The reason it is exhausting looking after a newborn is because it is exhausting being a newborn. All that complicated feeding, getting it in, keeping it down. And then there’s the digestion, tiny winding threading curves of intestine, extracting, excavating, extruding. The food has to go somewhere, it must be in constant motion. Must be constantly transforming and being transformed.
Have you seen a newborn writhing in pain? One or two bubbles of gas is bad enough, imagine more! Imagine them constant – torture. The infant’s small frame becomes one tight hot bundle of pain. It cries, of course it does, screams if it has the energy. What else can it do? There is barely any remedy, only the purposeful, skilful cajoling of the digestive system towards its final goal. What has to happen must happen, there are no short cuts.
Today the world seems harsh and cruel and I am tired. I want to shut off, shut down, turn away, like an anemone poked with a stick or jabbed with the clumsy finger of a child. I have no eloquent words for this, I am crying like a baby. Everything is hard, everything hurts. The ache. The ache.
If I listed all my doubts here, if I lined them up like small children about to be sent in from recess, or if I tried to exorcise them with dark colours and mad scribbles on a roll of butcher paper spread out from one end of the room to the other, you would smile and pat me on the head. There there, you’d say, everything is going to be ok. But your words would do nothing, because I would roll my butcher paper up and tuck it under my arm, and march those grubby children right home again. And carry on much the same.
I am a baby lying on a playmat. Staring up at the constant white ceiling. I can’t speak a word, can barely get my own fist in my mouth, can’t sit or crawl or in any way effect shift or transfer. And this is excruciating. It is terrible, and frustrating, and wonderful. This helplessness is my beginning. Our beginning.
Not that we are all fragile newborns, our existence is more complicated than that. We are part newborn part ancient, lurching unevenly through success and failure and every stage in between. Just when we think we have made a gain, settled some existential score, another challenge rears its head. We stumble, slip, fall.
The ancient voice in my head is the voice of wisdom and experience. “You’ll get over this”, she says, “you’re growing up. One day soon you’ll roll over and everything will look completely different. Then, before you know it, you’ll be six months old and sitting up, burping unassisted. Can you imagine it! Burping on your own!”
Oh if only there was a list of milestones printed somewhere. Milestones for the recovering adult, for those of us re-made and beginning again. An expected time line, a description of growth patterns, a guide. We could take regular measurements, chart our developments, weigh in on some vast stainless steel scale, large enough for our oversized mass and accompanying baggage too. Then we could compare ourselves to the median, identify our progress against expected performance. Finally we’d know the answer to that pesky question: are we getting anywhere?
There are two trees outside my window. One is a kind of ornamental plum, well pruned in autumn, a chubby round bush of a tree above a stout trunk. The branches are thin and new at the tips, and reach straight up to the grey sky. It is early spring, and the cold air still feels like winter, but this tree has been busy budding papery pink blossoms for two weeks, and at the ends of the branches tiny leaves, tight and tender and earnest, grow faithfully.
The other tree, so close to the first that their branches intertwine, is on its own timeline. It was bushy and green in summer, a mass of curled leaves like a thick head of hair. The leaves predictably turned brown and dry, and some blew off in the autumn wind. But most remain, holding steadfast in their lifelessness, not ready to move on. I’ve been watching these two trees for a while now. Marvelling at their lack of synchronicity, willing the second tree to drop its leaves and get ready for new growth. Because it will come, won’t it?
In the meantime, I write. Every word written a molecule absorbed. I can’t curl up, can’t turn away. I am in constant motion, constantly transformed. Each time an old pattern is ditched, a new one is forced into being. It’s pure necessity that drives the process, my desperate instinct to survive. What has to happen must happen, and there are no short-cuts.