When the Bough Breaks
by Kristen Bealer
o O o
"...and one more...good! That should do it!"
Jodie let herself fall back onto the hospital bed, catching her breath and waiting. For awhile-for too long-no one said anything. Then, finally...a small thin wail filled the silence.
She closed her eyes and relaxed. She felt Mack squeeze her hand gently and she turned her head to smile at her husband as the nurse announced, "It's a girl!"
"A girl," she murmured to Mack as the nurse took the baby aside to clean it up and make sure it was healthy.
"Are you sure...?" Mack said teasingly.
Jodie nodded firmly. "Zion." They'd talked about names over and over again over the past nine months, and although Mack hadn't been too thrilled about Jodie's choices they'd finally come to an agreement. If it was a boy, Mack could name it. If it was a girl, Jodie got to decide. They'd chosen not to find out the baby's sex until it was born, so it wasn't until that very moment that they'd found out who "won."
At last the nurse pronounced Zion perfectly healthy and placed her in Jodie's arms. She looked down at her newborn daughter and felt...nothing. Jodie knew that almost every single one of the baby books she'd read emphasized that although some mothers feel an instant bond with their children, most don't. She realized that some small part of her had been hoping it would happen, but as she looked at her baby she just felt tired and kind of numb.
Maybe it's the epidural, she decided. She smiled at Zion and Mack took their picture. After it wears off, who knows how I'll feel?
o O o
The next couple of days were a bit of a blur. Mack and Jodie's parents flew out right away to meet their new granddaughter, but most of Jodie's time was spent being poked and prodded by hospital staff until she was finally deemed ready to go home.
Even with both of them working on it, Jodie and Mack struggled a little to get Zion into the car seat. They reassured each other that they'd soon have plenty of practice and smiled at the bewildered expression on their daughter's face as they wrestled with the many straps and fastenings until they were sure she was secure.
Once safely in their suburban Chicago house, the three-Mack, Jodie, and Zion-found themselves surrounded by brand-new grandparents eager to hold the baby and coo over her while her parents were shooed away to the couch to relax.
"I've spent most of the last forty-eight hours lying down in a hospital bed," Jodie protested, but she was overruled.
"You've gotta rest whenever you can," Tina Mackenzie scolded gently. "Never forget: sleep when the baby sleeps." The others nodded knowingly before turning their attention back to Zion.
Jodie shook her head and turned to Mack, who was looking at his smartphone. "What are you doing?" she asked.
He grinned and held up the phone so she could see the photo he'd taken of her holding the baby. "It's official now," he explained. "It's on Facebook."
"Posted less than a minute and you've already got three 'likes,'" she said. "Impressive." She pulled out her own phone and added, "Hey, that reminds me. I'd better check in with work."
Mack made a show of checking his watch. "Inside less than ten minutes and you're already calling work. Impressive."
She smirked and rolled her eyes at him as she hit the speed dial for the consulting firm where she worked. After giving her boss the news, accepting his congratulations, and answering a few questions, she ended the call and said, "There. All done."
"Except the part where they scramble to find someone to cover all the minority clients for the next eight weeks," Mack teased.
She nudged him. "Shhh," she whispered. She didn't want her mother to hear that. She sometimes wondered if Sutherland Consulting gave her most of the minority clients because of her skin color, but chose to pretend otherwise while she networked and prepared for the day when she'd be ready to start her own business.
Even though she was only 27, she had already become an important member of the firm. Race had nothing to do with it as far as she was concerned; she'd worked hard and earned a good reputation in her field from the moment she'd graduated summa cum laude from Turner.
In spite of all that, if her mother thought there was even a hint of tokenism at her job, Jodie would never hear about anything else for the rest of the visit.
She soon realized she had no reason to worry. "Oooooh, she's waking up!" Michele squealed. "Just look at those eyes!"
As the grandparents got out their cameras and began taking turns posing with Zion, Jodie shrugged and began working on the birth announcements.
o O o
A few days later, the last set of grandparents headed out the door and Jodie and Mack were left alone with Zion for the first time. They shared a weary smile of relief as Jodie sat on the couch with her daughter in her arms.
"How's it feel to not have a camera going off in your face every three seconds?" Mack jokingly asked the newborn.
"Poor kid probably thought she was being hounded by the paparazzi," Jodie said, keeping her eyes on Zion. I still don't feel anything, she thought with mild concern. I know, I know, the baby books said it usually takes a little while. But they didn't say how long it takes! She forced herself to stop worrying. You've barely had a moment alone with her since you got home from the hospital, she reminded herself. Now that you can be one-on-one, you'll bond with her in no time.
o O o
The next day, Jodie sat on the couch while holding the baby monitor. Mack had gone out to pick up some groceries, and she'd been sitting there, not moving, for more than twenty minutes.
Zion has been asleep for almost three hours, she fretted, looking in the direction of the nursery. Should I wake her up? She might be hungry. Several of the baby-care books she'd read said newborns shouldn't sleep more than three hours at a stretch during the day, and Zion was getting close to that deadline.
I'm sure she needs a diaper change by now. At least one of the books had also stressed the importance of changing soiled diapers as soon as possible-particularly for girls, who were vulnerable to bladder infections. What if she needs a change? I should go in and check.
Switching off the monitor, she stood up and started walking toward Zion's room. Then she stopped. Or maybe I should take a nap myself. She didn't feel tired, but Tina's words still rang in her head. "Sleep when the baby sleeps."
Jodie turned the monitor back on, set it on an end table, and returned to the couch. Stretching out, she closed her eyes and immediately began worrying about whether Zion was eating enough. It so hard to know for sure. The pediatrician had mentioned keeping track of wet and soiled diapers, which would tell her if she was taking in enough food. I think she's had three wet diapers and one soiled...or is it two and two? Damn, I should be writing that kind of thing down so I don't forget.
