Jeanne, on Voice. Sling Diaries, Vol VII.
The Sling Diaries, Volume VII. A photo-documentary chronicling the art of baby wearing in the lives of families around the world. Over the course of six months, Sling Diarists will create their own Sling Diary though a series of diary entries interpreting a unique theme given to them each month.
Meet all of our Sling Diarists here.
I am 20 weeks pregnant. On the black and white screen is a little shape dancing and kicking. The nurse is rubbing the sonogram wand on my belly, and it's cold and tickles me – my baby moves so much it's like it's being tickled too. “It's a girl,”, the doctor says. The technician hands me the photo, and I look at your profile, your little nose so clearly defined, your slim lips stretched in a mysterious smile.
“Hi, baby – I'm your mama”, I say.
My mother is in town. “You should talk to her”, she says, “she can hear you – I talked to you all the time when I was pregnant.”
I talk to you all the time in my head, but rarely aloud. It has a strangeness I can't quite overcome. I feel guilty about it.
During labour, I do not speak or scream. I hum and sing a secret song, keeping my voice low. You are born in the quiet hours of the morning. The women around the pool briefly cheer with joy, your father is sobbing. I retrieve your tiny body from the water and place you on my chest cradling your head.
“Hi, baby – I'm your mama. You did so well. You're here. Hi, baby, I love you.” You cry out, once, and then settle against me, eyes open, watching us in silence.
In the first few days of your life, I struggle to talk to you. You almost never cry, so we're both pretty quiet. You arch your back in that intense way newborns do, yawn and open your eyes. When you look at me, I lose my voice. Talking to you is like learning a new language. I am wary of every word, treading carefully. Isn't it difficult, talking with somebody who doesn't have any words? I was never good at monologues. It's a fear I don't share with anyone – an anxious thought that grows each day. What if you don't remember me talking to you? What if I am damaging you with my silence ? What if you think I don't love you enough to talk to you all the time?
When you're asleep, somehow, it's easier ; so a ritual develops. At night I lie down next to you and whisper broken sentences in your ear. It's slow and repetitive, like a lullaby, like a prayer.
“I love you so much. You are strong, you are smart, funny, worthy. You are so beautiful you stop my heart beating. You are so very special. I am in awe of all that you are. You are unique and incredible. I love you, I love you, I love you.”
It occurs to me – maybe I am wary of the words I speak to you, because I know how damaging they can be.
“Mama's here. You are safe. You are perfect. You are loved.”
How easy it is, to say these words to our babies.
Tell me – when is the last time somebody spoke to you that way?
My mother told me I was beautiful everyday. But she never told me that she was.
She told me that she felt ugly and old. She complained about her hair, her weight, the way she looked with and without makeup. She still does, whenever I see her. She says - “Couldn't you have told me I looked this bad?”
It broke my heart.
As women, as mothers, why do we talk to ourselves like we're our worst enemy?
It took me years to clean and stitch up this wound. I'm still working on it. I still look in the mirror and see only the tired features, only the extra skin, only the parts of me that should disappear to make space for flawless beauty. I complained about most of these pictures, and considered not sharing them because I looked fat, I looked tired, I looked – not good enough.
But I don't want to pass that on to you, my girl. The self-loathing, the endless criticism – it stops with me. I want to help you find an inner voice that is only kind. So I will try not only to validate you, but to lead with my example. I will learn to see myself through your eyes – because to you right now, I am the most important thing in the universe. I will speak to myself with loving words. I practice in the mirror : “Hi, Mama, I love you. You are strong, you are resilient, you are nurturing. Your body is magical. It grew another human. I am in awe of all that you are. You are unique and incredible. I love you, I love you, I love you.”
I stand with you in front of the mirror now, both naked from our shower. Your little arms wrapped around my neck, playing with my hair. “You're beautiful”, I tell you. “Mama is beautiful too.”
And in your sweet, -oh so new- little voice, you answer : “Mm-ma-ma. Mama”
Follow along with Jeanne over on Instagram, @womanoftheriver, and The Sling Diaries on Pinterest.