It has been two years, one month, thirteen days since I gave birth. It has been almost that long since I've invited someone into my house.
It's not because I'm shy or antisocial or inhospitable. I actually considered myself a very hospitable person at one point--I loved having people over, hosting the game night, throwing the party, leading the community group. It's not because I don't want anyone in my home--I long for that, badly. I miss that, so much.
It's because I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It's because I can't.
I think we all have things, heavy things we lug around on chains we can't seem to break. Some are more common, more socially acceptable--unhealthy family dynamics, certain bad habits, past mistakes we can't get over. This is mine, my most suffocating thing. And for two years I've attempted to explain it to two people, and that was recently, because my thing is weird. My thing makes me feel a lot of shame. My thing makes me feel very alone and impossible to understand because I don't even understand it myself. But I'm beginning to, and at this point I'm wondering if offering my thing up, exposing it and everything it has robbed from me, would maybe make it less of a thing. If I let it outside, maybe it'll find better food and never come back. Or, preferably, maybe it'll die alone in the cold.
I'm writing this because I am tired of living in fear; I want to be free. I'm writing this because I am exhausted for my husband and everything he has put up with sharing a home with me as I live according to the rules this thing has written and rewritten for me. He's had to live according to many of them, too. I'm writing this because I'm terrified of the long term effects this thing may have on my toddler daughter and the tiny baby girl growing in my womb if I continue forcing these means of coping upon my family. I'm writing this because you, mama, might have a thing, too, and you need to know you are not a repulsive freak. You need to know you are not your illness. You need to know there is freedom. You need to know you are no less of a mother for struggling. You need to know you are not the only one.
I am writing this because I need to see it. I need to see these words out there for me to read and reread:
I am not my anxiety.
I am not my OCD.
I am a damn good mother.
I am doing the best I can today.
Shortly after Edie was born, she fell off of the weight chart, was diagnosed Failure to Thrive and we were sent for multiple visits to specialists and children's hospitals for all kinds of testing. Those of you who know us know this story from the outside, but you don't know what it did to me. The most terrifying words a new parent could possibly face were thrown at us left and right--cancer, cystic fibrosis, birth defects, congenital heart disease, metabolic disorders--and we were told to wait. Wait two weeks for this appointment, and another week for the test results. Each time we set up another test and were told the date, I couldn't help but spend those weeks feeling like it was my responsibility to go ahead and live as if my daughter had said potential disease. I researched and read all night because I couldn't sleep--these doctors didn't love my daughter the way I did, I had to figure it out and start treating her right away. I began cleaning every surface, doorknob and lightswitch in our home multiple times a day. I started making Daniel take his shoes off when he came in from work. I asked him to shower before touching Edie because I didn't want any germs he was carrying near her--she might have low immunity. I washed our sheets and towels every day. This went on for two months, and she was finally diagnosed with a tongue tie that was causing nursing issues and we immediately had her revised. I believed we were in the clear and on our way to baby bliss, so I began to let up a little on my cleaning habits. Her weight gain continued to be slow, and we were told there may still be something else wrong (there wasn't--I just didn't have a milk supply after four plus months of a baby who was basically unable to nurse).
Spring came, and I looked out the kitchen window one evening to see Daniel spraying weeds in our backyard flower beds. I didn't think much of it. Edie was asleep wrapped against my chest as I finished loading the dishwasher, Daniel walked in with his shoes, and I sat down to check social media. I quickly came across a video of a child who had been poisoned by chemical pesticides and was severely handicapped as a result. My heart started racing. Daniel's shoes. My newly crawling daughter.
I stood up to clean the floor and everything else Daniel had touched.
What if there was something else? What if I was causing it without even knowing it? What if I was making her sick?
What if I was failing her? If she had another mother, a more protective, knowledgeable mother, would she be so tiny? Would she have gone through all of that testing? Would she have starved for four plus months?