For a few seconds she thought about putting together a bottle, just in case. Then she remembered that she hadn't taken a shower yet that day.
I could take the monitor into the bathroom, she thought, eyes still closed. But what if she wakes up while I'm in the shower? She rolled over and willed her brain to stop so she could rest.
Suddenly her eyes opened and her head jerked up. She looked at the monitor, trying to figure out if she'd heard a cough or if it was just the house settling or something. I wish Mack would get home already. She pulled herself back up to a sitting position, giving up on the idea of a nap.
She turned the volume on the monitor up. Seriously, what if she's getting hungry? I won't know until she starts crying. "Crying is a late sign of hunger," the instructor at the parenting class had warned. "When babies are hungry, they first suck on their hands and root with their mouths. Try to catch those signs before the baby starts crying!" Well, great. But Zion never seems to do any of those things. And even if she did, I can't see her right now. So how would I even know? She turned the monitor up again, now to the point where it sounded like static was coming through the speaker.
Maybe I should have something to eat, she thought. She'd only picked at her lunch, not feeling particularly hungry. She hadn't really felt hungry at all since Zion had been born. Wondering if that was normal, she got up and picked up one of her well-thumbed pregnancy books and paged blearily through the index. The first reference she found to "loss of appetite" in the post-pregnancy chapter was in a section labeled "Post-Partum Depression."
Oh, come on, she told herself. Overreact much? She skimmed the section, reluctant yet unsure why.
"Most women experience the 'baby blues' after giving birth," she read. "They often feel anxious, sad, tired, emotional, or otherwise unhappy for a week or two. If, however..."
Jodie sighed with relief. It's normal. This is all totally normal. Now reassured, she lay back down on the couch and decided to try for a nap again. Almost immediately, Zion's high-pitched cries shrieked out of the monitor at a deafening volume.
Startled, Jodie scrambled off the couch and took a few steps toward the baby's room. She stopped and came back to turn the monitor off and then hurried to Zion's door and bolted inside-both relieved that she was finally awake and dreading the next round of unfamiliar tasks and second-guessing that now waited for her.
o O o
By the time Mack returned from the grocery store, Zion was asleep again and Jodie was exactly where he'd left her-perched on the edge of the couch, clutching the monitor in front of her. "Might not be a bad idea to move around every once in a while," he joked. "Keeps the muscles from seizing up."
Jodie didn't even smile. "She didn't eat very much," she said, tearing her eyes away from the monitor. "Not even two ounces. The baby books said-"
Mack set the grocery bags down on the counter and came over to sit next to her. "Jodie, never mind about the baby books, okay?" He sighed, and she could hear the concern in his voice as he added, "Just try to relax."
"I'm fine," she told him, realizing belatedly that she did not sound at all fine. Trying to sound calmer, she explained, "There's a lot of stuff I don't know. That we don't know. Those books are an important resource to finding that stuff out."
He put a hand on hers. "There's also learning about it on the job, while we take care of the baby," he reminded her gently.
She pulled her hand away and looked back at the monitor. "I don't want to use trial-and-error on her," she said. "It's not like testing out a new recipe or fixing a car. This is important."
Mack looked at her for awhile. Finally he got up and started putting groceries away. "I get it," he said at last. "Just...remember you don't have to be perfect, okay?"
She nodded, but all she could think was, Of course not. No one is perfect. But I can still do the best I possibly can.
o O o
Jodie watched the front door close and immediately felt her heart drop into her stomach. Her entire body was shaking with fear in spite of the cheerful goodbye she'd given Mack moments before as he left for his first day back at work.
Mack, an analyst at an ice cream manufacturer, had taken the week after Zion's birth off. Now it was time for him to go back...leaving Jodie behind.
For a few seconds Jodie thought about racing to the door and yelling for Mack to come back. She wanted to scream, You can't leave me here alone! She stopped herself at the last moment and took a few deep breaths. They didn't help.
Turning around, she looked at Zion, who was still asleep in her little bouncer seat. She lowered herself gingerly onto the couch and watched her sleep, willing herself to feel something. She's over a week old and I still feel nothing when I look at her. She dropped her chin into her hands. Well, I guess that's not true. I feel stupid and panicky and helpless. But not love.
She got up again and stood over the bouncer seat to stare at Zion, concentrating as hard as she could in hopes that a sudden rush of emotion would come over her if she just tried hard enough. Nothing happened.
She sat back down again. If I could just feel something for her, maybe everything else wouldn't be so bad, she thought.
Looking around her, she started to wonder what she should do next. She hadn't eaten breakfast, taken a shower, or even changed out of her pajamas-which were in reality the clothes she'd worn the previous day. She wondered if she should try to take a nap ("Sleep when the baby sleeps! Sleep when the baby sleeps! Sleep when the baby sleeps!") or maybe tidy up the house a little.
One option after another flitted through her thoughts, but still she sat, paralyzed. All she could do was stare at Zion. You have to do something, she urged herself, but her body refused to cooperate. She just stared at the baby and let a million thoughts, fears, and questions whirl around her brain.
I should do something. Anything. But what if it's the wrong thing? What if Zion wakes up at the wrong time? What if she sleeps too long? If she's hungry, will I be able to tell? What if she's sick and I haven't noticed the symptoms? Oh God, what if she's sick and I have to figure out how to get her to the doctor's office on top of everything else?
