They're Playing Our Song
Of course you have - we all have. Music has always been a well known sense memory trigger. And we can all call upon those few notes that evoke something very specific from our past.
When I close my eyes and think of Crystal Gayle singing Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, I'm suddenly six years old and sitting in the back of our family car. Possibly driving to the dentist where I will be forced to endure a nauseating grape flavored fluoride treatment.
If I think of Bob Marley singing Is This Love, I'm 16 and at the beach - a little sore from sunburn, but why worry about wrinkles, as it won't matter anymore when I'm old...?
If I think of Al Green singing I'm So in Love with You, I'm 27 and marveling at how this once unlikely candidate for a boyfriend will soon be my husband.
But all of these time stopping, breath catching, overwhelming assaults on my fragile sense of the present are eclipsed by another, far more powerful one.
I recently unearthed a CD of lullabies that I played at every bedtime and every nighttime feeding from the time my son Oliver was born through well into his toddler years. Those melancholy strains bring back memories so full of joy and fear and mind blowing wonder that it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. But mostly cry. The nostalgia is almost unbearable.
Truly the most poignant time of my life thus far was the first year of my first child's life. Because he was then, and on some level will always be, the great love of my life.
When Oliver was born I felt physically beaten. It was a textbook first delivery with very few surprises. But that 9 lb. 2 oz. little body that pushed it's way out of mine took a very serious toll. As an inexperienced first time mother I had no idea that it wasn't normal to take a full five minutes to lever myself out of a hospital bed, 24 hours after giving birth. Nor did I realize that this level of discomfort should have ebbed after the first few days. But I guessed that something might be wrong when I needed a wheelchair to leave the hospital as other new mothers were sprinting down the hall to greet visitors.
I should have asked for drugs.
This pain is part of my sense memory.
When I tried to nurse him I felt like he was ravaging me. It hurt and wasn't anything like the bonding experience I read about in books. I used to say it was like trying to hold a wild animal. It didn't seem normal - all of that biting, flailing and groping. It was only weeks later that my milk production was declared low.
My big newborn needed more from me.
This attack on my body and subsequent sense of failure are part of my sense memory.
Oliver didn't sleep for more than an hour at a time, and half of that was spent rocking him and trying to put him back in the bassinet. By the time I would get him settled, I only had a half hour to sleep.
Then he would wake up hungry and the painful, frustrating process would start all over again.
This exhaustion is part of my sense memory.
I had pretty bad post partum depression for the first few weeks, but didn't realize what it was until it was over. All I knew was that I felt like I was staring into the abyss. I knew I loved my baby. Fiercely. But the bands of anxiety that would tighten around my chest as the sun fell lower on the horizon were squeezing me out of my own battered body. One particularly bad evening I couldn't stop crying and told my husband that I felt like I was losing myself. I have a very clear memory of being up and trying to nurse at 2 a.m. My body ached and Boone had just died on Lost and my baby wouldn't let me sleep and I just didn't know if I could make it through.
Again - I should have asked for drugs.
This utter hopelessness is part of my sense memory.
While Oliver's sleeping never really improved as much as it seemed to for other babies I knew (I was still waking up three to four times a night close to his first birthday) I got used to the pattern. It became second nature. I simply adjusted. Because I looked at his precious little face in the dim light filtering through the window and felt nothing but love. And gratitude. And that unnamed emotion that makes mothers fall to pieces when they imagine a time that this tightly bundled glowworm body would be too big to rock standing up.
I rocked him in the middle of his dark bedroom, drinking in the ambrosia of his peaceful slumber long after he became too heavy for it to be comfortable.
This addict-caliber need for my baby, regardless of the time of day or night is part of my sense memory.
I had to go back to work when Oliver was three months old. And leaving him for full days with another caretaker was possibly the hardest thing I've ever had to do. We had never before been separated for more than a few hours, and I didn't know how I could bear it. The last day of my maternity leave I held him for his entire afternoon nap.
I listened to that CD twice and cried for the end of our constant "just you and me" time.
This sorrow and anticipation of the separation to come is part of my sense memory.
I loved giving Oliver his bedtime bottle (the nursing never worked out for us). It was the only time that my never still boy would cuddle and just "be" with me. He would look up at my face and twist his fingers in my hair until his eyelids would start to droop. Then the blinks would last for longer beats and his tired fingers would rest on the bottle. He would often stop drinking as sleep took him, and I would have to give him a little shake to make sure he finished all of his formula. A full stomach will help him sleep better right? Not so much... But I figured it didn't hurt to try.
I would often linger longer than necessary just to feel the warm weight of him in my arms. To memorize the shadow of eyelashes that brushed his cheeks and appreciate the surety that this was all that mattered in the world no matter what work drama or financial worries might color my days.
This peaceful embrace is part of my sense memory.
When Oliver was a little over ten months old, I discovered that I was pregnant again. It wasn't planned and threw us for a roller coaster sized loop. I had hoped for a three year age difference between our first born and our hypothetical second child (which ended up being twins). But as always, we adjust. So this vision of siblings close in age became part of our future family dreams. But I did feel the pangs of what this second pregnancy meant: the ultimate end to any "just me and you" time.
There would no longer be one answer to every question: whatever is best for him. Life would become more complicated and attention would not be as easily focused.
This fear of change and intensified appreciation for the time that was left for our mommy-baby bliss is part of my sense memory.
Maybe this is all tied to him being such a crappy sleeper...or maybe it's because I was a working mother with limited time to spend with him - but I craved my baby like nothing I've ever wanted or needed in my life. And the memory of those quiet hours spent in his bedroom, set to the soundtrack of our lullaby CD, holds more power over me than any other.
There was such simplicity in that time without the concerns attached to sibling rivalry and divided priorities. Though in the thick of it, it seemed anything but, with the sleep training books and the nursing problems - then the teething and the baby proofing. But that intense first baby love was stronger than any emotion I've ever experienced.
The lullabies we once listened to so few years, but so long ago bring all of that back. And it literally makes me swoon.
If you were wondering what CD has this hold on my heart, it's Lullaby, a collection. I do warn mothers with post partum depression that those "melancholy strains" I mentioned above may make you want to slit your wrists a little bit (before you get yourself some good meds, I mean). But the songs really do create a lovely soundtrack for your own sense memories. As far as lifetimes go, that is.
Original post to DC Metro Moms.