|How I was able to take a shower today...|
43. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I'd read a few of Cheryl Strayed's "Dear Sugar" columns before, but didn't know much about her until I went to hear an interview with her at the NYPL a few weeks before Noah was born. She struck me as a gutsy woman, someone who has been a bit hardened by events in her life, but someone who brings truth to her writing. I liked that about her.
I put this book on hold at the library and got it last week on my Kindle; it's the story of how Cheryl hiked the Pacific Coast Trail (think Appalachian Trail, but on the west coast) in her 20s. Her mother had passed away unexpectedly from cancer and she was compelled to take on an enormous challenge. Enter the PCT.
Side note: I like to think that I'm a brave person. Let me say this for the record. There is NO WAY IN HELL that I'm ever doing one of these long hikes. My brother hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years back and my sister loves camping... somehow all of those genes passed me right by. Purifying water with iodine tablets? Watching out for rattlesnakes? Coming across BEARS? Um, no thanks.
That said, sometimes we read books when we really need them and this was definitely the case for me and this book. Cheryl showed up on the PCT without any real hiking experience. The pages of this book make it clear what a struggle it was for her every day, both mentally and physically. As she gained experience pitching her tent, preparing her meals and hitchhiking into towns to pick up boxes she'd pre-mailed to herself, I gained experience breastfeeding.
Another side note: last night around 5am I had had enough. Noah was going on an hour and a half eating with no signs of stopping. I was raw, exhausted and pissed off. Bawling, I opened the door to our bedroom and asked Chris for help. I was so mad, could not understand how the baby was not full yet, and so, so tired of not having my body to myself. Because he is a hero in a half shell, Chris swooped in, served up a bottle of pre-pumped milk and burped Noah while he listened to me cry. This was a low point for me and I'm so grateful that I have a husband who is so supportive. I literally do not understand how single moms of newborns do it. In the middle of this crisis, I had the thought "breastfeeding is harder than labor," and it surprised me because it felt so true.
So what I'm getting at here is that, while I read about Cheryl Strayed walking the Pacific Coast Trail, I was on my own insane journey. Like her, I collapse every night with exhaustion and I spend my days putting one foot in front of another. From time to time, the views are magnificent and from time to time, it feels like a thousand ants are biting me. The book is a solid read on its own, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone going through their own challenge because the metaphors stick and help.
Here's where I want to end. Cheryl writes so often about needing to do the PCT alone. She encounters hiking mates along the way, but continually comes back to spending time alone on the trail. The point, for her, isn't to go have a fantastic social hike, but rather to work through some stuff, to dig deep, to find ways to connect with how strong she really is.
This morning, Chris went into the office for the first time since Noah was born, leaving me alone with him. Given the night we'd just had, I was a bit nervous. He finished nursing a little after 12 and I thought "now's my chance to shower." I propped him up on a pillow, covered him with a blanket, took off all my clothes and spent 30 minutes pacing back and forth between him and the bathroom. Every tiny sound he made threatened the entire operation. And finally, I thought "screw it. If he cries for 3 minutes, he cries for 3 minutes" and I jumped in.
It wasn't the most luxurious shower I've ever had, but when I got out and raced around the corner to find that he was napping quietly, I wanted to give myself the hugest high-five. It was scary, but I did it. I am alone with him today, but I can do it. Though I've loved having help (and will continue to appreciate it), there is something to be said for standing on your own two feet. It's the way I am truly able to own being a parent -- not with the help of my own parents or Chris' parents or friends or the lactation consultant or even my husband. I needed to do it alone to prove that I could. Just like Cheryl.
P.S. Noah is still sleeping, almost 2 hours later. In that time, I've showered, dressed, pumped a bottle for him, made homemade chai, eaten lunch, written this blog post and cleaned up the kitchen. Maybe he doesn't need to nap on someone's lap all the time. Maybe he, too, has something to prove about doing things all on his own.