Jodie looked at a nearby clock and saw that Mack had been gone for less than fifteen minutes. The hours before he returned stretched into eternity. I can't do this, she thought desperately. At least when Mack is here, I have someone who can help me decide what to do. When it's just me...I'm completely lost.
A sudden terror came over her. And he'll go back again tomorrow. And the day after that. And almost every day from now on. And in seven weeks I'll be going back to work, too...
She found herself gasping for air, frantically breathing as if she'd just run for five miles. Back to work, she thought numbly. How? There's no way I'll ever be able to do it.
Jodie looked down at herself. It was past nine o'clock and she hadn't even changed her clothes or eaten breakfast yet. How was she going to do all of those things, take a shower, get Zion ready to go to daycare-
Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. She could barely breathe. Stop thinking about that, she told herself as she lay down on the couch on her side and drew her knees up to her chin. You've got almost two months before that happens. It seemed vaguely odd that the single week that she'd just lived through could seem like a tortuously long time, yet seven weeks seemed to be lurking right around the corner.
Zion sighed in her sleep, and every muscle in Jodie's body tensed. After a few minutes she finally felt reassured that the baby wasn't waking up, so she went back to staring numbly into space for the next hour, trying desperately not to think anymore.
o O o
The week dragged on, yet looking back Jodie couldn't even distinguish one day from another. Every morning she woke up when Mack did, then agonized about whether she should actually get up and try to accomplish something or stay in bed and conserve her energy for the long day ahead. At last she'd drag herself out of the bedroom and sit groggily on the couch while Mack got ready for work.
Once Mack was gone, she would spend most of the day perched on the couch or on the floor, periodically eating a meal or on rare occasions having a lightning-fast shower at unpredictable times. All the while, she would have the monitor at hand, cranked up to the loudest setting.
When she wasn't waiting for Zion to wake up, she was paging through one reference book after another trying to find answers to her never-ending list of questions. "How often should a baby's diaper be changed?" "Should you wake a baby up to change it or feed it?" "Can a baby sleep too long?" "How often should you bathe a baby?" "How can you tell if the white stuff in the baby's mouth is yeast or just milk?"
And on and on and on. When the stack of books failed to help, she would turn to the internet and crawl through page after page of search results. Very rarely did she find reassurance; more often than not, she only discovered more questions and problems that hadn't even occurred to her before. And that would trigger another round of reading and searching.
The rest of her time was spent actively taking care of Zion. Although she found the stress and worry receded slightly when she had something to do-changing a diaper, giving her a bottle, etc.-those concerns never completely went away.
During feedings, she worried that she wasn't stopping often enough to burp her and Zion would get gassy or spit up most of her meal. During diaper changes, she worried that she wasn't being thorough enough and Zion might get a rash or an infection. During Zion's every other waking moment, she worried that she wasn't doing enough to stimulate her or bond with her.
All the books say I should read to her as early as possible. But they also say that music is really important, too. If I put music on and read to her at the same time, would that be too much? Or I could get some toys out, but which ones? And what about tummy time? I'm supposed to put her on her stomach several times a day to strengthen her neck muscles and keep her head from getting flat, but when she isn't sleeping, she's eating. When am I supposed to fit that in on top of everything else?
By the time Mack got home from work, Jodie was frazzled by a million questions with no answers. She'd mulled over countless possible things that she could do, either for herself or for Zion, yet spent most of the day too overwhelmed to even get up from the couch.
o O o
Jodie was looking forward to the weekend more eagerly than she ever had, because it meant a temporary respite from the misery of watching Mack leave her behind with Zion every morning. Once Saturday arrived, however, she found she was still sitting bleakly on the couch, too emotionally drained to even think of anything to do except stare at nothing and wait for the baby to wake up.
Mack wandered in after clearing away the breakfast dishes and sat down next to her. "Are you sure you're okay?"
It was at least the tenth time he'd asked that morning. He'd asked while she sat listlessly in bed, willing herself to find the strength to get up. He'd asked while she stood outside the bathroom, agonizing over whether she should bother taking a shower. He'd asked while she mechanically and silently ate her cereal at breakfast.
"Yeah," Jodie said quietly without looking up.
He sighed. "Listen to me, Jodie," he said. When she didn't react, he put his hands on her shoulders and gently turned her towards him. "Please. Tell me straight. Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Though she was facing him, she still wasn't looking at his face.
"Except that you aren't." He pulled her close to him for a hug, and while she didn't resist, nor did she respond in kind. "You aren't yourself, Jodie. Not even the you I see when you're at your most stressed out. And I've seen you pretty stressed out, remember?"
He forced a chuckle, trying to encourage her to laugh, but she found she couldn't even smile.
When she didn't reply, he squeezed her shoulders and quietly said, "Do you think you need to...talk to someone about it?"
Jodie didn't need him to clarify what he meant. The phrase "post-partum depression" floated back through her mind. Therapy? She frowned. I can't even get it together enough to take a shower every day. How the hell would I squeeze regular trips to a therapist into-She realized she was starting to breathe too fast again and pushed the whole thing out of her thoughts. "It's not that bad," she told Mack. "All the books say that it's normal to feel like this for at least a week or two."
She could feel Mack was about to argue, so she squeezed him back. Pulling away, she finally looked at her husband. "There's just...so much," she finally said. Normally very precise in her language, she discovered she just couldn't find the words she was grasping for, so she strung them together the best she could.
"It's like," she said haltingly, "like there's a million things I could do or not do at every moment, okay? And I never know which thing is the right thing...or if there is a right thing and maybe I shouldn't do anything at all. But then I'm worried that doing nothing is the wrong thing, and that I should do something after all. And then I'm trying so hard to figure out which thing to do that I can't do anything anyway."
