Here is an essay I wrote fairly recently for an amazing online course, Motherhood & Words, by Kate Hopper.
Just being vulnerable, putting it on my open hand, & letting it breathe. xoxo, thanks
“I’m so relieved you were but a baby but O, your innocent skin scorched, made to know searing pain. I wanted to just disappear in my disgust, melt down in one slick puddle of oil. I burned you quite badly, baby, my buddy.
In one moment I wanted to feel quite helpful, in control, successful, not needy, not recovering, not dealing with any post-partum malarkey. In a gust of new energy, I offered to make my visiting mother tea.
And wasn’t it great to be strong to hold you, baby, and do nearly everything? I could breastfeed anywhere—whilst walking dogs, up in the whipping air on a Ferris wheel. Wherever. So I became accustomed to holding you. It was easier than crying. I held you as the metal French provincial blue teapot passed over your right calf, forged and fired your feather delicate skin. I branded you “disaster to new mother”, and when you didn’t cry, I hoped all might be well. Maybe I imagined the graze. Maybe it was like the poof of powder; just wipe it off.
But no. You did cry, must have been shock at first over being branded for the sake of tea. On Mother’s Day when I decided I better send back every card. I can be no mother. This lousy wretch was ashamed and altogether inconsolable. “Don’t even call me a mom”, I thought, moving ashen, room to room.
I called our English-speaking paediatrician. “What do I do?”…I was under a chair, tail tucked; talk me down from the bridge. I hid behind the idea that I was simply overtired, exhausted. Things were harder now that I had two. You can’t just nap. Yes, burning my child must mean I need time for me, time to sleep properly. Something had to give. Something beautiful broke.
It was good my mom was there. It would have been hard not to lie.
I never told my sister in law. I would have omitted it from anyone but the wrapped leg was telling. The principal and nurse of my daughter’s school asked about it. I cheerfully brushed it off while my cheeks felt hot like sunburn. I was more than vague when cornered. “He hurt himself,” as if he were a cowboy, a bandit renegade barreling shotgun of a toddler at reckless speeds. Really, he was barely filling my arms, tush sitting in the smallest diapers. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day to him wrapped in liniment and sterile gauze. I gave him a second-degree burn. His worried sister looked on. I had let her down, too, in hurting her baby, as she called him. “How did it happen?” She wanted to know everything.
Deflated and raw, I took him to the dermatologist the next day. His leg was dressed in those peculiar hard plastic Band-Aids to protect the slow drip of skin healing, a hidden kneeling down in church when it’s really time to sing. Moss mixed with mold growing up a wall. I damaged my boy. This “do not disturb” Band-Aid was not supposed to come off until a sign from God, until all oozy woozy sadness had passed.
I go on to describe the doctor visit, how the band-aid came off and the blister popped. How we had to go every morning for almost three weeks so the doctor could check and undress his burn. Baby skin heals quite quickly. There is no mark. I am responsible for treating my own wounds, the ones that burned each of my layers of skin and heart. I get to muster the courage to be a great mother even through this.
Our guy is healthy & very well, now just over 1 year old.
He has been out in the real world for two Mother’s Days now. The first one (the episode I write about above) thankfully didn’t dictate how I viewed myself as a mother (too much) this past Mother’s Day. I can tell you shame is a powerful emotion. Fortunately, love & forgiveness are stronger. Shine light on that deep, painful thing, & all the power of shame flees.