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Will I ever wear my pants again? You know, the kind that actually zip and fasten with a button. The kind that are marketed as “skinny” even though I’m not. The kind that close without spandex and a prayer.

My pants now live on a faraway island where pants aren’t even necessary or desirable, but having the option to wear them exists. Not on this island of Manhattan, which I call home, but a tropical island—say, Lamu, off the eastern coast of Kenya, where once upon a time I savored three-hour lunches and sipped decadent alcoholic drinks with my husband, elected to forgo clothes altogether, and ventured the globe without my baby.

My. Baby. Sigh. I love him. I really do. But sometimes— key word sometimes—I feel like my baby is the devil. He turns bright red, howls like a demon, and sprouts haphazard patches of hair like horns. Add copious bodily fluids that erupt on cue, and voilà: The devil is in my lap. On my boob. Attached to me, and there is no turning back. Lucifer is in the house, wearing diapers. Pampers Swaddlers, to be exact. You know: The ones with the little yellow line in the middle that turns blue when wet? I need the blue-line indicator to tell me when my son is saturated with pee, since knowing this is as mystifying as actually keeping his diaper on. If only there were a little blue line to decode everything else that is either the reality or the fantasy of being a new mom: A blue line that knows what to do, when and how, and can tell me why I feel all kinds of crazy as I navigate early motherhood. Sans pants.

But back to the actual pants. They matter. I know they shouldn’t, but they do because they are more than just pants. They represent a time in my life that’s gone. They embody a certain freedom, a Holly Golightly, do-as-I-may chapter of my life where I boldly wore the pants wherever the pants took me. The pants are much more than a symbol of youth and sex appeal, or sophistication, or effortless style, and they are all of that: The pants have become a totem of control.

I am not in control, I tell myself as I attempt a 10-minute yoga workout half-dressed on the kitchen floor. I am in pain, I shout as my hips strain over my C-section scar. God help me get through this, I plead, breast milk exploding through my XL shirt. I love my baby, but he’s crying so loudly I want to ship him to his grandma in California.

For 18 years. And then the pants call to me from their drawer. Unfold me, Carrie. Take me back, Carrie. Try me on, Carrie. So try them on I do. Daily.

The fabric won’t budge. I bulge. This elastic hair tie will have to jerry-rig my pants once again. Pass the extra-long shirt, please, and this sad, haphazard uniform will have to do.

A cloak of anxiety descends. It feels heavy, dangerous, all-encompassing. The world is an envelope, and I am being sealed. Will I ever want my husband to touch me again? Am I now bipolar? Will this emotional roller coaster end? What is this?

They say being a mom is natural. Who is this collective “they” broadcasting mommy decrees from behind an anonymous screen? 

Getting pregnant may be biologically natural for some, but becoming a mom can be anything but. Breastfeeding may be natural because biologically my female breasts can lactate. But doing it is a learned skill and, for me, a halfhearted choice fraught with fear and ambivalence. And what about breastfeeding’s unspoken redheaded stepchild: weaning? Why is there zero information or support when you have to or, dare I say, want to stop? What a disturbing word—wean—a humbling word that reminds me I am just a mammal after all.

Little of early motherhood is “natural,” and most of it is hard. Let’s quit pretending it’s not. Better yet, let’s stop apologizing for saying we don’t like the hard stuff. The hard stuff sucks. And for those who say it will get better: The future tense doesn’t alleviate the frustrations of right now. It doesn’t always feel this bad. On those days I remind myself that I wanted a baby. I want my baby! My son, Karuna, was created and born into total love. Make no mistake: I cherish him. That doesn’t mean I always love taking care of a baby. I’m not so convinced every other mother out there always loves taking care of babies, either.

I wish someone had told me the truth about these early days. Everyone and every blog has plenty of advice for my baby, but not much for me. How can I become a healthy, conscientious mom when I can’t understand what’s happening to me and take care of myself ? It’s like they say on the plane: Put on your own oxygen mask first. Then put one on the baby.

And what about my pants? As I lie horizontal, staring at the ceiling, pants sausaged around my thighs, I ponder: In my postpartum life will I ever get to wear the pants again? Who wears the pants now? My husband? My son? Who gets to wear the proverbial pants and be in charge?

The answer appears to be no one, and that’s my greatest lesson thus far. I’m learning to let go of thinking I’m in control. Learning how to reconcile my desire to nurture and to be alone, how to honor my autonomy and commitments.

And yes—these contradictions make me more me than ever. Flawed and competent, anxious and attuned, confident I’ll fit into my old pants and afraid of what happens if I don’t or won’t even want to one day....Which makes me wonder. Dear Me: Maybe I need a new pair of pants.

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