The Missing Photo

When my daughter was born I set out, as many parents do these days, to document her first year through a monthly photo. I had the perfect spot to set her in to commemorate each passing month of our first year as a family of three. As I awaited my daughter's birth I sat in that space and anxiously awaited her arrival, full of excitement, nervousness, anticipation, and perhaps some false impressions over what the next year would bring.

The morning of September 14th I remember thinking that I needed to take her picture. I needed to place my tiny, delicate, feisty month-old Claire on that chair as I had planned for months. Minutes turned to hours and I couldn't do it. I simply could not pull myself together to walk into her bedroom and take a picture. On the morning of September 14th I was in the midst of the second week of my relatively brief yet pointed struggle with postpartum depression. I imagine I spent much of the day on the couch crying alongside my daughter who seemed to cry more than most babies and certainly more than I had anticipated. I imagine I spent much of the day wondering what I was going to do, not knowing how I was going to make it through the next hour let alone the next 18 years of life with this little person that I had brought into the world. I felt so guilty- guilty that I felt this way, guilty that I wasn't "loving every second" of my time with my new baby, that this wasn't the best time of my life that, quite the contrary, I had never been so miserable.

My month-by-month documentation of Claire's first year is incomplete because I could not bring myself to take a picture. I did write her a letter that month. It's here. But the letter doesn't have a photo. I read that letter now and I cry because I remember that low feeling. The helplessness that I hope to never experience again.

Those first eight weeks- the ones that everyone tells you to cherish- were the lowest 8 weeks of my life. In retrospect I can see logical reasons for a lot of what was happening. My little Claire is not a laid back person. My little Claire has a great big soul, a soul that is brimming with emotion and energy and intensity. During those first 8 weeks my little Claire cried a lot. She was inconsolable. I was convinced that she was in pain, that she was miserable, that I was a failure because I couldn't fix it. I had a hard time accepting help because I didn't want people to know how big of a failure I was because I couldn't even console my own baby. My husband traveled during the week so I was often without him for up to 72 hours straight, hours that I am sure were hard on him but harder on me. My little Claire didn't sleep for more than a 20 minute stretch unless she was  being held. So I didn't sleep for those first 8 weeks. We later learned that I wasn't eating enough or drinking enough water so I wasn't producing enough milk. My little baby was hungry. And my little Claire, with her great big soul, did not take being hungry lightly. When we figured that out life settled down a bit, I was able to focus on myself.

I am and will always be grateful for the friends and family that helped us in those first 8 weeks. For my sister-in-law who came over every time I called even when our house was so, so sad. For my mom who came spent weeks with me, patiently holding a sleeping or crying baby and encouraging me to take care of myself. For my girlfriends who made sure I never spent an evening alone. Who left their own babies and families to spend evenings with me, taking a turn and giving me relief when I was about to break. For my friend who had the courage to tell me that while newborns are hard, what I was experiencing was maybe a bit outside of normal. For my doctor who got me in immediately when I called for help and talked to me for a full 60 minutes- clearly staying far later than normal- about what I was experiencing, assuring me that it was normal, giving me options, and making sure that my Claire and I were going to be ok.

I'm grateful that I was able to take a two month picture, that my experience with postpartum depression only lasted with such intensity for eight weeks. I know that other people's experiences are much harder and stretch for much longer. I think about what I might do differently next time- the knowledge that a first time mom surely cannot be expected to have and how I can use that to create a different experience for myself. I think about how I can support other new moms, make their experience a bit easier, help them to know that its hard and its normal and that they're doing a great job.

In two weeks we will celebrate my Claire's first birthday and the close of our first year as parents. My monthly photo-collage will have 11 photos and I will have a happy, healthy, vibrant one-year old baby. For that I am grateful.


Claire Katherine: 11 Months

Dear Claire

The last letter mama will write to "baby" Claire! I have a lot of thoughts about what this first year with you as meant to me. I'll save those and try to gather them for next month.

It's been another month of firsts for you. Perhaps the biggest was your first airplane ride. Mom and dad were pretty nervous but you proved that we had nothing to worry about, sleeping through both your first AND your second flight. The trip was down to Florida where you met your Uncle Tom, Aunt Becky, and cousin Nick for the first time. They also had two dogs, one of your current favorite things, that you loved pointing at and shouting "doh!" (translation = dog). Which brings us to another first this month- you're showing your first signs of language development. You seem to know the words for dog and cat, you say mama and dada, you point at other things and look at us to say the word, and you babble away most of the time that you're awake. The one other word you seem to know well is "no." You crawl towards an outlet, point to it, turn to us and shake your head while saying "no." Intonation is another thing that is beginning to make sense to you. You offer us a toy or a pacifier while making noises that have the cadence and intonation of "here go!"

Crawling is constant as you begin to show signs of moving on to standing and walking. You pull up on things easily and often. For a few days you were hesitant to pull up because when you got there you couldn't figure out how to get back down. Now that you have that taken care of every coffee table, couch and shelf present a nice opportunity for you to stretch your legs. You also pause in the middle of a crawl to straighten your legs and stick your behind straight up into the air. Its like you're trying to figure out how to get your hands up off the ground too but don't quite have the coordination ready to go.

You just got over what might have been your worst illness to date- hand, foot, and mouth disease. You had blisters all over the inside of your little mouth so it hurt to eat and even take the Tylenol that we tried to give you to make it feel better. Your 11 month picture was actually taken in the middle of that nonsense- despite feeling terrible and having lots of tears you found time to smile and play.

That's all for now, my little lady. Your next letter will talk about our first year together! While I've loved this time I'm glad that its behind us. We have so much fun up ahead.

Love, Mama


Claire Katherine: 10 Months

Dear Claire-

So much has happened in the last month as you inch closer to one year old. You are turning into less of a baby and more of a little person everyday. You have taken off with your crawling- zipping back and forth across the floor, chasing the cat but looking back at us every once in awhile to flash your sweet little smile and make sure we are paying attention. Your curiosity is evident. Looking carefully at new toys, pointing at items and looking at us to ask what it is, tasting any food (or non-food) that we put in front of you, and using your voice to make new and different sounds. You are such a happy little thing provided that you are not constrained in the car, your stroller, or the highchair when you don’t want to be. Sleeping is not particularly popular right now- too many other things to pay attention to and too much that you want to share with mom and dad. Mom and dad have tried to be distracted this month, moving into a new house and all, but you have hardly allowed it (and in most instances that distraction is welcome).

I keep wondering who you will become and looking for glimpses of the things that will become your talents.  Will you keep your feisty little personality, your determination coupled with charm and a sneaky smile. Will your chattering turn into words that you use to make the world a better place. Or are those just who you are now when mom and dad are watching. I love watching you grow. Things have changed so quickly the last few months, in a few short weeks we will have a toddler instead of a baby. The changes and steps and milestones will keep coming and coming. Thank you for sharing them with us and letting us be your guides on this part of your journey. We can’t wait to see who you become.

Love, Mama