Milkmaids

“Everything has changed and yet, I am more me than I’ve ever been.” -Iain Thomas

The loss of identity during a transition can be terribly disorientating. Simple tasks can become infinitely complex when we’re not sure of our place or ability. The journey from childhood to adulthood, singlehood to couple hood and/or parenthood, addiction to sobriety, illness to death or even illness to health. To do something that you’ve done a million times but to suddenly find it difficult or even impossible is stupefying.

After my son was born, I suffered crippling postpartum anxiety. I’d have dreams of my baby being ripped from my arms by water or wind and I’d wake up sobbing. I would panic about my baby dying while I took a shower so I’d put him in his car seat, prop him against the mirror in the bathroom so I could watch him the whole time and frantically shower as fast as possible. I wasn’t married to the father yet so insecurity would creep in from all angles.

Motherhood was not something I was prepared for. I had no role models for motherhood and had no idea how to care for a tiny human. I don’t think I’ll forget the shock when they let us leave the hospital; they just let us take this fully dependent person home with very little instruction other than if I didn’t breastfeed, I was doing my child a disservice.

Those first few weeks were unlike any other experience I’ve had. The transition from only having to care for myself to having to care for another human being was intimidating. The father was/is supportive and loving but, like me, lacked experience. We were first time parents with limited outside support. We had each other which in the end was more than enough but at the time felt like we were an island surrounded by expectations.

During this transition, it was extremely hard for me to leave the house. To combat this fear, we planned a special day together as a family before my partner had to return to work from paternity leave. We decided to go to the “The Museum of Russian Art” in Minneapolis.

It took us way longer than it should have to get out of the house, but we finally made it. We were on our way! I have scattered memories from our adventure to the art museum but the memories that remain I will likely never forget. Our son needed a diaper, so I took him to the bathroom to change him. I was prepared. I had a diaper changing pad, back-up clothes, diapers, wipes, and diaper cream. What I didn’t have was confidence.

Once in the bathroom, I realized I had to go to the bathroom too. I was in the stall before I realized I had no idea what to do with my son. I held him as I did my business which made it take way longer than it should have. I was paranoid about him touching anything dirty, so I was also frantically wiping everything down and trying desperately to keep him close to me. Then it was time to change his diaper.

After diligently wiping down the diaper changing station with sanitizing wipes, I carefully secured the water-proof diaper pad and laid him down. Only then did I realize that the diaper bag was now out of reach. I panicked. There are signs all over the station saying not to leave the baby unattended for any reason and I remembered at the hospital they said to always keep one hand on the baby during changing. Surly, if I didn’t follow this direction my baby was going to fall off to his demise. Poop was everywhere by this time, and I need more wipes. The situation was becoming dire.

In hindsight, it is comical how poor my problem-solving skills were at this moment. Panic prevented me from calling out to my partner who was literally less than ten feet away on the other side of the door. Instead, with one hand always on my baby, I was able to hook the diaper bag with my foot by practically laying down on the floor with one hand awkwardly still on my son. Now armed with the proper tools I was able to dominate the diaper situation and change my precious son’s poop-stained clothes.

When we entered the bathroom, I was but a meek girl but by the time I emerged, victorious with my happy, clean son in my arms, I was a fierce mother. My partner could recognize the change in me and congratulated me on changing a diaper in public for the first time.

The next memory that has stuck with me was the first time I saw the painting “Milkmaids” by Nikolai Nikolaevich Baskakov. I was in awe. I could feel the happiness in the painting. I felt hopefully looking at the painting of three women, who I imagined as mothers, laughing so much they lost their composure. I made a brief comment to my partner about how it made me feel and then we our son started crying and our adventure to the museum had reached its natural conclusion.

A few months later, my partner gave me a print of the painting “Milkmaids” as a gift. We didn’t have much money at the time, but we decided it was worth the expense to have it professionally framed.

More than four years have passed since those early days of parenthood. Today, I can change a diaper in pretty much any scenario with little thought or effort. Together, my husband and I are confident that we can handle whatever the kids have in store for us. We are warriors.

Today, I remember that transitions are difficult but worth it. It is by scarping away what is familiar that we can find beauty and growth. My darkest moments have proceeded some of the most beautiful. When I have doubts, all I must do is look at the Milkmaids painting proudly displayed in our living room and take comfort that there is no wrong way to acquire experience and like all things, this too shall pass.

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