Sinking Deep

There’s a little known story about a guy named Jack and a girl named Rose. Rose didn’t share her space with Jack, so he died. Oh, you know the story? 

I saw the movie Titanic when I was 12 years old, and even then, it didn’t make sense. They were lovers. They spent the entire movie trying to get as physically close as possible, yet there wasn’t enough room on the seemingly large enough lifesaving debris for both of them. It didn’t make sense for lovers. But it sure as heck makes sense for mothers. 

If Jack were a mother that’s exactly what he’d do. He’d put that child on that piece of wood and put himself in the ocean to make sure that debris stayed floating and that child stayed alive. He’d have too much invested in that child to do anything else.

I’ve been a mother for seven years. I’ve had three pregnancies and two babies. I’ve parented through family crisis, church crisis, midlife crisis, miscarriage at fourteen weeks, the depths of postpartum depression, a worldwide pandemic, and a cross-country move. It’s been a busy seven years. 

There’s never been room for me on that makeshift raft. The world is sinking around me, and my only goal is the survival of these tiny humans who are blissfully oblivious to their surroundings. They are floating and know not what propels them, who scans the horizon for their safety, or what keeps them alive day and night. Rose could have pulled Jack up or at least begged him to think about himself. My children cannot and will not do that, for I’ve trained them not to. 

And so I float and freeze. But I move because I must.

When my son was born, the world started to go dark—the never ending waves of my newborn’s perpetual needs and cries; the never ending depths of my toddler’s relentless chattering and emotions; the dark water overwhelmed me, body and soul.

I was drowning, but I was alive.

Somehow I was alive, moving my limbs through the weight pressing down on every square inch of my body and brain. All around me were muffled, blurry images of a life I did not recognize yet felt internally propelled through. I accomplished tasks without any sort of conscious will: wake up, change diaper, latch to nipple, re-latch to nipple, pat baby’s back till my wrist goes limp while I cry over nipples, talk to toddler, make snacks for toddler, rock and bounce till my knees go weak, lay down baby, play with toddler, collapse, wake up. Rinse and repeat.

The babies are now seven and three years old, but those postpartum months and years still feel cold and dark inside of me. Could there have been room for me on the raft? Why was the raft so small? Why did the unsinkable ship sink? Why was I alone out there with two small children on a raft in the frozen ocean? Why did it become my life or theirs?

The Titanic was a shiny, flashy, invincible vessel meant to ferry people in utmost safety, security, and comfort. It promised the happiest baby on the block, sleeping through the night in just four easy steps, hours of blissful breastfeeding and effortless bonding while floating on a peaceful sea of refreshing naps and cooing smiles. 

But we all know how that turned out. 

Jack and Rose found themselves in the ocean, Rose buoyed by Jack’s sacrifice. But was it necessary? 

I didn’t build the ship, but I trusted it. Of course I trusted it. Everyone trusted it. How could something so large, so imposing, so technologically advanced let us down? The men who made it were marvels. The people who graced its decks were lucky beyond their wildest dreams. Until they weren’t. Until hubris and oversight and negligence smashed into a frozen form of bad luck and all was lost. 

Now I’m floating in the frigid water, my kids on a raft and the ship gone forever. But I’m not the only one. All around me in this ocean of motherhood are other floating and freezing women thrust into the deep end, sacrificing their bodies for the survival of their children, grabbing whatever debris they can to carry their most prized possessions. 

Maybe help is coming. Maybe the kids will grow big enough to pull me onto the raft with them, and together we will be rescued. Maybe the movie will end, and I can leave the theater. 

I’m 12. I’m a child. I have no clue what it means to sacrifice. 

I’m 37. I’m a mother. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would drown for my children.


Jess Courtois is a native Michigander who’s been living in the Pacific Northwest for the past year with her husband of ten years and their two young children. She wonders where the mountains have been all her life.