From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.
Breathing with Leaves
An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Leah Harrod Rupp
The trees in front of this house are big and beautiful and every year in October, the leaves carpet the lawn and porch. Today as we shuffled through the piles that you proudly raked yourself, I was remembering the first time we raked these leaves together. You were eight weeks old and I had you wrapped up onto my body on the sunniest of fall days. Your dad was going to be working late so I decided to surprise him by getting some raking done. We only got a small corner accomplished that day but I will remember it forever.
I had spent the weeks prior in a very dark place. We were waking up every two hours in the night to feed you because you weren’t gaining weight. Your dad was in the middle of his busy season and was struggling to meet his work deadlines. My breasts were swollen, my bottom was torn. I felt so alone and had no idea how to reach out for help. I couldn’t shake the fog that had settled in around me and the feeling that I was sinking. During my brief stretches of sleep I had nightmares that you were floating down a river alone or that I had forgotten to feed you for days. I woke up with my heart pounding and always reached over to feel your breathing, not relaxing until I felt your chest rise and fall.
I cried to my mom on the phone and said, “What happened to my life. What have I done?” And let me be clear when I say that I was never for one second doubting why I brought you here, or if it was worth it. I was just doubting this arrangement that seemed so flawed to me. The one where you needed to rely on me with every ounce of your being while I was just barely holding on to my sanity.
My mom did the best thing possible during our phone conversation. She gave me hope that things would get better. Soon she promised. Soon. Before you know it. Your body will heal, your hormones will balance, your son will grow, your milk will flow. Things will be ok.
She told me the sun would come out and that before I knew it, I would be walking around in the fresh air, taking you for walks and showing you the world. There will be seasons, she said. You’ll get to watch the leaves change and fall and then grow again. Life keeps moving. Life will go on. I wanted to believe her so badly so I clung to that image of you and I walking around in the sunshine. Living, breathing, moving forward, seeing the light. And it did happen before I knew it.
So there I was raking leaves in the front yard with my eight week old baby and I realized that we had made it. We were both feeling strong and you had started to gain weight and sleep longer stretches at night. My body had healed so that I could walk around outside and for the first time, I believed that everything really was going to be ok. I told myself to take a picture in my mind that I would always remember, and I did.
I remember your tiny body pressed against me and your tiny baby toes brushing the flaps of skin on my belly. I remember believing for the first time that maybe I could really learn to be the mama I wanted to be. I remember looking up into the branches that were hanging over our heads and I remember how the sunshine looked as it filtered through the dead leaves. There were shadows, there was work to do, but there was light anyhow.
Tonight, four years later as you fell asleep, you asked if you could climb up onto my tummy. With your head on my chest, your legs dangled clear to my knees and the weight of you caught me by surprise. But even as your body grows, we are getting lighter every day, Love. It’s getting easier to move, easier to dance, easier to face our fears.
When I rolled you off my tummy and onto the bed tonight, I could see the shadows of the trees on the wall, the branches dancing outside our upstairs window. They have seen us rise and fall, rise and fall, so many times while we’ve lived here. Just like your chest does when you’re sleeping.
Rising and falling, ups and downs. Maybe they are just a part of breathing.