She peered at his face, hoping for some sign that he had understood what she was feeling through the messy jumble of words that had come out of her mouth. She didn't see it. At last he gave her another hug. "You've been really busy taking care of Zion," he said reassuringly. "Why don't I take over today and you can take it easy?"
"That's not-" Jodie bit back the rest of what she was going to say. She hadn't been doing too much, she wanted to explain. She hadn't been doing enough. She had to keep trying, keep spending time with the baby, so she could figure out how to do it right. But Mack didn't get it, and worse, he was worried about her. The last thing she wanted to do was make him worry. She nodded slightly. "Okay."
She watched him numbly as he got up to check on Zion. She didn't want him to take over caring for the baby. It wouldn't help; in fact, as far as she was concerned she needed to spend as much time taking care of Zion as she could. It's the only way I'll get past this, she told herself.
o O o
Jodie groaned in frustration as yet another internet search had failed to answer her frantic questions. She snapped the lid of her laptop closed and pushed it aside, curling up into the now-familiar position of defeat.
The weekend had ended, and Mack was back at work. He'd spent most of his time feeding Zion, changing her diapers, and getting her to sleep. Even at night, he'd been the one to get up every time she cried. Jodie had half-heartedly offered to go instead a few times, but Mack had assured her he was fine and to go back to sleep.
She didn't, of course-the guilt of leaving Mack to do everything for her was weighing down too hard on her for that.
Now, she was back on her own with the baby and it was as if nothing had changed. Well, that's not quite true, Jodie thought as she hugged her knees to her chest. I'm even more terrified than I was before. That's change.
She leaned back on the couch and took a few deep breaths. They didn't help. She looked nervously at Zion, sleeping peacefully in the swing as it click-clacked back and forth. When they'd first bought the swing-the highest rated in the books and online sites Jodie had read-she'd thought the sound was soothing, like the ticking of a metronome. Now it just made her feel tense and agitated.
She continued to stare at Zion until she realized that she was waiting for something to happen. What, she wasn't sure. Maybe for music to swell and a sudden burning love to grow. Maybe for something to click in her brain and suddenly she'd know exactly what to do as a mother. Or maybe just for Zion to wake up so Jodie could have something to do to keep her brain occupied for half an hour or so.
At last she tore her eyes away. How do other people do this? She thought about her own parents. They went through it three times. How? And why would anyone have another one after experiencing this? She remembered Brittany, who'd had four kids in the five years after she'd gotten married.
Brittany. Jodie looked over at the laptop again. She and Brittany had lost touch shortly after high school, but they were friends on Facebook. She recalled that Brittany was constantly posting pictures of her kids and talking about all of the things they did as a family. How does she do it? She can barely understand where rain comes from.
Instantly she felt bad about thinking so unkindly about her old friend. Looking again at the laptop, she began wondering if it was possible Brittany really did know something she didn't. Finally she picked up the laptop, opened it up, and logged onto Facebook.
Ignoring all of the status updates from friends who were happily living normal lives, she located Brittany Taylor's profile and began composing a message.
How are you doing? Sorry we haven't talked much lately. You might have already heard, but I recently had a baby. Her name is Zion. I hope you don't mind me asking, but do you have any advice for me? Anything at all would be great.
The message seemed too vague, but Jodie had no idea where to even begin. If she started typing out questions, she might never stop. After a few moments of thought, she continued typing.
It's been REALLY stressful, but I'm sure you know what it's like to have a newborn. Can you help me?
She resisted the urge to beg for help and sent the message. For the next few minutes, she stared at the screen, hoping for a quick response that would open up the secrets she'd been searching for.
Finally, Jodie decided to try another source: her own parents. After a frantic search, she found her cell phone under a pile of paperwork and sat back down. Leaving the computer open on her lap, she hit the speed dial for her parents' house.
"Hi, Mom," she said after her mother answered. She winced at how weak and flat her voice sounded.
"Jodie?" Michele's businesslike voice held a small hint of concern. "Are you okay?"
She found it difficult to lie, but wasn't sure how to describe the truth. At last she settled on vagueness. "Kind of. I'm...a little overwhelmed."
Michele chuckled sympathetically. "Oh, yes, I remember those days."
Jodie felt a glimmer of hope. "How did you get through it?"
"One day at a time," Michele replied. "One day you'll just look back and realize years have passed in the blink of an eye. Did I tell you Evan is going out for football at Lawndale Middle School? It seems like just yesterday that-"
One day at a time? One second at a time is more than I can take. "Mom?" she interrupted, preparing to swallow her pride. "I'm really, really struggling. Everything is just...it's so..." She clutched the phone with both hands as if holding on to a life preserver. "Please?"
"Oh, Jodie," her mother said reassuringly. "Believe me, I understand just how you feel. I remember until you were about a month old I was always afraid to leave you in your crib because I was worried you'd think I was abandoning you. I was so nervous!"
Jodie slumped down into the couch and frowned. That's not even close to what I'm going through, she thought. "Okay, but what helped you get over that?" she asked.
"Experience," Michele answered matter-of-factly. "Just spend time with her, and after awhile you'll just get the hang of it."
"How long?" Jodie asked, surprising even herself at the plaintiveness in her voice.
There was a pause. "Don't worry," Michele finally said. "Everything will be fine. How is Zion?"
"Fine," Jodie said, disappointed. "Sleeping."
"Maybe you should get some rest, too."
