In high school, I bought baby dresses from thrift stores for the little girl I would have someday. Tiny frilly yellow dresses with lace around the collars, strawberry-printed summer numbers, pink cotton explosions like birthday cakes. I fastened them to my walls with thumbtacks. My friends shook their heads and said, “Faith,” like a warning, like an acknowledgement of my not-all-thereness or too-much-hereness when they saw the dresses tacked to my walls. I was only sixteen, and I was a mess, and I sometimes wanted to die, and there I was dreaming of baby girls. Who knows what happened with those baby dresses tacked to my walls in high school—given to Goodwills in a garbage bag along with combats boots, bright slips, torn fishnet stockings of my youth.
Fifteen, twenty years later, I am grown up, I am better. I have baby girls. The first dress I bought my first, when she was still the size of a fruit in my belly, was yellow like the one I once had tacked to my wall. Now my girls are almost out of the baby phase, and the yellow dress lies downstairs in a bag for the Goodwill. She never wore it—she was born too big. Sometimes it seems life’s a merry go round. I think I’ve grown up, I am a different person. I think I am no longer a wild teenager. But the dresses look the same, worn by similar ghosts.
Motherhood, like adolescence, is a fever that spans years, a beautiful madness that drives me to the brink in both directions. After my baby was born last year, I lived for months on end wild-eyed and staying up half the night to feed her. I nursed her in the rocking chair in such a consuming fit of love I swore she was all I ever wanted. I remember feeling such ways in my teenage days—to adore someone so entirely, so immensely, I wanted them when they were sitting there with me, even as we touched. This melodrama was so familiar, though decades old. When my baby nursed, I wanted that moment to stretch into forever. The oxytocin made me high. My nerves tingled, my stomach pitched exquisitely. I could write a sonnet, I could sing. She was a drug. We were one thing.
At fourteen, I remember the awkwardness of my new body, how it swelled and morphed into a new version of myself. I did double-takes in mirrors, shocked at the sight. Pregnancy was a similar journey—both electrifying and terrifying to see the body take on another shape, the glow of the pregnancy hormones. The newfangled contraptions of nursing bras and post C-section belly binders. After I took my daughter home, it was puberty in reverse, watching with equal horror as the body slowly, slowly, deflated back to its “normal” shape, then accepting “normal” was a relative term that meant nothing anymore. Both puberty and pregnancy taught me there really is no natural state, is there? The body is a story that keeps going.
Oh, the cocktail of hormones! The mood swings, the crying spells, the lust, the opposite of lust, the effervescent joy. I have cried while listening to Cat Stevens or watching mediocre Netflix comedies. What has happened to me?? The last time I felt as much as I did these past couple of years, I was in high school and my heart was in a constant state of either bursting or breaking. I oscillated between wanting to die and wanting to conquer the world—there was no in-between. Here I am again, on the roller coaster that shuts down for seasons but never seems to close.
Twenty years later, it’s odd to realize that along with my beautiful babies I carry that teenager around inside of me, that she is closer to me than she has been since she was me. Motherhood is a revolution, and I mean that in both senses of the word: it’s the building of a new world, and, like a planet returning to its seasonal position, it’s a return to the old.