“My Fourth Child”

I have three young children, but more often than not, I feel like the mother of four.

There are many times I’ve wondered what God was thinking, orchestrating circumstances so that the most intensive period of my recovery overlapped with having two small children under the age of four, then adding pregnancy and a third new baby to the mix.

Uh, God? What were you thinking? Would it not have been more prudent to do this when I had time to cry and write, and didn’t have to lock myself in the bathroom and sob before I made lunch? When I wasn’t chronically sleep deprived and dealing with the roller coaster of postpartum flares and hormones? I’ll confess to ruefully laughing at some of the suggestions for grounding, etc. that I’ve encountered during the last few years. Yeah, those aren’t going to work with a baby attached to my hip 24/7.

Yet, as I reflect on the timing of it all, I can see that God knew I would need these little humans to learn how to nurture myself. There were so many days I would have not gotten out of bed if it were not for the demands of hungry babies or small humans crawling under my covers asking for breakfast. And because I was making them food, I remembered to feed myself. The hard work that, at the beginning, I could not have done for myself, I did for these little humans.

Staring into sweet baby faces and mothering these unique individuals that I love with all my heart gave me a glimpse into what I might have been like as a child. And though the grief of this realization broke my heart open, I started to explore the possibility that I was not an inherently bad child.

Maybe I had been funny and sweet and whiny and * human * just like they were.

When I felt lost about how to care for myself in the midst of, triggers and anxiety, I looked to what my toddlers needed and tried to do that for me, too. Naps, food at regular intervals, someone to give them hugs, listening ears, someone to speak wisdom into things that felt too big, someone to tell them it was going to be safe… these are all things small children need. These are all things everyone needs.

Intuitively I know far more about how to care for others than I do myself. I’ve spent my whole life tuned in to the needs of those around me as a survival mechanism. So, to envision myself as one of my children has become a way to figure out what I need also. As I’ve become a more kind parent to myself, I’ve also become a better parent to my children. The times I snap at them, are the times that their neediness reminds me too much of my own and panics me. My failings as a parent invite me to deal with deeper layers of my own story.

It’s been almost two years since I sat down on our kitchen step and told that scared little girl part of me that her family was never going to show up in the way she needed. I sat with her, and I told her what I would have told my own traumatized child: “I wish it was different, and I don’t know how to fix it, but I promise to stay with you and be on your side.”

The following week I found the courage to call CPS and report my father. To this day, sitting in my therapist’s office and speaking words that no one should have to say is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I needed to show that part of myself that she mattered. If she were one of my own kids, I would have done the same thing, no matter how high the cost.

When I am triggered, I still struggle not to abandon this part of myself. She carries so much, and is still in so much pain it can overwhelm me. But, I am learning to care for her, sit with her, and keep showing up.

This little girl, in all the ages and stages where trauma is stuck, is my fourth child. She is sometimes more work than my other three, but I try to love her too. And, because I cannot love well on my own, I ask for the grace and help to see my children and myself as the children of God we are. We are not problems to be fixed, but children to be loved.

This Red Tent Writer has requested to remain anonymous, it is our privilege to honor that request and her courage in choosing to share her story.