Jodie wanted to scream into the phone that she wasn't tired, and even if she was, she was too stressed out to sleep. Somehow she just didn't have the energy to respond, so instead she said goodbye and ended the call. Looking down at the computer, she saw that she had a new Facebook message. Shaking with anticipation and something almost like hope, she clicked to open it.
congratz on the new baby! arent they just the best? i totaly remember how hard stuff was when they were real little. angie had collic 4 like 4ever & just cried all the time I thought my heart was gonna break she seemed so sad. then 1 time colt pooped & it got out of his diper & all over his crib & i almost thru up it was so icky. :(
your sooo lucky, i wish mine were still teeny tiny! post lots of pics ok?
ps sleep when the baby sleeps!
Jodie reread the message over and over until she'd practically memorized every word. Not one bit of it was useful. Lucky? How can she even think that after going through this four times?
Closing the browser window, Jodie pushed aside the computer again and tilted her head back to stare at the ceiling. Unless she didn't go through this. Maybe everyone else in the world just knows instinctively what to do except me. And I'll never figure it out, and this will last for the rest of my life.
She pushed the balls of her hands against her eyes, struggling to focus in the vain hope that enlightenment would finally come. All that happened was that her eyes began to hurt and her brain switched into overdrive. I can't handle this. I should never have had a baby. I hate it, and it's not fair to Zion-she deserves a decent mother, not me. Maybe she'd be better off without me.
Jodie froze, trying to stop herself from thinking what she was about to think. The thoughts pushed their way in all the same. I don't want to be alive anymore. I don't want this to be my life. I want to hit reset and start over, but I can't. It's too late. There's no way out of it except...no. No no no no no. No! She squeezed her eyes shut. Stop it!
She could have sworn she'd screamed that last part out loud but, opening her eyes and seeing Zion's sleep was undisturbed, she realized she'd only screamed it inside her own mind. Why is this happening? she thought bleakly. Why won't it get better? What if-
Zion began to whimper softly in her sleep, so Jodie struggled to her feet and braced herself for yet another round of frantic activity and second-guessing. At least it'll keep me from thinking for awhile. I hope.
o O o
Mack couldn't concentrate on his work at all. He knew he had made some serious mistakes over the last couple of weeks, and he was worried about his performance review coming up in a month. But he was just too worried about what was going on at home.
He missed spending time at home, with his wife and new baby. He hated not knowing how things were going.
But most of all, he missed Jodie. He would get to see her, he knew, when he got home. But it wasn't the same Jodie that he fell in love with years ago. Something was seriously wrong with her, and he didn't know what to do about it.
Out of nowhere, he remembered the pre-birth class Jodie had asked him to attend. He remembered sitting in a room with about ten other fathers-to-be and a delivery nurse, who told them that some women have a hard time adjusting to a new baby. Mack had dismissed the idea immediately. Jodie was the most intelligent and rational person he knew. He'd thought for sure that he would flip out and lose his mind, and Jodie would again be his source of strength and stability, just as she had all through their relationship.
Mack dropped his face into his hands. Maybe it's my turn to help her. He remembered that nurse saying it was the husband's job to watch out for his wife during this time, and to get her the help she needed if she needed it. What was it that nurse called it? he thought to himself. And then the words came back to him: post-partum depression. Okay. But what am I supposed to do? She's a grown woman! I can't force her do anything she doesn't want to!
Raising his head, he stared at his own faint reflection on his computer screen. Force, no. But I have to try. I'll beg if I have to.
o O o
Jodie was eating lunch in the kitchen when it happened. Zion was rocking back and forth in her swing. Jodie had just about finished the last of her sandwich. She'd barely tasted any of it, as she was still eating out of obligation rather than hunger. She happened to look at the clock on the microwave and saw that it was 3:54 PM.
She stopped chewing and stared at the clock. It changed to 3:55. Still she stared, her accustomed numbness slowly giving way to feelings of confusion and distress. It's almost four o'clock in the afternoon, she thought wildly, and I'm only just having lunch. More things poured in. I haven't showered in days. I haven't stepped outside the house in almost a week-not even to get the mail. I can't remember the last time I logged in to check my work e-mail.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered that she once lived by a rarely-varying routine. She woke up at the same time every day, showered every morning, ate meals on a regular schedule, and even her downtime followed a fairly predictable path.
She tried to stand up from the table, but her legs didn't support her. Somehow she found herself sitting on the kitchen floor, unable to move. My life is total chaos.
Time continued to move forward, but still Jodie was frozen in place. Even though her body was immobile, her brain was moving at breakneck speed. It seemed like a million possible actions whirled into her thoughts, only to be pushed back with a silent scream of "I can't!"
I can't. I can't do anything. I can't do one simple thing. I can't even get up off the floor. I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I CAN'T!
At some point-Jodie wasn't sure when-she had started to cry. In the next room, Zion tick-tocked back and forth in her swing as though marking off the wasted time.
o O o
Mack came home to find Jodie feeding Zion a bottle and sobbing. He raced over to her and put an arm around her shoulders. "What is it?" he asked. "What's wrong?"
She shuddered out one last sob. "I want to feel like I know something, anything," she answered hoarsely. Mack felt like he was coming into the middle of a conversation she'd started without him. "When should I feed her?" she asked rhetorically. "When should I wake her up? When should I change her diaper? When should I sleep or eat or...or do anything?"
Mack patted her shoulders and replied, "You don't have to have all of the answers right now."
"I don't have any answers! Everything's out of control!" She stared at him, desperate to make him understand.
"It's okay, Jodie." He looked across the room and saw her stack of dog-eared baby-care books. "Remember the books? Every new parent feels overwhelmed and stressed, especially early on, right?"
"Until when? I can't imagine ever not feeling like this."
He sighed, wishing he knew how to calm her down. "This is something we'll just have to figure out as we go."
