a minute to get it just right. Her stunningly blue eyes will engage, the corners of her plush rosy lips will turn up, and then it happens - magic. Sometimes a giggle will squeak out from the back of her throat, deeper and richer than I think a little girl baby’s giggle should sound, but it is, of course, perfect.
I do everything one-handed, and everything takes approximately 15 more steps than it did before.
We used to always run late for everything. That hasn’t changed, we’re just even later now.
I get tired. It's hard work, this new parenting thing.
But she’s mine. She’s ours. Her personality is bigger than I ever thought possible. She is curious and fast, she likes to speak her opinion loudly and will squeak and squawk for minutes at a time. She’s a Rainer, through and through.
She’s my girl - my bright, beautiful, crazy, wild, magical girl.
And as every day requires me to lay down more and more of myself, to pour out physically and emotionally and spiritually everything that I have, to wear myself out in the service of this tiny babe who looks like me, and sounds like me, and I hope wonders and wanders and fights and thinks and loves like me, it makes sense to me now.
I’ll never reclaim myself, because I am no longer just me.
I’ll never reclaim our marriage because we are no longer just us. She is us, we are us. We are richer and braver and stronger and weaker and a hell of a lot more tired all at the same time.
1+1=3, now. Our two-piece puzzle now has a third piece, and all 3 of us won’t fit in the same frame that the two of us used to. And so we can’t reclaim it, but we can do the harder work of reframing … of making room in already full hearts and lives for a little one who makes it all so much brighter and better.
It’s not the same, and it never will be.