Edie started gaining weight beautifully, but I couldn't let up. I couldn't stop all of the things I had done because what if she only started thriving because I had done all of those things? If I gave up, she might get sick again. If I stopped protecting and preventing, I might lose her. And it would be my fault, because I'd read of all of the risks. It would be my fault, because I knew how dangerous pesticides were.
So we didn't go anywhere, and no one was allowed to come to us.
Edie didn't see a library or supermarket or clothing store until she was something like 14 months old. And she didn't leave my sight, because I knew no one else knew what I knew. No one else knew how fragile she was, how dangerous the world was for her.
I didn't go anywhere by myself, because it was my responsibility to protect her.
The grocery bags couldn't come inside the house because someone probably tied their shoe that touched the ground that had once been sprayed with pesticides or something toxic and then touched the bag. I unloaded them bent over the back door and wiped them down before putting them in the fridge. I made Daniel take off not only his shoes, but his socks, too, because his shoes weren't new and he had probably previously stepped outside in socks or bare feet and then contaminated the insides of his shoes. If he wore sandals, I bent down at the door with a bowl of soap and water and a towel and washed his feet. For a while, I continued to clean the floor and Edie's toys every day even though no one ever came in with anything but bare feet because if we had opened the door for a few seconds at any point, the air might have blown something in.
I'm happy to report I'm down to once, sometimes twice a week.
As of the past few months we are also living most of our time awake outside the physical walls of this hell. Edie and I spend most of the day playing outside, visiting the library and grocery store, exploring new play places and getting extra dirty. I tried it one day, and she was okay. So I tried it another day.
And I began to realize I liked this version of myself better, this mother who wasn't tracking everything she had touched so she could remember to wipe it down as soon as possible. I like these places better than my house, because they aren't my responsibility. I don't have toxic memories here, no moments to relive of my skinny baby screaming out in hunger pains. I like them because I can let my wild girl roam freely, and watching her makes me feel free for a bit. It makes me feel normal.
Until I get home. Until recently, I've been totally lost as to why that might be. It was huge for me to start bringing Edie out, to get out myself, and to see how well we both did with it. What is it about this stupid little house that has me so trapped?
I've been seeing a counselor for over a year now, and Daniel has been coming with me for the past several months. I've become a lot more vocal with them about the details of this lately because I am seeing more of the person my daughter is growing into and, with all of my puny might, I refuse to turn her into a mini version of myself. I refuse to force her to live in this fear alongside me. And as she repeats and copies more of everything I say and do every day, I have to get over this, NOW. The only explanation we've come up with is that this house is where it began, where I held her for months as she wailed and tried to nurse tried to nurse tried to nurse and I called doctors and researched and read and researched and read. This house is where I first felt unsure, unsafe. And so maybe it's the last place I'll be able to let go of this doubt. I don't know. But that's where I am today.
And that's where I hope to be far away from tomorrow. I pray every night I'll wake up holding the key to freedom.
I've read enough stories and talked to other mamas and I know I am not the only one. I know if it wasn't this exact version of this thing, it may have been another. Some of you fear someone will break in and steal your baby in the night, so you forgo sleep and get up to check the locks twenty times. Some of you are convinced you left a burner on and you will be the reason your whole family dies in a tragic fire. I can't feel those specific fears with you firsthand, but I can identify with the need to make sure. And, yes, it's a need. I can understand the willingness to do whatever it takes to keep your babies safe, even if that means not sleeping or cleaning again or taking a third shower. I am not the only one, and neither are you. You are not the only one.
And we didn't choose this, either. Before I was diagnosed with OCD, I was told I was suffering from post-traumatic stress. And I believe the sudden shift into the heaviness that is motherhood is enough to be considered trauma, Failure to Thrive baby or not. It's enough to induce stress. So this is not your fault, mama.
I didn't choose this, but I am desperately trying to choose to let it go. I want rid of it because I want more for my family. I want rid of it because I want more for myself. I want rid of it because, God, I'm lonely, and I want friends who can come into my home and hold my babies and know me. And this is not me.
So here you go, universe.
Take it, and please don't give it back.