Why do I celebrate the greatness of women?
Essentially, it's gratitude for my Mom and the relentless effort and love she gave to our family every day. It's for all the women who give selflessly and generously everyday. Embarrassingly, I didn't truly appreciate all the sacrifice, devotion, nurturing, love, and patience that surrounded me - that is, until I became a mom. And my oblivion to women's work changed in a second.
The first year of Jack's life almost broke me.
He was born 3 weeks early and weighed just over 4 pounds. He spent 8 days in the NICU and I slept in the hospital so I could pump milk and try to feed him. He was so little that he ate often but not very much and sometimes had to be tube fed. I was getting more and more tired living in a hospital that never gets quiet. And when I tried to sleep between feedings, the horrible thoughts of him dying kept creeping into my brain - he was losing weight and wasn't eating well. "How did this happen?" I thought. My pregnancy was textbook. Our reality was inexplainable and radically different than I had pictured.
When we finally came home, he was still less than 5 pounds. I had visions of our happy little family going on outings and creating Pinterest-worthy memories. But reality had other plans for us.
Jack didn't sleep. He would scream - if he was hungry, or not being held, or it wasn't 100 degrees in the house, or it was too quiet...and on and on. The perfect conditions for him were a mystery. My husband was home for the first few weeks, which was a huge help, but he eventually had to go back to work - night shift.
Between the feedings and pumping and laundry I was lucky if I could shower. I didn't get dressed and I hardly ate. At night, I was all alone feeding the baby, pumping milk, sterilizing equipment, and trying to stop the crying. The tiny bit of sleep I got definitely wasn't restful. Like a movie on repeat every night, I had nightmares of Jack being lost and smothered in the blankets. I'd wake up in a frantic panic.
I remember saying to myself, many times, with both of us crying, "I'm not a Mom. I can't do this. This isn't right. I changed my mind". I just wanted it all to stop so I could sleep and go back to my old life. I wasn't just tired; I was in agony, mentally and physically. The sleep deprivation and feelings of incompetence were utterly excruciating - my skin hurt, every sound was painful and amplified; I had horrible thoughts of making it all go away.
And in my crazy, sleep-deprived, guilt-ridden state, I didn't tell anyone what was happening. Not even my husband. I didn't want anyone to think I was crazy and that I didn't love my new baby or that I couldn't do the job that billions of other Moms had done before me. So, I suffered in silence and kept going. And every night was like a torturous repetitive battlefield of anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion.
Eventually Jack got bigger, ate more, and slept longer, and my exhaustion slowly faded. I was changed and my old life was gone, but I was stronger. It was only after I was out of the trenches that I could see how bad it really was and what a vulnerable and desperate state I was in. I should have asked for help. I should have told someone what was happening. I should have admitted that I was struggling. I know now what I didn't know then.
And as bad as that experience was, some goodness came out of it. I had an epiphany that couldn't have happened without the struggle. It sparked in me a gratitude for my own Mom, my Mother-in-law, my Baba, and all the other women who quietly soldier on, creating a world full of love. Thank you. Thank you for your incredibly hard work nurturing and giving every day.
I celebrate you to remind you of your greatness; to not lose yourself along the way. I celebrate you to let you know you aren't alone. I celebrate you in sisterhood. You are recognized and I create art in your honour.
In Gratitude and Imagination,