The day my daughter was born, I didn’t cry. In fact, I didn’t feel like I had a bond with her until a month after she was born. Yes, I loved her, and would do anything to keep her safe and well, but I didn’t feel that beautiful maternal connection that mothers often brag about. I felt like I was a failure; not only as a mother, but as a human being as well. How could I not feel this instinctual bond between mother and daughter? Was I not genetically equipped for this?
I had just gotten up from an exhausting night of breastfeeding every two hours, and when I went into the bathroom, I took a glance at myself in the mirror. I had huge bags under my eyes, my hair looked like it had just experienced 100MPH winds, my shirt was stained with excess milk that didn’t make it into my daughter’s mouth, and my pants looked like they’d been borrowed from a trash bin. I cried. A lot.
Then it hit me. I was neglecting myself. Not just physically, but I was also neglecting my soul. I was so focused on keeping my daughter alive, fed, changed, happy, clean, warm, comfortable – that I forgot to take care of myself. That’s what was missing, and that’s what was stopping me from achieving this primal motherly bond. If I didn’t love and care for myself, how could I love and care for another being?
I had lost who I was somewhere between the endless diaper changes, and the seemingly ritualistic 3 a.m. breastfeeding sessions. I had no time to remember who I was, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to find myself. I knew that I had to stop this cycle of self-abuse and neglect. I owed it to my daughter, but most importantly, I owed it to myself. This is when I began the journey to finding myself again.
I’d brush my teeth, change out of my far too dirty sweatpants, and pick up my hair into something other than what looked like a bird’s nest on my head. I also began showering daily – something I now realize was vital. I’d stay in there longer than necessary, and I would let the warm water trickle down from my head onto my face, down my chest and stomach, and watch it find its way down to my feet. The water would refresh my body, and also my soul. I would keep myself submerged under the showerhead in order to recreate the feeling of being underwater. Those long showers reminded me of the joy I felt in the sea, and that’s when I realized, I hadn’t been in the ocean since my daughter was born. It had been way too long. I’d forgotten about her salty allure, and I wondered whether she had forgotten about me as well.
The ocean and I, we are bonded. I was born on an island. I first learned to swim in the open sea. And whenever I’d felt sadness or fear in my life, I’d always swim out to her. The ocean, she is my home. She is what created me, and she is what shaped me. On many occasions, people have told me that whenever I am in or near the water, I radiate happiness, that my face has a kind of glow. I knew what they meant. The ocean has always cleansed me, renewed me, and prepared me for another day. And yet, here I was, a brand new mother with new life experiences, and I had not been to the ocean to renew myself. No wonder I couldn’t feel that bond with my daughter, I had forgotten about my bond with the sea.
I decided that I had to get in some seawater quickly because I didn’t want to lose who I was permanently. I needed to be whole for myself, and for my daughter. She needed me to be strong. I wanted my daughter to feel that side of me that was missing – the side that defined so much of who I was, who I was trying to find again.
The day I finally went to the sea was unlike any other. My husband, daughter, and I drove down to the Florida Keys and stopped at our favorite freedive location. A location my husband and I would frequent before we had our daughter. I was nervous pulling up, and didn’t know whether I would feel comfortable underwater anymore. I was afraid of who I might have become.
We pulled off the road, and there it was, our secret dive spot. We felt the gravel underneath the car tires and parked right by bushy and untrimmed trees that seemed to be all around us, welcoming us to the inviting emerald waters. I stepped out of my car and felt the rocks beneath my feet. I looked out to the beautiful turquoise water right in front. Open, and inviting. The ocean, she had not changed, and I knew then that she had been patiently waiting for me. My husband gently took our daughter out of her car seat and showed her the ocean, something her little 1-month-old body had never experienced, and whispered to her, “See this? This is mommy’s home.” I felt my lower lips quiver as he shared that beautiful moment with our daughter.
I was already in my bathing suit, but I hesitated to enter the water. What if this bond that I had felt all of my life with the ocean had permanently disappeared?
What if I had let too much time pass between me and an oceanic dive? Would I now have to raise my daughter as someone who didn’t know the sea? Would I have to solidify myself into the new woman I was becoming, this woman who was a total stranger to me? I shook my head.
I walked to the edge where the water meets the land, looked back at my husband and daughter, smiled, and jumped straight into the sea. Instantly, the cool shock of the ocean woke me up from whatever slumber I had lulled myself into, and I instantly felt free. I dove deep down to the bottom of the seafloor, no more than 30 feet below me, grabbed some sand, and released it underwater, watching it gently sway side to side as it fell back down. I felt the weightlessness of my hair, and how it floated in every single direction. I stayed at the bottom for as long as I could and released some of my breath so that I lay on the sand and looked up. I could see the shimmering blues and greens of the water while watching the light streaks from the sun gently sway. I felt at home. I was reborn.
When I came back up for a breath, the first thing I did was look at my daughter. She was giggling and pointing towards me, and I could tell she wanted to get in. It was then that I realized that she too was a child of the sea.
This was our bond, the ocean. My husband passed her over to me, and I cradled her in my arms, tears streaming down my face, and I whispered to her, “I love you, you are my world, and the ocean will hold us together forever.” She looked at me and placed her tiny little hand on my face – it was at that exact moment that I felt myself finally come alive. That glow that was so often talked about was back. I finally felt that maternal and instinctual bond that I craved. The ocean had once again rejuvenated me, shown me how strong our bond is, and how deep it goes.
I realized on that day that I had been trying to be the mother society wanted me to be, not the mother I needed to be. It was because of that societal pressure that I had slowly chipped away at the woman I’d fought so hard to become, and I was depriving myself and my daughter of who I truly was. I swore an oath to my daughter and myself that the sea would always be our bond. That we would have many underwater memories, and that the cool waves would always refresh us, and together we would make magic happen.