I knew he wasn’t staying home when he pulled his travel mug out of the cupboard. I watched him from my place on the couch as he poured: coffee, cream, sugar. Each addition seemed to steal the air from my lungs. The two of us were thinking the same thing—dreading the same thing—but neither of us dared to say it out loud. Because maybe today would be different. Maybe today was the day we could get through it, and mentioning it would be the catalyst to bring our fears to fruition. So, we stayed quiet and let the room fill up with the sounds of feigned normalcy: our 19-month-old son narrating the Thomas & Friends episode that was playing on the television, the occasional newborn squeak from the bouncy chair in the corner, and the scraping of a metal spoon against stainless steel as my husband stirred his coffee.
Four weeks earlier, I gave birth to our second son. When he was six days old, I stood looking out the window of his third-floor nursery as my husband pulled out of the driveway and headed back to school. My oldest ran around at my feet in his pajama shirt and a diaper, telling me a story I wasn’t listening to and the baby was crying in his crib—he was always crying.
I stared out the window long after the car disappeared—swaying back-and-forth as though I held the baby in my arms—silently pleading for Ian to turn around and come back to us. A sharp pain in my incision brought me back to reality. I glanced at my phone while rubbing the smiley-faced wound above my pubic bone. It was 7AM. Not that it mattered. Time is irrelevant in those early weeks of motherhood. There is no morning or night, just a perpetual two to three-hour cycle of sleep, cry, change, cry, feed, change, cry. And the three of us were going to be surviving it alone for 10 hours. It may as well have been weeks. A familiar weight settled above me, like a dark, low cloud, and I looked up to the ceiling as though I might be able to see it—but nothing was there.
At the end of that first week, the clouds swirled all around me, darkening my existence and making it difficult to see anything past my own inadequacies. Three weeks later, as I sat on the couch—taunted by Ian’s choice of drinkware—I saw nothing but black, unending darkness. Still, we tried to function. Every day, we tried. And we were about to try again.
He put the spoon in the sink, said goodbye to the boys and hesitantly kissed me on the forehead. I swallowed hard and said goodbye with a tight-lipped smile as I thought to myself, Whatever you do, don’t get up. I wrapped my arms around my son as he crawled up next to me and we started to sing along to the theme song that signalled the next episode.
We sang “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight.” The baby gate opened and closed while tears blurred the smiling faces of trains on the screen in front of me.
“Shunting trucks and hauling freight.” Ian’s footsteps grew quieter the further down the stairs he went. His bag scratched across the floor as he picked it up and threw it over his shoulder. He’s not changing his mind. I thought But don’t do it. Don’t get up.
“Red and green and brown and blue.” The door handle turned and as he opened us up to the outside world, I felt the house exhale, releasing at least some of the tension held inside.
“They’re the really useful crew.” The door shut, latched, and the vibration of the opening garage door came up through the floor. It unleashed a panic that twisted my stomach and wrapped its hands around my throat then yelled into my ear. “You are a fraud. You are incapable. You are nothing.”
I bolted up, off of the couch and chased after him. With enough sense to slam the baby gate shut behind me, I deserted both of my boys in the empty room supervised only by a talking train engine.
I ran down the stairs, taking the last three steps in one jump. Bursting into the garage there was a moment of relief—he was still here. With one foot in the car and his hand resting on the door, he looked over at me and then hung his head with the disappointing realization we were about to call “Action”on the same scene that had played out yesterday and the day before and the day before that.
“Please don’t go.” Still standing in the threshold to the garage—the space between agony and escape—I pleaded to him. My breath was shaky and my voice was small. I couldn’t look him in the eye.
“You know I have to.” He was gentle and calm. “I can’t miss another day, and I have an exam.” He came towards me, lifted my eyes to meet his, and kissed me. “You are a good mom. Go back upstairs, the kids need you.”
I wanted to be capable of that. Of turning myself around and walking back in to the trenches of new motherhood. I wanted to believe him when he said that I was good enough. I wanted to be the partner he needed me to be. But I was lost in the dark—confused and void of all control and rational thought. So as Ian climbed into his car, I hit the button on the wall beside me and the garage door began to close.
He rubbed his hands over his face before pushing the button in his car. Open, close, open, close, open—we went back-and-forth a few times like petulant children fighting over a toy before I gave up and ran behind his car, daring him to run me over.
I didn’t know whether I wanted him to turn off the car—concede to my irrational will and come inside with me—or simply hit the gas and end this nightmare. I stood in our driveway wearing pajamas splattered with breastmilk and baby vomit, my hair unkempt and covered in more of the same, sobbing and pleading for him to stay.
“No, you can’t go. I can’t do this.” My voice grew louder as desperation trumped embarrassment. “Please, I need you to stay. Please. Please. Don’t go”.
He slammed the car door. His shoulders slumped under the weight of his options: stay and care for his family in the present, or leave to prepare for their well-being in the future. I shrank under the glare of his gaze—a look that held so much frustration, concern and anguish. But he never yelled at me. Just wrapped his arms around me in an attempt to stop the shaking, before taking my hand to lead me inside. I’m not sure anyone who may have been watching out their window would have shown me as much grace.
I thought I won. I thought he was staying home. But it was once I calmed down—feeling safe with him on my side of the garage door, the stairs and the baby gate, with his shoes in the closet and coffee nowhere in sight—that he finally spoke.
“I can stay for an hour. You need to call someone. Your mom or your sister. Call my mom. You know they would want to help you”
He was right, they would all come if I needed them. But I couldn’t call them. I couldn’t let them see how irresponsible I was—how dark I’d let it get in our home. I’d dealt with the swirling clouds enough times before to know how they functioned—how they stole the light and swept up all aspects of your self-worth. However, I was unwilling and too ashamed to acknowledge this particular storm because its source was something supposedly wonderful. Motherhood wasn’t supposed to be the cause of a storm. No, I wouldn’t concede this secret to anyone.
Resolved to fight this battle without help, and depleted of even my anxious energy from the struggle and panic of the hour before, I made no attempt to stop Ian when he left the second time. I sat dazed and content in the centre of my hurricane.
“Mama snack please.” Any sense of peace disappeared.
He left. I can’t believe he left me here I thought. The phone became slippery with tears as I held it to my ear. He answered and I incoherently began my speech again. “You have to come back. I need you. I can’t do this. Please come back.”
“You need to call somebody. I am not coming home and you need help.”
“I don’t need help, I just need you. Our kids need you.”
“Fine. If you won’t call someone then I will!” He hung up.
I called him back. Nothing. I called again and again and again, my breath quickening with each unending ring. He didn’t answer. I pressed talk, redial, but someone was on the line. “Hello?”
“Codi, it’s Mom. What’s going on? Is everything OK? Ian called me and he’s really worried about you. Do you need me?”
My head started to spin. She knew. She knew I was broken—that I was incapable. My cell phone rang on the counter beside me. I answered but said nothing as I dropped to the floor. With my back leaning against the kitchen island, I cried into the two phones that held my face in their grasp. And in that safe embrace, between my husband and my mom, I finally acknowledged the truth
“Something is wrong with me. I think I need help.”
Within minutes I opened the front door of our house to let my mom inside. She never did understand what it was like in the storm, but she always saw my struggle and tried her best to pull me out. She wrapped her arms around me and for the first time in weeks, I saw a small break in the clouds where a sliver of light shined through.
I understood that this journey was far from over. I knew it would take time and a lot of work, but I also remembered, for the first time in a long time, that storms pass.