She shook her head violently. "But what if by the time we figure anything out we'll have messed up something and made things worse? Any decision I make could be the wrong one. And we don't have the leisure to figure things out over time-before too long we'll have to get the hang of solid foods, teething, sleep training, and a bunch of other things on top of what we're already doing!"
"It's frustrating, believe me, I know. But in the long run-"
"-There is no 'long run'! I can barely cope with thinking about half an hour from now. And when I think about going back to work, it's like adding a bunch of extra steps to a complex dance that I can't do as it is!"
"You don't have to think that far ahead yet."
"I have to! If I don't try to plan ahead, I won't be ready when the time comes and I have to figure out how to juggle work on top of-" Jodie suddenly stopped talking and started gasping for air. For a moment Mack thought she was having an asthma attack, but he knew she didn't have asthma. He quickly took Zion out of her arms and Jodie doubled over, struggling to breathe.
Mack watched, helpless to do anything but hold Zion in one arm and rub Jodie's back with the other. When she finally caught her breath and sat up again, he said, "We need to make an appointment. You need to see a counselor."
Jodie collapsed backward onto the couch and seemed to crumple inward. "No," she murmured in a plaintive voice. She shook her head rapidly as though trying to shake the idea away.
He pulled her to him with his free arm and held her. "Please," was all he said. "Please do this."
After a few moments, she slumped against him and nodded very slightly into his shoulder.
The three of them stayed there for a long time, holding and being held. When Mack finally stood up and handed Zion back to Jodie, he went straight for the phone to make the appointment.
Jodie held Zion and gazed blankly at her, barely listening to Mack's end of the phone conversation. That's it, she thought with resignation. There goes my last hope that this would just get better on its own.
Still studying her daughter's face, she continued to think. But maybe this means it will get better. Maybe this is rock-bottom and everything from here is up. Maybe-
Hearing Mack say her name, she looked up. He was holding the phone away from his mouth. "Would a week from Thursday be okay?" he asked.
She stared at him, uncomprehending. Thursday? When is that? What day is today? She shrugged. "I guess?"
He nodded and turned back to the phone. Jodie looked at the calendar hanging up on the wall and quietly groaned. It was Monday. That meant her appointment was a week and a half away. The gradual optimism she'd been starting to feel immediately vanished. I have to live like this for almost another two weeks.
o O o
The next day, Jodie was holding Zion while she slept, trying to hold her in one arm while paging through one of her baby-care books with the other. The phone rang, jarring her out of her latest search for answers.
Checking to make sure Zion was still sleeping, she stood up and answered it.
"Hello, Mrs. Landon-Mackenzie?" a cheerful voice asked. "This is Molly with Dr. Bridges's office."
Jodie frowned in thought, trying to remember why that sounded familiar. "Uh huh."
"We just had a cancellation and wanted to know if you'd be able to move your appointment up to tomorrow morning at 10:00?"
Appointment. All at once the fog in Jodie's brain lifted enough for her to realize it was the therapist's office. Tomorrow? I won't have to wait until next week? "Er...okay. Yes."
"Great! I'll put you down for tomorrow morning. See you then!"
Jodie found herself listening to a dial tone as it sank in. Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning? How am I supposed to get me and Zion out the door by ten in the morning? There's no way this will work it's just too much I can't do this I can't-
Fortunately she was near enough to a chair to drop into it before the panic attack fully set in. Still holding on to Zion, she fought to inhale and exhale.
At last she calmed down enough to write the new appointment information down, then put the piece of paper aside and tried to forget about it until Mack got home. As soon as he walked in the door, she handed the paper to him and asked desperately, "How am I going to make it there? I can't even make it half a mile down the street to the convenience store."
Mack reached for his cell phone. "I'm going with you. I'm calling work right now and I'll take tomorrow morning off."
o O o
Mack sat impatiently in the waiting room with Zion as time passed. He looked at the other people sitting nearby and tried to guess which of them were waiting to see a therapist and which of them were waiting for someone else, like he was. Everyone looked...normal. Some of them chatted quietly, others flipped through magazines, and a few were concentrating on their cell phones.
Not a single one of them looked remotely as haggard and worn down as Jodie had looked when she'd been called in to see Dr. Bridges. Not one of them looked as restless and worried as Mack felt right at that moment. How was Jodie doing? Was the therapist helping? When she came back, would anything be different?
He hoped so. He missed his wife. His real wife, that is-the one he'd known in high school, the one he'd spent long hours driving to visit during college, the one he'd shared horror stories with about awful bosses and stupid clients as they begun to build their careers, and the one who'd burst out laughing with surprise when he finally got around to asking her to marry him.
If only he could see her again, for just a few minutes. To have her step out from behind the shattered person that now looked out of her eyes. But all he could do was sit there, helpless, as he waited for Jodie to come back. Back out of the therapist's office, and hopefully back from whatever hell she'd been living in.
He looked down at Zion napping blissfully in the car seat, and envied her. His mind started wandering, thinking about how aware Zion was about what was going on with her mother, wondering how much this would influence how she got to know them as parents.
What if Jodie never gets better? The thought jumped at him. And then more thoughts followed. How could I explain this to Zion, especially since I'm not sure if I understand it? What if the therapist says Jodie can't handle caring for a baby and we have to give up Zion for adoption? Is that even possible? Could I do that?
He looked back down at her, how her face was held snugly inbetween two extra pads, making her lips pop out just a little, like she was blowing kisses to the world. No, he thought, this is my daughter. We're going to have to find our way through this. I'm not giving up. On either of them.
It had only been an hour, but Mack could have sworn he'd been there all morning when the door opened and she finally stepped out. She blinked at the waiting room a few times before recognizing Mack and walking over.
