This week, I had a dream that woke me up in a cold-sweat.
I was in our apartment, when a rattling wind swept down the hall. It set into motion two identical baby swings that sat nearby, the seats rocking to and fro by themselves. Then, the two televisions that dreamily appeared in my living room switched on, showing two different programs. I tried to shut them off, but they kept coming back on – the picture breaking through the dark screen over and over. I even tried unplugging them, but they just wouldn’t turn off. And then, two tall oscillating fans started doing the same thing – blowing air around the apartment, despite how many times I tried to shut them off – making my apartment a loud, windy, rollicking place that woke me up with a start. I even woke poor Teddy.
At first, I thought the dream was some weird manifestation of this scary book I read a couple weeks ago that I knew I shouldn’t have picked up. But then, I did some research on Dream Moods, that online dream dictionary, about what it could mean. Wind, it seems, means change, while watching television means seeing an objective view of the mind and its thoughts. A swing represents childhood (or babyhood, in this case, I suppose), and electricity symbolizes life energy – needing to be revitalized or needing to conserve energy.
It was pretty clear to everyone who I explained this dream to that it wasn’t the remains of a horror story bouncing around in my brains: it was about the creeping anxiety I had about returning to work this week.
Let me take a moment to say that I have the cushiest job situation ever. My husband is a nurse, so working full time for him means three 12 hour (more like 18 hour) days, making him home four days a week. I work part-time for a magazine here in Chicago, writing for their blog, and can work from home the majority of the time on the days where my husband is off. So, I didn’t have to deal with the stress that so many women do of leaving their little one with a nanny or finding a suitable daycare, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
Still, I feel like my mind has exploded this week. Becoming a mother was a decimation of self for me, and from what I hear, this is quite common. I emerged from labor not wondering who this little person was that I was holding, but wondering who I was. My whole life had changed. I wasn’t the same person I was before, and yet, I had no idea what I had become, if anything.
Birth is not just for babies. It’s also the birth of a woman as a mother. It’s shocking and life-altering, at least it was for me. These last three months have been spent changing diapers and nursing a baby around the clock, but also trying to figure out who I am in the midst of a huge life change.
So, when it came time to add back in my old self – the person who wrote for a living, had at least a rudimentary understanding of current events and local politics, and was interested in the world – I have felt terrified. When I’m home with Teddy, my mind is swimming with details that I alone need to keep track of: when did he eat last? Is he teething or just cranky? Does he need to be changed, rocked, bathed, stimulated, left alone or some thing else entirely? Being responsible for another life takes a bit of brain space. Adding into that the millions of little work details I used to be able to handle feels overwhelming.
On Wednesday, we had a work meeting to chat about our digital strategy. The meeting went well, and nothing bad happened, but I felt sick as I rode the train home regardless. My mind was running like a hamster on a squeaky metal wheel, whirring with all the responsibilities I had at home and at work.
This is by no means unique to me. Mothers everywhere are doing this every day, many of them with much tougher jobs that require more of their time and energy and with multiple children at home. It’s just a learning experience.
Right now, it feels like I have multiple personalities. There are several competing versions of me in my head, each vying for the top spot.