"How'd it go?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I don't know. We talked a lot. I don't think I explained myself very well. I don't know."
He picked up Zion's car seat with the sleeping baby inside and began to lead her to the doors. "Do you have another appointment?"
"Oh...yeah. I've got it written down. A couple of weeks from now, I think."
As they got to the car, Jodie paused. "Um, I also have a couple of prescriptions to pick up."
"Sure. We'll swing by now." He finished putting Zion's car seat in the back, got in the driver's seat, and started the car as Jodie buckled her seat belt.
As he drove, Mack tried a few times to ask questions and draw Jodie into conversation, but it seemed all she could manage was a few words and the occasional shrug. Halfway to the pharmacy, Jodie finally started talking again.
"I thought...I hoped...I'd feel better now," she told him haltingly. "Nothing's different. I wanted Dr. Bridges to give me advice or answers or something, anything that would make it better."
"Well," Mack said, trying to choose his words carefully, "It's just the first appointment. Maybe it'll take a few more before-"
"But how many?" Jodie asked. She didn't wait for a reply. "Nothing has helped so far. I've got all the same problems, but now I also have a bunch of pills to take and appointments to remember."
"Yeah, but...maybe the pills will help."
She stared at the floor of the car. "Dr. Bridges said one of them won't even start to work for at least a few weeks. The other one kicks in faster but only lasts a couple hours. Not much of a solution."
Mack couldn't think of anything else to say, so they drove on in silence.
o O o
Jodie looked at her breakfast dishes and swallowed a pill with the last of her orange juice. She still felt as though nothing had changed-or at least, not for the better.
She reached for her bowl and glass, but Mack waved her away. "I'll clean up," he said.
For a moment she thought about insisting, but instead just stood and wandered over to where the baby was rocking back and forth in her swing. Zion was awake and staring at the teddy bears hanging from the mobile above her.
Sitting down in a nearby chair, Jodie tried to decide if she should take her daughter out of the swing or leave her there. She seemed content where she was, but Jodie remembered her mother's advice: spend time with her. She wasn't going to learn anything about Zion by leaving her in swings or bouncer chairs or other things, and Jodie wondered if she was becoming dependent on them to keep the baby at a distance.
Once she'd turned off the swing and pulled Zion free, she sat down with her again and looked at her. Zion looked back at her. Now what? Jodie wondered.
Mack came in from the kitchen and saw the panic creeping over Jodie's face. Immediately he scooped Zion up and started bouncing her in his arms. Keeping his voice cheerful, he began to speak to the baby in hopes of distracting Jodie from her fear.
"What are we going to do today, Little Miss Zion?" he asked. "Maybe a round of trying to figure out how to fit your hand in your mouth, followed by a rousing game of Stare at the Big Humans in Confusion before ending with a few hours of drooling on yourself?"
As he continued to gently bounce her, Zion suddenly erupted with a very loud fart.
"Or we could do that," Mack said in response.
Jodie's face twitched. The corners of her mouth began to tickle. Out of nowhere, she burst into laughter and found she couldn't stop. Every time she started to gain control of herself, she'd look at Mack and start up all over again.
At first Mack joined in, more because he was happy to see her in a good mood than because the joke itself was actually funny, but gradually he went silent and just watched Jodie as she doubled over in hysterics.
Finally she gave a few last gasps and, aside from the occasional small giggle, was calm. Mack was smiling, but there was concern in his voice as he asked, "Everything okay?"
"I...I think so," she replied, catching her breath. "I don't know why I thought that was so funny. I just...couldn't stop laughing." She gave him a weak smile. "I think that's the first time I've laughed since she was born."
Mack gave Zion another bounce and shrugged at Jodie. "I guess you had to make up for some lost time." He came over and sat near her, now serious. "How do you feel?"
She sighed. "Not sure. I mean, all the same...stuff...is still there, but for just a minute I felt, I don't know...almost okay."
o O o
Jodie listened to the sound of the shower turning off as she lay in bed one morning a few days later. She was in the middle of yet another argument with herself over whether to get up or stay in bed when, barely thinking about it, she swung her legs out and stood up. Keeping a wary eye on the baby monitor, she started pulling clothes out of the closet.
Mack walked in and saw her. "Good morning," he said, only barely managing to hide his surprise.
"Morning," she said. "Do I have time for a shower before you leave?"
He swept his arm out in the direction of the bathroom in invitation, and Jodie hurried past him. The shower was quick and she hurried through the process of drying and getting dressed, but the fact that she'd made two decisions-to get out of bed and to take a shower-was strangely liberating.
The two of them ate breakfast together, and Jodie heard Zion begin crying through the monitor just as Mack was heading out the door. He gave her a worried look, but she waved him away. "I've got it," she said with far more confidence than she actually felt.
Jodie went through the now-familiar motions of changing Zion's diaper and preparing her bottle, and once Zion was fed she found herself staring out the window. It was a beautiful day outside. She'd barely noticed the weather lately, but now she looked at the bright and inviting sunshine as if it was the first time she'd ever seen it.
She looked down at Zion, awake but content. Settling her temporarily in her bouncer seat, Jodie went to the closet and brought out the assembled-but-never-used stroller they'd bought over six months before the baby was born. She picked up Zion and fastened her in, adjusting straps where necessary.
At last, dropping the overstuffed diaper bag into the compartment under the seat, she opened the front door and wheeled the stroller outside.
The walk lasted less than ten minutes-Jodie didn't feel ready to do more than walk around the block-but she came in feeling better than she'd felt in over a month. Still, her hands trembled a bit as she unfastened the straps to get Zion out of the stroller, and she felt the familiar twist in her stomach as she sat down once again in the living room.
It's...something, she told herself. I don't know what it is, exactly, but it's definitely something.
o O o
That afternoon, while Zion napped in her swing, Jodie wandered restlessly through the rest of the house. She wound up in the baby's room, looking at all of the gear she and Mack had bought in the months during her pregnancy.
The crib that she'd painstakingly researched, checking and double-checking to be certain that it met every possible safety criteria.
The play mat-the deluxe model-that came with lights, music, mirrors, and multi-textured dangling toys.
The infant bath tub, complete with newborn sling and non-slip liners as well as a sensor that changed color if the water was too hot.
The changing table-Jodie stopped and frowned. The shelf under the changing table where they kept the diapers was empty. She turned to pick up one of the unopened packages of diapers they kept next to the table and realized they were all too small. Zion had already outgrown the newborn size, and they hadn't gotten around to exchanging the remaining packages for the next size up. There were no more diapers left in her current size.
Out of diapers? How did we not notice? She searched the room, then the house, and only came up with two diapers in the right size, stashed in the diaper bag. I could call Mack and ask him to pick up some more, but he won't be home for hours. Two diapers? And then I'll only have one after Zion wakes up and I change her. That's not going to be enough!
There was no way around it. Jodie was going to have to get more diapers.
She felt her chest tighten and forced herself to take slow, even breaths. Can I do this? I'm not sure I can. She frowned. It doesn't matter. I have to.
She started getting ready: checking the diaper bag over and over, setting the car seat out, trying to decide if Zion would need a coat or blanket or hat or socks, putting her purse next to the door so she wouldn't forget it, and doing a million other things to keep herself occupied instead of fretting to herself over the impending trip.
At last she heard the squeaking sounds Zion always made as she woke up. Jodie had the bottle ready before the baby's eyes were even fully open, and soon, reasonably sure that Zion was satisfied, Jodie began strapping her into the car seat. Hefting it with one hand while holding her purse, the diaper bag, and the car keys in the other, she closed her eyes and thought, I can do this.
She headed out the door and into the garage before the doubts could creep in. Once in the car, she felt like she was relearning how to do everything, even though she'd done at all countless times over the years. Key in the ignition...brake...shift into reverse...
As soon as she was on the road, she kept her focus on driving the familiar route to the convenience store because she knew the alternative was worrying about how many things might go wrong during the errand.
She pulled into a parking space and got out, slinging the diaper bag and purse over her shoulder and coming around the car to pull Zion's car seat out. She lugged everything inside, found the diapers, and grabbed a package of the right size. So far, so good.
Jodie was standing in line at the counter when a car alarm went off immediately outside the exit. She jumped slightly at the sudden loud noise, then jumped again when it was followed by Zion crying out in terror. The wails only increased in volume and intensity, and without even thinking about it Jodie set the seat on the floor, dropped what she was carrying, and unfastened the straps so she could pick Zion up.
"Shhhh-shhh-shhh," she whispered, rocking and swaying the baby in her arms to try to calm her down. Within seconds, Zion was quiet again.
"Oh, look at that," a grandmotherly woman standing in line behind her exclaimed. "You handled that like a pro!"
Startled by the praise, Jodie gave her a weak smile. "Um, thanks," she stammered out.
The woman just smiled admiringly and picked up the package of diapers. "Let me help you with that," she offered, gathering up the car seat and diaper bag as well. After both women had paid for their purchases, the woman followed Jodie out and helped her get everything into her car.
"Thank you," Jodie said as she settled Zion back into the car seat. "Really, thank you."
"Don't mention it," the woman replied, wiggling her fingers at the baby. "We all need a little help sometimes." She winked at Jodie. "Even a Supermom like you."
Supermom? Jodie thought as she started the car and began to make her way out of the parking lot. Yeah, right. If she only knew.
o O o
Jodie was sitting on the floor, watching Zion where she lay on the play mat, when Mack got home from work that evening. She looked up as he came into the living room. "She keeps kicking the green elephant," she told him, pointing to the dangling plush toy that Zion kept bumping with her foot as she kicked and flailed on the mat. "It rattles, and I think maybe she's figured out that it makes noise when she hits it."
After watching them both for a few minutes, Mack tentatively asked, "So did you have a good day?"
She hesitated, but nodded. "We went for a little walk this morning. Oh, and we were almost out of diapers. I took Zion out to get more."
Mack looked as if Jodie had just matter-of-factly told him she had grown wings and flown to the planet Zippotron. "And everything went okay?"
"Yeah." She glanced at the clock. "She had a bottle less than an hour ago, so she probably won't be hungry for awhile. She usually starts getting tired about this time, though, so we might want to get her ready for a nap."
"Oh." Mack sat down on the floor next to her. "Jodie...are you listening to yourself?"
She looked at him, confused. "What are you talking about?"
A smile slowly spread across his face. "You got up and took a shower this morning. You went out for a walk with Zion. You ran an errand with her. And just now you told me you can guess what she's going to need next." He reached out and took her hand. "You're getting better!"
She looked away and shook her head. "No, I'm not. I still haven't bonded with her. I look at her and just feel...I don't know. Neutral."
"That's still better," Mack argued. "You used to look at her and feel terrified and miserable. Don't lie to me," he quickly added, holding up a hand when she started to interrupt. "I could see it then. And I don't see it now. You. Are. Getting. Better."
Jodie looked at Zion again. "Supermom," the lady at the store said. Well, I'm not Supermom. But maybe I can at least be a mom. She looked back and Mack and finally, cautiously, returned his smile. For once, it seems...possible.
o O o
Thank you to my husband, Bryan for beta reading. And for everything else, too.